A new historical fantasy series, starting with...
|Cover Art by Natasha Snow|
Eugenia was born to privilege in the Ratna clan, nobility famed for their alchemical jewel production. Eugenia’s a talented alchemist herself—but the patriarchy insists her less able brother is the heir to the family secrets and property. As if that weren’t insult enough, an accidentally public tryst with another woman means Genie is shunned by polite society altogether.
Enter the gorgeous Lord Oliver Plumtree, scion of one of the oldest alchemical families in Chrysopoeia and master of the foreboding Waldgrave Abbey. But Lord Oliver is actually Olivia, and on the lookout for a wife—one who requires an escape from the same crushing social mores that have forced Olivia to masquerade as her own long-dead brother to keep her family’s estate intact.
Genie and Liv seem a perfect match from the get-go, and things heat up quickly between them. But before they can carry off their marriage of convenience, Waldgrave Abbey reveals more secrets. Jealous Plumtree relatives and Liv’s association with the Secret Society of Alchemiya, rumored to be a dark and sinister arm of the patriarchy, might just ruin Genie and Liv’s chance at their unlikely happily ever after.
Now available at Loose Id and these fantastic vendors.
Now available at Loose Id and these fantastic vendors.
In Which Eugenia's brother, Delaney, escorts her to the Grand Ball, and she makes a new acquaintance...
“Now I’m forced to enter with you on my arm. What decent woman will want to dance with me tonight?” Delaney huffed and puffed a little.
When he’d quite finished, Eugenia patted his hand. “There, there, brother. Simply drop me off near someone with a tray full of bubbly, and you’ll not see me again all night.”
“That’s what worries me,” he said darkly.
Eugenia couldn’t help herself. “Worried I’ll get a girl before you do?”
Delaney turned bright red and, before she could protest, yanked Eugenia behind a drapery. While he was still fiddling with it, trying to cover their escape, she laughed. “Yes, this is generally how it’s done if you—”
“Enough!” Delaney spun on his heel, his voice low and sharp. Between that and the burning behind his eyes, like two little coals, he reminded Eugenia uncomfortably of Father.
Delaney held her wrist to keep her from turning away, twisting her glove in the process. “I don’t care if you want to ruin your life. I don’t care if you live with me and my family forever. I don’t care if you have affairs with other women. I don’t care if you spend your life practicing alchemy, trying to make a mockery of me as I fumble along, trying to fulfill the demands of generations of our clan and the people who depend on it. But you will not ruin our lives. Do you understand me?”
A lump rose in Eugenia’s throat. Mixed anger and trepidation and surprise and even—could that be shame, of all things? She affected a haughty look, but her face burned.
“Do you understand me?” Delaney repeated, slower, deadly serious. He let go her wrist but kept her gaze hostage.
“I do not.” She didn’t like the quiver in her voice, but she’d make do. She focused on righting her glove. “I don’t know what you could possibly—”
“Faugh!” He waved one hand impatiently. “You’re smart as Old Flamel himself until it suits you to play stupid. Eugenia, you will behave yourself tonight. You will convince the company that you are a respectable young woman of good family. You will do this for the sake of your brother and sister who, though you have no interest in society, would very much like to remain part of it.”
“And if I don’t?” She swallowed hard, trying to mask the tremor She had never in her life seen Delaney like this. Father, yes, certainly, but not silly Delaney.
“No, Eugenia.” Repeating her name over and over, as if it had the power to make her obey. “What if you do? Well, I’ll tell you. I will insist that you no longer be forced to go to out in society. You may stay in your rooms with your books and your cauldron. You may continue to visit our tenants, in particular the poor, and you will attend Restday services. Otherwise, your time shall be your own.”
“Shut up like an invalid?” She was aghast.
“I’ll do my best for you, I swear it,” he said.
She believed him, of course, but it was still quite absurd. She snorted.
“Shall I tell you what happens if you refuse my deal? If you misbehave and cause a scene tonight?” Delaney’s eyes no longer burned but were cool and steely. Yes, far too much like Father for comfort.
Still, Eugenia kept her head up. “If you must.”
“We will find you a husband.” And that was it. That was all he said. The most disgusting of threats.
Eugenia snarled. “You can’t. Not without my consent.”
“I can. You are twenty, still. You will obey your lord,” Delaney said flatly. “For one more year.”
“Father is my—”
“And I am his heir. I have argued for you countless times, Eugenia. Do you think I enjoy threatening my own sister? But I can see no other way. I want a…a life of my own. I want this life. Let me have it, and I will help you as much as I can. Thwart me, and I will return the favor. Are we clear?”
“Crystal,” Eugenia replied. She composed her mouth into the slightest, iciest pout in her arsenal.
Without another word, Delaney spun again and darted from behind the drape. Eugenia peeked out after him, breathing hard and feeling as if she’d been kicked in the stomach by a particularly angry stallion. Watching her brother disappear into the swirling crowd, Eugenia was torn. Most of her wanted to kill him in his sleep.
But a small part of her, the part that would’ve sworn Delaney never had it in him, was proud. Not for the blackmail, but simply that he’d mustered the stones to stand up for himself at last.
Eugenia reentered the party in the other direction, then swiped a glass of bubbly from the nearest tray and attempted to lose herself in the riot of color, sound, and smell that was the Grand Ball. Chrysopoeia’s alchemical nobility were in their finest tonight, to see and be seen. To make a good match or start a new enterprise. To dance. To judge. To—
“Lady Ratna, I think?” a mellow voice asked just over Eugenia’s shoulder.
