Saturday, September 28, 2013
Snippet Saturday: Author's Choice
Snippet Saturday is the brainchild of author Lauren Dane, wherein a group of authors select thematic excerpts from their work and share them on Saturday mornings. Today is actually the last snippet Saturday, EVER! It's sad, but it's time to move on, as we've all be doing this for so many years.
In honor of the last snippet Saturday, I'm going to share something a little different, a chapter I wrote for a Regency romance contest from days of yore called Avon Fanlit. Several of the authors who won it are now big names in the romance world. Please note that I'm not one of them. This might be why.... ;)
Chapter One: Out of Time
Who knew pretending to be rich and beautiful in 1815 England could be so dangerous?
On the tail of an interstellar criminal, Stella Fraser gets sent back to Regency London with instructions to eliminate him...or else. When the Earl of Coulter claims he knows who she is, will he interfere with her mission or turn out to be her mark?
At this rate, I’d never find the bugger.
With a polite nod of my intricately coiffed head, I sidestepped another aristocratic nuisance too busy leering at my bosom to be my mark. Truth be told, I could hardly blame him. I’d leered at it, too, when I’d seen what a difference a Regency corset made in a barely B cup like mine. But that was neither here nor there, and if I couldn’t find Hongo by the end of the Alderman’s ball, I’d have to continue this torturous masquerade another night.
Regency corsets had advantages other than the obvious. Whisking behind one of the ubiquitous potted palms, I wriggled my scanner from between my breasts and read the crowd in the near vicinity. Human, human, human. No sign of the Gennite among them, though Intel assured us he was snaking his way through Regency England’s ton in search of the artifact.
Everyone who was anyone in the ton was at the Alderman’s ball. So where the frag was Hongo?
Sometimes, being a member of Earth’s Time and Artifact Retrieval Team (TART) had its disadvantages. Traveling to pre-Twentieth Century Earth was one, and infiltrating a tight society like the ton another. The identity R&D had compiled for me felt as thin as a Gennite’s excuses when some old codger started asking me about my grandfather and how his grandfather and my grandfather had been the best of chums back in the day.
By the Goddess, I was ready to find Hongo, grease his slimy butt, and hightail it back to my century. Every day I went without a sonic shower was a day too many.
“Countess Fraser, whyever are you hiding behind the decor?” My hostess, the Dowager Duchess of Alderman, sunk a claw-like hand into my arm.
“I needed a rest, your Grace. I am, ah, faint. Yes, feeling faint.” I flexed my wrist, and my scanner sprang into a reasonable replica of a fan. Though Carson in R&D had been proud of his invention, it wouldn’t fool anyone for long, which is why I kept it in my corset. “The gentlemen are surely attentive tonight.”
“My dear, it’s only to be expected. The ton has declared you an Original.” The Duchess, her bruise-colored dress rustling, half-dragged me back into the throng. Her powdered, wrinkled face looked a lot like a Gennite, so I surreptitiously scanned her with my “fan”.
“My nephew Damien is anxious to dance with you,” she said, the feathers stuck in the top of her hairdo bobbing towards me. “Whoever signed your card will be happy to relinquish his place. I insist.”
“How perfectly lovely,” I lied. No doubt he’d have sweaty palms and spots, and I’d have to grit my teeth not to drop kick him into tomorrow. Which technically I could do if I used my transport device, but I was still on probation for that mess with Elvis during the late Twentieth Century.
We bypassed a knot of gentlemen in black suits and white socks, one of them with such obviously fake calves I snickered. But then I tensed. Fakes that bulging could conceal a lot of firepower. The man wearing them brayed a nasal laugh at something one of the others had just said.
“Oh, gracious, my hem,” I said. My escorted halted, clucking her tongue.
Bending over to fiddle with my fussy, pink skirts, I waved my fan as close to the idiot’s legs as I could get. Nope, plain wood.
When I straightened, the man closest to me caught my eye and winked.
