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.


STORY EXCERPT

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.
“Please.”
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.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Almost Home: Nick and Krista Christmas Free for a Limited Time from Amazon Kindle


Hello Everyone and Happy New Year!

As a New Year’s gift I am giving away ALMOST HOME: NICK AND KRISTA CHRISTMAS, the intro book in the Soul-Love Series, from Amazon Kindle. On January 3rd the buy price goes back to $2.99 so claim your free read on January 1st or 2nd. This slice-of-life novelette, set in 1960's Boston introduces characters musician Nick Zelmenis and ballet dancer Krista McBaine who are also the hero and heroine of the first novel Remember Him Yesterday.

Look for Remember Him Yesterday coming in 2016. 

Enjoy your free copy of ALMOST HOME.

Kaye


Medieval Historical Romance, 'Mistress Angel' - Chapter One and buy details

 My sweet to sensual Medieval Historical Romance "Mistress Angel" is being published by Prairie Rose Publications  in Jan. It can be found at these places:











You can read an excerpt below

Historical Note.

The scene where Isabella is inside a golden cage suspended over the cobbled streets of London is based on a real event.  In May 1357 Prince Edward, whom we now call The Black Prince, escorted the captured king of France through London in a glittering victory procession. Londoners flocked to see this and the London guilds vied with each other to add to the spectacle. The London goldsmiths placed twelve maidens in golden cages above the route where the princes would pass.  In my novella, I make Isabella one of the maidens.

Child betrothals and child brides were a part of the Middle Ages. One of the most famous is Margaret Beaufort, who was married at just twelve and who became pregnant just before her thirteenth birthday. After a long and difficult labor she gave birth to a son who as Henry Tudor would become King of England and Wales. Even at the time the early consummation of her marriage was remarked on with some censure.  Margaret later was keen to ensure that her granddaughter was not sent to her betrothed the king of Scotland too young in case the king consummated the marriage at once and so injured her.


