Hi friends!!! I’m so excited to welcome back our friend Theresa Romain! She’s absolutely fabulous! And she was the first person to figure out “ALBTALBS” stands for “A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet!” Which yes is the actual name of this site! I know, right?! She’s also got a new book coming out on Tuesday – Lady Notorious! Whee! A good month for historical romance releases indeed!
Limecello, thanks for the chance to visit ALBTALBS! I always love stopping by here, and this time I’ve got an exclusive excerpt to share. It’s from Lady Notorious, my next historical romance—coming your way next Tuesday, February 26.
In Lady Notorious, Cassandra Benton is an unofficial Bow Street Runner who works alongside her twin brother until he’s injured on a case. To cover the family’s expenses, Cass takes a private case for George, Lord Northbrook. The scientifically-minded marquess, a duke’s son, suspects his father’s life is in danger from one of the friends who formed a tontine with the duke—a survivor’s wager—decades before. But which friend is the culprit? To help George protect his father, Cass masquerades as a family cousin and infiltrates the ton. And the more she learns, the more she places her heart at risk…Continue reading →
One of the perks of helping Lime out with formatting and scheduling posts is that I get to see everything before the rest of the world does. And it’s been quite the challenge sitting here waiting for everyone to be able to read this exclusive excerpt from Lillian Marek!
A Match for the Marquess will be out August 7th, so go ahead and exercise your 1-click finger and pre-order it now!
Should Lady Anne Milhaven marry the wealthy and handsome young marquess, or should she resign herself to living out her life in poverty and disgrace, exiled from the world she was born to?
Should Philip Tremaine, the new Marquess of Penworth, redeem his honor and marry the proud and beautiful earl’s daughter whom he has unintentionally compromised, or should he prove himself as dissolute as his contemptible family?
They are not fools, but marriage is only the beginning. They have an estate to restore and reputations to repair. In addition, they must learn to work together if they are to thwart the vile plots of their scheming relatives.
A Match for the Marquess is the prequel to the Victorian Adventures series.
I am so excited to have Jessica Scott with us today, sharing an excerpt from her upcoming book Catch My Fall, the fourth book in her Falling series!
I’m so grateful to Lime for hosting an excerpt from my new book CATCH MY FALL. For people who aren’t familiar with the series, it follows a group of Army veterans adjusting to life around a prestigious southern college campus. In many ways, the series reflects some of my alienation that I felt while attending grad school and when I first started teaching at West Point.
My novels tend to deal with some of the more real aspects of coming home and deployment because for me, they reflect an opportunity to process everything – the good and the bad.
I decided to incorporate cadets into this book because I wanted to reflect some of the really difficult questions they ask and the ways that we as instructors and mentors struggle with providing them with answers.
And yeah, there’s a romance involved too. Because it wouldn’t be a true romance without smoldering looks between the two protagonists.
I hope you like this glimpse of Deacon and Kelsey’s classroom and some of the struggles they’re working through! And thanks again to Lime for hosting me!
Former Army Sergeant Deacon Hunter is trapped.
Trapped in the friend zone. Longing for the woman who captured his heart when they were deployed in Iraq.
Former Army Sergeant Kelsey Ryder has scars, the kind of scars she hopes that no one ever sees. Working around the guys at the Pint, she’s reminded of everything she lost when she left the Army behind.
But some scars refuse to stay hidden.
One fateful night changes everything and neither of them know if their relationship will ever be the same.
All Deacon knows is that he’ll be there to catch her when she finally falls.
Hello, everyone! I’m Theresa Romain, historical romance writer and coffee drinker. (The two are frequently related. Limecello, thanks for hosting me at ALBTALBS today to talk about my newest book, Scandalous Ever After.
Scandalous Ever After is the story of Evan Rhys, an antiquities expert, and Lady Kate Whelan, the friend he’s long loved. Kate is the widow of Evan’s best friend, and when the story begins, she and Evan meet up for the first time in the two years since her husband died. Evan is just as in love with Kate as ever—though she has no idea—and seizes the chance to travel with her from Cambridge to Newmarket for the fall horse races.
This exclusive excerpt is from a scene set on race day, when Kate’s horse-mad relatives are running Thoroughbreds and Kate is struggling with a whole pile of feelings–including a growing attraction to the man she’s thought of as a friend for thirteen years.
After years apart, old friends Lady Kate Whelan and Evan Rhys reunite at a race. They’ve been masking their feelings for each other for years, but when Evan must protect Kate from her late husband’s secrets, he may not be able to resist her any longer.
After being widowed by a steeplechase accident in Ireland, Lady Kate Whelan abandons the turf. But once her mourning is complete, her late husband’s debts drive her to seek help in Newmarket amidst the whirl of a race meet. There she encounters antiquities expert Evan Rhys, her late husband’s roguish friend—whom she hasn’t seen since the day of his lordship’s mysterious death.
Now that fate has reunited them, Evan seizes the chance to win over the woman he’s always loved. But once back within the old stone walls of Whelan House, long-held secrets come to light that shake up everything Kate thought she knew about her marriage. Now she wonders who she can trust with her heart—and Evan must decide between love and a truth that will separate him from all his heart desires. Continue reading →
Hello my ducklings! (I mean who doesn’t love ducklings?! I love them…) You may know, June is my birthday month. If not, I’m telling you now 😛 June is my birthday month! So the idea is for me to superload it with fun fun fun! Also, because every week there’s a Guest Author & A Giveaway post. And … it almost seems like Maisey Yates is a June TT staple – just check out the archives ;). I got her to agree to provide an exclusive excerpt for us – and who knows, I might be lucky enough to get the other authors in this [series] too! Whee!
TEN YEARS AGO ONE DEVASTATING NIGHT CHANGED EVERYTHING FOR AUSTIN, HUNTER AND ALEX. NOW THEY MUST EACH PLAY THEIR PART IN THE REVENGE AGAINST THE ONE MAN WHO RUINED IT ALL.
Austin Treffen was born into a world of privilege, but behind its gilded doors lies a corruption so sordid New York’s elite would never believe it—especially as his infamous philanthropic father is at its core! With everything he believed in shattered, how can Austin take down his father—risking his family name and those he loves—without any proof?
Until one earth-shattering night with Katy Michaels unlocks not only their deepest, most passionate desires but also the key to bringing Jason Treffen’s reign to an end. But with an intense sexual attraction that combines a heady mix of exquisite pleasure and sublime pain, will they satiate their thirst for revenge and each other…or lose themselves forever in the darkness?
He had no right to be lusting after her like this. Not now. Not when he’d walked in on her like that without an announcement.
Of course, she’d been the one in his shower. His shower, when there was one right near her bedroom that she could have used. And all her girly shit was spread out all over his counter. As though she had every right to come in and take over his space, her things landing everywhere like a cloud of frilly locusts.
That was her fault.
She appeared a moment later, looking fresh scrubbed and wary, wearing a pair of gray sweatpants and a long-sleeved pink top, her hair wet and hanging loose.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you knocking is polite?”
“You were in my shower, baby. I didn’t expect to find you there.”
“The music and running water weren’t a clue?”
“They were a trail of bread crumbs I felt obliged to follow. I honestly didn’t expect to find you naked and dripping wet in my shower when you have your own.”
“Well, you told me to make myself at home.”
“So you decided that meant going into my bedroom?”
He’d never had a woman in his personal space before. Ever. He’d had girlfriends, yes. But he spent the night at their places typically. Or he took them out and they spent the night in hotels. He wasn’t a hugger. He didn’t talk about his feelings. He didn’t let women leave their trappings all over his room.
There was room for one toothbrush in his bathroom, and that was his.
“Well, yeah. You railroaded me into moving in with you. You’re a Treffen therefore my trust in you is…eh. And so I decided to snoop around in your stuff. Then I saw your shower.”
“You went through my things.”
“Yes. And I’m not going to apologize. Anyway, no whips, chains or invoices for sexual favors. On that score you check out.”
He crossed his arms. “The lack of whips and chains. You like that sort of thing.”
She arched a brow. “You got your rocks off that night too, so don’t go putting it on me.”
“You were out of line going through my things.”
“Are you really all up on my butt for being intrusive?”
“Are you really getting on my case for being intrusive?” she repeated, her hands on her hips. “Because the last I checked, you got me fired from my job. You effectively got me evicted from my apartment. You forced me to move here by default and then you said, make yourself at home. And so I have. And now you’re mad at me? You’ve interfered in every corner of my life and you’re pissed because I used your shower?”
