I’m madly revising the holiday novella to get it submitted in time (by July 15th) and I’ve almost reached the halfway mark. My goal is to finish this pass by Monday and then work on a brief synopsis and blurb to accompany the submission. Interested beta readers will hopefully hear from me around Monday.
Skipping ahead a bit from the last excerpt I posted for you, this snippet takes us into the “dark outlaw’s” POV that Lady Wyre briefly referenced. Yes, I know, another assassin, sigh. But this man is not Gregar, although I think the Shadowed Blood approves most highly of him. *grins*
When a man killed for money—and was damned good at his trade—his price eventually went so high that few could afford him. Luckily for Sigmund Regret, there were plenty of millionaires as long as he was willing to traverse the universe. In his one-of-a-kind mega catamaran built to cut through space like a hot knife through butter, he lived a life of luxury purchased by the blood of others.
But no luxury in this galaxy could satisfy the abominable ache of loneliness or erase the scars of his childhood. Nothing could ease that ache…except one Lady Doctor Wyre who literally held his heart in the palm of her dainty little hand.
The miserable run-down nag he’d leased from the livery stable in this equally miserable hovel of a town snorted and gave one last weak jerk on the reins, trying to go back home to its dank stable. Finally the beast surrendered to its duty with a jerky pace that jarred Sid’s teeth. With the Solstice a fortnight away, the hours of darkness seemed eternal, so the few precious hours of thin, cold sunlight would be welcomed by most. Not him. He did his best work at night, and as the sun began to peek over the horizon, he urged the horse to a shambling trot.
In the cold and dark just minutes from her home, it was easy to let fantasies fill his mind. He imagined slipping the silver and ivory-handed pistols into a chest and locking them in a dusty, forgotten place or better yet, throwing them into an Imperial bin. Removing the slim, wicked little blades he hid all over his body one by one and tossing them out into endless space. Waking up to her each morning. Watching her wide smile of pleasure when he surprised her with little gifts like tea and ribbons and frivolous silk stockings that she adored so much.
Sig had many regrets from his sordid past, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret leaving her each Solstice. Not when it meant keeping her clean of the blood on his hands or protecting her from the dozens of agents and bounty hunters constantly seeking Lord Regret. God knew she had enough danger of her own. The last thing he needed to do was drag a man into her vicinity who’d sell his own mother to the Ravens for a fraction of the coin Britannia would pay to get the great scientist back.
In the narrow alleys, darkness still cloaked the rutted, snowy path with too many shadows that might hide some fool thinking he’d be the one to snag Lord Regret, but he didn’t deviate from the shortest path toward her. This close, he could feel a frisson of energy zinging through his body to which he was normally oblivious. Fire ants crawled through his veins, driving him closer to his target. Absently, he slipped a hand beneath his coat, rubbing his breastbone, but he’d never been able to feel her treatment. Just the scar where his heart had been.
He’d never been able to decide if the tiny machines living inside him were responding to their Creator with joy, or simply feeding off his own spike of emotion as he neared her. Energy rose in his blood, as though lightning would begin arcing about him. He was tempted to simply spread his arms out wide and see if he could soar into space, riding the pulsing waves of energy.
She’d not only saved him; she’d managed to increase his very normal human gifts until he felt invincible.
Yet no matter how arrogant he might be, he was not stupid. A lifetime of protecting his own skin drove him to ride past her snug cabin on the edge of town. He hadn’t been followed, but if anyone had noticed that he always fell off the grid around the holiday season…and decided to put a few eyes and ears at the most likely locations…the last thing he wanted to do was kill a man in her house.
She’d never forgive him if the blood splattered onto her fine silks.
Shaking his head with an amused smirk twisting his lips, he dismounted in a grove of trees. Snow blanketed their branches and the ground. A great hush hung over the town, an expectant silence in the absence of the prevalent winds, a drawn breath held without release. He listened for any sound out of the ordinary, stretching his ultra-sensitive senses for any sign of pursuit or a hidden trap.
The front door of her cabin slid open and a man stomped out. Tugging on his coat while he muttered beneath his breath, he headed downtown, casting a wary glance about him. Of course he didn’t even think to look at the grove of trees on the outskirts of town; he was too worried about gossipers seeing an unwed man leaving a lady’s house in the dead of night.
Sigmund did not fail to note the state of the man’s dishabille, nor did he miss the silver star on the lapel of the man’s rebel coat. A sharp pain in his thumb made him look down at his hand. Dumfounded, he stared at the slender blade in his palm. He didn’t remember drawing one of his throwing knives.
He jerked his gaze back up to the back of the retreating man. Such a throw would be child’s play for Lord Regret and he certainly had no compunction against killing an unaware target. Lord Regret had no scruples. He had no heart, no mercy, no regret that he couldn’t laugh off or at least drink into oblivion.