Excerpt 

Chapter 1

London, May 1357

     Isabella was reading a scolding letter from her mother when Sir William's man-servant John stepped into the workshop and jerked his head to the outside, holding the door open for her.
     She tucked the scrap of parchment into her belt and hurried into the back yard, lifting her skirts clear of the cloying mud. It was raining still, a light spring drizzle that had lasted for days and stirred up the usual offal and dung stink of London. She wrinkled her nose and covered her mouth with her hand.
     “Hurry!” John urged. “The master does not like to be kept waiting.”
     Isabella picked her way round a deep cart track and made for the stand of cherry and apple trees against the back boundary wall of her husband's family house. The tall, portly figure waiting beneath these trees was unmistakable, as was his goldsmith's livery, worn by most guild members only on festivals and holy days but as a regular costume by him. She bowed her head.
     Sir William waved his servant away. “You are too brown,” he grumbled as Isabella approached. “Are you a washer-wench, to be so brown? That will not do.”
     Naturally I am tanned, through outdoor work. She had been instructed by her husband's family to weed the garden plot and gather greens daily, all work beneath her, but Isabella knew better than to protest.
“My son?” she asked quickly.
     Sir William dismissed her anxious question with a sharp shake of his head. “Later,” he snapped. “When you prove your worth to us.”
     Isabella fixed her eyes on the golden tips of Sir William's gilt-edged shoes and strove to appear calm. She had been hearing variations of this and other complaints for years, and they held no sting for her. The absence of her son was altogether different. When may I see my child? It has been months since Richard took him from me and his family still keep us apart. Had I the means I would go to law, for in this household no one listens to me. How does my son fare? Does Matthew think of me? She longed to ask all of these things.
     “How long have you been with us, Isabella?”
     “For six years, since I wed your nephew.”
     She had been married to Richard at twelve, made pregnant two years later and widowed three years after that, following a long and bitter apprenticeship of wedlock. I have been a widow for six months and I do not miss a moment of my marriage.
     She sensed Sir William staring at her, stroking first his squirrel-fur cloak, then his neatly-trimmed beard. She resisted the impulse to shudder.
     “You are much improved in looks of late,” he remarked.
     Yes, not being beaten nightly by a drunken brute improves a woman's appearance. Isabella raised her head. “May I see Matthew?”
     Sir William frowned at the second mention of her son. “Did I not say later? Have you a better gown?”
     Accustomed to his abrupt manner, Isabella said nothing. Sir William need only check the household accounts to realize she had three dresses. One was her bridal gown, a tiny, wrinkled dress, worn with such hopes when she was still only a child. She could scarcely bear to look at it now.
     “We must have you robed in brighter colors,” Sir William continued. “And you must stay indoors. Wash your face in whatever women use to whiten skin. You must shine like a jewel.”
     When she was first married, Isabella had been full of questions, until Richard's ready fists had silenced her. She nodded to show she understood and waited to be told more. Perhaps I am to be married again, she thought, and hoped this time the man would be kind. Please let him bring my son Matthew back from wherever he is living and safe into our home. If my new husband does that, I will love him forever.
     Sir William picked a spray of cherry blossom and held it alongside her face. “Yes, you shall do very well,” he rumbled. “Your dowry is gone, you failed in your marriage task, you have no great skills, but we can put that beauty of yours to work.”
     Abruptly, he seized the front of her bodice and yanked on the loose cloth, half-exposing her breasts. Isabella covered herself with an arm but did not resist or utter a sound. If feigning acquiescence brought her news of her son she would be as still and silent as a grave.
     “Good, good.” Sir William strolled around her, pinching her flanks, muttering, “She needs a touch more flesh here, but her breasts are still ripe, for all her nursing of that pup.”
     Surely he would tell me if Matthew is dead? She had not set eyes on her son for seven months, since Richard had spitefully sent him off to another household, somewhere in Kent. My husband did that just before he was killed, murdered in a blood-feud not of my making but for which I am still blamed. When will it end?
     “You will oblige me,” Sir William went on, and he took her roughly by her shoulder and half-turned her, back to the house. “There, look at your son now. Not one word.”
     Isabella blinked the drizzle from her eyes and stared at the small, thin figure standing with his back to her in the open doorway to the workshop.
     It was Matthew, clothed in the belted blue cloak and cap she had made for him last winter, his fair, curling hair a little longer and more sun-bleached than when she had last seen him. He was growing and carried himself very straight, she thought proudly. She took a step forward, closer to him. He was no more than a baby when Richard ripped him from me. Now he is a little boy of  four years old, just four.
     “No nearer,” warned Sir William. “That is enough.”
     He gestured to someone at the house and the door closed, cutting Isabella off from that too-brief glimpse. Heart-scalded, she swung round. “Please, let me speak to Matthew,” she begged. Let me hold him, embrace him, smell him, hug him. Relief that he was alive washed through her, making her weak when she had to be strong.
     “To business,” Sir William remarked dryly, watching her fumbling with her gown strings, his eyes bright, with the pitiless interest of a bird. “You have seen the boy, now heed my terms.”
     Isabella chewed on the inside of her cheek to stop a rising cry, glad that the rain hid her tears. She nodded in silence, bracing herself.
     Even now, Matthew must not know I am here. Surely if he did he would come to me? And will I see him again? How long will he stay?
     Sir William smiled. “You will do much, make great efforts to see your son again?” He did not wait for an answer. “This family needs to make good alliances, and you are available. Stephen Fletcher I thought. He is armourer to Duke Henry himself, and widowed.”
     His smile widened and his hard dark eyes sparkled with open malice. “I understand he is like you, the offspring of a commoner. Some would call him a blacksmith. You should do well with him.”
     Isabella felt her face flush with anger. “And how, pray, will I meet him?”
     “Use what wit you have, girl, and find out!” He pinched her cheek, hard, and moved away, tossing her final orders as he strolled off. “I shall expect strong progress in your suit, Isabella. Win him within the month, become his mistress, extract rich gifts and favors from him, or you shall not see your son again. I will adopt Matthew as my own.”
     He went inside, out of the rain, and slammed the door in her face.

