Bits 'n Bobs Author Blog
This week's spotlight is on Ashley York's novel, The Bruised Thistle.
In this excerpt, Seamus rides hard, revenge in his heart. And meets Iseabail's murderer.
Seumas kept a fast pace through the night, traveling as if the devil himself were after him. His thoughts were morose, tortured by the screams of people murdered in the dark of night, a young man threatened at sword point to reveal the location of his hidden gold, Giles bending over the young girl. Atrocities no one should ever have witnessed. Atrocities he could not overcome.
By day, he rested. The memories made sleep impossible. He ate nothing and drove himself with only one thought in mind—revenge. Iseabail’s murder would be avenged.
It was near midnight when he finally saw her home. She was a woman of great wealth, and Seumas understood now why her uncle would have been so relentless in trying to acquire his brother’s estate. The castle walls were well-maintained. He would never be able to gain access. Retreating into the darkness of the woods, he pulled his tartan around him and slid down against a tree, keeping watch. His memories pressed down on him, drowning him with heavy thoughts of his revenge. The man would die slowly, in as much agony as Seumas could inflict upon him. Time became just another element, like the wind and the rain. He had lost all sense of it. Daylight came and went. And he waited.
The whinny of his horse woke him instantly. With eyes already adjusted to the dark, he scanned the road. A lone rider traveled toward him from the castle. A hiss escaped Seumas as he saw the way the man was dressed. His opulence was unmistakable.
What type of fool travels the roads at night so ripe for robbery?
Without a doubt, this pompous arse was Iseabail’s uncle.
He stayed hidden beneath the trees as the rider approached. He had worried as he planned out his revenge that he would not recognize their uncle. He almost laughed at the audacity of this man. The whoreson believed he could kill his niece, steal his brother’s lands, and go about his life as if he were a king? Tonight he would find out he was wrong. Seumas stepped out onto the path and waited to be seen.
“Hold.” Seumas held up his hand, demanding compliance.
“What is the meaning of this?” the man blustered as his horse shifted and turned at Seumas’s sudden appearance. “How dare you travel my roads in the middle of the night?”
Seumas bowed in mock respect. “M’lord, I beg yer pardon. Whose lands have I unknowingly trespassed on?”
The man tilted his head and squinted. “These are my lands. I am the MacNaughton.”
Seumas felt the air leave his lungs, to be replaced by rage. “John MacNaughton?”
“No, I am his brother, Henry.” Seumas slowly stepped toward the man, taking the horse’s reins. Henry was clearly not expecting that. “What are you up to?”
“I wish to speak to ye, sir, if ye would please dismount. I would have us speak as men.”
“What business have I with you, sir?” Henry tried to pull the horse back, away from Seumas, who held tightly and moved closer. “Why would you travel these roads at this time of night?”
“I would ask ye the same.” Seumas’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Will ye dismount?”
“I will not. Unhand my horse this instant.”
Seumas gave a sharp yank and the horse reared away, effectively unseating Henry, who fell to a heap on the ground.
Seumas stepped in closer until he towered over him, using his size to intimidate. “Ye will.”
He merely observed the man as he worked to right himself. The buffoon struggled with his cloak, mumbling and grunting as he tried to unwrap his large limbs. The horse skidded away from the bumbling oaf. The knife was a surprise. Henry pointed it at Seumas, the blade glistening even in the dark, all pretense of ineptness discarded.
He sneered. “What do you want from me? Tell me quick and I may allow you to live.”
“Are ye not the brave man?”
His sneer slipped, revealing his confusion. “What are you talking about? Get off my land.”
Seumas rounded on him, his brows arched high at the absurdity of the answer. “Yer land?”
Henry tipped his head as if assessing the true meaning of his obtuse question. Seumas sensed his bravado crumbling.
“I heard ye stole it from yer brother,” Seumas continued, standing with his arms akimbo. The man blanched. “Yea, I know quite a lot about ye.”
