In one night, their lives will change forever.
by Anastasia Black
Historical Romance -- ultra sensual.
Black is the penname that
Julia Templeton and I
Would you rather buy this
With Ms. Black's eloquent writing style and vivid description she makes
Dangerous Beauty come alive. You will fall in love with Natasha and Seth,
they are strong well defined characters that will tug at your heartstring,
especially Seth, who has gone through so much, both physically and emotionally.
These two characters will pull the reader into their lives and make you care
what happens to them. When death comes calling at her lovers door, will Natasha
be able to save Seth's life in time.
In 1835, in London, during the night of the annual, prestigious Sweet Pea Ball, two lives are about to be changed forever.
Natasha is one of the most beautiful women in London, but will not suffer fools, and finds most men arrogant beyond tolerance. Her mother, however, will have her married before the end of this, her third season, no matter what it takes, and Natasha will fight her every step of the way.
Seth Harrow is an uncouth Irish sea captain fresh from the colonies of Australia. He’s dressed as a lord, and carries a secret that would tear London society apart if it were revealed. He’s in London for one small task before heading to Ireland to help an old friend. He has no time for giddy debutantes and the hypocrites of society, but must deal with them both to achieve his goal.
In one watershed night, Seth and Natasha will face hatred, bigotry and soul-searing passion. The outcome of that night will plunge them into a churning maelstrom of love, life ... and death.
Note: This extract has been slightly edited to be suitable for a general audience.
East End Docklands, London, 1837
A steam tug blew a mournful note, which echoed flatly across the water. Its passage and the wake of the ship it towed rocked The Artemis where it was tied up at the dock. The motion told Seth Harrow that he had indeed made it back on board last night. It also drew attention to his thick head, which began to thump at the motion. He swallowed dryly, keeping his eyes shut against the daylight filtering through the portholes of the captain’s cabin, and remained perfectly still upon the mattress, riding out the subtle rocking of the ship.
With luck, this would be his last day in this stinking city. Last night had reacquainted him with the vices and venom of the fat old broad of a town. Tucked away in fresh, feisty Albany, deep in the colonies, he’d forgotten how the double standards here could crush a man’s spirits and break his back in all but body. Well, he’d been reminded, and now he was ready to leave. Just one last piece of business, and he could break out the sails and head for Ireland.
Home. The thought came with a deep longing, an ache for the familiar. And whenever he thought of home, he remembered Liam as he had seen him last, sitting in the courtroom with a stricken expression on his white face as the sentence had been passed down.
A warm, light hand slipped over his naked hip, and Seth opened his eyes, startled. He rolled his head to the right, slowly, and found himself staring at a sleepy-eyed redhead. She lay on her side, and she was smiling a little. He could see a sliver of dark green eyes showing under her lowered lids. Her hand was stroking his thighs, and his knees fell apart under her coaxing fingers, as they fluttered against the inside of his thighs.
A good chunk of the previous evening's activities were restored to his memory, then, and he smiled.
“And a fine mornin’ to ye, too, Duchess,” he said, rolling over to face her.
She smiled more fully, her excellent teeth flashing, and her eyes opened a little more. “Your Irish is showing, Seth.” Her voice was deep, husky, but with an upper class preciseness that had not slipped even when she had been deep in the throes of orgasmic passion--he remembered that much about her. She was a genuine blue blood.
She had been slumming last night, looking for a raw entertainment that cotillions and balls could not provide. The Duchess had paused at the door of the dockland pub for a brief moment to lower the hood of her green velvet cloak, pulling off her gloves and assessing the men in the room. She had seen Seth, sitting on a stool, and had come straight over.
“You may buy me a drink, Captain,” she had said, her voice throaty. She had given him a knowing smile he had instantly understood. Like a gentleman, he’d stood and offered her the stool, and sent for another glass of rum.
He looked at her now. “Ye had no objection to my Irish last night, I recall,” he told her.
“I recall listening to an educated man,” she said.
