Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Victoria's War : Shadows

This is an extract from Chapter One. The shouts of ‘Hindu pani’ and ‘Musslalman pani’ from the water vendors catering for both religious persuasions made her wonder what Christians were to buy, and everywhere the tea sellers were shouting, trying to drown out the rest. Aziz fetched what he thought his ‘family’ needed and she was not allowed more than a glimpse of the platform. The novelty had begun to pall, and the rattling of the train gradually lulled her into a fitful sleep stretched out comfortably on one of the leather covered daybeds. She was jerked awake by the sound of screeching brakes as the train shuddered to a halt. There was the sound of shouting outside. Then her father was in front of her, standing shoulder to shoulder with his factotum, guarding her, whilst she was still struggling to sit upright. The door of the carriage crashed open and a fair-haired, English army officer filled the space. Her father was so outraged she almost laughed. He ordered the young soldier to remove himself at once, using his most perfect, formal English, every inch the wealthy Rajput gentleman. The young man remained, politely waiting for Papa to run out of invectives. When finally the soldier had space to speak, he half-bowed, totally ignoring her. She was hidden behind her protectors, but eager to discover exactly why they were now stationary at a deserted halt. ‘I apologise for my intrusion, Rajah-Sahib. Captain Henry Hindley-Jones at your service. The line ahead has been blocked and we’re anticipating an attack by Dakoits at any moment.’ Victoria shivered. She had heard about the bandits who held up trains and sometimes killed the travellers. Her father spoke rapidly in Hindi to Aziz telling him to get the rifles, then bowed to the officer. ‘Please excuse my outburst, Captain Hindley-Jones. My man and I will be out to join you immediately.’ The captain clicked his heels. ‘Thank you Rajah-Sahib. Your help would be appreciated. My men are well-trained, but we’re going to need every gun we can get when they attack.’ She heard Aziz returning with the guns. He handed one to her father who tucked it expertly under his arm. ‘We shall remain inside our entrance. I have no wish to leave my daughter unprotected. We both know how to use these.’ He didn’t suggest she join them outside, even though she could shoot as well as Aziz. ‘Excellent! I suggest you secure the shutters.’ The captain finally acknowledged her presence. ‘You’ll be quite safe, my lady.’ If the circumstances had been different she would have smiled at her elevation to the English aristocracy. Reluctantly her father stepped aside and she moved forward to offer her hand. Captain Hindley-Jones clasped it. His grip was firm; his hand calloused like a field worker. A discreet cough from her father was enough to remind Victoria of her position. Although this man was English, and an officer, she was the only child of a wealthy and respected Brahmin and must consider herself his superior. She nodded, removing her hand. ‘Please excuse me, Rajah-Sahib, but I must return to my duties.’ He clicked his heels again and backed out of the carriage. No one seemed to be frightened – the initial shouting had stopped. The only sound was of orders being issued by an Indian sergeant and the heavy bangs of doors and shutters being closed up and down the train. Her father, with no sense of urgency, pointed to the bathroom. ‘Victoria, I suggest you take refuge in there. Aziz can place cushions and blankets on the floor. It will be quite safe. Lock the door and don’t come out until I give you leave.’ ‘Shall I take a drink and some fruit as well?’ ‘If you want, but be quick, the attack could start at any moment.’ Without waiting to check that she obeyed his orders, he vanished outside to assist Aziz in fastening the shutters. With the same lack of haste her parent had displayed, she sauntered over to the fruit bowl and began to make her selection. There was the sound of raised voices outside as other travellers demanded to know what was going on. The clatter of boots racing past the compartment indicated the captain was marshalling his men ready to repel the bandits. She wondered how his troop of mounted men had happened to be in this remote place at exactly the right time. Divine intervention perhaps? Smiling, she gathered up some fruit, a drink and a couple of books and prepared to retreat to the relative safety of the rest room. At least this ambush was a break in the tedium of the journey. Then the air was rent by the ugly sound of gunfire and a bullet tore through an unshuttered window, shattering the glass and spraying her with shards. For a moment she remained immobile – frozen with horror – then her father threw himself into the compartment and bundled her into the bathroom. ‘Are you hurt, child? Here let me see your face.’ He prised her fingers from her cheek. There was blood running down her face, but no pain. ‘Nothing to worry about – superficial – wash it and put on a plaster.’ The door swung shut and she was alone listening to the nightmare unfolding outside. Like an automaton she found a cloth and cleaned her face, but the blood kept coming. What should she do? She’d never had such a bad wound before and her head was beginning to swim. Was she going to bleed to death whilst the battle raged outside? How could Papa not have realised she needed medical attention? She scrabbled about for a towel and pressed it hard to her cheek. Then when she turned to search for the medical box she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. This ashen-faced, blood-stained girl couldn’t be her. She needed help. Panic stricken, she forgot her instructions and fell out of the bathroom. The rapid, staccato of gunfire, the screams of women and children, the urgent shouts from the men, drowned out her feeble cries for help. She stood, holding the towel to her face, oblivious to the bullets thudding into the unprotected side of the compartment. A second missile slammed into the carriage wall covering her with splinters. She screamed, her voice echoing around the carriage. This time she was heard. The English captain burst, for the second time that afternoon, through the door. ‘For God’s sake, get down. Now.’ Bewildered she looked at the carpet but didn’t move. Two arms encircled her and flung her to the floor. A third storm of bullets smashed through the broken window and several embedded themselves in a leather document case. She watched, squashed breathless by the weight of the soldier, as the bag leaped from the table as if possessed by a demon and flew across the room to thud heavily into the wall. Her fall had dislodged the hand holding the towel and the sticky wetness was seeping out of the gash. Her hands were stinging from the splinters. She wanted this horror to stop. Wanted things to return to normal. Wanted to be back home. Tears dripped into the gory mess on her face. She never cried – it wasn’t done, but somehow, however hard she tried to suppress them, her sobs escaped. ‘Bloody hell! Don’t cry, miss. It’ll be all right. I’ll keep you safe. Your father has already killed two of the bastards…sorry, beggars. We’ll have them on the run soon.’ He rolled away, and held her, shivering and crying, against his chest. He raised his hand to smooth her hair and it came away red. ‘Christ! You’re hurt – I didn’t realise. Sit up, sweetheart, let me have a look.’ She allowed him to push her up until she was supported by a table leg. For some reason she was no longer afraid. Her tears stopped and she faced her rescuer with absolute trust. His long, capable fingers examined the wound. ‘You’ve lost a lot of blood and you’re going to need stitches in this, but it’s not nearly as bad as it looks.’ He grinned, his teeth white. ‘Can you reach that towel over there? We need to put it on your cut again.’ She nodded and bent her head in order to reach the cloth. To her consternation she toppled forward and a strange whirling blackness engulfed her. She came to, stretched out, as she had been at the start of the drama, on the daybed. But this time she was surrounded by a circle of anxious men. Her father, his face twisted with anxiety, knelt at her side. ‘Tory, my dear girl, I am so sorry. I should never have left you. Thank God Captain Hindley-Jones was here to assist you. ‘ At the mention of her rescuer’s name her eyes searched the faces, but he wasn’t there. Had he been curtly dismissed as an interloper as soon as her father had returned? So who were these men? Her face stung unpleasantly and she raised her fingers to investigate. ‘No, please not to disturb the dressing, missie. I have placed several neat and helpful stitches in your injury.’ The man who had spoken was obviously a doctor. He was dressed in white jacket, loose trousers and wore a white hat on his oiled-back hair, but his medical bag, on the floor beside him, looked reassuringly English. ‘Where’s the captain who saved me? I wish to thank him personally, Papa.’ ‘He has gone about his duties, child. There are prisoners to stow in the guard’s carriage and order to restore outside. I’m certain he will be back to check that you’re fully recovered as soon as he’s free to do so.’ With that she had to be content. Aziz, who had been one of the men watching, moved back presumably satisfied that his master’s most precious daughter was in no danger. She noticed that another man, obviously the doctor’s assistant, was holding a basin, his brown face inscrutable, his white turban immaculate. Did she still require first aid? ‘The doctor has to remove the splinters from your hands, my dear. Do you feel up to it?’ She nodded and instantly regretted it. ‘Yes. I’m a little dizzy, but quite well enough to have my hands attended to.’ Although her eyes were averted she felt the doctor expertly removing the slivers. She gazed at Aziz, who was tidying the compartment, as though bullet damage and broken glass were part of his normal duties. His calmness did much to restore her calm. ‘There, missie, all done now. You will have no scars on your hands.’ ‘Thank you, doctor. I’m grateful for your assistance.’ The man salaamed and, talking rapidly in Hindi to his assistant, he vanished. He hadn’t said that her face would be unmarked and she prayed this was an oversight. The noise of men’s boots and raised voices continued outside for a while longer. Her father was no longer in the carriage, she was sure he was nearby but didn’t feel ready to get up and investigate. The shouting and stamping eventually stopped and the train was secure again and about to leave. Why hadn’t her rescuer come back to enquire about her injuries? Then she heard the voice she had been waiting for, Captain Hindley-Jones was returning to see her. She wished she had the energy to check her appearance before he came in; she must look grotesque with stiff white dressings on both hands and her right cheek. She tensed as footsteps approached the carriage. She recognised her father’s voice, but could not distinguish what he was saying. She had no time to ponder as Aziz glided to the door and opened it smoothly. The Englishman was ushered in ahead of her father and her face coloured. Giving the captain precedence was a sure sign he was in favour. Raising her head she stared, seeing him clearly for the first time. His eyes were so blue, like the sky first thing in the morning. Her tongue was too big for her mouth; her words of greeting remained locked behind her teeth. He came over, his back parade-ground stiff, his manner formal. ‘Miss Bahani, I’m pleased to see you sitting up and looking so much better. I’m sorry I had to leave so abruptly, but duty called.’ His voice was deep, and far too loud for the small space of the carriage. ‘I must thank you for saving my life, Captain. And I must apologise for losing control, I know that if I had listened to my father I would have been in no danger.’ Captain Hindley-Jones smiled and her skin prickled under the intensity of his gaze. ‘I’m delighted to have been on hand when you needed me.’ She believed he would have said more but her father intervened. ‘Captain, my daughter is tired and needs time to recuperate. I shall, of course, contact your commanding officer in Bombay to convey my thanks.’ The captain had no choice; he was dismissed. He bowed to her father and turned, treating her to another of his flashing smiles. Then he was gone, leaving her with more than Dakoits to think about. Twenty minutes later the train was rattling on its way to Delhi. It was almost dark and she hoped they would be stopping soon for supper. Papa had told her, when she’d asked if there was likely to be any further trouble, that the captain and some of his men, were accompanying the prisoners to make sure they remained safe from the remainder of the band. These men had evaded capture and galloped off into the desert. Her mouth curved as she thought about the man who had rescued her so bravely; would his presence on the train mean she might have another opportunity to talk to him? She couldn’t get him out of her mind. ‘Papa, how did the captain and his troop come to be in the very place the Dakoits planned to attack us?’ He smiled. ‘It’s his job to patrol this part of the railway line; look out for ambushes and chase away the bandits. Captain Hindley-Jones explained to me that he had been following this particular group. He had spotted their trail a day or so ago. An excellent young man. A credit to the Indian Army.’ He frowned. ‘However, I don’t approve of the British being in positions of authority in our army. We have many first-rate young men of our own.’ ‘But you approve of this Englishman?’ ‘You must not worry, my dear. I’m not so ill mannered as to reveal my political opinions to this particular officer. He’s an exception to my rule. I owe him everything.’ She would have to leave it there. Further discussion on the merits of the captain might reveal her interest in him. Could this be the opportunity her mother and she had envisaged? A chance encounter on the train with a suitable man? She had an hour to make her decision. From the moment she had first seen him and their hands had touched, she had been drawn to him. He had saved her life – this made him a hero. He was English, a strong point in his favour. She closed her eyes, allowing her mind to recapture his image. He was far taller than Papa, which made him over six feet and his hair was the colour of ripe corn. She sighed – he had the most fascinating blue eyes she had ever seen. Her hands throbbed and her face ached but she ignored them, her head was whirling with the possibilities thrown in her way. However, it was against all her natural instincts to take the first step and she was certain he would not do so; he would lose his position if she complained. She had been raised with the expectation that her marriage would be arranged by her parents, now she was contemplating initiating a liaison with a complete stranger. She would be violating every rule, every tradition, she had grown up with. It was the duty of a daughter and a wife to respect and obey the man of the household, what she was going to do was so bad her stomach roiled and her appetite vanished. Whatever the difficulties, she was going to make contact with the man that kismet had thrown in her path. (.com) (.uk)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Valens the Fletcher and His Captive by Lindsay Townsend. OUT TODAY!

