Sunday, 28 April 2013

A Lord for Miss Larkin

by Carola Dunn

My Regency e-publisher is experimenting with pricing on Amazon. She asked me if I'd like to find out what happened if one of my (36) Regencies was priced at 99c (UK 77p) instead of the usual $3.99. I said okay, and she chose A Lord for Miss Larkin, originally published in paperback in 1991.

No murder here, but there is an abduction so at a pinch you could call it crime fiction. What it does have is dogs, as you might guess from the paperback cover. The heroine has a Newfoundland, and three of her four eccentric aunts have West Highland Terriers. (The protagonist of my Cornish mysteries also has a Westie.) 

With a sigh of satisfaction, Alison closed the marbled covers of Mrs. Kitty Cuthbertson’s latest novel. Curled in the corner of the shabby sofa, so faded its colours were indistinguishable, for a few moments she let her imagination drift through marble palaces and dark, sinister, ruined abbeys. How romantic it would be to have a handsome young lord swooning at one’s feet! Or better (suggested her practical streak), simply kneeling in adoration.

The grey rain drummed down outside the window. In the grate the meagre fire gave a last despairing flicker and died. Alison shivered, uncurled, set the borrowed volume carefully on the occasional table by the par­lour door and picked up her feather duster.

The huge black dog sprawled on the hearth rug raised his head to watch tolerantly as she flitted about the room, making mysterious passes at shelves and picture frames and the one remaining Dresden shep­herdess on the mantel. The whims of humans were inexplicable. He lumbered to his feet and padded over to the window. The sill was just the right height for his chin, and even though it was raining there was always the possibility that a cat might venture to dash across the street.

What he did not know was that at present Alison was not a romantic heroine but a fairy godmother. With her magic wand she was turning everything in the room into gold. Then she would buy a splendid gown for her dear goddaughter, Miss Alison Larkin, who would go to a ball and meet—well, a prince was too much to expect, and even a duke’s son seemed a lot to ask for, although judging by Mrs. Meeke’s novels they were two a penny. Alison would be satisfied with an earl or a viscount, or even a mere baron.

She gave an extra whisk of the duster to the picture over the mantelpiece. Looking at the portrait was al­most like gazing in a mirror—curly black hair, bril­liant blue eyes and delicate, pixie-like features. When the likeness was painted Mama had been nineteen, Alison’s present age, and Papa not much older. She did not remember them.

She curtsied, blew a kiss and turned away...


The terriers decided she wanted a game and gam­boled about her feet, nearly tripping her. Midnight sat by the closed kitchen door regarding her hopefully, the tip of his tail swishing gently on the flagstones. She rubbed his huge head as she passed.

“Sorry, boy, you will have to wait. Sit, Flake, Goose, Drop. Stay!”

The terriers obeyed, with a reproachful look that made her laugh. She slipped into the warm kitchen, fragrant with the odour of baking, and closed the door firmly again behind her.

All three of her aunts were sitting at the well-scrubbed white wood table, sipping tea from cheap china cups. Aunt Cleo, plump and rosy-cheeked, reached for the teapot as Alison entered and poured a fourth cup.

“Who was it, dear?” she asked.

“A messenger, with a letter from Aunt Zenobia.”

She set the package in front of Aunt Polly and sat down beside her.

As the eldest of the sisters, Polly Larkin was entitled to be the one to open the letter. A vague-looking woman with wisps of grey hair escaping from her cap, she poked the package with a nervous expression.

“Oh dear. Di, will you read it?” she said plead­ingly, just as everyone expected.

Warming her hands on her cup of tea, Alison waited impatiently as the ritual proceeded. Aunt Di found her steel-rimmed spectacles suspended round her neck, as always. Aunt Cleo provided a sharp knife to slit the seal, warning her sister to be careful not to damage the contents. Aunt Zenobia Winkle had not been heard from in two years, but they all remembered the bright-hued silk scarves that had been enclosed with her last letter, though they had been sold long since to buy coals.

Eyes widened as four pairs of gold earrings emerged from their tissue paper wrappings.

“I shall buy a goose!” exclaimed Aunt Cleo. “I did want a goose to roast for Christmas, but better late than never.”

Alison let out her breath in a long, silent sigh. Of course, they would have to be sold. With a reverent fingertip she touched the nearest one, a delightful dangling creation shaped like a pagoda.

“They are a bit flashy,” said Aunt Di, doubtfully. “Do you think anyone will buy them?”

“Of course. There is a certain type of female who likes to be flashy.”

Alison was about to request elucidation of this fascinating comment when Aunt Polly’s timid voice was heard.

“Surely the gold alone must be worth something?”

“Quite right, Polly.” Cleo patted her hand. “I daresay there will be enough to buy us each a new dress.”

Visions of silks and satins danced before Alison’s eyes. Resolutely she banished them. A sprig muslin for spring would do nicely. “What does the letter say, Aunt Di?” she asked.

Her aunt unfolded the sheet of paper with some trepidation. Zenobia’s communications were generally full of incomprehensible and unpronounceable mem­sahibs and howdahs and chukkers and tiffins.

