Release Day! Join me and #ReadARegency
Release Day for The Viscount’s Seduction
I’m over at Romance Lives Forever today talking a bit about myself, my writing, and The Viscount’s Seduction. Please click the link to that post if you get a chance!
Meanwhile, I’m simply going to share an excerpt with you here today.
She’s lost everything, even her fey abilities. But when the fairies hand her a chance at a London Season, her schemes for revenge stir up an unknown enemy and spark danger of a different sort, in the person of a handsome Viscount.
Last week’s post was an excerpt from Lady Sirena and Viscount Bakeley’s first meeting ten years after they first became “acquainted.” This week I’m sharing the entire first chapter, the arrival of news of Lady Sirena’s brother’s death, and her first encounter with the hero.
County Donegal, Ireland, 1809
The whisk-whisk of the curry comb always soothed a girl’s jitters. With Papa on edge, and Mama in one of her sinking spells, the great beasts were the only creatures Sirena Hollister could rely on.
Last night, Mama said there’d be bad news coming.
“Ye’ve about taken all the hair off her.” Old Patrick came up alongside and rested a hand on the horse’s swollen belly. “It’ll be soon for this foaling. Mayhap today. Nipped you yet, has she, fiddling about with that comb?”
“Nay, and you know they never nip me,” Sirena said.
She had the touch, Jamie had always told her.
Old Patrick chuckled. “Fey girl.”
Like Gram, Mama had the sight to know what was what with the people she loved, and Sirena could whisper a horse off the worst sort of snit. Any horse.
Pity she hadn’t that skill with her papa.
One of the dogs bayed, and old Patrick’s gaze swung to the open stable doors.
A rider was coming. Around them, hooves began tapping and the mare’s nostrils flared.
The bad news was arriving.
Sirena eased in a quelling breath and let it flow out over the mare, fixing her gaze on the rolling eyes. “Shush then,” she whispered. “There now. There’s a good mama.”
She followed the gimping Patrick past stalls humming with the sense of a predator, the great beasts drawing the life from inside her, emptying her.
Death was a predator, wasn’t it?
Not the sleep that had taken her gram one soft summer day before Jamie left them for good. No, not that death. For all she was no more than a girl, barely bleeding yet, she knew this death coming wasn’t that peaceful sleep.
Her heart hollowed more and the shell of it crumbled down to her belly. By the time she reached the gate, the rider was circling the house and trotting back down the Earl of Glenmorrow’s lane, his message delivered.
Sirena hiked her skirts and raced past old Patrick, down the path, through the kitchen garden. She slammed into the kitchens, through them, past the laundry and the still rooms, past the butler’s pantry with its rows and rows of whiskey, up the narrow servants’ stairs and down the hall to the parlor, where she crashed through again, panting, every breath burning her chest and stabbing her side.
Papa’s hand shook with the weight of a slim parchment packet, a yellowing lump folded over and over upon itself and sealed with a huge purple-red bruise of wax. Something inside rattled.
In the new world, there was a snake, Jamie had once told her, deadly and venomous, and it shook its tail to warn of its presence. He wanted to sail there and see it. He didn’t want to stay home, here, where she needed him.
He needed to go, he’d said. Even her father had allowed it, and so it must be. She’d dropped the chain with Gram’s magical Brighid knot round Jamie’s neck—the old magic of Queen Brighid, not that of the upstart saint—and made him promise to bring it back to her.
Outside the clouds shifted and the room brightened, thickening the air with dust motes that winked like the fairies. Mama stood gripping her chair, the hoop of white cloth in one hand dripping red thread, her cheeks as white as the bit of linen she fingered.
Papa’s face hardened.
She’d seen that same rigid cast when he’d put down a horse, her huddling behind a great oak, thanking the tree fairies it had been Papa astride when the horse tripped.
She clutched the door latch, her breath frozen, watching the wafer snap, the paper unfurl, a length of gold chain dangle.
“They’ve found a body. They say it’s his.” Papa said the words the fairies had whispered to Mama last night.
All of her numbed. Time stopped.
She’d prayed—how she’d prayed, and all for naught. For naught.
Queen Bridghid, you traitor, carry me away down the hole of your witch’s knot. Fairies, open the floor and let me fall through it.
Only, it was Papa caught in a knot, one that tied up his throat and turned his face the same purple as that wax seal. And it was Mama who fell through the floor, her head hitting the edge of a table with a sickening thump.
Her dearest brother, Jamie, was, after all, truly dead, and the twisted gold charm that dropped to the floor noiselessly was the proof of it.
Two Years Later
Sirena patted the dappled patch on Pooka’s nose and slipped the filly a carrot. “They’ll change your name, you know,” she said, blinking back moisture.
