Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Elisa DeCarlo: 'The Abortionist's Daughter'

CAN YOU ESCAPE YOUR PAST?

In 1910, before her father was convicted of accidentally killing a woman during an illegal abortion, Melanie Daniels was considered the most marriageable girl in her tiny Adirondack village. Now, six years later, the “Killer Doc” has been released from prison and the family are social outcasts. To cope with her fear of ending up an “old maid”, Melanie loses herself inside glamorous motion picture magazines. Until she meets James, a handsome stranger who promises adventure and a chance to leave the stifling small town life behind her. Shortly after they elope to New York, Melanie meets James’s ‘friend’ Gladys Dumbrille, a Broadway actress, and discovers he is not the man he seemed. In an attempt to re-invent herself, Melanie lies her way into Gladys’s new show. Their lives become intertwined in ways neither of them could have expected.

From the backwoods of the Adirondacks to the backstage of Broadway, The Abortionist’s Daughter explores love, sex, work and freedom in the first decade of the 20th century.  Filled with a colorful cast of supporting characters and vivid depictions of social mores, fashion, and family, Elisa DeCarlo tells one woman’s story with intelligence, passion, and wit.

BUY AT:  Amazon.com

ELISA DeCARLO was raised in Westchester CountyNew York. Her first novel, The Devil You Say (Avon, 1994) won both “Locus Best First Novel” and “Amazing Stories Best First Novel”, and received the CaB Magazine Special Achievement Award. Its prequel, Strong Spirits, was published by Avon in 1995.  Her humorous essays have been collected in the 2002 Random House anthology “Life’s A Stitch: The Best of Women’s Contemporary Humor”; Morrow Books “The Best of The New York Times’s Metropolitan Diary”; and Freedom Voices Books “Goddesses We Ain’t”.

Elisa’s been a working journalist, an audiobook abridger, magazine staff writer, and comic performer.  For 10 years she sold plus-size vintage clothing, both online and privately.  She has a keen knowledge of both fashion and show business history.

Her latest novel, The Abortionist’s Daughter, reflects her passion for vintage fashion and theater while painting an elaborate portrait of New York City just before World War One.


REVIEWS:

"It is crucial that we understand the historical challenges women have experienced regarding family planning and reproductive choice and the sacrifices that were made because it also sheds light on the very concerning roll back of rights in the present day. Elisa DeCarlo's historical  novel brings this to light in her imminently readable, dramatically rendered and useful book."
-Joan Lipkin, Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company

"Elisa DeCarlo masterfully takes us back to 1916 New York City with a tale of romance and betrayal that rings even more true for today."
- Mike Player, Author, Viral - The Story of the Milkshake Girl, Out on the Edge

"Truly entertaining and entertainingly true, DeCarlo's novel gives us the unforgettable and flawed Melanie Daniels, a heroine not only of her time, but of every time that women struggle to be fully human."
 Ruthann Robson, Professor of Law & University Distinguished Professor, CUNY School of Law, author of Dressing Constitutionally: Hierarchy, Sexuality, and Democracy

Elisa DeCarlo brings the “risqué” world of turn-of-the-century Broadway to life with the story of Melanie Daniels, an aspiring actress who moves to NYC with a dream and violet-trimmed toque. Melanie struggles with the puritanical morality of her upbringing and her nascent feministic awakening against the backdrop of this captivating historical novel -
Lisa Haas, playwright, In Heat, Crown Hill Cemetery, Rita & Inez: The True Queens of Femininity


EXCERPT:

