Because I hate for my poor blog to languish while I'm doing a thousand other things, here's a sneaky little excerpt of WAYS TO BE WICKED (October will be here any minute!). This scene takes place shortly after the first excerpt from the book on my website, so start reading there, if you'd like...
Sylvie could scarcely get through the rest of rehearsal without thoughts of what Tom Shaughnessy might do. Would he… “turn ‘er off?” Was that the English expression Rose had used? Would he “sack her” and leave her to her own devices in London? Would she have the nerve to blame The General?
And so when The General gave them leave to go, she lingered, watching the other girls vanish into the dressing room. She saw Molly cast a glance over her shoulder, toss her head away again, murmur something to Lizzy.
And then her heart thumping as surely as if Tom Shaughnessy were marking time with his walking stick, Sylvie made her decision.
She turned and marched stoically toward Tom’s office.
He was shaking off his coat when she appeared in the doorway. He froze mid-motion, one arm in a sleeve, one arm out, when he saw her. His cravat had already been tossed over the globe in the corner, as though he’d entered the office and violently ridded himself of a noose at once.
It occurred to her then, very suddenly: he wears a costume, too. The man she saw leaning over his desk at night, shirtsleeves rolled up, two buttons open to free his movements, the stripped to essentials Tom: this was the real Tom Shaughnessy.
They stared at each other, frozen in an indecipherable moment, trying in vain to ascertain what the other was thinking.
“I saw you.”
They both said it at once, in a rush. Both faintly accusatory. Faintly apologetic.
Tom’s face was difficult to read. He turned from her and finished getting out of his coat, draped it over his chair carefully. Absently unbuttoned the cuffs of shirt, then rolled them up. She watched every motion, and watching him reveal his arms seemed somehow as intimate as watching him undress completely. It wasn’t at all what a gentleman would have done in front of her during the day. She could not for a moment imagine Etienne rolling up his sleeves in front of her, though she had of course seen every inch of Etienne uncovered.
Tom looked down. He fumbled with the papers on his desk, then appeared to realize he was fumbling and stopped. He let his eyes wander over to the window, over to the bookshelves, back to the desk.
In other words, to anywhere she wasn’t.
“Well, then. Did you come to see me for a reason, Sylvie?” Stiffly said, and formally. It sounded like a foreign language coming from him.
She watched him, unfamiliar with whatever this mood happened to be. She sensed he was unfamiliar with it, too.
“Are you…angry?” It was at least a place to begin asking questions.
He looked toward the bookshelf and appeared to consider this. As though he was having difficulty deciding precisely what he was.
“No,” he finally said. To the bookshelves, not to her.
An awkward silence.
“All right,” she said softly. “I’ll go.”
“There’s no money in it.” He said quickly. Abruptly. Almost as though trying to convince himself of something.
She remained where she was.
Which was when he did finally look at her. He nearly blinked when their eyes met, as though receiving a tiny shock. His expression was oddly…defiant. Uncertain. As though, for heaven’s sake, he was being required to defend himself and didn’t know quite how to go about it.
In short, Tom Shaughnessy was for some reason decidedly uncomfortable.
Not angry. Not glib. Not amused.
Not even flirting.
Sylvie stared at him, fascinated. She’d watched him gracefully and adeptly field highwaymen and earls and frightened women and incensed husbands with scarcely a ripple in his authority and good humor. And now…
Me, she thought. I did this to him. With her dancing, her own form of brilliance, she’d shifted his balance. She’d made Tom Shaughnessy feel…
Vulnerable. Ah, yes, that was it.
It pleased her inordinately. Particularly since this was a man who had made the ground beneath her feet feel nearly as wobbly as the deck of that ship that brought her across the channel. From the very moment she’d clapped eyes upon him.
She suspected her eyes began to glow a bit, because that’s when his eyes went dark and something like firm resolve crossed his face. He took two decisive steps toward her.
Which made her suck in an audible breath, and take an almost imperceptible step back.
Which made his mouth twitch just a little.
It took every bit of her courage to hold her ground as he slowly closed the distance that remained between them, until he stood so close that the heat of his body and the singular scent of him wound her in a cocoon. She should have known a man this wicked would smell like paradise: tobacco and soap and some hint of spice. Sweat, just a little. Clean linen.
And the unmistakable, most singular, subtle scent of all: desire. She knew the scent. For she was not, as he had guessed right from the start, an innocent.
It was the first time, however, that she had gloried in this.
Words. I need words. Words to parry with and to build a net of safety with. “Do you see something on my cheek, Mr. Shaughnessy?”
The words were, unfortunately, a nearly breathless rush of sound. Her speeding heartbeat was making her blood ring in her ears.
It didn’t appear as though he’d even heard the question.
“I believe I mentioned that I’m not obliged to play fair, Sylvie.” He said it softly, his voice low and level. It was a warning. An apology.
And a dare.
And it was the last that made her determined to stand her ground.
Even with her speeding heart sending the blood whooshing in her ears and all but freezing her lungs. Even as the intent became very clear in the set of his jaw, in the heat of his eyes. Even as the want in her rose so fiercely that she thought she would simply die if this time he didn’t…if he didn’t…
And now he was so close she could see the facets of silver in his eyes, the fine creases at the corners of them, like the rays of stars.
But when his lips touched hers she saw nothing more: Her eyes closed as the kiss detonated in her.
So very nearly painful in its sweetness. As though she’d been cracked gently open, only to discover she was full of nothing but brilliant light.
And then it was over. Her eyes fluttered open to discover why.
She saw that Tom had taken a step back from her. His silver eyes had gone pewter-dark, stunned. For an instant, they were motionless together. Assessing. Reassessing.
For with one near-chaste kiss both had been managed to strip themselves of pretense and combat and flirtation and all the other little things they used to defend themselves against each other. They were suddenly equal. And equally uncertain.
A moment later, one of them became certain, and naturally it was Tom.
He stepped swiftly toward her; his hands came up, held her face lightly. A statement of intent. And like this, for the span of several breaths, he waited. Not obliged to play fair, he’d said to her. And even now, she knew he wasn’t playing fair: for he was forcing her to choose.
(and that's the end of the excerpt, but oh BOY does it get juicy from there...)
By 9 pm. EST, Friday the 18th, I'll choose a winner (at random!) of a signed copy of either BEAUTY AND THE SPY or TO LOVE A THIEF from commenters below! So go to town, kittens. :)