Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Morcar the Northern Earl and His Captive. Bk 4 of the Medieval Captives Series by Lindsay Townsend

PRE-ORDER NOW - AVAILABLE Tuesday, February 2nd.

Morcar the Earl is a pagan, hated by the Norman Bishop Cyril. Cyril and his bastard son Gaspar plot to unseat Morcar and kidnap his son Thorfinn to raise as a puppet manipulated by Cyril. Morcar is overcome and flung into a cave chained to a young woman, the witch Hemlock. Hemlock has herself been betrayed by Gaspar, who had forced her to be his mistress and then abandoned her once she became pregnant. Hemlock has just lost her unborn baby and is highly distrustful of men. 

 As a pagan, Morcar believes in many gods and worships the ancient stag god, whose horned tattoo he bears on his arm. It is partly for fear of the god that Cyril’s men dared not murder him, instead manacling him to Hemlock and leaving them both to starve. Can they work together to escape? Can they recover Thorfinn? In the end, what future can there be between an earl and a witch? A BookStrand Mainstream Romance.


Chapter 1

Fall of the Year, 1133, Northern England
Someone petted his hair. At least he still had a head, although it felt like a splintered log, which Morcar decided was better than the alternative. But what had happened?
Without opening his eyes, he flexed his fingers and toes, a rush of gratitude sweeping through him as he realized his limbs were also still attached.
And they may not have been.
A memory fell into him like a striking hammer on an anvil. Sudden fist and knife blows from behind, from unseen unanticipated enemies, wild fighting, his son—
Morcar reared up with a shout. The slim fingers petting his hair pushed him back down.
“Your lad is alive,” a voice breathed by his ear. “Alive and whole. The church-men took him. Sleep.”
“Do not order…”
The hand resumed carding through his hair and Morcar wallowed back into unconsciousness.
* * * *
Later he blinked again into wakefulness. His brains no longer felt to be seeping from his skull and his shoulders burned, which he assumed was an improvement on the hollow ringing that had throbbed through his body earlier. Shifting slightly, he forced his eyes open wider, seeing an orange, flickering glare against a black backdrop. Is it night or am I underground?
“Sage tea. Want some?”
Jerking aside, Morcar rolled onto his back and yelped, his vision blurring afresh for an instant.
“You have grazes and knife cuts and deep bruises down your spine but you can move so you will heal up tight. Tisane?”
He smelled the fresh, head-clearing sage tea, then, and watched a cup wobble in out of the gloom in front of him. Squirming onto his side, Morcar tried to clasp the cup and failed, tried again and succeeded.
He groaned as the hot drink almost scalded the back of his throat and then thirstily drained the rest of the cup.
“More?” the voice suggested.
His clearing vision showed a pair of startled hazel eyes and a heart-shaped, delicate face, framed by a melee of tangled tresses. The spiky brown hair looked surprisingly pretty on this urchin, though he had only seen short hair for women on female prisoners before. But what was he rambling about? Focus. A girl. My nurse is a girl. Her brilliant eyes reminded him sharply of Maud, his wife. My wife! Mother of our son. Thank the Gods she died in her sleep three winters past, at peace and ready to join the old ones. He could not have borne her suffering, else, or her knowing that their child had been stolen away.
Thorfinn, their son. Small and dark-haired like his mother, with a gap-toothed grin and a low, chortling laugh. Thorfinn, with his secret bedtime toy of a raggedy cloth robin and his favorite bright red boots. Named for the God Thor and Maud’s father, Finn. Five years old and already a fearless horseman and a merry, good-natured soul who would share his supper with any who looked hungry. Thorfinn would be a generous lord, leading his people with a high heart. Unless the church-men corrupt him. That is why they kidnapped him, to act as regents in my—his—lands and to raise him as they see fit.
Remembering Thorfinn’s wild sobbing as the bishops’ men took the boy away was the worst sound he had ever heard. Grief bit into his lungs, harsh as a Viking blood-eagle, and Morcar choked.
“Sit up, please,” the girl beside him coaxed. “You will breathe the easier.”
“Thor’s hammer! Do not order me—” Morcar’s rasped complaint subsided into a new bout of coughing. The wretched girl seized the advantage. Hauling him up under his arms like a bag of tools, she dragged him into a sitting position, bracing his back with a knobbly knee. Another cup of sage tea appeared and Morcar drank it, scowling at his rescuer. She was small and prickly, like a hedgehog, if such a creature ever dressed in a faded, ruby-colored gown and with grubby bare feet.
“My name is Hemlock.”
At his stifled snort, the girl flicked her bangs back from her forehead like an irritated mare shaking its mane and went on, “I am a hedge-witch, though by no means as powerful as Elfrida, Magnus’s wife.”
Morcar nodded his understanding, feeling a little ashamed now of smirking at her unusual name. The church-men disliked witches nearly as much as they disapproved of pagans.
“You follow the old ways?” he asked, wondering where they were.
Hemlock’s answer had him twisting round to stare at her. “Always. After my parents died, my greedy brother sold me to Gaspar, the bishop’s son. He baptized me by force and re-named me Mary. He cut off my long hair and sold it. I worked in his household for two years. Despite my protests and distaste, he kept me as a mistress until I got with child because I no longer possessed the herbs to make a pregnancy-stopping tisane. Then the pious bishop’s son called me a whore and cast me out.”
Hemlock stopped speaking, the sound of her quickened breathing very loud and echoing faintly. We are in an enclosed space, then, possibly close to the sea from the faint tang of salt I can smell and taste in the air.
“Why should Gaspar do that?” he asked, feeling still very slow and stupid as he caught up with Gaspar’s casual cruelty. To shear off a woman’s glory, her hair and then sell it, and worse, to throw her from his household when she was pregnant—Morcar shuddered, strongly, once. Children were a gift from the gods. “Why?” he asked a second time.
“He wants no bastards,” snapped Hemlock. She had gone pale, white to the lips. In the dark of the cave her face hung beside his like a death mask on a pole.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

