Tuesday, June 30, 2009

News!

Illuminations of the Heart is now available for pre-order at DeseretBook.com!


Winner of "The Stranger She Married"


Congratulations, Los Angelista! You're the winner of my Interview with Regency Author Donna Hatch giveaway drawing! Your prize is an autographed copy of Donna's Regency romance, The Stranger She Married.

Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing!

Coming soon: Interview and giveaway with Regency romance author, Jaimey Grant!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Introducing...Illuminations of the Heart

Yes, I know, I've already introduced you to the first chapter of my new medieval romance, Illuminations of the Heart, but now I've received permission to share both my new cover and the back cover blurb with you. No official release date has yet been set, but if you are a fiction reviewer who maintains a professional blog or review site, you may be eligible to receive an advanced reader copy (ARC). All ARC requests must be approved by my publisher, but if you'd like to make a request, contact me at jdipastena@yahoo.com.

And now, I invite you to take one step closer to...Illuminations of the Heart.

“Clothilde.”

He spoke the name on a breath like a prayer. Then he lowered his head and kissed her.

Her heart is lost in that first embrace, her world shaken to its foundations. There is just one problem: her name is not Clothilde. It is Siriol de Calendri.

Trained in the art of illumination in the far-off city of Venice, Siri is directed by her late brother’s will to the county of Poitou in France, where she enters the guardianship of her brother’s friend, Sir Triston de Brielle. Once in Poitou, Siri hopes to find employment in an illuminator’s shop—until Triston unexpectedly snatches her heart away with a kiss.

Triston is a man of quiet honor and courage, but the guilt he carries for the death of his late wife, Clothilde, has left him numb and hesitant to love again. Worse yet, Siri bears an uncanny resemblance to his lost love. Or does she? Her merry laughter and twinkling eyes are very different from his late wife’s shy smiles and quiet ways. Yet when he gazes into Siri’s face, all he sees is Clothilde.

Then Triston’s past returns to threaten them both. Will his tragic life with Clothilde be repeated with Siri? Trapped between the rivalry of the king’s sons on the one hand and a neighbor out for vengeance on the other, Triston realizes it would be safer to send Siri away. But how can he bear to lose her again?

Siri is determined not to be cast off and not to live in another woman’s shadow. She has illuminated many a priceless book with pen and paint. But can her own vibrant spirit illuminate the darkness in Triston’s soul and make his heart beat for her alone?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Crazy Eights

I’ve been tagged…again! Actually, this tag came before my Superior Scribbler Award, but it’d completely slipped my notice until today. Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen, author of the soon-to-be published suspense novel, Missing, tagged me way back in May. Unfortunately, I became “It” in the middle of a visit by my sister while I hardly had any time to check my email, and hence only discovered this today while I was “weeding old emails”. (Which is certainly more fun…and cooler this time of year…than weeding my lawn ourdoors!)

Don’t expect too much. I’m a pretty boring person, overall. But since I don’t want to remain “It” forever, my only choice is to play the game, then tag someone else. (Eight someone elses, in this case.)

Okay, here are the rules for this game:

1. Mention the person who tagged you. (Done.)

2. Complete the list of 8’s.

3. Tag 8 other bloggers.

4. Tell them they have been tagged.

Here goes!

Eight Things I Look Forward To:

1. Seeing my new book (Illuminations of the Heart) published and in stores!

2. Attending the ANWA Writers Retreat

3. Spending time with my sister again someday. (At least for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She’s already bought her plane tickets to Arizona!)

4. Going to bed each night, because that’s when I have my “quiet, reading time.”

5. Popcorn on Sunday nights

6. The new Harry Potter movie this summer.

7. Arizona winters

8. The annual Arizona Renaissance Festival! (this should have been higher on the list)

Eight Things I Did Yesterday (Sunday):

1. Got out of bed. (Trust me, that's a biggie!)

2. Attended Church

3. Attended choir

4. Took a nap (nice!)

5. Talked to my sister on the phone

6. Posted my bi-weekly blog to ANWA Founder & Friends

7. Watched “Merlin” on TV with my Sunday night popcorn

8. emailed friends

Eight Things I Wish I Could Do:

1. Play the piano better than I do

2. Sing better than I do

3. Visit England, especially the “medieval” sites

4. Figure out how to “fix” my new WIP to make it work

5. Make telephone calls without stressing out so much about making a telephone call

6. Move to a condo with no yard but lots of bookshelf space

7. Turn off my mind and go to sleep at night

8. Spend more time with my sister, without having to leave Arizona

Eight Shows I Watch:

1. Monk

2. Psych

3. Law & Order (the original series)

4. Law & Order: Criminal Intent

5. Heroes

6. Smallville

7. Dollhouse

8. Your World With Neil Cavuto

Eight Friends I’m Tagging:

Sheila Staley

Tina Scott

Marsha Ward

Jaimey Grant

Donna Hatch

Suzanne Barker

Catherine Hooper

Liz Adair

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Questions and Answers


I've had a request to post the answers to the questions for our daily Summer Treasure Hunt: Dig for Clues and Win! contest. Of course, I can only post the answers to the questions for prizes that have already been won. ;-) But for those of you are are curious to know what the answers are to the questions thus far, click right here. Answers will be added daily as the remainder of our prizes are awarded.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Superior Scribbler Award

How exciting! I've been awarded a "scribbler" award! That's almost as good as a "dabbler" award, which is what I generally call my writing, but being called a "scribbler" is very fun, too! I've been doing more scribbling on this blog than I have on getting a new book kicked off the ground, so I presume that Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen (author of the soon-to-be released suspense novel, Missing), who sent me this award, was inspired to do so in the hopes that it might whisper to me (very strongly): "You need to get back to work!"

We'll see if it succeeds. In the meantime, here is the award:



And here are the rules that go with it:

Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author (Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen) and the name of the blog(The Write Blocks) from whom he/she has received the award.

Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog and link to This Post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky list. That way we'll all be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives this Prestigious Honor! (Actually, I can't figure out how to do the Mr. Linky thing for this award, but if you figure it out, let me know!)

Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

So, drum roll please . . . The Winner's are:

Jaimey Grant
Donna Hatch
Suzanne Barker
Ray Baker
Valerie Ipson

Congratulations, guys!

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Our Summer Treasure Hunt: Dig for Clues and Win Contest is still ongoing. Click here to see who's won so far and what prizes are still available!

And be sure to read my interview with Donna Hatch and learn how you can win an autographed copy of her Regency romance, The Stranger She Married.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Interview with Regency author Donna Hatch

Today I’m introducing my first author interview at JDP NEWS! While the Middle Ages is my first love as a setting for my novels, I cut my romance reading eye-teeth on the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer and have been a huge Regency romance fan ever since. It’s my hope to conduct interviews with three new Regency authors whom I have recently discovered and enjoyed, beginning with author Donna Hatch. I’m waiting to hear back from the second Regency author about her willingness to be interviewed, and…okay, I’ll be honest…I haven’t actually contacted the third author yet, but I hope to do that soon! (And hope that she’ll say “yes!” when I do.)

Allow me now to introduce you to Regency romance author, Donna Hatch. After the interview, she has a great book giveaway to offer, so be sure to stay tuned all the way to the end!

JDP: How long have you been reading Regency romances?

Donna: I read almost everything, especially sci fi and fantasy, but was always more interested in the interpersonal relationships and romances than the plot itself. I started reading Romances when I was about 14 or 15, and immediately was attracted to historicals of all kinds.

JDP: What was the first Regency romance you ever read?

Donna: You’re going to laugh when I confess how clueless I was, but I didn’t really know what a Regency was until I started really researching it. Until then, I couldn’t have told the difference between a Regency and a Victorian.

JDP: When did you first realize you wanted to write Regency romances?

Donna: I love historicals overall. I grew up on Little House on the Prairie books, Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables. Historicals are like a whole new world, totally different from the modern world in which I live. Regency in particular is fun because the manners and mores of society are so formal and lavish (unlike my reality). Besides what’s not to love about men who can dance? Not to mention that there are few things as manly as a man riding horseback or fencing or willing to engage in a dual to protect his honor. Or that of his lady love. I have a thing for medieval romances, too. Love those knights who are all about duty and honor.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to choose Georgian, Regency or Victorian until I really did my research. I discarded Georgian because I hated the white wigs and the wide panniers women wore then. I chose Regency over Victorian for a number of reasons: it was during and right after the Napoleonic war, which provides the perfect backdrop for the tortured hero still haunted by the horrors of war (my favorite kind of fictional character); it was a unique period, people were more free thinking and also their days were filled with huge, lavish parties which adds an element of fantasy or magic (yeah, still soooo not like my real life); I like the clothing styles and part of the fun of a historical is getting immersed in the ‘world’ which includes describing clothing; and a large part of my decision to go with fantasy is because it is a solid market niche which helps with marketing.

JDP: Which Regency romance authors have most influenced you in your love for the Regency period?

Donna: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Georgette Heyer, Candice Hern, Julia Quinn, Carla Kelly, Jo Beverly, Emily Hendrickson, Rhonda Woodward, and many others.

JDP: Since I’m always interested in how authors research their historical novels, could you tell us a little about how you researched the Regency era for The Stranger She Married?

Donna: I read a lot of Regencies, but the most helpful thing was to read books that were actually written by authors who lived in that era, which is why Jane Austen is used so much; she lived during that time, so what she writes is how things were, rather than someone’s perception of how things were. I also read a bunch of research books. And I joined an online writer's group called the Beau Monde which is for authors of the Georgian/Regency Era. The members are a plethora of information and can sometimes just answer questions, other times they can recommend sources for what members need.

