Lorie Landon, the co-author of YA series Doon, has a brand-new novel titled ‘Olivia Twist’ that’s hitting shelves today! It’s a reimagining of Charles Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist; however, there’s a different spin to this modern adaptation. The story will follow Olivia, a young girl who will defy the female stereotypes of the Victorian Age. Set in the 19th century London, Olivia’s brave story will be filled with adventure, intrigue, and romance.
You can check out our exclusive excerpt below:
About Olivia Twist
Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, Olivia is no damsel in distress. When she is taken in by a long-lost uncle, Mr. Brownlow, after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting to survive on the streets to attending high society soirées. But she can’t seem to escape her sticky-fingered past…or turn her back on the less fortunate children in the slums who are still scraping by. Jack MacCarron, once known as the Artful Dodger, has also risen from London’s gangs to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron, but he too cannot escape his past. Little do the socialites know that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack meets Olivia his curiosity is piqued, and his heart follows suit. As he attempts to understand why a society girl would risk her status to help homeless, orphaned thieves, he must confront his deep feelings for the young woman he finds so strangely familiar.
In a world of double-lives and double-crosses, Olivia and Jack must make the most important decision they’ve ever faced. Is sacrificing the posh lives they have won for themselves worth it for true love? This breathless adventure, chock-full of suspense and mystery, is also a heartrending love story for the ages.
Exclusive ‘Olivia Twist’ Excerpt
For long minutes, there was considerable doubt as to whether the child would survive to bear a name at all. Although being born in a workhouse was not the most fortunate of circumstances, in this child’s case the alternative would have made for a much different story; likely a very short one.
Extended moments passed as the babe lay on a thin, flocked mattress, struggling to find that first, essential, life-giving breath while the parish surgeon warmed his hands by the meager fire and the nurse slipped into a dark corner to find fortification within a tiny green bottle.
Oblivious to the disinterest of those gathered in the room, the baby gasped and proceeded to declare, to anyone within hearing distance, her choice to live.
Her mother, on the other hand, lifted her head and croaked, “Let me see it, so I may die.”
The surgeon rose from his position by the fire and hovered over the woman. “Oh, Miss, you must not talk like that.”
The nurse tucked her bottle away and approached. “Lor’, no, there’s a dear young lamb ’ere. And there’s a place in the werk ’ouse for ye both.”
Apparently, her prospects held little appeal, because the young mother gave her head a weak shake and held out her hands toward the child. The surgeon placed the babe in her arms, and the mother pressed her cold lips to the baby’s downy fluff in a lingering kiss before falling back with a gasp, gone from this world.
“Ah, poor dear!” The nurse took a quick taste from her green bottle before scooping up the child.
“The baby’s frail and likely to give you some trouble,” the surgeon said, slipping on his gloves with great consideration. “No need to call for me. Just give it some gruel. That ought to strengthen it up.” He paused to take a long look at the young mother resting in repose, the graceful arches of her dark-gold brows and the sweep of her curls across the pillow. “She was a lovely girl. Where did she come from?”
“She was brought in last night,” the old nurse replied as she juggled the squirming child in one arm while digging in her pocket with the other. “The overseer found ’er in the street. Likely she’d walked some distance. ’Er shoes were wore to the nub. But where she came from, no one knows.”
The surgeon leaned over the body and lifted her left hand. “Ah, no wedding ring.” He stared thoughtfully for a long moment. “Nurse, raise this one as a boy.”
The old woman’s arm froze mid-swig. “Sir? But she be a female.”
“Give her a fighting chance. If she grows up to look anything like her mother, the horrors she’ll be subjected to”—he straightened and looked the nurse in the eye—“will be unimaginable. Tell everyone she’s a male child.” Stuffing on his hat, the surgeon turned and walked out into the night to find his dinner.
