Sunday, 29 April 2012

Lindsay Townsend: 'The Lord and Eleanor'

Here's an excerpt from my latest medieval, out from Ellora's Cave this month. More details and links are here.

“Talk or kiss?” he said, hoping his voice was not a growl. Another mothlike kiss against his chest was her answer. For a moment he was sorry he was still fully clothed but then, as she shifted and sank deeper into his embrace, most glad indeed.
She is as shy as a doe and not quite comfortable to trust. Lose her now and it may be forever. She does not need to know you are as ready as a battle lance.
“Did your wife do this?” she asked then caught her breath as if berating herself for lack of tact. He stroked her forehead, tracing the contours of her face.
“Ask what you wish, we have no secrets here,” he said. “Yes, I loved Joanna and yes, we loved and so may we, Eleanor. I have not changed my mind.”
“Good,” he thought he heard her mutter though he was not sure.
Eleanor.” He savored her name. “Were you named for King Henry’s queen or King Edward’s?”
“For my grandmother,” came back the reply, a little smug and confident, which he was glad to hear. “Richard?”
She stretched and gave him another swift kiss, this time directly on his mouth. The clever lass had got him to reply so she could do just that.
And two can play such a game… “What flower do you like best?”
“The rose.”
He tracked her answer and found her lips, kissing her in a slow, unhurried way. “You smell of strawberries,” he told her. It was true.
“And you of salt, a sweet salt.”
He kissed her again and asked, “Do you like music?”
“The songs in church and the chants. And you?”
“The same,” he replied, kissing her mouth lightly, then her nose.
She turned her head. A slim drizzle of moonlight through the roof thatch lit her eyes and some of the amazing web of her hair. Desire ramped and roared in him again. To kiss her was not enough, not by a long way, and yet in a strange fashion he was mightily content.
“Your favorite color for a gown?”
He expected a prompt answer he could reward by another kiss, not a silence followed by, “Green?”
Then he understood. Eleanor had no favorite color for any of her clothes. A gown was what she could make or barter.
“Dawn is my favorite color,” she went on as if to make amends for her earlier hesitation. “And the best time.”
“With all the work still to do?” he teased, running a line of kisses across her mouth and cheeks.
“And all the promise of the new day,” she countered, tracing his jaw with a careful finger.
His chin and the lower half of his face throbbed where she had touched. He longed to lose himself entirely in her, to scoop her up and toss her on her back and have his way with her. Why not? It was how lords dealt with peasant lasses.
But not me and not with Eleanor. She deserves more.
He caressed her cheek, marveling at how smooth and supple her skin was, how warm and soft. He found her poor, raw palms and dropped kisses into them, promising her a salve for the rope grazes. He wished he had more light to see her, to truly enjoy and worship her body and yet… this darkness joined them, united them by touch, the intimacy of gentle, shared breathing and kisses.

Lindsay Townsend

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Dark Deceit by Cathie Dunn

It's lovely to be here again. Thank you, Lindsay, for letting me share my work. Today, I want to share an excerpt from my recent release, Dark Deceit.

Dark Deceit is the first in The Anarchy Trilogy, a series set in 1140s England and Normandy.

A historical adventure with romantic elements, Dark Deceit tells the story of Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucestershire and Alleyne de Bellac, a young heiress who had just lost her father. Not fully trusting Geoffrey, Alleyne calls an old family friend for help. But which man can she trust - a friend or a stranger?

Dark Deceit, published through Crooked Cat Publishing, is now available on Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

On his return from battle at Lincoln, Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucester and spy for the Empress Matilda, assists a dying knight caught in an ambush. Promising to look after the welfare of the knight’s only daughter, Geoffrey stays at her manor, investigating the murder. Keen to join the Empress on her progress through England, he is torn between his oath and his duty.

Left to defend her manor following her father’s death, Alleyne de Bellac reluctantly accepts Geoffrey’s support. As she doesn’t trust the taciturn stranger, she asks Will d’Arques, an old friend, for help. But loyalties change. Her life in danger and her inheritance at stake, Alleyne must decide which man to trust.
Discover England and Normandy divided by a brutal civil war, where vows are broken as allegiances waver.


