02 December 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Michelle Styles

Harlequin Historical author and longtime contributor Michelle Styles has three books and a free online series out in the next two months. The online serial, HIS STAND-IN BRIDE is set in Tyne Valley, the same place as her North American releases: A QUESTION OF IMPROPRIETY and IMPOVERISHED MISS, CONVENIENT WIFE. Her UK release is the THE VIKING'S CAPTIVE PRINCESS. Join us on Sunday for an interview with Michelle as well as a chance to win all three books!

The following extract is from A QUESTION OF IMPROPRIETY. The blurb reads:

A very improper seduction...

Diana Clare has had enough of London--the balls, the rakes you can never trust... Now, having returned home in disgrace, she is trying to forget what drove her from the ton.
But rake and gambler Brett Farnham, Earl of Coltonby, seems intent on making Diana remember exactly what it was like to be whirled around the ballroom and seduced by the glint in your partner's eye...

But Brett has 'mistress' rather than 'marriage' in mind, and Diana is not sure her reputation can stand up to another scandal...
In this extract, Brett Farnham has convinced Diana Clare to go driving with him as part of his scheme to further their friendship. Diana is equally determined to teach him a lesson and continue on living in her narrow world. Only the temptation of being able to drive the horses proves a bit stronger...


His fingers closed over hers, a warm firm grip but one that did not allow for refusal. 'Then would you care for another challenge and a wager?'

'What sort of wager?'

'A simple one. I will wager you driving the Bays whenever you want against a dance at the Bolts' ball.'

'But I am not going to the ball,' Diana replied quickly before she could give into the temptation. Wagering with him could only be dangerous. How could she even be contemplating such a thing?

Brett raised one eyebrow. 'Are you not confident of winning, Miss Diana? Is this why you are mentioning the fact?'

'In order to dance with you at the ball, I would have to be going to the ball. I am not.' She clenched her fists. 'In any case I do not make a habit of wagering.'

'And the thought of going to a ball is dreadful that you are not prepared to risk it for the pleasure of driving my bays...whenever you want to.' He rubbed his hand across his chin. 'It appears to me that you do not consider yourself an expert driver, and this is why you have no wish to take up the challenge. It has nothing to do with wagering and everything to do with you not feeling confident.'

Diana bristled. Not confident? She could tackle anything. 'What do you want me to do?'

'I have set up a little obstacle course. Something to test my reflexes. It occurs to me that if you can complete a clear round, you will prove to my satisfaction that you can drive...unless you are afraid of losing.'

'I am not afraid.' Diana drew a deep breath and ignored the sudden warning voice in her mind. This was not a wager per se. It was about proving him wrong. 'But I have doubts that you can complete this course.'

He pursed his lips and she thought for a moment he would refuse.

'How sensible you are, Miss Diana.' His voice became liquid honey. 'The rules of the course are that you do it as quickly as possible and the curricle does not hit any of the hurdles. Shall I demonstrate?'

The curricle went through a gate into a harvested field. Bits of stubble and gleanings still lay about but the ground was firm. Five sets of hurdles were placed at odd angles to each other, providing a series of quick turns.

Diana wrinkled her nose. 'The hurdles seem to be set awfully close together.'

'It can be completed...if you know what you are doing.'

Brett clicked his tongue and the black gelding set off at a fast pace. Once the curricle tipped onto one wheel and bounced back down, but he managed to make it through all the openings.

'Well done.' Diana clapped her hands.

Brett gave a boyish smile. 'It is your turn, Miss Diana. At trot, if you dare...'

'Of course I dare.' Diana spit on her gloves and took the ribbons. She regarded the first opening, went over the course in her mind. It was the fourth set of hurdles that was the most difficult. Once she got passed them, everything would be straight forward.

'Whenever you are ready.'

She flicked the reigns and the horse set off. The first set of hurdles flew passed. The second and the third. She reigned in tightly and felt the curricle slip slightly. Corrected her grip and aimed for the fourth set. Held her breath and heard the carriage wheels slide pass.

She let out a breath. Risked a glance up at Bret's face and saw it had become set.

The last set of hurdles loomed towards her. An easy set, slightly narrower than the others but her line was true. She would do this. She could almost see the Bays in front of her, responding to her every moment. She would drive out every day. She flicked the ribbons, urged the horse forward, to complete the final obstacle.

The curricle started to go through. Diana winced as she heard the slightest crunch of the wheel against the left hurdle. She pulled back, trying desperately to change the angle as the hurdle seemed to hold. The curricle went through and she pulled the horse to a stop and prayed.

She released a breath.

'I have done it! I have done it!' She raised her hand in triumphant.

Behind her, a distinct thump resounded. She glanced back and saw the final set of hurdles down on the ground. 'I...I'

Brett lifted one eyebrow and his lips twisted upwards in a sardonic smile. 'I believe you will be going to the ball after all, Miss Diana, but a solid attempt all the same.'

Copyright 2008 Michelle Styles and Harlequin SA.