CULLODEN SPIRIT BY ANITA DAVISON
VICTORIAN HISTORICAL ROMANCE
I chose this excerpt as it's the first meeting between the hero and heroine, whose relationship gets off to a sticky start - literally - and gets worse before it gets better.
Rounding a corner, she found herself in an unfamiliar lobby with a short set of steps leading to a lower level. “This is a fine time to get lost,” she muttered under her breath and headed back the other way. Hitching her skirt, she broke into a run and ran straight into a man in a waiter’s uniform carrying a large silver bowl.
At the point of impact, the two were hurled several feet apart. The silver bowl rose into the air and tilted toward Carrie. With no time to move out of the way, she gasped in shock as a cold wave splashed across her exposed shoulders and drenched her skirt before it hit the floor with a metallic clang.
The waiter froze as the bowl came to rest against the skirting board.
“Oh, my goodness! Please forgive me, Madame. I did not see you.” He flapped both hands in the direction of her bodice, but not close enough to make contact.
“Evidently!” Carrie inhaled slowly, her teeth gritted as a trickle of something cold and sticky slid down her arms. “Couldn’t you watch where you were going? Look at me!”
“Madame, you came out of nowhere and I didn’t expect— Let me get you a towel.”
“What good will a towel do?” Carrie clenched her arms against her sides, shivering.
A shadow detached from the wall to her left, and anticipating the arrival of another
stammering staff member, Carrie turned to the newcomer, a scathing insult poised on her lips. Instead, her gaze settled on a neatly folded black silk bow tie nestled between a crisp upright collar. Raising her chin, she met slate grey eyes beneath arched brows above an aquiline nose. A glimpse of blood-red waistcoat appeared beneath an immaculate black dinner jacket as he extended a hand, laughter dancing within his steady gaze.
He was, quite simply, beautiful.
Carrie’s cheeks warmed, and a small groan escaped her lips.
The newcomer inclined his head, dislodging a hank of chocolate-coloured hair from his straight brow. “May I be of some assistance? You appear to have got yourself into something of a state.” His disarming smile turned mocking.
“Got myself—” Fresh anger and a large dose of embarrassment surged through her at the idea both men viewed her as a figure of fun. “This was his fault!” She pointed a shaking finger at the red-faced waiter.
“I assure you, sir, it was an accident.” The waiter held both hands up in supplication. “I
didn’t see the lady coming. Besides, only hotel staff use this corridor as a rule.”
“Well, you weren’t looking where you were going!” Carrie ignored his implied criticism. “How can I return to the dining room like this?” She made ineffectual swipes at her skirt, which did little but stain her fingers red.
The handsome man extended a hand toward her face, but drew back at the last moment.
“There’s, um…er, a piece of pineapple lodged in your hair.”
“What?” Carrie darted sideways to examine herself in a nearby mirror.
He was right. A segment of yellow fruit clung to a curl on her forehead. She slapped it away, and it bounced onto the carpet; the curl deteriorating into a wet strand plastered across her forehead.
His reflection appeared at her shoulder as he hid a smile behind one splayed hand. “I’ve never seen fruit used as a hair ornament before.”
“How dare you laugh at me!” She tugged at another offending object, a mint leaf this time, dropping it on the floor. “And I took you for a gentleman.”
The front of her gown sported a darker slash from bodice to knees where the punch soaked the silk. The fragrance of fruit and spices tinged with a spirit smell wafted from the fabric. “I must stink like a brewery!”
“More like an exuberant garden party,” the man said, his lip held firmly between his teeth.
“Are you simply going to stand there sniggering like a schoolboy?” The prickle of frustrated tears rose in her throat. “Can’t you see I require some assistance?”
“I cannot do much until you remove the garment.”
Carrie gasped. “Do I look like the kind of girl who takes off her clothes in public?”
“I’m not sure. What sort of girl does such a thing?”
“I wouldn’t know!” She swung the flimsy shawl she had condemned earlier as being
inadequate around her shoulders. The thing could at least cover her shame. The wet, fringed edging caught him squarely across his cheek with a satisfying slapping noise.
He grimaced and withdrew a handkerchief from his top pocket to dab fastidiously at the wet mark. Carrie hoped it was sticky.
“You misunderstand,” he said slowly. “I was merely offering to—”
“I think I can guess what you were offering, sir. However, I am perfectly capable of
returning to my room to change my attire. Kindly step aside so I may do so.”
She made to brush past him, but his hand on her arm halted her.
“As I was saying, I was about to suggest I send for your escort.” His startling eyes roved
over her and back up to her face. “Or in this case, a laundress.”
Carrie stared down at his fingers on her upper arm, and then back at his face. “I don’t
require your assistance.”
“I’m sorry, but I thought that is exactly what you asked for.”
The waiter reappeared at her elbow. “I can only apologise for the mishap yet again,
Madame. Is there anything the hotel can do to—”
“No!” Carrie spat, shrugging off the hand on her arm. “You have done enough already. Your manager can expect a formal complaint from my father in the morning.”
“Ah.” The young man exchanged a smile with the waiter and folded his arms across his
broad chest. “I might have known only a doting parent could tolerate such a temper.”
Speechless with rage, a string of retorts slid through Carrie’s head, but none reached her lips.
The waiter’s hand-wringing nerves changed to mild amusement. “I can only apologise
again, Madame.” He bowed and backed away through a green baize door that released a blaze of light accompanied by a cacophony of shouts and clattering of dishes. The theatre immediately silenced as it swung shut behind him.
“Incompetent man!” Carrie threw at the door. “What sort of establishment employs staff who ridicule their guests?”
“Actually, he’s the Maitre de, and not at all incompetent. And I distinctly heard him
“Meaning what?” Carrie snapped.
“Judging by your accent, I assume you to be a native of the United States. I have no
experience of that country, but in this one, haranguing servants is ill-bred.”
Carrie released a shocked gasp. “What did you say?”
He shrugged, eased his collar away from his neck, and brushed back the wayward lock of hair. “Now, if you won’t allow me to assist you, perhaps I might at least escort you back to your room?”Carrie sniffed and tossed her head. “No, thank you, I’ll find my own way.”