“I bet I could make you fall in love in a week.” The offer seals Scott Russell’s fate. After a bitter betrayal and an ugly divorce, the detective is forced to make a fresh start. His new position in a quiet suburb should be a walk in the park compared to his years in Chicago. However, he quickly learns that small towns come with their own issues, with citizens who are slow to forgive and even slower to forget. The town’s wealthy and reclusive author is a mystery to most. To Scott, she’s just another nameless girl on the train. With a reserved smile and shoes worth more than a month’s rent, his only concern is she might be out of his league. “I can give you seven days, but not my heart.” The acceptance is one more in a string of lies. Celeste Smythe doesn’t believe in love at first sight. Relationships take time and sometimes even that isn’t enough. Not with the secrets she harbors in her guarded heart. Yet fate keeps pushing her toward the handsome and absurdly persistent man, and resisting may be more than she can endure, no matter the risks. When the week is over, Scott may think he knows her. Celeste may know she loves him. But when the truth is revealed about the town’s most talked about citizen, he may discover he’s put more than his heart on the line.
Wednesday, 26 October 2016
MICHELLE DARE Michelle Dare is a romance author. Her stories range from sweet to sinful and from new adult to fantasy. There aren’t enough hours in the day for her to write all of the story ideas in her head. When not writing or reading, she’s a wife and mom living in eastern Pennsylvania. One day she hopes to be writing from a beach where she will never have to see snow or be cold again.
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 24, 2016
COVER DESIGNER: COVER ME DARLING – MARISA-ROSE SHOR
PHOTOGRAPHER – COVER ME DARLING – MARISA-ROSE SHOR
MODEL – JOHN CORLESS
ALL NET PROCEEDS OF SALES DONATED TO 4 PAWS FOR ABILITY
Once upon a time, knights in shining armor existed...
We were whisked off on their white horses, taken back to the castle, then crowned their princesses forever...
Then we grew up and wanted more.
Nights that never end. Passion that never dies. Dominance that never stops. Now, we want our alphas: sexy, scintillating, muscled, and masculine. Forget the castle; we crave their cave. Their love doesn't come easily, but their ruthless ways leave us breathless...and begging for more.
Happily-ever-after has never been so much fun, especially now. Multiple authors, along with Once Upon An Alpha, have joined for a collection featuring some of the hottest alpha heroes you'll ever read. Best of all, the proceeds will benefit 4 Paws for Ability.
Stories Contributed to Alphas of Sin: HIS UNDENIABLE SECRET - SHAYLA BLACK BLIND CHANCE - REBECCA BROOKE TIGHT - SKYE CALLAHAN NIGHT OWL - M.C. CERNY THE UNATTAINABLE CHIEF - MICHELLE DARE A PROMISE IGNITED - ANISSA GARCIA SIN ON A STICK - JENNA JACOB LOVE AND OBEY - SAPPHIRE KNIGHT BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED - ISABELLA LAPEARL TRIGGER - GLENNA MAYNARD THE RECLUSE - MORGAN JANE MITCHELL TEASE ME - NIQUEL HEINOUS - ALEXIS NOELLE THE BOSS - J.L. PERRY INEVITABLE - KATHERINE RHODES THE RIGHT CHOICE - BRANDY L RIVERS THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN GEORGIA - M. STRATTON
BEAUTIFUL STRANGER - MADISON STREET MASKED ENCOUNTER - FELICIA TATUM THE GATE KEEPER - ALICE K. WAYNE4 Paws for Ability is a worldwide agency that enriches the lives of children and veterans with disabilities by training and placing quality, task-trained service dogs. For more information about this nonprofit organization: http://4pawsforability.org/
SHAYLA BLACKShayla Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty novels. For over fifteen years, she’s written contemporary, erotic, paranormal, and historical romances via traditional, independent, foreign, and audio publishers. Her books have sold well over a million copies and been published in a dozen languages. Raised an only child, Shayla occupied herself with lots of daydreaming, much to the chagrin of her teachers. In college, she found her love for reading and realized that she could have a career publishing the stories spinning in her imagination. Though she graduated with a degree in Marketing/Advertising and embarked on a stint in corporate America to pay the bills, her heart has always been with her characters. She’s thrilled that she’s been living her dream as a full-time author for the past seven years. Shayla currently lives in North Texas with her wonderfully supportive husband, her teenage daughter, and a very spoiled cat. In her “free” time, she enjoys reality TV, reading, and listening to an eclectic blend of music.
REBECCA BROOKERebecca Brooke grew up in the shore towns of South Jersey. She loves to hit the beach, but always with her kindle on hand. She is married to the most wonderful man, who puts up with all of her craziness. Together they have two beautiful children who keep her on her toes. When she isn’t writing or reading (which is very rarely) she loves to bake and watch episodes of Shameless and True Blood.
