Each week I welcome a guest author to share an excerpt of a first meeting. My visitor today is Anna Markland, the prolific writer of historical romances and fellow Love Historicals author. Anna and I share an enthusiasm for medieval love stories. Take it away, Anna!
Thanks for hosting me today, Jill. You’ve asked for a “fun fact” about me. Most people don’t know that the initial impetus for me to write a novel was jealousy. About 25 years ago, my cousin wrote a historical romance and became an overnight success—NY times bestseller among her accomplishments. She has since authored many wonderful books, and I’ve read them all more than once.
The thought niggled at the back of my mind for years—I could write a book, too. So I did, essentially for my own satisfaction. That was three years ago. Now I have 15 published novels for sale. They can all be read as stand-alone stories, but you could say they are one series, since they are about successive generations of the family in my first book, Conquering Passion. Fatal Truths is the latest release. The hero is Alex de Montbryce, grandson of the hero of Conquering Passion.
Alex first meets his heroine, Elayne, in the Great Hall of his castle. He is a rich and powerful Norman Count, chosen as host for two royal children, good faith hostages handed over by the Scottish king. Such exchanges were common practice in medieval times.
Elayne is masquerading as nursemaid to her own children. Neither she nor her twins are who they purport to be. Only lies can keep them alive.
Montbryce Castle, Normandie, August 1136 AD
“Remind me,” Alex said to his brother, “what are the hostages’ names?”
Romain rolled his eyes. “Henry and Claricia.”
Both doors to the Hall creaked open. Steward Bonhomme ushered in the hostages, grandchildren of King David of Scotland. They’d been handed over to Comte Geoffrey of Anjou and his wife, the former Holy Roman Empress Maud as a token of good faith to guarantee David’s support. Maud had requested they be kept at Montbryce.
Alex had known they were children, but hadn’t expected a boy and a girl so alike in appearance they could be twins.
A murmur of delight rippled through the Hall at the sight of the fair-haired enfants, but it ceased gradually as the clink and drag of chains echoed off the stone floor. Alex had been led to believe the hostages were at least fifteen years of age. Henry and Claricia Dunkeld couldn’t be more than seven or eight. They’d been chained together, wrists manacled, ankles shackled.
Anger surged up his throat. He leapt to his feet. “Why in the name of all the saints are they in irons? Remove their bonds at once.”
Murmurs of agreement with his fury rippled through the crowd of onlookers.
A soldier wearing the devise of Comte Geoffrey shuffled forward, a large key in hand. Alex struggled to control the urge to strangle him with his bare hands as the chains clunked to the floor and the man gathered them up. “How long have these children been manacled?”
“Only since they arrived in your land, milord.”
Caught off guard by the undisguised resentment in the speaker’s words, he glanced up sharply and for the first time noticed the young woman who now gripped the hand of each twin. Though her head was covered with a chequered shawl of brown and grey, curls of flame-red hair framed her face. Freckles dotted her nose. High cheekbones and a proud chin added nobility to a woman in servant’s garb. Her fresh beauty stunned him. He’d never journeyed to Scotland, but easily conjured a vision of her galloping across wild moorlands on a white horse, her hair a ribbon of red whipped by the wind.
She stared at him defiantly for long moments, rendering him speechless, though he doubted she would reach his shoulder if they stood side by side. Inexplicably, that was an appealing notion.
At her nod the royal infants made their bow to Alex. It was a commendable effort considering their age and condition, though the woman kept hold of their hands, providing an anchor. They flushed at the barely discernible smile she bestowed when they glanced up for her approval.
Alex had a peculiar urge to bask in the glow of her smile, but it quickly disappeared when she looked back at him. Though he understood it, he was strangely distressed by the hatred evident in her gaze. She was nursemaid to hostages and thus deprived of freedom. Geoffrey had cruelly ordered her small charges manacled for some ridiculous reason. She was far from her homeland, and probably not by choice. She was a servant—yet hadn’t offered the courtesy of a bow.
At a score and twelve years of age, Alex had become used to his bachelor life. He had remained celibate throughout the half year of intrigue and conflict that had swept Normandie as King Stephen and Empress Maud vied for the throne of England after King Henry’s death. It hadn’t been a hardship.
Now, astonishingly, a discourteous servant in drab clothing, albeit a stunningly beautiful redhead, had caused his body to respond in a way he’d not experienced in many a year.
She was a servant, who, seemingly without much effort, had taken control of this gathering that should have seen her quaking with fear.
The nursemaid bent to whisper something to the child in a language he supposed was Gaelic. The shawl slipped off her head, revealing a glorious cascade of thick red hair. His breath caught in his throat.
The woman quickly covered her head, her blush the first chink in the armored mantle of composure.
Alex licked his dry lips, unsure what had happened. Suddenly all he could think of was taking her to his bed.
She stiffened her spine, eyes flashing defiance. “The prince and princess have had a long journey. May I take them to their chambers? And perhaps a salve could be fetched for the lacerations on their wrists.”
Alex dragged his eyes from her full breasts to her face. The gall of the woman, reminding him of his obligation as their host. “I am their guardian now, Mistress Elayne. You need not instruct me as to my responsibilities.”
She stared back. “Guardian, or jailer,” she muttered.
She’d spoken softly, yet it was evident from the indrawn breaths around him, she’d been heard. Anxious faces awaited his reaction.
Romain’s loud cough slowed his headlong rush to reprimand the woman again. He clenched his fists in an effort to slow his breathing. Her lack of deference had done nothing to discourage his arousal. He summoned Bonhomme. “Show our guests to their chambers.”
Romain stepped forward. “I’ll accompany them.”
Elayne thrust her chin in the air, picked up Claricia and followed Romain and Bonhomme, Henry in tow.
Low murmurs of conversation began again.
At the door, Claricia lifted her head from the nursemaid’s shoulder and curled her little fingers into a wave of farewell, smiling at Alex. A soul deep longing pierced his heart, a pain he’d long since thought dead and buried—a yearning for a child of his own.
END OF EXCERPT
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Anna and I welcome any questions or comments. I hope you will come back every Saturday for a fresh new excerpt from a visiting author.