Thursday, 28 February 2013

Scandal's Daughter

SCANDAL'S DAUGHTER, a Regency adventure by Carola Dunn

Cordelia Courtenay finds herself stranded in Istanbul when her divorced mother dies in an accident. Her mother's lover, a pasha, proposes to replace his dead mistress with her daughter. All Cordelia wants is to be respectable. She makes plans to travel to England to find her father.

One more day. She'd never be able to sleep tonight, she was sure. Yet as the watchman's cry faded into the distance, she began to drowse off...

Then suddenly she was wide awake again. Someone was in her room. By the pale moonlight which now filtered through the carved screen, she saw a dark figure crossing the carpet towards her with slow, stealthy steps.

Starting to sit up, she took a breath to shout for help. The figure pounced. A hard hand clapped across her mouth.

"Hush, don't scream," hissed an English voice.

Chapter 3

Flat on her back, petrified, Cordelia stared up into a veiled face. The eyes above the yashmak stared down. A woman? A Turkish woman who spoke English? An Englishwoman in Turkish clothes? But the hand crushing her lips had a masculine strength, the voice when it came again, though hushed, had a masculine timbre.

"Don't scream. Promise and I'll let go." The pressure eased fractionally.

She nodded. The hand was lifted and the intruder kneeling beside her low bed sat back on his--or her--heels.

"I wasn't going to scream," Cordelia whispered indignantly. "I was going to call for help. If I were the sort of female who screams I daresay I'd have swooned by now."

"I beg your pardon." The voice, now with an odious laugh in it, was definitely a man's. An Englishman's. It reminded her of her mother's first lover. To Cordelia he had always been kindly but remote. He had not reckoned on the girl he loved bringing her baby with her when she deserted her husband for his sake.

Drusilla Courtenay had not reckoned on losing him so soon. They had promised each other to live happily forever after, she told her little daughter, but after only six years, in a small town in Germany, he took a fever and died. Cordelia could scarcely remember him, confusing him with those who had followed until this Englishman's voice resurrected his image.

"I should have known from what Aaron told me that you aren't the screaming, swooning sort," he went on.

"Aaron?" Horrified, she sat up, hugging the quilt about her. "Who are you? How did you get in?"

"Climbed the wall into your courtyard."

"Why? What are you doing in my bedchamber? Leave at once!"

"Hush! I can't leave, I must talk to you."


"Your servant is sleeping in the room downstairs."

"I won't talk to a man in my bedchamber. I don't know why I should talk to you at all." Except that she was dying of curiosity. "I'd trust Ibrahim with my life."

"But can I trust him with mine?"

"If Aaron told you about me, you must be aware I can't afford a fuss with the authorities. Ibrahim knows it, too."

The man heaved a weary sigh. "Very well." In one lithe movement he rose, then stumbled as one foot caught in the hem of his robe. Recovering his balance, he ripped the shawl and yashmak from his head. "To the devil with these draperies! Come on, then."

"You go down. I have to dress," said Cordelia primly, clutching the quilt beneath her chin.

"I'll wait on the stairs." He was laughing at her again, the brute! Yet much as it annoyed her, for some reason his amusement made her feel quite safe with him. He went on, "I don't want to be down there without your protection if your Ibrahim wakes."

Silently he slipped from the room. Flinging back the quilt, she fumbled with the tinder-box and lit a lamp. She hurriedly pulled on her shift and caftan, but as the stranger was an Englishman, she didn't bother with the loose trousers underneath. Lamp in hand, she went after him.

He sat half way down the stairs, his head leaned against the bannister. His black hair was short, raggedly cropped. From above he no longer looked large and menacing, just unspeakably tired. His eyes must have been closed, for the light of the lamp didn't make him stir.


Springing to his feet, he whipped round, his right hand flying to his girdle as if in search of a weapon.

"Oh!" His shoulders slumped and he passed his hand across his thin, fair-stubbled face. "I'm sorry, I forgot where I was. I was half asleep, I think." Standing aside, he bowed ironically. "Pray precede me, Miss Courtenay. Allow me to carry that lamp for you."

