Friday, 27 May 2011

Historical Party is in the Past!

Sadly, we've reached the end of another party, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it! Many thanks to the wonderful authors who joined us as guests of honour - Lynne Connolly, Summer Devon/Kate Rothwell, Lindsay Townsend, Evangeline Collins and Mary Lancaster. And of course, thank you to everyone who commented, and to everyone who just dropped in :).

Our next party will be on the theme of Steampunk Romance, 25th to 29th July - hope you'll join us then! Obviously this leaves June without a party - this is because I'm going on holiday for three weeks (SO looking forward to it!) - so instead of a party, I thought we could have a contest. Watch this space for details!

Marie

Welcome Mary Lancaster!

Our final guest art the historical party is my good friend Mary Lancaster, who writes historical novels with strong romantic elements. And she's talking about researching the legend of the elusive rebel, Hereward the Wake

Making Romance from Legend by Mary Lancaster


Inspiration is a strange thing. Some years ago, I was researching for a historical novel I wanted to write set in eleventh century Scotland, and while reading around the Norman Conquest of Scotland's nearest neighbour, I came across the name of Hereward the Wake. But weirdly, what first caught my attention about this reference was not the heroism or tragedy of his last-ditch resistance to William the Conqueror; it was the description of his eyes being different colours :).

I began to iamgine what he looked like and to read more about him and his turbulent, adventurous life. I began to imagine the kind of man he must have been, and kept reading. Eleventh century Scotland became sidelined as I concentrated on England instead. And the more I read, the bigger Hereward grew in my mind.

Not, I hasten to add, that there was a great deal of fact to read! Although most historians agree that Hereward really existed, most of what's written about him is based on legend. His name is mentioned in the Domesday Book, but not in connection with the estates that legend associates with him, and in fact there's no proof that this Hereward is even the same man.

In some legends, he's the son of Earl Leofric of Mercia and the famous Lady Godiva. In others, he's the son of a lesser man. The legends relate military heroics, the rescue of princesses and killing of mighty beasts. There's witchcraft, and outlawry reminiscent of Robin Hood - and indeed, it's possible the legends of Robin Hood were based at least partly on Hereward. There are certainly plenty of similarities between the best known tales of each character. At the very least, they both drew on a common store of traditional outlaw stories.

So, as far as hard facts went, I had very little to go on. The legends as related by later documents would have suited fantasy rather better than historical romance. But I couldn't leave him alone. His character had already formed in my mind and from there I gave him a family and a past that suited what we do know of him and which could have shaped him for his later life. I didn't discount the legends, since there's nearly always a grain of truth in such stories, some connection, however tenuous, to what really happened, or to what people might have liked to happen. It became a bit of a detective game. Like making a jigsaw out of a couple of pieces and drawing the rest in with a pen to fit.

I see Hereward as a rebel from his boyhood, kicking against tradition and authority. I allow him  those different coloured eyes which helped make him so distinctive, and acknowledge his fight with at least one wild beast. But I don't see him as the son of a great nobleman, fallen from grace; I see him as one of those rare, charismatic figures from history who, despite more ordinary birth and fortune, rise to be natural leaders, accepted even by men of higher worldly rank. Scotland's Willian Wallace was another such figure (with, interestingly enough, his own share of outlaw tales!).

I try to explain what led to his sacking of Peterborough and the siege of Ely, one of the few documented events of Hereward's life, and to imagine what happened after, using a mixture of legend and guess-work.

And of course, such a larger than life figure had to have a great love.

I had a choice of loves for him. Legend gives Hereward two wives: the first Torfrida, a Flemish lady of learning whom he apparently married while serving as a mercenary captain for the Count of Flanders; the second a beautiful Saxon lady for whom he set Torfrida aside. In reality, he may well have had two wives, and, given the standards of the day he was probably faithful to neither!

However, I prefer the Torfrida story for many reasons, not least because she was learned and interesting to me - she read the stars; she married Hereward when he was not a great or honourable man by the world's judgement, merely an exile, a mercenary who fought for money not loyalty. And then the Saxon wife story seemed to me too convenient: as an English hero, he needed to have an English wife in the songs and stories, in order to resonate with the people. Torfrida would have been regarded as French, the "enemy" of the people so recently conquered.

So, although I've brought his English "wife" into the sotry in a different way, I believe Torfrida was his great love, and I believe I worked out a satisfying ending for them that contradicts neither history nor my own, personal, romantic view of them.

Torfrida would have to have been a strong woman to cope with Hereward's turbulent character and so I imagine their relationship was a stormy one. Here's a stormy moment from my imagination, when, after a quarrel Hereward takes a novel revenge :)

An Endless Exile by Mary Lancaster
Print and Ebook from Mushroom Publishing
Available from Amazon.

An Endless Exile tells the stormy love story of the eleventh century hero, Hereward "the Wake”, as seen through the eyes of his beautiful Flemish wife,  Torfrida  - clever, secretive and wise in the lore of the stars.  Estranged from Hereward at the time of his brutal murder, she sets out reluctantly to discover what really happened that night, vividly remembering the past as she goes: from their first childhood meeting, through their passionate courtship and marriage, their life together teemed with adventure, intrigue, tragedy and betrayal.  

And the truth, when Torfrida eventually finds it, only leads her into greater danger, threatening her unexpected new happiness in the very moment of its discovery.



    They were not playing chess.  My father was sitting behind his table, nodding thoughtfully as if to himself.  Hereward stood by the window, all flowing silk and gold arm-bands, and the incongruously clanking belts of weapons at his hip.  Though his fathomless eyes were now on me, I thought he had been watching my father.  Certainly I had heard his voice talking as I approached the door.

   “Ah,” said Hereward blandly, when I went in.  “Ganymede in a frock.”

   My father blinked slightly, though whether at this mode of greeting or at my chosen task I was not perfectly sure.

   “Don’t we have servants any more?” he asked with unusual irritability.

   “Lise,” said Hereward provokingly.  “Pretty brunette.”

   I said calmly, “She had hysterics when I asked her to do it.  She was afraid of ravishment.”   My father choked.  I patted him kindly on the back.  “Let me pour you some wine.”

   Hereward said, “Well, she needn’t fear it of me, not any more.”

   “No?” I said politely.  “You have, perhaps, taken a vow of celibacy?”

   “Almost,” said Hereward surprisingly.  “I have made an offer of marriage.”  He smiled at me, so dazzlingly it could have deprived the unwary of breath.  “For you.”

   The wine slopped over the cup’s edge, onto the silver tray, on to my father’s table.  I stared at it stupidly, till Hereward’s fingers took the cup from me.

   “Let me,” he said, and I backed away from him as if he had offered me violence.

   “Why?” I said.