JDP: Can you share with us your top three favorite Regency romance research books or other resources?

Donna: Okay, this is more than three, but in addition to the Beau Monde RWA group, some of the best sources for that era are:
The Regency Companion, by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa L Hamlin
Georgette Heyer's Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester
Dee Hendrickson's Regency Reference Book (now on CD)
Our Tempestuous Day: A History of Regency England, by Carolly Erickson
The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, by J.B. Priestly

JDP: Are there any historical figures from the Regency era who particularly intrigue you?

Donna: Beau Brummel was interesting; he inspired the clothing styles of men, bringing them from the overly lavish frills of earlier eras which make the modern-day reader think of Liberace, and made the suits more tailored, more subdued and which are pretty similar to how the modern day suit is styled. He was also a total snob and a free-spender. He ended up fleeing for the continent to escape creditors.

I'm also intrigued by Maria Fitzherbert. She was the secret and illegal wife of the Prince of Wales, who later became King George the IV. He loved her deeply and was rumored to have threatened to throw his crown so he could have her. The marriage was invalid because she was Catholic instead of Church of England. I always thought the reason he was such a wild party animal and a womanizer was because his heart was broken over having to give her up. He was forced to marry a woman he despised and he continued to love Maria and couldn’t bring himself to stay away from her. Tragic and romantic, is it not?

JDP: Do you have an all-time favorite Regency romance?

Donna: There are so many, it’s very hard to choose. I have two criteria for a masterful book: 1. unforgettable characters who are deep and complex and 2. are beautifully written with gotcha phrases that demand I go back and re-read just to savor, like taking a walk in a garden and stopping to admire a single bloom.

JDP: What inspired you to write The Stranger She Married?

Donna: It’s a combination: I often wonder about a secondary or walk-on characters and start thinking about what their story is or could be. Sometimes I don’t like how a book ended, or how it deviated from what I thought was important, so I think about it as it should have been. I’ve always kinda wondered what would have happened if Christine in Phantom of the Opera fell in love with the Phantom instead of the young handsome viscount. Or if maybe she’d felt really torn between them.

I’ve always been drawn to the arranged or forced marriage situation; two good people who are thrust together, not necessarily happy about it, but learn to fall in love and make the best of it. (No, it’s not based upon my real life!) I also enjoy love triangles.

There’s another influence, but for readers who haven’t read my book, my telling you would be a spoiler, so I won’t ruin it.

JDP: Tell us a little bit about The Stranger She Married?

Donna: It's a sweet, yet sensual Regency romance with adventure, intrigue, a love triangle, and a terrible secret.

Torn between a disfigured war hero with the heart of a poet, and a handsome libertine who may not be all he seems, impoverished Alicia must marry by the end of the month. Despite a murder threat looming over her, learning to love the stranger she married may pose the greatest danger of all … to her heart.

JDP: I understand you also have a novella out. Would you tell us a little about it?

Donna: It's called Troubled Hearts. I wrote it in about three days, and spent even less time editing it. It pretty much just poured out of me as a complete work. It’s bit darker than I usually write, but in the book, I’m dealing with high emotions and a really heart-wrenching issue. It’s not based on anything in my life, but I went back to some of my darkest moments, and pulled out those emotions and plunked it into a new plot. It’s gotten fantastic reviews. Here’s the backcover blurb:

Desperate to escape her estranged husband and a home enshrouded with death and despair, Julia flees in the middle of the night. Little does she know, her determined husband is in pursuit. Along the journey, she discovers a telling revelation. But will it be enough to banish the ghosts of the past and quiet her troubled heart?

JDP: What project are you working on next?

Donna: Book 2 of the Rogue Hearts Series: The Guise of a Gentleman, which is about the brother of the hero in Book 1, The Stranger She Married. There are four books planned for this series, each about a brother of the same family, but each book is meant to be a stand-alone novel. Book two is about Jared, who is a spy infiltrating a pirate ring whose past comes back to haunt him…and endanger the life of the lady he loves. It’s under contract and I’m finishing final revisions suggested by my editor. It should be out this fall. Here’s the backcover blurb:

The widowed Elise is a perfect English lady living within the confines of society for the sake of her impressionable young son. Her quiet world is shattered when she meets the impulsive and scandalous Jared Amesbury. His roguish charm awakens her yearning for freedom and adventure. But his irrepressible grin and sea-green eyes hide a secret.

A gentleman by day, a pirate by night, Jared accepts one last assignment before he can be truly free. Elise gives him hope that he, too, can find love and belonging. His hopes are crushed when his best laid plans go awry and Elise is dragged into his world of violence and deceit. She may not survive the revelation of Jared’s past…or still love him when the truth is revealed.

JDP: Where can readers obtain a copy of The Stranger She Married?

Donna: They can buy the ebook at www.thewildrosepress.com or amazon.com
The paperback is available through my website at www.donnahatch.com or amazon.com.

JDP: Thank you for joining us today, Donna!

Donna: Thank you for having me!

Okay, here comes the Giveaway! Donna is offering a free, autographed copy of The Stranger She Married to some lucky person whose name I draw two weeks from today, on June 29th. There are three ways you can enter (and yes, that means you can enter three times if you do one each of the following):

(1) Send an email to me at jdipastena@yahoo.com with your name and mailing address. Type: “JDP NEWS Contest” in the subject heading, and type: “I want to know who the stranger she married is!” in the body of the email.

(2) Leave a comment on this blog about my interview with Donna, then send me an email (with your mailing address, please) to jdipastena@yahoo.com, letting me know you’ve left a comment. Please type: "JDP NEWS Comment" in the subject line.

(3) Go to Donna’s blog at http://donnahatch.blogspot.com/, find the answer to the question: “What contest is The Stranger She Married a finalist in?” and send the answer (with your mailing address) to jdipastena@yahoo.com. Please type: “Stranger She Married Finalist” in the subject line.

That’s all there is to it! You can enter once, twice, or by all three methods. Just be sure I have your emails by June 29th, midnight PST.



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Our Summer Treasure Hunt: Dig for Clues and Win contest is still going on. Click here to see which prizes are still available and for details on how to enter.

And click here to read about another great contest over on the Why Not? Because I Said So! blog.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Illuminations of the Heart, Chapter 1

My new medieval romance, Illuminations of the Heart, will be going to press within the next couple of weeks! No, this is not part of the cover art, but she would make a very pretty version of my heroine, Siri, if she were. While we're all waiting to find out what the new cover is going to look like, I've received permission from my editor to share the first chapter of Illuminations of the Heart with you. I hope you'll enjoy reading it!

CHAPTER 1
POITOU, SUMMER 1179


Donna Siri, cover your head.”

Siriol de Calendri caught the fear in her companion’s voice as the older woman nudged her mount close enough to reach out and whip the hood about her mistress’ face. Regrettably, the action hindered Siri’s view of the band of armed knights who had burst from the forest to surround her traveling party. Their shields, their surcotes, even their helmets lacked any crest or insignia to give a clue as to their identity. She had seen their blades leveled at the men of her guard before her companion’s action had veiled her face. Siri knew from experience that it was safer to keep herself hidden, yet…

She started to draw back the edge of her hood to grant herself just a peek at their captors, but she felt Lucianna’s fingers on her hand.

Carissima,” her companion hissed in warning, “per favore.

Siri reluctantly left her hood in place. But she heard the hard warning in the male voice that rapped out, “Drop your weapons, if you hope to see your wives and children again.”

There was much cursing in the Italian tongue, challenged by several threats in French, before she heard the soft clumping of swords being dropped onto the road.

“Now stand aside. Let us see what good fortune has brought us today.”

The Italians gathered around the two women, abandoning the wagons to their captors. For a time the robber-knights devoted themselves to ransacking the trunks and chests and ignored the travelers. Siri imagined the pleasure with which their captors must be discovering the rich fabrics of her gowns, the combs, the mirrors, the wreaths of silver and gold, that denoted her a lady of the first rank. Her late husband had endowed her too generously. The discovery of her jewels would undoubtedly lead these knights to conclude that she might reasonably be held to ransom for twice the amount with which she traveled.

But first they discovered the wine—her brother’s best, a gift to sweeten the surprise, perhaps unwelcome, of her return to the land of her father’s birth. Shouts of glee, recognizable in any language, punctuated the finding. Only then did alarm overcome Siri’s curiosity. Men enflamed with the heat of wine were far more dangerous than the cold, calculating greed of knights simply bent on a little plunder. Nervously, she fingered the jeweled hilt of the slim dagger attached to her girdle. If they decided to seek more than ransom, they would find they had a hornet in their grasp.

The muttering of her guards at last provoked their captors into detaching several of their own number to surround them. Sensing Lucianna’s distraction, Siri finally stole a peek from beneath the confines of her hood. She saw the dissatisfied posture of the French knights as they watched their comrades freely enjoying the bounty of the grape. Much good wine was drunk and spilled before their leader returned his band’s attention to the more pressing business at hand. Siri marked him well. Though a dull, uncrested helmet concealed his face, the bold confidence of his commands confirmed his authority.

“Load it all back into the wagons. We will examine the spoils at the castle. We must be gone before Lord Fauke’s devilish patrols begin.”

“What about them?” One of their captors jerked his head towards the two women and their Italian guards.

The leader turned to weigh them with a steady gaze.

“Foreigners,” he said, his derisive snarl muffled, like his voice, by the thick metal of his helm, “but apparently wealthy ones. One would have thought they would have guarded their treasures better.”

