Friday, December 19, 2008

The Religion by Tim Willocks

I discovered Tim Willocks' The Religion on a bored afternoon, and I'm glad I did. Published in 2006, this is easily one of the most engrossing historical fiction works that I've read. The subject is weighty, the writing dense at times, testosterone infusing every page but it's a superb story that I highly recommend. The Religion has been promoted as book one of a trilogy. I'm eagerly awaiting information on a sequel.

The author introduces Matthias, byname Tannhauser, when he's hard at work on a dagger in his father's forge, only to baptize that dagger in the blood of men who slaughter his sisters, and then murder and rape his mother. The men are Ottoman Turks, and among their leaders is Abbas who adopts Matthias under the name of Ibrahim. The boy embarks on a twenty-year sojourn among the Turks, rising among the ranks of the Janissaries, elite guards of the Ottoman Sultan. Matthias embraces Turkish ways until he's commanded to murder the Sultan's grandchild.

Carla Manduca is a Maltese noblewoman by birth, desperate to return to her homeland in search of the bastard son she bore to a clergyman at fifteen. Unfortunately, the Turks have chosen to seize Malta. The island is home to twenty thousand, among them the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John, known as the Knights Hospitaller or more commonly as the Religion. The Hospitallers have been at war with Turks since the Crusades and lost Rhodes forty years before the siege at Malta begins. In command of the knights is Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, who owes his allegiance to Pope Pius IV in Rome. The Pope's representative in Malta is Ludovico Ludivici, who has two aims in life; to control the Hospitallers and prevent Carla Manduca from returning to Malta to retrieve their lost son.

Despite the danger, Carla intends to find her child and she enlists the Hospitallers' help. Through their contacts, help arrives in the form of Matthias Tannhauser, now a trader and mercenary. He agrees to help the beautiful Carla find her boy, whose name she does not know and whom she has not seen since his birth twelve years before. Provided the noblewoman will marry him to provide Matthias with a title. Their business arrangement concluded, the pair arrives in Malta in the company of Bors, a brute who’s been Matthias' friend for ages, and Amparo, a Spanish foundling who intrigues Matthias as much as Carla does. His attraction for Carla and their arrangement doesn't interfere with his seduction of her friend Amparo.

When he's not in bed with Amparo, Matthias aids the Hospitallers in their defense of Malta given his knowledge of Turkish tactics, while Carla works through her jealousy by giving care to the wounded of Malta. Amparo meets a young Maltese boy, Orlandu, who's inspired by the heroics Matthias displays in battle. The boy enlists himself in the army just as everyone comes to the realization that he is the son Carla's been looking for. Matthias goes after him, only to be captured by the Turks. He reunites with his foster father Abbas and learns about the Turkish strategy. He also finds Orlandu in the camp and teaches him how to survive. Recovered from his injuries, he returns to his friends, with a promise to Orlandu that he will save him.

Ludovico Ludivici arrives in Malta with a bold plan to accomplish his mission among the Hospitallers. He enrolls as a knight but finds his religious devotion tempted by a reunion with Carla. In his warped understanding, the past can be undone and they can have a future with their son. If only he could just get rid of Matthias Tannhauser. Matthias believes the Hospitallers cannot survive much longer and attempts to flee Malta with Bors, Carla and Amparo but Ludovico captures them. There are painful losses to follow and a surprising final confrontation between Matthias and Ludovico, leading to a satisfying, if somewhat predictable conclusion.

Willock's background as a screenwriter shows in his visceral scenes. This work belongs on the big screen. There's lots of blood, gore and guts; one detraction from the story was that each time danger appeared, everyone's standard reaction seemed to revolve around their insides. It's repeated many times to the point of being overdone. Some of the story does require a little stretch of the imagination, especially when a battle-worn Matthias still finds enough energy for vigorous lovemaking with Amparo, or how easily he scuttles between the Turkish and Christian camps. A few paragraphs are dense and there's a temptation to skip through certain scenes. But that would result in missing some of the great themes of the book; absolution and redemption, forgiveness and courage and most of all, how love and bonds of fellowship can transcend the worst times. The reader cannot fail to connect with Amparo, who's never known love until Carla and Matthias entered her life, or Carla and Brother Ludovico's forbidden passion, or the shadows that haunt Matthias and drive him to absolve the past. There's rich historical detail, in battle scenes, medical information and the politics between the Hospitallers and the Papacy, that's sure to satisfy readers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interview With Helena Woulfe

Today, Our Historical Novel Reviewer Lisa, is interviewing Helena Woulfe Palmer, the main character of Anita's Davison's 17th Century novels Duking Days Rebellion and Duking Days Revolution.

1. Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule as a wife and mother of three small boys. What is life like for a seventeenth century wife and mother?

When Guy and I first married, we lived in a tall, narrow house in King Street near Whitehall Palace. I had only three servants and with the constant dirt London generates, it was hard work. I had to go to the market early each day to buy fresh food and have you tried cleaning a house by throwing sand and water on a hardboard floor, then scrubbing the stuff away again by hand? Well that’s what I had to do every Saturday.
Living at Palmer House is much easier as we have a houseful of servants, but in some ways, I miss those early days in King Street. Life was simpler then.

2. What is your happiest memory from your youth in Exeter?

My childhood was idyllic. Cromwell’s Commonwealth was a distant memory my parents told us stories about. My grandfather, Thomas Woulfe, was a Parliamentarian and he worked hard to become one of Charles II’s closest friends. My father, Sir Jonathan Woulfe, didn’t have to worry about politics and spent his time building up the estate, which made what happened to him so ironic. Exeter is a city made prosperous from wool production and we were one of the leading families, so I was treated like royalty in my home city.

3. Your father and brother joined in the Duke of Monmouth’s Rebellion. What was it like as a daughter and sister watching them both ride away from your home at Loxsbeare?

Horrible. I didn’t want them to go and couldn’t understand why they risked everything just to keep a Protestant King on the throne instead of a Catholic one? What possible difference could it have made to us in the West Country? However, I didn’t dare say any of this aloud, Father would have been furious that I dared challenge his decisions, or suggested his principals were reckless. I still think they should have stayed in Exeter.

4. After the events of Sedgemoor, you rallied to go off and find your family. Would you compare your actions to your father’s strong-willed determination or your mother’s spiritedness?

It was frustration which drove me to do something. The alternative would have been to wait for news brought by rumour and hysteria. The newssheets were too slow and after a month of waiting I had had enough. Without Father and Uncle Edmund? who was there to forbid me? Mother was a nervous wreck and I have always been able to get Henry to do what I want. I’m ashamed to say I was annoyed with Mother too, and angry with her fearful terror. With Father gone, she just fell to pieces. Then the only time she did show some spirit, she was killed by one of the King's troopers.

5. What were your thoughts upon first entering London, where you lived with the Devereaux family for a time?

It was noisy, smelly, claustrophobic and terrifying – but I loved it on sight. Once I saw that Lambtons was a luxurious chophouse and not a mean little tavern with rush floors and stinking of ale, I loved it. Adella Devereux was a true mother to me and taught me so much about life.

6. And that’s where you met William Devereaux? First impressions of him?

William was as handsome as the Duke Of Monmouth, daring and bounded into my life like a charming cavalier. Everyone loved him, and I flattered myself he noticed me too. He left me breathless and each moment I spent with him I longed for the next. But I was serious and loaded down with sadness after the Rebellion and I had Henry to worry about. How could I have handed over my future happiness to a womanizing, gambling rake? Not that he even asked me, but I had certain hopes there for a while.

7. Even in those happy times in London, what did you assume about the final fate of your brother and father?

For over a year, I used to dream about both of them. Sometimes they were together and running from King James’ soldiers and I would wake up shaking with fear as they were about to be caught.
At others I saw them lying dead in a field and bundled into the mass grave near Weston with all those other rebels, with no prayers or markers to their graves. The there were the dreams where Father would ride off over a hill and Aaron would run in another direction and I was left, alone, wondering which one I should follow and frozen with indecision. For a long time I was always asking myself what father would have said if he was there, before I made a decision, but I enjoyed deciding things for myself. In my head I never really knew if they were alive or dead.

8. Before you met your first husband, Guy Palmer, what were your thoughts on marriage?

My family had arranged my betrothal to lord Blanden’s son, Martyn when I was sixteen. I didn’t think much about it and I certainly never thought to refuse. I had grown up with Martyn and knew him well. A handsome boy, he always treated me with respect. I was aware from the beginning that it was a marriage arranged to merge Blandon lands with the Woulfes. That’s what marriages in our circle were for.
Between you and me though, I was relieved when Martyn died. It confused me at the time because I enjoyed all the attention of the betrothal and we received some lovely gifts. I felt guilty though because I didn’t want him to die, but it meant I didn’t have to get married that year.

9. The birth of your twin boys must have been a surprise. Did you feel a closer connection or better understanding of your own mother when you became a parent?
To be honest, I was never quite sure how such things came about. I mean, I know what I was supposed to do as a wife, we had sheep at Loxsbeare so I knew the basics. But, well when it happened to me, I was quite shocked – and the pain! It didn’t help that I gave birth on the parlour floor during a riot in the street, but even so! Perhaps that was why it took me a while to grow to love them. Adella Devereaux didn’t think me strange, she said it was sensible not to get too attached straight away in case the babies died. Besides, I love them now, so I suppose it makes little difference.
But it made me realize how much sorrow my mother suffered having lost all those babies. How awful to have gone through all that and had empty arms at the end. I was never able to tell her I understood though.

10. Although you settled and married, you learned of your brother Aaron’s fate. What were your hopes and fears when you knew he was alive?