Valens the Fletcher and His Captive (MF)
by Lindsay Townsend
Medieval Captives 2

Siren-BookStrand, Inc.

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 23,476


Now with money off!

Katherine has been let down by men before. Can she trust the man who captures her?

England, Summer 1132

Valens is an arrow-maker and spy for Lord Sebastian (the hero of Sebastian the Alchemist & His Captive, Medieval Captives 1). His beloved sister Julia has died, leaving an infant who needs breast-feeding. Valens is still single, so needs to find a wet nurse for the baby.

He kidnaps young Katherine, and her baby, Jack, from a camp of women. Can Katherine save Edith, Valens’s little niece? Can she trust the handsome Valens, share her secrets, make a life with him? Can she recover Jack’s lost inheritance?

Ordered to court Katherine by his lord, Valens slowly begins to understand that he loves Kate, that he loves making a family with her, Jack, and Edith. Does his realization come too late? When, on their wedding day, a plot between Valens and Sebastian is revealed, can Katherine forgive Valens? Can she trust a spy?

A BookStrand Mainstream Romance

Chapter 1

England, Summer 1132

Valens heard the girl he had chosen as booty before he saw her. Crawling beneath the luxuriant low-hanging hazel branches and over the stinging nettles and ruthless brambles toward the women’s summer camp, he heard her weary, patient whisper. “Come on, Jack, feed for me, sweetheart. That’s right, that’s right. Good boy…”
There was a mewling whimper and the soft sound of suckling. Valens took a chance and raised his head.
Here she is, my little mother.
She crouched, half-facing away from him and behind the other women, on the less favored side of their hissing fire. Her face remained in shadow and he watched her hands, cradling, soothing, coaxing. A spit and flare from the flames illuminated her charge, Jack.
Her son, I think, or the son of her heart. Whichever the babe was, Valens took in his rounded limbs and downy head with pleasure. The infant was well cared for and the girl would care for Julia’s child—She will if she wants her own brat to thrive.
Valens lowered his wiry frame back into the crush and scratch of brambles and allowed the wet nurse’s soft crooning to wash over him.
“You are doing so well, my pretty darling, growing so big and strong. Let me check your padding…Good boy! I have more wool tufts and moss in my pack. Soon you will be clean and dry again, my Jack…”
The girl had been saying similar nonsense over the past four days that Valens had been tracking the women’s camp. So far he had only approached this close to her after twilight, content in the day to shadow the group at a distance. With her hair hanging limply ‘round her face in greasy, dirty-blond curtains, he still did not know if the wench was as pretty as a beech nut or as ugly as a gall apple, but her hands were clean and deft and her clothes patched and tidy. Baby Jack had more things than she, with three carrying slings and a half dozen little cloaks and hoods.
She may not wash her hair but she cares for Jack and will be a fine wet nurse for Edith. Valens frowned and tried not to think of his dead sister and her ailing child, in case a passing devil caught his feelings and made them worse, but it was no use. Julia had passed away seven nights ago and he and his widowed father were struggling with their grief and with Edith, Julia’s child. At almost two years old, Edith was beginning to eat more solid food, but it was the custom to breast-feed until two years, and weaning itself was dangerous. He and his father Thorkill, Edith’s granddad, had no idea what to do, beyond treating the grizzling infant like a sickly calf. Julia’s child was not thriving and would not do so until he could supply breast-milk by means of a wet nurse.
His present duty, to spy on the goose herder women, had proved provident. Accepting the task from his lord, Valens had known that such bold females would have youngsters and babies and one of the women would be in milk. Lucky for me. Julia would have said it was God’s will, but Valens was less sure, seeing that God had stolen Julia from him. He knew that tiny, squalling Edith would not make up for the loss of his sister, but the child was a part of Julia, one he vowed to preserve.
“You are not getting her,” he vowed under his breath, not caring who he meant at that moment, God or the devil.
He felt breath on his neck and twisted ‘round. The scowling face of his lord loomed briefly, then Sebastian crawled to one side, cursing at this cramped spying place.
“Only you, runt, dare have me scramble this way.”
Valens acknowledged the grumble with a flash of teeth. “But always worth it,” he countered, ignoring the taller man’s nickname. No one but Sebastian dared to comment on his lack of height, so he reckoned they were even.
“Are they thieves?” Sebastian jabbed a long, pale fist at the camp. His blue eyes darkened as Valens gave a brief nod. “Explain.”
Used to the man’s brusque orders, Valens counted off on his fingers. “One, they are meant to be goose herders but they have no geese.”
“This close to Michaelmas? They should be thigh deep in fattened-up birds, driving them to market.”
Valens grinned afresh. Sebastian was always quick, it was one reason he spied for the man. That, and he paid in gold, on time. “Two, they have clubs and ropes, lots of ropes.”
“For restraining prisoners and hostages. Go on.”