Seth dredged up habits of speech he hadn’t used for years. “It is quite astonishing how one can be misled by appearances, is it not?” The rounded pronunciations were an echo of school halls and manorial estates.
“He sounds like a right proper gent, don’t he?” another soft voice said. A small hand slid over his waist from behind.
Seth swiveled to look over his shoulder. A petite blonde was sitting up behind him. Annie. Now he remembered all of it. Annie, the Duchess’s maid, who shared her adventurous spirit.
That was when the hesitant knock sounded on the door.
Seth frowned. “Go away!”
The knock came again. Firmer this time.
“That’d better be you, Harry, or I’ll have your guts for garters, whoever you are.”
“It’s Harry,” came the answer, muffled.
Seth looked at the Duchess and gave a rueful smile. “A moment only,” he assured her.
While Annie pouted, the redhead fell back against the pillow with an exaggerated sigh. “A moment only, Seth. My patience will only stretch so far.”
Seth climbed off the bed and looked around for his trousers, which he found beneath a pile of stiffened petticoats and a corset. A shirt, one of the tattered ones he wore at sea, hung on a nail driven into the wall. He threw that on, too. Not bothering to button it, he cracked open the cabin door.
Harry’s sun-bronzed features, the almond-shaped eyes, peered back at him through the crack. “There’s a boy here, up on deck. Says he must speak to you. Says he has a message.”
The news he had been waiting for. Seth nodded, and opened the door enough to slip through.
Harry craned his head for a glimpse. Seth shut the door firmly, and smiled. “You’ll just frighten them.”
“Two?” Harry said, blinking.
“I’ll wager neither of them have ever seen a Chinaman before.” Seth gave the long braid hanging between Harry’s shoulder blades a gentle tug and walked up the passage to the steep steps that climbed to the main deck.
“I ain’t never seen a duchess before, neither,” Harry said, following along behind.
“They’re all the same, undressed.” Seth stepped out onto the deck, taking a lungful of the thick, damp air. A fog hung about The Artemis, so thick he could barely see the ship docked next to them. He certainly couldn’t see the far side of the river. It curled about the deck, thick strands wisping about the rigging, making everything sound flat, muffled.
“Sodden old England...I’d forgotten what a miserable place this could be.” He looked over at the gangway, where a small boy in ragged pants and dirty shirt stood clutching the bulwark with a death grip, his eyes wide, staring down at the dirty, oily water swirling between the sides of the ship and the stone dock. “You, boy,” he said softly. “Don’t be afraid. Come here.”
The boy visibly swallowed and shuffled forward. He doffed his cap quickly, as if he’d only just remembered the custom.
“You have a message for me, lad?”
He nodded. He was staring over Seth’s shoulder now, and his eyes grew even bigger. Seth glanced at Harry standing at his shoulder.
“This is Harry Hang. He won’t hurt you. Give me the message, boy.”
The boy reached inside his shirt and brought out a thick envelope with a red seal on the back. “’is eyes are all funny.” The boy didn’t take his eyes off Harry as he held out the envelope.
“I was born in China,” Harry said. “A long, long time ago.”
The boy considered this. Harry’s western speech seemed to reassure him a little, and give him confidence. “My guv told me about them Chinamen. Ain’t they supposed to wear funny white pajamas and round pointy hats, and have plaits down their backs?”
Seth laughed a little as he broke the seal on the letter. “Not Harry. Just the braid, now.”
Harry turned his head to display the hip-length braid to the boy.
“Why?” the boy asked with innocent directness.
“So that when I die, God can pull me up to heaven,” Harry explained.
The boy shook his head firmly. “God don’t do that. ‘e makes you take a boat.”
“Like this one?” Harry asked, with a smile.
Seth tuned out their unconventional theology discussion and read the cursive script on the sheet. He frowned at the news it conveyed.
“You’re to give me tuppence,” the boy said to Seth, nodding at the letter. “’e said ‘e’d put it in that there letter.”
“That he did,” Seth agreed. “Harry, fish two pennies out of the ship’s purse for him.”
