Happy This Kiss Thursday where we showcase first kisses in our favorite romance and YA novels. This week, Rebecca Paula brings us a historical lipsmack from her book A Proper Scandal.
Are you ready?
Minnie was surprised when his hand reached for hers and squeezed once, twice, and a third time, as Alex pulled her forward into absolute darkness.
She was still breathless after running through the dark streets. She felt the cold sting of the night’s air on her cheeks as he remained quiet, leading her further still. Strange noises surrounded her—wings cutting through the musty air, a building groaning from neglect, then the hopeful scratch of a match being struck.
A small ball of light illuminated Alex’s eyes as he glanced back to Minnie. His hand traveled to her wrist, his cold thumb rubbing life back into her as he traced circles over her skin. “We can stay here tonight.” His voice was craggy and uncertain. “It’s safe.”
After everything that happened, this wasn’t the end she wanted. But how could she fight it off now? Her failure was as consuming as the black cavern they were attempting to navigate.
She stumbled over something large, jerking her from Alex’s grip. Her fingers stung at the sudden disconnect. Minnie stood still, lost in the dark abyss, all alone to wallow in the numbness and shame rooting itself inside her stomach. What had she proved by running away, other than she was a foolish, stupid, reckless, girl.
“This way,” he coaxed.
Minnie shivered, taking a blind step forward. Her hand fumbled in front of her as she tumbled forward in search of Alex. He seemed so far away.
The match extinguished and that small glimpse of hope vanished. She collided into Alex’s back. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and not let go. He was the rooted tree in this raging storm. Without him, she would be ripped away, discarded and left battered. Ruined.
Though she wanted him near, she knew she needed to let him go. It was time to return to Burton Hall. The world made it clear she was no ballerina.
All Alex could do was introduce Anne to a drafty dream and try to keep her warm for the rest of the evening. He had no right looking after her when his cheating robbed them of the roof over their head. Christ, he had nearly been thrown back into the asylum, leaving her alone.
He had grown up surrounded by madness. He had lived it. But this—this foolish charade was no longer child’s play. They had gambled against Lady Luck and lost. This was restitution.
His head throbbed and the unwelcome metallic taste rose in his throat once more. This had become the only place he could feel safe since he first arrived in London. It was cold and broken, but it was all he had to offer Anne. He struck the last match, the flame flickering in the draft as he took the last steps into the darkness and beyond.
Anne drew up beside him and sucked in a breath as the moonlight flooded in through the dilapidated ceiling rafters. For once, he wished she would say something. She had been so quiet since she retrieved him from the station. Alex would do anything to know what was running through her mind.
He took a nervous swallow. “This is going to be mine.” Somehow that secret that he had kept locked away sounded possible now that he had said it aloud.
She must have thought him mad now as she took in the place—the chandelier broken in a heap before them, the curtain moth-eaten and stained, the peeling plaster, the crumbling cherub statue above the stage. His stage. The idea was madness, but he would continue to fight for it nonetheless. To have something of his own, to be able to work for something that brought others happiness, was worthy of a good fight.
She dropped her bag beside him and drifted gracefully up the aisle to the stage. She paused on the steps to search for the source of the silver light flooding her feet, finally discovering the hole in the rafters above. Her head tipped back once she reached the center of the stage. She clamped her eyes shut and lifted her arms into the air and spun, one twirl after the next.
She was beautiful spinning on stage, her eyes closed to their sad reality. Anne didn’t belong with him here in an abandoned theater, and she certainly had no place living in the street. There was magic in that girl. She did something funny to Alex. It drew him closer, always closer.
She stopped and turned her back against a silent audience. He didn’t know what to say. Finally, he settled on, “What is it?”
Anne gave a short laugh, void of feeling. “It’s been a long day.”
An uncomfortable twist happened in his chest. He had just been beaten, he was cold to the bone, yet the pain her words caused was far worse.
She turned to him suddenly, taking a small step forward as she lowered her voice. “We’re in trouble, Alex.”
That small plea was the trouble with Anne Gibbons. He was falling for the guarded girl, not the one who stole and cheated under the guise of her charms. That was a front, a grand lie, to trick the world into surrendering at her feet. He doubted Anne was even her true name.
“Nonsense.” He forced a smile of his own. She smiled for his sake, too. Alex was certain of it. “There is nothing we cannot weather.” He leaned closer, fighting the urge to wrap his arms around her.
“I want pretty things again,” Anne whispered into the dark.
Alex knew better. She didn’t just long for pretty things, she aired the regrets they both harbored. He felt regret every day, and now he knew she did as well. He let out a deep sigh. “This is a very pretty ribbon.”
She was so skilled at lies, now was time for one of his own. He would lie and be strong for her if that meant shouldering the burden of their foolish follies. He had survived far worse.
