She earned a PhD in English, specializing in 19th-century British literature, from Lehigh University and a Master's degree in English from Villanova University, and she now teaches English literature and composition at a community college in Pennsylvania.
When she isn't writing, she's either grading papers or reveling in her own happily ever after with her remarkably patient family.
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When she entered the back room, she was surprised to find Mr. Broek waiting for her. Even more shocking, Lord Ridgemont accompanied him. Both men bowed in greeting, and then her employer—miracle of miracles—took the tray from her and set it down.
"Your performance was as charming as ever, my dear," Mr. Broek said, as if his attendance was commonplace.
"Indeed, Miss Sumaki, if there is any tea left, I would be honored to partake," Lord Ridgemont added.
She made a curtsy and poured for the men. Then she stood, uncertain. She certainly couldn't change into her street apparel, her disguise. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait long for an explanation.
"I believe Lord Ridgemont and I are quite close to an agreement about our contract with the Royal Commission." Our contract? "But he has additional questions about your performances that require satisfaction." Satisfaction? Whenever Mr. Broek spoke in public, his words were laced with quicksand. Always, always, what he said held tacit obligations and implicit punishments.
"Please, Miss Sumaki, do not be alarmed," Lord Ridgemont said.
From behind him, Mr. Broek scowled. Her face must have shown something of her thoughts. She strove to control her expression, willing herself to blankness. He'd confiscated her mother's inro after she’d thwarted his attempts to cheat Lady Devin. To dangle before her? To sell? To destroy? He wouldn't say. She had so little left of her mother; she couldn't risk losing more. She struggled to maintain docility, at least in Broek's presence.
"I assure you I have no wish to interrogate you," Lord Ridgemont continued. "I simply want to ensure that all of Mr. Broek's performers are being well treated and fairly compensated."
Before she could respond, Mr. Broek interjected, "His lordship has been so kind as to offer you a guided tour of the Crystal Palace. It will be the perfect opportunity for you to converse openly." The command underlying his words was unmistakable. It would be the perfect opportunity indeed for her to convince the commissioner that there was nothing amiss, nothing at all.
"How very kind," she said meekly, casting her eyes downward. "I would be honored by your attention, Lord Ridgemont." Her stomach roiled; if only she could tell this man the truth. If anyone could free her and the Jade ladies from Mr. Broek, wouldn't it be a gentleman with a solid fortune and a respectable name? But there were so many ways in which honesty could fail her, still so many ways the women could be left defenseless, still so very many ways Mr. Broek could punish them all for any hint of defection.
She took Lord Ridgemont's proffered arm, and Broek nodded approvingly and held a curtain open for their departure. She both did and didn't want this. Her hand tingled from the light touch, a sensation that skated through her. She was being escorted by a man of property and propriety. A handsome man. With hair and even eyelashes spun from sunshine. And a solid, muscular arm. Do not enjoy this. It is not real. Broek always had hidden motives. His reasons for allowing her to promenade about the Exhibition were clear: a sign of respectability and an opportunity for self-promotion. She could not allow herself to think this was anything more than his puppetry, leading her and Lord Ridgemont on a dance that put them both at risk. How aware was her escort, though, of Broek's intentions?
Excerpt from ALWAYS A STRANGER ©2014 by Amara Royce. All rights reserved.
Length: 273 pages
Publisher: eKensington (May 15, 2014)
When two worlds collide, anything is possible. . .
An international affair, London's Great Exhibition has taken the city by storm. As its newest Royal Commissioner, Lord Skyler Ridgemont must ensure the performers are properly contracted. Among them is the delicate and graceful Hanako Sumaki. Draped in vivid silk robes, Hanako's exotic Japanese fan dance captivates Skyler--and he longs to learn more about her. . .
But Hanako's enigmatic employer keeps his exquisite charge very close. The consummate artist, she shows the handsome nobleman many faces, but never her true heart, which holds a desperate secret. When Skyler learns the real reason Hanako has been brought to London, he will risk his entire world to win her trust--and save her from losing both body and soul. It's a feat that will require the type of courage only love can give. . .
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