Sounds like a recipe for a wedding, but it’s just a status update…
Something Old: As you probably already know, Trapping a Duchess and At Journey’s End are no longer available for purchase through Amazon (or anywhere else) at the moment. New versions (with new covers) should be available soon…and very soon I’ll be able to tell you where. It’s an exciting time for the Scandals of the Heart series, and your favorite characters have all been out shopping for new clothes. My promise to you: as soon as info is available, you’ll be the first to know!
Something New: Dancing with Darkness has hit its stride. Gabriel and Penelope are as daring and lovable as ever, and writing them has been an absolute joy! Because you’ve been so very patient with me, I’m giving you a gift! The Prologue for Dancing with Darkness is available at the end of this post.
Something Borrowed: I’m still on the hunt for alpha readers. I need at least one alpha reader with experience reading romance (preferable historical) and one more who is familiar enough with this particular series to offer feedback on character development (am I writing about the things you want to know, are there any characters you would like to see more of, etc?). If you’re interested in either of these, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Something Blue: I would prefer if we were discussing something green, as that is my favorite color, but blue it is. I’ve noticed in writing Dancing with Darkness that it explores the loss of a parent through the struggle of a child. This wasn’t done by accident. The death of my father has left an indelible mark and I think that definitely shows in my writing. I’m hoping it won’t be too sappy. As today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s death (I miss you, dad), I fully expect those feelings to shine through.
Those are the updates I have thus far. Feel free to post comments as usual. I love getting them!
DANCING WITH DARKNESS
“Lock the door behind you,” Gabriel said as he tightened the last of the ropes.
“Yes, sir,” said his second without hesitation.
Once Mr. Gibbons left, Gabriel moved to the window. On the lawn below, tree limbs struggled against a windy day. Dark clouds cloaked the horizon, a grim warning of the storm sure to break once his captive realized where she was. Across the room, she stirred, drawing Gabriel away from the window. With the curtains cracked open, the room’s light was directed over the bed, leaving plenty of shadows in which to hide. Her restraints, even when put to the test by struggle, would hold, but maintaining the upper hand required more than expertly tied bonds. With this woman in particular, fear would ensure him the advantage. He needed her sense of self-preservation to overrule her temper.
Miss Penelope Grayson’s eyelids opened; she’d been struggling against the effects of the laudanum for nearly an hour. She shifted, trying to adjust her position. When the rope pulled taut, restricting her movement, her eyes shot open. “Mmph,” she groaned before resting her head against the back of the chair and taking a series of deep breaths. She tried again to lift her hand. A frightened cry tore from her throat. She struggled against her bonds, panicked gaze darting side to side, searching her surroundings. For a long moment, Gabriel did nothing but watch, a predator toying with prey. He let the silence stretch, nerves beginning to thrum with the same energy she was wasting on the struggle.
“Show yourself,” she said hoarsely, wriggling against the ropes.
Gabriel remained silent, biding his time.
“I know you’re there. I feel you watching me.” Even through parched tones, her ferocity sounded through. She was a fighter, but he’d known that already.
His lips curved into a smug smile. Anticipation pumped blood through his veins, urging him to set the confrontation in motion, but he forced himself to remain still, intent on making the most of his advantage.
“You aren’t frightening me.” The shake in her voice belied the gallant words.
Gabriel let her speculate for a few minutes longer, watching her chest for changes in breathing. Heaving breaths became shallow inhales, a telltale sign she was properly frightened. Satisfied, he stepped into her line of sight.
“You!” she said, her eyes widening for about half a second before narrowing. “I should have known. Untie me, this instant.”
He gave her a feral smile. “I warned you about my curiosity.”
“I don’t care about your curiosity,” she said, struggling with her bonds with enough force to move the chair. “Let me go. Immediately!”
“You will explain a few things to me first.” He curled his fingers around the armrests of her chair, leaning forward to meet her gaze. She stilled instantly, even as her chest rose and fell with enervated exhales that blew across his face. Her breath was sickly sweet, her brow moistened with sweat. He held his position until she trembled, until he felt confident the gravity of the situation had reached her. “You can begin by telling me why you were at my brother’s home.”
