Please welcome India Holton to The Qwillery with an excerpt from The Wisteria
Society of Lady Scoundrels.
THE WISTERIA SOCIETY OF LADY SCOUNDRELS by India Holton
Berkley Trade Paperback Original | On Sale: June 15th, 2021
There was no possibility of walking to the library that day. Morning rain had
blanched the air, and Miss Darlington feared that if Cecilia ventured out she
would develop a cough and be dead within the week. Therefore Cecilia was at
home, sitting with her aunt in a room ten degrees colder than the streets of
London, and reading aloud The Song of Hiawatha by “that American rogue, Mr.
Longfellow,” when the strange gentleman knocked at their door.
As the sound barged through the house, interrupting Cecilia’s recitation
mid-rhyme, she looked inquiringly at her aunt. But Miss Darlington’s own gaze
went to the mantel clock, which was ticking sedately toward a quarter to one.
The old lady frowned.
“It is an abomination the way people these days knock at any wild, unseemly
hour,” she said in much the same tone the prime minister had used in Parliament
recently to decry the London rioters. “I do declare—!”
Cecilia waited, but Miss Darlington’s only declaration came in the form of
sipping her tea pointedly, by which Cecilia understood that the abominable
caller was to be ignored. She returned to Hiawatha and had just begun proceeding
“toward the land of the Pearl-Feather” when the knocking came again with
increased force, silencing her and causing Miss Darlington to set her teacup
into its saucer with a clink. Tea splashed, and Cecilia hastily laid down the
poetry book before things really got out of hand.
“I shall see who it is,” she said, smoothing her dress as she rose and touching
the red-gold hair at her temples, although there was no crease in the muslin
nor a single strand out of place in her coiffure.
“Do be careful, dear,” Miss Darlington admonished. “Anyone attempting to visit
at this time of day is obviously some kind of hooligan.”
“Fear not, Aunty.” Cecilia took up a bone-handled letter opener from the small
table beside her chair. “They will not trouble me.”
Miss Darlington harrumphed. “We are buying no subscriptions today,” she called
out as Cecilia left the room.
In fact they had never bought subscriptions, so this was an unnecessary
injunction, although typical of Miss Darlington, who persisted in seeing her
ward as the reckless tomboy who had entered her care ten years before: prone to
climbing trees, fashioning cloaks from tablecloths, and making unauthorized
doorstep purchases whenever the fancy took her. But a decade’s proper education
had wrought wonders, and now Cecilia walked the hall quite calmly, her French
heels tapping against the polished marble floor, her intentions aimed in no way toward the taking of a subscription. She opened the door.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Good afternoon,” said the man on the step. “May I interest you in a brochure on
the plight of the endangered North Atlantic auk?”
Cecilia blinked from his pleasant smile to the brochure he was holding out in a
black-gloved hand. She noticed at once the scandalous lack of hat upon his
blond hair and the embroidery trimming his black frock coat. He wore neither
sideburns nor mustache, his boots were tall and buckled, and a silver hoop hung
from one ear. She looked again at his smile, which quirked in response.
“No,” she said, and closed the door.
And bolted it.
Ned remained for a moment longer with the brochure extended as his brain waited
for his body to catch up with events. He considered what he had seen of the
woman who had stood so briefly in the shadows of the doorway, but he could not
recall the exact color of the sash that waisted her soft white dress, nor
whether it had been pearls or stars in her hair, nor even how deeply winter
dreamed in her lovely eyes. He held only a general impression of “beauty so rare
and face so fair”—and implacability so terrifying in such a young woman.
And then his body made pace, and he grinned.
Miss Darlington was pouring herself another cup of tea when Cecilia returned
to the parlor. “Who was it?” she asked without looking up.
