Whoo hoo! Here is the internet debut of the first chapter of my upcoming Austenesque novel, Attempting Elizabeth. Check out the back cover blurb here.
I hope you enjoy it!
“At such an assembly as this…”
“You need to go with me to the party. I’m not taking no for an answer.”
I didn’t bother looking up from my novel to where my roommate, Tori, lounged against my doorjamb. “No.”
“Yeah, see, I already told you I wasn’t taking no for an answer, so you need to get your butt off the bed and get dressed. Showered too.” She sounded bored; she was probably examining her cuticles.
I flipped a page. “No.”
Tori abandoned her fake bored stance and plopped down on my bed. “Come on.”
“Are you really going to let Jerkface ruin your entire social life.”
“I’m not discussing this.” I flipped another page with a decisive motion.
“There’s no way you just read that entire page. Give it up. You’re just pretending so I’ll leave you alone.”
I sighed dramatically. “And yet, you don’t seem to be getting the point.”
She snatched the book out of my hands and waved it in front of my face. “Really babe, Pride and Prejudice again? This thing is going to warp your brain.”
“It’s not going to warp my brain.”
“Hmm.” She flipped through the book for a moment then looked up with a disturbingly evil glint in her blue eyes. “Let’s go find you a real-life Mr. Darcy.”
“I somehow highly doubt that Scott’s party is going to have any real life Mr. Darcys at it.”
“You never know. Besides, you don’t need a forever Mr. Darcy, just a for the night Mr. Darcy.” Tori waggled her eyebrows at me suggestively.
“Oh come on. Tall, dark, handsome; somebody to get your mind of Jerkface.”
“Jordan was tall, dark, and handsome, and he turned out to be more of a Wickham than a Darcy,” I pointed out. Just talking about Jordan made me feel slightly homicidal. He was hot as heck, but what the man knew about fidelity could apparently be written on the back of a postage stamp.
“Um, Jerkface was a skeeze. And you can sit and wallow here, in which case he wins, or you can come out with me and have a few drinks and dance with a few boys and have a good time, and then you win. And I win, ‘cause Charlie can’t go and that leaves me dateless. I need you, Kelsey. Are you going to let me down in my hour of need?”
I pulled a pillow over my head and groaned. “Tor, really. Go away, I want to wallow. I don’t want to go Mr. Darcy hunting. I only end up with Wickhams.”
She pulled the pillow off my face and whacked me with it. “I’ve got it! Let’s go Wickham hunting then—find you a cute, shallow, playboy, and then you can treat him like dirt before he gets the chance to jerkface out on you!”
I considered that for a minute. “So, I, like, preemptively jerkface him?”
“Yes, it’s brilliant. Like really. Sometimes I even impress myself. Do not even think about saying it,” she warned as she popped off the bed and flung open my closet.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” I lied through my teeth. As if I was so predictable that I couldn’t let her Han Solo quote slide without answering with Leia’s retort.
“Don’t even pretend. You are such a nerd. I can see you thinking it.” Tori flicked through the clothes-laden hangers and finally pulled out a short black dress and tossed it at me. “Wear that. Shave your legs.”
“Argh!” I glared at the dress. “I don’t want to.”
“Wear the black boots. Seriously. Don’t argue with me. If I don’t hear the shower running in three minutes I’m coming back in here and forcibly throwing you in myself. I’m gonna go do my makeup.” She turned, her long black hair flying out behind her, and sailed back out of my room.
“You suck!” I grumbled at her departing back.
“You love me,” she shot back over her shoulder.
“Doubtful,” I replied. She slammed the door and I gave in to the urge to shout after her. “That doesn’t sound too hard!”
The door cracked back open and she stuck her head in, glaring at me. “Shut up. Shower.” And then the door slammed again.
The party was loud and packed with people, just like I knew it would be. Scott Erickson, a friend of Tori’s boyfriend Charlie, had rented out the entire top floor of a club in Long Beach. The drinks were flowing pretty freely, and the DJ was playing what passed for music, but I considered it more of a prosecution-worthy assault on the ears of the general public. I raised an eyebrow at Tori who was half-dancing along with the music as we pushed our way through the crowd near the door and toward the bar.
She caught my look and grinned. “Loosen up, babe!” she shouted over the driving beat. “Let’s get a drink and find some cute boys to dance with!”