“My goodness!” she gasped. “Mr. Winkle is gone to his reward and Zenobia is coming home at last. And this letter must have been delayed—she expects to ar­rive at the end of January. She may be here any day!”

...there was a peremptory rapping at the front door.

She started towards it, failing to remember that the household now boasted a maid, one of whose duties was to answer the door. At that moment three balls of white fur raced into view from the back of the house, yipping their joy at seeing her. Midnight followed at a more staid pace.

Bess, the new maid, must have gone out into the garden, forgetting that the dogs were supposed to be shut out of the house while Lady Emma was there. Alison was in a quandary. The terriers must be chased out, but the door knocker was sounding again, plied with a vigorous urgency that brooked no denial.

“Sit, Drop,” she ordered. “Sit, Flake and Goose.” She opened the door.

The gentleman on the doorstep looked her up and down with an air of cool appraisal. He was of middle height, elegantly if quietly dressed, with no more than two modest capes to his greatcoat. His features were clear-cut but nothing out of the ordinary except, per­haps, his determined chin. Alison took instant excep­tion to the faint boredom in his brown eyes.

“I have come to fetch Lady Emma,” he an­nounced. “My name is Trevelyan. Be so good as to announce me to your mistress, girl.”

“I am Alison Larkin,” she corrected him.

The terriers decided hopefully that she was giving them permission to move. They scampered to greet the stranger, two of them sniffing suspiciously at the ankles of his gleaming top-boots while Flake, the boldest, jumped up to place two paws on his knee and look him in the face.

“Down!” said Alison and Mr. Trevelyan with one voice.

Flake obeyed instantly, leaving two muddy paw prints on the hitherto immaculate dove-coloured inex­pressibles. A flush of annoyance stained the high cheekbones, which lent the gentleman’s face a sensi­tivity at odds with his manner.

Alison succeeded in smothering a giggle, but before she could apologize, Midnight sauntered up. Mr. Trevelyan stood his ground.

“I trust your Newfoundland has better manners,” he said grimly.

This book is the first of a trilogy, so if sales go up, the second and third books may follow at the regular price--one can always hope!

The second book, The Road to Gretna, features an elopement--or rather two elopements that get entangled with each other--and an extremely troublesome kitten. 

The third, Thea's Marquis, doesn't feature any animals, but it does have a villain or two and it ends with a thrilling rescue...

 It will be interesting to see what the pricing does for the sales and whether any increase carries over to the sequels and even to the rest of the 36. We won't know for a month or two, when the numbers come in. Fingers crossed!

