Good morning, Princesses! I hope you are all having the happiest of holidays.
Today is the official release day for Book II of the Reckless Brides: A BREATH OF SCANDAL.
Shockingly brash and scandalously independent, the Reckless Brides are boldly rewriting the rules of love and marriage—one smitten bachelor at a time…
Romantic Times has given A BREATH OF SCANDAL 4 1/2 stars! And today I’m going to be giving away a copy to a randomly selected Princess, so be sure to leave your comment for your chance to win. :) So here we go!
In the game of kiss and tell, there are no rules…
THE LADY IS A KNOCKOUT
Forced by her family into an engagement with a man she can never abide, Antigone Preston knows only a scandal will save her from a loveless marriage. But knocking a man down to the ballroom floor with her fists brings dangerous consequences. She may have ruined her reputation, but now she’s endangered her heart…
THE OFFICER IS A GENTLEMAN
The son of an earl and a career navy man, Captain William Jellicoe has no interest in the frivolities of London—and even less in the institution of marriage. But there’s something steering him toward Antigone. He has never met anyone as brazen and unconventional as…himself. But will he risk it all for a woman who still has the breath of scandal hot on her lips?
Here’s an EXCLUSIVE excerpt, in which we meet our heroine, Miss Antigone Preston, at a country ball.
Antigone Preston had hoped to spend the evening unprofitably, laying low in an unseen corner of the ballroom. But her hostess, Lady Barrington, stopped her with a tap of her fan.
“Miss Antigone, we must take you in hand. My dear Mr. Stubbs-Haye.” Lady Barrington called to one of the young men slouching about. “How do you do this evening? How is your dear mother? Let me recommend Miss Antigone, here, as a most desirable partner. We must have her dance this evening.”
Antigone chose to make no objection to such an introduction. She would have been content to stay with her sister, but Cassandra appeared to have been persuaded to dance the set with a handsome young man by the very encouraging name of the Viscount Jeffrey, who was already leading her sister away on his arm. And Mr. Stubbs-Haye seemed innocuous enough.
For his part, Mr. Stubbs-Haye was also smart enough to know an order when he heard it, no matter how softly veiled, and self-interested enough to act upon it without delay. “I should like nothing better, my lady. I should be honored if you would consent to dance with me, Miss Antigone.”
She consented, the gentleman offered his arm, and at the cessation of one piece of music, Antigone found herself being led out beneath the dazzling chandelier to the middle of the crowded dance floor in almost happy anticipation of the next. In the uncomplicated, goodhearted company of a ruddy-cheeked sportsman like Mr. Stubbs-Haye, she might actually enjoy herself.
The musicians struck up a country dance, and Antigone tried to lose herself in the pleasure of the lively steps. But in a few measures, when they found themselves at the top of the dance for a moment, and the moment called for conversation, Mr. Stubbs-Haye ended all her enjoyment.
“Well, I must say, Miss Antigone.” Mr. Stubbs-Haye leaned his head across the gap to impart his confidence. “I am surprised to hear about you.”
“I’m not.” Antigone knew well enough that he must be referring to her engagement to Lord Aldridge—which was mean to be a secret—but if rumors were to be shared, perhaps she might exchange Mr. Stubbs-Haye’s for one of her own. “And pray what have you heard about me?”
“That old Aldridge has his hooks in you. You don’t exactly look the type.”
His bald, nearly vulgar statement threw her uncharacteristically off her stride. An uncomfortable heat settled between her shoulder blades and no doubt blotched up her neck. She put something more tart than vinegar into her voice. “And pray what type is that, Mr. Stubbs-Haye?”
“Ah, ha-ha.” A roguish tilt of his head supplied all the innuendo his words had not. “Manners forbid a gentleman, and all that.”
“Manners ought to have forbidden a gentleman from making reference to a lady’s type in the first place, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped you, Mr. Stubbs-Haye.”
“Ha-ha. Too true. But I tell you something. When the time comes, and you want a man who knows what to do with a lively girl like you, you remember your friend Gerry.”
