EXCERPT: Starlight by Carrie LoftyTuesday, July 3, 2012 13:00
I like the way Carrie Lofty has combined this age of Scottish strife with the romance between Alex Christie and Polly Gowan in her latest Christie family book, Starlight. Not once does the reader – or the romance – get lost in the technicalities of factories, unions, and sabotage. All of that is very nicely interspersed throughout the main characters’ romance.
Alex and Polly are very likable characters, and I enjoyed getting to know them. I think you will too. Alex is in Scotland only to secure his son’s future. He didn’t count on finding a feisty, fiery redhead who made him want and need like never before. And Polly never saw her attraction to Alex coming until it was too late. The union and her loom will have to work alongside her growing love for the man who holds her and her people’s future in his hands.
Esteemed astronomer Alex Christie, the eldest and most steadfast of the Christie siblings, has never possessed his late father’s ruthless business drive. But to protect his frail infant son from his cruel father-in-law’s bid for custody, the young widower must undertake Sir William Christie’s posthumous million-dollar challenge: to make a Glasgow cotton mill profitable. At sea in an industrial world of sabotage and union agitation, Alex meets Polly Gowan, daughter of a famed union leader, who hopes to seize a mysterious saboteur without involving the police.
Because a sympathetic mill master would aid her cause, Polly becomes Alex’s guide to urban Scotland. From soccer games to pub brawls, Alex sees another side of life, and feels free for the first time to reveal the man–vital and strong–behind his intellectual exterior. Polly is utterly seduced. Their ambitions, however, remains at odds: Alex vows to earn the mill bonus to save his child, while Polly fights for the needs of her people. Is there strength enough in their sparkling passion to bind them together in their quests–and in a lasting love that conquers all?
Now meet Alex and Polly…
Using a hunk of dark bread, Alex sopped up the last of the juices on his plate. He sat with Miss Gowan on the backmost pew. She balanced her dish on her knees with a calm sort of grace. He wondered if society women in New York could’ve managed such a feat. And in their Sunday best, no less.
Yet “Sunday best” was a relative term. Polly’s dark blue gown, although of very good muslin, did no favors for her pale skin and auburn hair. She looked nearer to mourning than a young woman on the verge of springtime. The cut was also woefully out-of-date, perhaps fitted when she had achieved her figure.
And what a figure. Vulgarity was not a an impulse in which he indulged–until meeting Polly. Her petite frame only accentuated a high, rounded bust. Already he’d held her hips and her round, firm backside. Those memories made him ache and shudder at the same time. He had left bruises? To believe he’d behaved that way was too new to process, as if looking inside himself and finding another man entirely.
Why he wasn’t touching her again, when they sat side by side on the church pew, was even harder to understand.
Alex cleared his throat and set aside his dish. “Have I met all of the major players?”
“Your union allies.”
“It’s not my union,” she said with a shake of her head. Auburn was too tame a word. She was a redhead, pure and simple. Only the poor lighting and perpetual Glasgow haze stole its color. He wanted to see her in the bright light of a full summer sun. “It’s the weavers’ union.”
“And your role in it?”
“Just another member.”
“I don’t believe that.” He sat back against the pew and crossed his arms. “Come clean so we can stop the bickering before it begins.”
“Aw.” Her wide, guileless smile was almost too much to resist. “You’re no fun. The bickering is the best part. Otherwise we’d have nothing to say and nothing would mask how much we dislike one another.”
Was that true? It didn’t feel true.
He had the most splendid view of her profile, with her rounded cheekbones and full lips. Her willful nose had a bump on the bridge, which was the only feature even approaching a flaw. The curve of her jaw was delicate, but not so much that she appeared childlike–just graceful and very feminine. Skin without flaw.
She had the face of a woman who had never known softness, but who courted laughter. The combination was so novel as to be perplexing. He had never dealt well with snap decisions. New information took him days, sometimes weeks, to process. Rather than admit what manner of man she could tempt him toward becoming, he fell back on the role of master.
The role had become his since arriving in Scotland–not that he enjoyed that fact.
“Tell me,” he said solemnly.
“My father is the head of the weavers’ union, in a day and age when skips are king of the Clyde. We’re long past the glory days of the Calton Martyrs.”
“The Calton Martyrs?”
Her gaze floated across the rumbling bustle of the church. So many bodies packed into one space. At least they kept the March chill at bay.
“During the time of my da’s father. Ordinary weavers faced off against an armed regiment in a fight for fair wages. They’re heroes to us all. But now we’re more likely to starve to death or die of typhus in a one-room tenement.” She shrugged–a habit she demonstrated when she skirted too near uncomfortable subjects. “Used to be good money for skilled workers. These days, the weavers are mostly women. Able menfolk have moved to the docks and the shipyards.”
A shade of bitterness spoiled her lilting words. But perhaps that was unavoidable. What she did was difficult and tedious, as worthy as anything a riveter or steelworker could manage. That didn’t change the timbre of Glasgow. The ships brought the money. The ships brought goods from all over the world. And the ships fostered an arrogant attitude that only men were hearty enough to contribute to the city’s prosperity. He’d learned that much within hours of his arrival.
