Wednesday, July 31, 2019

#Amorica's Wager #HistoricalRomance

Christine Young
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4

Kindle Unlimited

BLURB: Amorica's Wager

Amorica Hepburn was sent to London to find a husband. However, finding a man was the last item on her agenda. With her two cousins, Amorica wagers she can dissuade her suitor before the others. Despite her efforts she discovers a chemistry that cannot be denied. Suddenly she is the arrogant man's wife, pledged to a marriage neither desire. But swept off to his ancestral home above the Dover cliffs and into his strong embrace, Amorica is soon possessed by a raging passion for the husband she had vowed to despise…

Damian Andrews couldn't afford to trust the emerald-eyed spitfire who happened upon his secret. Amorica's hatred of all men of his kind only inflames the war that rages between them. Still, he can not control the intense desire his stubborn bride inspires, or make her surrender to his will until he has conquered the headstrong beauty on the battlefield of love…

EXCERPT: Amorica's Wager

The very essence of Amorica filled his head.

She turned to him, smiling, then gazed toward the fire once again. For a moment, he watched the flames dance in the grate. Her hair smelled of roses. His gut tightened. He swore softly beneath his breath, suddenly realizing this would be the longest night of his life.

Amorica leaned into him. His hands followed the comb's path. She sighed, and he was sure she had no idea what she did and how her slightest gesture affected him. Her eyes closed. Dark lashes swept across alabaster flesh. The storm had not been planned, and yet the isolation, the night alone, all served the sinister purpose he was destined to fulfill. Silence her. Bind her so thoroughly to him she could never leave. After tonight, no matter what he did or did not do, she was his. She would be ostracized by those with influence--and shamed.

His heart wrenched into two pieces.

Her cheek touched upon his chest. Her hand rested on his abdomen.

He sucked air.

She pushed away from him, her eyes open now and shining with trust.

Her innocence and courage always unmanned him.

"You have so many secrets," she said. "And I have the feeling you distrust me."

Trust was so very elusive.

Now, he trusted her to betray him.

"I trust few people." He pulled her close, letting her rest against him and reveling in the feel of her so close, yet so very distant. He could not have her, he reminded himself.

Because he did not want to hurt her.

Bloody hell, he had already hurt her irreparably. She would have to go home.

Unless he wed her.

He could not. He could never put her in danger or condemn her to a life of misery with a man she loathed. Damaging her reputation was nothing compared to her life--which would be in jeopardy everyday if they wed.

Her fingertips lightly traced his collarbone. His body shuddered at the sensation. She followed her fingertips with her lips, kissing him lightly.

She set a blaze within him, her every touch mercuric. She seduced him with every gesture, every look. Her hands ran across his chest, touching him everywhere.

"Amorica," his voice rasped. He could barely breathe, could not think. "This is not wise."

She stopped, her fingertip resting on his chest and gazed at him wide eyed. Then she touched him--with her lips--her tongue.

With one finger, he touched her beneath her chin, lifting her face gently. He needed to see into her eyes. Then he framed her face with his hands. For the longest time, he watched her.

"Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?" How very treacherous you would be if you knew the truth of my mission.

She started to shake her head, but his lips met hers, melded sweetly with her warmth. He traced the seam of her lips, and she opened for him.

Her nails bit into his skin. She made a low sound in the back of her throat.

Her urgency amazed him.

"Did you know you appear the braw handsome highlander?" she asked in return, pushing away from him then moistening her lips, her eyes wide, the centers dark with passion.

He kissed her again and pushed her back on the fur in front of the fire.

Embers crackled and then he heard nothing but the roar of his blood pounding in his veins.

He rolled so she lay atop him, straddling his hips. "You should tell me to stop."

She settled her hair behind her. "I don't want you to stop," she sighed, her smile lighting his heart.

"It does not matter. Tell me to act the gentleman and walk away."

"I like you the way you are." She bent low, her breasts softly pushing against his chest, her lips seeking his own.

He groaned, knowing he was damned.

Lord, but he could not stop himself and she made no effort to tell him no. He kissed her again, running his hands down her legs. They were long and soft. He turned her again, his leg resting between her thighs, his hands smoothing her cascading hair from her face. One fingertip traced the seam of her lips. His mind fantasized in directions it should not wander.

He had to stop.

