Grabbing the Reader’s Attention

Posted by: Todd Hunter

What causes a reader to pick up a book and not want to put it down?

The best way for a writer to know the answer to any writing question is to ask it of themselves, as a reader. This situation is no different. So, what makes a book so riveting that you don’t want to stop reading?

Personally, I’m a fan of any book which keeps the action moving, and I’d venture to guess this is the case for most readers, regardless of genre. As soon as things begin slowing down, I start losing interest. If things drag on for very long, I put the book down more often, and in some cases will put it aside for weeks or months at a time. So, if we assume most readers want action to keep moving, how do we (now back to being writers) do so and keep the reader’s attention on turning those pages.

  1. Start off on the right foot (or maybe the left) – In every footrace, there’s a starting gun. In your writing, you have to capture your reader’s attention immediately if you expect to keep it for the rest of the piece. There are multiple ways to do this, but some things NOT to do would be to describe every unnecessary detail of the scene, give every piece of back story you developed the story with, or have your main character wax nostalgic about their personal struggles. Action helps, but if you toss the reader right into an action scene without some setup, they’re likely going to be confused or worse, unwilling to buy your book (many readers will check out the first few paragraphs of a book before buying).
  2. Keep things moving (downhill doesn’t count) – The death bell for any novel is when the story stalls out. Interesting characters and situations have to stay interesting. Conflict helps. Anytime your characters look like they’ll reach their goals, put an obstacle in the way. Continue this pattern, making the stakes higher and the obstacles harder to overcome throughout the story, and you’ll have your reader’s attention. Life (and fiction) is more exciting when there’s more at risk and everything to gain.
  3. Don’t distract the reader (ooooh, shiny!) – Side plots can be interesting, but if they distract the reader, your pages might as well be a flashing neon sign, hard to look at and something to pass by completely. Readers read to relax, to get away from their every day lives. As such, keep things simple and uncomplicated (note: do not “dumb down” your writing). Plots should NOT have ever-overlapping threads which a reader has to stop and diagram out on a white board to comprehend. The same holds true for the number of characters a writer puts in a story. If the reader has to constantly stop and look back through material they’ve already read to remember a character (out of the twenty in the story), they’ll get frustrated and will most likely set your book down. If they do happen to pick it back up later, they’ll need to refresh their memory on your characters and will probably put the book away again during the attempt.
  4. Start funneling the reader toward the end (clean out the motor oil first) – Readers like to relax, as mentioned. They also like to believe they’re going to reach the end of a book eventually (they have their own lives after all). An author needs to be able to give readers the sense that closure is coming if they just read a little farther. Granted, some books (usually based on genre) can pull this off easier than others. A mystery can’t make it obvious who the killer is too soon, for example. But overall, the closer the reader gets to the end, the more the action should pick up in anticipation of the climax of the story.
  5. A satisfying ending (try not to read too much into this following “the climax”) – Notice I didn’t say “a happy ending.” Not all stories need to have a happy ending (a few of mine don’t), because life isn’t predictable. There will obviously be those who disagree with this, based on the fact that readers want to escape their own lives (real life doesn’t always have happy endings either). But regardless of whether your have a happy ending or not, the reader must feel like the main character achieved their main goal. Otherwise, the reader is going to feel cheated. Although they’ve made it all the way through the book (which was our main goal through all of this), they’re likely not going to bother reading your next one. People like closure, and a satisfying ending is the best way in which to give one to your reader.

So, as you can see, it takes a lot of work to keep a reader’s attention throughout the entire novel. But through time and practice, it will become second nature to you as a writer. Hopefully these suggestions for grabbing a reader’s attention are helpful to you.

***

Excerpt from the first chapter of HEROES DIE YOUNG (and no, this isn’t the beginning of the chapter…did you really think I’d violate my own guidelines above?):

I turned my gaze down the entry corridor and saw carnage I wouldn’t soon forget. Rulusian bodies lay on either side of the hallway, burn marks from energy weapons as black patches on a background of dark green skin. The putrid scent of scorched flesh was in the air. I passed an open doorway on my left, and looked inside at crew quarters. More Rulusian corpses lay amidst sparks and clouds of smoke.

I lifted the transmitter again. “You’re sure there isn’t anyone on this ship?”

“Affirmative. All scans show nothing but yourself.”

“This damage is far too recent for my liking.”

“Did the crew abandon ship as we had thought?”

I grimaced. “Doesn’t look like it.”

I continued down the corridor toward the bridge. Dark blast marks lined the doorframe and floor, where an access hatch had been blown open. Smoke particles lingered in the air and I detected a faint chemical odor while my eyes watered. I took slow, cautious steps through the opening and became witness to even more carnage. Ten more Rulusians were collapsed against the wall or slumped over consoles, all roasted by weapons fire. I definitely didn’t need to meet up with the people who had done this. I didn’t get into the scavenging business to be a hero. Everyone loves heroes, but heroes have a tendency to die young.

