Monday, February 13, 2017

I am currently working on Liam's Spell, Book 2 of the Decker Brothers Trilogy, and also working on Secrets, Lies & Sins, Book 2 of the Quest for the Shroud series, when I have extra time.

Since it's been a while since I've posted anything, I am posting an excerpt from each one.


Excerpt from Liam’s Spell – Coming Soon!
“Hey Jade, I’m going to run next door for some lunch. Do you want anything?”
“No, I’m fine. Brody brought us lunch earlier. Go ahead.”
Conner’s Coffee CafĂ© was next door to the White Magic. Erin grabbed her bag and left the shop.
And there was Liam, sitting on the white bench outside the shop.
He stood. “Going to Connor’s?” He fell in beside her.
“Yes. I have a break.”
“I know. I looked at your book. I’ll join you.”
“Okay.” Erin managed a smile.
Liam was always a gentleman. He opened the door, ushered her in.
“Liam and Erin!” Connor greeted them when they reached the counter. “What’ll you have?”
They ordered their meals.
“Unsweetened tea for you, Erin?”
She nodded.
“I know what the big guy wants to drink.”
“That’s a no brainer, Dr. Pepper.” Liam laughed.
“Go sit down. The lunch rush is over. I’ll bring your tray to you when it’s ready.”
“Thanks, Connor.” Erin flashed him a smile.
Liam grimaced slightly as he sat.
“Is your leg hurting?” Erin asked with concern. Liam’s leg was left mangled on his last tour in Afghanistan. He never wore shorts, always jeans – even in the high heat of summer like this hot, July day. She’d given him several massages, so she’d seen the damage. His leg was badly scarred from his injuries and burns. He’d almost lost the leg, but didn’t, though he’d had a very long recovery which was amplified by multiple surgeries. He still limped a little, and probably always would. He’d told her it was a small price to pay for keeping his leg.
“I had therapy this morning. It’s always sore afterward. It was my last session. I return to the doctor next week. I should get the go ahead to drive again.”
“That’s good. More independence for you.” She gave him a genuine smile. She knew how much he was looking forward to driving again.
“Yeah.” He nodded and smiled.
“Italian sub for the big guy and chicken salad for the lady.” Connor slid the tray onto the table.
“Thanks.” Erin smiled.
“Anytime, sweetie.” Connor headed back toward the counter when a mother and three kids walked in.
“Erin?”
“Yes.” She returned her attention to Liam. Harper was right. The man was gorgeous. Short, black hair that was forever tousled, intense blue eyes, tall, muscled and lean - the finest body she’d ever seen. She shouldn’t have allowed herself to remember what that hard body felt like against hers while he was kissing her, but she couldn’t help it. She did.
“Why are you avoiding me?”
Liam was also direct. Erin chewed then swallowed the bite she’d just taken.
“I’m not-”
“You are,” he cut her off.
At first, she suspected this was it. They’d have an argument, his pride was wounded, his feelings hurt, and the result would be they would probably never speak to one another again - but to her surprise, it wasn’t anger she saw when she looked into those brilliant eyes. Was it tenderness? He continued to watch her. And yes, she felt guilty because she had been avoiding him.
“I’m sorry. I told you I don’t have good relationships, and that I didn’t want to do this.”
“Do what?
“This. Um, I’m not ready for a relationship.”
“Why aren’t you ready for a relationship?”
“Well, because my relationships don’t ever work.”
“How do you know this one, ours, won’t?”
Well he had her there. “I don’t. But I don’t want to hurt you, Liam. What we are doing right now as a team is too important. And like I told you, I don’t know how.”
“No one knows how. They just give it a try and see where it goes.”
“I must not be good at it, because I always mess things up.”
“Says who?”
“Says me and my last five boyfriends.”
“Hmm. They told you it was your fault it didn’t work?”
Erin sighed in frustration. “Do we have to talk about this?”
“Yes. We do.”
“Liam, it’s just…It’s just not a good time to try this. We need to be focused. I need to stay focused and I couldn’t if we, well, I need to keep my mind on this defeat the demon thing.” She looked at her watch. “And I have a client due-”
“In fifteen minutes. I looked at your appointment book, remember?” He smiled.
“I do.”
“Okay, we’ll talk about this later. Eat.”
“All right. Thanks.” Erin took another bite of her sandwich.
Liam spoke occasionally, just filling her in on some of their preparations. She would answer or comment.
After they finished, he walked her back toward White Magic. He stopped, reached out, and took her gently by the arm. “I need you to answer one question for me.”
“Okay, if I can.”
“You can. It’s not hard. My question is this: do you want to have a good, happy, healthy relationship? One that sticks.”
She rubbed her brow. “Of course. Doesn’t everyone?”
“It’s not that you’re not attracted to me, is it? Or you want a relationship, but just not with me.”
“No, Liam. It’s not that at all. You’re a wonderful man and I am attracted to you. It’s not you, it’s me.”
“Okay.” He shrugged and released her arm.
“It’s not you,” she whispered.
“All right. Let’s give it a try, you and me. We’ll take it slow.” He reached down, took her hand, and brought it to his lips. He stepped closer to her. She vaguely registered her back touching the wall. After his lips grazed over her knuckles, he turned her hand over and pressed a slow, warm, lingering kiss to her palm. Heat shot up her arm and she tingled all over. She saw tenderness and caring in the depths of his intense, blue eyes.
“Good.” He gave her a sexy smile as he studied her face. “We’ll take it slow.”
He released her hand, turned, and proceeded to walk toward the shop door.
Erin had to peel herself off the wall before her legs gave out and she slid down to the concrete. Her legs felt like jelly as she followed him. Of course, her eyes focused on the back of his jeans. She shouldn’t look there, but she couldn’t tear her gaze away. She had to admit he was gorgeous everywhere. The man did have great buns. She’d noticed that the first day he walked into the shop with the two other Decker brothers.
She didn’t remember actually telling Liam she would try a relationship with him, did she? Maybe she did. At the moment, she couldn’t think of one reason not to try. Still dazed, she muttered her thanks to him for holding the door open for her.
On the way to the massage room, she turned to look at him. He gave her a very sexy smile that did things to her. Wicked things. And it didn’t help her clear her head at all. Not one bit. She realized she was smiling when she turned toward her massage room.