“And left your girl crap all over everything.”
“My girl crap? What are you fourteen?”
“No, but I don’t share my space.”
“Yeah, well, newsflash, Austin, I haven’t done anything but share space my entire life. I’ve had had to make sure my schedule was conducive to taking care of my younger brother. I had to make sure my emotions never made a blip on the radar, because I had to keep things smooth and stable for Trey. Then I moved to New York and moved in with a roommate who had her name on the lease and who I had to tread softly with so that I wouldn’t find myself out on my ass. Then, guess what? Because of you I did find myself out on my ass. And now? Now I’m sick of treading lightly. You said make myself at home, I’m going to make myself at home. I’m not here because I want to be, buddy, I’m here because you stuck your all-powerful Treffen hand in my life and screwed with things.”
“So that means my punishment is…leg wax on my bathroom counter and music that…was it talking about…?”
“Yes,” she said, her cheeks turning pink. “Yes it was. I like that song. Sorry if it bothered you. Or maybe I’m not sorry if it bothered you. Grow up.”
“Did you just tell me to grow up?”
“Yeah. I did. Like you can’t handle song lyrics about sex. Again I ask: are you fourteen?”
“It didn’t bother me.”
“Well then why are you complaining?”
“You have a bathroom. You could use that one.”
She arched a brow. “It doesn’t have three shower heads in the shower.”
“So? You don’t need three shower heads,” he said.
“Says the man who has three shower heads,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Personally, I value the ability to cleanse myself with the ‘rainforest mist’ setting on. It makes this whole ordeal feel less traumatic.”
“I think you’re milking it,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back against the wall.
“Do you?” she asked.
“Yes. I do.”
“I don’t know if you know my pain and suffering. I was fired and thrown out of my house on the same day.”
“All right. If you want to use my bathroom, that’s up to you, but I’m not knocking on my own bedroom door and I will use my bathroom when I feel like it. If you’re so married to the shower heads, that’s your business, but you may end up with a guest.”
Her eyes widened. “I thought I told you I wasn’t sleeping with you.”
“And I thought I told you not to trust me.” The air thickened between them, her lips parting, her eyes darkening. “And you definitely shouldn’t look at me like that,” he said.
“Like you’re considering letting the horse out of the gate again.”
She blinked. “I’m not. I just wanted your shower, not your body. Calm the hell down.”
“Have you eaten?” he asked, deciding it was best to change the subject. And to take the conversation into neutral territory. And to move them to neutral territory. Territory that didn’t have a bed with a very useful looking headboard…
“No,” she said. “I was going to order something.”
“Anything in particular?”
“I was sort of craving Thai.”
“I’m very good at ordering takeout,” he said. “Cooking not so much.”
“I can cook,” she said, following his lead and leaving the bedroom, heading down the hall a couple of paces behind him. “Really gourmet stuff. Ramen noodles, with some vegetables for added nutrition. Mac and cheese. In the blue box, I don’t screw around. Also, beanie weenies. A can of pork n’ beans and some cut up hotdogs. My skills cannot be beat.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had any of that.”
“Not even in college?”
He tossed a look over his shoulder. “No. I had a meal plan.”
“Oh, yes, of course. How could I forget? You’re all steeped in privilege. Which I guess I should remember since I just used your shower. Three shower heads.” She held up a matching number of fingers. “Three.”
He shrugged. “Yes. Yes I’m privileged. Lucky, lucky me. My dad is a pimp.” He headed down the stairs and he could hear her behind him.
“There are different kinds of privilege. I mean, sure, that’s a sucky reality you have to face. But I grew up in terrible circumstances and I didn’t get to eat good food. So you know…”
“Yes. Life was easy for me then. I won’t lie to you and pretend I had any great struggle. But looking back and realizing just how little I saw outside of my bubble? That’s hard. I’m not stupid. More than that, in my line of work, I’m trained to read people. I have to know how to read between the lines, how to re-interpret what they’re saying I have to know how to manipulate. But even with that, my world was so insulated, so damned perfect, that I just couldn’t imagine the kind of thing my father was doing. I couldn’t have imagined Sarah’s pain. I’ve seen more since then. I know more about human nature. About how truly horrible life can be. I look back…I hate that idiot that couldn’t see past the glitter all around him. Who thought bad things happened to other people. To other classes of people.”
“And since then you’ve learned…?”
“Life is shit for everyone. It’s just that for some people it’s shit with three shower heads. Pad Thai sound good to you?”
I also cajoled Maisey into a giveaway – cuz you know – birthday month! She’s willing to give one lucky commenter her (or his) choice of Avenge Me in print or e! Whee! So what’d you think of the excerpt? Also, there’s a free prequel right now – Take Me and you should get that [too]! 😀
Valerie Bowman‘s birthday is June 28th! YAY BIRTHDAYS! She’s sharing an exclusive excerpt with us today, because it’s JUNE. And that means BIRTHDAY MONTH. Which means Thursdays masquerade as Tuesdays. Because I can.
Anyway, the excerpt.
Miss Frances Birmingham has set her cap for the dashing Mr. Charles Holloway. She and her best friend, Annie, have the most clever idea. They’ve arranged a bachelor auction for charity. The proceeds will go to the Royal Society for the Humane Treatment of Animals and the winners will be escorted to the most talked-about ball of the Season by their bachelor of choice. When Frances makes a bid for Charlie, will one fun night’s amusement turn into a lifetime of love?
Excerpt set up: Through a set of circumstances and hijinks, Frances ends up with the mistaken belief that Charlie is, ahem, light in the instep. When Charlie discovers she believes that about him, he intends to set the record straight but not until Frances (who’s been clued in finally by her best friend Annie) has a bit of fun with him first. (wink)
Charlie spent the entire next day attempting to get Frances alone to explain the truth to her. He had no real idea how he’d broach the topic once he got the chance, but he intended to be blunt and quick about it. The sooner she discovered he did indeed prefer women—her, actually—the better. It was suddenly of utmost importance for her to know.
But every time he so much as broached the topic of speaking with her, she made an excuse about helping Annie and Lily with the wedding preparations and nearly ran from him. He couldn’t blame her. She was obviously still uncomfortable after his deplorable behavior last night. And she was here, staying with Annie, to help her friend. It was exceedingly rude of him to try to take any more of her time. But try he did, in between bouts of drinking to his brother’s impending nuptials in the study. The wedding was in a matter of days, and Charlie intended to stay by his brother’s side through it. As a result, by the end of the evening, Charlie had had a bit too much too drink.
The ladies retired soon after dinner, and it was that bit too much that convinced Charlie it was a good idea to sneak up to Frances’s room and tell her the truth. The ladies would be leaving the day after tomorrow for Ashbourne Manor for the final wedding preparations, and Charlie wouldn’t see Frances again until the wedding.
He downed the last of his brandy, excused himself from the two other men in the study, and took the stairs up to the bedchambers two at a time. He rapped only once upon the door before it swung wide, and he stalked into Frances’s bedchamber.
* * *
Frances and Annie had carefully orchestrated their retirement from the dining room tonight. Claiming exhaustion, both women had gone straight up to bed. Charlie well knew they were leaving for Ashbourne Manor soon. He’d been attempting to get Frances alone all day, and she’d successfully eluded him. She’d been half afraid he’d just out with it in the middle of the drawing room full of mixed company and declare himself partial to women right then and there. Thankfully she’d managed to avoid him, and now she’d left him little choice but to come up to her room and confront her.
Right on time, she thought when the knock sounded on the door.
“Come in,” she called and the door swung wide. Charlie stalked toward her, thrilling her a little.
Indecent to have this man in her bedchamber? Absolutely.
Welcome? Oh, yes.
“Wait. You must listen to me.”
The look of determination in his dark eyes made Frances doubt her course for a moment, but she quickly rallied her confidence. “No. You must listen to me first,” she said with as much conviction as she could muster.
Charlie snapped his mouth shut. He was obviously impatient to speak, but she’d insisted, and he was a gentleman.
“First, be a dear and help me with this.” She turned her back to him and presented the buttons of her gown.
“Wait. What?” His voice shook a bit.
“Unbutton me, please?” She was thankful she was turned away from him so he couldn’t see the look of pure glee that was surely pinned to her face, although she was also a bit disappointed that she couldn’t see the shocked expression on his.