Far Beyond Rubies by Rosemary Morris - Chapter Three

Far Beyond Rubies Chapter Three

After entrusting the letter to Mistress Kemp—because he was unwilling to intrude in a house of mourning—Gervaise had decided to put up at the local post inn. He intended to continue his journey on the following day. Yet, he asked himself, how could he journey on, knowing he might never meet the young lady again? He wanted to rail against fate, to scream out at the indifferent elements.
After a night during which Mistress Kemp occupied his thoughts and dreams, Gervaise rose early. He made his way downstairs to partake of breakfast. When he reached the bottom tread, he heard a strangely familiar voice which seemed to call to him from the past. He looked across the hall to where Mistress Kemp faced the postmaster, who stood behind a wide counter. At the sight of her muddy clothes, Gervaise’s eyebrows rose. He advanced toward her.
She tilted her chin. “Rodgers, I require a horse.”
From a slight distance, Gervaise observed curiosity flicker in the man’s small eyes.
Rodgers drummed his plump fingers on the oak counter, behind which he, or one of his underlings, received guests. “You don’t need to hire a horse from me. I’ll send to Riverside House for one.”
Colour flamed in her cheeks. “No, it is unnecessary.”
Rodgers cleared his throat. “Are you sure?” He looked her up and down. “Begging your pardon, you’re in a sorry state. I’ll have a chaise brought around to return you to Riverside House.”
“Do not trouble yourself. Please provide me with a room in which I can dry myself. Later, I require a horse. I shall ride home by and by.”
Rodgers shook his head. His double chin wobbled. “Without an escort?”
“Just so. As I said, I want to hire a horse—” she said in the firm tone of a lady accustomed to being obeyed.
“I’m sorry to disoblige you,” Rodgers said, although he did not sound apologetic, “I haven’t got a horse trained to carry a lady riding side-saddle.”
“Please try to find one, Rodgers. In the meantime, at least provide me with a room.”
The inn keeper shook his head. “I repeat, I haven’t got a suitable horse. What’s more, sorry as I am to disoblige you again, I haven’t got a room which is not taken.”
“A moment,” Gervaise interrupted. He smiled at her. “I am on the verge of departure. The lady may have my room. It will take me no more than moments to vacate it.”
At the sound of his voice, she turned. Her eyes widened. His heartbeat increased. Did vanity prompt him to think it pleased her to see him?
Never could he have imagined any member of the female sex retaining her allure while garbed in wet, dirty clothes. Yet neither her dishevelment nor her untidy hair, falling down her back in a riot of curls, detracted from her charms. To the contrary, the sight of her unleashed hair increased them. He decided this would not be his last encounter with the young lady.
* * * *
After Juliana hung her cloak on a wooden peg, she removed her wet gown and petticoat and draped them over stools by the fire to dry. Warmth spread through her body. Fortunately, her stays and bodice were no more than damp. She did not need to completely disrobe.
A servant girl brought a pot of steaming chocolate. Comforted by hot drink, Juliana took her quilted, scarlet dressing gown out of her bag. After the girl helped her put it on, she smoothed the soft folds. While she was in mourning, everything she wore should be black, but the garment served its purpose of keeping her warm.
She removed her cloak from the peg to search the pockets. Horror overwhelmed her. Where was her drawstring purse? Did she pack it in her bag? No, she remembered putting it in her pocket. Heaven help her, it might have fallen out when she handed the other purse to Sam. Yet, more than likely a skilful thief had picked her pocket in the stable yard. Or perhaps the purse fell out when she wrung the water out of her cloak on her way here. She fumbled in the pockets again before rifling through her bag, pulling out the letter from Mister Seymour to William. She cast it aside. Thought after thought raced through her mind concerning the whereabouts of the missing purse.
Without her money, how would she manage? Juliana did not dare to retrace her footsteps to find it, for fear William or his men might locate her. If they did, what would happen?
Juliana needed to travel to London to consult her father’s lawyer. With his help, she hoped to prove she and her sister were not bastards. How long would it be before they were reunited? Fury—caused either by her father’s broken promises or William’s lies, the root of her present situation—overwhelmed her. With her knuckles, Juliana wiped away a few angry tears which spilled down her cold cheeks.
Her mind continued to race. Rodgers claimed he could not provide a horse. Yet, whether her clothes were wet or dry, she must set out for London on foot if necessary. The longer she delayed, the greater the chance of her brother finding her here at the post house. She took a deep breath to calm her agitation. For the moment, she was safe. William never left his bed until noon.
How would she settle her reckoning with Rodgers? She pushed her hair back with her hand. Her hair! Of course, the hair merchant! Juliana took off her night gown, and then replaced it with her damp petticoat and black gown. Her hair tied back, Juliana repacked her bag before going in search of the pretentious little man who pretended to be a Frenchman.
After a brief, urgent search, she found Monsieur Lorraine in an outhouse in the stable yard paying a giggling servant girl for her shorn locks.
“Monsieur, I have reconsidered.” Too dispirited to haggle over the price, she did not mince her words.
The monsieur grinned. “Bon, please be seated.”
Her hands trembled while he opened a large bag. Her limbs would not obey her. He guided her to a rickety stool. She sank onto it. He stood behind her to spread out her hair. “Beautiful. So thick, so silky, with a natural curl. Please bend your ’ead, Mademoiselle.”
His warm hands brushed her neck. Sick in the pit of her stomach, she shivered, imagining Father’s outrage in response to William’s atrocious behaviour causing her to sink so low. At the touch of cold steel scissors against the tender skin at the nape of her neck, she shuddered.
“Do not be sad. Your ’air, eet will grow all ze better for ze snip.”
It took Lorraine no more than a minute to cut off all her locks. She fingered her head. Her hair clustered in ragged curls. She needed a hat to cover them. No respectable woman had short hair. Thoughts of the curious stares she would suffer sickened her. Although nausea rose in her throat, she forced herself to stand. Miserably conscious of her shorn head, she watched Lorraine weigh her long locks before wrapping them in a clean cloth. He took a drawstring purse from his bag, opened it, and counted some coins. “Your ’air weighed twenty-three ounces. ’Ere is your money, sixty-nine pounds.” He put the coins in a ragged cloth, and then knotted the ends to form a pouch before pressing it into her limp hand. “Adieu.” He walked away before she could count the money.
How light her head felt. Previously, the weight of her hair tilted it back. She passed her hand across the bare nape of her neck, and then stood still as though frozen by adversity. Feeling more wretched than ever, she wrapped her arms around her chest. How ugly she must look. She caught her lower lip between her teeth. With other more pressing concerns to deal with, she should not mourn the loss of her hair.
Head bent, Juliana entered the stable yard.
“Swounds, Mistress Kemp! Your hair, your beautiful hair!”
Juliana recognised Mister Seymour’s deep voice. Ashamed of her immodest appearance, she turned to hurry back into the post house.
A hand caught hold of her elbow. “Mistress Kemp, will you not speak to me?”
