25 February 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Erica Ridley

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're welcoming Kensington author Erica Ridley as she celebrates the release of debut novel, TOO WICKED TO KISS. Although set in Regency England, TOO WICKED TO KISS has a tasty kick of Gothic suspense to set pulses racing. Join us Sunday when Erica will be here to answer questions and give away a signed copy. Don't miss it!

His Touch Holds Her Captive...

From the ravens circling its spires to the gargoyles adorning its roof, Blackberry Manor looms ominously over its rambling grounds. And behind its doors, amid the flickering shadows and secret passageways, danger lies in wait...

To His Every Dark Desire...

Evangeline Pemberton has been invited to a party at the sprawling estate of reclusive Gavin Lioncroft, who is rumored to have murdered his parents. Initially, Gavin's towering presence and brusque manner instill fear in Evangeline...until his rakish features and seductive attentions profoundly arouse her.

But when a guest is murdered, Evangeline is torn. Could the man to whom she is so powerfully drawn, also be a ruthless killer?

As the heavy iron doors closed behind her with ominous finality, Evangeline Pemberton came to a dead stop inside the entryway to Blackberry Manor.

Despite the tall arched ceiling with its bowed wooden beams curving at the creases like so many rib bones, the air was thick, heavy, oppressive, as if she had not stepped into the foyer of an aristocrat's mansion, but a long forgotten sepulcher untouched by anything but death.

At Lady Stanton's unveiled glare, Evangeline forced her feet further into the echoing anteroom. The cold marble floor spreading from her battered boots to the edges of every wall might have been ivory or alabaster or cream in color, had there been more light than the occasional flickering sconce. Instead, the murky pattern was a foggy, swirling gray, as though a thundercloud had hardened beneath her feet.

Were there no windows? Evangeline craned her neck to peer upward, just beneath the rafters. Ah, yes. Several. But not the kind to let in light.

The narrow slashes high above her head were the sort suited for medieval castles, for skilled archers to aim their deadly arrows at those who would trespass below, not for illuminating entryways for members of Polite Society. This evening, no archers crouched at the ready, just as no sun hung in the sky. Only the slipperiest, blackest of shadows filtered through the thin cracks to fall upon her upturned face like the cool caress of ghostly hands. The wisps of damp hair on Evangeline's neck fluttered nervously, touched by a breeze she could not feel.

Lady Stanton, for her part, was momentarily nonplused. Gone was the calculating gleam to her eyes, replaced by...not fear, precisely. Wariness. Miss Susan Stanton stood in the very center of the room, perhaps determined not to edge too near to the shadows seeping from the corners.

Whispers came from an adjacent hallway, then footfalls, followed by a beautiful blond lady, four spindly-limbed footmen, and three cowering maids.

The lady did not look at home in the mansion, despite her fancy dress. She looked frightened. After a jerking peek over her shoulder at the vacant marble staircase curving up from the anteroom's furthest shadows, she hurried into the foyer to greet them.

"That's Lioncroft's estranged sister," Miss Stanton whispered to Evangeline. "The countess."

The other two ladies beckoned to Miss Stanton, then began to murmur amongst themselves. Evangeline did not join them. A sudden chill descended upon the room and her every sense tingled with danger.

Impossibly, she felt him before she saw him.

Although she seemed to be the only one affected thus, she didn't doubt the prickling sensitivity along her bare neck for a single moment. While the three ladies conversed quietly, gesturing now and again at a maid or a footman, Evangeline lifted her gaze upward once more.

And there he was.

He stood at the landing above the spiral stair, cloaked in shadow. Tall. Unnaturally so. Was it the angle, the skewed perspective of being so far beneath him? Or was his towering stature undeniable, evident in the width of his shoulders, the muscular length of his legs, the long pale fingers curved around the banister?

The shadows made discerning features difficult. Evangeline could not tell if he were truly as savage as he appeared, or if a trick of the light--or lack thereof--caused the slatted darkness to undulate across his form. Almost without realizing it, she began to back away.

He continued down the spiral stairway, silent, sure, the leather of his boots making no noise on the cold marble. Although shadow obscured his face, his eyes glittered like those of a wolf loping alongside a lonely carriage. Thin fingers still curled lightly around the gleaming banister, he took another step forward. When there were as many steps behind him as there were before him, a brief flicker from a nearby sconce lit his face.

Evangeline swallowed a gasp.

Not because of the obsidian eyes framed by equally black lashes. Nor because of the angry slash of cheekbones, the flash of bared teeth, or the scar just above the edge of his jaw. Those things, though separately terrible, together formed a face of cold, cruel beauty. A face for statues, for frescoes, for--

Another flutter of orange light as he reached the final stair, and Evangeline could no longer breathe.

He was angry. Horribly angry. Livid. Enraged. Furious. His eyes glittered like a wolf's because he was a wolf, a beautiful, powerful, violent wolf, prowling toward his unsuspecting prey. His dark hair slid across his face, snapping Evangeline from her trance just as his long, gloveless hand fell atop the countess's shoulder.