Melanie knew she was pretty, but a lot of good that did her.  If only she were a movie actress, like Pearl White, who was on the cover of that month’s Photoplay.  Famous, rich, sought after.  Actresses weren’t just people.  Actresses didn’t have to muck out stables or darn the same pair of wool stockings ten times over.  “I’d make a wonderful actress,” she told herself.  In school, she had played Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”.  It had been such fun, wearing the long romantic costumes and saying Shakespeare’s words.  And having everybody watching her, with admiration rather than queasy curiosity, not like the way they stared at her during the trial, or when she accompanied her mother to church.  Instead of Shakespeare, she would have rather done a rip-roaring melodrama like “The Drunkard”, but the school would hardly approve of such a thing.
Her pace slowed. Unconsciously Melanie arranged her face into an expression of languorous boredom and began to walk with her hips slightly forward, head back. She saw herself, glittering and desirable.  Away from her parents, she could transform herself into a “vampire” like the screen actress Olga Petrova.  A “vampire” was the antithesis of the sweet, innocent blonde movie heroine: a coldblooded temptress with long black hair and carmined lips. Melanie swayed down the road, the mud impeding her progress and interfering with the attempted seductiveness of her walk.
She was in a sitting room, filled with fine antiques.  A man in a velvet smoking jacket murmured, “Would you care for a cordial, my lovely?”  Her white shoulders were  magnificent in a backless evening gown.
“Hey!  Hello there!”
Startled, Melanie straightened up and turned.  A tall man in gray lounged against the rail fence of Abercrombie’s meadow.  It was the man from the ice cream parlor.  He was still in his gray worsted suit and a dashing black fedora.
“Hello,” he repeated.  Melanie knew that she should ignore such freshness.  But he was good looking. 
“Good afternoon,” she said, in what she hoped was a suitably uninterested tone.  She kept the languorous expression on her face, her eyes half-closed.
The man straightened up and swept off his fedora. “If it isn’t Alice Blue Gown!” he exclaimed, grinning. He had a wide, friendly mouth. Melanie remembered the small, bright eyes, bushy black eyebrows, the small, bulbous nose. His skin was ruddy, and there was a nice heft to his figure.
Her heart accelerated: what would a “vampire” do at this moment?  She wished she was wearing something more alluring, but in this weather she would have frozen stiff.  She favored him with a smile.
“You remember my dress,” she said. Oh, mercy, why couldn’t she think of anything to say?
“It was some dress,” he said.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.” She fished for the right tone of  indifference. “Do we have—ah—mutual acquaintances?.”
“No, I don’t know anybody here,” he said. “My name is James Louis Throckmorton. Won’t you tell me your name? That’s a cute hat you got on.”
“Thank you.” He was indeed older than Lawrence Badger. The dusty look to his hair was caused by the gray sprinkled through his black curls. There were fine lines around his eyes.
He fell into step alongside her. “Come on, what’s your name?  I’ll wager it’s an attractive name.”  His accent was citified, with the r’s pronounced very strongly, his voice deep.
Melanie looked up and into his eyes, then looked away. Her throat was drying up. “I ought not to tell you this, Mr. Throckmorton. I don’t, ordinarily, but those who know me call me Miss Daniels.”  She cleared her throat.  On impulse, she added, “But you can call me Melanie.” She averted her eyes, her heart pounding. She had gone too far.
“Say,” said Mr. Throckmorton, “that is an attractive name. Are you from these parts, Miss Daniels?”
A gentleman!  She smiled.  “Yes.  Where are you from, Mr. Throck­morton? Tupper Lake?”
“No, I’m just traveling through these parts. I was in Saranac Lake and thought I’d take a look around.”
She felt that he hadn’t quite answered her question, but she let it pass. “Oh, that’s nice. My mother is from Saranac Lake.”
Mr. Throckmorton smiled, trying to see her face under the brim of her hat. “I might be in Muller’s Corners for some time, Miss Daniels. Perhaps I might call on you? You’re awfully pretty.”
Again, she managed to look briefly at him, then away. She couldn’t look directly at him.  When she did, she could feel his interest.  She didn’t know why it scared her, but it did.  “I don’t mind,” she said.
“How’s about tomorrow afternoon? Or tomorrow night? If you’d let me, I could stop by your house.” 
“No, no. Why don’t we make it in the afternoon? If it’s a nice day, we could go for a--for a walk.” Melanie did not want Mr. Throckmorton coming to her house. That would spoil everything. She wanted him to herself, without her mother languishing over him.
“That would be swell,” he agreed. “That would be grand. You know this town better than I do, Miss Daniels. Where’s a good place to meet?”
“You can meet me at White’s. I might want some ice cream, if it’s a warm afternoon.”
“You’ve got it! Two o’clock all right?”
They had reached the top of the steep hill that sloped down into Main Street. At the foot, Melanie saw with dismay that the usual gang of boys was hanging around Saxton’s Garage. She didn’t want them to see her with Mr. Throckmorton. It was bad enough having to listen to their filthy remarks, without this man also hearing them. He would find out her reputation in the worst possible way.
She stopped and smiled at him as prettily as she could. “Mr. Throckmorton?”
“Yes, Miss Daniels?”  He held his fedora in his hand, lightly tapping it against his thigh.
“Those boys down there, by the garage.”  She lifted her hand daintily, the way her sister would. “It wouldn’t do to be seen together by them. We haven’t been introduced, you know.  You do understand, don’t you?”
“Oh, sure, I understand.” He nodded vigorously. “Wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea about you.”
“No,” she said with a light laugh. “People will talk. They haven’t got much else to do around here.”
“I’ll wait up here for a spell. It’s such a beautiful day, it’s a pleasure. You go on home, Miss Daniels.”
“All right.” She extended her hand. He shook it. His hand was fleshy and warm, the skin surprisingly soft.  Melanie blushed to the roots of her hair.
“Until tomorrow, at two?” Mr. Throckmorton said.
“Until tomorrow. Good day.”  Melanie hurried down the hill, not daring to look behind her. If she looked back, he’d be looking at her, and she didn’t know if she could bear that just at the moment. Melanie didn’t know which frightened her more, his interest in her or her reaction to his interest.
The gang of boys in front of the garage were between thirteen and nineteen years old; a cheaply dressed, loud, obnoxious crew. Sometimes their loitering spot of choice was in front of White’s Candy and Soda Emporium; more often it was Saxton’s Garage (Ford Authorized Sales and Service), because Saxton didn’t care if the boys were there and White did. No unmarried woman in Muller’s Corners was safe from the boys’ lascivious cat-calls.  Melanie was a particular favorite. It was a gauntlet she ran at least once a week when she went to the market, because the garage was on the only road leading in and out of the village. She didn’t dare look at any of the boys, lest they take it as encouragement.
Melanie went hot and cold all over, hearing the low murmurs begin. But she kept walking, head high, eyes fastened on a point in the middle distance.  I’m better than all of you, I’m better than all of you, I’m better than all of you, she repeated with each step.
“Hey there, baby doll,” said Lucas Freeman, one of the older boys. He had been two years behind her at school. “Have fun at the dance?”
“How’s the old doc doing?” said another boy. “Killed any whores lately?”
“You rape ‘em, we scrape ‘em,” a youth said, to raucous guffaws from his fellows.
“How’s about some squeezin’? Hey, Rufus, how’d you like to get her behind the baseball field?”
“Ah, she’s too old,” said Rufus, a virile specimen of fifteen.
Melanie was shaking all over by the time they were out of her earshot.  She wanted them all to burn in everlasting flames.  Thank heaven Mr.Throckmorton had stayed behind.  The boys only said what everybody thought but was too polite to say.






Tuesday, 30 September 2014

New Release: Woodland Daughter

Woodland Daughter is set in Yorkshire in 1902, Queen Victoria has died and the new century has brought in many changes, including another Boer War in South Africa, which features a little in this story.


Blurb
A new century brings change to the carefully ordered world Eden Harris maintains, change that threatens all she holds dear. Despite years of devoted service to the Bradburys, the leading family of the community, Eden hides a secret that would affect them all. When an enemy returns, her world is shattered and her secret exposed. Torn and provoked, she strains to protect her family until a devastating accident leaves her alone and frightened. As the threat against her grows, Eden takes her precious daughters and flees from the only place she's called home, to live amongst masses in York. Her attempt to start anew is not so simple as the past haunts her, and the one man she thought lost to her so many years before, returns to claim what has always been his. Eden must gather her strength and look into her heart to accept what the future offers. Can she find the happiness she longs for?

