Saturday, 25 July 2015

Guest blog: Andrea Japp - 'The Lady Agnes Mystery, Vol. 1'

1304.The Church and the French Crown are locked in a power struggle. In the Normandy countryside, monks on a secret mission are brutally murdered and a poisoner is at large at Clairets Abbey. Young noblewoman Agnès de Souarcy fights to retain her independence but must face the Inquisition, unaware that she is the focus of an ancient quest.

Praise for Andrea Japp:
'Captivating characters … and vivid descriptions' Le Figaro
'Enthralling, page after page' Encre Noir

The Author:

Andrea Japp is one of the grandes dames of French crime writing with over thirty novels published. She is a forensic scientist by profession and weaves this knowledge into her books, giving them particular authenticity.

Buy at:

Excerpt (from Part One - The Season of the Beast):

Manoir de Souarcy-en-Perche, Winter 1294.

Agnès de Souarcy stood before the hearth in her chamber
calmly contemplating the last dying embers. During the
past weeks both man and beast had been beset by a deadly cold
that seemed intent on putting an end to all living things. So many
had already succumbed that there was barely enough wood to
make coffins, and those left alive preferred to use what little there
was to warm themselves. The people shivered with cold, their
insides ravaged by straw-alcohol, their hunger only briefy kept
at bay with pellets of suet and sawdust or the last slices of famine
bread made from straw, clay, bark or acorn flour. They crowded
into the rooms they shared with the animals, lying down beside
them and curling up beneath their thick, steamy breath.

Agnès had given her serfs permission to hunt on her land
for seventeen days, or until the next new moon, on condition
they distribute half the game they killed among the rest of the
community, beginning with widows, expectant mothers, the
young and the elderly. A quarter of what remained would go
to her and the members of her household and the rest to the
hunter and his family. Two men had already #outed Agnès de
Souarcy’s orders, and at her behest the bailiffs had given them a
public beating in the village square. Everybody had praised the
lady’s leniency, but some expressed private disapproval; surely
the perpetrators of such a heinous crime deserved execution or
the excision of hands or noses – the customary sentences for
poaching. Game was their last chance of survival.

Souarcy-en-Perche had buried a third of its peasants in a
communal grave, hastily dug at a distance from the hamlet for
fear that an epidemic of cholera might infect those wraiths still
walking. They had been sprinkled with quicklime like animal
carcasses or plague victims.

In the icy chapel next to the manor house the survivors prayed
day and night for an improbable miracle, blaming their ill luck on
the recent death of their master, Hugues, Seigneur de Souarcy,
who had been gored by an injured stag the previous autumn,
leaving Agnès widowed, and no male offspring to inherit his title
and estate.

They had prayed to heaven until one evening a woman collapsed,
knocking over the altar she had been clinging to, and taking with
her the ornamental hanging. Dead. Finished off by hunger, fever
and cold. Since that day the chapel had remained empty.
Agnès studied the cinders in the grate. The charred wood
was coated in places with a silvery film. That was all, no red
glow that would have enabled her to postpone any longer the
ultimatum she had given herself that morning. It was the last of
the wood, the last night. She sighed impatiently at the self-pity
she felt. Agnès de Souarcy had turned sixteen three days before,
on Christmas Day.

It was strange how afraid she had been to visit the mad old
crone; so much so that she had all but slapped her lady’s maid,
Sybille, in an attempt to oblige the girl to go with her. The hovel
that served as a lair for this evil spirit reeked of rancid mutton fat.
Agnès had reeled at the stench of filth and perspiration emanating
from the soothsayer’s rags as she approached to snatch the basket
of meagre offerings: a loaf of bread, a bottle of fresh cider, a scrap
of bacon and a boiling fowl.

‘What use is this to me, pretty one?’ the woman had hissed.

‘Why, the humblest peasant could offer me more. It’s silver I
want, or jewels – you must surely have some of those. Or why not
that handsome fur-lined cloak of yours?’ she added, reaching out
to touch the long cape lined with otter skin, Agnès’s protection.

The young girl had fought against her impulse to draw back,
and had held the gaze of this creature they said was a formidable

She had been so afraid up until the woman had reached out and
touched her, scrutinised her. A look of spiteful glee had #ashed
across the soothsayer’s face, and she had spat out her words like

Hugues de Souarcy would have no posthumous heir. Nothing
could save her now.

Agnès had stood motionless, incredulous. Incredulous because
the terror that had gripped her those past months had suddenly
faded into the distance. There was nothing more to do, nothing
more to say.

And then, as the young girl pulled the fur-lined hood up
over her head, preparing to leave the hovel, something curious

The soothsayer’s mouth froze in a grimace and she turned
away, crying out:

‘Leave here! Leave here at once, and take your basket with
you. I want nothing of yours. Be off with you, I say!’