Mister Seymour released her. She tried to cover her head with her hand, conscious of his voice stirring her as no other man’s ever had.
For no reason, an unwelcome memory flooded her mind. William wanted her to marry his exceptionally handsome friend, Ravenstock, a notorious libertine. Of course, when he suggested it, she had laughed sarcastically at William, suppressing the temptation to spit at him. She remembered other suitors, any one of whom her father would have considered a good match. However, none of the gentlemen had appealed to her so Father had not tried to persuade her to marry. “You are still young,” he had said. “There is plenty of time before I must hand you into a husband’s safekeeping.” How solicitous he had seemed. Surely he did not leave Riverside to William.
Mister Seymour’s voice interrupted her memories. “Did you sell your hair to that poxy fellow touting for business in the stable yard? The one I noticed pestering maidservants?”
Before she nodded, Juliana eyed his shocked face in silence.
“If only I knew you were in such need. Should you require more money, a travelling companion or aught else, I am at your service.”
Although she despaired of ever experiencing happiness again, his concern for her welfare cheered her.
Juliana took a handkerchief from her cloak to wipe her face. “Thank you, sir, you are more than kind. I lost my purse. Without the means to go to London, I would have been undone if—”
“You cannot travel alone.”
Mister Seymour did not have the right to tell her what she could and could not do. “Yes, I can, my boots are stout enough to walk to the next post house where I shall hire a horse, and I have enough money to purchase food on my journey.”
“You cannot walk so far. I will not permit it.”
“You will not permit it?” Although his concern warmed her, she stared at him, angered by his presumption.
“Mistress Kemp, please forgive me for my arrogance, i’faith I have no right to prevent you going to London alone, but it is obvious you are in distress. As a gentleman, it is my duty to assist you. Will you not permit me to help you?”
Juliana fingered the crescent moon, shaped by tiny moles, on her cheekbone. Tempted to share her troubles with the stranger, she wondered whether she should confide in him. No, she could not. “You are generous, sir. There is naught to say other than I must reach London without delay.”
“The matter is easily solved, Mistress Kemp. I am on my way there and would be happy to escort you. Indeed, you should not travel alone. Footpads and highwaymen are the curse of the land.”
“Are you sure I would not inconvenience you, Mister Seymour?”
“How could someone as ‘far beyond rubies’ as you, discomfort anyone?”
Conscious of her blushes in response to his complimentary biblical reference, she looked at his square face with its cleft chin, slanting eyebrows and large cornflower blue eyes, fringed with long, thick lashes the same shade as his chestnut hair. Everything about him—his pleasing features, his fashionable yet not ostentatious clothes, and his respectful tone—inspired trust. In spite of her uncertainties, she smiled. “To be honest, desperation drives me. So I thank you and am pleased to accept your kind offer.”
“I shall partake of breakfast in the public room while you order breakfast to be served in your bedchamber. Can you be ready to depart within the hour?”
“Yes, but first I must assure you I am not ‘far beyond rubies.’” Her eyes threatened to brim over with tears. “God rest his soul, my late father would have told you I am often wilful.”
* * * *
At first sight of Mistress Kemp’s clipped hair brushing the vulnerable white nape of her neck, Gervaise had wanted to cradle her in his arms and comfort her. When she turned, the sight of her loose-fitting gown flowing over her shapely breasts and curvaceous hips had sent a jolt of desire through him. He blotted the delicious image of her from his mind. It was ridiculous for a man with his experience of foreign climes and beautiful women to lust like a mere youth.
Later, after he ate a hearty breakfast, Gervaise made haste down the stairs. The lady’s image returned. The thought of intimately touching her satin smooth skin thrilled him. He squashed the vision in his mind’s eye, and swore on all he held sacred that, even if the opportunity presented itself, he would never, under any circumstances, take advantage of Mistress Kemp. Her shorn hair, and the glimpse of the tender white nape of her neck had not only aroused his sympathy, it made him want to protect her. His unruly imagination quenched, he decided to be the lady’s knight-errant. Prepared to face any number of dragons on her behalf, he controlled his desire. Yet he could not help wondering whether she would be his prize if he vanquished the fiery creatures. However, did he want such a prize? No, he did not. In the past, he had known profound love and harmony. To be honest with himself, he admitted he believed he would never again achieve such exquisite happiness with any other lady.
At the sound of Rodger’s voice from below, he paused half way down the stairs.
“Do you take my meaning, Tom? Go to Riverside House. Tell his lordship his sister’s here. Doubtless he’ll reward me for the information, and he might give you a penny or two.”
Gervaise proceeded down the stairs in time to see a thin lad scurry away from the landlord.
“Wait,” Rodgers called after the boy. “You might be turned away by the servants. I’ll pen a few lines for his lordship.”
Because Gervaise had overheard Juliana and Henrietta’s conversation in the pavilion, he harboured no doubt that Juliana had good reason to flee from Riverside. Damnation, the lad would betray her. Without hesitation, he retreated quietly back upstairs. He thought quickly. A post house of this size must have another exit. A plump maidservant, all rosy cheeks and smiles came toward him.
“Where are the back stairs?”
Her eyes widened, yet in spite of her obvious surprise, she bobbed a curtsey. “I’ll show you, sir.”
“Thank you…er—”
She bobbed a curtsey. “Mary, sir.”
“Thank you, Mary.” He paced after her through the rabbit warren of corridors to a side door. To avoid unwanted attention, he sauntered into the cobbled stable yard where he sighted his quarry. He followed the lad, finally catching up with him behind a hawthorn hedge. “Would you like to earn some money for delivering a message?”
The lad kept his distance from him, regarding him with suspicious eyes. “Yes.”
“Good. Give me the letter you are taking to Riverside House.” He pointed at a ploughed field before continuing, “Wait on the other side of the gate until I return.”
When Tom hesitated, Gervaise held a sovereign up to the light. “No need to be scared. Think of all this will buy.”
A grin almost split Tom’s face in two, probably at the thought of receiving a substantial part of his yearly wage. Without looking away from the coin, Tom pulled a sealed missive out of his pocket and handed it to Gervaise.
“Thank you, lad. Now, keep out of sight until I return with another letter for you to take to Riverside House.”
“I don’t know if I should’ve agreed. What if Mister Rodgers finds out?”
“If you say naught, how could he?”
“That’s so.” Tom nodded. “I’ll deliver it, sir.”
“Thank you.”
The sunshine warm on his back, Gervaise strolled to the post house in the languid manner of a gentleman enjoying the morning air. Without so much as a glance around the busy stable yard, he re-entered the half-timbered building through the side door. Inside, careful not to attract attention, he made his way to a comfortable parlour, reserved for travellers putting up in the establishment. It boasted a window overlooking the village High Street which led to the London road. Seated at the desk placed below the window, sharpened crow’s quill in hand, Gervaise dipped the quill into the inkpot, and then penned a brief note to his damsel in distress. Next, he wrote a letter to Lord Kemp.

