Copyright 2011 L.K. Rigel
This is the scene where the heroine Lilith first meets the hero Cade.
“Give me your hand.”
The deep, self-confident voice sent a flutter of excitement through Lilith’s solar plexus. A man emerged from the mist and steam, his gloved hand outstretched. He was tall and red and big-boned. His ruddy complexion looked like it had rebelled once but had given up the fight. He had shaggy chestnut hair and green eyes that hinted of dangerous sex.
“Lilith Evergreen, I presume?” The West Country accent was tinged with humor.
His face was rough and unhandsome. His voice was jagged like a demon lover’s – low and crushed velvety, promising things no good woman should wish for.
He tipped his moss green hat, a Mad Hatter’s bell crown topper, and bowed with a flourish. “Cade Bausiney, tour guide extraordinaire. Ian has commandeered my rig to haul the lot of you to the Tragic Fall.”
“Very generous of you to comply.”
“I thought so.”
His duster reached mid calf, and his long scarf was also the color of dark moss, identical to the one Marion had been knitting. Again he offered his gloved hand. Lilith’s hand disappeared in his, so tiny and pink in its little glove. Beside him, she felt downright delicate.
A hot current of desire zapped through her as he handed her down. Their eyes met. She was sure he’d felt it too. She pulled her hand away – or maybe he’d dropped it. The urge to grab this man, this stranger, was almost overwhelming. It was as if she’d become a different person. She wanted to kiss him, tear his clothes off and pull him inside her.
She looked around the platform, needing desperately to think of anything else.
Tintagos Halt consisted of an old stone building anchored to a wide wood platform. A rusting iron bench at one end looked unused for a generation. Garish posters covered the ancient building’s walls. You Might Be Next! Visit Famous Tintagos Castle! Who Will Be Chosen? A Once in a Lifetime Event!
Bausiney brushed his hand over Lilith’s upper arm. He wrinkled his nose at her bare skin and said, “Dumnos is a land of mist and rain. We put so much effort into our literature, and no one reads it.”
One side of his mouth curved down. She must have imagined that he had felt the same bizarre heat. He draped his scarf around her, and she caught her breath as he gave her a slight squeeze and said, “That’s better now.”
The steam whistle blasted the air, as startling as a physical assault. She and Bausiney jammed their hands over their ears until it stopped. Fortunately, the shock of the blast drove away Lilith’s sex-fiendishness.
“It’s this way,” Bausiney said.
At the end of the platform the footman loaded luggage into a waiting horse-drawn carriage. His ornate uniform made more sense now, all part of the show. The vehicle was as white as Cinderella’s coach with polished brass fixtures and a gold coronet with pearls and strawberry leaves painted on the door. The top was down, and Marion and Ian were seated inside with the laptop ladies. All of them had wool throws over their legs.
“This is Bella and Cammy.” Marion handed throws to Lilith and Bausiney. “Sisters from Maidstone. They’re stopping at the Tragic Fall for the Handover.”
Lilith sat down on the same side as Bella, the older of the two. If they’d been named in honor of Mr. Trollope’s French sisters – a mean trick by a parent – they’d rebelled against the author’s description. The younger Cammy appeared shy and sweet. Bella regarded Lilith with a distinctly sour expression and a furrow between her eyebrows.
Bausiney eased in between Lilith and Bella. He pushed his hat back and stretched his arms over the back of the seat with a happy grin. He looked less the Mad Hatter and more a glam rocker from the ‘80s, sans mascara.
The footman climbed up to the driver’s perch. “Walk on,” the driver said to the horses.
It felt like being in a story out of Jane Austen – for the first minute. In the next five they hit three ruts in the dirt road, throwing the passengers against each other. This trip was going to be more picturesque than comfortable.
The one-lane road from Tintagos Halt down to Tintagos Village wound down a small hill to a village at the edge of the sea. Dusk had only begun. A few lamps came on in the cottages and shops spread over the few streets, but there was plenty of natural light left in the day.
“It gets dark later here,” Lilith said absently. Bella and Cammy stared as if she’d said a green cow is dancing on the fencepost. Lilith decided they were the very image of Trollope’s French girls.
Bausiney said, “That’s because we’re at higher latitude than you’re used to.” Just then the carriage hit another rut, and the jolt threw Lilith against him.
The desire returned, hot and bittersweet. She had the feeling she knew him, knew his body, remembered it, wanted to press closer, to feel his arms around her. His chest was so broad, his eyes so … actually, he looked happy. Happy to find her practically in his lap.
“Hello there.” The corners of his mouth twitched with ironic amusement.
She pulled away and closed her eyes to concentrate on her breath. Her heart raced. Her body was on fire. This made no sense. She wasn’t even attracted to the great ruddy hulk. Despite the electric sizzle in his touch. She wasn’t attracted to anybody. Not now. She doubted her feelings for Greg – now. But she had believed she loved him. Now she didn’t trust herself.
Gradually the world came into better focus. Seagulls screamed over the bay. Horses’ hooves clump-clumped on soft dirt. Marion chattered with Ian about Sharon. Lilith opened her eyes. No one had noticed.
She could feel Bausiney watching, but if she looked at him she’d lose it. Instead, she looked at the village and the cliffs beyond.
Great gods! Again her heart was in her throat. Just past the village, the oak tree from her dreams clung to the cliffs’ edge. A woman stood beside it.
Despite the distance, Lilith knew it was Elyse. Watching her. Waiting for her.
You’ve come at last.