Monday, 28 November 2016

One More Christmas - Novella by A.M. Willard


Cover Design: MadHat Books
Release Date: December 7, 2016
One More Christmas - One Night Series Holiday Edition
In this companion to the One Night Series, we invite you to join Angela and Logan Black for a Tropical Christmas. This special holiday edition will get the heat turned up a few degrees, and we aren't just talking about the Island's sun. It might just get hot enough to melt the snow all the way back home in New York. Leaving the frigid winter weather and their hectic lives behind, Logan and Angela head to the Islands to celebrate Christmas with their son Graham. What do you give the man who has everything? Something money can't buy... Family. Love. Memories. Special guest appearances from Tabitha and Carter, because what's a Christmas without your favorite glitter girl?
About the Author
International Bestselling Author, A.M. Willard resides in Savannah, Georgia. She joined the Peach State many years ago after leaving the crystal blue waters and sugary white sand behind from the Panhandle of Florida. She's also known for being a wife, mother, and caretaker for her farm animals. A.M. loves anything sassy, glittery, and is a sucker for the Hallmark Channel. That last one might be the reason she believes in soulmates or it could be because she married her high school sweetheart almost twenty years ago.
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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Out Soon: One Bad Day by Edie Hart

One Bad Day (One Day Book 1)
By Edie Hart
Print Length: 51 pages

Release day: December 6th 2016

When Tessa agreed to do a favor for her boss, she never thought she’d end up being a mistaken target for a hired killer or falling for the sexy cop who is determined to keep her safe.

Buy One Bad Day on Amazon

Talking to Edie!

AJ And Storm: What tags best describe your genre?
Edie: Contemporary Romance. This particular book is a romantic comedy.

AJ And Storm:     What did you love most about this story?
Edie: It's a fun story. I love the characters. The silliness of it made it fun to write.

AJ And Storm:     Do you ever get writer's block?  How do you cope?
Edie: All the time.  I get stuck on scenes or trying to get from point A to point B.  Sometimes I take a break and it comes to me.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a solution.  Most of the time I come up with solutions in the shower or doing something else that's routine.  It seems like it helps if I mull it over for awhile.

AJ And Storm:     What's the most challenging thing about writing?
Edie: For me, the most challenging thing is getting my characters to do what I want them to do. Many times I have an idea of what direction I want the book to go, but once I start writing, it goes in a different direction.

AJ And Storm:     Tell us about your editor and proofreader. What's your top tip for finding someone good?
Edie: Finding a good editor and proofreader can really make the difference with a book. Good editing a proofreading is extremely important. As far as self-publishing, asking around is always a good way to find someone good. I recommend finding authors (if you aren't already friends) that have books that are similar in genre and style to yours and are edited well. Ask the author who they use. As far as online publishers, you can look at other books that the company has launched to see if the editing/proofreading is good. I was very lucky with Tulip Romance. Their editors and proofreaders are excellent. They've helped make my book (and my writing) stronger.

Edie Hart  Stalker Links 
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Friday, 25 November 2016

Review: Docklands Diamond By S A Smythe

Docklands Diamond
By S A Smythe
60,000 words
M/M erotic romance

I love Savannah Smythe, now rebranded as SA Smythe, so I was expecting to enjoy Docklands Diamond - and I did! 

Docklands Diamond is laugh out loud funny, tender and sexy in turns.  I do love the banter and sense of fun that trademarks British romance novels. It’s so real, and so incredibly human. I think heartwarming is the word I’m looking for.

Alex and his talking cock, Broadsword, had me in fits of giggles. I also liked Leith, the playboy with the dark side, Kento, the fun and sensible friend, Shirley, the embarrassing mum, and Willow, the no-nonsense witch.

Critical reviews mean pointing out the rough with the smooth. There’s nothing bad about this book at all, except that I wasn’t in the mood for a lot of sex, and as it’s an erotic romance, I skipped a few of the longer scenes. It didn’t worry me because the story kept me enthralled.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Review: His Cemetery Doll by Brantwijn Serrah

His Cemetery Doll 
By Brantwijn Serrah 
Horror, erotica
200 pages

A terrific read that would make a good sensuous horror film

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The hero Conall is a nice, ordinary, decent man, possibly one of the best moral men I’ve come across in ages. The child, Shyla, is a great character too, sensitive and not mawkish.