“Aye, cap’n,” Harry said, and went below.
The boy was given his tuppence and skipped down the gangplank, delighted with his well-earned treasure-trove.
Harry spread his legs, finding his balance on the gently moving deck, and crossed his arms. “Good news?” He glanced at the thick, cream-colored sheet of paper in his hand.
“In a way.” Seth rubbed his chin, considering the matter, and heard the rasp of a day’s growth under his fingers. “She’ll be at the annual Sweet Pea Ball this evening.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Harry said judiciously.
“So why do you look like you’ve bitten into whale blubber?”
“It’s one of those height of the season, oh-you-simply-must-attend events that everyone on the ton dutifully turns out for and makes silly fools of themselves.”
Harry laughed a little at Seth’s exaggerated accent, even as puzzlement drew a furrow between his brows.
Seth took a deep breath and laughed at himself, too. “Harry, you have to see one of these things to believe them. The women will spend a year’s worth of your wages on one gown, and they’ll be dressed to within an inch of their lives, squeezed into corsets and weighed down with jewelry that would keep your six kids eating for five years. The men....” He shook his head. “The men will wear black broadcloth and satin, and white shirts with collars so stiff and high you can’t tuck your chin to your chest. When they get to the ball they will take off their coats and hats and gloves, and they will immediately put on another pair of gloves.”
Harry stared at him. “Why on earth would they do that?”
“So that when they dance with a lady they will not soil her gown or her skin with their bare fingers.”
Harry thought about that one for a moment, then started laughing. “That’s a good joke, Seth,” he said between chuckles. “Very good.”
“I’m not joking.” A sigh escaped him. He truly was back in England, land of the aristocrat.
Harry wheezed out another chuckle, and took a breath. “And you’re going to this thing?” His big barrel chest, powerful with muscles built from hauling wet canvas across rigging and belaying heavy ropes, bounced up and down, as the paroxysms of mirth rippled through him.
“What?” Seth demanded, spreading his hands wide.
Harry pointed at him, tears squeezing out of his eyes. “You. You will be a hare amongst rabbits--a big loping, patched, piebald hare.”
Seth smiled a little, looking down at himself. The trousers were acceptable enough, but his big bare feet, the ripped and stained shirt that was once his best, but now hung in tatters around his shoulders, and his calloused hands that sported rope burns, were a far cry from the bathed and pampered gentility he intended to move amongst tonight.
“There’s a thing about them you don’t know, Harry. Appearance is everything. If I look and sound like them, they’ll assume that I am one of them.” The thought reminded him of the two women he’d left to their own devices below decks, and he stirred, folding the letter and sliding it into his trouser pocket.
Harry was looking out over the bulwark at the cobblestones on the dock, and the stone lip. His good humor had faded. “It’s a strange world, indeed.”
Seth recognized Harry’s sudden change in mood. Mild alarm touched him. “Don’t get all superstitious on me, Harry.” Harry sometimes drew upon his exotic eastern upbringing, bringing forth snatches of oriental wisdom that often proved prophetic. “I go to the ball, I see her, we leave for Ireland. That’s it.”
Harry shook his head a little, studying the swirling fog. “Step off the ship and you step into a foreign land where nothing makes sense. A strange world. Strange worlds can be dangerous.”
Seth gave a little laugh and clapped Harry on his broad back. “I grew up amongst these people, Harry. I’ll be fine. Just fine.”
Dangerous Beauty is the sequel to Forbidden. Julia and I are very pleased to see the sequel finally make it to print. We've had a lot of reader feedback, asking for Natasha's story, and at last we can tell that story.
I often get asked who I would cast in the movie of my book, if it should ever come to pass, so just for fun:
Movie producer's pitch:
The Age of Innocence crosses swords with Pirates of the Caribbean
Natasha. Jennifer Love Hewitt
Seth. Adrian Paul
Vaughn. Jonathon Rhys-Meyers.
Elisa. Kelly Preston
Don't agree with my picks? Can think of someone who's