I’m so excited it’s Tuesday because that means we here at ALBTALBS have an exclusive excerpt just for you! Today’s excerpt is from debut author Liana De la Rosa, who is also today’s Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage Month guest author. You’re going to want to check that post out as well, trust us. 😏
Driven into exile years earlier, due to family scandal, Declan Sinclair is called home, devastated to discover his brother has been murdered and he’s the new Duke of Darington. When clues point to the man he blames for both his exile and his brother’s death, Declan resolves to ruin the culprit. If only the daughter of the man’s business partner, lovely Lady Alethea Swinton, didn’t tempt his resolve.
Lady Alethea Swinton has cultivated her pristine reputation in the hopes of winning her father’s praise. When her childhood friend returns, Alethea finds she’s willing to court scandal and defy her father to help the handsome Declan uncover the truth behind his brother’s death. Until she realizes Declan’s redemption will mean her family’s ruin.
Air rushed fast and heavy into his lungs. He’d almost say he was panting. But dukes would never do anything so uncouth…would they? Declan wondered at his reaction to Alethea’s lean but surprisingly firm arm on his own, and its mysterious ability to throw him off balance.
He’d only agreed to attend the Carlton ball because he’d learned Rockhaven would be in attendance. The fact the earl continued to avoid him frustrated Declan and did nothing to alleviate his growing suspicions that more than scheduling difficulties prevented them from meeting. So he’d allowed himself to be at his competent valet’s mercy for the occasion and affixed his most amiable smile onto his face, determined to charm the ton. He may have decided to largely be an absentee duke, his urge to build a life in England diminished with his brother’s death, but winning favor with the beau monde would benefit him. Albert had worked hard to return respectability to the Sinclair name and the Darington title, and he would do nothing to compromise it. And until he was able to solve the mystery of his brother’s death and return to the Caribbean, he would make pretty with the very people who’d so often turned up their noses at him as a child.
Suddenly Declan found himself battling the urge to tug at his too tight cravat, longing for the lightweight madras shirts that used to be his uniform.
He’d managed to maneuver through his first ton ball, in spite of the whispers and assessing glances he garnered. Little doubt, word of his encounter with the old dowager Lady Banbury had been bandied about, and he could only guess what they made of his near engagement to Alethea. Let them say what they want, for he had more important things to consider.
Like questioning the Earl of Rockhaven. However, when he’d finally located the earl, instead of demanding answers, he’d commandeered a waltz with his daughter. He bit back a sigh at the realization his ironclad discipline fled him once again as soon as Alethea was near. It was an alarming weakness, for he feared it could make him forget all the reasons why she could never be his.
Still, the most beautiful woman of his acquaintance consented to dance with him. The evening suddenly showed more promise than he’d expected just a quarter of an hour before.
Gripping her hand, he led Alethea toward the center of the dance floor. He circled her, his gaze discreetly admiring her hourglass figure, until they faced each other. Her eyes held his captive as he stepped forward, his other hand sliding along her side to encompass her slim waist, his fingers spreading wide. Heat seemed to radiate from the places where their bodies touched, and Declan reveled in the sensations of holding a very grown-up Alethea in his arms.
He had danced the waltz on three continents, with numerous partners, some more beautiful and memorable than others. But the fluidity with which Alethea moved erased all memories of his previous partners. She swayed gracefully, her gray silk skirts swishing around her ankles, her shoulders and arms held perfectly aloft, her neck arched in a manner that displayed her elegant build. Her every movement was with a natural ease that made her appear weightless. As if the music alone held her upright.
As they twirled and stepped around the room, she watched his face, and the heightened color of her cheeks and the luminous quality of her large jade eyes caused his lungs to seize. Despite the numerous women he’d held in his arms, it was the girl next door who stole his breath.
He forced his gaze away and glanced around the room. The anonymity he sought at the center of the dancers had instead made them the epicenter of the room’s attention. He imagined the fevered conversations taking place about what their waltz meant and what Lord Rockhaven would say about it. Looking down at Alethea’s lovely face again, he decided it was she, more likely, who held them all transfixed.