“My lord,
This letter replaces one, which the fool of a postmaster, Rodgers, wrote to you that unwittingly contained false information.
 In pursuance of my duty as an honest gentleman and your well-wisher, I take pleasure in serving your lordship by informing you that your sisters, Mistress Kemp and Mistress Henrietta, have taken the road to Northampton.
I have the honour, my lord, to remain your humble servant and beg your lordship to reward the honest bearer of this missive.

Satisfied with it, he decided to give the letter to Tom and then find a maidservant to deliver a note to Mistress Kemp.
Gervaise scowled. A pox on Lord Kemp, he thought with fury.
* * * *
“Enter,” Juliana called in a voice loud enough to be heard on the other side of the door. As it opened, she ate the last morsel of buttered bread, which comprised her hasty breakfast, and then sipped the rest of her coffee. When she looked across the bedchamber she recognised the daughter of a dairywoman at Riverside House. “Mary, I did not know you had a position here. How is your mother?”
The wench bobbed a curtsey. “In good health, thank you.”
“What about you? Do you like working here?”
“Yes, Mistress, it’s more exciting than dairy work. But, begging your pardon, a gentleman asked me to give you this note.”
“Thank you, Mary, you may go.”
“If you’ve finished eating, may I take the tray?”
Juliana nodded absent-mindedly, while curiosity, mingled with excitement, bubbled up in her; for only one gentleman could have penned the note. While she read it, Juliana ignored the girl who collected the pewter dishes, coffeepot, cream jug, and sugar basin.
“Leave that for now, Mary. Fetch me pen and ink.”
The girl obeyed, and then waited while Juliana rapidly wrote a reply.
“Please take this to the gentleman who sent you to me.”
Mary bobbed another curtsey, took the note, and picked up the heavy tray.
Certain William would instigate a search, Juliana frowned. “A moment, Mary. Will you do something for me?”
The girl turned so fast that the cutlery and dishes rattled and the cream jug fell over with a clatter. “Mistress Kemp?”
* * * *
A half-hour later, Juliana left the bedchamber accompanied by Mary, who carried Juliana’s heavy bag while they tiptoed along the narrow corridor.
In her haste, Juliana nearly tripped over the hem of her lemon-yellow petticoat, worn under a blue and white striped gown, left open down the front of the skirt in accordance with fashion. She steadied herself, wiped the perspiration from her forehead, and then fingered the frayed ribbon ties of a straw hat worn over a white, frilled mobcap which concealed her short curls.
Mary grinned at her, still obviously well-pleased to have swapped her best clothes for expensive black silk garments which she would be able to sell for sufficient profit to buy a new petticoat and gown.
Juliana followed Mary through the maze of passages, down a flight of narrow stairs, and finally to the back door of the old building.
Mary handed the bag to her. “Good luck, Mistress Kemp, I’ll not tell anyone I helped you.”
“Thank you, Mary. I shall never forget you assisted me.”
Juliana slipped out into the stable yard where she skirted a riderless horse, a coach, and several grooms. To avoid notice, she forced herself to walk slowly to the side gate. “Mary,” a man’s deep voice called, “is that you? What are you about, girl?”
Juliana’s breath caught in her throat. She pretended not to have heard the man who mistook her for Mary because of the clothes she wore. Without a backward glance at him, which would betray her identity, she quickened her step and left the stable yard.
Juliana followed the winding lane, bordered by native hedging, to a fork, where she turned onto a path through the wood. She had described this in her note to Mister Seymour. It led to an ancient grey stone Celtic cross, covered with a fine tracery of yellow-green lichen and pincushions of emerald green moss. To one side of it Mister Seymour waited for her. In a leather-gloved hand, he held the reins of a black gelding.
He indicated her clothes. “You are well-disguised.”
“I am grateful for these servant girl’s clothes, although they are far from what I am accustomed to.” Self-conscious, she smoothed the cheap bodice, hoping he would not think any less of her.
* * * *
Gervaise looked at the beech trees on either side of the path. Gilded by sunshine, their trunks soared to the sky like graceful pillars supporting a cathedral roof.
A ray of sunshine illuminated the pure lines of Mistress Kemp’s face, intensifying the delicate colour of her cheeks and lips. While she regarded him with wide-open, still trustful eyes, his breath caught in his throat.
“You shall ride pillion.”
“Thank you, how kind you are.”
Her obvious admiration flattered him. He looked away from her. Upon his word, this lady’s steady regard had nothing in common with other females; those who tried to capture his interest, either by fluttering their fans and eyelashes or by making bold advances. Bless her soul, she looked at him as though he was her hero. Only his late wife had ever regarded him thus. Embarrassed, he cleared his throat.
Again, a jolt of desire shuddered through him. He wanted to kiss her pretty mouth and—
She looked at him with such innocence that his cheeks burned. He turned aside, reminding himself of his vow never to take advantage of her.
“I am glad you ride,” he said to break the silence. Too many ladies fear to entrust their lives to cumbersome side saddles. “At the next post inn, I shall hire a saddle horse fit for a lady.”
“Thank you Mister Seymour, however, I insist you allow me to meet my expenses.”
