A Perfect Plan by Alyssa Drake
Series Wiltshire Chronicles Book One
Genre Adult Historical Romance & Romantic Suspense
Publication Date April 2, 2019
An opinionated tomboy must navigate the dangers of society, unaware her brother's killer is lurking in her midst.
When her brother's ship sinks off the coast of France, Miss Samantha Hastings surrenders her quiet, country life to manage his affairs. Suddenly thrust into society, Samantha faces an unfamiliar world and the unnerving green eyes of Lord Westwood-her brother's best friend and her new guardian.
Benjamin, Lord Westwood, never intended on following through with his rash promise to act as guardian to Edward's bratty little sister. Upon learning of his best friend's death, Benjamin's intention was to marry her off to the first acceptable suitor. When he finds himself falling for Samantha instead, Benjamin alights upon the perfect plan; a marriage of convenience.
The plan, however, quickly unravels when they discover Edward's disappearance was due to foul play. Now, Samantha is in more danger than either of them realized and Benjamin is running out of time. Can he save the woman he loves or will murder ruin his perfect plan?
If you enjoy the mystery and intrigue of Amanda Quick and Lisa Kleypas, dive into this spellbinding series filled with history, romance, and suspense.
June 19, 1842
He stared pitilessly, mouth twisted cruelly, as Mr. Matthew Hastings writhed uncontrollably on the mahogany desk. His arms flopped helplessly; a dull thud, thud, thud. Heavy green drapes, lining the picture window behind the desk, blocked any moonlight from streaming into the room. Only the dim light of fading embers bathed Mr. Hastings and his guest at this early hour. No sound echoed in the sleeping house. Anonymity cloaked the sole witness to Mr. Hastings’ excruciating demise.
“It is unfortunate I had to resort to this unpleasantness.” The man shook his head with feigned sadness, a sneer hovering just on the edge of his lips. He paused, deep in contemplation, and then spoke quietly, as if explaining an important lesson to a child. “I did caution you–several times–over the past few months. However, you refused to heed my warning.”
Leaning over, the man slid his fingers through Mr. Hasting’s hair, mostly black, but highlighted by the graying of age. His grip tightened, and he wrenched Mr. Hastings’ head sideways. Pressing his lips to Mr. Hastings’ ear, he hissed intimately. “You have something I want, something that was promised to me when I was much younger. Since you are unwilling to relinquish possession...”
He indicated a half empty glass of brandy resting precariously near the edge of the desk, just out of reach of Mr. Hastings’ twitching hand. The brandy taunted; its amber color glistened ominously. Mr. Hastings’ eyes rolled wildly as the toxin caused his body to spasm in a gruesome dance. His tongue remained paralyzed, locked, unable to form a simple word. Help.
The man released Mr. Hastings’ head, gently returning it to the desk, and then stroked his fingers down the side of Mr. Hastings’ contorted cheek. “This particular poison is quite painful. I must admit, I chose it because I knew it would cause you to suffer horribly.”
“Ugh,” replied Mr. Hastings. His flopping body beat its slow rhythm again; a fish gasping for its last breath of air. The raspy breathing echoed in the study. Although the sound was not loud enough to raise alarm in the house, the man’s eyes flew to the closed study door. Grabbing Mr. Hastings by his hair, the man yanked, crushing Mr. Hastings’ mouth with his hand.
“Stop this nonsense, this instance,” he hissed.
Jerking, Mr. Hastings threw his torso forward, ripping out of the man’s grasp, and stretching for the poisoned snifter. His fingers brushed against the glass, sliding down the side. The glass scooted further away, teetering on the edge of the desk. With a lunge, he wrapped his hand around the glass, locking tightly. Gasping twice, Mr. Hastings’ shuddered and then exhaled, his body slumping onto the desk.
Cautiously, the man relaxing his grip, straightening slowly. He studied Mr. Hastings’s with narrowed eyes, searching for any hint of movement. Nothing. He grinned and chuckled quietly as his gaze fell on the glass in Mr. Hastings’ grip.
“No clues.” He clucked his tongue. “A good attempt, however, kindly remember, I am much smarter than you.”
Prying the glass from Mr. Hastings’ stiff hand, the man dumped the remaining liquid into the fireplace. The fire hissed and burned red briefly before returning to its normal color. Wrapping the glass in a handkerchief, the man placed it carefully in his coat pocket. He patted the pocket twice before his eyes rose to meet Mr. Hastings’ empty gaze.
“I am sorry to steal you so young from your lovely wife. The loss will be devastating for her.” A horrid smile stretched across his lips. “Please do not concern yourself with the well-being of your dear wife or your children; I intend to take good care of your family.”
