Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Lion's Embrace by Marie Laval

This is an excerpt from Chapter 1

Algiers, April 1845

 Fissa, fissa,” Harriet urged as she followed the boy down the narrow alleyways leading to the harbour. It wasn’t dark yet but already a full moon lit the Algiers sky, shimmered on the surface of the sea, and steeped the walls of the old town in its silver light.

          Drunken, rowdy sailors and soldiers on leave crowded the streets. Men lurked in shadowy doorways. She had been in too much of a rush getting out of Lord Callaghan’s palace to be scared earlier, but now anxiety knotted her stomach and tightened her throat. She gripped the dagger at her side. Coming here on her own might not be such a good idea after all, but Lucas Saintclair was at the Seventh Star and she desperately needed to talk to him. He was the best guide in the whole of the Barbary States, the only man who could help her.

          At least nobody gave her a second glance. With her indigo blue tunic and trousers and the turban she had bought at the souk, she looked like a Tuareg fighter —albeit a diminutive one.

          In front of her a man relieved himself against a wall and stumbled into a pile of rotten rubbish, his breeches still open. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and stepped over him.

          The boy pointed to a blue door above which a crudely painted golden star dangled precariously. Harriet slipped a silver coin in his hand and was about to push the door open when it flew straight back in her face. A short, stocky man ran out into the street. Wheezing loudly, his eyes bulging with fear, he looked as if the devil himself was on his tail.

          It was.

          A tall, dark-haired man entirely dressed in black strode out of the tavern and bumped into her.

          Rood Bâlek!” he growled, grabbing her arm to push her out of the way.
She tilted her face up to look at him. If there was something of a pirate in his strong, weather-beaten face covered with dark stubble, it was his eyes that sent a shiver down her spine. They were the coldest eyes she had ever seen; icy blue, and so pale they were almost transparent.

          He stared down at her. She held her breath, fearful he had seen through her disguise and would rip her scarf off.

          He shoved her aside, slid his hand in the pocket of his leather waistcoat, and pulled out a dagger with a curved blade. In long, supple strides he caught up with the other man and toppled him onto the ground.

          “Now, Rachid, you snivelling rat,” he said in French as he pressed the tip of his black riding boot onto the other man’s throat. “You have five seconds to tell me where the map is. Un… deux…” He flipped the dagger like a toy between his fingers.

          “Oh, my God,” Harriet breathed out. She glanced around, but nobody was paying the two men the slightest notice. There was no time to think, a man’s life was at stake. With a muffled cry she hurled herself at the tall stranger, jumped on his back, and hooked her arms around his neck.

          He let out a roar of anger and swirled round to shake her off, but she wrapped her legs more tightly around his waist.

          Bon sang! Qu’est-ce que...”

          He dropped the dagger, twisted his body, and managed to grab her waist to slide her to the front so she was now against his chest. Aware she was losing her grip she lunged forward and sank her teeth into his shoulder.

          He growled, held her at arm’s length, and threw her off. She fell on the cobbles. The turban softened the impact to the back of her head, but a vicious pain at the bottom of her spine made her cry out. The man swore in French. Although she only caught a few words, she understood he was angry. Very angry. His victim had escaped.

          She let out a sigh of relief. She had done it. She saved a man’s life. Her joy, however, was short-lived. The Frenchman leaned over, picked her up by the collar of her tunic, and lifted her as if she was no heavier than a bundle of cloth. The savage glint in his eyes dried her throat; her heart hammered against her ribs.

          “Please, don’t hurt me,” she pleaded, breathless.

His eyes opened wide in shock.

          Since when did Tuareg fighters speak fluent English? Come to think of it, since when did they smell of Damascus rose soap?

          He peered more closely at the face in front of him and saw two large, grey eyes bordered with long, dark eyelashes and the tip of a small nose above the dark blue scarf. He recalled the odd sensations when the soft, curvy body had thrust against him earlier. This wasn’t a Tuareg fighter at all, it was a … He ripped the headdress off and a mass of thick, honey blonde hair tumbled out.