Gervaise put a hand on each side of her tiny waist, controlling his fervent desire to hold her close. He avoided looking into her eyes for fear she might read the lusty thoughts in them. Instead, he swung her up, seated her sideways, and then mounted after he strapped her bag behind her.
“Walk on,” he ordered the horse. “Mistress Kemp, either hold onto my belt or put your arms round my waist.”
“Listen, Mister Seymour.”
In the distance, harnesses jingled, horses crashed through the woods, and men spoke in harsh voices.
Her hands tightened on his belt. “I fear my half-brother woke early and sent out a search party.”
“Spread out, men, his lordship ordered us to search every path,” a hoarse voice commanded.
Juliana clutched him around his waist.
“No need to be frightened. I am well armed.” He urged the horse to trot, but the gelding, burdened by so much unaccustomed weight, balked.
“Set to lads,” a voice urged, “his lordship will reward us after we find his sisters.”
“Mister Seymour, turn right along the narrow path ahead of us.”
He looked up at an oak tree. “Shall we hide in the branches?”
“Very well, but if I am to risk life and limb for you, I hope you will confide in me later on. After all, it is not every day one meets a young lady running away from home,” he said with a hint of laughter in his voice.
“Ride on, Mister Seymour. My dinghy is moored on the river. We can escape in it and leave our pursuers behind.”
“The horse?”
“No need to worry about him, I am sure he will find the way back to his stable.”
The sturdy gelding forged ahead through the native woodland on either side of the path until Gervaise drew rein at the tranquil water’s edge.
After he helped Juliana dismount, he withdrew a blunderbuss from his saddlebag. Juliana clutched her skirts, holding them high above her ankles to keep them dry. She stepped into the dinghy and sank onto the seat in the stern. Gervaise grabbed their baggage, throwing it into the small vessel, which rocked alarmingly, before clambering in and casting off.
“There’s the mistress,” a triumphant voice yelled.
Gervaise seized the oars.
One of their pursuers flung himself off his horse and raised a firearm.
“Lie down, Mistress Kemp,” Gervaise ordered. He raised his primed blunderbuss, ready to shoot if necessary.
Fortunately, the boat drifted away from the shore, but although a swift current bore it downstream, their pursuers rode along the towpath. One of them fired a shot which missed them by less than a foot.
“Row,” Mistress Kemp shouted.
He laughed in appreciation of his spirited companion.
* * * *
With the benefit of a strong, tidal current, they travelled some fifteen miles upstream before landing, leaving their pursuers far behind.
At the post house, Mister Seymour hired horses on which they rode to London. They reached the capital within three hours, having had only one disagreement over her insistence on selling the dingy her father had given her.
“Thank you for your assistance, sir.” She reached out for her bag. However, instead of releasing his hold on it, her travelling companion gripped the handle more tightly.
Juliana regarded him, her heart torn with conflicting emotions. The necessity of being beholden to this stranger made her uncomfortable. Yet, at times, he did not seem a stranger. He seemed to be someone she had known and loved forever. Loved? No! How foolish she was to have such thoughts.
“Please give me my bag,” she said, forcing herself to speak calmly.
“Not so fast, Mistress Kemp, where are you going?”
“To seek lodgings.”
“Most improper, come, you shall put up with some friends of mine who are a respectable married couple.”
Juliana shook her head. “I cannot be indebted to strangers.”
“I am no longer a stranger. You accepted my help.”
“And I am grateful for it but—”
“If you insist on taking lodgings, at least allow me to pay for them.”
“To take your money would be even more improper,” she replied, embarrassed by his generous offer. “Put your mind at rest, I will fare well enough now I am in London.”
“You will find it harder to survive alone in this wicked city than you anticipate. It would be my pleasure to fund you. If you insist, you may repay me at your convenience.”
Juliana shook her head to signify she must reject his offer of financial assistance.
“At least permit me to help you find somewhere to stay. Come,” he replied, clasping her arm and leading her into a tavern.
Juliana’s cheeks burned. No lady should enter such an establishment. She avoided the curious gazes of men with tankards in their hands, and did not hear what Mister Seymour said to the tavern keeper.
Moments later, her escort led her out of the establishment and up the street to a narrow house. The door was decorated with a brass knocker which he rapped hard.
His figure partially obscured the woman who opened the door. After a minute or two—during which she could not hear what they said because of the noise in the street—he beckoned to her and entered the house.
She went up the narrow flight of steps and looked questioningly at him.
“Mistress Kemp, this good lady assures me she has snug lodgings which will suit you.” He gestured to a plump girl. “I suggest you go upstairs and view them.”
Too tired to protest over his high-handedness, she hastily inspected the small rooms, decided they were adequate for her needs, and then returned to Mister Seymour.
“I shall rent them. Thank you for your help, sir.”
“Then I bid you good day.” He smiled, bowed, and left without any trace of regret that she could discern. The front door closed, leaving her alone and bereft. Would she ever see him again?