“Three, they are practiced in pretending to be fluttery, foolish maidens. A well-set-up traveler rides through the forest on one of the main trails and these women are there, arranged like a Mystery play, all tasteful sprawled limbs, big eyes, and pleading glances.‘Oh, kind sir, can you help us?’ and more of the same, till the fool steps down from his horse and they have him.
“I can count.”
The warning made Valens skip to his greatest news. “Big Agnes is their leader.”
In the dark blue twilight Valens almost missed Sebastian’s thin mouth tightening, but he heard the satisfied, “A name worth gold. Our sheriff has wanted her for some time.”
“Where is Julian?” Valens whispered, checking on the girl again as she rubbed her baby’s tiny back.
“Swirling somewhere in that red cloak and being heroic, no doubt.”
A prickle of alarm sped down Valens’s spine. “Not here, I hope. That cloak and that yellow hair of his, they will show up.” He dismissed the rest of Sebastian’s sour comment. His lord was touchy about his looks—though far less since his marriage—but Julian was something else. Even Valens, who also liked women, could see that.
There was a low snort from the hazel thicket, as Sebastian stifled laughter. “Peace, man, the sheriff is not an idiot. He does not go to your lengths, but he knows how to blend in woodland and so do his men.”
Valens forbore to comment that he dyed his red hair black so as to blend in, as Sebastian put it. His bushy and above all bright mane was distinctive, and for a spy that was bad.
“We attack them tonight?” Sebastian asked.
“Early morning is better. We shall see more and the women are slow to shift. Several have children.”
“By Lucifer, another problem,” muttered the man beside him. “My men will not like that. I do not like it.”
“I think you will have little trouble,” Valens said quickly. “Such women with youngsters are low status, like camp followers. They earn their keep by washing and cooking and are kept away from the main leaders. A few strikes on a shield will have them scattering and their brats with them.”
“Runaways and strays, eh? They will not be harmed. And where is Big Agnes?”
“Sprawled, with her flagons, right by the main fire with her cronies, dividing up the day’s takings. They are usually half-drunk in the morning, still.”
“Better, by Lucifer.” Sebastian clapped him on the shoulder, the closest his lord would come to outright approval. “And what do you want for your work?”
Valens showed his teeth at his lord’s scowling face and pretended to consider. “Four days and nights squatting in holly bushes, covering my tracks, going without food or more than a sip of ale. What would you say to granting me a holiday, my lord?”
Sebastian wormed backward and Valens followed. Skirting a flowering and spiky wild rose that showed blue in the late evening light, the men crawled behind the cover of a beech tree and stood upright.
“Ask again, master fletcher,” Sebastian said then. “I need those arrows of yours.”
Valens shook his arms and legs to get the blood flowing again. “Well, then.” He braced himself, aware his next request would most definitely not be approved. “I want a girl from the camp.”
 Sebastian dragged him off his feet and hoisted him aloft as if he weighed no more than a leaf. Half-choked by his tunic, Valens sucked in air and kept talking.
“Not as my slave but to help! The wench will have a better life with me than cast adrift.”
His lord’s eyes glittered. “You will marry her?”
By Adam, he is wed and now thinks every other man should be.
“If she is a widow, then yes.” Resentment sharpened Valens’s answer. “I need a wet nurse for my sister’s child, not a bed-mate. Put me down.”
“Or what?” Sebastian chuckled and lowered him. “I should call you Cuchulainn after the Irish warrior. He was a runt, too.”
“Everyone is short to you,” Valens muttered, slipping his knife back into its sheath as he was released. Not that he did not trust Sebastian, but spying kept his reactions honed. The dagger had been in his fist and pricked against the taller man’s belly before he had even thought of it. He had no idea who Cuchulainn was and did not care. “Are we agreed?”
Stepping back, Sebastian glared down his long hooked nose and gave him a searching look that made him feel like a new apprentice with his master. “You will keep her and her infant safe?”
“I will,” vowed Valens, thinking of Julia and Edith.
“Snatch them tonight, then, and take them away with you.”
Valens gave a brief but wide smile. His lord had given him something else with this, the chance to spare the girl and her babe the panic of an attack. “I intend to. Let me have two men.”
Sebastian folded his arms across his chest. “You want to terrify mother and child?”
“Two good men,” Valens persisted, ignoring his lord’s mocking glower, the dark humor in those dark eyes. “Two good men to show her the futility of struggle. I’ve taken down knights in full armor before now, so a girl and a baby will be easy.”
“Very well.” Before he moved back in the direction of the camp, Sebastian touched his arm. “Be careful,” he warned. “Too much…trouble and the girl might lose her milk.”
“I have my ways,” said Valens, with a confidence he did not altogether feel. Sebastian was still glowering down his nose, though, so all must be right with the world.
“Keep safe, runt.” His lord seemed on the verge of saying more, but instead clapped him on the shoulder for a second time.
“And you, my lord.”
The two men parted ways.

