Tea with Aleksandra

Aleksandra was surprised when she came out onto the wide verandah to see instead a stone-flagged terrace with steps down to formal gardens. She had stepped into another world

A small table was set for tea, and one of the two seats was already occupied by an older woman, richly dressed in a style long out of fashion. Mouth dropped open, Aleksandra approached the table.

“Good morning, I seem to have…ummm…where am I?”

The lady inclined her head, graciously. “This is Haverford Castle, in England. Allow me to introduce myself, my dear. I am Eleanor Haverford. Please, do take a seat and join me for tea?”

“Haverford? England?” Aleksandra stuttered. “Yes, thank you, I’d love that.”

She took the offered seat, looking around at the unfamiliar landscape. “I’m Aleksandra Lekarski. I’m from…California. From the Rancho de las Pulgas.” Behind her, grey stone walls loomed. When Xavier first took her to the rancho, the mansion, surrounded by its lush gardens and many smaller buildings, had impressed her with its size, and its sense of history and permanence. The castle before which they sat was ten times as large and many hundred years older.

“Haverford Castle,” the lady explained. “There has been a castle here since the Norman conquest, and when my husband’s ancestor was raised to a dukedom, he took his title from the castle. The lady was a duchess, then. Aleksandra tried to remember what her mother said about addressing a duchess.

The duchess offered several different types of tea, then milk and sugar, and passed the cup to Aleksandra with a small plate containing iced cakes, bringing a smile to Aleksandra’s face.

“OOooohh, my mother once made these!” Her brows drew together again. “But why am I here?”

The duchess tilted her head and gave a slight lift to one shoulder; not enough to be called a shrug. “It is most peculiar, is it not, Miss Lekarski? I do not know how it works, but every Monday afternoon I have a visitor, and I never know the place and time they will come from and return to. Please, do relax and tell me about yourself.”

Alexsandra began obediently. “I was born in Vienna, but my family ran to the United States when I was just an infant. We ended up trapping in the wilderness of Utah Territory, then after I met Xavier, I moved home to his family inheritance, the Rancho de las Pulgas!”

“Xavier is your husband? But no, the name you gave me is Polish. His name is surely Spanish.”

“Yes, he is.” Remembering her brother-in-law’s drunken ramblings, she frowned. “Or I I thought he was… until yesterday. We’re working on that. And, yes, it’s a Spanish name. He’s from an old Californio (yes, with a ‘o’ ) family, which has the Spanish Conquistadors as their origin, so he’s Latin.”

“That sounds like a story! You thought you were married and you found yesterday you were not?”

“Something my brother in law said…our marriage might not actually be valid…but as soon as he wakens from his drunken stupor, we’ll find out!

“How distressing for you. I hope it is just his drunkeness.  I can hear in your voice that you are happy with your Xavier. And what does Xavier think of you?”

“I really have to answer that?” Alexsandra gave a big sigh, but her eyes twinkled at the duchess. It was a pleasure talking to someone she would never meet again outside of a dream such as this. “He’d say (I’ve heard him say, anyway) I’m lovely (he can’t get enough of my golden curls that reach past my derrière), an unparalleled rider (I was trained by my father in dzhigitovka), smart (I speak five languages and do math in my head), sensitive, generous to a fault, and a lot of fun.”

She chuckled. “But…he’d also say I’m opinionated, bossy, inclined to always want to do things my own way, and difficult to get to know. But he loves me anyway. Dzhigitovka and horses are my greatest loves, other than Xavier, of course.”

The duchess had been listening intently. “Tell me, what is Dzhigitovka?”

“Oooohhh… Dzhigitovka originated with the Caucasians, long, long ago, and it was kept alive by the Cossacks, and now the Russians. It’s a form of riding we now call trick riding, but it evolved as a form of mounted warfare. Even the names are wonderful… the Cossack hang, the death drag, to name a few… My papa learned, back in Poland, from a Ukranian, Vladimir, who, incidentally, plays a large part in book One, A Long Trail Rolling!”

Alexsandra’s hostess opened her hazel eyes wide. “How exciting! You have led a very adventurous life, my dear.”

“It’s very adventurous. I’ve only just now begun wearing skirts. I had one muslin dress to my name, but several pairs of buckskins!”

“And your papa taught you. What does your Xavier think of your trick riding?”

“Xavier loves it,” Aleksandra said proudly. “I’ve taught him some, too! He a magnificent horseman, and rides a gorgeous gray Andalusian stallion. My mount of choice is Dzień, a mustang.”

“Then your man is a match for you, and Aleksandra (may I call you Aleksandra?) if you are not married yet, it will be simple enough to amend the situation will it not?”

“It should be a simple matter…if we’re not actually married, there should be no impediment. I’m sure my mother in law, Maria Arguëllo, will be ecstatic to not miss this wedding, and will go to great lengths to make it the most remembered ceremony of the year! The rancho is the biggest old Spanish land grant in the San Francisco Bay Area, after all! She will make sure it’s quite the fiesta!”

The duchess put down her cup and held out her hand, taking Aleksandra’s hand in a firm glass. “How I wish this afternoon tea portal worked both ways! I should love to see you as a bride, my dear. But I wish you all the very best, you and your Xavier both.”

“Thank you, I really enjoyed the cup of tea, haven’t had one like that since my mama died. I will try to write to you and let you know what happens. Thank you again, and…take good care!”

The Hills of Gold Unchanging

No one will stand in their way—

                                                and live.

As the Civil War rages, secessionists menace California.

Trying to get back home, Aleksandra and Xavier journey through the mining camps of 1860’s Nevada and California, the Sacramento floods and Old San Francisco to Xavier’s Californio Rancho de las Pulgas.

Embroiled in the Confederate’s fight to drag the new state from the Union and make it their own, can Aleks and Xavier survive? The secessionists mean business.

This is Book Two of The Long Trails Series of historical romantic thriller sagas, following Lizzi’s characters from the wilderness of 1860’s Utah to Colonial New Zealand

Meet Lizzi Tremayne

Lizzi grew up riding wild in the Santa Cruz Mountain redwoods, became an equine veterinarian at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, practiced in the California Pony Express and Gold Country before emigrating to New Zealand. When not writing, she’s swinging a rapier or shooting a bow in medieval garb, riding, driving a carriage or playing on her farm, singing, or working as an equine veterinarian or science teacher. She is multiply published and awarded in special interest magazines and veterinary periodicalsPhotos

BUY LINKS : 

Buy A Long Trail Rolling, and The Hills of Gold Unchanging

Amazon * Nook * Kobo  * Smashwords 

FIND LIZZI AT:

Lizzi’s Website * Lizzi’s Blog * Twitter * Facebook * Pinterest * Goodreads * Amazon Author Page * Instagram

EXCERPT:

June 1860, Echo Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah Territory

His blade glinted in the sunlight as he lunged toward her, but she ducked and spun, her own sword flashing in figure eights while she retreated, and his strike met with only air. He recovered and set himself up for the onslaught he knew would come, coughing as the dust kicked up by their boots thickened.

Blade up, he parried the blows she rained down upon him. He managed to get in one of his own, and retreated for a moment, breathing hard. She stepped back as well, her breasts heaving beneath the thin linen. Blue eyes glittered below brows narrowed with concentration, before her sword returned to action with a vengeance. They circled, dodging and striking in turn. Her skill was far greater, but the girl’s injuries from her last fight, combined with his greater reach and fitness were beginning to tell. A movement tugged at the edge of his vision—he glanced up from her sword to see her hat tumble off. Her hair cascaded down in a tangle to her thighs, and his heart surged.

She’s mine now.

He offered the ghost of a smile as he moved in to disarm her with a passing lunge and struck at her sword arm.

The air left his lungs and he tasted dirt in his mouth as he hit the unforgiving ground face-first. He groaned and rolled over, expecting the worst.

Above him, her laughing visage met his eyes. Her glorious curls, molten gold, fell around his face like a veil as she bent to wipe his face and kiss his lips. She slid the hilt of his sword from his hand.

“All right, halte, hold, you two,” their instructor said, in his heavy Russian accent. “There’s still work to be done, Xavier, but you’ve done well.”

Xavier Argüello took the hand his opponent offered, hopped to his feet and dusted off his clothes.

“Well done, Querido,” said his intended, Aleksandra Lekarski, as she returned his sword.

“Xavier, come here, please,” Vladimir Chabardine said, from the doorway of the cabin, where he was propped up in his sickbed. “You have worked hard. I am impressed, and it is rare that I am compelled to say that. That shashka now belongs to you. Use it in good health.”

Xavier stared at him, then at the Don Cossack saber in his hand, its leather grip smooth with years of use. He was silent for long moments.

“But it’s yours, Vladimir,” he finally said.

“It was one of mine, yes. Now it is yours. Tatiana brought my other two shashkas with her from Russia. One is for Nikolai, when he is ready, and this one is for you. It’s the least I can do, after my part in,” he looked at Aleksandra and grimaced, “your papa’s death.”

She nodded, her face grim, in acknowledgement.

“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart,” Xavier said, shaking his head at the Russian, as he ran a finger from the tooled embellishment on the pommel through to the rawhide bouton and strip they used for their practice sessions. He slid the protectors off and his new shashka whispered into its scabbard. He turned to face Aleksandra, and bowed to her. “Thank you,” he said, then turned to Vladimir, “and again, to you.”

She returned the bow and smiled at them both.

“You’re not quite done,” Vladimir said. “Xavier, replace the guard.”

“What would you like?” Aleksandra asked.

“One more bout. En garde,” he said, and they prepared.

Prêt.” They nodded.

Allez,” Vladimir snapped, and they began.

Aleksandra feinted, then moved to strike, but Xavier saw a hole in her defense and lunged. She twirled way, with a laugh, then drew back, looking frightened, her body twisted strangely to the right.

Was she injured?

His gaze lifted to her face, but no pain resided there, though her brow was furrowed. What a chance! Her whole left side was unguarded, and he went for the opening.

Before he could alter his course, she unwound and her shashka flashed toward him. For the second time in his life, he froze as he found her blade across his throat.

¿Recuerdas? Remember this?” she said, her eyes merry.

“How could I forget, Querida,” he spoke for her ears alone, “our first meeting?”

Hands clapped behind them and they spun as one, hands on their sword hilts.

“No need fer that, no need fer that,” said a man, mounted on a chestnut horse. Beside the horse walked a black man, tied by the wrists to the rope in the rider’s hands.

“What do you wan—” Xavier began, then clamped his jaw, as his breath came short. Blood pounded in his ears and his face heated. “What can I help you with,” he finally managed, past gritted teeth, as he walked away from the house door, toward their callers.

“Well, hello theah,” the rider said, his Southern accent heavy. “Good fightin’, and fer a girl, too.” He looked sideways at Aleksandra.

“Aleks,” Xavier hissed, as he felt, rather than saw, her bristle beside him. He glanced at her knuckles showing white on the pommel of her saber. He reached out and covered her sword hand with his own and she took a deep breath and stilled.

“We’re yer new neighbors down th’road. Y’all wanna buy a slave? We’ve jus’ done come West ‘n now we’ve done finished buildin’ the house, he’s,” he nodded at the man at the end of his tether, “jus’ ‘noth’r mouth t’feed. Ca’int use ‘im to grow nuthin’ in this rock y’call dirt around heah.” He stopped and looked at the yard and cabin. “Nice place y’all got here.”

Xavier nodded, silent.

The man’s brows narrowed, then he continued. “Well, ah wondered if y’all had a breedin—ah, a woman slave I could trade fer him. The missus wants help in t’house, an’ I could use a little…too.” The glint in his beady eyes turned his grin into a leer.

Xavier closed his eyes and clenched his fists. “This territory may allow slavery, but nobody holds with it around here.”

The Southerner was silent for a moment, then answered with a voice dripping with sarcasm. “Now that’s mahty neighborly of ya. Are y’all some o’them ab’litionists we come West to git away from?”

“As you wish.” Xavier raised a brow at him, then shifted his gaze to the man on foot, staring at the dirt. “I apologize to you, sir, but you’ll have to go home with him again. May you find yourself a better life soon.”

The corners of the slave’s mouth lifted briefly. His eyes flickered up to Xavier’s, brightened, then dulled again as he dropped them to the ground.

“C’mon Jordan,” the rider growled, “we’re not welc’m here, by all accounts.” He jerked his horse around and they retreated the way they’d come.

Xavier stood silent, watching them go, then began to shake. He closed his eyes, willing himself to control the anger, and the deepening darkness. He inhaled sharply. When he opened his eyes, Aleksandra was staring at him.

“Are you all right?” she said, her brow furrowed.

“Yes.” Xavier nodded.

“More Southerners,” Aleksandra scowled as she wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her sleeve, “running from home before the government takes their slaves away?”

“That’ll never happen,” Xavier said, from between clenched jaws. “Too strong, too wealthy—cotton—slaves. Poor beggars down South.” He peered around. “Even here. I can’t believe it.”

“Believe it,” she said. “They’re coming.”

He shook his head. “I just wish we could stop it—the abuse, the owning.”

Aleksandra wrapped her arms around him, held him close until the tremors quieted. She leaned back in his arms and studied his face, then seemed satisfied with what she saw.

“Having you here makes it bearable, I think,” he said, and kissed her.

“I’m so used to you being the strong one…sometimes I forget the demons that still eat at you,” she said.

 

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Tea with Charles

The Duke of Murnane moved with ease in the highest circles. Few people set Charles off his confidence. The Duchess of Haverford was one of them. Standing now, hat in hand, in the anteroom to her inner sanctum while her bespectacled assistant announced his presence, he almost succumbed to the temptation to bolt for the door.

He had only come to town because his vote on one of the reform bills had been deemed vital, a vote that went against Haverford’s firmly held beliefs—the duke’s that is, not his lady wife’s. He intended to return to Eversham Hall as swiftly as he could, but he still had matters to attend to on behalf of his cousin’s… He had no words for what Clare Armbruster meant to his cousin since the two of them seemed intent on pretending their connection was entirely business. This summons had been inconvenient at best.

“The duchess will greet you, now,” the assistant said, her voice from the doorway pitched so low he almost missed it.

The lady smiled from her place on a gilt brocade settee. Without appearing to do anything so tasteless as “holding court,” she managed to reflect power wrapped in compassion. It was the latter that made his knees wobble.

“Charles,” she beamed at him when he bowed over her hand. “Thank you for find a moment for me.”

He took the delicate porcelain teacup she offered. What choice did he have? When she offered, he took a lemon cake as well, a small masterpiece from the Haverford kitchens.

“Tell me the final tally. Did the reform pass?”

“Just.” Had she asked him here to discuss politics? She must have better sources, he thought. “Two votes. Mine wasn’t strictly necessary as it turned out, but it might have been. Haverford will not be pleased,” he grinned, amusement getting the better of him.

“The duke is rarely pleased,” she replied tartly. “You’ve been in the country for weeks this time. We’ve missed you in London. Is it Lord Jonathon ‘s condition that keeps you away?”

The duke’s son suffered from a weakness of the heart. Episodes in which his lungs filled with fluid occurred periodically, coming more frequently this past year. He took a shuddering breath. “You know me well. Yes, Jonny has been failing. He rallied this week, however, and there are others to care for him while I’m gone”

“Forgive me for intruding Charles, but it is Lord Jonathon’s health that concerns me. He is your only heir, is he not?”

“Of course I have only one heir, Your Grace.” Unease prickled up the back of his neck.

She waved an irritated hand. “Do not try to flummox me, Charles. I’ve known you since Chadbourn brought you up to London when you were twelve years old. You have no other son, and, as you have made clear, Jonny, poor darling, is unlikely to outlive you. What do you plan to do about it?”

There it was. He looked around for escape and found none. “What can I do about it? If the worst happens, Fred is my heir after Jonny. What more do I need.”

The duchess put her cup down and reached for his hand. He had the oddest feeling—as if he were twelve again, and her warmth wrapped him like a blanket. “You deserve better, Charles.”

“Better than my cousin Fred? He is home from India, you know, at Eversham looking after Jonny.”

She shook her head sadly. “Don’t put me off. You deserve better than this half-life you live. Whatever they may say, not one person in London, their heart of hearts, would begrudge you happiness. Divorce that harpy you married and find a woman who will make you happy.”

He pulled his hands back. “And give me an heir,” he spat bitterly, immediately regretting it. The Duchess of Haverford, shrewd as she was, meant nothing but kindness.

“Fred Wheatly knows his duty and will do it if he must,” she said gently. “He has enough backbone and integrity to know the position is more than a title. However, the weight of it would not be his choice, I think. So, yes, better for all around if you had another son.”

“Jonny doesn’t deserve the scandal and I won’t have him thinking he isn’t enough for me.” He made a helpless gesture. “I would have to sue her lover first and I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s some German baron this time. She is back in Baden.”

“Nonsense. You could find any one of a number of barons, land stewards, or—”

“Enough! You’ve made my point. Isn’t it enough Julia has humiliated me every year we’ve been married? Do you really think my family wants me to drag it all out in the courts?”

“Don’t they?” She pinned him with the gaze that made even Aldridge quail.

He put the cup down with deliberate care. “My compliments to the chef, Your Grace. The cakes were exquisite and the company, as always, delightful.”  When he bowed over her hand, she didn’t try to prevent his departure.

_____________________________________

The story of Charles’s cousin Fred will unfold in Caroline Warfield’s The Reluctant Wife, to be published the end of April, 2017.

When Bengal Army Captain Fred Wheatly is forced to resign in disgrace, and his mistress dies leaving him with two half-caste daughters to raise, he reluctantly turns to Clare Armbruster for help. But the interfering, beautiful widow demands more of him than he’s ready to give. He’s failed so often in the past. Clare’s made mistakes as well. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

Charles also plays a key role in The Renegade Wife, helping his cousin Rand unravel his love life while protecting the crown from a nasty gang of counterfeiters.  It is available for purchase now or free with Kindle unlimited.

Reclusive businessman Rand Wheatly finds his solitude disrupted by a desperate woman running with her children from an ugly past. But even his remote cabin in Upper Canada isn’t safe enough. Meggy Blair may have lied to him, but she breached the walls of his betrayed heart. Now she’s on the run again and time is running out for all of them.

The Author

Bluestocking Belle and award winning author Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she works in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

Links

http://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/the-reluctant-wife/

https://www.amazon.com/Renegade-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B01LY7IRT6/

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Shiny facts

tsundokuI’ve commented before that I have a jackdaw mind: I love shiny facts, and will follow the hint of one for miles through books and around the internet, until I can get my beak on it and carry it away into the recesses of my overstuffed memory.

It might amuse you to know the books and videos currently feeding this obsession (mostly Georgian and British focused, but a few reaching into other places and other eras):

Taste: Kate Colquhuon

Smallpox, Syphilis and Salvation: Sheryl Pearson

The Enlightened Economy: Joel Mokyr

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World: Peter Frankopan

The Secret History of Georgian London: Dan Gruikshank

Crown and Country (TV series on DVD): Edward Windsor as narrator

Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit (TV series): Mary Beard as narrator

The Story of China (TV series): Michael Wood as narrator

I’m intending to read (and have on my bedside table):

Redcoats Against Napoleon: Carole Divall

Europe under Napoleon: Michael Broers

In these Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars: Jenny Uglow

(Bit of a theme, there)

The Fortune Hunter: Peter James Bowman

Magpie, Squirrels and Thieves: Jacqueline Yallop

The Unruly Queen: Flora Fraser

Wilful Impropriety: Edaterina Sedia

Unquiet Lives: Marriage and Marriage Breakdown in England: Joanne Bailey

 

 

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Love is worth the risk…

The renegade wifeLove is worth the risk…

New cover, new release, new series! Coming in October

The heroes and heroines of Caroline Warfield’s DANGEROUS SERIES overcame challenges even after their happy ending. Their children seek their own happiness in distant lands in Warfield’s new CHILDREN OF EMPIRE SERIES. In THE RENEGADE WIFE, first of the new series, reclusive Rand Wheatly finds contentment in his remote cabin in Upper Canada, intent on making his fortune in timber, until his precious solitude is disrupted by a woman running from an ugly past. He quickly realizes she wasn’t what she claims, but now she’s on the run again and time is running out for him to save her.

Caroline is celebrating with a GIVEAWAY on her website.
http://wp.me/p5qiDD-vj

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Review: The Master of Strathburn

MasterOfStrathburnFINALFor her newest release, Amy Rose Bennett has returned to Scotland, this time in the years after the failure of the Jacobite rebellion that resoundingly defeated in 1746. I loved Lady Beauchamp’s Proposal, and this novel is even better.

The eldest son of the Earl of Strathburn has returned home. But it won’t be fatted calf on the spit if his stepmother and younger half-brother gets his way. Robert Grant was spirited away ten years ago, just ahead of arresting soldiers, after he led men in the disaster that was Culloden. And if Simon and the redcoats catch him, the charge of treachery still stands.

Jessie Munroe is in hiding from Simon, too. He is determined to make the lovely girl his mistress, and if she is unwilling, so much the better. In Simon’s view, that adds a bit of spice.

When Robert and Jessie both choose to hide in the same place, the sparks we’ve come to expect from Ms Bennett set fire to the page. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can tell you to expect misunderstandings, a noble warrior protector with a hot body, a determined intelligent heroine, and a couple of truly nasty villains. Simon is the kind of horrid person who pulled the wings of flies when he was a boy.

But his mother is well and truly worthy of the tradition of Lady Macbeth and the wicked stepmother trope. She is not at all concerned about her son’s fondness for raping the help, gambling and spending away the estate’s income, and drinking himself blind. He is her boy, and should be allowed to have what he wants.

Ms Bennett has given us a thrilling romance with an historical background that feels authentic, a couple of chase scenes with cliff-hanger consequences, some clever plot twists, and plenty of passion. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to review an advance reader copy.

See Amy Rose Bennett’s New Sexy Novel for more about the book, and some buy links.

 

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Amy Rose Bennett’s new sexy novel

MasterofStrathburn1

Today, I welcome Amy Rose Bennett to my site on her blog tour for the Master of Strathburn. I loved this book, and encourage you to read my review, but meanwhile, read on.
About the Book:







Title of New Release: The Master of Strathburn
Publisher: Escape Publishing (Harlequin)
Release date: May 15, 2016

Blurb:
Robert Grant has returned home to Lochrose Castle in the Highlands to reconcile with his long-estranged father, the Earl of Strathburn. But there is a price on Robert’s head, and his avaricious younger half-brother, Simon, doesn’t want him reclaiming his birthright. And it’s not only Simon and the redcoats that threaten to destroy Robert’s plans after a flame-haired complication of the feminine kind enters the scene…
Jessie Munroe is forced to flee Lochrose Castle after the dissolute Simon Grant tries to coerce her into becoming his mistress. After a fateful encounter with a mysterious and handsome hunter, Robert, in a remote Highland glen, she throws her lot in with the stranger—even though she suspects he is a fugitive. She soon realizes that this man is dangerous in an entirely different way to Simon…
Despite their searing attraction, Robert and Jessie struggle to trust each other as they both seek a place to call home. The stakes are high and only one thing is certain: Simon Grant is in pursuit of them both…

Pre-order Buy Links:
Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/102Xim
Google Play: http://ow.ly/102XJ1
About the Author:
Amy Rose Bennett has always wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. An avid reader with a particular love for historical romance, it seemed only natural to write stories in her favorite genre. She has a passion for creating emotion-packed—and sometimes a little racy—stories set in the Georgian and Regency periods. Of course, her strong-willed heroines and rakish heroes always find their happily ever after.
Amy is happily married to her own Alpha male hero, has two beautiful daughters, and a rather loopy Rhodesian Ridgeback. She has been a speech pathologist for many years but is currently devoting her time to her one other true calling—writing romance.
Connect with Amy:
Website and Blog: http://AmyRoseBennett.com
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New release: Samantha Grace’s Resisting Romeo

OnceUponARegencyCover2Today, Samantha Grace has joined me to tell us about her story in the new book Once Upon a Regency, and to share an excerpt.

French actress and aspiring playwright Claudine Bellerose recently closed the curtains on a bad romance and has returned to center stage at a small London playhouse where she is about to premiere her first production. Enter Russell Hawke, the new owner of the Drayton Theatre, to deliver disturbing news. If Claudine’s play doesn’t turn a profit, he’ll have no choice except to close the theatre. To further complicate matters, her leading man just suffered an accident and can’t perform. Russell is confident he is capable of stepping in to star opposite the lovely Claudine, but she quickly realizes his horrible acting is threatening to turn her romantic play into a farce. Her only option is to tutor him in his role, and hope she can resist the charms of this handsome Romeo.

Excerpt from Resisting Romeo:

The women took turns showing her how to punch, block, and evade capture if a man leapt out of the shadows.

“Miss Darlington was a splendid teacher,” Rachel said, “but I don’t see how a woman is supposed to flip a man to the ground if he attacks from behind. Won’t he be too heavy?”

Claudine smiled, recalling she had asked a similar question of Regina. “You don’t actually lift him. You throw off his balance. Size can work in your favor. The bigger the man, the harder it will be for him to catch himself, especially if he doesn’t have use of his hands. Let me show you.”

She waved for Anastasia to come forward for a demonstration. Claudine chose her, because she was nearly twice Claudine’s height. Anastasia often stood in for one of the male parts in shows simply because she was tall. A bit of make-up, padding, and a hat could hide her beauty well enough to make it somewhat believable, if she didn’t have many lines.

“I want you to grab me from behind,” Claudine said. Anastasia’s blond eyebrows shot up on her forehead. “I promise not to take you to the ground. I only want to show everyone the steps again.”

“Would you like an actual man for the demonstration?” Mr. Hawke called from the floor.

A delicious shiver ran through her at the thought of him touching her. “That isn’t necessary, sir. Ana will work well enough for our purpose.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” the actress said.

Rachel raised her hand as if Claudine had asked to take a count. “I would like to see Mr. Hawke stand in. I would feel more confident if I can see it is possible with a real man.”

The others agreed.

He was already climbing the stage stairs, and she couldn’t think of a valid excuse to refuse his assistance. Her body tingled in places she really wished it wouldn’t, as his long legs carried him across the stage with a stride that was deliberate, yet unhurried. When he stopped in front of her, a broad smile spread across his face and revealed a dimple in his left cheek. “I am at your service.”

“You may take my place,” Anastasia said and rejoined the group.

Mr. Hawke claimed Anastasia’s spot on stage. “Did I hear correctly that I am to grab you from behind, Miss Bellerose?”

“Yes, Mr. Hawke,” she said, adding in French, “and you better not enjoy it.”

He laughed. “I promise to despise every moment.”

She flinched, having forgotten he could understand her.

“I told you I studied French,” he said. “I also know German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Can you speak with an American accent? I barely understand a word they say. That would be a safe bet if you want to insult me without me becoming the wiser.”

He winked and the other women giggled.

“I wasn’t insulting you,” she said for the benefit of her fellow actresses. If Mr. Hawke closed the theatre after all, she didn’t want to be blamed.

“No, you didn’t, Miss Bellerose. I simply was offering you options in case you want to abuse me in the future.”

She wrinkled her nose at him. “Merci.”

She only knew French and English, and a few German words Tilde had taught her. Growing up, her father had always spoken French to her. He’d never stopped missing his native land, but as he’d often reminded himself, there was nothing left for them in France. Claudine was an infant when her father fled their home with her. When she was old enough to understand, Papa told her about the unrest in France and the rumor that he was to be called before the Tribunal. He said Maximilien Robespierre used the trials as an excuse to execute his political opposition, and Papa had been vocal in his commendation of the violence.

She and her father had arrived safely in England, but a distant cousin turned them away. Papa had always said he left everything behind except his most precious treasure. Sometimes he would pretend he couldn’t remember what it was and ask her to guess. She knew he was teasing about having forgotten, because at night, he would tuck her in bed and whisper, “Mon trésor.” Claudine had always felt fortunate that he loved her as he did.

She took a cleansing breath to bring herself back to the present, and turned away from Mr. Hawke. “Whenever you are ready, I want you to pretend to attack me.”

It must be instinct–or perhaps boys were taught how to grab a woman as part of their education–but it seemed all men tried to hook a woman around the neck when he meant her harm. Mr. Hawke was the exception. He draped his arm across her body, cradling her against his firm chest. His gentleness caught her by surprise, and instead of trying to break free of his hold, she closed her eyes and sank against him.

“If you promise not to hurt me,” he whispered in her ear, “you may take me to the ground.”

Sacre bleu. He smelled magnificent, like a cozy wood fire on a cold night blended with a hint of spice. She swallowed hard and nodded. “W-when a man grabs you, try to get your hand between his arm and your neck, so you have a little room to breathe.” She demonstrated as she walked through the steps. “Now hug his arm to your chest and duck low, throwing your shoulder forward and thrusting out your leg.”

Mr. Hawke pitched forward, tripping over her leg, and landed on the stage with a thunderous bang. She gasped as he winced.

“Mr. Hawke!” Rachel rushed to kneel at his side. “Are you hurt?” She glared at Claudine. “Look what you did. What were you thinking?”

Claudine was frozen, unable to speak or move. He peered up at her. She braced herself for the insults and derogatory names that were sure to come. Any moment she expected Mr. Hawke to rail at her–to shout insults and call her names.

He laughed.

Meet Samantha Grace

71mlzTw1iTL__UX250_RITA-nominated historical romance author, Samantha Grace, discovered the appeal of a great love story at the age of four, thanks to Disney’s “Robin Hood”. She didn’t care that Robin Hood and Maid Marian were cartoon animals. It was her first happily-ever-after experience, and she didn’t want the warm fuzzies to end. Now that Samantha is grown, she enjoys creating her own happy-endings for characters that spring from her imagination. Publisher’s Weekly describes her stories as “fresh and romantic” with subtle humor and charm. Samantha describes romance writing as the best job ever. Part-time medical social worker, moonlighting author, and Pilates nut, she enjoys a happy and hectic life with her real life hero and two kids in the Midwest.

Samantha Grace Author Website  http://samanthagraceauthor.com

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Interfering relatives or friends in WIP Wednesday

presentsOne recurring trope in romance fiction is the relative or friend who puts a spoke in the wheel of the budding relationship. Sometimes, the person means well and sometimes they’re just plain mean. I’ve been thinking about my own novels and shorter fiction, and each one has at least one representative of the class: Daniel in Candle’s Christmas Chair, Alex in Farewell to Kindness, the Duchess of Haverford in A Baron for Becky, and both Enid and Bosville in Gingerbread Bride (my novella in Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem).

girl_with_a_green_shawl-largeThe stories in next month’s release are no exception, with two evil brothers, a wicked cousin, a diabolic sister, and a rather unpleasant aunt and uncle.

So for this week’s work-in-progress Wednesday, give me a few lines showing your secondary characters interferring in the developing love of your protagonists. Here are my aunt and uncle from All that Glisters, being their less than charming selves. Thomas has brought a present for Rose, my heroine, but has assumed her guardians will not let her receive it unless he has gifts for them. (All that Glisters is set in Victorian Dunedin, New Zealand.)

“Turned up again, have you?” Aunt Agnes said without enthusiasm.

Thomas pulled out the first of the presents with which he had armed himself. “Happy Christmas, Aunt Agnes.”

“We do not celebrate Christmas in this house, young man.” Campbell had been sitting unnoticed on a chair facing away from the door. His glower followed his voice as he rose to glare at Thomas.

“Happy new year then, Uncle,” Thomas said, peaceably, handing the old man a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and passing another to Aunt Agnes.

For a moment, the two hesitated, then curiosity and avarice overcame their distaste, and they both began to untie the string.

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The Dangerous Duke of Dinnisfree

Congratulations to Julie Johnstone on her new release, The Dangerous Duke of Dinnisfree.

The Dangerous Duke of Dinnisfree CoverJustin Holleman, the Duke of Dinnisfree, is used to being wanted—in bed, for missions, and even dead. He’s protected his country more times than he can remember, gaining enemies along the way, but he failed to defend himself from the past that hardened his heart. Instead, he became an expert at shutting people out. Yet now, in order to save the king, Justin needs to let go of his old ways and let someone closer to him than ever before. He approaches the mission with his classic cold calculation, but his fiery new ally upends his ordered world and entices him at every turn. Suddenly he’s in danger of compromising his assignment and losing his heart, two things he swore never to do.

Desperate to protect her parents from poverty, among other things, Miss Arabella Carthright unwittingly becomes a pawn in a dangerous political battle when she agrees to aid an enigmatic stranger. Having learned long ago to count only on herself, she’s surprised when time and again the duke actually aids her. But when his true assignment becomes clear, Arabella realizes the man she’s come to care for poses the greatest threat to those she loves.

As Justin and Arabella face their feelings and their web of deception falls away, they must decide how high a price they are willing to pay for love and loyalty.

Excerpt:

Arabella looked Justin straight in the eyes. “I’m supposed to seduce you. That’s why I’m here.”

“Well, by all means, then,” he teased, even as desire gripped him in its iron hold.

Her mouth parted, and she stared at him for a long moment. She inhaled slowly, her chest rising tantalizingly. “I’m also supposed to search your home for the letters.”

He cocked an eyebrow. Anger pumped through his veins that she, an innocent, had been drawn into such corruption.

“Justin, I don’t intend to seduce you.”

“How utterly disappointing,” he murmured. He had to take a deep inhalation to try to return his heartbeat to a normal rhythm. If she’d attempted to seduce him at this moment, he would have let her with no hesitation at all. He would have compromised his mission to touch her, kiss her, and hold her in his arms.

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A Dangerous Weakness extra: Volkov employs an investigator

This bit of fiction joins the hero of Embracing Prudence, a yet-to-be published work by Jude Knight, with the villain of Dangerous Weakness by Caroline Warfield, which is on pre-order now. Part two has been posted on Caroline’s blog today. Part one is here.

Volkov

Konstantin Volkov

The lean, sour faced man ducked to enter the waiting parlour at the premises of Wakefield and Wakefield, Enquiry Agents, as he had been shown. His tight lips showed his disapproval. He stood in a room that looked nothing like rooms in a proper office should. Not only did the fabrics and small decorations show every sign of a feminine touch, but books, newspapers, and, worst of all, children’s toys cluttered the space. He frowned.

Konstantin Volkov did not question his decisions often. This time he did. Contacts described David Wakefield as ruthless. One reference called the man as cold blooded as a snake. This domestic clutter did not reflect an image of the sort of man he needed. Before he could examine that thought, a woman appeared to show him into Wakefield’s office. No proper business employs a woman clerk, he grumbled internally, but he followed in her wake.

David - self portrait by Carl Joseph Begas

David Wakefield

David Wakefield stood to shake his hand. The enquiry agent was shorter than Volkov, and finely built. But the grip was strong enough, and the calm brown eyes under level brows hinted at a man with confidence in his own ability. Still, his smile at the woman and her wink made Volkov uneasy.

I can’t afford to hire some weakling. If there were an alternative, I would leave. He didn’t. Volkov had run out of contacts in the seething underbelly of London and England’s port cities. The usual lowlifes were good at tracking drabs and pickpockets. They had proven to be no help finding a respectable woman, and Lily Thornton was as respectable as they get, at least on the surface.

“How may I help you?” Wakefield’s voice startled Volkov from his thoughts. Stay alert Kostya. Don’t be a fool. He employed his most charming smile.

“A woman, Mr. Wakefield. I need help finding one.”

Wakefield smiled back. “If you require match making, perhaps my wife—“

“No, no. I need to find a particular woman, one I plan to make my wife.” Oh I have plans for darling Lily, but they are not quite so proper.

Wakefield sat back and pinned him with a hard look. “The woman you plan to marry has gone missing? Why is that?” Volkov caught a glance of the ruthless steel underneath the genial exterior and controlled the urge to shiver.

“A foolish misunderstanding. She misunderstood something she overheard and has gone off in a fright. I need only find her and reassure her.”

“What of the woman’s parents. Have they not located her?” Wakefield asked.

“Her father has been detained abroad. She is alone here with only the dubious protection of a maiden aunt.” One with easily bribed servants.

“This woman’s name?” The enquiry agent’s hand poised over a sheet of foolscap as if to take notes.

“Lily Thornton,” Volkov said and immediately regretted it. He saw the flicker of recognition in Wakefield’s eyes and the moment the agent suppressed it. If he knows who she is, he will unravel the truth quickly.

“When did you see her last?”

Volkov had no answer. If he told the man about the Mallet’s literary salon, he would connect Lily to Glenaire’s sister and thus, to the Marquess himself.

Wakefield went on smoothly, as if he didn’t notice Volkov’s silence. “What is more to the point, when did you notice her missing?”

“When I called at her aunt’s yesterday.” Another lie. Volkov couldn’t get past Glenaire’s guards. Marianne Thornton’s feckless maid brought the information.

Wakefield looked at Volkov so long that Volkov began to sweat. “I will call on the aunt and see what I can discover,” he said at last.

Too late. Volkov could hardly tell him not too. “Thank you. That is a good place to start.” He shot quick glance at the door.

“Come back in three days, and I’ll tell you what I’ve found.”

Volkov rose and thanked the blasted agent. As he descended the steps he faced harsh reality. I’m out of options. I need to leave London and drop out of sight. He stepped lively down the road. Perhaps Portsmouth. The thought raised his spirits. He would get her yet.

His confidence might have taken a knock had he looked back to where Wakefield and his wife watched from the window. Especially had he heard their conversation.

“What do you think, Prue?” David slipped his arm around his wife’s shoulders.

“I do not like that man, David. Something about him makes my skin crawl.”

“He is looking for Miss Thornton. Isn’t she the diplomat’s daughter you talked to at Mrs Mallet’s salon?”

“Yes. The one whose name has been linked with Glenaire’s.”

David had heard something of the sort. But a commoner and the Marble Marquess? It seemed unlikely. “Is it serious, Prue?”

Prue shrugged. “He is a ducal heir. He is expected to marry accordingly. But… there is an electricity between them, David.”

“I imagine he knows she is missing,” David mused. “I wonder if he knows the Russian is after her?”

For part 2 of this original story, written just for Caroline’s blog tour, go to her website.


What has become of Lily? Find out in Dangerous Weakness, on prerelease now and published on 1 October.

David and Prue’s story will appear early next year in Embracing Prudence.

Dangerous Weakness

DANGEROUS WEAKNESS2 (5)If women were as easily managed as the affairs of state—or the recalcitrant Ottoman Empire—Richard Hayden, Marquess of Glenaire, would be a happier man. As it was the creatures—one woman in particular—made hash of his well-laid plans and bedeviled him on all sides.

Lily Thornton came home from Saint Petersburg in pursuit of marriage. She wants a husband and a partner, not an overbearing, managing man. She may be “the least likely candidate to be Marchioness of Glenaire,” but her problems are her own to fix, even if those problems include both a Russian villain and an interfering Ottoman official.

Given enough facts, Richard can fix anything. But protecting that impossible woman is proving to be almost as hard as protecting his heart, especially when Lily’s problems bring her dangerously close to an Ottoman revolution. As Lily’s personal problems entangle with Richard’s professional ones, and she pits her will against his, he chases her across the pirate-infested Mediterranean. Will she discover surrender isn’t defeat? It might even have its own sweet reward.

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Meet Caroline Warfield

Carol Roddy - Author

Carol Roddy – Author

Caroline Warfield has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, an Internet and Web services manager, a conference speaker, an indexer, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She has sailed through the English channel while it was still mined from WWII, stood on the walls of Troy, searched Scotland for the location of an entirely fictional castle (and found it), climbed the steps to the Parthenon, floated down the Thames from the Tower to Greenwich, shopped in the Ginza, lost herself in the Louvre, gone on a night safari at the Singapore zoo, walked in the Black Forest, and explored the underground cistern of Istanbul. By far the biggest adventure has been life-long marriage to a prince among men.

She sits in front of a keyboard at a desk surrounded by windows, looks out at the trees and imagines. Her greatest joy is when one of those imaginings comes to life on the page and in the imagination of her readers.

Visit Caroline’s Website and Blog  *  Meet Caroline on Facebook  * Follow Caroline on Twitter

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Play in the  Bluestocking Bookshop with Caroline’s characters * LibraryThing  * Amazon Author

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Caroline’s Other Books

Dangerous Works  A little Greek is one thing; the art of love is another. Only Andrew ever tried to teach Georgiana both.

Dangerous Secrets Jamie and Nora will dare anything for the tiny girl in their care, even enter a sham marriage to protect her. Will love—and the truth—bind them both together.

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