“I’ll be sure to let Charlie know you were out trolling for cute boys,” I shouted back. Her only response was an exaggerated eye roll as she sashayed ahead of me. I tugged on my skirt in a vain attempt to make it a little bit longer and tried to follow. Tori was several inches shorter than me. Tiny and petite, she managed to wend her way easily through the mass of writhing bodies blocking our way, whereas I felt like if I tried to push my way through, I’d probably end up injuring someone with the stiletto heels on the stupid boots she’d insisted I wear.
The nice thing about being 5’9 and in such high heels is I could see over most of the crowd. The bar was surrounded by several rows of people. Either people were thirsty, or there was something much more entertaining happening up there than just drinks being poured.
As we got closer I realized that almost the entire crowd around the bar was women.
“Good lord, what is going on, are they giving away free booze?” Tori wondered as we came up against the crowd. She stood on her tiptoes and tried to see over the heads in front of her.
I shrugged and searched in my purse for my wallet. I was going to need a seriously stiff drink to put up with this party for any amount of time. I could smell the hundreds of different perfumes from the group of women around the bar, sticking in the back of my throat and making me want to gag. That, coupled with the thrumming of the music, was brewing a headache at the base of my skull. I snagged a few bills out of my wallet, briefly contemplating ordering two drinks so I wouldn’t have to stand in this line again, although I’m not sure standing around in my stiletto boots and mini skirt and holding two drinks was really the image I wanted to give off to this crowd. I’d already noticed a few guys eying the expanse of leg revealed between the top of my boots and my hemline.
“Did you see the guy over there checking you out? Is he Wickhamy enough for you?” Tori had leaned toward me, but she was still shouting so I could hear her over the music. I glanced in the direction she’d indicated and shuddered. The guy lounging against the far wall looked like he was interested in only one thing. What was the deal? Was every guy in the general area a leg man? I resisted the urge to tug my skirt down again.
“Yuck,” I responded.
Tori giggled. “Okay, we’ll try to find someone a little less obvious.” We finally shuffled forward a few steps closer toward the bar. “What is with all these chicks?”
I glanced up as we moved forward. I could see over most of the overly styled heads in front of me now and I’d figured out the reason for the bevy of women in front of us.
There was a hot guy tending the bar. Not only was he hot, he was, as I’m sure most of the women bellying up to the bar had noticed, wearing a form fitting t-shirt. And the form it was fitting was extraordinary. Like maybe he supplemented his bartending income with construction work or filling in for Atlas and lugging the globe around.
He was totally not my type. As Tori had noted earlier, I preferred tall, dark, and handsome. While this guy had handsome in spades, he wasn’t that much taller than me. In these boots, I may have actually been taller than him, but it was hard to tell for sure from this distance. He also had red hair. Curly red hair. Okay, it wasn’t red exactly, more like a dark blond with a bit of red in it. I would have killed to get that shade from a bottle, but I didn’t really like red-headed guys. However, I could see why the women were clamoring around the bar. Having all that musclebound goodness hand you a drink was probably a double bonus: it was like getting alcohol and a cheap thrill.
“There’s a hottie tending bar,” I informed Tori.
“Oh, is that what’s going on?” She tried the tiptoe thing again, but there was no way she was going to get a peek until we were closer. She’d probably just tip over on her heels and break an ankle. “How hot are we talking?”
“Pretty hot. Bet he’s making bank in tips.” Right as I said it the bartender looked up right at me. There was no way he could have heard what I was talking about, but for some reason I felt my cheeks go pink. He looked at me for a heartbeat then turned back to the girl in front of him, laughing in response to something she was saying. I blew out a breath, feeling a little overheated. Yeah, bank in tips was probably an understatement.
We finally made our way to the front of the line. Tori leaned her elbows on the bar as if trying to get as close to the bartender as possible as she checked him out. I kept my arms off the bar; in fact, I was about half way behind Tori as if I was using her as a shield.
“What can I get you ladies?”
Oh god, he had an accent. A deep, lovely accent. I was horrible at identifying accents, but I was guessing Australian—all the vowels were wrong in all the right ways. I tried to ignore the shiver that ran up my spine and ordered my drink in as flat and uninteresting a voice as possible.
“Hey there,” Tori drawled, and I resisted the urge to kick her. “I’ll have a cosmopolitan.”
He grinned at her. It didn’t seem to be a flirty grin, just the smile of a guy who was used to women falling all over themselves. “No problem,” he said as he turned and started our drinks.
Tori turned to me. “Oh my god, the accent!” she mouthed. I was pretty sure there was actual drool on her chin.