SKYE CALLAHANBestselling author, Skye Callahan uses fiction to explore the darker aspects of human nature, and the lengths people might go to fight for love in any situation. Skye’s first romantic suspense Irrevocable was named a Top Read of 2014 by Shayna Renee’s Spicy Reads, and continues to be a fan favorite.
M.C. CERNYM.C. Cerny fell in love with books after experiencing her first real ugly cry reading, Where The Red Fern Grows. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Flashpoint was written in a series of post-it-note ramblings that would likely make her idol Tom Clancy and her mother blush. She is a post graduate of NYU, and calls rural NJ home with her menagerie of human and feline fur-babies. When M.C. is not writing, you’ll find her lurking in Starbucks, running stupid marathons, singing Disney show tunes, and searching out the perfect shade of pink nail polish.
ANISSA GARCIAAnissa Garcia earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communications and English. She held an array of jobs including Public Relations Manager for Barnes and Noble. Wanting a change of pace, she attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and trained full-time in theatre for two years. After working in Hollywood as an actress and casting assistant, she relocated to Austin, Texas and began writing freelance for Cosmopolitan and other publications. Her first book, A Promise Kept, is available now. A Promise Made will be available November 2016. When not writing stories, watching movies, or drinking a latte, she loves to daydream about romantic fictional men.
USA Today Bestselling author Jenna Jacob paints a canvas of passion, romance, and humor as her Alpha men and the feisty women who love them unravel their souls and heal their scars to find their happily-ever-after kind of love. Heart-tugging, captivating, and steamy, Jenna’s books will surely leave you breathless and craving more.A mom of four grown children, Jenna and her Alpha-Hunk husband live in Kansas. Jenna loves books, Harleys, music, and camping. Jenna’s zany sense of humor and lack of filter exemplify her motto: Live. Laugh. Love. Meet the wild and wicked family in her sultry series: The Doms of Genesis. Or become spellbound by the searing love connection between Raine, Hammer, and Liam in her continuing saga: The Doms of Her Life (co-written with the amazing Shayla Black and Isabella La Pearl). Journey with couples struggling to resolve their pasts to discover unbridled love and devotion in Jenna’s new contemporary series: Passionate Hearts.
SAPPHIRE KNIGHTSapphire Knight is the International Bestselling Author of Secrets, Exposed, Relinquish, Corrupted, Forsaken Control, Unwanted Sacrifices, Friction, Unexpected Forfeit, Russian Roulette and Princess. The series are called Russkaya Mafiya, Oath Keepers MC, Ground and Pound, and Dirty Down South. Her books all reflect on what she loves to read herself. Sapphire's a Texas girl who is crazy about football. She's always had a knack for writing, whether it is poems or stories. She originally studied psychology and believes that it's added to her passion for writing. Sapphire is the proud mom of two boys and has been married for twelve years. When she's not busy in her writing cave, she's playing with her three Doberman Pinschers. She loves to donate to help animals and watch a good action movie.
ISABELLA LAPEARLHello Friends! My name is Isabella and I write sexy, erotic romance. I’m a wife, mother, writer, reader and I love to ride my motorcycle. To say it's been an extraordinary journey thus far would be an understatement... what a rush! What a thrill to realize dreams and see them go from a seed to fruition. So for all you aspiring Authors, who like me, have a fire inside that burns brightly and demands to be sated by writing... Never give up.
GLENNA MAYNARDGlenna Maynard is a Kentucky native with a passion for romance, best known for her bestselling romantic suspense novel I'm with You and The Black Rebel Riders' MC series. When she isn't arguing with the voices in her head or drinking reader tears, she enjoys watching classic TV shows with her two children and longtime leading man.
MORGAN JANE MITCHELL
Bestselling Erotic Romance and Paranormal author Morgan Jane Mitchell spent years blogging politics and health trends before she rediscovered her love of writing fiction. Trading politicians for bloodsuckers of another kind, she's now the author of bestselling post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, Sanguis City. Her action packed series of vampires, witches, demons and zombies is paranormal romance, dystopia, urban fantasy and erotica in one bite. When Morgan Jane is not creating the city of blood or conjuring up other supernatural tales, she's dreaming up erotic and dark romances.
NIQUELNiquel is a self diagnosed coffee addict, lover of rice and beans, and chocolate—preferably not all together. She’s the creator of multiple stories full of love, passion, and power. She may toss in a ghost story every once in a while. When she’s not busy taking care of her two little girls, she’s writing or creating graphics. Or you can find her binge watching TV with her significant other. Boston born and raised, she’s always been a creative soul: attending multiple colleges to develop her love of the visual arts. Niquel loves to meet new fans and she’d love to hear feedback from you. Whether it’s positive or negative, your reviews help her grow as an author! You can contact her directly through any of the sites posted below.