                                                             ****

     Isabella ran after him, but Matthew was already gone. Her heart aching inside her chest and desperate to escape the ready complaints of her mother-in-law, she claimed that Sir William asked her to collect a parcel of herbs from the apothecary's. Outside again in the rain, she stumbled by way of the back lanes to the house and shop of her friend, Amice the Spicer. 
     Amice took one look at her and drew Isabella behind the curtain at the back of her shop, where she had a bed she slept in when guarding a fresh batch of cinnamon from burglars.
     “Get under the covers and warm up,” she said, in her brisk, managing way. “As you see, the shop is quiet now, so we can talk. Have you received another letter from that prating mother of yours, blaming you for a feud not of your making? I presume your own flesh-and-blood have not welcomed you back?”
     “No, they have not.” Isabella shook as she stumbled into the bed. I do not think they will ever do so. Like Amice she knew that, according to custom, she might have returned to her own family, now that Richard was dead. Her parents however had cast her off. Her mother still wrote letters, but only to instruct her and to complain. To my parents I am one of the Martintons now. It was a terrifying thought, one she dared not dwell on.
     “Is your mother-in-law expecting you to spin gold from straw or some other foolishness?”
     Amice’s ironic question returned her to the present. A present even harder than my past. “I saw Matthew,” Isabella burst out through chattering lips. “They would not let me speak to him. He did not even know I was behind him.”
     “Ah, that old cruelty.”
     The sympathy in Amice’s warm voice brought Isabella to tears. She shuddered violently as her friend swept the warm, coarse blankets up to her ears.
     “Rest first, then tell me everything.” Amice bustled out into the shop again, closed the shutters and returned to light a brazier. “What did you say to get out of that wretched den?”
     “That my uncle needs herbs.”
     “I have those. I shall give you a bundle when you leave.”
     Isabella closed her eyes for a moment, willing herself not to cry. Away from her reluctant family-by-wedlock and the thunderstorm tension of the household, she felt her constant headache begin to clear. It was marvelous, too, to be safe at Amice's, snug and warm in a low-gabled shop perfumed with spices. She sighed, sitting up with a pillow behind her head as her friend brought her a cup of warmed wine. “Thank you.”
     “None needed.” Amice batted aside her gratitude. “We both know what you did for me. It is my pleasure to help you in return, in any way I can.”
     Isabella knew she meant it. They shared the cup between them, Amice telling of a Flemish merchant in the shop that morning, seeking pepper and saffron. Her black, strong-featured, full-lipped face was animated as she mimicked the accent of the Fleming, kicking her long legs against the wall as she reached the climax of her tale.
     “Paid me a good fistful of gold and unclipped coins for a few threads of saffron and one of my kisses. The man seemed to think I was an Ethiope out of Egypt and said my mouth was a lucky charm. I kissed him once, on the cheek, and did not tell him I come from the back end of Cheapside.”
     She chortled, finished the wine and put her dark, handsome head to one side. “You smell calm again,” she announced. Amice was a believer in the scent of things. “Will you have more wine? I have peppermint to disguise your breath from your mother-in-law.”
     Isabella smiled and shook her head. Reaching inside her gown, beneath the drawstrings Sir William had so roughly parted, she found the three gold rings strung on a cord and handed the rings and ribbon to Amice.
     “Sell or pawn?” Amice asked.
     “Sell,” Isabella said firmly. These rings were the last of her dowry, hidden away by her and forgotten by Sir William, Richard's mother and her parents. “I need a good price.”
     Swiftly she explained why. “I have only weeks to secure this Stephen Fletcher, and through him my son,” she concluded.
     “A harsh undertaking,” Amice remarked. “They are unkind people, your husband’s kin.”
     Isabella could not disagree but, thinking of the seemingly impossible task, she began to feel a coil of hope.
     “The goldsmiths' guild is planning a great spectacle when Prince Edward brings the French king back with him to London. I need to bribe my way into it.”
     “A good place to see and be seen, for sure. And Sir William swore you would have new gowns for this?” Amice held a ring set with a huge square sapphire close to the twisting flames of the brazier and gave a small grunt of satisfaction. “This is fine.”
     “Sir William promises many things, but I find they do not happen.”
     Amice's keen eyes glittered. “Then you are blamed.”
     Isabella shrugged. “I cannot afford to wait to see if he grants me fresh gowns. I have my son to consider.” Matthew! How I wish I could have talked to you today, held you, kept you by me.
     “I will go today, before curfew.” Amice rattled the rings in her palm. “Is any of this work Richard's? Let me avoid questions, if I can.”
     “Have no fear on that score. I have and hold nothing of his.” Which is why his kindred keep Matthew, as the only hold they have over me.
    She flinched as Amice brushed her wrist. “I will bring the money tomorrow,” her friend said.
     “Thank you,” Isabella murmured, wishing she could stay where she was until Amice returned. Knowing she must leave before she was missed in the workshop, she flung back the covers and scrambled to her feet. “I do not know where I will be tomorrow. Sometimes my mother-in-law keeps me at home.”
     “I will find you.”