“Ugh, ugh.” Mr. Hastings choked. His hand slammed down on the desk. His head rolled to the side, lifting a centimeter from the desk. His blue eyes rolled madly, threatening to burst from their sockets. Agony racked his features; his entire face strained taut from the poison’s brutal assault.
The man laughed quietly and stepped toward the desk, his voice scornful. “You are a fighter. Perhaps I did not give you a large enough dose.”
His hand slid into his breast pocket, fingers closing around a tiny brown vial. A wheezing breath escaped from Mr. Hastings’ lungs. He deflated, his body twisted grotesquely over the desk; a lifeless marionette. Eerie silence filled the study. Mr. Hastings’ empty eyes, permanently frozen in a moment of anguish, glared accusingly at the man.
Placing his fingers to the side of Mr. Hastings’ neck, the man nodded with satisfaction. He leaned over the body and rifled through the desk drawers, his hands groping into the far recesses. Each empty disappointment brought a growl to his lips. Taking care not to disturb Mr. Hastings’ corpse, the man slid his fingers under the desk looking for a secret compartment or hidden drawer. He found nothing, not a key, not a clue, nothing, just an ordinary desk.
With a snarl, he stood, his eyes scanning the study, absorbing every detail, every nook and cranny. This was the only room left in the townhouse he had not yet had the opportunity to search. Yet they continued to elude him. He shook his head, chewing his tongue as he glanced over at Mr. Hastings. Such an inconvenience–this murder business–although this was by no means his first horrendous act.
His eyes swept the room again, taking inventory; various trinkets from Mr. Hastings’ travels decorated the bookshelves along the walls. Mrs. Hastings’s ornate writing desk, hidden in the far corner, was situated to face the beautiful garden hidden behind the green curtains, instead of the center of the room.
Mr. Hastings once teased his wife at a dinner party that her desk should be in his office, since she spent most of her time on the business of correspondence and all business should be performed in an office. In response to his remark, she requested the staff move her desk from the sitting room into the office the next morning, where she spent most of her time staring out the window at the foliage instead of writing letters.
“What wonderful a distraction!” She often exclaimed the sentiment, her musical voice bloomed with joy each time. “Surely if ever anyone has a reason not to respond to a letter, it is due to the beauty of nature.”
Gliding over, he ran his fingers lightly over the soft wood. Rebecca’s desk. He tried to open the desk top, but the rollup lid refused to budge. Snarling, he grasped a bronze letter opener from Mr. Hastings’ desk and shoved the edge roughly under the lid attempting pry it open. With a snap, the lock gave way and the letter opener sliced into the soft wood, gouging a deep scar across the delicate surface of the desk. The letter opener fell from his palm with a thunk, skittering across the floor and disappearing under Mr. Hastings’ desk.
The man searched all the crevices of the desk, pulling out every drawer and muttering with each empty outcome. His only discovery, an old pile of love letters tied with blue and white ribbons, was stashed in the rear of final drawer. He fanned through them quickly, annoyed to find Mr. Hastings’ tidy scrawl decorated the outside of every envelope. Sentimental value, apparently, why else would Mrs. Hastings store them in her desk? He shoved them roughly back into the drawer and slammed it with a snarl. Angered, he roared at the body sprawled across the desk.
“Where did you hide them?”
The corpse did not respond, but Mr. Hastings’ wide eyes appeared to be mocking his frustration. A last laugh in death, the man mused sourly.
“No answer. I am not surprise.” He cast a disdainful sneer at the body. “However, mark my words, I will find them, and no one will be able to tie me to your unfortunate demise.”
The man crossed the room once more. Wrenching open the study door, he leaned into the hallway and, with panic dripping from his voice, yelled. “Help, Mr. Hastings has taken ill. Oh please, help.”
The butler, awakened by the man’s cries, came running down the hallway through a door in the kitchen. He slid across the wooden floor in his stockings and rushed to Mr. Hastings’ side. Drinking in his master’s anguished eyes and immobile figure, the butler gasped. He examined the body but felt no pulse in Mr. Hastings’ wrist.
“What happened?” the butler asked, still bent over his employer.
“As we were talking, Mr. Hastings fell into some sort of fit, thrashing about, and then just slumped over.” The man forced a concerned tone into his explanation and leaned over the body as well. “I called for you as soon as the episode began.”
Twisting sideways, the butler studied the man. “We will need to fetch Dr. Barnes; however, I fear it is too late to save Mr. Hastings’s life.”
“Stay with him, do what you can; I will go for the doctor.” The man exited the study before the butler could reply.
