A Matter of Grave Concern
by Brenda Novak
When Maximillian Wilder joins the notorious body snatchers known as the London Supply Company, the last thing on his mind is love. He’s worried about Madeline, his vanished half sister, who was last seen in the company of Jack Hurtsill, the gang’s conscienceless leader. Raiding graveyards, stealing corpses, and selling them to medical colleges as dissection material is dirty work, but he has to gain Jack’s trust. He’s determined to find out what happened to Madeline—and to bring Jack to justice if she was murdered for the coin her body could bring.
Beautiful, spirited Abigail Hale, daughter of the surgeon at Aldersgate School of Medicine, detests the challenging, hard-bargaining Max. But she must procure the necessary specimens if she is to save the college and her father’s career. She believes she is going to be successful—until Jack double-crosses her. Then she’s swept into a plot of danger and intrigue, one where Max must intervene and protect her, no matter the risk to his plan . . . or his heart.
EXCERPTS (Please choose only ONE to use with your post):
It was a perfect specimen. Almost.
Abigail Hale took a steadying breath and stooped into the cool, dark alley to examine the bloodless gash on the cadaver’s high forehead. The injury was a minor flaw, really. Nothing to worry about, although she intended to use that imperfection to best advantage when haggling over price.
Straightening, she opened the door wide and motioned the five figures surrounding the body inside. “Quickly!”
Three men followed as two, their features distorted by the flickering light of her lamp, hefted the sack containing the corpse into her father’s office and dropped it with a thud as solid as though it contained nothing more than so many rocks.
Abigail squared her shoulders and crossed to the desk adjacent to her father’s. Although she had dealt with resurrection men during the last school year, thrice, she had never done business with this particular gang. The sheer number of them took her off guard. Usually a couple of gravediggers or sextons showed up, regular men who didn’t look nearly so unsavory.
Hoping to keep the “sack ’em up” men from seeing how badly her hands were shaking, she clasped them behind her back.
A behemoth of a man, marked with the smallpox and dressed all in black, stepped forward. “When I saw the name on your letter, I assumed we were dealin’ with the good surgeon himself,” he said with a thick Cockney accent. “So who the bloody hell are you?”
“Who I am doesn’t matter so long as you get paid. Am I correct, Mr.…Hurtsill?” She was guessing at his name. This was the first time she had ever met him, but he seemed in charge and had referenced her letter.
“This is some risky business we’ve got going here, little lady. I have to trust you and you have to trust me. And that means who you are matters more than you might think.”
Since he didn’t correct her, she assumed she had accurately identified him. “Fine. I am steward of the household accounts here, if you must know.”
He picked a piece of food out of his teeth. “The surgeon’s daughter, eh?”
Apparently, he knew more about the school than she had expected.
“Does your father know you’re doin’ this?” he asked.
If they didn’t get on with it, he would find out. And she couldn’t have that. “Time is money, Mr. Hurtsill. How—”
“Big Jack,” he interrupted.
“Call me Big Jack.”
“Fine. Mr…er…Jack, then. How much do you want for…um…” Abigail nodded toward the sack.
“Make that fifteen.” A deep voice interrupted, and for the first time, Abigail looked directly at the man standing to the side and slightly behind Big Jack. His clothes bore as much dirt and his face as much beard growth as the rest of the group, but he was different. Not only was he significantly taller, he carried himself with a certain…authority.
How had she not noticed him before?
She’d been doing her best to block him and the others from her consciousness, she reminded herself.
Her gaze locked with an intense pair of sea-green eyes. “Why, that’s highway robbery! My father has never paid a resurrectionist more than nine guineas, six shillings. I’ve got it all in a book, right here.” She tapped the top of the desk to convince him.
When he smiled, his teeth looked clean and mostly straight, another detail that set him apart from his companions. “Evidently, you’re not a pupil of economics, or not a very good one, Miss Hale. Short supply, high demand, prices go up. Sometimes significantly. Fifteen guineas. No less.”
Those short, clipped sentences bore no Cockney accent and revealed a definite culture to his voice, causing Abigail to wonder if she had been dealing with the wrong man all along. She couldn’t imagine this stranger taking orders from anyone, much less the likes of Jack Hurtsill.
“Blimey, Max,” one of the other men muttered.