Frances gave a showy sigh and tapped her foot impatiently. “I won’t argue that it’s not exactly proper for you to be in my bedchamber, Charlie, but you’ve come here, and I can’t very well call Mary to help me while you’re here, and my stays are pinching me something awful tonight.”
Charlie’s voice faltered. “But I—”
She still didn’t turn to face him but secretly smiled to herself. “Besides,” she added for good measure, “let’s not pretend. We both know this is hardly tempting to you, is it, Charlie?”
She could nearly hear his brain working. He was thinking, all right. Thinking about his options. He could either tell her immediately what he’d come here to say, in which case undressing her was out of the question, or he could play along with her little game and perhaps get an eyeful. A gentleman would tell the truth immediately. But an aroused, tempted gentleman? What would he do? She smiled to herself. She was about to find out.
Her answer came when Charlie’s warm, deft fingers began unbuttoning the back of her gown.
I wanted to thank Lime for having me on the blog today and give a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY shout out to her! We share the best birthday, ever, JUNE 28th! I believe Henry VIII shares the day with us as well. Hmm. Not sure what to think about that. This year on my birthday, I will be going to the spa, eating strawberry cupcakes, reading magazines, and generally doing whatever I like. Pure bliss. Lime, I trust you’ll be having similar good times! So, happy birthday to both of us and I hope you all enjoy my teaser post!
Awww, isn’t she sweet? <3 Valerie also sent along an author bio, but you’ve seen it before, as she’s been super cool and visited us at ALBTALBS before. See? So feel free to check her out and her other awesome excerpts and posts!
Valerie is giving away one copy of this e-novella (A Secret Affair). 🙂 So wish this generous girl a happy birthday!
BIRTHDAY MONTH! … It’s drawing to a close, almost. Isn’t that crazy? As you see we have Maisey Yates sharing “definitely an exclusive excerpt.” With us today. And you know, birthday month is why the excerpts are every week, on Thursday in June. Because this month is super loaded.
Hi Limecello! Thanks for having me on your blog. 🙂
I have a brand new series starting in June. Contemporary romances set in Silver Creek, Oregon with some very sexy cowboys.
The first book, a novella called Unbuttoned is out on June 18th, and I want to share an exclusive excerpt with you.
Carly Denton has learned to keep her buttons and emotions firmly fastened. Her parents’ constant drama, and an unrequited crush on her brother’s best friend, taught her to keep her passion beneath the surface. But she can no longer avoid the one man with the ability to bring that passion to a boil…
Lucas remembers Carly as a freckle-faced tomboy—not a frosty woman who treats him like a burr under her saddle. But when they must work together on a charity project, Lucas is shocked to find their bickering melt into some serious mutual attraction. He’s determined to show Carly that he’s the man for her, if only she’d learn to let loose.
Lucas is the last man on earth Carly should give in to. The freedom she finds in his arms has her feeling happier than ever, but is it enough to make her realize that the greatest risk isn’t losing your heart, but losing the chance at happiness?
“Who is it?” she called, heading to the door.
She cursed fluidly under her breath and opened the door, pasting a smile to her face. She wasn’t going to act bothered. No. He would like that too much. “Lucas,” she said, far too brightly, blocking the doorway, “what brings you here?”
Her held his hand up, a twenty dollar bill folded between his fingers. “You forgot this.”
“I paid,” she said.
“Nope. I did.”
“Oh, of all the macho . . .” she started to say, then took the money. “Thank you. Thank you very much. I’ll see you . . . later.” Hopefully much later.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
The words stopped her cold. “You’re what?”
“Sorry. For what I said earlier.”
“I . . . thank you.” She dropped her hand from the door frame and took a step back. “It’s . . . it takes a lot to admit when you’re wrong.”
Lucas seemed to take her movement as an invitation to enter the house. He walked past her and into the living room. “Oh, I wasn’t wrong. But I’m sorry I said what I said the way I said it.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Excuse me?”
“You’re wound up tight, sugar, no mistake. I wasn’t wrong about that. But I shouldn’t have picked a fight with you, not over something so sensitive, and not in public.”
“I’m not . . . sensitive. And I didn’t invite you in.”
“Family friend, remember? I’m allowed to come in.”
“Why are you so dead set on driving me crazy this week?”
He paused. “A good question. And I could ask you the same thing.”
“What? I thought you were going out with my brother tonight, anyway.”
“Blew him off.”
“Why? I thought you were going to go hook-up, or whatever you guys call it.”
“Not interested.” His dark eyes clashed with hers and her stomach tightened. “At least, not with some random girl from the bar.”
She swallowed hard, her stomach so tight it was painful. “I don’t . . . I . . . and what do you mean you could ask me the same thing?”
“Why are you so dead set on driving me crazy this week?” he asked.
“I’m . . . I’m not. I haven’t done anything to you. Everywhere I’ve been, work, my brother’s house, my house”—she made a sweeping gesture with her arm—“you are. That’s not me doing anything to you. That’s all you.”
He shook his head. “That’s not what I mean.”
“What do you mean then?”
“You don’t know what’s been going on in my head, sugar.”
“No. No, I don’t. And I probably want to keep it that way, so maybe you should . . .” He took a step toward her and brushed his thumb over her bottom lip. “You keep doing that,” she said, his thumb still touching her skin.
“I know,” he said, “and when I’m not doing about it, I’m thinking about doing it. I don’t think I ever should have touched you.”
Her heart started pounding hard. “What do you . . .”
He raised his other hand and placed it on her cheek, shifting so that both palms were cradling her face, his dark eyes intent on hers. “This was also a bad idea,” he said, his voice rough.
“What was?” she asked.
“Well, touching you more. That little bit was bad idea enough. This . . . this is even worse.”
Carly couldn’t remember the last time a man had looked at her like Lucas was looking at her now. Like he was starving and she was the answer to the hunger inside of him.
The reason she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been looked at like that was because she never had been. And she was very aware of it in this moment. Aware that she was on the verge of something that was well outside her experience.
The strangest thing was that right now, she wanted it. She knew, somewhere in the dim, hazy corners of her mind, that she might regret it later. No, that she would. But right now, for some reason, she didn’t care. Not even a little bit.
Because all she could focus on was Lucas. His eyes, his lips. Lord, but he had beautiful lips for a man. It had been years since she’d let herself notice them. She had before, though.
There had been a time when this moment, the possibility of it, had been her dearest fantasy. And it was something she didn’t even let herself remember now. There had been a time when she’d dared to want.
His words from earlier rang in her ears.
Just a little. Just a taste. It wouldn’t be so wrong. Not any worse than one french fry.
She leaned in, her lips brushing his. Her breath caught in her throat and held, electricity shooting through her veins, immobilizing her.
But Lucas wasn’t immobile. Far from it. He dropped his hands from her face and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight against his hard, muscular body.
She whimpered and he deepened the kiss, his tongue sweeping the inside of her mouth. The wet friction stole every thought from her head, made it impossible for her to do anything but feel. She was lost, completely, in his touch. In a whole world of new desire and need.
She’d thought she’d known what attraction was. Had thought she’d known, intellectually, how she would handle it. But she’d never felt anything like this. She hadn’t known. Not at all.
She pressed her hands to his chest, curling her fingers around his shirt fabric, clinging to him as he kissed her, long and deep.
“Kiss me back, Carly,” he growled against her lips.
So – what’d you think? Do you like cowboy romances?
Hello my darlings! Welcome to yet another birthday month post!Lisa Renee Jonessharing an excerpt with us, so exclusive that the book doesn’t even have a cover yet! Even more, poor Ms. Lisa has been evacuated from her home due to the wildfires, so how awesome was she to even send anything at all? Master Undone is scheduled for release in August, so I hope to be able to update with the cover etc and buy links soon!
This is a book from Mark, the hero’s POV.
ETA ***Warning: Lisa told me this excerpt contains a spoiler for Being Me so proceed with caution!!!***
An Inside Out novella
I told him goodbye, and I will not call him. I know if I do, it will be my undoing, and I’ll once again be caught up in his spell. I will once again be . . . lost.