Excerpt: The Wager

Coast of England 1816

"It's a bloody cursed day." Damian Andrews swept the child into his arms and waded through the pounding surf to the beach. He braced himself against the out-going current then sloshed through the crashing waves. Salt spray clung to the wind, stinging his nostrils.

Damian turned. Beneath his ribs, his heart pounded the cadence hard and fast. He swore again as he watched the captain shout orders to his crew. The French brandy that was supposed to have arrived this night would have to wait.

Standing in the longboat, the captain of the ship that brought the brandy as well as the political refugees from the Germanies held a torch aloft--the only light in the vast darkness. "Hurry, laddie. We have human cargo tonight and the tide is changing."

A little girl whimpered.

Damian pulled her into his arms, bent on protecting her at all cost.

"It's all right. You will all be together soon." The smuggling of French brandy was a cover for the cause that meant so much to him. Religious and political refugees--at times it seemed they came in droves. All were seeking a better life. A life of freedom. "Your mother is coming as well as your baby brother. You will all be safe."

Damian looked to the captain. "The father?" he queried.

"He didn't come with his family. He said he had one more thing to do. You must hurry."

The child leaned into Damian, her little face nuzzling his shoulder, her silent sobs gut-wrenching. He pulled her closer, cursing at the elements as well as mankind and wishing he could find a way to shield the tiny child from all harm. He knew the feat to be impossible. The little girl touched a place in his heart and for a moment filled that broken space with light. Yes, the mother would be with her children, but why had the father stayed where his life was in peril? He had learned long ago one could come to regret rash actions. And he'd also learned one could lose all chance at love in one instant.

Lord, but he'd lost his concentration and in losing that, he could well lose his edge.

No secrets-- no lies. The thought haunted him.

His life was a lie, but he would change nothing until his penance was paid. A constant drizzle soaked him to the skin. The wind sent goose bumps rising on his arms. He reached shore and handed the girl over to Aric Lakeland, a trusted friend and accomplice in this night's work, then turned and walked back to the longboat. Her baby brother as well as her mother waited.

He had never meant to get involved. It was the greatest of ironies that he was here now. He'd been a man who loved his family and his home.

He'd been content but that seemed years ago--a life time.

It felt like centuries.

The captain spoke, his voice hushed. "Hurry, now, Master Damian.

It's the watch. They are due to ride by here any time now. The patrols have doubled these last few weeks. I fear it's not as safe as it used to be." The captain handed over the baby wrapped in blankets. Damian stared at the child. The babe couldn't be a year old. The child didn't make a sound, not even a whimper.

This was injustice, a travesty. He looked at the mother. "Can you make it on your own?" He prayed the fragile lady standing before him had more courage than she appeared to have. She nodded and with the captain's help, she stepped into the ocean, struggling for balance. Yet her shoulders were squared and her spine stiff.

As soon as the captain placed the babe in Damian's arms and the three of them were headed for land, he gave orders. Two sailors rowed out to sea, moving toward the black ship that rose and fell on the distant waves.

On a cliff above, the dark silhouette of a third man, Ryder McClaren, could be seen for a brief moment. He waved his arms then disappeared into the shadows once more.

"Hurry," Damian bade the mother, his hand resting on the small of her back, urging her forward.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

#TellTaleTuesday #ShadowOfTheLegacy

Author: Genie Gabriel
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2

BLURB: Shadow of the Legacy

A letter from his dead father and a confession of killing a woman throws a shadow of suspicion over the life of an easy-going cop. When he returns to his hometown to find the truth, he discovers secrets that have held the town hostage for decades, danger that threatens his life, and love with a woman determined to be no more than friends.

EXCERPT: Shadow of the Legacy

Rochelle closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, then moved into her warm-up
routine. She hadn't had the time to do any kick-boxing for awhile, but already her body hummed in anticipation of the challenge. 

Johnny was not her opponent, but the cancer that had invaded her body. No battle was more important than this one. No prize more vital: her life. 

Her first moves were simple. A few easy punches before she bobbed and danced away, though there was no need for defense as Johnny threw no punches. If only the disease was as yielding. Instead it had snuck up and attacked without warning. Rochelle jabbed with her right hand and followed with a punch from her left. 

Adrenaline pumped through Rochelle's body as the familiar moves flexed and worked her muscles, and brought a smile to her face. Then she lifted first one knee and the other, followed by a series of alternating punches. Right, left, right.

Rochelle drew a deep breath and blew it out, already feeling winded less than ten minutes into sparring and hating that weakness. 

She pushed herself to throw the momentum of her body into a right cross, then spun around to deliver a one-two kick before bouncing away on the balls of her feet. 

She moved toward Johnny again, throwing another flurry of kicks and punches, feeling the heat in her body and fighting the fatigue slowly creeping over her.

"Let's take a break." Johnny caught her in a clinch. 

Rochelle shook her head and moved away, throwing another right hook that fell wide of Johnny's head. 

A vision of the damning spots in the x-rays filled her head, and Rochelle delivered another combination of kicks to Johnny's mid-section. In her mind, the lumps dissolved a little more each time she made contact. 

She threw a knee, followed by a side-kick, and another spot disappeared from her mind's eye. Rabbit punches with her right hand eliminated a few more. 

Rochelle kicked and punched until the vision in her head was clear of spots and fatigue was claiming her body, sapping her energy as it spread from her arms, down her torso, and turned her feet to leaden weights. She fell against Johnny in a clinch, and he supported her as her body went limp. Spent and sweaty, Rochelle surrendered to the exhaustion claiming her.

Monday, July 29, 2019

#MysteryMonday #ContemporaryFiction

Author: Christina St. Clair
ISBN: 978-1-62420-052-6

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2

Amaya and Joumi meet, a few years after WW II has ended, at an American party in Tokyo.  It’s not easy to be a conquered Japanese citizen.  Both have done things to survive that they regret.Joumi and Amaya immediately form a bond, but it is to be a stormy relationship with many inner demons to overcome if there is to be any hope of a lasting connection.The story incorporates accurate historical details about life in post-war Japan where people learn how to embrace defeat in ways that bring about love, community, and triumph. It is the prequel to Ten Yen True where a Buddhist monk brings healing to westerners he has never met.


Amaya came out of her reverie. Yokatta koto, my goodness,the Japanese man looked as if he intended to approach her. She needed no patron these days. She was glad when people stepped in front of him and got in his way. Still, she always kept her options open. Amaya slipped past the people, coquettishly lowering her eyes and fluttering her eyelids theatrically. After a suitable interval when she was standing directly in front of the guy, she gaily smiled up into his enthralled eyes. For a moment, saying nothing, she merely sized him up, keeping the pretty smile on her face, strongly aware of his masculine scent. His presence, in spite of his lanky height, reminded her of a samurai. Better still,she thought to herself, he is a Buddha. He certainly has the ears. "You," she said, reaching a tiny hand toward his lapel, and gently straightening his tie. "I will call you my Ookii Mimi!"

~ * ~

Joumi couldn’t help but grin down into her exquisite face. To be nicknamed Big Earsseemed quite a complement. He certainly did have some money, as people believed about men with long earlobes but not because he was lucky as they surmised. No. He’d worked hard and ruthlessly to earn every yen. "What might I call you?" he murmured, bowing to her deeply. As he straightened, he intentionally moved closer to her, his hair grazing her cheek. He could smell a faint fragrance of koh and wondered if she burned incense to the gods or had perhaps been recently in a temple. "You are a living incarnation of Amaterisu," he said sincerely.
"You may call me Amaya. That is my real name." She daintily covered her mouth with one hand and giggled. "If we are to be friends, you will soon find out I am not the goddess you wish me to be."
Her face made-up as perfectly as a Geisha was not painted with the traditional white rice powder, but rather glowed with health. He suspected beneath her makeup her skin was healthy brown, perhaps even tanned. "Let me take you to dine somewhere more suitable than this place." He waved his hand dismissively towards the food tables. "Unless you prefer a cheeseburger?"
"I don’t even know your name," she responded, enjoying their game.
"I am Joumi, Amaya," he said, tasting her name on his tongue. "If you are to be my Amaterisu, you must indeed call me Ookii Mimi."
"Perhaps." Amaya’s eyes gleamed with delight. Did he think she could be bought? Somehow she thought he would not attempt anything so brutish. "Let us go somewhere more private where we can get acquainted properly. My place or yours?"
Joumi hid his surprise. Surely not. Was she propositioning him? How very flattering, he thought. "Why, yours," he said, and wished he’d said hishouse, but he did not ever bring women into his spotless home, preferring to fulfill his needs with local prostitutes in Nerima-ku, the last of the twenty three wards recently formed to satisfy the occupiers’ intention to turn Japan into a democratic state.
Amaya hid her irritation with this man. He was no big-eared Buddha, holy and beyond physical needs! She couldn’t imagine why she’d so impulsively invited him to her flat. Even the men she played around with weren’t allowed there. Hotels were good enough for them.

Joumi watched Amaya’s sudden look of disappointment, and felt his heart shrivel. He didn’t want her to be a high-class prostitute...

Sunday, July 28, 2019

#RomanceSunday #LivingTheLegacy

Living the Legacy
Genie Gabriel

Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1

BLURB: Living the Legacy

An early childhood of dodging fists and anger has left sniper Collin O'Shea always vigilant for danger. So he is totally unprepared for how quickly the innocent sweetness of Beth Boulanger claims his heart. Their whirlwind marriage is shaken when the harsh reality of Collin's job collides with Beth's sheltered upbringing. Will they survive the unknown dangers that stalk them and threaten their unborn child?

EXCERPT: Living the Legacy

When the day of their symphony outing arrived, Beth's nerves were stretched as taut as the strings on her cello. She fussed over her hair and wished she had learned more tricks for applying make-up. Unfortunately, it was too late now to learn what most females learned as teenagers. 

At least she still had the subtly flattering formal dress she had worn when performing with the college symphony. It fit as easily as the memories that swept over her when she stepped into the auditorium where the symphony was performing.

She breathed in the smell of wood and resin, barely noticeable to a casual concert-goer. However, the memory of the slightly sticky feel of the resin she sparingly swept down the strings of her cello bow when she played tingled in her fingertips. 

In the years she had been pursuing a business that could support the need for a house and healthy food in her refrigerator, Beth's time with her cello dwindled. Now she only occasionally brushed the dust gently from its strings and sat down with her once-constant companion. 

This night unleashed the emotions making music once roused in her. 

At a time when Beth desperately wanted to impress her handsome escort with her sophistication, she often found tears welling in her eyes as the orchestra played pieces she remembered well. 

Rather than seem embarrassed by her behavior, Collin simply smiled and covered her hand with his. 

After the performance, Collin cupped her elbow and steered her backstage to meet the members of the orchestra. Delighted, Beth was soon caught up in the world she had reveled in during her high school and college years. 

When the principle cellist invited them to celebrate the performance with coffee and dessert at a local restaurant, Beth couldn't think of a more fitting highlight to their evening. With Collin as her escort, the evening had been perfect. 


Collin watched the glow in Beth's eyes as she talked to members of the orchestra. The delicate lavender color of her formal gown and the diamond clips in the upswept curls of her hair enhanced her physical beauty. However, it was the love of music sparkling in her conversation that really captured Collin's attention. 

Why had she neglected music? he wondered. Surely she could carve out time for something she so clearly loved in addition to running a restaurant.

Well, he would make sure their time together included the orchestra she enjoyed so much. And he did intend to spend time with Beth, Collin realized. Though this was their first actual date, it seemed he had known her forever. 

Inwardly, Collin took a step back. Such fanciful thoughts for a man whose life was devoted to a job requiring deadly focus and split second decision-making. 

The vibration of the cell phone in his pocket clearly reminded Collin of that job. Caller ID showed this interruption was a serious one.

He excused himself and went to the lobby to take the call. His team leader offered few details but to report ASAP.

Collin returned to the table and apologized to Beth. "Something's come up and I need to go."

He paused and frowned, irritated a call-out was pulling him away from the most pleasant evening he had enjoyed in recent memory. "I'm so sorry."

The sparkle in Beth's eyes turned to worry. "Is everything alright?"

If everything was alright, the SWAT team wouldn't be activated. But Collin couldn't say that. He couldn't destroy Beth's innocent concern. "One of the drawbacks of my job is being on call 24/7."

"Oh." Beth rose to her feet.

The scent of her flowery shampoo filled Collin's senses and sizzled through his body. She stood close enough he would only have to take a step forward to fold her in his arms. To protect her from the angry and distraught and plainly malevolent people he met every day on his job. 

"Do you mind driving my truck back to Halo after I stop at the station? I won't have time to make the trip"

Doubtful hesitation crinkled across Beth's face. "If you don't mind."

"I mind leaving you without a proper escort home."

Collin drove quickly to the station and pulled into a parking spot. Then he cupped Beth's face between his hands and kissed her gently. As the seconds ticked away, his cell phone vibrated again. 

He had to leave. He allowed one more moment of regret, then said goodnight, and strode inside to confront whatever emergency was once again claiming his life.

Irritation swirled through Collin as he entered the station. Beth was the first woman who had captured his attention for a very long time, and he had to cut short their date for a call-out. This had better be good.

A mass of organized chaos greeted Collin.

"About time you showed up, O'Shea." His team leader frowned. "We've got a town blowing up. We're sending all the manpower we can spare."

"What town?" Collin shrugged into his camouflage jacket.


Collin froze as a crystal clear image of Beth lodged in his mind. She was driving straight into a disaster.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

#Sci/FiFantasySaturday #AuntMaddie'sDoggoneMisadventures

Title: Aunt Maddie's Doggone Misadventures Boxed Set
Author: Genie Gabriel
ISBN: 978-1-62420-368-8
Genre: Fantasy, Anthology
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1


Doggone fun! Come to Aunt Maddie's castle, where exploding inventions,
hilarious misadventures and sweet romance are part of everyday life for
a cast of zany characters and the dogs who talk to them!

BLURB: Aunt Maddie's Doggone Misadventures 

Doggone fun! Come to Aunt Maddie's castle, where exploding inventions,
hilarious misadventures and sweet romance are part of everyday life for
a cast of zany characters and the dogs who talk to them!

1 – Chasing Rainbows
An artistically eccentric aunt, an uncle who invents a mechanical dog, a
mother who wears poodle skirts, and a brother who wears pearls provide a
hilarious backdrop for the courtship of a young woman who yearns for a
"normal" family.

2 – St. Batzy & the Time Machine
An eccentric inventor is determined to reclaim his wayward time machine
from the neighbor girl's dog and save his beloved wife from her latest
misadventure. If only they can travel safely past the black hole...

3 – No More Poodle Skirts
After drifting for years in the innocent age of the 1950s, a woman
struggles to join today's world by finding a career and a new love, with
some help from her zany family and a talking dog.

EXCERPT: Aunt Maddiei's Doggone Misadventures

Ka-boom! The blast shattered the settling peace of dusk as Marissa Madison pulled into the circular drive. Rissa threw open the car door and sprinted toward the gray stone house.
“Please, no blood this time,” she whispered as her feet hit the rough-hewn steps leading up to the broad double doors.
A bespectacled man stepped through the doorway amid a confetti shower of envelopes and leaflets. His silvery hair stood in startled spikes around a balding pate as if it too had been a victim of the explosion.
“Too much torque in the mail conveyor,” he muttered with a frown.
“Please turn it off, Uncle Horace!”
“Right.” The old man disappeared back into the house. Within moments, the clanking stopped and silence fell over the rolling hills once again.
Just another normal day,Rissa thought, as she surveyed the day’s mail scattered in gay abandon across the landscape.
The sullen gray sky rumbled ominously and tossed a few raindrops against her face. Rissa grabbed a check out of the privet hedge, an overdue bill off the bird bath, a shampoo sample from the branches of the azaleas, and a plain brown envelope from the lawn.
I hope I didn’t miss anything important.Rissa scanned the inner courtyard once more. Lightening crackled across the sky, hurrying her steps back to the navy blue sedan to grab her briefcase and a bag of groceries. She closed the heavy wooden door behind her as a gust of wind pushed fat, sloppy raindrops against the mullioned windows.
Maybe Uncle Horace should invent a mail dryer instead of a mail conveyer.Rissa dropped the soggy mail on a cherry wood table as she stepped out of her shoes. With the bag of groceries balanced on one hip, she padded barefoot toward the kitchen. A tall figure in a sweeping lavender print dress stood at the sink.
“I couldn’t tell if the grocery list said chips or cheese, so I got both.” As Rissa moved closer, the person she thought was her aunt turned toward her. She shrieked and dropped the groceries. “Ryan!”
Rissa’s twin brother grinned at her from beneath the purple feathers of one of her aunt’s collection of hats.
“Do I want to know what’s going on?” Rissa asked warily.
“I’m going to a Valentine’s party tonight,” Ryan replied.
“Dressed as Aunt Madelaine?” Rissa retrieved a head of lettuce and a package of marshmallow pinwheel cookies from the marbled tiles.
“It’s a great way to pick up women.” Ryan bent down and caught an escaping tomato. “You’d be amazed at what they tell dear Aunt Mads.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“Sure. Madelaine thinks it’s a hoot.”
“Where is Aunt Maddie?” Rissa pushed aside a stack of unwashed dishes to set the tattered grocery bag on the counter.
Ryan shrugged. “She’s been gone all day. By the way, I left your food in the microwave since I knew you’d be late.”
Rissa opened the microwave and poked at the still-warm entree.
“It’s beef tips over rice—one of your favorites.”
“Thanks.” Rissa glanced over her shoulder. With the hat pulled low across his face, Ryan bore an uncanny resemblance to their tall, raw-boned aunt. She couldn’t resist one jibe. “You’ll make someone a wonderful wife some day.”
Ryan fisted a hand on one hip and struck a pose until Rissa chuckled.
“Come with me,” Ryan urged. “When was the last time you went out?”
“Thanks, but I’m tired.”
“You work too hard.”
The truth of her brother’s statement stirred a wistfulness in Rissa, which she quickly pushed away.
“I think Madelaine might have a special surprise planned for tonight.” Ryan grinned wickedly.
“What are you scheming now?” Rissa frowned at her brother.
“Guess you’ll have to come with me to find out.”
“Oh, no. I’m not falling for that trick. I’m going to eat this gourmet dinner you so thoughtfully prepared and go to bed.”
Ryan shrugged, and Madelaine’s lavender feather boa slid off his shoulder. “Well, you can read about it in the morning paper anyway.”
Rissa’s fingers gripped the plate holding her dinner. Ryan was baiting her. That was all. He wouldn’t really do anything too foolish.
The muffled thud of the front door echoed her brother’s departure.
He’ll go to the Pink Flamingo, have a few drinks, pick up another blonde, and come home just before my alarm clock goes off,Rissa told herself. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Of course, she never would have guessed Ryan dressed up as their aunt, either—and apparently got away with it.
“No, I am not going to follow him.” Rissa marched to the kitchen table, pulled out a chair, and spread a napkin across her lap. She even lifted a bite of food to her mouth.
“Oh, bother and damnation.” She set her fork carefully back on her plate. What if her brother really did something spectacularly stupid? Rissa would have to pick up the pieces anyway. She might as well stop the disaster before it got started.


dogs, time machines, misadventure,1950s, family, talking dogs, zany


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Friday, July 26, 2019

#Friday'sFeaturedTitle #Ravyn'sMarriageOfInconvenience

Author: Christine Young
Genre: Historical Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4

BLURB: Ravyn's Marriage of Inconvenience

When the duchess decides to wed her to a wastrel and a fop, Ravyn Grahm takes matters into her own hands and declares her engagement to another man. Instead of fessing up and telling her great aunt what she has done, she goes through with the pretense. Aric Lakeland is the bastard son of an earl and has a dangerous reputation. But Ravyn is willing to do most anything to keep the duchess from discovering the lie.

He'd bought land in America, looking to put down roots and end his life of adventure, but Aric Lakeland got more than he bargained for when he encountered a beautiful heiress who made a promise she didn't want to keep. But the promise could not be undone and standing between them were more obstacles than either ever dreamed. Aric had made plans to spend the rest of his life in America and that was at odds with Ravyn's plan of living in England and running her father's estate. Now, he'll have to choose between his dreams and the woman he loves more than life.

Ravyn smiled, curtsied, and stepped into Ryder’s arms with a grace learned from the first tutors in her English castle.

At the sideboard, Aric watched with veiled eyes. He poured himself a stiff drink then another, cursing silently the whole time. He had wanted so much to have Ravyn in his arms, to feel her softness and warmth beneath his fingertips and against the hard angled planes of his body. He could smell her delicate perfume and see the intense clarity of her eyes.

And he had let another man do all those things.

The mug hit the sideboard with a muted thud that was lost in the music of the pipes. A few long strides brought him to the fireplace. He stood in the shadows, leaning against the mantle, gazing intensely at Ravyn with a hunger he could no longer hide. Her simple day dress of the palest lavender made her eyes a more vivid shade of violet. Her skin glowed like fragile porcelain lit from within. The simple chignon emphasized the delicate lines of her face. Tendrils of hair escaped to lie in soft curves at her temples, nape and ears.

Even as Aric felt anger sweeping through his body at the sight of his wife burning like a candle flame in another man’s arms, Aric reminded himself there was nothing improper about the dance. Though Ryder’s unusual size made an intense foil to Ravyn’s fragile femininity, Ryder was holding her properly, neither too close to his body nor too familiar in the placement of his hands. Nor was Ravyn clinging too much. They were just dancing and skimming gracefully around the parlor floor.

Then the darkly handsome Ryder grinned down at Ravyn and began singing in his fine voice about the rolling hills of Scotland and the brave lads and lassies. When a braw Scotsman spied a bonnie lass by a clear meadow stream. The Scotsman’s charms quickly seduced the pretty girl, who pleaded for his name in marriage.

Ryder’s dark eyes simmered with suppressed laughter as he watched Ravyn react to the wry lyrics. Her golden laugher bubbled up contagiously, bringing forth more laugher.

Aric was too furious to laugh. Seeing the change wrought by Ryder on Ravyn’s pallid appearance made Aric feel murderous. The only thing preventing him from retreating to another room was the thought of not being able to watch Ravyn. At the moment, he was simmering for a good fight, and Ryder was at the top of his list.

Ryder kept on, whirling her easily around the room until she was breathless with laughter.

Unnoticed, and unable to keep himself from watching, Aric leaned against the doorframe leading to his bedroom. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at Ravyn with an impassive face and thoughts that promised Hell to anyone who ventured too close.

Aric couldn’t help noticing Ravyn, who appeared stunningly feminine next to the massive bulk of Ryder. Barely five feet one inches tall, she was eleven inches shorter than Ryder, yet there was nothing childlike in the proportions of her body. The curves of breast and hip, waist and ankle showed clearly against the soft folds of her dress as the cloth swirled fluidly with her movements.

Finally, the dance ended in a fast and furious pace, Ryder lifting Ravyn high over his head. After Ravyn landed gracefully on the floor and the music stopped, Ryder smiled and lifted one of Ravyn’s hands to his lips kissing the back of it. She curtsied deeply, graceful as a flower. Though he didn’t speak his thought aloud, it was clear from his expression he was thoroughly enchanted by his dance partner.

"Again, Damian," Amorica murmured. "That’s one of my favorite songs."

The melancholy strains of the pipes flowed through the room. A reminder of an ancient heritage they would not forget. Soon Ryder and Ravyn were whirling around the room again. Ryder held his partner lightly, gazing down at her with approving eyes, singing in his fine voice. No one could hear Ryder’s words but Ravyn blushed and laughed with transparent pleasure. Ryder spun quickly, taking Ravyn with him, making her skirt billow like wind-blown flame. He stopped and dipped deeply, forcing her to depend upon his strength for her balance. When she accepted his lead without protest, his smile flashed, transforming his face, making his handsome enough to stop a woman’s heart.

A burning fury swept Aric.

When I touch her, she berates me as a bastard. Yet when Ryder holds her, she stares at him as though she’s been struck by a lightening bolt.

I don’t know who is the greater fool--me for caring or Ryder for falling for a dream--for someone who can steal his heart but give nothing in return. 

With a predatory grace, Aric crossed the parlor. It was only a moment, but it gave warning to Damian what was about to happen. Ryder didn’t notice Aric’s approach. His attention was on Ravyn’s smiling face and the firelight dancing in her hair. The hard masculine tap on his shoulder made him jerk.

"Patience, my friend," Ryder said. "It will be your dance soon."

"All the dances are mine."

The icy fury in Aric’s words made Ryder’s head snap around. One look at Aric and he released Ravyn without an argument. Ravyn’s lips parted in a half smile directed toward Aric, but her smile vanished just as suddenly as it started to appear. She tripped as he whirled her away from Ryder and into his arms.

"Aric," she breathed, inhaling a deep breath, while her fingers dug into his arms as if to steady herself. "You surprised me."

Arid didn’t bother to politely pretend it had been his error in the cadence rather than Ravyn’s that had caused her to trip.

"I will do more than surprise you if you continue to seduce every man you see."

EXCERPT: A Marriage of Inconvenience

Aric Lakeland dodged foot-traffic along the boulevard in a crazy attempt to keep up with the bouncing erratic carriage he followed. The day was intolerably hot and his mood was no better. He resented this mission. He’d left a cool pub and a cold brew to sweat beneath the hot sun.

His idea of fun was not traipsing after a notorious gambler and womanizer. Nor did he want to baby sit a spoiled debutante.

Yet, he’d promised. A wave of guilt washed through him.

Sweat beaded on his forehead, dripping down his face. He swiped it with the back of his hand and sidestepped, nearly knocking packages from a lady just exiting a dressmaker’s shop. 

“You owe me, my friend. When this is done, I will collect,” he swore beneath his breath and began thinking of all the favors he might ask of his half brother.

The carriage he followed turned a corner and disappeared from sight. He plowed into a lamppost, swore again and raced through the crowds. Richy Richmond did not deserve this absurd protection. Richy could deal with his own affairs. The other part of his half brother’s request bothered Aric. He did not want anything to happen to the lady he followed. His half brother had reason to believe Richy might do something to compromise her. His gut instincts had never been wrong. Ravyn Grahm, cousin to his half brother’s wife, was in serious trouble.

Richy’s carriage came to an abrupt halt. Richy jumped from the vehicle. His cane in hand, he strode toward a dress shop Aric had reason to visit on occasion.

Aric watched, fascinated as the scene unfolded. He started forward but noticed Richy race to protect the women Aric followed.  

“You ruffians! Get your hands off me!”  The white-haried Duchess shrieked, her age-lined face mottled with rage, pushing at two little guttersnipes who seemed more intent on shoving the elderly woman around than stealing the packages she carried.

Ravyn swiped her parasol across a boy’s head and turned to the other, her eyes blazing, shooting violet blue sparks.

“Stop it!” she cried out, raising her parasol again and again. “Take that!  And that!” 

Amused, Aric leaned against a lamppost similar to the one he had run into earlier in his race to keep Richy’s carriage in view.

He crossed his arms over his chest, grinning as he watched Ravyn batter the boys who had had the audacity to try and harm the Duchess.

He chuckled, prepared to step in if needed but it appeared the two women had the situation under control. Ravyn, he mused, the regal, classy lady who seldom had a hair on her gorgeous head out of place was decidedly disheveled. Her cheeks were flushed, her hair flowed beautifully from its perfectly coiffed hairdo. Her jacket sleeve was torn and to his amazement, she grinned as if she were having the time of her life.

“Go on, get,” Richy stepped in, shooing the two boys away. He grabbed hold of one of the boy’s arms and shook him. “Patrol,” he yelled, looking around for help. The boy stomped on Richy’s foot. Surprised, Richy let go. “Bloody hell!  Come back here. Little brat,” he yelled as the boy ran off.

Aric cocked an eyebrow, watching and wondering what would happen next, knowing Richy had a card up his sleeve. He had not forgotten he was supposed to be watching Richy, nor had he forgotten the man had suffered innumerable losses at the gaming tables and the racetrack the last few days and he might do something to Ravyn.

Aric pushed away from the lamppost and strode toward the women and Richy. He watched Richy change demeanor. Suddenly instead of rescuer, he was attacker. Aric’s heart stopped for a moment then raced. 

Richy wrenched Ravyn against him, pulling her close, her arm behind her back, his mouth close to her ear as if he whispered something to Ravyn. 

“Let go,” Ravyn cried out, twisting and thrashing her arms. It seemed to be the opposite scenario as moments before. The crowds that had previously closed around the women had now dissipated. 

“Let go,” Ravyn cried again.  

“You’re mine, Ravyn,” Richy said in a low well-modulated voice. “You should have realized it months ago and I’d have won the wager. But instead, you ignored me. You taunted me and sometimes you pretended to care while other times you turned up your pert little nose when I walked by.”

“What do you think you are doing?  Let go of me!”  Ravyn cried out, hatred now in her stormy violet eyes.

To Aric, she sounded incredulous, perhaps confused. But strangely, not afraid.

“We--“he paused a moment--“are going to Gretna Green. We are getting married and I will inherit your estate. You will be mine.”