For those of you who have been waiting patiently (or impatiently in some cases), here is a new sneak-peek excerpt from book two, Courting the Dragon.
As a reminder, anything posted is a draft, and therefore could be modified in the final published version. Please remember that this is my work, and I worked hard on it. Do not copy without expressed, written permission.
The ballroom was a masterpiece of marble and granite. The vaulted ceilings, two stories high, glowed with reflected candlelight and reverberated with music and laughter. Between the enormous columns that held the ceiling aloft, tall windows and doors of expensive glass ringed three sides of the expansive room. Most of the doors, which led out into a private section of the palace grounds’ extensive gardens, were thrown wide open to relieve the oppressive heat of so many bodies.
Penelope had tried to find a quiet section of the garden to hole up in, thinking the outdoors would likely be deserted when all the excitement was inside. Most of the ladies wanted to be on the dance floor under the golden lights where their fancy dresses would be on display. Most of the male dandies weren’t much better, she admitted to herself ruefully.
Alas, that was not the case. The garden was doing an amazingly brisk business this evening as couples slipped off to find some space to get more intimately acquainted. After stumbling upon her third partially dressed pair of the evening, Penelope made her way back to the ballroom. Better to suffer the presence of her suitors than to feel the urge to scoop her own eyeballs out with a soup spoon. Or so she thought. She hadn’t taken three steps through the doors before two young men were asking her to dance. She declined demurely, but they followed her anyhow. She’d spent the better part of the last hour trying to rid herself of the hangers-on but had succeeded only in gaining a third.
A fourth voice interrupted the young lordlings’ chatter.
“May I have this dance, Your Highness?”
All three of her suitors rounded on the interloper with expressions of indignation, but Penelope smiled gratefully at him and held out her hand.
“I would be delighted, Your Grace.”
Salarath, in his Stellan persona, swept Penelope onto the dance floor and safely away from the stunned gazes of her admirers.
“Thank you,” she murmured as soon as they were out of earshot. The music was a pleasant dance of moderate speed that allowed for discussion and didn’t require Salarath to hold her too close. Still, a shiver of pleasure ran up her spine when his warm hand rested on her back.
“You looked like you could use a little help.”
“They are troublesome,” she admitted. “Since they know they have Father’s blessing they’re quite bold.”
“Who can blame them?” He paused to spin her around, continuing once she was back within his embrace. “It’s not every day they have a chance at the most beautiful woman in the kingdom.”
“Careful,” Penelope warned, a little smile on her lips. “It wouldn’t do for the Wizard Lord Stellan, Duke of Steelbourgh to be caught making lecherous advances on his goddaughter.”
Salarath snorted. “Perhaps I should have come as Stefan.”
“Father really would have turned you out.”
Warning: This does contain some minor spoilers. If you don’t want any part of the story spoiled, do not read any further.
The wizard’s expression blanked at the mention of King Hulbyrd.
“Penelope, I think you need to be careful around your father.”
“You know he would never hurt me. He may be misguided, but he means well.”
Salarath shook his head. His expression was troubled. “There’s a spell aura around him. I’m not quite sure what it means, but I can tell you that it isn’t his magic causing it. I don’t think he’s even aware of it.”
“You mean someone could be manipulating him?”
Before Salarath could answer, he felt a sharp tap on his shoulder.
“May I cut in?”
Penelope felt Salarath’s arm tightened around her ever so briefly before releasing her. Leander and the wizard bowed graciously to one another, but Penelope could feel the thinly veiled dislike behind Salarath’s magnanimous smile. Leander’s hand replaced Salarath’s at her waist, but before he could whirl her away, the wizard leaned in so just the two of them could hear his next words.
“You hurt my goddaughter and I’ll make you wish you were dead.”
Threat delivered, the wizard pulled away, nostrils flaring. He swept through the crowd with dignity, disappearing into the press of people. Leander, unperturbed, started Penelope off into the steps of the dance.
Salarath’s nose twitched with the lingering scent of the lordling’s cologne. Expensive, but tacky. Still, there were no odors on the dandy’s person that suggested any arcane dabbling, which made him an unlikely suspect in what was going on in the palace. If Salarath was honest with himself, Teslero was a suspect simply because Salarath really wanted him to be involved, and that was just jealousy talking. It was time to start confronting the real villain. There were only three other magic users in the vicinity that Salarath knew of, and since two of them were the victims, that only left one suspect.