The Headmaster by Tiffany Reisz - Excerpt and Giveaway
I have a Gothic romance coming out just in time for Halloween! THE HEADMASTER from Harlequin Shivers is out October 6th in an ebook boxed set. It will release as an individual title on January 5th. In the meantime, enjoy an except from THE HEADMASTER, a spooky romance between a British boarding school headmaster and a young teacher. (The giveaway has now ended.)
Gwen came to in fits and starts. She’d open her eyes only to feel the weight of consciousness pressing back down on her. Back to sleep, it seemed to say, the voice male, imperious and irrefutable. She did as she was told. She could do nothing else.
When she woke up again, she didn’t try to open her eyes. Instead she used her other senses to gauge the damage. She sensed her body was whole and that no tubes or needles ran in or out of any veins. Pain was localized to the side of her head. Nothing else hurt. She wondered if she had a concussion. Did concussions cause hallucinations? She heard improbable dreamlike voices all around her.
First she heard a man’s voice—adult, authoritative and British. British? Yes, his accent was definitely that of an Englishman, proper and educated. .
But other voices answered his—younger ones, eager ones, scared but delighted for some reason.
“How did she get here?” a boy asked.
“I wish I knew,” the man replied.
“Will she live?” came another boy’s voice.
“Can we keep her?” asked another.
“Go back to class,” the man said, and no one dared defy him. “Let her sleep.”
Gwen did sleep again and when she woke once more, she woke fully. She could open her eyes, move her head, and see where she was and how she was.
She seemed to be fine. No broken bones. Few cuts. Few bruises. But where she was…that was the mystery.
She lay in a bed, a grand one with white sheets, an ornate carved walnut headboard, a deep green-and-gold brocade blanket over her and a Tiffany lamp on the end table at her side. A Tiffany lamp and a black rotary phone. Everything about the room she’d woken in declared it was the property and purview of a man.
With a groan of discomfort, Gwen forced herself from the bed. How long had she been in it? Why had she been brought here instead of taken to a hospital? Behind the closed bedroom door hung a polished oval mirror. She looked like herself. She had some bruising around her left cheek and a white bandage had been applied to her temple. When she ran a hand through her hair, slivers of glass came out.
She had her clothes on except for her shoes. Where they’d gone, she had no idea. Carefully she eased the door open and called out a tremulous “Hello?”
She retreated into the bedroom again. A door on the opposite side of the bed led to a wood-paneled bathroom, as masculine as the bedroom she’d found herself in. Odd. Whoever lived here must have been an old-fashioned sort. Instead of an electric razor, a straight razor in a case sat on the bathroom counter next to a white-bristled shaving brush. A leather strop, the sort her grandfather had used to sharpen his kitchen knives, hung from a hook on the wall. The bathroom smelled of leather and soap and other pleasant male scents—bergamot, citrus and cedar.
Gwen turned on the tap and drank cold water out of her hands. How long had she been unconscious? She was dehydrated but not enough to be sick from it. Her mouth felt like sand and her head throbbed, but she sensed she would be fine. The bathtub, an old porcelain monster, beckoned to her. She’d love to wash the glass from her hair. She knew she should look for the owner of this bedroom, this bathroom, this…wherever she was, but she’d been in a car accident and had a head injury. She had an excuse to do whatever she wanted, and what she wanted was to get clean.
She filled the bath with warm water, stripped naked and sank into the heat. Sighing with pleasure she submerged herself fully in the water, letting it soak her bloodied hair, her bruised skin. When she rose up again, she felt healed. The wound on her temple was still there. No miracle had occurred, but she did feel better than she would have dreamed she would from something as simple as drinking and bathing in warm water.
As blissful as she felt in the bath, she didn’t dally. When she was certain she’d washed all the shards of glass from her hair, she stood up, pulled a fresh white towel around her and stepped onto the floor. Her clothes had blood on them—not much, but enough that she didn’t want to put them back on. Not now when she felt so clean and whole again. On the back of the bathroom door she found a pale blue striped-silk bathrobe and pulled it on. It looked like something Sherlock Holmes would wear. She swam in the thing. It must belong to the man who owned this…whatever it was. House? Apartment? And the man must have been tall, broad-shouldered and very handsome.
Gwen froze, her hands on the silk cord she’d just knotted around her waist. A man stood in the doorway to the bedroom. From the expression on his face, she could see he was shocked to see her up. Or maybe he was shocked to see her wet and wearing only his bathrobe. Or maybe because she existed. She didn’t know the exact reason for his shock, but he was shocked and the feeling was mutual. She’d been right. He was tall. He was broad-shouldered. He had black hair peppered with grey and wore silver-rimmed eyeglasses on his strong-jawed and handsome face. He looked no more than forty but every day of forty.
