There is something about a print book that is special. The scent of the pages, the feel of the paper, the weight of the book in one's hands, the rustle of turning pages. Books make lovely Christmas gifts and here for you are several of my romances that are all in print, as well as ebook or Kindle.
Dark Maiden - Ghosts, revenants, incubi , vampires and demons haunt medieval England, as Yolande and Geraint must use their love to survive.
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(This romance, set in Roman Britain, has its climax during the Saturnalia, the Roman pagan version of Christmas.)
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The Snow Bride - She is Beauty but is he the Beast?
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To Love a Knight - Two tales of fourteenth century London
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Medieval Creatures, Volume 1 [The Virgin, the Knight, and the Unicorn: The Virgin, the Knight and the Dragon] (BookStrand Publishing Romance) Paperback
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Wednesday, 13 December 2017
Thursday, 2 November 2017
When we first meet the Black Maiden Yolande in 1350, she is crouching behind a tub armed with bow and arrow, pretending to bathe in place of a novice who had been beleaguered by an apparition. A formidable exorcist, she apprehends a lecher mislabeled as an evil spirit. Who but Geraint, an easy-going Welshman juggler, could be a better romantic match for Yolande on her quest of tracking down and ridding evil spirits in plague-stricken England? In between facing demons, displaced souls, and an incubus, Geraint lustily woos the Black Maiden. The courtship is complicated by an abbot’s instructions that Yolande preserve her maidenhead, a barrier to a demon trying to possess her, for a time of seven, until she fulfills her duty. Not sure if the time is in days, weeks, or years, Geraint is nonetheless determined to win Yolande’s hand as they roam town from town, each of which holds dark secrets of people who live there.
Lindsay Townsend has created a masterfully written romance intermixed with the horrors of the plague and the superstitions that arise out of its chaos. The voice is heavily sprinkled with humor, making this a thoroughly entertaining story. I was hooked from the first page and could not put the book down. The dialogue is witty, the characters are well-developed, and the stories of the people whom the couple meet are heartfelt. The rituals of exorcising demons and helping displaced souls find their spiritual home base is well-researched and fascinating. Most of all, the love scenes are sensual but tastefully written.
Dark Maiden is a must-read for readers who love historical romance with unique characters and a dash of paranormal elements. Highly recommended.
Monday, 2 October 2017
I love Medieval Yule and Christmas-Time Romances and have written four.
THE SNOW BRIDE http://amzn.to/15GhvMX
Chapter One http://bit.ly/2tfJq5c
TWELVE KISSES http://amzn.to/1222vrg
#99CENTS SIR BALDWIN AND THE CHRISTMAS GHOSTS http://amzn.to/2vRkEKS #99P http://amzn.to/2uRlsLa Excerpt http://bit.ly/2fC7A5m
#99CENTS A CHRISTMAS SLEEPING BEAUTY http://amzn.to/2vyjmBH #99Phttp://amzn.to/2wFsCEc
Wednesday, 9 August 2017
(I love this cover by artist Melody Simmons.)
A crusader, haunted by grief and guilt. A bride-to-be, struggling with old yearnings and desires. Can Sir Guillelm de la Rochelle and Lady Alyson of Olverton rediscover the innocent love they once had for each other? When Guillelm makes a fearful vow on their wedding night, is all lost forever between him and Alyson? And will the secret enemy who hates their marriage destroy them both?
“A Knight’s Vow” is a tale of romance and chivalry. In a time of knights and ladies, of tournaments and battles, of crusades, castles and magic.
(First published by Kensington Publishing, New York, in 2008.)
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England, Summer 1138.
‘Sir Guillelm has returned! The son of Lord Robert has come back to us!’
‘Thanks be to God, we are saved! The young master has returned!’
Alyson heard the shouts from the surviving men-at-arms and jerked her head up, all thought of prayer forgotten. ‘My Lord Dragon,’ she whispered.
Struggling to rise to her feet from the hard cold floor of the small narrow chapel, she re-pinned her simple veil and pinched colour into her gaunt cheeks, feeling her heart begin to race. ‘Can it really be true?’ She had waited for him for so long, she could scarcely believe it. Guillelm, here, in his family’s castle of Hardspen. For a moment she felt stunned with happiness.
‘My lady!’ The reedy voice of her seneschal, Sericus, floated above the hubbub in the great hall of the castle, calling ahead as he tottered on gangling legs to find her, to bring her this miraculous news.
‘I am here!’ Alyson called, darting from the chapel. Sericus was lame, and to save his withered limbs she picked up the hem of her plain brown gown and hurried down the spiral staircase of the keep, a small, slender girl with a mass of long black hair, large, very dark blue eyes and delicate features whose naturally bright, high-coloured complexion had been dulled by weariness and grief. Longing to see Guillelm, she was reckless in her haste on the torch-lit stair, where only her natural fleetness of foot prevented a fall.
Would he remember her? She had been fourteen years old when he had answered the call of his kinsman, Raymond of Poitiers, and gone with him to the Holy Land. He had been in the exotic, dusty lands of Outremer for seven long years and she had despaired of ever seeing him again. For the last three years, with no news of him, there had even been the terrible rumour that he was dead. But he was alive!
Was he greatly changed? Would she be the one who would have to tell him that the enemy forces ranged outside the main gate were poised to attack? That his father, the noble and intimidatingly austere Lord Robert, had been dead for ten days? That for the last month she had been living in Hardspen as Lord Robert’s intended betrothed?
Chilled and appalled by these thoughts, Alyson halted in the shadows on the final step, raising a finger to her lips as Sericus came out of the hall in search of her. Sericus, understanding her wish without the need of speech, passed by her and limped out of sight of the travel-stained men standing by the log-strewn fireplace in the great hall beyond them.
‘Lady, where are your serving women?’ he asked in an urgent whisper.
