Sunday, 27 July 2014

A Summer Bewitchment by Lindsay Townsend. New Excerpt

In A Summer Bewitchment, my sequel to The Snow Bride, the witch Elfrida and disfigured knight Magnus are seeking desperately for kidnapped, missing girls. They wish to rescue all of them, whereas the nobility, represented by Lady Astrid and Tancred, are concerned with recovering only one.

EXCERPT.
That afternoon, while Lady Astrid dined in the great hall, Elfrida sought out the squire Baldwin. He had been with her and Magnus the previous winter, during their dangerous search for her sister Christina and the other missing brides. He knew she had magic.
A tall, slim young man who enjoyed his food, Baldwin listened closely to her request. Too courtly to pull a face, he nonetheless made his feelings clear.
“To ride with you now to Warren Bruer? Why, my lady?” He did not say them, but the words our lord will not like it also hovered on his lips.
“It is necessary. I sense my lord has need of me.” She did not want to say more or admit to the storm cloud that seemed to have coiled itself in the middle of her chest.
This is not my seething disappointment. It is Magnus’s, poor love.
“Our lord needs me, Pie,” she repeated, giving Baldwin the nickname she had made for him the previous winter.
“What of your guest?”
“Piers can attend her. Or if she wishes, Lady Astrid can ride on with Piers and join us. But we should leave now. The steward can give our excuses.”
Baldwin studied her a moment longer, drawing his brows together, then smiled, revealing the chipped tooth Elfrida found endearing.
“Do I try to protect you from my lord, or do you protect me from him, my lady?”
Relief flooded through Elfrida. “We ride and see.”
And pray we reach the place before whatever is troubling Magnus bursts like a pricked boil.

* * * *

Bundled in his cloak, with his saddle cloth as pallet and pillow, the girl slept, curled over like a fern frond. Magnus was glad to see her at peace but felt sick at heart. She had screamed herself hoarse when first spotting him, shrieked herself into utter helpless weariness before fleeing into sleep.
She was a redhead, too, which scraped his sense of shame even more rawly. He wanted to blame Tancred for cantering on ahead and hauling the girl to her feet to face him before any had troubled to tell her that he was maimed. He longed to rage at Mark, who had discovered her cowering in a thicket and done such a poor job of soothing her.
Most of all he wanted to be veiled like an eastern woman. Then he would not have inflicted his ruined, bestial looks on this terrified, confused lass.
Is she even one of the kidnapped girls? Tancred seems convinced of it, but we have no proof. We do not even have her name. How did she come here? Where did she escape from?
Questioning his second in command, he learned that Mark had come upon the girl without any warning, when the dogs had discovered her in the thicket and barked. The child would not or could not say how she had got there.
Magnus did what he could. He ordered Mark to set the hounds tracking again, using the girl’s scent. Tancred he sent off with another two of his men to the hamlets and villages, taking a lock of the girl’s red hair. He had made Tancred repeat to him what the girl looked like—small, slim, about fourteen, freckles, red hair, blue eyes—until he was certain the lad would remember.
Bad enough for the parents of these missing girls to have their hopes raised by a poor description. His men also knew what the lass looked like, and they would be tactful in speaking to the people.
Perhaps I should have kept Tancred with me, but he would keep jabbing the girl, wanting her to wake. The boy was anxious for his young kinswoman, well enough, but he seemed to think this harried, unconscious girl had no right to any finer feelings. “She is a peasant,” he answered, thrusting out his lower lip, when Magnus had warned him to go gently.
Was I ever such a thickheaded one as Tancred?
Giving orders, searching where the girl had first been found, those tasks he was glad to do. Returning to the stony roadway that skirted the little wood, Magnus spotted a new cartwheel groove in a seam of mud, but the cart or carriage had long vanished. Had she escaped from the cart? He could not tell.
Rising awkwardly from his crouch, Magnus turned on the road to check on his reluctant sleeper. The man guarding her nodded to him as she dozed still beneath the spreading branches of an oak tree. As he watched her, the flashing gilts of her hair pierced him. His heart ached and his missing foot hurt as he tried to recall what he should do next.
I am lost.
The worst of it was that he wanted Elfrida here. His caring, fighting warrior of magic was so much better than him at consoling the shy and suffering. He imagined her running along the road to meet him. Both would be united, striving, understanding each other, giving aid to one another.
He heard a drumming of hooves and guessed it was one of his men from the lack of shouts or challenges. Farther along the rutted road, into a faint shimmer of heat, pounded a gray horse with lanky Baldwin as rider.
“To me!” Magnus shouted, before he realized that his squire was galloping toward him anyway—and not just Baldwin.
Peeping from behind Baldwin’s back, her face clenched in concentration as she gripped the squire’s middle and clung on, was his Elfrida. Impossibly, she had known he needed her. She had known and come. She comes for me. Shame of his earlier fears concerning his wife, riding, and pregnancy scorched through him.
Magnus started, then began to run toward her. With every sprinting, skidding step, his heart expanded. She waved at him, her veil flapping like a sail, her long hair gleaming like flames, her mouth busy with an inevitable apology.
She smiles her love at me even as she calls sorry. She thinks I may be angry, the foolish, brave little wretch.
He caught her as Baldwin reined in and before she tumbled from the horse.
I am so very glad she is here but why has she come? What news is she bringing?