“Have you been home?” she inquired after a silent moment.
“Just last week. After I learned the news, I headed straight for Darington Manor.”
The ducal seat in Herefordshire was much as Declan remembered it. His brother had made changes to some of the facilities, expanded the stables, and upgraded much of the tenant housing. However, the sprawling manor, with its oversize red-brick facade and climbing ivy, was the mirror image of what he’d clung to on the nights when homesickness descended over him like a black cloak.
“I miss Herefordshire.” A fond smile lit her face.
“I’m surprised to hear that.” Declan laughed when Alethea’s lips twisted into a scowl.
“Whatever is so funny?” she demanded quietly.
“You.” When her expression didn’t change, he hastened to add, “If I recall, you couldn’t wait to come to London.”
“Yes, well, that was before I got here. Before my every movement was splashed across the broadsheets.”
Declan stroked his thumb over her knuckles. “You’re quite popular, I take it.”
Her rhythm faltered for just a moment before she corrected herself. “Now more so than before I left for Scotland.” Tiny lines appeared around her mouth, and Declan wondered if she was annoyed with her dancing misstep or the circumstances of her return.
“I’m sure our…adventure in the park did not help.”
She went rigid ever so slightly in his arms. “No one has said anything to me directly, but I’ve heard there’s been talk.”
“The sight of you fresh from the water is something even the most conservative members of society would be hard-pressed not to comment on.” The memory of her habit, clinging to her every curve, made his mouth run dry.
“I didn’t deserve to fall into the water. That hateful Mrs. Pottinger did.”
Declan didn’t argue her assertion. He led her around another couple, allowing them both to concentrate on the music for a time.
“Have you learned anything new regarding Albert?” Her question was breathless, as if she’d feared asking it. But he’d expected her to return to the subject. Had known she would. Alethea’s curiosity had always been indomitable.
“I have not.” He twirled her around the edge of the dance floor. “I had hoped your father might be able to tell me about Albert’s business associates, but we have not had a chance to speak. I don’t know much about Albert’s life here in London.”
“I’ve discreetly asked a few people tonight, but he was notoriously private. I wish I knew something, but I only saw him on occasion, and then he never encouraged an acquaintance.”
“I would say I hope he was never rude, but I know Albert would never be so ill-mannered.” He glanced at her and shook his head. “He’s left quite the shoes to ll.”
“He was always polite,” she whispered, “but we never exchanged more than simple pleasantries.”
A long silence elapsed and Declan thought on how he could better direct his efforts to discover what happened to Albert, when her voice cut through his thoughts.
“How did you get the scar on the side of your jaw?” “It’s not the sort of tale that should be shared in Mayfair ballrooms. As much as I delight in making your cheeks turn pink, I don’t want to scandalize you,” he said, his head dipping to whisper in her ear. He pulled back and smiled when he noticed her blush. “It wouldn’t do for me to behave scandalously so soon after my arrival.”
“I’m sure you could get foxed at this ball and fall asleep on the stairs leading into the gardens, and people would still think you dashing.”
“Do you think I’m dashing?” His lips curved slowly into a smile.
“I think you look dashing. I also think you’re insufferable.”
He smothered a snort. “I wonder if you’d think me dashing or insufferable if I wore my Jip attire instead of these ridiculous garments English men cram themselves into. I daresay you wouldn’t have consented to this waltz.”
“Nonsense. I’d love to see what attire you’d wear in St. Lucia.”
“Of course. You’ve seen things and places I’ve only read of. I envy you.”
The absurdity of her comment made him laugh.
The corners of her eyes crinkled. “I used to feel like I’d done something wonderful when I was able to make you laugh.”
“And yet you frequently made me do so.”
Alethea scoffed. “I also made you grind your teeth in frustration.”
“Indeed, and you haven’t stopped.” Her alluring smell, the feel of her lush curves moving under his hand to the music, and the beauty of her face were currently causing his body no small amount of frustration.
Congratulations, Liana, on your debut novel!