          “A woman? I thought as much. Who are you?” he asked in English. “What the hell did you think you were doing just then?” He shook her a little, not to hurt her, but enough to give her a fright.

          The woman didn’t answer.

          “You’re not so bold now, are you?” He narrowed his eyes, smiled his meanest smile, and was satisfied to hear her helpless cry. She had cost him days of patient stakeout. Now, because of her, Rachid was free to sell the map to the highest bidder. And he knew exactly who that would be.

          “Maybe you want to take another bite?” he snarled, pointing to his shoulder.

          “No,” she whispered.

          “Actually, maybe I’ll be the one to take a bite. You look appetizing enough.”

He lifted her closer, until his mouth almost touched hers, and he felt her warm breath on his skin.

          He gazed into her grey eyes and time seemed to stop.

          “Please,” she squeaked.

          He shook his head, dizzy, like someone pulled too abruptly out of a dream.

          “You have some explaining to do, lady,” he said, his voice a little hoarse.

          She was shaking like a leaf now. He let her down, keeping a firm hold on her arm. He didn’t trust her. She might stand in front of him, small and fragile, but he wouldn’t put it past her to run off and disappear into the maze of alleys of the old town.

          She wouldn’t go anywhere before he had answers to his questions.


A curious crowd had gathered around them. The man’s fingers were a steel vice around her arm. Surely he wouldn’t dare hurt her in front of so many witnesses?

          “Get your hands off her!” A man’s voice called.

          Thank God.

          “Archie!” she said, flooded with relief as her oldest, most trusted friend sliced through the crowd toward her.

          The man let go of her. She ran to Archie, welcoming the strong, safe arm he wrapped around her. She saw that he gripped the butt of a pistol under his jacket.

          “Are you hurt? Did he hit you?” His face was flushed, his thick blond
moustache quivered with indignation.

          “I didn’t touch her,” the Frenchman said, calmly. “She’s the one who jumped on me like a banshee, bit me, and set my man free when I finally had him.”

          He clenched his fists.

          “You were going to kill him,” Harriet cried out in protest. “I saw it all!”

          “What I was doing was none of your goddamned business.” He narrowed his cool blue eyes to stare at her. “You don’t seem the type to work for Rachid. Who are you? What do you want?”

          Archie’s arm tensed around her as a warning but she ignored him.

          “I’m looking for Lucas Saintclair,” she said.

          “Whatever for?” He cocked his head to one side.

          “I have a proposal for him.”

          A slow grin spread on his lips.

          “Then it looks like you found him, darling.”

          There was a moment of stunned silence.

          “You are Saintclair?” Harriet and Archie exclaimed in unison.

          He nodded, bent down to pick his dagger, and slid it into his pocket

          “What do you want with me? Apart from spoiling a nice evening, that is.”

The Lion's Embrace blurb:

Arrogant, selfish and dangerous, Lucas Saintclair is everything Harriet Montague dislikes in a man. He is also the best guide in the whole of the Barbary States, the only man who can rescue her archaeologist father from the gang of Tuareg fighters that has kidnapped him. As Harriet embarks on a perilous journey across Algeria with Saintclair and Archibald Drake, her father’s most trusted friend, she discovers a bewitching but brutal land where nothing is what it seems. Who are these men intent on stealing her father’s ransom? What was her father hoping to find in Tuareg queen Tin Hinan’s tomb? Is Lucas Saintclair really as callous as he claims—or is he a man haunted by a past he cannot forgive? Dangerous passions engulf Harriet’s heart in the heat of the Sahara. Secrets of lost treasures, rebel fighters, and a sinister criminal brotherhood threaten her life and the life of the man she loves.

Does forever lie in the lion’s embrace?

The Lion's Embrace is available from MuseitUp Publishing
From Amazon


Lindsay Townsend said...

Super excerpt, Marie! Fascinating!

Marie Laval said...

Thank you so much Lindsay. I am glad you like it.

Mary Waibel said...

Great excerpt, Marie. Have this on my TBR pile.

Suzanne's Thoughts for the Day said...

Beautiful writing! I can't wait to read this!

Marie Laval said...

Thank you Mary and Suzanne! I do hope you enjoy it.