At first, I was nervous that Aaron would assume Father’s role and tell me what to do. He might have seen Lambtons as unsuitable, and as the head of the house, he could insist I left and I would have had no choice but to obey. Then when he wrote and said he wasn’t coming back, but would staying The Hague to plot with the Prince of Orange, I was furious he had abandoned Henry and me. He was all we had left, he should have come home to take care of us - hadn’t chasing after his precious Duke caused enough unhappiness. Hadn’t plotting against the king taught him anything?
I had also grown accustomed to my independence and wasn’t going to let Aaron walk in and spoil it. So I accepted Guy Palmer’s proposal and dared him to order a married woman about. I was hurt he hadn’t come home after the general pardon, when there was no danger. I had all these conversations in my head giving him a piece of my mind, but when he walked in that day, I forgot it all in my happiness to have my big brother home.

11. Your husband made a fortune in his business. Did the comforts of London erase the specter of Sedgemoor for you?

The first few years of my marriage helped do that. Having a home of my own and a husband who adored me helped the bad dreams go away and I felt safe again. Guy provided well for us, but then he became obsessed with trying to prove he was good enough for me and he wouldn’t stop. He opened two more shops and became obsessed with this bank idea, which took him away from home a lot.
I’m afraid Palmer House was the last straw. I mean, the name itself must tell you how self important Guy had become. If the Rebellion hadn’t happened, I would have been as thrilled by it too, and become one of those women who only cared what she could show off to others and whom she knew.
But I stopped caring. I just wanted to be loved and be safe, I wanted my brother home and to find out what had happened to Father, alive or dead. So none of those things, really mattered to me and Guy was frustrated by it. Perhaps that’s why he did what he did, who knows?
Oh I enjoyed being wealthy again of course, what woman wouldn’t, but I would have been happy to stay in King Street and change the draperies every few years and have a jewel for Yuletide, not one a week. I couldn’t tell Guy that, it would have hurt his pride and he would never have understood.

12. Your brother Henry also proved prosperous in London. What do you think your parents might have made of each of their children’s choices?

If the Rebellion hadn’t happened, Henry would never have met Sir Christopher Wren and become an architect. He would have stayed at home and managed the fulling business for Father and probably had a house of his own in Exeter and got married to a local girl, probably a sheep farmer’s daughter or a city elder. So in a way, what we went through was the making of Henry. He made his own choices and he’s doing exactly what he wants to do. I’m very happy for him.
If Father had come home, there may have been a few heated rows with him demanding Henry come home and Henry refusing. Or as a second son he may have let him live his own life and been proud – who can really know? What would Mother have thought? I doubt she would have been asked.

13. So, William Devereaux, the love of your life. What was most unexpected about William in his later years, compared to the young man you first met?

At the back of my mind, I always assumed William would marry the kind of woman I didn’t want to be. Beautiful, but empty headed, socially perfect and obsessed with jewels, gowns, masques and getting as close to the Royal Court as she could.
I was surprised at what a considerate, loving man he became. We grew close after I had the boys and he would sit with me and tell me about the Royal Society. And so handsome, always breathtakingly handsome.
When Guy and I began to drift apart, I dreaded William finding someone else, but when he said he’d waited until I was ready for him, I knew we were destined to be together.

14. What traits do you like best about each of your brothers?

Aaron is so like William, with his extravagant good looks all women are drawn to. Roguish and outrageous but not malicious. Everyone forgives Aaron because he is so loveable and has a capacity for fun that makes life so much more interesting than soberness and good works. William treats all the women in his life as if they were princesses and when I am with him, I feel beautiful and loved. Aaron would be the same should he find a woman to devote himself to.
Henry is more serious, but he respects women in a way which is unusual and although Aaron laughs at him for being faithful to Mary Anne, his devotion doesn’t surprise me at all. I have always been able to trust him and tell him my secrets. He knew about baby Charles for instance before anyone else knew, and he never betrayed my secret.

15. If there were a motto or phrase that sums up your life, what would it be?

What will be, will be. You cannot plan what happens in your life, you can only live it.

Thanks again for speaking with us.
You are most welcome.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Duking Days Revolution

Excerpt 2 - Chapter Six
Helena groped for Chloe’s arm. “I...cannot...have...this...”
“I don’t think you have a choice, Mistress,” Chloe whispered.
Love appeared with what appeared to be the best linen bed sheets in her arms. Helena’s brain screamed, “No, not those!” but her protest tailed off into a moan of despair as the pain returned. Love arranged the soft lengths of expensive cloth around her and Chloe thrust something firm behind her that eased the pressure on her back. In a brief, painless interval, Helena glanced over one shoulder, recognizing the cushions from her finest settle, but no one seemed to register her annoyance. In the next second, her mind quickly emptied of sheets and cushions when a particularly fierce grinding left her whimpering in distress.
Chloe’s face loomed above her. “Is it bad then, Mistress?”
“Don’t ask stupid questions,” Helena growled through gritted teeth, dimly aware of Glover hovering at the door.
“This baby will be here in no time at all,” Chloe told him cheerfully.
Helena opened her mouth to correct her, but the words stayed in her throat and her back threatened to snap her body in two. It was all she could do not to scream. Then the realization dawned. She really was going to give birth now.
“Chloe,” she whimpered. “It is not supposed to happen like this.”
“I’m sorry, Mistress. But the babe decides, not you.”
Her thoughts drifted to the prepared chamber upstairs, to Celia and Amy, who waited for her summons to be her gossips. “What about the midwife?” she groaned.
From the corner of her eye, Helena saw Glover shake his head. “We will never get her through this,” he murmured. To confirm his words, more clamoring came from the street.
“We have to try.” Chloe pointed to the houseboy who peered round the doorjamb. “Send Jeb. He can go the back way.”
Glover disappeared again and the fierce cramps eased. By this time, Helena knew it to be only a temporary respite to prepare for the next onslaught. She brushed a tendril of damp hair from her forehead, wriggling into what she hoped was a more comfortable position but it proved to be merely a less uncomfortable one. Glover reappeared at the same moment another pain hit her and instinctively, she drew her knees up to her chest.
“Not yet, Mistress,” Chloe scrambled to her feet, pressing her skinny hands against Glover’s chest to push him back into the hall.
The sight of the diminutive Chloe manhandling Glover out of the room brought the absurdity of Helena’s situation into sharp relief. Who could imagine she would be lying on the floor of her own parlor, fully clothed and in the worst pain she had ever experienced; her swollen abdomen bobbing in front of her, and a mob rioting out on the cobbles. She couldn’t decide what terrified her more, what was happening inside the house, or the threat gathering force in the street.
Glover returned with the second houseboy, carrying a sheet of thin wood between them. Chloe gave an affronted squeal and held up a bed sheet to conceal her mistress, but Glover barely glanced at either of them.
“It’s in case the mob breaks the window, Mistress.” Glover kept his face averted while they fastened it to the frame; the hammering adding more discordant noise to the general chaos.
With the glow of the fire outside blocked out, the parlor was plunged into almost complete darkness. Helena felt the room closing in around her, relieved when a kitchen maid appeared with more lit candles, followed by the houseboy carrying a bowl of water. And a knife.
Helena moaned — in fear this time and fell into uncontrolled shaking. Could this really be happening? The binding in her back began again and she surrendered herself to it, defeated. Hot tears trickled down her face. Where was Guy? Where was Adella? I wish my mother were here. She choked back a sob. Mother wouldn’t let it hurt this much.
At the peak of each pain, Helena became convinced her whole body lifted clear of the floor. When it faded away, she flopped back down again, breathless. The relief lasted such a short time before the familiar pull and grind heralded another. Her body took on a will of its own, the pains assaulting her body with terrifying regularity. How long had she lain there?
Glass shattered upstairs. Something hit the window behind the sheet of wood, shaking the frame. Love screamed and threw herself on the floor. Lifting a hand, she stared at a trickle of blood running down her wrist. “I’ve hurt myself, Mistress,” she whined.
Chloe sniggered, and Helena glared Love into silence.
The acrid smell of smoke reached Helena’s nostrils, a thin grey plume insinuating itself between the wood and the window frame. The fire was getting closer. From a long way off, Helena heard the slam of a door, followed by light footsteps. Jeb’s face appeared round the doorjamb.
The boy had been running, his scrawny chest heaved and his eyes popped. “The midwife wasn’t there, sir,” he gasped, breathless.
Glover hurried the boy away and Helena’s groan this time was from disappointment.
Chloe knelt on the floor beside her. “Well, Mistress. You will just have to make do with me.” The maid cut off her objection with a laugh. “I’m the eldest of twelve. I delivered my mother’s eighth, ninth and the eleventh with no help at all.” She massaged Helena’s shoulders with strong fingers. “The tenth, she birthed in the lower meadow during harvest, me sister helped that time.”
“And the twelfth?” Helena whispered between pains. Chloe had never spoken of her family before, but then Helena had never enquired. She felt a pang of something akin to shame.
“Oh, I was long gone afore then. Not enough room in their tiny cottage for me. Nor much food neither.” Her voice held no bitterness, and for a moment, mistress and maid exchanged a silent look of understanding.
The next pain seemed to last longer than the others. When a wet cloth was slapped on her brow, Helena threw it off, irritated. It was too wet and much too heavy. Agony twisted her back again and she tried not to cry out.
“You have to push now, Mistress.” Chloe’s voice penetrated the fog in her head.
“It is not enough, push harder.”
“How dare you take that tone with me,” Helena snapped, frustrated that her voice held little conviction.
“I’ll go without tea for a week in punishment.” Chloe grasped her hand, squeezing, hard. “But you must push.”
Helena alternated between furious snarls and child like whimpering while Chloe and Love cajoled her. Helena slumped back on the cushions, her bottom lip jutted forward to blow air upward into her face. Why wouldn’t they listen? I cannot push harder. What was the matter with everyone?
A spark of rebellion ignited in her head. “To the devil with all of them then. I cannot, will not, do this any more. They will just have to find another way to bring this child into the world. It is too hard. It hurts too much. I’m exhausted and have had enough.”
A cool hand smoothed back her hair. “I know, Mistress,” Chloe whispered, and Helena realized she had spoken aloud. “But you are nearly there. Another push or two and it will be over.”
The candles on the tabletops glowed brighter and swirled. The abyss opened and a red mist filled her head. The room and its occupants faded away and the noise from the street became a distant roar. All that existed was the pain, wrapping itself around her body and leaving her limp and helpless.
With quiet detachment, she realised that she must be dying, and if it were true, she welcomed it. The thought of sliding into blissful oblivion beckoned her like an embrace.
Before the darkness closed in, something inside her broke away, and in a rush of warm wetness she released her breath in a low moan. Helena flopped back against the cushions, exhausted. Not dying then, but suddenly light-headed with relief. The pain had stopped.
Chloe fumbled between Helena’s knees, ordering Love to hand her the knife. She whisked something very bloody away, but Helena couldn’t summon the strength to ask questions. Cool towels wiped her clammy skin, and she imagined she was floating.
Then her eyes snapped open. The low, pull and grind had begun again. “…was...over.”
Love Hatchet’s high-pitched squeal broke into her muddled thoughts. “There’s another one.”
What was the idiot girl saying? Helena drew a deep breath to voice her contempt, but the desire to push overwhelmed her. She strained. The same warm wetness flowed again. Chloe lifted something from her, pushing back her hair with an inner elbow. Helena caught sight of the blood on her hands and squeezed her eyes shut.
“Mistress.” Chloe leaned over her. “It’s twins. Boys. Look!”
Helena couldn’t look, nor could she make sense of it. But at last the pain had really stopped. It was all that mattered. Euphoria filled her head and she relaxed back against the cushions with a sigh. “You may all go,” she murmured. “I wish to sleep.”
A gruff, male voice broke through her lethargy, growling close to her ear. “Mistress, you must get up.” Could it be Glover? Surely not. Get up? Was the man mad? Then he asked Chloe, “Is the birth complete?”
“We have to clean her up, Jim. And dispose of…that.” She pointed to the bloody package in which Chloe had wrapped the afterbirth. Bertha returned with another leather bucket of hot water and Chloe applied warm cloths to Helena’s thighs and belly. It felt wonderful.
“Thank you, Chloe,” Helena whispered. “Perhaps you could help me upstairs into my-”
Before she could finish, Glover gripped her arm, hard. “Forgive me, Mistress. But you must move. Now!”
Helena opened her mouth to protest, but he hauled her to her feet, hooking his shoulder into her armpit to half carry, half drag her into the hall. He was surprisingly strong for a slight man. Even had she the energy, Helena could not have resisted. Her nether regions felt damp and sore, her legs shaky, yet she amazed herself at her own mobility.
A rapid hammering on the front door made everyone jump. Glover reached forward to open it with his other arm. On the doorstep was one of Robert Devereux’s grooms.
“We cannot get any closer, sir.” The man’s terrified eyes roved over Helena. “The lady will have to walk to the carriage.”
“Another man telling me what to do,” Helena muttered, peering past him into the street. It was full dark now and the night seemed even blacker in contrast to the red and orange glow of the Fisher house in full flame. The fiery tongues spewed smoke and sparks upwards through a gaping roof.
The coach was on the other side of the mob, the driver grim-faced in an effort to hold the animals steady. Horses hate fire, and with flakes of lit ash falling on their manes, their eyes rolled back in preparation for flight. They wouldn’t stay there much longer.
With a sudden burst of courage, Helena gripped Chloe’s arm. “Keep close to me, and cover the babies’ heads.”
Chloe obeyed without a murmur, fastened a wrapping round one bundle and gathered Love behind her clutching the other.
A wave of weakness overcame her and Helena stumbled on the bottom step.
“Mistress, allow me.” Glover swept her into muscular arms and set off toward the coach. The crowd, heedless of burning debris raining down on them, waved sticks impaled with oranges, shrieking at the burning edifice opposite.
A sudden explosion came from inside the house as they passed, prompting a maniacal scream, followed by abusive laughter. Helena took in the jumble of faces, twisted with hate and the glow of reflected flames.
The fire licked the roof tiles of the house next door, where an orange glow flickered behind a top window. Helena hoped the Anglican bookseller who lived there had managed to escape.
A heavyset man in a torn coat leered at them, screaming, ‘No Popery!’ However no one in the foul-smelling crowd attempted to attack them, or even bar their way.
“Probably because I must look demented,” Helena mumbled.
Once in the coach, she glanced down at her skirt, lifting her hands away from the stains with distaste. “I shan’t wear this again,” she muttered to no one in particular.
“Hurry,” the wide-eyed groom urged the maids, who clambered in after her. The coach lurched away almost before the doors closed.
Helena braced herself against the frame as they took a corner. The sounds of the mob receded and she offered a silent prayer that Guy would come home safely; that her house would survive and the mob would run out of anger, or fuel, or both.
She hoped Henry was safe, then the figures of Celia and Ralf, then Patrick, Amy and their children swam in front of her. She sank back into the padded seat in tearful dismay.
Chloe held a bundle out toward her. “Look, Mistress.”
Helena reached out a shaky hand to lift the wrapper from a tiny, fuzz-covered head. “He’s so small,” she whispered in awe. The carriage bumped and swayed, the tang of smoke drifted in from outside and discordant shouts came from the street, but Helen’s entire attention was focused on the tiny form in Chloe’s arms.
“Well go on. Let the Mistress see her other boy.” Chloe snapped at Love huddled wide-eyed and shaking on the seat opposite.