Normally, I’d have winked back because the guy was hot, but my memory implant insisted if I did I’d be branded as forward. Horrors. When some other lady cooed at the Duchess and they started gabbing, I was stuck in front of the winker with nowhere to go.
“Something in your eye?” I asked.
Cripes, he was good-looking. Starburst sexy. But it probably wasn’t a great idea to check him for STDs. I snapped my scanner closed and hid it in the folds of my dress.
Instead of answering, he captured my hostess’s hand and raised it to his lips.
“Auntie,” he said, when the Duchess stopped cooing to take a breath. “You’ve managed a regular crush, as usual.”
“Nevvie!” The Duchess patted his cheek, the large rings on her fingers glittering in the light from the chandeliers. “Not in the card room, I’m happy to see. Countess Fraser, I’d like to introduce the Earl of Coulter. Damien, Countess Fraser.”
I curtseyed, shoving the fan into the secret pocket that held my transport device. I couldn’t leave it long or they’d deactivate each other, but temporarily it would do.
“Charmed,” he said. When I rose, he kissed my hand as well.
Even through my elbow-high gloves, his touch felt hotter than it should. I nearly snatched my hand back. Gennites had a higher than human body temperature. Surely not! The old lady thought he was her nephew, and Gennites weren’t known for shifting into such...well, hunks. Their morphing skills weren’t that advanced.
When he showed no sign of releasing me, I pulled my arm. No luck. He rested his other hand atop my glove, and my fingertips pressed his palm. If he squeezed really hard, he might activate the compartments of neurogas between my fingers, which could get ugly fast. Well, not so much for me because I was immune, but a bunch of amnesiac aristocrats would be one for the history books, and thus one for Cleanup to bitch about.
Not the best way to get off probation. I let my hand go limp, hoping he’d find it uninteresting.
“The Countess has been longing to meet you,” the Duchess said to her nephew. Her eyes sparkled with avid interest as she watched the tug of war. “Do ask her to dance. She’s only newly come to town.”
Matchmaking old biddy. I smiled, showing a lot of teeth. “I am newly come to town,” I agreed. Very, very newly.
Finally, he let go of my hand and held out his arm.
“Would you care to dance?” His eyes were so dark, I couldn’t tell the iris apart from the pupil. With shiny black hair, pock-free skin, and full lips, he looked like a guy who got a lot of play.
“It’s the middle of a set,” I said, stating the obvious. Stupid. My face heated with embarrassment. This was not the time for my inner dork to assert herself.
“The end,” he corrected. The dancing couples on the floor halted, as if obeying his command. “Countess, we cannot possibly disappoint my aunt. She is our hostess.”
“You simply must dance,” the Duchess agreed. “I see your mother over there, Damien. Yoo-hoo!” My hostess, who had been so eager for my company not a minute ago, deserted me.
Did these people never tire of dancing? How could I do my job if I was hoofing it all the time? But during training R&D told me if I refused one dance, I had to refuse them all, and sometimes dancing came in handy.
The orchestra, with a flourish, struck up some violin-heavy song I thought was supposed to be a country romp. Did I know this one?
Well, Mr. Grabby’s feet would pay the price if I didn’t.
“Yes, of course,” I said. “Let us dance.”
We formed two lines, one of men and one of women. Some sort of reel, then. I could fake it, and it would mean less contact with the unsettling earl. The ladies beside me curtsied, and I dipped as quickly as possible. When I glanced up, the earl was smirking. Then we all shuffled toward our partners and linked arms for a spin.
The earl took advantage of our proximity to bend his head towards mine. He came so close, I thought he was going to kiss me, but instead he whispered, “You’re a fraud, Countess.”
My heart lurched. I stumbled. “What?”
The steps of the dance parted us, and when we rejoined, he whispered in my ear again, sending a shiver down my biotech-enhanced spine. “I know who you aren’t, traveler. What remains to be seen is who, exactly, you are.”
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