He urged his mount across the space that separated him from his captives and pushed his horse between Siri and Lucianna, forcing them apart as he rode in an arrogant circle around the older woman. A dust-stained wimple concealed Lucianna’s hair but revealed a set of handsome features, their smooth youthfulness belying the truth of her forty-odd years. Siri caught the sharp flash of Lucianna’s eyes to hers and hastily ducked her head.

Her movement drew their captor’s attention.

“And what have we here?”

He reached out a mailed hand and threw back the hood of Siri’s cloak.

Siri was not surprised to hear his gasp. She had seen too many men stand stunned by her beauty. Their flattery she knew by heart: her glowing locks rivaled the liquid sheen of purest gold, her eyes dazzled like the sky on a midsummer’s day, her cheeks bloomed with the blush of spring roses…

For all this and its accompanying effect she was prepared.

But she was not prepared for his companions’ startled oaths, or the signs of the cross sketched hastily across mailed breasts.

“It’s impossible!”

“But it is she!”

“My lord, it cannot be—“

“Silence!” their leader snapped, and Siri caught an impatient amber flash from behind the eye-slits of his helmet. “Of course it is not she. Look at me now, girl. State your name and origin.”

Siri debated her answer. Some of his companions seemed to think they knew her, but she doubted that any of them could, unless they had passed through Venice, perhaps looking for transport to take them to the Holy Land. Her late husband had often aided such men, lending them money and arranging for ships for their voyage. But he had kept her hidden or veiled, fearful of her beauty’s effect upon the intemperate crusading knights from the West.

“I am Donna Siriol de Calendri,” she said at last, answering him in French as he had questioned her, “and I do not see why I should tell you any more than that.”

Again an amber gleam, this one amused. “Ah, but we have uncovered a spirited little minx. Come, girl, if we are to ransom you, we must know where lies your family. To whom do we send word of your capture?”

“There is no one,” she said. “My parents and brother are dead and all I own in the world is in these wagons. Take what you will and let us go.”

Her captor sounded skeptical. “Surely your family did not cast you alone upon the world? Nay, you did not leave your foreign land without a purpose. To whom do you go? Tell me—”

Just then one of his men, too far away to have been drawn into the surprise of her appearance, dropped one of the chests he had been loading back into the wagon. Out of it tumbled a bundle of vellum sheets, followed by several glass vials and a litter of brushes and pens. Siri watched in horror as he lurched drunkenly onto the sheets to reclaim one of the vials and hold it up to the light.

“Carissima, no!”

Lucianna grabbed for Siri’s arm, but Siri evaded her and slid from her saddle. She ran, trembling with fury, and pushed the man away.

“You imbecile! You stupid, ignorant oaf!”

She was half the size of the robber-knight, but he nevertheless staggered back at her shove. She gathered up the sheets and tried in vain to brush away the stains from the figures painted there. Her eyes stung with tears at the desecration.

The man, apparently more intrigued with his discovery than offended by the shove, held the vial out to his master. “Look here, my lord. She’s got it filled with sapphires!”

“That is paint, you fool, and don’t you dare drop it. It is worth a fortune—“

“Carissima.”

Lucianna’s warning came too late. The leader rode to swoop the vial out of his comrade’s hand and hold it up to the sun. The rich blue contents sparkled like jewels.

“A fortune, eh? For a vial of paint? And just who would pay to retrieve it unspilt?”

Siri could almost see the challenging cock of his eyebrow behind the iron helmet. She pursed her lips together in what she intended as disdainful defiance, but which she knew the bow-like cast of her mouth would translate into a pout. The man laughed, a bold, arrogant sound, and tucked the vial into his belt, then leaned down from his horse to take her chin between his fingers. The iron links that encased them were cold against her skin. The grip tightened painfully when she tried to pull away.

“Nay, carissima, you are in my power now. You will answer my questions, here or at my castle.”

She met the amber gleam with scornful silence.

“Very well, then.” He glanced at his men. “Is everything loaded?”

“Aye, my lord.”

“Then my castle it will be.”

His strong arm swept about her waist and lifted her off the ground. Siri had only seconds before she found herself planted before him on his horse, but in that space she moved like lightning. She twisted about in the same instant as she loosed her jeweled dagger. Her free hand flashed beneath his helmet to draw back the mail that shielded his chin. Before he could react, she pressed the point of her steel against his throat.

“You will put me back down,” she said, her breath coming more rapidly than she liked, “and let my companions and me go, or I swear by my brother’s grave, we will be the last innocents you will try to rob along this road.” She imagined his sneering lips as his arm tightened about her waist. She thrust the point warningly up beneath his chin. “If you do not want your tongue pinned to the roof of your mouth—”

“Carissima,” he murmured, again using the endearment he had heard Lucianna cry, “I think you have not the stomach for so grisly a task.”

She nudged her blade higher and was gratified to see him roll his head back at the threat. “And I think you would be wise not to risk me proving you wrong. Now if you do not put me down and call your brigands off—”

“My lord,” one of his men interrupted with a shout, “there are horsemen approaching!”