   “Torfrida!” exclaimed my father.  “Your behaviour gets odder and odder!  What is the matter with you?  Go away and cast his horoscope – we’ll let him dispute it later.”

   “Is that how she does it?” Hereward asked, apparently vastly entertained.  “So it was the stars that did for poor old Asselin?  And Osbern and Bauduin and Albert and all the others?”

   I felt my eyes dilate.  I was actually frightened.  I panted.  “You have been busy!”

   “I told you,” he said carelessly, following me to give me a cup of wine.  “I always out-think the opposition.”

   “I am not playing this game!” I cried wildly.  “Why are you doing this, Hereward?”

   Accusation as well as pleading must have been spitting out of my eyes, but although I held his gaze, I could not even be sure I held his attention, let alone his understanding.  Then he reached out and took my hand, and I wondered desperately if there was hope after all.  In front of my father’s eyes, he raised my fingers to his lips and kissed them, before wrapping them around the cup and holding them there.

   “Why?” he said softly.  “Because the world knows I am at your feet.”

   It was too soft, too bland, and it gave me an instant’s warning.  One eye shut, he leaned just a little closer, and whispered, “And because I want your lands, and your riches, and your beautiful golden dragon.”

   I gasped.  My hand jerked, as if of its own accord, to throw the wine in his face.  But he was prepared for that; it was why he was still holding my fingers around the cup, so steadily that the liquid barely slopped to the brim.

   “Don’t,” he said.  “You’ll shock your father.”

   “I won’t do it, Hereward.”

   “Why not?  You would have done it for Rob.  In the end.”

   “For Robert, yes.  Not for you.  Never for you.”

   He only smiled.  “You say it with too much excitement,” he mocked.  “Remember, unlike Robert, I have held you in my arms.”

   He might as well have been doing so again; God knew he was close enough.

   “That doesn’t matter,” I said wildly, seeking desperately for ammunition.  With a gasp of relief, I found it.  “Go home, Hereward.  Leave me alone and go home.  Because it is not my lands you want, is it?  It’s your own.  Go home; be with your mother; and grieve for your father.”

   His eyes had stopped mocking.  They had gone black.  For a moment he was still, perfectly still.  Then his fingers loosened on mine and the wine slopped after all on the floor.  Because I was trembling.  And sorry.

   “As I do,” I whispered.  “As I do.”

   He swung away from me before I could see anything else.  I had invaded.  I was intolerable.  Well, good; then he would force this no further…

   My father said anxiously, “Has she agreed?”

   There was a pause.  Surely, surely it was going on too long…?

   Then Hereward said lightly, “It doesn’t matter.  You have.”  He picked up the other two cups and gave one to my father before turning and smiling back into my eyes.  “A toast,” he said blandly.  “To our future wealth.  And happiness, of course.”

   And drank.

   He had a way, he always had a way, of depriving one of breath.  When I had got mine back, I walked across the room to the jug, and deliberately poured my wine back into it.

   “On this occasion,” I said to my astounded parent, “I have no need of astrology.  I will not marry Hereward.  No, and no, and no.”

   And I walked out of the room, not even troubling to close the door behind me.


Mary will give away a download of An Endless Exile to one lucky winner. To enter her contest, tell us which historical legend you think makes, or would make, the best historical romance, or comment on Mary's post in some other way. The contest will close at midnsight tonight and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

True Romances

When I was growing up, I suppose most of the historicals I read tended to be historical novels with romantic elements, rather than straight historical romances. And in many of them the heroes and heroines were real characters from history: Nigel Tranter's Robert the Bruce trilogy, Jean Plaidy's novels, Margaret Irwin's historicals, especially The Stranger Prince (about Rupert of the Rhine, pictured left), and her Mary Queen of Scots story whose title I've forgtten :).

And I remember enjoying Georgette Heyer's The Spanish Bride, although now that I have kids of my own the idea of a fourteen year old bride isn't quite so appealing :)

Of course, many of these stories don't work out well for the main couple - it's real life rather than fantasy - but that made them all the more intense for me. I still enjoy the occasional novel featuring historical characters  - eg Elizabeth Chadwick's William Marshall series - although they don't always have to be the main characters.

Anyway, my question for you today is, do you enjoy books with true characters from the past, and if so, which ones stand out for you?

Marie

Welcome Evangeline Collins!

As Thursday's guest of honour, I'm delighted to welcome the wonderful Evangeline Collins, whose unconventional Regency love stories  have taken the romance world by storm! Welcome, Evangeline!


Opposite Attraction

There’s a saying that opposites attract, and that can certainly be true when it comes to the hero and heroine of a romance novel. You can have two people who appear different but actually complement each other wonderfully. That mix of strengths and weaknesses that make the individuals stronger when together. It usually takes some time for the characters to realize they are meant to be together, but by the end of the book, they have snapped together like puzzle pieces, and in more ways than just physical.

To me, opposites present a very intriguing dynamic. There’s tons of potential for inner conflict (and for someone who adores angst, that potential is just downright yummy). Yet there is also a huge potential payoff if the characters can figure out how they fit together. That payoff, of course, being a wonderful happily-ever-after.

In Her Ladyship’s Companion, my sensual Regency-set romance, I cast opposites for the hero and heroine. Bella is a married aristocratic woman who is determined to be the perfect lady. Her hero, Gideon, is a baseborn male prostitute (a gorgeous, intelligent and polite prostitute, but a working man nonetheless). Gideon’s job is to bring his client pleasure, whereas Bella has spent the last five years keeping her inner tart locked up tight. On the surface they could not be more different, but a look below the surface shows that they are absolutely perfect for each other, and not just in the bedroom. It’s a romance, so of course it ends in a happily-ever-after. Though it does take some doing, and a nice amount of angst, to get there.

Giveaway: A signed copy of Her Ladyship’s Companion

Question: Do you like opposites in your romance novels, or do you have a different type of favorite couple?

HIS JOB WAS TO PLEASE HER, NOT TO STEAL HER HEART.

In the Scottish countryside of Selkirk, Lady Isabella Stirling resides at Bowhill Park, serving penance for a sin that nearly ruined her family. For five years she has been condemned to a loveless marriage and confined to the estate where she does little more than tend her rose garden. With her husband absent for months at a time and few visitors, Bella lives a lonely existence, denying the passions that burn within her very soul.

Then her cousin comes for a visit and makes an outrageous suggestion: what Bella needs is a lover. A hired lover. Despite her need, Bella says no. But soon Mr. Gideon Rosedale arrives - and he is at her service for two weeks. Indulging in what she intends to be a harmless flirtation, Bella is overcome by Gideon's intoxicating presence. And when she at last permits him to satisfy her desires, she discovers she's done the unthinkable - she's fallen in love.