                                                            ****

     The following day it was raining harder and foggy, a thick gray miasma coating the city roofs and towers. Isabella fretted about Amice having to visit her in this dismal murk, but her mother-in-law found an excuse to dispatch her into it.
     “I have a fancy for oysters and malmsey,” Margery instructed, counting a few pennies into Isabella's hand. “You must go, girl, I can spare no other. Take the spit-boy with you as guide, though you do not really need one, do you? Not with your parents living so close by the docks.”
     “Honored mother.” Knowing Margery would be irritated by that form of address, Isabella followed it up with a bow and stalked out into the pouring rain. She and the spit-boy scowled at each other until the end of the street, marched around a corner, shook hands and parted ways. Nigel was her ally, although both knew he was meant to spy on her for the family. Now they were free for an hour or so and Isabella intended to make full use of the time.
     She called on Amice first, but her friend was also out and Amice’s limping apprentice had no idea where she could be found. Resigned to seeing Amice as God willed it, Isabella drew her molting fur cloak tightly about her shoulders and trod nimbly beneath the dripping jetties.
     She loved being out in the city, part of its vivid heart. She was always excited to be in London, even in the dreadful year of pestilence when Richard had taken Matthew and, with his kin, fled the city for their holding in East Ham. She and the prentices had been left in the workshop and it had been hard. When she did not dread the boils and bloody coughing she feared fire, or looters, but they had all come through—London had not failed her, even then. Now, slipping and sliding through the muddy alleys, avoiding shadowed corners, flicking a small coin to a beggar camped beneath a jetty, she heard a hundred different voices in the fog and a dozen different tongues and knew she was home.
     Matthew should be with me, learning these streets.
     She did not make for the docks. Oyster and wine sellers thronged the city, so she wasted no effort on the wharves where wine barrels were unloaded. She had no desire to encounter her father, although he had lately grown so rich as a vintner that he might not trouble to be out on such a day.
     Reflected in the pallid fog, a moving, closing shadow shimmered against the wattle wall of the house opposite. Frustrated by her small, female state, Isabella hunched into a doorway and waited until the creeping footpad vanished along another narrow lane. Amice stalked these alleys like a warrior but Amice was tall and knew how to fight with a knife. Shorter by half a head and allowed no decent blades, Isabella was constantly reminded of how easily she could be mauled. Had Richard not proved that, night after night?
     Hearing the bells of great Saint Paul's thundering above her, watching the hop-and-skip of folk darting in and out of the rain, she waited until she could make out the raucous calls of the street sellers again. Moving on, she turned off the house-step—straight into the path of a man leading a bay horse and eating a pie.
     “Hold there!”
     The stranger tossed his pie to a shivering urchin and caught Isabella as she slithered back, his grip firm but not cruel. “If you would be a cut-purse, girl, you need to be quieter.” He stared down at her while his horse chewed on a slither of hanging roof-thatch and a water-seller shouldered past them both, muttering curses.
     “Forgive me, sir.” Isabella did not recognize the man but she was keen to be on her way. He was taller than Amice and almost as dark, with a tanned, clean-shaven face and penetrating eyes. Green-gray eyes, she realized with a jolt, as he plucked her off the step and up onto the saddle of his mount with the same ease as she might lift a toddler.
     “Unhand me!”
     “Where are you going?” he asked, ignoring her protest. She began to slide off the back of the glossy bay but he anticipated that move and stopped her simply by catching her foot.
     “Sir!”
     “This is neither the weather nor the place for a decent maid,” he went on, his green-gray eyes sparkling with amusement as she glowered at him. “Let me take you where you need to be.”
     Isabella knew she looked like a servant. “Why would you do that?”
     He grinned and released her foot. “Even beggars deserve kindness now and then. Besides, you did not get those good teeth and fine accents on any midden heap. Now, where should I carry you away to?”
     They were moving, Isabella realized, the horse piling through a vast puddle with the man splashing carelessly alongside. Another moment and they would be within sight of the grand houses and palaces of the river, and, to the north, the goldsmiths' new guildhall, still being built.
     It would not do for him to escort her there with so many wagging tongues eager to take the news to Sir William. If need be, I shall tell my own gossip and, please God, be rewarded for it with a visit to or from my son.
     “Here,” she called, pointing to a small glover's shop tucked around the corner of a crooked alley. “This is my place.”
     The stranger reined in at once. Before Isabella could stir he swept her off his horse and lightly onto the cobbles, nodding to the wide-eyed glover. “I will see you safe within.”
     “There is no need.” Conscious of his height and breadth and easy strength, Isabella felt heat tiding into her face. She prayed she was not blushing. “Thank you for your help, Sir…?”
     He smiled, his eyes still bright with amusement, and answered readily, “Stephen Fletcher, at your service, Mistress Angel.”
     Isabella automatically gasped. The very man I have to win! All calculation deserted her as they stared at each other. What will it be like to be in Stephen’s arms? What will his kisses be like?
     Heedless of the prickling rain, Stephen studied her for a long moment, his eyes narrowing as if he guessed her thoughts. Isabella forced herself to bow her head, her breath threatening to stop as she waited, crucified by his silence. What now? Should I say more, do more?
     She felt a gentle touch, softer than rain, brush against her cheek.
     “I pass this way tomorrow,” he said softly. “I need new gloves.”
     “I shall be here.” Why did I say that? ‘Tis madness to promise anything!
     “Until tomorrow, Mistress Angel.” Stroking another raindrop from her flushed face and raising a hand in farewell, Stephen mounted his bay and cantered off in the direction of the river.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

