We're back to excerpts! Do enjoy this excerpt of my Two Monarchies Sequence novel, Masque.
Excerpt from Masque Chapter One.
The library was pleasantly quiet when I wandered idly back through it. Someone had lit a fire in the grate, and orangey shadows flickered over the walls, pearlescent and warm. A comfortable-looking settee was set back a little from the fire, big and plush and just right for reading in, and somehow I found myself sitting down. Itwascomfortable, and before I knew what I was doing I had slipped out of my dancing shoes and tucked my feet beneath me as I did at home on a rainy day. I was stretching back luxuriously with a guilty thought that I shouldn’t stay too long from the ballroom, when I realised with something of a shock that I was not alone. Green eyes gazed at me from an identical chair opposite mine, and a familiar green waistcoat glowed rich emerald in the firelight: it was the man I had danced with.
“I do beg your pardon,” I said, startled. It seemed ridiculous to bleat that I hadn’t seen him there, since he filled the chair very obviously, his long legs stretched out in front of him; but I really hadn’t seen him. “Shall I leave?”
The man stiffened, his head jerking back a little as if he were also startled, but he said quietly: “Not at all.”
His voice was velvet like his waistcoat, deep with slightly rough edges, but now that I had a chance to really look at him, I found that there was something unnerving in his face.
To give myself time to ruminate on the sense of unease, I said: “I’m sorry if I startled you.”
He cocked his head and leaned a little forward. “Most people don’t notice me when I don’t want to be noticed.” He said it more with interest than annoyance.
“I see,” I said quietly; and I did see. I saw two things: one, that this man was a magic user, and that was why I hadn’t seen him at first; and two, that my feeling of unease came from the fact that he was wearing a mask beneath a mask. The lips of it moved, but stiffly, and with imperfect synchronicity. What sort of a man wore a mask beneath a mask?
I said: “Lord Pecus, I believe?”
He laughed at that; a low, warm laugh as enthralling as his voice, and removed the green velvet mask. “You have the advantage, my lady.”
“Lady Isabella Farrah,” I said, inclining my head grandly, just as if I wasn’t curled up in a regrettably informal way. I offered him my hand, and he kissed it in the old fashioned way, cold porcelain against flesh. “I believe we have a mutual friend: Lady Quorn.”
He looked at me piercingly, and I added with mendacious helpfulness: “The one who stumbles.” I was enjoying myself immensely. I thought I saw a gleam of answering humour in Lord Pecus’s eyes, but it was difficult to tell through the magical mask.
“I think I would like to see your face,” he said thoughtfully. “Would it stretch politeness too far to ask you to remove your mask?”
“After you, my lord.”
I thought he laughed at me, but again it was hard to tell. “I don’t think I understand you, my lady.”
I looked at him steadily for a moment, my chin propped up in my palm. “Forgive me if I seem rude, but I think you understand me very well.”
He sat forward again, leaning his forearms on his knees. His bulk was so considerable that this maneuver put his face only inches from mine, and I found his eyes uncomfortably piercing. “Very well, my lady. Remove your mask, and I will remove mine.”
I was burning with curiosity that was tempered by a touch of self-satisfaction that I was about to accomplish something that even Delysia had not been able to accomplish, but I untied my mask with fingers that were steady enough.
“Well, my lord?”
“Charming,” he said softly, deliberately misunderstanding. I found myself blushing for the first time in many years. It was annoying to know that he’d intended as much. “How old are you, Lady Farrah?”
“Very nearly thirty, my lord,” I told him composedly, ignoring the rudeness of the question. “And a confirmed old maid, so you’ve no need to waste your compliments on me.”
“What brings you to the Ambassadorial Ball?”
“The proposed militia merger, my lord; and I believe you’re stalling.”
He gave me a slow, considering smile, and I wondered if the face beneath the mask was smiling also. “Is that so? Are you sure you want to see my face?”
Courtesy compelled me to say, albeit with reluctance: “Not if you’re unwilling, my lord.”
Lord Pecus sat silent for a moment as if in thought, his mask unreadable.
“Hm. I don’t believe I am,” he said at last, as if he had surprised himself. “Try not to scream, my lady.”
If he had said it with the slightest theatricality, I would have laughed and gone back to the ballroom, content not to know what his face really looked like. But he said it unemotionally, a plain warning; and I had to take myself firmly to task for the quickly accelerating beat of my heart as he removed the charms that kept his mask in place. I settled my chin a little more firmly in my palm and waited, watching the process with some interest. I had not much talent for magic, and my knowledge was almost as slight: my training had mostly to do with international policy and diplomatic processes.
At last he seemed to be done. He raised both hands to remove the mask – beautiful hands, strong and bare of rings – and it came away cleanly. For a moment I thought he had yet another mask beneath: firelight played on tawny brown hair – no, fur!- in a face that looked like the worst parts of wolf and bear mixed. I blinked once, realising in that instant that it was his face, his real face, and no mask. His mask must be magic indeed to have hidden that snout under the pretence of a plain common-or-garden human nose.
“I see,” I said into the silent warmth of the room. I dropped my hand back to the arm of the chair and let a small sigh escape. “That explains a good deal.”
You can buy the ebook or paperback of Masque here.