‘Gila and Osmoda remain in my chamber: they are still sick, as are many within this castle.’ Alyson had left them sleeping, no longer feverish but weak.
‘Let me summon attendants to go in with you, a maid at the very least.’
‘You will be with me, Master Sericus, and that is enough,’ Alyson replied, with a smile of gratitude. ‘You have seen to our guests’ comfort?’ She blushed at calling the new lord of Hardspen her guest, but Sericus merely nodded his head.
‘Yes, my lady. They have ale and bread. Not fresh or fine bread, I fear. The baker’s boy has been busy with the repairs and the baker has been sick.’
‘Then pray allow me an instant to compose myself. And sit a moment, I beg you.’ Sericus had been without sleep for the last three nights, as she had, helping her with the sick and with the ordering of Hardspen’s human and physical defences—the re-mortaring of sections of walls, the gathering of stores, the checking of weapons, as their enemy outside the gate waited in arrogant strength.
‘My lady, you are ever gracious.’ Lowering himself onto the stone treads, the wiry, grey-bearded, grey-haired man sat with a tiny grimace of relief.
Standing in the gloomy stairwell, Alyson took in the scene in the great hall, the large, high-ceilinged chamber that was the heart of the keep, where in happier times Lord Robert had dined with his men on the tables and stools that were now ranged to one side. Today, long after sunset, those warriors and men still loyal to Hardspen bedded down there in their clothes on the rush-covered floor to snatch a few hours’ sleep. She recognized their plain honest faces and saw that they remained exhausted, as she was herself, but that new hope gleamed in their eyes. Because of the arrival of one man—
Sir Guillelm de La Rochelle. She picked him out easily from the small group of soldiers who drank and warmed themselves—for although it was summer the nights were cold—by the crackling flames of the sweet-smelling apple wood. Tall as a spear, he towered over everyone there, long-backed and long-legged, with broad shoulders and lean hips. He was speaking quietly to one of his men, his back to her and with the dark hood of his cloak still pulled over his head as his powerful body steamed and dripped water from the relentless summer rain outside.
‘My Lord Dragon,’ Alyson breathed a second time, using the nickname she had given him and which he had made his own. She missed the sight of that mane of bright golden hair and even more his grimly handsome face but it was enough to know he was alive and safe. Giddy with relief, she now heard him speak for the first time in seven years as a castle defender asked how he and his few retainers had passed through the enemy lines.
‘It is my guess that there is sickness and fever in that camp, as there has been here,’ Guillelm replied, in the deep warm voice which had so often gently teased her in the past, ‘Your enemy has but few watchmen to stand lookout. On a grey, wet night such as this, those few can see no farther than the rainwater streaming from their caps. We slipped past them simply enough. After that it was an easy matter to bring my commanders safely inside Hardspen: my grandfather devised secret ways into the castle bailey and keep, paths which my father showed to me while I was yet a boy.’
‘Your commanders, Lord?’ asked his interrogator hopefully, picking up on the thread that Alyson had noticed, although she was distracted by Guillelm himself. He had turned to face his questioner and she could look upon the face that had haunted her dreams for so many years.
Eagerly she stared at him, feeling like a thirsty traveller coming to a well of pure, life-giving water. His was a lean, clean-shaven face, tanned by the blazing sun of Outremer, with a faintly aquiline nose which as a girl she had always longed to trace playfully with a finger. If he had changed, it was only to grow yet more handsome, with lines of character and decision etched into every uncompromising feature. She now caught herself wondering what it would be like to kiss that firm, full mouth.
‘Some of my commanders, I should say.’ Guillelm sounded faintly amused, yet his next words were plainly intended to give heart to the men of Hardspen. ‘The others are camped with the bulk of my forces in the woods close to the eastern bailey wall. Their presence will give your would-be besiegers something of a surprise, come tomorrow’s dawn.’
There was laughter, no doubt as Guillelm had intended. Taking advantage of the lighter mood, he called for more ale. There was a scramble amongst the oak tables set against the longest wall to retrieve the pitchers of ale that Sericus had brought up from the winter stores.
Watching how readily the men obeyed him and recalling her girlish hero-worship of the youthful Guillelm, Alyson sternly reminded herself of her duty. She must keep these unseemly feelings of longing within bounds. She was to have been Lord Robert’s betrothed, affianced in a ceremony as sacred as marriage and now almost a widow. How then dare she entertain such unruly desires for Lord Robert’s son, a wish that she might kiss him and be kissed in return, enfolded in those strong bronzed arms?
‘Let us drink to the vanquishing of all our foes!’ Guillelm said, raising his goblet. ‘Let us drink to a new beginning!’
Listening closely, keen to hear him, Alyson sensed a sadness beneath the stirring words, a sense confirmed when he lifted his cup a second time and said in solemn, tightly-controlled tones, ‘Let us drink to the most valiant of lords. To my eternal grief and shame I did not reach here in time to see and embrace him, as a son should a father, before he was taken by this foul pestilence.’
He paused, a tremor of deeply-felt emotion passing across his face. Swiftly, he mastered it and continued in as strong a voice as before, ‘To my father Lord Robert. May his soul already abide in heaven!’
‘Lord Robert,’ came the sombre response from the men.
‘Robert,’ Alyson whispered, tears standing in her eyes as she remembered him and also, even more painfully, the death of her own father three months ago at Easter. For Guillelm’s sake, she prayed that whoever had told him of his father’s passing had done so with kindness. Dashing her tears away with a trembling hand, she raised her head and smiled at him, hoping that, although he would not see her, he might sense her sympathy.
Incredibly, as she smiled, he looked down the length of the great hall, straight at her. His eyes, deeper-hued and richer than the rarest of velvets, widened as he saw her, capturing Alyson in his dark, compelling gaze.
I could lose my heart to Guillelm and consider the danger of his breaking it well worth the risk, she thought, while an inner voice said, You already have.
