Tuesday, 5 May 2015

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


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

Siren-BookStrand, Inc.

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 23,476

Historical


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.
“Four—”
“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 



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Friday, 10 April 2015

Guest blog - Hannah Fielding: 'Indiscretion'

 Indiscretion is the new novel from award-winning romance novelist Hannah Fielding. Written in Fielding’s signature style, infused with an old-school Hollywood glamour, Indiscretion evokes the drama and passion of 1950s post-war Spain.

1950’s London. Alexandra, a young writer is bored of her suffocating but privileged life amongst the gilded balls and parties of Chelsea. Keen for an adventure, Alexandra travels to Spain to be reunited with her estranged Spanish family on a huge estate in Andalucía.
Arriving in sun-drenched southern Spain for the first time, Alexandra is soon caught up in the wild customs of the region. From bull fighting matadors and the mysterious Gypsy encampments in the grounds of the family’s estate, to the passionate dances of the region and the incredible horsemanship of the local caballeros, Alexandra is instantly seduced by the drama and passion of her new home.
When Alexandra inevitably falls for Salvador, the mercurial heir to her family’s estate and the region’s most eligible man, she finds herself entangled in a web of secrets, lies and indiscretion. Alexandra soon falls prey to scheming members of her own family, the jealousy of a beautiful marquésa and the predatory charms of a toreador, all intent on keeping the two lovers apart.
But nothing can prepare Alexandra for Salvador’s own dangerous liaisons with a dark-eyed Gypsy.
Can Alexandra trust that love will triumph, or will Salvador’s indiscretion be their undoing?


