Genre: Young Adult, Teen Alternative Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: May 23, 2017
A Short Excerpt from
A Ship in Sheep’s Clothing
(After spending the better part of the night dismantling the steamship prototype so that the Iron Crown won’t steal it, Alexander and Lady Jane must now climb up the cliffs of Stranje House and say farewell. This is their first kiss scene.)
When the last plank of the decking is loosened, I settle against a nearby rock and slide down until I am sitting, rather unladylike, on a pile of stones. I ease back and watch him work, noting the way he moves in the dark, so sure and confident.
He truly is brilliant.
It pleases me that he is once again wearing his shabby old clothes. I remember being so appalled at his attire when he first arrived at Stranje House. Funny how quickly his comfortable ways grew on me. The moon comes out and through the thin cloth of his worn cambric shirt I note the muscles flexing in his shoulder. His curls catch rare bits of lamp light and glint like buttery silk ribbons. They flop in his eyes and he brushes them back without a thought for the dirt or moisture on his hands. If he were mine, I would relish washing those golden locks until they gleamed.
But he isn’t mine, and he never will be.
I’m absurdly tired or I would never have indulged in such reckless thoughts about a foreigner who has no place in my life. I turn away and listen to the lap of the waves as the sea rushes in and flows out again. Miss Stranje and Sera are each carrying up cook’s pickling barrels, our makeshift life preservers, the very ones that helped save Lord Ravencross and Tess from drowning a few days ago. Maya carries the coal scuttle and shovel. Georgie holds the lantern, lighting the way for Captain Grey and Lord Wyatt as they hoist the last pontoon on their shoulders and head up the cliff.
Alexander stands on the shore watching them wind up the bluffs. “That’s it then.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” I throw a stone out into the sea and it sails into the dark. Waves roll in and splash against the rocks. The stone is lost to me. I’ll never hear it plunk into the water. “Give my regards to your uncle, when you see him. Robert Fulton is a man ahead of his time.”
“As opposed to his slipshod nephew,” Alexander mumbles and digs the toes of his already grimy shoe into the sand. “I shall tell him,” he says aloud and with more conviction than he ought, for we both know he won’t. Why would he tell his beloved uncle about the annoying English girl who was so outspoken and obnoxious?
Captain Grey signals to us from the cliffs, avoiding calling aloud so as not to alert potential thieves.
“Come along then.” Mr. Sinclair offers me a hand up. He doesn’t let go even though I am standing next to him, but in the dim light of the waxing moon I see his lips slant into that wicked sly smirk of his. “Admit it, Lady Jane. You’ll miss me.”
“I will.” I sniff and pull my fingers out of his grasp. “As much as a toothache.”
“Exactly.” He hikes up the shore line behind the rocks, avoiding the worst of the rising tide. “Who will you practice your insults on? You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone as tolerant and charming as I am.”
I will miss sparring with him, but I mustn’t let him know. “You have a point.” I say airily. “I suppose I will simply have to sling insults at Harold, the mannequin in our ballroom.”
“Ballroom. Ha! You mean your training room, and Harold must be that poor fellow stuffed with cotton wadding. The one you kick, punch, and stab with knives.”
“We dance with him on occasion. He’s quite tolerant of abuse and can be nearly as charming as you.”
“Touché. See there. You are in fine form, ready to slay any gentleman who comes within a mile of you. You ought to thank me for allowing you to sharpen your sword on me.”
“True. But what of you, my dear friend?” As I make my way up the narrow path, I glance over my shoulder at him, attempting to gauge his response. Except, Alexander remains as inscrutable as ever. “I don’t think there are very many young ladies who will put up with that barbed pitchfork you call a tongue. Not even in the colonies.”
“Oh, but that’s where you are wrong.” He sounds positively cheerful. “There are any number of young ladies lining up to do just that. Hundreds.”
It is still dark and I take a small misstep. His hands are instantly on my waist helping me regain my balance. “Hundreds?” I ask.
“Did I say hundreds? I meant thousands.”
I huff, and it is not because of the steepness of the climb. “You may not wish to admit it, Alexander Sinclair, but you will miss me as well.”
“I’ve given that considerable thought.” He sounds pensive, and for once I think he might not gibe me.
“Considerable thought?” I coax, wondering if that is what had kept him from sleeping earlier.
“Well, perhaps not as much as all that.”
The tide is coming in and a particularly big breaker crashes against the rocks and mists us with salt water. Perhaps it is because I’ve had so little sleep, but I find I am chilled to the bone and shiver. He hands me his coat. “Put this on before you catch pneumonia.”
As we balance on the narrow sliver of a path, he helps me slide my arms into his coat, and flips the collar up to keep my neck warm. I am unnerved when he continues to gaze at me, holding my arm to keep me from falling. Good thing, because standing this close to him makes me feel as if I might melt and flow straight down this ridiculous cliff. The coat is warm and smells of him, of welded copper, of spilled hot chocolate and pencil shavings, of late night candle wax and the forest we ran through together, of spice cake and clotted cream.
I do so adore spice cake and clotted cream.
As if the scoundrel has read my thoughts, his eyebrows lift. “You truly are a trial, Lady Jane.” He speaks these words the way another man might confess his undying admiration.
“Thank you.” I lower my lashes, afraid that even in the dark he’ll notice the heat rushing into my cheeks.
He sighs heavily. “I suppose you’re aware of the fact that you would try the patience of a saint.” I’ve no idea why that makes me grin, but it does.
“So I’ve been told. Luckily, you are no saint.”
“Well, no, there is that.” Suddenly he frowns and clasps my shoulders. “Who? Who else says you try their patience?” He demands this, as if no one else on earth has the right to say such things to me except for him. As if he will call out the blackguard, not because I don’t deserve the statement, but because I am his, and his alone, to insult.
