Saturday, May 3, 2014

YA Excerpt: 'Brazen' by Katherine Longshore

(from usatoday.com
by Joyce Lamb)


(Photo: Viking Childrens)


Today we get to share an excerpt from Katherine Longshore upcoming YA, Brazen. Katherine is also author of Gilt and Tarnish. Brazen comes out June 12.

Here's the blurb to get you oriented (courtesy of publisher Viking Children's):

Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. She is the pawn of her ambitious father and her manipulative mother, but when she's married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII's illegitimate son and only male heir, she thinks she's finally out from under their thumb. But, forbidden by the king to consummate her marriage, Mary's position is unstable at best. She soon falls in with a tight clique of the court's most audacious youth, and together they test the boundaries of the court's strict rules with their games, dares, and dalliances, risking brutal consequences. And the more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him.

Things begin to unravel as the King turns against Anne Boleyn, and his minions grill the clique for damning information about the ill-fated queen. But Mary is no longer the shy, submissive girl she once was—and in the end, she must choose between living in the safety of the shadows or risking it all for the chance to be her own woman, ruled by no one.

Here's the excerpt (courtesy of Viking Children's):

"Would you like to dance?"

The sound of his voice startles me. He's hardly said ten words to me since we married, but in the intervening six months, his voice has deepened and mellowed. The way he speaks words makes my mouth water.

I don't want to say yes, but I do. I don't want to like the way his hand feels in mine. But I do.

I want to fall in love with him.

But I don't.

As we move to the center of the floor, I learn one thing I can mentally scratch off of the list written in the little book he gave me.

Good dancer.

He finally speaks the second time he misses a beat and I stumble. "I can see why Hal calls you Your Gracelessness."

I immediately cross off another: he has to like me.

"And what does he call you?" I retort. "For you have no rhythm."

I finally look up at him and catch the smile disappearing from his face.

"I have perfect balance when I ride, can beat Hal any day at archery, and always win at tennis."

A third item. Is not vain.

"You didn't the last time I saw you play."

He stops moving altogether, so I force him into the next turn and press my advantage. Feel my mother's tongue sharpening in my own mouth.

"What about academics? Latin? Astronomy? Diplomacy. Strategy. Poetry." I pause. "But no, you need rhythm to write poetry."

"I'm not at all like my father," he says. "No mind for facts and figures. They bore me. And I leave the poetry to your brother."

Another element off the list. I'm beginning to be glad he didn't kiss me back.

"So you excel at other things," I say. "Physical pursuits."

His hand tightens on mine reflexively and I realize what I've just implied—that he must be good in bed. My eyes snap to his. His eyebrows have disappeared beneath his hair.

"And you excel at words," he says. No one knows I love words. Not Father, not Madge, not Margaret. I told the queen, but she's unlikely to pass that sort of thing onto her stepson. There's only one person this information could have come from. And I swore Hal to secrecy.

I can no longer hold my tongue or make a clear judgment.

"At least I can dance."

"A little."

"With the right partner."

"And what about the wrong one?"

I glare at him. "Obviously not."

"When Grace meets Rhythm the effect is beautiful."

That's certainly not us. I am suddenly exhausted. "Like the king and queen. They each have both. They are well-matched."

"What about when Gracelessness meets Rhythmlessness?" he asks. "Can the effect not be beautiful? Because we, too, are well-matched. Equal."

We are not equal. He has been royalty all his life, and I am nothing but a fabricated duchess.

I think to tell him this, but he pauses both the conversation and the dance and my eyes lift to his on their own accord. He leans over me. Intimate. His eyes seek not information. But permission.

"What has Hal told you?" I ask. It is the first thing on my mind. Actually the second, but I cannot ask What have you told Hal?

"That you love words."

Silence stretches out between us. Long and silver like a thread pulled from a tapestry. Unraveling.

"Perhaps the writing of them more than the speaking," he says. His voice is low and sonorous. Confiding. But his eyes brighten with merriment. He's teasing me.

I find that I cannot reply.

A sweep of skirts flashes past us and I realize we are standing amongst the dancers, some of whom are giving us dirty looks. Fitz takes my arm and guides me gently to the end of the room. I wonder if he is looking for a place to deposit me so he can find someone more interesting.

He finally stops nearer the exit, along the path the servants follow to bring platters of food and take the carcasses and bones back to the dogs behind the kitchen.

Perfect.

But Fitz doesn't leave. He cradles me in his shadow and speaks with directness.

"I'm afraid the last time we spoke…" he stops. Coughs. "Or didn't speak. I'm afraid my reaction—or lack of it—embarrassed you."

That embarrassment flares up in me again and I'm glad to be sheltered from the rest of the room. Madge would be able to see my blotchiness from the dance floor.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am," he says.

He's sorry? I can't speak, so I hold my breath. Wait for the but that begs to be tacked onto the phrase. There's always a but. But I'm just not attracted to you. But I'm in love with someone else. But my father says I can't.

"But…"

I groan and turn to the tapestry behind us, wanting to press my face into the woven Adriatic. Maybe I can drown in it.

He's silent. Forever.

"But what?" I ask finally, not looking up from the sea of threads.

"But it's different." He pauses. "It's…you're…"

Again the silence.

Belligerence turns me to face him. "I'm what?"

He flinches at the sharpness of my tone.

"You're my wife."

I clench my hands into fists. Pray that I don't use them. "And that makes me what? Undesirable? Untouchable? Ugly?"

"No!" The sharpness of his tone matches my own, but then it softens. "Just the opposite, actually."

He takes my hand and turns it palm up, strokes my fingers open and rests his palm on mine.

"You are beautiful and desirable and singularly and utterly touchable." He's looking at my hand, tracing the lines there with his index finger. I watch his face for any sign of a tease or a joke. But there is none. I hold my breath.

He raises his eyes to mine.

"Then why…" I can't even ask him in words.

A smile tugs at his mouth.

"You surprised me."

I wait. But he's not forthcoming.

"You mean you didn't want me to kiss you first. You mean you think I'm…bold. Presumptuous. Immodest."

He looks back down at my hand. And nods.

My mother's assessment of me stands.

He takes a step. Closer to me. His knee presses mine through my skirts. He brushes the hair away from my face and runs his fingers down my neck, his forehead to my temple so he can whisper directly into my ear.

"Your kiss surprised me," he repeats. "But I liked it."

I can add one quality to the list.

Honesty.

Find out more at www.katherinelongshore.com.