The Taste of Temptation
THE SPECIAL SCOTCH Express from London whistled high and shrill as it pulled into Edinburgh’s Waverley Station in a cloud of smoke and steam. The giant iron behemoth shuddered and groaned, its great churning wheels grinding to a halt with such force that Caroline Burkett’s teeth rattled. Incredibly, her maid, Madeline, continued to snooze in the corner of their private compartment.
The first-class ticket for the ten-and-a-half-hour journey had been an incredible expense, but Caroline had refused to feel guilty when she’d sent Madeline to secure their passage at the station. They were leaving London—wretched, smoky, gossip-ridden London—and that was cause for celebration.
The clatter of conductors unlatching doors to let off eager passengers echoed up and down the train car. She jammed her book into her small traveling bag and gently shook Madeline awake. The maid gave a start and looked around wildly as though not entirely sure where she was or what she was about. Caroline couldn’t blame her, for although she knew where she was, exactly what
she was doing there was very much up for debate.
You have a plan. Keep to your plan.
“We’re here, Madeline,” she said. “In Edinburgh.”
“Forgive me, Miss Burkett,” said the maid in her light Breton accent.
“Not at all. I’m glad one of us slept.”
Madeline nodded, stifled a yawn, and hauled herself to her feet to see to the luggage.
Alone in the compartment, Caroline let her hand skitter into her bag once again, but this time she sought a precious square piece of paper made of sharp corners and promise. Edinburgh was her last chance. Her opportunity to strike out and put the life that had gone so horribly wrong in London behind her. Hundreds of miles away from the city she’d lived in for her entire life, she’d start again. Fresh. New. Unremarkable. Scotland would be kind to her in a way England hadn’t been. It had to be. She had no other option.
Her heart was practically in her throat, bile and worry close behind it, when Madeline’s blond ringlets topped with a lawn cap poked through the compartment door.
“I’ve found a porter, Miss.”
It was time. The skirts of her plain but serviceable rust-colored traveling dress fell in creased folds around her legs as she rose. Not for the first time that journey, she wished she had something a little more impressive to change into in order to greet her brother. Not that it would make Michael any more predisposed to think kindly of her.
The letter he’d sent two weeks before was also in her traveling bag, but she didn’t need to pull it out to recall his terse response.
“. . . given the circumstances . . .”
“. . .
your insistence to bring suit . . .”
“. . . Mamma’s disappointment . . .”
“. . . I have no choice.”
The sharp sting of guilt was almost as powerful as the throb of resentment that rose up to meet it. He was her brother. She no longer had a father or a mother. It was his duty to take her in, especially since her aunt and uncle had gone to great lengths to make it plain that she had been an unwelcome burden on their household during the eight months she’d stayed there, and that her tenure must end before the year mark.
In truth, she hadn’t wanted to write to Michael, but she had few resources and fewer invitations. If she was an inconvenience to him or to his wife, whom she hardly knew, so be it. It would be far better than becoming an object of pity. Or worse.
Caroline touched the knot of hair at the base of her neck before painting on the soft smile she’d worn so often since coming out all those years ago that it’d become second nature. If she could withstand scrutiny in London’s ballrooms and its courtrooms, she could conquer Michael’s inevitable disapproval.
People streamed around her as she alighted from the train and peered around the platform. Just a few feet from her, a woman stood on tiptoe kissing a young man on both cheeks while three children pulled at his jacket. A man with a gold pocket watch peeking out of his waistcoat and a briefcase in hand hurried by, no doubt on his way to an appointment. A woman hawking flowers at the entrance to the platform shouted her wares to the people rushing by, shaking posies at them to try to induce them to stop. Caroline’s own brother, however, was nowhere in sight.
As she glanced from side to side, Caroline could feel the gazes of other passengers. Despite having a maid, she was a
young woman traveling alone, with no real chaperone in sight. It was enough to raise eyebrows, although after two years of being the woman everyone in London talked about, she would’ve expected to be used to the phenomenon.
