11 February 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Laurel McKee

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're welcoming author Laurel McKee, who also writes as Amanda McCabe, as she celebrates the release of COUNTESS OF SCANDAL, the first of her "Daughters of Erin" trilogy. Stop by on Sunday when we'll be talking with Laurel about this exciting new Irish trilogy and giving away a copy.

Eliza Blacknall and Will Denton were childhood sweethearts, growing up on neighboring estates in beautiful County Kildare. But adulthood finds them on opposite sides of the monumental and violent struggle of 1798, as Eliza supports the United Irish in their quest for independence, and Will is a major in the British Army, sworn to uphold the Crown. The passion for each other burns hotter than ever—but can it survive as their world crumbles around them?

Dublin, early 1798

At that moment, the assembly room doors opened to admit a group of latecomers. As was becoming more frequent in Dublin, as regiments newly arrived from London and points beyond sought amusement, they were officers. Young ones, too, not old and portly colonels in too-tight red tunics. These men seemed tall and strong, their bright gazes keen as they swept over the noisy party.

"Well, now," Eliza's sister Anna Maria said. "This is more like it."

"Anna Maria, I am hardly likely to take up with some newly-arrived officer," said Eliza.

"No one said you have to 'take up' with one! A dance would make a fine start." Anna Maria tapped her fan against her chin as she examined the arrivals. "What about that one there? He is quite a beauty, I must say, and even taller than you."

Eliza couldn't help laughing. It felt as if they were at a horse fair, and Anna Maria a shrewd Arab trader evaluating fillies. "Which one?"

"That one, of course. He doesn't appear a drunkard at all, does he?"

Eliza followed the pointing line of Anna Maria's fan to a man who was half-turned away from them as Mr. Neilsen, the Master of Ceremonies, greeted him. From that angle, he did seem a beauty, she had to admit. Very tall, with broad shoulders and a tight backside, his long, dark golden hair tied back with a black ribbon. If only those fine shoulders were not encased in a red British coat!

Green would suit them so much better.

Then he turned toward her, the flickering light of dozens of candles falling over the chiseled angles of his lean face.

Eliza gasped. It couldn't be! She was imagining things. Anna Maria's romantic nonsense was infecting her senses.

She closed her eyes, gulping down the last of the champagne. When she looked again, though, nothing had changed. He was still there, bigger than life. Bigger even than the dreams that had come to her, unbidden, over the years.

Will Denton was back in Ireland, then. Major Denton, to judge by the decorations of his uniform. Time had carved his face into a hard, elegant sculpture, like a statue of a Roman god colored bronze by a harsh West Indies sun.

From across the room, his eyes, those intense blue-green eyes she had imagined so often over the years, seemed to touch her very heart. The noise and movement of the room all faded away, and she saw only him.

For an instant, she was fifteen again, so full of yearning and hope.

Her hand tightened on the glass, until it bit into her rings and dragged her back down to earth. To cold reality