Excerpt From Besotted
The Adventures of the Everyday Fangirl is happy to present this excerpt from the recently published novella Besotted by Elle Clouse.
Tamsyn paused a moment at the gate, looking up at the brick mansion with trepidation. Five years since graduation from the academy and the prince had arranged a reunion. She looked forward to seeing old friends, but the struggle to graduate niggled the back of her mind as if it were yesterday.
She sighed, brushed the imagined wrinkles from her taffeta gown and pushed open the wrought iron gate. The windows leaked light, and the music from the ballroom almost drowned out the horse drawn carriages that traversed the streets behind her.
She was late.
“Miss Bradford, a pleasure to see you again.”
“Gilly!” Tamsyn had been so focused on the front door she didn’t see the footman. “How have you been? Is Edgemont still treating you well?”
“Yes, Miss. Always. A fairer master I couldn’t find.” Gilly smiled, his eyes lined with wrinkles. The old man had been employed at the prince’s estate as long as she could remember, and he’d always been kind to her.
“Good. Is the gang all here?” She was lingering. So much had changed since they’d studied together, yet so much remained the same.
“Yes, and they are waiting for you.” Gilly pulled open the front door. Incense and laughter wafted out, reminding her of their last soiree. They’d all had such high hopes five years ago. Had any of them attained their dreams? Did they still think she needed protecting?
Pushing her insecurities aside, she crossed the threshold into a realm she rarely entered. Although permitted to attend the academy, Tamsyn had never fit in amongst the sons of the titled wealthy. She hadn’t been the only woman or the only commoner, but that never kept some from reminding her of her low birth. An anonymous grant had paid for her tuition, and she’d never looked back.
The foyer was empty save for another footmen standing ready to take her wrap. She handed over the cashmere knit to bare her shoulders and chest, a peacock green corset hugging her bosom and narrow waist. Her sparrow brooch accenting her endowments. Her late mother would be proud of her attempts to fit in among her peers. Although Tamsyn had never cared what people thought of her, her mother knew the value of public opinion.
Tamsyn tucked a wayward curl behind her ear and considered her path; left, straight, or right. The most ruckus sounds rolled in from the left, so she turned right into a parlor. Edgemont had redecorated since she’d been there last. No longer beige and olive green, now crimson and gold accented curtains dominated the windows. The furniture and cushions bore some shade of red or gold, and couples sat or stood around the room sipping champagne.
Eyes turned toward her, and she fought the swell of her throat. She was a woman without an escort, how risqué. She lifted her nose and scanned the room. No familiar faces. She strolled to the next adjacent room, the stares of former classmates and their companions following. Did they recognize her? Did the red hair hide her identity? She’d spent so many years dulling the hue with teas and dyes that her true color shocked some.
She jumped at the sound of her name. A familiar, lanky gentlemen pushed past the billiards table. His pale blond hair was worn longer than she remembered and pulled into a low ponytail. He wore a wrinkled shirt, and his necktie hung around his neck. Before she could dodge him, he snaked his arms around her and embraced her.
“Tamsyn, aren’t you a bit of jam!” He set her down and pulled a curl taut then released it. It bounced back into place. “I thought for sure you’d show in your military uniform.”
“Lir Coleman, that’s no way to greet a lady.” Tamsyn swatted at his hand when he tried to tug another curl.
“Ha, you may be an extraordinary woman, but you’re no lady.” He bumped her with an elbow and laughed. “You and I both know you can best most of these men with one arm behind your back.”
“Don’t say that too loudly, or I’ll have to prove it.” She laughed and brushed her skirt. “And I’d prefer my uniform to this…finery.”
Lir smirked, his gaze sweeping from hem to curl. “You put every other lady here to shame. You just need to stop fidgeting, or you’ll give yourself away.” He grabbed her hand and led her forward, past the classmates he, moments ago, shoved aside to greet her.
He pulled her into another room further back in the house, a private study with two more happy faces.
“You lot owe me a guinea. I told you she’d come.” Lir flourished his hand toward her as if presenting a prized horse. “May I present Tamsyn Bradford, Head Mistress of Her Majesty’s School for Exceptional Ladies.”
Tamsyn blushed. “That hasn’t been announced, yet.”
The gentlemen before her clapped and smiled.
“No, but I have an inside source.” Lir waved over a taller man, his hair golden blond and wild as the wind. She’d recognize the prince’s swagger anywhere, in school uniform or wearing the latest fashion.
“Edgemont.” Tamsyn nodded. “Am I to believe you had a hand in getting me the position?”
