Shot and left for dead, Sam Hixton stumbles into a general store on the Nebraska prairie and collapses into the arms of Cassie Wilcox. Cassie’s world is turned upside down when the handsome stranger drops into her life. Sam is … Continue reading
Romance Bundle by Helen A Rich writing as Helen A Rosburg By Honor Bound Affaire de Coeur Best Overall Historical Nominee! Honneure Mansart, orphaned child of a lowly servant, finds herself at the glittering palace of Versailles as a servant … Continue reading
Spring 1148—Mediterranean Coast Mamille of Rou, alias Rose, is one of three elite female bodyguards remaining to protect Queen Eleanor of France. The unusual guard began the holy pilgrimage from France to seize the important city of Edessa from infidels. … Continue reading
Pennsylvania Colony, 1723
“You don’t wanna be goin’ to Stewart House. It’s got more haunts than the Tower of London.”
The carriage driver’s words echoed in Shauna’s mind as she stared at the two-story stone building. The house didn’t look haunted. Why had the driver tried to scare her with tales of murder and madness? She’d come to the colonies to do a job, and she wasn’t about to be put off by a batch of superstitious nonsense.
Shauna walked up the path to the front door, passing her trunk where the driver had dropped it in his haste to flee. She rapped with the brass knocker, waited a moment, then knocked again. There was no answer. Was anyone home? She didn’t fancy waiting outside all day.
She opened the front door and stepped into a tiled entryway. The scent of cherry tobacco filled her nostrils. “Hello? Anyone ’ere?
September 1865 Castle Creeghan The Highlands It was a cold, windswept, storming night when Martise first saw Castle Creeghan. As the horses’ hooves and the carriage wheels clattered over the cobblestones of the drive, it seemed fitting to her that the night should be as volatile as the passions that had driven her here. The castle stood atop a high tor, like a monster rising from the rugged and craggy earth. Lightning cracked and sizzled around the lofty turrets. The sky lit up again after each thunder crack, and the castle became a glowing silhouette against the sky, forbidding and evil, an ancient fortress in unyielding stone. The lights in the slit windows were like Satanic, glowing eyes that watched for the unwary and waited. The drawbridge over the chasm looked like a gaping mouth, waiting to consume the innocent, and when the sound of thunder ceased, the rage of the surf, far below the rocks, could be heard slashing against the stone, railing in tempest and fury. Castle Creeghan . . . Tremors seized Martise as she watched the castle from the carriage window. The sound of the horses’ hooves was always with her, like the nervous beating of her heart. She should not have come. There was time left, still, to halt the driver. To demand that he turn the horses and carriage, and carry her swiftly southward once again. There was time, still, to end her charade . . . and run. The carriage jumped and twisted, causing her teeth to jolt hard and head to bounce and nearly hit the roof. Martise touched her head and rubbed it, clenching her teeth. Then she screamed out loud as the carriage veered wickedly, seemed to teeter, and came precariously to a halt. White and frightened, she gripped the seat. The rain plummeted and the wind screeched as the driver nearly ripped off the door in his attempt to open it. “The wheel, milady, we’ve broke a wheel!” As he spoke, the rain suddenly lessened. The wind, though, picked up to a more violent fury. Martise nodded, still clenching her teeth. The castle seemed far away now, while the darkness of the night and the ferocity of the storm seemed great and very near. Struggling with the door, the driver sought his leave to repair the wheel. She did not want to be alone. “Wait!” she cried, and he hesitated. “I’ll come out.” “But milady, it is wet, and wretched—” “The rain does not beat so hard,” she replied quickly. He was probably irritated, for his task would be compounded by her presence, but he did not refuse her. He paused just briefly, then brought down the stepladder and helped her to the ground. She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head against the soft spill of the subdued rain and the fervor of the wind. She stared up at the castle again. High within a turret window she saw a shadow. It seemed that the shadow stared downward, watching the distressed carriage. She didn’t know why, but the shadow seemed as evil and malignant as the glow of the house. Something warned her of a presence. She didn’t know what, for she heard nothing in the rain, nor did she see movement. She spun around quickly and cried out, startled, for a man stood not ten feet away from her. He had come in absolute silence, as if set before her by the eerie power of the night. “Do not be afraid,” he said, in what seemed like a whisper, carried upon the tempestuous air of the stormy night. “I am not afraid,” she lied firmly, and yet she was, for her reply was only a whisper, and her heart beat with a startling furor. For in that very instant she was haunted by the sight of him. He was tall, very tall, towering over her in a black cape that whipped with the wind, draped over tight black riding breeches, brocade shirt, and black vest. His hair, too, was as dark as his garments, darker than the night, spilling over his forehead when the wind did not lift it. His features might have been cast of stone in those first minutes, for he did not smile. He assessed her grimly, eyes of green and gold fire blazing from a face with a hard, squared jaw, long, aristocratic nose, high broad cheekbones, and dark arched brows. His age was indeterminate except that he was in his prime, for he was straight as an arrow, powerful in his stance, and striking in his appearance. His mouth was tight in a stern line, but it hinted at fullness, at a sensuality that struck at her heart. Read more. . . Continue reading
October 16, 1793The final few steps were difficult. Though the injury to her leg had been a long time healing and the pain had lessened greatly, it was still not gone completely. The last stairs to the ground floor had to be taken carefully, and Honneure leaned heavily on her cane. Finally at the bottom, she rested against the wall for a moment to catch her breath and wipe the moisture from her brow. As she did so, the hood of her cape fell back and she immediately stiffened with fear. A quick glance up and down the narrow street assured Honneure that no one had noticed her. She pulled her hood back up, tucking in stray wisps of pale, wavy hair.