For an instant both were still, wrapped in each other’s glances, but then an indignant shout from Sericus behind her and the raking of greedy clasping fingers against her shoulder warned Alyson of another, very different kind of danger. Breaking free of the pawing hand, ignoring her foul-breathed assailant’s grumbled, ‘Give me more ale and a kiss, girl!’ she whirled away from him and sped into the great hall, furious at the laughter of the other men-at-arms, those who had arrived that night with Guillelm.
Guillelm, she saw, however, was not laughing. She watched his face darken as the stocky, unshaven man from the stairway still pursued her, bellowing in nasal Norman French, ‘What is an English wretch like you good for, if not for serving your betters?’
‘Thierry!’ Guillelm shouted, his voice full of warning, and then Alyson heard him curse violently in an unknown tongue, possibly one of the languages of Outremer. She saw him thrust his half-drunk goblet at his nearest companion and stride towards her and her unwelcome follower, reaching them in less than ten paces.
‘Let the little maid be, Thierry,’ he growled in French, seizing the other fellow’s ever-reaching arm and bending it sharply back. ‘She does not care for your rough wooing, and nor do I. Go back to the garderobe and throw yourself down into the latrine if you can find no better manners!’
He thrust the man so violently aside that Thierry careered into one of the oak tables, where he crouched, rubbing his arm and clearly glad to be out of range of his lord‘s displeasure.
Guillelm had no time for him. He lowered his head to Alyson, the hood of his cloak slipping down and revealing that glorious mane of blazing golden hair, bright as a dragon’s flame.
‘He has done you no harm?’ he asked softly in English, his deep-set eyes narrowing in concern.
‘No.’ Alyson stared up at her rescuer, more than ever conscious of her rekindled admiration for him while at the same time guiltily aware that her habitually plain clothing had in part caused this confusion. Had not her old nurse Gytha complained that she dressed more like a serving maid than a lady? ‘No, my lord,’ she said, knowing she should make some effort to give an account of herself.
She sensed from the abrupt silence in the great hall that Guillelm’s men had now been told, in hasty whispers from the others, who she was. She could feel Sericus hovering close by, awaiting his instructions, poised for the slightest signal from her to make a formal introduction to Sir Guillelm de La Rochelle on her behalf. But what was the use? she thought bleakly.
He does not remember me!
She felt her eyes fill and averted her face. She had been barely on the verge of womanhood when he had left for Outremer, and they had been only friends: a chaste four-month companionship of an older youth and a young girl. Guillelm had been indulgent with her and she had foolishly taken his kindly dealings as a sign of hope for the future. A false future, as it turned out, for Guillelm did not remember her. Not even after their trial together in the woods, when they had saved each other….
But she would not remind him. Pride would be her saviour now.
She felt his fingers under her chin, their gentle touch almost undoing her. She lifted her head, bracing herself to explain who she was and how it was that Hardspen was so lately run down and under threat of imminent siege.
She found herself staring at a brutally handsome, smiling face, dominated by a pair of brilliant dark brown eyes.
‘You gave me a rare look of welcome from the stairs just then, almost as if you knew me,’ Guillelm said, his smile deepening as Alyson felt herself blushing. ‘If I might presume on your charity, I would beg two favours.’
‘Yes, my lord?’ Alyson prompted, as he fell silent. Was he aware of every man in the room avidly watching their exchange? Already ill at ease, she wanted to run from the great hall and keep on running, far into the rain-swept night.
As if he guessed her thoughts, Guillelm gave her another swift smile. ‘They are nothing terrible, I vow: merely a wish for your company as I reacquaint myself with this keep—’ His dark eyes gleamed in the torchlight as he added, ‘—and your kiss of greeting.’
The instant he spoke, Guillelm thought, What am I doing? Only a few hours earlier he had been standing before his father’s tomb in the tiny local church of Olverton where Lord Robert had been buried, his head full of memories and grief. Only yesterday, when he disembarked from his ship at Bristol, had he learned that his father was dead. With that dreadful news and Hardspen castle under threat he had no time for idle, pleasant gallantries, even with a serving maid as pretty as this one.
And yet this dainty, dark-haired serving maid had given him such a smile of welcome, and of sympathy, that he had been comforted. She had not mocked him or flinched, she had given him instead a look of recognition, as if she knew him. She was familiar to him, he felt; as familiar in some ways as the breath in his body, but his mind was moving slowly tonight, trying to take in the loss of his father and his own sudden coming into his inheritance. He had responsibilities to face; the fate of many lives had been placed by God into his hands, and he must be equal to it, not distracted by this girl who reminded him —of what? Something he had put aside long ago, with pain and regret, as being out of his reach.
But what was the use of these thoughts? he reflected, trying to fight off a well-worn, familiar despair. Women feared him— his elder sister Juliana had been proved right about that. What had Heloise of Jerusalem said to him when she had dismissed his suit? ‘You are too big and brutal, my lord Guillelm,’ she had drawled, her hazel eyes widening as she revelled in his frozen expression of shame and distaste. ‘They call you dragon on the field of battle —you would burn a woman to ashes in your marriage bed.’ He had stumbled out of Heloise’s hot airless chamber, the sight of her opulent, silk-draped body, artfully arranged blonde curls and beautiful mocking face burning like a brand into his memory, her scornful voice singing his ears.
‘My Lord! Only kiss the creature and let us all return to our ale!’
Thierry again, damn the man to hellfire! Guillelm thought, scowling at the interruption and his men’s laughter, swiftly stifled as they registered his anger.
‘My Lord!’ the small, skinny seneschal was starting to say something but he was cut off by the maid herself, who observed in a low, swift voice, ‘Do not be concerned. All is well, Sericus.’
To Guillelm there seemed to be a challenge in her words. He took a step closer, amused when she stood her ground. Again, a strange sense of recognition shot through him, an instinct that he knew her very well.
