A SESTERCE FOR HER THOUGHTS--new Roman Time-Travel (excerpt PG)



Get ready for a trip back in time nearly 2,000 years to of Rome’s invasion of Britain!

A SESTERCE FOR HER THOUGHTS

Author: Susanne Marie Knight

Genre: Ancient Roman Time-Travel Romance

Available electronically at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com.
Price: $4.99

Buy links:

In Print:

Blurb:
An ancient coin transports Olivia two thousand years back in time to the Roman invasion of Britannia and into the arms of a hunky legion commander!

A SESTERCE FOR HER THOUGHTS:
Olivia Kent knows a brass sesterce is an ancient Roman coin with a value roughly calculated to be one fourth of a day’s pay. What she doesn’t know is that one particular sesterce is going to transport her two thousand years back in time to 43 AD and Rome’s invasion of Britannia. With the help of a Druid priestess, Olivia dresses as a Roman soldier, and meets Emperor Claudius, along with a handsome legion commander. She changes both of their lives for the better... and her own as well. But here’s her dilemma: should she remain back in the first century where she can make a difference? Or should she take a chance and try to return to her own time?

A QUARTER FOR HIS THOUGHTS:
Quintus Antonius Avitus, commander of Legio XX Valeria Victrix, has served Rome faithfully but is weary of war. On this invasion, he comes across a puny, injured soldier, Livius. The soldier states that he is an American from a land to the west of Britannia--which is impossible since there are no lands past Britannia. But Livius is full of surprises, and also turns out to be a comely female named Olivia. Perhaps she is telling the truth? She is unlike any woman he has known. However, she insists that she cannot stay and must return to her home, despite the fact that Claudius wants her to accompany him to Rome. Quintus is torn: omnia vincit amor facit--does love conquer all? Or should he continue to auxilio imperatoris--help his Emperor?

Scene Set-Up:
Quintus Antonius Avitus, commander of Rome’s Legio XX, comes across a puny lad being assaulted by guards. Quintus carries the hurt boy to his own sleeping room so he can tend to the injuries. He has no idea that the boy is really a twenty-first century woman, Olivia Kent, who just time-traveled back to 43 AD.

Excerpt:
Quintus took the few steps over to the fallen boy. He got down on one knee, and then, turning the lad over, he grimaced. Even with the helmet’s chin flap-guards, the young soldier had been cuffed across the face a few times. He looked the worse for wear--eyes swollen shut, cheeks bruised the colors of a rainbow, harsh breathing as if the action of taking a breath could hurt.

Perhaps ribcage damage. This boy had been harmed for the amusement of Quintus’ men.

Damn it to Hades.

Naturally, he felt responsible. Lifting up the boy as carefully as he could, he marveled at how light this willow thin creature was.

With a groan, the lad’s eyes cracked open. His eyes were blue... a bloodied blue, the color of blue-grey storm clouds. On seeing Quintus, the boy’s eyes widened.

Quintus gentled his voice. “Do not be alarmed. You are safe now. A doctor will tend to your wounds.”

If possible, the lad’s eyes grew wider but he did not speak. He did, however, bite his lower lip.

Quintus carried the injured bundle into the tent, bypassing the conference room for his own sleeping room. There was, of course, a hospital, a valetudinarium, based in the camp for the troops. But for some reason he wanted to oversee treatment for this boy. And the very best medical treatment meant using the Emperor’s physician, Xenophon.

Entering the room, he carefully set the injured bundle on the bed. His body slave must have heard sounds for he walked into the room and then spotted the boy. He stared down at him.

“Demetrius, I need some warm water and clean cloths. And fetch Xenophon. Tell him he has a new patient.”

The slave quickly left to accomplish his tasks. Quintus then reached down to unlatch the flap-guards under the chin, but the boy moved away in alarm.

“Do not fear. You will not be harmed. Allow me to take off your helmet so your injuries can be tended to.”

The boy started to sit up, but made a soft groan and fell back against the plush pillows on the bed. Those dastardly guards must have kicked him in the ribs.

Quintus pressed down on the lad’s shoulders. “Stay. Allow me to help you.”

No words but the boy bit his lower lip again.

Taking that response as an affirmative, Quintus then removed the helmet. By the gods, multi-colored bruises, blood flowing freely from gashes, swollen and split lips, and blackened eyes... the lad was so disfigured, his own mother would not have recognized him.

“What is your name, boy?”

In a low voice, the answer came haltingly. “My name is Liv-Livius. And you?”

Not only was Livius’ pronunciation barbaric, but he had to have been one of the few people on this good Gaia who were unaware of Quintus’ name and position. This confirmed the belief that despite the uniform, Livius was not a legionnaire nor a member of auxiliary units.

“Quintus Antonius Avitus, commander of Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Why are you here, Livius?”

The boy stammered again. “N-No... harm. I b-bear a gift for Caesar.” He pronounced Caesar incorrectly.” Perhaps he realized that for he then clarified, “For Claudius.”

“A gift?” This ragamuffin believed he had a gift worthy of an emperor?

Quintus ran his gaze over the boy’s inconsequential form. The leather armor and pleated under-skirt was of a pattern common in the days of Gaius Julius Caesar over one hundred years ago. Unusual, to say the least. The cloth tunica underneath was unbleached linen, so that was unremarkable, as was the over-the-shoulder belt--standard issue. But the breeches...

Setting aside the wet cloth, Quintus felt the material on the boy’s thigh. The lad almost jumped in the air.

“Steady on,” he soothed. “Your breeches are made of very fine fabric. Soft and sturdy. How very peculiar.”

Then his gaze fastened on Livius’ sandals. And yet they were like no sandals that Quintus had ever seen before. The entire foot was covered with a material akin to leather, but then not like leather at all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope you enjoy Olivia’s and Quintus’ unusual story!

Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing with a Twist!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


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Ariadne’s Diary: I’m in Love with my Teacher! #Lesbian #Erotica by @GiselleRenarde

Ariadne’s Diary
I’m in Love with my Teacher!
by Giselle Renarde
Series: The Lesbian Diaries
Book: 1


Ariadne is desperate for love, and she wants her teacher to give it to her.

Ms. Bambini’s about as buxom as they come. Just the sight of her in those silky white blouses and black leather skirts sends Ariadne’s brain to fantasy land. How can anyone be expected to concentrate with Ms. Bambini at the head of the class?

When Ariadne’s grades slip into the danger zone, Ms. Bambini offers up some most unusual tutoring sessions. Ariadne never imagined her life would head down such a torrid path, but will Ms. Bambini’s help become Ariadne’s downfall?

Lesbian fiction from award-winning queer Canadian author Giselle Renarde.


Buy Now from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/958701?ref=GiselleRenardeErotica
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=vOOvDwAAQBAJ
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XZJ9FBT?tag=dondes-20
BN: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1133609166?ean=2940163338610
...and many more ebook retailers!

Read at Radish: https://radish.app.link/0FAhbwlh6Z

EXCERPT:
Dear Diary,

I did it again.

I said I wouldn’t, but you know how it goes. Happens often enough.

There I was, sitting in class, waiting for Ms. Bambini to hand around our tests, when I got The Need between my legs. You know The Need: the one I can’t ignore, no matter how hard I try?

It doesn’t make sense. By that point in the day, I’d already run home to get off real fast. That was during lunch hour. You know Ms. Bambini’s class is right after lunch.

You’d think if I got myself off good enough, the satisfaction would last for an hour, at least. So why doesn’t it? Why does this keep happening to me?

The Need is ruining my life!

When Ms. Bambini came around with a stack of tests pressed to her big, beautiful breasts, all I could think was: ‘Oh, to be that paper! To be a flat, white nothingness that disappears into the mundane! A woman of Ms. Bambini’s ample assets would press me against her heaving bosom and not think twice about it!’

In my next life, I want to come back as paper.

Ms. Bambini set my test face-down on my desk. She flashed me a sympathetic smile as she walked by. You know better than anyone how crappy my marks have been this year. And clearly it’s not because I can’t write words on a page! Look! I’m doing it right now! I fill you with thoughts every day, Dear Diary: thoughts in word form, from my pen to your ears. Obviously I’m capable of doing it.

Thing is, when I’m sitting there in class and Ms. Bambini’s standing at the board talking about Ma and Pa Joad, it’s like I can’t even force myself to listen. I’m just staring at those gorgeous, golden breasts.

Her breasts are often swaddled in black bras, you know. Black, even when her blouse is light-coloured like it was today: creamy, shot with strands of golden thread. Her black skirt came down to her knees. So tight and form-fitting. It showcased her ass like you wouldn’t believe.
If you want to see a generously-proportioned hour-glass figure, take a look at Ms. Bambini. She’ll put your eye out.

Oh great! Now I’ve got The Need again. I can’t even get through telling you one story without The Need coming back. But you know what? I’m just going to cross my legs and think of England, or however that goes, because I really want to tell you what happened today.

Buy Now from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/958701?ref=GiselleRenardeErotica
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=vOOvDwAAQBAJ
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XZJ9FBT?tag=dondes-20
BN: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1133609166?ean=2940163338610
...and many more ebook retailers!

