I’m a little late getting off the block today. The adopted son in law and daughter in law both moved on the same day to new houses, which caused a wee bit of chaos. Son in law had no bed so he crashed here for two nights which meant me getting up and *gasp* making breakfasts…which, for anyone who knows me…is NOT a frequent occurrence. In fact…thinking hard…I *think* the last time I made anyone breakfast was……
Anyway. *ahem*. Today’s wonderful guest is Fran Baker. Enjoy.
First, a little about me. I’m the bestselling author of nine contemporary romances and six historical romances. (Which makes me something of a genre jumper, but that’s a subject for another day.) All but four of my novels have been translated into 21 languages, the most recent being Portuguese, and it’s so much fun seeing the foreign editions on my bookshelf. Though I’ve traveled the world, I live and write just 15 miles from where I was born and less than that from where I’ll be buried.
The book I’ve chosen for today’s Sneak Peek is Miss Antiqua’s Adventure, the fourth title in my Regency-set Misses series. I had a lot of fun with this book. And I really loved that I could include a sword fight – my first but, I hope, not my last.
Briefly, Antiqua Greybill doesn’t care that the handsome stranger thinks her a lightskirt so long as he takes her with him back to England. She has a dangerous mission to complete, and nothing less than the escape of Napoleon Bonaparte depends upon the delivery of the secret papers hidden in her muff. More dangerous yet, however, are the stranger’s skillful kisses and the discovery that he is the notorious Jack Vincent – the very man she is fleeing!
The book opens in Amiens, France, where Jack Vincent has shot a man in a duel. But did he shoot the dying man whose urgent mission Antiqua Greybill has just agreed to complete? And how will she get back to her beloved England if she doesn’t go with this libertine?
Enjoy this excerpt from Miss Antiqua’s Adventure:
A door opened behind her. She spun guiltily about. Across the narrow width of the corridor stood a man wearing a many-caped greatcoat and black pantaloons. The faint light of the hall lantern haloed him like some dark angel.
Eyes bluer than the Thames in June burned from a face that might have been carved from stone. His hair was more black than brown, his brows equally dark, and his nose was high-bridged above a mouth that promised either cruelty or intense sexuality. Or both. That thought made her throat go dry.
Folding his arms over his chest, the stranger leaned his shoulder against the door frame, apparently disposed to remain staring at this unexpected petite vision with the shapely figure curving only where it ought. Antiqua read the insult in the gaze arrogantly raking over her, and a fierce flush spread across her cheeks. Still, she stood her ground, enduring his stare and trying to face him down, despite the certain knowledge that she was doomed to failure.
His bold scrutiny made her acutely and uncomfortably aware of the way in which waves of thick chestnut hair framed her face in abandoned dishevelment. She knew a wish that she had had time to dress properly and could only hope he had not noted the state of disarray of her attire. That hope died as a wickedly suggestive smile touched his lips.
“It appears monsieur le tuteur has spent a more pleasant evening than I,” he observed in flawless French.
The nature of his comment passed unnoticed for Antiqua’s gaze had traveled to the huge servant standing behind the presumptuous man. Her eyes widened as she saw he carried a pair of portmanteaux in each hand. This man was leaving the hotel! Even should he be traveling on to Paris, it would be better, far better, than to remain in Amiens. She realized instantly that this was a gift from Providence, and she did not intend to let it slip past her.
Her attention returned to the dark-clad man. “Oh, please, monsieur, are you leaving Amiens?” she asked in passable French.
Monsieur saw a pair of enormous velvet brown eyes turned upward in mute appeal. Ignoring the urgent plea in those lovely eyes, he lowered his gaze to her full red lips, lips which bespoke a passionate promise, then lower still to the gentle swell beneath the crumpled gown. She stirred nervously under his study, and he caught the wisp of honeysuckle scent.
“Ah . . . oui, mademoiselle,” he replied with a slight quirk of those sensuous lips. “May I perhaps be of some service?”
The tone was insolent. His eyes were those of a predator as they fixed upon the unbuttoned neck of her gown. She felt branded where his cool gaze raked across the creamy hint of her breasts. Blushing more keenly still, Antiqua forced herself to remain calm. Clearly, his behavior was an insult. Under ordinary circumstances she would have taken offense. But circumstances were far from ordinary. This was a matter of life and death. The information which had cost Thomas Allen his life made it imperative that she leave Amiens without delay. She could not afford to spurn such an opportunity.
With a halting effort, she answered, “Yes. That is, I should like to go with you.”
“Should you indeed?” A tiny ripple of sarcasm ran through his question.
“Sir, I do not think—” began the manservant, to be silenced with a quelling look.