Or was it merely that he found her pleasing? the cynic in Guillelm asked himself. Even when she had been standing in the shadowy stairwell, sequestered like a nun by that drab gown and veil, her beauty had shone through, brighter than any torch. She was more than a head shorter than him, small and fine-boned, so that he felt clumsy beside her, and yet she moved and carried herself as boldly as a warrior, as though she had no fear of him.
As she stood before him now, he could smell the perfume of her hair, the scent of rosemary filling his nostrils as he quelled a sudden, powerful desire to tug off her veil. From the few stray tendrils escaping the edges of that plain cloth to frame her flawless, heart-shaped face, Guillelm knew that her hair was black: very black and fine and straight. He guessed it would be long, reaching as far as her slender waist: fine shimmering tresses that a man could lay his head on for comfort, love.
‘My Lord?’ she inquired softly as he took her hand in his. It was a work-roughened hand, resting in his as lightly as thistledown. This close, he could see the dark shadows under her eyes, the taut, bleached look of her cheeks and was pierced by pity for her weariness. This little maid had clearly done much in this castle but where was her mistress, the new lady of Hardspen? he thought, caught in that instant between anger at the unseen chatelaine and protectiveness for her maid. He had heard rumours tonight that had set his teeth on edge: that his father had married again, that there was a widow in this keep, but he had seen no sign of such a woman.
‘Mother of God, why are you alone with this?’ he murmured, running a thumb gently down the side of her cheek. He felt her palm, still trapped in his right hand, tremble against his. The heat of her fingers and the warm silk of her skin stirred him afresh, making him forget all else.
Telling himself he was only doing this because his men would otherwise consider him soft, he lowered his head and kissed her full on the lips.
Only a few moments had passed since Guillelm had saved her from the odious Thierry and claimed his reward of a kiss. In the final instant, Alyson feared to allow him anything more than the most chaste of embraces, afraid of revealing too much of her own feelings, but now his mouth came down on hers and she was lost. As his lips brushed hers, she felt a shock of feeling tingle down her body in an astonishing wave of heat. She felt his arms clamp around her slender middle, gathering her closer, lifting her to him.
The great hall and the men gathered in it fell away to her, there was only Guillelm and the strong yet tender embrace of his mouth. She knew that she would probably regret it, but it was a wish come true. Sighing, Alyson swayed against him, closing her eyes as the voluptuousness of his kiss overcame all thought of her duty.
Guillelm, no more aware of the raucous cat calls of his men than Alyson was, made himself break from their embrace. After Heloise he had a horror of forcing himself on any girl—he had not had a woman for some time—but now this slender black-haired maid was storming his defences. Her lips were so generous and sweet, and the way her hands brushed shyly against his chest and shoulder as if she learning him was so fearless that he did not want to let her go. He caught her back and swung her into his arms, conscious of a terrifying instinct to bear this woman away somewhere private and alone and have his way with her. He reached the staircase without knowing it, the questions and comments from the men and soldiers in the hall bouncing off him like rainwater.
She laid her head in the crook of his arm, her eyes still closed, as if this was a dream for her. ‘Dragon,’ she whispered. ‘My golden dragon.’
And then he knew her. By her nickname for him and her total fearlessness, and, when she opened her eyes, almost as if she had sensed his recognition, by her solemn dark blue eyes. Eyes he had seen fixed on a patch of herbs in her father’s kitchen garden, or on the stained glass windows in church, or on his own hands and arms as she soothed his various cuts and bruises from the practice field with her potions. He remembered her as a studious child, quiet and serious, passionate about healing and wishing to tend all living things, yet with a smile brighter than gold. He remembered a day in the forest, when she had saved his life.
She was here with him again, in Hardspen and in that moment of realization, Guillelm forgot all other grief and concern in a burst of possessive pride and joy.
He kissed her again—he could not help himself. She was the best part of his past and to see her now, safe and adult and even more lovely made him want to laugh out loud in mingled astonishment and delight.
‘Alyson,’ he said, remembering as he named her how he had loved to make her laugh. ‘How excellent is this! Alyson!’
She had been so still when concentrating on her herbs and healing and yet so quick and nimble when they had run off together, racing each other to the meadows and woods. As a tall gangling lad of nineteen he had hoped to make his fortune, earn renown throughout Christendom and then return to her father’s manor at Olverton Minor to marry her. But in the end that had been a hopeless quest. Alyson’s father, Sir Henry, had seen to that.
The memory of his meeting with Sir Henry blazed through Guillelm. Even after seven and a half years it was a bitter thing that left him sickened inside. All his years in Holy Land he had fought to put the memory behind him. He had thought he had succeeded, until tonight.
‘I will never give my daughter to you, Guillelm de La Rochelle,’ Sir Henry had told him. ‘She is a thoughtful, clever girl who, before she knew you, spoke of a sincere desire to enter the church as a nun. Until she knew you, Guillelm, Alyson’s steadfast goal was to be a second Hildegard of Bermersheim: a scholar and sacred mystic, a healer. You have almost driven that noble aim from her head, with your endless talk of quests and chivalry. My reeve tells me that you are much in her company, and often without the presence of her nurse. Alyson is on the brink of womanhood. These outings between you must stop—yes, I know they have been so far innocent but I have my child’s reputation to consider, and my own.
‘Not only that, but I have seen you on the practice field. You are entirely too rash and wild. You will leave my sweet Alyson a widow within six months and your reckless head rotting on a pike. You cannot have her, and must never ask again.’
Soon after that painful and disastrous encounter, Guillelm had announced his intention to go with Raymond of Poitiers to Outremer.
‘Alyson of Olverton.’ Guillelm now gave the grown-up Alyson her title, at once entranced and saddened that she should be here. She was glad to see him, but how long would that last? How long would her innocent fearlessness of him last? He could not bear to think of her turning from him with fear in those dark blue eyes, the same blank-eyed fear he had seen in women’s faces while on campaign in Outremer.