Far Beyond Rubies is available as an e-book from: https;//museituppublishing/bookstore/2,,, Rkobo,smashwords, nook and elsewhere.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Jen Black: Early writing

I wasn’t the kind of child who wrote stories. I kept a little book with a list of the books I’d read, which may have been a pointer to my later career of librarianship or perhaps it points to all sorts of other quirks of character we’d better not go into! My writing began shortly after I did A-level English, read about the real MacBeth and found Shakespeare had done him no favours when he wrote his play.

History spoke of 17 happy years under MacBeth’s rule. I began reading around the time, and grew interested in the culture of the tenth century – herbs, buildings, religion, clothes –right down to belt buckles and buttons. Ships, swords – you can get lost in the detail of how Viking ships were built and swords were made. Then I started thinking about the power of love in such a brutal and unforgiving world, and because there isn’t much written detail of the tenth century, and even less about the people who lived then, the facts I had slowly morphed into a character I called Finlay of Alba. Once I had his story, other characters popped up and I started writing Banners of Alba in the late 70s – on a typewriter.

Then I went to university as a mature student and abandoned the book, but I couldn’t wait to sign up for Art and Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England!

Once university was finished and I had a job, I went on writing but life kept intervening and I’d forget about the book for long stretches of time, but I gradually amassed a pile of typewritten pages that often got glued together with my over liberal use of sno-pak…and then in the nineties I met the man who is now my husband, and he volunteered to scan those pages onto computer for me.

Once the work was on computer, I couldn’t believe how much easier it all became. The book came in at around 150,000 words, but I cut it down a little and then offered it around to agents picked out of the Writers& Artists Yearbook.

I had more rejections than I wanted from agents in this country, so I thought I’d try America. Because I baulked at paying postage on a paper ms across the Atlantic, I tried e-publishers, and the first one accepted me. Perhaps this should have told me something, but I was so pleased I just went along for the ride. I learned a lot about editing, promotion and networking with Novelbooks and “met” my first authors there. My work was duly published, and the same day, the publisher announced bankruptcy. Except that she didn’t exactly call it that, and she didn’t follow the rules about doing it. I learned a lot about how Americans handle themselves in tight spots over the next few months.

I got my rights back for Banners of Alba, sold it again, and soon had another version of it available as both Print and e-book. It is still available today, with that same e-publisher, along with the sequel, Dark Pool. If I edited the book today, I think the word count would go down considerably! I’ve learned so much in the decade since Banners was first published, and sometimes I think I ought to re-edit them anyway.

So here's an excerpt from Banners :

Shells, rattling together in the weak undertow, mocked them and the sun finally dipped below the sea. Ratagan shivered and pulled the edges of her cloak together.

'It never really began, did it?' Hundi said. 'Nothing more than a little amusement, a little diversion; that's all it was for you.'

'And for you it was love straight out of the sagas?'

'And how would you know? Are you so all-knowing that you know my feelings better than I do?'

The dim light lit the planes of his face as his head turned towards her. She drew a quick breath. 'No,' she said, and guilt flickered and died. 'But it's clear you are not going to believe me, whatever I say.' He turned away from her, back towards the sea. 'We knew it would be difficult.'

'Taking a slave as your lover?' His snort of laughter was brief and sour. 'No one suspects us because our relationship is unthinkable. The urge I had to knock that man down last night because he dared to hold you - and I was that far away from doing it,' he said, measuring a small distance between finger and thumb. 'Do you know what stopped me?' His voice vibrated with pent up anger. 'You might have tried to protect me, and then our friendship - hah! Friendship! - would become known. That stopped me, Rada. I've always known I couldn't defend you openly, but I never thought I might harm you. Since knowing you, what little freedom I had has vanished.'

He meant, of course, that the rest of the Steading would scorn her for bedding a slave.

Fulll of contrition, Rada caught and held the back of his hand to her cold cheek. 'I wanted us both to be happy.'

Slowly, unwillingly, his other hand came to rest on her back. 'I was.'

The waves murmured in the near dark and the cold wind spattered fine grains of sand against her cloak. She took a deep breath and lifted her head. 'Will you trust me to do the best I can for us both?'