Lindsay Townsend

Friday, 11 July 2014

Could the daughters of Downton Abbey cope?

Imagine the daughters of Downton Abbey losing their home, their parents, their wealth, their status, their friends.
This is what happens to the characters in my historical novel, Kitty McKenzie.
Kitty has lost everything, and as the eldest daughter, she has to now provide and care for her younger siblings, a task she has no experience or knowledge of how to do. From a life of privilege she is faced with all kinds of adversities to overcome.
How will she manage to cope with these new challenges when the only decisions she used to make was what dress she needed to wear and what book to read after dinner?
How was she to create a home for them all, and an income?
She never realised that buried deep inside her was an inner strength that would come to the fore and allow her to manage, even prosper, in an alien world of the working class.

Could Mary or Edith from Downton Abbey have coped so well? I'd like to think they would.




Sunday, 15 June 2014

Guest blog: Chris Westcott - 'In the Shadow of Tyranny'

When the Emperor Nero causes the death of his parents, Gaius sees his future dreams and aspirations brutally shattered. Unexpectedly thrown a lifeline by Vespasian, his father’s closest friend and a celebrated military leader, an offer of a role in the campaign for Judea, finds him playing a pivotal role in the epic battle for Jerusalem.

Summoned back to Rome by Domitian, the new Emperor and his lifelong friend, Gaius finds his friend a changed man, a man capable of cold-blooded murder, and Gaius is swiftly dispatched to distant Britannia with orders for the island’s legendary governor, Agricola.

Forming a mutual respect with Agricola, Gaius embarks on a campaign that will end in triumph and terror, as with the opportunity to expand the Empire within their grasp, Gaius will find himself facing a choice on which the lives of his family and the fate of an Empire will hang.

Buy from Amazon UK


Bio:

I have been obsessed by all things Ancient Rome for the best part of a decade. Having lost track of the number of fictional novels and historical books I have devoured, I was determined to make my own contribution to the genre. I have recently finished having my first novel, In the Shadow of Tyranny, edited and have finally summoned the courage to release it. My second novel (title to be determined!) is nearing completion.

To keep in touch for updates including titles coming soon, search for 'In the Shadow of Tyranny' on Facebook or find me on twitter @CWAncientRome.

Chris Westcott

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

VIKING MAGIC by Jen Black ~ HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Blurb:
When Gisla hurls herself aboard Flane’s longship, she is desperate to avoid marriage to Karli Olafsson. Oli, Flane’s 16-year-old foster-son, thinks she’s the most wonderful girl he’s ever seen. But a Viking warship follows them home to Scotland. 
 Adventures, romance and magic meld in VIKING MAGIC to provide a fascinating tale of love, sacrifice and undeniable passion.


