Protected: Chrystal Heart Prologue 2

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Chrystal Heart Prologue 1

My first novel will be published in March, 2013. I will post a few teasers here for followers of this blog.

Feel free to leave comments and I hope you enjoy meeting Chrystal.

October, 1851

Philomena Mercedes Carstairs slipped away from the crowds leaving Hyde Park, straightening the hat pinned over her neat chignon. She twitched her short cape into place over her tight, grey jacket and turned into an unlit side street, away from the throngs of merrymakers flooding towards purveyors of refreshments on more fashionable streets. Although the coffee houses claimed to welcome ladies as well as gentlemen, she knew from experience that the more popular ones would not serve a woman on her own. Especially when more rewarding customers were queueing for places at their tables. She would avoid the crowds, following the back streets to her lodging-house and brew coffee on the stove there.
Unbeknown to Philomena, her passage did not go unnoticed. Three shadows detached themselves from the heavy darkness beneath an overhanging wooden building. One figure turned down an alleyway, hurrying to get ahead of her, whilst two wraith-like others slid silently in her wake, careful to prevent her discovering them.
“ ‘Scuse me, Missus,” said a voice in the darkness beside her.
“Oh,” Philomena stopped, her hand rising to her chest where her heart thudded against her corset.
“ ‘M sorry, Miss. Didn’t mean to startle ya,” said the man.
Now that Philomena had turned, she could see the man more clearly. He would have been almost as tall as her, had he not stooped so. His coat was well-cut but worn at the cuffs and stained in many places, while his rough accent spoke of life in the murkier parts of the city. She gathered her scattered wits enough to smile at the stranger.
“Can I help you, Sir?” she enquired.
“Wondered if you might spare a few coppers for an ex-army man down on his luck?” said the man, moving closer.
“Oh, of course,” Philomena lifted her bag for her coin purse. A sudden sound from behind made her turn. Seeing another figure reaching for her, she ducked and spun about, backing away until the back of her bell-skirted dress touched the dirty brick wall, her bosom heaving with fear.
Footpads. And I let them trap me, she thought. Someone tore the velvet cape off her shoulders. A hand reached for her bag and she grabbed the wrist, twisting to throw her slender weight against it. She heard a satisfying yelp and released the damaged limb, looking around for the second assailant. He blocked her escape but made no attempt to engage. As she looked for an opportunity to break past, a third figure came running and Philomena found herself, once again, backed against the wall with her two opponents facing her more warily this time. The man whose wrist she had injured was pulling himself to his feet, a knife in his left hand.
Made of stern stuff, these bandits, she thought as she searched for a way to evade their tightening circle. She pulled the purse from her bag and threw it behind the men, where it fell with a loud rattle.
“That is all I have. Take it and be damned,” she shouted.
The nearer two men hesitated, glancing towards the purse, but the injured one never took his eyes off hers.
“I think we’ll take more than yer purse, Missus,” he said.
“I have nothing further!”
None of the men spoke, but the knifeman moved in, the other two flanking him and thwarting any possible egress for her. He lunged with the blade and she barely managed to knock it away with her right arm. There was a loud crack, her frilled sleeve tore and blood spurted as she ducked under their advancing hands, trying for the open street. A fist struck her shoulder, throwing her towards the man in the centre. Shouts and running footsteps sounded as if they were several miles away and she got a clear view of the attacker’s face as his knife penetrated her ribs. Her knees buckled and her vision failed as she heard a group of men attacking the thieves who’d struck her down. There were shouts from the robbers and softer words in a foreign language and then nothing but blackness.

To be continued…