“Mr. Stubbs? Are you perchance drunk? Or merely suicidal?”
“Stubbs-Haye,” he corrected without an ounce of shame, smiling at her in a way that did not inspire confidence in either his sobriety, or in appeals to his gentlemanly character. “Ain’t you just a lively, taking little thing.”
And as she skirted past Mr. Stubbs-Haye to circle around the gentlemen next down the line, Mr. Stubbs-Haye reached down, and quite deliberately patted her bum.
Antigone knew this—the deliberateness—because the dance called for no touching whatsoever at that point in the proceedings.
She instinctively sidled out of his reach, her discomfort rapidly distilling down into ire. She may have been a country miss, more at home with horses and huntsmen than dandies, but surely manners in Hampshire were not so very different from those six miles away at home, as to permit gentlemen such liberties?
“Sir! I have no wish to be a ‘taking little thing.’” Antigone attempted to keep her voice low—Mama would have apoplexies if she heard her daughter employing sarcasm in Lady Barrington’s ballroom—but Antigone could only think dark humor was necessary in such a case. “Nor do I wish to be pawed at like a tavern maid, Mr. Stubbs-Haye. Please, kindly confine your dancing maneuvers to the prescribed areas. Or-”
Antigone let her threat subside. If they had been in the upper rooms at the White Horse tavern she would have simply abandoned him on the dance floor and walked away, manners and appearances be damned, and seen to it that he was sent the wrong way on a hunt to come a cropper in a hedge. But they were not in Wealdgate village, and her mother’s tense instructions for behavior in Lady Barrington’s vaunted ballroom had not included direction on what to do when pawed by drunk, or otherwise obtuse gentlemen. As it was, her forceful style of addressing Mr. Stubbs-Haye was drawing curious eyes in their direction.
Well, perhaps the censure of his peers would help to stifle Mr. Stubbs-Haye’s ungentlemanly urges. And yet it seemed to Antigone, not all those glances were friendly or sympathetic. The gazes of the couple now nearest to them—a windswept-looking blond man and his much fairer skinned sister, for their familial resemblance was unmistakable—darted back and forth between the partners, seeming to question what she had done to invite such unwarranted liberties.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. Antigone felt the heat in her face flame higher, until she was sure it must be singeing her eyebrows. She certainly was not encouraging Stubbs-Haye. She had only just met the confounded man, in whose character Lady Barrington must be sadly deceived.
Antigone cast a glance over her shoulder toward the silk upholstered chairs where her mother sat with Lady Barrington, to see what they made of Mr. Stubbs-Haye’s egregious behavior.
Yet that proved to be an error of the gravest kind, for while her attention was diverted, Mr. Stubbs-Haye took the opportunity to make good on his vulgar promise, and reached down and groped her bottom. Roughly.
And that, as they were wont to say, was that.
Before another thought could force prudence upon her brain, and remind her that she meant to be good, and proper, and quietly supportive of her sister, Antigone simply hauled off and punched Mr. Gerald Stubbs-Haye with every ounce of indignant anger surging from her affronted behind. Luck, and the full centrifugal force of her blow would have it that she struck him squarely on the chin.
He went down hard. Felled like a tree, crashing to the ground in a tangle of flailing arms and quivering, satin-breeched limbs.
Mr. Stubbs-Haye, it would seem, had a glass jaw.
And as she stood over him, panting with the pain in her hand and not a little satisfaction, everything else stopped.
The music faded to a scratchy end, and all eyes turned to her.
No one spoke. No one came forward to offer her any kind of assistance or support. No one so much as moved a muscle. For a the longest moment, the crowded room was so quiet Antigone fancied they could all hear the pant of her breath and the low creak of her heart turning over in her chest. In reality, there was only the pathetic and decidedly unmanly moans of Mr. Stubbs-Haye.
Oh, Lord help her. She had certainly stepped in it this time.
Hope you’ve enjoyed a little peek at A BREATH OF SCANDAL! Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy today!
Thanks to all my fellow Plotting Princesses for letting me share and celebrate my latest release with them. Cheers, and the happiest of holidays to all!