The old nurse sank into the chair by the fire and proceeded to dress the infant, contemplating the seven babes of her own, five of which she’d held as they died. This world was hard enough for any child, let alone an orphaned baby girl. With a damp smile at the babe’s perfect head covered in golden curls, she watched it twisting and rooting in her lap.
“Yer a feisty one, me beaut,” the nurse whispered in conspiracy as she cupped a tiny balled fist in her workworn hand. “That trait will serve ye well. But yer goin’ to need more to make it.” The old woman’s eyes clouded with the image of her firstborn child, a son with hair the color of harvest wheat who’d passed before his second birthday. Mayhap the name would bring this one better fortune.
A single fat tear fell and splashed against the baby’s round cheek, startling both woman and babe. Leaning down, she spoke into the pink seashell ear, “I’ll no’ let ye perish this time, my little Oliver Twist.”
Eighteen years later
Grosvenor Square, London
The Platts’ Annual Autumn Dinner Party
The sounds of clinking china and animated chatter faded as Olivia’s cheeks warmed, and the rhubarb tart she’d consumed moments before threatened to disembark. And yet, she continued to stare. The gentleman in question raised his glass in salute, sharp blue eyes glittering as they locked on her face. His lips tilted, and the smile swept through her as a spirit might pass through one’s body, leaving her breathless.
The young man’s uncommon good looks assured she would have remembered if they had met before. So why then did the planes of his face, the way he flicked his dark hair out of his eyes, and the restless tap of his fingers against his thigh send jitters of recognition through her chest?
Olivia took a step forward, her gaze never wavered. Energy radiated around him, as if it took every ounce of his self-control to remain still. He tugged at the velvet lapel of his forest-green jacket and then shoved his hand into the pocket of his trousers as he spoke to his companion. Olivia’s heart skipped a beat and then raced forward, a memory just beyond her grasp swirling through her mind.
“Olivia! Look who I’ve found lingering by the warm punch.” A familiar voice cut through the line of Olivia’s thoughts, knotting them into a jumbled mess. She tore her gaze away from the gentleman across the room to find her cousin, Violet, approaching on the lanky arm of Maxwell Grimwig. Violet tucked a stray crimson curl behind her ear, her lips forming words that to Olivia sounded like gibberish. With a lurch, the room tipped and slid away from Olivia’s feet, and she grasped Maxwell’s jacket sleeve for leverage.
“Miss Brownlow!” Maxwell exclaimed as he took her by the shoulders and steered her to a nearby chair.
“Good heavens, should I get the smelling salts?” Violet’s ruffled kerchief smacked Olivia in the face like a lavender-scented laundry bat.
With an exasperated yank, she captured the offensive cloth from her cousin’s hand and fixed her with a death glare. “Not hardly.” Fainting was not something Olivia made a habit of, and she wasn’t about to start now.
“No need to get testy. I was simply attempting to revive you.” Violet pouted, bending to peer into Olivia’s face, as if searching for signs of a fatal malady. “I believe I warned you against that fourth tart.”
“I’m perfectly fine.” She huffed out a sigh and then softened her tone. “I promise.” Since Olivia had no mother yet living, Violet had a tendency toward over protection. Most times, Olivia found her friend’s cossetting lovable, but when she dared a surreptitious peek over Violet’s chartreuse-clad shoulder, and saw the mysterious gentleman had moved on, her frustration spiked.
“You don’t look fine,” Vi proclaimed, hands gripping her corseted waist.
Olivia narrowed her eyes at her closest friend, noting the yellowish tinge underlying her rosy, freckled cheeks. There was no getting around it; the ghastly lime gown would have to be tossed at the first opportunity. Violet was a master at choosing shades to best complement Olivia’s caramel-colored hair and odd, yellowish eyes, but when it came to her own vivid coloring, she seemed at a loss.
Olivia rose to her feet and smoothed her gold-and-cream-striped skirt. “In any case, the tarts were worth it. They were truly the best I’ve had all year.”