Geoffrey’s words hung in the air. Lady Alleyne stared at him, her eyes widening as the news sank in.
  The steward flinched as if Geoffrey had hit him. “The king captured?” His voice shook. “Sweet Jesus! What is to happen to us with the empress ruling the country? She won’t be of any help.” The old man shook his head.
  Geoffrey shrugged. With King Stephen captured, the Empress Matilda, the rightful heir to Old King Henry, gained control over England and Normandy. Or so she expected to. “I doubt much will change anytime soon. Matilda is going to rely on her half-brother, the earl of Gloucester, as always. They have many plans to make now.”
  Roger stood and replenished the cups. “Do you really believe so? I’m certain you know her reputation, my lord. The woman’s a shrew.”
  “A shrew who will soon be queen.” Geoffrey’s voice rose. He had enough of seditious talk. It followed him everywhere. No-one was content with Stephen’s kingship and his indecisive policies, but even fewer people accepted a woman as queen in her own right. In fact, many nobles regarded her husband, the count of Anjou, as a serious threat to England’s independence. King Henry, God rest his soul, should have foreseen the mess.
  Geoffrey pulled himself out of his thoughts. He was not the only one who had fallen silent. The steward might have qualms about divulging his political affiliations to a stranger, but Lady Alleyne? She did not appear to be old-fashioned. When his gaze met hers, her eyes shone, ablaze with hope.
She smiled. “The empress will take up our case, won’t she? She will listen, woman to woman. Roger is wrong. Surely she is bound to help?”
  Roger snorted. “The woman has better things to do than listen to complaints from subjects who haven’t even supported her cause.”
  Geoffrey nodded. “I’m afraid your steward is right, my lady. Matilda’s mind is focused on her coronation. While she might present herself to her subjects across the country soon, I don’t think she’ll have much time to spare for neighbourly disputes. Even if they involve murder. And Sheriff Miles won’t leave her side either.”
  Lady Alleyne’s face fell.
  Geoffrey sighed. “I will see what I can do when the time comes, my lady.” Picking up his cup, he drained it. Lady Alleyne’s obvious distress nagged him, suffocated him. Most certainly he did not wish to get entangled in her case. Solve the murder, yes. But stay away from the girl. He must get out of doors to clear his head.
  This was the part of his position he hated - bringing bad news to people who had endured too much already. His mood, morose since he set off from Worcester that morning, grew gloomier. His head pounded, the extent of his responsibility weighing heavily on his mind. If only he had not given his oath to her father...
  But perhaps it was just the wine, a potent red. It had been a long time since he tasted such quality, such strength. Not since Normandy. He shook off the unwanted memory, and rose.
  “With your permission, my lady, I would like to start the investigation right away. We have already lost nearly two days since we took Lord Raymond to the monastery. I will take my men out into the countryside to see what those mercenaries you spoke of are doing. Then we’ll speak to the villagers.”
  “Of course you have my permission.” Her emerald eyes clouded with sadness, her voice quiet. “But I hope you will grace our company for the evening meal?”
  “I certainly will, my lady.” He inclined his head, grateful for a chance to discover more about the manor, and the lady who held it on her father’s behalf. “Thank you.”
  Geoffrey strode away from the fire and left the hall, letting the door fall shut behind him. As he hurried down the steps, he took a couple of deep breaths. This was not going to be an easy task, at the worst possible time. His place should be with the court, attending the empress’s progress, not here. He turned towards the kitchen in search of his men.

(c) Cathie Dunn 2012

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Storm Maker by Erin O'Quinn

He buried his face in his hands, and I fell to my knees. “Please, please,” I prayed before the altar of our humble church. “Let Liam be safe.” I was not sure who I was praying to, for I had always thought that the Lord had better things to do than hear my juvenile pleading. The last time I prayed, I had directed my words to Father Patrick, for he would know how to ask the Lord on my behalf. “Please, Father Patrick, tell the Lord that his new son is missing and to keep him safe.”
I got to my feet. “Brother,” I said. “Do not blame yourself. You had no way of knowing. I am on my way now. I promise you—I will find him, and I will bring him home.”
I ran from the church and leapt astride Macha, turning her toward home. First I would gather my weapons, and then I would seek Jay Feather. I did not have the same confidence inside as I had expressed to the monk, for I had no idea who had taken Liam or what direction they had gone.
When I arrived at my teach, I stood inside the door trying to control my ragged breath. I was almost paralyzed with a fear that crept from my stomach to my arms and legs, and I could hardly stand on my own. I walked toward my little bunch of weapons leaning against the wall, and my hand went to Liam’s shillelagh, glowing darkly next to my own.
I would use my own magic to talk with Liam. 
I knelt, holding the burnished, knobby piece of blackthorn, almost feeling Liam’s warm hand on the swollen hand grip. I lowered my head and willed my heaving chest to slow its breathing, slow, slower, until a calmness descended from my mind to my heart and deep into my stomach. 
I let the moment itself dissipate like water spreading itself on a flat rock, until the very flatness caused it to turn into vapor and disappear into the air. This moment was no time, and this house was no place. My breath was nonexistent. But my hand on the shillelagh was Liam’s own hand, and I saw it clenched. And then I saw his arms. They were bound with harsh ropes, and his muscles were straining against the tarred cord, twisting and bunching in pain.
His legs—my own legs—were bent and bound behind me. My mind felt numbed, as if drugged with an opiate, and I could barely see my opponent. But I heard his voice, coming closer and closer. It was cold and harsh, crisp and articulate. “I will have my revenge. And I am in no hurry at all.”
And then the body itself rose before me—really half a body. I saw the dark, sleek hair and hollow, pale face of Owen Sweeney. I saw his huge arms and chest, but the rest of his body was a twisted lump beneath a dark blanket. And he was rolling closer and closer, using his massive, bulging arms on the wheels to roll his invalid’s chair over Liam’s still body again and again and again.
I heard a high, anguished scream that seemed to hang in the air for long moments, and then I heard it again. It took me a long time to realize that the voice was my own.