Available in all ebook formats:

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Guest blog: Elisabeth Storrs - 'The Wedding Shroud'

The Wedding Shroud:  
A Tale of Ancient Rome

‘All the drama and sensuality expected of an historical romance, plus a sensitivity to the realities of life in a very different time and world…’ Ursula Le Guin

Buy at Amazon

In 406 BC, to seal a tenuous truce, the young Roman Caecilia is wedded to Vel Mastarna, an Etruscan nobleman from the city of Veii. The fledgling Republic lies only twelve miles across the Tiber from its neighbour, but the cities are from opposing worlds so different are their customs and beliefs. Leaving behind a righteous Rome, Caecilia is determined to remain true to Roman virtues while living among the sinful Etruscans. Instead she finds herself tempted by a hedonistic culture which offers pleasure and independence to women as well as an ancient religion that gives her a chance to delay her destiny. Yet Mastarna and his people also hold dark secrets and, as war looms, Caecilia discovers that Fate is not so easy to control and that she must finally choose where her allegiance lies.

Exploring themes of sexuality, destiny versus self-determination and tolerance versus prejudice, The Wedding Shroud is historical fiction at its best which vividly brings Ancient Rome and Etruria to life while accenting the lives of women in ancient history. It is the first book in a trilogy set in Ancient Rome and Etruria and was judged Runner-Up in the 2012 Sharp Writ Award for general fiction. The sequel, The Golden Dice, will be released in 2013.


Her whole world was orange.
Shifting her head to one side, feeling the weight of the veil, hearing it rustle, her eyes strained to focus through the fine weave.
Orange. The vegetable smell of the dye had been faint when she first donned the wedding veil, but now its scent filled her nostrils and mouth, the cloth pressing against her face as she walked to where the guests were waiting.
The atrium was crowded. So many people. Shaking, legs unsteady, Caecilia found she needed to lean against her aunt Aurelia. Through the haze of the veil she could barely make out the faces of the ten official witnesses or that of the most honoured guest, the Chief Pontiff of Rome.
And she could not see Drusus. Perhaps he could not bear to witness her surrender.
‘Stand straight, you’re too heavy,’ hissed her aunt, pinching the girl’s arm.
Biting her lip, Caecilia was led forward. The groom stood before the wedding altar, ready to make the nuptial offering. Her uncle Aemilius smiled broadly beside him.
Aunt Aurelia, acting as presiding matron, deposited her charge with a flourish then fussed with the bride’s tunic. She was revelling in the attention and smiled vacuously at her guests, but the girl was aware that, for so crowded a room, silence dominated.
Drawing back her veil, Caecilia gazed upon the stranger who was to become her husband. To her surprise, his black hair was close-cropped and he was beardless. She was used to the long tresses of the men of Rome—and their odour. This man smelled differently; the scent of bathwater mixed with sandalwood clung to his body.
Head bowed, she tried in vain to blot out his existence no more than a hand’s breadth from her side, but she need not have bothered. He made no attempt to study either her face or form.
‘The auspices were taken at sunrise,’ declared Aemilius. ‘The gods confirm the marriage will be blessed.’
Bride and groom sat upon chairs covered with sheepskin and waited while the pontiff offered spelt cake to Jupiter.
There was a pause as they stood and circled the altar, then the priest signalled Aurelia to join the couple’s hands.
Caecilia wished she could stop shaking. She had to be brave. She had to be dignified. But her body would not obey her. She was still quaking when Aurelia seized her right hand roughly and thrust it into the groom’s.
The warmth and strength of his grip surprised her. Her palm was clammy and it occurred to her that her hand would slip from his grasp. Slowly, she turned to face him. He was old; lines of age ploughed his forehead and creased his eyes. He must be nearly two score years. What was he like, this man? Her husband?
Aware that she should be making her vows to him in silence, she instead prayed fervently that the gods would take pity and not make her suffer too long or too hard in his keeping.
His hand still encompassed hers. Before releasing her fingers, he squeezed them slightly, the pressure barely perceptible. She held her breath momentarily, amazed that the only mark of comfort she had received all day had been bestowed upon her by a foe.
She scanned his face. His eyes were dark and almond-shaped, like the hard black olives from her aunt’s pantry. His skin was dark, too, sun dark. A jagged scar ran down one side of his nose to his mouth.
He was far from handsome.
His toga and tunic were of a rich dark blue making all stare at him for a difference other than his race. Yet his shoulders were held in a martial pose, no less a man for his gaudiness, it seemed, than the Roman patricians around him in their simple purple-striped robes. And the bridal wreath upon his head could have been a circlet of laurel leaves, a decoration for bravery not nuptials.
A golden bulla hung around his neck, astounding her. For a man did not wear such amulets once he’d stepped over the threshold to manhood. Only children wore such charms in Rome. He wore many rings, too, but one in particular was striking. Heavy gold set with onyx. No Roman would garland himself with so much jewellery.
There was one other thing that was intriguing, making her wonder if his people found it hard to farewell childhood. His arms and his legs seemed hairless, as if they had been shaven completely.
Perfumed, short-cropped hair, no beard. Caecilia truly beheld a savage.
Once again she steeled herself, repeating silently: ‘I am Aemilia Caeciliana. Today I am Rome. I must endure.’

