In Hidden Flame, we meet Benedict Beckenham. Seeking shelter from a violent storm, he assists a woman as embarrassed in circumstance as he is himself. Weeks later, on visiting his godmother, he is astonished to find the damsel in distress in residence.
For her part, Theda is dismayed by the rise of passion between them which threatens to jeopardise her precarious position as companion to a dying woman. But when a shocking inheritance blasts their friendship apart, Theda is forced to confront the ghosts of her past.
Will the blistering scandals of yesteryear keep Theda and Benedict forever divided? Or will the flame of love triumph?
And here is an excerpt from the novel...
With a liberal hand, he poured himself another glass. But as he raised it to his lips the windows flashed bright again, and the heavens gave forth another stream of rumbling abuse.
"God, what an accursed night," mumbled Mr Beckenham, and, sipping his liquor, he looked over the makeshift meal with revulsion. "Hell and damnation, to what am I reduced?"
As if in response to his cursing, the wild night struck back at him, flaring a double blow of brilliant whiteness that seemed to tear at him through the windows.
His head turned, eyes narrowing against the glare. As the room lit, an image crossed his vision--of a thin black figure seated in a corner, crouching witchlike in the gloom.
His heart lurched sickeningly. The devil! He was seeing things. Too much brandy.
But as the dark closed in again and his eyes began to adjust, the glimmering outline of a pale face encroached upon his senses.
The thunder rolled away as Mr Beckenham stared, leaving the place eerily silent, and his heart still. Was it a ghost? Or merely his imagination playing tricks? Cursing briefly, he closed his eyes, looking away.
As he opened them again, they flicked, almost out of his own control, to check. It was still there.
Mr Beckenham froze. His fingers about the stem of his glass tightened. There was a sharp crack, and the broken glass fell from his hand, tinkling on to the table and spilling its golden liquid on to the pristine white cloth.
"Hell and the devil!" he swore, starting forward.
There was a frightened gasp and the ghost rose, too, staring at him out of the two hollows that were its eyes.
"I--I beg your pardon," faltered the ghost. "I think I startled you."
"Dear God in heaven," ejaculated Mr Beckenham on a tide of relief. "You're real!"
A flicker at the window and a faint cackling echo of thunder laughed at him. The gods were enjoying their own cruel joke, Mr Beckenham decided savagely. Well, he would have his revenge.
He seized the candelabrum, and, lifting it high, moved towards the pale face. It shrank back against the wall, edging towards the door. As he neared, he could see that it belonged to a slight female form encased in dark garments, its hair entirely concealed by a white cap. Small wonder she looked like a ghost. No, a witch; a black witch, casting spells from her hiding-place in the corner.
Abruptly the woman speeded up, making a dash for the door. He strode forward to intercept her, grabbing one wrist as he reached her.
"Come here, witch! You don"t escape me so easily."
"Let me go," came in a harsh whisper from the pale face.
"By no means."
Tugging her away from the door, Mr Beckenham pulled her close, holding the candelabrum high. In its light was revealed a thin face, with skin so pale it was almost translucent, whose high cheekbones emphasised the hollows below and under her brows. From within these, a pair of deep-grey eyes looked up at him. There was fear in them, but more than fear—defiance, a little, and challenge.
"Why were you hiding there?" he demanded compellingly. "Spying on me?"
She shrank a little, the eyes dilating. Her voice was pitched low, the fear overlaid with edgy defiance.
"I didn't mean to spy. I couldn't help it. I came down for the fire, for it was cold in my room. Then I heard the door, and you came in, and--and I did not dare to reveal myself because--"
"Because I am a man, and because I am drunk?"
"Yes," she agreed, and a little of the fear seemed to leave her.
"My good girl, I am not in the least drunk," he told her on a haughty note. He saw her glance across at the table and followed her gaze to the brandy bottle. "Perhaps a trifle foxed, but that is all."
Then he recognised that her eyes had strayed to the food, glistening a little. The pink tip of a tongue touched her pale lips.
Mr Beckenham had hold of her wrist still, and all at once he felt how slim it was. His hand was closed loosely over it. Like a bracelet, he thought. The girl was a stick! Sudden pity softened him towards her, and he forgot his urge for revenge.
"Are you hungry?" he asked abruptly.
Her eyes flew back to his and she swallowed painfully. "Oh, no, I--I was just--I did not mean..."
Mr Beckenham let go her wrist and stepped back with a little bow, gesturing to the table.
"Pray share my supper, ma'am."
She shook her head. "Oh, no, I could not. I should leave you now."
"'Should,' not 'shall,'" he noted. She was hungry. He smiled, charmingly, and saw the grey eyes widen. But she did not smile in return.
"It would be a kindness on your part, ma'am. These good people have been to an enormous amount of trouble on my behalf, and I am sure I shall be quite unable to do justice to their generous provision."
Forgetting his earlier disgust at the food that had been set for him, he thought only that this girl would appreciate it, whatever its quality.
She hesitated, glancing again at the food, longing in her eyes, and back to him, uncertain. "I don't think it would be seemly."
"Who is to know?" he countered, and, setting a firm hand to her back, he began gently to propel her towards the table. "You need not fear me, ma'am. As you have so sapiently observed, I have consumed far too much brandy to be capable of any amatory advances."
"Yes, that is what I feared," she said, glancing up at him as they reached the table. "Not that you might attempt anything, perhaps, but in my situation, one is vulnerable to--to certain propositions."
He held the chair for her to sit. "You mean, I dare say, that, having given you supper, I might expect payment in kind."
There was no trace of a blush on her pallid cheek. Her attention was on the food. Her voice was vague as she responded. "Yes, that is usually the way of it."
She drew a breath as he offered her the platter of bread, and her fingers shook as she lifted a slice from among the pile. He sat down and watched her, fascinated, as she put the bread to her mouth, her eyes closing in a kind of ecstasy when she bit into it. It must be many hours since she had eaten.