“And you can go to hell,” she said, then spat at him.
Ignoring the saliva on his face, he clucked his tongue and wrapped his hands around her arms, pulling her forward until the ropes dug into her skin. “This isn’t a game.” Her jaw clenched and her eyes filled with tears, but to his surprise she did not cry out. Hardened by experience, Gabriel ignored them. There was no reason for Miss Penelope Grayson, daughter of the murdered Major Paul Grayson, to be at his family’s house party under an assumed name. When they’d been introduced yesterday, she was calling herself Lady Cheever. He intended to find out why. “Why were you there?” Her gaze grew shuttered, her chin setting defiantly. “Answer me,” he demanded, giving her a shake violent enough to tear an agonized yelp from her lips. The legs of the chair screamed against the wood floor.
“Stop,” she said between a broken exhale and a painful swallow. “There is no need for torture. Free me and I will tell you everything. I promise.”
“Oh, you promise, do you? Well, that changes everything.” With a snarl, he yanked her closer.
“Ow!” she said, tears spilling down her cheeks. “My lord, please!”
“Why were you there?”
“I needed help!”
“I want the truth.”
“That is the truth. Please! Let me explain.”
He’d heard that desperate tone before, from men and women alike who were at their breaking point. Reigning in his fury, he released her, but did not step away. “You’ve already lied to me once. Why should I give you a chance to do so again?”
“I had my reasons for deception, and if you untie me, I promise you’ll have them.”
After more than ten years working for Whitehall, Gabriel trusted his gut implicitly. So when he stared down at her and his battered memory warned him to proceed with caution, he listened. “You’re going to tell me everything I want to know.” Since the last time he’d seen her, years before, she had lost weight, nearly three stone, and had changed the color and cut of her hair. Her eyes, however, were still the same. Even if the length of her lashes and sculpted brow were common, the shade of her irises—peonies set against a clear, blue sky—were unforgettable. Mostly blue, but with a tinge of violet, they defied nature and demanded notice.
He pulled a knife from his boot, inwardly preening at the way her widened stare locked on it. “If you so much as inhale too sharply, you’ll be exhaling through a hole in your neck. Do you understand?” The threat was empty, but fear was his ally, so he waited for her acknowledgment.
“Yes,” she whispered.
He sliced through her bonds, releasing her hands. When he was finished, he sheathed his knife, dragged the spare chair in front of her and sat.
“I don’t suppose I could bother you for a. . .” she started to ask, then seemed to think better of it. “No, I don’t suppose I could.” She swallowed almost convulsively.
“Gibbons,” Gabriel called out. His trusted second opened the door at once.
“Fetch me a pitcher of water and a glass.”
“Right away, sir.”
She gave him a wan smile as she rubbed her arms. “Thank you.”
“What brings you here, Lady Cheever?”
“To England or to this part of the country in particular?” she asked, sounding slightly calmer and confident than before.
“To my brother’s estate,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Why wouldn’t I want to come?”
Though there was a tiny part of him who relished her boldness, it was the experienced interrogator who crossed his leg over his knee and pulled the knife from his boot. He rested it on his knee, hand wrapped around the handle as if anxious to put the blade to use.
She pressed herself deeper into her chair. “What are you doing with that?”
She sounded concerned, but not frightened; he let the light play over the blade. “In my line of work, answering questions with questions is a sign of evasion, which often requires a certain coercion to encourage honesty.” At her widened eyes, he added, “I am willing to provide incentive, if that’s what you require, but I assure you, the process will be painful. The choice, my lady, is yours.”
She cleared her throat, but lifted her chin. “I understand.”
“Do you?” he asked, pinning her with a deadly stare. At her nod, he asked, “Why were you at my brother’s estate?”
“I had no place else to go.”
Gabriel hid his surprise. He expected her to give some lame excuse about how tedious London was during the off-season, or to proclaim that she enjoyed the fresh air offered by expansive hills. She had not, after all, offered up her true identity. “No place else to go,” he echoed through a bland expression. “As the daughter of a peer, I find that difficult to believe.”
“I am no more the daughter of a peer than you are a gentleman,” she said, sounding impatient. “And neither one of us has the luxury of pretending otherwise at this point. My name is Penelope Grayson.” Her name could have been a weapon for the force she put behind it. “My father was Major Paul Grayson, your mentor, superior and friend. So, unless you have some other reason for wanting to do me bodily harm, I would appreciate if you would put the knife away. I assure you, you won’t have need of it. I don’t have anything left to hide.”
The earnestness in her eyes, coupled with the confession of who she was, changed the timbre of the conversation. With a single, curt nod he sheathed the knife. “Why the assumed name?”
“Because I couldn’t use my own. There is a bounty on my head.” At his disbelieving look, she bristled. “You asked for the truth, my lord, and I am telling it. Whether or not your believe it is your choice.”
“Declaring something as true proves nothing. What proof do you have to support your claim?”
“You need proof, after what happened to my father?” She looked genuinely disgusted. “Perhaps you and Truscott are one and the same, then.”
Anger clenched his insides tight, but he swallowed his venomous response. “Your father’s death was an unfortunate occurrence, but it does not prove Truscott’s involvement.”
“My father’s murder proves everything,” she bit out. “Most of all that money will always be more important to men than morals.”
“Not to the right men,” he said calmly.
“My father thought you were the right man. Perhaps he was wrong?”
He shot her a warning look. “Truscott’s allegations won’t be dismissed without evidence.”
Her eyes flashed. “I shouldn’t need evidence! Papa served his country until the moment of his death. If you think otherwise, if you believe Truscott’s lies, then you aren’t worthy of the respect he afforded you,” she said, cheeks flushing with anger.
He kept a calm tone. “What I believe means nothing to the high court, Miss Grayson. The way Truscott paints it, it was your father who was the traitor, not he.”
“I refuse to sit here while you malign his name.”
Gabriel eyed her for a long moment, amused by her bravado. “As a captive audience, you don’t have much of a choice.”
“My father is innocent.”
“I know he is, Miss Grayson,” he said gently. “Unfortunately, your proclamation doesn’t satisfy the burden of proof. The major was and still is, as far as the King is concerned, guilty of conspiring to commit treason.”
“Then the King, along with anyone else who buys Truscott’s lies, is a fool.”
Against his will, Gabriel smiled. “An inarguable fact, but he is still our monarch. His word, as you know, is law. Without solid evidence proving Truscott’s treachery, there is little that can be done to change his opinion.”
Her voice was solemn. “I don’t need a reminder, my lord. I’ve lived with the burden for nearly two years.”
“Where have you been all of this time?”
“Traveling,” she said, rubbing her wrist. “Moving from one place to the next in an effort to stay hidden. But I’m out of resources, out of places to hide. I need help.”
“You hoped my family would offer protection?”
“I hoped your family would lead me to you.” Her chin tilted, a warrior’s determination flickering in her gaze. “I won’t let Truscott get away with what he did. Not to my father, and not to you.”
Inside him, something dangerous flickered. “Do you really believe that’s what your father would want?” he asked, folding his arms over his chest. “You, exposing yourself to the dangers he worked so hard to keep at a distance?” Her careless shrug raised his hackles. He wanted to find every button he could and press and push and poke until she admitted her quest was a fool’s errand. “If you wanted my help, why not come to me directly? Why involve my family?”
She gave him an arch look. “I wasn’t even sure you were still alive.” She looked as if she wanted to say more, but Gibbons entered at that moment, hefting a large tray. To Gabriel’s dismay, a cold repast of meats and cheeses accompanied the water he’d ordered.
At his lifted brow, the man merely shrugged. “Nan thought your miss might be hungry. I was in too much of a hurry to argue with her. You know how she gets.”
Miss Grayson smiled. “Thank you.”
“That will be all,” Gabriel said, interrupting the moment before it had a chance to undermine the progress he’d made.
“I’m sure your Nan didn’t mean any disrespect,” Miss Grayson said after Gibbons left the room. She glanced pointedly at the tray. “I’m not hungry anyway, so you needn’t worry I’ll make you look bad by taking advantage of her generosity.”
Gabriel set the tray on the bed beside her. “I believe we’ve established that you’re not a criminal, Miss Grayson, therefore starving you is unnecessary.” The extra drops of laudanum he added to the tea she requested had knocked her out cold. As he abducted her in the middle of the night, she likely hadn’t eaten for nearly a day. Something that felt unnervingly like guilt spiked through him. “You should eat something.” The corners of her mouth tilted upwards as she plucked a piece of cheese off of the tray and he was caught off guard by a sudden feeling of attraction. He quashed it instantly. “The missive I received asking for help. You sent it.” She nodded. “Why?”
She finished chewing, then took a long sip of water. “My father bade me send it.”
“Why you?” he asked, unable to reconcile the man who worried constantly over his daughter’s welfare with the major who would risk her safety to ensure Truscott was caught. He wasn’t lying when he said that Grayson worked hard to keep her out of harm’s way.
“Quite frankly,” she said around a bite of ham, “I think he had run out of people he could trust. You were away by that point. With Truscott in charge of the correspondence, he couldn’t post a letter from command. I was the best way to get word to you.” She spread her fingers and gave a one-shouldered shrug. “It’s as simple as that.”
“He had to have known Truscott would come after you.”
“My lord, I haven’t the foggiest idea of what my father did and didn’t know. I only know that he asked me to help and I did. I never expected—” she said, the words held back by her quivering lower lip. With a deep inhale, she began again, violet eyes filling with tears. “I never expected you wouldn’t come to his aid.”
He cleared his throat, determined not to relive the detour, the time he’d spent tortured at the hands of Truscott’s men. His right ring finger, torn off during one of their vicious interrogations, throbbed with a phantom pain. “I had no choice in the matter.”
She nodded, wiping her tears away. “Once I was certain Lord Winterley had you, I fled the country, but I didn’t know―”
The admission was like a punch in the chest. “Wait. What do you mean, once you were certain? How did you know Winterley had found me?” His mind raced, flashes of his fateful journey home lighting up another layer of memories. Was it her he’d seen slinking into the shadows?
Her brows furrowed. “I gave him the address and waited nearby. I figured you were my only hope to clear my father’s name, and I couldn’t leave without knowing you were safe.”
“What?” he asked. He didn’t often find himself rattled, but the idea of her walking alone through the slums where he’d been tortured shook him to his core.
“There’s no need to shout, my lord,” she said, either oblivious to or openly disregarding of the furious look he was giving her.
Whichever, Gabriel wanted to muzzle her. “You not only gave a stranger a note indicating my location, but you then proceeded to follow him there?” he asked, his voice steely.
She nodded, though a little less enthusiastically than before. “Well, not entirely a stranger, as I knew of your acquaintance with the viscount through my father.”
A dozen questions shot through his mind, but one stood out from all the rest. “Did it occur to you that you were endangering yourself? That you could have been raped, or murdered, or worse?” A good interrogator did not become emotionally involved, did not allow feelings of any kind to show. But try as he might, he couldn’t keep the disdain from his face, nor the bitterness from his tone.
She leveled an annoyed stare in his direction. “Did it occur to you that if I left, you wouldn’t be alive to badger me about it?”
Gabriel couldn’t remember a time when he’d been forced to employ so much restraint. Not when he learned that Truscott was still alive, nor when he trailed one of the bastard’s men and wreaked his vengeance without regard to a group of startled onlookers. But this moment, right now, faced with this slip of a girl whose expression was far too smug for her own good, he risked losing control completely. “The only thing that occurs to me,” he said, brushing an invisible piece of lint off of his sleeve for no other reason than to relieve the tension in his arms, “is that you are fortunate Truscott didn’t catch you.”
Her laugh held a faintly mocking edge. “No, my lord. My not getting caught was fortunate for both of us.”
Gabriel didn’t have a chance to respond before Gibbons burst into the room.
“My lord. You better come quick. All ‘ell’s broken loose at the duke’s place.”
“What has happened?” he asked, forcing himself to remain seated. “Has the duchess gone into labor?”
“No, sir. It’s Lady Alexandra. She’s been snatched.”