Duking Days Revolution

Anita Davison takes us back to 17th century England in her second novel, Duking Days Rebellion. Married to prosperous Guy Palmer and the mother of twin sons, Helena Woulfe Palmer unravels the secrets of her family's past and finds an unexpected future.

In the wake of the failed rebellion against Catholic King James II's rule, Helena has settled into a comfortable London life but the mystery of her father and brother's fates haunt her. Worse, the betrayer of her family still lives in her ancestral home at Loxsbeare. Her brother Henry enjoys success in his apprenticeship to an architect, but suffers his own unhappiness for loving a woman who is trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage. Tobias, a longtime family servant revealed to be Helena's illegitimate half-brother, fares no better.

Familial concerns are influenced by the turbulent politics of the time, when the king's actions test the loyalty of his subjects. He fathers a son, likely to be the next Catholic ruler of England, while his daughter Mary who is Protestant lives in the Netherlands with her husband Prince William of Orange. There are rumblings of anti-Catholic sentiment and the Dutch invade, spurring the king to flight. The new monarchs arrive to claim their throne, and accompanying them, Helena's long-lost elder brother Aaron.

Her shock at his return is mixed with resentment but when Aaron shares the details of his fate after the battle of Sedgemoor, Helena is moved to forgiveness. Though their father's missing, his final fate unknown,the reunited children set about regaining their treasured ancestral home, lost during the Rebellion. Helena suffers further betrayal and turns to an unexpected source of comfort. In the prequel, Duking Days Rebellion, Helena matured in the bitterness of civil war and sacrifice,but in her quest to restore their family's honor, she proves her strength. She's a remarkable, enduring heroine and Duking Days Revolution offers a poignant ending for her and the reader.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Duking Days Rebellion

