Excerpt from “Love At War” by Viola Russell

On the beach in the summer of 1941, eighteen-year-old Nuala Comeaux reconnects with Keith Roussel, a friend of her brothers’. The attraction between them is electric, but the threat of war looms for Nuala, Keith, and her family. Nuala and Keith marry when Nuala learns she is pregnant. Nuala gives birth to their daughter when Keith deploys. When Keith is killed in action, Nuala joins the WAAC and then OSS.

While working under cover, Nuala discovers the truth surrounding her husband’s disappearance and the treachery leading to his capture and ultimate death. With the help of her brothers and a gorgeous Japanese operative, Nuala vows to take down the AXIS powers and avenge her husband even if she must seek revenge while lying in the arms of the enemy. Not all of them will survive. All will be irrevocably changed.

Who is the enemy and who survives?

Excerpt

Keith became a staple at 2657 Palmyra Street. Magda was famous throughout the neighborhood for her Sunday dinners. She rose early every Sunday for the first Mass, slipping on a pastel cotton dress and lace veil. Her family still asleep, she made her devotions early so she could hurry home from St. Joseph’s and prepare the noon meal. Her husband David, her daughters, and her still single son, George, attended later with her married son, Will, and his family. While the family sat in the pews at St. Joseph’s Church, Magda prepared the brown gravy, spaghetti and carefully seasoned stewed chicken. Since summer, she knew to set two extra plates because Keith Roussel and Sal Pepitone often accompanied them. Nuala and Rose joined the boys’ families later for coffee. Magda sensed that Keith preferred her cooking to his own mother’s, but she was too polite even to hint at such a thing. Sal’s mother was well-known for her cooking skills. She’d once worked in a restaurant. Magda guessed that the two young men would have eaten her cooking even if she’d produced the most terrible slop to grace a table. The draw was her daughters.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Frau. It’s the girls’ Schönheit keeps those boys gulping down your food,” she muttered to herself in the mix of German and English she often adopted when alone.

“Talking to yourself, woman?” David Comeaux stood in the doorway of the kitchen smiling at his wife.

“Just thinking.” She sprinkled crushed garlic and bay leaves into the pot. She turned to him. “Hand me that colander. The spaghetti is ready.”

“Do you mind all this mess on Sunday?” David Comeaux retrieved the colander from a cabinet. He rubbed his wife’s back as she stirred her gravy.

“No, of course not. When have I ever minded it? We always have a full table.”

“You seem nervous lately. Is something bothering you? Don’t you like these boys calling on the girls?”

“Why wouldn’t I? They’re fine young men. Our families have known their families since our kinder were small.” Magda moved to the sink to drain the spaghetti.

“What, then? Is it what’s going on in Europe?” David moved behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. His lips brushed her neck.

Magda turned and touched her husband’s face. “You always knew me. David, I remember what war was. So do you. You remember the trenches, don’t you?”

David looked away and stared at a bird pounding against the window. His eyes briefly glazed over. Then, he smiled at her. “I remember a pretty German girl who helped me while I was trapped in a church.”

“Ja, and you remember the danger. Had I not found you, you would have lost an arm. My family’s house was bombed. People on all sides lost lives and homes. Our sons talk about it like it will be a game. I remember the bombs. I remember the horror. I remember being hungern. It’s not a game. Who can describe Berlin in flames?”

“It’s going to be all right, hon.” David cupped her chin between his thumb and forefinger.

“You just want to say that.” Magda wearily tossed a dishcloth into the sink.

“We can’t do anything about it if war comes.” David sighed and poured the spaghetti into a dish. “We can only pray it won’t come to that.”

“I’ve done nothing but pray since that bastard took power.” Magda threw up her hands. “I’m sorry. I hate talking like that.”

David kissed her cheek. “You never have to apologize to me.”

“Do you think Will and George…”

“If war comes, you know the answer to that. They’ll be taken.” David looked down at his hands.

“Pieter’s last letter was censored. I’m sure of it, but what he did say was careful. That madman has done terrible things to my country. I wonder if I’d even recognize Germany anymore.” Magda bit her lip and concentrated on her gravy.

***

The above excerpt and blurb are from LOVE AT WAR, Viola Russell’s WWII romance available on Amazon and http://www.redrosepublishing.com. Russell is a New Orleans native who writes as Viola Russell. She love delving into the past. Historical fiction is especially dear to her heart. LOVE AT WAR was her first foray into the historical genre, and she wrote it after reading letters her mother’s brothers sent home. She is happiest at my computer, writing with her dog at her side.

Click here for an interview with: Viola Russell, Author of “Love at War”

Excerpt From “A New Life – An Italian Romance” by Beate Boeker

The idea of starting A New Life has sometimes sounded quite tempting. . . only to the heroine of this novel, it’s an ordeal. She has just been acquitted of murder and now needs to build up a new life in Italy, as a secretary in a hotel. Never mind that she doesn’t speak Italian. Never mind that she’s not a secretary but an experienced business-woman. Never mind that Italy comes in a totally different shape to what she expected . . .

Excerpt:

“No, I didn’t kill him.” Anne frowned at the sound of her voice. If only she knew how to say it in Italian.

Then again, no. Anne shook her head.

She didn’t have to know it.

Because nobody would ask.

She had to remember it was all in the past.

The loudspeaker spat out some Italian sentences. Anne tilted her head but didn’t understand a word. Thank God the stewardess continued in English. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re now approaching Florence. Please fasten your seat belts, and put your seats in an upright position.”

Florence! Anne swallowed. How often had she dreamed of Florence. How often had she asked her mother to show her the pictures yet again, to speak of the light, of the beauty, of the Italian sun. Anne closed her eyes. She could hear her mother even now, her musical voice and her explosive laughter.

She would never have believed that one day, she would be reluctant to see Florence.

Anne clenched her teeth. She had to stop thinking about it. She had to concentrate on a dream come true, no matter the circumstances, no matter it felt like a nightmare.

She angled her head to get a better view of Florence through the window, but the plane was surrounded by clouds. It looked as if they were cutting through a thick layer of gray cotton wool.

Almost there. Anne’s eyes burned as she fought back a wave of fear. How she wished she could go back to Seattle. But that wasn’t an option.

You’ll be fine, she told herself and stared at the clouds. The red lights from the wings reflected in the towering gray masses before they cut into them. For an instant, Anne closed her eyes. Even if the whole of Europe should turn out to be gray, it had one big advantage.

Nobody knew her here.

That counted more than everything. She nodded to herself. Giorgio had promised she could avoid all Americans at the hotel. Maybe, for once, Giorgio had told the truth.

She sighed. How she wished she didn’t depend on their weak family connection.

The plane dipped lower, and they emerged from the gray cotton wool. Anne’s eyes widened. How close to the ground they were already! For an instant, she could make out a few scattered buildings before the rain streamed along the little oval window in horizontal lines and blurred her view. She might see more if she took off her huge sun-glasses, bought especially to hide as much of her face as possible, but she had kept them on all the way because they made her feel anonymous. She would soon have to face the world without them. All too soon.

Half an hour later, she stared at a huge sign on the wall while waiting for her giant suitcase to arrive on the belt.

Benvenuto da Firenze. Welcome to Florence. Willkommen in Florenz. Bienvenue à Florence. The words reverberated through her. Welcome. Would she be welcome? She doubted it. Anne grabbed her elephant suitcase, hefted it off the belt and dragged it to the exit. Her heart beat hard against her ribs.

The airport was so small, you could walk in ten minutes from one end to the other. It had just one floor and a flat roof, and if you wanted to get lost here, you had a job to do. Somehow, the small size made it sympathetic and manageable. Then again, you could be seen and recognized in no time at all. Anne swallowed, hurried through the glass doors, and took a deep breath. Italy smelled of rain and dust.

It wouldn’t take long to get to the ‘centro storico’, the old city center. Half an hour or so, the guy at the travel agency had said. Anne’s throat felt parched. She would have to face the manager of the Garibaldi Hotel soon. Peter Grant.

Giorgio had told her Mr. Grant would not be a problem. He’d promised to discuss everything with him. He’d promised Mr. Grant would welcome her with open arms. He’d also promised Mr. Grant would be discreet.

Anne bent her head to avoid the worst of the rain and turned to her left, following a sign that said ‘Taxi’. The rain dropped into the small of her neck and ran down her back with chilly fingers. Until yesterday, her long hair had kept her warm. How she missed its familiar weight; how vulnerable she felt. What a stupid idea to cut her long hair only because it would make her look different from the girl on trial. Anne huddled deeper into her coat, but the wind cut through it and made her shudder. She splashed into a puddle, and immediately, water seeped through the seams of her shoes. Darn. You’re so silly. Take off your sunglasses now. Do.

But no. Not yet.

Her thoughts turned back to Peter Grant. She wasn’t so sure about the open-armed-welcome. From all she’d learned the last months, few people welcomed you with open arms if you’ve just been released from custody, and on a murder charge at that.

She bit her lips and stopped next to the first taxi in line. With a forced smile, she bent forward and looked through a dirty window. The taxi driver opened it, his face impassive. Anne summoned up the sentence she had learned by heart. “Nel centro storico?”

The taxi driver nodded. He scowled at her huge suitcase, then at the pouring rain, grunted something she didn’t understand and heaved himself out of his Renault.

For an instant, Anne wanted to say she was sorry to be a bother, then she shook herself. She wasn’t responsible for the weather. Where had all her self esteem gone? Half a year ago, she would have made a joke about the rain. Now every little unpleasantness went straight to the core. She pressed her lips together and dived into the back of the taxi. It smelled of stale cigarettes.

When the Renault started to drive with a rattle that told her the exhaust tube wasn’t going to last much longer, she stared out of the window. Blinded by the rain and her sun-glasses, she didn’t see much. A few trees, thin, straggling. Some low houses, with the typical roofs made of four equal triangular pieces, slanted to meet at the tip. Shutters with peeling paint, closed to keep out the sun that was nowhere to be seen and hard to imagine. Where was the Florence her mother had loved?

Anne shook herself. She had to think positive. She had to take back her life, make it into something good, something clean. She sighed. Would it ever become possible to forget she’d been imprisoned on a murder charge? Would she be able to forget the accusing stare of Alec’s friends, and let’s face it, her own, who believed she had tampered with his car? Would life ever turn back into something sane, something to have confidence in?

She’d been innocent. It hadn’t helped.

The houses got higher, and the streets narrowed until Anne wondered if she could open the door of the taxi without hitting it against a wall. It got darker by the minute. The rain pelted onto the roof with angry blows, deafening her. She felt as if she was sitting inside a clammy tin box. Anne hunched up her shoulders and curled her cold toes.

When the taxi stopped, and her amiable driver indicated with a move of the head that she had reached her destiny, she fumbled out some unfamiliar Euro notes and pressed them into his hands. His fingers were red, like sausages. The sausages disappeared in a black zip-bag and reappeared with some change.

“Grazie.” Anne’s voice trembled.

With a sigh, the taxi driver heaved himself out and went to the back of the car.

Anne clutched her handbag hard. Now. Her new life was about to begin.

Get out, she told herself. Don’t be a coward.

But her legs were frozen stiff. She was unable to move.

Oh, it would be so nice if she could find a mouse hole somewhere. Just a little mouse hole, well hidden; that would do.

II

Peter Grant pulled up the collar of his raincoat and sped past the Dome without a single glance at its marble beauty. He swerved by a Vespa, jumped across a puddle and finally stormed into the Da Marco bar on via de’ Tosinghi. After the call from Garibaldi, he had felt the need to leave his office immediately, to get some fresh air and a change of walls, but for once, the familiar smell of coffee and fresh bread failed to charm him. With an effort, he smiled. “Buongiorno, Marco.”

Marco waved his blue checkered dishcloth, finished polishing the glass in his hands and put it down with practiced care. It clinked on the glass top, only audible because the bar was still empty.

“Peetarrr.” He smiled across his gleaming glass counter that allowed a glimpse of crisp pannini bread and sweet dolci. “Come vai?”

Peter’s reply came automatic. “Tutto a posto. All is well.” Which was a lie. Nothing was well, nothing at all, but he couldn’t very well tell Marco so, who had once declared him to be the only cheerful English guy he had ever met.

Peter shifted on his wooden bar stool and leaned his back against the wall painted in faded orange. The smell of Marco’s panninis made his mouth water. He ordered an expresso and a pannini with prosciutto. “Henry not here yet?”

Marco shook his head without looking up from the hissing espresso machine. “Enrique will come soon.” He slipped the expresso in front of him.

Peter immediately tossed it back. When he looked up, he spotted Henry through the glass front of the bar. His cream-colored raincoat moved like a swift cloud through the rain. With him, the smell of exhaust came into the bar.

Marco shivered. “Che tempo brutto!”

Yes, the weather is awful. Peter sighed. But it’ll go away, unlike the news I got this morning.

Henry smiled at them both, took off his raincoat, shook out its folds one by one, then hung it on the curlicued brass hook Marco had fixed on the wall just for him. He bent across the glass display and gave Marco his order, then came over to Peter. Just as he seated himself, Marco brought Peter’s sandwich and served Henry his usual, a salad with bacon strips.

Henry pushed the plate away until it stood at a neat angle in front of him, padded down his blond hair that didn’t need any padding, slanted a glance at Peter and said, “Everything all right?”

Peter shook his head. “No.”

Henry speared a piece of tomato and lifted his fork. “Is it Maria?”

Peter stared at him. “Maria? Who’s Ma . . .?” He stopped and choked. “Oh. Maria. Why on earth do you think it’s Maria?”

Henry put the tomato into his mouth and chewed. “The last time you looked like that, Maria was the reason.”

Peter laughed without mirth. “It’s been ages . . . I believe I’ve last heard from Maria a year ago.” He took a bite off his pannini and smiled a bit. “And I sure don’t complain.” The smoky taste of the prosciutto filled his mouth but failed to give him a feeling of satisfaction.

Henry nodded and cut the salad into rectangular pieces. “So it’s Garibaldi?”

Peter clenched his teeth. “Lo stronzo.” He hissed out the word.

Henry threw a look at Marco who had moved to the other end of the counter to greet a new customer. “Be careful.”

“Oh, you can trust Marco.” Peter bit off another piece of his pannini as if he wanted to tear it apart.

Henry nodded. “Yeah. But still, I wouldn’t run around and call my employer an asshole. Particularly not if it’s someone like Garibaldi.”

“But he is one.” Peter narrowed his eyes.