 Excerpt:
Flane woke with a jerk that set his heart racing. Listening for the sound that must have woken him, he heard nothing but birds singing and the soft sigh of wind under the thatch. He lay still, and turned his head on the pillow and gazed at his wife. One of the quiet joys of every day was to waken first and study her peaceful face as his mind slowly engaged with possible problems of the day. He admired her clear profile: the straight nose and long lashes. There was hardly a line on her face to show for ten years and two boys.

He withdrew quietly from the bed, dressed and went into the hall. A slave knelt by the fire. Smoke, blown on an erratic course by the draught from the door, curled up into the rafters. Skeggi, always one of the first to wake, stood between the open hall doors, yawning. As Flane joined him, the cool air of early morning struck his skin and drove away the last cobwebs of sleep. Outside, the loch gleamed like polished metal under a light blue sky, and reflected every shade of the green and brown vegetation that covered the opposite hillside.

‘They’re on their way.’ Skeggi nodded toward the mouth of the loch.

Flane followed his friend’s gesture. The longship, prow-beast still in place, snarled across the water. His stomach muscles clenched. ‘Get people up. Everyone’s to look normal. Wake Emer. Then come and join me on the dock.’

‘Armed?’
Flane shook his head. ‘No. If we can, let’s keep it friendly.’
‘What about the girl?’
Flane hesitated, and then said, ‘Get her out of sight.’


Price $1.60 £0.98     Available here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K5S3BX0

Anyone who has read Far After Gold will find some familiar figures here. Oli is no longer  a child, but a headstrong 16-year-old youth and he's dizzy with love for Gisla, who clings to him in the hope he will save her from a disastrous marriage. He almost comes to blows with Flane over his choice... 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Guest blog: Robert Bartram - 'Dance the Moon Down'

In 1910, no one believed there would ever be a war with Germany. Safe in her affluent middle-class life, the rumours held no significance for Victoria either. It was her father’s decision to enrol her at university that began to change all that. There she befriends the rebellious and outspoken Beryl Whittaker, an emergent suffragette, but it is her love for Gerald Avery, a talented young poet from a neighbouring university that sets the seal on her future.

After a clandestine romance, they marry in January 1914, but with the outbreak of the First World War, Gerald volunteers and within months has gone missing in France. Convinced that he is still alive, Victoria’s initial attempts to discover what has become of him, implicate her in a murderous assault on Lord Kitchener resulting in her being interrogated as a spy, and later tempted to adultery.

Now virtually destitute, Victoria is reduced to finding work as a common labourer on a run down farm, where she discovers a world of unimaginable ignorance and poverty. It is only her conviction that Gerald will some day return that sustains her through the dark days of hardship and privation as her life becomes a battle of faith against adversity. 



EXCERPT:

Victoria heard someone pass close by, approach the desk and stop. After a moment, not having felt a hand on her shoulder, she opened her eyes to see a young officer standing in front of her. He bore such a striking resemblance to Gerald that for a moment she thought that 
it was actually he.

‘This is Lieutenant Fairchild,’ Colonel Bass informed her bluntly, 'temporarily assigned to this department. I’ve put him in charge of investigating your husband’s case. In future, you’ll direct all your questions to him.’ Closing the file, he handed it to the lieutenant. ‘Carry on, Fairchild.’

The lieutenant took the file, turned to her, smiled and gestured that she should follow him.

Victoria was only too glad to do so, but as she rose to leave, Colonel Bass had one last word of warning.

‘In future, young woman, I suggest that you confine your activities to the appropriate channels. If you persist in pursuing your original course, you may discover that this department is no longer disposed to offer you the leniency it’s shown today.‘ With that, he looked down and began writing again.

With an outstretched hand, Lieutenant Fairchild reaffirmed his invitation for her to follow him. Victoria couldn’t wait to get out of the room. She was shaking from head to toe and in such a state that, by the time she reached the corridor, she was desperate to confide her feelings to just about anyone.