Slowly, with regret and no lessening of his own desire for her, he left the small landing and, crouching slightly to avoid the low roof-space, he carried her up the narrow spiral staircase to the chapel, where a small candle was burning. He set her down carefully on the stone floor and, so that his fingers would not linger too long on her, or give in to the violent temptation to touch her again, he put his hands behind his back.
‘Alyson.’ He swallowed the urgent questions that he wanted to ask—Was she well, had she ever thought of him while he had been away in Outremer, was she still unmarried?—and asked just two things, both equally pressing.
‘Alyson, how is it that you are here? And why is there an army pitched outside this castle?’
Friday, 7 July 2017
Recovering from a brutal marriage, Esther is living quietly as a widow when a letter from her brother Sir Stephen destroys her contented life. Stephen orders her to marry Sir Henry—but who is this “Plain Harry” and how will he treat her?
Set in medieval England in a time when women had few rights, this story shows how love can flourish in the unlikeliest of places and between the unlikeliest of people.
Here is Chapter One, to give you the beginning of the story.
A Sweet Medieval Historical Romance
Northern England, Spring 1363
Esther knelt on the floor of her still room, the one place she would be undisturbed, and forced her fingers to uncurl. The scrap of parchment in her hand dropped to the tiles she had so proudly swept that morning. She did not need to read the letter again, since its terms were already seared into her mind.
I offered Sir Bertrand D’Acre an insult for which he challenged me. As I have still a broken arm from a previous duel, my place was taken by Sir Henry Leafton, who fought as proxy as my champion and won. Sir Henry asks to be remembered to you. He met you at court last midsummer with your then husband Sir Edmund. As you are now a widow, Henry wishes to court you. I have agreed to the match.
The day after you receive this letter from my herald, Sir Henry will call on you. You will know him. You will be obedient to him. Be ready. We owe him a great debt.
Sir Stephen Armstrong.
The parchment scraped along the edge of the table where she made her cordials. Stephen had not written the note—he could scarcely sign his name—but it was his way of speaking, no kind of greeting or salutation, bluff and brutal and always to the point.
“I am to marry again,” she whispered, through frozen lips. The line, Henry wishes to court you, was nothing more than a pretty fiction, as Stephen had already offered her to the champion who had saved his life. Her forthcoming nuptials were as good as settled.
Esther’s racing heart felt as if it flipped over in her chest as her skin chilled. Memories of bellowing Sir Edmund, of their vile wedding night, of their horrible, short marriage, battered through her afresh and she closed her eyes, willing her slight, trembling body to be still. As a widow she had been independent, looking after her small estate, making her cordials and ales, taking care of her two old retainers, few estate workers and page, beholden to no one.
And now, with a few foolish words, my younger brother ties me back into wedlock. I know Stephen and how his tongue runs away with his wits. Because he could not resist making a cruel remark, he lands himself in trouble, and yet he is not the one who pays. In what way do I owe this stranger, this Sir Henry, a great debt? He did not save my skin.
Esther snatched up the hectoring note—and how typically selfish of Stephen not even to give her the illusion of a choice, not even to have his herald wait for her reply—and crushed it beneath her heel.
“He never asks, he demands! Because he is the son and heir, and the law and the church all say that men have governance over women. Because he would not back down or apologize and had another fight for him, I must now be obedient? How is this fair?”
Her voice rang in the small chamber but no one answered. Through a gap in the window shutters a bee droned into the room and out again. Esther felt that it had taken the spring-time with it.
“It is worse,” she continued aloud, hauling herself upright by the table leg, wondering what cordial she had been preparing when Stephen’s herald had smashed into her life. “What am I to say to Walter?”
Handsome, blond, curly-headed Walter, her own age of nineteen, a good man, a squire and, more frequently of late, a messenger and herald. He served neighbors of hers, Sir Richard and Lady Constance, and always lingered a little when he delivered messages from them. He praised her cordials and teased her in a gallant, sweet way, calling her “Mistress Bright Eyes” and “his nimble-fingered physic”. He gossiped like a magpie and was less than kind in his quips about her old retainers, but she liked him.
Walter respects me. My brother would say he is a landless squire, ready to flirt with any woman with a little riches, but Walter has never demanded anything of me. At night in her narrow bed, Esther sometimes imagined running away to the crusades with Walter, of their making a life together in the mysterious east, or the Mongol court.
That pleasant day-dream must be over. I have to marry Sir Henry.
Esther resumed grinding coriander, ginger and cardamom to make her compost, the chutney that Agnes and Adam liked and that Walter said went well with all meats. Bent over the mortar, the swirl of sweet spices no longer making her smile, she tried to recall every Henry she had ever met. Harder than it seems, since Henry is a popular name.
A dark face tumbled like a leaf in a breeze through her memory. Esther crushed another batch of coriander seeds and let the ghost flit back to her again.
A time at court last spring, when the cuckoo had just begun to call, as now. The great hall at Winchester, fragrant with fresh strewing herbs and colorful with the king’s wall tapestries. She had been hurting, because Sir Edmund had beaten her the previous evening, blaming her for his impotence and for not gifting him an heir. Colliding with the edge of a trestle, she had been unable to disguise a wince when a cloaked and hooded stranger had clasped her hand and softly drew her aside, shielding her from her stomping husband.
“Be well, my lady,” the stranger wished in a low voice. Tempted and reassured by such rare kindness Esther had peeped up into his hood—and seen the face of a demon, pox-scarred and livid. He had cold blue eyes and haggard features, pale where they were not ridged with black pits and broken veins.
Clearly aware of her shock, expecting it, the man’s thin mouth jerked into a crooked smile and he gave a brief bow. “Sir Henry of Leafton, at your service. I will take my leave now.”