“I know. What did he do this time to put you in such a fury?”

Peter took a deep breath. “You remember Angela? My secretary who worked half time?”

“I thought she’d left?”

“Yeah.” Peter finished his pannini and wiped his fingers on the white paper napkin. “She left a month ago, and I’ve been badgering Garibaldi ever since to allow me to employ a full-time secretary.”

Henry winced. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me you’ve been going without a secretary for a full month?”

Peter grinned. “It’s pandemonium.”

“I can imagine. Why don’t you find a half-time secretary until Garibaldi agrees?”

“Because as soon as I have one, he’ll think it’s fine and will stop doing what little he might have done. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to her, would it?”

Henry took a sip of his coffee and grinned. “And now he said since you seem to manage nicely, you can do without one altogether?”

“No. Worse.”

“Worse? What can be worse?”

“He’s sending me his niece.”

The hiss of the espresso machine almost drowned his last words.

Henry stared. “Did you say his niece?”

“Yeah.”

“Jesus.” Henry arranged his knife and fork in perfect parallels on his empty plate and pushed it away.

Peter looked up. “That all you say?”

Henry blinked. “You’ll have to be darn careful. First of all, you have to stop calling him Stronzo all the time.”

Peter shrugged. “If that was all, I’d be fine.”

Henry waved at Marco. “Un Grappa, per favore, Marco.” Then he turned back to Peter. “What do you mean, that’s not all?”

“He doesn’t have a niece.”

“What’s that?”

Marco arrived and placed the tiny glass with Grappa in front of Henry who pushed it to Peter.

Peter eyed it for an instant, then tossed it off. “Thanks.”

Henry frowned. “Now let’s start again, please; you’ve lost me completely. You say Garibaldi foists a niece upon you, a niece he doesn’t have?”

Peter shrugged. “Lo stro… Garibaldi called this morning, said he had wonderful news; he has found a secretary for me. She’ll work full time. What’s more, she’s already on her way and will arrive tonight.” He drew his hand through his hair. “And while I’m still collecting my thoughts to ask if she has ever worked in a hotel, if she has any references, not to mention that I would like to have a say in the matter as well, he says she’s his niece!” He spat out the word. “When I know perfectly well he has neither brothers nor sisters, so he can’t have a niece, not in a million years!”

“So who do you think she is?” Henry opened his eyes wide.

“She’s one of his floozies, of course. Tall, blond, and so stupid you start to eat your desk in desperation if you have to talk to them for five minutes on end. They’re all like that.” He shrugged. “I guess he got bored with her, for once finds it difficult to shake her off, so he offers her a job in Florence.” He changed his voice to a high-pitched sing-song, “Wonderful city, my dear, you’ll work in a fabulous four star hotel, oh, so exclusive, a gorgeous historical Palazzo,” Peter drew his hand through his hair again and returned to his normal voice. “And I don’t even know if she speaks Italian, for God’s sake!” He beat the top of the bar with his fist.

Henry shook his head. “He wouldn’t send you a secretary who doesn’t speak Italian, Peter. Even Garibaldi can’t do that.”

Peter lifted his eyebrows. “Oh, wouldn’t he?” He grabbed a tooth pick from a white porcelain holder next to his elbow and started to turn it around in his fingers. “Those bimbos are barely able to speak their mother language, let alone any other!”

“Maybe she’s Italian,” Henry said.

Peter shook his head. “No way.” He twiddled the tooth pick in his fingers. “Not with a name like that.” He stared at the glossy table top in front of him.

“Come on, don’t keep me in suspense.” Henry nudged his arm. “What’s her name?”

Peter looked at his friend and drew a grimace. “Elizabeth Tiffany Mary Anne Smith.” He drew out each word. “Doesn’t sound Italian to me.” The tooth pick snapped in two between his fingers. “And she’s never worked in a hotel in all her life.”

***

Beate Boeker is a marketing manager by day and a writer by night. If you mix Latin and German, Beate Boeker literally translates as Happy Books . . . and with a name like that, what else could she do but write romances and entertaining mysteries? Her books are well-known for their touches of humor and mischief. She has published several romances with Avalon Books – and two of them have already been chosen as finalists in writing contests. You can also find several “feel-good” e-books by Beate online. Check out her website to learn more: http://www.happybooks.de

http://www.amazon.com/New-Life-Italian-Romance-ebook/dp/B007B02V18/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1338663158&sr=8-2


Excerpt From “Killer Designs” by Sherre Pratt

Sexy Detective Jake Chess makes Sunny’s heart throb. They could have it all . . . if he wasn’t trying to convict her brother of murder.

Fashion designer Sunny Benning’s world has been torn apart. Her lead designer has been murdered. Sexy Detective Jake Chess makes Sunny’s heart throb, but he’s got his eye on Rick, Sunny’s brother, as the main suspect. Now she’s got to control her desires for the detective while convincing him of Rick’s innocence. When clear evidence comes to light revealing the real killer, Jake and Sunny have to move fast to save Rick from a vicious killer-turned-kidnapper, even as they fall in love in the process.

Excerpt

“I’m gonna kill him for this.”

Sunny Benning stood at the base of her porch steps and stared up into the shadows leading to the front door of her restored 1910 Palm Beach estate. Her brother, Rick, must’ve turned the porch light off when he was there for lunch. She knew she’d left it on that morning in anticipation of coming home late. While the street light at the corner offered some comfort, she could still feel the fear rising.

God, she hated the dark.

With a deep breath, she darted up the steps. The light breeze coming off the Atlantic just yards away usually calmed her. She stood for a moment to get her bearings, glancing nervously left, then right, and then inserted the key into the lock. Finding it already unlocked, she pushed the door open, stepped into the narrow hall, and reached for the wall switch—nothing happened.

The front window, with its sheers, allowed a glimmer of light to filter through. The streetlight lengthened the creepy shadows in the room, turning them into voids of darkness. Perfect spots for Jason Voorhees to hide with his hockey mask and big knife.

“Good thing it’s not Friday the thirteenth.” She started at the sound of her voice. “Can we say, ’scaredy pants’?”

Two steps into the room, she jumped as something brushed her leg and yowled. “Damn it, Loop!” She bent in the darkness to pick up her black Scottish Fold cat, her fingers sinking into wet and sticky fur. “Eew, what’s all over you?” He tensed and struggled to get free. “Hey, hey, what’s wrong fella?” He hissed and jumped out of her hands. She straightened. That wasn’t like him. And why was his fur so nasty and sticky?

Sunny’s gaze jumped from shadow to shadow around the room. Despite the light peeking through, the darkness was still suffocating. She examined the sticky substance on her palm. Even in the semi-darkness, she could see the stain on her hand. She lifted the other one up and it, too, was coated in the dark substance. Moving closer to the light coming through the sheers, she held out both hands, then brought one to her nose, wrinkling it up when her hand got too close. Metallic, she thought and looked at her hands again. Her mind rejected what it saw, groped for another explanation.

Blood.

**

Sherre Pratt lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her parents and her poodle (Fifi). She’s been writing since 2001 when she realized that she could write her own love stories instead of just reading them. When Sherre’s not writing, she enjoys reading some of her favorite authors or doing research for her next book.