Storm Maker, coming April 17, can be pre-ordered at a discount @

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The First Apostle - Excerpt

by Katherine Pym

This is a book of the French Revolution. Camille Desmoulins is the main character. He was a real person and even though historians don't care much for Camille, his actual story reads like a romance.

France, 1784
In the midst of a dinner party, a young man of twenty-two angrily thrust aside his napkin, and jumped to his feet. He pointed an accusing finger at an older woman. “No! That is vile and stupid. How can you say such a thing?”
The purr of idle chatter trickled to an ebb as the guests stared at him.
The young man pushed aside his dish, then mounted the table in complete disregard of half- filled glasses and plates of food at his feet. Men and women around the table gaped in disbelief when he raised his arms in a motion for silence.
Noting a couple near him still talking, he kicked a plate of beef to make them stop and take notice. Slack-jawed and wide-eyed, they turned to him.
Hampered by the continuing staccato of clearing his throat, Lucie Simplice Camille Benoist Desmoulins began: “A Republican government is the only one suited for free men. Without it, he is a slave, forced to bend under the yoke of royalty...”
Part I--The Gallic Lark
Paris, May 1789
Camille Desmoulins sat in a dingy café, and frowned. In front of him sat a tankard of mediocre, watered down wine he hesitated to drink. It would probably claw his belly to the trots, but he was starving. Bending closer, he gazed at it with a jaundiced eye. He’d had very little to eat all day, and ran on the last vestiges of nervous energy.
He decided to wait for the barmaid to bring the bread, and looked out the window to the narrow streets. The day waned, and the city lay in heavy shadow. Soon, it would be dark, the end of a momentous day, the beginning of the States General. He wondered how nature could be so blasé about it. God should rejoice and make the day longer, brighter.
He studied the wine. Tonight, it looked all right, and he took a sip. It wound down to his empty belly and sat there. Camille let it settle. No pain spiked through his innards, so he took another sip.
With a dull frown, he sighed.
Educated as a lawyer and almost thirty, his career of law copying hardly paid enough salary to survive. Except for his love for Lucile Duplessis, he despised everything about his life. He lived in a wretched rooming house, ate vile, tasteless food, and his clothes were shabby. Thick, lank hair pressed heavily against his head with layers of powder. The heels to his shoes were rundown with a buckle missing from one, and there were ink stains on his shirt. He could only afford bad wine and coarse bread. He couldn’t even spare a sou for a cut of cheese.
The barmaid bore down on him with a loaded tray. Walking fast, she reached up and pulled off of a chunk of bread. She did not stop or look at him. In a rush, she slapped it down on the table next to his tankard.
Camille sniffed. Good bread hard to get, and the stuff in front of him was probably filled with crawly insects. He broke it in half, and waited for bits of it to move.
He scowled as he watched. Vermin had gotten into it.
The barmaid walked by with the emptied tray, and he grabbed her wrist. “Do you have anything that is fresh, or at least, not infested?”
She pulled away. “No. You have what you have.”
This bit of injustice just added to the already foul day.
He’d been to Versailles to watch the opening procession of the States General. Only allowed on the periphery, he gazed with burning eyes at those fortunate enough to have been elected to this historic event. His father could have been a delegate, but he refused the nomination. Camille could not understand the old man’s lack of zeal to make France a better country. Had he no ideals? Was there no patriotism in his heart?
And here Camille was--in Paris--ready to work for his province. His father could have recommended him to be the delegate from Picardy, but he did not. Camille’s soul filled with bitter envy.
The procession at Versailles did not stop while he grappled with a stream of dark thoughts. Standing there on the edge, he considered it endless as everyone walked by very solemn. If he were a delegate, he would have walked very solemn, too. Suddenly, Camille snapped upright when he spotted an old school friend.
How could it be? De Robespierre was a delegate.
Beginning under similar circumstances, de Robespierre seemed to have flourished where Camille had not. The simple truth of it sent him down a blazing path of resentment.
He picked up the bread and crumbled it over the tankard, letting it fall into the wine. As it soaked and softened, he reflected times must change. Not just for his sake, but for the people of France. Things couldn’t get much worse.
The weather had proven difficult the last eighteen months with crops failing throughout the country. There was a real risk of famine, yet the aristos hoarded grain at their country estates, waiting for the prices to go up. Already, the cost was too high for most people. Women with families were forced to raid bakeries. They grabbed anything they could, including flour that was almost always tainted. They fed their children with half-rotten, foul smelling grain filled with weevils and dirt.
Camille gazed at the bread in his wine. Almost ready. He scraped breadcrumbs from the table into his hand, then let them fall into the tankard.
Wine was cheap with plenty to go around. Babies suckled it for added nourishment when the milk failed. Men drank it to forget the squalor and harsh times in which they lived, but it even when half drunk, they could not ignore the poor conditions in which they lived.
Bitter hostility was replacing apathy. The prospect of it excited Camille, which would open the door to the possibility of a Republic. As far as he was concerned, royalty could be damned.
A man walked up to his table, holding two glasses of wine. Elaborately dressed in bright green brocade, frothy lace sprouted from his wrists and the front of his coat. Half drunk from the bad wine, the peacock hurt Camille’s eyes. “Well, if it’s not Louis Stanislaus Fréron gracing a poor fellow in a rank bistro. What are you doing, here? You’ll soil your pretty clothes.”
“I knew you’d be here, drowning your sorrows in this filth of a place. How can you call what you’re drinking, wine?”
Fréron handed him a glass, and taking it, Camille drank from it. Much better. He waved his hand. “Ah then, sit, sit mon ami. I am trying to be in good spirit tonight. There is a small glimmer the States General will change things without violence. Were you at the procession, today?”
“No, I was not.”
Camille wanted to thunder to the rafters how momentous this new States General was, but he only waved his glass. “Why not? You must comprehend it’s the first time in more than a century the three estates have gathered to solve our country’s internal problems.” He drank.
Fréron sighed. “Do not become overheated, Camille. Nothing will come of it.”
Abruptly, Camille mourned. “Oui, mon ami, I comprehend. You are saying the clerics and aristos may sit in the same hall together, but not the clerics, aristos, and the third estate, eh? Our common folk who break their backs for the other two estates are nothing, and should not be counted, n’est pas?” He gazed bleary-eyed at Fréron.
Fréron sipped his wine. “Mark my words, only bloodshed will awaken the monarchy from their death like sleep. It isn’t too far away, either.”
Camille sagged. “I saw de Robespierre today. He is a delegate.”
Fréron shrugged. “He’s a humorless prig. His arrogance turns men away from him. Do not be envious. As I said, he and the delegation will come to nothing.”
A little wobbly, Camille gazed into the cup with his bread. It looked very soft, now, like a moving mush, and he scowled. The damn stuff played havoc with his innards until it was hard to justify the eating of it, but he must. He was half starved.
With a grimace, he scooped it in his mouth with his fingers, and swallowed it down. It was fetid.

Buy Link Here

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Introducing Reluctance

It is probably time I told you about my new book Reluctance, released on Good Friday, 6th April. It will be my first release for MuseItUp Publishing, and I must be an unknown quantity for most of you! I live in the UK, and I'm really proud of this book. Writing it was a good experience, not least because I got to describe the countryside around my home!

There’s a National Trust property called Gibside click not far from me, where George Bowes made immense wealth from the coal trade in the seventeen hundreds. We often walk by his house and the orangery, both of which are roofless shells now, but the stables and the Palladian chapel are probably just as they were in his day. He had no sons to follow him, so his daughter inherited everything and was reputed to be the richest heiress in the country. She made a most unfortunate marriage which scandalised society at the time. So much is true.

I thought I could use the basic thread, and the setting, and make a very good story out of it. The reasons people married then, as now, are many and varied, and I wanted to explore why a woman might give up her wealth, independence and property to a scoundrel.

My heroine, Frances, was the character who initially formed in my mind. Well educated, and with an aversion to marital duties after her first marriage, she had absolutely no incentive to marry again. Yet she would do so. What was it that changed her mind? That’s the question that intrigued me.

 I think the best thing about the hero/heroine is that they are first and foremost friends. From that, comes everything else. He, for different reasons, is also against marriage, but to say more would give away the plot. There's a villain, and he is very keen on marriage - but for all the wrong reasons! 1803 is an important year in my heroine's life and nothing will be the same once it is over.

 I’ve always lived within forty miles of where I am now in the Tyne Valley, Northumberland. The only continent I haven’t visited is South America – and I’ve no plans to do so! With a degree in English/History and recently retired from library management, I write almost every day – usually historical adventures. I’m currently writing about a male protagonist in sixteenth century France, and perspiring over a siege at St-Dizier in 1544, but I think I'll soon bring him back to Scotland. His French is suffering along with mine too much to stay!

I aim to write my blog three times a week and you can visit it here: Jen

I send the odd missive to Facebook and Twitter (@speckledbirds) and that’s about it.

Go read Reluctance link
and let me know what you think of Frances and Jack. Happy reading!

Jen Black

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Hostage of the Heart by Linda Acaster

September 1066: the northern militia has been raised to support the new English king against Norse invaders, leaving the Welsh borderlands dangerously unprotected. Rhodri ap Hywel sweeps down the valley to reclaim by force stolen lands, taking the Saxon Lady Dena as a battle hostage.

But who is the more barbaric: a man who protects his people by the strength of his sword-arm, or Dena’s kinfolk who swear fealty to a canon of falsehoods and refuse to pay her ransom? Betrayed as worthless, can she place her trust, and her life, in the hands of a warrior-knight shielding dark secrets of his own?


The door burst open and more men appeared, some carrying heavy buckets, some pushing barrels. There was a good deal of excited chatter, and the doleful Welshmen quickly began to change their humour. Dena sank back against the wall with a sigh. The brewing-house must have been plundered. Contemptuous Welshmen were bad enough; drunken Welshmen would be unbearable.
A man came to Rhodri, spoke a few unintelligible words, and left two rawhide mugs on the table.
‘I’m told there’s not a morsel of food to be found,’ Rhodri said to her. ‘It’s shameful that Wybert does not think highly of his lord’s niece.’
Dena risked a glance in his direction, and found him grinning at her through bared teeth.
‘Ah! The lady is not dead! Sitting so still with your head bowed, your face hidden beneath that square of cloth — you look like a toadstool under a tree!’
Glowering at him, she did not rise to the goad. The man was bored and wanted a plaything. She wouldn’t give him the pleasure, or any excuse for more.
‘Your face looks pinched, my fair Lady Dena. Does the sound of my voice fill you with such dread?’
My fair Lady Dena…? What was this a trail to?
‘I have no cloak. I feel the cold,’ she replied.
‘Do you wish to sit closer to the fire?’
Dena looked down the length of the hall to the hearth where the majority of the Welshmen were taking their ease amid the open casks.
‘I prefer to remain cold.’
Rhodri chuckled, more softly than she’d expected.
‘If I were a true nobleman, I’d give you the clothes off my back. But I’m not, am I? I am Welshman — a barbarian. That’s what you call us, isn’t it? That’s what those prancing fools at Edward’s court called me— "our captive barbarian".’
Dena looked up at him in surprise, and he mocked her expression. ‘Are you shocked that such as I have sat with a king of England?’ He pushed himself from his seat on the table and stood tall and proud so that she might admire him. Dena drew her lips into a thin line at his conceit.
‘You’re not impressed?’ He sounded truly astounded, and she realised that she’d been drawn into a game. And they called Wybert wily, she reflected.
Turning her scornful gaze aside, she hoped to end the contest of wills on a winning note, but he pounced on her, trapping her between arms of flowing metal as he leaned his weight against the wall. The more she tried to back into the logging, the more he lowered his face to hers.
‘No? The whores of Edward’s court liked the barbarian in me. They vied with each other to buy me with gifts.’ He paused as he looked down at her, the taut muscles of his neck relaxing. ‘But you aren’t such a woman. From you, a man would have to steal his kisses.’
He made the slightest of movements, but enough to convince her of his intentions. Her chest heaving with fear and anger, she turned her head and glared at him.
‘Do so, and I’ll scratch out your eyes!’
He faltered, a temple braid tracing an arc across her cheek. A smile crept across his face, one of genuine pleasure rather than of teasing, and his dark eyes searched her face for… for what, Dena didn’t know.
‘My cowering maid has a fire in her belly. Envied will be the man who beds you,’ he tweaked an eyebrow. ‘Perhaps it will be me.’
She filled her lungs ready to curse him to Hell, her colour rising with her fury, but her tongue was stayed by the curious silence of their surroundings. She inclined her head to look beneath his mailed arm, and to her distaste found every Welshman intent on the proceedings. She groaned her shame, wishing the ground would open up and swallow her. Rhodri played to his audience, bantering with them in his own tongue and gaining uproarious laughter.
‘What did you say to them?’ Dena demanded almost beneath her breath.
‘That the lady does not appreciate my advances — more or less.’ But she could see by the sparkle in his eye and the gestures of his men that the truth of it was far more than less.
Pushing his weight off the wall, he turned to the table behind him and picked up the mugs to hand one to her.
‘Here, with no food, no cloak and no fire, it is all the warmth you’ll feel this night.’ He drained his mug in one draught, tilting his head like some coarse pedlar so that he might not miss a drop. Wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, he smacked his lips appreciatively.
‘At least you Saxons know how to make ale!’ He turned to the men, calling for more.
Although Dena thought hard for some cutting reply, the image which flickered into her mind froze the breath in her lungs. She could see them working in the brewing-house as clearly as if she were standing again in the doorway — Wybert and Mildthryth. Gwylan had told her that Edwulf had taken this hall by sending a diseased beggar among them. Wybert, Edwulf’s steward, his second man, hadn’t been leading the people to safety. He and Mildthryth had been in the brewing-house pounding herbs with pestle and mortar. They’d been poisoning the ale. That was why Wybert was so adamant about taking all the food: the poison would work faster on empty stomachs.
Dena looked at the mug cradled in her hands, into the ominously dark liquid within. She couldn’t drink it, she couldn’t! But she had to, she knew she had to, or the Welshman would suspect and Wybert’s plans would fail. Edwulf’s people, her people, would be caught in the forest and murdered.
‘What’s wrong with your ale?’
At Rhodri’s question, she sprang upright as though she’d been pierced by an arrow.
‘Nothing,’ she snapped back.
‘Then drink.’
‘I—’ Her voice quaked. With an inner heave, she pulled her scattered wits together. ‘I have a weak stomach. I’ve had it since birth. Ale makes me ill. I can drink only mead or clear spring water.’
Rhodri threw back his head and guffawed. Dena took heart and strengthened her jaw as though she were merely rebuffing another of his gibes. He could laugh all he liked, as long as he believed her.

