6/18/09

Scoundrel's Kiss Excerpt

Seeing as how the other Kensington author who has a release in January 2010, Beverly Kendall, now has her gorgeous cover, I'll probably have the cover for Scoundrel's Kiss when I return from Italy. I'm excited. This new style Kensington has adopted is just lovely.

In the meantime, here's an excerpt in which Ada, Meg's troubled sister, is being transported across the Spanish countryside. Her guardian is Gavriel, an aspirant monk who was once a mercenary warrior. Traveling with them are Pacheco, the headmaster of Gavriel's order, and another aspirant named Fernán--who is well cheeky. They've just survived a raid, and Gavriel and Ada have just survived their first serious encounter with each other.

***

Help. This was his idea of help?

She glared at the back of Gavriel's head. He rode high on his steed, keeping company with his morals, while she walked behind the horses, tethered like a criminal. The harder she fought against the ropes binding her wrists, the tighter the knots became. A second, shorter piece of rope laced the back of her gown shut. She would have sworn his hands shook as he had worked in quiet diligence to make her decent.

The caravan merchants had crawled from beneath their wagon hiding places to assess the damage. Two of the guards still lived, as did Pacheco and Fernán. The latter appeared an unbecoming shade of green. Streaks of vomit littered his white robes.

Down from his horse, Gavriel stalked from wagon to wagon and appraised the scene with a quick, intense gaze. She watched as he checked each corpse. He moved as if he had often patrolled the aftermath of a battle, wary of continued threats.

"This one yet lives," he said to a guard.

"For but a moment longer." The guard performed his duty with an unsteady hand.

"What happened to the others?" Gavriel asked, his face grim but composed. "There are only seven dead here."

The guard pointed to the south. "They fled."

Their conversation faded for Ada as she suffered another bout of trembling. Limbs and bone became a quivering mass. The ground did not feel as hard as it should when she melted into the thorny grass. Cold. Thirst. Violent dizziness. She shivered, the sky moving in sickening circles.

"What ails her?" asked the guard.

"She's unwell. Nothing more."

Pacheco hovered nearby. "What happened? Why is she bound?"

Gavriel hesitated. She watched with detached amusement as he grappled for a response. But the mocking laughter in her head found no voice.

"For her own good, master." Gavriel knelt beside her and pushed the hair from her face. With a quick move, he untied the knots at her wrists. "Get her a blanket, Fernán."

"I don't want your blanket," she said past chattering teeth.

He exhaled, looking more than a little lost. "Will you walk to Yepes?"

"I cannot."

"You will, if you do not relent. And you'll say 'please'."

"I'll not beg."

"Then you have a long road ahead of you." He accepted the blanket from Fernán and held it out to her. "What say you, inglesa?"

She slumped back and dug her fingers into the dirt and grass. "Fiend."

He stood, his face carved of stone. She closed her eyes and remembered lying on the pallet she had once shared with Meg, at home in England. Ada had dried wildflowers in colorful bunches and hung them from the ceiling beams. As night fell, she would watch the shadows they cast in the flickering firelight. When daylight returned, their muted, subtle colors offered places of brightness in the forest and in the life she had resented.

But what she would give to have that life returned to her. And rain. She missed the rain.

She had not been home for more than a year, having burned bridges with terrible and bitter efficiency. And now Jacob was gone too. She had no one and nothing, plagued by a bizarre novice and his strange determination to see her cured.

Part of her wanted to relent. He would help her through the worst of the withdrawal. Despite his temper, he was motivated by an unknown need to win their battle of wills, not by an impulse to do her harm.

But the part of her that wanted help was not as noisy or brutal as her craving. If Gavriel stood between her and the opium she needed, he was her enemy. He was her captor. The monastery at Uclés could be like heaven on earth and she would still regard it as a prison.

"Gavriel, help her." Pacheco was not so tall, and despite his age and position of authority, he seemed to be asking the novice to comply.

Tell him. Make him help me.

Gavriel seemed to have heard her silent demand. He forced her uncooperative limbs to work, to stand. Strong arms offered support, banding her lower back and pulling her close. Heat from his body soothed her chills. She ached to push closer, hold tighter--any relief from the gathering storm inside her.

"Come now." The deep, quiet timbre of his voice, so near to kindness, threatened to start her crying. "Stand for me. Good. Now keep your feet." He forced a scant distance between their bodies and met her unfocused gaze. "You'll need to be strong. Yepes is quite a distance to walk."

She stumbled. "You're a monster!"

"I'm helping you, whether you see that or not."

"How? By making a sick woman walk?"

"By curing the sickness you've brought on yourself." His wide and muscular chest blocked the sun, blocked thought. "I told you, in this I will not be deterred."

Reflexively, she touched the petite sheath at her hip. She needed to feel the reassurance of its cold metal. Safety. But it was empty.

"Where's my dagger?"

"I have it."

Panic etched her skin with goose bumps. "You cannot keep it!"

"I won't let you cut me again." He lifted his forearm and pinned her with an excruciating glare.

Ada blanched at the damage she had done. A clean slice scored half the length of his forearm, crusted with drying blood. She touched it with wobbling fingers, gently. He hissed but did not flinch. Tendons flexed on the inside of his wrist.

He deserved what she had done, or so she tried to believe. But all hard flesh and power--doing him harm seemed an affront to nature.

"I've yet to hear an apology."

Ada swallowed. "You never will."

"We must continue," said Pacheco. "Nightfall approaches."

Gavriel nodded. "Master, has anyone retrieved the cart?"

"It was burned and the donkey taken." He handed Gavriel a canvas sack and Ada's satchel. "But we've protected most of our belongings."

Fernán, pale except for the dark circles below his eyes, raised his brows. "And where will she ride? Perhaps I could make room on my saddle."

"She'll walk. Seems the lady prefers it that way." Gavriel stalked to his horse and climbed up. He stared at her, unrelenting and cold. "And if you refuse, I'll not hesitate to bind your wrists again."

Pacheco shook his head. "Gavriel, you--"

"Master, please. If this is my obligation, allow me to proceed as I see fit--as long as I act within the bounds of the Order. Trust that I can do this."

He waited. They waited. Even the merchants and the remaining guards watched the contest.

"Do I have your permission to proceed, master?"

"Yes, Gavriel. Do as you see fit."

He turned to Ada, his face without emotion. "Will you come to Yepes or stay here with the caravan?"

The beast had the nerve to abduct her under the guise of a clergyman's goodwill, wrenching her from of the pleasures she had enjoyed. So be it. He would offer diversion until she was free to return to Toledo. Then she would wring Jacob's idealistic neck.

"Yepes it is," she said, smiling sweetly. The flicker of panic on his face assuaged her ragged pride. "Lead the way, novice."

Yes, she would enjoy pulling him down to the ground. He was not who he longed to be, and she would prove it. She would make Gavriel de Marqueda break each of his precious vows.

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