The evil crone’s triumphant hatred had been replaced by a
bizarre panic which Agnès was at a loss to understand. She had
tried reasoning with her:

‘I have walked a long way, witch, and …’

The woman had wailed like a fury, lifting her apron up over
her bonnet to hide her eyes.

‘Be off with you, you have no business here. Out of my sight!
Out of my hut! And don’t come back, don’t ever come back, do
you hear?’

Monday, 20 July 2015

Guest blog: Summerita Rhayne - 'The Eligible Princess'

The Eligible Princess is Book 2 in the Kamboj Princesses Saga set in Early Medieval India. It is a sensual, historical romance. It’s a sort of prequel to Book 1 Hidden Passion, but you don’t need to read them together. Each is a separate story.

....After Hidden Passion, the Kamboj Princesses Saga continues with Rukmani’s sister Lakshaya... 

King Kartikeya must marry a princess. He's determined to do anything to keep the kingdom he has taken with strategy and sheer guts. If that involves charming a princess into marriage, then so be it.

Princess Lakshaya infinitely prefers the study of science to the art of impressing a suitor. In fact, she would rather have no more proposals at all. But refusing a king as opulent as Kartik is out of question. Drawn against her will by the force of his attraction, she begins to accept him, only to discover hidden secrets along the way.

Can she bring herself to go ahead with this marriage?

Set in Early Middle Ages in India, Book 2 in the Kamboj Princesses Saga follows Lakshaya in her journey to discover desire, passion, intrigue and love.


She crept up and along the corridor and positioned herself behind a pillar. The moon was full tonight and you could see right across the yard between the two wings. On the opposite side the accommodations of special guests were built. Now the entire wing had been placed at the Maharaja’s disposal. He would need it with the cavalcade he had brought, she thought. He was on the floor opposite and his samants and other ministers below.
She thought she could detect movement in one chamber and raised her vision enhancer to her eye.
The next instant, she gasped and nearly dropped the instrument. Recovering, she trained her eye to it again.
The king stood in the centre of the room, handing his gold chest plate to the servant who was next handed the strings of pearls from around his throat. His armlets and cuffs came off. Then his hand slid lower and he unwrapped the gold belt from his kayaband.
Lakshaya’s hands nearly slipped from the cylinder. She could make out a vast expanse of skin. Male skin. Toned skin covering powerful muscles. She had a close-up view of how dark hair smattered across his upper chest, not so dense above, rather pleasing to behold as they narrowed going downwards. The muscles of his chest bulged and moved as he – she gulped – as he now removed his kayaband. She trembled. Surely she should go now? A maiden shouldn’t observe a man undressing, should she? The servant was bid something. Maybe to prepare his bath. The uniformed man left. Lakshaya brought back the focus on the king. His hands went to the knot of his antariya. Just as her lower belly contracted, the moonlight came and flooded the courtyard as a cloud uncovered the lunar god’s visage. Light fell on the glass, momentarily blinding her.
 With a small gasp, Lakshaya moved back into the shadows. Regaining composure, she trained her instrument on the object of her fascination again. He had his back towards her now and was flexing his arms, the movement throwing into prominence corded muscles against satin smooth skin. Skin that tempted her to touch it. Something contracted in her stomach, a strange fluttering attacking her pulse. Shame, excitement and anticipation mingled like magic potions to produce butterflies in her stomach. He repeated the movement. For her, breathing became difficult. She lowered the cylinder, hands trembling, heart beating fast. Oh devi ma! She had to take control. Had to think...
After a breather, she raised it again, her mouth dry with the knowledge of the forbidden. What would she find now...?
He wasn’t immediately in her view. Frowning, she moved it from one wall to the other. Where had King Kartikeya gone?
A hand gripped her wrist and she gasped, dropping the cylinder. She had an impression of hair sprinkled skin shaping honed muscles and gasped anew as she realized who it was.
She had her answer as to where he had gone!
He had caught her instrument as it slipped from her fingers and now turned it this way and that. ‘A device for spying? Or was it peeking for your own benefit?’ Dark eyes snared her gaze. ‘Why strain your eyes, charuta? Have a look at the real thing up close.’
He was here. Right next to her. She saw the strong features, the dark locks falling to his nape, thick gold rings in his ears. ‘No...That is, I wasn’t –’
‘You weren’t looking at me?’ He took up the cylinder and put his eye to it. ‘Hmm…rather quaint. Very interesting. Bagalpur has a lot to offer, I guess. A princess who is known for her talents and is eligible enough to be sought for marriage. Maidens who carry spy glass. And are beautiful along with being inquisitive.’ His fingers flicked along her cloth covered cheek.
His contact was warm and electric, even through the thin, makeshift veil. Tingles spread along the small touch.
‘Who sent you to spy on me?’
‘I – no one.’
‘In truth? No one knows you’re here?’
‘No one. In truth.’ She could say that with confidence at least.
A part of her brain that was still functioning made her realize he hadn’t seen her. How could he when she had covered her face? Just her eyes were visible. Her hand went to touch her mask.
He noticed the gesture. ‘Yes, unveil yourself, my dear. I’m curious to see you too. From close by.’
‘No!’ She dodged his attempt as he reached out for the cloth and took a step back.
‘No? Ah, my mystery woman... You want to play games?’
There it was again. A slight lilt to his tone that somehow conveyed and hinted at an enjoyment to come. Lakshaya shivered involuntarily. That sexual tone made her feel she was the target of all his intent. She swallowed.
‘Games are fun, aren’t they?’ she said carefully. Could she pull this off? Hope began to hammer in her heart. Maybe she could escape from being found out. Alarm feathered along her nerves. Hey devi ma, he shouldn’t know that the princess was the one who had waved so brazenly from the window. And had been watching him undress as well.
‘They could be. That is, if you like them, my beauty.’
‘You don’t know what I look like,’ she said somewhat unwisely. ‘How would you know if I’m beautiful?’
‘From your eyes,’ he said. ‘They are beautiful. They are naughty too. They speak out what they want.’ He stepped close.
So close. She was almost touching him. Her gaze dragged up on him. He was naked except for the antariya, the upper edge of it resting low on his hips. Without the kayaband it was located disturbingly low on his body. She could make out a hint of his hipbone and the flat plane of his lower belly. The unnerving realization cramped her stomach.
‘Look all you want. When you’re ready to touch, just let me know, or better yet, just go ahead.’ Laughter laced his voice. That and the customary sensual edge. His knowing gaze entrapped hers. Color flared along her cheeks. He tilted her chin up.   
‘Come with me. Let me satisfy your curiosity,’ he said.
The suddenly urgent tone sent blood rushing through her body at double the speed. Forbidden images waved through her brain before reason poured water on them.  
‘You don’t even know who I am.’
‘You are a woman and you want me. I can see it in your eyes as they flick over me. Even if I hadn’t seen it in the way you have been watching me since I entered the premises. I could feel your interest from a kos away, when I was riding into the palace. What does it matter who you are? The stations, the statures, positions and titles are false, my dear. This is real. Feeling. Sensation...’ He came even closer and now she was touching him, supposedly to stop him, feeling the restrained strength in his body as she flattened her palms against his chest, her own muscles quivering involuntarily in response.
Maharaj,’ she protested because he had moved in slowly but surely and now she was backed up against the pillar. Oh God, she couldn’t call anyone for help. And he was trapping her! ‘Please...let me go.’
‘You smell of chameli and...and woman,’ he groaned and bent his head to the curve of her throat. His lips touched her skin and her knees almost melted. His mouth brushed lightly along her neck and her eyes closed. What was he doing? A simple touch was sending a whirlpool of sensations cascading inside her.
‘Please!’ She had to stop him.
‘Please, my maiden? What is this ‘please’ for? Please take me in your embrace? Is that what you want?’ He made as if to do that and although the recalcitrant need snaking through her wanted just that, she evaded his arms. He let her move out of their circle but not far, his hand manacling her wrist as she went past him. 
‘Let me go or – or –’ her princessly threat didn’t have an appropriate ending and she stumbled to a halt.
‘Or what?’ He didn’t get any answer to that and cocked an eyebrow, ‘I’m up for any challenge.’ When she didn’t respond, very slowly he began to pull her to him. ‘I’ll let you go if you wish. But first I have to see your face.’
‘No! No!’ She made a desperate grab to clutch her improvised mask. He caught her to him, easily trapping both her arms, curving her backwards a little as he stared into her eyes. His hand reached out to the knot.
‘No! No, please!’ she whispered. ‘Don’t touch it.’
His hand hovered then touched the cloth at its edge. ‘You don’t want me to pull it away?’
She shook her head. ‘Please no!’
‘Then I won’t.’
The breath whooshed out of her. She felt like she had been dragged back from the edge of a precipice. But she had to confirm it. She looked at him with some suspicion. ‘You won’t?’
‘On one condition.’
‘What’s that?’
‘Give me a kiss.’ He dropped the words that were like hot coals into her lap. He smiled lazily. ‘One kiss and you’re free to go. I won’t touch your mask.’
‘A kiss, my mystery maiden!’ His gaze dark and bold with intent, he stared into her eyes. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Two Historical Mysteries for £4.00/$6.00

Two historical mysteries in the Widow of Bath series are half-price at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, UK Nook, Kobo and Apple until July 15th. For details just go my Lindsay's Book Chat blog and click on the links on the right-hand sidebar

Lindsay Townsend