Philip Drake has the look of a man acutely aware of his surroundings. He emanates a sort of restless energy, not of the nervous variety, but of a man accustomed to taking charge of those around him. He regards me first assessingly, and then flashes a raffish smile that makes my pulse speed up, but then Philip, even at his worst, has always had that effect on me.
“So, Miss Lee,” he says, “To what do I owe the honor of this interview?”
“It seems there are many misperceptions about you, my lord-”
“Philip, please.” He meets me with his intense, dark gaze and then smiles warmly. “I am, after all, indebted to you for my very existence.”
“Thank you.” I return the smile and try to suppress my rising color. “I had hoped we could chat briefly.”
He nods, relaxes in his chair, and crosses a booted ankle over his knee.
“Philip, when readers were first introduced to you in THE HIGHEST STAKES as a brother-in-arms and boon companion to Robert Devington, many were shocked and dare I say even repulsed, by your selfish opportunism.”
“Ouch.”Philip winces and then laughs a brief, harsh sound. “I confess I had imagined we might ease into this but you don’t parry words, do you?”
I prompt him with silence.
He sighs. “Everyone has moments in their past that they would change if they could, don’t they? While I won’t make excuses, please know that I’ve had to live with the consequences of my past and it has not been pretty. In those years of which you speak, I was deeply dissatisfied and brimming with resentment of what it could have and should have been, and perpetually sought to dull my disillusionment with easy women and hard drinking. My behavior was irresponsible at the best of times and reprehensible at the worst. I was bitter, as if I’d been dealt an unfair hand or played against cogged dice. I sought to meet the world in the same manner it met me. I was wrong.”
“Dare I ask you to share some of that bitter experience with us? The broken heart, mayhap?”
Philip glances at the ceiling and shifts in his chair. “Got any brandy?” he asks with a chuckle. “I don’t generally bare my soul without it.”
“Please,” I cajole. “You know this is a great opportunity to clear up many misperceptions about you.”
He answers, as if to put me off. “It’s a very long story, that of Sukey and me.”
I am a tenacious interviewer, however, and continue to press. “Then how about the Reader’s Digest condensed version?”
“Alright,” he concedes with a false groan. “Sukey , Lady Messingham, and I first met in a gaming room at the Rose Tavern at Marylebone Pleasure Gardens…”
“It was much more respectable back then,” he laughs. “I was having a singular night at the Hazard Table and ready to throw out another cast when a purse of fifty pounds dropped onto the table. I looked up to see a bemasked goddess in a green gown. I was instantly smitten.”
“She would have none of me, or at least not in the way I envisioned.” He smirks. “Yet, she had set her sights on me.”
“Really? In what way?”
“I was singled out to become her gaming pedagogue. Sukey was recently widowed and in dire need of money and had had for some unfathomable reason the inane notion that gaming could keep her housed, clothed, and fed in a fashionable manner.”
“Come, Philip, be fair! That seems an unjust judgment on your part, given thatyou had maintained yourself in precisely that way for a number of years.”
“But it’s not the same for a woman,” he argues, “especially such a desirable woman as Sukey. When a man loses at the tables, he is expected to pay. If he cannot, he can expect drawn swords at dawn with a potentially fatal, but nevertheless, honorable outcome. If a woman loses and is unable to pay her debt of honor, her only option of payment is ….let us say… not quite so honorable. So I endeavored to dissuade her, and failing that, saw myself as her protector, a role she greatly resented.”
“Indeed a rocky start!”
“I fear we have been at odds more times than not, but she is indeed my soul mate.”
The taut lines of his face soften and his eyes glow with warmth as he speaks of her. (Sigh.) I realize I never would have stood a chance.
“Final question, Philip – how would you best describe yourself now?”
“Now? The rogue resurfaces in his reply. “I am a virtual paragon, don’t you know. A shining example of a man reformed…outwardly.” He pauses and grows suddenly solemn. “Inwardly, I would best say I am a man who has finally made peace with himself. ”