Thank you, all who voted for A Lady by Midnight in the DABWAHA tournament! It was a hard fought match against Courtney Milan, and her excellent book The Duchess War. The lead changed several times, and it was a tight race…but Team Tessa prevailed in the end!
So here is the scene I promised. A bonus from the margins of A Lady by Midnight, wherein Colin teaches Thorne to waltz. I had too much fun writing it. I will freely admit, much of the dialog lacks a certain…historical accuracy. 🙂
Reader warning: Profanity ahead.
“First, let’s make one thing understood.” Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, tapped a hand to his chest. “You came to me, Thorne. So recognize the skills. And stop scowling.”
“I’m not scowling.”
“No?” Colin tilted his head, examining. “I guess that’s just your face. Unfortunate.”
Samuel Thorne released his breath in a long, long-suffering sigh.
He should have known this was a bad idea. It wasn’t as though he and Lord Payne were friends. During the year they’d both lived in Spindle Cove, there’d been no love lost between them. They’d sniped at one another, disagreed at every turn. Colin was a viscount, and a talkative, spendthrift, rakish one at that. Thorne came from nothing, said little, and currently wished he were anywhere but here.
But he had no choice. The ball was mere days away, and it would be Thorne’s one and only chance to prove himself worthy of his Katie. He wasn’t a gentleman by birth, but he needed to look, behave—and dance—as close to it as he could manage.
Colin clapped his hands together. “Since we only have one day, and we’re starting from nothing, I’m going to suggest the waltz. You can’t go wrong with a waltz. It’s well-known, it’s romantic, it’s easy to learn.”
That all sounded good to Thorne.
“Take my hand in yours”—Colin raised one hand to shoulder height—“and slide your other arm around my waist, placing your palm squarely between my shoulder blades.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Of course I’m serious. How else are you going to learn it, but to do it? I’ll take the lady’s part, of course. Unlike you, I’m secure enough in my masculinity.”
Thorne harrumphed, reaching to take Colin’s hand. “My masculinity is secure. Very secure.”
“Then learn how to lead.” Colin demonstrated the step, slowly. “Forward with the left foot. Right foot to the side. Feet together. One…Two…Three. And now the same, only with right foot back. This shouldn’t be too difficult for you. You’re used to all that marching in the army.”
True. But marching beats came in sets of four, not three. This new rhythm had Thorne feeling like his boots were on the wrong feet. He tried to concentrate.
“That’s it,” Colin said. “You’re catching the rhythm.” He pressed his lips together and hummed a jaunty, lilting melody.
“For the love of—” Thorne stepped back, breaking step. “Do you have to hum?”
“No, I don’t have to hum. I could tra-la-la. Or you could hum. Or tra-la-la, if you pref—”
“Not a chance in hell.”
“Here’s the thing, Thorne. It’s a dance. We must have some music. There will be music at the ball.”
Thorne paced in a slow circle before returning to try again. Arms rigid. Hand between partner’s shoulder blades. “Get on with it, then.”
“Listen,” Payne said, growing testy. “If this dancing lesson is going to work, you’re going to have to stop fighting me. I know we’ve kept up this playful sparring for years. But it’s blossomed into something more.”
“Blossomed?” Thorne could barely scrape out the word.
“Yes, blossomed. In happens, in life. With time, all sorts of lovely things blossom. Flowers, friendships…”
“Admit it.” A sly grin spread across Payne’s face. “You like me.”
Thorne admitted nothing.
“You didn’t always, but now you like me. You really like me. We have this…this brotherly romance. No, no. Romance is the wrong word. What you feel for me is… Ah, I know.” He snapped his fingers. “Manfatuation.”
“Manfatuation. A manly infatuation. You are seized in the grips of a raging manfatuation.”
Oh, Thorne was seized by something, all right.
Colin shrugged, nonchalant. “You’re the one with your arm about my waist. Just remarking, that’s all.”
Thorne sighed. He didn’t have time to play Payne’s idiotic games. He only had this one day to learn this one dance. In the hopes of a lifetime with the one person he’d ever loved.
He closed his eyes and thought of Miss Taylor. Kate. His Katie.
Then he tightened his arms and swung Colin into the waltz.
“That was good, Thorne. That taking-control-with-brute-strength bit? It’s a touch cave-dweller, but it works for you. I don’t mind admitting that even I felt a little thrill.”
“Just shut up and dance.”
“The growling’s not bad either. But you shouldn’t want me to be quiet. We should talk. You need to learn to dance and converse at the same time.”
At the same time? Thorne barely conversed when standing still.
“I know, I know. You’ve built a career as Corporal Grumpypuss McTaciturn. The man, the myth, the legend. But if you want to ask for Miss Taylor’s hand, you will have to woo her with some words. Not necessarily a great many words. If it comes down to it, all you need are three. Just tell her you love her.”
Tell her you love her.
The mere thought made Thorne’s guts clench. Love? He barely had any idea what the word meant. He’d grown up the unwanted child of a prostitute, then spent years in prison as a convicted thief. He’d never spoken words of love to anyone. The few times he’d heard them from Katie’s lips, he’d tried his best to bat them away like gnats.
But on this point, he knew Colin was right. Katie would want to hear the words from him. She deserved to hear those words. That was the point of this entire journey to London—the new attire, the captain’s commission, the ring. He wanted to provide everything she needed. A home, a family, a secure future.
He wanted—more than anything—to find it in himself to give her that, too.
“Think about it,” Colin said. “The waltz is perfect for confessions of love. Three steps in the dance. Three little words. You can work up to it. Speak about loving other things. Ease into it.” He spoke in time with the waltz. “One…two…three. I…love…cake.”
“I don’t love cake. Don’t care for it at all.”
Colin rolled his eyes. “Fine. No cake. Fill it in with something else, then. Go on.”
With the next three-step turn, he gritted out, “I…hate…this.”
“Come along,” Colin urged. “You have to get over your fear of that word. Start with manly things, if that’s easier. I…love…ale. I…love…tits. I…love…bacon. Soon you’ll be straight on to the heart of the matter. I…love…you.”
The door whooshed open.
“Colin, the wine merchant’s here, and he’s asking Mrs. Potter about the—”
Thorne and Colin froze in the center of the room, wrapped in each other’s arms. That echo rang through the room: “I love you.”
Lady Payne stood slack-jawed in the doorway. “Oh my Lord.”
A different three-word phrase came to Thorne’s mind: Fuck my life.
“I saw nothing,” Lady Payne blurted out. Flustered, she whipped the spectacles from her face and fidgeted with them. “I can’t see a thing, truly. They’re all cloudy with dust. And I’ve been telling Colin I need new lenses. Haven’t I been telling you that, Colin?”
“You have,” he agreed. He nodded at Thorne. “She has.”
“I saw nothing. Nothing at all.” She backed out of the room the way she’d entered, stumbling into the doorjamb in her haste to leave. Thorne heard her whimper again, “Oh my Lord.”
“Well, that was awkward,” Colin said. “I’ll have some creative explaining to do later.”
“Somehow I don’t think you’ll find that too difficult. Creative explanations being your specialty.” Thorne stepped back and scrubbed his face with one hand, cursing under his breath.
“Well?” Colin asked. “Are we finished, then? Manfatuation or no, perhaps you’ve decided this just isn’t worth it.”
“We’re not finished.”
Thorne shook out his arms and took Colin in his arms. Again. One…two…three.
Because his Katie was worth it.
She was worth anything. Years of imprisonment, hunger, suffering.
And yes… even this.