Lanky and gray as a heron, he melted away into the crowds of knights and stewards before she could apologize. When Sir Edmund jabbed her bruised side and hissed at her to attend him, Esther had tried to forget her ill manners, although Sir Henry’s ruined, burnt-looking features had haunted her dreams for several nights after.
“Plain Harry,” he was known, throughout the court. She had spotted him the following day, a head taller than most and always courteous, ignoring gasps and rude finger-pointing and striding gracefully through the press of courtiers with that crooked smile and keen eyes that missed little. Including herself, it now seemed.
I remember him. And clearly he still remembers me. The pestle dropped from her nerveless fingers and Esther wrapped her arms about her middle, trying to rock for comfort. What can he want with me, except revenge? But revenge for what? For what my brother did or for some unknown insult I gave him? What?
Plain Harry knew he did not suit his nick-name. He had been plain before the pox had scarred him at eight years old, but now he was ugly. Gangling, too, and it did not seem to matter that he moved smoothly, stealthily if need be, or that his hair was blacker than a midwinter night and curled whenever it was damp.
I do not fit the name Harry, either, he thought, presenting himself at the widowed Lady Esther’s sturdy manor house. He watched patiently as the old watchman limped off across the modest great hall to fetch his mistress. Harrys were kind, hearty, shoulder-slapping fellows, always part of a mob. He was solitary by nature, a lover of books and wild places, desires sharpened by his appearance and by the way his father flinched and his mother lamented his loveless state each time he returned home. He had flung himself into military training, if only because a helmet covered his looks. On the battlefield no one cared if he could not dance, or compose a love poem, or swear undying devotion to a damsel who would doubtless go shrieking off to a convent if he tried. In a melée his lanky frame and long reach were an advantage.
War had also taught him how to take notice. At court, twelve months back, he had seen Lady Esther shrink slightly each time her boorish husband addressed her. He had noticed her stumble once, blushing wildly, and jerk back as if burned when her flank grazed a table. He had reacted then without considering his visage, offering her his arm as support. Her pink and pretty lips had parted to say thanks and he had felt normal for an instant, until her wide brown eyes met his.
Harry slammed his hands behind his back and let his fingers play tug of war against each other. Even with the strains of dread and regret shadowing her clear-cut features, and the bruises at the sides of her head which she had tried to hide with her veil, Lady Esther had been flawless, a delicate beauty whose natural cream and roses complexion contrasted cruelly with his own craggy, ugly, black looks.
So why am I here at her home?
Because, last summer, he had glimpsed not a morsel of disgust in her pale, shocked face. And because he sensed that, widowed or not, the lady needed help. Her fool of her brother was already using the promise of her hand as a means to save his own skin—Sir Stephen had done it with him and Harry had no doubt that were he not to marry Lady Esther, Stephen would offer her out again.
‘Tis a pity womenfolk have so few rights against the men of their families, but such is the unkind way of the world.
Harry shook his head, unsure if he would have ever entertained such ideas had he not been uglier than a troll and subject to the bitter way of the world himself. Yet he had ridden to this compact jewel of a manor not solely for sympathy.
Admit it man, this is the only way you will win a wife. He was rich in war-loot and tournament prizes but as a younger son would not inherit the land that all damsels demanded in return for their wedlock. Harry could not fault them. You could build and grow on earth but never on gold, however prettily it gleamed.
Pray God the lady here considers that last point about me, that I can keep her and her good land safe, better than most handsome squires or knights. Harry knew that was unlikely but he could hope.
His breath hitched as the red curtain to the private solar, the little chamber at the back of the great hall, drew back and Lady Esther emerged.
Glorious. She made the word real. The bruises and hurts she had endured under her old husband were gone now and she shone like a harvest moon, her eyes brighter than polished bronze, her hair—the glimpses he could see beneath her modest white head-veil—a rippling mass of chestnut, shot through with tawny. Small and slender she came toward him, silken as flowing water, an image enhanced by the green-blue gown she wore, a color Harry knew had been fashionable at court a year ago.
She did not smile but the sight of her graceful shape and movement was enough. Harry’s body reacted as it had not done since he was fourteen and an easily aroused and blushing squire. Why now, by Christ? Is it so long since I have been with a woman? Despising his looks, Harry was no gallant or regular user of the stews, but even so this ardent reaction was embarrassing. Praying that his interest and urgent physical response did not show, he flung his cloak loosely about his rangy figure and gave a low bow.
“My lady.” His voice sounded less its usual music, more of a rasp.
“Welcome.” She sounded as indifferent as a cloudy day and about as warm. “Will you take refreshment?”
“Come to my still room.”
Dazzling and distracting as the planet Venus, she turned, then Harry heard her soft footfalls shifting through herbs strewn on the hall floor, stirring up a scent of lavender as she walked back to the curtain. Recollecting his scattered wits, he strode to catch up and passed through a tiny solar, the watchful warrior in him seeing a small weaving loom, a spindle, a narrow chest and a canopied bed before he had to duck to avoid a doorway lintel . Shifting sideways through the low arch, he blinked at the bright chamber beyond.
Painted flowers tumbled round the walls, while under painted trees brightly rendered unicorns and dragons gamboled up to the roof rafters, drawn at play as if such creatures were as carefree as the spring lambs bleating outside. Harry swiftly shut his open mouth and saw, with new admiration, the many flasks, jugs, basins, sacks of dried herbs and tables of knives, pestles, and mortars that he guessed made up a good still room. The air was heavy and sweet with the tangs of rosemary, cinnamon, sage, lavender and bitter orange peel, and a rainbow array of cordials in heavy glass flasks lined the shelves behind Lady Esther.
“Amazing,” he murmured and wondered, when his eyes met hers again, if she had softened a little. “You did this?”
“Since my lord died and I moved here.”
Her low voice touched on a scandal. On his death-bed the wretched Sir Edmund had attempted to deny the now-orphaned lady her widow’s portion because she had “failed” to provide him with children. Luckily, Sir Edmund’s adult son Richard was more honorable than his father and had released the bits of land into her care. The modest manor house was her own dowry, the only part of her family legacy that Sir Stephen could not touch.
