I’m so excited to offer my latest Rock*It Read–Stroke of Genius! I love this retelling of the Pygmalion myth, the story of an artist who falls in love with his own creation. In Stroke of Genius, my hero is Crispin Hawke, a brilliant sculptor who has the ton shaking in its well-heeled shoes because his renditions in marble are brutally realistic. He can make them appear as a god or a goat with equal ease. He’s so univerally haled as a genius, his brusque arrogance is understandable. Crispin has even been compared to HOUSE.
The first time I watched HOUSE, I was astounded at how terrible he was to people and how his unique abilities made others excuse his execrable behavior. Crispin is a bit more charming and less mean, but he does have a high opinion of himself.
At least, that’s what he wants the world to believe. Here’s a snippet from Stroke of Genius that gives readers a glimpse into Crispin’s past…
No one knew for certain why Pygmalion shoved people away, but one suspected the reason was rooted in his past. A past he guarded as if its secrets would topple the Crown.
25 years earlier
Peel’s Abbey, a Cheapside House of Pleasure
The bells of St. Paul’s chimed the hour. Seven of the clock. The ‘gentlemen’ would be coming soon. Time to make himself scarce just as soon as he finished scrubbing the corridor outside Madame Peel’s chamber.
“No, Leo, I don’t hold with such things,” young Crispin overheard Madame tell one of her best clients. Leo was a longtime customer and one of the few who were allowed to enter her inner sanctum. “It ain’t natural.”
“But that’s what makes it so very lucrative. My friend runs the cleanest molly house this side of the Thames. Your bootblack boy is a likely lad. I assure you he’d be well treated. A regular pet, that one.”
“He’s too young,” Madame protested.
Crispin heard her bracelet tinkle merrily and pictured her imperious gesture in his head. The girls always said he had more imagination than a body needed. Even though Crispin knew the sparkly gems stuck in Madame’s bracelet were only paste, he thought it a thing of beauty. A bright spot of color in a world of gray.
“The boy’s only five or maybe six.”
“But big for his age,” the man said. “And so very comely.”
There was a long pause and the boy in question leaned closer to the crack in the door to Madame’s private chamber.
“You’re only against it because you figure the mollies cut into your business with some of the upper crust,” the man said with a laugh. “You’d be well compensated for the boy.”
In the silence that followed, Crispin didn’t dare breathe. Something inside him shivered once and then went perfectly still, a wild young thing hiding from the predator sniffing nearby.
“No,” she finally said.
He released the breath he’d been holding.
But even a lad of five or six knew Madame Peel’s ‘no’ was only a deferred ‘yes.’ If Peel’s Abbey had a few lean weeks, the answer would change in a heartbeat. He knew it as surely as he knew his own name.
Crispin knew lots of things. He’d lived at the Abbey all his life. After the pale, dark-haired woman he called mother died of a fever there, Crispin toddled around the pleasure house, growing up wild as a thistle, with little help from the adults around him. The girls who worked there took little notice of him. They wandered about the house in various stages of undress, thinking it didn’t matter to such a youngster.
But he noticed and it did matter. He knew the line of a long feminine leg and the curve of a breast almost before he could talk. And they meant something to him. Enough for him to be sure he wouldn’t be happy as a molly’s pet.
The girls talked over his head while he played with little wooden soldiers he’d carved himself. He knew which of the ‘gentlemen’ were kind and which were rough, who had a short sword and who was gifted with a long one, but was loutish in his bedplay. He learned about every whore’s trick and every possible manner of coupling before he could read his first word.
If Madame Peel was set on selling him, he’d have to run away. But he didn’t want to leave the Abbey. It was all he knew.
So Crispin made himself useful at every opportunity. He spit-shined Madame’s black boots till she could see herself in the glossy leather. He ran errands for the girls while they slept in the mornings. He’d always been clever with his hands, so he drew pictures that pleased them, making the thin ones more plump and giving the chubby girls one chin less.
He gave Madame no excuse to rid herself of him.
And every evening when the ‘gentlemen’ came, he crept up to the garret and hid himself away.
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