It's national novel writing month, I just realized. I'm still too drained, too exhausted and overwhelmed with hurricane damage to write. So I'm cheating. Here's an excerpt of my upcoming Egyptian historical, The Panther & the Pyramid. Maybe I'll just pretend I wrote it this month? This is the scene after they become lovers, anonymously, in a whorehouse. The first chapter is posted on my website.
The Panther & the Pyramid, copyright 2005 by Bonnie Vanak
He arrived late, as all expected of his title. Inside, he remained watchful for a red-headed nobleman.
Like a panther, he prowled the perimeter of the ballroom. Not listening to the feminine whispers fluttering in his wake. Ignoring the admiring stares and hastily dropped curtsys as he approached. As always, he lightly clasped his white dancing gloves. Rarely did he dance, and when he did, it was with a select few who caught his interest. Graham did not want to encourage speculation as to the possibility of a future bride.
Last year, his brother had consorted with these same people. Kenneth had come before them with his Egyptian accent and his Egyptian past. Money and rank gained him acceptance. Still, he stood out like a pyramid in the yellow London fog. A savage, they had thought of him.
Graham did not stand out. He blended, his accent nearly gone, his habits very English. He was respected as one of them, thought to have been raised by a proper English couple.
The truth would rock society back on their delicate heels. Graham had been captured by a warrior Egyptian tribe and learned to kill to survive. He was far more savage than his brother.
Faces swam before him in a blurred haze. Detached, he dropped a smile, making polite small talk and moving on. Tonight, his restlessness was too large to be temporarily caged by social chatting.
His eyes scanned the ballroom for a flash of red hair. He saw none. Until he turned and his gaze lighted upon a tall mass of flame gold curls. His heart raced.
It was her.
He spotted her across the crush of people. She stood out like a living flame on a blackened horizon. Graham could not breathe. He could not think, nor act, but simply stand, lips parted.
The red hair mesmerized him. He had not seen the full glory of those tresses, nor anticipated how the strands would wind around his heart, like a spider’s sticky silk.
He remembered her, naked before him. Skin to skin. Sweat slicking their bodies as they strained against each other. Strangers forging a brief bond in the flesh.
Shared passions. Hidden secrets.
Self-discipline and control shattered like brittle glass. Mesmerized, Graham began striding forward, mindless of the fawning stares cast his way.
Barely six feet away, he stopped. Daring her to see him.
She turned. Their gazes caught and held.
They could have been the only two people present.
Intense hunger filled him. Like an opium addict’s deep craving, it took hold with steely claws.
Graham stared, remembering the sweetness and hot passion in her arms.
He wanted to hold her in his arms again, even for a mere dance. She was his worst nightmare. And yet he could not help wanting her, again.
Though his instincts screamed a protest, his senses urged him to stop, turn and leave behind the sweetness of last night, he paid no heed. Graham, the aloof duke who rarely danced, tugged on his white dancing gloves, making his intentions perfectly clear.
“Look, the Duke of Caldwell. How striking he is,” Mary murmured.
Breath caught in Jillian’s throat. The Duke of Caldwell? She put a trembling hand to her coiled hair.
Graham. Her lover.
Clad in elegant black evening dress, he cut a regal, imposing figure. Women pivoted to stare. Ivory and lace fans waved madly as erratic butterflies. Whispers drifted through the enormous ballroom like mist. Several pairs of admiring eyes affixed to him as he wound his way through the ballroom. Young girls preened. Older women simpered.
Jillian simply stood motionless. Her heart thudded an erratic beat against her chest.
She remembered him in the male glory of his nudity. Powerful muscles sculpting his shoulders, the clean lines of long bones and hard flesh.
His body covered now in severe black silk, white waistcoat and tie. Thick ebony hair swept across his forehead. Those piercing, dark eyes remained guarded in their gaze.
Regarding her across the floor as he advanced. His loose-limbed, graceful stride reminded her of a powerful jungle cat.
The fleeting image of a leopard came to mind. A black leopard, sleek in formal wear, stalking prey. Her.
Jillian braced herself, forced a smile to her face.
An amazing change came over the matrons as he approached. They twittered and curtseyed, and a distant sparkle lit their eyes. When he stood silently before her, she automatically glanced at her aunt. Aunt Mary’s stern look softened. She swept him an elegant curtsy.
“Your Grace. How good to see you again. It was indeed a pleasure meeting you at the Knightsbridges’ assembly.”
Graham nodded, his eyes searching Jillian’s face. “Mrs. Huntington, may I have the acquaintance of your charge?”
His voice was smooth and deep, the burn of whiskey sliding down a parched throat. The burn of whiskers rasping across the tender flesh of her throat, as heated as his kisses…
Jillian automatically put a gloved hand to her flushed neck in remembrance. Her aunt’s gaze riveted to Jillian. “Your Grace, Lady Jillian Stranton, daughter of the earl of Stranton. My niece. Lady Jillian, His Grace, the Duke of Caldwell.”
By rote, she sank into a deep curtsy, knees wobbling so precariously it was a marvel she didn’t collapse upon her skirts. Graham nodded toward her dance card, the short pencil dangling from it.
“May I have the pleasure of the next waltz?” he asked.
Her dry lips moved. Bernard had requested that one. “I’m afraid the next dance is taken, Your Grace.”
“Then I must find one that is available.”
Graham picked up her dance card, penciled in his name. His dark, knowing gaze buried into hers. He dropped the card, gently grazing her gloved wrist. Heat blazed between them, a living, writhing thing. The pencil swayed from her trembling wrist.
“Until then,” he murmured.With a shaking hand, Jillian scanned the card. The dance right after Bernard’s. His.