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Re-Release of A CONTINENTAL MARRIAGE (PG excerpt)




Golden Wings Award WINNER--Best Overall Historical Romance Read


Re-Released! A Regency Romance Family Favorite!


Here's a little known bit of trivia: the model for A CONTINENTAL MARRIAGE's lovely cover is none other than my very own lovely daughter!


A CONTINENTAL MARRIAGE

Author: Susanne Marie Knight

Genre: Regency

Available electronically at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com

Price: $3.99

Buy link:

Available electronically at:



Blurb:
AN AMERICAN ROSE

American Nicolette Turner has a bone to pick with the British. Not only is her country’s maritime rights being violated, but her English grandfather, Lord Eldredge, demands that she travel across the Atlantic to visit him. What she doesn’t know is that he intends for her to marry, thereby staying in England and having lots of babies.


The most eligible suitor is neighbor Victor Kincaid. Victor has severe money problems. Lord Eldredge offers to take care of the debts... if Victor marries Nicolette. At first Victor believes she’s a fortune-hunter, but soon becomes captivated by her. Can he convince her he wants more than a marriage of convenience?



Scene Set-Up:
The financial arraignments have been made. Victor decides it’s now time to propose to Nicolette. 



Excerpt:
Damn. Asking for this woman’s hand was going to be deuced awkward, to say the least.

Inhaling deeply, Victor walked into the drawing room and scanned its yellow interior. A cheerful fire crackled in the fireplace which stood between two immense paintings. Just beyond the hearthrug in the middle of the drawing room, a table displayed the nuncheon meal. Cold meats, cheeses, pickles, jellies, breads, and fruits--everything a man could want to assuage his hunger. But more important than food, a crystal decanter of sherry beckoned to him.


It would have to wait. Where the devil is Nicolette?


The two settees around the table were empty and not a sound other than the snapping and popping of flames disturbed the tranquil air.


He released his breath. Was he supposed to seek her out? “Damn,” he repeated, this time out loud.


A movement by the large wing-backed chair near the fireplace caught his attention. It was Nicolette, so curled within the chair’s comfortable borders that, from his vantage, he had not seen her.


“Is something wrong, Lord Cushing? Is the food not to your liking?”


She looked an odd mixture of mischievousness and grandeur. Her delicately arched eyebrows were lifted in an indifferent manner, however, the twinkle in her grey eyes revealed amusement at having caught him in an unguarded moment.


“Er, no, not at all.” He cleared his throat, then gestured toward the table. “Shall we?”


Nodding, she left the chair to pick up a dish. She must not have been very hungry for she chose only a few cubes of cheese, a biscuit, apple slices, and strips of pineapple. “I find our host’s hospitality most agreeable. I never expected to feast on pineapple, quite a costly fruit in these parts Margaret tells me.” Nicolette chose one of the settees and sat.


He made a move to pour her a glass of sherry, but she declined the wine.


Pity. It would have made his ordeal easier if she were a trifle elevated.


He sat opposite her on the other settee and balanced a full plate on his lap. How should he begin? “Lady Nicolette--”


“Perhaps it’s time we called each other by our Christian names.”


He smiled. She was going to make this easy for him. “Yes. Yes, certainly, Nicolette. I realize we have not known each other long, however, our families have been neighbors and friends for close to two hundred years.”




“My father’s family,” she corrected.

“Yes, of course.” Why would she even mention her mother’s connections? He ran his hand over his hair, then took a drink of sherry. “I would have preferred for us to get better acquainted before...”


“Before what?”


He glanced into her earnest eyes. So, she was not going to make it easy. “Nicolette, as you are aware, shopping is not the sole purpose of being in London today. It is your grandfather’s wish to bring us... together.”


She met his gaze unflinchingly. “And he uses his wealth to achieve his ends.”


Victor’s sentiments exactly, but why protest when he had already agreed to the arrangement? “As I am in need of funds, as are you, I see no reason to quibble about the circumstances that unite us in marriage.”


Her nostrils flaring, she straightened her back. In truth she looked as formidable as an avenging fury. “Marriage? I must have missed something important. When did you propose?”


“Damn.” He did not mean to swear; the word just slipped out--again.


Uncertainty assailed him. Perhaps she was not as amenable as Lord Eldredge believed. And yet marriage to Nicolette was a tolerable solution to his dilemma. His sister Leticia had not registered dissent when Victor had broached the subject, which was quite a relief, considering her sensibilities. Her departed Stanley had been close to the poor house, and news of the dwindling Kincaid finances must have been a topic of great concern to her. With the Earl’s backing, Leticia need never worry about monetary matters again.


Which was a moot point unless he could win over this termagant. So how should he handle Nicolette?


Hoping to gain insight from the sherry’s potent, fortified fumes, he refilled his glass, then took another sip. As the wine warmed his insides, he thought of her father, and how Ian would on occasion turn mulish when forced to act contrary to his inclinations. Victor’s job then, was to convince her that this marriage was in her own best interests.


“My dear Nicolette, if I may.” Victor set aside his glass and his plate, then sat next to her. “You are right. I did not propose--properly or otherwise.” He held her hand, and was amused to note a pink blush covering her cheeks. “It is my fervent hope that my offer of marriage will have a favorable reception. I confess it quite impossible to conceal the anxiety with which I await your reply.”


She pulled her hand away. “I-I find that difficult to believe.”


He reclaimed it, not only to exert control over her, but to be truthful, he enjoyed the softness of her skin. “My sentiments are bona fide, Nicolette. It seems my future lies in these delicate hands. As you pointed out at last Saturday’s dinner party, I have been neglecting my duty to unite with a gently bred lady in matrimony.”


Her comment was most unexpected. “Piffle,” she said as she turned away.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hope you enjoy!


Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist!


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Re-Released: The Science Fiction Romance ALIEN HEAT (PG excerpt)



Re-Released! A Futuristic Science Fiction Romance Family Favorite!

ALIEN HEAT

Author: Susanne Marie Knight

Genre: Science Fiction Romance

Price: $3.99

Buy Link:
Available electronically at:

Blurb:
All women love these flowers... but the feeling's *not* mutual.

AN ALIEN INVASION
A cataclysmic bombardment by meteorites drastically alter Earth's atmosphere... and bring strange alien plants that have a mind of their own. Because of “mutant” powers, only Glyneth recognizes the threat these Venusian flowers pose not just to humans, but to Earth itself.

AN HONORABLE DILEMMA
Major Lucas Jefferson reluctantly abducts Glyneth as a breeder for his country. But "Lady Bulldog" teaches him that might is not always right. Can he learn from this villager to fulfill the ancient prophecy of uniting the old ways with the new?

Scene Set-Up:
Major Lucas Jefferson's mission is to invade a "primitive" village and abduct women. In this scene, Glyneth, the unwilling victim, escapes, but then returns to help him after he has been knocked unconscious by an outside force.

Excerpt:
When Glyneth reached for the binding cloth, the man held onto her wrist with an unrelenting grip. “No. Stay. I must... thank you.” His uniform shirt was tight without the armor, and through the thin material she saw bulging biceps, powerful pectorals, and a host of manly muscles.

She gulped down hard. She felt so strange around this man. Unfamiliar emotions stabbed at her, causing confusion.

No! This won’t do. I must control myself.

She took a deep breath, then glanced at her hand, neatly imprisoned within his grasp. “Perhaps you can thank me by releasing me?”

He let her go, but continued to pinion her to the spot with his mesmerizing gaze. “This much I can do. As for allowing you to return to your village, no. That would not be for the best.”

“It would be best for me.” Warily eying him, she took a chance on his weakened state and sat a yard away from him.

“No,” he repeated as if his word was law. “You will be honored in my province of Columont. Doubly so because you rescued an heir of the ten sons of Canusa.”

The ten sons of Canusa. Glyneth scratched at the fake scar on her forehead, then released her hair from the restricting ponytail. Not having her head covered in a man’s presence made her feel extremely vulnerable.

Canusa, he had said. Somehow, that word sounded familiar. “Who is Canusa? Does that mean you are a prince?”

“The original Canusa was the most holy of holies. Out of the ten sons--or the ten ruling families--one is elected to reign as the new Canusa.” He shrugged his broad shoulders, then winced with pain, probably because of his upper arm. “It is true, I am nobly born.”

“Not a true warrior then.” She folded her arms across her chest. “I thought so.”

His eyes narrowed, glittering dangerously. “You wound me again, woman. Make no mistake, you shall not escape me a second time.”

“You’re in no condition to threaten me! Sweet Christmas, I saved your life! Allow me to return home and we can call the debt paid.” Standing, she pointed her finger at him in an accusing manner. “Believe me, I don’t want your double honor.”

Before she could blink, he was on his feet, towering over her. With one quick movement, he twisted her arm against her back. “We shall call it paid now. By rights I should kill you for your insults.”

Oh, how her arm did hurt. But she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing her flinch. “Kill me because of words?” Due to his superior height, she lifted her head up to stare long and hard at his cold, blue eyes. “You come from a savage people.”

“Savage?” he shot back. “That is ironic coming from an uncivilized villager.”

“Well, if being civilized means going around stealing women, you’re right. We’re not civilized.”

