Friday, November 8, 2019

Sneak Peek of Evergreen!

I’m still celebrating the release of Evergreen, my new young adult historical fantasy just out from Book View Café.

While I've posted a first chapter sneak-peek sample of Evergreen on my website, I thought it would be fun to give NineteenTeen readers a further peek into the the point in Newport when things begin to get complicated for my heroine, Grace. Enjoy!

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An hour later Grace had managed to put Alice’s magics and most everything else out of her head on a beautifully groomed grass tennis court at the Casino. She and Alice were gently lobbing a ball back and forth over the net so that they could chat if they felt like it. Alice was still complaining about her stepmother’s stricture against balls, so Grace let her blow off steam, responding suitably whenever it was required but not really paying much attention.
It felt good to move and stretch. Grace realized that, whenever Mrs. Rennell was around, she held herself stiffly, probably out of sympathy to their highly strung hostess. It was a beautiful morning—no need for her to alter the weather today. Out of sheer high spirits she returned Alice’s patted ball with a hard drive to the far side of the court that she knew Alice would never be able to return.
She was right. “Very funny, you,” Alice called. “Just for that, you can go find where it went. Anyway, let’s stop for a moment. I need to retie my shoes.”
“All right,” Grace said amiably and started round the net to the lawn beyond while Alice headed for a bench next to their court, strategically set in the shade of a small maple tree.
She hadn’t gotten past the back line when a tall, white-flannelled figure came strolling toward her, racquet on shoulder, tossing a ball casually in one hand. “Lose something?” Kit Rookwood called. His smile brushed past her and came to rest on Alice, who hastily finished tying her shoe and leapt up to join Grace.
“Mr. Rookwood!” she said. “Is that our ball? You angel!”
“Well, not really,” he replied, his smile widening. “At least, angel’s not the role I usually aspire to. Are you done playing, Miss Roosevelt?”
Alice seemed to melt under the force of that grin. “Not at all. I had to tie my shoe and sent Grace to fetch our ball since she hit it so abominably past me—”
“I did not!” Grace was stung into retorting. “You missed the return!”
“Well, anyway, we’re here.” She smiled at him, head tilted to one side. “Are you playing this morning?”
“I’d like to,” he said meaningfully.
“In that case, won’t you play with us? If you’re not busy, of course.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. After all, you promised me a game.”
“Did I?” Alice pretended to look vague, not very successfully—she was never vague.
“Need I remind you exactly when you promised that, Miss Roosevelt?”
“I’ll go and have a seat, shall I?” Grace said to no one in particular, but they didn’t even notice. She almost stomped over to the tree-shaded bench—insofar as one could stomp while wearing tennis shoes—and slumped onto it, her good mood all but evaporated. Alice was suddenly acting as though she weren’t even there, and Kit Rookwood wasn’t any better. She watched while Kit squinted up at the sun and gallantly offered to change sides with Alice so that the glare wouldn’t be in her eyes, then sent a gentle forehand over the net.
“Think I’m a softie, do you?” Alice called, hitting it back to him.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied, returning an incrementally harder shot.
“He’s going to let her win. I know it,” Grace muttered. Was this really how flirting went? Imagine a boy at home letting her win at tennis! Whenever anyone beat her, he’d jolly well earned it. It was one thing to let Dorothy win now and then…that’s what you did with a little sister. But to let a person of one’s own age win, as one would a child…well, it didn’t imply much respect for the other person, did it? She’d expected better of him…but between this and his obvious making up to the vice-president’s daughter, maybe she’d been wrong—
I have watched here for many years, and still I do not understand, said the tree behind her.
“Oh!” Grace started. “Forgive me, cousin. I should have spoken,” she added more quietly. She’d been so occupied with watching Alice and Kit that she’d forgotten her manners. It was nice to talk to a tree for a change. They were calm and gentle and didn’t dissemble. “Greetings to you; it is a pleasure to rest in your shadow. What don’t you understand?”
The tree was silent for a moment. A few of its upper leaves fluttered, then were still. This thing men do—the sending of an object back and forth between them.
“Tennis, you mean,” Grace murmured. “It’s not the only thing they do. It’s a game—a pastime. It’s done for enjoyment.”
A ‘pastime’. Does not all time pass, no matter what one does?
“I suppose it does.” Alice was laughing at something Kit had said, and she wasn’t sure if she’d wished she heard it or not.
Yes. The tree fell silent. Grace watched the play and wished Alice would try harder, but she kept missing balls that she would never have missed playing with her. She wasn’t trying to let him win, was she? How funny, the pair of them doing their best to let the other win. Except it wasn’t funny. It was nauseating.
It is strange, this tennis, the tree said.
“You’re telling me,” Grace muttered.
I have seen men who profess the greatest amity toward each other do this tennising. Yet when they tennis, it is clear that their amity is all on the surface, and they are tennising as a way to best each other. Do men often do one thing and use it to mean another?
“Happens all the time.” Like right now. She settled herself more comfortably in the tree’s shade and resigned herself to watching. It would be interesting to see who won this battle of wills.
To her surprise, Kit Rookwood did—that is, he managed to lose to Alice. It must have taken some doing on his part, for it was clear he was a strong player.
“Well played, Miss Roosevelt,” he said as they shook hands over the net.
“Piffle.” She tapped him with her racquet as they strolled toward Grace. “You let me win, you bad creature. I shall get a swelled head and be insufferable, and you’ll deserve it.” She pulled out her handkerchief and fanned herself with it.
He was immediately all concern. “Is it too warm for you? May I bring you a cool drink? Or escort you back to the piazza?”
