07 October 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Jeannie Lin

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're welcoming contributor Jeannie Lin as she celebrates the release of her debut, BUTTERFLY SWORDS, which is available now. BUTTERFLY SWORDS promises to take Harlequin Historical readers where they've never gone before: to 8th century China!

"If Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon merged with A Knight's Tale, you'd have the power and romance of Lin's dynamic debut. The action never stops, the love story is strong and the historical backdrop is fascinating." ★★★★ RT Book Reviews

Join us Sunday when Jeannie will be here to talk about her award-winning debut and give away a signed copy.

During China's infamous Tang Dynasty, a time awash with luxury, yet littered with deadly intrigues and fallen royalty, betrayed Princess Ai Li flees before her wedding. Miles from home, with only her delicate butterfly swords for a defense, she enlists the reluctant protection of a blue-eyed warrior...

Battle-scarred, embittered Ryam has always held his own life at cheap value. Ai Li's innocent trust in him and honorable, stubborn nature make him desperate to protect her--which means not seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted....
***

Set-up: Ryam and Ai Li are thrown together when he rushes into a throng of bandits to save her. This scene happens the day after, when they wake up in a secluded area of the woods.

***

"I was...I was practicing."

"This is how you practice?"

He folded his arms over his chest and cocked his head as he circled her. The intensity of his gaze flooded her with heat. It was a wonder she didn't cut herself with her own swords.

"All those elaborate patterns," he murmured. "Does that help in fights?"

"In combat, your body falls into what it has done a thousand times before. A perfect harmony between instinct and thought."

Her throat felt dry as she recited the words. Her elder brothers were commonly praised for their skill, but never before had a man shown such interest in her. She drew out an intricate pattern with the tip of one sword in three neat swipes, as if wielding a calligraphy brush. It gave her something to do as he stepped closer. All of the air around her seemed to rush toward him whenever he drew near.

"Your brothers taught you this?" he asked.

"My grandmother."

His laughter filled the clearing. "Your grandmother?"

"Grandmother was a master."

The next pass of her sword sliced a scant inch in front of him, taunting him. He stood his ground and his smile widened.

"So do you want to try it?"

Her swords froze. "Try it?"

"My barbaric head bashing against that beautiful sword work of yours."

A duel. Her heart was already pounding with the promise of it.

"No," she replied.

"No?"

"You are far more experienced than I am."

The meaning had been clear in her head as she spoke the words, yet another, more suggestive meaning loomed between them. A well of heat rose up her neck. She blamed this barbarian language.

He placed a hand to his chest with mock passion. "But you got the better of me yesterday when I was drugged. Don't I deserve a chance to redeem myself?"

She was certain there was something not quite proper about a strange man offering to spar with her the day after they met. Yet this foreigner treated her with such directness and familiarity, like her brothers. He continued to taunt her with laughter shining in his eyes and the curve of his mouth hinted at an irresistible wickedness. Her stomach knotted in response.

In truth, not like her brothers at all.

"I should get some advantage since you are so..." She looked him up and down. "Big."

"What do you have in mind?"

With a household of five brothers she knew how to pick her battles. Ryam had more training than her and his sword could cut her in half, but its weight would slow him down. And the terms were yet to be negotiated. With a good plan, she could defeat Fourth Brother and occasionally, even Third brother.

"I attack first. Ten attempts. You can only defend," she proposed.

"You do this often, don't you?"

His irises shifted to storm gray, the laughter in them transforming into something dark and unknown. He held her gaze while the woods faded around her.

"What do you say to a wager?" He unsheathed his sword in a seductive whisper of steel. "If I win, you give me a kiss."

Barbaric. But she saw her opening.

"If I win, you take me to Changan."

He let her heart beat on forever before answering.

"Agreed."

Her palms began to sweat, and a fever rose beneath her skin. Up until then, she truly believed she could defeat him. She had been running strategies through her head, but suddenly she found herself staring at the rough stubble over his jaw and wondering if it would tickle. It was the sort of daydream that would send Grandmother's bamboo switch stinging over her knuckles. The sort of thought that would have Mother beseeching their ancestors to bring her back to sanity.

"After the first round--" She ran her tongue over her lips. For all her negotiation, she had the sinking feeling this duel had slipped out of her grasp. "If you do not defeat me after ten attempts, you should honorably forfeit."

"Of course. Twenty moves?" he asked softly.

Deep breaths, she reminded herself. Mind, breath, body. "Or first blood."

He raised his sword in salute. The smile remained on his face as he backed away, setting the starting distance.

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