‘That man,’ she told the lieutenant, her voice wavering with emotion, ‘that awful man is overbearing, rude and insensitive!’

‘He’s a colonel in the British army,’ Lieutenant Fairchild pointed out. ‘He’s supposed to be.’

His candour did nothing to alleviate her distress. ‘Do you know, he accused me of being a spy?’

The gravity of her statement merely seemed to amuse him. ‘My dear Mrs Avery, if he’d ever once thought that you were actually a spy, then you’d never have been allowed into this building. At this moment, you’d be languishing in His Majesty’s Prison Holloway, awaiting execution.’ 

Victoria drew a huge gasp, her eyes widening with incredulity; she could hardly believe her ears. 'You mean to say that he put me through all that, knowing all the time that I wasn’t a spy?’

‘Believe it or not, he did you a favour,’ Lieutenant Fairchild told her. ‘It could have been far more serious had he wished to make it so.’ Victoria was incensed. She felt completely humiliated. 

Disregarding his remarks, her agitation began to boil over. ‘That’s despicable!’ she fumed.  ‘I don’t think the corridor is the best place for this conversation,’ he advised. ‘I’m certain we’ll be much more comfortable in my office.’

The lieutenant’s office was tiny in comparison to the baronial hall occupied by Colonel Bass, but it was far more inviting. It was hardly bigger than a cupboard, lined with filing cabinets and cluttered with stacks of paper that further reduced its size.

‘Sorry about the mess,’ he apologised, ‘but lowly lieutenants don’t rate a lot of space.’ He paused, studying her for a moment. ‘May I offer you some tea?’ he asked. ‘You look as though you need it.’

When the tea arrived, Victoria was grateful to receive a cup. Her ordeal had left her parched, and it was all she could do to stop herself from gulping it. Nevertheless, to her acute embarrassment, each time she tried to replace the cup back onto the saucer, her trembling hand made it rattle conspicuously, and in spite of trying not to, she slurped when she drank.

Lieutenant Fairchild waited patiently for her to recover enough to continue. Eventually, Victoria put the cup down and eyed him warily. Despite his good looks and easy charm, she was still paranoid about military conspiracies. ‘It won’t work, you know,’ she told him.

The lieutenant folded his hands on the desk top and smiled indulgently. ‘What won’t work?’ he asked.

She was certain that he knew exactly what she was talking about, but if he insisted on continuing this silly charade, then she would tell him anyway. ‘I’ve made a nuisance of myself, and after frightening the life out of me, that colonel of yours thinks to distract me by putting a pretty face in my way.’

It took him some moments to comprehend what she was alluding to. Then suddenly, his eyes widened in surprise. ‘Oh, I see. You mean me. I can honestly say that I’ve never thought of myself in quite those terms before,’ he admitted, still somewhat bemused by her remark. ‘Do you suppose Colonel Bass sees me that way?’

Victoria was only too well aware that his amusement was entirely at her expense, and was determined not to be the butt of the joke. ‘You know precisely what I mean, Lieutenant,’ she remarked coldly.

‘Please, call me Alan,’ he invited, taking her by surprise, ‘and may I call you Victoria?’

He had a beguiling way about him that easily disarmed her caution, and after an appropriate pause required by formality, she nodded her consent.

‘Excellent,’ he beamed. ‘I’m sure we’re going to be great friends.’

Under any other circumstances, his remark might have been considered presumptuous. Perhaps the harrowing events of the last few hours had tired her, wearing down her resistance, making her susceptible to his overtures. In any event, Victoria found the suggestion not altogether unattractive. Maybe Colonel Bass was a better judge of character than she’d given him credit for.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Guest blog: Anna Jacobs - 'The Trader's Reward'

1871. When Fergus Deagan's wife dies in childbirth, she makes him promise to take their family to Western Australia to join his brother Bram, also to marry again. She's right. His young sons and newborn daughter do need a mother's love and he needs something different.

