Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Two months to release day...and an excerpt!
The Sergeant's Lady hits the virtual bookshelves two months from today...and in honor of that milestone, I'm posting an excerpt!
It's from Chapter 5, in the aftermath of my hero and heroine's first kiss:
The next morning they prepared to march while dawn was but a faint hope of light. As teamsters hitched their oxen and soldiers bustled about, Anna waited by a wagon, conversing politely with one of the wounded, an artillery lieutenant she had met several months ago in winter quarters.
Footsteps approached behind her, a tread already familiar. “Mrs. Arrington, ma’am?”
Never before had she heard Sergeant Atkins sound so tentative. She turned to face him, straightening her bonnet and smoothing her dress. “Yes, Sergeant?”
“May I have a word with you, if you please?”
“Of course.” She swallowed and forced a smile. “Lieutenant Ellis, if you’ll excuse me.”
He smiled back, inoffensively flirtatious. “As long as you promise to visit me again soon.”
She agreed and followed Sergeant Atkins to the edge of the rough road. They were in plain sight of the hurrying soldiers, teamsters and orderlies, but in the dim light and bustle of preparation, they were inconspicuous.
For a moment they surveyed each other in strained silence. There was something different about him. It puzzled her briefly, but then she realized it was his uniform. She’d never seen him look so correct before. His green jacket was buttoned all the way up to his throat where his black stock was neatly fastened. That distracting saber scar of his, which last night she had imagined tracing with her tongue, was hidden. No bare head or jaunty foraging cap today; instead he wore his tall shako. Even his shoes looked as though he’d given them a polish, and his red-and-black sash—like his stripes, a mark of his rank—was carefully knotted and settled just above his lean hips with geometric precision. A lump formed in her throat. He looked like a model for a toy soldier.
He stared past her. “Mrs. Arrington, ma’am,” he said with the air of a rehearsed speech, “I owe you an apology for my behavior last night. I took advantage of you. I’m ashamed of it, and it won’t happen again.”
“Don’t apologize,” she blurted. How could he be the one apologizing when it was her fault? Their eyes met, and she swallowed hard. She’d never seen more beautiful eyes on a man, so golden and intent.
He narrowed them. “But I kissed you. I had no right—”
Her gaze dropped to his lips. “I kissed you back,” she murmured, then wished the words unsaid. He must realize she had hardly been a passive recipient of his attentions, but she cursed her wayward tongue for acknowledging it so openly.
His parade-ground posture relaxed a trifle, and he was recognizably her Sergeant Atkins again. She released the breath she hadn’t meant to hold. But he shook his head. “We can’t let it happen again.”
She closed her eyes. “I know.” She looked at him again and forced herself to speak in a level voice. “But do not insult me by apologizing for something that was as much my doing as yours. I wish it hadn’t happened, because I wanted you for my friend on this journey, and now—” she spread her hands, “—it’s impossible. I’m sorry.”
He smiled, achingly wistful. “If I’m not allowed to apologize, neither are you.”
“That wasn’t an apology. That was regret.”
“Oh.” Abruptly his eyes widened, his nostrils flared slightly, and he turned stiff and correct again. “Lieutenant Montmorency.”
Anna whirled around to discover the young officer watching them from no more than four feet away, his expression hovering between accusation and bewilderment.
“Has Sergeant Atkins been disturbing you, ma’am?” he asked.
Anna thought quickly. What explanation could she give for the inappropriate familiarity that had doubtless been obvious to this interloper? “Not at all, Lieutenant,” she said. “He only asked me if I could think of anything to make the journey easier for Juana, since it is so soon after her confinement.” She turned back to Sergeant Atkins and tried to infuse her voice with both the warmth of friendship and the coolness of superior rank. “And I shall be glad to do anything I can.”
Something flickered in his eyes—amusement? Admiration? “Thank you, ma’am. You’re very kind.”
“Very well, then. Sergeant, Lieutenant, I bid you good morning.” She walked slowly toward her donkey, her head held high, her mind in a whirl.
Copyright 2010 by Susanna Fraser
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.