I steadfastly ignored her. When he handed us our drinks, I accepted my plastic cup without meeting his eye, but Tori made no attempt to hide her appreciation.
“Oh man, he was gorgeous. Too bad he’s tending bar; makes it harder to ask him to dance,” she pouted as we moved away from the bar.
“You think?” I asked.
“It’s tragic, really. We will just have to find someone else for you to dance with.”
I took a healthy swig of my drink. I didn’t really want to dance with anyone. There wasn’t anyone here that I knew very well, and I’ve always found dancing with strangers weird. The party had spilled out onto a patio and I gazed out longingly. It looked cool and fresh out there as opposed to the overheated, dimly lit interior of the club.
“Oh hey, look! There’s Danny and Rick; you can dance with one of them. It won’t be so bad if you start off with someone you know.”
I reflected that it would probably be worse. I liked Danny and Rick. They were friends of Charlie’s too, but it would kind of be like dancing with my brother. The mass of bodies on the dance floor were uncomfortably close to each other. I’m not sure I wanted to be that intimate with either guy. But Tori was on a mission, and sometimes it’s best to just grit your teeth and go along, so I let myself be dragged over to the two guys.
“Hey guys!” Tori bounced up to Danny and Rick. “Which one of you is going to dance with Kelsey?”
I winced. The girl had all the subtlety of a sledge hammer. I wondered how fast I could get to the bottom of my drink—it seemed the only way to make the coming trial any more bearable.
“Hey Kels, looking hot.” Danny eyed me with appreciation. He was relatively attractive, I supposed. On a scale of one to the Aussie hottie tending the bar, Danny was a solid six point five. If I hadn’t been forced to walk around him and Charlie sprawled out in our living room eating pizza and watching football every Sunday for months, I might have even upped him to a seven.
“Don’t even start,” I warned him.
He gave me a look of mock outrage that was ruined by his broad wink. “I’ll dance with you. Somebody’s got to do it. It might as well be me.”
“Oh god,” I groaned. “I’m a charity case.”
“Just go!” Tori grabbed my drink and shoved me in the direction of the dance floor. I stumbled a bit on my high heels but managed to steady myself as Danny grabbed my hand and led me into the midst of the dancers.
I survived my dance with Danny. He was a bit of a flailer, but I was agile enough, even in the stilettos, to avoid any swinging limbs that came my way. After that I danced with Rick. I didn’t know him as well as I knew Danny, but well enough to not be amused when the hands he had around my waist attempted to slide lower. Although crushing his instep with my heel was my gut reaction, I realized from the glazed look in his eyes that he was a step or two past inebriated, so I just shook my head and slipped out of his grasp.
As I turned around, still moving to the beat of the music and trying to dance my way away from Rick, I happened to glance up toward the bar. The crowd around it had thinned out a bit and reinforcements had apparently arrived because there was a second guy doling out drinks. The curly haired bartender was still there though and I had the oddest feeling he was watching me. It was probably stupid to think so. There had to be forty or more people on the dance floor. He could have been looking at any of them.
Rick was somehow missing all of my silent signals and was still getting a bit grabby. I slapped his hand away a few more times and then gave up and stalked off the dance floor. I could see the large doors that opened out onto the patio and I made a beeline for them. It was too crowded, too loud, and I was done pretending to have fun on the dance floor. As soon as I walked out into the cool night air I felt the tension in my midsection ease. Even with the sounds of the city, traffic, and the voices drifting up from the sidewalk below, it was so much more quiet than inside. I could actually hear myself think. I took a deep breath of salty air and walked over to the ledge, leaning against it to take the weight off the balls of my feet. These shoes had been a spectacularly bad idea.
There were a few other people milling around the patio, laughing and talking and drinking. I closed my eyes for a moment.
I almost jumped out of my skin, Tori’s voice was startlingly close. I hadn’t heard her come up.
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” I demanded.
“What are you doing out here? I thought the point was to have fun and dance.” Tori handed me another drink. “I went back to the bar and hottie is missing…” she trailed off, glancing over my shoulder. “Don’t look now, but hottie is right there. Oh my god, I think he is coming over here. Maybe he’s gonna ask you to dance!”
I sighed. “Tor, I don’t care. I don’t want to dance with anyone, especially not some slacker who tends bar for a living. I don’t care how hot everyone else thinks he is. I want to go home and take off these stupid shoes and go to bed.”