Disowned by her father for becoming pregnant, Cara Payton bears a stillborn baby. She's in deep despair, until a plea to wetnurse a motherless baby gives her life new purpose. When Fergus proposes marriage, she accepts. She respects him and is happy to stay with the baby she now loves.

During the voyage to Australia, she and Fergus draw closer. Then her past rears its ugly head and they face a terrible crisis.

When they finally get to Fremantle, Fergus and Bram, always rivals, struggle to make friends. To make matters worse, Bram has financial problems and there is no railway where Fergus can find engineering work. Can the two brothers solve their problems? Will the newcomers find a way to build a new life?

More at: http://www.annajacobs.com/book.aspx?title=The-Traders-Reward&bookID=72


EXCERPT:

The family she was to help lived in a terrace of bigger houses than the one Cara had been living in for the past few months, and these houses were all in much better repair. Mrs Sealey had told her Mr Deagan was assistant to one of the engineers at the Swindon Railway Works and this house showed that he was doing well.

She’d had only a tiny attic room for the past few months, with a privy across the communal back yard and a tap next to the back door. Mr Deagan had a whole house for his family and there were private yards behind each of these houses.

Taking a deep breath, she followed the midwife inside.

‘I’ve brought you a wet nurse, Mrs Grady. This is Cara Payton. Her baby was stillborn two days ago. She’s a widow. She has plenty of milk, so she can feed little Niamh, but she’ll need housing. And paying, too, of course.’

Alana Grady studied the young woman, who looked wan and weary, but healthy enough. If she’d lost her own baby, no wonder she looked sad. ‘What happened to your husband, dear?’

‘An accident at the railway works—’ Mrs Sealey began.

‘I won’t lie to them,’ Cara said, staring defiantly at Mrs Grady. ‘I was attacked by a man as I walked home from the shops at dusk. I was too ashamed to tell anyone. And then . . . I found I was expecting a child. I didn’t even know what was happening to me. My mother had to tell me. My father threw me out, said I was a fallen woman now and he wouldn’t have me or my bastard under his roof.’

Alana looked at Mrs Sealey, not sure what to say to this.

The midwife went to put her arm round the girl. At twenty-two and so unused to the ways of the world, she seemed a mere girl to her. ‘I know Cara’s aunt. She and I believe the girl about the attack, so we’ve helped her as best we can. But with the baby dead and the money running out, Cara needs to earn her daily bread.’

There was a wailing cry from the corner of the room and they all looked across at the squirming bundle. 

The baby continued to cry and Cara moved slowly across the room, as if she was sleepwalking. 

Mrs Sealey held Alana’s arm and shook her head, mouthing, ‘Let her.’
Cara stared down into the drawer they were using as a cradle. The baby was tiny, smaller than her poor dead baby, even. It looked sad and lost as it wept for sustenance. Its distress touched her heart as nothing else had done since the attack all those months ago – nothing except her own child’s death, that was.

She bent down instinctively to pick up the infant and comfort it. ‘There now. There.’ As she cradled it against her, it stopped crying and stared up at her, blinking as if the light from the kitchen window hurt its eyes.

The light hurt her eyes too, because they were sore and swollen from weeping.

She turned to face the two older women. ‘If I can save this baby’s life, I will. It’ll bring good out of evil, at least.’

She waited, rocking the baby slightly, an instinctive action which seemed to soothe it.

The midwife nodded. ‘Very well. Let’s see if we can get her to feed. Let me help you unbutton your bodice.’

Cara looked round, blushing. ‘Here? What if someone comes in?’

It was the blush which made Alana’s mind up. Suddenly she too believed the 
girl’s story. ‘We’ll go into the front room. I’ll make sure no one else disturbs us.’

‘I’ll show you how to do it,’ Mrs Sealey said in her usual brisk tone.

Exposing her body to a complete stranger was a further humiliation to Cara. But when the baby began tugging desperately at her breast, when the milk started to flow, so did her own tears. But this time they were tears of hope and healing.

She looked at the midwife. ‘I really might be able to save her life, mightn’t I?’ 

