25 November 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Zoe Archer

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming back one of our fabulous contributors, Zoe Archer, as she celebrates the release of the third and fourth installments of her "Blades of the Rose" series. REBEL is available now, and STRANGER will hit the shelves on December 7. Both take place in an alternative Victorian era where magic thrives. Join us Sunday when Zoe will be here to talk about both books. I bet she'll be giving away free copies too!

Here's the cover copy for STRANGER:

He protects the world's magic--with his science. But even the best scientists can fall prey to the right chemistry...


Gemma Murphy has a nose for a story--even if the boys in Chicago's newsrooms would rather focus on her chest. So when she runs into a handsome man of mystery discussing how to save the world from fancy-pants Brit conspirators, she's sensing a scoop. Especially when he mentions there's magic involved. Of course, getting him on the record would be easier if he hadn't caught her eavesdropping...


Catullus Graves knows what it's like to be shut out: his ancestors were slaves. And he's a genius inventor with appropriately eccentric habits, so even people who love him find him a little odd. But after meeting a certain red-headed scribbler, he's thinking of other types of science. Inconvenient, given that he needs to focus on preventing the end of the world as we know it. But with Gemma's insatiable curiosity sparking Catullus's inventive impulses, they might set off something explosive anyway....


Catullus now stood upon the prow, watching the ship cleave the gray water as they neared Liverpool. Sailing directly to Southampton hadn't been an option, since the next steamship traveling to that town wouldn't depart New York for two weeks. Far too long a wait with so much at stake. So, he and Astrid and Lesperance booked passage to Liverpool, with the intent to hop immediately on a train heading to the Blades' Southampton headquarters.

Wind and sea spray blew across the prow. Not as cold as those Canadian mountains, but he took pleasure in the soft black cashmere Ulster overcoat he wore, with its handsome cape and velvet collar. Too windy for a hat--but he was alone and so there wasn't a breach of propriety.

Or was alone. Catullus sensed, rather than saw, Gemma Murphy as she stepped onto the prow. His heart gave that peculiar jump it always did whenever he became aware of her. It happened the first time he saw her, at the tatty trading post in the Northwest Territory, and it happened now.

"Don't be an ass," he muttered to himself. She had said quite plainly that what she sought was a story. Nothing more.

He tried to make himself focus on the movement of the ship through the water, contemplating its propulsion mechanisms and forming in his mind a better means of water displacement. No use. His thoughts scattered like dropped pins when flaming hair flashed in his peripheral vision.

Bracing his arms on the rail, Catullus decided to be bold. He turned his head and looked directly at her.

She stood not two yards away--closer than she had been since the night in his cabin. That night, they had stood close enough for him to see all the delicious freckles that scattered over her satiny skin, close enough to see those freckles disappear beneath the collar of her prim dress, close enough to wonder if those freckles went all the way down her body.

God, don't think of that.

Like him, she now had her forearms resting upon the rail, her ungloved hands clasped, and her face turned into the wind, little caring, as other women might, about the unladylike color in her cheeks called forth by the wind. She stared out to sea, watching the waves and the sea birds drafting beside the ship, a little smile playing upon her soft pink mouth. Something secret amused her.

Him? He told himself he didn't care if she found him amusing, terrifying or wonderful. The division between them was clear. He was a Blade of the Rose on the most important mission ever undertaken. The fate of the world's magic, and freedom, lay in the balance. Pretty redheaded reporters with dazzling blue eyes and luscious figures were entirely, absolutely irrelevant. Dangerous, even.

But he watched her now, just the same. She wore the same serviceable traveling dress, a plain gray cotton that had seen several years of service. So thoroughly was it worn that the fabric, as it blew against her legs, revealed that Gemma Murphy had on a very light petticoat and was most likely not wearing a bustle.

He found himself struggling for breath.

Keep moving upward, he told his eyes. And they obeyed him, moving up to see that the truly magnificent bosom of Miss Murphy was, at present, marginally hidden by a short blue jacket of threadbare appearance. The elbows were faded. She must move her arms quite a bit to get that kind of wear. An active woman.

What he wouldn't do to get that delectable figure and coloring into some decent clothing! Silk, naturally. Greens would flatter her best, but there were also deep, rich blues, luxuriant golds, or even a chocolate brown. And he knew just the dressmaker, too, a Frenchwoman who kept a shop off Oxford Street. Madame Celine would be beside herself for the chance to dress a Pre-Raphaelite vision such as Miss Murphy. And if he could see Gemma Murphy slipping off one of those exquisite gowns, revealing her slender arms, her corset and chemise...or perhaps underneath the gown, she would wear nothing at all....

Catullus shook himself. What the bloody hell did he think he was doing, mentally dressing and undressing a woman he barely knew? A woman who made no secret of her ambition to expose the world of magic Catullus, his family and the Blades had fought so hard to keep hidden.

But instead of marching back to his cabin, as he planned, he simply remained on the prow, close, but not too close, to Miss Murphy.

He glanced over at her sharply, realizing something. Then swore under his breath.

Gemma Murphy blinked in astonishment when Catullus strode over to her. Clearly, she hadn't anticipated him approaching. He said nothing as he pulled off his plush, warm coat and then draped it over her shoulders. The overcoat was far too big for her, naturally, its hem now grazing the deck.

She also did not speak, but stared up at him. Her slim pale hands held the lapels close. Catullus cursed himself again when he saw that she was shivering slightly.

"Don't you have a decent coat to wear?" he demanded, gruff.

"It got lost somewhere between Winnipeg and New York." Her voice, even out here in the hard wind, resounded low and warm, like American bourbon.

"Then get another."

Again, that little smile. "Lately, I haven't had the funds or time to see a dressmaker."

He had the funds, thanks to the Graves family's profitable side-work providing manufacturers with the latest in production technology. And, even though time was in short supply, Catullus had managed to squeeze in an hour with one of Manhattan's best tailors, where he'd purchased this Ulster and three waistcoats. He usually avoided ready-made garments, but an exception had been made in these unusual circumstances. And Catullus didn't patronize bigots, either, but if the color of his skin had bothered the tailor, the color of Catullus' money won out.

"Then perhaps you oughtn't stand out on the coldest part of the ship," he suggested dryly.

Looking up at him with her bright azure eyes, she said, "But I like the view."

Did she mean the sea or him? Damn it, he never could tell when a woman was saying something flirtatious or innocuous. Catullus didn't have his friend Bennett Day's skill with women--nobody did, except Bennett, and now Bennett was happily married and miles away. So all Catullus could do was blush and clear his throat, wondering how to answer.

Flirting was a skill he never mastered, so he plowed onward. "Why do you keep following me?" he asked.

"That's cocky," she answered. "Maybe you keep following me. This isn't such a large ship."

"I've been followed enough know when it happens." And had just as many bids on his life. Though he doubted Miss Murphy would try and stick a knife into his throat, which happened far too regularly.

Her eyes did gleam, though. "Have you been followed before? How many times? By whom? How did you elude them?"

"No one ever forgets you're a reporter, do they?"

Her laugh was even more low and seductive than her voice. "I never do. Why should anyone else?"

True enough. "As I said before," he pressed, "you will get no more from me, nor from Astrid or Lesperance. There is no story."