The story itself built nicely, and there was a good balance between horror and hope. Without going into spoilers, this is a story you will probably want to read in one go.

One thing that thrilled me was that it’s set in the UK after WWII and it mentions the bombings of Clydebank where the shipbuilders were working. My father’s family are from there, and my father used to tell me about those bombings so it was odd and yet familiar to see it mentioned here.

The one thing I felt was a bit awkward was the revealing of the reason behind the haunting. There was too much information dumped in one go, and some of it didn’t quite hook up for me.   But overall it was a great read and I’d certainly put Brantwijn Serrah on my Favourite list. 

Buy  His Cemetery Doll by Brantwijn Serrah on Amazon
See other reviews on Goodreads

Monday, 14 November 2016

Black Widow by Jenni Moen

blackwidowbanner black-widow-ebook-final Synopsis “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. Black Widow is Book One in the Black Widow Series. Each book in the three book series will release approximately 3-4 months apart. OUAA_Header_KindleUnlimited
Jenni Moen lives in her hometown in Oklahoma with her husband and three crazy, exuberant kids who have the potential to burn the house down at any moment. When she's not chauffeuring kids around town, performing her mom duties as a short order cook and maid, or vacuuming for her fastidious husband, she hammers away at her keyboard. Sometimes that means she's up to no good. But every now and then a new book is born. AuthorLinks

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Tru Blue by Melissa Foster

Imagine falling in love with a man, then finding out he was a killer...TRU BLUE is a sexy, dark stand-alone novel written in the same loving, raw, and emotional voice romance readers have come to love, and the deeply emotional literary prose women's fiction readers have come to expect, from New York Times & USA Today bestselling, award-winning author Melissa Foster. He wore the skin of a killer, and bore the heart of a lover... There's nothing Truman Gritt won't do to protect his family--Including spending years in jail for a crime he didn't commit. When he's finally released, the life he knew is turned upside down by his mother's overdose, and Truman steps in to raise the children she's left behind. Truman's hard, he's secretive, and he's trying to save a brother who's even more broken than he is. He's never needed help in his life, and when beautiful Gemma Wright tries to step in, he's less than accepting. But Gemma has a way of slithering into people's lives and eventually she pierces through his ironclad heart. When Truman's dark past collides with his future, his loyalties will be tested, and he'll be faced with his toughest decision yet.
"Several emotional topics -- such as drug addiction, abandonment, infertility and unexpectedly becoming a parent -- are easily woven together without making the story feel crowded or overdone. Foster writes exceptional characters that keep readers thinking long after the book is finished... The dynamic members of the Whiskey family are the foundation that holds the group together and they are exactly the reason we're taught not to judge. Let's hope we hear more from all of them!" RT Book Reviews "Sexy and Heartbreaking....I simply adored this beautifully written romance." Tasty Book PR "Ms. Foster, went for the gut with Truman and Gemma. Tru Blue is more than a romance, it is a story of love, a story of hope and a story of courage. 10 + stars." Night Owl Reviews "With her wonderful characters and resonating emotions, Melissa Foster is a must-read author!" New York Times Bestseller Julie Kenner "Melissa Foster is synonymous with sexy, swoony, heartfelt romance!" New York Times Bestseller Lauren Blakely "You can always rely on Melissa Foster to deliver a story that's fresh, emotional and entertaining. Make sure you have all night, because once you start you won't want to stop reading. Every book's a winner!" NYT Bestselling Author Brenda Novak
TRUMAN GRITT LOCKED the door to Whiskey Automotive and stepped into the stormy September night. Sheets of rain blurred his vision, instantly drenching his jeans and T-shirt. A slow smile crept across his face as he tipped his chin up, soaking in the shower of freedom. He made his way around the dark building and climbed the wooden stairs to the deck outside his apartment. He could have used the interior door, but after being behind bars for six long years, Truman took advantage of the small pleasures he’d missed out on, like determining his own schedule, deciding when to eat and drink, and standing in the f**king rain if he wanted to. He leaned on the rough wooden railing, ignoring the splinters of wood piercing his tattooed forearms, squinted against the wetness, and scanned the cars in the junkyard they used for parts—and he used to rid himself of frustrations. He rested his leather boot on the metal box where he kept his painting supplies. Truman didn’t have much—his old extended-cab truck, which his friend Bear Whiskey had held on to for him while he was in prison, this apartment, and a solid job, both of which were compliments of the Whiskey family. The only family he had anymore. Emotions he didn’t want to deal with burned in his gut, causing his chest to constrict. He turned to go inside, hoping to outrun thoughts of his own f**ked-up family, whom he’d tried—and failed—to save. His cell phone rang with his brother’s ringtone, “A Beautiful Lie” by 30 Seconds to Mars. “F**k,” he muttered, debating letting the call go to voicemail, but six months of silence from his brother was a long time. Rain pelleted his back as he pressed his palm to the door to steady himself. The ringing stopped, and he blew out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d trapped inside. The phone rang again, and he froze. He’d just freed himself from the dredges of hell that he’d been thrown into in an effort to save his brother. He didn’t need to get wrapped up in whatever mess the drug-addicted fool had gotten himself into. The call went to voicemail, and Truman eyed the metal box containing his painting supplies. Breathing like he’d been in a fight, he wished he could paint the frustration out of his head. When the phone rang for the third time in as many minutes, the third time since he was released from prison six months ago, he reluctantly answered. “Quincy.” He hated the way his brother’s name came out sounding like the enemy. Quincy had been just a kid when Truman went to prison. Heavy breathing filled the airwaves. The hairs on Truman’s forearms and neck stood on end. He knew fear when he heard it. He could practically taste it as he ground his teeth together. “I need you,” his brother’s tortured voice implored. Need me? Truman had hunted down his brother after he was released from prison, and when he’d finally found him, Quincy was so high on crack he was nearly incoherent—but it didn’t take much for f**k off to come through loud and clear. What Quincy needed was rehab, but Truman knew from his tone that wasn’t the point of the call. Before he could respond, his brother croaked out, “It’s Mom. She’s really bad.”
melissa foster (1)
Melissa Foster is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. She writes sexy and heartwarming contemporary romance and new adult romance, contemporary women’s fiction, suspense, and historical fiction with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Her books have been recommended by USA Today’s book blog, Hagerstown Magazine, The Patriot, and several other print venues. She is the founder of the World Literary CafĂ© and Fostering Success. When she’s not writing, Melissa helps authors navigate the publishing industry through her author training programs on Fostering Success. Melissa has been published in Calgary’s Child Magazine, the Huffington Post, and Women Business Owners magazine.
Melissa hosts an Aspiring Authors contest for children and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa lives in Maryland with her family.
Visit Melissa on social media. Melissa enjoys discussing her books with book clubs and reader groups, and welcomes an invitation to your event.
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Sunday, 6 November 2016