“I’m sorry,” she said when she’d recovered her powers of speech. He seemed like the sort of man one apologized to, daring to be undistinguished in his utterly distinguished presence.
“Might I ask what you’re sorry for?” the man said. “That way I know what trespass I’m forgiving.”
“Um…I guess this is your bathrobe?”
“I don’t know where my other clothes are,” she continued. “The ones I had on are bloody. I can take this off if you—”
He held up his hand.
“Wear it,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
“Quite sure.” He stood up even straighter and his frame filled the doorway to his bedroom. They stood a moment in silence studying each other. She felt acutely aware of her wet and naked body under the dressing gown, and although the man’s eyes never left her face, she sensed he was acutely aware of it, as well.
“Do you have a name?” he finally asked.
“Gwen. Gwendolyn Ashby. And you are?”
“Edwin Yorke. I’m headmaster here.”
“Headmaster? Am I at the school? The Marshal School?” Her memories of her conversation at the diner came back to her.
“The William Marshal Academy,” he corrected. “And yes, you are.”
“That’s good then. I was coming here. Someone in town said you all might be hiring?” She made the sentence a question, hoping the answer was yes.
“Are you a teacher?”
“English and literature,” she said. “I’m an amateur grammarian and a professional reader.” Gwen smiled. He didn’t. She soldiered on. “I was on my way here to see if there was a job opening. Actually I was going to Chicago, but thought I’d try my luck.”
“You crashed your car into the side of my school.”
“I’m sorry about that. I was trying to avoid a deer. I hope no one was hurt.”
“Someone was hurt.”
“Oh, no. Who? It wasn’t a student was it?”
“You were hurt.”
“Oh, yes,” she said, her panic immediately subsiding. “Is there much damage?”
“Only to you and your car. I don’t think you’ll be driving it for a while.”
“I should call a tow truck, I guess.” She didn’t have much money and a tow truck would take half of her gas budget for her trip to Chicago. And God knows how much repairs would cost.
“We’ll worry about all that later,” he said as if her problems were his problems. “You should eat and rest. I’ll have the boys bring your things up.”
“The boys? You have children?”
“I have sixty children.”
Her eyes went wide.
“Students,” he said with a tight smile. “Here at the Marshal Academy.”
“Small school. All boys?”
“All boys. You are, in fact, the only female on campus right now.”
“And here I am in your bathrobe. I mean, dressing gown.”
“Stay.” He raised his hand. She stayed.
He left her alone in his bedroom again, and she sat on the bed. Looking down she saw the robe had opened enough that the headmaster of Marshal had gotten more than a glimpse of her cleavage. Only woman on campus? That could either be a very good thing or a very bad thing. The headmaster—Edwin Yorke—had been nothing but a gentleman to the near-naked girl who’d stolen his bathrobe. And he was handsome. And English. And tall. And did she mention handsome? Maybe she should stop focusing on how handsome he was and get back to focusing on how screwed she was.
She ran her fingers through her wet hair to tame it. In the other room she heard voices, whispers and laughter. The laughter sounded young, much younger than the headmaster. Then the door reverberated with the sounds of seemingly a dozen hands knocking all at once.
“Who’s there?” she called out.
“Laird,” a teenage boy’s voice answered. “I’m a very nice person. I promise.”
“If you weren’t, would you admit it?” she asked.
“No, I’d probably lie and tell you I was nice,” he admitted.
“Are you lying?” she asked. “Or are you actually nice?”
“Headmaster Yorke is standing right here. He’ll make sure I’m nice. Or he’ll kill me.”
“Then you should probably come in before he kills you,” Gwen called out. “I can’t have your life on my conscience.”
He opened the door with one hand and with the other hand he covered his eyes.
“I have your things from your car,” Laird said, his hand still shielding his eyes.
“No, you don’t,” she said. “You have nothing with you.”
“I couldn’t carry the bags, open the door and cover my eyes all at the same time.”
Gwen smiled. Not that Laird could see that smile what with his eyes covered. He looked about seventeen or eighteen with dark red hair and a sweet face—what she could see of it.
“If you can handle seeing a woman in a bathrobe, you can uncover your eyes,” she said. “If you can’t, just back away slowly and I’ll get my own things.”
“I can handle it,” he said and lowered his hand. He stared at her through narrowed eyes. “Are you married?”
“I’m not asking for me,” he said.
“No, I’m not married.”
“Good. You’re hired,” Laird said. At that an arm reached into the room, clapped down on Laird’s shoulder and dragged him bodily back out the door.
In his place her suitcase appeared.
“It was nice to meet you,” Laird called out from behind the door. “Please stay forever.”