Excerpt

For the week leading up to the masked ball, confusion had reigned on the ground floor at El Pavón. Servants had shifted out furniture, rolled up carpets, prepared tables for the buffet in the dining room, and chandeliers, wall sconces, columns and cornices had been decorated with garlands of bright roses interspersed with jasmine and orange blossom from the garden. As the evening began, and the sweeping strings of ballroom music filled the hacienda, El Pavón seemed transformed into a magical palace.
Although the ball was in full swing as dusk gave way to night, cars were still arriving. They stopped at the foot of the stairs with a rasp of gravel and young drivers in dark-grey suits and caps leapt out to open the doors.
In the garden, an array of colourful lanterns hung from arbours, dangled between fruit trees, encircling the fountains and pools, twinkling with light. While in the great ballroom, overlooking the east-facing gardens, Doña María Dolores’ guests, attired in all sorts of disguises, drank, joked and glided happily on the polished oak dancefloor.
The ballroom was long and rectangular, taking up the entire length of the house. At each end, French doors opened out on to terraces stocked with exotic plants. Down one side, more windows led to the wide green lawn at the side of the hacienda. High mirrors hung between the windows, framed with gilded beading. Supported on marble columns was a gallery with a wrought-iron balustrade where musicians in evening dress were playing romantic dance melodies from tangos to Viennese waltzes.
Alexandra paused on the threshold of the vast room, a trifle overwhelmed by the grand spectacle. All the guests wore masks of velvet, satin or lace, giving them a mysterious air. She watched for a moment as Ondine, Goddess of the Northern Seas, leant against a column, lost in a dream, her head slightly tilted to one side. In her long tunic of turquoise silk sprinkled with iridescent sequins, she appeared to have just risen from the depths of the ocean, her beautiful golden hair draped gracefully about her bare shoulders. A torero in black silk breeches, drawn in at the hips, with a waistcoat brocaded with silk, knee-length stockings and shiny flat shoes, gazed at her. Just as he had decided to approach, another gallant figure, Oreste, bearing his father’s sword in his belt, swooped in first and, bowing deeply before her, drew her on to the dancefloor. They passed a maharani wearing a magnificent sari of dark gold brocade, who was walking towards the veranda arm-in-arm with a American Indian in a headdress of multi-coloured feathers and a jacket of brown suede.
A hand tapped Alexandra’s shoulder. Startled, she turned, almost bumping into a couple of waiters carrying trays laden with appetizing tapas and small glasses of fino sherry. The intruder was a musketeer in a wide soft hat, loose breeches and a leather doublet. A black mask hid his twinkling eyes but she recognized the beaming smile.
‘Well, Cousin,’ he said cheerfully, ‘I didn’t have to search very long to find the most beautiful girl at the ball. I told you I could spot you under any disguise.’
She smiled at Ramón, happy to find a friend in this sea of masked strangers, but it was difficult to concentrate on what he was saying. Her eyes were scouring the dancefloor, eagerly scrutinizing the whirling couples from behind her velvet mask. What, or more precisely who, was she looking for, exactly? After all, she knew nothing of the mysterious Conde, except that he had a deep and seductive voice. Recalling it made her pulse run faster and her knees slightly weak. Could the peculiar episode at Mascaradas have been merely a foolish jest designed to mystify her? Surely Old Jaime would not have taken part in a practical joke? She started with indignation at the idea she might be the victim of some prank. Yet, the more she thought about it, the more that seemed improbable. It would be an expensive joke to play, after all. No, the sheer cost of her beautiful costume had to be proof of the generosity and admiration of her romantic stranger.
As the evening progressed and there was still no sign of the mysterious Conde, Alexandra was forced to admit that she must have been the victim of a practical joke. It was gone eleven o’clock, surely he would have shown up by now if he was going to? Putting aside her disappointment, she told herself it had all been merely a captivating puzzle, one that had fired her romantic imagination and aroused her yearning for adventure, nothing more. At least she had some ideas for her new hero, she reminded herself, and decided to enter fully into the festive spirit, now that she had given up on her elusive stranger.
She didn’t notice the oriental prince, wearing a costume similar in style and colour to her own, observing her quizzically from a far-off corner of the room.
A pierrot in a black-and-white silk suit with a collar of pleated tulle and a bonnet decorated with black pompons asked Alexandra for a dance. She allowed him to move her around the dancefloor, with only half an ear on the eager conversation he was making as she took in the sea of colourful guests. It was almost midnight. Don Felipe was paying court to a shepherdess in a crinoline gown. Further along the room Mercedes, disguised as a bluebell, wearing a crown of tiny blue flowers and a dress with a bodice of green velvet and an organdie skirt, with petals of periwinkle blue, was squabbling with Electra, who was sulking in a corner. Isis and Osiris were discussing something with a pretty redhead in Savoy costume.
Alexandra was once again aware of the pierrot, who drew her closer to him. ‘Soon it will be midnight,’ he whispered into her ear, ‘and the lights will go out—’
‘Excuse me señor, I’ve come to collect my wife,’ interrupted a deep, warm voice. Alexandra smothered a gasp. Her heart gave such a jolt she thought it might leap out of her mouth.
The first notes of a Strauss waltz began. Before she could recover, the stranger swung Alexandra into his arms, holding her so tightly to him she was unable to lift her head to see his face. The blood pounded in her veins. She was conscious of his strong, sinuous length against her and the turmoil of her own body as his warmth soaked into her, adding to the heat welling up inside her like a furnace. Her temple brushed against his jaw; his skin was smooth. He smelled of soap, mint and tobacco, indefinably masculine. As they twirled around the dancefloor, Alexandra was carried away by an overpowering tide that left her light-headed, almost breathless. It was as though she were under a spell, a bewitching charm of the mind and senses that had no place in the dictionary of her experience.
Eventually, the giddy whirlwind ended and they found themselves on the terrace. In contrast to the brightly lit ballroom they had left, it was bathed in an almost unreal, diaphanous light from the moon and the glowing lanterns in the trees. They waltzed in silence for a few more minutes, taking in the melancholy softness of the night.
‘I owe you an apology for stepping in just now but I could see no other way of tearing you away from the arms of your too-forward partner,’ he said, in those same ardent, deep tones that had so haunted Alexandra over the past few days.
She caught her breath, unable to reply immediately and all the while hoping he wasn’t aware of the urgent beating of her heart. He still held on to her firmly and she could only look up at him with a smile. The moon disappeared behind a cloud, shadowing his features.
The stranger was almost a head taller than Alexandra. Under his light cloak she could see that his costume was very much like hers. It was in a similar cloth of pure, ivory-coloured silk, yet less decorated. His head was clad in a plain turban, which entirely concealed his hair. In the wide faja, the silk band that clasped his waist, he had placed a navaja, much like the ones Alexandra had noticed at the station in Puerto de Santa María on the day of her arrival, the difference being his was set with genuine precious stones. His shoulders were broad; his embrace firm and close.
As a shaft of moonlight fell briefly on his face, Alexandra’s heart missed a beat. In spite of the half-shadow and the narrow mask shielding his tanned features, she recognized the stranger she had seen on the seafront and then in the Church of Santa María: the man on the prayer stool who had so deeply disturbed her. So it was the same man after all. One man who now made something inside her thrill deliciously at his nearness.
Somewhere far off, a clock struck midnight. An owl hooted, as if in response. The air was fragrant with the sweet smell of jasmine and orange blossom. Masks fell and shouts of joy burst from all sides under a shower of confetti.
The oriental prince leaned his head forward towards his sultana.
‘Will you allow me, señorita?’ he whispered, his lean fingers with infinite gentleness removing her velvet mask. His gaze delved deeply into her large, glowing green irises, reading the emotion in her upturned face as her body yielded helplessly to his touch. A rush of blood coursed wildly through Alexandra’s veins as his hand once more slipped about her waist, pausing before pulling her against him.