“Lord Fauke’s men,” cried another. “My lord, if we are discovered—”

Her captor held her another moment, then slowly swung her to the ground. She thought she saw bemusement in the amber gleam that held her eyes for a weighing instant, but when he spoke, it was with the same swaggering arrogance he had used before.

“This round is yours, my lady. But the game is not over between us yet. We shall meet again.”

He signaled to his men and they rode off into the trees, leaving Siri and her spoils standing in the road.

* * *

The fuming curses died in the flame-haired baron’s throat as the full force of Siri’s beauty seemed to strike him like a bolt of light. This was the sort of response to her appearance Siri was accustomed to, and she found it reassuring after the odd reaction of the robbers to her face. Their indications that they somehow knew her had been inexplicable for its impossibility.

“Bloody scoundrels,” her rescuer muttered now. “They have been dogging these roads for months and when I catch them, I will skin their miserable hides from their backs. They did not injure you, I trust? Or any of your companions?”

With apparent difficulty he dragged his eyes from Siri and cast a glance at her traveling party, but almost immediately his bedazzled gaze returned to her face.

“My companions and I are unharmed,” Siri said, “though I fear I cannot say as much for some of my belongings.”

She glanced at the spoiled vellum sheets still lying in the road, but her impulse to turn her back on this gentleman and retrieve them was preempted by Lucianna’s rebuking gaze. Siri hastily swept the man a curtsy. There could be no doubt from the quality and cut of his clothes that he was a gentleman of rank and wealth.

“Our thanks to you, sir. To whom do we owe our safety?”

The gentleman bowed and came up with a grin that set off a tiny warning in Siri’s mind. There was a new gleam in his eyes as they raked the elegant curves set off by the tight bodice of her blue silk gown. Aye, this look she was too familiar with, and she drew the concealing folds of her mantle closer.

“I am Lord Fauke de Vaum├óle, and I am pleased I could be of service to you. As I said, these brigands have been harrying hapless travelers for months. Duke Richard has charged me with their apprehension, but they are a wily, dishonorable lot and so far they have eluded me.” He paused with a darkling look. “When I catch them, there will be little enough of them left for the duke to exercise his justice on. I’ll see to it their leader is naught but a bloody mass of—” He checked himself and his gaze again grew warm on Siri’s face. “Forgive me, these matters are not for such delicate ears as yours. May I ask who it is I have had the pleasure of rescuing?”

“I am Siri de Calendri—”

“Donna Siriol,” Lucianna corrected.

Lord Fauke looked perplexed. “Donna?”

“It means ‘lady’,” Siri said with a rueful glance at her companion. “I gained the title through marriage, but my parents were not so nobly born.”

“Ah.” Lord Fauke looked disappointed. “Then you have a husband to whom you should no doubt be returned.”

Siri hesitated, knowing the truth would bring that weighing desire back into his eyes, but she confessed, “My husband died two years ago, in Venice,” she said, “and my brother has but recently followed him to the grave. I have no other relatives, so my brother has placed me under the protection of a friend, one of your countrymen.”

She stated the gentleman’s name and the castle that was her destination.

Lord Fauke frowned. “Ah,” he said again. “Then your brother chose ill. That ‘friend’ is in the duke’s disgrace, and mine.”

“You know him?”

“He is my own vassal—he and his neighbor, Sir Raynor de Molinet. The loyalties of both are suspect. Duke Richard is lord of Poitou and Aquitaine, and those who think to turn it otherwise will find their heads on the block.”

This fearsome threat dismayed her. Had her brother known this about his friend?

“I trust you are mistaken, my lord,” she said. “I know little of these lands, save for rumors we encountered along the road. But I am certain my brother would not confide me to anyone of less than sterling honor.”

Lord Fauke gave her a skeptical smile. “You are not like to find it in that gentleman. I would no doubt be doing you a service were I to ignore your brother’s wishes and—”

Siri stopped him with a freezing gaze that had dampened, albeit never more than temporarily, more than one suitor overeager to sample her charms.

“I trust you will not do so, sir. I should be reluctant to have to call on my guards to defend me. They were some of the best swordsmen in Venice and had those robbers not taken us by such surprise, the brigands would no doubt be lying dead in the road even now.”

The Italian guards had taken advantage of Siri’s exchanges with Lord Fauke to retrieve their lost swords and awaited her command with their blades in their hands.

Lord Fauke gave an awkward cough and Siri noticed how the freckles on his face darkened when he flushed. “Now, now, naturally I will escort you wherever you wish to go. Pray,” he added with a bow, “if I may help you to remount?”

“My vellum—” Siri began, glancing at the scattered sheets.

“My men will gather them up for you, never fret you, my lady. But it is growing late. We should be on our way.”

