In celebration of historical releases from Forever, they set up a group blog tour of their authors. The task for the author was to create a 500-600 word short based on the criteria set out by the author’s fans. We published Eileen Dreyer’s piece last time and requested Jennifer Haymore for this go around.
Her short had to include the following elements:
- Hair color - Reddish-brown hair, the color of mahogany
- Social status - Dishonored heiress
- Family situation - It’s complicated
- Hero’s archétype - Rake
- Scene takes place in - The cloakroom
Garrett Wayland slipped into the coatroom behind her. Concealing himself between a glossy ermine cloak and a woolen overcoat that smelled of wet cat, he watched as she sat on the floor, propped her diary on her knees, and began to write.
Her beauty twisted his gut. The meager light danced over her thick mahogany hair, enhancing endless shades of red, gold, and brown. A furrow dug between her brows as she chewed on the top of her pencil, a gesture he found exceedingly charming. The curve of her bosom, clad in ivory silk, contrasted against the darkness of the wall behind her, making his skin prickle with the urge to touch her.
It had been over a month since he’d been this close to her. He’d thought to protect her by staying away, but that had been a mistake.
He stepped forward, clearing his throat softly. “Miss Stratton.”
She glanced up, unsurprised, as if encountering him in an abandoned cloakroom in the middle of a theatrical performance was the most natural thing in the world. She inclined her head in greeting. “Mr. Wayland.”
“I see you’ve given up on The Man Hater. In the middle of act two, no less. And you chose the cloakroom as your escape.” He glanced around the tiny room, lit only by a lamp on its lowest setting on the miniature desk at the entrance, and crowded with hanging cloaks, coats, capes, and various other coverings.
Her lips twisted. “It is a most comfortable cloakroom. Far more comfortable than my father’s box.”
He understood. Even from across the theater, the tension had prickled across his skin. People had looked down their noses at her, cutting her. It had infuriated him.
Tonight was her first public appearance in the six weeks following the Stratton Family Scandals. Her father had come through unscathed, despite being caught in bed by his third wife with three mistresses and having an unprecedented three CrimCon proceedings filed against him by three cuckolded husbands.
Alicia, however, was not so fortunate. The vultures at Almack’s had caught her in a lip-lock with a man—Garrett, to be specific—and her reputation had been shredded. It hadn’t been their first kiss; it had been their calamitous kiss. Not necessarily for Garrett, but what the ton saw as a bit of sport for a rake like him meant dishonor and disaster to Alicia. He had watched in growing disgust as society had swooped in and attempted to peck away her spirit.
It hadn’t succeeded.
“You’re not a man-hater, then?” he asked, half in jest.
She shrugged. “I am told I should be.”
“My stepmother. She assures me that none of you are to be trusted.”
“Do you agree?”
Gripping her diary in one hand, Alicia rose gracefully to her feet. “Should I?”
Truthfully, he’d never given any woman a reason to trust him. But damned if he didn’t want this one to trust him. Damned if he didn’t want to give her a reason. A hundred reasons.
Loyalty…devotion…honor…love. All alien ideas to him. But as she stepped closer, he breathed in her rosewater-tinged femininity and those concepts swam within him, circling like sharks until he was sure they’d devour him.
Crazily, he wanted to be devoured.
“Can you be trusted, Mr. Wayland?” She gazed up at him with golden-flecked brown eyes that peeled away the rakish skin that had protected him for so long and exposed the man underneath.
The man who was in love with her.
“Yes. I can be trusted.” The words emerged in a low rasp.
She opened her diary and held it out to him. The page contained three sentences:
I saw him in his box tonight.
I wonder if he’ll follow me to the cloakroom.
I hope he does.
The diary slipped from her fingers and landed on the floor with a soft thud. She wrapped her arms around his neck, brought his mouth down to hers, and her fresh taste burst over his lips. Soft but insistent, sweet but erotic, a challenge and a surrender. The kiss altered his universe. It settled all those odd and confusing concepts prowling about within him, and he found peace.
It was time—past time—he did what was right. Not only because honor compelled him. But this was what he wanted. What he needed. Beyond any desire or need he’d ever experienced in his meaningless existence.
Alicia brought him meaning. She brought him clarity. She’d become everything to him.
When the kiss ended, he stood there, his body and mind reeling, his eyes squeezed shut. Then he whispered, his voice hoarse with emotion, “Marry me, Alicia.”
He opened his eyes.
But she…and her diary…were gone.