The man paused. Raking his gaze over her, he released her arm, then did a quick walkabout where they stood, scanning the rock formations in the dark. “Raiding your village is not something we wish to do but it is necessary for our survival.”

“And so that makes it acceptable, hmmn?” For some perverse reason, she was enjoying herself. Fighting with words was far more exhilarating than thrusting with swords.

He ran his hand over his unbandaged hair and changed the subject. “You look different, woman.”

If she wasn’t scared before, the peculiar gleam in his eyes scared her now. “It’s nighttime, in case you haven’t noticed. Everything looks different in the dark. “If you’ll excuse me--”

Cold metal snapped painfully hard against her left wrist. It was a silver bracelet, cruelly imprisoning her. He snapped a duplicate one, connected by a chain, on his own wrist. “Handcuffs,” he explained. “So you cannot refuse the honor waiting for you back at my province.”

Wild, fiery fury consumed her. “How dare you--”

“I dare anything to bring my prize back to Columont.” With his free hand, he rubbed his forehead. “Good offensive move, by the way. Called a head butt, I believe. By thunder, it still hurts. But not as much as the blow....”

He yanked on the handcuffs, pulling her along. “Never mind. Come. We will find a spot to rest for the remainder of the night. I could use a good sleep.”

Trailing behind like a stubborn mule, she dug in her heels, but it was no use. She was no match for his strength, even in his weakened, fevered state.

The man headed for an area soft with undulating sand. “Your actions do your village proud. Plucky little thing.” He sat down, giving her no choice but to follow suit. “I was not wrong to select you. Quite an improvement without those bulldog cheeks. Your color has also improved, but you could use more padding on your bones.”

She flared her nostrils. “Let me go.”

Instead of answering, he reached over and flattened his palm against her breast.

“Get away from me, you... you beast!” Tears springing to her eyes, she shoved him away with her unshackled hand. 

Surprisingly, he did not pursue her, but settled down into the sand. “That is rather difficult to do with handcuffs binding us. No matter. I am relieved to know you have more padding on your chest than I originally thought. Your future mate will be pleased.”

How could she lie down next to this monster? Imbuing her words with all the venom she felt, she hissed, “I hate you.”

Although his eyes were closed, he curved his lips into a smile. “I know. Good-night.”

And blast the man, but the next minute, he started snoring!

Glyneth chewed on the fingernails of her free hand, trying to figure her next move. She raised her left arm, only to drag his arm up, too. There was nothing else to do but ease down on the sand and close her eyes. The man had won this round. But, she still had hope. As the ancient saying went, tomorrow was another day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hope you enjoy!

Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist

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(PG Excerpt) Promo: Revisiting THE RELUCTANT LANDLORD



Re-Released! A Regency Romance Family Favorite!

THE RELUCTANT LANDLORD. New Cover!

Author: Susanne Marie Knight

Genre: Regency

Available electronically at Amazon.com and  Smashwords.com

Price: $3.99

Buy link:
Available electronically at:

Blurb:
A BATTLE OF WILLS
Impoverished Katrina Jones is determined to earn a living by pursuing a career. Her landlord, The Earl of Udall, has other ideas for her. Can she set aside her fears about marriage and learn that trust goes hand in hand with love?

A THORN IN HIS SIDE...
Quentin Thornhill, the Earl of Udall, is used to having his own way. When the delightful Katrina inadvertently thwarts his plans to install his latest mistress at his newly-won lodging, he begins to realize that not all females are as devious as the women he has known. Can he overcome his cynicism and give his heart to this young and innocent silhouettist?

Scene Set-Up:
The Earl of Udall is inconvenienced when he finds Katrina and her great aunt living in the rental house that he just won. He arrogantly believes Katrina will take his money and go elsewhere.

Excerpt:
Reaching into his waistcoat, he pulled out a small blue pouch. So intent was he with the pouch, that he did not notice he also pulled out a black velvet box. It dropped to the uncarpeted floor without making a sound.
She pointed to the box. “You drop--”
“These guineas will reimburse you for any hardships you believe you have suffered.” The Earl jiggled the blue sack.
With a shrug, he threw the pouch next to her feet.
He obviously thought his business was concluded, for he strode to a looking-glass on the wall, then adjusted his cravat.
Katrina narrowed her gaze. So Lord Udall thought he had disposed of her, hmmn? Neatly bribing her so that he could install his latest mistress at this address. Taking a look at her mother’s portrait, Katrina straightened her shoulders. I think not.
Picking up the coin sack, she sauntered over to the Earl. After rearranging his cravat, he realigned the stripes on the painted buttons of his tail-coat.
She raised her gaze. Faith, what a dandy!
Preoccupied with his image, he did not see her. She hurled the bag at his chest.
He flinched from the blow, then caught the coins. “What the devil!”
“Lord Udall.” She gave him a smile of her own, albeit a little shaky. “I am not accepting your money for a simple reason--my great aunt and I are not leaving this house.”
Balling his fists, he tightened his square jaw, giving her a stare that would quell the dead. “Indeed?”
Behind her back, Katrina crossed her fingers. She would not let him intimidate her! “My great aunt and I signed a lease with the Dowager Countess of Udall in good faith. As far as I am concerned, it is a legal document. I am afraid you will have to evict us.”
“By God! You cannot be serious!”
His disbelief amused her. Obviously this man rarely faced opposition. It would do him good to experience a setdown or two.
She tried to keep her lips from curving upward. “Oh, but I am, my lord. Quite serious.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hope you enjoy!

Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist!

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The Snow Bride. Medieval Historical Romance. She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?

'The Snow Bride' - Medieval Historical Romance - New Excerpt

Here's a new excerpt from my medieval historical romance, The Snow Bride. The hero and heroine are in a tower belonging to their enemy, the necromancer.

Excerpt:

Making torches, lighting them, took some little time. Magnus could sense Elfrida’s tension and almost see her fears tearing at her like the harpies preyed on their hapless victims in the old tales that he had heard around campfires in Outremer. She stayed within the tower, calling encouragement to Christina and praying aloud, “To cleanse this space,” she told him. She did not attempt to move farther than the few steps they had come from the threshold, for which he was grateful.
“Your sister must be sleeping deeply,” he said when she fell silent and despondent after no replies. “It is the time of winter dark and solid slumber.”
“Or she is drugged,” Elfrida answered.
 Once he spotted her gazing at him, a cool, farsighted, assessing stare. Where he considered pits and traps, she concerned herself with magical dangers. He knew she felt responsible for his safety, a strange and queer reversal of nature to him, but one he accepted that he could not shake her from.
All will be better with more light, he told himself, fending off a vague feeling of being watched.
Baldwin finally brought two spitting torches. Magnus told the youth to keep up and took a torch from him. “Do you stay here?” he asked Elfrida.
She shook her head—he had not expected otherwise—and he put her between himself and Baldwin. Leading the way, Magnus began to pick a careful path across the nails and snares and wooden stakes, walking steadily and lifting his feet high. All the while, puffing like a small, furious dragon at his back, he could hear Elfrida and sense her taut, barely reined-in impatience. She fairly bristled with it. Not far and all will be well, he wanted to say to comfort her, but he said nothing, for they had reached the stairs, and it might not be true.
Gray, narrow, worn, and unlit, the stairs were also slimy on certain treads. Spilled oil or melted candle wax? he speculated, calling out softly in the old tongue and his own dialect, so Baldwin would know, “Grease, here, step over.” He did not lower his torch. Some things were best left as a mystery.
“Christina, you are safe, beloved. Walter is waiting for you, and all is prepared for your return.”
Elfrida was becoming more urgent and desperate in her wishes. He longed to shield her from this trial but knew it was impossible.
She is a warrior of magic, besides, and a warrior always faces things. She would never forgive me if I kept her out of this.
Yet it was so ponderous, step after step, climbing in the dark, with the stair walls and roof feeling to close in around them, pressing down and choking...
Unless that is just me. Since early youth he had loathed shut-in places, which was why in any siege he had always volunteered for any digging or mining. Now the disgusting, spineless fears of his boyhood shook down the backs of his legs.
If Christina is dead, will Elfrida blame me? No, she will not..
He trod on an object that cracked and slithered beneath his peg foot. He checked the cry bubbling in his throat and kicked the unknown thing away, down the stairs. He heard it flopping into the darkness and vowed to burn the whole tower with fire once they were done.
If Christina is dead or alive, will Elfrida return to her village? Will she want to stay there? Ask her, man, and find out!
He was wary of asking and at the same time eager to ask. As much as Elfrida wanted to see her sister, he wanted to know her mind.
It is my future. Have the stakes ever been so high?
He ran up three more steps and reached the first floor. The staircase continued higher, but now there was a tiny, cramped passageway, again unlit, and at its end, a door.
A blue door, he realized, hearing Elfrida’s gasp of recognition. He spun about and gripped her shoulder tightly, in a gesture of warning and support, then let her go.
He reached out and touched the door with his stump. Elfrida said nothing, did not try to stop him, but he glanced at her for confirmation.
She nodded, her own hands clenched in tight fists, her face unreadable.
“Baldwin.” He handed the lad his torch and set his shoulder to the door, drawing out his knife—better a knife than a sword in such close quarters.
Surprise was impossible, for if there was a guard, he must have heard their plodding trail, so Magnus called a final warning.
“Release your prisoners unharmed and you shall not be injured or killed. Yield now.”
He pushed on the stout wood, astonished to find the door unlocked, and entered.


* * * *

The Snow Bride
She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?

From Amazon here
Amazon UK here
Free with Kindle Umlimited.
Part 1 of The Knight and the Witch Series.
Also a sequel, 'A Summer Bewitchment,' coming soon

Lindsay Townsend

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The Snow Bride - She is Beauty, but is he the Beast? Medieval Historical Romance

'The Snow Bride' - Medieval Historical Romance - New Excerpt

Here's a new excerpt from my medieval historical romance, The Snow Bride. The hero and heroine are in a tower belonging to their enemy, the necromancer.

Excerpt:

Making torches, lighting them, took some little time. Magnus could sense Elfrida’s tension and almost see her fears tearing at her like the harpies preyed on their hapless victims in the old tales that he had heard around campfires in Outremer. She stayed within the tower, calling encouragement to Christina and praying aloud, “To cleanse this space,” she told him. She did not attempt to move farther than the few steps they had come from the threshold, for which he was grateful.
“Your sister must be sleeping deeply,” he said when she fell silent and despondent after no replies. “It is the time of winter dark and solid slumber.”
“Or she is drugged,” Elfrida answered.
 Once he spotted her gazing at him, a cool, farsighted, assessing stare. Where he considered pits and traps, she concerned herself with magical dangers. He knew she felt responsible for his safety, a strange and queer reversal of nature to him, but one he accepted that he could not shake her from.
All will be better with more light, he told himself, fending off a vague feeling of being watched.
Baldwin finally brought two spitting torches. Magnus told the youth to keep up and took a torch from him. “Do you stay here?” he asked Elfrida.
She shook her head—he had not expected otherwise—and he put her between himself and Baldwin. Leading the way, Magnus began to pick a careful path across the nails and snares and wooden stakes, walking steadily and lifting his feet high. All the while, puffing like a small, furious dragon at his back, he could hear Elfrida and sense her taut, barely reined-in impatience. She fairly bristled with it. Not far and all will be well, he wanted to say to comfort her, but he said nothing, for they had reached the stairs, and it might not be true.
Gray, narrow, worn, and unlit, the stairs were also slimy on certain treads. Spilled oil or melted candle wax? he speculated, calling out softly in the old tongue and his own dialect, so Baldwin would know, “Grease, here, step over.” He did not lower his torch. Some things were best left as a mystery.
“Christina, you are safe, beloved. Walter is waiting for you, and all is prepared for your return.”
Elfrida was becoming more urgent and desperate in her wishes. He longed to shield her from this trial but knew it was impossible.
She is a warrior of magic, besides, and a warrior always faces things. She would never forgive me if I kept her out of this.
Yet it was so ponderous, step after step, climbing in the dark, with the stair walls and roof feeling to close in around them, pressing down and choking...
Unless that is just me. Since early youth he had loathed shut-in places, which was why in any siege he had always volunteered for any digging or mining. Now the disgusting, spineless fears of his boyhood shook down the backs of his legs.
If Christina is dead, will Elfrida blame me? No, she will not..
He trod on an object that cracked and slithered beneath his peg foot. He checked the cry bubbling in his throat and kicked the unknown thing away, down the stairs. He heard it flopping into the darkness and vowed to burn the whole tower with fire once they were done.
If Christina is dead or alive, will Elfrida return to her village? Will she want to stay there? Ask her, man, and find out!
He was wary of asking and at the same time eager to ask. As much as Elfrida wanted to see her sister, he wanted to know her mind.
It is my future. Have the stakes ever been so high?
He ran up three more steps and reached the first floor. The staircase continued higher, but now there was a tiny, cramped passageway, again unlit, and at its end, a door.
A blue door, he realized, hearing Elfrida’s gasp of recognition. He spun about and gripped her shoulder tightly, in a gesture of warning and support, then let her go.
He reached out and touched the door with his stump. Elfrida said nothing, did not try to stop him, but he glanced at her for confirmation.
She nodded, her own hands clenched in tight fists, her face unreadable.
“Baldwin.” He handed the lad his torch and set his shoulder to the door, drawing out his knife—better a knife than a sword in such close quarters.
Surprise was impossible, for if there was a guard, he must have heard their plodding trail, so Magnus called a final warning.
“Release your prisoners unharmed and you shall not be injured or killed. Yield now.”
He pushed on the stout wood, astonished to find the door unlocked, and entered.


* * * *

The Snow Bride
She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?

From Amazon here
Amazon UK here
Free with Kindle Umlimited.
Part 1 of The Knight and the Witch Series.
Also a sequel, 'A Summer Bewitchment,' coming soon

Lindsay Townsend

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MIllie

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Beneath a Stormy Sky

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The Snow Bride. Medieval Romance Novel. Book 1 of Knight and Witch Series

Up now for pre-order is one of my personal favourites, The Snow Bride, due out on August 15th from Prairie Rose Publications

Blurb  

She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?                                                                                                                                   


England, winter, 1131

Elfrida, spirited, caring and beautiful, is also alone. She is the witch of the woods and no man dares to ask for her hand in marriage until a beast comes stalking brides and steals away her sister. Desperate, the lovely Elfrida offers herself as a sacrifice, as bridal bait, and she is seized by a man with fearful scars. Is he the beast?


In the depths of a frozen midwinter, in the heart of the woodland, Sir Magnus, battle-hardened knight of the Crusades, searches ceaselessly for three missing brides, pitting his wits and weapons against a nameless stalker of the snowy forest. Disfigured and hideously scarred, Magnus has finished with love, he thinks, until he rescues a fourth 'bride', the beautiful, red-haired Elfrida, whose innocent touch ignites in him a fierce passion that satisfies his deepest yearnings and darkest desires.

It's up for order on Amazon Com and Amazon UK and free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

Read Chapter One here

Here is another excerpt to tempt you:

Elfrida stirred sluggishly, unable to remember where she was. Her back ached, and the rest of her body burned. She opened her eyes and sat up with a jerk, thinking of Christina.


Her head felt to be bobbing like an acorn cup in a stream, and her vision swam. As she tried to swing her legs, her sense of dizzy falling increased, becoming worse as she closed her eyes. She lashed out in the darkness, her flailing hands and feet connecting with straw, dusty hay, and ancient pelts.

“Christina?” she hissed, listening intently and praying now that the monster had brought her to the same place it had taken her sister.

She heard nothing but her own breath, and when she held that, nothing at all.

“Christina?” Fearing to reach out in this blackness that was more than night and dreading what she might find, Elfrida forced herself to stretch her arms. She trailed her fingers out into the ghastly void, tracing the unseen world with trembling hands.

Her body shook more than her hands, but she ignored the shuddering of her limbs, closed her eyes like a blind man, and searched.

She lay on a pallet, she realized, full of crackling, dry grass. When she scented and tasted the air, there was no blood. She did not share the space with grisly corpses.

I am alone and unfettered. Now her heart had stopped thudding in her ears, she listened again, hearing no one else. Chanting a charm to see in the dark, she tried again to shift her feet.

Light spilled into her eyes like scalding milk as a door opened and a massive figure lurched across the threshold. Elfrida launched herself at freedom, hurling a fistful of straw at the looming beast and ducking out for the light.

She fell instead, her legs buckling, her last sight that of softly falling snow.



* * * *



Magnus gathered the woman before she pitched facedown into the snow, returning her swiftly to the rough bed within the hut. Her tiny, bird-boned form terrified him. Clutching her was like ripping a fragile wood anemone up from its roots.

And she had fought him, wind-flower or not. She had charged at him.

“I wish, lass, that you would listen to me. I am not the Forest Grendel, nor have wish to be, nor ever have been.”

Just as earlier, in the clearing where he had first come upon her, a brilliant shock of life and color in a white, dead world, the woman gave no sign of hearing. She was cold again, freezing, while in his arms she had steamed with fever. He tugged off his cloak and bundled her into it, then piled his firewood and kindling onto the bare hearth.

A few strikes of his flints and he had a fire. He set snow to melt in the helmet he was using as a cauldron. He swept more dusty hay up from the floor and, sneezing, packed it round the still little figure.

No beast on two or four legs would hunt tonight, so that was one worry less. Finding this lean-to hut in the forest had been a godsend, but it would be cold.

Magnus went back out into the snow and led his horse into the hut, spreading what feed he had brought with him. He kept the door shut with his saddle, rubbed the palfrey down with the bay’s own horse blanket, and looked about for a lantern.

There was none, just as there were no buckets, nor wooden bowls hanging from the eaves. But, abandoned as it surely had been, the place was well roofed, and no snow swirled in through the wood and wattle walls. Whistling, Magnus dug through his pack and found a flask of ale, some hard cheese, two wizened apples, and a chunk of dark rye bread. He spoke softly to his horse, then looked again at the woman.

She was breathing steadily now, and her lips and cheeks had more color. By the glittering, rising fire he saw her as he had first in the forest clearing, an elf-child of beauty and grace, a willing sacrifice to the monster. Kneeling beside her, he longed to stroke her vivid red hair and kiss the small dimple in her chin. In sleep she had the calm, flawless face of a Madonna of Outremer and the bright locks of a Magdalene.

He had guessed who she was—the witch of the three villages, the good witch driven to desperation. Coming upon her in that snowfield, tied between two trees like a crucified child of fairy, his temper had been a black storm against the villagers for sparing their skins by flaying hers. Then he had seen her face, recognized that wild, stark, sunken-cheeked grief, seen the loose bonds and the terrible “feast,” and had understood.

Another young woman has been taken by the beast, someone you love.

She—Elfrida, that was her name, he remembered it now—Elfrida was either very foolish or very powerful, to offer herself as bait.


This is Book One of The Knight and the Witch Series.
Lindsay Townsend

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Christmas in July - 3 Medieval and Ancient World Romance Novels

It's Christmas in July time and I have several romance novels that are set at or around Christmas.

Flavia's Secret, my romance set in Roman Britain and Roman Bath, has its climax during the Saturnalia, the ancient world version of Christmas. You can read more here.

Dare Celtic slave Flavia trust her Roman master Marcus?
In the Roman city of Aquae Sulis (modern Bath), Celtic slave Flavia longs to be free. Her mistress’ death brings a threat to Flavia’s dream: Valeria’s heir Marcus, a handsome, dangerous Roman officer. Flavia is drawn to Marcus but she has a deadly secret to hide and many enemies.

Just 99cents or 99p, free to read with Kindle Unlimited
Amazon UK          Amazon Com

Also in Audio and Large print.













Excerpt
To whet your appetite, here's a scene from chapter one...

Chapter 1

Britannia, 206 A.D.