Tori’s eyes were getting wider and wider as I spoke, and I had a sudden sinking feeling. “He’s right behind me isn’t he?”
She nodded slowly. I was pretty sure her eyes couldn’t possibly get any bigger without popping right off her face. I turned around, my mouth dry, and there he was, just a foot or so behind me. I didn’t know if he had overheard what I’d said. I hoped he hadn’t. He looked more vaguely amused than angry. There was a dimple playing around the edges of his mouth. At the sight of that dimple I felt suddenly weak in the knees. The thought occurred to me that there would be worse fates than spending some time on the dance floor with him.
“I’m sorry—” I started, just in case he had heard me.
“You’re Tori Mansfield, yeah?” He ignored me completely and directed his question at my friend.
“Mark Barnes,” he extended a hand, and Tori, after a brief pause, took it and shook it. “I didn’t recognize you at first. You’re Charlie’s girlfriend, right?”
“Yes, how do you know Charlie…I mean…recognize me? I think I would have remembered meeting you.” Tori blushed.
“I go to Charlie’s poker games on Monday nights. I’ve seen your picture. I didn’t realize it was you until I saw you talking with Danny. I was taking a break, so I just thought I’d come over and say hi.”
He hadn’t looked at me since he’d cut me off, but as he said that, his dark eyes slid over to me with an amused glint.
Oh. My. God. He had heard me. And double oh my god—he’s been in my apartment. Charlie uses our kitchen for his stupid poker games because neither Tori or I are home on Monday nights. Those pictures hottie, er, Mark, had seen of Tori had most likely included me. They were hanging on the walls of our living room and stuck onto our fridge with “I Love Chocolate” and “Only Mr. Darcy Will Do” magnets.
“Well, it’s so nice to meet you, Mark.” Tori’s voice sounded wrong. Was she…no, she couldn’t be possibly flirting? “This is my friend, Kelsey.”
“Hi,” I managed.
“Nice to meet you.” His voice was completely disinterested, and I noticed he didn’t offer me a handshake like he had Tori.
Triple oh my god. Not only had he heard me, he was angry. I really hadn’t meant anything by it. I was just cranky and tired and wanted to go home. But I’d managed to insult him and his profession all in his hearing ‘cause I hadn’t believed Tori that uber hottie was walking toward us. Although, she had been wrong, he wasn’t coming to ask me to dance…’cause, well, right? I mean the skirt was working for me, but I doubt it was working quite that much.
I figured the best thing to do was just lapse back into silence. I wasn’t really sure what to say in the situation. So I didn’t say anything. Mark asked Tori some question, I didn’t even really hear what it was because I was too busy trying not to look like the very awkward third wheel I was obviously becoming to this conversation. I caught Charlie’s name in Tori’s reply, so I’m guessing it had something to do with where he was for the evening.
It was cold, so I crossed my arms across my chest, balancing my drink in one hand. I tried not to glance at Mark’s very well defined pectoral muscles as he chatted with Tori. But I failed. After a few minutes the conversation wrapped up and he turned to me with a small half smile and repeated his earlier “nice to meet you.” I mumbled something in return and then he was gone.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Tori hit me with her purse. “What is wrong with you?” she hissed.
“I didn’t realize he was right behind us!” I said defensively.
“Well that was bad enough. But then you just stood there with your arms crossed like you couldn’t wait to be rid of him. Bitch central, babe!”
“I wasn’t trying to be a bitch! It was cold! And he was obviously talking to you, not me, so I was just sort of awkward.”
“Awkward is one word for it. Kels, I think you totally had a chance there and you blew it. He could have been your Wickham for the night. Come on! Did you see those arms? Don’t you want those arms to do Wickhamesque things to you?”
I laughed in spite of myself. “I think maybe the Wickham hunt has gone to your head. All I really want to do is to go home and go to bed.”
Tori grumbled something under her breath as we moved toward the big doors leading back into the party. “Fine, we’ll go home. Depressing. Wasting a perfectly good opportunity.”
I nodded noncommittally. I wasn’t sure how much of an opportunity I would have had with Mark and his arms. My guess is none. And even if I’d had the opportunity, I’m not really sure I was the rebound fling type. I was more the eat twice my weight in chocolate and watch sappy movies type. I was just glad to be heading back home and if thoughts of what Wickhamesque things a certain Aussie could do to me with his spectacular arms kept popping into my mind, it was because of Tori’s suggestion. And maybe the alcohol. Yeah, that’s all it was.