Excerpt:

Not wanting him to think she was watching him over his shoulder, she wandered off to check the surrounding plants. Though she did sneak a few peeks from the corner of her eye. His large hands were infinitely gentle as he coaxed the young rose from her pot and set her into the ground.
“I believe I’m finished here, that is if my work passes your inspection.”
At his confident words, Bella turned from the other roses. Suppressing a grin, she slanted him a ‘we’ll see’ look and flicked her fingers. He stepped aside. Already the little Celsiana appeared stronger in her new home. He had done an expert job. Not one leaf lay lost on the fresh, dark soil under her branches.
            “Well done, Mr. Rosedale. You make an admirable gardener.”
            He tipped his head. “I try, ma’am.”
            Bella chuckled at his failed attempt at humility. She turned on her heel. “Come along. We’re done here.”
            “Yes, ma’am,” he replied, the grin clear in his voice.
            He stepped ahead of her when they reached the hothouse. The shovel and empty pot held in one arm and his coat slung over one shoulder, he opened the door.
            “Thank-you,” she murmured as she walked passed him, untying the ribbons of her bonnet.
            He replaced the shovel inside the cabinet. “Where does the pot go?”
            “You can set it next to the worktables by the other empty pots. There’s a bucket of water by the hearth if you wish to wash up.” She pulled off her bonnet and ran a hand over her head, smoothing any stray hairs.
            The grin just wouldn’t leave her lips. If all days could be like this one…
            Water splashed as Mr. Rosedale washed off the dirt from the garden. He wiped his hands on an old embroidered towel. Bella walked to the left and set her bonnet on the settee, removed her gloves, dropping them atop her discarded shawl, and reached around to untie her apron.
            “Allow me.”
            His deep male voice washed over her, so close it tickled her ear. Slightly damp, cool hands stilled hers. Gooseflesh rose up her arms. She took a quick breath against the sensation and dropped her arms to her sides.
            Slowly, lazily, he pulled one apron tie. It was so quiet she could hear the fabric unravel. She felt the instant the bow released. His fingers brushed the small of her back as he pulled the tie loose. He reached around to take hold of the top center of the apron. Instead of removing it, he pressed his palm to her waist, holding it in place. He leaned closer. Heat scorched her back. Her derrière tingled where the top of his thighs brushed the sensitive flesh. She was still fully clothed, but felt exposed. As if she stood bare before him.
            The scandalous image formed in her mind. He exactly as he was – in buff breeches, black boots, white lawn shirt and a proper pin-striped waistcoat. And she…naked, the warm air in the hothouse caressing every inch of her skin. A quiver seized her body.
            Held within his light embrace, she could do nothing but close her eyes against the heavy flush of raw need. She knew all it would take was one movement, one word and he would release her. But she stayed still as a statue, fighting the impulse to rock back against him, to feel the long length of his body pressed fully to hers.
            His other hand coasted up her side grazing the sensitive outer swell of her breast to settle on her shoulder. A gasp expanded her lungs as his warm lips met her neck. Shamelessly, she arched, granting him access. He caressed the point of her racing pulse with the tip of his hot wet tongue before laying open mouth kisses on her neck. The brush of teeth grazing her skin incited her passion. Her hand clutched over his at her waist. Unable to resist a moment longer, she thrust her hips back and encountered the unmistakable evidence of his arousal. A low groan shook her throat.
            “Dinner tonight?”
            The soft, husky words shot to her core. His deep voice a potent source of lust. She shifted, needing to ease the ache. “Pardon?”
            He nuzzled the small cove behind her ear. “Dinner. Tonight. Am I to be your guest?”
            “Oh,” she gasped, trying to right her mind and focus on his question. “Yes.” Always. Forever.
            He laid a light kiss on her neck then stepped back, his hand sliding out from under hers. “What time?”
            She blinked her eyes open and turned, her mouth jealous of the attention her neck had received. “Ah…” Time didn’t matter. She wanted him to kiss her, to feel his lips upon hers, to taste the hot recesses of his mouth. “Six,” she heard herself say.
He stepped around her to drop the apron on the settee. “Six it is.”
Discomposed, Bella smoothed her hands down the front of her dress, her senses still in a riot. Yet he spoke so casually. Mild irritation clashed with thwarted desire. She glanced up, looking through the windows until she found the sun. “I should go.”
“Why?”
“It’s getting late and I need to dress for dinner.”
“You needn’t stand on formality with me.”
“But it’s dinner.” She rarely had guests and going through the feminine ritual of dressing for dinner was one she was loath to skip.
“Surely you can stay a bit longer,” he cajoled. “You’ve only shown me a few of your young roses.”
He sounded earnest, as if he truly wanted her to stay and wasn’t just being polite. “Another time,” she said with a smile.
“All right then. Six.” He sketched a short bow. “I shall count the hours, my lady.”

To enter Evangeline's contest for a signed copy of Her Ladyship's Companion, just answer her question above: Do you like opposites in your romance novels, or do you have a different type of favorite couple? The contest will end at midnight tonight and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Historical Romances of the Past

So, with all the wonderful new historical romances coming out in both ebook and paperback, does anyone still read the older romances that came out last century? And if so, how do they compare to more modern works for you?

I believe Georgette Heyer's books have been re-released recently. I loved these while I was growing up - having found an entire set at my Gran's house which I later inherited :). They're mostly Regency romances, with a scattering of earlier settings, and were the inspiration for a new generation of writers in that genre. I still enjoy re-reading them for the fun and the wit and the sweet romance. Of course there's absolutely no sex in them :)

Others I particularly enjoyed were Victoria Holt, Anya Seton, Margaret Irwin, and, of course, Dorothy Dunnett. They didn't all write romances as such, but there was always romance in there. I also loved the old swashbuckling romances, like Rafael Sabbatini which I discovered in second hand shops and the cupboards of older relatives. They were full of sword-fighting and piracy and righting injustice, and several were made into films with Errol Flynn - great stuff :).

Oh and I nearly forgot to mention Gone With the Wind, which drew me in completely and infuriated me!

Do you have any older favourites in the world of hisotrical romance? Or if you don't care for the older ones, what is it that puts you off?

Marie

Welcome Lindsay Townsend!

Today's guest (Blogger willing - I've had terrible difficulty posting today, and it won't let me comment at all!) is talented historical novelist Lindsay Townsend. I'll let her introduce herself - welcome, Lindsay!

Medieval gold, treasure and 'A Knight's Enchantment'

 Hello and many thanks to Marie for the invitation to join her Romantic Theme Party. I'm Lindsay Townsend and I write medieval romances for Kensington Zebra and ancient world historical romances for Siren-Bookstrand. My latest Kensington Zebra historical romance, 'To Touch The Knight', is due out in July this year. Today I’m talking a bit about the release of my third ‘knight’ book, A Knight’s Enchantment, plus some lost medieval treasures that I would love to find.
Every girl and boy in England knows that King John was forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his powers, and that he lost the crown jewels in the Wash, the wide inlet of the North Sea to the north of East Anglia, while travelling north from Norfolk into Lincolnshire. Apparently John was ill and took a long route, while sending the baggage on a short cut across the estuary of one of the rivers emptying into the Wash. The baggage train, slow and lumbering, was overwhelmed by the tide, and in 2008 two geologists suggested that there might have been a local tsunami, possibly caused in turn by an underwater landslide.

There is a legend that a monk called Brother Simon made off with the jewels, selling them round Europe to add riches to the Templar order. There is also a claim that the wily King John arranged for the jewels to 'disappear'. If he did, he didn't live to benefit from it - a few nights after that unfortunate crossing, he died of his illness. He was buried at Worcester, without any crowns.

What would these missing jewels have looked like? Were they even crowns? We know that King John loved collecting jewels and that he owned silver and gold plate. He also had the regalia he'd inherited from the Empress Maud. This regalia is missing from an inventory used by John's son Henry at his coronation as Henry III in 1220, so it would seem they were lost. However Roger de Wendover’s Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History), written around 1230, says that the lost treasure was ‘precious vessels, and all the other things which he cherished with special care’. Ralph of Coggeshall’s Chronicon Anglicanum says it was ‘his chapel with its relics … and diverse household effects’. None of these items sound like crowns or regalia.

There are surviving crowns from later periods, especially from the time of King Richard II. In his reign he ordered that a treasure roll be drawn up, inventorying the crowns and jewels in his household. There are crowns (eleven of them), chaplets, brooches, circlets, small jewels, cups and ewers. The only surviving crown, sent to Bavaria for the marriage of Henry IV's daughter Blanche, is certainly very beautiful. Given the skill of goldsmiths throughout the ages, from Sutton Hoo, the Staffordshire Hoard and onwards, I imagine the jewels John lost were spectacular. If I could somehow dig down over twenty feet of silt (knowing first where to dig!), I would love to rediscover them.

People have always hidden and lost treasure. In A Knight's Enchantment - which takes place during the reign of the unfortunate King John - the heroine Joanna discovers a hoard of hidden gold hidden by a Viking adventurer. Here’s the excerpt. Joanna and Hugh have been forced to spend the night together, out of doors in a small cave. This action takes place the following morning:

Excerpt

Hugh tethered and tended Lucifer, roughed a little with Beowulf, cut reeds for bedding, collected firewood and kept a sharp eye on Joanna. She made no move to flee from the cave, which surprised him, and met him at the cave mouth with his armload of reeds, which astonished him.


"What is it?" he asked. Her eyes were wide and her color high, lighting up her tanned face, making her very pretty. This would be how she would look in love-making, he realized, and felt a mingled twist of desire and jealousy. "Well?" he demanded, now using a hated phrase of his father's, "Must I wait for doomsday before you speak?"


"I know what the runes say, and we must dig." She was clearly too excited to notice his rudeness. "There is treasure here! Viking gold! Look -"


She caught his hand in hers and fairly dragged him back with her, careless of whether he smacked his head on the low cave roof. Crook-backed, he let her guide him, enjoying the feel of her small fingers round his palm.


"Look!" She dropped to her knees beside the maze of marks he had found at the back of the cave years earlier. The setting sun blazed into the small dry space - had it always been this small? - turning rock and stone golden. The runes on one darker-hued stone close to the cave floor seemed faded to Hugh's eyes, but his eager companion read them easily.


"Orri's horde is here. A mighty gift." She pointed to an X shaped rune. "This rune, Gebo, means gift." She touched three straight lines with her foot. "Three, then dig, it goes on."


She stepped three paces from the cave wall and began to hack at the earth floor with her knife.


"Wait!" She was wilder than he was, in a fight, Hugh thought, astonished by this whirl of activity. "You will blunt your blade. I have something better."


He looked amongst his things and found the small hammer he used to drive in tent and baggage pegs and the metal file he used to sharpen his sword. He set to work, driving the file into the hard-packed soil where Joanna was laboring, and in a few moments struck something that rang out like a broken bell.


"Let me -" Joanna had her fingers probing and tearing at the loosened earth and now she sat back on her heels, a great smile of pleasure breaking on her face. "We have it!"


Down by her knees was a torn bag, gray-black and half-rotten, no more than wisps of cloth. But through the tangle of fraying threads he saw the unmistakable gleam of gold.


"Orri's hoard," Joanna said softly. "He must have left it here for safety and never come back."


She moved but Hugh was swifter, scooping the coins and rings out of the dirt and onto his cloak.


"Hey!"


Fairness made him look at her and offer her a ring: a pretty one, he thought. "Thank you," he said. "That will be most useful."


Joanna stared at the ring without taking it. "You do not think we should share?"


He smiled at the question. "What use would you have for old coins? Your lord gives you all you need, but I must make my own way."


Her eyes narrowed. "You do not think I have expenses? Debts?"


"Take the ring, and this golden chain," he urged, shrugging off her questions, dismissing them as girlish folly. "Both would look well on you, I think. Were I your bishop, it would give me pleasure to see you wearing them."


'Thank you, my lord." She took them, almost a snatch, and retreated to the very back of the cave, leaving him to make up their rough reed mattresses, and a fire.


"Will you leave scrabbling for more messages and condescend to help me a little?" he demanded, some time later, as the fire began to smoke. "Feed this while I find food to feed us."


"I thought you preferred to do all things yourself," she retorted. "Besides, you do not have enough kindling."


"If you can do better, do so." Hugh left her sulking over the crackling flames and stamped off outside again. When he returned, Joanna was nowhere to be seen and the fire was a glowing, growing mass of orange. Even as he stared in amazement, the whole mass exploded into more flames and gushed a fog-bank of purple smoke.

I'm very happy to include a copy of A Knight's Enchantment in the prizes for this week. My question for the giveaway is this - what is Joanna's work? You can find out her job from reading the blurb on my blog.
Also I'm curious - what periods of historical romance do readers enjoy and why?

You can answer both questions on the comments section of the blog. Please remember to include your email.
Many thanks again to Marie for having me along today.
Best wishes, Lindsay.

http://www.lindsaytownsend.net/
http://www.twitter.com/lindsayromantic

Historical Classics

Since we're celebrating historical romance this week, I imagine everyone here enjoys stories set in the past! But what about stories actually written in the past? After all, you can't get much more authentic than a voice from the time!

Have you read - and did you like - classic stories of romance like Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights? Pride and Prejudice? Or any of Jane Austen's other novesls - Persuasion, Emma and Northangar Abbey are favourites of mine too.