Excerpt from Secrets, Lies and Sins, Coming late 2017
When their remaining enemies turned and rode away, Fin turned to regard Jamie. “Were you harmed, Lass?”
“Nay, but you were.” She reached for his arm.
“It’s just a scratch.” Fin pulled his arm away.
“It’s bleeding an awful lot for a scratch, Fin.”
“Might I remind you, Lady Jamesina, that I’m a grown man and can care take care of myself.”
He hadn’t realized that his voice was raised until he turned to see everyone looking at them.
He softened his tone. “I am fine, my Lady. Thank you.” He gave her a curt nod and left her standing alone.
Jamie sat to reload her pistols then joined the group of men.
“Are you ready, Lass?” Ian asked her.
She nodded and gave him a small smile.
Marrek had reloaded his pistols for him while Fin removed his neck cloth and fashioned a bandage around the graze on his arm. Fin thanked Marrek when he returned his pistols.
Arran handed him a flask of whisky. “Perhaps a wee dram will improve your mood.” Arran’s green eyes cut toward Lady Jamesina.
“My mood is fine. However, I’m quite sure I can do with a dram later. My thanks, Kildonan.”
“And where is it that Lady Jamesina and I should head?” Fin turned to ask Ian.
“Well now, you’ll have to ask her. She’s the guardian.” Ian seemed highly amused.
Fin turned to her. She held her head high and ,et his gaze. He guessed it was determination he saw in those golden eyes.
“We’re headed for one of my safe places. We can’t reach it by nightfall. We’ll have to stay the night at another MacEwen property,” Jamie informed him in a cool tone as she passed by him. She mounted her horse on her own and turned her head. “Are you coming, Lord Dunloy?”
“Aye.” It took him aback that she was now using his title instead of his given name.
Jamie didn’t wait, she urged that big beast of a devil she rode forward. Fin briskly walked toward his gelding.
“Then you’d best mount up in a hurry. We’ve a long journey ahead of us and I hope you’re not intending to lag behind the entire way.”
Fin let go a huff of irritation and mounted his horse. He paused to wave farewell to his friends then hurried after her. He heard deep baritone laughter behind him as he struggled to catch up to her. Damn Jamie MacEwen. She is the most infuriating woman. She had no right to treat him thus. It was she who’d lied to him all these years, after all.
He tried to tamp down his anger and forget about her. He failed. The anger simmered during the long, silent hours they rode toward God only knew where.
 