“Does that explain why a woman leads their union?”
“My da’s still the union boss.”
Alex called her bluff by standing. “Perhaps I should talk to him instead. Maybe he’ll know more about the saboteur than you’ve revealed.” He reached for her arm but was beset by a moment’s hesitation. Had he truly left his fingerprints on her pale skin? Would she really have tugged the edge of her bodice to show him?
The flicker of knowing mockery in her bright green eyes shot resolve through his limbs. “Come then,” he said. “Off to see your da. I won’t waste my breath on some feisty but useless lackey.”
Polly stood but did not fight his hold. Even her eyelashes were that same vibrant red. They seemed to glow beneath even the palest light. He could see every freckle across her stubborn nose. She smelled of lilacs. Some tonic to tame her unruly curls? He wanted to pull her close and lose himself in perceptions he rarely indulged. The senses were for analysis, not pure pleasure.
Even without the experience to know for certain, Alex knew she was a woman who would provide pleasure.
“My father is unwell.”
Alex stilled. “Truly?”
“Yes, truly. Sometimes there are things the heart accepts less readily than the mind.”
A surge of sympathy chugged through his veins and settled in his pounding heart. He knew that feeling. He’d known it every time he touched Mamie and felt her flinch beneath his slow, cautious fingers. That hadn’t stopped him from hoping she might one day welcome the affection he’d fought to keep gentle.
His mind had known that would never be the case. Josiah Todd’s perversions had ruined her forever.
“You have my sympathies, Polly.”
A wobbly grin shaped her lush mouth–a pouting lower lip, and an upper lip prone to curling into a smile at the least provocation. “So it’s Polly now? Speak to the weaver’s union boss with a little more respect, master.”
“About time you admitted it.”
“You flirt rather well when you don’t think about it.”
The realization that he had been flirting was difficult to reconcile. What else could he call it when he’d spoken with the hope of seeing her smile? How long had it been since he had felt such an impulse? With Polly, the teasing came as naturally as quarreling and lust.
He would need to watch himself. His goals were simple, as if written on a list: find the saboteur, keep the board from selling Christie Textiles, earn his inheritance, protect his son. Polly Gowan figured in as a source of information. Nothing more.
Considering how he’d behaved the last time they were alone, that was for the best. Never had a woman affected him so strongly. He had been almost . . .bestial. Reliving those moments hit straight to his gut. Shame and astonishment that he was capable of sinking to such depths. Yet, quick on the heels of that disbelief, came a very different sort of shock.
He wanted to kiss her again. Just as he had. Without reservations–and this time, without regrets. That would mean ensuring she craved the passion as much as he did, but that was blasted unlikely.
Polly glanced back toward the pulpit, where the congregation’s women began to dismantle the remnants of the feast. “Now what, master?”
She didn’t offer the polite courtesy of letting him hide. She poked and prodded as if she had a right to know his every thought–no matter how unsavory.
“You tell me, Miss Gowan.”
A bright sparkle lit her jewel-green eyes. “I think it’s time you found out what it is to be a real Scottish man.” She nodded toward the rear of the church, where Hamish Nyman and his cronies bunched together. They had changed out of Sunday suits, into much rougher fare. Their voices grew rowdy. “The boys will be wanting to blow off steam. Even with the mist, my money’s on a sporting match of some kind. Probably footy. You have any experience with sports?”
“I played rugby at Harvard. Polo. Rowing.”
Her brows lifted. She looked him up and down. “Very posh. But at least it explains your body.” Before Alex could choke back his surprise at her bold comment–and the hot warmth that bathed his skin–she continued her baiting. “You’d better be good enough to put up a show. If you lose face against these men, you’ll never get anywhere with them.”
He had never been a stranger to competition or the masculine politics inherent in a good grudge match. A full decade older now, he still participated in the sports of his youth, as his only means of alleviating the physical frustrations of having been married to Mamie.
This would be harder. Tougher. With workingmen out for blood against their employer.
“No worries,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll survive a few minutes running the ball around.”
“You’re enjoying this.”
“All by your choice. Don’t fault me for enjoying the spectacle.”
Les MacNider strolled over. His lanky posture and slow gait were at odds with his quick manner of speaking. He looked like a scarecrow but with less stuffing. Ragged. Hard-boned. Always moving in tiny, telling ways. “Well, then, master. You up for a game?”
“Les,” Polly said. “the pitch is probably so rain-slicked you’ll knock out what brains you have.”
He offered a toothy, unabashed grin. “Got that right. Nothing up here to damage.”
“That’s for certain, you mongrel.”
She smiled. At Les. Just the way she’d smiled at Alex. What he felt wasn’t jealousy so much as a disappointment in becoming just another man. For a few moments he had been someone almost . . . intimate.
He wanted that again. No. He needed that again.
Hesitation disappeared like a puff of smoke. Alex would stand as a man among these rough people. He would impress Polly Gowan. She was lightning and ragged impulses. The jeering in her eyes would transform into surprise and frank approval, or he’d be left like a fallen soldier on a field of battle.
He clapped Les hard on the shoulder. “I’m in.”