I regard Charles Dickens's novels as a bit of a treat too, and although not romances as such, I find some of the unusual love stories in his books very touching, eg Our Mutual Friend and The Old Curiosity Shop. And, of course, A Tale of Two Cities (which he actually wrote as a historical novel set in the French Revolution), where if I'd have been the heroine, I'd have married Sydney rather than his more conventional double :).

George Eliot is another classical favourite of mine. Again, her books are not regarded as romances as such, but I love the romances in them, especially Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. She also wrote a historical novel set in Renaissance Italy, Romola.

And talking of classic authors who wrote historical novels, I have to mention Tolstoy's "War and Peace". This is obviously a huge and daunting work, and I confess there are passages I skimmed! But it's also mesmerizing and thought provoking, and I found the romantic elements very moving.

So what are your favourite classics? Or do they not interest you?

Marie

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Welcome Kate Rothwell & Summer Devon!

Today, we're lucky enough to get two authors in one :). The very talented Kate Rothwell also writes in hotter vein as Summer Devon, and I'm thrilled they could both be here today :). Welcome Kate and Summer!

Marie wanted something about history –  it’s an easy topic for me. History is behind several of the stories that have come bubbling up from my brain.

I often do not have a clue when people ask me where I get my ideas, but I do remember precisely where I got my first book, Somebody Wonderful (now out of print, but still available for a penny from Amazon. That one’s under my real name, Kate Rothwell) and it came from history. I’d read an account of how New York policemen used to slam their nightsticks on the pavement to summon other cops for help. The vibration would alert cops blocks way. I wanted to write a story using that. I was also intrigued by the thought of Mick used as a real name in a time when that was a racial insult. The character of Mick the New York copper came into my head and he was the basis of the rest. Oh, and I’d just watched the Perils of Pauline, a silent movie,  and that woman who fell into trouble every time she turned around formed my heroine for that book.

The ideas for my two latest historicals also came from some random facts from history—my own included. Those books were recently released under my pen name, Summer Devon.

The Mad Baron:  I’d just read a first-hand account of an opium den and I was reminded of the time in college that I watched someone perfectly sane become temporarily insane through the use of recreational drugs. The drugs wore off, she became normal again (thank goodness)  and she raced off to take the final she’d missed while wandering around the dormitory, insisting she had lost both her feet.  After I read the opium den article, I saw the phrase “the madwoman in the attic” and I thought, hey, why is it always a woman? What if it was a man?  And what if it wasn’t real madness but a plot to keep him prisoner? I can’t find the story I read about the opium den, I think it was in an old Harper’s—oh, I love those old Harpers! -- but here’s another good account online. http://catsmeatshop.blogspot.com/2010/11/what-opium-smoking-feels-like.html

The Powder of Love:  This was inspired by the autobiography of one of the Victorian age’s most wicked gents. I imagine most of his secret life was manufactured for his own pleasure, but good old Walter has been entertaining, shocking and boring people for more than a century with his book of pornographic adventures. http://www.my-secret-life.com/ 
I couldn’t finish reading the whole thing—I have no problem with smut, but his long book becomes dreary. There are some wonderful words in there. (And I used those in the book, Someone To Cherish. The wicked list of words that Callie carries into the library contains the slang Walter employed, such as gamahuche for oral sex, and onanism for masturbation and fricatrice for hand job.  Callie couldn’t guess what those words meant either.)

Yet Walter did start me thinking about what it would it be like to live with a man who was obsessed with nailing anything that moved and what would happen if such a man got his hands on a genuine aphrodisiac?  He’s the basis of the secondary character, Walter Clermont.

The hero is Gideon, hired to keep the randy and reckless goat in line. I figured chasing after a guy like Walter might end up confusing a relatively inexperienced man about lust and desire -- and distrust those sensations when it comes to genuine love. Add an aphrodisiac and how can the hero, Gideon, believe what he’s feeling for Rosalie IS REAL?

At the moment, I’m reading two books, a biography of Diamond Jim Brady and an account of an orphan train.  I suppose a few weeks? Months? down the road another story will float to the surface influenced by those books.


The Powder of Love by Summer Devon:

Heiress Rosalie Ambermere doesn’t know why Gideon Reed sits scowling in her sitting room. Or why she finds him so appealing. She’d envisioned her heart falling to a serene gentleman, not to this unpolished, brooding man. And yet she finds Mr. Reed absurdly attractive. Surely her craving for his touch is due to the strange powder she recently inherited from her rakehell cousin. When Gideon offers to help her find a way to dispose of the aphrodisiac, she agrees. Best to be rid of the powder and the man in one fell swoop.
Hired as a keeper, former detective Gideon must follow his oversexed client Walter everywhere, including into lovely ladies’ homes. Reed suspects Miss Ambermere is just another eager chapter in Walter’s endless diary of bedroom conquests. Another hedonistic woman spoiled by inherited wealth, until he learns there’s another draw for Walter -- the powder that could create disaster in the idiot’s hands. He soon understands there is more to the alluring Miss Ambermere than meets the eye; perhaps enough to tempt even his disillusioned heart. Gideon must work with Rosalie to safely dispose of the powder without falling prey to the dangerous effects of pure chemistry.
Excerpt:

Soon after Miss Ambermere left the room, Reed gave in to curiosity. He fished through his jacket pocket and pulled out a ring that held keys and other useful items. Really, the desk presented no challenge at all.
Even as he fit the pick into the lock, he wondered why he was doing it. She'd asked him to leave it alone, and he wasn't a thief. This was not the sort of behavior he was used to in himself, and he wondered if perhaps he'd spent too many hours in Clermont's company.

He just wanted to see the powder that had caused her worry. She seemed such a levelheaded woman. He'd wager that a woman who had dealt as efficiently with Clermont as Miss Ambermere had could not be easily rattled. Yet when it came to talking about this “substance,” she paled, almost got the wide-eyed twitchy look of a cornered rabbit. He'd do her a favor, relieve her anxiety. And he looked forward to seeing her grateful smile.

The only thing in the bottom drawer was an object wrapped in newspaper. As he unwrapped it and stared down at the little well-polished box, he felt a frisson of unease. He was not a susceptible man, but perhaps her fear was contagious. Such a small box couldn't be dangerous, but it was so…unusual.

He stroked the wood, cool and silky, and the feel of it thrilled his hand. He pried it open and saw another box inside. Such an urge to bring it to his face, rest his cheek on that slick surface…

No! He had to fight the bizarre desire. He forced himself to push the lid down, drop the box, and shove the drawer closed. His fingers trembled slightly as he relocked the drawer.

Curiosity and longing raged through him. Had the damned thing called to him to break in? Nonsense. It had been an unfortunate impulse of a man who'd spent months holding impulsiveness and animal behavior at bay. The thin screen of civilized behavior was crumbling.

He?d be damned if Clermont won. He'd pick a woman for Reed, he'd said. And watch him fuck her. A woman.