 

Excerpt From “Wallflower” by Catherine Gayle

The choice between adhering to a long-held pact and finally accepting love could prove Lady Tabitha Shelton’s unhinging. She is plump, plain, pleasant…and thoroughly unappealing to any of the men of the ton—apart from fortune hunters. A self-appointed wallflower, she has every intention of remaining one. Tabitha made a vow of spinsterhood with her cousins when they were girls, and she refuses to go back on her word. So far, she’s proven herself quite adept at warding off the blasted fortune hunters’ pursuits.

Noah deLancie, Marquess of Devonport, would prefer to marry for love and companionship—he’s a gentleman through and through—but circumstances have forced his hand: he needs money as badly as he needs a bride. When Noah’s brother-in-law suggests pursuit of his sister, Tabitha, a woman with a dowry large enough to cause even Croesus to blush and who is tantalizingly good company to boot, Noah stumbles into the future he hopes to secure. He’ll stop at nothing to convince Tabitha to marry him.

Nothing, that is, except perhaps the barrel of a dueling pistol, held to his face by his ladylove.

Excerpt:

“It won’t work.” The smooth, rich voice of Lord Devonport reverberated at Tabitha’s other side, and she jumped. “He fully intends not to be foiled by you, Lady Tabitha.”

She pinched her eyes closed. Blast, how had she not noticed Lord Devonport coming her way? She’d as soon die of mortification as allow him to hear her plans for Toby. But it was too late for that.

Still, maybe the gentleman would prove himself useful.

“And what, pray tell, is he planning, Lord Devonport?” Steeling herself, Tabitha turned to face him. The laughter in his eyes never ceased to captivate her. Someone ought to find a way to bottle that joy so everyone could experience it. “Surely you know, since you’ve been over there with him this last half hour. What does he intend to do to me this time?”

“Alas, I cannot tell. I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”

“Would it not be more gallant to warn a lady of a plot against her, my lord? Surely you must recognize the difficulty of my position.”

The smile moved down to his lips. They looked soft, like velvet. Tabitha had a sudden, irresistible urge to kiss them, just to find out for sure. But that was a ridiculous notion.

“Ah, but you do not seem to recognize the inherent problems of mine.”

The way Lord Devonport stared at her was more than just a little unnerving. Tabitha realized she was toying with her necklace and forced herself to stop, allowing her arms to fall straight at her side.

“And neither of you recognize the adversity of mine,” Jo said. Her voice seemed much louder than either of theirs had been, though surely no one else could hear her. “If you’ll excuse me, I must go and visit with Lady Crestridge. That shade of evening primrose makes her complexion look downright ghastly.”

Jo strolled away, and as usual, a series of eyes followed her path across the ballroom, Tabitha’s included. When she turned back to Lord Devonport, however, his eyes had not left Tabitha’s person. Oh, why had Jo decided to abandon her? She’d been Tabitha’s one source of protection against…against what, precisely? Surely she didn’t need protection from Lord Devonport, a perfectly agreeable gentleman—one who was essentially family.

So why did she feel like she needed fortification? Why, all of a sudden, did his gaze make her skin tingle? The prickles of goose flesh that had popped up along her arms were perplexing. Tabitha wasn’t cold—rather she was exceedingly warm—and she was experiencing the joint, warring desires to leave Lord Devonport’s presence without looking back and to draw closer to him.

Tabitha had been attracted to men before. More than attracted, actually. She’d thought herself in love with one of her father’s footmen once upon a time. But James Marshall had never made her feel quite like this—nervous and flighty, and somehow even a little bit attractive. On second thought, maybe Jo had been right. Maybe she was feeling ill. No gentleman in possession of his faculties would ever find her attractive. She brushed the notion away and faced Lord Devonport again.

“The inherent problems of your position?” she asked, wishing her words had not come out sounding strangled. Good Lord, it sounded like she was attempting to swallow an entire flock of geese. “And what might those be?”

“Surely you can work that out on your own, my lady.”

He leaned closer to her and the heat of his body wafted a trail of his cologne over her. It was musky and spicy and manly; it tingled against her nose and tantalized her to draw closer to him.

“If I am to maintain my reputation as a gentleman in your eyes,” he said, his voice hardly more than a whisper, “I must divulge secrets that are not mine to tell. However, if I am to maintain the same in the eyes of your family, I may do nothing of the sort.”

His eyes bored into hers. Tabitha felt as though he could see straight into her mind, directly into her heart. Her pulse beat a frantic pace against her neck. She wished he would touch her right there, just below the lobe of her ear, to calm the pulsing, heated flow.

“Indeed,” she said. “That is quite a predicament.”

***

Catherine Gayle has been an avid reader of romance novels (and almost anything else she can legally get her hands on) for as long as she can remember. Her mother might say it started in the womb. When she is not writing or reading, she can often be found buried beneath her sleeping cat or chasing the Nephew Monster.  She’s a reality TV junkie, a hockey addict, and experimental cook.

Catherine Gayle’s books are available from: Second Wind Publishing, LLC

Excerpt From “Saving Grace” by Catherine Gayle

The blasted man will not stop following her. Well, he isn’t following her . . . not exactly. They are just always thrown together, and he is everything she wants but cannot have. It is downright infuriating—especially when he kisses her.

Lady Grace Abernathy has been ravished and left pregnant (and thoroughly unsuitable for any honorable gentleman). This would not be such a gargantuan problem if Lord Alexander Hardwicke would simply stay away from her as she asked. But leave it to her meddling Aunt Dorothea—who means well, of course—to continually thrust the two into each other’s company. Against both their wishes. These distractions are almost more than a reasonable lady should be forced to bear, let alone one who is dealing with all the difficulties inherent with both an unwanted pregnancy and a dire lack of a husband.

Alex left London to visit his deceased father’s oldest friend, Lord Rotheby, and to get away from his mother and her matchmaking schemes, only to run into more of the same at every turn. Why can he not determine for himself the course his life will take before everyone pushes him to take a wife? But the more time he spends in the company of Lady Grace, the less he finds himself able to ignore his growing attraction—and his burgeoning need to protect her. Must he cause a scandal in order to protect her from one?

Excerpt:

Her silence lasted just a touch too long. His aggravation finally got the better of him and he snapped, “Am I thoroughly disagreeable to you, ma’am? Am I so horrible you are unable to converse with me at all, or is something else wrong? I’ve apologized to you repeatedly for taking liberties in Lord Rotheby’s garden, and for everything else under the sun. I don’t know what else I can do to convince you to speak to me. You could at least make some effort at being civil. Lord knows I have made enough efforts for the both of us.”

Her eyes grew wide, and then slowly filled with heat. “You…you…how dare you! May I remind you, sir, you are the one who took those very liberties you speak of with me.” She stood with her hands haughtily on her hips and her icy eyes turned to deep, blue flames of anger. “I didn’t ask you to do so, I didn’t encourage you to do so, and I most certainly didn’t want you to do so. That was entirely your choice. You’ve made it abundantly clear you only suffer my presence as a favor to Lord Rotheby and my aunt and uncle. Yet you continue to stare lasciviously at me, leaving me thoroughly baffled as to what, precisely, you want from me.”

Her voice rose no more than a whisper as she built a head of steam. Now that she had started, Alex worried she might never stop her tirade. Yet this harangue of hers was intriguing. She suddenly had so very much to say.

He stood in the middle of the Pump Room with his mouth agape, unsure of how to proceed other than allow her to continue her verbal assault. So he did.