Hostage of the Heart is also available as an mp3 download from

Linda Acaster has written short fiction across genres as disparate as Crime and Fantasy, Romance and Horror. Ten have been collected into an instructional ebook “Reading A Writer’s Mind: Exploring Short Fiction – First Thought to Finished Story”. As well as Historical novels, she writes contemporary Fantasy with a strong historical thread.

Catch up with Linda at

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Guest blog: Eliza Knight - 'A Lady's Charade'

About the Book:

From across a field of battle, English knight, Alexander, Lord Hardwyck, spots the object of his desire—and his conquest, Scottish traitor Lady Chloe. 

Her lies could be her undoing…

Abandoned across the border and disguised for her safety, Chloe realizes the man who besieged her home in Scotland has now become her savior in England. Her life in danger, she vows to keep her identity secret, lest she suffer his wrath, for he wants her dead.

Or love could claim them both and unravel two countries in the process…

Alexander suspects Chloe is not who she says she is and has declared war on the angelic vixen who's laid claim to his heart. A fierce battle of the minds it will be, for once the truth is revealed they will both have to choose between love and duty.

Chapter One
South Hearth Castle
Border of Scotland and England
September, 1415

Allure! My lady! Ralentir!

Chloe laughed when she turned around on her speeding horse to spy her French maid. Poor Nicola clutched the hood of her headdress with one hand, her hands scrambling to maintain the reins of her horse, and her bottom bounced up and down at a rather humorous pace. She conceded her old nurse and slowed her horse to a trot until Nicola could catch up.

“My lady, shame on you. You know better than to ride with such… such… imprudence!

Oui.” Chloe chose to concede once more.

There was no point in arguing with the woman. Especially when she was sure Nicola would only have the last word. But she just couldn’t help riding hell bent for leather! They’d been waiting on the coast of France for nearly a fortnight before the ship could safely take them across. Then an entire week had been spent cramped inside a small ship’s cabin, with the swaying and rocking of the vessel. She felt like the nearly three weeks past had been consumed by sitting still, and now that they’d reached Scotland she only wanted to be free. To feel the fresh, clean, crisp air wash over her skin as she rode at break neck speed toward home. Nicola gave her a disapproving look, but nodded anyway, silvery blonde curls falling out of her headdress. Whether or not she believed Chloe’s apology was sincere, she was accepting of it, it seemed.

They were not alone of course. A dozen of her father’s guard surrounded her, none of them willing to contradict anything Chloe said. Why? She wasn’t sure. Mayhap because she’d been on the continent for so long, they knew not what to expect of her, or perhaps it was simply that they too wanted to reach home. And yet again, it could be that her father had told them not to argue with her.

Whatever the reason, she was glad they’d let her have a bit of fun for however fleeting it was. Chloe turned to the guardsmen who appeared to be in charge.

“How much further?”

He looked about himself for a moment before turning back to her. “South Hearth is not much further, mayhap another day. Shall we make camp now, my lady?”