So why do you wish to murder this stranger without a single coin to show for it? A sly voice whispered, mocking such a supposedly immoral and cold, unfeeling heart.
With a self-depreciating grimace, he slipped the knife back into its leather brace beneath his coat sleeve, tilted his bowler at a jauntier angle, and led his poor mount to the small shed that served as a stable when he arrived. Usually she’d prepared a spot for his horse with fresh hay and feed, for her locket warned her of his nearing vicinity, yet this time, the makeshift stall was bare. Another sign that she hadn’t any notion of his impending arrival.
Shrugging, he tossed straw down for the horse while his mind gnawed like a rat trying to escape its cage. He was much earlier than usual, thanks to the engines he’d upgraded just last month, enabling a faster, more direct jump through the galaxy. If anything could lure Lady Wyre to the dark side—touring the universe with him—he’d thought it would be the most expensive and advanced technology, which had been founded on none other than Lady Doctor Wyre’s original experiments.
If that doesn’t work, he reminded himself wryly, I have a dozen pair of pink silk stockings in the hold.
Sliding from shadow to shadow was second nature, as was slipping inside her back door without knocking. He had to know the truth. Perhaps she’d been forced to remove the locket for some reason. It had to be working, or he’d be gasping on the frozen ground, waiting for the rest of his body to die.
She sat at a plain wooden table sipping from a heavy cup much too big for her delicate hands. Candlelight glowed upon her face, soft yet regal and so damned beautiful she might have been a queen herself despite the plain, standard-issue furnishings which surrounded her. She couldn’t live lavishly and expect to avoid the gossipers, even though he knew she had enough coin to buy anything she wanted in York. She could buy the entire colony if she’d tap the funds he’d set aside for her. He knew she would have no qualms about using his blood money; no, it was her pride that objected.
Even stripped of her title and House and position in Society, every fiber of her being screamed Her Grace. How she’d been able to keep her secret on Americus this long escaped him entirely, for he could see nothing but the grand Duchess sitting among peasants.
“It’s no use,” he said in a low, deliberately Britannian drawl. “I see through your disguise.”
She stiffened but didn’t jump from her chair or whirl to face him. Instead, she set her cup down and reached for the kettle. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
As she refilled her cup, he noted that her hand trembled. He sat across from her, the spot the other man had just vacated. He dipped a finger into the still-full cup of lukewarm tea. Slipping his finger into his mouth, he watched her reaction through veiled lashes. “Your guest likes a little tea with his sugar.”
Her eyes flared wide and her hand fluttered up to wrap her fingers about the locket—his locket, the key to his heart and life. She flinched at the energy she must feel sparking inside that metal heart, yet until she’d touched it, she hadn’t noticed his approach. That told him more than any words that she’d already made her choice before he could ask the question. She’d been too distracted by this other man to notice the metallic firestorm brewing on her breast.
She’ll never sail space with me.
“You’re early, sir.” Her words rang in the small room and her nose tipped to a haughty angle. Lady Wyre made no excuses or pretended regrets, which was one of the reasons he admired her so much. That steely pride and determination would help her succeed in any endeavor, whether in surviving a reduced situation on a colony or the Queen’s wrath if she were dragged back to Londonium. “Is the device malfunctioning?”
He, too, could play the privileged lord, although that would ill serve his intentions with her, for ladies of Britannia held all the power. Such an act would immediately put him in an inferior position. He chose instead to slip on the dread role of the gentlemanly assassin, the man who both repelled and attracted her.
With a flick of his wrist, the slender blade hidden in his coat fell down into his palm. He cut a slice of bread from the untouched loaf between them. “Would you like a piece, Charlie?”
Shaking her head, she eyed the blade like a poisonous serpent had uncoiled on her table, but she made no objection to the familiarity of her nickname.
He smirked and kicked back in his chair, nibbling on the coarse bread. Without looking away from her face, he rolled the blade from finger to finger on his left hand as though he didn’t have a care in the world. “So what’s his name?”
“Who?” The word came out as a croak, so she cleared her throat. Narrowing her gaze, she hardened her voice. “Oh, I presume you saw Sheriff Masters as he left.”
Sig deliberately let his gaze roam down her body, noting the filmy lace robe and her obvious nakedness beneath. “Was he as good as me?”
As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he knew he’d made a grave error. One did not push Lady Wyre and think to sway her affection or decision. A push would simply cause her to push back harder or charge in an entirely different direction than which he’d intended.
With a lazy smile to match his, she leaned back in her chair, all her tension and haughtiness traded for indolence. “Actually, he was very good, and I did not have to tie him up first to have my way with him.”