“I do not know how to act around you. I’ve tried to ignore you, as you seemed disinclined to my company, and I therefore assumed you would prefer that reaction. So how, pray tell, am I supposed to react? I’ve tried to stop you from making a gargantuan mistake, but you seem to have an aversion to accepting my assistance. I would very much like to help you by doing whatever it is you want, but I’m quite incapable of interpreting your thoughts. So, my lord, why don’t you tell me what to do and save us both a good deal of trouble? It would alleviate the ache that is rapidly building in my head.”

Lady Grace finally took a breath, and waited. By this point, most of the room openly stared at the two of them, some with their jaws hanging open, others seeming to note every word said so they could rush to the nearest gossip and fill them in on these newest, juicy on-dits. Her words, while hardly more than a whisper, seemed to echo in the spacious area.

Alex, too, heard every word she’d hissed at him. Yet he had listened to only a few. The passion she displayed entranced him. She was normally so cold and collected, never losing the veneer of control she kept such tight rein over.

Yet that had all gone by the wayside, and he could think of nothing but how beautiful she looked when angry. Her eyes had flashed and flared, and some strands of her hair had pulled free from the exacting knot and whipped about her face. He wanted to capture her passion, to hold onto it for a later moment when she resumed her cold demeanor.

Alex yearned to touch her.

Maddening. Most men would do anything to avoid infuriating a lady, but he was formulating ways he could do so again. He loved seeing her out of control, reckless and passionate. He wanted more. So much more.

Without a thought to the consequences of his actions or the audience that had gathered, he closed the distance between them and kissed her. Greedy this time, he took more than he gave. One hand fisted in the knot of hair at the nape of her neck and worked to free more of it than was already framing her face, while the other drew her closer to him so he could feel her length against him.

Their audience drew in a collective, scandalized breath, which appeared to register with Lady Grace. She struggled against him, but he would prefer to ignore them. However, she increased her struggles and pushed hard against his chest to separate them. Reluctantly, Alex relinquished his hold.

She took a calming breath, then another, and a third, all while glaring daggers of ice-blue fire into his eyes. Then she reached a hand up and slapped him across his cheek. “You forget yourself, sir,” she spat out. Then she turned on her heels and fled, with the Kensingtons close behind.

Alex started to follow her as well, but Gil appeared as if from nowhere and placed a hand on his arm. “Let her go, Alex. This will all be sorted out. Just let her go for now.”

So he did.

***

Catherine Gayle has been an avid reader of romance novels (and almost anything else she can legally get her hands on) for as long as she can remember. Her mother might say it started in the womb. When she is not writing or reading, she can often be found buried beneath her sleeping cat or chasing the Nephew Monster.  She’s a reality TV junkie, a hockey addict, and experimental cook.

Catherine Gayle’s books are available from: Second Wind Publishing, LLC

Excerpt From “Merely a Miss” by Catherine Gayle

Miss Jane Matthews feels completely out of place amongst the finery of the ton. She’s the daughter of a country vicar, for goodness sake, and nearly a spinster to boot. Frankly, she would prefer to stay that way. How can a lady of Quality start up her own modiste shop, after all? But when her distant cousin—the Dowager Duchess of Somerton, of all people—offers to sponsor her for a Season in London, she agrees, but only so she can take the opportunity to search for a storefront for her business. Perhaps, in that regard, the Season won’t all be in vain.

The widower of a loveless marriage, Peter Hardwicke, the Duke of Somerton, has already done his duty and provided an heir for his dukedom, so he sees no reason whatsoever to remarry. Even if, heaven forbid, something should happen to his son, he still has three younger brothers who are each quite capable of inheriting. Taking a wife would only mean adding a new responsibility to his already too-full schedule. He’s more than busy enough keeping his mother, siblings, and children in line—not to mention sorting out the myriad problems plaguing one of his estates.

But when Lord Utley, one of Peter’s childhood friends and a man who has been on the wrong side of Peter’s ire for many years now, takes an unlikely interest in Jane, he has to intervene. Peter will be damned if he’ll allow Utley to ruin yet another life. But will rescuing Jane from Utley’s clutches land Peter with another loveless marriage?

Excerpt:

“And you call that scoundrel a gentleman, do you?” A raging fire was building in his chest, boiling like a kettle over a fire, and he fought to tamp it back down. Miss Matthews was becoming a devilish nuisance, causing reactions within him that no one had ever done before, damn it all. “Do you know who he is, ma’am? Do you know anything about Lord Utley at all? Or any of the myriad gentlemen present at the ball this evening, for that matter?”

She started to pipe in with a response, but he cut her off.

“No. You don’t. And since you are so dreadfully unaware of anything related to these gentlemen’s reputations, you have been relegated to my mother’s chaperonage. For your own protection, ma’am.” Peter’s voice had risen so loud, surely someone within the ballroom would hear him soon. He deliberately lowered it again, taking a deep breath to regain control. “You’re to do as she says in order that you don’t make an unwarranted mistake. If left to your own devices, you’d likely ensure your own ruin if this jaunt into the gardens is any indication. You’re most certainly not to take it upon yourself to accept a dance with one of the most notorious rakehells in Town, nor are you to then proceed to situate yourself entirely alone with said ‘gentleman’ without the knowledge of your chaperone, or anyone else. Yet you thoroughly ignored her on this matter—”

“I most certainly did not ignore Cousin Henrietta on any matter,” Miss Matthews spat out at him with sparks in her eyes. “She introduced me to Lord Utley, and she saw no harm in my dancing with him since you had sent him over for an introduction. We both complied with your guidance, Your Grace.” Miss Matthews took the tiniest step forward until she stood only a hair’s breadth away from him, wagging a finger in his face. “If anyone here is to blame for anything, it is you. You’re the one who set this all in motion.”

“You and my mother were both terribly mistaken if you think I’d have sent anyone like Utley for an introduction. How she could possibly think I would approve of such a thing, I’ll never be able to fathom. But I’ll deal with her later. You, on the other hand, must be dealt with immediately.”

“Dealt with. Dealt with? Why, you arrogant popinjay!” She took another step toward him, stepping on his toes in the process and shoving him backward with no small amount of force—a fact that surprised him—and matching him step for step as he backed away. “I am not some green chit barely out of the schoolroom. Nor am I one of your siblings. You have no right to order me about in any way. You will kindly remember that in future.”

Never in his life had he struck a woman before, not even one of his sisters when they were children, yet he found it difficult to restrain himself from that very atrocity at this moment. Her impudence stung.

“And you would do well to remember, Miss Matthews, that as long as you live beneath my roof you are under my protection and therefore must abide by my decisions.”

“Well, perhaps I should not live beneath your roof any longer, then.” She crossed her arms over her chest, which only served to plump up her already breathtaking bosom before his eyes.

“Perhaps not. Nevertheless, you currently do, so my word is law.”

Her fury shone through in a great huff and a flash of her eyes. Dear Lord, she was beautiful when she was angry. Almost like a siren.

Peter shook his head, as though to rid it of such thoughts. Thinking along those lines would get him nowhere. “And my word is that you are to avoid all contact with Lord Utley from this moment on. For that matter, you’d better reject any attentions from Mr. Aldous Forster or Lord Tansley, should they attempt to pay you court. Maybe a few others as well. I’ll let you know as I think of them. But I might never secure you a husband if some nefarious scoundrel ruins your reputation before you have a chance to make a decent match.”

