Nov 13 2017 9:30am

Laine Ferndale Excerpt: The Infamous Miss Ilsa

Laine Ferndale

The Canadian frontier-set Fraser Springs series continues with a delightful tale of second-chance romance.

Street-smart and confident Ilsa Pedersen has become an indispensable right-hand woman at Wilson’s Bathhouse, and found a home and family in Fraser Springs. But she hasn’t forgotten the shame of being tossed out penniless as a teenage housemaid by the wealthy Whitacre family when she was found kissing their only son. The only thing that will truly secure her future is independence, and Ilsa has plans to open a dress shop in the big city.

Dr. Theo Whitacre must complete an internship at the grand hotel in Fraser Springs before the socially awkward young man can head off to Europe for a career in medical research. Finding Ilsa in this backwater town is a delightful surprise. But while she is more than happy to be his friend, she won’t trust him a second time with her heart.

When a rash of illnesses begins plaguing the town’s tourists, Theo’s employer doesn’t believe his theory that the hotel is at fault. Only with Ilsa’s help can Theo save the afflicted patrons, and as they work together, they find their teenage romance rekindling. But as their dreams pull them in such different directions, can they truly make a future together?

Get a sneak peek at Laine Ferndale's The Infamous Miss Ilsa (available November 20, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Music began to drift down the stairs; for the first time since Theo had arrived, someone was actually playing the grand piano in the lobby. He didn’t recognize the cheerful, ragtime number.

Ilsa clapped her hands with delight. “Oh, that’s too perfect!” She stood up and held out her hands to him, palms down. “Dance with me.”

“I don’t know how. I’ve never learned any steps.” She pulled him to his feet anyway.

“I worked in a dance hall, remember? I know allthe steps to just about everything. I’ll teach you.” She gave a little twirl, flaring her skirts out around her ankles like a dervish. “Besides, it will give your dear mama a conniption when she finds out.”

It was an appealing thought, but he still hung back. “I’ll tread all over your feet.”

“Ha! I’ve danced with much clumsier men than you.”

“I honestly doubt it.”

She ignored him and took his hands again, settling one on her waist. “Are you sober right now?”

“What? Of course.”

“Then you’re already ahead of the pack.” She was grinning at him, clearly thrilled, and he couldn’t help smiling back. He’d willingly court disaster as long as she enjoyed herself.

“Fine. But something simple, please?”

“How does the one-step sound?”

“Just one step in the one-step, I assume?” She nodded and moved closer.  “I don’t suppose they make them any simpler than that.” Ilsa put her left hand on his shoulder, and he lifted her right hand in his. He’d at least seen this before, so he could get this far on his own. “Now what?”

“The important thing is to keep your feet moving. Start with your left foot and walk in place.” He did as he was told, stiffly, feeling a bit like a wind-up toy soldier. “Now, rock side to side with each step. No, from the waist.” They began to sway like trees in a brisk wind. “Yes, perfect. And now we simply walk around the room in a circle. You start off forwards, and I’ll follow you.”

They made it two steps before, as he’d feared, he tripped over her feet and nearly pushed them both sprawling onto the floor. But she simply leaned into him and laughed. “Don’t stomp like an elephant. Shift your weight onto the balls of your feet, and walk that way.” He tried it, and the next few steps felt much more natural. Ilsa really was an extraordinary dancer; he knew he should be leading, but she gently nudged him along when he hesitated, adjusted their course with a quick skip or a light-footed little pivot when he short-footed them or drew a step out too long.

Why had he avoided this for so long? The music’s syncopation disguised his limp, and spinning around the room with Ilsa was intoxicating. Too soon, the anonymous piano player went silent, and they slowly drifted to a stop. She sighed happily and leaned into him, her cheek pressed against his shoulder. He rested his chin on top of her head and held her. For that moment, in the dark basement of a hotel in the middle of nowhere, Theo Whitacre felt like the most contented man in North America.


Ilsa swayed in Theo’s arms, even though the music had stopped. She’d suggested the dancing as a distraction, a game to lighten the mood after a difficult conversation. She didn’t like the hurt, the self-loathing she’d seen in his eyes as he’d talked about his mother and the bleak, lonely future that had been mapped out for him.

The thought of Theo—sweet, sentimental Theo—alone and untouched for all this time pulled at her heart. She released his hand and slipped her fingers through his dark hair, tipping his head back just enough to kiss his throat. Then his chin. And then his lips. He hummed with pleasure, and she deepened the kiss slowly, deliberately. Like the dancing, he should have taken the lead, pulling her along in his wake. But instead they found their own equilibrium, a rhythm of give and take that was only for them.

Eventually, he pulled away from the kiss, leaning his forehead gently against hers.

“Ilsa,” he sighed. “Why the hell are you so sweet to me? I didn’t do very well by you, all those years ago.”

He traced the curve of her lip with his thumb, his palm cupping her cheek. The touch made her shiver with pleasure. Why did his tenderness fluster her so much more than his rudeness or his self-importance? This sweetness, this vulnerability, was all so lovely, and it was even lovelier because she knew it could never last.


Copyright © 2017 by Laine Ferndale.
Learn more about or order a copy of The Infamous Miss Ilsa by Laine Ferndale, available November 20, 2017:

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Laine Ferndale teaches literature and writing to pay for a fairly serious chai latte habit. She lives with her husband and her adorably needy cat.

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