Then the image of her filled his mind. That hair, thick and glossy, down and spread by his fingers. Her skin would be soft and supple, and he'd feel it with every sensitive nerve, now alert with need. His hands, his tongue, his cock—on her.

Reed gasped. He rubbed his face, and that didn't seem to help. He groped for tea and drank the whole scalding cup down.

Jesus, even the pain in his mouth seemed to increase the pleasure—or rather, the longing for pleasure. He didn't have many calluses on his fingers now that he had a soft job, and the warmed, slick porcelain begged him to feel the texture of the rounded curve of the cup, the complex texture of the handle.
Holy mother of God; the chemical was real. And if he didn't do something about his raging erection, he'd never be able to stand up in front of decent people. That part of him begged for release. Her. He wanted her. His cock needed her.

He forced himself to think. Combating sensation and desire so he could think proved almost impossible. He'd bring himself off. That would be the best answer. Once drained—Oh God; unless it was with her, it would never be enough. And why couldn't he touch her? Their bodies were made for this.

They could touch and taste, and he would at last bury himself in a warm, silken woman. Slide over her skin, slide into her, deep. So many women every day paraded in front of him. Naked or in the thinnest of gowns. During his time keeping watch over Clermont, he'd seen so many breasts, hips, curves, backs and bottoms and cunts. Once, and only once, at the start of his job, had he grown so desperate he'd indulged with a woman, and that was months ago. Alone for months. And now the months of deprivation hit him hard—and the one woman he wanted most was just rooms away.

He grew dizzy as he fought back and reminded himself this hunger was only part of him. He was more than need.

The door opened, and she walked in.

He closed his eyes. He'd cheated—badly—by touching that box, and perhaps by not believing her story. And now he'd pay a price by surviving this visit without betraying symptoms. He must treat her with respect. That did not include ripping off her clothing, flinging her across the top of the desk, and driving into her. Or even picturing that possibility. But no, now that picture of her panting, naked, under him, was lodged in him, brain and body.

“Are you unwell, Mr. Reed? You look slightly flushed.”

He'd have to open his eyes and see her in the flesh. See her skin, her pink and lovely face, neck, and those delicate hands that had been so surprisingly powerful in his, returning his grip. Her skin, but not enough of it. Why did women wear so many layers of useless clothing? “I'm fine,” he croaked. “Erm. Your companion. She is well?”

Miss Renshaw had been made ill by the box, Miss Ambermere had said in passing, and now he knew the companion had touched the box too, perhaps even done more. Dear Lord, he was torn between pity for her and the desire to collapse with laughter at the thought of the poor woman, helpless in the grip of unabated hunger. Unabated, perhaps. The image of her naked, out of control and in heat with some man intrigued him—the powder had control of all Reed's responses. But that image didn't seem to add to the bottomless, howling need that flowed through his body.

Miss Ambermere's voice, low and musical, was what stoked that need. “I don't believe you?re listening. I asked if you thought any of these men were more qualified than the others.”

After a moment, he comprehended the meaning of her words and looked at the list of scientists rather than at her. The sight of her seated at the far side of the big desk might prove too much. The focus of all his body's cravings so close to him. He pulled in a deep breath and managed to draw his mind back from the flood of need. This was important. “I didn't take the time to study their qualifications, I'm afraid.”

And then he knew he had to confess—some of the truth, at any rate. “I didn't truly understand. I didn't know…” His hoarse voice trailed off.

“Ah. Mr. Reed?”

His name in her mouth sent him close to the edge. He'd give in to the urge to look at her because perhaps she was calling him, asking him to go to her at last. He fisted his hands to stop from lunging. “Hmm?” He managed something like a growl.

“You understand now? What has changed?” She gave him a sharp glare, and unbelievably, she stood and swayed toward him. Yes, come to me now, he wanted to shout. He had to take his lip between his teeth and bite down hard to stop himself from spreading his arms to invite her embrace. He had to look away.
Skirts rustling, closer, but then she stopped short of his chair, at the desk.

So near him, her back slightly to him. Those curves. He could reach out now. Touch her. Seize her. How would it be to shove up that dress, find that useless bustle, throw it away, and sink into her from behind. At last. Would her skin be cool against his heated body? Not cool inside. The heat deep inside her, her cunny, her cunt, her sweet womanly parts. And the tender flesh of her inner thighs, invisible under that dratted, thick cloth.

Her curls bounced as she rattled the desk. Yes, that's how they'd bounce when he'd thrust—

“The drawer is still locked.” She turned to face him.

He was having trouble catching his breath, and her steady gaze, fixed on him, didn't help. “I don't understand,” she said in a faltering voice. Her cheeks reddened as she looked into his face.
Maybe she caught sight of the fierce, barely controlled hunger raging in him. More likely she was embarrassed by what she thought was her own false accusation. Her pink cheeks set off the brightness of her eyes.

He held back the cry of let me teach you to understand.

Instead he dug into his jacket pocket and wordlessly held out the ring of keys. Their fingers didn't meet as she took them, but he swore he could feel the heat of her hand. That first day they'd touched, a simple, firm handshake had shaken him, all right. With this woman so near, he could hear the susurration of her breath, see the texture of her fine skin; his erection grew so thick and painful, the slightest motion might bring him off. He knew his linens were damp with the eager cock's prespending.

She swallowed. He watched the delicate motion of her throat. Could almost feel the pulse there too. She shook the keys until they jangled. “You're telling me you did open the drawer?”

He nodded.

“Did…? No, no. Did you open the box?”

“A bit. Wanted to do more.” His voice was hoarse. “But I managed to stop.”

The stiff set of her shoulders relaxed slightly, but her breasts remained high and lovely. He should not be staring at her bosom, imagining how it would fill his hands and how the nipples would feel between his fingers, in his mouth, under his tongue…

She put the keys on the desk rather than hand them to him. Good. If her hand came near him, he'd grab it, pull her down onto his lap, onto his aching cock. His mouth on those breasts at long—

“Now you believe me. And if you didn't open the horrible thing, well, then you're not going to…ah…you're not so badly influenced.” Her breasts rose and fell with her breath.

He inhaled and—God, he could smell her. Sweet Miss Ambermere. Another discreet sniff, and he drew in the musk of her, the delicious scent of her skin, hair—and her. He'd put his face in her hair, just at her temple, in the crook of her neck, at her bosom, between her legs, and draw in full breaths of her. Sustaining lungs full of her essence.

He clenched his hands tighter, dug his nails into his palms.

“Bad enough,” he said. He couldn't allow himself to move, not until he had more control.

She went to her chair—thank God out of his reach—but, blast and damn, far too distant from him. He couldn't smell her or see the subtle motions of her body as she breathed or hear the light rasp of her gown.
But he could see her eyes were bright. With amusement?