* * * *

Katherine could not shake the feeling that she was being watched. Worse, that she and Jack were being watched. The other women of this camp constantly slighted her in flea-bite ways, remarking or gesturing about her small size, feeble strength, and lack of wood-craft. Big Agnes, their leader, had agreed to let Katherine travel with the gang and had then ignored her. The others—who surely were no goose herders, for where were their geese?—had copied Agnes, or Aggie, as she liked to be called. For the week Katherine had traveled with them, aside from being piled with filthy clothes to wash, she and Jack had been left alone.
It is exactly what I want, she told herself, but lately, with this constant tingle at the back of her neck and the sinking feeling in her stomach, with this sense of being watched, spied on, she was less sure.
Jack smiled at her, gummy and warm, and she was enchanted afresh. That she and Eric had produced such a wonderful, sweet, clever child she thanked Christ for every hour. Propping the bundles of clothes she had to wash in a protective circle around him, she set Jack down to roll and crawl and toddle, clapping her hands in warning each time he crept and waddled to the edge of the circle.
Her bare hands, Katherine thought with a sigh. She had sold her wedding ring nine days ago but the lack still smarted. If only Eric had not died. If only I had been more patient with him and not nagged him in our bed. That was a dark shame and secret of hers and one she still flinched from. If only my husband had kept his word and not kept all those secrets
“Hey, Wash-tub!”
Katherine refused to flinch at the hated nick-name, or at the muddy, cold scrap of cloth that slapped down the side of her face. She caught it before it fell anywhere close to Jack and heard the braying order, “Big Aggie wants that washed tonight.”
She nodded and scooped a faintly grizzling Jack into a carrying sling. Where she would find wash-water at this hour was one problem, although at a pinch she could use her own urine and rinse the scarf in—what? Rainwater collected in a tree stump?
But she did not complain. Better to be bullied here than bullied and raped at the old house by my stepson. He was starting to pick on Jack, too. Eric had sworn he had made provision for us, but he did not. Secrets, always secrets. Remembering her own secret with a shudder, she picked up her pack and the washing bundles and moved farther back from the fires, preparing to do as Big Agnes demanded.