Hannah Fielding bio

Hannah Fielding is an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: writing full time at her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breath-taking views of the Mediterranean.
To date, Hannah has published three novels: Burning Embers, ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’, set in Kenya, 1970; the award-winning Echoes of Love, ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’ set in turn-of-the-millennium Italy; and Indiscretion, her fieriest novel yet, set in 1950s Spain.

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Bride for a Champion - Lindsay Townsend - New Excerpt

Here is a new excerpt from my medieval novella, Bride for a Champion. In it, Simon and Alice are
talking in the garden, wondering how to find and recover Alice's younger sister Henrietta, who is missing.


Still kneeling back on her heels, Alice punched the grass. “Exactly!”

Though her words and gesture were brave, he saw her tremble slightly. “Have you heard any word of your sister since Henrietta’s last letter?”

She nodded. “A man came from the king last month, with a scribe, to consider adding my name to a list of heiresses. At least, he said he was from the king,” she added doubtfully.

Simon felt a chill of suspicion. “Go on.”

“He mentioned my sister, said he had seen her at Christmas at the court of the old queen. I asked him about Edward.”

“You asked, rather than your father?”

She flushed and stared at a daisy to avoid looking at him. “Father would not speak of Henrietta. He said she was dead to him. I spoke to the herald alone.”

There was a tense silence between them, filled by the droning of a bumblebee. Staggered by what she had just admitted, Simon wondered what he would have done, had he been in her place. For Henry Martinswood to cast Henrietta aside was more than harsh, it was cruel.

After a moment, Alice sighed and went on. “The king’s man, if he was such, claimed he knew nothing of any Edward, but he half-smiled as he said it. I think he does know more, but he left the same day. A small, stocky man, with a smiling mouth and mean eyes. Sir Bohemond de Lyonesse.”

“That name I recognize, even from Constantinople!” Simon cracked his fists together, a sudden fizz of excitement coursing through his veins. “All Bohemonds are ambitious and he is no different, but soft as a copper spoon. King’s man or not, he will hang around the royal court still as such men always do. I will find him, persuade him to say more. I know de Lyonesse’s haunts of old, where he will have gone to ground.”

Her face began to drain of color again as she lifted her head to face him. “Do you think this Edward and Bohemond somehow acted together?”