The crowd around the platform was beginning to thin. With a sigh, she turned to a porter to ask for assistance securing a cab—an expense she’d rather have avoided—when a flash of wheat-blond hair caught her eye. Dipping his shoulder to squeeze between a stout man with a cane and a lady’s wide skirts was Michael, sporting that serious, determined expression he always wore.
Her earlier annoyance and fear fell away. She missed him the way only a little sister can miss the brother she grew up trailing after. She wasn’t ready to forgive him for the past few years—not when he’d nearly refused to come down to London after their mother’s death last August—but she couldn’t help being happy to see him either.
“Michael!” she called with a little wave, unable to contain herself.
From across the platform, she could see his lips press into a thin line. Her stomach sank. She’d done something he didn’t approve of. Too boisterous. Too opinionated. Too talkative. She was always too something in her brother’s eyes.
Caroline tried to school her expression into the one of calm, ladylike serenity her mother had insisted upon. For once, she was glad for her gloves, which hid telltale white knuckles gripping the bone handle of her traveling bag.
“Caroline,” Michael said, coming to a stop a good three feet in front of her. “I trust your journey was a pleasant one.”
His manner was so formal she thought for a moment he might bow, but instead he hesitantly took a step forward to close the
gap between them and kissed her on the cheek. His lips felt papery and dry against her skin.
Nerves made her voice thin when she said, “Very pleasant. We were quite comfortable.”
“?‘We’?” he asked. “I hadn’t realized you’d brought a chaperone.”
“I only meant Madeline and myself,” she said with a glance to the maid.
“Ah yes,” he said before going back to staring at her as though she were a puzzle to work out.
“Is Elsie here?” she asked, looking around for the sister-in-law she’d seen even less of than Michael since they’d married.
“She sends her regrets but she’s making a series of rather important calls this afternoon to the wives of several MPs who decided not to join their husbands in Parliament until May.”
“She must be a great asset to you,” Caroline said, because that was the sort of thing Michael would want to hear about his wife.
Her brother’s barrel chest puffed out. “She’s well respected.”
The back of her neck prickled with embarrassment. Had she imagined the emphasis on respected or had he put it there deliberately?
“Come, the carriage is waiting,” he said.
Her brother held out a hand for her bag and then offered her his arm. She took it gladly. Michael had never been one for words: his actions mattered far more, and she knew that his agreeing to take her in was a grand gesture indeed.
She’d written two letters in February, one to Michael and one to her cousin Henrietta. A spinster, her cousin had immediately responded, offering Caroline a room in her tiny Yorkshire cottage. But while Henrietta’s offer was kind, Caroline wasn’t
ready to bury herself in the country yet. Not when there was still a shred of hope that she might build the kind of life she wanted.
Michael had taken longer to respond to her query about whether she might make a home with him and Elsie in Edinburgh—a full two weeks. His letter back had been lukewarm at best, but Caroline had written again immediately to say she was coming.
What Michael might only have guessed at was that her situation was nearing desperate. What little money had been left over from her judgment was dwindling, and Aunt Agatha and Uncle Bertram were quickly growing tired of housing her—even with the rent she paid them. She knew without asking that the day she announced her funds had finally run dry she’d be out on the street, a poor relation cut adrift.
Now here she was in a strange city, dependent on her brother’s kindness, with her hopes all hanging on that small square of paper in her bag.
“Will I see Elsie later?” she asked as they walked through the station with its glass dome soaring over the elaborately carved wooden ticket booth. The crowd was no less active here, and Michael had to pause to let a gaggle of young ladies who wielded parasols against the weak Scottish sun pass. Just as they started again, a young man with a riot of ginger curls free of the flat cap tucked in the back pocket of his trousers skittered past them, paused to look back, and then scooted behind a W. H. Smith & Son newsstand full of broadsheets and penny dreadfuls.
“The cheek,” her brother muttered. “Elsie will see you in the drawing room before supper. We eat at eight.”
“I’ll look forward to it.” She hoped she could recruit Elsie to her side. The support of a well-respected woman would ease
Caroline’s entry into society considerably.
