Excerpt from Her Wicked Surrender
"He's not here." Scheherazade Martin said the words aloud in an attempt to force her mind to stop looking for someone she didn't want to see. He wasn't in tonight's playhouse crowd, and she had no interest in being pursued by him anyway. She even prayed nightly that he would lose interest and leave her alone. But some desires went deeper than her mind's ability to block. And yet, it made no sense. Why did she want him so?
He was a lord pursuing a passing fancy. She was an actress and no lord would deign to marry her no matter what he whispered. Besides, her longing was only a symptom of a larger problem. Yes, she craved Lord Blackstone, but she also wanted... something else. Something elusive.
The word "love" whispered through her mind, and she ruthlessly shut the idea away. Love didn't come to the likes of her. Her goal was marriage and even that wouldn't happen with him. So it was best if she stopped looking for Lord Blackstone and concentrated on the task at hand. She turned toward the Green Room, moving so quickly that she nearly caught her skirts on fire.
"Move that lamp," she said to the newest stagehand, pointing to the offending lantern set casually on the floor where anyone could kick it. The Tavern Playhouse was small, barely enough room for a stage and fifty people, all standing. One little fire and the entire building would burn to the ground before she had the chance to scream. "Do you want to be burned alive?"
"Yeh," grunted the boy, barely ten years old, but he didn't move from where he was lying down, peering into a hole that led beneath the stage. Not until he was cuffed from behind by Seth.
"Ow!" he cried, leaping up, his fists raised. "Wot's that fer?"
Seth didn't answer, except to point at the lamp. He was a mute, but he still managed to handle an army of boys with seeming efficiency. Especially since he had the help of Joey, the oldest of Seth's helpers.
"That's Lady Scher, lackwit," Joey barked as he came around from behind the curtain. "We do wot she says as she says it. Or find yer bread elsewheres." He thrust his chin at the backstage door.
There was a tense moment when Scher thought the new boy would fight or bolt. Boys were the most unpredictable in their first week, but he looked at Seth's massive bulk and changed his mind. Slumping over to the lantern, he grabbed it with enough force to break the handle. Seth was beside him in a minute, pulling him to the door by his ear. The boy started bellowing, but Scher turned away. She didn't want to see Seth's brand of discipline. All she cared about was that it worked, and that it was a damn sight better than what waited outside the Tavern Playhouse doors. Besides, she was already late for the Green Room.
"Thank you for your help, Joey," she said.
"Yes, m'lady, yes! I'll finish up 'ere. I'll do it right an' tight, jes how you like!"
Scher managed a smile, and Joey's face lit up like a beacon. "You're a good boy," she said as she slipped past another curtain to the hallway that led to their tiny Green Room. It was a narrow path and dark, but she had been walking it her entire life, so she paid little heed to where she stepped.
She was just ordering her thoughts to the task ahead when it happened. She felt an arm on hers, a push from the side, and then she was spun around to face her attacker. She had only the vaguest impression of largeness—large hand, tall body, and a dull flap as his heavy cloak rippled around them. By the time she gasped, she was already pushed up against the wall. Her backside hit first, so she was able to prevent her head from banging painfully against a ladder, but that was all she could do as his body came hard and full against her, and his cloak hid her from sight.
Her hands fisted and her belly tensed. Slight as she was, she could still fight. And she was already drawing breath to scream. Seth and his boys would be at her side in a moment. No man dared accost Lady Scher, not in her own tavern.
"You're late," he said, his voice a dark shiver up her spine.