I glanced at the console screens as I stepped around the short end of an oval-shaped outer wall. All of the displays flickered with minimal power from backup systems, while I stepped over a pair of corpses. I stopped at one and attempted to bypass the lockout. The sweat fell off my face onto the screens and formed little pools which slowly worked up enough courage to slide down the panel. I realized my attempts were useless and walked to a single access hatch at the back of the bridge.

“Jeanie, which bays contain contraband?”

“All of them.”

A huge smile spanned my face. This was a dream come true.

Unfortunately, I only had three bays open and there was no way I was dumping the crystals. Perfect opportunities like this were the exception and after these weapons were sold, I’d likely have run some more regular cargo. Even in such a huge universe, it wouldn’t take long for word to spread that I couldn’t be trusted to complete a delivery.

“Get ready to pull three containers in. The winches should be adequate.” I had a loading arm installed, and even though it was a lot more accurate, it was slow and cumbersome. There was still a bonus to keep in mind.

“Acknowledged.”

The door into the cargo hold opened easily, which I found odd as I walked inside. The air was stale and dry in my lungs as the floor panels clanged and echoed with each step. The door closed behind me and I glanced down the corridor at six bays on either side. The best thing would be for me to drop the first three bays and ignore the possibility of a better catch in the others.

A computer console beside the bay door monitored the ambient conditions inside, while a marked service panel underneath drew my attention. I shoved my Mark II into its holster inside my jacket and knelt down next to the panel. The cover came off in no time and I set it aside. A lever on the right, and two dimmed lights next to it looked like what I needed. Even though I’d never jettisoned cargo manually from a Rulusian freighter before, there were plenty of bays to find the proper technique. After I pulled the lever, the lights flashed in sequence a few moments. Then a miniature explosion sounded off inside the bay.

Just to make sure I hadn’t destroyed a perfectly good cargo container, I lifted my transmitter again. “Do you see it, Jeanie?”

“Pulling in the cargo now.”

“Two more on the way.”

I moved on to two more bays, going through the same process. As the third bay jettisoned, I heard another floor panel echo farther down the hold.

I pulled out my Mark II and stood, just as a floor panel at the very end of the hold flew up. A woman with bronze skin and black hair jumped up out from the crawlspace underneath, a disintegrator cannon in her hands pointed right at me. I fell to the floor just before her first shot hit the bridge door behind me and showered sparks down onto the grill. I fired a three-shot burst and she dove down in the crawlspace again, while minimal damage was done to the aft bulkhead. It also gave me the opportunity to run toward the bridge door, where the impact mark from her first shot still glowed. Eager for cover, I ducked around the corner into a small alcove as another shot hit nearby. Sparks fell at my feet while I pressed my back firm against the cold hard metal. My heart beat faster than it had in quite a while.

***

Questions on the HEROES DIE YOUNG Excerpt:

  1. What line (from this excerpt) spawned the title?
  2. Who’s the real bad boy (or girl) in this excerpt? Aston or the mystery woman? Why?

A free e-book of HEROES DIE YOUNG will be given to the blog commenter who gives the best answer to the second question above (as decided by me tomorrow morning).

And as a special bonus, I will choose one blog commenter to win a free print copy of HEROES DIE YOUNG. Just tell me why you deserve to win it more than anyone else (again, winner decided by me tomorrow morning).

***

T. M. Hunter is the author of HEROES DIE YOUNG, the latest science-fiction sensation from Champagne Books. His Aston West short stories have been featured in the e-mag Ray Gun Revival with his short story “Little White Truths” a top ten finisher in the 2007 Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll. He (and Aston) can often be found over at AstonWest.com.

Thanks to Jennifer and the entire Wild on Books crew for having me!

If you enjoyed this blog, make sure to check out my regular Monday blog posts on writing over at Aston’s MySpace page.

I live for comments (and love to give books away)! So, please stop in and say hi. Be sure to enter yourself to win a free copy of HEROES DIE YOUNG, and I’ll be around at various times throughout the day to respond…

Risque Business

Posted by: Tawny Weber

 Hi Everyone!!  I’m Tawny and I write for Harlequin Blaze.  I was thrilled when Jennifer invited me to visit and share a little about my latest book with you.  

Risque Business is a makeover story.  I was really excited about this concept becuase I’m a huge makeover fan.  You know, the kind who can’t pass the department store makeup counters without playing in the eyeshadow, and watches those make-over a house in 8 hours shows?  My favorite fairy tale was The Ugly Duckling and I have this deep, abiding belief in the power of Swans LOL. 

So a makeover themed book was a natural for me.  I took a heroine who has complete confidence in her brains, but feesl invisible otherwise and paired her with a hero who has complete confidence in EVERYTHING… except love. The result was a LOT of sparks.  But sparks are good in a Blaze, right?

 When both of their jobs are on the line, Nick Angel and Delaney Conner resort to a public bet to prove whether Delaney’s reviews reflect public opinion.  But the real bet, the HOT bet, is the private one between just the two of them.  This bet?  To prove that good sex requires emotions, or to acknowlege that great sex only requires simple lust.   Crazy bet?  Well Delaney thought so, too.  That is, until Nick convinced her. 

This is how he did it…

RISQUE BUSINESS EXCERPT:  

 “Either prove good sex needs emotions…” Nick Angel trailed off, his voice pure liquid heat, “or admit the greatest sex in the world is purely physical.”   