Flavia was sweeping leaves when he came out of the villa. Carrying a brazier, he strolled down the steps and passed the frosted lavender bushes with that loose-limbed stride of his, looking as if he owned the place. Which he did, she conceded. Marcus Brucetus now owned the villa and everyone inside it.
She clutched the broom close and darted behind one of the columns fringing the square courtyard and its central open space, whispering, ‘Please.’
Please do not see me, she meant. She wanted him to leave, to be an absentee landlord of this small estate in provincial Britannia. It would be safer for everyone if he left. He had been watching her at the funeral, scrutinizing her with thoughtful dark eyes. She hoped he had forgotten her since then.
She risked peeping round the column. He had set the brazier in the middle of the courtyard, beside the ivy-clad statue of the god Pan, and was coaxing the fire into leaping tongues of flame. In the red glow of dawn and the orange glare of the brazier, she could see him plainly: tall and long legged, his simple dark red tunic showing off muscular shoulders. Above tanned, lean features his short, dark brown hair looked as tough and straight as a boar’s pelt. He was a tribune, off-duty and no longer in armor, but still a soldier and a Roman, one of the conquerors of her country.
‘Come here, Flavia,’ he said quietly, without raising his head.
Disconcerted at being discovered and more so by his remembering her name, Flavia stepped out of the shadows of the peristyle and approached, her rag-shod feet soundless on the icy gravel path.
‘Gaius said that I would find you out here.’
Another shock, she thought. He spoke her language perfectly. Satisfied with the fire, he looked her up and down, studying her flyaway hair and wiry figure, her baggy, patched dress of undyed wool, one of the cook’s cast offs. She gasped as he took the broom from her.
‘I ask you again—is sweeping not Sulinus’ job? He is the gardener.’
‘He's chopping wood,’ Flavia stammered, ashamed and alarmed at having missed Marcus Brucetus’ first question. She was conscious of his height and strength, both in stark contrast to the frail, elderly bodies of the male household slaves.
‘Sweeping is one of your tasks?’
Flavia nodded. ‘When Lady Valeria was alive, she wanted the courtyard kept tidy. We are a small household, sir. My mistress preferred to live quietly, with a few close attendants.’
‘Four ageing slaves and you,’ Brucetus corrected, ‘My adopted mother’s female scribe.’ He shook his head, tossing the broom casually from hand to hand. ‘Valeria never liked a man to tell her anything, and she always did pick the unusual over the conventional.’
Ignoring his amusement at her expense, Flavia fought down panic. Surely this Roman would not be so cruel as to sell the older servants? Surely he would not separate Gaius from his Agrippina, or Sulinus from Livia? She swallowed the rising knot in her throat. ‘We are all loyal, sir, and we know what the house needs to run smoothly.’
‘Indeed.’ Looking into Flavia’s bright gray eyes, he smiled and gave the broom back to her. ‘Be at peace. I don’t throw servants out into the streets to starve: loyalty cuts both ways. When you know me, you will see this.’
‘Sir?’ Flavia felt confused by this unexpected candor. She knew that she, more than any of the household, should be wary of this Marcus Brucetus, but she could also still feel the warmth of his hand on the broom handle. Over the crackle of the brazier fire, she could hear his steady breathing. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured, and turned to go.
‘Wait,’ he commanded. ‘I have some questions. Now that the official mourning period is over, it is time.’
Flavia’s heart began to race, but she did not think she had betrayed herself until Marcus said firmly, ‘Don't stand there shivering. Warm yourself by the brazier. That is why it is out here, so we can talk in private.’
Flavia took a sideways step towards the glowing charcoal. She was trembling, but not from the cold. She was afraid of what he might ask.
‘How old are you?’
‘Almost eighteen, sir.’
His black eyebrows came together in a frown, swiftly replaced by a grin. ‘Don't try to fool me, Flavia. You are young enough to be playing with dolls, a spry little thing like yourself.’
Flavia said nothing. If he underrated her, so much the better. Above all, let him not ask too many questions about the death of her beloved mistress. She tightened her grip on the broom and wished herself far away.
‘No indignant denial? Maybe you are almost eighteen.’ Marcus stretched a hand towards her, giving a grunt of amusement as Flavia stiffened. ‘You are almost as skittish as my horse. You have a leaf in your hair—see?’ He plucked a copper beech leaf from one of her blonde plaits, his thumb pushing her soft fringe away from her forehead. ‘Such smooth skin,’ he murmured. ‘You could make a fortune in the great bath-house in this city, selling your secrets for that skin.’ He flicked the leaf onto the brazier. ‘How long have you lived in Aquae Sulis?’
‘All my life.’
‘With the Lady Valeria?’
‘No, sir. She was the second person—this is the second household in which I have served.’
‘Were your parents free?’
‘No,’ Flavia whispered. ‘They were not.’
She tried to lower her head but, quick as she was, Marcus was too fast, catching her chin in his hand. She stared into his dark blue eyes, hating herself for the tide of color that she could feel sweeping up her face.
He watched her a moment. ‘Truly, you Celts are a proud people and you, little Flavia, you are so stubborn you will not even admit your condition. I can acknowledge the vagaries of fate that make us as we are when our situations might easily be reversed, but mark this—’ He lightly shook her head and then released her. ‘You are mine now.’
‘Do you think I don't know?’ Horrified at her own free way of speaking, Flavia clamped her jaws so sharply together that her head seemed to ring. It was instead the sounds of the metal-workers’ shops beginning another day’s work, she realized. Around her, hidden by the walls of the town villa, Aquae Sulis was stirring into life.
‘I shall let that go, but be careful.’ Marcus hooked his thumbs into his tunic belt and leaned back against the marble statue of Pan. ‘Do you remember them, your father and mother?’
‘A little.’ Flavia was unsure what to make of this man. One second he was looming over her, threatening, the next patient, rippling the fingers of one hand to invite her to talk. She was reluctant to share her memories with a Roman, but knew she must say something. ‘My mother had a beautiful singing voice. My father was very quick.’
‘Like you.’
Again, he had surprised her. In the silence that fell between them, Flavia heard a young street trader in one of the alleyways begin his piping cry, ‘Sweet chestnuts, freshly roasted!’ She could hear the rumble of hand-carts and smell the aroma of freshly baked bread. All were signs of her city waking up. A day her mistress, the formidable yet generous Lady Valeria, would not see.
Trying not to think of the old lady, Flavia looked up as Sulinus wandered past, dressed in his swathe of ragged cloaks—as many as the gardener could find in this frosty weather. A dark head blocked her view, a face in profile, gleaming in the red winter morning light like a cast of bronze, although no statue had such watchful eyes.
‘Have you people no proper clothes?’ Marcus muttered, a question Flavia knew she did not have to answer. She found herself watching his mouth: there was a small ragged scar close to his lower lip. His forearms carried several scars, the results of sword cuts in many skirmishes. A warrior, her senses warned, but even so, she was unprepared for his next question.
‘And where is your sweetheart in this city? An apprentice cobbler, perhaps? Or do you prefer someone with softer hands, another scribe like yourself? A desk man!
‘Follow me!’ he barked, and strode along the gravel path, his sandaled feet stamping through ice puddles.
Flavia scrambled to keep pace with him. Whatever happened, she did not want him taking his ill temper out on Gaius or Agrippina or any of the others. These were all the family she had and she was determined no harm would come to them. No harm, especially, from what she had done.
‘No.’ Marcus ducked under the peristyle and then stopped, slapping one hand against the nearest column. He turned back to face her, his face rigid with distaste. Memories of Germania do no good here, he thought. He stepped out into the courtyard again and smiled at her, with his eyes more than his mouth. ‘We were speaking of your past, not mine.’ He took her free hand in his, running his fingertips over her palm. ‘These hands have held more than a pen. What else do you do here?’ And before Flavia could answer, ‘Let us walk in the air. The house is still hers to me—Lady Valeria’s. I am not surprised that you miss her.’
‘Every day,’ Flavia admitted. ‘She was a good lady.’
‘An honorable woman and a shrewd judge of character. I enjoyed our correspondence.’ He gave her a searching look. ‘Did you write her letters?’
‘Not all,’ Flavia said quickly. Her mistress had been writing or dictating letters to Marcus for the last four years, ever since the Lady Valeria had met the tribune on her single trip to Rome. Flavia had no idea why her mistress had made him her heir, but they regularly corresponded, especially in the last year after Marcus’ military career brought him to Britannia, to the northern city of Eboracum.
Flavia had never seen the tribune until he rode down from the north in response to her own letter to him, informing him of the Lady Valeria’s sudden death. Now that she had met him, Flavia only knew that he made her uneasy in all kinds of ways.
They had returned to the brazier and the statue. Flavia leaned her broom against the statue and began to tease away a strand of ivy from the squat marble figure. Marcus had not yet released her other hand. She was wary of that and of having to look at him.
‘The letters I received from your lady—yours was the rounder hand?’
‘Yes, sir,’ Flavia agreed, wishing that she did not blush so easily. They were coming to dangerous ground again, and she said nothing more.
‘Could either of your parents write?’
‘No, sir.’
‘So you didn't learn it from them.’ Marcus lowered his head towards hers. ‘From your first master, perhaps?’
Flavia shook her head. ‘I was very young, then.’
Marcus’ fingers tightened around hers, almost a comforting gesture, and then he let her go. ‘How old were you when you were separated from your mother and father?’
Flavia stole a glance at him, but his face was unreadable. ‘We were not separated. I lost them—when I was eight.’ Her voice faltered.
Marcus crouched beside the statue so that he was looking up at her. ‘Go on,’ he said quietly.
‘There was a fire in the slave quarters. My father got out, but he went back for my mother and the roof fell in on them both. I was told this. I was not there. I was with the daughter of the first mistress, walking with her by the river. I had been ordered to play with her.’
Marcus saw the change come over the small blonde slave. When he had first seen her, standing so grave and quiet beside the cremation pyre at the funeral of the Lady Valeria, she had reminded him, piercingly, of little Aurelia, his own daughter. Flavia had the same delicate appearance, the same golden tumble of hair, even down to the way it tended to curl by her ears. In these things she might have been a mirror of Aurelia, who was now dead. Little Aurelia and her mother both dead of fever in the wilderness of Germania, five years ago.
The memory had almost overwhelmed him a moment ago, but he should not take out his grief on Flavia. He had thought her a soft house slave, as insubstantial as a water spirit, but her hands were toughened with years of work and she had endured loss. He could hear it in her voice.
‘They sold me soon after the fire. Perhaps they were afraid I would sicken and die. Everything was an effort to me. I could hardly run, much less play.’
She would run well, Marcus thought. Her body—the little he could see under that patched gray shift—looked straight. Skinny, one part of his mind said, but then he had surprised himself by asking about her sweetheart. A crass inquiry. Marcus scowled and listened to the rest of her story.
‘I was sold when I was eight years old and the Lady Valeria bought me. She gave me a home, a new family. She taught me to read and write. I owe everything to her,’ Flavia said simply.
He could hear her honesty, and something more. The girl was hiding something. Then he shrugged. Although his father owned slaves, this was the first time he had done so for himself and only because of Valeria’s inheritance. He felt uncomfortable with the whole business of slave ownership, especially a girl as young and pretty as this. What poor wretch of a slave did not have secrets? ‘Tell me your duties,’ he ordered.
‘I was my lady’s scribe and personal maid,’ Flavia answered crisply.
‘In place of the foolish woman who used to style her hair? Yes, I remember Valeria scribbling something to that effect on one of her letters.’ Marcus Brucetus smiled at Flavia’s stare. ‘So you will do the same for me?’
Flavia ripped another strand of ivy from the statue. ‘If that is your wish.’ She whirled about and dropped the ivy onto the brazier so that her back was to Marcus Brucetus.
‘Even your neck goes red when you blush,’ was his smug response, a remark that made Flavia long to use her broom on him. Surprised at her vehemence, she tended the fire, glad to be doing something. He chuckled, rising to his feet. ‘You are not used to dealing with men, are you?’
‘I talk to Gaius and Sulinus every day,’ Flavia shot back, a reply that made him laugh out loud.
‘Indeed! But I see that Valeria was right. How did she describe you?’
Behind her, Flavia could hear Marcus Brucetus tapping his face with his fingers. She clenched her teeth, part of her angry that her mistress had mentioned her, part of her alarmed. If the Lady Valeria had regularly added more than her signature to her letters before sealing them, what else had she told Marcus Brucetus?
Please do not let harm come to the others, Flavia prayed. If she had done wrong, only she should pay.
Marcus Brucetus cleared his throat. ‘A mettlesome little thing. May need watching. Valeria was a shrewd old bird, would you not say?’ Flavia remembered the Lady Valeria walking in this courtyard only a few weeks earlier, in a sunny day in late summer, when the roses were in bloom. Her mistress, who had once been as straight as a spear, had been forced to lean on Flavia’s arm and use a stick. She had complained vigorously.
‘Look at me, shriveled like an old fig!’ Lady Valeria had pinched one of her arms and then continued, ‘I used to stride around this garden and now I shuffle. Don't you dare help me on these steps, girl! I want to do it myself.’
She had been an independent woman, the widow of a Roman knight. Her mother had been a British princess and Lady Valeria, tall and handsome in her youth, had become a learned and decisive woman. With her iron gray hair in its severe, old-fashioned bun, her plain green gowns, her penetrating brown eyes and her restless curiosity, Lady Valeria had displayed another kind of Celtic pride. She had fought the infirmities of age.
‘I've buried a husband and a daughter. I've endured the worst,’ she often told Flavia. ‘Let it all come! These aching limbs and failing eyes. When I become too bored I shall end it. Now that I have adopted Marcus Brucetus, he can perform the funeral rites.’
Flavia never liked to hear her mistress speak in this way, but in the end Lady Valeria, proud Romano-British matron, had chosen a Roman death. Leaving her papers all in order and dressing in her richest gown and in her best jewels, Valeria had told her attendants to leave her alone in her study for the evening. There she had taken a draught of poison in a glass of her favorite wine and died, sitting in her wicker chair, her head supported comfortably by cushions. Flavia had found her the next morning.
Remembering, Flavia shuddered. She had not cried since Lady Valeria died and she did not weep now, but every night since then she had come awake in the middle of darkness with the question, Why? on her lips.
‘It is a pity,’ Marcus Brucetus remarked.
Restored to the present by his voice, Flavia blinked and turned to face him. Strangely, his presence tempered her grief, if only because she had to be wary of him. ‘What is, sir?’ she asked.
‘Your lady. My adoptive mother.’ Marcus Brucetus pointed a long bronzed arm towards the great bath house and shrine of Aquae Sulis, the heart of the city. ‘I wrote often to her of the virtues of the hot springs of this city, but no doubt she continued to bathe no more than her usual twice a week.’
‘She did,’ Flavia agreed faintly. Lady Valeria had considered more than two baths a week to be wallowing in luxury, a sign of moral weakness.
‘But the winters were always hard for her,’ Marcus Brucetus said. ‘She never complained, but I could tell.’
‘Often in the darkest months she would speak of making her final journey to join her husband Petronius,’ Flavia found herself admitting.
‘Now she has done so—and we are the losers.’ Frowning, Marcus Brucetus watched a raven floating over the thatched and tiled roofs of the villas and shops. With a curse, he turned and strode over to the nearest of the four strips of garden that bordered the courtyard’s central marble statue. He snatched up a handful of earth, returned to the brazier and threw the frozen soil over the fire, instantly extinguishing the flames.
‘Don't worry, I will carry this back into the house myself, later,’ he said wryly, catching Flavia’s anxious glance at the large, heavy bronze brazier. ‘We have said enough here and I have something to show you.’
He moved off, beckoning her to accompany him.

* * * *

Flavia’s spirits sank further when Marcus Brucetus led them straight through the villa to the small cozy room Lady Valeria had chosen to be her study. Closing the door, drawing the door curtain across, Marcus sat at her desk on the simple stool that Flavia had used in this room. Someone, possibly Marcus himself, had moved the wicker chair in which her mistress had died to the darkest corner of the room, a small mercy for which she was deeply grateful.
There were no windows, but Marcus Brucetus lit an oil lamp, placing it on one end of the desk. He picked a stylus from the desk, then put it aside.
‘You found her here,’ he said, reaching for a jug and a cup, both of red Samian ware, both new to this house.
‘I did.’ As he poured a cupful of wine, Flavia wondered if she should have offered to serve him.
Across the desk, he stared back at her, his dark blue eyes bright with amusement. ‘I can do many things for myself. Often I prefer to. Now are you going to sit down so we can talk comfortably?’
Flavia looked hastily about the room. Aside from the wicker chair, which she would not use, there was only the blue and gold couch set against one of the plain plastered walls and the wolf skin rug in front of the desk. Lady Valeria had never permitted any of her servants, even Gaius who had been with her for twenty years, to sit on the couch.
She began to make an excuse. ‘Cook will be expecting me to go with her to market for the shopping.’
‘Cook can take someone else with her today, but never mind. If you want to stand, you can.’ Marcus took a drink of wine and resumed. ‘You also found Lady Valeria’s final letter?’
Flavia felt as if her throat was closing up, but she managed to say clearly enough, ‘Yes.’
Marcus studied his cup a moment. ‘I know this is difficult for you, Flavia, but I am trying to be clear in my own mind that my adoptive mother passed away peacefully.’
‘Oh, she did, sir,’ Flavia said. ‘Her face, it was so calm.’ She stopped as Marcus held up a hand.
‘There were no signs of disturbance in this room, no signs of a struggle?’
Flavia shook her head. ‘What are you saying?’ she whispered.
‘Nothing.’ Marcus drained his cup and rose to his feet. ‘I suppose I cannot quite believe that she has gone. Wait here a moment.’ He walked past her and out of the room.
Once she was alone, Flavia put her face in her hands and tried to take a deep breath. She knew that in the end, Lady Valeria had chosen her own path, a path which she would never take because her secret Christian faith forbade it. Although her mistress had never questioned her about her beliefs, Flavia guessed that the Lady Valeria had known that her young female scribe had been distressed each time she spoke of choosing death and so, in a final kindness, Lady Valeria had acted without telling her.
That was what Flavia believed, which was why she had done what she had. Finding her mistress sitting peacefully at her desk, looking as if she had fallen asleep, Flavia had written a final message as if from Lady Valeria, faithfully copying the hand of her mistress. She had done this because only two days earlier Gaius had rushed in from the market, deeply distressed by a rumor going around Aquae Sulis that a nobleman had died in Rome in suspicious circumstances and that his entire household of slaves had been put to death.
‘They were all crucified!’ Gaius had shouted in the kitchen, his usually carefully combed-over hair falling into his staring eyes and his wrinkled, homely face bleached with distress. ‘Even the children!’ When she had embraced him to comfort him, Flavia had felt the old slave trembling.
That remembered horror had remained with her, a goad and a warning that she must continue to be careful. Marcus Brucetus was a soldier, used to dealing in death. If he decided that he did not trust Lady Valeria’s servants, might he not be tempted to make a clean sweep of them?
He was coming back; she could hear his quick firm tread on the floor tiles outside the study. Flavia let her hands drop by her sides and checked her appearance in the faintly distorting reflection of the metal tray which held the Samian wine jug. A pair of wide bright eyes, flushed forehead, cheekbones, and chin and trembling full mouth flashed into view before she stepped back onto the rug and straightened, ready to face him.
‘Read this.’ He thrust a piece of papyrus at her.
She knew what it would be, but even braced for the shock, Flavia felt herself begin to sway. She blinked and her own writing swam back into view, her hand faking the Lady Valeria’s spare, spindly scrawl. A hasty letter, written in panic and in fear of the possible consequences should any kind of suspicion fall on the household.
‘Read it aloud,’ Marcus commanded, standing in front of her.
‘To my adopted son and heir, Marcus Brucetus, greetings—’
‘Get on with it,’ he growled.
Flavia skipped the rest of the opening. The papyrus shook slightly in her hand as she read on. ‘I am sorry if what I've done here causes you any grief, but you should know that it is no hardship for me to leave this painful life. I have chosen my own end willingly, secure in the knowledge that I will be reunited in the hereafter with my beloved husband Petronius.’
‘Stop.’ Marcus cupped her chin in his hand and raised her face. ‘Why did she not free Gaius or Agrippina?’ His voice was soft, but the planes of his face were unyielding. ‘Would that not have been a final generous act?’
‘I don't know why!’ Flavia tried to tear herself free, but even as his grip fell from her chin, Marcus clamped his arms around her middle.
‘No, you don't.’ He gave her a shake and, as Flavia’s hands automatically came up to fend off possible blows, he dragged her against himself, trapping her arms against his chest.
‘Is that what you believe, Flavia? That your mistress was not thinking when she acted?’
His arms were tight around her and, just for a moment in his arms, Flavia experienced a sense of peace that she had never known before. In that second she spoke her heart. ‘It was unlike her to forget loyal service, but then in the end she may not have had much time.’
Flavia closed her eyes, seeing Lady Valeria in the wicker chair, her eyes closed, one hand lying flat on her desk as if stretching for her stylus. That was what must have happened. That was why her mistress had left no note.
‘How did she come by the poison?’
At the sound of Marcus’ voice, Flavia started, suddenly becoming aware of him again, making her even more conscious of the gulf between them, free and not. He could do virtually what he liked to her, to any of the others, and nothing would stop him, least of all Roman law or morality.
‘I don't know,’ she stammered, looking up into his eyes. She wanted to plead for the others, but in the end it was the grave intensity of his face that made her add purely for his peace of mind, ‘The day before she died, Lady Valeria went out alone to the baths. There was a healer there, an apothecary she knew well.’
‘You think she bought the hemlock from him?’
Flavia nodded, afraid to speak in case she broke down. For the hundredth time, she wished Lady Valeria had not done it.
‘If only she had spoken,’ she murmured. ‘I used to massage her with oils—she told me that they helped, that they eased the pain.’ She could not go on.
‘I will talk to this apothecary.’ Marcus was staring at her again, his eyes as brilliant as a falcon’s above his aquiline nose. ‘You have eased my mind, Flavia.’
‘I have?’
‘Indeed. In some ways, at least.’ His mouth quivered with suppressed amusement, but even as Flavia sagged slightly against him relieved that he was not angry, Marcus lowered his head.
For an instant, she was actually convinced that he was going to kiss her, but instead he gave her hair a quick tug. ‘Are you listening?’
What else would I be doing? Flavia thought, but she stopped herself from saying it. She was still locked into his arms. ‘May I sit down?’ she asked, despising herself for asking, but wanting to be away from this disturbing man who remained a danger to her and to the rest of the household.
Marcus lowered his arms. ‘There is your usual seat.’
Flavia walked stiffly round the desk and sat on the stool, her head high as she stared at him.
‘Comfortable?’ he asked, in mock solicitude.
‘Perfectly, thank you,’ Flavia answered, determined to show nothing, although her hands tingled with the desire to strike back.
‘Good! I like my people to be comfortable.’ Marcus began to pace across the wolf-skin rug, crossing the room from side to side.
‘You are listening?’ he asked a second time.
‘Yes, sir.’ Flavia found herself becoming apprehensive again. Her new master’s next words did nothing to dispel her sense of foreboding.
‘Then, I admit it, Flavia: I am puzzled. I find it curious that in the last letter I received from her, Valeria told me that she was looking forward to meeting me during the mid-winter holiday of the Saturnalia! Why should she say that, and then do what she did?’
Marcus stopped pacing, giving her a long, considering look, his black lashes and brows sooty in the flickering light of the oil lamp. ‘You didn't know this? You didn't write that letter?’
‘No!’ Flavia was too shocked to be polite. ‘You know I did not!’
‘Yes, the differences in the hand-writing; I had forgotten those for the moment.’ A glib answer that convinced Flavia he had done no such thing. As she stared back at him, Marcus began to explain.
‘Lady Valeria was looking forward to meeting me in Aquae Sulis. She seemed keen to discuss a recent imperial appointment with me; that of Lucius Maximus as a decurion, with a duty to collect taxes. For some reason, my adoptive mother disliked Lucius Maximus. She called him— what was it? “A traitor to the living and the dead, a grave robber, an unholy fellow. Not the sort of man anyone should make responsible for taxes in a city like this.” Yet Lucius Maximus is related to her through marriage: he is a Roman, one of the lady’s own class. So I do not understand.’
Marcus raised and spread his hands. ‘Do you understand it?’
‘I have never heard of Lucius Maximus,’ Flavia answered at once. ‘Is he a friend of yours?’
The instant she spoke, she regretted the easy jibe, while at the same time being astonished at the words coming out of her mouth. She had never spoken this way to Lady Valeria, never so...freely? Risking a glance at Marcus, she saw him become dangerously still, the dark stubble on his chin defining his clenched jaw. Flavia’s hands bunched into fists on her lap, then realizing what she was doing, she jumped to her feet, the stool scraping on the floor tiles.
‘Don't think that because the desk is between us, I cannot reach you,’ he growled. He leaned over the papers and writing tablets and pinched out the lamp. ‘For your information, I do not know Lucius Maximus, but I have arranged to meet him at the baths this afternoon. You will be there as my scribe.’
His darkly handsome face took on a wicked look. ‘Perhaps you can massage me? Use some of the soothing oils you used on the Lady Valeria.’
Grinning, he turned and strolled from the room.


My sweet medieval historical romance, SIR CONRAD AND THE CHRISTMAS TREASURE, is up and out. You can read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

On Amazon. Com here
And Amazon UK here

In print at Amazon.com here
And in print at Amazon UK here

SIR CONRAD AND THE CHRISTMAS TREASURE Amazon Com USA

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TO READ WITH KINDLE UNLIMITED



What is the true treasure of Christmas?

Maggie’s younger brother, Michael, is kidnapped by outlaws, and it’s up to her to rescue him. Appealing to Sir Conrad, the grim steward of the northern English high lands, is the very last thing she wants to do. With the very real possibility that the outlaws know of Michael’s talent—the ability to open any lock, to reveal any treasure—Maggie races against time to find him before his usefulness to the outlaws is ended.

Sir Conrad desires Maggie from the minute he sees her—she makes him feel alive again—and that has not happened since the death of his wife. Though he hasn’t known Maggie before, a strange feeling of familiarity nags, and he agrees to aid the beautiful peasant girl in this quest of finding her brother.

Joining forces, Maggie and Sir Conrad form a tenuous bond. When an assassin attacks Maggie, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit, and Conrad realizes that even Maggie doesn’t know the power she holds. But Conrad not only must keep Maggie safe, he must thwart the dangerous devices of his spiteful older brother, Richard, who has lately returned from crusade.

As love blossoms, Maggie and Conrad must protect one another. Evil is all around them, and doubt is a cruel enemy. Will their faith in each other keep them united? In the world of dangerous courtly intrigue, who is saving whom? Love is all that matters…but can that be enough?

Excerpt
Here's an excerpt from my sweet Christmas romance, "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure"

Chapter 2

                                             
A gathering of horses, war-chargers, palfreys and spare mounts, a hasty bringing together of men, weapons and supplies, and they were off. They pounded out of the bailey, through the village and onto the track to the old Roman road. Sunrise to sunset they rode and then on through the night, sunset to sunrise. Riding in front of Conrad, his thick arms braced on her either side, Maggie felt her world shrink down to her heartbeat, the scalding ache of her thighs, the glare of snow and the relentless drum of the galloping horses.
Had she ever imagined the recovery of Michael would be an adventure? Wishing she could clasp her aching head but not daring to relinquish her grip on the horse’s mane, Maggie longed to stop.
   “You awake there?” Conrad growled, his lips close to her ear. She shook her head as if he was a bothersome fly and forced her wind-chapped lips to reply.
  “Doing well,” she said, determined her teeth would not chatter. In truth she was not so frozen. Sir Conrad had supplied her with a thick cloak and a woollen cap, cloths to wrap round her boots and rags to bind her hair. If I could only have some eastern cushions for my hips, perched on this bony nagWho knew horses had such a spine? Glancing sidelong she caught a knowing gleam in her companion’s deep eyes, as if he expected her to complain. But I shall not.
“Yourself?” She tried a smile, the cold light of the coming dawn piercing her cheeks.
 “We make camp soon, rest the horses.”
“Naturally. The horses. And the pack mules,” she added, wondering why she was teasing him as she might have done Michael. The truth was, she had ridden with this man for hours, her back snug against his chest, her legs pressed against his long shanks. It was hard not to feel a kind of closeness to him.
Now, she felt rather than heard Conrad’s rumble of a chuckle and knew a fleeting lightness in her soul as his arms tightened briefly about her.
“You will not be outdone, will you?” He guided their mount onto an unpaved section of road that did not jolt her bones, which was overall a blessed relief.         
“Is this a contest?” she replied, catching her wind-sore mouth in a yawn before she could stop it.
He smiled against her woollen cap and Maggie closed her eyes. The great horse moved beneath her, smooth now as a sailing ship on a calm river, the beat of its hooves strangely soothing, like a lullaby. I wonder how Michael is faring, she thought as she slid slowly, inexorably into sleep.
                                                                    ****                                        
Conrad gently lowered the sleeping girl onto the rough pallet of bracken and hay that he had set before the new fire. She had done well, he decided, nodding to Davie, a silent reminder that the man guard her, before he checked on the horses and men. A palfrey had picked up a gorse or bramble tear on her flank. Conrad was conferring with a groomsman how to treat the wound when the weary peace of the camp shattered.
Lurching out of the darkness, Maggie staggered back to the fire, plucked out a burning branch and brandished it at the figure coming after her.
“Back!” she cried, stabbing the flaming brand at her would-be attacker, “You will get none of what you want from me!”
Conrad thrust the salve at the nearest groom and began striding back, to hear the farrier, Brian, say, without shame or apology,
“Come on, goldie, I can give you a sweet time—”
“What is happening here?” Conrad pushed between the pair, scenting the mead on the farrier’s breath. 
“A bit of sport.” Brian swayed on his feet, squinting past the taller man as he gave the girl a wave.  Has this fool been drinking all night? Supping while on horseback?
“I do not expect to be set upon when I slip into the hazels to pass water!”
“You take on so, goldie, not fair—”
She took a deep breath that would have fit a dragon, clearly ready to light into the fellow afresh, when Sir David with his uncanny ill-luck, stepped out of the trees where he had been setting guards and said drily, “Women following soldiers are usually bed-mates.”
“I am not following anyone!” snapped Maggie, as red-faced as a dragon’s fiery breath, “I am seeking my brother and your lord is meant to be aiding me! Or do such courtesies only count for knights and ladies?”
Conrad sensed the camp about them stiffen and knew his men were leaning in to listen.
“Ladies do not bawl like market criers,” he drawled.
The bright stare cut towards him. “How else am I supposed to be heard?”
“Enough!” He made a cutting motion with his arm, tired of the whole squabble, and addressed his men. “The girl is with me, mine, and you all know it. Brian, get yourself a pail of water and dunk your head. We move on in two hours, when the sun tops that pine tree. Get on!”
He caught the girl’s arm and led her, none too gently, back to the pallet by the fire. “You stay,” he ordered, ignoring her look of utter betrayal.
He turned to leave, go back to the horses, when a narrow wiry hand grabbed his cloak. Looking back, he almost flinched at the flinty glare which stabbed him.
“You need the farrier, yes? But mark this, my lord, you also need me.”
His temper bridled at her insolence. He leaned down into her face, part of him amazed at how very blue her eyes were, in her anger. “I just saved you from a mauling or worse. Why did you not wait for me to escort you? Are you so naive?”
If she could, she would have shot poison like a snake, he guessed, though her words were pin sharp. “I did not know such courtesy was required in your own camp.”
Not even a gesture of thanks, the ungrateful little wench. Did she think they were equals? “You do not tell me how to govern,” he began afresh, but she interrupted,
“Then rule yourself first. I thought you, sir, were different.”
With the I was wrong hanging between them, she stepped aside and flounced down on the pallet with such force that a puff of hay-dust rose in the air between them. Sensing he had made a mistake, loathing that feeling, Conrad stamped back to the horse lines.
Later, too brief a time to be truly rested, they rode on, into the forest of Galtres. The girl sat before him, silent as a stone. I thought you were different. “What happened to you?” he growled, too low for her to hear. He disliked her being so stiff, that was all.
I do need my farrier. She had no right to complain. As for Brian approaching her, it is the way of the world. In a war-band, everyone expects it.


So why did these reasonable justifications seem hollow?


A Knight's Captive - a novel that also has it's climax at Christmas-time

It’s 1066, a year of strange comets and portents, harsh battles, dying kings and Norman and Viking invaders. Compelled to go on pilgrimage in a restive northern England, war-worn Breton knight Marc de Sens knows his first obligation is to his three orphaned nieces. But then he encounters the stunning blonde beauty Sunniva and his life changes forever.

I
Thrust together by betrayal, Marc and Sunniva must find a way to survive these turbulent times, but both hold dark and deadly secrets and trust between them is slow to grow. What happens when their tentative truce is shattered? Will Marc be held captive by his past? Will Sunniva become his willing prisoner? And will they find a way to find love and free themselves?


(Previously published by Kensington Publishing, New York, in 2009. Nominated for the ‘Romantic Times’ Reviewers’ Choice Best Historical Novels Award, 2009.)


Amazon Com 99 cents
Amazon UK 99p

Excerpt 

She was a good traveler, Marc thought, kneeling up in the log boat to row. As the darkness faded to a dusky rose and the sun began to burn off some of the river-fog, she began to ask him riddles.

"This is one way we English pass the long winter evenings, so it is a skill you need," she said.

"Ask away," Marc answered. It passed the dull time of rowing and he could still listen and keep watch. Her voice lilted to him over his shoulder, teasing and playful.

"A giant, now toppled,

hollow and dead,

still glides where it never would

when alive."

That was easy. "This boat," Marc answered.

"Here is another," Sunniva paused to wrap her head-square about her alder paddle to save her hands against the knobbly bark. She had offered to tear it in two for him to share but, when Marc shook his head, she cleared her throat and declared,

"This knave creeps and clings,

A friend to mischief, the enemy

of sight. The sun may drive him off -"

"You cannot claim fog is male," Marc interrupted. "It is a woman. Listen." He listened himself first, checking all about was still and reedy, no dogs or busy hunters, then spoke.

"She winds her promise of mystery about you,

Endlessly deceiving and beguiling. Softer than dew."

"Not so," Sunniva replied at once. "Listen -"

And so they went on, moving slowly but steadily through the fens until they reached a point where the mist seeped away and they found themselves on a river, rowing to a fording-place.

*********************************************************************



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