The lust twisted inside him and grew dangerous. He would show her what “bad enough” meant. No, he?d demonstrate how good it could be. That laughter in her eyes would turn into alarm, but then melt into sweet, helpless longing. He'd touch her with his hands and mouth until she begged him. Screamed for him.

Shit.

He was as bad as — no, he was worse than Clermont.

She was speaking again, still in a light, smiling voice, as if they were having a real conversation. Chitchatting. “It is terrible. When I touched the box, all I wanted was to undo my stays and—”

“God. Stop.” He moaned. “I am managing to contain myself, Miss Ambermere, but it is requiring effort on my part.”

Her eyes widened, and her mouth—that delightful mouth—opened slightly. “Oh,” she said faintly. “Do you mean I'm the object of your—”

“Yes.” He hissed the word explosively, as if it could offer the release he needed.

“When I touched the box, I was in the room with Mr. Dorsey, you see, and never felt the slightest interest in him, but—Never mind,” she spoke hastily. “I wonder what we should do for you.”


Kate is offering to one lucky winner a choice of ebooks, either The Powder of Love, The Mad Baron or Someone to Cherish. To enter her contest, tell us what you think the heroine in the excerpt above should do for poor Gideon :). Or comment on her post in some other way. Kate's contest will close at midnight tonight, at her winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread.

Monday, 23 May 2011

History or Fantasy?

Here's a knotty question for you, one that I know is much discussed by authors. Should history get in the way of a good story?

Speaking for myself, absolutely not! But on the other hand, it should abolutely be there - or it is hardly a historical novel! - and in skilfull hands, the historical detail fascinates. As a writer, obsessed with one's own subject, it can be difficult to judge just when detail of events or objects is "getting in the way". But as a reader, how much history do you like with your romance?

How accurate should a historical romance be in its detail? I know many writers who go to extraordinary lengths to ensure their history is accurate and their story authentic, and I'm sure this shines through. But do you know or care if someone wears the wrong kind of dress and or rides from London to the Scottish Highlands in one day? Or do you find a deviation from the customs or other detail of the time, draws you out of the story so much that you can't enjoy it?

Curious minds want to know :)

Marie

Welcome Lynne Connolly!

Opening our party today, I'm delighted to welcome historical novelist Lynne Connolly, justly famed for her fascinating mixture of hot romance and authentic historical detail. Here's a glimpse into some of her inspiration.

Lynne Connolly – Stealing Houses

Britain is filled with stunningly beautiful stately homes, and some not so beautiful. When I was little, my parents dragged my sister and I to all the places we could reach. Well, it started with dragging, but I soon started to look forward to them hugely. And I fell in love with some houses, hated others, and it was partly the atmosphere, that indefinable something you can’t get from just reading about them.

At the age of nine, I fell in love with the eighteenth century. We were doing a project on coffee and tea at school, and the teacher showed us a picture of a coffee house from an old print. Love at first sight, and for those of you who don’t believe in it, it’s a love affair that has lasted all my life.
So of course I use the houses in my books, historical and sometimes the contemporaries. I fictionalize them, give them a new name and invent a room or two, but I always have a great house firmly in mind when I write a book. I fictionalize because then I can make the house mine, and it won’t be confused with the families who actually live there.

The first house I used was in “Yorkshire.” Yes, the run-down, dilapidated Hareton Hall of “Yorkshire,” actually exists. In reality it’s called Calke Abbey, and it’s a few miles south of the fictional version, in Derbyshire. It’s an incredible place. The family who built and owned the house until the National Trust took over were the Harper-Crews, and their fortunes declined considerably over the centuries. At the end of their occupation, the sole survivor was living in a lean-to shed off the kitchen. The family just left things in place, treasures and rubbish. When the Trust took it, it was for the rare wildlife in the park, but they discovered amazing things inside. Previous to Calke, the Trust had chosen to restore the houses in their care to the days of the heyday, whenever that was. Everything was restored meticulously, and shone forth in glory. Not so Calke. The Trust preserved rather than restored, and the results are fascinating. They discovered a complete court bed, never taken out of its cedarwood boxes. Stuffed animal heads were discovered slung on to old beds. Like a latter-day Tutankhamen’s Tomb, Calke lies preserved as a monument to the rise and fall of the great country house.

How could I not use it? So when my heroine Rose arrives at Calke expecting a great country house party, she finds a ruin, and few other guests. Fortunately for her, they include the roué and exquisite Richard Kerre, Viscount Strang, who falls in love with her on sight (see a theme here?)

There are other great houses in the Richard and Rose books. Richard’s family home, Eyton, is based on the great Chatsworth in Derbyshire. I lived for some time close to Chatsworth, so I got quite familiar with it. They have a house in Oxfordshire that never appears in the books, deliberately so, because I wanted them to have somewhere they can be private. Rose’s brother James rebuilds his house in Devonshire, and I chose the exquisite Saltram, in reality built for the Parkers by Robert Adam, as my example.

I cried earlier this year when I wrote the last book. Not because it doesn’t have a happy ever after (they are romances, after all) but because I so didn’t want to end them. But the time had come, and I didn’t want the series to drag on, like a few I could think of. Time to say goodbye, or at least, farewell.

I’ve used other houses, too. In “Alluring Secrets,” Sev, the hero, has a house remarkably similar to Longleat. These days lions roam the grounds, but in those days it was a beautiful country house of Elizabethan origins. Castle Howard in Yorkshire was the home of Charles, in “Noblesse Oblige.” Charles is my only duke so far. Dukes were a rare breed in Georgian Britain, so I save them for when I really need them! In “Tantalizing Secrets,” Peter’s father’s house is Belvoir Castle, not my favorite country house of all time. I found it interesting, but cold. However the heroine, Arabella, lives in Belgrave Hall in Leicester, a beautifully preserved  small manor house.

It really helps me to see my characters in their natural settings. Sometimes the house will start me off, sometimes a character needs somewhere to live. But it’s lovely to bring my love of the British country house to readers.



 Excerpt from Tantalizing Secrets:


Emulating Peter, Arabella took a swig of the spirit. She had forgotten just how fiery brandy was and choked on it.

He laughed, but he leant forward and bent her over a little, so she could recover more easily. Arabella nearly choked again when she felt his arm around her chest, just below her breasts. She felt his warmth through the layers of silk, whalebone and linen as if he touched her bare skin. It was extraordinary. When she leant back, she found herself leaning against his arm with her head on his shoulder. It seemed natural. Arabella hadn’t felt so cared for in years. Arthur had shown her kindness, but rarely spontaneous affection. She discovered that she liked it very much.

While admiring his expertise and willing to go along with him for the moment, inside Arabella kept on her guard. She had drunk more than usual at dinner, and that, combined with the brandy gave her a recklessness unusual to her. After all, why not? Who would repine if they didn’t know? She no longer denied the strong attraction she felt for him, to do so would have been hypocritical. It was beyond denying now.