Excerpt 1 - Chapter Nine
"Not much of a patrol,” Helena sniffed, intending to reassure Harry, who looked terrified, but her own hands felt clammy.
“Don’t be deceived, one musket can kill as well as six,” Bayle spoke out of the corner of his mouth, giving a low warning to the men behind.
The soldiers looked hot and tired, their coats flung open and hats tilted back. Their horses were tethered to a tree at the side of the road, tails lazily flicking away flies, heads down as if they had been there for a while.
One of them held up a hand and with a sharp swiping motion, signaled them into a verge. Bayle obeyed.
Helena shivered. These two were professional soldiers. Their long-coats were faded across the shoulders, now reddish-brown from marching long distances in all weathers. Patched in places, the turned back cuffs were no longer crisp. The younger one had a front tooth missing, while the other sported a cropped ear and two hacked-off fingers.
“Where are ye bound?” the officer demanded in a rough voice, indicating for Bayle to climb down.
Helena sat quite still as Bayle complied, proffering the churchwarden’s letter. The soldier gave the parchment a contemptuous look and ignored it, which told Helena he could not read. This did not bode well.
The second soldier stared at her, a leering grin on his face, his musket held across his body at waist level. She could not take her eyes from it, although when the man ducked his head to attract Harry’s attention, the boy glared at the ground as if frozen. The soldier sniffed and moved away, but Harry fidgeted, stilling only when Helena placed a comforting hand on his arm. The cart creaked and a bird called in a nearby tree, the tension growing as they waited. Helena glanced over her shoulder to watch the officer circle the contraption, flicking a contemptuous hand at the arranged flowers.
Without warning, he flipped up the edge of the makeshift pall, coming face to face with Simon, whose head lay inches from his hand. Helena gave a moan and for long seconds, the Rebel and the officer stared at each other as if immobile with shock.
The Rebel moved first. He lunged out of the cart, grabbing the officer round the neck with both hands. They tumbled onto the road as one, with Simon’s full weight on top of the soldier. Neither man had a chance to call out.
In the split second it took for his companion to register what was happening, Bayle closed the space between them. The second soldier lifted his musket, but at the same second, Bayle pulled his arm back and punched him squarely in the face. He hit the ground with a dull thump, and stayed there.
Helena’s shocked cry was smothered as the ponies crabbed sideways, threatening to trample Simon and the man beneath him. She hauled on the reins to keep them still and Harry scrambled down, almost colliding with a moving wheel. The soldier beneath Simon pulled a knife from somewhere, but as Simon’s fist connected with the man’s face, Harry sprang forward to wrestle it from his hand.
Joel hauled himself out of the cart and grabbed the musket the other soldier had dropped. Harry leapt out of the way and Joel stepped over the unconscious man, checked to see the weapon was loaded and shouted. “Roll, Simon!”
Simon reacted immediately, flinging himself to one side as Joel fired into the exposed soldier’s chest.
The sound of the shot echoed across the fields, sending up a flock of crows in a nearby tree, dying away quickly into the afternoon quiet. A crimson bloom spread over the front of the officer’s shirt and with a final grunt he relaxed into the earth, dead eyes staring at the sky. The ponies whinnied once, stamped, and then fell silent.
The other soldier stirred, groaning. In two strides, Joel raised the musket and brought the wooden butt down on the man’s temple with a sickening crack.
Helena thrust her fist into her mouth to muffle a scream, transfixed by the unnatural dent in the man’s skull. She looked down at her skirt, where spots of blood stood out for a few seconds before soaking into the fabric.
The horses whinnied in fear, pulling against the reins so that all Helena’s strength turned to keep them standing. When she could bring herself to look, Bayle and Simon were dragging the shot soldier toward a deep ditch running along the side of the road.
“Harry,” Simon shouted. “Go and collect ferns and branches, as many as you can.”
Wide-eyed, Harry stumbled away, hampered by his skirt.
The three men had turned their attention to the body of the officer. “There should have been six of them,” Simon grunted with the effort. Bayle looked up, his gaze sweeping the horizon. Helena looked too, but nothing stirred; the only sound was that of insects in the long grass. They rolled the limp bodies into the ditch, flattening the long grass on the incline.
Joel collected the other musket and threw both guns in after them. Harry returned, his arms full of branches and wide leaves they all set to spreading over the bodies and the disturbed vegetation, hiding them as best they could.
“How long before they find them, do you think?” Simon asked no one in particular.
“The others, if there are others, could be back at any time.” Joel jerked his head toward the road ahead. “They are always in packs, like dogs.” He brought a contemptuous foot down on the brittle twigs, their sharp crack making Helena jump.
Harry tore off the skirt and bonnet and hurled them into the cart. “What about their horses?” He nodded toward the docile animals grazing a few feet away.
“Get rid of anything which marks them out as soldiers’ mounts,” Bayle told him. “You and Joel will have to ride them. We cannot leave them here.”
Joel examined the docile horses. “Two knapsacks and a blanket with a military crest.” He held them up for inspection. “Their saddles are ordinary.”
The men gathered up their meager belongings from the grass. For want of something to do, Helena climbed down and scraped a mound of soil in her hands from the side of the ditch, sprinkling it over the patch of bright blood in the road. Somehow she felt better having done it.
Clambering back onto her seat, she fixed her gaze on Bayle’s face, willing him to get them away from there. Joel held both horses reins in one hand, their heads straining forward. As he passed the cart, his eyes narrowed and he hooked a thumb backwards. “He’s beginning to smell.”
Bayle scowled at him, but Helena pretended she hadn’t heard, tucking her skirt around her legs, avoiding the damp blood. The horror of the past few minutes had rendered Joel’s comment as little more than a distant idea.
With the men mounted, Bayle flicked the reins and turned toward her, his voice filled with sympathy. “Let’s get Master Edmund home and give him a proper burial.” She was trembling too much to answer, biting her bottom lip to stop it quivering
They maintained a fast pace for the next mile or so, while Helena kept a careful eye on the horizon, alert for the sound of pounding hooves. She held fast to the seat as they bumped over the uneven road, the vibrations running through her as Bayle urged the horses to go faster.
At the Appledore turnoff, Bayle hauled the cart into the verge. “Get everything tidied away,” he ordered. “If there’s another patrol, this would arouse suspicion.”
Helena looked back and understood. The cart no longer resembled a funeral wagon. The cross and the flowers had been ripped away in the brief conflict, leaving the black cloth draped untidily over the body; her skirt and cap jumbled in a heap in one corner.
Her legs shook as she climbed down onto the road and made for the rear of the cart, the image of the dead soldier’s battered skull imprinted in her head. She gathered up her discarded clothing and paused, transfixed by the sight of the body in its linen wrappings. It had shifted slightly and lay to one side; its head, torso and legs clearly defined, like a large doll with no face.
Her practical self told her it was Edmund, but she could not reconcile the slight, lifeless shape with the moving, breathing man she loved. Her throat closed and tears spilled down her face, leaving her breathless and shaking. It was really him.
With a muttered curse, Bayle stepped forward and flipped the cover back into place, painstakingly securing the sides.
Harry appeared at her shoulder. “Was he a close relative?”
“He is…was my uncle.” She faltered on the words that consigned Edmund to the past.
“He didn’t have the smallpox, did he?”
“No.” She knuckled tears away with both hands.
“I got this at Weston.” Harry indicated his bandaged arm. “We scattered after the first charge and found ourselves on the wrong side of the ditch.” He shrugged apologetically. “We could see our men, but couldn’t reach them, and by the time we found our way round, well. . .” He sighed as if embarrassed. “Then Joel got knocked out, and Simon and I carried him off the field.”
Helena stayed silent, her gaze fixed on the body. Harry was no longer a shy boy, she had seen the look on his face when he grabbed the fallen soldier’s knife. She was convinced he would have used it, had Joel not shot the man.
“What was his name?” Harry asked.
“Edmund Woulfe.” She examined their faces for a reaction. There was none. Disappointed, she jammed the clothing back into her bag.
“We part company here, masters,” Bayle called, startling her. Her nerves were so on edge. “I am worried about the rest of that patrol arriving.”
Joel gathered what meager belongings they had and led the horses closer.
As Simon bowed over Helena’s hand in farewell, unexpected warmth crept up her neck. He was a gentleman.
They re-mounted the trooper’s horses, and with Harry perched behind Joel, set off toward Tiverton.
They were still in sight when Helena turned to clutch the manservant’s arm. “Bayle.” Her tremor turned into heavy shaking as she fought hysteria. “We killed two men.”
“We didn’t kill anyone.” He snatched the rein and flicked it hard against the nearest pony’s flank. “Those men would have been hanged, and us with them.” He glared at her steadily. “Forget them, and tell no one what happened today, ever.”

Duking Days Rebellion

In Anita Davison's novel Duking Days Rebellion, set during the turbulent days of the 17th century Monmouth Rebellion, young Helena Woulfe prepares for great responsibility and changes in her life.

The sole privileged daughter of her family, Helena's life is disrupted when her father and brother Aaron answer the Duke of Monmouth's call to rally in support of his claim to the English kingdom. Torn between concerns for her family and future, Helena boldly sets out with a trusted family servant to learn their fate. She experiences the pain of war, but in the aftermath returns home to an even greater tragedy as her family loses more than its lifelong home. Bereft without her parents or news of Aaron's fate, Helena and her younger brother Henry journey to forge new lives and connections in London. As children of a named rebel, they are worried about their future but are welcomed into the kind comfort of Lambton's Inn, by its proprietors, the Devereaux family.

In London, Henry carves his own destiny, while Helena seeks a secure future. She encounters an unexpected enemy with designs on her ancestral home and learns an earth-shattering secret about her father. Most of all, she learns about personal strength and the healing power of love. It's an engaging plot, with remarkable characters, both fictional and historical personages. If you're looking for historical accuracy and detail, a strong heroine and a memorable read, be sure to check out Duking Days Rebellion.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shades of Gray Winner

We have a winner of Jessica James' book Shades of Gray: Helen Ginger! Please contact Jessi at to arrange shipping. Thanks!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shades of Gray Excerpt - Chapter 58

Excerpt from Chapter 58

Andrea has left Hawthorne and devoted her time to working in a field hospital near Winchester. In the midst of a raging battle, she runs across a soldier she knows well.

Lifting her eyes briefly in an attempt to get her bearings through the thick haze of smoke, Andrea caught a glimpse of the seemingly endless sea of writhing humanity strewn around her. The beautiful rolling hills of Virginia were nothing like she had once known them. The paradise she had once considered beautiful was now a living hell. Andrea lowered her eyes again and moved on. She could help but one at a time. There was no use agonizing about it.

Kneeling by a man who lay just within a tree line, Andrea stared at the bloody path he had made by dragging himself there. She ripped open his pants leg and tried to stem the bleeding of the fearfully torn flesh. She knew it was somewhat futile. From what she knew of such injuries he would not have the limb for long, if he lived at all. Still, she was determined to do her best. Concentrating on the wound, she felt a hand grasp her wrist.


She blinked at the barely recognizable face staring up at her. The only identifiable feature were the eyes—and they portrayed mortal agony. “Yes, Alex. It is me,” she whispered.

He stared at her unbelieving, blinking through sweat and blood, apparently trying to decide if she was an illusion or real. Andrea put water on a cloth and wiped his brow, resisting the urge to lay her head upon his chest and weep. She had cried many tears since leaving Hawthorne, more than she thought a human being had within them. Now she wondered what kind of god it was that wished to torture her afresh. Why could he not let her go on with her life and forget?

“I must,” Hunter swallowed and licked his lips. “I mus . . . talk . . . to you.” He struggled to hold his eyes open, to stay conscious.

“Be still,” Andrea commanded, sweeping her eyes across the field. Although she could see none of his men, she knew they must be watching, waiting for the opportunity to extract their leader from this precarious place.

“I made . . . terrible mistake.” His eyes were eyes glazed with pain. His fevered, bloodshot gaze searched her face.

“I’m sure your men will forgive you.” Andrea poured water across the wound.

“No!” He grabbed her again violently. “Nothing to do… with… men!”

Hunter seemed to turn somewhat delirious. Although he appeared to be trying to talk, he succeeded in doing little more than muttering incoherently. Still, his voice, his presence, affected Andrea, making her heart throb frantically. Her hands shook as she wiped the clammy dew from his brow.