* * * *

Spiteful fools, Valens thought, wishing he had his lord’s skill with poisons and could slip some to these chattering mares. To expect a nursing mother to leave the safety of the camp simply to wash a scarf spoke of a careless arrogance that made his blood boil. The girl and her babe would do far better with him. They do not deserve her.
He was so furious it was several moments before he could admit that their petty malice, to one of their supposed own, had made capturing his prize easier. The young woman was clearly seeking fresh water and had just found some in a moss-covered birch stump. She had placed Jack into a cocoon of bedding and was pounding the scarf on a smooth rock, stopping after each weary flick to glance to the distant camp and peer into the closer trees. Sure that his dark clothing, dyed black mop and dirt-smeared face would make him invisible, Valens slipped his sheathed knife from his belt into his boot—he did not want the girl trying to grab his blade and stab him—and waited. He moved as she did and squirmed closer to the baby.
Jack was gnawing his fist but content and eager to be diverted by the sparkling toy of a gold chain and crucifix, dragged by Valens across the rim of his circle of blankets. Gurgling, the baby obligingly tottered, then crawled on plump little legs after the pretty thing. Valens allowed Jack to grab the chain and picked up the baby, settling the child on his hip. Jack snuffled and stared up at him in wide-eyed wonder. He trusts me.
“Jack! Where are you?”
On her knees now, the woman was patting and throwing aside the empty circle of clothes, gasping in her panic. Valens loomed closer, sweating a little himself, though his voice was cool and low.
“Here with me. Shush.” He closed his other hand around his little mother’s thin wrist and yanked her to her feet, deftly releasing her and removing her eating dagger from her belt as she stumbled. She fell against him and he caught her again, winding an arm about her middle and snagging her against his body as closely as he cradled her son. Her mouth and eyes were as wide as Jack’s, but she did not scream. Her attention was altogether on another matter.
“No, Jack, not in your mouth.” She grabbed the gold chain and made a brave attempt to smile at her son. “Never something you could choke on.”
Valens released her wrist to sweep his dark cloak around all three of them. “I shall know that next time.”
“Give me my boy.” The wench reached for him but Jack nuzzled against Valens, who was in no hurry to release either of them. He leaned closer, keeping a firm hand on the baby.
“No.” Valens gambled on her not wishing to scare or hurt Jack by trying to wrest him free.
Her eyes glanced away from him and her baby to the camp. At a snap of his fingers, Sebastian’s two good men rose out of the undergrowth, taking a step closer. The woman moaned as she saw the chance of any possible escape diminishing to nothing.
“No help here or over there,” Valens spoke as if no other fate was possible. “You and Jack are coming with me.”
“Why should we?”
He liked the flash of temper. Anger meant she would not faint. This close, he saw her face for the first time, rather than her bent head or profile. He stared for an instant—he could not help it.
My little mother is a pretty waif. Not beautiful, he corrected at once, not with that grubby hair or sharp little nose, but her face was free of pox scars and had an open, impudent look. She had a narrow head and a thin mouth that curved up at the corners and green eyes that shone with fury, lightening them to the color of fresh beech leaves. He had done well for himself by her capture. To marry this will be no torment.
He inhaled sharply and smelled her sweet, milky scent, felt her turgid breasts press against his lower ribs. She was smaller, much slighter than him, but tucked nicely under his chin for all that. The realization slid through his mind as fast as an arrow bolt, then he was answering.
“I need your help.”
He had not meant to say that. He wanted to get her walking, get them farther into the trees, away from the others. “Come with me now. No trouble.”
He prodded her side with a finger and she jerked sideways, flinching as if she feared a dagger thrust. “I promise I will not hurt you or your boy,” he added.
“Such vows are easy to make,” she answered at once, reaching out again. “Give me my son.”
He prodded her shoulder. “Walk first.” He did not tell her there were horses nearby, one step at a time was enough.
Still the woman did not move. She stared at how he held Jack, balanced against his hip, and more suspicion flared in her face. “Why—”
I cannot waste more time on this. Edith is ailing. Valens scooped baby Jack into her arms and picked both of them up. Ignoring her instant struggles, he began a shuffling retreat, flanked by the two men. When the girl opened her mouth to yell, he silenced her by pressing his lips onto hers.
Refusing to acknowledge either the guards' knowing smirks or the blistering agony when the annoying, squirming, necessary wench bit him, he staggered deeper into the forest.
How had he ever thought this would be easy? Once I have them back at home, it will be.
He could only hope.

Valens the Fletcher and His Captive is book 2 of my Medieval Captives Series. Book 1, Sebastian the Alchemist and his Captive, is already out.

He takes her for hate. Will he keep her for love?

Sebastian, lord of the tower in the northern high lands, is a proud, bitter man with a dark past. An alchemist and a warrior, he has had lovers but knows he is ugly—experience and betrayal have taught him that.  When Melissa, the beautiful, neglected daughter of two old enemies, falls into his possessive hands he is determined to hold her. Why?

As one of the detested and defeated Felix family,  Melissa must cling to her courage when she is claimed as a war-prize by the tall, grim Sebastian. Expecting torture and ravishment, she finds instead a peace and sanctuary that she has never known. Treated with kindness for the first time in her life, Melissa begins to blossom.

But there are secrets and old betrayals between them. Sebastian’s abiding jealousy is not easily quelled, especially when someone at the tower seeks to destroy his growing love with Melissa…

Medieval Captives 1

Read Chapter One