Chloe narrowed her eyes. “South Hearth?”

“Aye, my lady.”

“We are not going to Fergusson lands?”

“That we are, my lady.”

“But you said South Hearth. My family has not held South Hearth for…” She trailed off remembering the last time she’d been at the border holding. Jon had been alive then.

“Nigh on five years now, my lady, but his lordship, your father, has once again proven we Scots shall prevail.”

So, her father had taken siege of the castle again? A lot had happened since she’d been sent to serve the French queen five years ago, at the age of thirteen. She couldn’t say she was surprised, or really upset about it. In fact, she was a little elated. South Hearth was home. She’d grown up there. Hadrian’s Wall was her playground. But the fact remained, if her father had retaken the castle—someone would want it back.

“Let us make camp then.” Chloe tried not to giggle at the look of pure relief that crossed her nursemaid’s face. The woman’s rump must be burning.

The following morning they set out at a slower pace, just after sunrise. They broke their fast with pears and cheese as they rode, all of them eager to reach South Hearth walls. As the sun rose high in the sky, the turrets of the keep were visible over the crest of a hill.


Chloe broke out into a wide smile, and ignoring the protests of Nicola and her retainers, she prodded her horse into a canter down the road toward the gate. When she arrived, the guards not far behind her, and Nicola bouncing her way painfully down the hill, her smile faded. Guards circled the top of the battlements. The drawbridge was up, the portcullis down, and gate door closed tightly. They expected trouble. Just as she’d thought. Someone would most definitely be coming to take back the castle. But when was the question.

Before she could open her mouth to order the men to open the way for her, they did so. Calls to her escort were tossed over the walls, and the men she traveled with answered back. As the gates opened, the sounds and smells of the city assaulted her senses. Loud clanking, banging, shouting. Smells of cooking, rubbish, and animals. It all mixed together, and she longed for the French chateau of Queen Isabeau with its pretty smells, and enchanting music.

They rode into town, up the rode past merchants, peasants, clergy and guild workers toward the keep stairs. South Hearth had seemed such a grand place when she was young. Now it only seemed a fort of sorts, not a home.

“My child!” A tall woman atop the steps to the keep came rushing forth.

Chloe recognized her mother immediately. “Maman!” She sped up her horse until she reached the bottom of the keep stairs and then ignoring the hands offered by the guards, leapt to the ground and into her mother’s arms.

It’d been two years since she’d last seen her mother. The Lady Fergusson, had stayed with her for her first few years in service to the French queen, her mother’s cousin, before returning to her husband in Scotland.

Chloe breathed in her mother’s scent, and tried to blink away the sting of tears in her eyes. Come, inside. You must be in need of a bath and something to eat.”

Chloe nodded. As they reached the tops of the steps, Nicola finally drew up to the courtyard, a harried looking knight beside her.

The maid had probably given the man a good tongue lashing, only because Chloe herself wasn’t there to receive the punishment.

“It is so good to be home.”

Oui, I am glad you finally arrived. We were beginning to worry. Your father and I expected you over a week ago.”

She threaded her arm through her mother’s as they made their way up the spiral staircase to the upper chambers. “There was a storm, and the sea was not safe. We had to wait nearly two weeks before boarding the ship.”

“Ah, I see. At least you have arrived safely. If you hadn’t come by tomorrow a search party was going to be sent out.”

Chloe gasped. “Did you not get my missive?”

“Missive?” They stopped walking and her mother turned toward her, her brows drawn together in concern.

Oui, Maman. I sent a message to warn of our delay.”

“I received no such warning.”

A chill ran up Chloe’s spine. Had her missive been intercepted? Chloe shook her head. As bad as it was, she dearly prayed the messenger had simply pocketed her coin and spent his time leisurely perusing some bawdy French coastal tavern. She’d seen plenty of the wanton women lining the docks, lifting their skirts to show not so pretty calves.

“I shall ask your father about the missive. No matter, let us not dwell on it.”

Her mother led her to her old chamber, the furnishings surprisingly the same. Those who’d occupied South Hearth after them had not bothered to change it. Her dark polished oak wardrobe was still against the wall. She walked in and ran her hand up the post of the large bed, then sat on the chest of carved oak with roses at the end. The tapestries were even the same. She gazed with nostalgic wonder at the bright blues, golds, reds and greens woven into a picturesque scene of a knight saving a damsel outside a fairy tale castle. She’d spent hours staring at the scene, picturing what her own husband would be like.

“After you’ve had a chance to rest, please come to the great hall. Your father would like a word with you about your future.”

Chloe turned a quizzical look on her mother, who had the foresight to look guilty. “My future?”

Her mother’s countenance could only mean their plans would not be seen well in her own eyes. “Oui.”