Delaney gasped.  Sure, she’d imagined sex with him.  What woman under ninety with a pulse wouldn’t?  And he’d given her some hot looks that coming from any other guy—to any other gal—she’d have imagined meant he might be interested.  But her?  And the sexiest man alive?  The idea made her head spin, and, she squirmed, made her panties damp. 

     “You expect me to sleep with you?” she asked in her most shocked tone.  It was mostly show, though.  She’d already had sex with the man in her mind at least a dozen times since he’d walked on the set.  But to actually have sex with him?  Her makeover was much too surface for that. 

     “Can you think of any better way to prove your point?” he asked with a wicked laugh.  The look on his face made it clear he was turned on by the concept.  Delaney narrowed her eyes.  It had to be a trick.  Guys didn’t give her those long, sexy looks.  Not unless they wanted something.  Or, in Nick’s case, wanted to distract her.  Or worse, make her look like a fool. 

     Her shoulders tightened. 

     “You have to be kidding,” she said with a sniff.  “I’m not having…  how did you put it? Sexual relations with you just to win some stupid bet.”

     “Don’t you want to learn firsthand my version of intimacy?”

     “Just as much as you want to experience a committed, loving relationship,” she shot back. 

     “And you really believe that to have good sex, that emotional thing needs to be present?”

     “I do.  Passion is stronger than lust,” she insisted.  With a wave of her hand, she gestured between the two of them.  “How easy would it be to say, sure, let’s do it.  We could walk through that door and rip each other’s clothes off.  We could get hot, sweaty and wild.  Screams of satisfaction would echo down the hallway.”  She eyed the smug look on his face and arched her brow before adding, “Your screams.”

     His grin was fast and appreciative. 

Delaney’s breath hitched at the sight, but she didn’t let desire cloud her argument. 

“But it wouldn’t matter.  It’d only be a fleeting passion.  Quick, pointless and once it was over, you’d walk away without another thought.  That,” she pointed out, “is lust.  Which would only prove my point.”

     His eyes had darkened to a deep midnight blue, the hunger flaming clear and bright.  From the intensity of his stare, he liked the image her words evoked. 

     Nick took a step forward, so close the heat of his body warmed her beaded nipples.  Delaney lifted her chin, trying to hide the fact that she was not only turned on, but intimidated as hell. 

     “What if I promised you that if you unlock that door, the sex would be so good you’d forget all about the myth of love?”

     Delaney gulped but didn’t back down.  Not when her entire belief system was on the line. 

     “I might forget for the moment.  Good sex has a way of doing that.”  At least, she’d imagine it did.  She’d never personally had sex good enough to make her forget Lady Chatterley’s Lover, let alone something as important as her feelings.  “But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m saying that true intimacy, that passion, is more than slam, bam, thank you ma’am.”

     “And I’m saying if the slamming is done right, ma’am is the one doing the thanking.”

     Delaney rolled her eyes.

     “You’re playing with words,” she told him.

     “Words are my specialty.  They’re not all I’m good at, though,” he said, stepping close enough for her to feel the heat from his body.  Her own responded instantly. 

     “Obviously,” she murmured, not about to argue his sexual prowess.  After all, the guy got her hot and wet just standing there in all his male cockiness.  If he actually put some moves on, she’d probably melt into a whimpering puddle. 

     “Speaking of bets…” he said, his words trailing off as he moved even closer.  Heat radiated off his chest and an answering flame flickered low in her belly.  “What do you say?  A no strings fling.  Hot, wild sex.” 

He took that final step, bringing his body flush against hers.  Delaney bit back a whimper at the sweet pressure of his chest against her aching nipples, his thigh, warm and hard, pressed between her legs.

He placed his hands on the wall on either side of her head and lowered his face until his mouth was within centimeters of hers.  Delaney swallowed, unable to tear her gaze from the hypnotic blue depths of his.  Like under an irresistible spell, she simply waited, both eager and terrified to see if he’d follow through. 

When he did, it wasn’t the deep, wild kiss she’d anticipated.  Instead it was more of a tease.  A soft brush of his lips over hers, warm, moist, gentle.  Any other guy and she’d have termed it sweet. 

His eyes still holding hers prisoner, Nick pulled back just a bit, his breath still warming her mouth.

     That was it? The hottest guy she’d ever had pressed against her and that was the kiss she inspired?  Delaney wanted to grab his hair and yank him closer, ravage his mouth with hers. To kiss him with the intense, deep passion she hadn’t even known she wanted. 

“Just consider it,” he murmured.

Her eyes narrowed, but before she could say anything, his mouth plunged again, this time taking hers with a fierce intensity that shot straight down to her belly.  Damp, warm heat pooled between her legs as she gave herself over to the wild power of his kiss. 

Delaney couldn’t think, could barely react, before he’d pulled back.  Not just his mouth, but his entire body. He stepped away, leaving her churned up, panting and cold where her body missed the warmth of his.  

“One month,” he said in a husky whisper.  “We give each other a month, totally focused on physical pleasure.  In the end, you’ll admit I’m right.” 

And that’s how Nick hooked Delaney into their little bet.  What do you think? Would you have gone for the bet if he’d issued it?

Methinks I would have 😉 

I’d love to hear what you think!  I’ll draw a name to win a copy of one of my backlist from the comments – so please, share whether you’d have taken the bet, or told Nick to take a hike :-)

And if you’d like, drop on by my website to check out my other books or see what kind of things I’ve got going on. 

The joys of summer versus the addiction of writing:

Posted by: Kaenar Langford

Kaenar's photo

As I write this, I’m sitting at the dining room table looking out the big picture window of the cottage we’ve rented for the week. The table’s been placed so you don’t even have to turn your head to enjoy the breath-taking view through the newly cleaned glass. The gorgeous waters of Lake Huron shimmer in the afternoon sunlight, the waves gently lapping at the shoreline. Summer officially started a few days ago and the evenings are noticeably long and delightful.

I got up this morning, had my hour-long bike ride, then came back and threw myself into the chilly waters of Red Bay to cleanse body and mind. Last year’s stay was at the end of July, and after a month or more of long, lazy, sun-filled, water-warming days, the water was like bathwater. This year we’re here at the end of June following an unseasonably cool spring. Luckily, the water is shallow and the sunshine seems to be able to make it warm enough to swim. You have to walk way, way out just to get a spot where the water is up to your waist. The wind is cool but the sun is warm, and once you gather your courage and dive in, you quickly adjust to the temperature of the bay water.

Just outside the door of the cottage, butterflies and dragonflies fill the air. I’ve never seen a place with as many different types of dragonflies as Red Bay. If you want to see what it’s like here, just go to my website www.kaenar.com and check out the photos on my author page. The area is known for its wild orchids which just happen to be in bloom during our stay here.

Our younger son is fourteen and we’ve been coming here since he was a baby. Now instead of a toddler who needs to be watched constantly, he’s a young man who gets on his bike and heads off to do stuff with his Red Bay friends. Our older son was nine when we took the cottage for the first time and he just finished university and is heading to Geneva, Switzerland for a year-long internship. This place has a lifetime of memories for us and we love it here.

So what’s the drawback of such an idyllic place? I’m here with my family and can’t seem to find an opportunity to feed my writing addiction. When I’m at home, I spend the day writing, editing, revamping work and reading when I can. Now life has been turned on its end. The days are full of cottage activities. You know the kind I mean- reading all day, walking the beach, riding your bike and spending lots of time with the family. I love it, but I miss the total enthrallment of writing. I’m in the middle of writing a ménage a trois and I really want to get back and finish it. I’m also trying to get a completed older woman/younger man story polished for submission.

I’m the first to admit that I’m a social creature and people always ask how I can spend all day caught in such a solitary process as writing. This week I’ve actually had time to think about that and here’s what I came up with. To me, it’s not really a solitary process at all. I’m wherever the characters in my book are. As I write, I’m with them so it feels like I’m part of whatever they’re doing. I love being at the cottage, but I can’t wait to get home and back to my writing.

This would be the perfect time to tell you about my latest venture. In May, Total-e-Bound accepted my novel The Harder They Come and it will be released July 7 to coincide with the company’s month-long first anniversary activities. The book is set in Texas, one of my favourite states, and is an older woman/younger man story. I really enjoyed the time I spent with them. Once you read the excerpt, you’ll see how much fun it is to escape to the world of your characters like I do while writing.

Here’s a bit abThe Harder They Comeout The Harder They Come:

Older woman + younger man = off limits. Maybe so, but the ache between Ellaina’s thighs and the longing in her heart make it more and more difficult to say no, especially when Luke wants to do things to her, like turn her into a chocolate sundae.

Ellaina McReynold’s quiet existence is turned upside down by the arrival of a younger man. Luke Mason has only been in Spring Ridge a short time, but his daily visits to her café have inspired way too many erotic fantasies for her own good. Although her brain knows he’s ten years younger, someone needs to tell that to her traitorous body!

Luke, who has pursued her gently but persistently, is delighted when she finally agrees to spend the day with him. But her lover is not really who he seems. When Ellaina unexpectedly finds out the truth, can she put aside her doubts and follow her heart? Luke certainly hopes so.

Want more?

Here’s a little excerpt: Luke has been coming in to the café for a few weeks now and Ellaina has accepted the fact that she wants him, age difference be damned.

 

Excerpt:

Drawing in a calming breath, Ellaina told him what she really wanted, what she really needed. “I’d like you to stay.”

At her words, Luke leaned forwards and gently kissed her.

That was all it took.

She cradled his head and held him in place while he traced her top lip with his tongue, his touch light and almost hesitant. When he drew back, Ellaina shifted her hands and cupped his jaw, running her thumbs along his cheekbones, tracing their delicate form, memorising the shape of his face. He hadn’t shaved, and she wondered what those whiskers would feel like on her skin, the skin of her breasts or perhaps the skin of her inner thighs.

“You are so beautiful,” she sighed. “And so young.”

The way his nostrils flared told her how he felt about her comment, but it needed to be said.

