Hi friends! I played around with what day to post this, as Lucy Parker sent me this post on the 7th … but I figure the day after release is good, and we already have that graphic I made ages ago. 😛
Anyway! I’m really excited to read this book. I quite enjoyed Pretty Face and I’ve had Making Up in my TBR. The Austen Playbook is obviously slated too. 😀 I’m super excited that Lucy sent this exclusive excerpt for us to enjoy, so without further ado … the book!
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.
*if those people were being nice
Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.
She can’t take her eyes off him.
Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.
Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.
As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.
Freddy glanced at him, then away. “Fortunately, most people in the West End aren’t like Sadie. She’s in a class of her own.” In the interests of honesty, she added, “She’s, like, next-level talented, though. I was twelve when I worked with her for the first time, and I still remember being literally speechless with awe watching her.”
“I’ve seen you perform. I much prefer watching you.” There was no flirtation or calculated flattery in Charlie’s statement. “I’m looking forward to seeing this show. I’m not into period dramas, but I went to your production of Beauty and the Beast years ago and you made me give a shit about dancing teacups, so I reckon I can get on board with a bit of bodice-ripping and bodies in the library.” They crossed around the side of the house and he held a wooden door open for her. “Sorry, I don’t express myself as well as Griff.”
“But you’re a hell of a lot better for my ego.” Freddy stood in a cool, dimly lit hallway, breathing in the faint smell of baking bread. “Speaking of the library, I appreciate the save from Sadie’s baiting and I bow to your lightning-fast ad lib, but if you don’t mind, I actually would like to see your library.”
She was still feeling unusually unsettled, and she found few things as calming as floor-to-ceiling bookcases.
A back scratch and having her neck kissed by a sexy man, maybe, but the only person on this property who was likely to oblige was Dylan, and there were not enough nope gifs in the world.
“I live to keep the ladies happy.” Charlie gestured down the winding passageway to their left. The interior of the house was typical of stately homes of the period: ornate, impressive, chilly, and so low-ceilinged that she could just about reach up and touch the curlicues in the joinery. “This way. If you’re picturing rolling stepladders and ancient maps, I’d lower your expectations. It’s not quite the Bodleian. Although my great-aunt did have a fancy for illustrated manuscripts, if you’re into posh calligraphy.”
As they passed an open doorway, two people came out carrying a dollhouse between them. The biggest dollhouse Freddy had ever seen. She looked enquiringly at Charlie. “Do you have kids here?”
She was trying to imagine his older brother as the doting dad of screeds of tiny, shrieking tots, and failing miserably.
Charlie held another door open for the dollhouse procession to pass through, with a word of thanks. “No. That’s one of my parents’ designs. A comparatively simple one, for them. Must be an early prototype.”
“Your parents make dollhouses?”
“The term probably isn’t grand enough. Doll estates. Towers. Castles. Entire fortified medieval towns. Think cobblers, blacksmiths, and apothecaries. Or the Parisian series—little couturiers and patisseries.”
Freddy’s hands rose to her cheeks of their own accord.
Charlie gave her an amused look. “Oh dear. A kindred spirit.”
“Your parents design tiny working worlds? For a living?”
The glow of his smile dimmed. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a living, no.” He pulled open a large wooden door. “Here we go. Highbrook Wells Library. Most likely filled with books about your gran right now.”
“Why would—” Freddy cut herself off as she walked past him into the open, airy room. A massive picture window flooded the space with so much bright light that it hurt her eyes after the comparative gloom of the hallway, but she wasn’t so blinded that she could overlook the icy stare coming her way from the central desk.
“Don’t mind us.” Charlie strolled around the dangerous vibes surrounding his brother. It was like watching a visitor to the Underworld just swan airily past Hades. “I’m just showing Freddy the library.”
“I’m working.” With an emphatic movement, Griff closed the file he was holding, as if she was likely to peer over his shoulder and have a good nose into his personal affairs. “As, I believed, was everyone else. Isn’t that the reason a former soap opera sociopath is poking around the rose bushes?”
“Which soap opera sociopath?” Charlie peered out the window. Over his shoulder, he said, “The big cheese has put everyone on hold until tomorrow morning. And stop glowering at Freddy. She’s just emerged gracefully from a run-in with a Tasmanian devil.”
“A Tasmanian devil?”
“The red-lipsticked, stiletto-heeled variety.”
Griff put his file down, apparently giving up on any prospect of working in peace while his brother was in the room. “Sadie Foster?”
“It’s bleak if people can instantly name you based on that description.” Freddy bent to examine a shelf of Austen novels. She doubted they were first editions. There’d be no reason to live in a house that was beautiful but a bit…crumbly if you had a library full of books that could fund a whole restoration. Of course, if she owned even one first-edition Austen, it would have to be pried from her frozen, comatose hands before she’d let it go, but she didn’t see Griff as the type to go sentimental over material possessions. She sneaked a sideways peek at his forbidding profile. Or sentimental over anything. “I see you’ve got the source material on hand.” She curled her fingers to prevent herself stroking the weathered spine of Persuasion.
She’d spoken lightly, but Griff set down the book he’d picked up from the desk and looked at her sharply. “Source material?”
“The Austens.” She gestured. “The play? The Austen Playbook? The reason fictional murderers are fondling your petals?”
Griff changed his stance, effectively dismissing her from his attention. “Help yourself. The books are there for reading.”
Charlie stopped spying on whatever was happening on the lawn and came to stand by the desk, prodding an incurious finger at a stack of old photographs, to his sibling’s obvious irritation. “He thought you were talking about this lot. The intel on Henrietta and co.”
Amazingly, he didn’t instantly shrivel like a raisin when his brother turned his head.
“Oh. Right.” Freddy stood and smoothed her skirt, her gaze on the hostile inhabitant of the room as she addressed the forthcoming one. “You mentioned Henrietta. And Wythburn Group first editions? Or was that just for Sadie’s benefit?”
“I try to retain a grain of truth in my embellishments. It’s more convincing.” Charlie picked up one of the black-and-white snapshots. “It’s for this big film Griff’s working on about your grandmother and The Velvet Room, and that whole nutjob crowd she used to hang with. Including our grandfather, so don’t worry, it’s not just your relations under the microscope.”
“A film?” Freddy took the photograph Charlie held out to her and looked at the beautiful lines and angles of her grandmother’s face. Henrietta was smouldering up at a man who had stern eyes and a faint smile, and was clearly Sir George Ford. Looks-wise, he was a Charlie replica. As was the man in a newer portrait on the mantel, whom she assumed was Griff and Charlie’s father. “The dad genes obviously run strong in your family.”
“Griff excepted,” Charlie said lightly. “Ma once said that if it hadn’t been for the twenty-hour labour, she might have thought he’d spontaneously animated from an ice sculpture.”
Freddy raised her gaze back to Griff’s face. That comment could have stemmed from her own early thoughts about him, and it didn’t cause so much as a flicker in his expression, but there were little arrows that only family could truly drive home.
Copyright Lucy Parker, THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK, 2019
So what’d you all think? 😀 Has anyone read it yet? Thank you so much for sharing this excerpt with us, Lucy!