“I—I would gladly pay for the journey, monsieur,” she stammered. “I’ve not much money, but—”
“Ma chérie, there is no need. I should be delighted to take you up,” he drawled.
He straightened and extended a hand. Antiqua stared at it in horror. Undoubtedly, Monsieur meant far more than a mere insult. She opened her mouth to put him firmly in his place when he added in a drowsy voice, “We are bound for Calais, but it shall be my pleasure to convey you wherever you wish to go.”
At the magic mention of Calais, all thought of informing Monsieur soundly that she would rather walk than accept such an offer evaporated. To be taken as far as Calais! Nothing could be more perfect. If the security of England, not to mention the whole of Europe, rested upon her having to masquerade briefly as a member of the muslin set, then Antiqua Greybill was prepared to make the sacrifice.
“Merci, Monsieur. Calais is precisely where I wish to go. It will take me but a moment to collect my things.” She turned toward the stair.
The gentleman’s hand remained outstretched. “Come. My man will see to your things.”
“But—but I need my cloak—”
“You shall have mine, ma chérie.” So saying, he removed his coat and threw it over her shoulders, ignoring the reproachful glare of his servant as he wrapped her in its heavy warmth.
Antiqua had no choice. To demur further could only annoy him and if he chose not to take her with him, she had no idea what she could do. The way to Paris had been paid by her Tante Yvonne and Antiqua knew the meager sum reposing in her reticule would not get her beyond the first post-stop. She therefore surrendered her hand into Monsieur’s keeping.
His touch, like his manner, was cool. She could not understand the surge of warmth which coursed through her. She stared at her hand within his, as if it might explain her odd reaction.
Outside the brisk night air rushed at her and the bright full moon cast spectral shadows in unearthly array. Antiqua pushed her hair back out of her eyes with her free hand as she hurried to keep pace with her—what, benefactor or captor? Not for the first time, she wondered if she were not actually still lying upon her poster bed and this was some hideous dream from which she could not awaken.
She surreptitiously examined the profile just above her head. It was an aristocratic profile, and like his clothes, his stance, his very air, it proclaimed wealth and breeding and the arrogance that came with same. Though his clasp was light, a virile strength lay beneath his fingertips and she unreasonably wished she could let this man go on to Calais without her.
Two large traveling carriages stood waiting, along with what seemed to her to be a small army of servants. If any of these were surprised that Monsieur had appeared with a young lady, they were too well-trained to show it. Nonetheless, Antiqua felt grateful for the loan of Monsieur’s coat, and sank her head as deeply into the folds of the capes as possible as she was guided toward the first of the luxurious coaches. She hoped the valet would not be long in following with Lucy, for she was decidedly uncomfortable alone with the aloof, yet somehow arousing, gentleman. He handed her up into the carriage, then climbed in lithely behind her. The door closed and instantly the vehicle lurched forward, causing his cloak to slip from her shoulders.
“Monsieur!” Antiqua cried in alarm. “We cannot leave! My—my clothes—my maid—”
“You must learn, my dear, to have more faith in Fawkes,” he said as he calmly repossessed himself of her hand in a grip hard as iron, but much more pleasant. “He shall attend to it, I assure you.”
He had spoken in English even more impeccable than his perfect French. Antiqua turned her wide brown eyes directly upon him. “But you’re not French” she accused.
“Ah . . . no,” he admitted. “I am English. I did not think I could bear your—forgive me, dear heart—your wretched attempts at French any longer.”
“I have been told, sir, that my French is very creditable,” she said coldly.
“Whoever told you so, sweeting, was being kind. Monsieur le tuteur, perhaps?”
The shadows hid his expression, but the husky depth of this last remark brought Antiqua to a renewed realization of the danger of her situation. Her stomach began to churn with a sinking dread. She tried to regain her hand.
She was unsuccessful. With a mocking smile, he brought her unwilling hand to his lips. He lightly stroked her fingertips, sending curious tingles up her arm, then turned her hand and touched the center of her palm with his lips.
Her body quivered. The intimacy was oddly thrilling. Fighting this, she focused her mind on business. “Do you intend to travel on to England, sir?”
“You are shivering, my little one. I think perhaps you need warming.” He moved closer.
Her dress rustled furtively as she tried to scoot away from him without any overt fleeing gestures. “But—but England? Are you going there?”
“And if I am?” he asked in a low voice that seemed to resonate deep inside her.
Her heart thudded erratically as she watched his well-toned muscles ripple beneath the tight pantaloons when he moved closer still. “C-could I—I go with you?”
“Ah . . . now that would, of course, depend.”
“On tonight, velvet-eyes . . .”