“It’s the truth, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.”

“It’s not that I refuse to acknowledge or admit that there’s a…shall I say…disparity in our ages. I know there is, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to me.”

She found it hard to believe this gorgeous young man wanted her.

Searching his eyes for the truth, she was jolted by how they had darkened with lust and perhaps longing. “It really doesn’t matter?”

He slowly ran a finger along her top lip and followed it with a kiss, slipping his tongue inside just long enough to touch hers and then retreat.

“Ellaina, why do you think I come to the café every day? The food’s great, but there are other places in town to eat. Haven’t you noticed how I keep the same routine every day?”

“Of course I have.”

“Every day I turn and look at the old clock on the tower. Know why?” He never gave her time to answer. “Because I like to think that while I’m checking out the clock, you’re checking out my ass. Are you?”

“Every day. I can’t wait for it. I’m usually wet as soon as I hear the bike take the corner.”

“I’m very glad to hear that. Tell me what happens when I undo my jacket and take it off.”

“Sometimes I clamp my thighs together and come,” she said shyly.

Luke smiled a very smug I-knew-it smile. “I’m so glad my efforts weren’t wasted.”

Her mouth dropped open. “You did all those things on purpose?”

He playfully closed it. “What else was I going to do to get you to notice me?”

“Breathe,” she suggested.

He snorted. “Every time I come into the café and see you, I get so hard, I feel like I’m going to pop the buttons of my jeans. I look down and see your tight little nipples beckoning to me and I want to shove everything off the counter and take you right there.”

“I thought I was the only one with that fantasy,” Ellaina revealed.

“No way. In my head, I’ve taken you on most of the flat surfaces in the place.”

“Like?”

“Like on the counter beside the pie case.”

“What?”

“Oh yeah. I’d love to cover you in lemon meringue. It’s my favourite kind of pie, but I bet it would taste way better if I were licking it off your breasts. Or your belly. Or maybe from between your legs.”

“Oh my God, you really imagined that?”

“Just yesterday.”

Ellaina blushed but she pressed on. “Where else do you imagine taking me?”

“I’m partial to the counter that has the milkshake machine, the one with all the syrups and the whipped cream nearby and, I almost forgot, the cherries.”

Ellaina had to force herself to breathe.

Hope that piques your interest.

Don’t you want to find out where Luke will take Ellaina? You’ll have to wait until July 7th to read the whole book, but the first chapter can be found on my ‘book page’ at www.kaenar.com

Keep your eye on the Total-e-bound website especially throughout the month of July when they’ll be hosting lots of anniversary fun and surprises.

Kaenar Langford

EXCERPT: Bound to Please by Hope Tarr

Posted by: Hope Tarr

Bound to Please by Hope Tarr

Excerpted from Chapter 7

 

1460 ~ St. Andrews, County Fife, Scotland

“So practical minded and serious you’ve become, milady.  I canna help but wonder whatever happened to that braw, bright-eyed lassie I met on fair day ten years ago?”

It was her turn to move but whatever strategy she’d held in her head was lost to her now.  She shook her head, feeling world-weary and more than a little old.  “Ten years is a long time.  Circumstances change.  People change.  When you are older, you will understand.”

His eyes narrowed.  “Dinna patronize me, Brianna.  I am your junior by two years only, and man enough to match you in all ways, not only chess.”

The boast wasn’t lost on Brianna.  She’d hoped to use this time to come to know him better, to rebuild their fledgling friendship from all those years ago, but it seemed that was not to be.

“I have no wish to quarrel with you, Ewan, and in truth I did not come here to play chess.”  Her gaze strayed beyond him to the bed.

Looking more curious than angry, he asked, “Tell me, lady, why is it you’ve kept away from me all the past week?  Is swiving a chained man no to your liking after all?”

Heat climbed Brianna’s cheeks.  These unseemly blushes of hers really must cease.  With the humiliations heaping one atop the other, she should be numb to embarrassment ere now.  She wasn’t.  There was something about being around Ewan Fraser that made her feel young and vulnerable again, no longer a seasoned widow but a trembling, tender-hearted maid.

Still, she did her best to brazen it out.  “Have you so little knowledge of a woman’s body, Ewan Fraser, that you canna fathom the answer to that?”

Her secret hope had been to embarrass him but judging by his jaunty expression, she’d failed in this, too.  He slid his gaze boldly over her, a slow, languid sweep that set her heart aflutter and made her thankful she’d taken time to polish and rinse her teeth as well as suffer through Alys arranging her hair in a more becoming style.

His mouth remained impassive, neither smiling nor scowling, but his gaze kindled.  “Unfetter my hands, lady, and I’ll gladly show you just how well I ken the terrain.”

Try as she might, there was no ignoring the sensual sorcery blazing from his beautiful clear gray eyes.  Caught up in the spell of it, she felt warmth settling into her nether parts, making her uncomfortably aware of the narrowness of the little table between them.

Hold fast!

Snapping back to sanity, she reminded herself it wasn’t pleasure that had steered her here but duty.  If she allowed her desires to enslave her, she had scant chance of putting Milread and Alys’s advice into practice.

