05 November 2009

Excerpt Thursday: Amanda McCabe

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming back Amanda McCabe as she celebrates the release of her newest unusual historical from Harlequin: THE WINTER QUEEN, set in Elizabethan England. Join us Sunday when Amanda will be here to talk about THE WINTER QUEEN and give away a copy!

As Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting, innocent Lady Rosamund is unprepared for the temptations of Court. She is swept up in the festivities of the yuletide season and, as seduction perfumes the air, Rosamund is drawn to darkly enticing Anton Gustavson...

With the coming of the glittering Frost Fair, they are tangled in a web of forbidden desire and dangerous secrets. For in this time of desperate plots and intrigues, Anton is more than just a handsome suitor—he may have endangered the life of the woman he is learning to love...

Lady Rosamund Ramsay is traveling from her home to the Court of Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, in the middle of the coldest winter in living memory. Almost there, she stops for a walk in the woods, and encounters a dangerously attractive young man...


Rosamund emerged from the woods into a clearing, suddenly facing a scene from another world, another life. There was a frozen pond, a rough circle of shimmering, silver ice. On its banks crackled a bonfire, snapping red-gold flames that send plumes of fragrant smoke into the sky and reached enticing tendrils of heat toward Rosamund's chilled cheeks.

There were people, four of them, gathered around the fire--two men and two ladies, clad in rich velvets and furs. They laughed and chattered in the glow of the fire, sipping goblets of wine and roasting skewers of meat in the flames. And out in the very center of that frozen pond was another man, gliding in lazy, looping circles.

Rosamund stared in utter astonishment as he twirled in a graceful, powerful arc, his lean body, sheathed only in a black velvet doublet and leather breeches, spinning faster and faster. He was a dark blur on that shining ice, swifter than any human eye could follow. As she watched, mesmerized, his spin slowed until he stood perfectly still, a winter god on the ice.

The day too grew still; the cold, blowing wind and scudding clouds hung suspended around that one man.

"Anton!" one of the ladies called, clapping her gloved hands. "That was astounding."

The man on the ice gave an elaborate bow before launching himself into a backward spin, a lazy meander toward the shore.

"Aye, Anton is astounding," the other man, the one by the fire, said. His voice was heavy with some Slavic accent. "An astounding peacock who must show off his gaudy feathers for the ladies."

The skater--Anton?--laughed as he reached the snowy banks. He sat down on a fallen log to unstrap his skates, an inky-dark lock of hair falling over his brow.

"I believe I detect a note of envy, Johan," he said, his deep voice edged with the lilting music of that same strange, northern accent. He was not even out of breath after his great feats on the ice.

Johan snorted derisively. "Envy of your monkeyish antics on those skates? I should say not!"

"Oh, I am quite sure Anton is adroit at far more than skating," one of the ladies cooed. She filled a goblet with wine and took it over to Anton, her fine velvet skirts swaying. She was tall and strikingly lovely, with dark-red hair against the white of the snow. "Is that not so?"

"In Stockholm, a gentleman never contradicts a lady, Lady Essex," he said, rising from the log to take her proffered goblet, smiling at her over its gilded rim.

"What else do they do in Stockholm?" she asked, a flirtatious note in her voice.

Anton laughed, his head tipped back to drink deeply of the wine. As he turned toward her, Rosamund had a clear view of him and she had to admit he was handsome indeed. Not quite a peacock--he was too plainly dressed for that, and he wore no jewels but a single pearl drop in one ear. And not the same as Richard, who had a blond, ruddy, muscular Englishness. But undeniably, exotically handsome.

He was on the tall side, and whipcord lean, no doubt from all that spinning on the ice. His hair was black as a raven's wing, falling around his face and over the high collar of his doublet in unruly waves. He impatiently pushed it back, revealing high, sharply carved cheekbones and dark, sparkling eyes.

Eyes that widened as they spied her standing there, staring at him like some addled peasant girl. He handed the lady his empty goblet and moved toward Rosamund, graceful and intent as a cat. Rosamund longed to run, to spin around and flee back toward the woods, yet her feet seemed nailed into place. She could not dash off, could not even look away from him.

"Well, well," he said, a smile touching the corner of his sensual lips. "Who do we have here?"

Rosamund, feeling utterly flustered and foolish, was finally able to turn around and flee, Anton's startled laughter chasing her all the way back to the safety of her litter.

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