‘Nothing’s certain with babies that small, dear, but you can give her a chance, the only chance she’s likely to get.’ And that child can save you, too, Mrs Sealey thought, but didn’t say that.

By the time Fergus came home from making arrangements to bury his wife, the two older women had settled everything between them.


Cara was to stay in the Gradys’ house with the baby until after the funeral, then the boys would move into their father’s bedroom, and the Gradys would move their things to Fergus’s house, into the front room downstairs, leaving Cara and the baby with the back bedroom. 


BIO::

Anna Jacobs has had almost 70 novels published in the genres of historical, modern and fantasy fiction, as well as short stories and articles. She is one of Australia’s most successful authors and brings riveting story lines and heart-warming writing to a legion of fans around the world.

Anna Jacobs lives in both Western Australia and the UK, spending time in each country every year. She uses her love of these areas to produce powerfully written modern and historical novels that span those countries. She receives numerous fan emails each week, and her readers most commonly tell her that they can’t put down her novels!

Visit Anna at http://www.annajacobs.com/

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Guest blog: Shehanne Moore - 'Loving Lady Lazuli'

A woman not even the ghost of Sapphire could haunt.

Only one man in England can identify her. Unfortunately he’s living next door.

Ten years ago sixteen year old Sapphire, the greatest jewel thief England has ever known, ruined Lord Devorlane Hawley’s life. Now she’s dead and buried, all the respectable widow, Cassidy Armstrong, wants is the chance to prove who she really is.

A man who knows exactly who she is.

 But not only does her new neighbor believe he knows that exactly, he’s hell-bent on revenge.  All he needs is the actual proof.  So when he asks her to choose between being his mistress, or dangling on the end of a rope, only Sapphire can decide…

 What’s left for a woman with nowhere left to go, but to stay exactly where she is?


And hope, that when it comes to neighbors, Devorlane Hawley won’t prove to be the one from hell.



Buy from:


EXCERPT:


