23 July 2009

Excerpt Thursday: Meredith Duran

This week on Unusual Historicals, we're featuring the fabulous Meredith Duran. Today it's an excerpt from her July release, WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN, which is partly set in Hong Kong. Be back here on Sunday when Meredith will be giving away one copy of both new releases, BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH and WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN. Don't miss it!


The Society Beauty Who Saved His Life...

Beauty, charm, wealthy admirers: Mina Masters enjoys every luxury but freedom. To save herself from an unwanted marriage, she turns her wiles on a darkly handsome stranger. But Mina's would-be hero is playing his own deceptive game. A British spy, Phin Granville has no interest in emotional entanglements...until the night Mina saves his life by gambling her own.

The Jaded Spy Who Vowed to Forget Her...

Four years later, Phin inherits a title that frees him from the bloody game of espionage. But memories of the woman who saved him won't let Phin go. When he learns that Mina needs his aid, honor forces him back into the world of his nightmares.

In Lives Built on Lies, Love is the Darkest Secret of All...

Deception has ruled Mina's life just as it has Phin's. But as the beauty and the spy match wits in a dangerous dance, their practiced masks begin to slip, revealing a perilous attraction. And the greatest threat they face may not be traitors or murderous conspiracies, but their own dark desires....

About the excerpt: Hong Kong, 1880. Phin Granville, an undercover British agent, has been poisoned. He's about to discover a very unlikely savior: his enemy's stepdaughter, a woman whom he has already kissed and dismissed as an empty-headed flirt.


Someone was muttering secrets. Here they were, the facts that Phin guarded more closely than his life, being recited like a children's rhyme. He knew what it meant. Someone was going to die tonight.

"Wake up!"

Eyes. Blue like cold things, deep seas and winter skies. He fastened on to them. They made his mind go still. "Hush," came a voice, and he saw the lips beneath those eyes, parted around tiny white teeth like threats unveiled. "Quiet. Swallow this. Now!"

The bitter taste of the liquid recalled him to the existence of his mouth. His tongue was so dry. God above. It was he who'd been speaking. He who'd been telling secrets.

He would die tonight.

"No," the voice whispered. Something wet and blissfully cold moved down his cheek. He thought of snow tigers with tongues of ice, blue and crackling, lapping his skin. Their tongues dripped in the heat, beginning to crack and splinter. Chunks of melting tongue rained across his face.


Hands pressed his shoulders to hold him down. He had held Tanner down. He had used ropes to do it, taking the easy way Tanner had sneered, but he was wrong, there was no scope for cleverness in killing a man, no talent required for it: you simply pulled the trigger. You gave them forewarning, but only to scare them; once they pissed their trousers then they would talk, they babbled like children and then you killed them, you killed them once you could see the infant they'd once been, the little boy afraid to tell a lie.

"You must keep quiet."

The voice floated to him through layers of darkness, pulling him from--memories, these were memories, they were not happening to him now, he was--in a bed. The darkness began to fracture and split away, revealing a ceiling, blond hair, a woman's eyes. Her lips, parted like petals, flowers, the smell of roses. No. Focus. She was speaking to him.

"We are alone in this room," she said. "I have covered the spyholes. But I cannot say who listens at the door."

His instincts recognized a cause for alarm, but his wits could not work out the reason for it. His bones felt as if they were trying to break out of his skin, his entire body singing with a sensation so extreme he could not say if it was bliss or agony.

She slapped him.

His head fell to one side. He stared now at a wall, wallpaper, patterned with flowers. This pain in his jaw was clearer, simpler; he focused on it and her voice emerged over the babble in his brain. "Breathe," she said, and something pressed against his nose, cold and metallic. A spoon.

He tried to avert his face. She covered his mouth with her palm, and when he moved to knock it away, he realized his hands were tied down.

Fire raged up his nostril. Bitterness flowed down the back of his throat.

"It may kill you," she said. "I don't know how it interacts with morphine, much less the nightshade." Her laughter sounded ragged. "At least you'll feel very cheerful as you die. Collins's way would not be so pleasant."


He felt his thoughts reordering, forming straight lines. Collins. Right. He was in Collins' house. Christ, this girl was Collins's stepdaughter--the intemperate little flirt who conspired with his body to turn his brain to mud.

That knot around his wrist looked goddamned professional.

He tried to speak, but his lips and tongue felt like cotton, too thick to shape the words. He throbbed. Everywhere. Looking at her, it was not an entirely unpleasant sensation. He watched through a haze as she leaned across him. The rope of ebony pearls at her neck fell over his chin, cool and smooth. Her shoulders were white and slim as a child's, her breasts like the snow-covered slopes of mountains, a dark, scented valley between them. Think. He remembered that dress she was wearing. It matched her eyes, but did her no favors.

She straightened, a cup in her hand. He could not feel it against his mouth, but liquid splashed onto his chin. The sharpness of alcohol stabbed his nostrils.

"Swallow," she said. "It's only Vin Mariani."

He knew the wine. He'd told Collins he wanted to create a brand of it for American distribution. Its main ingredient was not alcohol, but syrup of--"coca." The word was his, the voice unrecognizable. Hoarse, as though he'd been screaming.

"Yes." Laughter escaped her, obscenely musical. She had tied him to the bloody bed, and she was laughing. "And the powder you inhaled--also from coca." Her lips quirked. "Mr. Monroe, you will be so full of coca by the time you leave, you won't even feel a bullet."

He recognized now the feeling coursing through his body--the cause for his mounting strength and the numbness in his mouth. It was the drug she was feeding him. He knew something of it. The effects wouldn't last for long.

He cleared his throat, focused on schooling his vowels. "You have me trussed up like a roast pig." Passably American, there.

"You were thrashing," she said. "But now you must go."

She was making no sense. "Where is your stepfather?"

Her brows arched. "I recommend you avoid him. Unless, of course, you wish to explain why you are so interested in the Pilgrim's Paradise, and speak in your sleep like the Queen." She spoke so lightly that he wondered if he were still dreaming. "Oh, also--why nobody in Chicago has ever heard your name."

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