Excerpt.
Joel rested his body against the ship’s rail, bracing himself for the slightest pain in his shoulder. With one arm in a sling tucked beneath his uniform jacket, he was careful to keep out of the way of people. The slightest touch could have him sweating in pain. The sea breeze lifted the hair on his forehead and neck, cooling him slightly. He needed a haircut, but he’d wait until he’d reach England before attending to that.
Below him on the deck, he watched the crowds scurrying about like ants. Soldiers, nurses, travellers, ship crew, dock workers all hurried back and forth. Behind him, from within the ship, came the noise of eager travellers settling in for their ocean journey.
He stared out into the distance, where Table Mountain dominated the view. He was sad to be leaving Africa. He’d come to think of it as home in a way. The sights and sounds, the heat and people were familiar now. Of course nothing competed against Bradbury Hall, but he’d been in Africa for seven years. It was a long time. The army had replaced his family. He’d learnt to rely on his fellow officers to ease the loneliness, and at first it had worked well. The adventure and excitement kept his mind from thinking of home. But lately, for the last year and a half, a yearning to return home had claimed him and not let go.  
The ships funnels belched smoke and the boarding siren wailed. Under his feet he felt the deck shudder as the enormous engines surged with power. Anticipation welled. He was going home. Despite the ache in his shoulder, he smiled. Time to start a new phase of his life. Time to reaffirm the links with his family, the estate, old friends, and… Eden.
He was conscious of the changes awaiting him back home. Much had happened in his absence. Not long after he joined the regiment, his mother died. That had been a blow, but on the whole he had managed to keep the family and home intact in his mind. When he’d left England, his father had been alive, Charlie well, Annabella cheeky, pretty, naive and Eden… Eden had been beautiful, a free spirit of the woodland where she lived.
What awaited him now?
The ship eased from its berth and glided out into the harbour. The breeze sharpened and Joel turned away from the rail. He glanced at a crippled solider standing near the door leading into one of the saloons. The soldier swayed on his crutches, one leg gone in battle.
“Major Bradbury?”
Joel checked his step and hurried over to steady the man with his good arm.
“Thanks, Sir.” The solider smiled.
“Stevens, isn’t it?” Joel mused, helping the man to lean against a wall and out of the way of other passengers.
“Stevenson, Sir, Corporal Dave Stevenson.” He leaned against the support and breathed out slowly. “I still haven’t got the hang of these things yet.” He held up the crutches.  
Joel grinned. “I think it might be an art that takes practice, Corporal.”
Dave took of his hat and wiped the seat off from his forehead, his fair hair stuck to his head. “Do you mind, Sir, if I sit down? This leg isn’t used to holding all the weight and gets a bit shaky, like.”
“Of course, man, sit.” Joel again aided Stevenson in lowering to the deck. There were no chairs about and after a moment’s hesitation, Joel join him and gently eased his backside down, careful not to jar his shoulder. “We should have gone inside, it would be more comfortable.”
“Sorry, Sir, but I’m no sailor. Once inside my stomach has a mind of its own. I’m better out here.”
“Well, I’ll keep you company for a while until dinner is announced. My stomach is the opposite of yours. Once on the ocean I’m always ravenous. I do nothing but eat.”
“You might struggle with a knife and fork, using only one hand.”
Joel chuckled. “Yes, true. So far I’ve had only soup and sandwiches.”
Stevenson laid his crutches beside his good leg and gazed out through the iron rail. “So, we’re going back home to England. I’ve been away three years. I should be happy to be going back, but I’m not as excited as I should be, I don’t think.”
“It affects men in different ways.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, Sir, how do you feel? Was your clipped wing the reason for you to go home?”
“Yes. My shoulder stopped a bullet.” He glanced down at his padded and bandaged left shoulder. “Normally they’d take it out and I’d be back in the mix of things, but this Boer bullet went in at an angle and wedge itself deep. The surgeon managed to get it out, but he wasn’t sure what damaged had been done. Only once the swelling has gone down and the soreness gone, will I know what strength remains in the arm.”
“Does your family know about it yet?”
“No, not yet. It didn’t seem worth writing when I was going home anyway. What about your family?”
“Oh aye, they know. I’ve been in hospital a while, long enough for letters to go back and forth.” Stevenson bent up his leg and rested his elbow on it. “They say they don’t care if I come home missing a leg, as long as I’m coming home to them. I’m an only child see, and I used to help my father run our grocers shop.”
“Will you do that again?”
“I guess so. Funny how things change, isn’t it. I hated working in that shop as a lad. All my friends would be out playing football or cricket and I’d be stuck behind a counter. The first opportunity I got to leave I took, and that was the army.” He tapped the toe of his boot on the deck. “Now, I can’t wait to get back there. I miss me mam and dad, and me gran, who lives with us. My mam makes the best jam roly-poly you’ve ever tasted. Dad brews his own beer in the back shed and Gran used to be my partner in cards.”
“There’s nothing better in this world than returning home to a family that loves you.” A picture came into Joel’s mind of the estate in autumn, the tall graceful trees, their leaves turning gold and amber, the squirrels scurrying around in the wood, collecting the last of their booty, harvest time and bringing in the hay, the smell of open fires as the gardeners raked up and burnt the fallen leaves.
He leaned his head back and smiled in remembrance. “I long to go riding with my brother. We used to ride for miles. Sometimes we’d stop at a pub and have an ale and a hot pie smothered in gravy.”
“Me mam has written of a neighbour’s daughter, Vera, who she hopes I’ll one day marry. I’m not so sure what Vera has to say about it though. We got along all right before I went away, but…well, I’m not as I once was.”
“If this Vera is a decent woman, she’ll not mind.”
“Maybe.” Stevenson lifted his face to the breeze. “Will you have a girl waiting for you at home, Sir?”
Joel’s stomach clenched. “Perhaps. I’m ready for a family. However, I’ve been away longer than you, and I’m not sure what to expect when I arrive home.”
“None of us are, Sir, none of us are.”   
A group of children ran by, the shoes thundering on the timber deck. One cheeky boy paused and waved to Joel and Stevenson before scampering off again. A harassed nanny tried to catch up as she wheeled a pram after them. Joel watched until they turned a corner at the bow of the ship and were out of sight. His heart constricted, thinking of the boy’s lively face. A son. He wanted a son so badly it hurt. A boy to teach all the things his father taught him, to hunt, to fish, to ride, to play sports. He thought of Charlie. Two sons perhaps. Two fine boys to grow up together like he and Charlie did.
Emotion clogged his throat and he coughed to clear it.  He’d been away from home too long…

Buy in ebook or paperback from all online retailers such Amazon USA and Amazon UK, iBooks, Nook, etc. 

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Isabelle Eberhardt: Dreamer, Nomad, writer

By Marie Laval

My friends and the people who have read my stories know that I was always fascinated by North Africa. My mother was born and brought up in Algiers. She was from a French, Spanish and Italian background and had a very colourful family (to say the least!). She left Algeria during the war of Independence in 1962, never to return, but her wonderful stories about the places and people of her childhood always made the place special for my sisters and I.
My grandparents' house in Suffren, near Algiers which was shared with two other families
As a teenager I read novels and short stories which were set there. I particularly loved 'Bivouacs sous la Lune' by Frison-Roche for his beautiful tales of the Sahara and its lost kingdoms.

Maxime Noiré Les marchands arabes à Biskra
And then I discovered Isabelle Eberhardt and fell under the spell of her short stories, which brought the tastes, smells and landscapes of North Africa to life. Her often tragic characters were unforgettable. Her writing was neat, precise, simple but incredibly powerful and transported me to a bazaar in a small town of the M'zab, or along the steep, narrow alleyways of the Algiers Kasbah, or again across the magnificent wilderness of the Saharan plains.

I was also intrigued by her as a person because her life is definitely a case of reality being more fascinating than fiction. Like Alexandra David-Neel who travelled to Tibet and converted to Buddhism, Odette du Puigaudeau in Mauritania, or again Ella Maillart in Asia, Isabelle was one of the very first Twentieth century women who travelled alone - and relished the adventure and the solitude.


'For those who know the value of and exquisite taste of solitary freedom (for one is only free when alone), the act of leaving is the bravest and most beautiful of all.'




Isabelle Eberhardt: 'A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places.'

Isabelle was born in Geneva in 1877, the illegitimate daughter of Natalia, the widow of a former aide de camp to the Russian tsar Alexander II, and a Ukrainian scholar - an anarchist, according to some. Although her family was shunned by Geneva's polite society, Isabelle was well educated and spoke French, Russian, Italian, German as well as Greek, Latin and Arabic.

From a young age she dreamt of adventure in far away lands, North Africa especially, where two of her brothers joined the Foreign Legion. She was twenty when she travelled to Bône in Algeria, where she lived with her mother and converted to Islam. After her mother's death, she started travelling extensively across Algeria, alone, dressed as a man and under the name Si Mahmoud Saadi. 


'Je suis seul, et je rêve' (I am alone, and I dream). 

It's interesting to see that she writes about herself as a man (by using the masculine form of 'seul'). Dressing up and living as a man allowed her freedoms which would have been denied to her as a woman - the freedom to travel or have access to zouaias (islamic religious schools), taverns and brothels.

In 1901 she married Slimane Ehnni, a spahi - a soldier from the French colonial army's light cavalry regiments, but her life was cut tragically short by a flash flood in Ain Sefra in October 1904. She was only 27 when she died.
'Oued dans une oasis' by Maxime Noiré, to whom Isabelle dedicated her story 'Pleurs d'Amandiers'  1903 ('Weeping Almond Trees')
I can't resist posting this beautiful painting by Maxime Noiré, 'the painter of horizons on fire and weeping almond trees'. Actually it sounds better in French: 'Le peintre des horizons en feu et des amandiers en pleurs'.

And what about this extract of one of her short stories set in Bou Saada - the Saharan oasis nicknamed 'the city of happiness' which was well-known to Hugo and Lucas Saintclair, the heroes of my historical romances ANGEL HEART and THE LION'S EMBRACE.

'Bou-Saada, la reine fauve vêtue de ses jardins obscurs et gardée par ses collines violettes, dort, voluptueuse, au bord escarpé de l'oued où l'eau bruisse sur les cailloux blancs et roses.' Isabelle Eberhardt, Pleurs d'amandiers, 1903

I won't even attempt to translate this into English!

What about you? Who was the writer who influenced you the most and made you dream?

Marie Laval
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Lions-Embrace-Marie-Laval-ebook/dp/B00BACDSK6




Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A DISTINCT FLAIR FOR WORDS, Book 3 of Love and the Library



A Distinct Flair for Words, the latest in my Regency Love and the Library series, is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and Apple.
 
Love and the Library - A celebration of the beginnings of love wherein four young Regency gentlemen meet their matches over a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” at the library. 

Book 3: Felicity and Frank

BLURB:
Every woman should have her own Mr. Darcy--unless she prefers Mr. Bingley.


Something strange goes on in that library.

Not one, but two of Mr. Frank Wynne’s friends found the ladies of their dreams at the library over a copy of “Pride and Prejudice”. Magic? Divine providence? Hardly. Coincidence or luck? Perhaps. And to prove or disprove the possibilities, he’ll go to the library and read “Pride and Prejudice”. Day after day after day. To his surprise, the book is funny, and he does like that Bingley chap. His lady doesn’t appear, though. Of course not. But still…

Miss Felicity White adores “Pride and Prejudice”. But while most ladies swoon over Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley is the man after her own heart. Happy, good-natured, cheerful, outgoing Mr. Bingley. She loves him so much, she even rewrote “Pride and Prejudice” from his perspective. Now, if she can only find a gentleman like him…

When Felicity and Frank run into each other, the enchantment of “Pride and Prejudice” and the library just might strike again.

A sweet, traditional Regency romance, but not a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.” 45,000 words.

I write in the style of my favorite author, Barbara Metzger. If you like her Regency comedies, you may enjoy mine.

EXCERPT:

“I have the most wonderful news!” Felicity maneuvered herself and Frank to the only two seats together. Unfortunately, they were in the middle of the semicircle, with ladies on both sides
Frank sat on the edge of his seat. The chairs’ arrangement was unnervingly like a gigantic feminine claw, ready to snap shut on a tasty treat.
Him.
He stilled. Mayhap if he didn’t move, they would forget he was there. And pigs will fly.
Miss Barrett clapped and the murmuring ladies quieted. “Felicity, please tell us your news.”
Felicity popped up. “You know I have written Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Bingley’s viewpoint.” She gave a little bounce. “Mr. Blackmore of Blackmore Publishing has requested the manuscript!”
Feminine squeals reverberated around the room. Miss Barrett rose to shake Felicity’s hand. “Well done. Mayhap you will pave the way to the future, when others will want to read about the further adventures of the Pride and Prejudice characters.”
Miss Liddell, one of the ladies who had squinted when he entered, squinted anew. “I doubt anyone will want to read about Mr. Wickham’s experiences. Or Lydia’s.”
“Never say never.” Miss Nisbet, seated at Frank’s other side, sniffed. “Some people enjoy tales about villains. I daresay they like to see the blackguards receive their just deserts.” She leaned closer to Frank. “Have you read Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Wynne?”
Gazes on both sides of the pincer-like arrangement of chairs closed in on him. More perspiration broke out on his forehead. “Yes, I have.” Outnumbered. Perhaps he had better say as little as possible.
Miss Liddell squinted again. “You are unusual, sir. Most men do not read novels. Or at least, they claim not to.”
He flashed his most winning smile, the one that normally made the ladies melt. Almost-clergyman he might be, but that did not preclude him from appreciating the fairer sex. “I am not most men.”

AVAILABLE AT

Amazon US 

Also available in all the other Amazon stores.

Barnes and Noble

Nook UK

Smashwords (note, all formats are available on Smashwords)

Apple

Coming soon to Kobo

Thank you all,
Linda
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!
http://www.lindabanche.com


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Extract from The Captain and The Countess


 


 


 


Rosemary Morris’s most recent novel The Captain and the Countess has received 5* reviews and is available as an e-book for 77p from www.amazon.co.uk and for $0.99 from https://museituppublishing.com until midnight on the 17th August.

 


Exract fromThe Captain and The Countess


 


London 1706


 

Edward, the Right Honourable Captain Howard, dressed in blue and white, which some of the officers in Queen Anne’s navy favoured, strode into Mrs Radcliffe’s spacious house near St James Park. 

Perkins, his godmother’s butler, took his hat and cloak. “Madam wants you to join her immediately.”

Instead of going upstairs to the rooms his godmother had provided for him during his spell on half pay—the result of a dispute with a senior officer—Edward entered the salon. He sighed. When would his sixty-one year old godmother accept that at the age of twenty-two he was not yet ready to wed?

He made his way across the elegant, many windowed room through a crowd of expensively garbed callers.

When Frances Radcliffe noticed him, she turned to the pretty young lady seated beside her. “Mistress Martyn, allow me to introduce you to my godson, Captain Howard.”  

Blushes stained Mistress Martyn’s cheeks as she stood to make her curtsey.

 Edward bowed, indifferent to yet another of his grandmother’s protégées. Conversation ceased. All eyes focussed on the threshold. 

“Lady Sinclair,” someone murmured.

Edward turned. He gazed without blinking at the acclaimed beauty, whose sobriquet was ‘The Fatal Widow’. 

The countess remained in the doorway, her cool blue eyes speculative.

Edward whistled low. Could her shocking reputation be no more than tittle-tattle? His artist’s eyes observed her. Rumour did not lie about her Saxon beauty.

 Her ladyship was not a slave to fashion. She did not wear a wig, and her hair was not curled and stiffened with sugar water. Instead, her flaxen plaits were wound around the crown of her head to form a coronet. The style suited her. So did the latest Paris fashion, an outrageous wisp of a lace cap, which replaced the tall, fan-shaped fontage most ladies continued to wear perched on their heads. 