She turned slowly, amazed that anyone in this crowd, all of whom had heretofore ignored her presence completely, would deign to speak to her. She was even more amazed that the delicate, rather prettily handsome, fresh-faced young man who addressed her was not already of her acquaintance.
Speaking to a lady without an introduction? Eugenia wondered if she’d like him or hate him. She’d lay odds on the latter, but tonight had been…surprising.
“Yes?” she asked, careful to show no interest.
He made a casual, almost flippant bow. “Oliver Plumtree, your servant. Forgive me for introducing myself, my lady, but I admit I was hoping to find you here.”
“You amaze me,” she said, since she kept thinking it over and over. She took a sip to compose herself, concentrating on the play of the bubbles and the tartness of the wine on her tongue. When she felt sufficiently herself again, she added, “I was so looking forward to an evening of being invisible, too.”
“In that dress?” Oliver Plumtree’s eyebrows, thin, pale, and finely arched, rose. “Hardly.”
“Ah, so you hoped to find me here so you could flatter me. How original.” Eugenia was almost sorry the moment it was out of her mouth; damn Delaney for putting her in a sour mood. She took another, longer drink.
Plumtree only laughed, though. “Partly, I think. I apologize for interrupting your evening of invisibility, though. And they say infamy has nothing to recommend it.”
She blinked to hear someone—someone so obviously genteel—openly comment on her reputation. It was…odd but refreshing. “Would you like to be invisible too, Mr. Plumtree?”
“In that jacket?”
Several weeks later, in which Oliver has revealed himself to be Olivia, and she takes a bath.
“Where do you find these wonderful people?” Eugenia asked.
“Oh, around. You were easy enough to find,” Olivia replied.
“Infamy has a few things to recommend it.” Eugenia grinned, recalling their first meeting at the Grand Ball. It all made sense now, that Lord Plumtree would seek out a fallen woman—fallen for being queer, in particular. “My infamy made me convenient.”
Olivia chuckled. “And my money makes me convenient.”
“Not to mention your glorious house, your gender, and your pretty face.” Eugenia continued undressing, working at the laces in her underdress. She turned around, back to Olivia, to make a show of it. Slowly, slowly, pulling the underdress apart…
“Sheer dumb luck,” Olivia mumbled, obviously no longer paying attention to the conversation.
Gratified, Eugenia slipped the underdress off her shoulders and let it drop around her waist. She looked over her shoulder and smiled.
Olivia licked her lips. “Stop teasing me, will you?”
“Never, if our arrangement works out.”
Liv gave a delighted laugh and beckoned with one finger.
Eugenia dropped her underdress to the floor and shed her drawers quickly. She lifted one leg—more so Liv could admire it than for any practical reason—and dipped her foot into the water. “Oooh, that’s nice.”
“Getting nicer.” Liv smirked and watched as Eugenia stepped in and knelt on the opposite end of the tub. Then Olivia asked, “Do you really think it might work out?”
Eugenia settled her backside comfortably and stretched out her legs on either side of Olivia’s. The warm water reached just under her breasts if she sat up straight, but there was room for both of them to slouch. “What? Oh, our arrangement? I don’t see why not.”
“It’s hard to believe.” Liv considered her for a long moment, then sat up and held out a hand.
Eugenia got to her knees and crawled over until she could settle on Liv’s thighs. She cupped water in both hands and poured it over Liv’s shoulders so it warmed them, trickled down her small, high breasts, and lingered on her pink nipples. “It is a stroke of luck,” Eugenia admitted.
“It’s more than that.” Liv’s breast rose and fell with a deep breath. Her pale eyelashes fluttered, and she looked up at Eugenia through them. “I’m too hopeful, maybe. My life has been a delicate web of lies for so long. My sisters have been the only honest thing in it.”
It wasn’t that Eugenia had never considered as much, precisely. More that the scope of Olivia’s deception was so massive as to overwhelm any attempt at true empathy.
Which was rather the point, wasn’t it? Eugenia had been lonely, yes. She hadn’t been willing to admit it, even to herself, when it seemed that was her lot in life. It was too painful to think she’d never have more than the odd dalliance with another woman, never have a true partner in life and love, and so she simply expunged the possibility from her mind. It did not, after all, exist, so why torture herself with fantasies?
But now that the fantasy might prove reality after all, she could admit it had been hard. Impossibly unfair, even, to be denied that dream. It might not work out between her and Olivia. They might end up fighting or unhappy. But there was a chance now, and that was more than Eugenia had ever dared to dream of.
She was so, so glad she could give that sense of hope to Liv too. Not just the possibility of a partner but the possibility of honesty in that partnership. Eugenia asked, “Until now?”
“So I dare to hope.”
Eugenia squeezed her thighs together, hugging Liv’s, and leaned down to kiss her again. Liv’s palms flattened against Eugenia’s bath-warmed skin and pushed upward, over her hips, to rest at her waist. It was the strangest sensation, this combination of lust and genuine affection twisting up in Eugenia just then.
Maybe she could really love Olivia. Maybe she was already on the way.
She wasn’t quite ready to dwell on that point, though, so she broke the kiss to say, “I’ve never had sex in the bath.”
Olivia, her lips already slightly swollen from kissing, smirked. “Not even alone?”
Liv kissed her quickly, then began rearranging their positions of a sudden. “Let me show you something.