Elisabeth Storrs

Elisabeth Storrs graduated from the University of Sydney in Arts Law majoring having studied Classics and has long held an interest in the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. Over the years she has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer, governance consultant and business writer. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Lindsay Townsend: Award for 'The Amorous Chatelaine' - blurb, reviews and the first chapter

What perfect timing for Valentine's Day! I heard from Ally and Donna at the review site Single Titles. CataNetwork reviewers have presented me with their prestigious 2012 Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award for The Amorous Chatelaine.

Emma de Barri is the generous chatelaine of a large estate, where she schools young, green knights in the matters of courtly dress and deportment. As a widow, she is often the object of desire but never has a knight tempted her away from the memory of her late husband.

Sir Robert is neither young nor green. He is hardened by battle and tempered by the vagaries of life. He is also rough and unrefined—completely lacking in manners, sophistication or any of the qualities Lady de Barri values. But his arms are strong, his face is handsome and his heart is as bright and gold as the sun at noon. A heart he gives unreservedly to Lady de Barri.

As Emma teaches Sir Robert how to read and dress, how to be gentle and composed, he teaches his sweet chatelaine how to live and love again.

Ellora's Cave 2012

Read Chapter One

Long and Short Reviews:

Ms Townsend drops her reader into the medieval world of Knights and Ladies and in short order reveals two characters with depths, charm and baggage they are both subconsciously using as shields against moving forward.

All it takes for Sir Robert is one look at the Lady bathing in the open air pool to fall head-over-heels in love, but never having felt the emotion before, it takes him a while to cotton on, and yet that is part of Ms Townsend's skill in presenting such a loveable hero. While he is gallant, strong, courteous and caring, he lacks social skills and presumes they will forever hold him back from finding true love. Indeed due to past events, he doesn’t ever expect a woman to look upon him with any favour. When challenged, he rises to protect the woman he’s given his heart to.

Widowed lady Emma never expects to give her heart to another and yet, and despite the number of knights she has schooled in social etiquette and expectations, it is the honourable and courageous Sir Robert, who lacks all those graces she normally holds dear, that captures her heart. She is wily, witty and charming and when she has a goal she goes after it.

The challenge when it comes is unexpected and takes a little readjustment, but only a little. The author skims over the details of the conflict and swiftly moves the reader on to how her hero and heroine overcome the considered obstacles in their path.

It is the way that the author unveils the insecurities of her characters, that adds depth and charm to the romance, and her scene-setting is delightful.

There are some sexually charged scenes in The Amorous Chatelaine, of which only one is mildly explicit. That said the author’s light touch, and ‘sweet’ technique, present a rough diamond of a hero in Sir Roger, and just the woman to polish up those sharp edge in widowed Lady Em, the Chatelaine.

For lovers of historical romance, this is a quick and uplifting story. Four and a half stars.

Single Titles:

Lindsay Townsend gives the reader a sweet love story about a woman who thinks her love life is over and the man who rekindles her passion. Emma lives happily with her warrior women, spending her time improving the lives of young knights. She does not realize that something is missing from her own life until she meets Sir Robert. He challenges her and makes her look forward to each new experience. When someone tries to take away everything she worked so hard to build, Sir Robert is at her side willing to fight for her. Is Sir Robert the man who will make Lady Emma live again? Five Stars.

Two Lips Reviews:

Emma De Barri, now widowed, is chatelaine of an estate.  She instructs young knights in manners and proper personal grooming and dress.  Always she keeps in her heart the loving memory of late husband and finds she cannot open her heart to another.  Sir Robert is a mature knight used to battle but without manners or courtly charm. He possesses no lands or treasures, only courage and a true heart that is devoted to Emma.  

Emma smoothes all of Robert's rough edges as he awakens her heart to the possibility of love. Yet, Robert has nothing to offer her; no lands, no legitimate name, nothing.  The queen has summoned Emma to the castle and both Emma and Robert know it is likely that the queen has decided upon a husband for Emma. What will the two ever do to save their burgeoning love?  