Darkness was nearly upon them when they passed by a small, quiet village just off the road.
“Mayhap we should take a room at the inn there, in the village,” Fin suggested. He was feeling quite weary of a sudden.
“Out of the question. We’ve not far to go. Another mile or so.”
“And where exactly are we going, lass?” Will there be a bed waiting for me?”
“Of course. ‘Tis a cottage.”
“Good.” That was heartening news. His stomach rumbled. “And will there be food at this cottage?”
“Aye, of course.” She muttered.
He was tired. Bone weary tired, which was unlike him. Then again, he hadn’t sat in a saddle for almost a full day without a rest in some time, and to be fair, he was still healing from the wounds he received several weeks ago. He was reminded he had a new one just this day when his arm began to throb. He’d never let her know he was struggling to keep up. Not on his life!
It was a small cottage she pointed out as they left the road and made their way down a path. It looked to be in good condition, and that was promising. He couldn’t help but notice how spry Jamie was as she slid from her mount. She walked to the door, turned her key in the lock, pushed the door open and returned to her horse. “There’s a lean to in the back. I’ll take the horses.”
He stifled a groan as he dismounted. His arse was mighty sore. And why did his legs feel so damned weak. “I’ll bring my horse. It will make faster work of it if we each take care of our own mounts.”
She gave him a nod and led the way behind the cottage.
It wasn’t until he had trouble lifting the saddle from the handsome black gelding he borrowed from Arran, and his arm felt like it was on fire that he realized there was something wrong. He dropped the saddle. Groaned and straightened.
And there was Jamie. She raised her hand to his brow. “You’ve a fever, Fin. Go in and sit. I’ll see to the horses. I’ll be in as quickly as I can to see to your wound.”
The man in him wanted to protest, but the part of him that felt so blasted weak and sick complied with a nod. He trudged around the small, compact structure and took himself into the house. He thought to sit in a chair at the table, but the bed in the anteroom beyond beckoned. The mattress looked fluffy. It was a MacEwen plaid that was thrown across it. He lay his head down upon one of the plump pillows and closed his eyes.
When he next opened them, there was a soft golden glow in the room. He saw a fire gleaming in the hearth in the large room beyond. Something smelled divine. A lamp on the table beside his bed had been lit.
Then Lady Jamesina entered, minus her hat. Her long, dark braid trailed over her shoulder. She was carrying a basin. He watched as she set it atop a table stacked with folded cloths on the other side of the bed.
“Good, you’re awake.” She drew the plaid away from him.
It was then he realized his chest was bare. The woman had undressed him while he slept? How could that be? He tried to lift himself up and couldn’t.
“Your wound has festered, Fin. It’s where the fever comes from. I cleaned it earlier and applied a poultice. Now I need to apply another.”
He grunted and gave her a nod. “What smells so good?” He scraped his hand over his face.
“A Stew. I made it yesterday, and left it in the cellar so we would have it if we needed it.”
“We need to compare the clues?” His eyes narrowed after he surveyed the room. “What have you done with my coat?”
“Damn it, Fin. I hung your coat on a peg in the other room to dry. I know you’re angry with me but I can’t believe you don’t trust me.”
“Well you’re certainly not the person I thought you were. You could have been lying about everything, how am I to know.”
“I never purposely lied to you. I just never revealed to you that I was a woman. Everything else I wrote in my letters was the truth. How I felt, what I believed. If you read them, you should know exactly who I am.”
Her words stung almost as much as the cleaning of the gash on his upper arm. “Ouch!”
She rose and walked to a cabinet. She returned with a bottle of whisky and a glass. She set them down, and poured him a generous amount and offered it to him.
“If you’re going to whine like a bairn, Fin, you need to drink this.”
“I’m not whining. I was complaining about the sharpness of your tongue as much as roughness of your ministrations.”
“Drink it or do without. I’m changing your poultice regardless.” She held the glass out to him again.
He struggled to sit up, but managed to do so without her assistance. He snatched the glass from her hand and drained it, then settled back down into the soft warmth of the bed.
“There. I’ve had my medicine. Do your worst.”
“Hmmph.” Jamie continued to clean the remnants of the old poultice off. She sponged the festering gash and then applied the new poultice.
“Fin?” she called when she finished.
“Aye?” Fin struggled to open his eyes.
“Could you eat a bit of stew? You need to keep up your strength.”
“Aye, I can. And could I have another wee dram, lass? For Scottish whisky, it tasted fairly good.”
“Aye. I’ll get it, and I’ll have you know ‘tis the best whisky to be had in Argyll.”
“MacEwen made, I suppose,” he mumbled.
“Of course.” She quirked a dark brow his way.
The venison stew was the best thing he’d ever tasted. It was humiliating that she’d had to help him sit up to eat it. That stung his pride. She made him drink a hot cup of rather bitter tea before she’d pour him a whisky.
“No wonder you’ve never married. That was the foulest tasting brew I’ve ever put in my mouth.”
“It’s not meant to taste good. It was made to fight your infection and help you to heal.” And put him to sleep and out of his misery and hers, God willing.
He insisted on another dram, she argued but eventually gave in after muttering something about if he had more whisky in him mayhap he’d go to sleep and quit complaining. She helped him lay down and pulled the plaid over him. Then he felt her hand, he’d noticed earlier that she had long-fingered, pretty hands, upon his brow. He could hear the soft lull of her voice as he slid into slumber.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

 
I am still working on revising and editing Sinners Take All (working title was A Bachelor No More) Book 1 of the new Quest for the Shroud Series. In the meantime, I'd like to post the teaser for Book 2 which will be titled Secrets, Lies and Sins.
You might remember Oliver Talbot, the Marquess of Braxton, from the Lords of Avalon Series. This is what happens when he runs into Caitriona Kinross, whom he hasn't seen in three years, Hope you enjoy!
 
Excerpt from
Secrets, Lies and Sins
Book 2 of the Quest for the Shroud Series
By K. R. Richards
 
Oliver Talbot, the Marquess of Braxton, remained out of sight on the shady side of the garden shed. If luck was with him this day, he’d catch his prey and if it wasn’t, he’d return to Castle Draoie angrier and more frustrated than he was already. Bloody, damned Scotland. He never should have come.
He sensed her presence before he could see her on the path. It was odd that he could still feel her nearness after three, long years, but he did.
He waited. One glimpse of that fiery auburn hair as she passed by him was enough proof. He lunged for her.
He took a step back when he saw the glint of her dagger as she whirled around to face him.
He flashed a wicked grin. “Hello, Cait. It’s been a long time.”
It seemed an eternity passed while he waited for her to speak. He had clearly surprised her. He found that unusual because she had been one of the best agents at the Department, once upon a time. And he had sensed her. The surprise in those green eyes vanished. That dangerous glint he knew so well now burned in those forest green eyes.
“It seems you’re a bit rusty, Red.”
“Maybe. You are fortunate that my knife is not rusty. It will make removing your ballocks that much easier.”
“Come now. I did nothing to warrant such punishment. I will remind you, it was you, Cait, who left me without a word while I was on a mission. You ran back to Scotland to get married without leaving a note or explanation. If anyone has the right to carve someone up, it would be me.”
“What do you want?”
“What I deserved three years ago. An explanation.” The usual brilliant blue of his eyes darkened to the intensity of a stormy sky.
“From what I’ve heard from London, you certainly didn’t pine away for me.”
“I must indeed be a legend if tales of my sexual exploits have made it all the way to Scotland,” his words dripped with sarcasm.
“I would use a word other than legend.” Cait took several steps back though she still held her dagger at the ready.
“I’ve learned a great deal about pleasure in these three years. I imagine I could teach you a thing or two. Perhaps you’d like to have a go?” He taunted her.
She tossed her head. “I’d rather slit my own throat.”
This conversation wasn’t going the way he planned. At all. Frustrated, he held out his hand. “Give me the damn dagger.”
“No.”
He shook his head and brought his fingers up to rub his aching temple. “Damn it, Cait! I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to talk. Put the knife away.”
She seemed unsure. Her hand trembled slightly, but it did tremble. Oliver took advantage of her weakness in that moment and grabbed her wrist. He pried the dagger from her fingers with his other hand. He slid her weapon into his pocket.
“Leave me alone. I have my own life now. I’ll not have you pestering me.”
“Pestering?” He forced himself to control his rising anger.
“Madame, the only thing I want is what you owe me. An explanation.
“You don’t deserve one.” She turned and continued on the path.
“Yes. I. Do.” He reached out and took hold of her upper arm. “I did nothing to you. When I left London, we were lovers, when I returned from Vienna you were married to an old man in Scotland. I just want to know why. Why did I not even warrant an explanation? A letter? Something.
She tried to break away. She kicked him in the thigh, though she had been aiming higher. He held fast. With a vice grip on both of her arms, he pulled her against him. 
She kicked and scratched at him. They continued to struggle. She was still very strong but she was out of practice, and no doubt did not condition her body on a daily basis as she had before. He did, and was stronger. Finally, he pinned her arms at her sides. With a sweep of one long, muscled leg, he brought it behind one of hers and unbalanced her. They fell to the ground in a wrestling heap. He tried to keep her there. She tried to break free. 
Finally, he was on top of her, pinning her beneath him.
“Why?” He demanded.
 She shook her head. “My reasons are my own.”
Their heated gazes locked. Each of them struggled for breath.
She wasn’t as lean as he remembered. Oh, she was still tall and slender, but she was curvier, and softer - in all the right places.
And damn it all, he was aroused. He bit back a curse as he realized after all these years he still wanted her. The woman who had brought him to his knees.
She must have noticed. There was a flash of panic in those green eyes. “Let me go!”
“When you’ve given me an explanation, I’ll happily let you go, darling.”
“I will not.”
“Why?”
Cait inhaled sharply when she saw the flicker of pain in the brilliant blue of his eyes. She never guessed she hurt him. Perhaps she was imagining it. Surely, that had to be it. There had never been any talk of feelings, emotion, or permanency. 
She shook her head. “I can’t.” She wouldn’t. Couldn’t now. There was too much at stake.  
He watched her eyes grow misty. All the emotion he used to carry around for her in his heart reappeared. Ah, hell, he’d spent years trying to purge her from his soul. Whatever made him think he could? Now here he was, feeling things he didn’t want to feel. And wanting.
“Damn you, Cait!” He should let her go. Walk away. Forget her for good. He did think about it for a few seconds. He did try.
Instead, he kissed her.
 

Friday, January 22, 2016

New excerpt from A Bachelor No More

Here is a new excerpt from upcoming Book 1 of the Quest for the Shroud series, A Bachelor No More.

In this scene, Avalon Society Member and known rake, Lucien Saintmaur, aka Wyldhurst, deals with the prudish Miss Hazel Grimm.

 
“Are you quite certain we cannot make it?” Hazel asked again.
“Miss Grimm. We are in the midst of a torrential rain. The roads are nearly impassable at present and will only get worse. True, we are not far from Gryffestone, but had we continued onward, we might have well spent the rest of the night inside the carriage when the wheels became mired in the mud. We would be stuck and in a very precarious position if your attackers came upon us. This inn is our safest option,” Luc took her hand and helped her from the carriage. Actually, it was more like a quick jerk of the hand that led to the dragging of the irritating lady behind him. He quickly situated them inside the dry entry of the Badger Inn.
After requesting the largest set of rooms available, which unfortunately turned out to be only one room with a small parlour, he followed Miss Grimm up the narrow steps.
Maids scurried about the room before leaving them to their privacy. The food he had requested was laid out upon the table. A warm fire blazed in the hearth.
When he threw the bolt to bar the door, Miss Grimm nearly jumped from the chair she had taken near the fire.
Her grey-blue eyes grew wide with fear as she watched him. He was convinced the woman would jump at the sight of her own shadow. 
He sighed heavily. “Once again, Miss Grimm, I assure you, you are safe from me. I bolted the door to protect us, to keep harm out and for absolutely no other reason.”
What was it Damien had told him? Oh, yes. She was jittery around men. There was no doubt, she was. There must be a legitimate reason men frightened her. He decided that was none of his concern. Tomorrow morning he would deliver her to the Earl of Kinross who awaited her at Gryffestone, and be done with her.
“Yes, of course,” she expelled a relieved sigh. Her eyes darted around the room. Beyond an open door, she could make out one bed in the room. “There is only one bed?” Hazel regretted that her voice came out resembling a high-pitched squeak.
“You will sleep in the bed, Miss Grimm. I’ll keep watch here, in this chair,” Luc said as he plopped down in the only comfortable chair in the room. It wasn’t large enough for his tall, muscular frame, but it would have to do. He shrugged. At least the woman was talking now. She had remained silent for the last hour in the carriage after he admonished her for complaining non-stop.
“Eat,” he waved toward the cold collation on the table. He continued, “And get to bed. Hopefully the rain will cease and we can get an early start to Gryffestone on the morrow, eh?” A smile turned up the corners of his mouth when he noted the whiskey on the table beside him. He poured himself an ample dose of the dark, amber liquid. Whiskey, it was the very best thing about being in Scotland.
“You are imbibing in spirits?”
Again, she gave him that wild-eyed look then those same eyes narrowed into a stony, gray glare.
“Yes. I am indeed. It is a fine whiskey. Would you care for a dram, Miss Grimm? It will warm your bones.” He seriously doubted it would do much to loosen up a disagreeable spinster like her, though.   
“I wish you would not drink. Men lose their wits when they drink strong spirits,” she informed him in a derogatory tone.
Her tongue was bitter, true, but there was that haunted, fearful look in her eyes again. Yes, yes, whiskey made men lose their wits and breasts made them sin. She had lists of sins and he had heard them all since he first laid eyes on her earlier that morning. Little wonder Miss Grimm was a spinster, and shoved as far back on the shelf as a woman could get. He smiled at his own witty jest. What Miss Grimm needed was several shots of whiskey and a good, hard…tumble. The corner of his mouth lifted.
Hazel wondered why he smiled. He seemed amused. He had already demonstrated that he could be trusted. He saved her life after all. She would not have survived the assault he spared her from this day. Why then did she fear him? Was it those black slashing brows or his unreadable green eyes. Perhaps it was the sheer size of him. The man was tall with the broadest shoulders she had ever seen. His arms and legs were muscled; in fact, the man was nothing but muscle. She didn’t understand it. She felt uneasy and on guard around him every moment.    
She was still glaring at him. He grimaced. He was certainly not the man to give that woman a tumble. Although that riot of bright red hair fanned out upon a pillow might be a sight to see, he was not willing to go far enough to find out, thank you very much.
“Fine. I won’t drink,” Luc growled in irritation as he slammed the crystal glass upon the table. Yes, a day of Hazel Grimm’s company was more than enough. He rose and walked to the table. He perused the cold platter that had been left for them. He picked up a hunk of bread and took a bite. It was tasty, fresh even. With one physical need completely ruled out for the evening, for he would not be going there with her, he turned to fulfilling another. The food was fresh and flavored well despite it being cold.   
“You will come eat,” it was a polite command.
“I don’t think I could,” Hazel shook her head. Nervous butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Yes, that was it. He made her nervous. He watched her too closely. That was why she was uneasy in his company.
Did she frown all of the time? “Suit yourself,” he shrugged and threw a grape into the air, catching it with his open mouth. Quite amused by her snort of displeasure, he sat and entertained himself with some more tidbits upon the platter. A piece of beef, a nip of cheese. His entertaining game lasted all of five minutes, until he realized she was still staring at him wide-eyed. It unnerved him to the point he decided to do something about it.
“Miss Grimm, would you mind not staring at me? If you continue, I shall be forced to believe that you find me devilishly handsome and wish to be seduced this eve. Do you want to be seduced? Do you wish to let me have my way with you?” He pretended to begin to rise from the bench.
“Sorry, I – I,” she stammered as she hastily rose. “No! I will retire,” her voice was a desperate whisper, her cheeks flamed bright red, not far from the color of that glorious hair.
“Do not bolt the bedchamber door, Miss Grimm,” he barked. He smiled inwardly. He could be just as disagreeable to her as she had been to him the entire day.
“Why not?” She whipped around to face him.
He noted a flash of defiance in her eyes. Hmm? Interesting. He explained calmly, “If someone came in through your window, I could not prevent them from taking you.”
“Oh. I see.” Another blush “I will not bolt it then.”
“Suit yourself.”
He watched as she picked up both her bags and entered the bedchamber. She closed the door. He did not hear the bolt slide.
Hazel admonished herself. When he mentioned seduction, why had she felt…pleased? She never wanted to, well, she just could not. The sins of her past could not be erased. She could not think of marriage or that. Ever.
Why after all these years did she feel disappointed? She shook her head. She was being a complete ninny. It was the first time she had ever spent so much time in the company of a man not of her relation. And he was rather handsome. That must be why she was uneasy, timid, and felt quite out of place. Or what was she felt temptation? The kind that would lead her to sin. No! She would overcome such feelings and prevail.   
With a sigh of relief and a grin, Luc returned to the chair and his whiskey. He downed what remained in his glass then poured himself another. He lifted it toward the closed door and whispered, “Thank goodness there are warm, talkative, and willing women in the world who appreciate men, for Miss Hazel Grimm is certainly not one of them.” Pleased with himself, he let go a boisterous laugh.
It was too bad that Miss Grimm was such a sourpuss. Her fiery hair could indeed tempt a man. Those plump breasts, what little evidence he saw of them earlier, and when not flattened by that ridiculous binding she insisted upon wearing, could definitely fill a man’s hand. He found her gray eyes quite interesting when she wasn’t glaring at him, or when they grew wide with fear. He wondered for a moment, and only a moment, what desire would do to the silvery blue of her large eyes.
He sighed. Hazel Grimm was the worst kind of spinster, for she truly hated men. So he would think on her no more. It would be a complete waste of his time.

 
 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

 
Excerpt from A Bachelor No More, Book 1
in the Quest for the Shroud series,
the continuing adventures of the Avalon Society from
the Lords of Avalon series.
These are both new characters, that were never introduced in the Lords of Avalon series. However, they a re both very important to the Quest for the Shroud series.
 
Kilrea Castle, Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland, Early in May 1835
It had been three years since he had buried his brother, William. Finlay was never meant to be the Earl of Dunloy, but had been since William met his end. He’d done a damned fine job of it too, if he didn’t say so himself. He’d improved the Castle, overseen the modernization his father, Patrick, had oft spoken of doing. The MacDonnell people in this part of County Antrim now thrived. The farming, the livestock, all had been improved upon. His father would be proud of what Fin had accomplished in a short three years. He knew it. He’d done a better job than William, he knew that too. For his brother hadn’t the drive or the ambition to change anything. Most importantly, William had preferred his drink, whores, and gambling over any estate business.
William had never taken the ancient Oath of the MacDonnell as seriously as Fin and his father had either. It was the fault of William’s obvious weaknesses that Fin was now preparing to leave Kilrea for God only knew how long. He hoped like hell it was not forever!
And it was William’s fault too, that across the North Channel, Jamie MacEwen was in danger also. Fin and Jamie, had become good friends in the five years they’d corresponded since Patrick MacDonnell had passed. They were of an age, and spoke of many things other than their inherited tasks in their letters. Though he’d never set eyes on the man, as yet, Fin thought of Jamie as a good friend. They had many shared interests. Fin had sent a letter off to Jamie first thing upon discovering that someone, probably more than one someone, knew about the MacDonnell/MacEwen secret and was asking questions. Questions they should not have known enough to ask.  
It wasn’t that William MacDonnell’s love of the ladies had caused this predicament precisely, rather that he’d blabbed about the Oath and the MacDonnell secrets, a boast of sorts, to at least one lass while either in his cups, or in the heat of passion. Hell, it was probably both. 
It was when William’s last known paramour, a particular Scottish beauty, who visited family in Antrim and had spent time with his brother when in Ireland, called upon Fin at Kilrea almost one week ago and started asking about the MacDonnell secrets that Fin realized how careless William had been. He wondered now if William’s death might have been more than the accident it had seemed to be. Sure, a highly inebriated man could fall from his horse, hit his head upon a rock and die, but Fin guessed the Scottish beauty was dangerous. He knew, for certain, that she was after the secrets secured and safely hidden by the MacDonnells for centuries, and more than likely those of the MacEwens at Dunrostan. She might have had a hand in William’s death as well.  
She had tried her best to seduce Fin that day, but he was known to be a much more clever man than his brother was, and he was certainly smarter than a woman with manipulation in the way of seduction on her mind. Without arousing her suspicions, he’d escaped her greedy clutches that afternoon by claiming he was quite busy preparing to leave for a business trip to the Continent in a few days.  
Finding out that he would be gone from Ireland a month entire, she promised she would return to Antrim then. He said he’d send word when he arrived home and that she should come immediately upon receipt of his missive. Oh, Fin could talk a good game, and rake was a part he played well. He did. Sure, he’d practically mastered being a rake before he took up the title of Earl. He was well schooled in the seduction of women. He’d pressed a few strategically placed, soft, warm kisses upon her person, let his fingers wander about her bodice a bit, and whispered a few sweet lies into her ear that hinted of the sensual delights that would await her upon her return to Kilrea.
“Come, lass. Stay a week with me then. Can you manage that? There’s a fine cottage on the grounds where we’ll not be disturbed. I assure you, you’ll not regret a moment of it,” he’d told her. He could lie with the best of them – especially to women of that ilk. He did not like women who lied and he detested those who used their bodies for their own personal gain. An honest prostitute with no alternatives, who earned her bread on her back, he could appreciate, but a scheming Lady, full of lies and deceit, was about as useful to him as a thief was. Then there was the fact that this particular Lady had more than likely had a hand in the murder of his brother. It was possible William fell from his horse, but not likely, the more he pondered over it. It was mid-day when William was found, after all. Fin remembered his brother seeming to be as sober as he ever was that particular morn at breakfast.  
The first thing Fin had done after he sent the seductress on her way, (after having a bit of a wash in the basin, of course) was to check the hiding place to relieve his mind that the MacDonnell secret was still safe. He’d had to reassure himself that William hadn’t been so foolish as to show the woman the location of the actual goods. He’d promptly moved it to a new location for assurance. Of course, he’d checked the MacDonnell treasure first thing after William died too, but the woman calling at Kilrea three years after his brother’s death had raised his suspicions and set the hairs on the back of his neck to prickling. In his experience, that was always a sure sign that trouble was on its way. The last few days he’d spent getting everything in order at Kilrea, so he could leave for an indefinite period of time. And of course, he was taking the MacDonnell secret along with him.
The woman would be back and when she realized he had done such a fine job of lying to her, she and whoever she was partnered with, he had no doubt someone else was involved for why would she wait three years to pay him a visit, would search Kilrea if they had the chance. Good luck to them, for he had taken on a large body of well-armed men to protect his home while he was away. Then of course, the very capable Mr. Clancy would be in charge in his absence.   
In order to protect the family secret and himself, Finlay MacDonnell, and that entrusted to him by his father and their ancestors before them, needed to disappear for a time. At least until he was certain it was safe to return. He needed to make certain Jamie MacEwen of Argyll and the MacEwen half of the secret were safe also.  
Fin turned to look upon Kilrea Castle one last time before the carriage passed through the Barbican Gate. The gate looked to be medieval, yet the Barbican, made of course rubble and red ashlar sandstone, was built the decade prior at the behest of his father. As Castle Street led right up to the bridge that crossed the river, and then became the drive to Kilrea, the large gothic edifice and connecting wall gave the MacDonnells much needed privacy. For directly across the river, Castle Street cut through the village. Though Kilrea Castle, was no longer a castle, but a house rebuilt in the eighteenth century, a castle had stood on the spot since twelve hundred and forty-seven. Prior to Kilrea, the MacDonnells had lived in the big castle, at Lower Dunluce. Dunluce was a ruin now, since sixteen hundred and forty-two, though it stood upon the cliff top like a sentinel looking out over the sea.
As the carriage rolled across the bridge, before his thoughts settled upon the next stage of his plan, he said a silent prayer that he would be able to return home soon.
 