'One Christmas Knight' Perfect Holiday Reading - OUT TODAY

ONE CHRISTMAS KNIGHT, an anthology of medieval novellas, is now out at Amazon. There are seven wonderful historical romances here, by various authors, all set around Yule and Christmas.

Here's a blurb for each of  the stories, plus the blurb and an excerpt from mine.

DEBORAH MACGILLIVRAY—THE SELKIE’S DAUGHTER

Sir Rhys de Valyer, on his way to Scotland to join his liege, Julian Challon, becomes lost in a blinding snowstorm. But this is only the start of his troubles. In a brutal ambush, he and his men are attacked and left for dead. Rhys only escapes the horrible fate due to his trusted steed, who manages to drag him away from the battle. Fearing death’s approach, he never expects a beautiful snow angel to come to his rescue.
After being cast out by her family for being the bastard child of a Selkie, Annys BrĂ igheach has made her life in the sanctuary of Rowenwood Forest, far away from the world. In spite of her acceptance of the solitary life, her heart still yearns for more. To her surprise, after making a Yuletide wish, she discovers a handsome knight, clinging desperately to his horse, half-frozen with two arrows piercing his body. Her healing skills may save him, but can she reach his heart?
Magic can happen at Yuletide if only you can believe….

KEENA KINCAID—AN UNEXPECTED GIFT

When Meryk the Outlaw finds a badly beaten woman beside the road, he almost rides on. With a price on his head and a winter storm raging, even a short delay could cost him everything. But when he discovers she’s ready to give birth, he takes the risk and vows to protect her.
Ada of Bew doesn’t want the outlaw’s help—much less his protection—but she has no choice. Unable to run any farther and ready to give birth, she must place her faith in this stranger…or die at the hands of the men who want to kill her unborn son.
In the struggle against the cold and would-be kings, Meryk and Ada discover love is the most unexpected gift of all, but will they survive long enough to claim it?

LIVIA J. WASHBURN--KEEPSAKE

Sir Hugh Tarrant returns home from war with a limp from an enemy's sword and a hole in his heart from the death of his beloved. Lady Margaret Dillon is filled with anger at the man she believes deserted her sister. On a stormy Christmas Eve night filled with danger, fate throws them together and makes unexpected allies of them. Will passion ignite as a result...or will they survive to find out?

ANGELA RAINES—LOST KNIGHT

Annalisa has lost everything to her uncle. Taking sanctuary in a convent for safety, she yearns to go back and reclaim her rightful place. When she discovers a seriously wounded man, she realizes that he might be the one who can help her.
Jack wakes up in a convent, wounded and fearing for his own sanity. The last thing he remembers is a firefight in the Middle East, and the pain of being shot. Waking up centuries in the past is not what he expects—but Jack has his own code of honor, and when Annalisa asks for his help, there’s no way he can turn her down.
With the help of Mother Albrade, a nun who has powerful visions and knowledge of the future, Jack and Annalisa begin a journey of discovery and bravery that just might change both their lives—or end them.

C. MARIE BOWEN—HAWTHORN AND MISTLETOE

Cursed by a bitter enchantress in ancient times to wander the earth as an immortal, Jurian Locke is bound by both love and magic to answer his beloved's need in times of danger.
Into each new life, his soulmate is born, unaware she is tied to him by magic, unknowing that a threat to her life will send forth a summons to a man she doesn't know.
Drawn together in dangerous times—his eternal love is her single chance at life. His curse, the only time he can be with the woman who possesses his heart.
Her call reaches him, this time, in 1328 at a Yuletide tournament for King Edward III.

TANYA HANSON—CANTICLE

To save her family’s fortunes, Lady Alisoun must wed an elderly earl the day after Christmas. But in the chapel on Christmas Eve, her heart collides with that of an elegant, mysterious stranger. Is he…one of King John’s spies?
Raised in a monastery, Lord Kitt has no experience with love, but finds his heart lost to a lovely lady. Yet he cannot succumb, for the day after Christmas, he must marry a woman he has never met.

LINDSAY TOWNSEND—SIR BALDWIN AND THE CHRISTMAS GHOSTS

Ambitious and arrogant, the young knight Sir Baldwin returns to his family’s lands and estate at Brigthorpe to face disaster. The pestilence has struck, destroying his parents and all his family save for a young half-brother, Martin, whom Baldwin does not wish to acknowledge because Martin is the bastard child of a serf. Baldwin needs to learn kindness and how to be a lord–and quickly.
Into this hopeless situation comes Sofia, a young woman who can see glimpses of spirits, of the restless dead. These revenants are very restless around Sir Baldwin.
Somehow, Baldwin and Sofia must work together, to make a true Christmas for the survivors of Brigthorpe and the Christmas ghosts. Can they do so in time—or will the gulf of class and custom make any love between them impossible?


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Excerpt from Sir Baldwin and the Christmas Ghosts.


One Christmas Knight


Sir Baldwin and the Christmas Ghosts

Lindsay Townsend



December, North of England, 1369
                                                                                                                    

“I can help you with your ghosts, sir.”
For an instant, no longer than a single beat of his heart, Sir Baldwin of Brigthorpe was too startled to answer. That a stranger had entered the manor and he had not heard any approach was disconcerting, that the said stranger could sense the spirits that accosted him every night was disturbing. Not that he let such unworthy, serf-like feelings show on his face. He was a knight—courage and power were his.
“Sir? Do you wish for my help?”
He would have ignored his own peasants if any had dared to keep questioning him, especially one certain grizzling boy, but courtesy to strangers had been ground into him. Reluctantly, he fashioned some reply. “I do not think anyone can aid me. There are too many ghosts.”
I should not have admitted that. Mother of Almighty God, I must be wearier than I thought.
Scowling, Sir Baldwin swept the last of the rotted floor strewing into the fire-pit in the great hall and watched the stinking mess smoke and slowly burn. His back and shoulders ached worse than after a sword practise but he forced himself to straighten and relax. He had not been physically attacked yet and doubted he would be. There are few left alive to try. The ghosts were another matter. There are so many...

Reminded of his losses afresh, the grief sharp as broken glass within him, Baldwin looked at the dais. A swift glance reassured him that the brat was still asleep on the platform, snuggled down in his own long winter cloak. Last year I would never have given a cotter bastard any of my clothes, even though we are akin. Frowning anew, he flicked the broom from hand to hand and raised his head. “How did you come here?”


Lindsay Townsend