The sidewalks usually teemed this time of day. No doubt the crowds had all gone to the square to witness the execution. A wave of nausea coursed through Honneure’s frail form, so strongly it rocked her. She fought to keep down the meager breakfast of bread and tea Dr. Droulet had pressed upon her. She could not be sick now. She could not. She had to be at the square also. She had to be there, at the end. She could not allow her friend to die alone. No matter how great her own personal danger, the bonds of love could not, would not, be denied. Honneure squeezed her eyes tightly shut. It was ironic, she thought. So ironic. All of her adult life she had lived for and served her queen. Again and again she had sacrificed her own wants and needs for her sovereign’s. She had believed it to be her duty and had been bound by honor to fulfill it. Honor bound. All her life, honor bound. And now? Continue reading
“That was quite a feat of horsemanship,” Stephen repeated dryly. “I suppose you’re going to tell me next that you can defeat me at swordplay as well.” Mara blushed. “I doubt I could best you,” she replied honestly. “But I might just hold my own against you.” Stephen felt his jaw drop, although he realized he shouldn’t be at all surprised by now. This was a woman of many wonders. “What’s wrong?” Mara asked, suddenly apprehensive. “Nothing. I must say, however, that I am glad you are to be my wife, if only so I will never have to face so formidable a foe as you in battle.” Mara laughed. “Quite so, my lord. You will never have to face me over the point of a sword. But know that should you ever need it, my sword will be at your back.” He didn’t know why, but a sudden chill ran down his spine and something cold clutched his heart. To lighten the darkness that threatened to settle on his soul, he forced a laugh to his lips, pulled his sword from its sheath, and tossed it hilt first to his lady. Continue reading
If she ran away again, her father would beat her. Jade’s heart pounded as she threaded her way through the caravan toward the red wagon trimmed in gold. The bittersweet lament of a violin followed her, mingling with the whine of hungry dogs attracted by the scent of rabbits roasting over glowing campfires. Why had her father summoned her? Read More
Saint Mary’s of Bethlehem Hospital (“Bedlam”), London, England, 1703 I am sane.” Th e sound of her own voice anchored her. It kept her from going mad. “I am eight and ten. I am called Rachael Penrose. I have been here nine days. My brother was called James—” She stifl ed a sob. “My brother is called James.” Even the tinctures they fed her did not dull the pain of not knowing the fate of her baby brother. She froze when she heard the scratch of claws on stone. A rat, attracted by crumbs of moldy bread, began a stealthy approach. She shared her meager rations with the rats because they displayed less interest in her when their bellies were full. Th ere had been no hearing and no formal declaration of insanity. An exchange of gold from one greedy LISA MARIE WILKINSON 2 hand to another had sealed her in this place. With no blanket, she shivered in the bitter cold. Beneath the thin shift she wore, faint and fresh bruises mottled her skin. Her stomach rumbled, the sound loud in the quiet of the small chamber. She tensed as metal creaked. Th e door to her cell swung open. Freezing air rushed in, and she trembled as the strong scent of citrus cologne, a harbinger of her uncle, mingled with the foul, musty odor of the cell. Victor Brightmore handed a gold coin to the guard accompanying him. “Her doctor and I require privacy.” Victor lifted the hem of his cloak to prevent it from sweeping the fl oor of the fi lthy cell as he entered. Th e attendant checked the chain securing her right leg to the straw-fi lled pallet upon which she lay. He tested the iron ring riveted around her neck and the circular iron waist bar holding her arms pinioned to her sides. She suppressed a shudder when his hands lingered over her breasts and followed the double link to its point of origin at the wall. Powerless against the intimacy, she gritted her teeth and stared at the gray stone ceiling above her. Apparently satisfi ed with the security of her restraints, the attendant withdrew, leaving Victor and the doctor alone with her. Rachael remained silent while Victor angled the shaft of the candle he held until the fl ickering yellow light illuminated her face then leaned toward her, his blue-gray eyes glittering with malice. She looked into the face of pure evil. Tall, with burnished gold hair and FIRE AT MIDNIGHT 3 even features, his pleasing exterior concealed his twisted nature. As he watched her, shadows played over the upward cast of his lips. “You cling to life with such tenacity, Rachael.” He moved the fl ame along the length of her jaw inch by agonizing inch, stopping near her eye. Th e light from the candle was painfully bright, and her breath quickened as she struggled to hide her terror. Oh, God, is he going to blind me? Gasping, she shrank from him, but the linkage of chain held fast. She was at the mercy of a man who had none. How she despised him! “Victor!” Th e candle wobbled on its perch as his companion jerked it away from her face. “How would I account for burns on her body?” “Her eyes mock me, Elliot.” He peered down at her, scowling. “She is feverish,” Elliot said. “She is in the grip of the drug. We can speak freely.” “It appears I have need of your help once again, good doctor. Keeping my niece isolated is not the permanent solution I seek.” It did not bode well that he spoke so openly in front of her. With both her parents dead, once Victor succeeded in his plan to dispose of her, there would be no one left to protect James. Victor was desperate to inherit, but he was also crafty and cautious. He would not risk the hangman. Elliot peered down at her. “Perhaps her food might LISA MARIE WILKINSON 4 be—” “Th e attendant told me she tests her food on the rats. Besides, we dare not risk poison now.” “I can keep her indefi nitely,” Elliot said. “Her whereabouts are unknown. No one here will believe anything she says.” “Tarry Morgan knows the truth.” Victor searched within the folds of his cloak. His hand shook as he withdrew a letter. Th e edges of the parchment gaped where the wax seal had been broken. Her heart sank at the sight, and she felt light-headed with despair. “Th is letter details her discovery of my plan to poison James. She sent it to Morgan, one of the few allies she has left. She must have dashed it off before we brought her here.” Victor glowered in Rachael’s direction. “Th e fact that James must die before I will inherit is clear motive to anyone who would investigate.” “So, is Morgan dead?” Rachael stopped breathing while she waited for Victor’s response. “No. His servants were rousing; I barely escaped with the letter. I was only able to wound him.” “Can you buy his silence?” “Morgan cannot be bought.” Continue reading
Stronsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland 803 A.D. “Ye filthy bastards dare call yourselves men of God? Unhand me!” Odaria kicked and fought the men dragging her away from the village. Brennan slapped her across the face. “Quiet, witch, or I shall tear out your tongue.” She stopped struggling and glared at Brennan. That blow hadn’t hurt her. If anything, it merely sparked her fury. “Do as you will, but you shan’t be rid of me so easy.” Odaria dug her bare feet into the soft earth as Brennan and Malcolm forced her up the side of a small hill. A cool breeze billowed her thin chemise like a sail behind her. She shivered and gazed into the clear midnight sky. Twinkling silver stars surrounded the three-quarter moon. Would this be the last peaceful image she’d ever see? Her thoughts faded as they reached the top of the rise. She looked at the beach and gasped. Everyone from the village stood in a circle around a bonfire. The flickering firelight cast evil shadows across their faces. A two-foot-high wooden platform with a tall crossbeam was positioned near the roaring flames. She cringed, and Malcolm shoved her forward. “Take your punishment, witch.” “Nay. Set me free.” To her surprise, her voice sounded weak and shaky. She wiggled her hands and tried to loosen the rope binding her wrists in front of her. They truly weren’t going to burn her alive, were they? “Hold her fast,” Brennan ordered. “She’ll not cast spells upon us again.” “Me spells would best be used to put your head on a pike!” Brennan wrapped his hand around her throat and squeezed hard, cutting off her air. “Mind your words, witch, for they shall be some of your last.” He motioned for Malcolm to step aside, then faced the group of villagers before him. “Faithful followers, you have gathered here tonight to witness the purging of evil from our God-fearing, peaceful village. After tonight, the witch shall plague us no more with her spells and devil worship. No longer shall we fear her wrath as we sleep.” Odaria glanced at the pile of dried grass and brush stacked around the wooden platform. One spark would set the pyre ablaze. She stared across the crowd and scanned the firelit faces, looking for a compassionate soul. There was none. How could they do this to her? She had known these people since she was a child, and now they were about to burn her for a crime she hadn’t commited. She’d done nothing to warrant this. They should be punishing the redheaded devil, Brennan, not her. But the villagers would never dare question him, no matter what he ordered them to do. He was their leader, and he was obeyed. “The devil’s harlot shall be sent back to the pit of hell from whence she came. Our Lord God commands . . .”