I'm honored to have been invited to participate in an anthology of clean romances called With a Kiss. All the proceeds from this anthology will be donated towards the medical needs of a fellow author, named Robison Wells. If you're not familiar with his work, you can visit his website here.
I'll be able to share the cover art with you soon, but in the meantime, here's a sneak peek at the first chapter of my novella, Just This Moment, included in the anthology. For those of you who have read my medieval romances, Just This Moment tells the story of Therri and Violette's daughter, Alys. (Therri and Violette were secondary characters in my medieval romance, Dangerous Favor, but their romance was as important to the story there as the romance of the main characters, Mathilde and Etienne.)
I hope you enjoy this preview! (Oh, yeah, I added some pictures, just to liven up the chapter. They won't appear in the novella version.)
Just This Moment
a Poitevin Hearts Romance novella
by Joyce DiPastena
by Joyce DiPastena
Blezon Castle, Poitou
A cold draught danced around her, stirring the back of her veil before the tapestry swished into place over the solar’s entrance, blocking the chill that leaked in from the outer passageway.
“Lady Alys?” A brisk, masculine voice spoke from somewhere near the tapestry.
She ventured a step closer to the heat from the hearth and extended her hands toward the radiating warmth. “Yes. Are you the monk sent to me by Father Jaques?”
“Yes, my lady. I am Brother Walter.”
“Welcome, Brother Walter. Come in and take a seat.”
“Have you brought pen and parchment?” she asked. “I will summon Lady Beatris to fetch some if you’ve forgotten.” Alys should not have moved from her previous position. What if Brother Walter saw her fumbling to find the bell on the table beside her stool? Might Lady Beatris, the castellan’s wife, be curious enough about the monk to have lingered within the call of Alys’s voice? If so, she would not need the bell. She strained to catch one of Lady Beatris’s betraying sniffs but discerned only silence. Perhaps Brother Walter’s arrival had obscured the irritated signal.
The monk’s footsteps stopped. “Nay, my lady, I have both with me. Shall I sit at the table or draw up a chair by the fire? I have a writing board, if you prefer the latter.”
“The table is fine, Brother Walter.” She had had the castellan bring one up to the solar and set it near the window with a pair of chairs especially for this task.
The legs of one of the chairs scraped, then the sound cut off abruptly. Alys had been so immersed in the warmth of the fire—a luxury she knew she would not enjoy once she joined the nunnery—that she’d forgotten she was standing. A monk with chivalrous inclinations? She could scarce remember the last time a man waited to sit until she did. She moved back a step, then stretched her hand down to the velvet cushion on the nearby stool before she sat, still facing the fire. The chair at the desk shifted a little less roughly this time, then there was a creak of wood as Brother Walter lowered himself onto the seat.
“I regret to trouble you,” she said. “I do not think I will intrude long upon your time. My story is very dull. It should not take you long to write it.” She picked up the distaff she had left leaning against the table and tucked it beneath her left arm. “I hope you do not think I presume to believe myself anything extraordinary, but my daughter seems to think otherwise.” She reached for her spindle beside the bell. “You know how children are, imagining their parents’ lives must have been something entirely remarkable.” As soon as she said it, Alys realized her tactlessness. “Forgive me, that was insensitive of me.” He was a clerk in holy orders. Of course he would have no children.
A tapping sound, as if of a bored toe against the floor, rapped faintly behind her. Had her hearing not been so keen, she suspected she would not even have heard it.
“No matter, my lady. Just allow me to sharpen my pen, and we can begin.”
She rested the spindle in her lap and listened for a moment to a whispery scratching. “How do you do that?” she asked.
The scratching ceased. “Do what?”
“Sharpen a pen. How do you fashion one, for that matter?”
“Yes.” The few times she had held one, her husband had promptly taken it away, saying she had no use for such objects. Go back to your spinning, my dear. You make the finest thread in Poitou. He spoke the compliment to placate her when she grew weary of working the spindle from morning till evening and ventured to murmur a complaint.
“Well,” Brother Walter said, “one begins with a feather. Then—”
“What sort of feather?”
“What sort? Any sort. Or no, some sorts are better than others. Goose feathers, or one that falls from a hawk or an owl. Then—”
“Which feather are you holding now?”
“This one is from a crow.”
“Then one uses a small sharp knife to trim away a portion of the plume,” he continued, “and shave off the barbs so they do not irritate the hand while one writes. One then cuts off the tip of the quill at an angle and carefully digs out the quick. Once that is removed, the tip is shaped to a point with a slit cut in the center to allow the ink to flow. The tip can then be further refined to form thin lines or thick, according to a scribe’s or patron’s pleasure. Do you have a preference for your narration, my lady?”
“The size of the lines?” She smothered a laugh. “Nay, whatever you think will be most easy for a child to read.”
“She will be reading it herself?”
“I would ask you not to tell her father, but his displeasure is no longer an issue.”
“Did you teach her?”
She could not tell whether Brother Walter sounded surprised or disapproving. Perhaps both? His question confirmed that he did not know her. It was just as she’d hoped. “No, I cannot read myself. My husband thought me too witless to do more than spin thread all day, but I knew a man of his wealth could purchase all the thread this household might need without any help from me. So I had Mabila, who was then my servant, sell my thread in the marketplace. Then I begged my husband to engage a personal chaplain for me. He thought I asked out of concern for my soul, but I used the money from my spinning to pay the chaplain to secretly teach my daughter to read.”
Now she was certain he disapproved.
“If you have a lettered chaplain, why do you need my services?”
No doubt Brother Walter longed to be doing a dozen other things than sitting here on a dull commission with a woman who freely confessed to having deceived her husband. She heard the bored tapping of his toe again.
“Because I no longer have a lettered chaplain,” she said. “Our castellan dismissed him the day Lord de la Roche’s letter arrived informing me of my husband’s death and stating that I was ill-suited to live out my days on my dower lands and would be more comfortable in the nunnery of Sainte-Trinité. The baron is sending me there on Thursday, so we have but four days to fulfill my daughter’s request.”
“The recording of your life’s story.”
Now she could not interpret his inflection. Tedium? Censure at her pride? Perhaps simple indifference.
It no longer mattered what any man thought of her. Lord de la Roche had given his permission to indulge her daughter’s whim. Alys half-suspected the baron might burn it once she was gone, but his acquiescence had helped to quiet her daughter’s tears after his letter arrived saying that Alys must go to the nunnery and Lissa must be betrothed to his son.
She returned both the distaff and spindle, unused, to their places and stood. “Where do you think I should begin, Brother Walter? With my birth? That hardly seems significant enough to note. I suppose we should start with my marriage.” That most important day in a woman’s life, when she ceased to be an incidental object in her father’s house and became a useful one to a husband in need of an heir.
“We can start wherever you wish, my lady.”
She needed more of an answer from him than that. “Where would you start if it were you? What was the most significant day of your life?”
“I suppose I should have to differ with you and cite the day I was born. For everything else we do and think and become must follow upon that, would you not agree?”
She turned from the heat and moved toward the sound of his voice.
“Without birth there is no life,” he continued.
One, two, three . . .
“Without life there is no existence, and without existence—well, I do not consider myself a philosopher, but it seems quite simple.”
. . . four, five, six . . .
“We would not be talking together at this moment if neither of us had been born and you would have no story to tell your, er, daughter.”
. . . seven, eight. She paused when his voice trailed off, then took two more steps and reached out her hand. She had told Lissa to leave the smaller chair at the desk right here, but her fingers moved through empty space.
I hope you enjoyed this preview of my Poitevin Hearts novella, Just This Moment. I'll share the cover and release date with you soon!