Arabella kept her head turned away from him while he talked. “I’ve never let anyone else see what you saw this afternoon, Arabella. I owe you a great deal for that. I don’t know why I broke then, but I couldn’t stop.”
She turned her head then, to stare at him in wonder. He smiled down at her and brushed his lips over her forehead. “I’ve lost a great deal, my dear. I’ve lost the freedom to act as I choose, to live as I choose. The bars of my cage are closing in around me.” He sighed. “I’m sure I’ll cope, but it happened so suddenly the shock came as a severe one.”

She nodded. “I felt a bit like that when I married. I was leaving a life of poverty for prosperity, going to a man who cared for me, but the day I left I felt a great sense of loss.”

“Going into the unknown. Your husband—was he good to you? Tell me true, Arabella.”

She nodded, feeling her cheek move against the ribbed silk of his dark red coat. It felt good. “He was always kind, and he left me well provided for. I was his third wife, and since the first two hadn’t presented him with offspring, he didn’t even expect an heir from me.”

“But he did expect normal marital relations?”

“Oh yes.” Only then did Arabella color up, realizing what he had asked.

Before she could pull away, his arms tightened around her. He laughed. “I didn’t want to press my attentions on a virgin bride.” The smile faded. “I won’t go any further than you want me to, Arabella, but I can’t deny I’m deeply attracted to you. Perhaps for now we should just settle for kisses. We’ve both been under a great deal of strain, and we don’t want to add to it. Besides, I’d like you as a friend. I don’t want to jeopardize that.”

She looked up at him and smiled. “Are you this honest with everyone?”

He trailed a finger along her chin. “No. Only a few other people.” He bent and touched his lips to the tip of her nose, drawing back with a smile. “I want you to trust me, and I don’t think there’s any other way apart from honesty. Not with you.”

“No.” She still kept up her guard, though. Peter was a subtle, complicated person. She knew she couldn’t be sure that everything he let her see was all there was to see. “Are you sure all this isn’t a ploy designed to get me into bed?”

He laughed, and she saw nothing but amusement there. “Such perspicacity! There are other ways that don’t include opening my heart. I find a simple request works well. I have to deal with so much subterfuge in my public life that I prefer my private life to be straightforward.” He frowned. “As straightforward as I can make it.”

Arabella sighed. “I wish I’d seen more. You must know how little I’ve been about the world. I’ve lived here and in Loughborough all my life.”

“What, never been anywhere else?” He sounded surprised.

“Nowhere.”

“I think we should get you to London. You’re enchanting, Arabella, you’ll do well there.”

She gave him a cynical grimace. “My portion is too modest for London and I’m not on the look-out for a husband. Those grand people would look down their noses at me.”

“I don’t, and I can introduce you to other people who won’t. You can come for a visit. I could arrange it. Would you like that?”

Arabella had to admit that she would.

His answering smile was more intimate. “I think that deserves a kiss, don’t you?”

He tightened his hold on her, but slowly, so she could draw back if she wanted to. She didn’t want to. She lifted her arm up to touch his shoulder, firm under the fine coat and watched his face come closer to hers.
His free hand went behind her head. His fingers threaded into the loose bun and pins fell with dull thuds on to the sofa behind her. He kissed her.

A soft joining of mouths, a natural coming together. Arabella decided she liked it. It wasn’t too challenging, or too invasive. Before she had a chance to accustom herself to the sensation, his tongue flicked against her closed lips. She obeyed the unspoken request and opened her mouth under his. He entered, sweeping his tongue around her lips, and then surging further in.

Arabella had never felt so thoroughly invaded in her life. He melded them into one being with his kiss. Even when her husband made love to her, Arabella had never felt this close to him.

She let her eyes drift shut. It increased her sensitivity, made her concentrate on his tongue inside her mouth, his hand caressing her back. His caresses were slow and sensual, easing her into accepting their intimacy, soothing her apprehension. She relaxed, let him support her and explore her.

He must have felt her surrender, because his kiss became more demanding. His hands firmed on her back and he pulled her closer. His tongue tickled hers, inviting a response and shyly, she gave it, slipping hers into his mouth while he supported and encouraged her. He made a sound at the back of his throat; it sounded like pleasure to Arabella. She explored him as he had explored her, but her hands were still, one on his shoulder and another around his waist.

He finished the kiss only to begin again but this time decreasing the intensity, until once more only their lips and hands touched. When he drew back, he was smiling. “Everything I’d hoped.”

She smiled back, unsure of what to say. He swooped down on her again and claimed another kiss, hard and brief. “Thank you.”

She wet her lips. “That was…that was…surprising.”

Instead of taking it in his stride, as she expected him to do, he agreed. “It was, wasn’t it? I expected a proper kiss with you to be enjoyable, but that was a little more.” His smile grew more intimate. “Perhaps we ought to practice for a while and see what happens.” Arabella swallowed, and he chuckled. “Not too fast, my sweet, not with you. I want you with me every step of the way.”

“And if I call a stop?”

He caressed her, his hand moving up to where a light fichu covered her back. “Then we stop. I meant it when I said I wanted your friendship. I want your trust too.” He must have seen the skepticism light her eyes. “I’m being as honest as I know how. There are other sides to me, you must know that. Politicians are rarely straightforward. Many of them have lost touch with the simple pleasures, but I’ve always made an effort to keep them. What can I say?” He watched her in comfortable silence, his hands moving gently over her. “I can tell you that most of the women I have taken some pleasure with remain friends afterwards.”

“Have you a mistress at the moment?”

He smiled. “No. Though I’d like to say yes.” His meaning was unmistakable. He wanted her.

Arabella didn’t know what to think. The last man who had wanted her for herself was her late husband, and he had wanted her companionship as much as her company in bed. To be desired, that was a new thing for her. His desire and his frank admission of it gave her access to a part of herself she’d been unaware of before. She became aware of her body beneath the whalebone. As a healthy young woman, she’d taken it for granted, but now she realized that someone desired her, really desired her.

He bent and took possession of her lips once more, but this time she knew what to expect, or at least she thought she did. She should have known better. He played with her, tickled and tantalized, made her move, a sensuous curve of her hips into his hand, and heard his low sound of appreciation.

Arabella would have liked it to go on longer but he drew back. She smiled, totally relaxed in his arms except for the tingle he evoked deep inside her. “It must be the brandy.”

“Why?”

“I don’t do this. I don’t know how.”

“Time you learned.”


Today, Lynne is offering to one lucky winner either a print copy of Seductive Secrets, the first in the Secrets series, or a download of all three Secrets books - winner's choice. To enter the drawing, just tell us about your favourite old house, or make some other comment on Lynne's post. This contest will end at midnight tonight and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread,