In a few days I'll be holding my author copies in my hand. I'm more excited about this book, which won Choc Lit's Search for an Australian Star competition, than I am about any other book I've written.
In the meantime, here are two excerpts.
‘It’s not a sin, unless you get caught.’
The gentle breeze seemed to whisper Jack’s teasing challenge, its soft, silken fingers tugging at Emily’s ingrained obedience. She put down her basket and stared with longing at the waters below, sweat prickling her scalp beneath her poke bonnet as desire warred with fear of the consequences.
‘Where’s your sense of adventure, Em?’
Still resisting, Emily closed her eyes, but the wind’s wicked suggestiveness was like the caress of Jack’s breath against her heated cheek; daring Emily to shrug aside a lifetime of dutiful subservience – again – and peel off her clothes, this time to plunge into the inviting stream beneath the willows.
She imagined Jack’s warm brown eyes glinting with wickedness. Taunting her like the burr that had worked its way into the heel of her woollen stockings during her walk.
Exhaling on a sigh, Emily opened her eyes and admitted defeat as she succumbed to the pull of the reed-fringed
Desire had won, justified by practicality. If she had to remove one stocking to dislodge the burr she might as well remove both.
Scrambling down the embankment, she lowered herself onto a rock by the water’s edge. Her father would never know. If he glanced from his study in the tower room, where he was doubtless gloating over his balance sheet, he’d assume she was a village lass making her way along the track. Emily had never seen him interest himself in the poor except …
Like most unpleasant memories, she tried to cast this one out with a toss of her head, still glad her father had never
discovered what she’d witnessed from her bedroom window one evening five years ago: the curious sight of Bartholomew
Micklen ushering the beggar girl who’d arrived on his doorstep into his carriage.
Then climbing in after her before it rumbled down the driveway and out of sight.
Now was just another of those moments when Emily was glad her father remained in ignorance. Her insurance, should she need it, was that she knew a few of her father’s secrets the excise men might just want to know.
By the time the first stocking had followed Emily’s boots onto the grassy bank she was bursting with anticipation for her swim.
What did one more sin matter when she’d be Mrs Jack Noble in less than a week?
END OF EXCERPT #1
Major Angus McCartney was out of his depth.
He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. Only five minutes in this gloomy, oppressive parlour after the women
had arrived and he was questioning his ability to complete his mission, a feeling he’d not experienced before Corunna
four years before.
He’d been unprepared for the assault on his senses unleashed by the beautiful Miss Micklen. He shifted position once more, fingering the letters that belonged to her. For two years he’d carried the memory of the young woman before him as a confident, radiant creature in a white muslin ball gown with a powder-blue sash. Now her tragic, disbelieving gaze unleashed a flood of memory, for in her distress she bore no resemblance to the paragon of beauty at the Regimental Ball, a bright memory in an otherwise tormented year after he’d been invalided out of Spain. Clearly Miss Micklen did not remember him.
She’d remember him forever now: as the harbinger of doom, for as surely as if he’d pulled the trigger he’d just consigned her hopes and dreams to cinders.
She turned suddenly, catching him by surprise, and the painful, searing memory of the last time he’d confronted such grief tore through him.
Corunna again. As if presented on a platter, the image of the soldier’s woman he’d assisted flashed before his eyes, forcing him to draw a sustaining breath as he battled with the familiar self-reproach which threatened to unman him.
He reminded himself he was here to do good.
‘A skirmish near the barracks?’ the young woman whispered, resting her hands upon her crippled mother’s shoulders. ‘Last Wednesday?’
‘That is correct, ma’am.’
Mrs Micklen muttered some incoherent words, presumably of sympathy. Angus pitied them both: Miss Micklen digesting her sudden bereavement, and the mother for her affliction. The older woman sat hunched in her chair by the fire, unable to turn her head, her claw-like hands trembling in her lap.
He cleared his throat, wishing he’d taken more account of his acknowledged clumsiness with the fairer sex. He was not up to the task. He’d dismissed the cautions of his fellow officers, arrogantly thinking he’d be shirking his duty were he not the one to deliver the news. It was condolences he should be offering, and he had not the first idea how to appeal to a frail feminine heart.
Nor was he accustomed to the lies tripping off his tongue as he added, ‘A tragic mishap, ma’am, but Captain Noble acquitted himself with honour to the end.’
Miss Micklen’s gaze lanced him with its intensity. Tears glistened, held in check by her dark lashes. ‘I can’t believe it,’ she whispered, moving to draw aside the heavy green velvet curtain and stare at the dipping sun. ‘Jack told me he was on the Continent.’
Choosing not to refute Jack’s lie, he said carefully, ‘An altercation occurred between a group of infantry in which I was unwittingly involved. When Captain Noble came to my assistance he was struck a mortal blow to the head. I’m sorry, Miss Micklen.’
He wished he knew how to offer comfort. The beautiful Miss Micklen of the Christmas Regimental Ball had seemed all-powerful in her cocoon of happy confidence. Unobtainable as the stars in heaven, he’d thought as he’d watched her skirt the dance floor in the arms of the unworthy Jack Noble. For so long he’d carried Miss Micklen’s image close to his heart and this was the first time he’d been reminded of Jessamine.
God, how weary he was of war.
END OF EXCERPT #2