“Andrea, where… are you?”

“I’m right here.” She tried to sound calm, while turning her attention back to his mangled leg.

“N-o-o!” His voice sounded agonized. He reached out to her again, grabbing frantically for her wrist, which he held with a strength she could not believe he possessed. “Where are you? Take me… there!”

Andrea looked at his wild, glassy eyes. Sweat ran in torrents down his face. His shirt was soaked. “I cannot take you there… a field hospital near Winchester,” she said, grasping his meaning. “You would be taken prisoner.”

“No … matter. Take me … there,” he said weakly. Do not … leave me, Andrea! Please.” It seemed to her he was almost sobbing. “I cannot . . . find you.”

Andrea removed his hand and looked down at him. His face was contorted into a blend of physical agony and emotional anguish. For a moment, just a moment, she considered his wish. But she knew he was better off where he was. “Your men will get you out,” she said curtly. “You are better off here than in a Union prison.”

Hunter whimpered and began talking in a hurried, rambling tone that was frantic and confused. Something was wrong, and it was far more tormenting to him than his injury. Andrea looked again at his leg, an unrecognizable wreck of flesh, and then at his dead horse that lay some rods distant. The Union was not playing fair today. Horse and rider had been hit with artillery.

Somehow, facing cannons with a six-shooter did not seem reasonable. She sat awestruck at the valor of the man who had done so—no doubt in accordance with orders.

A drink of cool water revived Hunter somewhat, though he was still unable to articulate what he so desperately wanted her to understand. He seemed so distraught, rambling on to her about snow and bloody moons, that Andrea feared the injury affected his senses.

Dressing his leg as best she could on the field, she watched him open his eyes and search for hers once more. “Don’t,” he commanded her with his tone and his look, “don’t . . . leave . . . me!”

Andrea looked away. Sympathy and sentiment inclined her in one direction, wisdom and reality the other. She had to refuse him. Even if her heart would break a thousand times more, she had to leave. There was nothing more that could be done for him here. She had no means to move him, and even if she did, she could not bring herself to convey him to a place of certain death. He was safer here.

Pouring some water into a small flask she found nearby, she placed it in his hand. Then, disregarding her heavy heart, and ignoring his anguished cries and pathetic appeals, she turned her back on him and walked away, though heaven knows it was the hardest thing she’d ever done.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shades of Gray Excerpt - Chapter 47

Excerpt from Chapter 47

In this chapter, Hunter is returning from a raid with his men, and begins to sort out his feelings for Andrea.

… But images of Andrea did not stay suppressed for long. Hunter caught sight of her almost instantly after galloping across the bridge, and his eyes remained riveted upon her until she came into sharp focus. The vague feeling he had strived to conceal was suddenly no longer vague. The notion that his sentiment was merely a manifestation of gratitude for her defense of Hawthorne could no longer be justified. Hunter was drawn to her now by something stronger than his own will.

She stood on the bottom of a paddock fence, leaning over the top rail, watching a horse. When Hunter was nearly upon her, she gave only a half-hearted glance over her shoulder at the sound of an approaching horse. When she saw it was him, she did a double take. “Oh, howdy Kuh-nel,” she drawled jokingly as he drew rein behind her.

Her eyes seemed lit with a luminous welcome before she returned her attention to the horse.

The glance created a rush of warmth in Hunter’s heart and caused his blood to race. For an instant, a divine dizziness possessed him. He sat motionless, feasting his eyes, his senses, his soul on the woman before him. Although slow to admit it to himself, and hesitant to admit it to others, he now felt certain he had fallen in love with the enemy. How it had happened, when it had happened, why it happened, he did not know.

“I fear you’ve grown too familiar with the customs of Virginia,” he said, referring to her accent as he dismounted. “You will never be accepted again as a Yankee.”

Andrea’s smile flickered again and so did his heart. “But ah cain’t help my speech, suh.”

“Miss Evans, your comrades shall accuse me of trying to convert you.” Hunter eased himself up to the fence beside her and stood in silence while the gold light of September bathed them both in its warmth.

“That for Victoria?” Andrea nodded toward his hand.

“Oh, ah-h-h, no . . . here.” He thrust a wildflower toward her awkwardly, then stood and stared at her in an uncomfortable sort of way, knowing he should say something else but having absolutely no idea what it was. “It reminded me of . . . I mean, I thought you might like it.”

Up flashed her radiant smile and dazzled him again. “For me? For me?” Andrea took the flower and stuck it in her hair, making no effort to hide her delight. The outburst reflected her girlish innocence, the glow of childlike exuberance that defied all she had passed through.

Hunter responded by shrugging, pretending that picking flowers was nothing out of the ordinary for him. Yet it did not require much knowledge of his character to know he would have had no more thought of picking a wildflower than plucking a pinecone but a few days earlier. Clumsily and nervously trying to find something to do with his hands, Hunter took off his hat and slapped it against his leg.

“It appears you are returning from a forced march,” Andrea said, watching the dust rise.

Hunter just nodded, not wishing to admit that she was the forcing power. He studied her then, taking notice that the angry, resentful expression she used to wear had completely left her countenance. He wandered when. And why could he barely remember it anymore? Today she radiated nothing but warmth and light and enthusiasm for life.

Andrea turned, and, hanging on the fence with one hand, used the other to pat his shoulder, sending another cloud of powdery dust into the air. “Turn around.” She tried to remove the worst of the grime from his shoulders and back by brushing and patting with her hand. “Looks like you’re carrying around half the sacred soil of Virginia.”

“And you no doubt enjoy beating that out of me, don’t you?” Hunter said good-naturedly.

That rippling laugh returned at his words. It was a laugh that was hers alone, a laugh that made the desolate silence that used to reign over Hawthorne echo with happiness. And it was a laugh that brought with it a woozy, wobbly feeling that made Hunter place his hand on the fence to steady himself.

“Trust I could never remove it all, Commander,” Andrea replied, making an attempt at seriousness, “for I dare say you have it running through your veins.”

Hunter looked into her smiling, glowing eyes and felt a raw ache of happiness in his heart—so acute as to be almost painful. She appeared so radiant on this beautiful, sunny day that he had to look away for fear his eyes would betray what he was thinking. Good heavens, I am losing my mind!

His elbow now touched hers in relaxed abandon. Although she seemed not to notice the contact, he could barely control his thoughts. He wondered what it would feel like to put his arm around her. What would it feel like to stand there with his arm resting possessively over her shoulders on this brilliantly sunny day while they watched horses in the paddock side by side—as if there were no, and never had been, a war?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shades of Gray Excerpt - Chapter 36

Excerpt from Chapter 36

Even though they have been living in the same house for quite some time now, Hunter does not know Andrea’s real name – until now. Here is just an excerpt.

Andrea lifted her eyes from a book to gaze at the rays of soft sunlight drenching the lawn in a rich golden blanket. She heard the front door close, then the familiar sound of Hunter’s spurs clanking across the porch. Seemingly unaware of her presence, he leaned one shoulder against the ionic column and gazed meditatively over the gorgeous panorama of the valley he owned.

Andrea could not draw her eyes away from the indomitable figure. With one hand wrapped around a cup of coffee, the other stuffed indifferently in his pocket, his image suggested little of the intrepid character she knew so well. Dressed casually, without his Confederate coat, he seemed tranquil and relaxed. Yet, his large muscular frame, with his strong, tan forearms and powerfully built legs, showed evidence of his ability to put up a fight.

She lowered her eyes to her book, then lifted them once again. He was striking, she mused, irresistibly masculine and, she admitted, very appealing. Tall, broad-shouldered, and vigorous, he was the incarnation of force and strength. Yet he possessed the admirable traits of courtesy and refinement. A valiant soldier, he was likewise respected by others as a gracious and gallant gentleman, creating a puzzling veil of mystery that made him all the more mysterious.

Andrea cocked her head and scrutinized him. Most officers dressed flamboyantly. Hunter, on the other hand, always wore a uniform that betrayed nothing but hard usage. She could not help yielding him the tribute of admiration, for he was almost impossible to dislike.


Andrea looked away as her thoughts began to disturb her, and a sigh involuntarily escaped her lips.

“Oh, there you are,” Hunter said, turning around.

He moved toward her with a brilliant smile that lit his stern face, revealing a hidden handsomeness all the more captivating. Placing his cup down on the table opposite her, he took a seat. Andrea detected an uncharacteristic twinkle in his eye and tried to decipher its cause.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Shades of Gray Excerpt - Chapter 23

Excerpt from Chapter 23

Through a twist of fate, Andrea is staying at Hunter’s ancestral home, Hawthorne, but the two have remained enemies. In this chapter, Hunter is wounded in a gun battle, and for first time, sees the gentler side of Andrea.

Hunter heard a voice and felt fingers probing his shoulder. Although his arm throbbed with pain, the touch felt tender and soothing upon his bare flesh. He tried to force the cobwebs from his brain, to clear his blurred vision and mind. Opening his eyes and blinking at the pain, he stared at the face leaning over him.

He thought he recognized the countenance—but no, that could not be. The image could not be of the one he had quarreled with just four days earlier. He saw no sign of the hatred and anger that blazed so fervently then, nor any sign of the customary sullen frown. All that showed there now was deep concern and a look of tenderness.

He closed his eyes and tried to think. Tired. So tired.

After being hit, he had fallen. Perhaps he had hit his head and was hallucinating now. Or perhaps he was just so exhausted he was having a strange dream. Strange, indeed. Because the woman he had left in the next room would be more inclined to strangle him than bend over him in aid.

Hunter blinked at the intensity of light flooding through the window while gazing upon the worried face. He became more certain he was dreaming, but decided to talk to the apparition.

“What do you think, Doc?” He hoped he had actually spoken the words aloud, because it was only with supreme effort that he retained consciousness.

The figure did not respond right away. She seemed intent on cleaning the wound. Or maybe, Hunter thought, she really is just a figment of my exhausted imagination.

“It appears a bullet has pierced your celestial armor, Major,” she answered at last. “Unfortunately, it does not appear to be fatal.”

She did not lift her eyes at first, but when she did bring them up to meet his, they brimmed with amusement. Hunter thought he had never seen anything so beautiful, so exquisite, as those two dazzling green eyes filled with laughter. He contrasted the image to the raving, maddened woman he left, but could find no comparison. Where did this person come from or where had the other gone? He hoped they had switched places for good.

“I’m not the first to baptize the soil of the Old Dominion with my patriotic blood,” Hunter said weakly. His words made her frown, and her eyes reflected a look so somber and wise it made his bones ache.

“Nor will you be the last, I fear.” She bent back over to examine his wound. Her breath was now so near, Hunter could feel it on his skin; her hair so close, he could smell its sweet fragrance. Her touch was divine. He felt strangely out of breath.

Hunter raised his eyes to her, but she seemed not to notice. Lost in silent observation, she bit the inside of her cheek as she concentrated on her work. When a tendril of hair fell and brushed his neck, a shock surged through his body that made him shudder.

“I’m sorry, did I hurt you?” She looked up anxiously, her eyes filled with unconcealed alarm.

“No. Go on.” Hunter transferred his gaze to the ceiling and bit the inside of his cheek as well, forcing himself to concentrate on something else. Although worn with fatigue, he could no longer think of sleep.

“I appreciate the confidence, Major. I am an honorable woman, and despite the fact you are my enemy, your treatment will be just.” She sounded innocent enough as she repeated the exact words he had said to her, but Hunter saw a smile twitch along the corners of her mouth. Then, like a mass of storm clouds parting to expose the rays of the sun, she revealed a smile.

Hunter was thankful he was lying down. A face that had heretofore only frowned, glared, and grimaced at him now glowed with a teasing grin. He gazed upon lips that were not merely turned upward but that lit her countenance with a lovely sparkle of enchantment. He thought the smile the sweetest that had ever illuminated a mortal face. The throbbing in his shoulder mysteriously disappeared.

“Then I shall attempt to put on as brave a front as my houseguest and endure the fate that has befallen me.” Feeling slightly out of control, Hunter took a shaky breath and wondered if she had dosed him with laudanum when he was unaware. She suddenly possessed some power that made him feel light-headed and dizzy. He glanced again into her eyes and felt a dull ache in his chest begin to spread throughout his body. He forced himself to look at the ceiling and concentrated on breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

He tried not to think about the soft hands gently probing his arm, tried not to think about how they would feel— His breath became ragged. His nerves throbbed and jumped involuntarily.

“I’m sorry. I know I’m hurting you. I’m almost done.”

Her voice jolted him back. He attempted to ignore the roaring in his ears and the wound that had started to ache in the back of his teeth. “Tell me, Miss Evans,” he said, trying to regain the self-control he prided himself on. “Are you trying to get on my good side?”

Andrea paused a moment and gazed at him with a puzzled look. “That is quite impossible, Major,” she said, cocking her head to one side, “as I was not even aware that you possessed one. But I thank you for letting me in on your well-kept secret.” She smiled, her eyes twinkling mischievously, and then went back to work, her jaw set firmly as she attacked her task with renewed fervor.

Hunter smiled too, a cockeyed schoolboy grin, which he quickly suppressed. “Perhaps it’s like yours, merely hidden most of the time,” he said, his voice huskier than he would have liked.

“Perhaps,” she responded. But Hunter could tell she was more engrossed in her grim work than the conversation. Maybe she was letting him know she had no intention of discussing her good side, which she evidently preferred to keep to herself.

Andrea sat back and surveyed her work, then her gaze drifted up to meet his. “You have a funny look on your face, Major.”

“I do?” He choked out the words.

“Yes. You look like you’ve met a foe worthy of your esteem.”

She smiled then, and, in a motherly way, put her hand on his forehead to see if he had a fever. Stroking the hair from his brow, she looked with a mixture of sympathy and concern at the spot where his head had made violent contact with the ground.

Something about that look reached down to Hunter’s roots and made him struggle to catch his breath. He closed his eyes, lest she read more secrets there. He agreed that he had met a foe that caused him concern, but it had nothing to do with the enemy he had recently faced.

“Probably just the pain from your injury,” she continued, not noticing his distress. “Bullets have a way of humbling one, I suppose.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve been humbled.” He meant to say it was not the first time he’d taken a bullet. But he was so tired and confused, he could not think straight. So tired. Yet his heart banged against his rib cage like it wanted out.

“What in heaven’s name happened to you?” Andrea began to wash the remaining powder residue from his face and neck.

“Orders,” Hunter whispered, feeling like he was fading away. “Had to follow orders.”

“It appears your orders took you to a hot corner of hell.”

“And back.” Burning flashes of pain passed through his body, and his head pounded as he tried to push away the persistent haziness.

Andrea did not respond to that. She lifted his arm and began wrapping it with the bandages.

Hunter forced his eyes open again. “You seem experienced in the art of healing, Miss Evans,” he said weakly. “Have you done this before?”

“Oh, yes. I used to help Mammy with the sla—”

She looked straight into his eyes, her brows drawn together, her face just inches from his. Apparently realizing it was too late to stop, she finished matter-of-factly, “…with the slaves.” Andrea turned back to the basin and busied herself wringing out the washcloth.

“But,” Hunter said, genuinely confused, “I never assumed you were Southern by birth.”

“It should not be hard to believe that I was born and lived among the misguided,” Andrea snapped. “When one is reared in the presence of some six hundred slaves, a proclivity against, and an intolerance for, the institution and those who condone it can hardly be considered unjustifiable.”

She turned back to the bowl of water, but the tone, the words, the savagery, were more like that to which he was accustomed. Even her eyes took on that all-too-familiar look that meant the mule was back.

“I didn’t mean . . .” Hunter stuttered. Please don’t go, he thought.

“My heritage is Southern. My devotion is, and shall always be, Union.”

Thus ended the conversation. And thus ended the appearance of the gentler side of his houseguest. Hunter closed his eyes again. Six hundred slaves? She must have been born into one of the wealthiest families in the South, entitled to all the luxuries and comforts that such breeding grants. She had never boasted of wealth or influence, yet apparently possessed both. What in the hell was she doing here?

“Cans I help, Miz Andrea?” Mattie came back into the room with another bowl of water.

“No, I’ve just got to clean up the rest of him.”

Andrea leaned toward him with the wet cloth, but Hunter grabbed her wrist before she had a chance to touch him. “Mattie, can do it,” he said, not wanting to risk his reaction to her hands. “You’ve done enough.”

Andrea looked surprised, but shrugged her shoulders and dried her hands.“Get some rest when Mattie’s done,” she ordered before leaving the room on her crutches. She need not have given the command. His exhausted condition had already brought merciful oblivion.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shades of Gray Excerpt - Chapter 16

Excerpt from Chapter 16

Confederate Captain Hunter and Andrea Monroe have met on several occasions. But in this chapter, Captain Hunter finally figures out that the spy he has been chasing and the young lady he met in Richmond are one and the same.

Hunter cursed without looking up from the map he studied when Private Malone knocked and stuck his head in the door.

“Sorry, sir, but you said you wanted to see anyone the pickets stopped from now on.”

“What do you have?” Hunter snapped from behind his desk.

“Just a young boy traveling alone. Says he’s lost, what with the weather. We can send him on his way if you like.”

Hunter felt inclined to do just that. The weather was indeed atrocious. A soupy mix of fog had moved in, making it impossible to see three feet in any direction. An interrogation would likely not be worth the interruption. “Where did he say he was heading?”

“Uh, he didn’t quite say. He’s being rather impudent.” Malone paused as if gauging Hunter’s reaction. “He wants to know by what authority we halted and questioned him. Says he shouldn’t need a pass nor answer to people while traveling in his own country.”

“Is that so?” Hunter looked up for the first time. “Well, I would be delighted, and indeed it is my duty, to enlighten him that he is traveling in my country now. By all means, send him up.”

By the time word passed down to the pickets, more than a few minutes had passed. Hunter resumed reading a captured dispatch, comparing its contents to former notations he had placed on a map.

Malone brought the boy in, saluted, and made a hasty retreat. Hunter did not realize another person was in the room until he looked up from his communication and saw the youth staring at a large map on the wall. When their eyes finally met, the moment of recognition was simultaneous. The boy looked instantly down, and Hunter let out an oath.

Hunter continued to stare at the figure, blinking as he tried to allow his brain to catch up to what his eyes were seeing. There could be no mistake now. The youth looked identical to the one he had seen from across the stream almost a year earlier. But now he was close enough to see the green, almond-shaped eyes and feminine-shaped lips, the same ones he had seen just three months ago in Richmond.

“So.” He stood up and crossed his arms, glowering at her. She stood stoically still, looking him squarely in the eyes, doing a good job of not betraying the terror he sensed she felt. Hunter walked around her slowly, trying to figure out how this supposed Southern aristocrat had fooled him and so many others. “It appears I finally have the opportunity to meet the war’s most famous gadfly.”

“I was under the assumption that honor belonged to you.” She flashed him a smile.

Hunter looked at her severely for a moment, then continued, his voice losing its casual tone. “Where are you going ? What is your business here?”

“I am going—” Hunter watched her eyes flick up to his and then to the floor. He could tell she had been considering telling an outright lie and thought better of it. “I’m going to visit my cousin north of here.”

“Dressed as a boy?”

She shrugged and met his stare with a corresponding look of defiance. “I’ve grown tired of Richmond. And I, uh, I had no escort.”