“Hundreds of men,” I say, impishly. “Thousands.”
I watch him battle a smile. Finally, he is able to twist it into a smirk. “Jane,” he murmurs, correcting himself, shaking his head ever so slightly. “Lady Jane.”
I confess I have never liked my name so well as I do when it falls from his lips.
He’s still holding my arms but he leans closer and his grip lightens. “I’ve a good mind to kiss you just to teach you some proper manners.”
“Oh, no.” I feign alarm. “How shall I ever survive such a harsh lesson?”
He grins mischievously and draws me close. My arms naturally reach up and wind around his shoulders, his lips brush mine, feather soft, a tantalizing promise of more, my heart whirls dizzily, I lean into him, and—
“Jane?” Georgie calls to us in a hushed voice from farther up the path. The sound echoes through the night and crashes against us, blasting the moment apart like cold sea spray. My arms fall away.
Regret washes over his features and he says softly, “I expect it will be me who has difficulty surviving this particular lesson.”
His whispered words tease against my lips, sending my heart winging unsteadily off the bluff. Or plummeting to the rocks below. I’m not sure which, because his words are confusing, no matter how intimately he delivered them.
Georgie calls for us again. “Lady Jane? Mr. Sinclair? Are you there? We’re waiting for you.” Her lantern glints off Alexander’s face as he pulls away from me and straightens.
“On our way,” he says loud enough for Georgie to hear.
Still stunned, I stand unable to move, softened into a useless pudding by the merest touch of his lips to mine. At the same time, his cryptic remark bewilders me. I try to puzzle it out. Does he mean kissing me would’ve been an ordeal? Surely not. He hadn’t come toward my mouth like a man about to suffer pain for the cause. Is it possible he meant our kiss would devastate him more than it did me? Why would he think such a thing? Perhaps it saddens him that this first kiss will also be our last, our only kiss. I shake my head, unable to fathom a sentiment like that coming from him, the glib Mr. Sinclair—I think not. Not him. More than likely, it was another of his meaningless jests.
I am vexed now. Quite vexed.
And to think I almost let him kiss me. Well, if I am to be perfectly honest, I did let him. Heavens above, what was I thinking. Instead of observing the proprieties, I practically threw myself into the rascally American’s arms.
What a fool I am sometimes.
Alexander turns me around, so I am facing the right direction on the path, and with a steadying hand he guides me upward. It is completely unnecessary. I am quite capable of stomping my way to the summit on my own.
At the top, Miss Stranje meets us carrying a satchel with Alexander’s belongings. “Captain Grey will be along shortly to conduct you to the dower house. Lord Wyatt is this very moment scouring the woods to make sure there are no spies watching along the road.” She says this last part pointedly to me.
I shrug out of Mr. Sinclair’s jacket and hand it back to him. “Thank you for the loan of your coat,” I say formally, and extend my hand. I expect, even though I’m not a man, he will give it his vigorous American-style shake. “Good luck to you, Mr. Sinclair. I wish you a pleasant journey.”
The scoundrel breaks from his habit and bows over my hand as if we are in a proper English drawing room. He bows low, taking advantage of the darkness of the hour, and dares to press a kiss on my knuckles. He looks up with the most impudent grin in all of Christendom. “Farewell, Lady Jane, until we meet again.”
I snatch my hand away. “I doubt we ever shall.”
He straightens and manages to appear far more imperious than he ought in those shabby clothes. He stares down at me as if from a great height. “We shall see.”
Captain Grey approaches and stops beside our headmistress. “Get some rest, my dear.” He leans closer to her ear. “We may be in for some rough days ahead.”
She says nothing to that, but looks up at him with her eyes warm and her lips resting in a kinder softer line than she normally wears. I have studied her long enough and well enough to know Captain Grey is the only person who will ever be privy to that side of Miss Emma Stranje. She looks away, uncomfortable with his concern for her. She is, after all, a woman who can look out for herself quite efficiently.
Captain Grey places his hand over hers as it rests on his arm and gives it a gentle pat, before turning his attention to Alexander. “We’d best be off. The sun will rise soon.”
He’s right, the black horizon is beginning to leak with gray, and early morning fog is rising up from the sea. Mr. Sinclair and the captain walk toward the road, while Miss Stranje and Georgie head for Stranje House.
Just before Alexander disappears forever, he glances back and tips the brim of his nonexistent hat, sending me a final salute.
We shall see.
What a preposterous thing for him to say. We shall see nothing. That is how this works. You’re going away and I’m staying here. There’s an end to it. Finito. That’s what I would say if Mr. Sinclair were still standing here beside me.
Only he isn’t. Alexander Sinclair disappears into the gray mist, and a profound sadness steals around me, rolling in as thick as the fog.
Other Books by the Author
A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS
Series: Stranje House, Book 1
Napoleon is exiled, Europe is in shambles and Britain is at war on four fronts. Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit high society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where headmistress, Emma Stranje, entangles these unusual girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war.
“A completely original–and totally engrossing–world, full of smart girls, handsome boys and sinister mysteries…Sign me up.”
– Meg Cabot, NYT Bestselling Author of The Princess Diaries on A School for Unusual Girls
EXILE FOR DREAMERS
Series: Stranje House, Book 2
Tess Aubreyson can’t run far enough or fast enough to escape the prophetic dreams that haunt her. But with Napoleon threatening to invade England, Tess’s disturbing dreams may be the only means of saving Lord Ravencross, the man she loves, and her friends at Stranje House.
“This spy school for girls . . . is impossible to put down! . . . I recommend this book to anyone that loves brave girls, adventure and great friendships.”
– 5 Girls Book Reviews
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About Kathleen Baldwin