In her private journals, Rebecca laid bare her soul, revealing her obsession for the one man whose erotic demands captivated her imagination–and enslaved her forever. Now, with Rebecca no longer in his life “he” is lost, questioning everything he thought he knew about himself and about control he holds in such high regard. One women will reach out to heal him and then turn away, leaving him haunted . She is nothing he thought he wanted and somehow everything he needs. He tells himself to forget her but he cannot escape his desire for her. He has to have more…
Once my flight lands in New York, I’m anxious to get to the hospital. I quickly make my way to the baggage claim and locate my carousel.With some fast footwork I’m at the front of the crowd and I’ve just snatched my single piece of luggage, besides the one hung over my shoulder, when I hear, “Mr. Compton?”
I turn to find a pretty blonde standing before me, her long, silky hair draping the shoulders of her pale pink, primly cut suit jacket. I arch a brow at her. “And you would be?”
“You are the Mark Compton, correct?”
“I’m Mark Compton,” I confirm, wondering where this is headed.
“I thought so. I recognize your picture from Riptide.” Her perfect pale cheeks flush.“Oh. Sorry. I should introduce myself.”
She offers me her hand. “Crystal Smith, the new head of sales for Riptide, and thrilled to be working at one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world.”
I don’t reach for her hand. But my need to avoid touching her isn’t control, it’s weakness—and I hate weakness. I close my hand over hers. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Smith.” My palm warms, and I don’t want to be warmed by this woman, or by any woman I haven’t chosen as a submissive.
Her lashes lower, and I know she’s hiding her reaction to the touch. Despite myself, I am intrigued. Even more so when, almost instantly, she smoothly recovers and her lashes lift, her eyes directly meeting mine. Any sign of whatever she’d felt is gone.
Impressed by her rapid recovery and quick control, I’m surprised by how reluctantly I release her hand. I’m rarely reluctant about anything.“Since when is it the duty of the sales manager to pick someone up at the airport?”
Her brows dip and she gives a delicate snort.“It’s not like you’re just anyone.You’re your mother’s son.”
I inwardly cringe at the sore spot she’s hit. I love my mother, but there’s a reason why I opened my gallery across the country.“She ordered you to pick me up.”
Her lips curve. “Your mother’s as feisty as ever from her hospital bed.”
“I’m not surprised,” I manage tightly. Just thinking of my mother in a hospital bed creates a dull throb in my gut. “She’s impossible to say no to, even for me.”
“I thought for sure her pride and joy would be the one person who could.”
Fighting a wave of something dark I’d rather not name, I struggle to maintain my normal steely composure.“My mother is the only person I can’t say no to.”
She gives me an odd, quizzical look.“The only person?”
“Yes, Ms. Smith.The only person.”
She frowns.“I’m sorry,” she says, and then waves me toward the door.“My car’s parked in a fifteen-minute spot.We’d better run before I get towed.” She turns and starts walking, expecting me to follow.
I stare after her. She’s sorry? What the hell does that even mean, and why do I have this intense need to race after her and ask, when I never run after anyone?
And guess what?! Lisa has very generously offered a giveaway today to go along with this excerpt! One lucky commenter will win a set of Rebecca’s Lost Journals! (This hasn’t been definitely confirmed, but I’m guessing it will be The Seduction, The Contract, and His Submissive, at least. :D)
So tell me. What heat level do you like in your books? Are you a sweet girl or a spicy girl? (Or guy!) Or anywhere and everywhere in between? What’d you think of the excerpt? (And take a moment to wish Lisa and all the others facing all sorts of natural disasters out there well, would you? <3)
My friends! It’s Teaser TuesdayThursday! Because we’re in June! And that’s fun! We’ve got the ever fun and fabulous Ruthie Knox sharing with us today! I know you don’t want to hear what I’ve got to say when Ruthie’s on deck, so here we go!
Hi, Lime! Thanks for inviting me to visit today.
I’m sharing an excerpt from Flirting with Disaster, which is the third book in my Camelot series. I call it, with fondness, my “stuttering hacker” book, because the hero of this one, Sean, is just that—a (sort of) former hacker with a stutter he’s tried to ditch, with some success . . . until he returns to his hometown and the past hits him upside the head. Here’s the blurby thing:
In the latest eBook original novel in Ruthie Knox’s scorching-hot Camelot series, a no-strings fling looks an awful lot like falling in love—or flirting with disaster.
Fresh out of a fiasco of a marriage, Katie Clark has retreated to her hometown to start over. The new Katie is sophisticated, cavalier, and hell-bent on kicking butt at her job in her brother’s security firm. But on her first assignment—digging up the truth about the stalker threatening a world-famous singer-songwriter—Katie must endure the silent treatment from a stern but sexy partner who doesn’t want her help . . . or her company.
Sean Owens knows that if he opens his mouth around Katie, she’ll instantly remember him as the geeky kid who sat behind her in high school. Silence is golden, but he can’t keep quiet forever, not with Katie stampeding through their investigation. It’s time for Sean to step up and take control of the case, and his decade-old crush. If he can break through Katie’s newfound independence, they just might find they make a perfect team—on the road, on the job, and in bed.
And here’s an exclusive excerpt. Sean’s just gone for a run, at night, in Buffalo, in February—because yeah, he needs to get distance from Katie that badly. Unfortunately, she’s waiting for him at his hotel room when he returns. Poor Sean. There is very little hope for him at this point.
He passed through the parking lot and let himself in the side entrance, peeling the traction cleats off his running shoes and trying to knock most of the snow out of the coils before he came fully indoors. The Mansion hosted wedding receptions in its plush downstairs rooms. It was no place for a smelly, irritable guy to be dropping chunks of ice and snow.
On the way up the stairs, he pulled his jacket over his head, knocking off his hat in the process. The lightweight wool shirt he’d worn as a base layer was soaked with sweat, and he barely had the strength left in his legs for the second flight.
He definitely didn’t have strength for the sight of Katie knocking on the door to his room with a bottle of wine tucked awkwardly under her arm and two mugs dangling from her free hand.
He’d just have to find some.
“What do you wuh-want?”
Focused on the door, she hadn’t heard him coming. When she turned, her free hand went to her throat. As he approached, her eyes raked over him, head to toe and all the way back up.
“Sweet Baby Jesus,” she said. “You were running? Outside? It’s, like, minus two hundred degrees out there.”
According to the outdoor thermometer, it was 3 degrees, not counting wind chill. The sight of Katie’s smooth, bare shoulders was nearly enough to make him break a sweat.
She wore her flannel pajama pants and the sleeveless top she’d had on in the car. What the hell was she doing with bare arms in the middle of the winter?
Sean brushed past, careful not to touch her, and opened the door to his room. “Go away, C-Clark.”
“Don’t be rude,” she said. “There’s a Jackie Chan marathon on, and I brought wine.”
“Chicks don’t like Jackie Chan.”
“I do. You want me to tell you all my favorite parts of Rumble in the Bronx to prove my credentials?”
“No. I wuh-want you to g-go away.” He walked into the room, leaving her in the doorway and hoping she’d take the hint and quit torturing him. The red bra straps weren’t peeking out from under her top anymore, which could only mean one thing.
Sean dropped his jacket, hat, shoes, and cleats on the towel he’d left inside the open door to the bathroom. Katie walked in like she owned the place, setting the wine bottle and mugs down on the table by the TV.
“Hey, no fair. Your room is bigger than mine.” She peeked into the bathroom. “Your shower is bigger, too.”
When she looked back at him, he was staring at her, hoping she’d be intimidated by the glare he sent her way.
“What?” she asked.
“Are you ffflirting with me?”
“Maybe. Would that be really bad?”
She stepped closer, giving him a view right down her shirt. She had small breasts. Soft swells on either side of her sternum. Shadows and valleys, a dozen places where his mouth would fit.
He closed his eyes.
He hated this. This weakness. The sound of his own voice, choking on feelings he didn’t want to have. The sound of him losing his grip.
“Okay,” she said. “Then I’m not flirting with you.”
He exhaled and searched for some kind of response. Some way to get Katie out of his room before he fucked up irrevocably.
“I’m n-not sssleeping with you.”
She narrowed her eyes and parroted back the line he’d given her a week ago. “I didn’t ask you to.”
The challenge in her eyes was unmistakable, though. She would play it this way, I just stopped by braless in my jammies with a bottle of wine, as buddies do, and anything that happened would be an accident. It would be his fault for not being able to keep his hands off her.
Damn it, he wouldn’t play along.
“You d-did, c-coming over here d-d-dressed like that.”
She looked down at her flannel-clad legs. “It’s not like I’m wearing a French maid outfit.”
“You haven’t g-got a b-bra on.”