“You have no escort, so you dressed as a boy,” Hunter repeated, rubbing his chin. “I don’t believe that’s an option most women would choose.”

“Your memory is short, Captain. I believe I told you before, I am not most women.”

“As to the former, unfortunately for you, it is not,” he answered. “And as for the latter, yes, I believe we are quite in agreement on that point.”

Despair, disappointment, and even a little humiliation, showed clearly on her face. Hunter swept his eyes over the image of her ragged and well-worn clothes. His mind drifted back to the ball in Richmond, then to Fredericksburg and his brother’s final devotional words to her.

“Would you care to extend me the courtesy of telling me your real name?”

“I have no desire to extend that courtesy, nor is it my duty or obligation to do so.” She turned her back on him and began to rudely tap her toe.

“Well, I guess I can call you Maryann. You are accustomed to that name, are you not?” The room filled with silence. “Or do you prefer Miss Marlow?”

She turned back toward him. “My name is Andrew Sinclair.”

Interview with Jessica James

We're delighted to have as our Featured Author, Jessica James, author of Shades of Gray. All this week, we'll be featuring Jessi and her wonderful writing. Ms. James will be giving away a copy of Shades of Gray, so please leave a comment. The winner will be the person who leave the best, most intriguing blog comment.

Please tell readers about yourself and your background.

Hello and thank you for having me! I live in a pre-Civil War house in Gettysburg, PA, and have a writing background in journalism and public relations. I started my professional career as a reporter for a local paper before moving on to a larger paper as an editor. I suppose there are a lot of journalists who have made the switch from writing straight news to fiction, but personally, I found it very difficult. Writing a novel uses a different part of the brain than turning three hours of notes into a 10-inch story in 45 minutes under deadline pressure. I was a good deadline writer, but I am a very slow fiction writer. I tell everyone that that part of my brain muscle is still in training.

Besides writing, what are your other hobbies and interests?

Reading, reading, and reading.

Okay, I do have a few other interests. I have always had a love of animals and horses, and actually have a degree in veterinary technology in addition to my journalism degrees. My current part-time job at a theater also reflects my interest in performing arts. (And has allowed me to see about 900 live shows from backstage—a nice perk). I also love traveling on back roads, especially in the South, and touring old mansions.

How long did it take you to research and write Shades of Gray?

I get asked this question often, and my quick answer is “a long time.” The more complicated answer is that I began writing down tidbits and scenes when I was in college, but it never really occurred to me to turn it into a historical fiction novel. As I began to research a little more, I began to write more, and eventually discovered that I had an entire story. Once I had it all down on paper, I took another two years re-writing the dialogue to make it true to the era.

The setting of your novel is during the Civil War. How did you re-create that past for your readers? And how do you develop your plots and characters?

I re-create the past by pretty much submersing myself in the era. I read diaries, newspaper articles, obituaries – anything I can get my hands on to get a feel for the language, the traditions, and the ideals. I also visited the places I wrote about in all seasons, in all kinds of weather so that I could adequately describe the setting.

As far as developing the plot and characters, I’ve found that once the characters are clear in my mind, they pretty much take over and write the story.

What inspires you about the hero or heroine in your book? What makes them memorable for the reader? What motivates the hero or heroine?

What inspires me about both the hero and the heroine in Shades of Gray is their devotion to their beliefs. Each, of course, has opposing views, but both are willing to defend them with their lives. Their dedication and their strong moral values are what motivates them and makes them memorable. They are just ordinary people thrust into almost impossible circumstances, and I think the reader can relate to the choices that each has to make.

Who or what is the main villain in the story? Is there a specific character, or is it the war itself? Tell us about what or who it is and how that contributes to the story.

I think the villain is indeed the war itself and I tried to show the emotions, the challenges, the heartache and the tragedy that go along with that. From what I remember of learning about the Civil War in school, it was a very bland, uninteresting topic. In Shades of Gray, I tried to make it an emotional experience for the reader and present it in such a way as to make them care about what happens to the characters. Everyone has heard the “brother fighting brother” theme many times, but when you put real faces and names on those brothers, I think it drives home the passions that impelled those who fought on both sides.

I also chose the title Shades of Gray to show that the issues that caused The War Between the States were not black and white, or right and wrong – but shades of gray. It’s important to me that readers develop a better understanding of the passionate debate on both sides of the war, and learn to appreciate and respect those who value that heritage today.

What do you enjoy most about your heroine, Andrea Evans, and your hero, Alexander Hunter, in this story?

Andrea is, to say the least, impatient, impulsive, impetuous (wait a minute, she’s beginning to sound a little bit like me). Anyway, what I like about her is that, despite her faults, she has a strong moral compass that guides her and a patriotic devotion that I wish there was more of today.

Alexander Hunter is pretty much the perfect man – handsome, gallant, courageous, courteous. He is the epitome of the perfect Southern gentleman, and is, at the same time, a daring, dauntless soldier.

If your works were made into movies, whom do you envision playing the hero, heroine, and other important characters?

That’s a tough question. There are some older actors that I wish were 30 years younger, like Harrison Ford, for instance. Otherwise, I see Hollywood types as so out of touch with what these characters portray – honor, integrity, strong moral character – that I just can’t picture any of them in the roles.
I guess it would have to be a low budget film with young, unknown actors from the heart of America. LOL.

Do you write other eras, or is the Civil War of specific interest to you and why?

I think the Civil War does have special interest to me, probably because I’ve been surrounded by it all my life. But I think another part of it is that I enjoy writing about honor, courage, patriotism, chivalry, gallantry—all the qualities and traditions that are a rich part of our nation’s past. The more I read about the Civil War era, the more inspired I became to put a story down on paper that reflected these values, as well as the affection and devotion that existed between those who vowed “’til death do us part.”

I would like to try my hand at the Revolutionary War, and I also have a couple of contemporary novels started as well, one of which revolves around a newspaper reporter and a homicide detective.

What do you enjoy most about writing in this genre? What challenges have you found?

I love the language most of all. I find it hard to believe sometimes that our language has changed so much in such a short amount of time – and it is a short amount of time. When I was a newspaper reporter, I interviewed a man whose grandfather fought in Pickett’s Charge!
The challenges are getting the facts right in general, and also, I had a lot of trouble trying to squeeze my story into the timeline set by historic events. That constraint took a lot of time to work out and is always a major obstacle for historical fiction writers.

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

If I hit a rough spot or have written myself into a wall, I will go for a drive through the battlefield, sit on Little Roundtop, or visit a museum or bookstore. Just walking away from it pretty much works every time. If I really feel drained of all creativity, I take a drive to Virginia to get “filled back up.” There’s just something about Virginia that gets my creative juices flowing again.

For my everyday routine, I write from a chair facing a large window. When I lift my eyes, I am staring at a butterfly bush, a wild bird feeder and a humming bird feeder. There is always something to see or watch, and, from what I’ve read, this simple act switches on a different part of the brain.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

Truly, the biggest stumbling block for me has been finding the time to write. There’s that thing called paying the mortgage which requires working, which puts a squeeze on everything else. I’m not the type of writer that can just sit down and write if I have a half hour – I need to know I have a whole afternoon, or preferably, a whole day. (A week would be great)!

How did your interest in writing develop? How and when did you decide to write your first book?

I think writers were born to write. I have always been a writer… I just didn’t figure out that I wanted to be a fiction writer until I became fairly miserable at my editor job. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

How do you balance your writing and research with family and other pursuits?

Writing is such a solitary occupation – balancing the rest of your life with it is hard. I actually like that component, however, and pretty much have to be dragged out of my chair for family events. As for the research, vacations are planned around historic houses, libraries, battlefields and cemeteries that I want to visit.

What is your favorite book, and who is your favorite literary character?

Every time I read a good book I say, “this is my favorite book!” So, needless to say, I have too many “favorites” to mention. I’m going to say my favorite literary character is Sir Percy Blakenley from the Scarlet Pimpernel. His character is one that shows that self-sacrifice can come in many forms – and, of course, shows to what extreme true love can prevail.

Do you have a favorite comment or question from a reader?
I’ve received lots of wonderful comments, but one that stands out in my mind is a reader who said that Shades of Gray made them laugh and made them cry. That is a great compliment for an author because it shows the reader is emotionally involved with the characters. Another reader compared it to Cold Mountain, so, of course, I will never forget that one.
What is amazing about both those comments is that they came from men!

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book.
One of the best, and perhaps unusual, things I did was to contact the International Equine Artist Guild to see if there was an artist who wanted to work with me in a cross promotion regarding my main character’s horse, Justus. (I figured starving artists must be a lot like starving writers, right?) I found the perfect artist, Kristen Queen, who happened to already have a piece of art that resembled the physical description of Justus. She began promoting Shades of Gray and Justus on her website and at art events, and I added her marketing information to all of my promotional materials like postcards, bookmarks, etc. It put my book in front of people I otherwise would never have been able to reach, and did the same for her. At the same time, I made a great new friend.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

I’m not sure most people understand what an excruciatingly painful occupation writing is. Writers are, for the most part, insecure people, so my advice is to just keep writing and have faith in the story you are writing. No one in this whole wide world can tell your story the way you can.

What do we have to look forward to from your pen/computer next?

The novel I am working on now is called “Above and Beyond.” Although it’s another Civil War novel, the character are completely different from Hunter and Andrea.

The main character is Colonel Douglas Benton, who is a flamboyant womanizer and somewhat of a braggart. The heroine is a quiet, cautious woman (definitely not Andrea Evans), who teaches Benton that there is more to being a good soldier than leading heroic cavalry charges.

