18 November 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Kate Allan

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're featuring author Kate Allan, who Regency romance, KRAKOW WALTZ is partly set in Poland. Join us Sunday when Kate will be here to discuss this mix of traditional Regency elegance and exotic Polish locale. She'll also be giving away a copy. See you then!

The Honorable Miss Annabel Wells needs to marry to save her reputation. Yet even in her dire straits she cannot bring herself to accept Mr. Henry Champion, an ordinary English gentleman without property or pedigree, no matter what she feels about him. She marries a Polish count but when her husband is killed in a duel and Henry comes all the way across Europe to her rescue, can there be a second chance for love? Leaving behind the drawing rooms of High Society London where he's feted as a Waterloo hero, Henry Champion finds more danger lurking in the dark streets of the city of Krakow than he bargained for.

London, 1807

Henry Edmund Champion found it easy to envelope himself in the idle conversation of a group of young bucks. All he had to do was hold a glass of champagne, sip it elegantly, feign that expression of perpetual ennui that fashion required and make a suitable lively crack now and again as the occasion demanded.

Yet Henry, only son of Mr. and Mrs. James Henry Champion of Sevenoaks, Kent, could not shake off his awareness that he shouldn't be here at all. It was only by the good graces of his old friend from school, Lord Brockleton, that he had secured an invitation to the Farringham's ball.

Henry pushed his shoulders back so his jacket sat squarer, titled his chin slightly upwards and to one side and with an urbane expression swept his gaze over the room. Had it been a mistake to come?

Not when he saw her.

Barely ten feet away from him.

The usual hot stab at the sight of an attractive woman was completely expected. But not the rest: the stilling of every sinew in his body, pulled tight as over wound violin strings; the misting out of every other person in the room so that there was only her. The compulsion to believe that there had ever existed only one woman. That he never before had been so violently and wholly struck with desire.

Fustian! as his late aunt used to delight in saying. He noted attractive women all the time. Less frequently when he'd been on campaign, he admitted, but here in London, why they even dampened down their dresses to save gentleman having to strain their imaginations too far.

Yet his gaze skimmed across her form, noting and calculating each inch and every angle. He followed the flare of her dress over her hips and to the floor, and then up, tracing the line of her décolletage; her neck, her oval face, the sweep of her dark eyelashes and the curve of her smile as she spoke to the dowager Lady Grantley.

And then, as if she knew, she caught his gaze. Her eyes widened, lips parted and brought a moment when ten feet between them disappeared. He might have been standing right next to her, able to reach out and touch her ebony curls. He might have smiled.

With a flick of her head she looked away.

He was still standing there, still holding his glass, still Henry Champion. The only person in the room not among the Upper Ten Thousand of high society.

She'd recognized him. Of course she had.

Or was he clinging onto some kind of effervescent hope that she remembered. That she had considered him more than simply a casual flirtation?

"Brockleton," Henry said. He could not help himself. "Who is that lady over there with the dark hair conversing with Lady Grantley? I believe I have met her before."

Brockleton spluttered. His eyes swivelled and bulged out of their sockets. He managed to swallow his mouthful of champagne. "That's the Honorable Miss Annabel Wells. Champion...." He lowered his voice to an urgent whisper. "Are you in jest?"