Ms. Lindsay Townsend creates a knight that every woman on the planet dreams about; he’s kind, selfless, intelligent and courageous. His careful treatment and blunt honesty will endear the reader to him.  

Women will also appreciate that The Amorous Chatelaine’s heroine is not to be trifled with. As chatelaine, she has her own power. She cares for her people and keeps the estate in good maintenance and productivity. These two characters will win the heart of any reader. Although there were a few POV issues, I was charmed by Ms. Townsend’s poetic language and beautiful scenery descriptions. The Amorous Chatelaine is a little story with a big heart.  4.5 Lips

Evolved World:

I enjoyed this sweet, even-paced medieval romance novella. As part of the Ellora’s Cave Blush imprint, there are some sexually charged scenes, but they are more sensual then sexual and are delicately expressed.

Within a very short space of time, this 60 page strong novella handily conveys a medieval romance. It does not overextend itself. Sir Robert, from the very beginning, is a complex and likable character, and his blond good looks don't hurt either. The beauteous Lady Emma, a bit of a mystery in the beginning, is gracious and generous to her people and to knights who, like Sir Robert, perhaps need a bit of tutoring in the knightly and chivalric arts.

Their romance is sweet, perhaps a bit coy at times, but is believable and charming. It is what I look for in a quick read when I have a hankering for a historical romance. Ms. Townsend clearly knows her medieval time well.   4 out of 5 Stars


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

My Dearest Valentine


In February 1814, the Thames froze and a Frost Fair was set up on the ice.