“No, I want to sit in the shade for a few minutes.” Her eyes lit on Grace on the bench, and she smiled. “I say, why don’t you play Grace while I take her shady-looking seat?”
Grace sat up. Play him, after that? “Alice, I don’t really—”
“Oh, humor me. You’ll have to do a proper job of beating Mr. Rookwood, since he was so gallant as to let me do it badly.” She sent him a sly sideways look.
Kit barely even glanced at Grace. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go back to the club?” he asked Alice again. “It’s really gotten quite warm—”
“I’m sure.” Alice prodded Grace with her racket. “Go on. It’s your turn.”
Grace tried not to scowl as she rose. It would look childish to continue to refuse…and anyway, why shouldn’t she play him, even if he was so…so pusillanimous as to intentionally lose? “Mr. Rookwood?” She looked at him.
“I’m waiting,” Alice called. “Entertain me.”
Kit bowed. “At once, ma’am.” He didn’t meet Grace’s eyes as he escorted her back to the court. “Do you have a preferred side?”
Grace smiled sweetly. “I’ll take this one.” She indicated the side he’d played on. It would mean playing with the sun in her eyes, but she would rather be boiled in oil than accept any advantage from him.
She watched while he crossed to the other side of the court, catching Alice’s eye and smiling at her as he took position behind the service line. She flexed lightly up onto her toes, waiting.
“Cooler over there?” he called to Alice, and served.
Did he even notice she was here on the other side of the net? Grace narrowed her eyes and returned his serve hard, just beyond his reach if he wasn’t paying attention enough to meet it.
Alice laughed as the ball flew past him. “Oh, I’m quite cool. I think you’re the one who’s in hot water now, Mr. Rookwood.”
He stalked off to retrieve the ball without replying, but by the time he returned, his smile was back. “I wish you would call me Kit. Every time you say ‘Mr. Rookwood’ I keep expecting to see my father.”
“Very well, Kit,” Alice drawled. “And you may call me…Miss Roosevelt.” She laughed at his expression. “Oh, don’t be silly. Of course you may call me Alice.”
“Your serve, Mr. Rookwood,” Grace said. He hadn’t asked her to call him Kit, after all.
He hesitated and, for the first time that day, actually looked at her. She returned his regard steadily so that for a moment they stared at each other just as they had earlier that week, and again Grace felt that pull between them like an elastic band trying to snap them together. What are you doing? she wanted to ask him. Who are you, really?
And then he served.
The play that followed was fast and intense. Grace understood as soon as the ball crossed the net that he had no intention of letting her win, as he had Alice. And she’d been right: he was a good player. He hit hard and straight and controlled. But she was good too.
She won the first furiously played game. Alice laughed and clapped. “There you go, Kit. Beaten by two girls in one day. What a comedown!”
“It’s not over yet,” Kit replied lightly. “Best of three?” he said to Grace. She noticed that he was back to not quite meeting her eyes.
“If you wish,” she replied.
He won the next game, though not easily. Grace knew she was tiring but she guessed that he must be also; he no longer took time to smile at Alice but concentrated wholly on the ball. As they prepared to start their last game, she remembered what the maple tree had said and smiled. It had been right about men and tennis, hadn’t it?
Her smile seemed to unnerve Kit. He’d been about to serve, but paused before swinging his racquet up and took a few seconds to resettle his feet. He was off-balance for the rest of the game, which Grace won easily.
“Hurrah!” Alice jumped up. “I knew you’d do it, Grace!”
“Glad one of us did,” Grace muttered to herself. She was hot and sweaty and her hair under her white straw boater felt like it was in danger of tumbling over her shoulders, but she couldn’t suppress the fierce surge of triumph that welled up in her as she walked to the net toward Kit. Beyond him, she saw the maple’s branches waving back and forth, as if an extremely localized gale was blowing around it. The sight made her smile again as she reached across the net to shake Kit’s hand. “Thank you. You play very well.”
He didn’t offer his hand; in fact, he walked right past her as if he hadn’t seen her. Grace felt herself flush and followed after him, fuming.
“Do all the girls in Boston play like her?” he asked Alice loudly. “Must be all the centuries of Puritan virtue. Cold baths and plain oatmeal and scratchy woolen long underwear.”
Grace nearly came to a halt from sheer surprise. Why was he behaving so strangely? Surely not because she had beaten him…or was it?
Alice giggled. “Grace doesn’t wear scratchy woolen long underwear. Her grandmother orders their underthings from France. Lyons silk and lace, you know.”
“Alice!” Grace wished a crack would open in the beautifully manicured grass at her feet and swallow her up. Or maybe swallow Alice up. Why was she discussing Grace’s underwear, of all things, with him?
For a fleeting second, an odd expression crossed his face. Then he laughed harshly. “Not such a Puritan maiden after all, then.”
Grace followed the pair back to the clubhouse, still fuming and not sure which of them she was more cross with. A few moments later, though, she knew.
“Thank you for the game,” Kit said to Alice as he prepared to leave them on the piazza steps. Alice had invited him to join them for iced tea, but he’d claimed a prior engagement. “I hope we can do it again soon.”
“Next time I hope you won’t feel you have to play the gentleman and let me win,” she pretended to scold.
“Who, me? I’d never do such a thing.” He turned the full force of his smile on her, and Grace could practically see her melt under it. Then he half turned toward her. “That is…most of the time I wouldn’t.”
Before Grace could even sputter, he’d turned and started back down the path, whistling.

* * *

Evergreen is available directly from Book View Café in both EPUB and MOBI formats, ordered in print from your favorite local bookstore, and from Apple Books, Kobo, Googleplay, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble...and subscribers to my newsletter should look for a special deal on Evergreen showing up in their inboxes shortly...


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