The female lead character is not based on any real person in history, but I have read accounts such as hers – especially during the Revolutionary War. She pretends to be a strong Unionist in the heart of Virginia, to the extent that all her neighbors, friends, and even her own brother, believe the ruse. She becomes an outcast in her own community since her home is almost constantly filled with Union soldiers. Of course, secretly, she is passing on valuable information to the Confederacy – but her identity is known only to General Lee and President Davis, and later, Colonel Benton.

One can only imagine the courage and strong will it would take to be despised and maligned by family and friends while you are nobly serving a cause. It could be argued that it would take more fortitude than fighting an outright battle with hundreds of your comrades surrounding you.
The book will feature strong Christian themes, and like Shades of Gray, I believe it will take readers on a roller coaster ride of emotions.

How may readers contact you?

The best way to contact me is through email at I encourage any questions or comments!

Any closing thoughts you would like to share?

I just want to thank you for having me! Authors write because they believe they have a powerful story to tell. Trying to convince readers of that fact is a whole new ballgame, and I really appreciate this opportunity to share my experiences.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Featured Author Jessica James

This week we are pleased to have Jessica James, author of Shades of Gray, as a featured author on our blog. Please check back throughout the week for her author interview, an interview with her hero and heroine, excerpts, and a chance to win a free copy of her book.

Jessica James’ Shades of Gray is an enthralling, charming tale about Andrea Evans, a fiery, talented Union scout, and Alexander Hunter, a dashing, powerful colonel in the Confederate army, who are thrown together in the middle of the tumultuous Civil War.

The book opens in 1862 with Hunter pursuing a scout, supposedly a young boy named Sinclair, who led him and his men into a Union trap. However, when he finally encounters the lad and attempts to capture him, Hunter falls off his horse, hits his head, and passes out in a dangerous river. It is when Andrea saves his life that their fates become intertwined.

After several more daring escapes from Hunter and his men, and with the help of the handsome Union colonel, Daniel Delaney, Andrea takes on the job of spy, posing as a Southern lady in Richmond, Virginia, the very heart of the Confederacy. However, during her subterfuge, Delaney is gravely wounded, dying in the presence of his beloved Andrea and his devoted brother, Hunter.

A few months later, Andrea is captured by Hunter, and against his knowledge and wishes, imprisoned in one of the Confederacy’s most lethal jails, where she suffers both severe injury and torture. When Hunter learns of her incarceration, he demands her release and takes her to his home, Hawthorne, to recover. The stubborn nature and unyielding patriotism of both Andrea and Hunter, combined with Andrea’s hot temper, make for some captivating, explosive battles of wits between them during her convalescence. This heated situation heightens with the presence of Victoria, a woman determined to become the mistress of Hawthorne, who delights in trying to paint Andrea as evil in Hunter’s eyes.

The attraction between Andrea and Hunter builds throughout the novel, but trouble befalls them from the moment they admit, and act on, their feelings. When a severe misunderstanding separates them, they are once again thrown on opposite sides of the war. Can Andrea and Hunter overcome their differences and find love and forgiveness, or will the war forever separate them?

Since its publication in January 2008, Shades of Gray has won a Gold Medal for Best Regional Fiction in the Indie Awards and a Silver Medal for Best Regional Fiction in the IPPY Awards, a testament to Jessica James’ wonderful story and talented writing.

She has done a splendid job with this novel, making it impossible for readers not to fall in love with her charming characters and engaging plot. She skillfully weaves real battles and historical figures into her story, as well as numerous plot twists that keep the reader guessing. This book is destined for great things, and I cannot wait to read Ms. James next wonderful tale.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

By The Sword by Alison Stuart

By The Sword by Alison Stuart won the 2008 Eppie award in the historical romance category. It is the story of a young widow, Kate Ashley, who struggles to carve a life for herself and her young son during the turbulence of war in the era of Charles II. Through her late husband’s family, she inherits the impoverished mansionestate and stately home called Seven Ways in Worcestershire England. But the estate is in disrepair and to restore it will cost a great deal. Nevertheless, she perseveres.

She encounters royalist, Jonathan Thornton, who is exiled and a wanted man. Stephen Prescott, a harsh parliamentarian swears to capture the elusive Thornton and bring him to justice. But the past will not be forgotten and Jonathan faces Prescott in a deadly fight over a long lost love.

The novel begins with a powerful opening – Prescott executes a young man in Jonathan’s troop. Because of Jonathan’s involvement with the Royalists, he has lost his inheritance and his freedom as he spends his time eluding capture.

This is historical romance is well written with a strong focus on history. The foils of war are clearly portrayed and tempered with the blooming romance of Jonathan and Kate. The relationship between the characters are well developed and believable. The courage of both the heroine and hero keep the reader transfixed. It is not surprising the novel won such a prestigious award.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What A Scoundrel Wants

Chapter Thirty One - Robin and Marian

In his lifetime, Robin of Loxley had seen two angels.
Once, on the plains above Jerusalem, he looked across the barren wastes of the Holy Land. An apparition took flight against a severe blue sky, fleeing the chaos of armies’ violence in the valley below. Whether a messenger from God or a faithful soul newly departed, peace washed over him at the sight. Gone were the hard winds and stinging sands, the endless blood and brutality. He understood that although he was as far from home as a man was from heaven, he would return to the place he loved, to his England.
The second angel flew at him across the dells of the Loxley estate. Atop a steed, she could not have been a mortal woman. With the falling sun at her back, her face silhouetted, she rode with reckless skill. Dark hair raced behind her in fat plaits. Animal and angel galloped ever closer, never touching the ground. They dared to fly.
But unlike the sensation of peace he had tasted in Jerusalem, he felt only anticipation at the sight of this unearthly creature. He wondered why he would be blessed with such a vision now. When he arrived at the manor, he would have to ask Marian if all was well—
The angel materialized into a woman, his woman. She raced with the impulsive abandon of a girl, one without worries or heavy years. A grin as broad as the valley animated her features.
Never had a more glorious sound touched the world.
To his second he called, “Ride on, Hargrave. We shall arrive shortly.”
The riders in his entourage continued their steady, tired trek to the manor, passing their mistress with courteous nods. Her eyes never left his, barreling closer. Robin vaulted from his steed. Marian soared into his arms. They collapsed in a commotion of limbs and laughter.
She kissed him. Like a blessing, his angel kissed him. And he could only say her name, a chant, a plea to God to make his dream real.
Victory, hardship, and long, long years melted into the grass. She stretched across him, hands frenzied with the need to touch. Her curves and sighs hardened him with a quickness to leave him gasping. His armor kept her distant. He wanted to pull her to him, tight, flesh to flesh.
“My love,” she said, at once breathy, at once laughing. “My love, you are home.”
Joy trampled him. He dropped his head to the soft earth and sighed. “Our Lord be praised, yes—I am home.”
His joy reflected in her eyes, eyes bright with tears. She petted his face. “I don’t trust
what I see.”
“I’m here,” he said, pulling her to his mouth again. Tasting her made her real. In his dreams, he had never been able to taste her, no matter his desperation. “And for wont of a few more trees, I would claim you.”
She grinned, a sinful tease. “You are considerate of my virtue, husband.”
“Until we’re indoors.”
“Then let’s away.”
A horse neighed. Robin glanced at the pair and laughed. “By the way you rode that animal, I would have sworn it was a champion steed to carry the finest warrior into battle.”
She tossed a quick look to the bareback plow horse and shrugged. “Once I saw you from atop the lookout, waiting for my own horse to be saddled seemed a torture. I climbed atop the nearest I could find.”
“You’re not the angel I imagined,” he said. “You’re a wicked fiend.”
“Let me prove it to you.”
She caught his lower lip between her teeth, pushed her hips to his. The groan he heard must have been his, but his conscious mind seemed far removed from the man whose wife straddled him in an open field.
“Marian,” he gasped. “Enough, please.”
Her breasts pushed against the ornate embroidery at her bodice. With a last kiss, a gentle good-bye and a promise for more, she sat up. The cold wind frosted her cheeks to a ruddy pink.
She smoothed wayward curls from her face. “Just as well,” she said, calming. “Your armor is a nuisance to lovemaking.”
“You may help me remove it.”
He climbed behind her on his steed and pulled his fur mantle across their bodies. Marian
nestled into his arms. The second horse loped behind.
“Yes, my love?”
She hesitated. “Will has come home.”
Cold invaded the mantle. “Will Scarlet?”
“He’s come back?”
“Yes,” she said. “Some days thence.”
“I did not expect that.” Emotion thickened his words. Sudden, sharp pain sliced at his contentment. A conflicting sense of disappointment and failure poisoned those tiny cuts.
Will Scarlet. God protect him and damn him.
“Why? What does he need?”
“You’re right to suspect that he would not return without strong motivations.” She straightened but did not meet his eyes. “He is married.”
“I was surprised as well,” she said. “Of late, there has been trouble in Nottingham from the newest sheriff. Soldiers attacked them at Meg’s cabin. She was badly injured, and Will came here for aid.”
“You admitted him.”
She fixed him with a prickly stare. “Of course I did.”
“And he offered no explanation for why he left?”
“Do you think I required an explanation before offering care?” Holding her was like holding a tree branch.
“No, but answers from him would be courteous.”
“Robin, his wife lay unconscious in his arms. He came for her sake. I thought nothing of your grudges, nor did I behave to spite you.”
“Where is he now?”
“Probably with Meg.” She hesitated again, the wind teasing strands of hair from her plait.
“She is blind.”
“Because of the fire?”
“No. She has been for many years.”
The horse took them nearer to the manor, toward the stables, but Robin held the reins carelessly. He shook his head. “Will returned and married a blind woman. I’ve missed a lifetime.”
She wove cold fingers into his hair, massaging the tight muscles of his neck. “It feels that way.”
“I suppose I’ll have to speak with him tonight.”
“’Tis evening,” she said. “Let them rest. You, come and rest. We’ll have time enough for reunions tomorrow.”