Rosabelle stopped to look out over the Thames. The sound of barrel-organs, fiddles, pipes and drums floated across the ice in the sparkling air, punctuated by the shouts of barkers. Flag-bedecked tents, stalls and booths were laid out in two main streets, crossing in the middle.
"Oooh," sighed Betsy in ecstasy, "a merry-go-round, and swings! And look, Miss Ros, donkey rides! Could I? Not all of them, I mean, just one?"
Continuing down the stair, Rosabelle smiled at her companion's childish delight. "If I have enough money on me. They may charge exorbitant prices because of the setting. Which will you choose?"
"I'll have to look closer afore I make up my mind. What about you? What d'you fancy?"
"Oh, the donkeys, I think. I still remember being sick on the swings at Bartholomew Fair when I was a little girl, and why ride a wooden horse when you can ride a real, live donkey?"
"I will, too, then," Betsy decided.
A fingerpost stuck in a barrel of stones, pointing towards Southwark on the south bank, announced Freezeland Street. The first tent, a hastily erected shelter of sailcloth over a rough wooden frame, was a tavern. On the benches within, men sat quaffing ale and bantering with serving wenches bundled up in warm wraps. Opposite was a skittle alley, and next to it a barker invited passers-by to step up and try their luck at the Wheel of Fortune.
"Oysters! Fresh oysters, sixpence a dozen," cried a woman carrying two buckets on a yoke.
"Hot chestnuts, roasted on ice!" called a man sitting by a brazier full of glowing coals. Though it was raised on iron feet, it stood in a puddle.
"I hope the ice is good and thick," said Betsy.
"Let's have some chestnuts," Rosabelle proposed. "They'll warm your fingers."
She bought two-penn'orth. They strolled on, peeling off the charred, crackling skins and munching the sweet insides.
There were toy shops and a Punch and Judy show. Rival printing presses tried to top each other's ballads celebrating the Frost Fair. Dogs barked at small boys sliding on a smooth patch of ice, and fiddlers sawed away while young men hopped and swung with their sweethearts on an improvised dancing stage.
"Fry your own sausages! Take 'em 'ome pipin' 'ot."
"Lapland mutton, roasted right 'ere on the river, shilling a slice!"
"Prick the garter! Try your skill and win a vallible prize!"
"Buy my brandy-balls!"
"Cut and a shave," shouted a barber, his chair set up in the open with the striped pole stuck in the ice. "Cut and a shave. Razors sharper'n icicles!"
Rosabelle stopped to glance over the wares of a bookstall, while Betsy admired the gaily painted swings next door. The attendants, their breath puffing out in clouds, pushed the gondolas higher and higher, while the girls seated inside with their swains squealed and giggled.
"Changed your mind?" Rosabelle asked.
"It does look like fun, but it'd be better if you've got a young man. No, let's find the donkeys."
"Over that way, I think."
As they turned right on the Grand Mall, which ran down the middle of the Thames from Blackfriars Bridge to London Bridge, Rosabelle glanced back down Freezeland Street. Beyond tents and booths, behind the wharves and warehouses of the City, the spires of churches rose, and over to the left, Paul's great dome towered high above the rest.
"There they are." Betsy pointed to where a string of patient donkeys plodded across the ice towards a space marked with hoofprints and other unmistakable evidence of a less mentionable nature. "Aren't they sweet? I hope I can ride that one with the red and yellow ribbons, the one with a side-saddle. I wish I had a lump of sugar to feed it."
"Perhaps the stall next door will let us have some, that one with the 'Dibden, Pastrycook' sign. Look, they are selling hot chocolate, so they must have sugar. I'll tell them we shall buy chocolate after our ride, to warm us."
"Can we really? I'm ever so glad it was my turn to go with you today, Miss Ros!"
Rosabelle went up to the counter beneath the slapdash, hastily painted sign. On it were laid out trays of tarts and biscuits and gilt gingerbread shapes. From the back of the stall came the mouthwatering aroma of hot meat pies, mingling with the sweetness of the fragrant steam from the chocolate pot on its spirit lamp.
A young man with curly brown hair peeking from beneath his hat was serving a customer with a crisp, golden, hot apple turnover, redolent of cinnamon and cloves. He took the money and turned to Rosabelle.
"What can I do for you, madam?" he enquired, an appreciative light in his sparkling blue eyes.
Though she was not unaccustomed to admiration from the opposite sex, Rosabelle felt a blush rise in her cheeks. No doubt they matched her nose and her cloak, she thought ruefully. But there was nothing to take offence at in his merry gaze, so she smiled back.
"Do you think the ice will melt soon?" Rosabelle asked.
"I fear it is already melting from below. The chief danger, though, is not sinking through as it melts but that it will break up. I've talked to people coming off who speak of creaks and groans underfoot. It isn't only that the air is too warm. Today is a spring tide, with high tide a little while ago. In winter the sea is always warmer than rivers, and salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh."
"So the ice is being undermined? I wondered about the effect of warmer rainwater flowing in from the west."
His glance was admiring. "I hadn't thought of that." He turned to gaze westward. Dark banks of clouds were building beneath the haze which had spread across the sky during the morning. "A good point. But the main factor, I believe, is that as the tide continues to ebb, the ice is left unsupported. When it fails, it may collapse very suddenly."
"Any moment now?" asked Fanny, who had been listening with a bemused expression. "Eh, Miss Ros, I'm that glad we didn't go to the fair. Can we leave now? I don't want to see all those people drownded!"
As one, Rosabelle and Mr Rufus turned to stare with dread out across the river.
"What can we do?" cried Rosabelle.
"Nothing, now. I've tried to explain my reasoning to everyone I've spoken to. Some listened. Some didn't."
Rosabelle listened, trying to hear the creaks and groans of the overburdened ice. All that came to her ears was the merry notes of barrel-organs, fiddles, pipes and drums, the shouts of barkers, the hum of the crowd's myriad voices.
"I can't—"
With a crack like a thousand coachmen's whips snapping in unison, the ice split. The music ended in a horrid jangle and screams rent the air. The watchers on the wharf saw jagged channels open, dark, toothed mouths gaping for their prey.
The prey fled, those who could, swarming across the remaining ice towards the banks, leaping the widening gaps. Some made it.
Some did not.
Rosabelle closed her eyes in horror. When she opened them, Mr Rufus was gone, as were the boatmen. In less time than seemed possible, from stair after stair, the Thames wherries pulled out into the stream. Boathooks reached, caught, dragged the hunted from the hungry current into the frail cockleshells dodging between the floes.
Mr Rufus appeared at the top of the stairs, soaked to the waist, a dripping child in his arms and a weeping woman clinging to the skirts of his coat. Rosabelle ran to him.
He thrust the child at her. "Take care of them. There's not much more I can do from here. I'm going out in a boat, to wield the boathook so that the rowers can concentrate on their oars."
He leaned forward, over the wailing child's head. His kiss was warm on Rosabelle's mouth. Then he was gone again.
Rosabelle cast a last glance at the dreadful scene, then set about helping the woman and child. They were soaked to the skin, and beginning to shiver convulsively. She sent Fanny to the carriage to fetch a lap-rug, while she stripped the little girl naked and her mother to her shift.
As Rosabelle wrapped the child in her own pelisse, Fanny came back with the rug. Before the woman had been enveloped in its folds, another dozen drenched fugitives reached the wharf, with more behind.


Philomena and her sister Aquila, having left Vienna after their diplomat father's death, are staying  in the countryside in England with a widow and her small son, distant relatives.


"I know the way," Toby told her importantly. "I'll show you."
Philomena's modish grey, fur-collared cloak was more suited to strolling in the Prater in Vienna than to climbing stiles and tramping down a Lincolnshire lane. Fortunately, the overnight freeze had hardened the muddy ruts and even glazed the puddles with a thin layer of ice. Though Marsh Cottage was isolated from the village of Valentine Parva, they were soon close enough to see a trickle of smoke rising from the chimney.
Between leafless hawthorn hedges, the lane ran down a slope to ford a small stream, with a narrow wooden bridge for foot passengers. On the other side, in a dank, overgrown hollow, stood the wattle and lath cottage.
"It's situation does look aguish, as Mrs Barleyman said, but it's not really tumbledown," Philo commented as they stopped, by silent mutual consent, to observe their goal. "Just dilapidated."
"What's lapidated mean?" Toby held her hand tightly, his round cheeks pink with cold and anticipation.
"Badly cared for. It needs a coat of whitewash, and the tiles are covered with moss, though there don't seem to be any holes in the roof, nor broken windows. But the fence has fallen down, and it looks as if the garden has grown wild for years."
"That's good, 'cause there's lots of bushes for us to hide behind when we look through the windows."
Philo was struck with the impropriety of their expedition. She had not really intended to do more than view the place from a distance. I don't care, she thought rebelliously. It was all very well for Aquila to be a model of decorum; her mother had been their father's lawful wife. As Aquila's aunt and cousins had made plain, the offspring of an unmarried Italian opera diva was beyond the pale no matter how well behaved.
"Come on," she said. "We'll climb through that gap where the fence has fallen down."
Philomena's cloak caught in a tangle of bare rose stems, and Toby reached the diamond-paned window first. He peeped over the sill, then ducked and made hurry-up gestures, mouthing silent words, his eyes sparkling with excitement. She joined him, crouching.
"It's a real wizard," he whispered. "Look!"
Cautiously she straightened until she could see into the room. Amid a clutter of glass tubes and vessels burned a lilac flame. By its ghostly light a dim figure was visible, moving in the background. A hand reached out, holding a beaker, and poured something over the flame.
A flash of brilliant white light and an earsplitting crack made Philo jump and blink. In the afterglow of the explosion, she saw a black face, oddly distorted, that slowly sank from view.
"Stay here!" Philomena cried to the open-mouthed Toby. "I must see if he's hurt."
The cottage's front door opened directly into the room. After a momentary hesitation on the threshold, Philo hurried round the equipment-laden table. The wizard was sitting on the floor, his soot-masked expression somewhat dazed.
"Are you all right?" she demanded sharply.
"I think so." His speech sounded educated. Struggling to his feet, he added, "Only, I don't seem to be able to see very well."
She pulled off a glove, reached up, and removed the blackened spectacles from his nose. He grinned, his teeth startlingly white.
"Thank you, Miss...?"
"I am Philomena Ware."
Despite his filthy blue smock, his bow was gentlemanly. "Thank you, Miss Ware. Allow me to present myself: my name is Robert Mayhew." Centred in pale circles that had been protected by the glasses, his hazel eyes smiled at her...

[original title: A Kiss and a Kitten]

A governess, inheriting enough money to live on, retires to a cottage in a small village and crosses swords with the Lord of the Manor.


What on earth would his army companions think if they knew his errand? he wondered ruefully. Lieutenant Colonel Perrincourt riding out at daybreak in search of a kitten to comfort a little girl!
The second cottage he came to on the way to the village was Miss Duckworth's. Glancing over the hedge, he saw her standing on the doorstep.
He tipped his hat.
"A glorious day!" she called, smiling.
Her head was bare, her pinned-up braids glossy in the slanting sunbeams. The nip of the frosty air had brought a becoming colour to her cheeks. She must have just stepped out to admire the scene, for she wore neither pelisse nor gloves. Her blue gown, in spite of its demure neckline and long sleeves, displayed her maturely elegant figure to advantage.
Damian was seized by a burning desire to make up for his previous gruffness, to mend relations between them. Miss Duckworth, now moving down the path towards him—she had on boots, he was glad to note—seemed quite prepared to let bygones be bygones. He could do no less.
He wanted to present himself in a favourable light. An ex-governess would approve of his efforts on Lucy's behalf, he thought, and perhaps she knew of a litter of kittens in the village. He might even ask her advice as to whether he was doing the right thing for the child.
He drew rein.
Around the corner of the cottage pranced a yellow dog. Damian instantly recognized the colour, the size and shape, the long, blunt muzzle, floppy ears, and feathered tail.
"Your misbegotten hound killed my niece's kitten!" he burst out furiously.
Miss Duckworth gave him an icy look and turned back towards the cottage.
"Come, Lyuba!" she said. The dog followed her.
Damian was not going to let her get away with ignoring his complaint. He swung down from the saddle, scarcely conscious of wrenching his back in his haste. Flinging his mount's reins over the gate post, he stormed after her up the snowy path.
"Did you hear me, madam? Your wretched whelp caught and killed Lucinda's kitten in the woods! The child is heartbroken. If you cannot discipline the vicious brute and teach it to behave itself, I shall—"
The door closed in his face.
Raising his hand to bang the knocker, Damian hesitated. It would be more dignified, and very likely more productive, to write to her, warning that he would have the beast shot if she failed to train it not to kill. A vivid but calm description of Lucy's sorrow was more likely to rack Miss Duckworth with guilt than shouting at her.
He had frightened her...or had he? She had not fled, but retreated in good order before his boorish attack. Why did he find it so impossible to treat her with ordinary, gentlemanly courtesy, as he did every other female of his admittedly limited acquaintance?
The door opened.
Miss Duckworth stepped out, closing the door behind her. In her arms she bore a fluffy white kitten with a black patch over one eye, a purring kitten which she deposited in his hastily extended hands.
"Might I suggest," she said coldly, "that in future you attempt to ascertain the facts before going off at half-cock? Good day, Mr Perrincourt."
She went back into the house and shut the door.

Chapter 10

Just before her front door thudded shut, Mariana heard a yelp of pain. Seething, she attempted to ignore it. The latch clicked into its slot and she turned away.
Lyuba gazed up, her bright brown eyes innocent, loving—and just a trifle reproachful?
With a sigh, Mariana addressed her: "So you wish me to heap coals of fire upon his head, do you? I dare say he merely raised his hand to push on the door, and bashed his knuckles against it."
The tip of the puppy's tail swished gently, but she continued to regard her mistress with unwavering reproach.
"Or is it that you want your new little friend back?" Mariana sighed again. "No, you are right, I must at least see if the chucklehead has damaged himself."
Once more she opened the door. Mr Perrincourt stood there, half bent over in an awkward posture, one hand pressed to the small of his back, the other arm cradling the kitten. His face was shockingly pale, and below the brim of his top-hat, Mariana saw beads of sweat bespangling his brow.
"My dear sir, what is it?" she cried, alarmed. "You are in pain. Come in and sit down!"
"I cannot move without support," Mr Perrincourt choked out. "Have you a walking stick? Or an umbrella..."
She flew to his side. "Here, give me the kitten." She could not resist a sly dig: "If you trust me with him. Now, can you put your arm across my shoulders? I am strong, sir, you need not fear to put your weight on me. That is it. Be careful of the step."
"The step is where I came to grief," he said ruefully, leaning on her heavily as they crossed the threshold. "I moved backward without care and twisted to keep my balance. My back..."
"Mrs Perrincourt has mentioned your injury. What will suit you best?" Mariana asked, supporting him into her sitting room. "A straight chair, or to lie upon the sofa?"
"I am best off lying flat upon the floor," Mr Perrincourt confessed with embarrassment, "but quite apart from the discourtesy, I fear I cannot get down there without aid, far less rise again when your patience is exhausted."
"I shall call my maid, and if need be, send for your servants to help you up when my patience is exhausted," she said dryly. "Hetta!"
Grumbling under her breath, the maid lent her assistance. Soon the Squire was flat on his back on Mariana's rug, with a cushion beneath his head and another under his knees. Though the procedure obviously hurt him a good deal, not a murmur escaped his lips until he was settled there, when he produced a groan of relief.
The dog, an interested spectator, trotted over to lick his face.
"Lyuba, come away!"
"No, let her be," said Mr Perrincourt. "I deserve that she should bite off my nose. I do not deserve that you should be so kind."


Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Gilded Fan by Christina Courtenay

The Gilded Fan, a historical romance and adventure story, is now available in paperback and e-book formats.  It is set in 17th century Japan and during the English Civil War and features a half-Japanese heroine who is forced to flee her country of birth when the Shogun (ruler) decides to evict anyone with foreign blood.


How do you start a new life, leaving behind all you love?

It’s 1641, and when Midori Kumashiro, the orphaned daughter of a warlord, is told she has to leave Japan or die, she has no choice but to flee to England. Midori is trained in the arts of war, but is that enough to help her survive a journey, with a lecherous crew and an attractive captain she doesn’t trust?

Having come to Nagasaki to trade, the last thing Captain Nico Noordholt wants is a female passenger, especially a beautiful one. How can he protect her from his crew when he can’t keep his own eyes off her?

During their journey, Nico and Midori form a tentative bond, but they both have secrets that can change everything. When they arrive in England, a civil war is brewing, and only by standing together can they hope to survive …


Before Nico had time to do more than open his eyes wide in surprise, he found himself lying on his back in the dirt with all the air knocked from his lungs. Midori sat on top of him pointing a very sharp knife at his throat as he gasped to regain his breath. He stared at her in shock.
‘What the hell …? How did you …?’
A wave of fury surged through him, but he managed to hold his temper in check. This had gone beyond absurd. It was downright ridiculous.

It had been almost too easy and Midori knew she’d taken him by surprise only because he hadn’t expected to be attacked by a female. He was a big man, after all, and she was tiny in comparison, so he hadn’t been on his guard. She’d simply hooked her right leg behind his left one and pushed hard, then quickly jumped down on top of him as he fell, pulling out her knife. Luck had been on her side this time, but she was sure he’d never allow it to happen again. She would have to take advantage of her victory immediately.
            The interview hadn’t been going according to plan, so Midori had known she had to do something drastic. She couldn’t fail. To go back to her brother without securing passage on board the captain’s ship would be to lose face. She had to prove to him she could fend for herself. With renewed determination, she gripped the handle of her knife and drew in another calming breath. It wouldn’t do to sink to this barbarian’s level; she must stay calm and reasonable. Slowly, she felt her inner harmony returning.
Several expressions flitted across the captain’s face – astonishment, anger and possibly a small measure of admiration. Midori waited in silence, her knife poised by his neck. She could see him debating with himself, but his next words indicated that although he wasn’t prepared to give in gracefully, he was wavering slightly.
‘We’re not going to England, so you’d have to find your way from Amsterdam to wherever you’re headed,’ he growled. ‘By yourself.’
‘Well, there must be ships that sail to London. It’s not that far, is it?’ Midori had no idea if this was true, but decided to take a chance. She wasn’t actually going to London, but knew it was England’s main city, so she was sure she could reach her destination from there somehow.
‘London?’ His eyebrows descended even further. ‘Your relatives live there?’
‘Um, nearby I believe, yes.’ To distract the man from the fact that she was lying, Midori gave him a dazzling smile. ‘So, you see, I’ll be all right if only you can take me as far as Amsterdam.’
The captain blinked and stared at her. She saw him swallow hard, then he closed his eyes and uttered what sounded like a groan. ‘Very well,’ he gritted out. ‘You may sail with us. I can’t guarantee your safety, but I’ll do my best. It might not be enough, though. Do you understand?’
            ‘Perfectly. When do we sail?’
            ‘We’re sailing with the tide the day after tomorrow. I’ll require your payment by tomorrow evening. A thousand pieces of silver.’
            Midori didn’t bat an eyelid at this preposterous amount, although she couldn’t help wondering if Ichiro had brought such an enormous sum. ‘Five hundred,’ she said. ‘I’ll bring you half of it tomorrow, and the rest I will give you when we reach Amsterdam safely.’
            ‘I didn’t say the price was negotiable.’ His blue gaze had turned to steel.
            ‘No?’ Midori smiled sweetly and lifted her eyebrows, while pricking him with her dagger. A tiny droplet of blood appeared on his sunburned skin.
            Captain Noordholt gave her a furious look, before turning the tables on her with a minimum amount of effort. He grabbed the hilt of her knife with lightning speed, twisting it out of her grip and throwing it to the ground. Then he shoved her off and jumped to his feet in one fluid motion. With another glare he turned on his heel and stalked off.
            ‘Six hundred and not a piece less,’ he called over his shoulder before disappearing inside the house.
            Midori sat in the mud and stared after him. ‘What an extraordinary man,’ she muttered. He could obviously have heaved her off at any time, but he’d let her think she had the upper hand. And then he gave in to her demands? It didn’t make sense to her, but she was grateful all the same.
            She wondered if she would ever understand these foreigners.

Longer Excerpt here:

To Purchase:

Twitter - @PiaCCourtenay