Dunrostan Castle, Knapdale, Argyll, Scotland, Mid-May 1835
Jamie MacEwen retreated to the study, closed the door, and opened the letter that had just arrived from Ireland. It was from Finlay MacDonnell. Correspondance had regularly been exchanged between them since Fin’s father, the Earl of Dunloy, passed.  
Dear friend,
I fear the time we have long feared would come, has indeed arrived. I am removing from Kilrea because a former lady friend of William’s (you know the kind of woman she was, for I’ve oft described William’s exploits to you) visited and inquired about the secret. Her curiosity was more than mild. She was willing to seduce me to get her information. I sent her off with her desires unfulfilled and a promise of a future tryst upon my return from the ‘Continent’. I must surmise that William must have spoken of the Oath and the reasons behind it at some point in his dealings with this person. No doubt, he was in his cups, (for he nearly always was) and it would be my guess she coaxed him to tell of it while he had her on her back! Why she has waited until now to come to me, I cannot guess.
I wanted to come straight to Dunrostan to see for myself that you are hale and whole. Alas, though I have been careful and not noticed a thing out of the ordinary these weeks leading up to and the days following my suspicious visitor, I must accept that there is the possibility that I might have been being watched before this person arrived, as well as after. Therefore, I must abide by the agreement and the rules of the Oath made by our families. You must take your leave, for if this woman knew of the MacDonnell secret, chances are William told her about you as well. As our ancestors before us decreed, we both must take to hiding in our safe places, and we will meet in three months time at the appointed rendezvous point, on the fifteenth day of the month.
I pray that you are safe and remain so until we meet. 
 
Your friend and partner,
Fin
“I can’t believe it. It has happened,” Jamie spoke aloud to no one. Only once in these five hundred years since the MacDonnells and MacEwens made their pact had the families had to flee for safety and make a rendezvous. In 1657, the families had reason to believe they were being watched, but in the end, it had amounted to nothing. A scare they had called it. In six months, they had returned to their normal lives.
Jamie numbly reached for the bell pull. Duncan must be summoned so that preparations could be made to leave Dunrostan at once. Fin’s letter was dated almost one week ago.
 
“There will be no argument, Duncan. You know as well as I, that this is how it must be.”
“If your father were here-”
“He is not,” Jamie interrupted the faithful butler. “So I must go alone. You must stay and protect our interests here at Dunrostan while I am gone. I will be back.”
There was so much determination in Jamie’s golden eyes and such conviction in the words spoken that Duncan was reminded of the late Earl of Dunrostan. Duncan had sworn to Alexander MacEwen before his death that he would do his part in this if the occasion should arise, and it had. As hard as it was, he resigned himself to the fact that he could not serve as Jamie’s protector during this time.
“You will be back. I will see you soon.” With a firm nod, the loyal butler stepped back and closed the carriage door. It was the hardest thing he had done since the old Earl passed and they put him into the ground. He stood and watched the carriage until it was out of sight, all the while praying for the safety of Jamie MacEwen’s person, and even that of the Irishman named Fin MacDonnell.