Pooka’s jaws worked and she turned away. Already the two-year-old was ignoring her.
Pooka had taken to the dark, arrogant lord who’d come calling the day before. Tomorrow, he would ferry the horse away, along with most of the best of their blood stock.
What could Papa be thinking?
Angry tears spilled over and she swiped them away with the back of her hand.
She yanked at the waist of her drooping trousers, picked up a shovel and began mucking the stall, tears streaming. Papa needed money, of course, to buy more spirits.
A stable door closed and boot heels clacked on the bricks. She turned her head away. Old Patrick didna need to see her so weak.
“What are you doing in there, boy?” The haughty words filtered through the slats, as if the speaker had got his nose caught in the gate. Or maybe he was pinching it to find the right accent and tone, the ones her last governess had tried to beat into her.
Her chest burned, and she swallowed her anger. She’d been confined in her room for two days. Papa had bade her stay out of the stables, out of his lordship’s way. The housekeeper said ’twas not against Sirena, ’twas only her papa’s worry about her breasts coming in.
She couldn’t let Pooka leave without saying goodbye.
It would be all right. She was just a scruffy stable boy fiddlin’ about with his lordship’s new horses, seein’ to their needs. For all she knew, this lord didn’t know she existed.
“Muckin’, sir,” she said, deepening her voice.
Pooka, the disloyal beast, sashayed over and sniffed through the slats.
“And what is she chewing? You’ll not foist a colicky horse on me tomorrow. I’ve already paid your master too much for the beast.”
“Too much?” Sirena’s blood rose, and she risked turning to face him. In the dim light, only slivers of white linen and skin showed. All else was blackness, and wasn’t that a sure sign?
“This beast’s granddam won first at Thurles. She’s good Irish Connemara and the best hotblood lines, as fast as any of your English hacks, I’d b-bet you.” She coughed and went back to her shoveling.
Shoveling shite. Aye, it was a perfect picture. She’d make her way in the world shoveling shite, she would, with her father drinkin’ away their horses and her dowry.
And now this man, whose eyes burned her back, let him discover her sex, let him try to take a pinch at her breasts. He’d have this shovel up his arse, he would.
“If I were to stay longer,” he said. “I’d take that wager.”
And lose it. She straightened. Perhaps this lord was a great gambling fool like the rest of them. Perhaps he’d wager Pooka. Perhaps they could have at it tomorrow at the crack, like the fools who fought duels.
Her shoulders sagged again. What did she have to wager? Naught but her valueless person.
She shook her head. “No.”
“No, my lord,” he said.
She gritted her teeth. “No, your esteemed English lordship. I’ve naught to wager.”
“No? Even a stable boy has a ha’ penny tucked away. What is your name, lad?”
Her name? Papa would bring out the strop again if he thought she’d caught some randy lord’s eye. Her mind raced through the names of their dwindling staff of grooms. Dark, they all were. Though her cap hid her yellow hair, the rest were all older, all shorter. There was naught for it. “Patrick,” she said.
Old Patrick would cover for her, that much she knew.
James Everly, Viscount Bakeley, heir to the Earl of Shaldon, wished a good night and tromped off, creaking the stable door open and closing it without passing through.
He found a dark corner and waited. Soon enough, he heard it—quiet sobs, weeping, and a choking voice talking to a horse.
A girl’s voice.
The pall of hopelessness dogging him since he’d come through the gates of Glenmorrow descended fully upon him, shame flooding in with it. He was here on his mother’s behest, buying the Earl of Glenmorrow’s prime bloods, no expense to be spared, and even beyond, the only high limit being Glenmorrow’s pride.
A crooning song started and seeped into his bones, soothing him in just the same way it was settling the whole stable.
Bloody Ireland. Fairies and gremlins, and a horse named Pooka.
The Earl of Glenmorrow had been tied up with Father’s schemes somehow, and it was clear from the state of the roads and the linens, the man needed money. This purchase was paying both men’s debts.
And anything left over, Glenmorrow would drink away.
Well, why wouldn’t he? The man had lost his son and his wife, and surely that crooning girl in the stall was the daughter who the stable boys whispered had a spooky way with the horses.
She would need some of this money set aside for a dowry. She would need a keeper when her father drank himself to death.
He watched as she slid out of the stall, extinguished her light, and left.
Ye gods, it was true what he’d heard—Glenmorrow’s daughter was as wild as this unlucky country.
Mother had been hinting about a wife for him. Thank all the stars he’d come for the horses and not the girl. Let her be some other man’s to tame.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, consider picking up a copy and find out whether Viscount Bakeley can tame the irrepressible Lady Sirena Hollister!
Images: Wikimedia Commons