Resolved, she shook her head.  “Had you free use of your hands, I ken you’d as soon wrap them about my throat as anything else.”

His gaze never wavered.  “You trusted me well enough ten years ago to turn over your wee knife.  I gave it back, mind, and let you leave the stable at your da’s beckoning.  I might just as easily covered your mouth with my hand and born you down upon the straw.  Virgin though I was I spent the weeks after berating myself for letting you go with only a kiss to remember me.”

She swallowed hard, not only recalling the episode but feeling it all again—the excitement, the vulnerability, the yearning.  Achingly young though they both had been, she didn’t doubt they would have discovered what to do.

Her throat felt as dry as sawdust, her sex anything but.  “My father was just outside.”  She whetted her lips, alarmed to hear her voice shake.  “Had he found us, he would have killed you and locked me in a convent for the rest of my days.”

Ewan didn’t deny it.  “I canna speak to the convent part, but it might have been worth it to die with the taste of Brianna MacLeod upon my lips.”

As much as Brianna resolved to remain unmoved, his hot-eyed gaze holding hers had her forgetting to breathe.  “You’re a devil, Ewan Fraser, with the serpent’s tongue to prove it.”

He lanced a wicked, knowing look her way, one corner of his mouth kicking up into the lopsided, devil-may-care grin she remembered from when he was a boy.  “It’s a canny clever tongue I have and the wherewithal to use it.”  His expression sobered.  “I’m a good lover, Brianna.  I havena been with all that many women, but of the lassies who’ve gifted me their favors, nary a one has complained.”

Brianna found herself at a loss for words but not for feeling.  Jealousy flooded her accompanied by a powerful, piercing hatred for the other women to whom he’d given himself freely.

He pushed back his chair and rose.  “Ah, Brie, so it’s come to this, has it?”

Before she might ask after his meaning, he rounded the table to her side.  Stepping behind her chair, he rested his chained hands heavily on her shoulders and leaned down.  His warm spicy breath struck the side of her face.  He’d been chewing fennel seeds, she could tell.

“If my giving you a bairn is the price of my freedom, then at least arrange matters so that we both might enjoy the act.  Unchain me, Brie, and give me leave to show you the pleasure freed hands may bring.”

EXCERPT: Untamed by Hope Tarr

Posted by: Hope Tarr

“Runaway Bride” meets Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”

in Hope Tarr’s UNTAMED

Book #3 of Hope’s Men of Roxbury House” Trilogy

Covent Garden Opera House

February 1890

 

Keeping Lady Katherine in his sights, Rourke shouldered his way through the throng.  From the pit, the orchestra struck up a waltz.  He smiled.  The dance had three features to recommend it to a tangle-toed clod such as him: it required moving in step with only one other person, its tempo was slow, and it afforded a man the chance to lay actual hands upon a woman in public without being slapped.

Approaching his quarry, he ran his gaze over the competition, assessing his most likely point of entry.  Of the six men assembled, he recognized two by name.  The tall, lanky blond was Henry, Lord Dutton, and his porcine and prematurely balding young friend was Sir Cecil Wesley.  The latter’s slouch betrayed him as the weak link.

Aware of Lady Katherine watching him, Rourke summoned a sunny smile.  “Good evening, gentlemen, milady.  I trust there are no objections to my joining you?”  Without awaiting an answer, he clapped Wesley on the shoulder.  Fingers sinking into the young baronet’s sponginess, he moved him aside and stepped forward, thrusting himself dead center into the circle.

He made Lady Katherine what he hoped was a serviceable bow.  “Lady Katherine.”  Straightening, he caught a whiff of her scent, orange blossoms and some other fresh but as yet unidentified fragrance that had him thinking of sunshine and balmy spring breezes.  Ignoring his rivals’ furious faces, he honed his gaze on her coolly curious brown eyes.  “I’ve come to claim my dance, milady.”  I’ve come to claim you.

For a few seconds, her aloof mask slipped, and he caught a flicker of surprise in her eyes, the pupils widening ever so slightly.  She hesitated, glancing down at the arm he extended.  “Yes, I do believe this dance is promised to you.”

Lord Dutton scowled, his bottom lip protruding like a sulky child whose gingerbread was about to be taken away.  “But how can that be?  This is the first waltz of the evening.”  He turned to Lady Katherine.  “As I’m sure you will recollect, I bespoke this dance when I brought you your glass of punch.”

Tiny though she was, she held her ground.  “You are mistaken, sir.”  She circumvented Dutton and came to Rourke, laying her small, gloved hand lightly atop his arm.  “Gentlemen, if you will excuse us.”  The latter was not spoken as a question.

Chest swelling, Rourke led her away toward the dance floor, his triumph a trillion times more potent than snaffling a watch or pinching a purse.  In this case he’d stolen something far more precious, a diamond of the first water, a pearl beyond price, straight out from under the toffee noses of his supposed betters.

As soon as they were out of earshot, she leaned in and whispered, “I suppose I should thank you for rescuing me.  Dutton and his set, ugh!  What a lot of bloody bores.”  She angled her face to his profile.  “By the by, who the hell are you?”