The blinding light from Barron’s driver’s lantern dazzled her for a second, so she’d to fight not to shield her face. But not before she saw Ruby was also there, armed with a broom handle. She had perhaps gone a little far. But going a little far was better than going nowhere at all. She clutched her robe tighter. Having started this, she might as well finish it.
Devorlane Hawley would know better than to trouble her again.
“He… He… I—I can’t.” The tears that glistened in her eyes were masterful. “I can’t speak of it.”
Especially not as Devorlane Hawley now swung around and grasped the broom handle. Though why he grasped the broom handle, and what he meant to do with it, was as mysterious as finding herself in a situation where a broom handle was involved in the first place. In some ways anyway.
“Jeezuz! Sorrr…”
Her blood pounded as the lantern flew from Barron’s hand. The tinkle of glass was muffled by her shriek. Boiling tallow wax spattered the hem of her robe.
She barely had time to acknowledge it as Devorlane Hawley barred Barron’s throat with the broom handle, pinning his wheezing bulk to the wall. What was that thought she’d had several moments ago, when she’d first opened the door? The one about him seeing it all and experiencing nothing?
This had somehow taken a turn for the worse. If Barron got killed here she was going to look very good explaining that to the magistrates. And the way Devorlane Hawley deliberately turned his head, feasted his eyes on her face, said the choice was hers.
How horrible was that when obviously she couldn’t allow it. Although this, damn it, should be about her being attacked, not Barron. She snatched at the handle. No easy task when she’d a robe to keep shut.
“Let him go.”
“Aye. Don’t ‘ee think ‘ee and yore fancy boots ‘ull get away wi’ this. Oih’ll defend ‘ee, moih lydy. Oih’ll get him. Leave this ter me.”
“That’ll be interesting.” Devorlane Hawley tossed his hair out his eyes. “You.” He jerked his head at Ruby.
“Whot? Me?”
He dragged a breath. “Unless you think I am somehow meaning the tree there? Fetch Lord Koorecroft.”
Lord Koorecroft? The county’s most senior magistrate? A turn for the worse? Now it was a somersault. A woman who planked a stolen necklace on this specimen should not blush to say it was rape. She would have to if he fetched Lord Koorecroft, because then there would be the matter of what the damned man could say to Lord Koorecroft. Being dead and buried might not be enough to save her then. Not when her crimes had been dutifully reported by every newspaper up and down the land. She would hang.
“Lord Koorecroft?” Ruby smoothed a copper tendril of hair back from her forehead. “Whot soddin’ fer?”
“What do you think it’s soddin’ for? To accuse me of rape and molestation. It won’t be difficult. He’s at Chessington right now. You can cut through the hedge. Go on.”
“That’ll be shiny bright.” Fortunately Ruby could always be counted on to do absolutely nothing. “What do yer think I am exactly? Yer bleedin’ servant?”
“’Ee got no roight after what ee—”
Barron made a strangled sound as Devorlane Hawley jerked the stick so hard across his windpipe, Cass was almost jerked off her feet.
“I have every right. You all want Lord Koorecroft fetched, don’t you?” He huffed out a breath. “So let’s fetch him. I’m relishing the thought of the little chat I’m going to have with him about our Mrs. Armstrong here.”
Cass’s hackles rose. Why, he himself used the word rape. Did he think she wouldn’t accuse him when her back was to the wall like this? The thought stole that stepping out here, dressed as she was, might require no small explanation.
Would it not be better to placate him? Or best still, push the stick herself in the hope he might take it as an invitation to depart before he got into trouble? She tightened her grip.
“How dare you speak to my companion this way. Ruby, stay exactly where you are.”
Yes, it would be better to placate him. But if anyone was going to order Ruby, it would not be him.
“Wif pleasure, Cassidy.”
Another vicious jerk of the stick. His breath, like hers, like Ruby’s, hit the air in a freezing white puff. It also hit her. “Very well. How about I tell this man here—what’s the name?”
“’Ee touch a solitary ‘air on moih lydy’s ‘ead—”
“How about I tell Barron about the man who will touch not just that solitary hair, Lady Armstrong? The one with the nice length of rope who will touch your whole head, with a sack, who will put that rope ‘round your—”
“Get ’im, Pearl!”
Dear God, while that would be very nice, if Cass didn’t do something, blood would be spilled. His. Of course it would be his own fault. But it would also be hers if she had to bury him in her herb garden. Besides she was unsure about Barron. Where he would stand on the matter of assistance. A broom handle may have been sawing his windpipe, but it did not mean he was one of them. What might be around the county tomorrow about her?
“Kill ’im! Toffee-nosed snout.”
Ruby sprung and Devorlane Hawley did not hit her back. Cass’s throat constricted, the noise that came from the back of it not one she would usually make. Men, certainly those of her acquaintance, would never do such a thing. Did or did her own back not bear witness to that fact? What Starkadder had done to her that day. And not just that day. Every day she’d refused to steal.
Of course, a corpse would make things inconvenient for her. Who would have thought he’d have retaliated like this, a powerful man like him, who had no fear of arrest, though? Plainly not herself or she’d never have opened her mouth. Let alone row with him over a kiss, a kiss she gave him so she could worm off the hook, a kiss which would be a complete waste if she didn’t stop this unraveling further, if they had to flee the county.
“Ruby. Ruby—no. No.
“Get orf of me, Cass.” Ruby tried wrenching the handle free—no doubt because her fists weren’t good enough. “I knows whot I’m doin’. Stickin’ it ‘round ‘ere like ‘e owns the bleedin’ place. Smarmy—”
“No, Ruby!”
“’E thinks ‘e knows. ‘E don’t know jack-shit. ‘E—”
“Ruby!”
“What the bloody hell is going on here?”
The voice—given it wheezed worse than a rusty gate hinge—still held that note. Unmistakable. Unbelievable. The one that always knifed right through Cass’s senses, freezing her. Bones. Marrow. Thoughts. To quote what Ruby had just said a few moments ago, wasn’t this just shiny bright?

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