And the sooner she was married, the sooner he could set aside the way her ire bewitched him and move on with his life—without the chaotic wake that seemed to follow her everywhere that currently had his head in a twist.

“I see,” Miss Matthews murmured with narrowed eyes. Thank heavens. “So I should avoid and blatantly ignore Lords Utley and Tansley and Mr. Forster. Would you like to add anyone else to that list, Your Grace?” Her heated glare could fell an entire army. But instead of sounding a retreat, Peter’s only thought was to advance.

His eyes slid to her lips, which were darkened from the furious pinch she had kept them in for several moments. He wanted nothing more than to kiss them, to press his own lips against their angry pout until the heat in them turned to passion and promise instead of anger.

“Well?” Miss Matthews placed her hands on her hips in a posture much like an overbearing governess—which he found disturbingly alluring.

Christ, he ought to walk away now. But for some confounding reason, he couldn’t. “Yes. There is one more.”

“And? Who might this dreaded gentleman be?”

Peter advanced toward her, closing the small gap between them. “Me.”

***

Catherine Gayle has been an avid reader of romance novels (and almost anything else she can legally get her hands on) for as long as she can remember. Her mother might say it started in the womb. When she is not writing or reading, she can often be found buried beneath her sleeping cat or chasing the Nephew Monster.  She’s a reality TV junkie, a hockey addict, and experimental cook.

Catherine Gayle’s books are available from: Second Wind Publishing, LLC

Excerpt From “Twice a Rake” by Catherine Gayle

Some scandals are meant to be . . .

When Aurora Hyatt loses her journal in Hyde Park, her ruin is a foregone conclusion. After all, if anyone discovers her writings, they’ll find scandalous fantasies involving the newest rake in Town alongside entirely-too-candid thoughts about her typical dreary suitors. Aurora will either be forced into a loveless marriage with the first nodcock to make an offer, or she’ll be assigned a permanent position on the shelf. Oh, dear good Lord. What catastrophe will God smote down upon her next?

If Niles Thornton, Baron Quinton, desires to maintain any semblance of his current lifestyle, he must fulfill the requirements his grandfather has set for him. First and foremost: he must marry and begin filling his nursery within the year. When he is nearly barreled over by a racing curricle and a journal flies out to land at his feet, his troubles are over. Inside the journals pages, Quin discovers a scandal waiting to happen. Surely a young lady who would write such brazen things in a journal (and then dare to lose it) must recognize the necessity of a hasty marriage, even if the gentleman making the offer is rather less-than-honorable.

In a drunken haze, Quin kisses Aurora on a crowded ballroom floor, necessitating their immediate marriage. Quin’s troubles are only beginning, however, as Aurora’s writings are soon the focus of both gossip rags and drawing room conversation. When word arrives of an even greater scandal following in his wife’s wake, will he prove himself a drunken abuser like his father, or will he become the loving husband of Aurora’s fantasies?

Excerpt:

Aurora heard no music. She saw nothing but him, Lord Quinton, staring down at her with an intensity she’d never experienced. He smelled of brandy and heat. She was nearly intoxicated just from his sheer proximity.

After moments or hours, she would never know, she finally found her tongue. “My lord, how did you know who I am?” What a foolish, silly question. She was a ninny. What did that matter? Not a whit.

“I would imagine in the same manner you knew who I am.” His eyes bored into her. “You do know, do you not?”

She would be perfectly content to never take another breath so long as he never stopped looking at her like that. Aurora tingled everywhere he touched her, with the delicious gooseflesh spreading through her limbs, up to her head, and then plummeting all the way down to her toes—which somehow curled beneath her.

“Yes. You are the mysterious Lord Quinton.” And he would think her an utter dolt if she did not manage to remove the derisible grin from her face. There was also the rather embarrassing problem of a blush spreading over her cheeks and all the way to her bosom. The heat flowed like gauze in the wind. She looked down to see how bad it was, only to realize too late she had drawn his gaze to that very same place.

“That I am.” He stared at the low bodice of her gown, or rather at the display just above it, for an inordinately long period of time. Finally, his eyes moved slowly up her chest to her neck, to her chin, to her lips—where they paused yet again.

She felt parched. She needed something—something—something to calm her nerves and to cool her off. Yet all she wanted to do was move closer, still.

Aurora licked her lips.

Lord Quinton’s hand at her waist flinched and grew tense, pulling her in as though on command.

“I am also, Miss Hyatt, not the kind of gentleman a proper young lady should have anything to do with—not if she wishes to keep her reputation intact.”

“I am aware of that.” Too aware. But that was the last thing she wanted to think of at the moment. She preferred to focus on the day’s growth of stubble lining his jaw and to imagine how it might feel if she drew her hand across it.

The corners of his lips quirked up in the slightest hint of a rakish grin. It looked lascivious. Fiendish. And entirely too appealing. “Then you must also be aware, Miss Hyatt, that every eye in the room is trained upon the two of us. Including those of your chaperone. Perhaps even your father.”

“Yes,” she said, with a slight tremor in her voice. Blast him for reminding her of all the reasons she should run screaming from him. And blast her for not doing as she ought.

Lord Quinton’s eyes smiled at her then, a smile only a true rogue could muster. “And yet you remain with me. Dancing.” He twirled her about so fast she would have lost her feet, but for his strong arm at her waist pulling her ever closer. “Waltzing.”

At this new distance she smelled his cologne, much like she had imagined it in her story. “Yes,” she whispered, no longer trusting her voice not to fail.

He stood still and held her steady before him. “Lovely,” Lord Quinton growled just before his lips descended upon hers in a kiss. A kiss nothing like what she imagined.

This was nothing tender or chaste. It was needy and possessive and hot.

He pulled her closer until her body was melded into his, her curves tucked neatly into his angles and planes like they had been made just for that purpose. One hand moved up into the chignon at the nape of her neck, fisting and tugging and drawing her ever closer.

His lips were hard and demanding. The stubble along his jaw assaulted her tender skin in a way that left her panting for more. He bit her lower lip and she cried out, but it was muffled against his tongue as it moved inside her mouth.

Aurora tasted his brandy—smooth and dark.

Lord Quinton moved his tongue in and out and around. When he suckled, her toes sang and the tips of her fingers trembled and something both terrible and wonderful happened between her thighs.

She wanted more.

She wanted to do the things to him he was doing to her, to make him feel these wanton feelings.

She wanted it never to end.

But then he pulled his head back, the absence of his lips leaving hers aching for their return.

Lord Quinton stepped away from her. Removed his hands from her. He bowed his head briefly. “Miss Hyatt. I bid you good evening.”

And he left.

***

Catherine Gayle has been an avid reader of romance novels (and almost anything else she can legally get her hands on) for as long as she can remember. Her mother might say it started in the womb. When she is not writing or reading, she can often be found buried beneath her sleeping cat or chasing the Nephew Monster.  She’s a reality TV junkie, a hockey addict, and experimental cook.

Catherine Gayle’s books are available from: Second Wind Publishing, LLC

 

Excerpt From “Just One Kiss” by Rita Hestand

A customer had come in and seen her and grabbed her and had her on his knee.

Without a thought Lee whirled her by the hand on the other side of him protectively and looked at the stranger. “Sorry, but she’s not for sale.”