Stepping out into the late evening fog, the man whistled a hollow tune, which echoed hauntingly in the mist. He called for his carriage with a quick snap of his fingers and climbed into the cab without a backward glance. As the carriage bounced along toward the doctor’s house, the man wondered if the butler noticed anything suspicious when he entered the room. His hand unconsciously curled around a glass hidden in his coat pocket; the final detail which needed to be resolved.
Perhaps it might be best to pay for the butler’s silence. However, if the butler was a loyal employee, a payoff would raise suspicions. An accident, on the other hand, would permanently guarantee the butler’s silence. How much tragedy could one family endure? He smirked in the darkness of the coach. Does a dead butler even count as a tragedy?
The carriage stopped suddenly, jarring him from his morbid thoughts.
“Help!” The man leapt from the carriage bellowing and banged loudly on Dr. Barnes’ front door. His voice strained with false concern. “Help, please, help, I need a doctor!”
“I will be right there.” The tired voice replied from deep within the recesses of the house. The elderly doctor blearily opened his front door, holding the nub of a candle. “I am Dr. Barnes, how can I help you, Mr...?”
“There is no time for introductions,” replied the man, his face partially concealed in shadow, as if the light recoiled from his visage. He shoved a parchment wrapped bundle into the doctor’s hand.
“What is this?” Dr. Barnes blinked, focusing his tired eyes on the solid mass in his hand.
“Mr. Hastings has died.” The man lowered his voice and leaned closer. “This is to ensure that he died of natural causes.”
Thumbing through the stack money, Dr. Barnes’ tongue caught between his teeth. He whistled under his breath, counting silently. He glanced up, realization glowing in his dim irises, and raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Did he?”
“Most definitely not. However, I am weary this evening and a bit reluctant to tolerate more than one death tonight. Although, if the need arises...” The man’s voice trailed off.
Dr. Barnes tightened his grip on the money and nodded once. “There will be no need, I understand your request.”
“I thought you might.” The man smiled. The sentiment did not reach his cold, dark eyes.
“I must leave at once,” replied Dr. Barnes. His tongue twisted around the words, garbling the sentence into mushy syllables of fear. Grabbing his medical bag from behind the door, Dr. Barnes threw a jacket over his arm and pulled the door closed behind him.
“Would you like to ride in my carriage?” The man bared his teeth, gesturing to his carriage; darkness seeped from the inside of the coach.
“No, thank you. I shall go on foot. Good night, sir.” Dr. Barnes shuddered once, and then nodded to the man, turning and walking in the opposite direction of the carriage.
“Doctor.” The man’s soft voice chased Dr. Barnes’ retreating back.
Dr. Barnes paused half-way down the street, his shoulders drooped. Reluctantly he turned. “Yes, sir?”
“It would do you well to remember I know where you live.” The man saluted him with a curt nod.
“Yes, sir,” answered Dr. Barnes. A tremor wracked his small frame. He pulled the jacket tightly around his shoulders, spun around again, and hastened down the street. He vanished around a corner without another word.
Casually walking over to a nearby bridge, the man dug into his pocket, and extracted the handkerchief containing the stolen glass. He leaned over the railing and dropped the contaminated snifter into the river below. Sucked into the swirling, black water, he watched the glass sink rapidly below the churning surface of the Thames–vanishing from sight. He folded the handkerchief, and replaced it in his pocket, patting it.
Humming the same haunting tune as before, he climbed back into his carriage and knocked on the window. The snap of a whip followed his cue, cracking twice over the backs of the horses. They pulled impatiently on the reins, jerking the carriage forward. The man leaned back into the darkness, pressing his fingers together in delight.
“I am not finished with your family yet, Mr. Hastings.”
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of A PERFECT PLAN by Alyssa Drake, we're giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Alyssa Drake. Giveaway ends 4/6/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
USA Today Bestselling Author ALYSSA DRAKE has been creating stories since she could hold a crayon, preferring to construct her own bedtime tales instead of reading the titles in her bookshelves. A multi-genre author, Alyssa currently writes Historical romance, Paranormal romance, Contemporary romance, and Cozy mystery. She thoroughly enjoys strong heroines and often laughs aloud when imagining conversations between her characters.
Alyssa graduated from the University of the Pacific, with a B.S. in business and a concentration in French literature. Currently she resides in Northern California with her blended family, where she works full-time at a chocolate factory.
She believes everyone is motivated by love of someone or something. One of her favorite diversions is fabricating stories about strangers surrounding her on public transportation. Alyssa can often be found madly scribbling notes on a train or daydreaming out the window as the scenery whips past.
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