A reenactment ball was the perfect setting for romance. Or not.
Isabelle Rochon fidgeted in her oddly-shaped-but-oh-so-accurate ball gown, surrounded by women who’d sacrificed historical authenticity for sex appeal. Red carpet ball gowns in the nineteenth century, really? Once again she was like the dorky kid participating in dress-up day at school when everyone else had magically decided it was lame.
“Gah. I feel like a green robot with strange battle armor.” Isabelle pointed to her dark green dress, the shoulders flaring out almost to a point, exaggerating their width. “What were the fashionistas in 1834 thinking?”
“I have no bloody idea.” Jocelyn squeezed the poof of fabric at her shoulder. “These huge-ass sleeves are ridiculous.”
“Ah, screw it, we’re having fun, right? I’m not going to self-sabotage the ball. Not after all the time I spent obsessing over my costume.”
“And obsessing over the etiquette rules.”
“That too.” Besides, how fun was it to learn Jocelyn shared her obsession with guys in period clothes and bodice-ripper romances?
Isabelle eyed a guy strolling past in tight-fitting, buff-colored pantaloons. She pitched her voice to be heard over the string quartet. “Hmm. How about the clothes on that daring derriere?”
Jocelyn sucked on her olive and plopped the empty stir stick into her martini. “Oh, yes. Definitely a breech-ripper.”
Isabelle choked on her Bellini, the champagne fizz tickling her throat and nose. This was the first opportunity they’d had to socialize outside work, so she treated this moment delicately, afraid to puncture the mood. No need to point out he sported pantaloons, not breeches.
She should ease up on the drink, though. She didn’t want to get plastered at the Thirty-fourth Annual Prancing Through History Reenactment Ball. Especially since her new colleagues would be around. And her boss. She needed to impress him.
“Look lively,” Jocelyn said, her voice low, with a dollop of teasing. “Here comes the office hottie.”
She’d been cultivating a mild crush on Andrew since starting her new job at the British Museum six months ago. The whole situation was perfect. A guy in the same field would respect her interests, wouldn’t expect her to give up her profession for a relationship. He was safe. If it worked out, great, if not, no biggie. She was happy, finally, with how her life was working out.
She’d pictured him in period clothing before, looking resplendent.
“Hi, Andrew.” Her voice came out a little too high. Jeez, could she sound any more like a lovesick fool? She always did this around gorgeous men—went ga-ga as if she couldn’t rub two brain cells together. She gazed around the Duke of Chelmsford’s newly renovated ballroom and pretended as if her breath hadn’t quickened and her body hadn’t heated at the sight of Andrew.
“Hello, Isabelle. Jocelyn.” Andrew nodded. His smile felt like a gift for her alone.
Her pulse throbbed. He’d sought her out. Play it cool. Say something witty. “So, uh, having fun yet?” Having fun yet?
Something, or someone, in the crowd hogged his attention. She followed his gaze until she found it. Or rather him. Their boss at the bar.
Andrew faced her and the remnants of calculation on his hot-as-heck features disappeared behind his over-bright grin.
He leaned closer.
The artificial tang of his cologne drifted her way. She wrinkled her nose.
“Well done on the Whittaker exhibit. Finding that journal was a bit of a coup. It’ll be a fine addition to the exhibit, once it’s built.”
He’d noticed. She’d worked damn hard. “Thank you.” Why couldn’t Brits find her Southern accent as sexy as she found theirs?
“Glad you came across the pond to work with us. That find should put you in the running for the promotion.”
Good. The promotion would mean she could stay in London. Well, it would make staying easier. No matter what, she was determined to remain.
“Of course, you’ll have to beat me out.”
Cold clarity hit her stomach like accidentally gulping a glass of iced gin instead of iced water, jolting her from her usual foray into Incoherent Land around attractive guys. “You’re applying too?” Of course he was.
“Without a doubt. Career changer and all. I’m a shoo-in. Sure you still want to apply?”
Could she scrub the smug look off his face? She settled for the less satisfactory, but more controlled, “Yes.”
Now catching her boss’s attention was more important than ever. Besides wanting to escape into another era, she’d also hoped her costume would impress him. She glanced at the wet bar. Drat. Where had her boss gone?
Andrew slipped his hand around her elbow, pulling her closer. “How about we ditch this party and grab a pint? You and me.” He ignored Jocelyn, who stared back and forth between them.
It all made sense—his sudden interest after dismissing her for months, the calculation she’d caught when he’d turned back—he thought he’d intimidate and charm her into giving up the position.
She yanked her arm free, saying, “Fat chance, you smarmy horndog,” which cut through the room because, of course, the music had just ended.
Jocelyn snorted her drink, eyes watering, and coughed, fighting to catch her breath. For a moment, her coughing was the only sound punctuating the silence.
The curious eyes of the onlookers made Isabelle feel as if a huge moat had sprung up around her. The moat of Beware, All Ye Who Enter—Idiot in the Center. If one of those eyes were her boss…
Andrew trotted out his grin, the one that used to make her insides hum. “Thought we had a connection. No?” He backed away, hands up, eyes locked with hers in a you’re-such-a-fool stare, his heels snapping on the marble floor with each backward step. “Cheers, then, babe. May the best man win.” He nodded and sauntered off.
Jocelyn, bless her, completely ignored the Moat of Embarrassment and stepped to Isabelle’s side. “How had we never noticed what an ass he was?”
“Probably because we were too busy drooling?”
“There is that.”
“Seriously, I should just go pound my head against the nearest vertical object and repeat one hundred times, ‘When will I learn?’”
“Just be careful not to poke out your eye with those lethal shoulder sleeves.”
“Ha.” But Jocelyn’s dry humor softened Isabelle’s mood. “Can’t believe he expects me to just roll over. I have to get the promotion, I need the security. No way am I going to sacrifice my dream to be with a guy, I don’t care how hot he is.”
Never again would she let a jerk encased in good-looking skin influence her life. Been there. Done that. Have the gold-stitched Fool’s cap.
Angela is a geek girl romance writer. What makes her romances geeky? Whether it’s fan girling over Ada Lovelace by having her as a secondary character in Must Love Breeches, or outright geek references with geek types in her romantic comedy with paranormal elements, Beer and Groping in Las Vegas, or going all Southern steampunk in Steam Me Up, Rawley, she likes to have fun with her romances and hopes her readers do too.
Angela works at an independent bookstore and lives in an historic house in the beautiful and quirky town of Mobile, AL. When she’s not writing, she enjoys the usual stuff like gardening, reading, hanging out, eating, drinking, chasing squirrels out of the walls and creating the occasional knitted scarf. She’s had a varied career, including website programming and directing a small local history museum, and has discovered that writing allows her to explore all her interests.
She’s an admitted geek and is proud to be among the few but mighty Browncoats who watched Firefly the first night it aired. She was introduced to the wonderful world of science fiction by her father, by way of watching reruns of the original Star Trek in her tweens and later giving her a copy of Walter M. Miller Jr’s A Canticle for Leibowitz as a teenager. She hasn’t looked back since.
She has a B.A. in Anthropology and International Studies with a minor in German from Emory University, and a Masters in Heritage Preservation from Georgia State University. She was an exchange student to Finland in high school and studied abroad in Vienna one summer in college.