Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, Excerpt
The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie
Pub date, October 1
Barnes & Noble
(Also coming in Kobo, Sony, Audio)
From Chapter Four
Arrogant, impudent . . . Violet and her mother were about to be ruined by this scion of aristocracy, and he was laughing at her.
Mr. Mackenzie returned his hands behind his head and lay full-length on Violet’s floor, relaxed and confident. What did he intend to do? Expose her? Alert the newspapers? The police? Violet’s heart beat hard. She needed to wake up her mother, to pack what they could, to leave.
But Mr. Mackenzie remained unmoving, eyes glittering in the lamplight, his handsome face and athletic body the best things that had ever decorated this room.
Violet had no business thinking of that, absolutely no business. Existence was difficult enough. Men believed that women’s lives were theirs to dictate, to own. Look what had happened the last time Violet had thought a man sympathetic to her, had trusted him. Absolute disaster.
“You used the bell system,” Mr. Mackenzie was saying. “Piggybacked on the pulleys and tubes already available to you. Very wise. Though a bit inconvenient if you want to summon someone to bring you hot water.”
“The consultation is over, Mr. Mackenzie,” Violet said, keeping her voice brisk and businesslike. “The other gentlemen have gone.”
Daniel pushed himself up to a sitting position and crossed his legs. His kilt fell modestly over his knees, but not before Violet caught a glimpse of the strong thighs beneath. Oblivious of her scrutiny, Daniel pulled a cigarette case from his pocket, extracted a black cigarette, and put it between his lips. He shoved the case back into his coat, took out a match, and struck it on the bottom of his boot.
Leisurely he lit the cigarette, shook out the match, and leaned his head back a little to suck in the smoke. After a few moments, he released the smoke from his mouth, his tongue curling softly as wisps drifted around it.
Violet realized she was staring at him, her gaze fixed on his lips, which pursed around the cigarette again, like a kiss. Many gentlemen liked to smoke, yes, but Daniel made the movements an art—strong fingers loosely holding the cigarette, lips and tongue almost caressing it and the smoke that trickled from his mouth.
“Ye need a bit more than that,” he said.
“What?” Violet jerked. Oh, he meant the rigging. She forced herself into the persona of Violette Bastien again. “I beg your pardon, Monsieur?”
Daniel dragged in another long pull of smoke, his mouth closing around the cigarette in a sensual caress. The end of it glowed. “Downstairs,” he said, smoke floating out with his words. “If ye had something that released ectoplasm, had it crawl up the walls maybe, you’d have them worshipping at your feet.” He smiled, his gaze going pointedly to her high-topped shoes. “I’d be honored if you showed everything to me.” The double entendre rolled off his tongue as he ran his gaze the length of her skirt again, back to her face.
Bloody conceited . . . Violet sank down to her heels, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Are you certain it’s honor you’re after? Or my secrets? Thinking to set up a rival business, are you?”
Mr. Mackenzie laughed out loud—true laughter, no artfulness about it. “Me, a clairvoyant? My friends would laugh me out of London, and my family would tease me senseless. Makes me wonder, though, why you do it? Ye don’t look naturally deceptive to me.”
“Oh? What does naturally deceptive look like?”
More laughter. The sound had warmth to it, a little growl, deep and rasping. “Much more innocent than you, lass. Like my wee baby sister. She can give you a look from her big gray eyes, blinking under those golden red curls. Meanwhile, she’s put three frogs in your bed. She’s seven years old, the bonniest lass you ever saw, and the mischief she can get herself—and me—into . . .” Mr. Mackenzie shook his head, his look so fond that it pulled at Violet even as it surprised her.
Then again, Violet recognized a confidence trickster when she saw one. A man like Mackenzie would throw things like infectious laughter and an adorable little sister at her to get under Violet’s defenses.
“So why do it?” Daniel asked her again. He sounded genuinely interested, not just flirtatious.
Violet made herself remain businesslike. Take what a person believes about you and turn it back on him. “To make a living, of course,” she said. “But you’re wrong, Mr. Mackenzie. My mother’s talent is real.”