Drawing herself up to her fullest height, which was at least ten inches shy of this Max’s six feet something, Abigail clung tenaciously to her composure. “At this point, I would rather you take your ‘large’ and go.” Surely, there had to be other resurrection men she could contact; she hadn’t gone through all the names she heard muttered about the halls of the college and St. Bart’s Hospital next door. “I have seen naught but the head, and that small sample revealed a nasty wound.”
“There’s not a mark on the rest of him,” Max responded coolly. “We offered to show you, but you refused.”
Abigail had no intention of letting this body-snatcher tempt her into dumping the body out onto the rug as she had almost let them do before. “Mr. Hurtsill—I mean, Big Jack, here, was about to say ten guineas. I will go that high.”
“I’m afraid it’s not high enough,” Max countered.
“You’re a fast study, mate.” Jack slapped him on the back but didn’t interfere. Instead, he turned a challenging smile on Abigail and waited for her response.
“Then go,” she said, shooing them away. “Take Mr. Whoever He Is and leave. I will not let you rob me. Not if I can help it.”
“And what if you can’t?” Insolence lit the eyes of the man identified as Max. “Perhaps we should wait here for your father. No doubt he will have better sense of what a corpse is worth at the present time, although I doubt he would want us loitering about the place. What’s it been…eighteen months or so since those two surgeons were prosecuted for receiving and dissecting stolen bodies? With a possible knighthood on the horizon, and such a close tie to Sir Astley Cooper—the sergeant surgeon of the late king himself, no less—it would be quite unfortunate if your father were to be found dealing with the likes of us, wouldn’t you say?”
Abigail’s jaw dropped at the not-so-subtle threat. Perhaps she had underestimated these sack ’em up men. This man, anyway. “If what you have brought is worth so much Mr.…Max, is it?”
He gave her a mocking bow and added his last name, as if to prove he feared nothing from her. “Wilder. Maximillian Wilder at your service, Miss.”
“Ouch! That hurts! What are you doing?” she asked, trying to wiggle away from the roughness of his chin as he chafed it against her face and neck.
Max could feel the ridge of Miss Hale’s collarbone beneath his cheek, then more smooth skin as he slid his chin up the column of her throat. “I am leaving a few marks on you, for Jack’s edification,” he said. “He will never believe you were ravished without something to show for it.” Pausing just below her left earlobe, he began to suck on her neck.
She squirmed some more, resisting, but that soon subsided and she started to giggle. He guessed from her bossiness that she didn’t laugh often but, strangely enough considering all the trouble she had caused him, he liked the sound of it.
“Nothing in my father’s books said anything about this,” she said. “What on earth are you doing? Stop! It tickles. What could possibly be the point?”
He lifted his head only when he was satisfied that he had left a deep purple mark. “What your father’s books didn’t tell you, Miss Hale, is that much of what goes on between a man and a woman, at least in the bedroom, has no point. It is simply for the sake of pleasure, for the pure, heady passion of reveling in the opposite sex, of letting go of all inhibition long enough to enjoy giving everything and receiving everything all at the same time.”
He knew his voice sounded slightly hoarse, but she smelled so damn clean and fresh. And her skin—it had to be the softest he had ever touched.
Moonlight lit her face as she cocked a finely arched eyebrow at him. “You seem quite well-versed on the subject.”
“I have never read any bloody medical journals, that’s for damn sure. After hearing what they have to say, I think I’m glad.”
“What’s wrong with what they say?”
Max ignored her in favor of nipping at her neck again. Why did she have to feel so good? Not five minutes earlier, he had told himself he wouldn’t have any difficulty sharing a room, even a bed, with Miss Hale. He could control his “drive to mate” as she put it.
But that was before, when Miss Hale—Abigail—was at an arm’s distance. Now that she was so close and not nearly as stiff as he had expected, he found his perspective changing. And he was only rubbing his chin on her cheeks and neck. What would it feel like to part her lips and slip his tongue inside her mouth for that first sweet taste?
Under the guise of more chafing, he let their lips brush once, felt their breath mingle, and measured Miss Hale’s response. The tension in her shoulders, where he had anchored his hands, relaxed ever so slightly. Her eyelids lowered as her gaze fell to his mouth, and she kept her head tilted at just the right angle for their lips to brush again.
She’s curious, he realized. She has never been kissed.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak is the author of more than fifty books. A four-time Rita nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Daphne, and the Holt Medallion. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May at www.brendanovak.com (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised over $2 million. For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com.
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Buy link: http://www.amazon.com/Matter-Grave-Concern-Brenda-Novak-ebook/dp/B00INCFT6W