“A pirate, I believe,” Cecilia said as she sat and, taking the little book of
poetry, began sliding a finger down a page to relocate the line at which she’d
Miss Darlington set the teapot down. With a delicate pair of tongs fashioned
like a sea monster, she began loading sugar cubes into her cup. “What made you
Cecilia was quiet a moment as she recollected the man. He had been handsome in a
rather dangerous way, despite the ridiculous coat. A light in his eyes had
suggested he’d known his brochure would not fool her, but he’d entertained
himself with the pose anyway. She predicted his hair would fall over his brow if
a breeze went through it, and that the slight bulge in his trousers had been in
case she was not happy to see him—a dagger, or perhaps a gun.
“Well?” her aunt prompted, and Cecilia blinked herself back into focus.
“He had a tattoo of an anchor on his wrist,” she said. “Part of it was visible
from beneath his sleeve. But he did not offer me a secret handshake, nor invite
himself in for tea, as anyone of decent piratic society would have done, so I
took him for a rogue and shut him out.”
“A rogue pirate! At our door!” Miss Darlington made a small, disapproving
noise behind pursed lips. “How reprehensible. Think of the germs he might have
had. I wonder what he was after.”
Cecilia shrugged. Had Hiawatha confronted the magician yet? She could not
remember. Her finger, three-quarters of the way down the page, moved up again.
“The Scope diamond, perhaps,” she said. “Or Lady Askew’s necklace.”
Miss Darlington clanked a teaspoon around her cup in a manner that made
Cecilia wince. “Imagine if you had been out as you planned, Cecilia dear. What
would I have done, had he broken in?”
“Shot him?” Cecilia suggested.
Miss Darlington arched two vehemently plucked eyebrows toward the ringlets on
her brow. “Good heavens, child, what do you take me for, a maniac? Think of the
damage a ricocheting bullet would do in this room.”
“Stabbed him, then?”
“And get blood all over the rug? It’s a sixteenth-century Persian antique, you
know, part of the royal collection. It took a great deal of effort to acquire.”
“Steal,” Cecilia murmured.
“Obtain by private means.”
“Well,” Cecilia said, abandoning a losing battle in favor of the original topic
of conversation. “It was indeed fortunate I was here. ‘The level moon stared at
“The moon? Is it up already?” Miss Darlington glared at the wall as if she
might see through its swarm of framed pictures, its wallpaper and wood, to the
celestial orb beyond, and therefore convey her disgust at its diurnal
“No, it stared at Hiawatha,” Cecilia explained. “In the poem.”
“Oh. Carry on, then.”
“ ‘In his face stared pale and haggard—’ ”
“Repetitive fellow, isn’t he?”
“Poets do tend to—”
Miss Darlington waved a hand irritably. “I don’t mean the poet, girl. The
pirate. Look, he’s now trying to climb in the window.”
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels
Dangerous Damsels 1
Berkley, June 15, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
"The kind of book for which the word “rollicking” was invented.”—New York Times Book Review
One of Bustle’s Best New Books Out June 2021 A Popsugar Best Summer Read of 2021
A prim and proper lady thief must save her aunt from a crazed pirate and his dangerously charming henchman in this fantastical historical romance.
Cecilia Bassingwaite is the ideal Victorian lady. She’s also a thief. Like the other members of the Wisteria Society crime sorority, she flies around England drinking tea, blackmailing friends, and acquiring treasure by interesting means. Sure, she has a dark and traumatic past and an overbearing aunt, but all things considered, it’s a pleasant existence. Until the men show up.
Ned Lightbourne is a sometimes assassin who is smitten with Cecilia from the moment they meet. Unfortunately, that happens to be while he’s under direct orders to kill her. His employer, Captain Morvath, who possesses a gothic abbey bristling with cannons and an unbridled hate for the world, intends to rid England of all its presumptuous women, starting with the Wisteria Society. Ned has plans of his own. But both men have made one grave mistake. Never underestimate a woman.
When Morvath imperils the Wisteria Society, Cecilia is forced to team up with her handsome would-be assassin to save the women who raised her–hopefully proving, once and for all, that she’s as much of a scoundrel as the rest of them.
India Holton lives in New Zealand. She's taught creative writing classes to high
school students and written nonfiction and fiction pieces for various magazines.
Learn more on her website and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and