Jan 4 2017 12:00pm
Beverly Jenkins Excerpt: Breathless
As manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory, Portia Carmichael has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize that by hitching herself to the wrong man. Suitors are plentiful, but none of them has ever looked quite as tempting as the family friend who just rode into town…and none has looked at her with such intensity and heat.
Duchess. That’s the nickname Kent Randolph gave Portia when she was a young girl. Now she’s a stunning, intelligent woman—and Kent has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…
Get a sneak peek at Beverly Jenkins's Breathless (available January 31, 2016) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.
Portia knew that when Aunt Eddy and Uncle Rhine first met, he’d still been passing as a White man. Eddy hadn’t wanted to fall in love with him because of the societal dangers tied to such unions. “But you did.”
“Yes, and sometimes, like with this anniversary business, I have to remind myself of that because only for him would I endure the torture of being fitted for a new gown.”
Portia never failed to be amused by her aunt’s aversion to dressmakers. “You have armoires stuffed with gowns yet you always say that.”
“Because it’s the truth. All the pin sticks, measurements, and having to stand still.” She waved a hand dismissively. “A woman should be able to go into a dress shop, find something to her liking and leave with it.”
“You can.” Ready-to-wear gowns were becoming quite popular.
“But they all seem to be made for someone taller and they’re never the right color. It’s as maddening as the fittings.” She sighed with exasperation and asked, “Is everything ready for the dinner tonight?”
“Yes, so no harassing the staff about what’s being done or not being done.” Her aunt and uncle had run the hotel as a team since its founding, but now Portia mostly held the reins. Although Eddy refused to relinquish control of the hotel’s kitchen, Portia had relieved her of all duties related to the preparation of the anniversary dinner. She’d initially balked of course, then reluctantly agreed. “Is Janie still baking the cake? Does she have enough eggs, flour?
“Aunt Eddy,” Portia chided. “Everything is being taken care of.”
“But I feel so useless.”
“I understand, but you aren’t allowed to do anything except get gussied up and enjoy the party.”
Eddy didn’t like it and it showed on her face. She finally sighed audibly in surrender. “Okay, I suppose.”
Portia almost felt sorry for her. Almost. Her aunt was the hardest-working women she’d ever met and one of the reasons for the hotel’s great success. Not being able to direct this event was threatening to send her around the bend. “If you want to do something, you can go over to the Wilson place and check on your centerpieces.”
“I get to pick the flowers? Oh, be still my heart.” Portia laughed. “Or I could send Regan.”
“Lord, no. She’d stick a bunch of saguaro on a plate and call it done. I’ll go.”
There was silence for a moment as they viewed each other, and then Eddy asked, “Have I told you how proud I am of all you’ve grown up to be?” Emotion filled Portia’s throat. “Numerous times.”
“I’m glad Corinne sent you and Regan to me.”
“As are we.” Had she not, both Portia and Regan would’ve had their virginity sold for a pittance and grown to adulthood with little knowledge of the world beyond the walls of their mother’s shack. They most certainly wouldn’t have attended Oberlin to complete their education, nor would Portia have been given the opportunity to hone her bookkeeping skills at the San Francisco bank owned by Uncle Rhine’s half-brother, Andrew. Portia was grateful every day for being given a home by Eddy and Rhine.
“I’ll ride over and check on the flowers in a bit,” her aunt said.
“Okay, and no worrying allowed.”
With a roll of her eyes, Aunt Eddy departed. By late afternoon, Portia was done with her ledgers.
Realizing she’d missed lunch, she pushed her chair back from the desk and left the office for the kitchen. The hotel was spread out over five, white adobe, one-story buildings with red tiled roofs. One housed staff and the business offices. The others held guest rooms, the family quarters, dining spaces, and kitchens. All the buildings were connected by covered breezeways. As she stepped out into the sunshine to walk to the kitchen she was brought up short by the unexpected sight of a brown-skinned cowboy seated on the broad back of a beautiful blue roan stallion. She couldn’t make out the man’s features beneath the black felt hat, so shading her eyes against the bright sunlight, she asked, “May I help you?”
He pushed back the hat. “Is this the Fontaine place?”
For a moment he didn’t say anything else, simply stared down at her from his perch before fluidly dismounting to stand facing her. “Hello, Duchess.”
Portia froze. She scanned the unshaven features, trying to place him. Duchess? Only one person had ever called her that. Suddenly recognition solved the mystery. “Kent Randolph?”
He nodded and a glint of amusement lit his eyes. “How’ve you been?”
She found herself slightly mesmerized by his handsome face and teasing gaze. “I’ve been well. You?”
“Can’t complain. Good seeing you again.”
“Same here.” When she first came to live with Rhine and Eddy in Virginia City, she’d been twelve years old. He been six years older and the bartender at Rhine’s saloon. She hadn’t paid him much attention, except when he called her Duchess, which annoyed her to no end. The passage of fifteen years had turned him into a man taller than she by at least a foot and with shoulders wide enough to block the sun. Her eyes strayed over the worn gun belt strapped around his waist and the butt of the Colt it held. Snug denims on muscular legs were covered with trail dust as were his boots, single-breasted gray shirt, and black leather vest. She heard he’d gone back East to medical school. With such rugged good looks, he certainly didn’t resemble any doctor she’d ever met.
“You’ve grown up.” His soft tone grabbed her attention and touched her in a way that made her feel warm, female.
She blinked. “Um, yes.”
“Is your uncle here?”
Realizing she was staring, she shook herself free of whatever his eyes were doing to befuddle her so totally. “Yes. He’s inside. This way, please.”
She waited while he tied the roan to the post and reached for his saddlebag. Tossing it easily over his shoulder, they set out, his heeled boots echoing against the wooden walk. She got the feeling that he was eyeing the sway of her blue skirt, but she was so overwhelmed by the air of maleness he exuded, she kept walking and tried to ignore his effects on her usually unflappable self.
Her uncle’s office was in the same building that housed her own, so she led Kent back to the breezeway and past the giant oaks and flowers enhancing the landscaping.
“Nice place you have here,” he remarked as he looked around.
“Thank you. We like it.”
“When the man in Tucson gave me directions to the hotel, I expected something more like the hotels back East or in Virginia City, not a spread like this. Looks more like a ranch.”
They approached the door. He reached around her to open it. His arm gently grazed her shoulder and Portia jumped nervously.
“Sorry. Not trying to scare you,” he said apologetically.
“Just wanted to get the door for you.”
“Thank you,” she said, looking up into his face. She wondered if he remembered how uneasy and fearful she’d been around men when she and her sister first came to Virginia City. Because of Corinne’s way of life, Portia had imagined herself fair game to any man in a pair of trousers, and as a result she’d been as afraid as a tiny mouse in a world filled with large feral cats.
He held the door aside. “After you.”
Copyright © 2017 by Beverly Jenkins.
Learn more about or order a copy of Breathless by Beverly Jenkins, available January 31, 2016:
Beverly Jenkins has received numerous awards, including five Waldenbooks/Borders Group Best Sellers Awards, two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times Magazine, and a Golden Pen Award from the Black Writer's Guild. Ms. Jenkins was named one of the Top Fifty Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by AABLC, the nation's largest on-line African-American book club. She was recently nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature.