excerpt

At His Mercy – excerpt

It’s just a little over a week until my medieval fantasy novella At His Mercy is released. Today, I thought I’d share an excerpt from the book with you. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

They never should have taken the forest road at night.

“We could go back,” Lio said, stumbling after his father on the muddy path. “That cottage we passed a mile back, maybe we could…”

Athos grunted, his boots leaving large, wet prints in the sludge. Almost doubled over from the weight of the burlap bag, he looked like a hunchback. “You’ll walk until I tell you to stop.”

Lio drew his hand over his eyes to wipe the icy rain away. “But…” He racked his brains for words that might make his father see reason. They were far away from the manor by now, and they had merely taken some tools and iron from the smithy, after the smith and his apprentice had left for the day. With luck, the theft wouldn’t be noticed until morning. Lord Callen certainly had enough gold to replace the tongs and hammers he’d lost. To Lio’s family, though, the stolen goods meant they could repair the hole in the roof, and his father could forge nails and horseshoes the villagers would be only too happy to pay for. Athos had been a blacksmith once, in his youth, but Lio had never dared ask why he had left such a good profession. His work was fine, and although there were some people who’d never buy anything made by his hands, he could make enough money this way to see them through the winter.

Athos coughed, a nasty, hollow sound Lio was all too familiar with.

“Father, you’re not well. Let me carry it.”

“No!” Athos spun around to give him a wild look. He towered over Lio, the way he always had. “I don’t take orders from a whelp like you, understand? While you’re living in my house, lad, you do as I tell you.” He coughed again, but pressed on through the darkness. The lantern swinging in his hand wasn’t strong enough to light up much of the surroundings, and a shiver ran down Lio’s spine at the thought of packs of wolves out on the hunt, or trolls and monsters eager to lure wanderers into their lairs. Traveling through the woods in daytime wasn’t so bad, though he wouldn’t like doing it without company, but everyone knew that one shouldn’t be out after dark. His mother would scold them when they got home—if they did. Lio had accompanied his father on similar business before, but they had been closer to home then and back by the hearth before midnight. Athos didn’t steal unless there were no other options, and before this he had only taken the odd bread loaf or piece of meat from those of the nearby farmers who spat after him and his family. ‘Only steal from those who deserve it,’ he had told Lio often. Lio didn’t know much about Lord Callen, but if he owned half as much land and gold as people said he did, he deserved it more than most. It wasn’t fair that someone like him had everything, while others starved.

“I can carry the lantern, at least,” he tried, uneasy at the sound of his father’s labored breathing.

“The lantern?” Athos scoffed. “It weighs nothing. Now be quiet, all right? I brought you as a lookout. Wouldn’t expect a wisp of a thing like you to carry anything, would I?”

Lio bit back an angered reply. He was small compared to his father, it was true, closer in height to his mother and with her slender build, too. From her he had his ghostly pale hair as well, that made the villagers hiss ‘Devil-child’ and other such nonsense after him. The one thing he had from his father was the dark color of his eyes. His little brother and sisters had those eyes, too, but their hair was dark as coal. He often wished his own was, too.

Wrapping his arms around himself in a futile attempt to get warm, he wondered how far they had left. Their cottage was on the other side of the woods, in a clearing out of sight from any other people. The nearest farm was only a short walk away, but Lio and his family had never been counted among the villagers who were their neighbors. Young women sought out his mother secretly, when her herbs were the only thing that might help them end unwanted pregnancies or cure their sick babies. His father was the one the villagers called for when they needed shameful or dangerous tasks done, like gelding foals or burying disease-spreading corpses. Shame, filth—that was all they were associated with. They always had been.

A strange sound pierced through the roaring of the rain. The neighing of a horse? He stopped, throwing anxious looks around him. “Father, did you—”

“Quiet!” Athos trudged on, muttering to himself. The rain streamed down Lio’s face, plastering his hair to his skin. He shivered, not sure if it was from the cold or from fear. Another sound came through the darkness—a voice? Several voices?

“Father, run!” But he hadn’t taken more than a step forward before someone grabbed him by the neck, pulling him back. In front of him he saw his father stop as a rider blocked his path. A dark-clad man on a black steed, carrying a torch in his hand. His hair was obscured by a helmet. There were four men in total, including the one with the forceful grip on Lio’s neck. Lio struggled in vain to free himself, and the man chuckled in a low, raspy voice.

“Well,” said the rider in black, as two of his henchmen closed in on Athos with their swords drawn. “We found our prey at last. Did you really think I’d allow anyone to steal from me?” His voice was smooth but cold. It was difficult to tell his age—Lord Callen was hardly a young man, but he was well-built and tall, with broad shoulders and a straight, proud posture. His eyes were just as icy as his voice.

Athos dropped the burlap sack, rising to his full height and taking a step closer to Callen, as if to challenge him. “You’ve got enough for a whole village, but we ain’t got a thing!”

“Oh, is that so?” Callen curled his lip. “While I applaud your courage, I really can’t let a thing like this slide. You understand, surely? Men, how should we punish this pitiful crime?”

“Their right hands,” said one of the henchmen, giving Athos a nudge with the blunt side of his sword. “Off with them.”

“Death,” suggested another man with an ugly grin. “That’d stop them from doing it again, my lord.”

Callen nodded. “Why, certainly, but I personally feel it’s a tad…boring?” His cool gaze landed on Lio’s face. He scrutinized him for a few moments before turning away. “Seize them,” he said. “We bring them with us.”

“I’ve got little ones at home, sir!” Athos called out. “They’ve had nothing to eat for the last week, and me and my wife—”

“What a pity,” Callen said.

Athos roared, trying to make a run for it, but one of Callen’s men stabbed his sword into his shoulder before he’d gotten away. Callen snorted as Athos was tied up and thrown over the back of one of the horses as if he were a sack of flour. Lio stared, his eyes fixed on his father’s shape. That wound… How bad is it?

“Now the boy,” said Callen.

“Yes,” murmured the man who held Lio captive. He jumped to the ground and pulled Lio toward him, his breath hot and revolting against Lio’s neck. “I’ll take care of you.”

“Let me go!” Lio squirmed, but the man quickly tied his wrists together and put him face down in front of the saddle before mounting the horse again. Lio’s breath hitched in his throat as the man put a big, gloved hand on the back of his thigh.

“Keep still now,” he said, voice low. “Filthy little thief. You’re going to regret what you’ve done.”

Yes. As the riders started retracing their tracks through the woods, back to Lord Callen’s manor, Lio thought bitterly that he regretted everything. He couldn’t see his father, but he heard his pained groans and whimpers, and the men shouting at him to keep quiet. If only he could do something! What would happen to them once they reached the manor? His father’s injury—how bad was it? His mother would have been able to stop the blood—she would have healed him in no time. But Lio didn’t have any of her knowledge. He couldn’t do anything but hope, in spite of everything, that they would make it out of this alive.

Read the rest of the story in At His Mercy – out on March 2!

Excerpt: Alone With The Captain

Astray‘s release is just one month away. Because of that, I’d like to share a short excerpt from the book with you today. In this scene, Nick has been part of Captain Hart’s crew for just a few days. He is still struggling to find his place, and trying to understand what the Captain wants from him.

When supper is over and the sun has begun to set, Hill asks Nick to bring a message to Hart.

Goldie, listening in, slaps Nick’s shoulder when he hears. “Wouldn’t want to go in there myself. Seems he’s in one of his moods today.”

Nick thinks of this as he waits outside the Captain’s cabin.

“Yes?” Hart calls from the opposite side of the door.

“Sorry, sir,” Nick blurts out as soon as he steps into the room. “Mr. Hill said to bring word. They emptied another barrel of hardtack tonight. There are six left.”

Hart is sitting at the table with the book open in front of him again. The sunlight is fading, and the room is a little too dark to read, but the candlesticks aren’t lit. “Thank you.”

Nick turns to leave.

“Wait. Now that you are here… how are your sewing skills?”

Nick turns around to answer Hart’s question. “Fine, sir.”

Hart stands and walks over to the bed to get something. The bed-hangings obscure the view but then Hart pulls out a dark bundle of fabric—his coat. He strides to the window and places the coat on the low leather bench. Comes back to the bed to rummage through a chest underneath it. “I tore it on a nail earlier. I had meant to mend it tonight but I don’t think I can find the time.” He finds what he has been searching for—a needle and thread.

Nick is reminded of Hart telling him off for idling earlier. The pad of his thumb is still tender from working on the sails. At least this time the cloth isn’t as hard to work with as canvas.

“Sit here.” Hart places the items on top of the coat, before returning to his book. “You will need the light.”

Nick sits. The bench is upholstered—a comfort he isn’t used to. He runs the fabric of the coat between his fingers. It is wool, pitch black and lined with some fine, thin material Nick does not know. Cotton? His fingertips find the tear quickly—a sliver of lining bursting through on the left side, right beneath the pocket. He works, the same way he used to in the winters when his mother’s hands were dull from ache and he and Jamie split such chores between them. The coat’s embroideries mock him with their silver threads, their shine and fancy. Like taunting voices from inside a world he can never enter.

Hart takes no more notice of him. He sits with his back turned and neck bowed down, focused on his work. Occasionally he lifts the quill or turns a page. The faint light makes his shirt appear whiter and his hair almost black, where it rests against his collar. If he’s in a foul mood or not, Nick can’t tell, but it’s a relief when he’s done with his task, the tear made undone with a net of stitches.

“It’s finished, sir.”

Hart comes over. Takes the coat from Nick, examines it. He frowns, and Nick braces himself for a scolding.

“Good.” Hart runs his fingertip over the mending. “Thank you. You may leave.”

Nick does as he is told. But he hesitates at the door and turns to glance at Hart again. The Captain is holding the coat in front of him still. Like he is searching for holes or broken seams. Or like he’s deep lost in thoughts.

Release day! + snippet

The release date for Entertaining the Sombrevilles has finally come. I’m so excited, and so grateful that it’s happening. This has been my dream since I was in my teens, though to be honest I don’t think I ever imagined being published in English. It’s beyond what I thought was possible then.

To celebrate today, I thought I’d share with you a snippet from the book. This is from a scene where Lucas, the youngest of the Sombrevilles, has escaped from a dinner party together with a handsome stranger:

~~~

While his siblings were leaving the dining hall together with the other guests, Lucas Sombreville sneaked into the garden in the company of Giles Perry, Viscount Atherton. Atherton had made it quite clear, from the first time their eyes met in the hall earlier, that Lucas was his number one priority tonight. The other guests around their table probably saw it as nothing other than an older man’s genuine interest in a boy who seemed destined for a bright future, maybe reminiscing on his own adolescent years and the dreams he once had.

For all Lucas knew, Atherton might have some nostalgic reason for being drawn to him. His main interest, though, was something else entirely and Lucas sighed contentedly when they were finally outside and Atherton pulled him into an embrace.

“I could lose my entire career for this,” the man groaned, strong fingers digging into Lucas’s hair. “You’re practically a schoolboy.”

“I am a schoolboy,” Lucas said, and Atherton groaned even louder.

“I should go back inside,” he said, “I really should. Christ, my wife is in there. And my father-in-law.”

Lucas had been introduced to Lady Atherton earlier: a pointy-nosed, decidedly unpleasant woman. He had not been the least surprised to learn that she counted herself as one of Lady Blackford’s closest friends.

“Please don’t,” he said, tugging at the man’s lapel. “You promised you’d show me the view.”

“Oh, my dear, I’d show you anything.” Atherton cupped Lucas’s face in his hands. His eyes were a light grey, almost the same shade as his hair. “Just let me kiss you and you can have anything you wish for.”

Lucas let him. Atherton’s lips were dry and warm, his breath tinged with wine. They were still on the stairs leading down from the back terrace and the thought of how easily they might be spotted excited Lucas even more. Atherton must have thought of it too, for he ended the kiss and took Lucas by the hand.

“Come with me, it’s too risky… it’s all too risky…” But he kissed Lucas again before they were even off the stairs, pushing him against the wall and running his hands along Lucas’s chest and belly.

“Oh, sir,” Lucas moaned, knowing exactly what men like Lord Atherton wanted most of all. “I-I’ve never…”

Atherton’s hips pushed forward and Lucas grabbed him by the shoulders just to keep himself from reaching down the man’s trousers. Might spoil the illusion.

“Don’t worry, my darling.” Atherton’s voice was so thick with arousal Lucas could hardly make out the words. “Don’t you worry about a thing.”

“You will take care of me, won’t you?”

Atherton kissed his forehead, his nose, his cheeks. Hands sneaked inside Lucas’s jacket and stroked his back and shoulder blades. “I will, dear, I will.”

~~~

Get the book here or here to find out what happens next!

30- Post a chapter or so for everyone to read and review

It’s not an entire chapter but it is the last page of a chapter… Chris has just joined the pirate crew and here’s what happens during one of his first meetings with the Captain:

Captain Hart had eaten by himself that night. By his desk, because the cabin had no room for a dining table. He didn’t say much while I served his dinner but as I was leaving, I heard him say my name.

”Come back here once you’re finished. I’ve got more work for you.”

More work meant polishing his black boots. I sat on the floor near the door, rubbed the stiff leather with a cloth. Rubbed until it shone. Music could be heard from outside. Captain Hart was by the desk, books and scrolls in heaps in front of him. He was down to his shirt, just like during the night, and wore no socks. Through the opening in his shirt I could see the skull amulet peeking out with its evil eyes. He didn’t speak to me. Now and then I heard him sigh, watched him run his fingers through his hair. Outside of the window, the light was sinking lower. All noises from the other side of the door had died out.

“Chris,” he said at last, putting away the documents he’d been studying. “Come here.”

He showed me to the bench by the window but did not sit down beside me. “Do you want a glass of wine?”

It was a strange question, I didn’t understand it. Gentlemen drank wine. Mr Thomas had been drinking wine. I said no.

“No? Oh well, suit yourself. The bottles were a gift from the king of Spain to the governor of Panama, unless I’m mistaken… or would have been, if they had reached their destination.”

The hint of a smile, before he sat down. The room was lighter this time and I saw the fine net of veins on the back of his hand, the curve of nails.

“How are you settling in on board?”

New people, names and events running through my head.

“Very good, sir.”

“I do hope everyone’s been nice to you.”

I told him they had, and he nodded.

“They’d better be! It’s rather different from what you’re used to, of course.”

“I’ve only been at sea for a few weeks, sir.”

He raised his eyebrows. “So you just left your village. Ashley, wasn’t it? That was a very brave thing you did, leaving home like that.”

I could have told him that I regretted my decision more than anything, but didn’t want to risk making him angry.

“It must be a beautiful place.” His hand was placed on my shoulder.

“It is, sir.”

Warmth through the fabric of my shirt.

“You miss home a lot, don’t you?”

The fingertips moved to my right shoulder, caressed my neck. His eyes were like stormy clouds as he looked at me.

“I do, sir.”

There was a strange atmosphere in the room, I wouldn’t be able to describe it. Almost like it had grown darker in there. His other hand landed on my arm.

“You truly are lovely.”

He put his arms around me. A tender embrace, soft, light. Then he looked at me, so close that I could feel his hot breath on my skin. A single moment, before he pressed his lips against mine.

I broke free, stared at him. My cheeks were hot.

“Come, don’t worry.” He grabbed my hand, squeezed it. Came closer to hold me again, and I didn’t try to push him away. Not even as he started caressing my hair. He was warm next to me, and my arms ended up around his waist somehow.

“There’s no one here to see us.” His face closed in on mine once more and this time I let it happen. Let him kiss my lips and touch my cheeks, while I stroked his back.

He ended it after that. Leaned forward to press a chaste kiss to my brow, caressed my fingers.

“I’ve kept you here for far too long. Off you go back to the others… good night.”

A smile, his gaze that followed me through the room. The mad, thumping heartbeat in my chest. He had kissed me. Captain Hart had kissed me.

And I had enjoyed it.