THE DREAM CATCHER, Scottish Historical Romance by Marie Laval

My Scottish historical romance THE DREAM CATCHER was released by Áccent Press last December. It is set in the beautiful and wild landscapes of the Northern Highlands, near Wrath, and is part of a trilogy called DANCING FOR THE DEVIL.

Book 2 - BLUE BONNETS - will be released on January 28th and I thought I would share an excerpt from THE DREAM CATCHER about the very first meeting between the heroine Rose Saintclair and Bruce McGunn, laird of Wrath.


A giant stepped in front of her. Dressed in black riding boots, black breeches and riding coat, he was so tall and his shoulders so broad the already dark horizon darkened further.


     His voice was deep and calm, the voice of a man used to be obeyed. The crowd hushed at once.

     He bent down in front of her.

     ‘Well, well, who do we have here?’

     Even though she could hardly see his face, she felt his eyes bore into hers, and it was enough to make her mind go blank.

     ‘Rose…Rose Saintclair.’

     ‘Where are the others, your servants, your maids?’

     ‘I… I don’t have any.’

     ‘Really? That’s a surprise. All right then, come up.’ He held both his hands out.

     She hesitated a moment before placing her hands in his. He pulled her up and she flew straight into his arms, landing with a bump against his broad, hard chest. He was so tall she had to tilt her face all the way back to look at him. Her heart skipped a beat, then started bumping fast and loud.

     His eyes were grey and framed by dark eyelashes, his nose straight and strong, his cheekbones high and sharp. Thick black stubble covered his cheeks and chin, and his hair flew around his face, the colour of a raven’s wing. There was something dangerous about him, something reminiscent of a brutal warrior from days long gone by.

     She wriggled to free herself but he didn't let go and his mouth curved into a mocking smile.

     ‘Well, Fàilte, my sweetheart. ‘I’ll say this for McRae. If there’s one thing the rascal can do, it’s pick his fancy women.’

     His hand slid from her waist and he patted her bottom.

     Her reaction was instinctive. She swung her arm and lifted her hand to slap him. She didn’t have the chance. Without batting an eyelid he caught her wrist.

     ‘Steady on, sweetheart. You have a nasty little temper.’

     ‘And you have no right to insult me in this way, you vile brute,’ she hissed. ‘I am not Lord McRae’s fancy woman, as you so elegantly put it, I’m his wife!’

     She had expected at least a shocked response or a groveling apology but he merely smiled.

     ‘It’s all right, gràidheag, you don’t have to pretend.’

     ‘Pretend what?’

     ‘Pretend you’re married to the man. I don’t care if you’re McRae’s mistress or his laundry maid, if you scrub his back or his dirty shirts.’

     ‘I am telling the truth, you stubborn macaque,’ she shouted in frustration. ‘I married Lord McRae in Algiers four weeks ago.’

     ‘Please don't scream quite so loud. I heard you the first time. I just don’t believe you.’


     ‘First you introduce yourself as Rose Saintclair, now you’re spinning me a tale about being married McRae. Make up your mind, sweetie.’

     He glanced at her hand. ‘I don’t see any wedding band on your finger.’

     ‘That’s because Cameron wanted to keep the wedding a secret. Never mind, I don’t have to explain anything to you. Now let go of me.’

     She wriggled to break free, but he was still holding her wrist, leaving her no choice but to kick him hard in the shin with the tip of her boot – the very pointy tip of the fashionable new boots she had made in Algiers.

     ‘Ouch. Steady on, sweetheart.’

     ‘Let go of me, you deranged baboon! And stop calling me sweetheart.’

     She kicked him again, harder. He muttered something in a strange, guttural language she didn’t understand and let go of her so suddenly she staggered backward and fell on her bottom on the hard, wet cobbles.

     Her breath caught in her throat, her heart beat hard, erratic. Tears blurred her vision as people sneered and clapped around her. She knew McRaes and McGunns were enemies, but she had nothing to do with their feud, so why did everybody here seem to hate her so much? And why was the big hairy brute intent on humiliating her and not believing a word she said?

     He stepped closer and offered his hand.

     ‘Come on, now, sweetheart. Let’s start again. I think we got off on the wrong foot.’

     He sounded contrite but she wasn’t ready to forgive to forgive him. Ignoring his hand, she scrambled to her feet, and straightened her back. Attack was the best defence, her brother often said, and Lucas knew what he was talking about. He was the best scout in the whole of the Barbary States – or Algeria as the French now called her country.

     ‘Take me to your master immediately,’ she started in a voice as cold and steady she could manage, ‘so I can ask him to have you whipped for your insolence.’

     There was a collective gasp from the people around them. Not looking in the least impressed, the man crossed his arms on his broad chest and arched his eyebrows.


     She took another deep breath.

     ‘That’s what I do to disrespectful servants on my estate, and I can assure you they stop smirking after five lashes.’ That was an outrageous lie, of course, but no one here was to know.

     'If what you said earlier is true, then I see McRae chose his bride well.’ The man’s eyes were now hard as steel. ‘You and he are indeed a match made in heaven, or in hell. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together.’ He paused. ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, sweetheart, but I don’t approve of whipping people, or beasts, for that matter.’

     ‘And I don’t care a fig if you approve or not. It is for your master to decide your punishment, and from what I’ve heard of Lord McGunn, he is neither a patient nor compassionate man.’

     He arched his eyebrows. ‘I didn’t know I had such a bad reputation.’

     Rose’s heart stopped. He wasn’t… he couldn’t be…

     ‘I realise I failed to introduce myself. I am Bruce McGunn.’ He bowed his head in a military salute.

     ‘You are?’ The words came out as a squeak.

     His lips stretched into a tight smile that didn’t warm his eyes.

     ‘At your service, my lady. Now the introductions are over, shall we make our way to the Lodge?’


Can her love heal his haunted heart? - Cape Wrath, Scotland, November 1847.
Bruce McGunn is a man as brutal and unforgiving as his land. Discharged from the army, he is haunted by the spectres of his fallen comrades and convinced he is going mad. And he is running out of time to save his estate from the machinations of Cameron McRae, heir to the McGunn's ancestral enemies. When the clipper carrying McRae’s new bride is caught in a violent storm and docks at Wrath harbour, Bruce decides to revert to the old ways and hold the clipper and the woman to ransom. However, far from the spoilt heiress he expected, Rose is genuine, funny and vulnerable – a ray of sunshine in the long, harsh winter that has become his life.
Rose is determined to escape Wrath and its proud master – the man she calls McGlum. Will she be reunited with Cameron McRae, the dazzlingly handsome aristocrat she married after a whirlwind romance in Algiers, or will she risk her heart and her honour to help Bruce discover the truth about his past and solve the brutal murders committed on his land?

The Dancing for the Devil Trilogy includes THE DREAM CATCHER, BLUE BONNETS - both available now from Amazon - and SWORD DANCE (available in March 2016).




Author Bio

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie has lived in the beautiful Rossendale Valley, Lancashire, England, for the past few years and likes nothing more than dreaming up romance stories and handsome, brooding heroes. She writes historical and contemporary romance. Her contemporary romance A SPELL IN PROVENCE, as well as her historical romances, ANGEL HEART, together with the award-winning THE LION'S EMBRACE, and the DANCING FOR THE DEVIL Trilogy (which includes THE DREAM CATCHER, BLUE BONNETS and SWORD DANCE) are all published by Áccent Press.

 If you would like to see some of the photos of Scotland that have inspired Marie Laval whilst writing THE DREAM CATCHER, BLUE BONNETS and SWORD DANCE, please go to Pinterest (https://uk.pinterest.com/laval0232/)