He felt the sweat between their hands, and the tremble that rumbled through Hattie as he held her protectively away from the man. She was scared to death and he was glad of it.

“Well hell, why not, she’s younger and prettier than most these girls in here,” the man laughed. “I like ‘em young. Less of course she’s your property.”

“She’s a human being…that’s all she is. She’s no one’s property.” Lee guided her back to the room where Sam was. He closed the door once she was inside. He had to calm down, he’d gotten angry too fast. He glanced over at her and saw her staring at him.

“Look. I can’t do much else for you. I paid the lady some money to take care of you. I’ve got to get to the army. I can’t stay here. You’ll be alright, just do what little she asks of you and try to get along. Understand?”

The girl’s lip pouched out and Lee was sure tears were close to falling.

“You’re leaving?” Her eyes took on an innocent look of surprise.

Lee nodded.

“Thank you for what you done.” She came closer, and looked up at him.

“You’re welcome…” Lee’s eye lingered on her longer than they should have. He cleared his throat. He hadn’t expected a thank you from her.

“You going to war?” she asked her voice filled with concern.

“Yeah.” He answered staring at her through the dim light of the room.

Without another word, she flung herself into his arms. Lee felt the warmth of her as her young body fit against him naturally. He felt himself react and again he scolded himself. But nothing prepared him for the shocking kiss she placed on his lips as she tiptoed to reach him. Her soft lips moved against his, moving her tongue into his mouth, as they instantly mated. Just like his lips had explored hers last night, today, she boldly imitated his actions. Soft as a buttercup, her lips touched his, lingered, and then moved away slowly. Their eyes met with a storm of emotion clouding them.

Deliberately, he put distance between them. An old woman’s kiss was nothing like this one. He’d felt it to his toes and his body reacted quite naturally. She’d pressed her young body up against him so tightly she was bound to have felt his reaction. She was just a child, he quickly reminded himself, he would not let anything happen between them. It was naturally up to him to see that it didn’t. But by all that was holy, she brought out the man in him like no other.

“I really am sixteen, and I really want you to come back…safe…to us.” She said lowly. “You get shot up, I’ll take care of you. I know how, did it for my pa many times.” She moved a little closer, her eyes wide with expectations.

He cleared his throat again, and he felt his own heart beat quicken. “You shouldn’t have done that.” He touched a finger to his lips.

“Don’t other girls kiss you goodbye…” She suddenly looked as though she’d said too much.

“There are no other girls…?”

“You mean I’m….the only one….” She almost smiled.

“Yeah…the only one…” he answered backing away from her.

Her mouth formed a perfect Oh, but nothing came out. She seemed out of breath suddenly her chest rising and falling quickly, he noted.

She smiled at him now, “Good. And I’m glad I kissed you. Mama said you had to try a boy out to see if he was the right one….”

“Right one for what?” he frowned at her.

“Right one to be with….”

Lee’s frown grew, although her words confused him mightily almost as much as her kissing him had.

“I just wanted to thank you…for all you done. It was right decent of you. I never met a nice white man before. Didn’t know there were any.”

Lee moved closer, his temper flaring in defense, “That’s no way to thank anyone, you hear me girl. Don’t let me catch you ever thanking anyone else like that, do you hear me? You don’t kiss a man on the lips as a thank you. And I better be the only white boy you ever kiss like that.”

“Like what?” she asked innocently.

“Like you meant it.”

“I didn’t mean to do nothin’ wrong…?” she huffed and saw his head shake. “…and I did mean it.”

He stared into her amber eyes, “I know…that’s the problem, Hattie, so did I.”

Her mouth flew open.

“You are playin’ with fire, girl, don’t you know that. I’m a full growed man, and you’re just a kid.”

“Didn’t you like it?”

His eyes met hers and for all that was holy, he couldn’t lie, couldn’t look away. “Yeah…too much.” His mouth curled into a slight smile.

She smiled back shyly.

His gaze swept her, “Did you?”

She nodded and placed her hand over his. For a long moment he stared at their hands, and then a thumb reached over and grazed the top of her hand. Her breath hitched, her chest rose and fell quickly.

“Will—you come back?” she asked breathlessly.

“I’m going to the army, in Texas, girl.” He moved away and stopped looking at her. Those sad cow eyes of hers had him feeling things and thinking things he shouldn’t. “I have no idea. The army isn’t a happy place. But I reckon if I live through it, I might stop off and see how the two of you are doing, someday. So you behave yourself. And no more of that. I got every reason to come back…now. Understand? And don’t you run off and leave Sam by himself here, you hear me. He’s your brother and you take care of him. Family stays together, you understand?”

She nodded, and a tear slipped down her cheek. “Where’s your family?”

“Ain’t got anything left but a brother. He went off on his own some time ago. Been a while since I seen him.”

“Well…we won’t forget you, Lee Nelson. Not as long as we live. And from now on….we’ll be your family.”

 

 

Excerpt From “Red Magic” by Juliet Waldron

Red-headed Caterina von Velsen, a tomboy and superb horsewoman, detests her older sister’s husband-to-be. Christoph von Hagen is handsome and brave, but he is also a Casanova, a man with a reputation that stretches from his mountain manor all the way to Vienna. When Caterina’s older sister dies in a riding accident only a week before the wedding, she is forced to take her place. Now Caterina belongs to the very man she believes to be “a cold-hearted rake.”

Set in 18th Century Germany, RED MAGIC tells the story of a young woman’s transition from rebellious girl to adored–and adoring–wife.

Excerpt:

“Ha! See her coming out of the pines over there?” Christoph von Hagen, his hazel eyes narrowing, lifted a muscular arm to point. “Just as I thought. She went through the rocky thicket south of von Beilers’s woods. Now she’s angling this way, the crafty vixen.”

The red Arabian mare with the taffy colored tail had begun a wild gallop across the pasture. The breakneck daring left no doubt that a superbly confident rider was astride.

It was a game, a game played by young aristocrats, a wild and dangerous game of “Fox and Hounds.” Several “Foxes,” given a head start, must reach the safety of a goal, riding across rough country, while the “hounds,” rode after them in hot pursuit.

The well‑to‑do players wagered among themselves on every possible outcome, but the prize for any fox who escaped was largest, particularly because it so rarely happened. Today escape was to be rewarded with a spirited yearling colt.

“But,” the speaker went on, a wry smile on his handsome face, “no one will ever catch that whirlwind of hers on the flats.”

Christoph von Hagen and his cousin Max had ridden fast, intent upon getting ahead of the hunt and setting an ambush for the last uncaught ‘fox’ at a steep hill just before the goal. Sitting easily on a powerful bay, Christoph was an Austrian nobleman in his middle twenties. He was tall, erect, and, under the fine tailoring of his elegant clothes, muscular. His dark, curly hair was captured in a black queue ribbon, and his large eyes flashed with intelligence and humor.

Along with an exceptional body, men and women alike agreed that von Hagen was good looking. Men described his face as “open” or “forthright.” The praise of the women was a good deal warmer, tending towards the classical. “Like some pagan god” was the phrase most frequently whispered behind fluttering fans.

Von Hagen’s companion shaded his eyes with his hand, trying to get a better look at the horse blazing across the flower dotted green below. His more ordinary blonde good looks were diminished by proximity to the dark giant.