For a lady born, she certainly cursed a blue streak, not that he was one to mind.  “Patrick O’Rourke, though my friends call me Rourke.  Actually, my enemies call me Rourke, too, as well as do my business colleagues.  Come to think of it, everyone does.  I’m Scottish,” he added for no particular reason.

“So I gathered from your burr.”

He nodded, unsure of whether to feel complimented or put out.  “The O in my surname confuses some.  My father was Scots-Irish from Ulster, but my mother was Scots born and bred.  Her people are in Cromartyshire.  That’s in the far Highlands.”  Jaysus, they hadn’t even reached the dance floor and already he was blathering like a dimwit.

Lady Katherine sent him a cross look.  “Yes, yes, I am well acquainted with the location of the Scottish counties.  No doubt you surmise I am one of those silly females content to wallow in utter ignorance of geography, but I assure you, I possess both a globe and a map of the British Empire.”

Her snappishness stunned him.  He hadn’t pegged her as silly or ignorant.  That she apparently consulted maps didn’t unduly surprise him.  He opened his mouth to say as much, but instead something very different came out.  “You don’t much care for people, do you?”

She shrugged, which did interesting things to the creamy flesh edging out of her bodice.  Small though she was, she wasn’t small everywhere.  “I find people in general to be quite tolerable.  It’s arrogance and ill manners I cannot abide.”

He opened his mouth to remark upon the questionable wisdom of pots calling kettles black, but by that time they’d reached the thronged dance floor.  She let go of his arm.  Lumbering behind her, Rourke’s broad shoulders clipped couples on either side.  Clearing a space for them, he turned to take her in his arms.  It was then that he was minded of the proverbial fly in the ointment.

He couldn’t actually dance.

She looked up at him and cleared her throat.  “You did invite me to dance, did you not?”

Sweat pricked Rourke’s brow, and his glasses fogged from heat, but this time he couldn’t blame the overabundance of people and lamps.  His arms hung at his sides as if once more weighted with prison irons.  “Aye, I did.”

She let out a sigh as though suddenly weary.  For a heart-stopping few seconds, he thought she might turn on her heel and walk away, leaving him to stand there alone, a buffoon, a laughingstock.  Instead, she reached down, clasped one of her small hands about his wrist, and carried it around to rest on the small of her slender back.

“I won’t bite, I promise.”  Under other circumstances, Rourke considered a well-placed nibble to be a most pleasing occurrence, but he held off on voicing such a naughty thought so soon and instead concentrated on his stiff legs and shuffling feet.  “Place your other hand in mine—yes, the right hand, there’s the way.  Now all we need do is to carry off some semblance of keeping time with the music.  One-two-three, step in, step close.  Mind how we are making a small circle?”

Staring down at their toe-to-toe feet, her slipper-shod ones making his seem like elephant hooves, Rourke nodded.  Her waist beneath his hand felt supple and impossibly small, the warmth from her silk-sheathed skin pouring into his palms.

The lady’s scowl confirmed she was not pleased to find herself in the arms of an amateur.  “Do try not to lift your feet quite so very high.  We are not cantering, Mr. O’Rourke, we are dancing, or at least attempting to.  The proper move is more of a glide than a step.”

How on earth did a woman who barely reached his shoulder still manage the trick of seeming to stare down the tip of her nose at him?  Finding his voice at last, he asked, “Will there be any further instructions, milady?”

“Just one.  You needn’t squeeze my hand like a tourniquet.  I assure you, I’ve no notion of escaping.”

He grinned.  She was warming to him, he could tell.  “You don’t?”

“No.”  Expression pained, she shook her head.  “Your foot upon mine has me most securely pinned.”

He lifted his foot, and her expression eased.  “Bullocks.  I mean, forgive me, milady.  You’re so slight, I barely felt—”

She looked up at him and released another sigh, her cool, peppermint-laced breath wafting up to kiss his cheek.  “Pray do not apologize.  I find apologies to be bloody boring.”

Rourke found himself fighting a smile.  “You’re a very good teacher.”  He was looking forward to teaching her a trick or two, only off the dance floor, but there was a whole fortnight of wooing to be got through before that happy event occurred.

She shrugged, apparently oblivious to his carnal thoughts.  “It’s one thing for you to look a fool, but I can’t very well have you making me look foolish, now can I?”  Caught up in staring at the kissable tip of her nose, he stumbled, clipping what must be her big toe.  “Ouch!  You really don’t dance, do you?”

“This is only my second go at it, actually.  Seems like a great deal of trouble.”  Not to mention potentially crippling to his partners.

“Why did you ask me, then?  You needn’t have.  I was hardly in danger of turning into a wallflower.  Dutton was correct.  This dance was promised to him.”

“Would you believe I fancy meeting pretty girls, and dancing seems the best way to go about it, at least in London?”

She hoisted her chin.  “I’m hardly a girl.  I’ll be seven-and-twenty in another few months.”

So she was only about a year younger than he.  That surprised him.  Still what surprised him most was that she’d so readily owned her age.  Most women on the shady side of twenty-five would sooner lie down on a bed of nails than admit it.  And yet she still satisfied his third requirement: she was young enough to breed.  With the first two requirements well met, Rourke considered he had a green light to move forward with his goal.