Siri took note of the angle of the afternoon sun, but it was not until Lord Fauke signaled two of his men and she saw them respectfully gathering up her sheets that she allowed the red-haired baron to lift her back onto her horse.

* * *

Some hours later, Siri drew up her mount and stared dubiously at the rubble-filled ditch that encircled a razed stone wall that had formed an outer curtain to the soaring square castle beyond. A second wall nearer the keep, crenellated like giant gapped teeth against the sky and defended by four corner towers, rose smooth and untouched in the afternoon sun. A second moat surrounded it, this one filled with darkly roiling waters. Given the obvious threat of robbers in the nearby woods, Siri was not surprised to see that the twin-towered gatehouse beyond stood with drawbridge up and portcullis down.

Lord Fauke called out his name and immediately the bridge was let down and the gate opened. Clearly the guards had no inclination to challenge a man who was, as the baron had proudly informed Siri as they rode, a stalwart supporter and intimate of the king’s son, Duke Richard. Lord Fauke told her that he had inherited wide lands in Poitou from a great-uncle who had died the past year. From a nearby stronghold, he regularly patrolled the forest roads in search of just such malcontents as had turned their bullying avarice on Siri’s party today.

He and his men escorted Siri’s party now into the castle’s bailey. Siri had grown weary of Lord Fauke’s bedazzled gaze as they rode. Hoping to forestall—at least for the time being—similar gazes from the occupants in the bailey, she once again drew her hood over her head.

The yard was filled with a miscellany of servants. A girl with long brown braids carried a bucket across the yard while another shooed a flock of cackling geese toward a timber lean-to inside the wall. Several men stood near the stables conversing with one who looked as if he might be a blacksmith, while a large, friendly looking hound dashed from one member of the group to another, receiving here a pat of the hand, there some small treat from a tolerant knight or squire.

The dog came yapping across the yard to greet the newcomers. One of the men detached himself from the group and followed with a halting limp. Siri drew the edge of her hood over the lower half of her face and watched as the grey-haired retainer bowed low before Lord Fauke.

“My lord, we had no word of your coming. My master is not here just now, but you are mightily welcome to come inside and partake of some refreshment while you await his return.”

“Nay, Sir Balduin,” Lord Fauke replied, “I will not so trouble you. We came upon these poor travelers suffering an attack by the thieves of the forest. The ladies named this as their destination, and we thought it wise to guard them safely here.”

Sir Balduin gave the ladies a rather blank look. “I beg your pardon. My master did not inform me that we would be having guests. We have no room prepared.” He cast a worried glance at the wagons. “Will—Will your stay be long?”

Lucianna replied to his frankness with an ill-concealed condescension. “Indeed, signore, we come to stay. I regret that we were unable to send messengers ahead, but the letter will explain it all.”

Sir Balduin looked astounded. “Come to stay? But—”

“Signore,” Lucianna interrupted, “we have traveled many weeks to reach this land. Donna de Calendri needs to bathe and rest. Can you not find us some accommodation?”

Sir Balduin looked so flustered that Siri lowered the edge of her hood and offered him a sympathetic smile.

“Ah, saints!” He staggered back, so pale that Siri half feared he was about to faint. Other servants drew near at her unveiling, nudging and whispering, some making the gesture of the cross, while others fluttered less Christian signs. “It is impossible—”

“Come, man, pull yourself together,” Sir Fauke snapped. “Have you never seen a beautiful woman before? Do as the wench says. Find them a corner to sit in while you make ready a room and send word to your master—”

“My master—” Sir Balduin gasped. “But he must not see this! Forgive me, my lady, but you cannot stay here.”

“But we have nowhere else to go,” Siri said. “Please, sir, the letter will explain all to your master. He knew my brother. They journeyed to the Holy Land together, prayed together before the Holy Sepulchre. I know he would not wish to deny my companions and me his simple hospitality.”

“There, man, she’s right,” Lord Fauke said. “If there is a problem, leave it to your master to deal with. Now let these women inside—or must I escort them to Poitiers and explain your master’s rudeness to the duke?”

Sir Balduin seemed alarmed by this threat, and Siri sensed it held a significance she did not understand. “It will not be necessary to trouble the duke with my master’s affairs. My ladies, if you will come with me, you may wait in the hall until—well, until something can be arranged.”

Siri did not give him a chance to change his mind, but slid out of the saddle and followed him into the keep.

* * *

She bided the waiting patiently, silently reassuring herself over and over that her brother would not have sent her on so lengthy and arduous a journey to this strange castle, had he not been confident of her welcome. Lucianna, seated beside her, concealed any anxiety of her own by grumbling on and on in Italian about Sir Balduin’s incompetence and the dismaying prosaicness of their surroundings. Siri knew her companion missed the luxurious hall she had come to enjoy during her charge’s marriage to Alessandro. Sumptuous to the point of excess, it had been to Siri little more than a splendid prison.

