My dears, I’m here, I’m alive, and it’s Teaser Tuesday!!! Even better we’re back with ALBTALBS superstar Theresa Romain! Yay exclusive excerpts, and double yay Pygmalion! I’m such a classics geek and … just *bounce* <3
Limecello, thank you for letting me join you and the ALBALBS crowd for Teaser Tuesday. Today I’m sharing an exclusive excerpt from my next historical romance, To Charm a Naughty Countess (coming May 6!). This is a Pygmalion story featuring a rakish widowed countess and a brilliant, awkward duke. Here’s the back cover blurb:
Brilliant but rumored mad, Michael Layward, the impoverished Duke of Wyverne, has no success courting heiresses until widowed Lady Stratton takes up his cause–after first refusing his suit.
WIN LONDON’S MOST POWERFUL COUNTESS?
Caroline Graves, the popular Countess of Stratton, sits alone at the pinnacle of London society and has vowed never to remarry. When Michael–her counterpart in an old scandal–returns to town after a long absence, she finds herself as enthralled with him as ever. As she guides the anxiety-ridden duke through the trials of society, Caroline realizes that she’s lost her heart . But if she gives herself to the only man she’s ever loved, she’ll lose the hard-won independence she prizes above all.
This excerpt takes place after Michael’s first few attempts at finding a bride, which go badly. Verrrry badly. So badly that Caroline summons him to her home for a bit of, er, supplementary instruction in society’s ways.
It’s totally professional. Really. I promise.
“Let us try again, then, and we will seek a kernel of pleasure in the everyday. You have your introduction in a moderate discussion of the weather.”
Michael sighed. “Yes. And no experiments.”
“Quite right. What next should we vanquish, to increase your enjoyment of London life?”
The answer came to mind at once. “Dancing. I know it is an inextricable part of courtship, though it is really nothing but an excuse for touching a lot of attractive strangers.”
“And unattractive ones too. Sadly.” Caroline dusted biscuit crumbs from her fingertips. “I suspect you’re not the only man in London who has qualms about dancing. It is one of the most complex of our rituals, you know. Every step heavy with meaning, every gesture holding import.”
“That is not a helpful observation.” Michael’s right leg began to bounce, agitated. “I thought dancing was intended to be diverting, but where is the diversion if every dance holds more significance than the average speech before Parliament?”
“This.” Before he understood her meaning, she rose from her seat to flatten a palm on his chest. His heart thumped for her notice, but then her head bent close to his, and he felt the warmth of her breath on his ear. “This, Michael.”
His scalp prickled; he had no idea whether his heart continued to beat. He only felt, wanted, craved as she took his hands, pulled him to his feet, then slid his hands around the curve of her waist.
His fingers flexed. “The sphere is no longer my favorite shape.”
“You have a favorite shape?” She paused. “Never mind. Of course you do. Might I hope your favorite number is three? We’re going to waltz.”
“Here. Now. One, two, three,” she murmured. Then she tugged at his shoulders, humming tunelessly. His feet followed as they were bid, at first stumbling until he seized upon the pattern of the steps. Ticking off circle after circle, transporting him ever onward, to a place that was entirely distant from a morning room on a noisy street in London. They turned, silent and slow, deliberate as arithmetic, and there was nothing but the sum of their parts. Body and soul and the sweet feeling of Caroline in his arms.
They fit together, hands and bodies, in every way. Two gears from the same wondrous machine, made to work together.
The tuneless scratch of her hum died away, leaving them alone in a roaring silence.
He had forgotten his body for a few minutes—a blessed gift. Now that it pressed upon his notice again, it was not as usual. Every fiber of his form felt taut, but the feeling was pure and bright, like feeling the sun on his skin for the first time after a long winter.
At long last, he thought as he bent his head.
She slid her hands to his face, then turned her head to breathe his name in his ear. “Michael. This. Let me show you the pleasure in it.”
He had never known an ear was useful for anything but hearing. Yet as she breathed in it—as he could almost feel her lips upon its sensitive folds—pleasure arrowed through his body, sudden and startling.
Surely she could feel his arousal through their clothing. Would she pull away? But no, she caught his shoulders again and pulled him closer.
His hands framed her face, then tangled in her coiled hair. Delicately, he brushed her lips with his. So soft. So heated. She gave a little sigh and slid her arms down to encircle him.
Why—she was embracing him.
He had not been embraced since the last time he surrendered himself to her touch.
Of reflex, he waited for the gut punch of chilly tension, the intrusive pounding of his headache. But she tugged his head downward, and her hot tongue found the rim of his ear, and his every rivet simply popped. He was steam, mindless and formless and boiling, and dimly he heard himself moan as she gently nipped his earlobe.
He caught her mouth again, smothering it with his own, wanting to consume their every sound of need. This was a power both unprecedented and exhilarating: to please a woman with his body. He had never done such a thing before, never been so close or so passionate.
But his own flesh understood things darker and deeper and hotter than anything Michael had ever studied in a book. He knew just how to press back when Caroline rubbed against him. He knew how to match her mouth with his, how to invite the delicious torment of her tongue. The taste of her was indefinable, like heat itself, and he sipped at it to understand it more fully. There was no understanding it, though, none at all. It was wildness for its own sake, and it was marvelous.
His hands had their own will, stroking her back and pulling her more firmly against his body. He wanted her inside him; he wanted to be inside her. The touch of her was magical, more intoxicating than brandy could possibly be.
No wonder he had resisted such closeness. It was unmaking him. He was drunk on it, and the realization made him shudder with thrilling force. This, this was why people danced and loved, and why they offered one another night after night of pleasure.
But pleasure would not save Wyverne.
The thought was as heavy and painful as hitting his thumb with a hammer.
There was no reason to dance with Caroline, or to kiss her. The solution to his problems was the prosaic circle of a guinea, not the sinuous curve of the woman in his arms.
He let his arms sink to his sides. They felt as weighty as if all the burdens of the world had been placed on them.
Which was a ludicrous overstatement. It wasn’t the world. It was merely eighty thousand acres of it, scattered far away and sere, needing him more than he could ever need anything or anyone.
“I…” He began, but had nothing to say next.
That single syllable was enough, though. He could almost hear the fragile intimacy shatter as Caroline stepped away from him.
“I can do without pleasure,” he made himself say. “It is not a requirement. Only money is a requirement.”
“I am sorry to hear you say that.” She was still too close to him, close enough to touch, yet she did not touch him again. “For I think an appreciation of pleasure would help you greatly in your cause. Without feeling it, you can never give it.”
For more info about To Charm a Naughty Countess and to read chapter 1, please visit my site here.
And of course we’re going to have a giveaway, too! To Charm a Naughty Countess is the second book in my Matchmaker trilogy. I’ll give away a print or ebook (Kindle or Nook) copy of the first Matchmaker romance, It Takes Two to Tangle, to one random commenter on this post. Winner’s choice of format; open internationally.
For your comments, feel free to ask me something about To Charm a Naughty Countess—or let me know your favorite shape, or whether you know how to waltz, or if you’re any better at humming than Caroline is, or if you’ve got biscuit crumbs on your fingers like her. Really, it’s all good. Thanks!
Did you all read the additional excerpt?! And you can pre-order a copy here. 😉