Jun 11 2017 11:03am

Bonnie Dee Excerpt: The Masterpiece

Bonnie Dee

The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee

Built from the bottom up: one perfect gentleman.

Man about town Arthur Lawton spends his days pursuing entertainment while shoeshine Joe Sprat labors to better his family’s lives. When an argument about nature versus nurture sparks a wager, Arthur swears to a friend he can turn this working man into a gentleman who will pass at a society function.

Joe is happy to participate in the experiment for a fee but receives more than he bargained for after moving into Lawton’s house. Arthur is determined Joe won’t merely wear a veneer of sophistication but educates him in every way. As he creates his new and improved man, Arthur grows more deeply infatuated with him, while Joe falls equally hard for his charismatic mentor.

Underneath a growing friendship, desire simmers and one day explodes. After their relationship escalates, the pair exists in a dream bubble until the threat of exposure sharply reminds them they belong in different worlds. When the ball is over, each must resume his own life, changed by their encounter but destined for different courses.

Find out if love is strong enough to bridge the gap between peer and pauper in this twist on the tale of My Fair Lady.

Get a sneak peek at Bonnie Dee's The Masterpiece (available June 12, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Arthur often started projects only to abandon them for something new, but he had yet to grow tired of teaching Joe. There was a great deal of satisfaction in fostering his student’s appreciation of the finer things in life, as well as the rather smug feeling of being a good Samaritan. Beyond that, it was simply a pleasure spending time with Joe. Funny how two men could be poles apart in social standing and yet feel a surprising kinship. At least, he hoped Joe felt it too.

One morning, Sprat’s spectacles arrived at last. When he put them on for the first time, Arthur couldn’t stop smiling. He looked damn adorable with his fascinating eyes framed in gold metal. If Joe had been desirable before, the eyewear magically compounded Arthur’s attraction.

Arthur’s fingers itched to adjust the slightly crooked frames, but he kept his hands to himself. Such primping would not be the end of it. One innocent touch might lead to hooking a hand around Sprat’s neck and drawing his face close to kiss that luscious mouth.

He was fairly certain Sprat felt the same desire, though he’d never said a word or allowed a touch to linger. But his dark blue eyes telegraphed messages like Marconi’s wireless. Desire simmered in the very air when they were together.

“Are things sharper?” Arthur asked.

Joe pushed the spectacles up the bridge of his nose and looked around the library. “Too clear almost. Makes me feel dizzy.”

“The optometrist said you might expect that at first, but your eyes will adjust. If you have a persistent headache, we should let him know. The prescription may not be quite correct. I won’t have you read to me today. Rest your eyes, and I’ll drill you on Debrett’s.”

“Lord, no. Not that hagain.”

“Not that again,” Arthur corrected. “You don’t have to know every name. No one would expect you to have memorized all the genealogies. But you must know at least the appropriate forms of address.” He opened the guide. “For example, how would you address the Duke of Glastonberry’s unmarried youngest daughter?”

“Whot? You mean Lady Celestina Drake? I’d politely say”—Joe shifted from his natural accent to perfect pronunciation—“‘Good evening, Lady Celestina. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Mr. Lawton has spoken highly of your grace on the dance floor. Might you save me a waltz this evening?’ But what if she puts me on her dance card? I’ll galumph around like an helephant and trod on her satin shoes.”

“Then you’ll be like many other men who’ve never learned to dance properly.” Arthur shut Debrett’s Peerage & Baronettage. “Let us take a break from books and attempt a more physical lesson.”

“More boxing?” Joe asked hopefully.

“Dancing. I’ll teach you how to waltz, and you’ll put all the young bucks to shame. I shall make you the belle of the ball.”

“Ah dearie me, you flatter me so.” Joe pretended to fan his face like a flirtatious debutante, then broke into hearty laughter.

Arthur loved the sound so much, he refrained from pointing out his pupil’s shocking posture as Joe slouched in a chair, legs sprawling. While that relaxed position looked very fine to Arthur, it would never do at a formal event.

“Move those two chairs aside, please.” Arthur went to the Victrola stand, chose a phonograph record from the cabinet, placed it on the spindle, and cranked the handle. He placed the needle, and the strains of a Viennese waltz broadcast from the horn, filling the library with violins.

Joe crossed the open area he’d created by moving chairs and stared at the spinning disc. “I’ve heard o’ these but ain’t seen one. Cor! Sounds like the real thing, don’t it?”

“A little tinny but not bad. This is one of the first models the Victor Company produced. My parents disapproved terribly when I insisted on buying the machine some years ago. One would think it was the devil’s own voice recorded.” Arthur laughed. “But how quickly Mother, then Father grew to love having music whenever they wished. They’ve got a machine of their own in the country house, even newer and better than mine.”

“Golly. Two of ’em!” Joe swayed with the rhythm as he watched the album spin.