Eager to get on with the wooing, he said, “By the by, has anyone ever told you that you have verra beautiful eyes?”

She rolled her eyes at him, her beautiful eyes, and then shook her head.  “As a point of fact, sir, I have been told so many times, not because they are particularly handsome—they are plain brown and quite ordinary, in fact—but because complimenting a lady’s eyes is the sort of trite blandishment gentlemen seem to think we fancy hearing.”

He smiled, secretly pleased she wasn’t easily won.  “On the contrary, they are neither brown nor plain.  Amber, I think, for sure it is I’m a dragonfly caught up in the sticky resin of your gaze.”

“The sticky resin of my gaze!”  She threw back her head and laughed, the rich throaty sound putting him in mind of coarsely woven silk.  “Tell me, are the girls in Scotland snared by such tripe?”

Careful to keep the requisite six inches between them, he said, “Some are, enough I suppose.  In your case, however, any compliment I give is no less than true.  My mate, Harry, scarcely did you justice.”

Looking down on her upturned face, he could appreciate all the dazzling little details the photograph had missed or muted—the thick fringe of smoky lashes rimming her almond-shaped eyes, the single beguiling freckle touching the top of her upper lip, the small white scar riding her left cheekbone, which he suddenly very badly wanted to lick.

That got her attention.  “How are you acquainted with Mr. St. Claire?”

“We spent part of our childhood together.”

After Gavin’s grandfather had surfaced to reclaim him and Daisy had been adopted by an older theatrical couple, their Roxbury House Orphans’ Club had halved to two, he and Harry.  Though they’d sometimes fought like cats, the future photographer was the closest he had to a brother.

“In London?”

He shook his head.  “No, in Kent, near Maidstone.”

He paused, wondering if he might have given too much away.  It was early days as far as wooing was concerned, and it wouldn’t do for her to find out he was an orphan.  And yet, of all the places he’d so far lived, some more than once—London, Edinburgh, Kent, and now Linlithgow in Scotland—Roxbury House was the only one he ever thought of as home.

“I grew up in Kent, as well.”  Lady Katherine’s voice pulled him back to the present.  “Our seat is in Romney.”

“Your father is an earl, is he not?”

She nodded.  “The peerage isn’t terribly old.  My father’s only the third Earl of Romney.  It started out as a courtesy title, a life peerage granted to my great-uncle for some dubious personal service rendered to the Crown and then. . .  Oh, well, it scarcely matters now.  Suffice it to say, the Lindsey name is very old, very proper.”  She said the last bit while making a face as though to suggest that while her family was proper, she was less so.

“Where do you bide in town?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You keep a house in town, do you not?  What is your direction?”

Her gaze shuttered.  “Sir, must I remind you that we’ve not yet been introduced.  You should have had your friend, Mr. St. Claire, speak for you.  Even a Scotsman must have some sense of protocol.  There are rules about these things, you know.”

He bent his head to the soft velvet of her cheek.  “Ah, well, rules are a hard thing for a rough fellow like me to hold in mind when I’ve a bonny lass in my arms, the heat of her skin pouring into my palms, and the scent from her hair filling my nostrils and leading my thoughts astray to all manner of foolish fancies.”

It was her turn to stumble.  “You are beyond forward, sir.  I would be well within my rights to slap you.”

He grinned, enjoying himself more by the moment.  Not only did Lady Katherine meet his requirements for a bride in terms of title, looks, and breeding ability, but she exceeded them.  Unlike the other milksop females he’d encountered in the past weeks, she had a mind all her own.

“Aye, you would be, but you willna.  Slapping me would cause what you highbrow folk fear above all else: a scene.”

She didn’t seem to have an answer for that.  They completed another turn, and then the waltz segued to a close.  He let his hand linger in the curve of her back a moment or so after the music stopped.  Imagining holding her thus the first time he lowered her onto their marriage bed, he withdrew and stepped back.

He led her to the edge of the floor.  “I claim the next waltz as mine whether you’ve promised it to that dolt, Dutton, or not.”  He would gladly claim the next dance as his and every one thereafter, though he didn’t think bravado alone would carry him through the complicated figures of a reel.

She opened her mouth as if to answer with some cheeky retort when her gaze snared something beyond his left shoulder.  The beguiling mischief drained from her face, a darker emotion—fear, horror—taking its place.

“No,” she whispered, and for whatever reason he didn’t think she addressed him.

He took a step toward her.  Improper though it was, he laid his hand on her arm.  “Lady Katherine, Kate. . .”

Her eyes found his.  Like a subject of mesmerism coming to from a trance, she blinked and then shook her head as if to clear it.  “Delightful though it was to have my head planted in your breastbone and your feet flattened atop mine, I cannot dance with you again.”

Just when he’d fancied she was warming to him, she turned chill as ice.  “And why is that?”

She glared up at him.  “A lady is not required to give a gentleman her reason, nor is it his right to demand one.  I bid you good evening, sir.”

Before he could think what answer to make to that, she curtsied, turned, and swept away.

*** ***