It's all about the Story...




Read an excerpt from The Muse...

Frederica couldn’t help it. Maybe the excitement had addled her wits. She felt so alive. Her senses seemed magnified. To run with him—even contemplating the deplorable reason—was exhilarating. And his touch… she could not explain how it affected her. To actually be in his arms, even in pretense, made her want to laugh and cry at the same time.

And now he held her, by the shoulders, looking down into her face with his mesmerizing eyes, showing such concern for her well being.

One minute his mouth hovered above hers, and the next her lips were pressing his. A real kiss. And though initiated by her, he did not pull away. On the contrary, his arms came around her and his mouth taught hers the secrets of kissing—adding depth and passion to her novice attempt to sway him.

With sweet reluctance he drew back from her. His smoldering gaze seemed a trifle fearful. “Oh, you must definitely go back,” he murmured.

“Didn’t you like it?” Frederica asked.

“Like is too mild a word.” He cupped her face with his hand and leaned in closer.

He brushed her lips with his. So light and delicate. How could such slight contact sear her senses?

“This is far more dangerous than a hangman’s noose, Lady Frederica.”

“Don’t you think the risk is worth it?” she whispered. “I do.”

“That’s because you’ve lived separate from the world,” he said. “You’ve never known what it’s like to be cold and hungry, to be shunned and derided for the choices you’ve made. And I‘ll be damned before I allow you to, either.”

He released her. Abruptly. He jutted his squared chin back toward the heart of Mayfair. “Go. Now.”

“But…”

“Please,” he said, his eyes so very soft.

Frederica wanted to crumple onto the pavement. She had offered herself to him. And though his kiss had said he was not repulsed by her, he was sending her away.

She should be rational. He was in a considerable amount of trouble. It was not the time to initiate a romance—an impractical romance at that. But she could not shake off the notion he needed her.

Her disappointment must have been reflected in her expression. Neil had always said he could read her emotional state like a book. Stephen was, all at once, extremely apologetic.

“You mustn’t think… ” he said. “I hold you in great esteem…”

“Good-bye, Mr. Mills,” she said in a thick voice. “I will do what I can to put them off your trail.”

She shuffled away from him—a slight, dejected figure in a fine gown. A strand of hair had come loose from her frothy coronet. It dangled provocatively down her back.

Damn it. It wasn’t safe for her to wander the streets of London alone. Stephen began to follow her. He could not escort her the whole distance. The closer they drew to her uncle’s house, the more likely they would meet up with pursuit.

When she made the turn toward Hyde Park instead of Berkeley Square, he rushed to catch up to her. At least she had the presence of mind to be a little frightened. As he approached, she glanced over her shoulder with trepidation.

“Where the devil do you think you‘re going?” Stephen demanded.

“Why on earth are you following me?” she asked in turn.

“It is not safe for you to be alone on these streets.”

“I would wager it is safer for me than for you,” she replied, lifting her chin. Her eyes glittered from the light of a nearby street lamp and her features appeared swollen. She’d been crying?

“Frederica, this is not the road home,” he said in a softer voice.

“I thought if I delayed my return my family would think I was still with you. Anyone who followed would be less likely to charge after you with pistols drawn if they thought that, wouldn’t they?“

“Probably.” He sighed. He reached into his pocket. He had just enough to hire her a hansom back to her uncle’s. He raised his hand, summoning a nearby hackney coach.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Making sure you arrive home safely.”

“My uncle has not paid you for the portrait. If that is all the money you have, you will certainly need it for yourself.” She unhooked a golden bracelet from her wrist.

“I am not taking your jewelry,” Stephen said stubbornly.

“I‘m not asking you to. I‘m offering it to the driver.”

“You will do no such thing—”

A shout sounded from far beyond them. Two men of similar height and immense breadth dressed for a night at a fancy ball had their arms raised and were rushing in their direction.

“It’s the twins. Dash it!” Frederica exclaimed. She pushed Stephen toward the hackney coach that had pulled up along side them.

“Those folks are shoutin’ for you to stop,” the driver said, regarding the approaching men with a troubled glance.

“My husband was unwise at cards and owes them a deal of money,” Frederica said. She held the bracelet up to the driver. “Oh, please, sir. Can you drive us to safety? I have nothing else to pay you with…”

“Come inside, milady, and shut the door,” the driver said.

Frederica stepped into the carriage and motioned Stephen to join her.

“Best get in,” the driver said gruffly. “Sounds as if you deserve a thrashing, but the lady is lookin’ out for you.”

Stephen sighed and joined Frederica in the carriage.

The driver urged his horse to a gallop, just as the two gentlemen reached the crossroads, huffing and puffing as they leaned on knees and watched the hack pull away.

Copyright 2014, Barbara Satow