“You have done well with the place.”
She inclined her head. “Richard has helped.”
Her former son-in-law but not her brother, Harry noted. Clearly Richard had little faith in Sir Stephen defending the rights of his sister, and neither had he. To that end, Harry knew he should raise the issue of marriage, but when? To do so at once was surely too unmannerly.
To his surprise the lady raised the matter.
“Will the priest be coming here? That is,” and here the pink flush on her ivory cheeks and dainty chin darkened to rose, “if you and my brother are agreed?”
Her voice was calm but her hand trembled as she lifted a jug from a small brazier and poured two cups of gently steaming tisane. He took a cup from her, touching her fingers briefly in an attempt to reassure—why he was not sure, only that he was keen she did not think him a bully. Unsure how he looked when he showed his teeth, since he had no mirrors and did not waste time peering at his reflection, he did not smile.
“I am content with the match between us,” he said steadily, wanting to say more but unwilling to impose on her. Determined to be honest he added, “I understand if this is not your desire. I can, if you wish, tell Sir Stephen that we did not suit.”
Spirit flared in her eyes and stiffened her shoulders. “Which leaves me vulnerable to other men and their offers.”
“Would he force you to accept any?”
Her shoulders dipped. “You know my brother. Right, custom, the church would all be on his side. Now he has conceived the idea of my marriage as a means to advance himself, he will not stop until I am re-wedded.”
And you will be beleaguered and nagged to death until you choose what he demands.
“It could be my only way, if I wish for a family of my own.”
Was that yearning he caught in her voice? To give her a moment, Harry took a sip of the tisane, giving a tiny huff of pleasure when the blended taste of raspberry, orange, and strawberry hit the back of his throat. Should he say what he wanted to admit? Why not? She longs for a family, a home, children, and so do I. A marriage between us could be a way.
In truth he had ridden to Lady Esther’s manor to release her from her brother’s cruel expectations. Seeing her afresh and learning that his repudiation would not save her from other, possibly harsher marriage suitors, was forcing him to reconsider.
Can I court her? Harry dared not admit his deepest hope, that she would somehow see past his maze of scars, but he could offer her family. “Until I caught small-pox I looked agreeable, in a homely way. My present appearance would not be inherited by any of my children.”
She raised her head and speared him with a glare. “What are you saying, Sir Henry? Please do me the courtesy of being direct.”
He leaned forward, drawn to her bright boldness, and was saddened when she flinched slightly. Yes, you have been struck before, my lady, for you to show such a honed reaction. He took another sip of her very fine tisane, allowing her another instant to compose herself.
“Will you call me Harry?” he asked mildly. “Whenever people say ‘Sir Henry’ I feel they are speaking of my father.”
“Harry.” She spoke his name as if turning a pebble in her mouth. “I presume you wish to call me Esther?”
“If it please you. Were you named after your mother?”
He thought his feeble attempt at conversation had failed when she added, “You may call me by my name.”
“Thank you.” Harry took her concession as a sign and put down his cup. He meant to keep to his new purpose, to be as direct as she demanded, but to his own surprise a different question slipped out. “Did you paint the unicorns and such?”
After the stark admission, Esther tried to hide her blushes behind her cup, which he found endearing. “They are well done,” he said gently. “You have made a magical world in here.”
For an instant he worried he had been too honest, or perhaps too over-courtly, for what did he know of such pretty games? Esther—and she was Esther now, no question—glanced at his clenched hands, bunched in his long brown tunic, and said, “You will not object if I paint or brew?”
“Why should I?” The instant he answered, Harry wanted to flay himself. Of course her old husband had probably objected. Sir Edmund had wanted her as a breeding mare and no more. “I stitch gauntlets,” he added, an undertaking he had the tools and strength in fingers for, and one his comrades in arms had learned not to mock.
“I would be interested to see those.” As if she had admitted something unseemly, Esther blushed afresh.
Yes, I think we will do well together. We are both shy of the wider world, in different ways, and happy to create a place of peace in which to dwell. Slowly, so as not to startle her afresh, he raised both hands and reached out. “Esther, I swear here and now that you will be safe with me.” His mouth had dried the instant he began to speak, but Harry forced himself to keep going. “Will you do me the very great honor of marrying me?”
"Plain Harry" is for sale on Amazon
Monday, 15 May 2017
Ghosts, revenants, incubi , vampires and demons haunt medieval England, as Yolande and Geraint must use their love to survive.
Beautiful Yolande comes from an exotic line of exorcists—a talent she considers a gift—and a curse. In fourteenth century England, a female exorcist who is also black is an oddity. She is sought after and trusted to quiet the restless dead and to send revenants to their final rest.
Geraint the Welshman captures Yolande’s heart with his ready smile and easy ways, and the passionate fire of his spirit. An entertainer, he juggles and tumbles his way through life—but there is a serious side to him that runs deep. He offers Yolande an added strength in her work and opens his heart to her with a love such as she’s never known.
But Yolande is not free to offer Geraint her love completely—not until her “time of seven” has passed.
Can the powerful attraction between them withstand the powers of evil who mean to separate them forever? Yolande’s conscience and conviction force her to face this evil head-on—but can Geraint save his Dark Maiden…
Read Chapter One
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Two Lips Reviews:
|Yolande is half Ethiopian and wonders around the medieval British countryside dressed like a man using her Saint Sebastian bow which is blessed and her knowledge of herbs to exorcise evil demons and bring peace to the restless dead. She must remain chaste for a time of seven or endanger herself to possible possession by a demon. Until she meets the entertaining and charming Welshman, she has always worked alone. While their bond grows, so does the danger in which they put themselves.|
Geraint is a Welshman who earns his living by juggling and entertaining, but he is smitten with the fierce, but lovely, Yolande and determines to travel with her as her protector. But the 1300’s is a time of mistrust and danger to those who are different. As they travel from place to place, they occasionally fall under scrutiny and suspicion from villagers as well as the evil spirits they have come to hunt. Even if they survive villagers, evil spirits and the undead, will Yolande and Geraint ever find a way to have a normal life together?
I found the exorcisms and release of restless dead exciting and interesting. Dark Maiden isn’t just about exorcisms, however; it’s also about human nature and the distrust of anything and anyone who is different. Yolande not only looks different, but acts different. I liked the way Ms. Lindsay Townsend handled those differences without coming off preachy or making it the focus of the story. Ms. Townsend creates believable characters with purpose and motivation.
I particularly liked the character of the Welshman, Geraint. His devotion to Yolande, his innovative ways of showing her how much he cares about her and respects her, and his bravery really made me care what happened to him. Sometimes I felt some distance with Yolande’s character and she didn’t seem to reciprocate Geraint’s regard to the same degree.
Dark Maiden is filled with beautifully constructed and layered scenes that make the reader feel they are part of the story which I have found to be Ms. Townsend’s trademark. Dark Maiden is a delightful story filled with historical details that make the reader feel they’ve taken a step through time. Readers will thoroughly enjoy Ms. Townsend’s Dark Maiden.
Here's two new excerpts, the first from Yolande, my exorcist, when she meets the dangerous Geraint, my anti-hero.
Here's the second excerpt, this time from my hero's point of view.
This is one of my favourite excerpts from my historical romance, “Dark Maiden”, and shows Geraint, my hero, and all his anti-authoritarian, bumptious attitudes. Geraint will stand up and fight anyone or anything, including an abbot. I also like it because it shows Geraint’s deepening feelings for Yolande, my black exorcist heroine, and it tells us more about her. This excerpt also shows the attitude of the medieval church to physical love outside marriage and hints at the serious trials that Yolande will have to face – but not without Geraint
The following morning, passing the bread and cheese that the sisters had generously given her to a beggar outside the convent walls, Yolande sensed someone watching. She turned, forced to take a rapid backward step as a stranger trod on her shadow. She had not heard his approach.
“You have the advantage, mister. You know my name.” She smiled to take any sting from her words. “May I know yours?”
Greetings and courtesy were important to her. Each gave clues as to character and wishes. She had once known a demon, beautifully polite, who would have ripped the flesh from her bones had she not bound him by his own rules of manners.
The stranger bowed, a good sign. He muttered something in a language she did not know, which was not good. She moved a little closer, ready to boot him in the balls if he did anything unsavory.
“Geraint Welshman, at your service.” He crouched then looked straight at her. “I am just taking something from my pack, if it please you.”
She grinned at him to prove she was unafraid, her body heavy and languid as she itched to go onto the balls of her feet, ready to scrap. A quick stab to those astonishing black-blue eyes, a swipe at his knee and Geraint the Welshman would be groveling in the hard-packed mud.
Which would be a shame for such a glorious face. He bent his head, showing his trust of her, to rummage in his pack. He was a good-looking brute, not too muscled but as lean and wiry as herself. There was a soft jangle of bells within his patched shoulder-pack, revealing him as a wandering entertainer, a less deadly mirror of herself. They were even about the same height.
I entertain the restless dead before I send them on. What must it be like to work for living laughter?
Hard, she guessed, noting his less-than-clean black hair, the scars on his knuckles, his drab motley, missing bits of ribbons and coins. He was darker that she was, tanned by many suns, and with excellent teeth.
Strong, rangy and in no hurry to stick to one place, but a honeyman all the same. She felt a flicker of interest, a few youthful, girlish hopes. She was ten-and-eight these days, young for an exorcist but ripe for marriage. Her father, a remarkable man, had managed both. She missed him, but her time would surely come—maybe with this Welshman.
“The pardoner said you would understand the message with this.” Geraint interrupted her reverie as he laid a crucifix down on the rutted road, on top of his pack to keep it from the dirt.
Yolande stared at it, all hopes forgotten in an instant. She sensed the earth shifting beneath her feet as the blood pounded within her temples, making her convinced the top of her skull might shatter. “Oh, great Maria, already?” she said, unaware she had spoken aloud, crossing herself, making the sign of the cross above the crouching Geraint. The great bow across her shoulders creaked as if in warning.
So soon! I must prepare with care. If this sign is right, there can be no mistakes. Pray that I am ready. It is so soon, so soon…
Here's the second excerpt, this time from my hero's point of view.
The abbot… moved to the crucifix, bearing it aloft and tucking it safely into the crook of one arm.
Will he sing it a lullaby too?
Geraint folded his arms across his chest like an angry fish seller’s wife. It was that, or punch an abbot. “And what do you love about Yolande? How her eyelashes curl at the ends? How she puts herself into danger first, to protect others? How she never abandons a friend? How she walks all day without a complaint? How she sometimes talks in her sleep because she is so beset? How she laughs and sheds ten years each time she does? Or are such human reasons too earthy for you?”
He stopped, mainly because he had run out of English words for the moment and his mind was filled with indignant, furious phrases in the Welsh. He also wanted to see whether Abbot Simon would answer.
“These human trifles, as you call them, are irrelevant. It is her soul—”
“Yes, her soul, hers alone, and unique. Created in the image of God. What do you love about that? Or is the soul of one female exorcist too mean to consider?”
“Stay away from her!” thundered the abbot. “What do you know of her trials and torments, of what she might need to encounter? If you love her, you should not trouble her. Or would you act upon this love and then abandon her —as is the habit of fleshy, sinful men?”
“Sorry, no.” Geraint counted off on his fingers. “I will not leave her, no. I will not act upon anything and abandon her, no. I will not trouble her, no. Do I know the trials she has? No, I do not, but then, neither do you, my lord abbot, neither do you.”