ALEXIS NOELLEAlexis Noelle lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her husband, and two kids. On top a writing career, she is a full-time student and a full-time mom. She loves spending time with her kids, although she has to hide the computer from them when she is writing! She love being active and being outdoors, especially if it involves any kind of shopping. She has always been passionate about writing. She loves to read romance books and feels like being able to lose yourself in a book is one of the more exciting aspects. The books she loves to read and write will be ones that make you feel for the characters. Alexis believes that you should have an opinion on every character in a book whether you love them, hate them, or think they are up to something. She also believes that the most important critic is your reader, so she loves to hear from the readers. She wants her fans to be open & talk to her about what they want for the characters in the story, and what they would like to see happen.
J. L. PERRYJ. L. Perry is a mother, a wife, and she resides in Sydney, Australia. She has been writing for just over two years, and has eight published titles to her name. Her first five books were self-published, and in December 2015, she signed a five book deal with publishing giant, Hachette. Her last two releases, Bastard and Hooker, both skyrocketed to #1 on iBook’s after release. Bastard has now been translated into French and Hungarian. She’s a romantic at heart and her love of reading, and HEA’s, is what inspired her to start writing. J. L. loves to connect with her readers.
KATHERINE RHODESArmed with a pen name, Katherine Rhodes has gird her loins and set her mind to writing erotic romances which are kinky, dirty, and fun. As a lackadaisical laundry goddess, and an expert in the profundities of bad music and awful literature-thanks to her husband-Katherine strives to find balance in the universe and time to cook dinner. An East Coast dweller, currently located in the Philadelphia Tristate area, she is the proud servants of three cats and would take a vacation in Prague over a day at the beach any time…
BRANDY L RIVERSBrandy L Rivers is a New York Times and USA Today, bestselling author. Her two main series are: Others of Edenton and Others of Seattle. She has also written a few contemporary stories. An avid reader, Brandy has always loved writing. She became serious about it as a stay-at-home-mother. Her secret lair, guarded by a pint-sized pound puppy who imagines himself a hellhound, contains a file full of manuscripts she plans to edit and publish with new creations she is constantly dreaming up. Living in rainy Western Washington with her husband and three kids, Brandy is already working on future stories in each of the series, along with several other projects.
M. STRATTONM. Stratton is an International Amazon bestselling author in the romantic suspense and mystery suspense categories for her Storm Series and Bender. She lives with her husband and son in Arizona, which is a big difference from where she grew up north of Chicago, Illinois. As an only child she learned to tell herself stories to make the long winters go by quicker while dreaming of summer vacations. Now as an adult she still makes up stories to pass the time, but now she writes them down to share with other people. Stratton is a self-proclaimed dork who loves to make people laugh. Her inner rock star is always on stage performing to a sold out crowd, but she quiet and shy on the outside. She spends her days plotting new ways to surprise her readers.
Madison began writing at a young age. She would write episodes of her favorite television shows and her passion has grown since. She decided to pursue her dreams and debuted her dark romance suspense novel, Little Things, in June 2014. It was well received by thousands of readers and became a bestseller in Romance Suspense on Amazon.
Madison Street was born in New York City and was raised in the Bronx, where she resided until she was 17 years old. After 9/11, Madison joined the United States Navy to serve her country.
During the deployments, Madison constantly wrote short stories and she discovered her passion for writing. You will find Madison always on the computer, whether she's on Facebook, designing websites, messing with Photoshop, or writing for her blog.
FELICIA TATUMFelicia Tatum was born and raised in Tennessee. She always loved reading, and at the age of twelve began writing. Her passion for creating stories grew and in May 2012, she finally wrote her first novel, The White Aura. She still lives in Tennessee with her daughter and her kitty. She loves cooking, books, and animals are some of her best friends. She watches a lot of Disney channel and often dreams up new book ideas. She's currently working on various projects, including the rest of the White Aura Series, the Scarred Hearts Series, and a novella series. Her dream is to write as many books as possible while entertaining as many people as possible.
ALICE K. WAYNEAlice K. Wayne is a paranormal romance/ erotica writer straight out of the Motor City. From a young age books became her favorite escape, and that love eventually turned to writing as well. Alice loves traveling, is a self-proclaimed foodie, sushi addict, selfie Queen, and like all good Detroiters, is completely obsessed with Red Wings hockey.
Monday, 24 October 2016
🎸♪♫♪♫ NEW RELEASE ♪♫♪♫🎸
♥«´¨`•° ROCKIN’ RHYTHM °•´¨`»♥
🎸♪♫♪♫ BELLA JEANISSE♪♫♪♫🎸
Warning: For those 18 and over only. May not be suitable for all readers.
Ash Taylor lives life without making deep connections with anything other than his brothers and his bass. His past has jaded him to love and makes him fear getting too close. Then Michelle walks into his life. Every night, she invades his dreams and stars in his fantasies. She makes him question himself and his ways. However, he is sure she could never date someone like him. So much so, that he convinces himself that she is married.
Michelle Reynolds has been jilted so badly, that she doesn’t want to date again. Her friend Beth tries to encourage her, but all of her relationships end badly or don’t last. She is sick of disappointment. When Ash comes into her life, she feels an immediate spark. He makes her feel special without effort. His big heart and deep voice mesmerize her. As soon as she finds out he is a rock star, her hopes are crushed. In her eyes, it could never work because musicians are not faithful, and she is not good enough for him.
Can these two polar opposites find a way to make a relationship work? Will all that dating a rock star entails break them or bring them closer? Find out in the first book of the Velocity series.
Barnes and Noble:
Bella Jeanisse lives for rock music. Addicted to concerts, Avenged Sevenfold, fictional rockers, and blasting music in the car, she can’t get enough. After her father turned her on to Queen, there was no going back. Of course, it didn’t stop there. Playing guitar became a pastime, which didn’t turn into a career… until she started to pen her fantasies and publish them.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York City, she grew up with access to clubs like L’Amour and CBGBs, hung out in Greenwich Village, as well as had plenty of friends in bands. No wonder rockers stayed on her mind. Bringing her ideas to life was a long time coming.
She is now living near Tampa, FL with 3 kids and 2 grandkids, as a single mom. Her family supports her writing even when it seems to take up more time than they feel is necessary. Can’t stop the muse, ya know!
Besides erotic rock star romances, Bella also writes about wild bikers, hot college men and more.
Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/bella.jeanisse
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/Bella.Jeanisse.Books
Facebook fan group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/866525666714069/
Facebook street team: https://www.facebook.com/groups/339160419575295/
Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Bella-Jeanisse/e/B009J0QN6C
Friday, 21 October 2016
by AJ Adams
Ware Fletcher returns to find his home destroyed. Determined to avenge his family, he buys Lind, a thrall whose skills will secure his revenge. However, Ware quickly discovers that Lind is extremely difficult. Worse, she’s determined to run away - and if it’s over his dead body, that’s fine with her!
Fletcher is set in Prydain, an imaginary place that combines Anglo-Saxon England with Medieval England, the Teutonic Kingdom and the Viking Age. This story contains slavery, dubious consent and graphic violence, however, it is a love story rather than a dark romance. It is a standalone novel; no cliff-hangers.
I am the world’s worst thrall. I never do what I’m told, I don’t call anyone sir, and you need to beat the hell out of me just to get my attention. Every master I’ve ever had has given up on me. Jarvis started off caning me, but even he gave up trying to get me to toe the line. He abused and sold my body, but he couldn’t stop me raging at him.
Of course, he had all the power and I had none. With the city-based masters I was okay because I could eat and rest between fighting and being punished, but Jarvis bought me in Haven, and then he got a job as guard on a convoy to Tanweld and then another on to Caern, so we were on the road.
It’s a hard life, following a convoy. You walk all day, and at night you want to sit down and die. Being a thrall, I had to cook and do laundry whenever we stopped. And being Jarvis’ thrall, I had to work a guard or two after that, as well. After five months of that, I was burned out and exhausted. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
By the time we arrived in Caern, I was desperate. Jarvis was broke, and as he didn’t have a home of his own, I knew I’d be on my back in return for a discount at a cheap lodging.
Jarvis had a worse plan. “I’m going to visit my cousin, the Guild steward. He’ll find me a job.”
“Like he’d want a pig like you,” I muttered. Of course I got slapped for that, but it was worth it.
“I’m leasing you to a brothel,” Jarvis snarled. “They’ll pay me a copper a week for your services.”
You know, I almost died then. Brothel girls service twenty men a day. Even if they’re fed, they don’t last long. They age and die in months. It’s a slow, lingering death.
That’s when I spotted the seneschal dressed in red velvet, escorting two little girls dressed in silk and lace, and I saw opportunity. In short, I did a back-flip, walked on my hands and then juggled six apples from a nearby fruit stand.
The kids laughed, and that’s when the duke’s seneschal came over and bought me. “A most unusual show,” the fat-gut said. “Excellent. Very charming.”
“She’s well-trained.” Jarvis was instantly talking me up. “She tumbled for the Duke of Haven!”
I saw my way out and dipped into a curtsy, something I hadn’t done since I’d been with the blacksmith. “It would be an honour to entertain you, noble sir!”
The seneschal smiled, and then he and Jarvis haggled over my price. I’ve no idea what was paid because I was too relieved to even think. I thought I’d been bought to entertain the kids, and I was so thankful to be away from that horror Jarvis that I wept.
Once in the duke’s keep, I was told to bathe, and afterwards I was given a clean shift, a pretty one made of linen, a green tunic, black skirts cut full and flowing, and pretty matching slippers.
I should have known it was too good to be true. The seneschal inspected me and smiled. “Very fetching,” he remarked. “The duke will be charmed.”
“Damn right!” I remembered my manners. “I mean, yes sir,” I said hastily. “Does my lord like tightrope walking? I can juggle with lit flares, too!”
“The duke has professional entertainers,” the seneschal said indifferently. “Perhaps he will ask you to perform if you please him.”
“The duke returns soon. You will await his pleasure, girl.”
Then I was locked up in a small room off the duke’s sleeping chamber.
That’s when I snapped. The Duke of Caern is sixty years old. He’s had four wives, and he’s famous for remarking, “I ride my women hard; they wear out fast.” From the shackles by the bed, I knew what the old bastard’s pleasures would be like.
So I went out the window.
You know what happened next. I’ve seen floggings, and I thought I was dead, so I had nothing to lose.
“Your arse is the playground of every mercenary between Brighthelme and Rashelm!” I screamed it loud enough to be heard all over the city. “The duke’s a perverted fat-gut old enough to be my grandfather!”
When they stripped me and tied me to the whipping post I fought, bit and kicked, and I didn’t cry. Not one tear. I swore I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. But between you and me, I was terrified. I knew they’d make an example of me, and dying was going to be slow and agonising.
Then he appeared, bowing like a thrall in front of the fat-gut seneschal. “Ware Fletcher,” he said, adding some smooth talk about wanting to pay his respects. I knew his game, right from the start. He just glanced my way, but that swift look went right through me. I knew he was after me.
While he smarmed, oiling all over the seneschal, I looked the fletcher over. He was richly dressed and hailed as a craftsman, but his bow and leather arm guard marked him as an archer. Then the constable said he’d worked in the duke’s army. I couldn’t see a device or badge, but from his bearing, he was a soldier still.
Unlike the hulking giants employed by most cities, this man was slender. He had blond hair, cut at jaw length, and large, wide-set light grey eyes fringed with absurdly long lashes. The effect gave an illusion of almost feminine frailty, but I spotted the long, ropey muscles flexing as he moved, and the eyes were hard as flint.
“The Duke of Caern’s reputation is his life.”
His accent marked him as a Llanfaes man. It all added up to mercenary. This man was a killer, another Jarvis. Unlike that whoreson’s rough tones, though, this one spoke softly, flattering the seneschal shamelessly. I hated him on sight. I was also confused. The master fletcher was obviously intent on buying me, but it made no sense. Why in Tyr’s name did he want me?
“I have need of a girl to serve me on my travels.”
Right, because he’d want a cheap runaway slut rather than a humble girl or youthful apprentice eager to please. But the pages were picking up the clothes I’d been given and walking away. As I didn’t want to die under the whip, I kept my thoughts to myself and dared to hope.
The fletcher bowed and scraped some more, so much so that the seneschal went off quite happy, and the constable was all friendly as well. “Come and see me tomorrow, Ware. I want to hear all the news.”
“It would be an honour,” the smooth-speaking bugger smiled.
“Bring your latest work. Let’s see what next year’s bowmen will use.”
“I’m flattered, sir.”
The duke’s constable went off, and Fletcher walked over to me, treading lightly. “What is your name, girl?” He was untying my wrists. He smelled good, of wood and cloves. Maybe it was the longbow. It was finest yew, polished and glossy from mindful care.
“A pretty Tanweld name. You were a tumbler once?”
“A long time ago.”
“But you’ve not lost your skills.” The slate eyes were examining me. For a moment I sensed black rage coming from him. Then he smiled and the feeling vanished. “Lind. That means tender beauty, doesn’t it? How appropriate.”
He was a joker. Terrific.
He took off his cloak and put it around my shoulders, covering my nakedness. “Let’s go, Lind.”
The people who’d gathered to watch my execution disappeared at that point, disappointed by the abrupt halt of their entertainment, by the looks on their faces.
Only one, a smith wearing a leather apron, was hovering. When Fletcher set off, he was with us, grinning like a bastard and rubbing his hands. “Well now, who would’ve thought it? This is a story indeed!”
“An impulse,” the fletcher said quietly. “Be careful, Master Smith, the duke won’t take kindly to gossip. After today, nobody will speak of this. It never happened.”
“Oh, I won’t say a word!” The bugger was lying, he’d talk for weeks. “I’m well known for keeping secrets.” More like blabbing them, I was sure of it.
I pulled the cloak around me, enjoying the softness of the velvet lining, and followed, wondering what this strange man had in mind.
We went straight to the smithy, where a big black horse with white socks was waiting. Remarkably, it was just hanging around, not hitched or hobbled in any way. When he saw us, he neighed and stepped out into the street. I swear he looked me over, just as a human might.
“We add Lind to our company,” Fletcher was talking to the horse, and for the first time he really smiled. The iron eyes went soft and the hard mouth softened. When it came to his horse, Ware Fletcher was quite human. “Wolf, meet Lind.”
Wolf, a strange name for a horse, right? But he neighed again, just as if he understood.
“A bright and knowing steed,” the smith had caught the oily bug, too. Then he looked at me, and I know he was thinking I didn’t look half as good.
The horse snorted and butted the fletcher, who smiled. “Wolf is hungry, and so am I.”
He handed a coin to the smith and we exited, smiling and pleasant but without any of the crawling humility he’d shown earlier. “Come, Wolf, there are oats and hay waiting for you.”
It was weird, walking down the cobbled street with the horse following like a dog. He just strolled into the stable, too, settling into his box as if he owned it, checking over the feeding bag of oats, nudging the boy who came running with a fork of hay as a thank-you and then neighing again as if saying goodnight.
“Sleep well, Wolf.”
The strangely named horse was spoiled, and it turned out we were, too. Ware Fletcher was staying in the Merry Troubadour, Caern’s most expensive tavern, and the owner was there, grovelling beautifully. “Master Fletcher, your supper is waiting!”
“We need an extra cover.”
The man looked me over. “There’s room in the scullery for your thrall.”
“She eats with me.”
The innkeeper looked affronted but said politely, “Sir?”
“Mutton, I believe you said. With apple pie to follow.”
Again, he spoke softly and he was smiling, but the eyes were hard again. Also, there was a sudden, subtle air of violence. That didn’t surprise me because Llanfaes men are famous for being nutcases. They’re mercenaries because they think tearing a place to pieces and killing everyone is fun.
“Sir! I meant no disrespect!” Instantly the owner was bowing and scraping, no doubt worried his place would be taken apart if he pissed the fletcher off.
Despite the crawling, the innkeeper’s eyes were filled with horror at the thought of a thrall eating with her master. Especially one who was starkers under a cloak.
Me, I was salivating. I hadn’t had mutton in years, not since I was given scraps after tumbling for castle lords. As for apple pie, I was dizzy at the mere thought.
“Come, Lind, we’ll find you a tunic.”
He had a room all to himself. There was a fireplace, a four-poster bed as fine as a duke’s, a massive copper wash basin and a flagon of wine. But my eyes were drawn to the big box of tools with a small hammer and pincers lying just on top. At the sight of those, I could feel the collar around my neck bump and burn.
I stood there, suddenly paralysed by the need for freedom. My bid for decent work, entertaining the little nobles, had been a last effort. It had been building for months, years maybe, but at that point I knew I wasn’t doing it anymore.
I would not live another day as a thrall. No more scutwork, no more crawling and never, ever would I call a man my master. Never.
Getting rid of the collar was key. If I could use those pincers to get it off, I could run. I’d not get far with it, certainly not past the guards on the gate who’d not let a thrall pass without her owner, but without it, I might make it. Then I’d be free forever.
“You have grey eyes, tender beauty. You’ll look lovely in blue.”
I was ignoring him, making my plans instead. Thralls who try to run away are punished with a flogging if they’re lucky, or by having a foot cut off if they’re not, so I cast down my eyes and hid my thoughts.
I needn’t have bothered because my new owner wasn’t paying attention. He was looking in a small chest, moving aside a small bow made of ash and a crossbow made of yew, both of superb craftsmanship, worth a fortune.
The tools of his trade were everywhere. A large bag held more gear: hemp strings, tallow and wax for polishing, and quivers of arrows made from ash, poplar, beech and hazel, tipped with different sized arrowheads and fletched with feathers dyed red, blue and green.
“This will fit.” It was a tunic of blue linen, embroidered with yellow stitching. It was beautiful, the material soft, thick and cut generously. When I put it on, it fell to my knees. Ware Fletcher was rich, and he enjoyed his luxury.
He was taking my hands. “Let me see your wrists.” His fingers were long, the nails shaped neatly, and while his left hand was soft, the right was rough, the skin hardened with calluses along the palm, thumb and middle three fingers. You only get that from firing thousands of arrows. He was a bowman, too, not just a craftsman.
That was odd. A fletcher might follow the drum so that his lord’s archers would always have a good supply of arrows, but none stoop to work as professional bowmen. And master craftsmen are extremely proud. Far too proud to go a-wandering. They set up shop, employ apprentices to do all the hard work, and sit back while clients seek them out.
This man didn’t have a tonne of servants running after him. What was even weirder was that he carried a longbow and had a crossbow in his luggage, both fine weapons and well used. Mercenaries are expert in one or the other, not both! It argued he was a superb archer as well as a master craftsman. I’d never heard of such a thing.
“Your wrists are raw.” He was turning my hands over. “But they’ll heal quickly.”
Aside from rope burn there were black marks on my arms and legs. The pages had enjoyed pinching and punching. Suddenly I was exhausted. I was shaking, too, an after-effect of all the fear and anger.
His gaze softened and he put an arm around me. “Come. A little wine and some food will set you right.”
It was weirder and weirder. Thralls don’t get wine. Some of the mercenaries Jarvis had lent me to had shared their gin and beer, and on one heavenly occasion I’d had rum, but they’d never ever worried about whether I was hungry or not.
“Follow me, tender beauty. Our supper awaits.”
We went downstairs, and I fell into a dreaming state. Even now it seems unreal. We ate steaming bowls of mutton with white beans and leeks, followed by an apple pie rich with spice and covered in custard.
There were people all around us, but I can’t say I noticed them. I was sunk in my chair, a deep scoop made of cane and filled with plump cushions, floating in my own slice of heaven. I had never been that well-fed or that comfortable.