“Hers? A female? Riding like that?” Fox and Hounds was considered too dangerous for the gentler sex. And wasn’t this fox astride? Astride and wearing trousers?

“The Devil,” the smaller man abruptly exclaimed. He’d answered his own question. “It’s Caterina von Velsen and her red Moroccan.”

“And you know how well that rascal rides.” Christoph said with a broad grin. “Besides, there’s not a horse around that can catch that mare of hers over the flat, not even my Brandy.” One strong hand gave his mount’s glossy, sweating neck a pat.

“We’ve got to get her, Max. Right now.”

As if he understood the urgency, the bay stallion reared. In the next instant horse and rider were plunging down the hill, showering earth and green grass behind.

“Christoph,” called his companion, hurriedly spurring after. “The dike! You can’t go that way!”

If von Hagen heard, he paid no attention. The big bay, black mane and tail flying, continued on course straight towards a lethal looking heap of broken stone. It would have to be taken in one leap, for landing atop it, would certainly break the horse’s legs.   No one had risked his mount across von Beiler’s dike in a generation. Max could hardly believe Christoph would. Cousin von Hagen’s horse was a rare Prussian, bred in the stables of the warrior Elector Frederick, and worth a small fortune.

As he came parallel to the dike, Max reined in to watch the impossible. First came the gathering of the powerful burnished hindquarters of the Prussian, then the breathtaking leap as the bay tucked up his high black stockings and rose skyward.

Max gave a whoop as giant horse and rider flew over the murderous pile with all the elan of a bird of prey. The clean landing on the other side led at once to a resumption of the same regular hoof beat thunder, a relentless charge. Giving another sportsman’s cheer, Max kicked and used his whip, beginning a hasty circumnavigation of the dike.

As he rode forward, he could see the hurtling fox‑-‑Caterina von Velsen‑-‑speeding on a parallel course. Her mare was fully extended, never more than one foot on the ground. The girl’s hat, which she’d worn to hide her hair, had blown off and now her thick braid writhed like a red snake behind her.

More riders, a troop, boomed over the hill. Throwing a glance over her shoulder, Caterina knew that of two foxes, she must be the only one left.

There was a momentary flash of triumph. The yearling would be hers, and how proud Papa would be!

On the other side of the willow banked river she could see the beginnings of the manicured grounds attached to the von Beiler’s Schloss. Anticipating the bridge‑‑the goal, the ground on the other side‑‑Caterina’s gaze swung ahead. That was when she saw a rider coming towards her from an impossible direction, the other side of the insurmountable stone dike.

Gottesblut!” Cursing was unladylike, but it was precisely what she felt. She had at once recognized the big Prussian bay and his equally imposing rider.

Christoph! The only one with the horse, the skill and the guts to try it…

Both horses thundered towards the bridge. For a moment it looked as if they would meet head on. Caterina reined her red mare hard. An impossibly sharp turn later, horse and rider plunged off the high bank, landing with a huge splash in the river.

It was deep here, perhaps deeper than Caterina expected, for it had been awhile since she’d been hunting around von Beiler’s. Her mount came up swimming. Swollen by a recent rain, the water was rushing, carrying them swiftly downstream beneath the bridge.

“Come on, Star,” she urged, grasping the mare’s flowing mane. The bank was lower on the goal side; the water was shallower. It would be easy to get up. She could still win.

As horse and rider swept beneath the bridge, there was a drum roll of hooves above and then an overwhelming deluge. Caterina was still blind and gasping when a man’s big hand came out of the water and seized her braid.

“Got you! Got you, Fraulein Fox.”

“Ow! Let me go! You cheat!”

Furious, struggling with him in the water, she let go of the horse and began to lash at him with her riding crop.

“Hey! Foxes don’t carry those,” he cried, wrenching it out of her hand. “And I didn’t cheat. Brandy jumped the dike fair and square.” Firmly putting one big hand on the top of Caterina’s red head, he dunked her.

In the meantime, the mare had continued her push to the bank. When Cat came up again, choking and sputtering, the first thing she saw was Star scrambling out, her flaxen tail a darkened, dripping tatter.

Christoph, so tall, soon found the bottom as well. With an arm around his coughing quarry, he breasted the water. In another few minutes, he dumped Cat unceremoniously onto the bank.

“Bully! You didn’t have to drown me.”

Grinning, von Hagen threw his considerable length onto the grass beside her. He was equally sodden, but his expression was one of complacent satisfaction.

“You hit me with your crop, so I defended myself. Don’t be a poor sport, Caterina. You were a clever fox, absolutely the best I’ve ever chased.”

“Why did you have to come back from Vienna? And what are you going to do now that you’re here‑‑tell Wili more lies and then let her down again?”

“Scratch, scratch, fierce Cousin Cat.” Christoph pinched her nose. “You know your sweet sister always forgives me. Some day you’ll fall in love yourself and then you’ll be some fellow’s pretty toy too, Stork Legs…”

***

Available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Red-Magic-ebook/dp/B00774BXDA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329195754&sr=1-1

Excerpt From “Double Mocha, Heavy On Your Phone Number” by June Kramin

The last thing Ellie plans on is the relationship outlasting the storm. Bix’s persistence at a relationship and attempts to help her at her job with his computer skills proves to be more than Ellie can continue to push away. She finds herself where she never wanted to be after losing her fiancé a year ago. In love again.

When Ellie’s twin sister shows up and puts all their lives at risk, they must now weather a different kind of storm together.

Excerpt:

Bix was surprised to see Ellie standing in the kitchen when he walked in her house the following Monday. He was hoping to surprise her when she got home from work. She must have left a little early.

“You’re home?” He walked over admiring her hair then gave her a kiss as he ran his fingers through her hair. “What made you go dark?”

“I just felt like a change. You like it?”

“I do.” He kissed her again and weaved his fingers through her hair and to the back of her head.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and began kissing him hard. Getting more aggressive in her kisses, she began pushing him backwards until he was against the wall.

“What got into you, babe?”

“I just missed you.” She kissed his neck then pulled at his shirt, sending buttons flying. Her hands stroked his chest and went down to his belt buckle.

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall as she kissed down his chest. She slid his jeans down, but left his boxers on. Kissing her way back up his chest, she placed her hand at his crotch. He was already getting aroused. “Nice,” she said, giving him a squeeze. Kissing him harder, she began rubbing her hips against him.

“Let’s get down to business, stud.”

His eyes sprang open and he held her by the shoulders, then looked into her eyes. They were the same shade of blue. The same deep blue outline. He looked from one to the other, then saw it. A green fleck that was never there before.

“You’re not Ellie.”

“Dammit.” Her hand still stroked his chest. “You’re quicker than Tony was.”

He pushed her back and quickly pulled his jeans up. “Ellie never mentioned being a twin.”

“It’s no wonder. I’d want to keep you to myself, too.” Again she leaned into him and tried to place her hand on his crotch. He grabbed her hand before she was successful.

“Stop it.”

“Come on. What are you? A choir boy?”

He moved away from the wall so she would stop cornering him. “I don’t know what your game is but—” The sound of a car door closing stopped him.

“Dammit. The party pooper is home. We’ll have to finish later.” She looked to Bix again and ran her tongue over her lips.

Bix tried pulling his shirt together the best he could, but it was a useless attempt with his buttons scattered across the floor.

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