“Please, maman, can you not explain?” she pleaded with her mother. She’d only just returned home. Could her mother not just tell her?

“The great hall, ma cherie.

Chloe hurried through her ablutions, feeling refreshed from her journey and donned the rich blue and gold brocade gown Nicola picked out for her. She rolled her eyes to heaven with frustration at how slow the maid took to plait her hair before donning the matching blue and gold headdress. Her gold braided girdle fitted over her hips, the ends of the tied cord coming halfway down her thigh. She tucked her dirk in place, put on her slippers, and batted Nicola’s hands away.

Although her mother had advised her to rest, this Chloe could not adhere to. Her life was at stake. She rushed to the great hall, where the servants were busy setting out goblets, wine jugs and platters of delicious meats, vegetables in delectable sauces, almonds, figs, and large loafs of bread with steam still rising from their crusty shells.
Her mother stood beside her father who sat in his great chair at the center of the trestle table, her hand on his shoulder.

“Papa,” Chloe said, dipping into a low curtsey.

“How is it that you were only in France for five years, yet you came back with a French accent?” Despite his rebuke, her father smiled, although it was rough around the edges.

“If it pleases, I will try to refrain.”

“You are a dutiful daughter, are you not?”

Oui—I mean, yes, Papa.”

The baron had changed little in the five years since she’d been gone. He was still strong, fit, and the way he looked at her, still wished she’d fallen instead of her brother Jon. For all his anger at the turn of events though, beneath his hard exterior, she thought she saw a spark in his eyes. Pride perhaps. Pride for her. At least, she
could hope that’s what it was.

“Sit down,” he ordered, his hand sweeping out to indicate the chair beside him. Her mother took her cue, and sat on his other side.

“I am pleased you have returned safely.” He awkwardly patted her hand.

“As am I. It is good to be home.” Chloe kept her gaze in her lap.

“Glad, I am, that you feel that way. South Hearth belongs to the Fergussons. It always has, and we will never let some Sassenachs take it from us again!” At this, he pounded his fist on the table.

Chloe jumped at the sudden movement, but quickly recovered herself.

“As for you, daughter, you will be married.”

“Married?” Chloe couldn’t keep herself from responding, or from the horror that invaded her voice. She didn’t want to marry. Not yet anyway. She hadn’t been home more than a few hours. There’d been no time to meet any of the eligible bachelors, make her choice. But from the determined set of her father’s jaw, she could easily surmise, there wouldn’t be a choice. The picture of her own knight sweeping her off her feet reared up and then started to fade away.

“Aye. You will do your duty.” His statement left no room for argument.

“My duty.” Chloe let the words roll off her tongue. How bitter and rancid they tasted.

“My second in command, Angus is in need of a wife. Since Jon, my son and heir has passed on from this earth, I naturally want to make sure the Fergusson clan is in capable hands. Your duty as my daughter, and only child, is to marry whom I choose for that purpose.”

“Angus.” Chloe tried to remember the man, and then there he was, melting from the woodwork it seemed as he suddenly appeared at the table.

He was old, nearly her father’s age. Still built like a warrior, but old none the less. His face was cruel. Lines etched into the corners of his eyes and brow. But no lines around his mouth. He didn’t smile much.

When she met his eyes—cold watery brown eyes—he nodded.

“Angus, you remember my daughter, Lady Chloe?” her father asked, without even so much as looking at Angus or herself.

Angus didn’t say a word, just nodded again. The man sat down, and the meal began. She watched as he stabbed at a piece of meat, the movement almost like he was stabbing at her heart. There was no talk of wedding plans or even a date, and for that, Chloe was relieved. Mayhap she could push it far enough off, that the man might perish.

What a perfectly horrid thing to think! She berated herself and immediately said a prayer for the man’s health.

After that, Chloe tuned out the conversation, and no one made any comments to her either. When the meal was complete, she snuck out the buttery door and headed for the family chapel. No one deigned to stop her, and even if they did, she would have pushed
past them. Her father was going to force her to marry the cruel, old, Angus. From the look of him, he would be rough with her, unkind. Not a match she would have chosen for herself if they were the two last people on earth, and humankind’s survival depended on it.

About the Author:
Eliza Knight is the multi-published, award-winning author of sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. While not reading, writing or researching for her latest book, she chases after her three children. In her spare time (if there is such a thing…) she likes daydreaming, wine-tasting, traveling, hiking, staring at the stars, watching movies, shopping and visiting with family and friends. She lives atop a small mountain, and enjoys cold winter nights when she can curl up in front of a roaring fire with her own knight in shining armor. Visit Eliza at or her historical blog, History Undressed, which was recently mentioned in a feature article in The Wall Street Journal.