“Elsie said she wants to give you a day or two to recover from your travels before launching you,” said Michael, as though he could read her thoughts.
Launching was the operative word for it, for that was exactly what Caroline intended to do. She was determined to take Edinburgh society—and its marriage market—by storm.
An alliance with Elsie would be welcome, but in the traveling bag Michael carried was the real key to finding herself a husband: an introduction to Edinburgh’s preeminent matchmaker.
She just hoped Mrs. Moira Sullivan would agree to take her on as a client.
The clang of the two massive steam rotary presses that produced the Lothian Herald-Times every day and the New Town Tattler every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday permeated Jonathan Moray’s office, but he hardly noticed. Noise was his business as much as words, type, and printing ink were. Silence in these offices during the afternoon and evening hours spelled trouble, and when it did fall about the place he’d likely be downstairs on the printing floor, his sleeves rolled up and his hands stained with printing ink as he rooted around in the great metal contraptions with Ronald McLeod, his head typesetter, trying to make them run again.
This afternoon, however, he was firmly in his chair. A stack of articles waited in a wood tray on the edge of his desk, waiting to be signed off on either by him or by the Lothian’s managing editor, Eva Wilis, who sat silently at her desk in the corner of
the office with her back to him. At the moment, however, the two papers’ account books were spread out before him and he was checking them once again.
His pencil flitted down the columns of numbers Liam O’Connor, his accountant, who usually worked in an office on the floor below Moray’s, had tallied up earlier that day. Now O’Connor sat in a chair opposite him, grimly awaiting the final verdict they both knew Moray would eventually come to.
Moray threw his pencil down and slumped back. “We can’t do it yet.”
“Not without taking out a loan,” said O’Connor.
“No loans,” said Moray.
“The business could grow faster if you’d borrow the money for a third press,” the accountant argued.
“I could also put the business at risk if I did that. I own everything in this building free and clear right now, and that’s not going to change,” Moray said.
“If you want an evening newspaper, you’re going to have to take a risk. Right now we can’t support an evening publication, a morning broadsheet, and a thrice-weekly society paper.”
“I want an evening newspaper—we’re ready to enter the market—but not at the expense of two healthy ones that are currently turning a tidy profit. It does me no good to have a second building, more staff, and a third press if I can only have them on credit. With interest,” he said.
O’Connor humphed. “And how do you propose to pay for them?”
Moray shrugged. “The same way I always have. Sell more papers, save money where I can, and pay in cash.”
Eva snorted, but he chose to ignore it. She might goad him, but he knew they were of the same opinion. The Edinburgh Evening Times
wouldn’t be a reality until they could pay for the building next door and the additional machinery free and clear. They’d stretch the staff and supplies from their current two newspapers a little to cover the first months until the Evening Times was up and running, but that was the most he was willing to sacrifice.
“Aren’t accountants supposed to be the ones warning their employers away from taking out bank loans and making reckless decisions?” he asked.
“Your credit is excellent, you want to expand, the only thing holding this company back from having an evening edition is you,” said O’Connor. “I’ve never seen a wealthy man so tight with his money.”
“And that’s why I’ll stay a wealthy man,” said Moray with a grin.
But instead of returning the smile, the accountant sniffed, gathered up his ledgers, and left.
“What’s the matter with him?” Moray muttered under his breath.
“We all have our motivations,” said Eva without looking up from the papers on her desk.
“And what are his?”
She sighed, turned around, and pulled her spectacles off. “Money. You might be motivated by always being the first paper to print a story—”
“Or an exclusive.”
“Precisely. O’Connor is motivated by money. One can hardly fault him when the executives at several banks have promised him compensation if he persuades you to secure a loan. Only you’re being rather uncooperative right now.”
He grunted. “That’s called corruption.”
“Others would prefer to call it business, but you’re not wrong,” she said, replacing her spectacles and holding up a sheet of newsprint to the gaslight to check the alignment of a new set of type they’d just had in.
“Ross beat us on the cause of the Cowgate fire,” he grumbled, closing one of the heavy account books with a thud. “That’s the third time this month. If that continues to happen, soon the Republican and the New Edinburgh Star will become bolder and follow.”
“Sometimes we’ll be first, sometimes the Edinburgh Record will be first.”
“This was the Scottish Evening Record that had the Cowgate story first,” he said, biting out the name of his rival’s other paper. That was what really irked him. Ross had launched the Scottish Evening Record while maintaining his other two properties, the Edinburgh Record and the Edinburgh Social Standard. A morning and an evening daily, and a society paper. Just what Moray wanted to have.
Eva’s mouth twisted. He knew she wasn’t any happier than he about the news of their biggest rival’s expanding list of publications.
Still, she shook her head. “The Scottish Evening Record is struggling for readers, and the Lothian’s circulation is the highest it’s ever been. Higher than Mr. Ross could ever imagine.”
“But it’s new and won’t always struggle. Besides, it’s an evening paper. We literally can’t compete with that. We’re going to lose ground.”
“The Lothian and Tattler are both healthy . . .”
“But . . .” he prompted.
Eva sighed. “But we’re stretching our resources—even without a third publication. We have two sets of reporters, two sets of
editors. If we focused solely on the news of the day rather than on gossip, we could consolidate. The Lothian and the Edinburgh Evening Times could share a staff.”
“You’re saying we should give up the Tattler?”
“We should sell it,” she said.
He scoffed. The Tattler had been his first paper and had exploded in popularity soon after Moray had bought it. The society paper that dealt in scandal and rumor had funded the more respectable Lothian in the latter’s lean early years and was delivered to most of Edinburgh’s fashionable homes as well as those of the aspirational class. Although his managing editor had a point that there could be some benefit to consolidating, he was loath to sell a profitable publication.
“If what you really want is to open an evening paper and take Ross out at the knees, it’s worth considering,” said Eva. “Make a decision. Commit to news instead of gossip. You won’t have to wait for the money for a new printing press, never mind the building to house it in.”
“Selling the Tattler is not an option,” he bit out. “This business was built on the back of it.”
Eva shrugged. “Then what do you suggest we do?”
The grin was back. “The same thing we do every time. Sell more papers.”
“There hasn’t been a good crime in months, most of the toffs are in London for the season, and there’s no word of whether there will be another royal visit. We need to prepare for the fact that it could be a slow summer,” said Eva.
Moray crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, his mind racing as he tried on and discarded all the ways he knew to drum up excitement for news. Over the years, he’d systematically poached away the best reporters in the city, Glasgow, and
across the north of England to staff the Lothian and the Tattler. Two better staffs couldn’t be had outside London, but none of that mattered if they had nothing to write about.
The drive to be the fastest and the first to report both news and gossip had fueled his rise to the top of the crowded Edinburgh newspaper market, but still it wasn’t enough. The constant churn of news meant there was always more. Another story to write. Another reader to reach.
A knock sounded on the office door. Through the glass panel he could just see the knob of a tweed flat cap sitting atop a shock of bright orange hair.
“Come in, Robbie,” he called.
The door swung open. Robbie was just eight, and all of four and a half feet tall, but he was one of the Tattler’s best scouts when it came to reporting the comings and goings of Waverley Station. The boy remembered faces like no one else he’d ever met, and Moray had learned a year ago that he could show the boy a photograph or even a sketch of a person and send him off to watch the platforms. Robbie would race back to report on the arrival and departure of politicians, actresses, writers, ballerinas, and the aristocracy, and for his pains he’d receive a few extra shillings’ commission to go along with his usual salary.
“Afternoon, Mr. Moray,” said Robbie before stooping into a low bow before Eva. “Mrs. Wilis, you’re looking lovely today.”
Eva rolled her eyes heavenward. The boy had recently taken to flirting with her in an approximation of the young lads and their lasses he saw boarding trains for jaunts in the country. That he was eight and Eva was thirty-four didn’t seem to bother him one bit, yet he didn’t know that it wasn’t just his age that was a barrier. Eva was happily living with another “widow,” Catriona Thorburn, with whom she’d been very much in love for
the better part of a decade.