“Pull the other one, love. You’re all theatrics—beautiful theatrics. Your wind machine fascinates me, though. I’m trying to build something like it myself. Where did you get it?”
“I built it myself,” she said, feeling a spark of pride. “Purchased the parts in Berlin.”
Daniel let out an aggravated breath. “Of course. Bloody Germans. They’re going to take over the world one day. All the same.” He tucked the cigarette into his mouth, got his feet under him, and in one graceful, sinuous movement, rose to his feet.
He reached a hand down to help her up. Violet studied the sinewy strength of the gloveless hand, virile, tight, powerful, stretching down to her. Daniel expected her to take the offer of help without reluctance, to let him steady and guide her.
Fortunately Violet had learned a long time ago what a lie such an offer could be. But she was not so terrified of him that she would not at least let him help her to her feet. Any metaphor beyond that was useless.
Violet put her hand into his. Mr. Mackenzie’s strong fingers closed around hers, the warmth in them palpable.
Daniel didn’t guide her upward—he pulled hard, lifting Violet nearly off her feet. Her heels tapped the board floor as they came down. Daniel’s hand went to her elbow to steady her, and she found herself pulled against the length of his tall body.
The twinkle in Daniel’s dark amber eyes made her shake. “Naturally deceptive also looks like me,” he said, his voice low. “From where do you think my wee baby sister learned it?”
He wouldn’t let go of her. Daniel had a solid grip on Violet’s arm, strong enough that she couldn’t tug away and scorn him with a freezing glance. Freezing glances would bounce from him in any case, or else be caught and thawed by him. There wasn’t a bit of chill anywhere in Mr. Mackenzie.
He was all heat. And Violet was so cold.
She smelled the smoke on him, whiskey from earlier tonight, and dust from her floor. Daniel held the cigarette loosely, and the smoke curled around Violet as though trying to pull her into an embrace with him.
Daniel’s face was hard, but not as hard as that of his father, or at least what Violet had seen of his father in the newspapers. Daniel’s dark hair had been cut short, but he’d managed to rumple it so one part of it stuck in a different direction than the rest. The lamplight burned red highlights in his hair, subtle ones that would show only in strong light and only to someone standing close to him.
Daniel lifted the cigarette. Without releasing Violet, he took another pull then offered the cigarette to her.
Violet eyed the dark stick and its faint glow at the end. She knew that some scandalous women smoked alongside their lovers, but Violet had never formed a taste for it. She found she preferred the warm, herbal scent of pipe smoke in any case, although cigar smoke was what clung to most gentlemen these days.
She imagined Mr. Mackenzie’s fancy ladies wouldn’t reject an offer to share his smoke. The young debutantes he’d be courting, on the other hand, to put an heir in his nursery, would be shocked and turn up their noses. Or they might giggle at Daniel’s audacity.
The thought of those giggling, perfect young debs with their soft fingers and no worries in their spoiled little heads made Violet almost snatch the cigarette from him.
She closed her lips around it. Violet had learned when she practiced on cigars—ghostly smoke appearing in a room while her mother was in her trance never hurt—that if she closed up her throat and didn’t let the smoke into her lungs, she could tolerate it.
Daniel watched her, standing so close that she could smell the shaving soap he’d used before he’d ventured out tonight. She also caught the scents of cigar smoke mixed with that of the cigarette, plenty of whiskey, and a woman’s heavy perfume. Her heart burned.
Violet exhaled the smoke little by little, while Daniel fixed his gaze on her. As the last of the smoke trickled out, Daniel leaned down and fitted his lips over hers.
The pressure was barely a kiss at all, only a resting of his lips against hers, allowing her to feel his smooth mouth, the bite of warmth, the strength of him.
No hesitant kiss of a man who knew he was being more forward than he ought. Likewise, it wasn’t a commanding kiss—it gave more than it demanded.
Daniel eased back, a smile spreading across his face. “Ah, lass, I knew ye’d taste fine.”
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(Also coming in Kobo, Sony, Audio)