“Lord, no, Tamsyn. I know better than to interfere. You earned it fair and square.” He pressed a glass into her hand and raised his own. “To Tiny Tamsyn who’s made it the farthest than any of us! Hip hip!”
“Hurray!” The three men all shouted in unison.
The second man, with dark slicked back hair and a patch of stubble on his chin, stepped forward and clapped her on the back. “Congratulations. If anyone can launch a battalion of lady fighters, it’s you.”
“Thanks, Zeke.” She smiled up him. “It’s nice to see you all. You must tell me what you’ve been up to since Lir already blabbed my exciting news.”
“I’m working for my father, but that’s no surprise. He sent me to the academy to aid in his research.” Zeke sipped his champagne. “It’s all quite boring, I promise.”
“You can guess what His Highness here has been up to.” Lir drained his glass and set it aside. “Nothing but tot-hunting when he’s not running his mum’s errands.”
“What more is a prince to do?” Edge joked.
“Leave a mark on society, that’s what.”
They all turned toward the new voice, one Tamsyn had hoped to hear. Tall and blond like Edge, this man was built like an ox and barely fit into his suit. His eyes were a piercing blue like Edge’s but held compassion.
“Ah, Tamsyn Bradford, let me introduce my twin brother Slademont Foust.” Edge led her forward with a hand on the small of her back. Tamsyn had met Slade once or twice before, in school, and she’d been smitten each time.
Slademont met her gaze then bowed. She curtseyed, and heat rushed through her as he took her hand and pressed his lips to the back of it. His skin was coarse but warm, and he ran his thumb over her knuckles before releasing her.
Tamsyn glanced at Edge and it seemed he hadn’t noticed their moment. He hugged his brother around the shoulders, and side by side, Slade dwarfed his brother. “He’s a machinist, don’t you know? Works on all those giant engines that make trains and airships move.”
“That’s right.” He smiled at his brother, a dazzling sight that made her heart skip a beat. “Keeping all those fancy designs, you create, working for the normal folk.”
Edge laughed. “Rightly so. Designing them is more fun than building them. Too dirty.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a little hard work.” Tamsyn’s gaze kept seeking Slade, and her heart thrilled when their eyes met. Never in all her years had a man made her react that way. Time to change the subject. “What about Axel, will he be joining us?”
Edge guffawed. “That old pirate had better things to do than visit his prince. Something about a new opera? A soprano? I don’t care.”
She turned to Zeke. “How is your sister?”
“Good. She should be done with school soon, and I do believe my father has a debut ball scheduled, already.” Zeke topped off all their glasses with champagne before he sat down on a plush armchair. “Although, when I told her what you’ve done, she said she wanted a transfer. I doubt she could take a knock like you, Tiny.”
“Wait, this is Tiny Tamsyn?” Slade strode to her side. “The woman who wrestled Edge to the ground first day of classes? I’d have paid anything to see that fight.”
“I let her win.” Edge snickered and sat at his desk, glass in hand.
“He had that black eye for a month.” Slade picked up her hand and inspected her knuckles. “I thought I was the only one able to wallop him.”
“He brought it on himself, you know.” She smiled up at Slade. “He said no man could best him in a fight. And none did.”
Slade bellowed with laughter, throwing his head back. “He never mentioned that!” He wiped a tear from the corner of his eyes as his laughter subsided.
“Tamsyn was ours from that moment on,” Zeke said. “And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Feared by every male student, revered by every lady. Top of her class in every subject from history to telegnosis. I might have failed arithmetic if it weren’t for her.”
“Just being a good friend.” Tamsyn smiled. She’d forgotten the late night study sessions with Zeke. Toward the end of their final year, he reviewed all his work with her.
Slade glanced at his brother. “Speaking of being a good friend, Edge. You invited all these people to your house, and you’re hiding in your study. You should get out and mingle.”
“Yes, we should all get out and go have some fun.” Edge jumped up from his desk and pressed Slade and her together as he passed. “There is plenty of champagne, and I shall call dinner. Then we can dance. Come along.”
Slade offered her his arm. “If we play along for a bit, he’ll get distracted. Then we can be left to ourselves.”
Alone with Slade. If her heart rate was any indication, she was in trouble. No one had ever piqued her interest like he did. It had been easy to ignore when they’d both been busy with coursework and easier still when they’d lived separate lives. But now that she had his undivided attention, she was doomed.
You can learn more about Elle by visiting her Webpage: http://elleclouse.com.