Alex pulled the navy satin ribbon from her hair. “Very soft,” he murmured. His fingers brushed against her neck and they both shivered in unison. “I wonder,” he said to himself aloud. He slipped the ribbon over her eyes and tied it behind her head. “I wonder,” he whispered again, “what happens if you cannot see me?” Anne leaned back into his touch. “Do you see pretty things now?”
Her breath hitched. Anne pulled the ribbon away from her eyes with her bony fingers. “What do you want me to see?” Her voice shook.
He couldn’t tell the difference between the beating of his heart and the heavy breaths escaping Anne’s parted lips. “Whatever will make you happy.”
She smiled then, even with tears brimming in her hazel eyes. “Liar.”
Until now, he had behaved properly. Until now, he was the perfect gentleman when it came to protecting Anne Gibbons. Until now, he hadn’t thought much about kissing her…
Her cold lips pressed against his, sending an icy shock through his body, rooting Alex to the stage.
To share a kiss with her…well, it hadn’t killed him as he feared. The feel of her close was a comfort he hadn’t spent time dwelling on before. He hadn’t realized he needed it until she was there in his arms. Still he pulled away, his lips hovering above hers in fear of what would become of him if they continued.
Anne’s hand rested on his cheek as the silence beat around them. He wanted more, but the loathing had already started to mount in the pit of his stomach.
Her fingers touched his jaw in the way she explored everything in her life—with careful reverence. Her gentle touch made him believe for a small moment that miracles existed.
Her fingers slowly brought his gaze back to hers, his lips closer. She kissed him again, a quiet demand that broke through his disgust one small caress at a time, until he was kissing her back with sweet slowness.
With each breath, Anne sparked to life—her lips growing warmer under his, her skin thawing under the touch of his hands. Alex could bring her back from the brink of her melancholy. He could protect her if she allowed him to do so.
They stood onstage kissing in the dark and cold, washed in moonlight. Except it wasn’t cold anymore. Somehow, he was warm now. They weren’t penniless and hungry, either. With Anne in his arms, he thought himself rich and well-fed, kissing her beneath the warm sun.
Her hands cinched the tattered collar of his coat, her fingers darting over the edge now and then to steal a touch against his neck. Her fluttering made him want to fold himself around her and share the little warmth he could offer. His hand slid back to cradle her head, her silky hair tangled with the navy ribbon, winding around his calloused fingers in a web.
Her thin body pressed against his until her hands circled around his neck and held firm as if she were worried she would be ripped away. Anne was never one to show all of her cards, but she was doing so now. The way she touched him, the way she was leaning into him, her belief in him—wedged its way into a place he never knew he had the capacity to feel.
He failed in having winning fists, and he was a prized idiot for allowing any of this to happen. She had become skin and bones from fighting for her dream beside him in London. It made him sick with guilt. She deserved a proper meal and a warm bed. She deserved to be with people who cared for her and could show that they cared for her. Not with someone broken.
The soft sound of her quickened breath was sweet to his ears as his lips travelled from her mouth to the tip of her nose. He would erase the traces of cold that lingered behind from the freezing London streets.
Alex sighed and closed his eyes, lowering his forehead to rest against hers. Why he ever robbed himself from the luxury of her warmth he would never understand.
On a gentle exhale, her lips brushed against the tip of his nose. “Well,” she said.
Those four letters hung between them, daring him to make sense of what just happened. His mind raced ahead as the words fell at his lips, his eyes still shut tight.
“Alex?” She placed her hand over his heart.
He couldn’t breathe then. It was as if a parade marched over his chest. So instead of speaking, he wrapped his coat around her. Anne nestled against him and sighed so deeply it caused another uncomfortable fissure in his heart. The wetness of her quiet tears bled through his shirt. “Darling,” he whispered, his own voice choked. He pulled her closer and pressed a lingering kiss onto her forehead. If he could keep Anne Gibbons, he would do whatever it took to overcome his circumstances—London be warned.
A wild spirit trapped by Victorian propriety, Minnie Ravensdale runs away from finishing school to pursue her dream of becoming a ballerina. She teams up with charming Irish pickpocket, Alex Marwick, who pretends to be her husband when they rent a room together in an East End brothel. But her new independence is threatened when Alex asks for her help in finding a mysterious society lady. Minnie knows who he seeks, but to offer up the answer would mean sacrificing her freedom and returning to her family a ruined woman.
And he has everything to gain…
Alex must find the mysterious woman who rescued him from a hellish asylum as a young boy. Without her, he is a ghost amongst the living—no identity except for the one he’s made for himself as pickpocket and card cheat. When he spots Minnie lost in the East End, he decides her social connections are the solution to discovering his true identity. But when she flees without supplying answers, Alex chases. They cause a proper scandal from the streets of London to Belle Époque Paris, as the pauper falls madly in love for the ruined lady.