Did the countess have the devil-may-care attitude gossips attributed to her?  If she did, it explained why some respectable members of society shunned her. Indeed, if Lady Sinclair were not the granddaughter of his godmother’s deceased friend, she might not be received in this house.

The lady’s fair charms did not entirely explain what drew many gallants to her side. After all, there were several younger beauties present that the gentlemen did not flock around so avidly.

He advanced toward the countess, conscious of the sound of his footsteps on the wooden floor, the muted noise of coaches and drays through the closed windows and, from the fireplace, the crackle of burning logs which relieved the chill of early spring.

The buzz of conversation resumed. Her ladyship scrutinised him. Did she approve of his appearance? A smile curved her heart-shaped mouth. He repressed his amusement. Edward suspected the widow’s rosy lips owed more to artifice than nature.

“How do you do, sir,” she said when he stood before her. “I think we have not met previously. Her eyes assessed him dispassionately. My name is Sinclair, Katherine Sinclair. I dislike formality. You may call me Kate.”

“Captain Howard at your service, Countess.” Shocked but amused by boldness more suited to a tavern wench than a great lady, Edward paid homage with a low bow before he spoke again. “Despite your permission, I am not presumptuous enough to call you Kate, yet I shall say that had we already met, I would remember you.”

“You are gallant, sir, but you are young to have achieved so high a rank in Her Majesty’s navy.”

“An unexpected promotion earned in battle which the navy did not subsequently commute.”

“You are to be congratulated on what, I can only assume, were acts of bravery.”

“Thank you, Countess.”

The depths of her ladyship’s sapphire cross and earrings blazed, matching his sudden fierce desire.

Kate, some four inches shorter than Edward, looked up at him.

He leaned forward. The customary greeting of a kiss on her lips lingered longer than etiquette dictated. Her eyes widened before she permitted him to lead her across the room to the sopha on which his godmother sat with Mistress Martyn.

With a hint of amusement in her eyes, Kate regarded Mrs Radcliffe. “My apologies, madam, I suspect my visit is untimely.”

Her melodious voice sent shivers up and down his spine, nevertheless, Edward laughed. Had the countess guessed his godmother, who enjoyed match-making, wanted him to marry Mistress Martyn? No, he was being too fanciful. How could she have guessed?

“You are most welcome, Lady Sinclair.  Please take a seat and partake of a glass of cherry ratafia.” Frances said.

 “Perhaps, milady prefers red viana,” Edward suggested

“Captain, you read my mind, sweet wine is not to my taste.”

In response to the lady’s provocative smile, heat seared his cheeks.

Kate smoothed the gleaming folds of her turquoise blue silk gown. The lady knew how to dress to make the utmost of her natural beauty. Her gown and petticoat, not to mention sleeves and under-sleeves, as well as her bodice and stays, relied for effect on simple design and fine fabrics. He approved of her ensemble, the elegance of which did not depend on either a riot of colours or a multitude of bows and other trimmings. Later, he would sketch her from memory.

Kate inclined her head to his godmother. “Will you not warn your godson I am unsound, wild, and a bad influence on the young?”

Edward gazed into Kate’s eyes.  Before his demise, had her husband banished her to a manor deep in the country? If it was true, why did he do so?

Kate’s eyebrows slanted down at the inner corners. She stared back at him.  He laughed, raised her hands to his lips and kissed each in turn. “I look forward to furthering my acquaintance with you.”

“High-handed.” Kate gurgled with laughter. “Captain, please release me.”

     What did he care if she were some ten years his elder? He wanted to get to know her better. Edward bowed. “Your slightest wish is my command.”

…. A frozen glimpse of despair deep in her eyes unsettled Edward. Did he imagine it? He could not speak. Why should a lady like the countess despair? 

 

 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

'The Virgin, the Knight & the Unicorn': a medieval romance by Lindsay Townsend. First Chapter Excerpt

Sir Gawain, poor and eager for glory, is on a quest to catch a unicorn. His reluctant companion, the virgin dairy-maid Matilde, hates the nobility and loses no time in clashing with the thoughtless young knight. Gawain believes that, as the man, his word should be law—a law he is quick to enforce on his companion. However, the impetuous Matilde is not easily cowed and confounds him by her unexpected responses, especially to his discipline.

As they travel on their quest, the hot-tempered couple learn more about themselves and begin to compromise. Respect changes to fondness, perhaps even to love, but what future can there be between knight and bondswoman?

When Matilde is taken by outlaws, Gawain realizes, almost too late, what she means to him. Can he rescue her? Can he and Matilde join forces to combat a deeper conspiracy that is ranged against them?
And the unicorn? The unicorn, too, has a part to play…

(My blog, by the way, is now at www.lindsaytownsend.co.uk (www.lindsaytownsend.com gets you there, too. The old .net address no longer works.)

Order the ebook now from Bookstrand Publishing  http://www.bookstrand.com/the-virgin-the-knight-and-the-unicorn  $2.99

and on Amazon: The Virgin, the Knight, and the Unicorn Reply w/ for sample amazon.com/dp/B00MEN2S0G/

and on Amazon UKhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Virgin-Unicorn-BookStrand-Publishing-Mainstream-ebook/dp/B00MEN2S0G/ …


Excerpt:



Chapter 1

Summer, England 1196

In the late summer semidarkness, snug and warm within their castle, the lord and lady whispered together. They spoke softly so as not to disturb their younger children, who lay curled asleep in the same great bed with them.
“She will go with him?” Lord John asked, squinting through the shutters at the rising moon.
Lady Petronilla huffed and pounded her pillow. “The girl should be glad to go.”
“But will she?” her husband persisted. “I know she is a bondswoman, but this is Matilde of whom we speak—Robert’s younger sister, with exactly his same cleverness, like his older sister Ivette.”
“Am I a reader of minds?” snapped his wife. “Very likely your turbulent knight will force Matilde to leave with him, and there is an end of the matter.”
The lord shuffled onto his back. “Yes, Sir Gawain is certainly most eager.”
“Greedy for treasure,” his wife sniffed.
“Treasure, yes. But he is a younger son and must make his own way in the world.”
“Did he steal his armor and that warhorse from a battlefield?”
“I did not ask. He did save my life in Normandy.”
“And you knighted him in thanks.” Lady Petronilla sniffed a second time. “Why is he not satisfied?”
“Gawain is ambitious. And the renown of capturing or slaying a unicorn, that also appeals to my knight.”
“Do such creatures exist?”
Lord John yawned. “Does that matter? Gawain is a troublesome fellow. A week or more slogging through the wild woods will curb his temper.”
“Our other people in the woods?” inquired his lady softly.
“That arrangement does not start until winter. Gawain and Matilde will be quite safe. Meantime their quest should bring Gawain down off his high horse.”
Lady Petronilla murmured agreement. “My ladies think him handsome, if lacking in courtesy. If he spoke more to them, Gawain would do well in courtly romance.”
Her lord grunted, then laughed. “Still, the wenches of the stew make no complaint against him. They appear to relish his visits in spite of how he uses them.”
“Hush!” warned his wife, glancing at their slumbering youngsters. Seeing them sound asleep, she added, “I hope he treats Matilde the same. That girl is too proud.”
“Unless he tries and Matilde kills him. Or he and Matilde kill each other.”
Lady Petronilla pursed her lips. “I would be sorry to lose such an excellent dairy maid.”
“The time of three milkings has passed for this year,” Lord John observed.
“But can you not see, my lord?” his wife continued. “We must ensure that Matilde is a long way from the castle when the king’s justice comes here after harvest. Ivette may protest at our plans, but she is by nature contemplative—I can foresee her becoming religious, or a nun. Her sister Matilde is very much of this world. In her way, she is as ambitious as your knight and angry at her low status in life. If she is still here, Matilde will argue furiously and dispute well. She may even know something important, some morsel of fact or law that we have overlooked, and so she will win.”
“I know. The girl could spoil everything, which is why I devised this quest for Gawain. I told him she was a virgin and so a fit lure for a unicorn. That is all he wanted to know. He never properly listens to anyone and he will not listen to her.”
Reflecting, Lord John closed his eyes. Like his wife, he was mildly disconcerted at the thought of losing their clever and frankly beautiful dairy maid, but Matilde was dangerous. She argued like a lawyer and she knew things. If anyone can track a unicorn, it will be Matilde. But she will never find it because Gawain will not listen to her.
Considering those two opposing points, he fell asleep.

* * * *

“The girl you want is weeding in the great field this morning,” Lord John told Gawain. “You will know her by her beauty. Her name is—”
Gawain ignored the rest of his lord’s speech. The girl was a peasant, so why should he bother with her name? Did serfs have names? He gave a stiff bow of farewell to Lord John, nodded curtly to Lady Petronilla, and mounted his palfrey.
Riding to the great field, Gawain spotted the girl at once. She was the youngest, cleanest, and the prettiest of those peasants toiling along the rows of peas and beans. A small, slender blonde, she was nimbly weeding along the flowering rows of his lord’s field strip. Pleasantly surprised to find her so comely, he stood up on his stirrups and hailed her. “You!”
You plunged her hoe into the soil and looked up at him. Her eyes, gray as steel, flicked over him, a long, cool stare. Without speaking or bobbing a courtesy, she spun about on her bare feet and stalked away.
“Hey!” Gawain called, astonished that she dared to turn her back on him. Half of him wanted to ride her down, but that would mean trampling his lord’s crop, so he had to content himself with nudging his horse along the ridge between the field strips to follow her. Gaining on the disrespectful wench with his bay’s every stride, he watched her kiss a wizened field-worker on the cheek and pick up a neat cloth bundle clearly left at the end of the strip. Now I have you.
“Follow me, girl,” he ordered, smirking at the dust his horse raised as he cantered past her. When he looked round after a few paces, he saw her lagging way behind, making no effort to run. “Make haste!”
“I am,” came her instant reply. “Though I am a dairy maid, I do not yet have four legs. If I might ride with you, we would go faster…Sir.” Staring at him full in the face, she added his title deliberately late.
Scarcely believing her insolence, Gawain glanced at the other, crook-backed serfs. Had any been fit, he would have clubbed this wench to the ground and taken another but, looking properly at her fellow peasants for the first time, Gawain realized they were all old. There were no more maids in this field to take in her place.
Reining in, astonished afresh, he saw by the wench’s half smile that she knew this, that she had probably even planned it that way. Temper scorched through his body. Catching his darkening mood, his horse snorted and laid back its ears. He tugged the reins again. “Easy.”
“Do you speak to me, your horse, or to yourself, Sir Gawain?”
She spoke with a rough accent, her mouth soiling his name. Incensed that she should know it, he swung down from his horse and stepped closer.
The girl stood her ground. She was a foot smaller than him, dressed in patched but clean green skirts and an earth-colored tunic. Her blonde hair was partly hidden by a short veil, but her face was not hidden at all. She studied him as if they were equals, as if she had a perfect right to look at him.
For an instant her beauty cooled his anger, as a sparkling frost may coat and still a pool. Cloud-gray now, her eyes were fringed with long, golden lashes and shone with intelligence and life. Her skin was flawless, rich cream and roses. Gawain found his hand rising, seemingly by its own will, to touch her perfect cheek. Forget the unicorn. This wench beguiles me, but where is the treasure or renown in that? Quickly, he jerked his arm down and gripped his belt instead.
“Do we begin the quest, Sir Gawain?”
Gawain twitched, irritated afresh that she should speak to him. I should speak first.
“May I make a suggestion?”
“No,” growled Gawain. “I need nothing from you but your obedience.” Tired of talk, he snatched her off her bare feet, cast her over his shoulder, strode back to his mount, and slung the writhing, gasping girl across his horse’s neck. As she opened her mouth yet again to protest, he leapt into the saddle, spurred hard, and rode off at a canter, laughing when her head bounced against the bay’s muscled flank and she shut her eyes tight. Keeping her secure with a heavy fist in the middle of her back, he galloped for the woods.
The forest where I shall find and slay the unicorn, where this wench will be my lure, but first she will learn, indeed she will learn.
As he reached the end of the fields, where the trees began, Gawain was smiling.

* * * *

Pain drove its blunt knives into her head and sat like a stone in her stomach. The hard pommel of the saddle dug constantly into her flank, keeping pace with the horrible pounding of the horse’s hooves. Only her pack, which she had luckily kept clutched to her, saved her ribs from being bruised by the horse’s neck.
Sitting above this mental terror, this swirl and anguish of aching muscles, the knight laughed. Matilde, squeezing her eyes shut against the ground skimming and lurching a hand-span from her face, supposed he was handsome—if “handsome” was the word for a petulant, curly-headed, even-featured boy. He was the tallest person she had yet encountered, rangy and muscled, his blue eyes shining with vigor in his tanned, lean face. She felt his easy strength with the horse and for an instant knew terror. He does not think of me as human, merely a tool. He does not even want to know my name.
Other maids watched out for knights and squires, sighed over them, imagined themselves in love with them. Matilde had always been wary, as she was of any brute beast or force stronger than herself. And this brown-haired brute will never have known a hunger-headache in his life.
The old rage against the unfair ways of this world boiled in her, steeling Matilde afresh. Gnawing her lip against the pain, she vowed to herself that this handsome, careless man-boy would heed her, would learn from her. He must, or my family will starve by next spring.
Through a haze of nausea, she felt the horse slowing and risked opening her eyes. The knight spotted her looking.
“I shall deal with you presently,” he said, and reined in.
Moments later, Matilde tried to slide from the bay but was not given time. A muscular arm hooked about her narrow waist, hoisting her aloft. She kicked and her knight from hell dropped her straight down into bracken, a soft if undignified landing. Jerking from her back to her knees, she forced herself upright. Her companion approached, his lean face determined, his hands spread and crook-fingered. However he wants to deal with me, it will not be to my good.
Matilde crouched and scrabbled in the leaf litter, found a broken branch and jabbed it at the looming figure. “No farther, knight.”
He tried to snatch the branch but she whipped it away.
“I am Matilde!” She waved the stick like a sword. He laughed sharply and stopped, folding his arms across his chest, his eyes glittering with cold amusement.
“Do you expect to best me, girl?”
“God gave us speech to share, Sir Gawain,” she countered. “Call me by my name.”
“Share! What would I want to share with you? All women chatter too much.”
“Your mother never talked to you? Or did you not listen to her, either?”
For an instant, the years fell from his mocking face and he looked puzzled. “She sang. When I was small. I remember her singing.”
Pity swelled in Matilde. “Where is she now?”
“In heaven. A long time in our years.” The words seem to slip from him, for now he scowled. “Chatter is for cowards and fools. I will have no more of it.”
He grabbed again for her stick but she snapped it down, missing his knuckles by a whisker as he skidded sideways to avoid her clumsy blow. Before he could lunge at her a third time, she backed up, glancing round. Instantly she recognized the clearing, the steep, scree-studded banks surrounding it and the deep, muddy pool a spear’s length farther down. All were notorious in the village.
“Not here!” she panted, scything with the stick to keep him off, to make him listen. “Not here, understand?”
He swore in Norman French, caught the stick, and wrested it away. Anticipating a blow with it, she flinched but still repeated, “Not here! Listen to me—”
He hurled the branch into the undergrowth and charged. Matilde stepped back. “If you will not listen, then look!” She kicked the banking desperately with her heel.
At first, she thought the roar was the knight, but then she saw his astonishment as a large section of the bank fell away and shuttered down in clouds of stones, soil, and grass, splashing into the pool.
“Bad place,” she gasped, before sucking in a large, steadying breath. “We call it the dragon’s tear in the village. One year, I almost lost a cow to the slippage of these banks.”
“Cow?”
“I am the dairy maid, Matilde,” Matilde said, through gritted teeth. “Do you ever listen?”
The knight was still staring at the litter of fallen stones. “My horse could have broken a leg in that.”
Finally, he talks to me and admits I know something! “If you want to stop, there is another clearing past those limes.”
“And beyond?”
“I do not know.” Matilde had never had the free time to explore father than that.
He turned his back on her and stalked to his horse. About to mount, he looked round. “Why do you linger?”
Though she knew she really should not do it, Matilde could not resist. In a deliberate echo of his earlier haughty, amused pose, she folded her arms across her chest. “I will not go another step with you unless you say my name, sir knight. And should you not thank me for preserving your horse?”
Suddenly, shockingly, he was beside her, bundling her off her feet and onto the horse—not over its neck this time, but onto the saddle with him. Sitting behind her and snaring her wrists in one large hand, he trapped her completely simply by crossing one long, lean thigh over both her legs and then sharply snapped the reins with his free hand. The horse sprang forward on the track and they were off again.
What have I done? Why can I not control my temper? Why must I always fight for the last word? What did he say, that chatter is for cowards and fools? Someone has taught him that kindness, gentleness, even speech are worthless. And he did not learn otherwise from his mother, for she is long dead. Now I come and challenge him, a challenge he understands only as a battle, as something to be won. What have I done? And what will he do to me?

* * * *

“Women always want things,” Gawain’s father had told him. “Your mother did her duty and was biddable but she was rare, a jewel. Most women talk too much and want more. Show them who is master from the start or you shall have no peace.”
It had worked for him with the wenches in the stews and he intended to lay down his terms now to this squirming blonde piece of lusciousness. Lush, yes, she is that and more, but that is the danger. She was so glorious in her gold-and-rose beauty that he was tempted to be soft with her, to tickle her and to make her laugh. I cannot do that. Yet she slotted so nicely into his arms, with her round rump pressing deliciously against him. Each time she wriggled her arms, trying to break free—and she never stopped trying—he experienced a tingling buffeting against his groin so that he rode in a building daze of pleasure.
“Keep still!” he warned, when she almost pitched off the horse into a hazel. He swiftly snatched her back to safety. Without considering why he should feel the way he did, Gawain realized that he did not want her pretty face to be scratched.
“Let me go!” She said more and he almost ignored her, but then recalled how she had saved his horse from injury. Irksome as her chatter was, perhaps he should pay attention.
“What, Matilde?”
Instead of being grateful that he used her name, the naughty creature glared at him.
“Off to the southwest there is a woodman’s hut close to the next clearing, a day’s walk from here,” she said in her gruff little voice. “There is a pool close by where many creatures come to drink.”
“Including a unicorn, perhaps?” This was worth knowing.
“Yes, perhaps. The hut is old now and abandoned, but sturdy enough still for us to stop there for the night and plan. Now, are you going to let me go? I am as engaged in this quest as you. I shall not try to escape.”
He snorted at the idea of a peasant on a quest, more amused still when her eyes took on a steely glint.
“Let me go!” she snapped.
“No.” He was less amused when, raising her hands that he clasped tight in his left, she avoided her own fingers and bit into his palm.
And that is quite enough.
He released her hands, gripped her jaw, and squeezed, reining in at the same time. She yelped and he brought his face close to hers. For an instant, seeing the prints of his fingers glowing red against her chin, he was ashamed of his roughness to her, then sense asserted itself. She was a peasant and, moreover, she deserved it. “Were you a man, you would spit teeth for that trick, girl.”
The woodcutter’s hut and clearing, the still pool, must all wait. Sure of himself again, Gawain leapt down from his slowing horse, yanked Matilde after him, and dropped into a clump of wild garlic, tossing the girl over his lap. A spanking is what I had planned for Matilde anyway, but now it must be for longer and harder. This wench needs management.

* * * *

Trapped across Sir Gawain’s knees, Matilde struggled in vain, cursing the world, the knight, and herself. Why had she bitten him? Because I let my temper reign me, as I always do. She had known that he was already displeased with her because of her love for the last word. Now she had fueled his anger by indulging her own.
And what was he doing, tying her hands before her with a linen strip? She tried to rear up, crawl away, fight back, and found herself snared again by those hellish long legs of his. He simply hooked her kicking feet under his sinewy calves and she was stuck. “Beat me and be done!” she snarled, still unable to curb her fury.
“Quiet.” He bundled a cloak under her head and wound an arm about her middle, pulling her so her head was down, pressed into the cloak, and her bottom raised. Lifting herself on her elbows, she struck out with her tied hands, her tiny, flailing movements knocking feebly against his firm male flank.
“Be still. Be quiet,” came the growled orders above her.
Was he determined, annoyed, or amused? With the blood singing in her ears, Matilde tried to appeal to his knightly self-interest. “You need my help!” She wanted to break free and punch him first. Disconcertingly, it seemed he understood this.
“Aye, and you would like to scald me in a cauldron, but I am the man and knight, not you.”
“Do knights often boil their prisoners?” she shot back, bucking again and failing to budge him a finger-width. The arm coiled about her waist was thicker than rope and as immoveable. Her own blood felt to be boiling as she heard him chuckle.
“Are you the youngest?” he asked, surprising her.
“What?” She strained her hands against her bounds, but could not break them. “Yes, but what of it? Why…?”
To her horror and renewed fury, she found the rest of her question stifled. Swiftly, with a casual efficiency, her tormentor proceeded to gag her with another strip of linen. These are bandage strips. He is using bandage strips to gag me.
“I am the youngest, too,” observed her captor. “We young ones always have to fight for everything.” He patted her rump. “But you will learn not to fight me. Indeed, ’tis time you learned the rules.”
“What rules?” she gasped behind her gag but he took no notice of her protest.
“Yes,” he continued, as if she had not spoken, “My rules. Now you must listen to me, Matilde, and feel my hand as well.”
Two times he has called me by my name. But this was no comfort, with her tied and gagged and hung over his lap.
“Finally you are quiet, little peasant, as you should be.” He continued to gloat, the pig.
“Only by the custom of the nobles,” Matilde tried to say, but all that escaped was a high-pitched, mewing sound.
“Easy now.” He stroked a hand down her back. “Take your chastisement like a good maid.”
“Why?” she started to argue from behind her gag, her breath and speech failing altogether as she felt him draw up her skirts, exposing her legs. She rolled and writhed but only succeeded in rucking up her skirts even more. A warm, callused palm tucked her gown about her middle and she was naked from the waist down. Pinned, bound, and helpless, she thought of revenge, of shaving Gawain half-bald, or smothering him in mud, and was mortified when a tear of frustration trickled down her cheek.
“You will not bite me, or anyone, again.” A large, heavy hand smacked her left bottom cheek. “You will not speak unless I invite you to.” The hand struck her right cheek. “No more argument.” Another stinging slap. “No more questions.” Again, her hips felt to burst into flame. “Never run away.” Slap! “Respect me.” Slap! Slap!
Determined not to give him the satisfaction of her tears, Matilde bit down hard into her gag. He must stop soon. I will not stay. I will run off.
Surely he will stop soon?

* * * *

Under his fierce attentions, her bottom was already a rosy pink, and promised to become bright red. Gawain smacked on with a will, his anger decreasing and arousal increasing with every swift, stirring slap. Were she a lass from the stews, I would couple with her after this and a fine, lusty joining we would make. But then of course this was not a bawdy, eager wench from the stews but a maiden, and he was not giving her a few love pats but a firm hand spanking, and warnings.
“You will always address me as ‘sir’ or ‘my lord,’ and you will not scowl. Whatever you may believe, I am no bully or monster, Matilde.” Why did I say that? I give to the poor at the castle gate and I know the lasses of the stews like me right well and will take me for free when I have no coin, but I do not have to justify myself. Flustered, Gawain laid on a battery of fast, stinging swipes to the raised, glowing target presented to him.
The girl shuddered, but she no longer kicked or tried to evade his punishment. For an instant, he even thought she raised her haunches up to him, but then he heard her whimper and he fixed instead on her scarlet face, her narrowed, tear-filled eyes. He rested his hand on her overwarm seat and thought he heard her whisper through her gag, “Stop. Please stop.”
Have I been too harsh? The thought was new to him, and disconcerting. Where he had expected to continue spanking until she broke down and wept, he untied the strip of linen he had unceremoniously thrust into her mouth and drew it away from her reddened lips. “There now. Over.”
Panting, Matilde lay sprawled over his knees, her veil lost somewhere in the undergrowth, her mass of golden hair escaping from its plait. Her face was becoming less red and strained and she swallowed.
“You will have a drink soon,” Gawain found himself saying, “but first—”
He reached under her head and brought out a small flask from his cloak. He had bartered this ointment from a peddler who had assured him of its magic and certainly. He found the stuff good on his hurts. He poured some onto his hand and palmed it smoothly over Matilde’s scarlet rump.
She sighed and he felt her relax. “Better?” he almost said, which was absurd. The girl had deserved her spanking and if she was uncomfortable, so was he. His own arousal was as hard as a sword, and he was sorely tempted to scoop her off his lap onto her back and have his way with her. Not yet, though. I need her to be a lure for the unicorn. Yet perhaps I should ensure that she is indeed a virgin. Just because a peasant girl says she is a maid does not mean she is.
But they had fought enough for one day and he wanted to believe Matilde, so he stroked and smoothed more of the ointment onto her bottom instead. Just to save her soreness, for we must ride again today.

* * * *

Matilde knew she ought to protest. No one had ever spanked her and no one had touched her as Gawain did now. But his caressing, sweeping fingers felt so alarmingly excellent, cooling and comforting. Her whole backside felt to have been pounded to a huge, throbbing blister that she had even feared might burst. She had not realized Gawain could strike so hard or fast, that his palm could hurt so much. At the same time, as her spanking had progressed, she had become aware of a different kind of heat pooling through her loins, making her womanly parts swell and become wet. And now that it was over she felt strangely safe, all the strain of the past weeks taken from her. Even his scolding had not been so terrible. The mint-scented unguent he gently worked into her scalded skin took away the bee-sting pain and left only a glowing warmth.
Again, as she had during her spanking, she lifted her hips to his attentions, higher and higher. The cool, tingling ointment glided over one cheek, then the other, Gawain’s hand cupping and molding, tender, not punishing. His fingers dipped lower, slipping lightly between her thighs, brushing her intimate folds in a single, long, lovely caress that tipped her from contentment into delight.
“Sir!” Unsure if she protested or if she was thanking him, Matilde closed her eyes and let the pleasure come.

* * * *

Was this little golden firebrand responding to him? Gawain had been unable to discipline himself and keep his roving hand in check. In truth, it had only been the faintest of touches between her thighs, one he had been prepared to deny or claim as a mistake, but now her eyes were wide and sparkling and her face flushed. Even as he raised his hand and so caught a savor of her sweet intimate scent on his fingers, she sighed. Pivoting onto her side against his ribs, she looked up at him and smiled.
“I am thirsty,” she breathed.
I spank her and she smiles at me. What next?
At a loss, Gawain smoothed down her skirts and righted her so she was sitting on his lap. His painfully aroused lap, though clearly Matilde did not know that, for she watched him quite innocently, trying at the same time to reorder her hair. He handed her his flask of ale. “Here.”
“Thank you.” She drank and offered him the flask again. “Do we move, Gawain—sir?”
She calls me by my name! The old, pre-Matilde Gawain would have hauled her back across his knees and spanked her afresh for that slip to remind her of his knightly status. Now he traced her soft lower lip with a finger. “I am glad you remembered my title in the end, Matilde.”
She colored up very prettily and lowered her head. “Yes, sir.”
He drank himself. “In a moment.” When I can move without feeling aroused.
She leaned back into the crook of his arm and they sat together in quiet.
I want to kiss her. Worse, I want Matilde to kiss me. What next?
He could hardly wait to find out.