Christmas Candy by Samantha Jacoby

¸.•´¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
       (¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•.

Life isn’t always sweet, even for girls called Candy.

Candice Parker’s life has never been easy. Plagued by losses and setbacks, each day is a struggle for the petite brunette and her young son. When fireman Gary enters her world, he is one mistake she refuses to make; but after tragedy strikes, she may not have a choice.

Gerald Ford has never been what anyone would call settled. Always keeping things simple, he lived a fast and furious lifestyle, with no intentions of slowing down. However, when he inherits his family’s ancestral mansion on his thirtieth birthday, he considers the possibility that it’s time for a change.

Could this complicated young woman be his Christmas Candy?

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samantha.jpgAnyone who knows me could tell you, I am a friendly kind of person, never met a stranger and take up conversations any where at any time. I work hard, and my mind never seems to shut down, as I wake up often in the middle of the night with ideas pouring out and demanding to be dealt with. Of course that means much of my books were written in the middle of the night.

I grew up and still live in the great state of Texas where everything is bigger, where we have warm weather and a central location. I love my state, my town, and my family, which includes my four sons, my significant other, and many friends as well.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the books that are currently available and hope you will enjoy reading them just as much. And of course, there will be many more stories to come.

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Saturday, 5 November 2016

Fletcher is out! Don't miss it! Check out the excerpt!

Fletcher by AJ Adams
Release Date: October 14, 2016
Hosted by: DRC Promotions
goodreads-badge-add-plus-d700d4d3e3c0b346066731ac07b7fe47 small-cover-for-fletcher-by-aj-adams blurb 
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. 


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Here's Lind....
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 creep.
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.
“I’m Lind.”
“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.

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. 

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