“What do you want with me?” Henry’s voice broke with his fear and his blade shivered in the moonlight. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Ah, Henry…” Seumas spoke as if to a child. “Ye were already in a bad way and now ye have made it even worse.”
“How so?” he said, his voice now quivering.
“Tell me.” Seumas moved in closer. The man’s dagger still trembled in his hand. “Is that the dagger ye used to run yer niece through?”
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Today I'm featuring Rue Allyn's lovely book, The Herald's Heart.
What will Sir Talon Quereste find at Hawksedge Keep?
Excerpt from The Herald’s Heart:
Sir Talon Quereste refused to allow a little thing like being lost in a fog prevent him from completing his task as a royal herald. After getting garbled directions from an anchoress who screeched at the sight of him, swore evil lived at Hawksedge Keep, and then warned him that no good would come of traveling there, he finally located the town of Hawking Sedge. With the mist thickening, he stopped at the alehouse and asked for better directions or a guide. The alewife refused to give more information than “follow the road.” The patrons of the house, when questioned, refused to a man to guide Talon. Even proclaiming himself King Edward’s royal herald failed to gain their cooperation.
“T’ earl’s disappeared and ’tis haunted, sir,” they claimed.
They exchanged taunts with him, and Talon left the alehouse swearing to spend the night in the keep and catch any ghost that wandered its halls. If he could ever find the cursed place.
He very much doubted the earl had vanished. More like he was hiding because he knew he’d incurred Edward I’s wrath. When the king of England summoned a man to renew vows of fealty and that man failed to comply, the king might justifiably be angry. So Longshanks had sent one of his heralds—fondly known by courtiers as the king’s hounds. The fact that the chosen hound was the last person the Earl of Hawksedge would want to see was sugar on the plum for both king and herald. Talon would ferret the man out no matter where he hid. Would his father recognize him? Not likely, despite the fact that, according to rumor, Talon’s guinea gold hair and dark purple eyes could have only come from the Earl of Hawksedge.
St. Swithun’s nose! Recognition by the earl was as likely as finding Hawksedge Keep in this fog. Talon couldn’t even see his mount’s ears in the chill gray mass that swirled around him. According to one of the village cowards, the keep “loomed on a hill near the sea, its great black stones a blot from hell upon heaven’s beautiful sky.” Ghosts! Stones from hell! Nonsense is what it was.
His mount came to an abrupt halt. What now? Try as he might, he could not make the beast move forward. Talon twisted to look behind him. The fog had swallowed all sign of human habitation. The villagers’ absurd fears kept them warm and dry within the alehouse, while his sensible disbelief that Hades somehow escaped its bounds left him cold, wet, and stranded in an impenetrable mist, unable to determine either the way forward or the road back—on a horse gone mad with stubbornness.
Of a sudden, the silence hit. ’Tis the fog. It deadens all sound. He wished for the comforting clop of iron-shod hooves on dirt. He shivered in the enveloping chill and took a deep breath of mist-laden air. The salt tang reassured him. At least he hadn’t ridden off a cliff into the sea. Talon smiled at his own foolishness. If his steed would not go forward on its own, he would dismount and lead the animal.
He had swung his leg across the horse’s rump when a hideous wail arose, bleeding through the fog to ooze fear down his spine. He hung there, suspended above the earth on the strength of a single stirrup. That the horse didn’t bolt was a miracle of good training.
The fog, so thick and impenetrable a moment ago, formed a gap in the wake of the noise. Talon looked in the direction of the sound and met the wide-eyed gaze of a disembodied head.
His breath froze, and he swayed, dizzy with surprise. She ... it ... possessed the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. A delicate nose flared in a perfect oval framed with fiery red tresses. Long, dark lashes fluttered over bright, exotically tilted blue eyes. A berry-red mouth formed an O. Ivory satin skin pinked over high cheekbones as he watched. Every feature vanished the instant the fog closed between him and the vision. Talon choked on the nauseating aroma of death and lavender mixed with the sea-scented fog. The smell dissipated as quickly as the last glimmer of light. However, that hideous, grinding wail lingered, the aural guardian of a soul doomed for eternity to search out a body no doubt long dead.