“I hardly have any boobs. What’s the big deal?”
“The b-b-big d-deal is I c-can ssee your arms and yuh-your . . .” Sean gestured at the expanse of her chest and her neck.
“My arms, Sean?” Her voice sliced at his composure. “You think I’m trying to seduce you because you can see my arms? Is your virtue that easy to compromise?”
“That’s n-not what I m-m-m—”
“You seem like a civilized guy. Can’t you control your animal impulses?”
Because he wanted so badly to grab her and kiss her until she shut up and glazed over and turned into an animal, too, he grabbed two fists of shirts at the back of his neck and pulled it over his head. Then he edged even closer, so he was breathing right up against her, his bare skin separated from hers by a millimeter of empty space charged with sweat and sex.
She didn’t say anything, but her eyes jumped around, flitting from his chest to his shoulders, his neck, his face. His cock grew heavy and began to ache.
“Want to watch a m-movie, ssweetheart?” he asked. “Want to ssit on the c-couch, getting drunk and not t-t-touching each other for a few hours?”
Katie raised her eyes to his. “Holy shit,” she said. “Sean. Oh my gosh, Sean, look at you.” She placed one palm flat on his chest, over his heart, and he knocked it away.
“Don’t p-p-play with me,” he warned her. “We’re going to be p-partners. That’s all.”
A perplexed frown knit the space between her eyebrows. “You were hitting on me in the car.”
“And at my house, right? I didn’t just make that up?”
He shook his head, disgusted with himself. “I wuh-was. Buh-but I sh-shouldn’t have. We’re not g-going to watch m-movies together, and we’re not going to ffflirt, and we’re not g-going to sleep together.”
Katie’s gaze slid below his waist and held there for a moment, then meandered its way back up. When she met his eyes, hers held a single question. Why not?
He looked away from her and counted to twenty. It didn’t help. “I’m luh-leaving t-town.”
“Ssoon. When we ffinish the c-c-case.”
“I have a juh-job b-back in C-c-california. A c-computer sssecurity c-company I ruh-run. I nuh-need to g-get b-back to it.”
The furrowed forehead again. “I thought you’d moved back to Camelot.”
Sean shook his head. “N-no. I’m juh-just . . . It’s t-temporary, the juh-job with your brother. I’m luh-leaving. So I d-d-don’t wuh-want to . . .” He raised his arms out to the side, palms flat, a gesture that encompassed his bare-chested self and her compromising outfit. The room. The bed. The entire situation. “I d-don’t wuh-want to.”
Katie flinched, but Sean couldn’t think of any way to take it back without actually taking it back.
“You’re being a gentleman.”
“Don’t. The last thing I need—the absolute last thing—is for you to be a gentleman. You know, people do have meaningless flings. It’s a thing. I keep hearing about it from, like, every form of popular culture ever.”
She crossed her arms and took a step back. The confidence had drained out of her, and she looked younger. Smaller. “You’re confusing.”
“I know.” He sighed. “I’m ssorry. It’s c-c-complicated.” He clenched his hands into tight fists. It was even harder to keep from touching her when she looked so bewildered and hurt. Hard not to comfort her, but he knew where that would lead.
“It’s really not.” She fiddled with the ties to her pajama bottoms. “The way I remember it, it’s super simple. Kind of an Insert-Tab-A-into-Slot-B thing. I might be remembering wrong, though. I haven’t had sex in almost two years.”
Two years. She hadn’t been with anyone since Levi—which meant she probably hadn’t been with anyone but Levi—and now she wanted him, and he was turning her down. He was out of his fucking mind.
“Fffind someone else.” Even as he said it, the thought of her having sex with another man made him homicidal.
She lowered her eyes to the carpet. “No,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I think I’m all tapped out.”
Slowly, it sank in.
First Levi, then Judah, now him. The third man in a row to tell Katie she wasn’t good enough. She’d gathered up her courage and come over here, maybe not throwing herself at him but at least open to the possibility. She’d done it because he’d encouraged her to, the way he’d talked to her at her house, and in the car. And now he was turning her down.
Not gently, either. Badly. Clumsily.
“I’m ssss—” He couldn’t make the word come out, but he had to. She deserved a decent apology. He tried again. “I ap-p-p—”
She flapped a hand and turned her back on him. “Don’t worry about it. You want a drink?” She popped the cork out of the wine and poured two measures into the mugs. “Hope you don’t mind, I already started the bottle. Liquid courage and all that.” Turning toward him, she lifted one mug in invitation.
“I n-n-need a sh-shower.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Well, it’ll be here.” She put one mug down on the table and settled onto the couch with her own drink. The remote was on the coffee table, and she lifted it, turned on the TV, and began flicking through channels.
“Go shower, Sean,” she said after a moment.
He didn’t move. He couldn’t figure out why she was still in the room, much less talking to him.
Katie raised the mug to her lips and drank down the contents in four long gulps. She wiped the back of her hand over her mouth and sighed.
“You don’t want me,” she said without turning around. “It’s not a crime. I know I’m not, like, centerfold material. It’s fine. We’ll watch kung fu movies and work our way through this bottle of wine. You’ll stay on your side of the couch, I’ll stay on mine, and by the time I go to bed after three or four hours of Jackie Chan, we’ll be friends, and I’ll be able to sleep.”
He stared blankly at the back of her head.
Balls. Katie had balls.
She went through life with her heart on her sleeve, saying what she meant, telling people how she felt, what she wanted, what she needed, and she got slapped for it. But she didn’t let it set her back.
He couldn’t remember ever having been like that. Not one day in his life had he been that unguarded.
She found the right channel, and the screen filled up with a young Jackie Chan wearing a tank top, high-waisted jeans, and what looked like a woman’s belt while he beat the crap out of three bad guys.
“Take a shower,” she said flatly. “I don’t want to sit by myself in my room feeling like a complete waste of space, okay?”
He didn’t know what to say, so he grabbed some clothes from his bag and headed for the bathroom, leaving her alone, bathed in the flickering light of the television.
Fun, huh? If you like torturing characters. Which I do. Very much.
Speaking of torture, who’s your favorite flawed hero? The flaw can be physical, mental, or both. Tell me, and I’ll give away an ebook copy of Flirting with Disaster to one random commenter in the format of your choice!
About Ruthie: USA Today bestselling author Ruthie Knox writes contemporary romance that’s sexy, witty, and angsty—sometimes all three at once. After training to be a British historian, she became an academic editor instead. Then she got really deeply into knitting, as one does, followed by motherhood and romance novel writing. Her debut novel, Ride with Me, is probably the only existing cross-country bicycling love story. She followed it up with About Last Night, a London-set romance whose hero has the unlikely name of Neville, and then Room at the Inn, a Christmas novella—both of which were finalists for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award. Her four-book series about the Clark family of Camelot, Ohio, has won accolades for its fresh, funny portrayal of small-town Midwestern life. Ruthie moonlights as a mother, Tweets incessantly, and bakes a mean focaccia. She’d love to hear from you, so visit her website and drop her a line.
Did you love it?! 😀 No need to wait long because Flirting with Disaster will be available on June 10! Whee! You know the deal – what’d you think? (Answer Ruthie’s question for a chance to win! To remind you: who’s your favorite flawed hero?)
I don’t say this often (if you read carefully you’ll know this) but… it’s true. Not Proper Enough is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. Yes, I know it isn’t out yet. I was lucky enough to get an ARC. I plan on re-reading it. A lot. And I will closer to release week for the review. Also just because. Today, we get an exclusive excerpt of it from Carolyn Jewel. How lucky are you?!
The Marquess of Fenris has loved Lady Eugenia from the day he first set eyes on her. Five years ago, pride caused him to earn her enmity. Now she’s widowed, and he’s determined to make amends and win her heart. But with their near explosive attraction, can he resist his desire long enough to court her properly?
After the death of her beloved husband, Lady Eugenia Bryant has come to London to build a new life. Despite the gift of a medallion said to have the power to unite the wearer with her perfect match, Eugenia believes she won’t love again. And yet, amid the social whirl of chaperoning a young friend through her first Season, she finds a second chance at happiness.
Unfortunately, the Marquess of Fenris threatens her newfound peace. Eugenia dislikes the man, but the handsome and wealthy heir to a dukedom is more charming than he has a right to be. Constantly underfoot, the rogue disturbs her heart, alternately delighting and scandalizing her. And when their relationship takes a highly improper turn, Eugenia must decide if the wrong man isn’t the right one after all.
He was here. That awful man, the Marquess of Fenris. Awareness of his arrival jumped through the room like a pestilence picking off the weak and unwary. The orchestra played a few more notes then petered out, bringing a lively country reel to a halt. No one, Eugenia included, could believe the Marquess of Fenris was here at a ball given by Mrs. Wilson. Plain Mrs. Wilson, who was merely gentry, who had no connections one might research in the peerage. The man did not attend any parties but those given by the very upper reaches of the British aristocracy, yet here he was.
Whatever the reason for his appearance, his timing was impeccable. The room fell silent as guests realized he was here, and that meant everyone in the room heard the tail end of Mr. Dinwitty Lane’s comment, uttered in horrified tones as Lane stood not five feet from Eugenia.
“Another country chit? My God they’re coming out of the woodwork this season.”
The remark, though not intended as a direct insult to Eugenia, nevertheless hit a glancing blow on its way to its intended target, which was the young woman standing beside her. If Mr. Lane had been within arm’s reach, Eugenia would have slapped him, she was that angry. It was fitting, horribly, awfully fitting, that Lane’s barb was universally heard because of that man.
One of the members of Dinwitty’s band of supporters laughed, and that, too, carried through the nearly silent room. That man, Fenris, remained near the door, expression cool because there was nothing but ice in his veins. Eugenia was unnaturally aware of him even as she turned her attention to the odious Mr. Dinwitty Lane.
A great deal depended on her reaction to Lane, and she fought her temper. No good would come of anything she said in anger. She could not afford to give Lane or the Marquess of Fenris ammunition against her.
Fenris’s social standing went without saying. Only son of a duke, after all. The Lane family had a page in Debrett’s, and this particular Lane was not without influence. He fancied himself the Beau Brummell of the sporting world, and Eugenia had hoped to avoid meeting him until Hester had made a few friends. He had questionable taste in clothes but was held in awe by many for his ability to ride, race a phaeton, and shoot the dots from a playing card. As far as Eugenia was concerned, he’d wasted his time at public school and at Oxford. An intellectual giant, he was not. He was, however, one of the Essex Lanes. More, he was wealthy and generous with a loan. Friends and debtors of Dinwitty Lane were legion.
Miss Hester Rendell, whom Eugenia had agreed to guide through her first London season, gazed at Mr. Lane with placid calm. She was not a beauty by any stretch. In terms of her looks, she did not impress upon first glance and possibly not even upon the second. She was quiet and slow to warm to people she did not know, a reserve too easily mistaken for a lack of spirit. Anyone who troubled to know her soon learned she was kind, generous, sensitive, and shockingly intelligent.
Lane was a good-looking man, not as tall as Lord Fenris, but heavier through the shoulders, with legs like tree trunks. His waistcoat was mauve with embroidered pink dots, his trousers the absolute crack of fashion, his coat dark green. Half a dozen fobs dangled from his watch chain, which, in Eugenia’s opinion, was five fobs too many. His cravat was a confection of linen so thoroughly starched he could not move his chin without danger of slitting his throat.
Hester turned to Eugenia, completely poised as Eugenia had discovered was her nature. Very little upset or perturbed her. “I believe I should very much like some lemonade. Shall we?”
“Observe,” Mr. Lane said. He lifted a hand so as to alert his companions. “It speaks.”
One of his friends barked. Deliberately. The room was still silent, and this little scene, this deliberate and cruel destruction of Hester’s social hopes, was center stage.
Eugenia’s head snapped toward Lane. She wanted to eviscerate the man. She wished him a hundred, no, a thousand painful deaths. If Lord Fenris followed Lane to his doom, all the better.
“Observe,” Hester said with perfect serenity as she put her arm through Eugenia’s. “It’s forgotten its species.”
And that was the beauty of Hester Rendell. Eugenia did not expect Hester to make a splash in the Ton, but Eugenia had, until now, been confident that by the end of the season, short as it was, some discerning gentleman would have fallen in love with her. That Eugenia managed to keep her temper in the face of Dinwitty’s insult was nothing short of a miracle. “Yes. Something to drink would be delightful.”
Arm in arm, they walked away from Lane, who had only begun to suspect one of his friends had been insulted and that, perhaps, he himself had just been summarily dismissed as unimportant. Perhaps, just perhaps, this encounter might not mean the utter ruin of Hester’s social hopes.
“I believe,” Hester said when she and Eugenia stood with glasses of what might more properly be called lemon water, “I do not like that man.”
“He’s not kind.”
Eugenia nodded her agreement. “People ought to be kind.”
The orchestra had begun playing again, and those who’d been dancing when Lord Fenris arrived and brought everything to a halt took up their pattern again. No one had yet asked Hester to dance.
Eugenia returned her attention to her nemesis, though at the moment she disliked Mr. Lane a good deal more than the marquess. Mrs. Wilson hurried to greet him, but she did so by walking the perimeter of the room as she must do now that the dancing had begun again.
Lord Fenris noticed Mrs. Wilson’s approach and waited by the door, looking extremely forbidding and completely at ease at the same time. Eugenia was quite sure Fenris had not been invited to the Wilsons’ ball. He kept to a very small and exclusive circle of friends. Mrs. Wilson would have been aware of the hubris of sending the Marquess of Fenris an invitation to any event she might sponsor. Yet here he was. Of all the bad luck to have.
The commotion occasioned by the marquess’s arrival continued, albeit in less public fashion. Ladies who did not stare outright did so surreptitiously. Some of the younger ladies were not as circumspect as they might have been. They giggled or fanned themselves with too much energy. The whispers started.
There he is. Oh, lud, isn’t he handsome? Now, I don’t like a dark man, but I like it in him.
Honestly, he was only a man, and not a very pleasant one at that.
Lord Aigen, one of Fenris’s few friends, slung an arm around his shoulder and spoke into his ear. Whatever Aigen said in such private tones, Lord Fenris’s expression did not change. He remained by the door, surveying the room with a condescending eye. The ballroom, which was really two salons that had been opened into one room, wasn’t large. Good. He’d need the space of twenty seconds to see he had no business here. He’d done quite enough damage already.
Even from across the dance floor, she could see Fenris was exquisitely dressed. He always was. He was well made enough that anything he wore looked good on him. Nevertheless, unlike Lane, he dressed with a conservatism that prevented one from calling him a Corinthian or a dandy. His nose was a trifle large, but that was, alas, a part of his physical appeal. She wasn’t so petty as to deny him his due in terms of his appearance.
Mrs. Wilson arrived at his side and curtseyed to him. To his credit, he greeted her with cool respect.
Hester followed Eugenia’s gaze. “Ah. Lord Fenris.”
There was such a familiarity in Hester’s words that Eugenia said, “You know him?”
“He visited us once when I was a girl.” Hester continued in a low voice. “With your husband. They came to see Charles.” Charles was Hester’s brother, and a childhood friend of Robert’s. “Long before you and Robert met, of course.”
“Indeed?” Her heart dropped to her toes. Disaster. This could only mean disaster. Hester didn’t know what Fenris was like. Sweet, sensitive Hester didn’t know that one wellplaced word or contemptuous gaze from Fenris would prevent Hester from the sort of social acceptance she deserved.
She hated Fenris. She really did.
Hester put a hand to her heart, eyes open wide and fixed on Eugenia. “Have I given you a sad reminder of your loss? Oh, Lady Eugenia, I’m so very sorry if I have.”
“No, my dear.” She gave Hester’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “You have not.” Robert had been dead for nearly four years now. She would never recover from his loss, but, as she had discovered, time passed no matter what one did. She endured because there was nothing else she could do. “It’s just I had no idea you’d any acquaintance with Lord Fenris.”
“I was thirteen.” There was so much one noticed about Hester eventually. Her complexion, in just one example, was flawless. Another was her figure. Men eventually noticed her figure. Hester was not, however, particularly graceful. “Naturally, I fell desperately in love the moment I saw him.”
“In love with Robert?” She maintained an innocent expression and in return earned a rare smile from Hester. Her smiles never failed to improve Eugenia’s mood.
“We all loved Robert.” She took a drink of her watery lemonade, but Eugenia noted the way Hester’s eyes darted in the direction of Lord Fenris.
“Thank you for saying so.” Eugenia clutched her lemonade. Her sense of impending doom increased. Her skin crawled with the certainty that Fenris would find a way to cement the effect of Lane’s unpleasant remarks. Unfortunately, it seemed that would happen sooner rather than later, for Fenris had left Mrs. Wilson and, with Lord Aigen beside him, was now moving farther into the room.
“I had the most awful spots at the time of his visit.” Hester had no notion of what was about to happen and how badly an encounter with Fenris might turn out. Eugenia reached for calm. She must be calm if she was to have any hope of facing down that horrible man. “I was clumsy and already as tall as I am now.”
“Hester, dear. Let me fix this.” Eugenia put her lemonade on a nearby table and adjusted the bodice of Hester’s gown, not that any adjustment was necessary. Her bosom was more than up to the task of impressing a gentleman. Was not Lord Fenris a man? Perhaps he could be distracted by the perfection of Hester’s figure. Thank goodness he was a tall man, for Hester was taller than average.
Several times, Fenris was interrupted in his apparent intention of reaching the opposite side of the ballroom. Each time he was stopped, he was engaged in animated conversation. He did not appear to be in a hurry, and he had not, she realized, looked even once in their direction. His friend Lord Aigen wasn’t in any hurry, either. No, the two men weren’t going to reach this side of the room anytime soon. Thank goodness. Some of her tension bled away with what appeared to be the increasing likelihood that Fenris would ignore them entirely.
“He’s still very handsome.”
“I suppose.” If the worst happened, and he did acknowledge them, Hester’s reserve would serve her well. She hoped. She prayed. Fenris, as Eugenia well knew, wore his charm like a coat, to be removed when no longer needed. He’d been kind to a starry-eyed thirteen-year-old, and plainly, disastrously, Hester had not forgotten that kindness. The danger was that Hester would not, as she so often did, see through his pretense.
“I’d wondered if he might have gone to fat.”
Eugenia clenched her jaw. No. Lord Fenris had not gone to fat.
“My love for him was more serious than anything you can imagine. It always is at that age.” Hester, perfect skin and all, was one of those pale-complected brunettes who blushed easily. She blushed a little, now. “He was always polite to me. For which I was very grateful, I promise you.”
“Ah.” Her stomach hurt.
Hester looked in the man’s direction again. “He must have known how I felt, yet he was always unfailingly polite. Despite my clumsiness, my alarming height, and mooning glances.”
“You’re not thirteen any longer.”
“Thank heavens, no.” Hester laughed, and this was another of those things about her that took one aback. Eugenia wished Hester had laughed when Mr. Lane was there to see it. That might have changed his opinion of her. At the very least he might have been stupefied into silence.
The interrupted set ended and couples parted at the edges of the ballroom. The noise of conversation increased as new partners were found and previous ones discussed. No one approached Hester, and Eugenia momentarily forgot about Lord Fenris. Were there no well-mannered young gentlemen at this ball? Eugenia began to harbor some ill will toward Mrs. Wilson. She had a son who was, at this very moment, lounging against the far wall, hands in his coat pockets. Not seeking out a partner with whom to dance, when there was Hester, the only young lady who had not yet been invited to dance. And that was the case even though there were more gentlemen in attendance than ladies.
Men. They were dogs. Every one of them. Every blessed one. Especially Lord Fenris.
Hester tugged upward on the bodice of her ball gown. Eugenia frowned. She stepped in front of Hester and adjusted her bodice again. “You have a bosom, dear. You’ll simply have to accept that. Believe me when I tell you that trying to hide it only makes matters worse.”
“Yes, Lady Eugenia.” Hester looked away. “He’s coming our way.”
“Mr. Wilson?” She sincerely hoped someone would ask Hester to dance, even if it was the elder Mr. Wilson rather than their host’s son.
“No, Lady Eugenia. Lord Fenris.”
Hester was right. Fenris was mere yards distant. Eugenia stepped away from Hester, adjusted her shawl over her shoulders, and waited in silence. She had no desire to speak to the man. Ever. For any reason. Not even by an accidental meeting. Let him pretend he did not see them. Let him not recognize Hester. Let him, she prayed, simply leave them alone.
Lane, blast the man, was now looping around to intercept Fenris, henchmen following him like a pack of starving dogs. Her bad luck continued. Fenris was now so close there was no point pretending she didn’t see him. She could cling to a hope that Fenris would ignore them, but Lane, she knew, would do no such thing.
No one else intercepted Fenris or otherwise diverted him from a trajectory that would bring him within feet of her and Hester. There were murmured greetings as he continued walking. Several mothers poked and prodded their daughters into better posture. Somewhere during his promenade, he’d lost Lord Aigen. A pity. Lord Aigen was quite handsome. And unmarried. Doubtless, Fenris would have poisoned Aigen against her, too.
Eugenia took Hester’s lemonade and set it next to hers. “Come along.”
Too late. She was too late. The marquess stopped. Directly in front of her and Hester. He smiled, but he didn’t mean it. Not really. She prepared herself for a cold acknowledgment. An icy dismissal.
Hester curtseyed to him, though not with much grace. In fact, Eugenia had to catch her elbow to steady her when the heel of her slipper caught in the hem of her gown. Fenris’s attention flicked to Hester’s bosom. She couldn’t blame him. She wanted to, but she couldn’t.
Eugenia curtseyed, too. She would be polite if it killed her. For Hester’s sake. “My lord.”
“Mrs. Bryant.” He took her hand even though she hadn’t offered it to him. “A pleasure to see you, as always.”
Liar. She drew her hand free of his. She was a liar, too. “Likewise.”
“How is Mountjoy?” Mountjoy was Eugenia’s eldest brother. He did not care for Fenris, either.
“In good health, thank you.”
His gaze flashed over her. “I hope Lord Nigel and his bride are well.” Lord Nigel was her youngest brother, and, like Mountjoy, recently married. As Fenris well knew.
“They are.” She plastered on what she hoped was a friendly smile that was not, actually, quite friendly enough. “Thank you for asking.”
“And Lily?” He meant his cousin Lily, Eugenia’s dearest friend in all the world, and now Mountjoy’s wife. “Have you had letters from her recently?”
Lord, would he stop this inquisition? He knew Eugenia did not like him, and he knew exactly why, too. He ought to want to let her alone, no matter their family connection. “Blazingly happy, my lord.”
“I have no doubt of that, Mrs. Bryant.” He pointedly glanced at Hester. Hester gazed back. So calm. As if one encountered a wealthy, handsome future duke every day of one’s life. Honestly, you’d think she was forty-two not twenty-two. With a sideways look at Eugenia, Fenris cleared his throat.
“You are already acquainted.” If he insulted Hester by not remembering her, she’d make it her mission in life to see him suffer.
“I don’t believe so.” Fenris looked only mildly interested, but that, Eugenia reflected, was better than outright disdain.
“Miss Rendell, may I introduce Lord Fenris?”
“Rendell?” Fenris titled his head an infinitesimal degree. She hated that habit of his. Behind him, she saw Lane working his way toward them, and her sense that only ill would come of this encounter increased. What if Fenris was one of Dinwitty Lane’s nasty pack of dogs? What if he made some hateful dig at her? Eugenia tensed, prepared to defend Hester to the very ends of the earth.
“It’s Hester, my lord.” Hester spoke just as naturally and easily as you may. She held out a gloved hand. Her smile appeared, warm and soothing. How could anyone not wish to know a woman of such poise? “Captain Charles Rendell’s sister.”
“Charles’s sister?” Fenris’s eyes opened wide. “Miss Rendell? Good Lord, it is you.” He took her hand and bowed over it. Eugenia remained tense, for she did not trust him. Not at all. “Well. You’ve certainly grown up.”
“It was inevitable, sir.”
On the ballroom floor, couples had begun to line up for the next dance. Mr. Wilson, the son, pushed off the wall he’d been holding up and made his way to a young woman with vapid good looks. The orchestra played some preliminary notes.
Lord Fenris grinned, a genuine smile, and he was quite unfairly more handsome than any man had a right to be. “Miss Rendell. I am both delighted and astonished to meet you again. Are your parents here?” He placed his other hand on top of hers so that he held her hand with both of his. “I know Charles isn’t, as I’ve just had a letter from him, but where are you staying? Why haven’t I heard you’re in Town? Why wasn’t I told?”
If she hadn’t known he couldn’t possibly mean it, Eugenia would have thought he was serious. None of that charm was real, as she well knew. Not genuinely. All the same, she was glad, burningly glad, at his effusive and out-of-character greeting because it mattered. Fenris’s opinion mattered a great deal. Mr. Lane imagined he set fashion. Fenris actually did, and if he paid attention to Hester, well then, so would others.
“Mama and Papa are at home. I’m staying with Lady Eugenia while I’m in Town.”
“That’s splendid.” He continued to hold Hester’s hand but glanced at Eugenia. “May I say that you have a most amiable hostess?”
“You may, for it’s true.”
“Are you engaged for the next dance?” When Hester did not reply, he said, “Am I too late? Are you free for any?”
“I should hate to break my streak, my lord.”
He lifted his eyebrows in a query. “What would that be?”
“The number of consecutive dances I’ve sat out.” She spoke with such serenity that Eugenia held her breath, expecting Fenris would misunderstand. “I’m at five right now, and my record is seven.” She leaned in and, in a confidential tone, said, “I’ve high hopes of reaching eight.”
Fenris said nothing. Taken aback? Appalled by Hester’s dry wit? Eugenia swore she’d kick the man in the shins, but then he looked Hester in the eye and said, “Mr. Dinwitty Lane has wagered you won’t be asked to dance. I do not wish for him to win that wager.”
“You’ve asked. Ergo, Mr. Lane has lost.”
Fenris bowed, only slightly but enough for others to take note of his interest. “The proof would be in you actually dancing.”
“A fine point, if you ask me,” Hester said.
“Most wagers rest upon a finer point than that.” He looked over his shoulder at the couples lining up. “Will you?”
He was fully capable of playing a deeper and more sinister game than Lane, and that possibility could not be discounted. While Eugenia debated the wisdom of encouraging Hester to dance with Fenris, Hester put her worries to rest.
“I think not.”
His austere expression lightened. “Why? If I might inquire.”
“I had rather not be danced with for a wager.” She was completely earnest, as if the decision to dance or not were for her nothing more than an intellectual consideration. A mere calculus with no emotion involved.
Eugenia tried not to beam her approval, but Hester turning down Fenris—really, could anything be more deliciously awful for him?
“No, my lord,” Hester said. “I had rather wait for someone to have a more usual reason for asking me to dance.”
Eugenia saw no sign, yet, that Fenris was angry or insulted. Indeed, he looked bemused.
“Your beauty? Your lovely smile?”
Eugenia narrowed her eyes at Fenris. She hadn’t imagined Fenris’s glance at Hester’s bosom. But was there a dig there, an insult implied about her looks? To her astonishment and consternation, she had to conclude that no, he had come about as close as any man to making Hester a compliment.
“Mm.” Hester tipped her head to one side. “Those would be a more usual reason; you’re correct in that. But I was thinking of my modest fortune.”
“Were you?” Fenris grinned, and while he did that, his gaze swept over Hester. “I assure you I would dance with you for reasons that have nothing to do with wagers or modest fortunes.”
Good God. The man was flirting. Flirting with Hester!
“Until then,” Hester went on, “I am happy to be here, watching the ladies in their beautiful gowns and jewels. And the gentlemen, too. So elegant. I do enjoy watching the gentlemen.”
Dinwitty Lane was now nearly upon them, his dogs in tow. “Please.” Fenris held out his hand again. “Dance with me? So that I may do all that I can to make you smile at me.”
“I don’t care, you know,” Hester said evenly. “What men like Mr. Lane say or do. ‘Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury . . . ’”
“‘Signifying nothing.’” Fenris cocked his head. “You ought not care. I, however, do. It’s a fault of mine.”
Lane and the others stopped within arm’s reach of Fenris. He ignored them. Eugenia couldn’t decide where to look, at Lane and his hateful friends, for she quite hated them now, or at Fenris, who was giving the performance of his life. He could have made a living on the stage, he was that convincing in portraying himself as kind and thoughtful.
Lane put a hand over his heart and shook his head. “Is this possible?”
His query caused instant silence for a radius of some ten feet. Lane removed his gloves with an awful deliberation. He slapped them against his open palm to a collective intake of breath. The half of the room that could not see probably thought he’d slapped Fenris.
Fenris half turned. “What is that noise?”
Thwap, thwap, thwap, went the gloves against Lane’s palm. “Fox. Do mine eyes deceive? Gentlemen,” Lane addressed his companions, “did you not hear his lordship ask the girl to dance?”
To this there came a chorus of agreement. Eugenia tensed.
“To be sure,” Fenris said. “I’m begging for the honor.”
“The man who stole away the Incomparable is reduced to begging for dances?” Lane snorted. “I thought you were over your penchant for blowsy girls.”
Fenris went perfectly still. “I don’t know what you mean.”
But he did. Of course he did. Some years ago, Fenris had leveled just that insult at her. He’d called her blowsy, a remark that spread through the Ton like fire and refused to die out.
“If your sensibilities were nice in any respect,” Lane said, his hand still over his heart, “you would not be here pleading for yet another blowsy country girl to dance with you.” He winced, but whether his pain was metaphorical or physical, Eugenia could not say. “Where’s your pride? You’re to be a duke, one day, man.”
Fenris looked him up and down. “If you had the brains of a lobster, you would possess twice the intelligence you’ve displayed tonight.”
Lane frowned. “Brains?” He opened and closed his mouth several times and squinted as if thinking pained him. “Twice the intelligence?”
“I fear it’s not a compliment.” Hester shook her head sadly.
“Mr. Lane.” Eugenia felt sick to her stomach as she stepped off the cliff with no protection but the hope that she was right that Lord Fenris’s regard for Hester was sincere. “I believe Lord Fenris is suggesting that in a contest of mental acuity between you and a large crustacean, the crustacean would win.”
Dinwitty gaped. “Of a . . . lobster?”
“Yes,” Fenris said. “A lobster. As Mrs. Bryant so helpfully explicated, a large crustacean.”
Lane’s eyes widened. He tipped his chin downward until it collided with his cravat, which spoiled his attempt to look down his nose at Eugenia. She would gladly accept the man’s blistering scorn as long as he let Hester alone. His lip curled as he turned his attention from her to Fenris. “You go too far.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Lane.” Fenris sounded bored. Bored beyond anyone’s capacity to endure such tedium. “I did not go far enough. I cannot fathom why a gentleman would behave as you have this evening.”
One of Lane’s companions, Eugenia did not see who it was, barked again, to the general hilarity of the rest of Lane’s followers.
Lane gestured at the men behind them. “Give his lordship your condolences, men.” He spoke over several sotto voce mutterings behind him. “I believe his lordship has forgotten himself. My God.” Lane glanced toward the heavens. “Save us from watching him dash his reputation to shreds on such inferior shores as these. You should not, sir, seduce in so poor a country.”
“I beg your pardon,” Fenris said in sharp tones.
Lane slapped his gloves on his palm again. “None shall be given.”
“You would be wise to have a care what you imply about me,” Fenris said so coldly she could practically see snowflakes dancing in the air around him. If you don’t, it will be your mistake to rue. I shall not, however, permit you to imply anything untoward about me and any lady in this room.”
Hester, Eugenia was aware, watched Lord Fenris with a sharp gaze.
“I’m sure,” Lane said, “that I’ve heard more than enough insults for one night.”
The world was perverse. Eugenia had long dreamed about serving Lord Fenris the ice-cold revenge he so deserved. Since the day she’d learned of Fenris’s campaign against her she had imagined all manner of ways to make him pay. She had never, not once, imagined she would align herself with him or feel in any way compelled to defend him. “What insult do you imagine you’ve suffered, Mr. Lane, when, in fact, Lord Fenris has insulted not you but lobsters everywhere?”
So what’d you think?! Do you read historical romances? Ever read one by Carolyn Jewel? What do you think of unrequited love stories? Especially where it’s the hero who screwed up? Um, obviously I love that. 😀
YOU GUYS!!! Ms. Carolyn, beyond being super awesome, is ESPECIALLY super awesome, because she’s participating in my massive birthday bash blog blowout giveaway! But! I’ve convinced her to move a few of the copies to this post! So!!! THREE incredibly crazy lucky readers are going to get copies of Not Proper Enough!!! If I hadn’t read it already I’d hate you. 😀
No joke. You want this book. It’s got a great story, great characters, plot, it’s hot. … Really, even if you don’t read historicals, you want to try this one. So convince me. (Us?) Why should you get a coveted copy?!