“Take my hand.” Arthur held out a palm to Joe. He quelled his thumping heart, which was far too excited at the prospect of a dance lesson. “You’re the gentleman, so you would put your hand here.”

Joe didn’t need to be told; he was already placing his hand on Arthur’s waist.

“Your partner will rest her palm on your shoulder like this.” Arthur felt breathless, though they hadn’t begun moving. “And you mustn’t hold her hand as fiercely as you are clutching mine.”

Joe’s rough palm—good heavens, he’d have to soak off those calluses before the ball, although he’d be wearing gloves, so perhaps it didn’t matter—loosened, so he clasped Arthur’s hand lightly. Without further prompting, he swung Arthur into a waltz, gliding with small, measured steps around the cleared space.

“You already know how to dance!”

“I’ve done it a bit at the local, but mostly jigging. I tried not to dance much with girls so they’d not get romantic thoughts in their heads about me.”

“No. You wouldn’t want that.” Arthur gazed into his partner’s face. Too close. Those beautiful eyes, magnified by the glasses, stared into his. The message couldn’t have been clearer, although nothing had been overtly revealed. Joe wasn’t attracted to women. Arthur certainly understood the difficulties of fending off unwanted attention when a female had the altar in mind with him as the groom beside her.

Arthur allowed his gaze to remain locked with Joe’s for several moments before he looked away over his shoulder. “Of course, in polite society, one doesn’t quite acknowledge the person one is holding so close. The lady will look to the left and might barely touch your shoulder rather than curve her hand over it. She will keep a proper distance between you lest gossip spread.”

Arthur was not obeying any of the conventions. He gripped Joe’s shoulder firmly enough to feel muscle beneath jacket. His waistcoat brushed Joe’s, their bodies were so close. Even as Arthur spoke, Joe’s hand slid to the small of his back and nudged Arthur even closer.

Arthur dipped and spun to the rising crescendo of music. He closed his eyes and relished being held tight in Joe’s embrace. He clung to his partner while metaphorical fireworks exploded in his dizzy head. And when the song was finished, the needle hissing at the end of the disc, he continued to cling to his partner.

Joe’s hand pressed against his spine, holding their bodies tight together. The bulge in his trousers, rubbing against Arthur’s, signaled his mutual awareness. Their palms clasped warmly together, Joe’s fingers caressing the back of Arthur’s hand. Or were they? These touches were so subtle, Arthur might be imagining them. Was Joe actually proclaiming his interest, or were Arthur’s secret wishes running away with his imagination? Whichever it was, Arthur wished the music would begin again and go on forever. He didn’t want to end the dance and break the spell.

But the longer they clung together, the more their attraction became undeniable and would need to be addressed. At last, Arthur reluctantly broke free, averting his gaze from Joe’s face. “There’ll be old-fashioned reels and promenades, so we’ll go through those steps as well. Do you know the mazurka?”

He went to the Victrola, found a record of the folk music, and placed it on the player.

The fast-paced dance allowed little time for breathing, let alone seductive touches. By the time the spirited three-step was through, both Arthur and Joe were red-faced and sweating. One could gallop quite heartily when dancing with another man rather than a delicate female who didn’t care to be literally swept off her feet and whirled around.

Joe’s clothing was rumpled, his neck tie askew, and his spectacles had slid to the very end of his nose. He pushed them back into place as he collapsed onto one of the chairs he’d moved off their makeshift dance floor. Arthur dropped into the other. Panting heavily, they exchanged a smile.

Fizzy with joy at the pure pleasure of dancing with a partner he actually wished to be close to, Arthur began to laugh. He wanted contact with Joe Sprat so badly that he imagined he’d be equally as giddy if they’d just finished grappling in a wrestling match. This earthy man of no pedigree was refreshingly different from anyone of Arthur’s acquaintance. A simple man without artifice or drawling sarcasm. A pure pleasure to be with.

Joe joined in Arthur’s laughter, and their humor fed off each other. Their laughter compounded until both were sobbing and wheezing. Arthur clutched a stich in his side and wiped away tears.

When they finally subsided into snorts and gasps for breath, Arthur dragged himself off the chair and went to start the music again. “A promenade,” he announced. “Which is about as exciting as mud, but you’ll be expected to participate. It’s just a lot of walking around with your partner, really.” He held out his hands.

The new-and-improved Joe Sprat with his debonair clothing and professorial glasses gave Arthur a sly smile and came to touch palms with him in the old-fashioned courtly dance.

The music began, and they moved together. 

Copyright © 2017 by Bonnie Dee.
Learn more about or order a copy of The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee, available June 12, 2017:

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I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller guaranteed to frighten and thrill with macabre tales. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

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1 comment
1. Kareni
I've enjoyed other books by Bonnie Dee; this one sounds good, too! Thanks for the excerpt.
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