“I have a name and a man to go after, which is all that matters.” Simon spoke heartily, although he suspected she might be right. Still, he did not want to alarm her any more, since she was already as pale as parchment. He changed the subject slightly.

“You say King John has a list of heiresses?”

“The king takes great notice of any wards or heiresses who might come into his care if or when their parents are dead.”

He looked at her still, wary face, guessed she disliked the King’s obsession, but dismissed it from his mind. No matter, since we are to be wed.

“Why not appeal to the king to find your sister?”

She gave an energetic shake of her head. “I think his terms would be too high. Besides—”

“You hope to avoid scandal and discover her first.”

Alice stared at the daisy again. “Of course.”

“And yet you see a man like Bohemond de Lyonesse alone, unattended, after all that has happened?”
He had been thinking of Greek maids, closely sequestered, that was the trouble, and he spoke again without thought. The instant the words were out he regretted them, but it was too late.

“No!” She was already on her feet, spitting her denial. “You gull me into a confidence, into speaking with you freely and then you scold! That is unfair!”

As Alice spoke she was moving, but so was he. When she stumbled at the very start of her headlong dash back up the garden, he caught her, clutching her tight. He was afraid for an instant that she would fall flat on her face in her haste to escape him.

She squirmed in his grip, as fast and furious as an angry falcon bobbing and bating on a hunter’s wrist, struggling with its jesses. “Release me, raptor!”

The insult burned him—he who had seen so many women raped and murdered at the fall of Constantinople and been unable to save them. “I am none such,” he began, through gritted teeth, breaking off as he felt her attempting to unwind his fingers off her waist.

Almost as if she sensed his attention she stopped at once and looked straight into his face, her eyes as bright as eastern jade. “If you were a true gentleman, you would let me go.”

“I am a mercenary.”

Without a flicker, she returned, “As a Christian, you should not treat me so rudely.”

What did she know of what one Christian might do to another? But he would not back down. If he was to marry this salamander then she must learn, and the lesson would begin now, whether he stank of horse or not.

He tightened his grip around her narrow waist, crossing his hands in the small of her back. As he inhaled her lavender scent and felt her lissome body mold against his, he was dimly aware of her standing up on her tip-toes. Before he realized what she was about, she had kissed him first.

He was so startled by the sudden tender sweetness of her mouth that he sighed, bringing a hand up now to smooth a tendril of her hair away from her sun-warmed cheek. She tasted of sugar cone and honey and, he fancied, cherries, although that might only be wishful thinking.

Her kiss went on, slow and sure, an instant of gentleness when he had known few such moments in his life, glowing in his mind like a rare flower or book. Her eyes were closed as she gave herself in her kiss and he closed his eyes, too, relishing the contact where their breaths mingled and their lips touched and touched and touched…

“Women can also kiss,” she murmured.

“I know.” He enjoyed the quiver her mouth made against his as they conversed in this unusual fashion. “Is this because you like me, or because you wish to be first?”

He felt rather than heard her laugh. “Too late for you to discover,” she teased. She started to step back, float off like a scrap of thistledown, but he was a fighter with a warrior’s swiftness and reactions and he gathered her back before she was gone. “I do not think so,” he answered, and he kissed her again.

* * * *

Alice fought herself. She strove to remember her sister, to escape from this heady world of sensation, where she felt higher than the clouds. She had anticipated Simon’s kiss and intercepted it, bested it, but now she was losing. He had trapped her when she had expected to escape. Time and the world had stopped for her while she hung in his arms.

Foolish! Her mind raged, but how could she have known? She had never kissed a man before, not as couples kiss.

His tanned nose bumped lightly against hers and she felt him smile. Simon had not kissed often before, she sensed that and was pleased, but she had no chance to consider why that should be so, because his kiss deepened.

His mouth and tongue eased her mouth apart, feathering and caressing the tender, sensitive insides of her lips. He smelled of horses and dust, from travel, and his own musk and warm leather—a scent she would now recognize forever as his. His big, sword-callused palms were flat across her back, hugging and holding, but not presuming, not fingering lower. He respects me, she thought, bringing her arms about his middle, her breath stopping as he lifted her right off her feet.

“Sir, a messenger for you! Sir?”

Simon growled something in Greek, his grip tightening on her a moment before he set her back lightly on the path. “More later, eh?” he murmured, touching her shoulder. Then he bowed, turned and ran back toward the steps and the tanned blond messenger, calling, “What news, Alexios?”

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Guest Blog - Sharon Black: 'Going Against Type'

BLURB:

Some would say Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Regan has it all. Beautiful, smart, athletic and a great job working as a journalist – in the almost exclusively male sports department. But Charlotte is not quite as sure as she seems. Recently split from her overbearing boyfriend, she escapes for weekends, surfing in the Atlantic, and spends her free nights watching sports, roaring at the TV.

Derry Cullinane is a fashion writer, gossip columnist and sophisticated man-about-town. The go-to guy for any woman seeking expert advice on what fabulous outfit to wear for any given occasion. He’s also tall, dark, good looking – and straight! So what’s the snag? He has a track record of dating glamorous, vain and shallow women.
Charlie gets an opportunity to write a new column under the pen name Side Swipe, but is soon drawn into a war of words and wit with a rival paper’s columnist The Squire – and their verbal fireworks get readers and editors talking. Yet neither Charlie nor Derry knows just whom the opponent is...

When Charlotte and Derry meet at the Races, the attraction is instant. As their relationship develops, so much more proves at stake, than protecting their alter egos. But a blunder puts Charlotte’s job in jeopardy just as Derry’s past makes front page, and Charlotte begins to doubt her feelings.

When Side Swipe and The Squire are finally forced to reveal themselves, will they revert to type – or confound everyone’s expectations?

#GoingAgainstType

Amazon.com: http://ow.ly/Dmcqs http://amzn.to/1yqt0l5
Tirgearr Publishing: http://tirpub.com/gatype http://amzn.to/1zjr0fT  



EXCERPT:


‘You look great,’ Helen said.
‘You sure? I was just going to wear those black jeans. Thing is, I distinctly gave Derry the impression that I enjoyed fashion.’
‘Well, maybe if he’d given you a little more notice!’
‘Oh Helen, don’t start. He explained he got the tickets late and wasn’t pressuring me...’
‘Hmm, well so long as he’s not playing games. Don’t let him away with that.’
Charlotte rolled her eyes.
‘I'm serious,’ Helen said, ‘there’s a reason he’s in his mid-thirties and not in a long term relationship. Don’t let him mess you about.’
‘Relax, there’s no danger of that,’ Charlotte laughed. ‘I need a bit of fun in my life at the moment. I've no intention of falling heavily for this guy.’
Helen winked.
‘So you’re just using him for sex!’
‘Helen!’ Charlotte started to laugh. They both jumped when the doorbell rang.
‘I’ll get it,’ Helen offered, ‘you don’t want to look too eager!’
Charlotte started to hiccup.
‘Oh my God, Helen! Have you been learning off The Rules?’
‘If I’d been doing that, I’d have sorted my own love life out by now! Helen left Charlotte’s bedroom door open and a few moments later, she heard Derry’s deep voice in the hall, and Helen laughing.
She came downstairs. Derry stood in the hall, casually elegant in a dark suit and tailored shirt. He smiled broadly.
‘You look beautiful.’
Charlotte hiccupped loudly. Derry raised an amused eyebrow.
‘Um, sorry, I’m sure they’ll stop in a minute.’ Charlotte flushed. Okay Charlotte, stay calm. It’s only a second date. Derry escorted her to his car and opened the passenger door.
‘Have you seen this play before?’ Derry asked as he slid in behind the wheel.
‘No. Actually, I haven’t been to the theatre in ages,’ Charlotte confessed. ‘Sports journalist, remember? A hooligan who can spell.’