The Perils of Pleasure

By: Julie Anne Long

Prologue


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s was usual for a Saturday at the Pig & Thistle in Pennyroyal Green, the chessboard bristled with a miniature ivory and black battle, and Frances Cooke and Martin Culpepper hunched over it like two grizzled opposing generals in a place of honor in front of the fi re.

But these were the only usual things about Pennyroyal Green today.

Ned Hawthorne paused in the endless task of keeping the floor swept to marvel: it wasn’t yet noon, but every one of the pub’s battered tables was crowded. Conspicuous among the regulars were Pennyroyal Green denizens who rarely appeared in the pub: the vicar, who could, irritatingly, be counted on not to drink a drop; the mysterious Miss Marietta Endicott of Miss Endicott’s Academy for Young Ladies had been coaxed down off the hill; a few of the Gypsies from the summer encampment on the outskirts of town had even wandered in, a violin dangling disconsolately from the hand of one of them.

Ned Hawthorne, whose family had owned the Pig & Thistle for centuries, had never seen so many somber faces.

And so little drinking.

For heaven’s sake, if they were going to have a proper wake for Colin Eversea, someone needed to get it started.

“’’twas only a matter of time before Colin Eversea was hung, you know,” he reflected into the silence.

Ah, this burst the dam. A great uproar of shouted agreement and dissent ensued.

“Oh, aye, if an Eversea were to ’ang at long last, ’e would ’ave been my choice,” was one snide opinion.

“Nay, Colin’s a good lad!” someone else disagreed vehemently. “The very best!”

“Good at being bad, Colin is,” another person shouted to general laughter and a few squeaked protests.

“Well, ’e has a good heart,” some diplomat interjected from near the hearth. “Kind as the day is long.”

“Owes me five pounds!” came an indignant voice from somewhere in the back. “I’ll nivver see it now.”

“Oh, you should ken better than to bet wi’ Colin Eversea o’er anything.”

The voices trailed off. A lull ensued.

A throat was cleared.

“Then there was that bit with the countess,” came tentatively.

“And the actress.”

“And the widow.”

“And that horse race.”

“And the gambling.”

“And the duels!”

And voices once again tumbled all over each other, laughing and marveling, cursing and celebrating Colin Eversea.

Ah, that was better, Ned thought. Controversy made people thirsty.

Sure enough, the Pig & Thistle’s famous light and dark was soon flowing copiously from the taps followed by Ned’s favorite sound, the music of coins being slapped down on the bar and on the tables, and soon nearly everyone was sipping at something.

Without turning around, Ned thrust the broom he was holding off to one side, because even over the Colin Eversea inspired clamor, he’d heard his daughter Polly’s footsteps behind him. He would recognize them anywhere, over any sound.

When she didn’t take the broom, he wagged it to get her attention, then glanced back and sighed at what he saw: purple rings beneath moist eyes, a long woebegone face, and bedraggled hair.

“Now, Polly . . . ”

“But I loved him, Papa.”

“No, you don’t, my dear,” he explained patiently. “He smiled at you but twice or so. That isn’t love.”

“That’s all it took, Papa,” she sniffed.

And that summed up Colin Eversea, the damned rascal.

There wasn’t a woman in the Pig & Thistle today between the ages of seventeen (that would be Polly) and seventy who wasn’t a bit misty, and more than a few were dabbing tears. The gents were looking right misty as well. As well they should. Colin Eversea was the most entertaining reprobate the Everseas had produced in decades, one of Ned’s best customers, and the gallows would deprive Pennyroyal Green of him in a mere few hours time.

Suddenly, a pleasant-faced gentleman in a many-caped coat, an innocent stranger who’d wandered in before the rest of the crowd and consented to try the dark ale, made a mistake.

He leaned across to Frances Cooke at the chessboard, and said:

“I beg your pardon sir . . . but am I to understand that Colin Eversea—the Satan of Sussex— hails from this town?”

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