What was he thinking? The bright blue eyes had blinked. The berry lips had gasped. She’d even blushed. Whoever she was, that head belonged to a very live woman. He settled back into the saddle and hauled his mount’s head around. With as much speed as he thought safe, given the lack of visibility, Talon hurried after the dying wail, heartened when he heard it rise again, for that meant he was nearing his quarry.
He moved along, pursuing the noise and the woman until his horse once again refused to move. What was wrong with the beast? Talon growled. He could either stay with the horse and lose the maid, or follow the maid and ... And what? Stumble blind over a cliff into the sea and lose not only his horse but his life? Nay, only a madman would go wandering around unknown ground in a fog this thick, which made the dunces back in the alehouse look very wise indeed.
Cold chattered Talon’s teeth, and damp soaked his clothing. He needed shelter. No doubt that’s what his mount had been trying to tell him. He could hear his good friend and fellow herald Amis Du Grace laughing in agreement that Talon’s horse was smarter than its rider. He shook his head—once again single-minded determination had led him into trouble. Still, the trouble would be worth it, if he could serve the Earl of Hawksedge even a small amount of the anguish the man had served a six-year-old boy tossed from his home and labeled a bastard.
Talon dismounted and moved to his steed’s head. The animal needed a stern lecture on obeying its rider. The fog became darker just ahead of him. “I’ve had enough nonsense for one day,” he said, whether to the horse or the fog was hard to tell. “There are no such things as ghosts or disembodied heads that blink and blush.” He lengthened his stride, hoping to pull his mount forward, and ran smack into black stone.
He’d found Hawksedge Keep.
* * *
Blurb for The Herald’s Heart by Rue Allyn
Royal herald, Sir Talon Quereste imagined that one day he would settle on a quiet little estate, marry a gently bred damsel, and raise a flock of children. The wife of his daydreams is a woman who could enhance his standing with his peers. She is certainly not an overly adventurous, impulsive, argumentative woman of dubious background who threatens everything he values then endangers his heart.
When her family is murdered, Lady Larkin Rosham lost more than everyone she loved—she lost her name, her identity and her voice. She’s finally recovered her ability to speak, but no one believes her claim to be Lady Larkin. She is determined to regain her name and her heritage. However, but Sir Talon Quereste guards the way to the proof she needs. She must discover how to get past him without risking her heart.
Purchase The Herald’s Heart at Amazon.com.
The Highlander's Outlaw Bride won the 2016 RONE award in the historical/pre-medieval category!
I'm thrilled beyond words! The RONE award is a very prestigious award in the indie and small press world.
Here is the description from the InD'Tale magazine site:
RONE (Reward Of Novel Excellence) Awards
RONE Book Awards:
Each year InD’tale Magazine honors the very best books in the Indie and Small publishing industry by awarding the prestigious RONE award. To achieve this award, a book must go through the most comprehensive process in the industry today, with three distinct areas of focus.
Other than this lovely gold star being quite an honor, The Highlander's Outlaw Bride was the first historical novel I ever wrote. It also won the Golden Claddagh award in medieval romance. Though it would be published as the fourth book in The Highlander's Bride series, it was the book that caught my heart and steered me along the writing path to Scottish romance. I'm very pleased to see my first book baby succeed so well!!
Today's spotlight is on Bambi Lynn and her excerpt from Mask of the Highlander.
Is Kenna's heart on a new journey? Or is Ty truly a new man?
They rode out shortly after dawn. The hills were covered in a mist so thick, Kenna could barely see her horse's ears through the fog. The mare shied often at the close proximity of Ty's stallion. The beast, as dark and menacing as his master, snorted and pawed the ground whenever they stopped.
Three starving villages remained on Vass lands. Ty insisted the villagers would want to see their laird, returned home from defeating the English. They had visited each in turn. The arrival of the laird drew the ragged villagers from indoors, but if he expected a hero’s welcome, he would be disappointed. The tension in the air was thicker than the fog, each village worse than the one before it. By the time they reached the third, he did not even dismount.
He was cordial enough. His scowl of contempt did not seem directed at the villagers but at the squalor in which they lived. However, they did not know that. A glower from Laird Vass was enough to strike fear into the hearts of the most stout of men, regardless the cause.
She glanced over at him as he pulled his horse to a halt at the crest of a hill. Her heart tripped. Dare she hope that war had changed him? Was he right and truly a different man, or did he play some game to distract her, to lull her into relaxing her aegis. Then he would strike.
He stared off into the distance, beyond the grassy plain toward the border of his lands and her father’s. But his gaze was unfocused. Lines of worry creased the corner of his eye, his mouth. She had never known Ty Vass to worry about anything except his own pleasure. His raven-dark hair caught a breeze and swirled around him.
Kenna caught her breath. He had not seemed so handsome before, not when he was beating her, forcing himself on her. Those memories, nightmares she had relived again and again, began to fade. She saw the man he could be, a man she would be proud to call husband.
She gave herself a shake. Verra well. She would play along, see how his homecoming played out. Kenna wanted nothing so much as peace in her life. Peace between their clans, and peace within her own house…
"Come." She spurred her mare forward. "I have something to show you."
He did not speak, but Kenna sensed his stallion behind her. Her mare swished her tail overmuch, drawing strange sounds from Ty’s war horse. Soon enough she found herself scanning the brush, searching for an opening she had not seen in years. She had last come here on the eve of her wedding. It seemed a lifetime ago.
She paced her mare back and forth along the same gnarl of overgrown vines until she spotted it. "Here." She pulled her leg over the horse’s neck and slid to the ground. She knelt in the grass, still damp from the morning’s fog and coaxed the vines apart, revealing a wooden door, barely hanging on its hinges.
She grinned over her shoulder at him, but her smile fell instantly. He watched her with a look akin to lust. She hesitated, old fears skittering up her spine, but reminded herself of her vow to give him a chance. She would never trust him, never love him, but by God she would make peace. Besides, there was nothing he could do to her here that he could not do to her elsewhere.
She knew little of his upbringing, but what she did know was enough to turn the heart of any woman who had loved a child. Ty’s own mother had died birthing him, a feat his father found pleasing. To have sired such a braw laddie as could rip a woman asunder to take his place in the world. There was a son t’ be proud of.
Kenna shuddered to imagine the lessons Ty has been taught growing up. As bad as her husband was, his father was worse.
With a faint smile, she turned away and concentrated her efforts on opening the door. After struggling for several moments, she felt him behind her. His presence engulfed her, trapping her against the massive expanse of his chest.
He reached a beefy arm around her and gave the door a great shove, heaving it into the darkness.
Kenna was fully aware of what lay beyond and had no fear of the close interior. Daylight guided her to a small table where she found flint and a candle, enough to illuminate the inside of the small cottage.
Ty ducked and stepped through the door, filling the inside and staring around in surprise.
Kenna followed his gaze, fully aware that he stood between her and the door. She tried to ignore it, taking in the broken stool, the crockery piled in the corner, the cold hearth. She took calming breaths, using the wobbly table as support. She was trapped in close confinement with him, her grandfather’s hated enemy and the man she feared most.
Relief flooded her when he moved from in front of the door and further into the room. He is changed, she told herself. Please, God. Let it be so. The ice around her heart melted a little when he turned a wondrous smile on her.
"What is this place?"
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I discovered it as a child. It was my secret place." She plied him with a sad smile and shook her head. "I have not been in years."
He circled the room, no more than a few paces with his gigantic stride, until he stood beside her. The door was at her back, so she could still escape if needs be. For once she did not flinch when he lifted his hand.
* * *
Kenna dreads her husband's homecoming like the plague. The man she married is vile and cruel. She has prayed every day of his absence he would be killed in the fighting, freeing her from a life of brutal torment and a loveless marriage. But the man on her doorstep has changed. This man is kind, gentle and sparks a fire in her she never felt in the early days of her marriage.
Ty is returning home after years fighting in France. He yearns for the arms of his beautiful wife and to finally meet the daughter he has never known. But can Kenna forgive the man she married and love the man he has become?
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Mask-Highlander-Gods-Highlands-Prequel-ebook/dp/B01D6W96OE/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Please welcome Ruth A. Casie with her excerpt from The Maxwell Ghost, her story in the Once Upon a Haunted Castle anthology.
What a great read for the upcoming season!
Excerpt from THE MAXWELL GHOST, a featured novella in Once Upon a Haunted Castle
He and Laura were targets in the swift moving water. He needed to get farther downstream, away from the marshland. He cursed himself for worrying about her propriety rather than her safety.
The sound of splashing from up river grew closer.
“Wrap your arms around my waist and try not to lose your seat.”
They reached the far bank and raced along the river, the raiders not far behind.
“You need to let me down,” she yelled at him in the wind. “You can go faster without me.”
“Keep down,” he said between clenched teeth and pulled his sword. They raced on, the land a blur as they flew by.
The spray of water from his horse’s pounding hooves turned into small clouds of dust as they came out of the marshland into the meadow. His horse couldn’t maintain this speed much longer. They reached the area where the river dog-legged to the right. A dense fog hung low in the forest. Jamie let loose his battle cry then veered into the woods.
They raced on. Out of the mist his men charged and dashed past them set to do battle with the reivers close behind them.
Jamie and Laura raced on. Laura glanced over his shoulder.
“Rider behind us.” Jamie urged his horse on faster. If they didn’t stop soon, the poor animal would collapse.
Another glance. The man was gaining ground. Think, she told herself. Sunlight bounced off Jamie’s sword. Could it work? It had to.
“Put your sword on your left shoulder then make a quick half-turn to your left and face the rider. Don’t stop, charge,” Laura said as she lay as close to his horse as possible to give Jamie more room to maneuver.
“Don’t look. It’s not going to be a pretty sight.”
She closed her eyes tight.
Jamie followed her instructions. The sound of the horse’s hooves echoed in her head as he completed the maneuver and his horse sprang forward. With the full weight of the charging horse behind his sword, he hit the raider in the chest. The man fell to the ground. His disembodied head rolled somewhere in the mist.
Jamie turned his horse again and continued into the woods. Laura sat up. The trees sped by. She began to panic at the tall hedge row that loomed in front of them.
Their direction didn’t waver. Rather than slow down, the animal gathered speed. Jamie crushed her in front of him and held her head against his chest.
“I won’t let anything happen to you. Hold me.”
The sensation of flying through the air frightened and exhilarated her at the same time. For a moment, her heart stopped. How they landed without the horse falling or them being thrown was beyond her, but they did.
The horse slowed to a halt, lathered and blowing hard. His men were soon with them.
Back Cover Copy
In Ruth A. Casie’s The Maxwell Ghost, traitors, deception, murders and ghosts run rampant at The Maxwell’s Caerlaverock Castle. Jamie Maxwell Collins, a man of reality not magic, serves Lord Herbert in exchange for his own farm. Laura Reynolds, Lord Herbert's distant cousin comes to the castle to solve the murders and put the ghost to rest. The two, long-time friends find their destinies intertwined with hidden passions, but all is in jeopardy when Laura becomes the murderer’s next target. Jamie will find he needs some ghostly assistance to save Laura and declare his love.
Buy Links: Amazon/Kindle, iBook, BN, KOBO
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