Cover & Excerpt Reveal
by Sheridan Jeane
Secrets and Seduction Book Two
Despite Lady Catherine's love of fencing, she needs to stop pretending to be a boy and fraternizing with men…but not until after she competes in the upcoming fencing tournament! Her mother plans to marry her off by the end of the season, so this will be her last chance to enjoy her freedom. When she impulsively puts her reputation at risk to save the life of a dashing competitor, all seems lost when he sees through her disguise.
Daniel, Marquess of Huntley, wants to overcome the rumors of his father's madness so that he can be embraced by London society. His plan is to marry the most proper woman who will have him, and then raise stable, respectable children. He certainly isn't interested in some hoyden with a penchant for masquerading as a boy and flaunting society's rules. In fact, he'd prefer to keep his distance.
When an obsessed suitor discovers Catherine's secret and threatens blackmail, the only path out of social ruin is marriage. But what kind of protection does matrimony provide when a vengeful suitor is plotting the ultimate revenge?
Genre: Historical RomancePurchase links: Amazon B&N
Content/Theme(s): Victorian, Suspense, Fencing, 1800s
Release Date: December 1, 2014
Publisher: Flowers and Fullerton
Excerpt & More
January, 1853, London
“You’re walking like a girl.”
In the glow of the gas lanterns outside the fencing academy, Lady Catherine Williams whipped around and scowled at her older brother. She felt the hood of her cloak fall back, but it didn’t matter, since the snug white head covering she wore hid her hair.
“Slouch your shoulders.” Charles’s critical gaze swept over her. “And lengthen your stride.”
She shot him a challenging look and then spit expertly into a pile of icy slush at the edge of the slick cobblestone road.
He closed his eyes and shook his head in mock despair. “Mother would be so proud.”
Catherine chuckled. “Spitting would be the least of my problems if Mother could see me now.”
She hurried up the stone stairs of Bernini’s Academy into its welcoming light with her brother trailing a step behind her. As she stepped through the doorway, contentment enveloped her. She was finally returning to her true home. She grinned at Charles with the sheer joy of the moment.
He shot her a quelling glare.
Mr. Winston, a secretary for the academy, sprang to his feet from behind a tall, gleaming front desk.
“Lord Spencer, how good to see you,” he said in the unctuous tones Catherine always found grating. “And young Master Gray,” he said, turning his gaze toward Catherine, “how wonderful to have you both back in London. If I may say, it’s been much too long since we’ve seen you.”
Catherine always found the small, balding man too effusive for her taste but had to grant that he was good at his job and kept the place running smoothly. She gave him a curt nod.
Winston peered at them through his round, wire-framed spectacles. “I’ll let Maestro Bernini know you’re here. He’ll be quite pleased.” He gave a small bow and departed through the office doorway with mincing footsteps.
“I hate this next part,” Catherine murmured.
“You can always go home,” Charles said. But he didn’t pause as he headed toward the dressing area. He knew her too well to think she’d actually leave.
Catherine followed closely on Charles’s heels and crossed the threshold into the dressing area. Her stomach knotted upon entering this purely male domain. The polished, wood-paneled walls and tall personal storage boxes gleamed from regular applications of lemon oil. The aroma lingered in the air, not quite masking the musky, male scent of perspiration.
She always avoided venturing very far into this particular area and kept her eyes cast down, focusing on the floorboards. This was the only part of her visit she disliked. Long ago, she’d laid claim to a storage box near the entrance, so she didn’t need to go far to gather her fencing gear. With Charles by her side to shield her, she slipped in, snatched up her foil and other items, and then darted back out the door.
“En garde.” Charles’s traditional parting words trailed behind him as he entered the academy’s main salon without a backward glance.
As if she needed a reminder about how much she risked by being here.
With her foil in hand, Catherine followed him into the fencing salon. Charles had assured her that her disguise would still pass muster, so she didn’t worry about being exposed as a fraud. By design, her pants fit tightly around her calves, but she’d designed them to be baggy around her hips. She’d become a bit rounder in the past year or so, and the loose-fitting breeches helped hide her curves. The doublet, with its heavy padding across her chest and some additional padding she’d sewn around the waist, successfully hid all hints of femininity. The most important part of her disguise came from the careful application of collodion. The bit of theatrical makeup created a puckered scar on her cheek and at her hairline that completed her disguise.
She tugged at the snug white skullcap that covered her hair, assuring herself that no stray strands had escaped. The other fencers were used to seeing her wear it, and only newcomers looked twice at it these days. Years ago, Charles had let slip that Gray had suffered a severe burn, leaving his head horribly scarred, and the fake burn mark she created with the collodion supported the story.
Catherine stopped to absorb the feel of the space, letting it soak into her bones. She bounced on her toes and then tilted her head back to look up at the glowing gas chandeliers. The glittering cut-glass shades caused the light illuminating the large, open room to sparkle. She breathed in deeply, pulling the various mingled scents of men’s colognes and the slight undertone of perspiration into her lungs.
It was the smell of home. Her true home.
Catherine set her fencing mask on the floor along one of the walls. She wouldn’t need it until they picked up their foils. The crisscrossing strands of wire protected her face from being injured by an accidental slashing motion, but the large, one-inch-wide mesh squares would never be able to deflect a direct thrust. At least she could see clearly through it. Papa had given it to her a number of years ago. He always insisted upon safety, and had ensured that both Catherine and Charles were well supplied with the necessary fencing gear.
Smiling faintly to herself, Catherine made a quick perusal of the occupants in the large fencing salon. She spied only two faces she didn’t recognize, so she paused to assess their fencing abilities as they warmed up with some light sparring. After only a moment, it became obvious that they were friends.
“Look more lively, Huntley,” one of the men said over the sound of clashing steel that filled the room. “You’re dragging. Is your search for a perfect wife wearing you down? It must be a demanding task to locate someone perfectly proper.”
In response, the slightly taller man, Huntley, performed an envelopment, sweeping his friend’s blade through a full circle and controlling the match. Then he lunged forward on his long, muscular legs to score a point. The other man scowled, clearly annoyed.
Huntley moved gracefully as he whipped his foil through the air. He looked lively enough to Catherine. The muscles in his extended rear leg bunched and moved under his tight-fitting breeches, reminding her of jungle cats she’d seen at the London Zoo. A panther, she decided, as he pulled off his mask, revealing his black hair. But his eyes seemed slightly incongruous with that image. They should have been golden brown rather than a clear, bright blue.
Huntley regarded his friend and raised his left eyebrow so high it disappeared behind a lock of his tousled hair. “I’m here tonight to escape all that, and thank you for bringing it up.” He peered at his friend more closely. “What’s bothering you? You’re testy tonight. I’d hoped some light sparring would improve your mood, but I’m beginning to think the only thing that will knock some sense into you is a thrashing.” Huntley slipped on his fencing mask and dropped into an “en garde” stance, raising his foil in a salute. “Maybe I can accommodate you.” When his friend didn’t follow suit, Huntley twitched his foil in a beckoning motion.
Clearly unable to resist the challenge, his friend broke into a fierce grin, slid his fencing mask back in place, and then settled across from Huntley in a similar stance. Soon they were engaged in a brisk, but friendly, duel.
They were both good fencers, but Catherine found her eyes drawn to Huntley. She admired his powerful stance as he moved through a series of lunges. Not only was he tall, but he was quick as well. He’d make a formidable opponent.
With an almost palpable intensity, his alert eyes seemed to notice everything taking place in the room, even as he maintained his focus on his fencing partner.
Just like a predator.
Huntley glanced at her, piercing her with his direct gaze, and he clenched his jaw. Catherine began to smile back, but caught herself and changed her smile to a smirk. Where on earth did she think she was, at some soiree? She fumbled with her foil as she realized she had nearly flirted with the man. How could she have been so careless? She turned her back to him, her face flaming.
As she began stretching, feeling the pull of muscles releasing in her lower back, Catherine continued to watch them surreptitiously, glancing over her shoulder, not wanting to be caught staring again. As they sparred, she noticed that they held back, not putting too much force behind their attacks. Even so, Huntley’s impressive combination of polished moves, strength, and power melded into a remarkable athletic display. She’d need to observe them both later during a real match.
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Be on the lookout for Sheridan Jeane's future release(s): Once Upon A Spy coming mid-late 2015 and Along Came a Spy coming late 2015/early-mid 2016
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