'I will trust you,'' he said flatly, 'as long as it does not involve that Southerner.'

Banners of Alba is available on Amazon:

Jen Black

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Meet Erin O'Quinn

Up Close and Personal: 
Erin O’Quinn

My pen name is Erin O’Quinn. I have been contracted by Amber Quill Press for several months, and when my latest novel Heart to Hart debuts May 26, I will have written eleven historical novels (four of them as YA fantasies under my real name).
So I thought it was time to introduce you a little more “up close and personal” to Erin.
I was born and raised in Nevada, in the high desert. My father, a self-sustaining miner, actually supported my mom and us three girls through his one-man mining ventures. Until I was forced to go to school fifty miles away, we lived on the side of a mountain in a wooden cabin with no electricity or running water. Those were the days! My wild upbringing at the treeline of a high peak shaped me in ways I am still discovering. (I found out, in writing Fire & Silk, that my roots hid a wellspring of emotions and images, more than enough to fill a novel.)
After high school, I attended the University of Southern California on a scholarship, earning a BA in English and then an MA degree Comparative Literature. Such a culture shock—from a town of less than five thousand to a city complex of over seven million!
After college, I pursued the “academic” life for awhile, becoming a college teacher, then a marketing/promotion manager for a large newspaper. But for some reason, I began to shun the ivory tower kind of life. I became a car salesperson, then a pallet-hauler for a big-box store garden center. I found myself more comfortable on the back docks talking to truck drivers than in the classroom talking to students.
One day three years ago, my husband brought an iMac into the house. I sat down at the keyboard, and my whole life changed. I began to write—first with Bil under our real names, and then under a pen name.
I actually have three different “personas.” One part of me writes young adult historical fantasy with my husband. One part turns out steamy M/F historical novels, set in the time of St. Patrick in fifth-century Ireland. The third persona tosses out the “F” and concentrates on male pairs of characters, both historical and contemporary.
I chose the very Irish name to reflect my deep interest in the history, language, mythology and culture of Ireland. For my series of Ireland romances, I was so taken by the subject that I actually studied Irish Gaelic to get a feel for the cadence and lilt of the spoken language. So when readers close one of those books, they’re able to say everything from “I love you” to “kiss my bum”  in Gaelic.
The subject matter was compelling enough to me that I started a blog, called “The Gaelic Spirit,” which is dedicated to a wide-ranging spectrum of subjects. Here is an example of my archive:
Did the Irish Invent the Kilt?
Who is Danny Boy?
St. Patrick and the Tradition of Cursing
Who Were the Picts? And What About Those Tattoos?
Celtic  Cowboys: Riding the Range in Ancient Ireland
Siren Bookstrand published two MM historicals, a series called “The Iron Warrior,” which are also set in St. Patrick’s Ireland of ca. 432 AD. And now I have written a new historical novel about two gay men. But the difference between it and the others is pretty stark.
Heart to Hart takes place in a fantasy Ireland city in 1923. Its two main characters are a horny, roustabout Irishman named Michael McCree and an almost surly, fastidious man named Simon Hart.
Michael’s interest in Simon is instant and continuous. He vows to bed him, become his roomer, and worm his way into becoming his business partner too. But Simon, whose former partner in his private investigation  business has been murdered, is in no mood to put up with Michael’s shenanigans.
If you can’t tell by the description, this book is a comedy, a romance, and a mystery too. The setting is the cusp of the steampunk era when steam and gaslight were  giving way to electricity and motorcars.
But true to my nature, both men have a not-funny side, a part of their past they are not talking about. The more serious threads ravel out every so often, and the reader gets a glimpse of real people under the silly escapades.
Because this is an “excerpts” blog, I’ll reprint a very small part of the upcoming novel.
Michael was awakened by an insistent rapping on the outside apartment door. Knowing it could not be Simon, he almost bellowed, “Go away!”
“Mr. McCree. ‘Tis Mrs. Gallagher. The landlady. Ye must open, or I come in.”
“Then ye wish to gaze on a naked man? For shame, missus.” He grinned at the open bedroom door, deliberately left ajar by Simon Hart. He had slept in his baggy trousers, and now he slid out of bed, reluctant to wake fully.
He padded barefoot through the Victorian sitting room and opened the door with a suddenness that clearly startled the prim elderly woman standing on the threshold. “Here ye see me, lovely lass. Now what can ye need wi’me?”
The woman’s sallow cheeks suffused with color, and her pale green eyes suddenly became trapped by fluttering lashes. Michael’s grin widened, and so did the door.
“Ye wish to enter me private rooms. Will the neighbors not talk?”
I’d like to leave you with my sig line. From this, you’ll be able to find everything about my Erin O’Quinn writing life—from my blogs to my books to my FB Erotica group, dedicated to the more intellectual (rather than promotional) side of the writerly life.
Thanks for letting me bend your ear, um, steal your eyes for a while. See you next time!

~Erin O’Quinn

Erin’s Blogs:  Gaelic Spirit  The Man in Romance 
Erin’s Historical Romances: SirenBookstrand
Erin’s Contemporary MM Romances: