Publisher: Imajin Books
Publication Date: October 1, 2017
About Kat Flannery
Two sought-after sisters, a slew of suitors—and a vow to hold out for true love. How many proposals will it take to get to “I do”—especially when the stakes are high . . .
There have been six suitors so far, all vying for the attention—and generous dowry—of the beautiful, elusive Eleanor Sutherland. What does this woman really want? Who has what it takes to melt the heart of the so-called Lady Ice? These are the questions Camden West keeps asking himself. But rather than wait for answers, Cam takes matters into his own hands . . . for he has a secret weapon.
Cam knows that Ellie’s sister, Charlotte, harbors a scandalous secret—one that could bring ruin to the Sutherland name. If Ellie marries him, Cam promises to keep mum. But is she willing to sacrifice her own happiness for her sister’s reputation?
To Ellie’s surprise, it becomes clear that Cam doesn’t need her money, nor is he interested in her status. Soon, what begins as a sham engagement transforms into something deeper, and more passionate, than Ellie could have imagined. Is it possible that all Cam truly wanted was her? And is that reason enough to say yes—or is handsome Cam hiding something else? Even for a lady in love, only the truth will do . . .
Lord Tidmarsh had placed a wager on her in the betting book at White’s. Ellie didn’t want to believe it of him, but she’d seen this performance— the shifty eyes and twitchy fingers, the sheen of nervous sweat on his upper lip, the hint of a smirk on his lower one—too many times to deny the truth. Yes, his lordship was definitely in the throes of a violent, and feigned, passion.
She knew a sham suitor when she saw one. Lord Tidmarsh was her third this season.
Several weeks ago she’d rejected her fifth marriage offer—one offer too many, she now realized, for the gentlemen of the ton to overlook. Since then it had become quite the fashionable game for them to attempt to pry some sign of affection from her. They teased for dances, begged for smiles. A few of the bolder ones had even written sonnets to her sparkling dark eyes.
My heart flies, my soul cries, and so forth.
It was enough to make one shudder for the fate of the rhyming couplet. Alas, whoever had said a single sonnet could drive love entirely away had the right of it. It wasn’t a romantic sentiment, perhaps, but true for all that.
The same could be said of wagers.
Ellie had her own page in the betting book at White’s. A smile from her would earn her swain a sovereign, a walk on the terrace was worth five guineas, and as for the higher denominations . . . well, perhaps the less said about that the better, though she did wonder what value they’d placed on her virtue.
As for her love . . .
It must be worthless indeed, for not one of the gentlemen seemed at all interested in securing it.
“Won’t you favor me with a smile, my lady?” Lord Tidmarsh dragged a gloved hand across his damp forehead. “You know I exist only for your smiles.”
Poor Lord Tidmarsh might be able to produce a bit of perspiration, but she couldn’t see any other signs of impending manhood. Not a single whisker shaded his smooth upper lip. She’d have settled for the merest hint of fuzz, even—anything to indicate a hair had tried to hatch there.
“Will you consent to one more dance this evening? Please, Lady Eleanor.” She sighed. It had come to this, then. She’d be compelled to rebuff a mere lad this time. The ton already called her Lady Frost behind her back, and once she sent young Lord Tidmarsh on his way, she was sure to be saddled with a far worse nickname.
Icy Ellie, perhaps, or the Artic Queen?
But the sooner she put an end to this scene, the better. “I beg you’ll excuse me, my lord. I’ve already danced twice with you this evening. If we dance together again, the ton will gossip, and—”
“Would that be so terrible?” He arranged his lips into a perfect schoolboy pout.
She pasted a smile onto her face. “Now, Lord Tidmarsh, you know very well a third dance will encourage Lady Foster’s guests to assume we have an understanding. We wouldn’t want that, would we?”
“But we could have an understanding, even now. It’s the very thing I want.” He pressed her fingers against his bony chest, his face twisted with a passable imitation of passionate despair.
Eleanor tried to withdraw her hand, but he hung on with such determination her arm began to slip out of her glove. Well, how absurd. She would have her hand back, even if it meant he ended with her limp glove clutched to his chest.
“I’ll run mad if you refuse me, Lady Eleanor. Indeed I will!”
Eleanor’s cheeks heated with embarrassment. Must all of her pretend suitors fall into wild hysterics? Next he’d fall to his knees, beat his chest, and tear his hair out from the roots.
Another tragic hero, right here in the middle of the Foster’s ballroom.
She supposed it was more amusing if he fell into fits. Whichever lord had sent him to torment her would want to see the thing done with a dramatic flourish. No doubt Lord Ponsonby, Mr. Fitzwilliam, or another of her rejected suitors was watching the entire performance from a shadowy corner of the ballroom.
Eleanor straightened her spine. Well, there was no help for it. Lady Frost would have to make an appearance. A pang of guilt pierced her chest for Lord Tidmarsh’s tender young heart, but if he had any true affection for her, it was a flimsy thing, at best.
She fixed him with a steady gaze, and after a moment his blue eyes darted guiltily away. Ah. Just as she’d thought. A dare, or a wager. “I must insist you release me.”
He clutched at her fingers. “But Lady Eleanor, I swear—”
“At once, my lord.”
He studied her for a moment, no doubt hunting for some tenderness in her eyes, some hint of breathlessness, some softening of her lips.
Eleanor gazed back at him, her face expressionless.
He dropped her hand and stepped back. “Very well. I wish you a pleasant evening, madam.”
It was far more likely he wished her to the devil, just like the rest of them, but it wouldn’t do to say so. “How kind you are, my lord.”
He folded his lanky frame into a stiff bow, turned on his heel, and disappeared into the crowd. Eleanor watched him go, her chin raised as she fought the urge to let her shoulders slump in defeat.
Just as she’d suspected. Flimsy.
From spirited young woman to reckless widow, the beautiful Marchioness of Hadley remains a force to be reckoned with. But beneath her antics lies a broken heart . . .
Since her husband’s tragic death, Lady Charlotte Hadley has embarked on a path of careless behavior and dangerous hijinks from which no one can divert her . . . until suddenly, her first—and only—true love reenters her world. Their fiery romance was so scandalous Charlotte had no choice but to marry another, more suitable man. Surely now they are both free to pick up where they left off . . .
Julian West has returned to London a hero after making a name for himself in battle at Waterloo. Every woman is vying for his attention—except the one who stole his heart. No matter, Julian has other obligations. But when Charlotte’s sister, Eleanor, charges him with protecting the widow from ruin, what ensues is another kind of battle—one that leads a chase from London’s bars and brothels to the finest country estate as Julian and Charlotte untangle a host of secrets, regrets, and misunderstandings. For could it be that the love they’ve forced themselves to forget is exactly what they need to remember? . . .
When a headstrong beauty clashes with the man she once loved, she’s determined that the spirit of Christmas will open his mind, heal his heart, and perhaps give them a reason to celebrate—for many seasons to come . . .
As far as Ethan Fortescue is concerned, his family’s seat in Cornwall is only a source of torment, one that he’s managed to avoid for two years. Now that he’s the Earl of Devon however, he can close the door on his haunted past by locking up the cursed place for good. But upon arriving at Cleves Court, he is shocked to find the house aglow with Christmas celebrations, filled with music and laughter. And right at the center of the holiday madness is the infuriating—and eternally tempting—Theodosia Sheridan . . .
Thea has always loved the town of Cleves, especially at the holidays. As a girl, she also loved Ethan with all her heart. It’s painful to see how his brother’s tragic death has embittered him. Still, she will do anything to make sure the town thrives—even if it means going to battle with Ethan to save Cleves Court. Now she has only until Twelfth Night to make a Christmas miracle happen—by proving that his childhood home can be a source of love and wonder. But before long, she finds herself wondering if she’s trying to save the house—or its handsome master…
Anna Bradley is the author of The Sutherland Scandals novels. A Maine native, she now lives near Portland, OR, where people are delightful and weird and love to read. She teaches writing and lives with her husband, two children, a variety of spoiled pets, and shelves full of books. Visit her website at annabradley.net.
THE WICKED NORTH
Series: Hearts Touched by Fire Book 1
Bound by duty and honor to wear the Union blue, a Southern-born West Point officer fights his own desires and the need to protect the woman he abandoned, he disobeys his orders to find her, as the Army of the Potomac marches toward her family’s home near Richmond.
A fascinating tale of life and love during the American Civil War. Fast paced and superbly written it humanizes one of the darkest periods in American History. You’ll need to block enough time to read it cover to cover because once you start reading you won’t be able to stop.
– j j jennings, Amazon.com reviewer
“Putney’s endearing characters and warm-hearted stories never fail to inspire and delight.” —Sabrina Jeffries
A Rogue Redeemed
As Washington burns, Callista Brooke is trapped in the battle between her native England and her adopted homeland. She is on the verge of losing everything, including her life, when a handsome Englishman cuts through the violent crowd to claim that she is his. Callie falls into her protector’s arms, recognizing that he is no stranger, but the boy she’d once loved, a lifetime ago.
Lord George Gordon Audley had been Callie’s best friend, and it was to Gordon she turned in desperation to avoid a loathsome arranged marriage. But the repercussions of his gallant attempt to rescue her sent Callie packing to Jamaica, and Gordon on a one way trip to the penal colony of Australia.
Against all odds, Gordon survived. Finding Callie is like reclaiming his tarnished soul, and once again he vows to do whatever is necessary to protect her and those she loves. But the innocent friendship they shared as children has become a dangerous passion that may save or destroy them when they challenge the aristocratic society that exiled them both….
London, summer, 1814
Gordon was bored. Months had passed since anyone had tried to kill him. Luckily, this tedious spell of safety should end soon. Lord Kirkland had summoned him, and Kirkland was an excellent source of missions that required Gordon’s varied and nefarious skills.
Gordon was bemused by the fact that he and Kirk-land had become friends of a sort. They’d known each other since their school days at the Westerfield Academy, a small, elite school for boys of “good birth and bad behavior.”
Gordon had hated all the schools his father had sent him to, of which the Westerfield Academy was the last. He actually enjoyed learning, but he picked up new material very quickly, and then was physically in-capable of sitting still. When he was a boy at Kingston Court, he and his brothers had been tutored by a young curate who had allowed his most restless student to prowl around while his brothers struggled to master Latin or maths or the globes.
The marquess had never understood, so when Gordon reached an age to be sent off to school, he was placed in one of the most brutal academies in Britain so the masters would force him to sit still and behave properly. Despite the school’s best efforts to beat him into submission, Gordon had become ever more difficult. At the end of the year, he was asked not to return. The same thing happened at the next school. And the next. Gordon was rather proud of that fact.
By the time he reached Westerfield, he was so angry and rebellious that even calm, caring Lady Agnes Westerfield, founder and headmistress of the school, had been unable to reach him. He’d hated the school, hated his classmates, and rejected all friendly overtures. He skipped classes whenever possible, and when he showed up, he acted conspicuously bored and uninterested. To amuse himself, he’d perform brilliantly on exams just to madden his teachers.
Gordon had particularly hated Kirkland. Despite his youth, Kirkland had a cool, ferociously intelligent composure that was damned unnerving. Gordon felt disapproval whenever the other boy looked his way.
His hatred had been sealed during one of the school’s Kalarippayattu sessions. The ancient fighting technique had been introduced to the school by the half Hindu young Duke of Ashton, and learning it had become a school tradition. Gordon had enjoyed the fighting, which helped him work off his restlessness.
Despite his general anger with the forced captivity of school, he seldom truly lost his temper. But one day in a fighting session he succumbed to fury when matched against a sharp-tongued classmate. He might have killed the boy in a rage if Kirkland hadn’t intervened, yanking Gordon out of the fight, slamming him to the ground, and pinning him there. “Control yourself!” he’d ordered with razor-edged menace.
Later, Gordon was grateful he’d been prevented from committing murder even though he despised the little bastard who’d provoked him. But the public humiliation made him hate Kirkland even more.
Yet here he was, whistling as he climbed the steps of Kirkland’s handsome townhouse in Berkeley Square. He stopped whistling before wielding the knocker. It would be bad for his reputation to appear too cheerful.
Soames, the butler who admitted him, said, “His lord-ship is expecting you, Captain Gordon. He told me to send you to him immediately. He’s in the music room.” Soames gestured to the stairs.
“No need to take me up,” Gordon said as he handed over his hat. As he climbed the steps, he heard piano music. Lady Kirkland, he presumed. She was said to play superbly.
The door to the music room was closed. As he quietly opened it, the full power of the performance swept over him. Gordon wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about music, but he recognized skill when he heard it. He paused, drinking in the vibrant harmonies. No won-der young ladies were taught to create music. Though few would be this good.
He stepped into the room and saw that Kirkland and his lady were seated side by side on the piano bench and playing together. Their flying fingers perfectly coordinated as they produced that powerful, mesmerizing flood of sound.
Gordon caught his breath in surprise, and Kirkland looked up, startled. “Sorry, I lost track of time.” He swiveled on the piano bench and rose to take Gordon’s hand. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
“My pleasure, Kirkland,” Gordon replied. “I never know what interesting project you might have for me.”
“I hope what he has for you isn’t too lethal.” Lady Kirkland also stood to greet him. She wasn’t a classical beauty, but her deep warmth was a perfect complement to her husband’s cool composure. “It’s lovely to see you, Captain Gordon.”
“I greatly enjoyed your playing,” he said honestly. “I’ve heard of your talent, but it was still a surprise and a pleasure. Even more so in your case, Kirkland. Beautiful ladies are supposed to be musical. Such skills are less expected in spymasters.”
Both Kirklands laughed. “Would you like to come to one of our informal musical evenings?” Lady Kirk-land said. “Every month or so we invite a few friends over to make music.”
“And talk. And eat,” Kirkland said. “Several of life’s greatest pleasures.” His fond glance at his wife suggested what the greatest pleasure was.
“That’s sounds enjoyable, but I have no musical ability whatsoever,” Gordon said. “I know nothing of instruments and have an alarmingly bad singing voice.”
Lady Kirkland smiled. “You don’t have to perform. It’s enough to enjoy. We performers need an audience, after all. I’ll send you an invitation the next time we have such a gathering.”
He inclined his head. “I will be pleased to attend if I can, Lady Kirkland.”
“Call me Laurel. I owe you too much for formality.” She brushed a kiss on his cheek and glided from the room.
Gordon touched his cheek as he gazed after her. “You’re a lucky man, Kirkland.”
“A fact of which I am very aware.” Kirkland gestured toward a pair of chairs set by a front window. “We might as well talk here. I’ll ring for coffee.”
After he’d done so, they settled in the chairs and Kirkland said, “I believe you’ve lived among our young cousins in the United States?”
Gordon frowned. “You know that I have. I’ll tell you now that I won’t do any spying against the Americans even though our countries are at war. I like them.”
“I don’t want you to spy against them. This particular war has been a damned fool waste of blood and re-sources and should never have happened,” Kirkland said forcefully. “There are reasons why our countries came to blows, but Britain should have stayed focused on France. Now that Napoleon has abdicated, Welling-ton’s Peninsular army has been freed to turn else-where, which means the war in our former colonies will become much fiercer.”
“All sadly true,” Gordon agreed. “What has that to do with me?”
“I’m hoping to enlist you in a rescue mission,” Kirk-land replied. “No politics involved. There is an English-born widow who lives in the American capital, Washington. That whole area has become a war zone, with the Royal Navy rampaging up and down the Chesapeake Bay, burning towns and farms and bombarding American forts. Anything might happen. Her family is concerned about the dangers and would like her to be brought back to safety in England.”
Gordon frowned. “Mounting a rescue across the Atlantic will take time and money. Anything could happen between now and when I’d reach America. Doesn’t this woman have the sense to get out of the way of an invading army if one appears?”
“There’s family estrangement, so they aren’t sure of the woman’s financial situation, but she’s likely in reduced circumstances.”
“Being poor always complicates life,” Gordon agreed. “But what if she doesn’t want to return to England?”
“Exercise your powers of persuasion,” Kirkland said dryly.
“I have done many reprehensible things,” Gordon said with equal dryness, “but I’m not in the business of kidnapping reluctant women.”
“Nor am I. I told the government official who asked me to arrange this that I wouldn’t countenance forcing a woman against her will.” Kirkland smiled a little. “Which would be not only wrong, but difficult since females tend to have minds of their own. If she doesn’t wish to return to the bosom of her estranged family, you’re authorized to escort her to a safer place, at least until the fighting is over. If she is impoverished, pro-vide her with what funds she needs. At the very least, discover her situation so her family will know how she is faring.”
Family matters were the very devil. Warily Gordon asked, “Why is the widow estranged?”
“I don’t know. The official who asked me, Sir Andrew Harding, wasn’t forthcoming, but I believe the woman is a relation of Harding’s wife.”
Gordon had heard of Harding. He was extremely wealthy and had a great deal of political influence. A man who expected results.
He shook his head. “I don’t think I should accept this commission. If the widow has been out of touch with her family, the address might be wrong. Even if I can find her quickly, she might not want to return to England if she’s estranged. Sir Andrew should save his money. He and his wife are unlikely to achieve what they want.”
“Quite possibly not,” Kirkland said quietly. “But sometimes, people need to do something because it’s unbearable to do nothing.”
Mary Jo Putney is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has written over 50 novels and novellas. A ten-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA, she has won the honor twice and is on the RWA Honor Roll for bestselling authors. She has been awarded two Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards, four NJRW Golden Leaf awards, plus the NJRW career achievement award for historical romance. Though most of her books have been historical romance, she has also published contemporary romances, historical fantasy, and young adult paranormal historicals.
Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Patricia Rice, Nicola Cornick, Cara Elliott, Anne Gracie, Susan King are the ladies otherwise known as the Word Wenches. These eight authors have written a combined 231 novels and 74 novellas. They’ve won awards such as the RITAS, RT Lifetime Achievement award, RT Living Legend, and RT Reviewers Choice award. Several of them are regulars on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
Win, lose—or fall in love . . .
After losing her mama and all she has, vagabond Patience “Patty” Sweet dreams of reuniting with her father in the New Mexico territory. So she teams up with a no-good gambler whose winnings enable her to get her closer to her destination. Patty hates hanging around saloons and poker parlors, pulling dishonest deeds. But when a game of five-card draw goes wrong in Lubbock, Texas, Patty gets offered up as collateral—to a handsome stranger who’s about to turn the tables . . .
Lawyer Grant Kincaid has no intention of claiming his prize—a nearly nineteen-year-old petite beauty with sweet eyes—who has a hold on him he can’t deny. But as he tries to help Patty untangle herself from her shady partner, he discovers she’s not as innocent as she seems. For starters, she’s already stolen his hardened heart . . .
Book links here:
Lubbock, Texas, 1910 Under a full moon
It is a sad day in a woman’s life when she comes to grips with weakness of character. Today might have been that way for Patience Eileen Sweet, but she couldn’t dwell on something like that. Not this day, which had turned into a warm autumn night in 1910. Not when she intended to escape the mess of her own making. Her papa would have told her, “Patty Cake, proceed with caution.” He always claimed full moons bring babies, lunatics, and any number of disasters, particularly mine cave-ins.
Tonight would bring change; that she knew beforehand. This night unfolded for Patty in a saloon. By the midnight hour the floozies had served their last drinks and were nowhere to be seen, most of the customers having cleared out. The bartender did nothing to cover his yawns. Cigar smoke still curled toward the tin ceiling. Gaming chips still pinged. Three gamblers refused to give in or give up.
Still and all, it would be over soon.
Looking up from her mending, she meant to steal a glance at her “stepbrother,” but she locked gazes with one of the gamblers instead, and not for the first time this evening. The three were close enough that she could get a good look—he was the handsomest man she’d ever seen. As he had the other times, he nodded once. There was a puzzled, curious look to his fine features, certainly not the nasty-old-pervert leer that Dorinda had warned her to look out for.
She did like this man’s black-haired, blue-eyed looks. He wore the garb of a West Texan—a yoked shirt with mother-of-pearl buttons and
denim britches that hugged him just right. His boots were the same kind that cowboys wore, only this ’poke’s weren’t scuffed or worn out. His clothes looked too clean, his hair and chin too smooth for a man of the land. He looked rich.
Patty moved her line of sight to her partner-in-crime, Chet Merkel. It was his turn to deal, and she could tell he was losing at five-card stud. They couldn’t afford for him to lose, not even for one evening, yet she prayed for his bad luck.
She knew what his next move would be. He’d barter her virginity. For the third time.
Twice before to two different men in two different towns.
Tonight it was Scarlet Garter Jenny’s Saloon. The “winner” would be a short, dark sheriff wearing a big, thick wedding ring. Or else the winner might be that curious fellow—the smooth-shaven pretty boy that the drunkards, gamblers, and preening waitresses called “counselor” and “mouthpiece,” with “Grant” or “Kincaid” thrown in from time to time. Well, the painted ladies usually said “Sugar.”
Neither of these men looked as gullible as the previous winners of her so-called prize.
Anyway, Patty knew how to get out of being the night’s reward. Did she even want to? Just looking at Grant Kincaid had her in a tizzy. One way or another, things would be different tonight. She was cutting all ties to her double-dealing snake of a “stepbrother,” Chet Merkel.
Definitely, she wouldn’t be rendezvousing with Chet later.
Martha Hix grew up in Texas and didn’t mind listening to stories about how her ancestors had been in the place for a long, long time. Well, in Texas that just meant more than a hundred years. This weird kid soaked up the stories and became an ardent student of family and general history, which came in handy when she took to writing both fiction and non-fiction. Eventually, her romance novels were translated into many foreign languages, some of them very foreign, like Japanese, Greek, and Turkish. On the home front, she lives in the fabulous Texas Hill Country with her husband and their spoiled four-legged kids. Visit her on the web at marthahix.com.
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The Vikings roamed and raided the known world, always returning to their beautiful, sacred realm. Now, a young Christian woman is forced into this land—by a Viking lord with a secret he dares not reveal . . .
From Istanbul to Ireland, Rorik of Vargfjell is legendary for the battles he has fought, the wealth he has amassed, and the women he has loved. So when a Northumbrian Earl refuses to pay tribute, and even burns one of Rorik’s ships, the Viking seizes the earl’s daughter—and will hold her for ransom. Or so was his plan.
At home in Northumbria, Elfwynn had experienced agonizing losses—including the peaceful world she was born into. Now she stands face to face with a towering, chiseled Viking in his wondrous kingdom. With her gift of music, her unworldly beauty and strange courage, Elfwynn will prove to be very different than any woman Rorik has known. And for a man who lords over sea and land, what she demands will be the greatest challenge of all . . .
Elfwynn, daughter of Earl Edward, shuddered. It had lain on their shoreline for several weeks, like some ugly, dead monster from the north. And yet, wasn’t it true? The Northmen were monsters, coming here to rape and pillage. Her father had driven them off, proving his strength to the foreigners who infested Northumbria each summer. He would keep them safe.
“Father wanted me to see if the men are nearly finished.”
Elfwynn looked up at her half brother. He’d come from the keep so quietly, she hadn’t heard him. “They’re working hard, Wulf, but that thing won’t be gone too quickly for my taste. I’d like to forget I ever saw it.”
“We may see more of them. The Northman who stopped here with his ships, Rorik, wasn’t alone. A larger fleet continued up the river, no doubt to attack other holdings near York. Father wants to make certain there’s no evidence of what happened when they return, on their way out to sea. We don’t want to give them a reason to stop here.” He rubbed the back of his neck under his long hair. “We’re still trying to figure out who gave the order to burn the ships. No one knows. Father wanted to pay the Northmen and let them leave. With so many of them in this area now, we can’t afford to antagonize them.”
“What does it matter who gave the order? It worked. We defeated them. They won’t try that again.”
“Wessex defeated the Northmen in a large naval battle last year near London. It didn’t stop them from wintering on the isle of Thaley near the Thames. Now they threaten the south.” With a slight smile, he ruffled her hair. “It’s nothing to concern yourself about anyhow. Father and I have agreed if the Northmen attack, my first duty is to get you and your mother to safety. Even if you were so foolish as to leave the keep to look at them when they were here. As beautiful as you are, it would serve you right if one of them fell in love with you and carried you off.”
“Rowena wanted to see them. She heard their leader, the one with the long black hair, was nice to look at. At times, she and I are friendly. I try, at least. Except when your mother is poisoning her against me, like she does so many here.”
“My sister has no sense. If she did, she’d see what our mother is. Even Father avoids her as much as he can. You can’t give in to Rowena in the hopes she’ll like you. Not if it puts you in danger from the North- men or anyone. If that ever happened, I’d give my life to go after you.”
“And I’d sell my soul to stop you. In that, we’re much alike.” “Except I’m better with a sword than you are.”
“That wouldn’t be difficult since I know nothing of warfare. Only weaving. And music.”
“Let’s hope it stays that way. Besides, you’re too fine to waste your soul on battles.”
“To save you, Father, my mother, and the people here, it would be a small price to pay.”
“Even those who turn their backs on you for your birth?”
“They only seek to ingratiate themselves to your mother. Not everyone holds it against me that I’m baseborn. They conveniently forget about that detail when they want to buy the cloth I weave.” She looked at the ship as the men rowed another piece of it out to the middle of the river. “Wulf, do you think they’ll come back? For re- venge?”
“If they do, we’ll be ready. I’m leaving soon to gather more of our forces in case we have to fight.”
Her muscles knotted as she met his gaze. “I already lost my older brother to war. We both lost a cousin on Father’s side. I couldn’t stand to lose you, as well.”
“I felt their loss, too, Elfwynn. Randal was my half brother. He, our cousin, and I were more like full brothers. I’ll never forget the sight of him falling before me in battle with the Picts.”
“Ever since then, whenever you or Father have gone to fight, such fear comes over me, I can’t breathe right the entire time you’re gone. My heart races and I shake so hard I can barely weave, even though it’s the only thing that calms me. Nothing seems real until you return safe.”
“It just means you love us.” He squeezed her shoulder. “God will protect us against the pagans.”
That was true. So far.
“Let me walk you back to your house. There’s nothing more to see here and I’ll feel better knowing you’re closer to the keep. Both Father and I would be more at ease if you and your mother would consent to live within the keep itself.”
“We’re so close, we’re well protected. Father makes certain of that. If we moved in with you, your mother would start a war to rival even that of our people and the Picts. I don’t understand why she’s so resentful that Father loves us when she hates him anyway.”
“Pride. She’s bitter that you stand to inherit along with Rowena and me. That Father should love a village woman more than he does his highborn wife enrages her.”
“And my mother wastes away, pining for a man she can never marry. Sometimes I wish . . .” She didn’t finish the sentence. It would not be Christian to want Mildburg’s death or divorce so her parents could marry.
“I know.” He took her hand as they walked. “Sometimes I wish, as well. She’s been no mother to me, except to bear me into this world. Father can’t divorce her without cause. It would bring her family down on us. She would have to commit adultery or treason, then none could gainsay him. She’s too careful to get caught.”
That was why she and her mother couldn’t stay there, waiting for Edward to be free. Elfwynn wasn’t certain how much longer her mother could live for a day that would never happen.
As they walked up to the house, her mother was tending herbs in the front.
Wulf strode ahead of Elfwynn. “Rohesia, it’s good to see you out on this fine day.” He gave her a quick embrace.
“And it’s always good to see you, Wulf. You come here far too seldom. How much like your father you look with your curling brown hair and blue eyes.” She smiled at Elfwynn, but it held a sad- ness, as always. “Both of you. So similar to each other. Will you stay for a time and have some ale? I brewed it fresh.”
“Thank you, Rohesia, but I’m going on patrol with my men. With the burning of the longship, we must be vigilant. I’ll send some of Father’s men to watch over you in the days ahead. I wanted to make certain Elfwynn came back safely. She shouldn’t have been down by the river to begin with.” He gave her a quick frown.
“I’ve been walking to the farms to get wool for years, Wulf. The Northmen being in this area is nothing new. I’ve always been fine. But I promise, if I go any place, I’ll take some of the men with me.” “I’d feel better knowing that. I’m leaving soon to find our forces who are patrolling against Mercia and bring them here.” He took Elfwynn by the shoulders. “Be careful. We’ve lived in an uneasy peace with the Danes since they arrived here, but that could change. We burned the ship of the most powerful of the Northmen. They won’t care that we don’t know how it happened. They only under- stand revenge. If anything happens, promise me you’ll go to the keep as fast as you can. I don’t care what my mother thinks. Father will be
there. You’ll have a place.”
“I promise, Wulf. We’ll be fine.”
He gave her a dubious look before letting her go. “Keep her out of trouble, Rohesia. I’ll be gone a couple of weeks at most.”
“She’ll be too busy weaving with all the orders she has. I doubt she’ll leave her loom, even to eat.”
He shook his head. “Why you insist on making your own money, Elfwynn, is something neither Father nor I understand. He gives you everything you need.”
“People value what they pay for,” she said. “My weavings are the finest in the region. Should I not get recompense for my hours?”
“Of course.” He kissed the top of her head. “Just remember to sleep once in a while. I’ll see you when I return.”
Only a few more pieces of cloth, a little more silver, and Elfwynn would have enough. She wanted to leave as soon as possible, even before the fall.
Elfwynn breathed in the air scented with the herbs and flowers growing nearby. The aromas of home. This place was all she’d ever known. Still, many of the people she’d grown up with had never truly accepted her. It wasn’t because of her baseborn status. That wouldn’t matter so much in their land, as long as she was freeborn. Because Rohesia was free, Elfwynn was as well.
No, it was because of Mildburg. Many of her father’s people didn’t want to make an enemy of the lady of the keep, so they shunned both her and her mother. While there were some who remained friendly, it still made for a lonely life. They needed to go where they would be accepted and welcomed. Among her mother’s people, they would be. She had a single regret—leaving Wulf and their father. Edward loved her. It was the one unaltered fact of her existence. It gave her strength, even in the face of the losses she’d endured. Her brother. Her cousin. So many others who had died in the never-ending wars. Her father was always there for her and there were many times his arms were her sole support. If only he could see her mother’s pain the same way. His mind was always elsewhere, protecting his people who were foremost in his life. And yet, he was blind to so much of
what lay before him at home.
Elfwynn picked up a shawl lying on a bench against the house and spread it over her mother’s thin shoulders. Rohesia smiled her thanks, then continued weeding.
She walked to the house, but before entering, she glanced back at her mother’s bent frame. If the earl had made a clean break with them years ago, it would have been better for all of them, especially her mother. But he hadn’t.
Now, it was up to her.
Sabrina Jarema lives near Ocala, Florida, the Horse Capital of the World. She has a herd of fat, lazy Arabians on 40 beautiful acres. She also breeds and shows white German Shepherd Dogs and currently has several Grand Victrixes taking over her house. She’s joined by a menagerie of tortoises, turtles, birds, fish and cats. To avoid farm work as much as possible, she loses herself in the worlds she creates through the novels she writes, her art, music, dollhouses, and jewelry. She has worked as a professional fantasy illustrator and has written fantasy romance for many years. Recently, she has branched out into historical romances set in the early Viking era. She is currently writing the Viking Lords series, a family saga set in Norway during the ninth century. She is an active member of the Tampa Area Romance Authors chapter of the Romance Writers of America.
The Pirate’s Duty by Katherine Bone
He lost everything . . . but his duty to her brought him back to life.J
Innkeeper Oriana Thorpe is a smuggler’s daughter who has been hardened by a legacy she cannot escape. She has risked everything, including her safety, in her attempts to break free, going so far as to challenge her evil pirate brother, Charles, in order to save a lady and her maid from his wrath. Determined to atone for his villainy, Oriana distributes the blood money he left behind to widows and orphans living nearby. But when threatening letters promising retribution begin to arrive from Charles, she suspects one or more of her customers may be her despicable brother’s spies. Yet one haunted man promises to protect her, and she finds herself taking the greatest risk of all—falling in love.
Captain Pierce Walsingham should have died when his ship was destroyed by the notorious smuggler Captain Carnage. Instead, Pierce was pulled from the water by the Robin Hood of Cornwall, a pirate known only as the Black Regent. In gratitude, Pierce accepts the Regent’s offer to take over the man’s role, allowing his name to be added to the list of the dead and vowing to protect the beautiful innkeeper who saved his sister Chloe’s life. Unfortunately, Oriana is also Carnage’s next of kin, and the smuggler has sworn vengeance against her and Chloe.
While there is no cause dearer to Pierce’s heart than stopping Carnage, the task won’t be easy. Strategic allegiances have replenished his enemy’s power at sea, and he’s moving ever closer to enacting his revenge. Now Pierce must find a way to defeat Carnage, all while fighting his desire for the resilient woman who fiercely defends her roost.
He threaded his fingers through her unbound hair, then grabbed a handful, gently hauling her forward and slowly molding her to him so their lips would soon touch. Her breath hitched and she shivered slightly, but still he extended the wait. Prolonging the meeting of their flesh was sheer agony, but he didn’t want her to flit away like a frightened butterfly. He wanted her to trust him, to soothe her doubts and fears, to show her at least one man promised safety in his arms.
“I will never harm you,” he said. She was a whispered breath away now, so temptingly close that he knew kissing her would damn him for eternity. “You have my word.”
She placed a finger over his lips, focusing on them before meeting his eyes. “Don’t speak. I’ve already borne a lifetime of lies.”
Guilt stabbed him afresh, robbing his breath.
She smiled brazenly, pulling him toward her waiting mouth, offering a temptation he couldn’t resist. Drugged by her nearness, Walsingham drank her in, relishing the feel of her in his arms, the taste of her on his mouth.
But she was innocent. Not in the ways of her family’s smuggling business, or where her brother was concerned, but in matters of the flesh certainly. It was evident in her shy exploration of his mouth.
A low growl escaped him as he broke away from her in frustration. It was his duty to honor this woman, protect her at all costs, even if it meant descending the cliff this very night and taking a dip in the cold, crashing surf below. Even if it meant sacrificing every lie, every shameful deception he’d enlisted so that she would be free of her brother.
“Forgive me. I can’t do this.” He took her by the hand and led her across the kitchen.
“Where are ye takin’ me?” she asked, stumbling to catch up with his lengthy strides.
“Upstairs. To your room.”
She stopped cold. “No. I want . . . I need to . . .”
“Not in the middle of the kitchen where anyone could walk in on us.” He yanked on her arm, but she wouldn’t budge. Undeterred, he grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder.
“Put me down,” she snapped.
“Shh. Unless you want to wake everyone.” He made his way up the stairs, calmed by the fact that she’d stopped arguing with him. At the top of the staircase, he carried her to her bedchamber, opened the door, and stepped inside.
National bestselling historical romance author Katherine Bone has been passionate about history since she had the opportunity to travel to various Army bases, castles, battlegrounds, and cathedrals as an Army brat turned officer’s wife. Who knew an Army wife’s passion for romance novels would lead to pirates? Certainly not her rogue, whose Alma Mater’s adage is “Go Army. Beat Navy!” Now enjoying the best of both worlds, Katherine lives in the south where she writes about rogues, rebels, and rakes—aka pirates, lords, captains, duty, honor, and country—and the happily-ever-afters that every alpha male and damsel deserve.
Connect with Katherine:
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