Ware was sipping honeyed wine from a goblet, deep in his own thoughts. He’d not said a word. It’s not like anyone’s ever talked to me much, but even Jarvis had wanted to know if I could cook and wash. All Ware knew was that I could swear and kick. It didn’t seem like good qualifications for anything. Still, the silence was nice, so I closed my eyes and drifted.
“Lind.” He was touching my shoulder, the grey eyes dark. “Come to bed.”
At that, my peace shattered. My stomach churned. I wanted to slap him. Or maybe to scream. My collar burned and choked me.
“Up you get.” He was lifting me out of the chair, plucking me from paradise.
In desperation I tried to talk my way out of it. “I’ll go to the scullery.”
The eyes were dark and inscrutable. “You sleep with me.”
There was no escape, none. I could feel sweat running down my back. I wanted to belt him and run. I didn’t because it wouldn’t help me. Thralls belong to their masters. That’s the law.
In Master Baker’s house it had been his apprentice who’d taken me. It had been brutal and fast. One moment I’d been cleaning pots, and the next he’d thrown me on my back, lifted my tunic, and then there was a searing pain.
I’d been too shocked to cry and too ashamed to tell anyone. When the baker found out, he’d slapped me. “It was your only value and you lost it, you little slut!”
The baker hadn’t wanted me after that, but his son did. He enjoyed hurting, and when he went too far, I hit back. My defiance earned me a beating, and then I was sold on.
My story isn’t unusual; all masters use their thralls. Over the years I’d learned to control them so it didn’t hurt when they had me, and I’d figured out how to make them finish fast, too. But in all that time, when I was sick, sore or exhausted, not one of them had ever heeded my pleas to let me be.
So I didn’t beg because I knew there was no point. I said nothing as Ware took me upstairs, and I didn’t struggle as he took the seam of the blue tunic and pulled it over my head. “Into bed, Lind.”
I could hit him on the head with the hammer, cut through the collar with the pincers and run. Except that he didn’t turn his back, and the toolbox was on the far side of the room. He tugged off his boots, his hose and then his tunic, folding them neatly and placing them on a stool.
I’d been right. Stripped of the rich embroidered linen, all I could see was rippling muscle. Even his stomach was brawny. Amazingly, he didn’t have a single scar. Every soldier I’ve ever seen has a souvenir from a lance, dagger, sword or arrow. Ware Fletcher had smooth, white skin, pearly as a girl’s. Well, not mine because I’m sallow where I’m not tanned, but princesses would prize Ware’s bright hide.
Men might have envied his cock. It was standing straight up in the air, as jaunty as the duke’s tower and pretty near as big. The girly man was built like a damn mule.
He slid into bed, leaving the candles lit. His skin was soft, his body hard. He smelled of wood, just like his bows and arrows. “Let me look at you, tender beauty.”
He was mocking me, but the hands were careful. He ran a hand over my waist, my hip and then my thigh. His touch was firm, his skin warm. I thought he might pinch, they often do, but he just rubbed and looked. Then it hit me: he was inspecting me, checking me over as if I were a horse bought from a stranger at the market. Humiliation swept through me.
He ran a finger over my hip. “These little white marks, are they from a cane?”
“Yes.” A permanent reminder from the jongleur to tumble faster.
He turned me over a little, his hand moving over my shoulders. “These too?”
“Riding crop.” When I’d fainted from hunger, the tanner had thought whipping was cheaper than feeding me.
His hand was on my bottom. “And this?”
“Like I’d remember! Probably all of them!”
The eyes were like steel, and for a moment I regretted snapping at him. Ware Fletcher had fed me, but he was a Llanfaes man and therefore dangerous. He didn’t hit me, which was a relief, but if I wanted to run, he had to be lulled. I had to stop my rage getting the better of my sense. But my fury wouldn’t let me bow my head or smile.
He pulled me closer. “It would seem I need to buy a crop or cane.”
I thought it was a threat, but there was no anger. Actually, he was smiling a little. Great. He was laughing at me again. How nice that me being thrashed amused him.
His hands were in my hair, his erection pushing against me. “But I think Wolf would disapprove.”
What in Tyr’s name did his damn horse have to do with it?
“You see,” the voice was soft, “we don’t believe in whips.”
For a moment I didn’t get it. Then I realised he’d not been mocking or threatening. Ware was telling me that he wouldn’t beat me.
“Lind.” He was holding me close to him, arms around me.
Maybe if he’d talked to me, it would’ve been different. Maybe. But he decided it was conversation over. The master had told the thrall she’d not be thrashed, and in exchange I was supposed to fall into his arms and weep with gratitude and relief. As if he was hanging around the neck of the smith, the constable and everyone else for not whipping me at will! As if it was the world’s right to hurt me!
At that point my rage boiled over. But instead of fire, I was filled with icy calm. I lifted my eyes and spoke sweetly, “Would Wolf approve of this?” Then I flexed against him, dropping my hand on his hot flesh, rubbing the tip of his straining cock gently with my fingertips.
“Yes,” he sighed. “Oh yes!”
He was quivering with need, arching slowly against me in lascivious delight. I pushed his hardness between my legs, readying myself for what was to come. The body obeys the mind, and I had learned to control mine. As I thrust against him, feeling myself dampen, I gave him an encouraging moan.
“Tender beauty!” His breath was ragged in my ear, his fingers tracing my shoulders and moving down to cup my arse. If I’d left him to it, he would have taken his time. As I wanted it over fast, I rolled onto my back, pulled him over me and spread my legs. He was sliding into me before he could stop himself.
He was big, and for a moment I thought it would hurt, but he slowed, giving me time to adjust. When I was certain I’d be all right, I moaned again, arched my hips and ran my fingers down his back. He groaned and another bump of my hips had him moving hard against me, thrusting deep.
He slid his hands underneath me, holding me close. His touch was gentle, his movements slow and careful. The massive cock stroked and thrust as he ground against my clit. It was a sweet feeling, and he smelled good.
I closed my eyes and felt myself relax. He held me tenderly, and the bed was soft. His scent reminded me of the forest, clean and close, filled with peace. As we moved together in soft silence, I became soaking wet. The spiced wine washed back, too, adding a pleasant haze. I found myself clinging to him, swept into a world of sweet sensation.
As his body heated, the scent of wood enveloped me. The hardness driving into me tightened my body while his hands, gentling me, held me fast. He was fierce yet gentle, his body hard and yet soft against mine. I was drowning in a world of contrast.
I hung there, forgetting to push him to a quick finish. Our bodies danced together, subtle and firm, limber and gentle, that fragrance as sweet as a kiss.
I held onto him, feeling the muscles flex and writhe under my hands. I felt breathless, as if teetering on the edge of a secret place. Now my moans were real, pulled from me by fierce thrusts. Gasping for air, my body arched into his, heating inexplicably, and then we were pulsing together.
My body flamed, my cold control vanquished. My breath was stuck in my throat, my thighs were quivering, and a sudden heat was building deep inside me.
I curled into him, my hands raking over his back, lost in time. My body floated, feeling the soft skin and hard body brush and skim against mine. My senses were swamping me, ramping up to some hidden climax. I was arching, my body burning when he was exploding into me.
“Apollo’s laurel wreath and bow!” Trust a fletcher to come up with that, right? “Sweet Lind! Tender beauty.” Yes, I was in favour. So why did I feel a searing disappointment? As if I’d lost the opportunity for something?
I forced myself to face facts. It didn’t matter. Freedom was my goal. His hands were in my hair, his lips on my shoulder. I wanted to push him away, to go curl up by the fire, but sense told me to be patient. He’d send me off soon to the stables, or maybe I’d rate the rug by the fire, and then he’d fall asleep.
But Ware had other ideas. We dipped into the copper, cleaned up and then he slid me back into bed. He blew out the candle, curled me onto my side and wrapped an arm around me.
Getting to sleep in bed was a first. I lay there, totally taken aback. “Tomorrow we buy you a shift,” he murmured. “You need boots, too.”
That knocked the breath out of me! I’d worn boots when I was with the jongleur—it’s vital to look prosperous when entertaining nobles—but I’d not had footwear since. Boots would mean an end to bruised and cut feet as well as thorns and thistles, poop and other nameless horrors. It was a small slice of paradise.
“Sweet dreams, Lind.”
And just like that, he was asleep. I lay there, suddenly plagued by doubt. Oh, not about running for my freedom. That was the one certainty. A world of boots couldn’t buy my obedience. No, what worried me was how to get away clean.
If the guards at the gate stopped me, I had no tale to tell. The collar leaves a mark; the iron wears the skin, and that meant I’d have to steal a scarf as well as a tunic. It would look odd, a girl going out alone, though. And I didn’t have a skirt, either.
Then it hit me: with Ware’s wardrobe at my disposal, I’d dress as a boy. With my hair, it might work. If I left just at sunrise, when the shadows were long, I could swagger out. Yes, a young man out about his business was immune from curious guards. Probably.
For a moment I hesitated. The whipping post was fresh in my mind. Then I gave myself a boot up the bum. It was time. Any more delay and I’d lose courage, worrying about the difficulties.
I snuck out from under Ware’s arm and crept to the toolbox. The hammer lay on top. It looked fearsome.
I sat back and reconsidered. He hadn’t hurt me, had in fact fed me better than I’d ever been. Also, he’d been gentle in bed. I put down the hammer and picked up a wooden staff. He’d have a sore head, but it wouldn’t kill him.
I moved back to the bed, standing over him. I hesitated, struck again by doubts. Then, suddenly taking courage, I brought the staff up and swung.
About AJ Adams
I live in Malaysia with Tom, my best friend for 25 years and married for almost as long. Aside from writing fiction, I write columns and features for newspapers and magazines. You're welcome to follow or stalk but be warned - I love cats so my feed is full of pussy...