by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73
So, I don't have the actual cover art to go with this book yet, thus, the stock photo. But not having cover art isn't a reason not to post a sneak peek, right?
The slightly tipsy cake should be a warning! Is Starla's impending marriage a dream come true, or a disaster waiting to happen?
“Perry, you’ve come.” Starla rushed up to meet the newcomer and get a kiss. Her eyelashes fluttered and she giggled, a completely un-Starla reaction.
I looked him up and down. Well, Perry Goodhaven was handsome, I’d give him that. Handsome like the captain of the JV football team. His wavy blond hair was perfectly trimmed, falling neatly across his forehead. His tanned skin set off a perfect model-white smile, but the smile failed to reach the deep blue eyes behind long, dark, almost girlish lashes. Those eyes were cold pools of water, waiting for me to slip and drown. I figured he was a few inches taller, and a little heavier, than Roger. But his rich velvet jacket didn’t disguise a muscular set of shoulders. His pants fitted him perfectly, with no bulges of fat anywhere.
“Darling, this is Lyla Stormbringer. She is our greatest hero, and has saved us at least twice.” Starla’s face shone up at Goodhaven, frighteningly empty of thought. “Lyla, this is my love, Perry Goodhaven. You must have heard that we are to be married. Goodness, the young people can talk of nothing else.” She giggled again.
Goodhaven smiled and kissed her hands. He looked at me and flashed another perfect smile. This guy knew he was good-looking, how women usually responded, and was giving me the full treatment. Definitely just like the captain of the JV football team. But he couldn’t make his eyes look friendly. “Of course, the fabled girl-champion of Mallory. It’s an honor.” He didn’t offer his hand. “You know young people, my love, any excuse for a party. I’m sure Lyla would agree, being a young person herself.”
I bristled. Girl-champion, huh? I thought. Okay, if you want to be that way. “The honor is mine.” I didn’t bow or bend my neck. Two could play this game. “As I was saying to Lady Starla, I am surprised that Roger Woodbridge is absent. He has been her ladyship’s most trusted servant, especially during her recent troubles. I can’t believe that he would want to miss such a happy occasion.” I stared at Goodhaven, daring him to look away. He didn’t, but neither did I.
“Yes, well, I’m sure you all have much to talk about.” Carson fussed, giving Starla another hasty kiss on the hand. “I’ll just let myself out. Once again, I’m glad you have taken this step to respectability. I look forward to hearing the joyful news that you and Lord Goodhaven are expecting the birth of your heir, a bouncing baby boy, I hope.”
“Thank you, Master Carson.” Starla didn’t take her eyes off her future husband. She fumbled for a bell on the nearby table. “Some wine, I think. To celebrate the meeting of Mallory’s champion and my beloved.”
Ugh. Had someone swooped in and kidnapped Starla without my noticing? What was with the fluttery, girly act? “So you are a lord, Master Goodhaven? From what estate?” I fingered my sword hilt and wondered if it would be too much to challenge Goodhaven to a duel right here in the reception hall. Roger probably wouldn’t approve. Then again, if he really didn’t like Goodhaven, maybe he’d cheer me on to victory.
“Not yet,” Perry said, not missing a beat. “At least not until I am wed to this model of nobility.” He traced Starla’s face with his finger and smiled. She giggled yet again, and I coughed.
Starla rang the bell once more, louder this time. “Where is that girl with the wine? This delay is unforgivable.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. It had been less than a minute since she’d rung the bell the first time. That was an unforgivable delay?
“I’m afraid the servants have been allowed to become lazy under Woodbridge, my darling.” Perry kissed Starla’s hand again. “Once we are married, you won’t have to worry your pretty head. I’ll take care of whipping them into shape. You, girl—wine, and be quick about it.” He barked at the serving girl who had appeared in the door. She curtsied, and rushed to fetch the wine and some glasses.
I frowned and ignored Starla’s unspoken invitation to sit. “I wouldn’t have described Roger as permitting laziness. He’s a kind man, but he has high standards.” The girl appeared with the wine, but I waved off the offered glass. Instead, I paced the room, keeping an eye on my hosts.
Perry fussed over Starla as she sat and gave her a glass of wine. “I wouldn’t expect a girl to know how a man should behave,” he said, turning to me. “Woodbridge allowed shocking lapses in behavior. I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did.”
The heat rose in my neck, and I expected Starla to rush to Roger’s defense. Instead she remained silent. “Is that truly how you feel, my lady?”
For the first time, Starla looked embarrassed. “I am sorry things happened the way they did,” she said, refusing to meet my eye. “But he spoke ill of my lord, and that simply cannot be allowed.”
“If he did, I’m sure he believed he was acting in your best interests.” I wanted to shake her, but I stood still. Perry must have played a great role to turn Starla against her former steward this way.
“Nevertheless, Roger Woodbridge spoke against me publicly, undermining the rule of the one who would be his lord.” Perry’s voice was still smooth, but held a trace of scorn. “In doing so, he spoke against his lady. That is treason and must be punished.” He stared at me, daring me to argue.
I thought for a moment. Reaching a decision, I said, “I’m sorry, my lady, I have been traveling and I’m quite tired. If you would be so kind as to provide a room, I would be most grateful.”
“You’ll stay for the wedding, then?” Starla turned an eager face to me. “You absolutely must stay. I won’t take no for an answer.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Don’t trouble yourself, I’ll find someone to show me to a room. By your leave, my lady.” I bowed to Starla and jerked my chin toward her intended husband. “Goodhaven.” I turned and stalked out of the reception hall.
Bed, schmed. I needed to find out what was going on, clear Roger’s name, and stop a wedding.
Image courtesy of Shelley Panzarella, used under Creative Commons