“What do you have for me, Robbie?” Moray asked.
The boy stood a little straighter. “The woman you wanted me to keep an eye on.”
“Which one?” he asked. “There are several.”
“The lady from the trial.”
Moray sat up so abruptly the springs on his chair creaked in protest. “Blond and small?”
The boy nodded. “That’s the one. Burkett was her name.”
“Burkett?” asked Eva.
“Caroline Burkett, the Lovelorn Lass,” Moray said.
Caroline Burkett had been an excellent seller of newspapers for nearly a year when it had come out that she was suing her erstwhile fiancé, a future peer of the realm, for breach of promise. It had been a spell since she’d appeared on front pages of broadsheets and society papers alike, but a little massaging could change that. Perhaps their fortunes were changing after all.
Moray fished a coin out of his pocket to hand to Robbie. “That’s good work.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Robbie, his eyes drifting back to Eva.
“Did you see where the lady went?” Moray asked.
The boy looked down at the coin he still held in the flat of his palm and looked back up at Moray, who placed another shilling in Robbie’s tiny hand. The boy was smart and sharp, even if his taste in women might need some recalibration. If he kept at his letters, Robbie could make for an excellent reporter one day.
“I didn’t see where the lady went, but she was with a man. Also blond. Shorter than you,” said Robbie, his face scrunched up in thought.
Moray shot Eva a look. “My guess is that would be Miss Burkett’s brother, Michael.”
“Wasn’t her brother a banker here?” Eva asked.
He nodded. “Thank you, Robbie.”
The boy tipped his hat to Eva and then scampered out the door, shutting it so firmly that the glass rattled in its wood frame.
“That’s it,” Moray said, unable to suppress the eagerness in his voice. “We’ll have that third press within the year.”
“On the back of Caroline Burkett? She hasn’t been in the papers since the jury found for her. Her arrival in Edinburgh might make a headline or two, but it’ll all be forgotten in a fortnight.”
“Not after we’re done with her,” he said.
“You’re going to manufacture a story?” asked Eva.
“No manufacturing needed. A woman with a scandalous past has come to Scotland.”
“The idea that suing one’s fiancé for going back on his word is scandalous and absurd,” said Eva.
“It’s fortunate, then, that the reading public doesn’t agree with you. There must be a reason she left London, and the Tattler will report on her every move. That is, unless she chooses to speak to the Lothian in an exclusive interview, revealing never-before-told details about her failed engagement that we can run on the front page above the fold.”
Eva laughed. “After all the months she’s spent involved with the trial and under the public eye, what’s going to make a lady like her give up her story? An embarrassing story, I’ll remind you. If she was going to tell it, she would’ve done so by now.”
“That was before,” he said.
“Before she met me.”
“Lord, save me from arrogant men,” Eva muttered.
He chose to ignore his editor’s lack of faith, and instead pushed away from his desk. “Have one of the reporters write up a story for the Tattler. Pull Duffy off whatever he’s working on. He’s got the right touch for it. And tell McLeod I want ‘Lovelorn Lass Something Something’ for the headline.”
“?‘Something Something.’ How eloquently alliterative,” said Eva, scribbling a note.
“I don’t care what you headline it, so long as it screams intrigue when it hits doorsteps on Friday,” he said.
“Why not just call her the Abandoned Angel or the Besmirched Bride?” asked Eva.
“Those are good. Have Duffy work those into the copy,” he said, stuffing his arms into the sleeves of his coat.
“And where will you be while I’m ripping apart the Tattler and resetting the entire edition?” Eva asked.
“Finding out where Miss Burkett will be spending her first nights in Edinburgh. I’m not a complete brute. I’ll give her a chance to strike a deal with the Lothian to keep the Tattler at bay, but I expect the article to be ready for the Friday edition the moment she says no.”
“An exclusive interview with a newspaper or unrelenting coverage in a gossip rag. What a choice,” said Eva.
He plucked up his hat from the stand and set it on his head with a flourish. “You’d do the same thing.”
His editor sighed. “So I would.”