Violet giggled. For Olivia, the food was the main attraction at every party—at least that’s what she led others to believe. In truth, she would swim the length of the Thames for a slice of chocolate cake, but her ultimate goal at these events had little to do with her culinary obsessions.
“Miss Brownlow,” Maxwell panted as he rushed to Olivia’s side, sweat beads dotting his hawkish nose. “I brought you refreshment.”
Olivia accepted the warm mug as a bell tinkled, announcing dinner. “Why, thank you, Mr. Grimwig.” She took a small sip and lowered her lashes. “I am much restored.”
The sharp slopes of his cheekbones glowed. “May I escort you to the dining room, Miss Brownlow?”
“Of course, Maxwell.” She’d known Maxwell Grimwig for ages, therefore his neck only reddened slightly at her breech in proper address. Olivia detested the formal nature of dinner parties. She’d much rather meet with friends in a more casual setting. A picnic under the trees with her pup by her side, an intimate tea where no one counted the number of cakes she consumed, or a friendly game of cricket would all be preferable. Although these large social gatherings did have their advantages.
Olivia rose and placed a hand on her friend’s offered elbow. “Max, are you acquainted with that gentleman in the forest green coat?” She craned her neck as she searched the departing crowd for the dark-haired man, and spotted him walking the young Widow Thesing through the doorway. “Just there.” Olivia stood on her toes and pointed.
With a squeak, Violet grabbed Olivia’s hand and yanked it down. “Olivia! He might see you,” she hissed in outrage.
Olivia recovered her hand from Violet’s lethal grip and then shrugged a shoulder as she arched a brow at Max. “Well?”
“Yes, I . . . er . . . believe that is Jack MacCarron.” Max stuck a finger between his throat and his collar.
“I’ve never heard of him.” Violet, who prided herself on knowing everyone who was anyone, peered across the room searching for the gentleman in question.
“That may be because he is fairly new to society. Moved here from Ireland a couple years back, I believe.” Maxwell glanced around as the last few stragglers filed out of the room, and then sank down onto a chair and motioned the girls to sit on a brocade sofa across from him. “The circumstances were quite extraordinary, I hear.”
Loving nothing more than a good story, Olivia perched on the edge of the divan beside Violet as Max pitched his voice in a whisper. “Jack’s aunt took him in after his parents were found murdered—his mother stabbed to death and his father shot in the head.”
Olivia arched back, chills running down her spine. “Truly?”
Maxwell’s lips thinned as he waggled his caterpillar-like eyebrows. “As it may be believed, young Jack was nothing more than a half-wild ruffian when he showed up on his aunt’s doorstep. Took her years to civilize him.”
“Who is his aunt?” Violet whispered, gripping Olivia’s arm.
“The old Widow March.”
Olivia exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Violet. Lois March had a reputation for being eccentric. Everyone said she had lost her mind when her husband of forty-five years passed on, but Violet, having been acquainted with the woman since infancy, claimed she hadn’t had much of a mind to lose.
Olivia leaned in and cupped her hand around the side of her mouth. “I’ve heard it said the Widow March buries something in her back garden at the light of every full moon. What do you suppose it could be?”
“I’ve heard ’tis the bones o’ dead children,” whispered a melodic, Irish brogue, so close the tiny hairs by Olivia’s ear stirred. With a gasp, she rotated in her seat and almost collided with a solid shoulder covered in forest-green broadcloth. The gentleman in question leaned down, as if in conspiracy, a grin tilting his mouth, his blue eyes as frosty as a December morning.
Olivia shot to her feet and Mr. MacCarron straightened, his smile broadening.
Her cheeks burned as she stared up into a face that made her heart leap into her throat, but with a determined swallow she propped a hand on her hip and demanded, “Has anyone ever taught you that it’s impolite to eavesdrop?”
“Has anyone ever told ye that it’s cruel to gossip?” Jack MacCarron’s smile never wavered, but something in his gaze forced Olivia back a step.
“Now, MacCarron, we were just having a bit of fun. No need to take offense.” Maxwell’s voice shook only slightly as he moved to Olivia’s side.
“None taken.” Jack’s eyes narrowed dangerously on Olivia for several beats, dredging up fears she thought she’d long outgrown. Something about the curve of his mouth, the shape of his face drew her back into her long years of destitution—begging on the streets, robbing to survive—but such a connection was impossible.
He took a step forward. “I don’t believe we have met.” Olivia suppressed the urge to flee.
“My apologies,” Maxwell said. “Allow me.”
After a rather stilted round of introductions, Jack retrieved a woman’s reticule—presumably the reason he had returned to the drawing room—and made his exit. Shaking off her recollections, Olivia watched his broad back until he disappeared, and then turned to find her best friend, lips parted, staring at the now empty doorway.
Despite the rainbows and butterflies reflected in Violet’s gaze, the knot in Olivia’s gut had little to do with romantic dreams and everything to do with a growing awareness rising within. Jack MacCarron was indeed no stranger to her.
Olivia glided down the dark corridor, slinking from shadow to shadow in a dance she’d performed more times than she cared to number. Her excuse for trespassing in the living quarters of the Platts’ home held validity—this time. Presumably, she’d left the party to “lie down.”
She could not believe she’d almost fainted. Her momentary weakness made her stomach clench with disgust. But Max Grimwig had come to her rescue in his sweet, bumbling way. His proposal was forthcoming any day now, and although she viewed him as no more than a friend, her uncle’s declining health and dwindling finances assured her swift, if not enthusiastic, acceptance. She ignored the cold that spread through her chest at the thought of marrying. Eighteen was an acceptable age to become a wife, but for Olivia it signified responsibilities she had no inclination to take on, and more remarkably, it meant the end of her freedom.
But she would do what needed done. As she always had.
Violet made her disapproval of the match clear, but true love simply did not exist outside of fairy tales and her friend’s ridiculous gothic novels. The Grimwigs’ wealth would bring her security, allow her to support her uncle, and, she hoped, subsidize her charitable mission.
Olivia paused to open a massive armoire, but only finding stacks of fresh linens, continued down the hallway.
Last month while in the garden at the Drewforths’ ball, Max had snuck a kiss. His lips were warm and gentle, pleasant. But it had left Olivia questioning why other girls compared the kisses of one gentleman to another. How different could they possibly be? Unbidden, the image of ice-blue eyes and a slow smirk filled her mind.
“Ouch! Blast it—” Olivia clamped her mouth closed, her heart racing as she grabbed her smarting foot and glanced up and down the hall. Still alone, she searched the floor for her assailant and found a squat frog balanced on the edge of the carpet runner. Cursing her own clumsiness, she moved to step around the doorstop, when a metallic glint caught her eye. She bent and plucked up the tiny statue for further examination. Hefting it in her hand, she noted the weight and the tarnished spots in the creases where the polish had missed. A triumphant grin spread across Olivia’s face. Solid silver.
The idiotic trinket would bring a fair amount of coin at market. “No one shall miss you, my little darling,” Olivia whispered as she slipped the amphibian into the pocket of her skirt, its added weight pulling the fabric taunt.
She turned to go back to the party when slow footsteps, so light she almost didn’t hear them, signaled someone approaching. Keeping her gaze glued to the landing at the top of the stairs, she backed up then reached behind her to turn the nearest doorknob, but it wouldn’t move. Her pulse galloping ahead of her, she tiptoed to the next door, finding it locked as well.
The footsteps continued, and a tall shadow stretched across the landing. Olivia turned and ran. A stream of weak light indicated a cracked door near the end of the hallway. She raced toward it, and without thought slipped inside. Pushing the door to, she leaned against the wall and let out a long breath, willing her heartbeat to slow. The light of a single lamp on the bureau illuminated burgundy bed coverings, dark leather furniture, and the implements of a pipe spread on a low table by the window. Mr. Platt’s bedchamber. If anyone found her there, she didn’t dare contemplate the consequences.
At the Wolfbergs’ party the previous week, she’d nearly been caught nipping chinaware from the kitchens. The butler had walked in on her the moment she’d plucked the gold-rimmed saucer from its velvet-lined drawer. As luck would have it, one of the maids approached and, in a ringing voice, Olivia demanded to know where she could purchase the dishware for her uncle’s household—as if they could actually afford such finery. After being informed that the china had been passed down in the Wolfberg family for generations, the butler had taken Olivia’s arm and escorted her back to the party.
If the servant had arrived a second later, he would have witnessed Olivia slipping the saucer into the custom-made pocket of her skirt—and her mission at every extravagant, overdone soiree would have screeched to a tragic end.
The footsteps grew closer. Olivia pressed her back into the wall and sucked in her chest, as if not breathing would somehow make her invisible. The footfalls paused right outside the door, followed by an odd scrape and click. Her hands gripped the wall like talons, and she peeked around the edge of the door, just as a dark-haired gentleman with broad shoulders slipped into the next room.
Mr. MacCarron? She jerked her head back into the room. What could he possibly be doing in the Platt family wing?
Olivia pressed against the wall and clutched the locket resting beneath the neckline of her dress, worrying the smooth metal against the fabric, an unconscious habit that brought her comfort. Like a word on the tip of her tongue, she could almost grasp what eluded her about Jack MacCarron. Before she could contemplate further, a muted banging made her jump, and the exposed skin of her upper arm scraped against the wooden chair rail at her back. She wrapped her gloved fingers around her stinging flesh as another muffled thump from the next room drew her attention to the connecting door. Of course! Mr. and Mrs. Platt would have adjoining bedrooms.
On her tiptoes, she crossed the room and turned the knob slowly. Careful not to make a sound, she eased the door open a crack. Silence.
Turn. Run! her mind hissed. But she didn’t. She stayed. She had to know.
Opening the door, she peered inside. The bedroom was dark save for the muted glow from the open window.
Standing stock still, she trained all her senses on the room. A flash of light left black spots dancing before her eyes, and then she heard a low curse. What on earth was he doing in there? Easing open the door a bit more, she leaned forward until she spied a dark form hunched near the foot of the bed. Heart racing, she stepped inside.
As if pulled by an unseen force, Olivia took another step and another. A cloud shifted outside and a beam of moonlight painted the curve of his stubble-covered jaw and strong nose. Bent over a metal box beside an open hole in the floor, he maneuvered the tools in his hands with quick, deft movements. And that niggling that she’d experienced the moment he’d smiled at her reared up and screamed the answer into her mind.
The floorboard creaked under her heel and she froze, her breath seizing in her chest. The man looked up and their eyes met for a moment that stretched into an eternity, and she knew she was right. “Dodger?”
His shocked expression turned fierce, and he sprang from his crouch like a big cat she’d seen once at the Regent’s Park zoo. Faster than she could have thought possible, he grasped her arms and pushed her up against the wall. “Where the devil did you hear that name?” he ground out between clenched teeth.
Olivia blinked. The thin scar on his right cheekbone, the vein that pulsed in his throat when he was angry, the outline of dark lashes around light eyes—Dodger. She longed to confess, “It’s me, your erstwhile friend, Ollie.” But he’d never believe she was his long-lost chum—the orphan boy he’d taken under his wing some nine years past.
“I asked you a question,” he growled. The solid weight of his body pressed closer, forcing her to tilt her chin to meet his violent gaze.
The tiny hairs on her arms rose, sparking the survival instincts from her youth. Never back down. Stiffening her posture, she spat, “Whyever would I answer such a great brute?”
His eyes widened and she pushed against his hard chest. Seemingly caught off guard, he stepped back. Olivia inched toward the door. “I thought you were Dozer . . . er, Mr. Dozer, the footman.” She arched an eyebrow and slid her mouth up on one side, allowing him to come to his own conclusions regarding why she would seek out a footman in a dark bedroom. He frowned.
Olivia walked backward, quickly. “But I can see I was mistaken. My apologies.” She dipped her head in a respectful nod. She’d seen too much, and she wasn’t about to stick around to find out what the grown-up Dodger . . . er . . . Jack—whatever his blasted name was now—would do to keep her mouth shut.
“Wait.” His voice deep and commanding, Jack took a long stride forward. Olivia turned on her heel and fled out the door and down the hall as fast as her feet would carry her. When she reached the staircase, she dared a glance over her shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t followed. She attempted to descend the stairs at a respectable pace, her mind whirling with memories. After escaping the workhouse, her prospects had been slim.
Olivia had slept curled up in a field, been chased by soot-covered chimney sweeps across Blackfriars Bridge, and hadn’t eaten for days. She’d never felt more alone in her life. So when a little old woman had promised her lodging and the easiest work she’d ever do, Olivia had been ready to follow the woman anywhere. But a boy with a ragged top hat, wide smile, and grubby cheeks had looped an arm around her shoulders and steered her away, informing her that sort of work would lead to an early grave. “I’m Jack, better known among me mates as the Artful Dodger.”
Then he’d invited her to be the master of her own fate.
She’d followed him off the crowded street of Cheapside through a maze of sewers, rickety walkways, and a cockroach-infested apartment building, before they’d emerged in a massive third-story attic filled with mismatched furniture where children laughed and played games while sausages smoked on the fire. If life got any better than that, she didn’t know how. In comparison to the toil-eat-sleep schedule of the workhouse, the bone-numbing cold, the beatings, and the rats—God save me from nibbling, stinking rats—Dodger’s gang of ragamuffins were a revelation.
Fagin, the old kidsman, had taken one look at Ollie’s face, proclaimed her the perfect angelic distraction, and without an inkling of her true gender, presented her with a pristine, blue sailor’s suit as a welcome to the crew.
That night, the Dodger had offered her a soft pallet under the eaves of the roof, removed from the chaos of the other boys. Her belly full of smoked meat and day-old rolls, she’d grinned dreamily as he’d tucked her in, promising to teach her a trade that would keep her full and protected for the rest of her days.
When one of the older boys had complained about her prime sleeping spot near the fire, Dodger had punched him sound in the nose, and then pulled his pallet next to hers so that she laid nestled between him and the wall. A few moments later, he’d produced a brightly wrapped piece of candy and handed it to her. “This lot don’t know ’ow good they got it, Ollie.”
With trembling hands, she’d unwrapped the gold cellophane and popped the confection into her mouth. The buttery-sweet taste had brought tears to her eyes. She’d had candy once in her life, on Christmas the year before her nurse passed on.
With his head propped on one hand, those canny blue eyes searched hers. “But you do know, don’cha?”
She’d nodded, swiped at her wet cheeks, and sucked on the sugary goodness melting on her tongue. Dodger had flopped onto his back, one hand behind his head. “Don’t you worry none, kid. After I’ve trained you, you’ll never ’ave a reason to leave our right little nest.”
He’d turned to face her again, blinking at her wet cheeks. “Lesson one: Friends are just enemies in disguise. Don’t let the others see ya bawlin’. Tha’s a good way to get trounced.”
That was the day he’d become her champion. Brash, confident, and brave, he’d been all the things Olivia wanted to be.
Her heart light, she skipped down the rest of the stairs toward the sounds of the dinner party. Against all the odds, that daring, clever boy had fought his way off the streets and into the upper echelon of London society. But if he’d truly left the life behind, whyever would he rob the Platts?
Olivia paused in the darkened hallway and stroked the silver treasure in her pocket. Why, indeed.