She fancied she could be quite content in this simpler hall. Only four colorful shields adorned its high, polished stone walls, arranged behind the empty dais where they framed a long silk banner bearing the emblem of a gilded rose. The room itself was relatively small. The narrow, arched windows set with bars, cast a pattern of shadowed latticework across the rushes of the floor. Siri caught the scent of sweet woodruff beneath her feet, rising with a fresh fragrance very much like that of new-mown hay.

The scent grew stronger as she left her seat, her soft-booted steps crushing the petals to release the full potency of their perfume. She wanted to examine the stone hearth built into the wall near an exit that she guessed must lead to the kitchens. A cunning zigzag pattern had been etched into a reddish decorative stone that formed an arch about the fireplace, but on so warm a summer’s day any flames had been dispensed with.

“Carissima, come. Such curiosity has no place in a lady.”

“I am only a lady by marriage,” Siri replied to Lucianna’s rebuke. Too often her companion seemed to forget that fact. Her mother had been a merchant’s daughter and her father a simple craftsman, though his skill had won him some wealth and his art had rivaled the best of the masters of Venice.

“Yet your father had some noble ties.”

Lucianna’s insistence sounded more wistful than confident. There had been whispers of an aristocratic birth and it was widely known that her father’s origins had lain in the far-off county of Poitou. But Walter Geraud had done his utmost to squelch the rumors and settle happily into his foreign home with his beautiful Italian wife. Walter the Poitevin, as he had been known to his patrons, had died without either of his children knowing how much of gossip might be true. Her mother had followed him a year later, and then six months ago her brother…

Siri blinked back the tears of memory and returned to her seat beside Lucianna. With a darting, nervous glance at Siri’s face, a servant brought in a tray of cheese and bread. Sir Balduin brought them some wine, but he did not linger long enough to converse, other than to reply—to Lucianna’s query—that he could not guess the hour of his master’s return.

The shadows of latticework had lengthened across the rushes and begun to fade when a deep, quiet voice caught Siri’s ear. She turned her head to look at the man stepping through the arched entryway which had earlier admitted her and Lucianna to the hall.

“De Calendri? She says I knew her brother? I do not recall any such name.”

He stood with head tilted, his tall frame leaning slightly down to listen to Sir Balduin. The hound Siri had seen in the bailey trotted at the man’s heels. The man carried some sort of packet under his arm and an inkwell in one hand. At his shoulder stood a fair-haired youth, slenderly built, with a dreamy, distant expression. The youth’s gaze flitted to Siri first with an absent curiosity, then focused into the same sort of disbelieving shock that she had witnessed twice before upon this day. He mouthed some word which Siri could not hear, but which caused the taller man’s head to jerk up and around. The man did not seem to notice as Sir Balduin took the packet and inkwell, but stood so long unmoving, gazing on Siri’s face, that Lucianna finally rose in obvious annoyance.

“Signore, I am Lucianna Fabio, and I have been charged to deliver to your care a most priceless jewel. Stand up, carissima. Pray, signore, allow me to present to you Donna Siriol de Calendri—”

Lucianna broke off as the man strode abruptly across the hall and caught Siri’s chin in his hand. Siri gasped a little as he forced back her head. She saw the way the blood washed away behind his tan. She had an impression of strong, passionate features and a mass of coal-black curls, before she found herself engulfed in the swirling agony of his eyes. They embraced her like two deep, ebony pools, drawing her into an eddy of pain so poignant that she thought she must drown in its depths. From some great ringing distance, she heard him utter a name, not her own, but one spoken on a breath like a prayer.

“Clothilde.”

And then the dark eyes closed and he lowered his lips to hers.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Contest at "Why Not? Because I Said So!"

Hey, there's a great new contest going on over at Why Not? Because I Said So! Blogger and book reviewer Sheila is giving away a free copy of Author Annette Lyon's new book: There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd. If you're a writer--fiction, non-fiction, personal journals, letters...even emails!...who occasionally find your head spinning over its vs it's, affect vs effect, etc (fill in your own personal grammar nemesis here), or a reader who simply finds the subject of grammar fascinating (there actually are a few of us out there!), then this is definitely a book you'll want to vie for. How can you win a copy? Hop on over to Sheila's blog to learn four--count 'em, four!--ways you can enter for a chance at this wonderful sounding book!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Revisiting Old Friends

I've just recently discovered these two quotes and now count them among my favorites:

"Books worth reading are worth re-reading." (Holbrook Jackson)

"We hold if a book be worth reading once, it is worth reading twice, and if it stands a second reading, it may stand a third." (Gilfillan)

I've just recently finished a third re-reading The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer. I read it once in high school and once in college. My only question as I read it this time was: "What took me so long to read this book again!" (I had seriously forgotten how good it was!)

How long has it been since you've reread an old favorite? If it's been awhile, do yourself a favor...pull one off the shelf and read it again soon!



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