Total Pageviews

Friday, September 23, 2016

Diamond In the Rough

The maid stood aside and took in the activity of the huge, hot room. As hearths go, the one in this kitchen was big enough for a half dozen soldiers to stand in shoulder to shoulder. Not that they'd be fool enough to do so since the fire was going almost constantly. It was allowed to die every now and again so that the ashes could be cleaned, but other than that there was always something cooking.
Two boys about ten years of age were in charge of slowly turning the spit to keep the meat from becoming charcoal. The maid hurried past, ruffling the hair of one of the boys and noting the annoyance in his eyes. He and his companion were mindful of their duty and paid close attention to the crackling and spitting of heated fat that fell drop by drop onto the burning wood. If they didn't, Dodie the cook would be the first to remind them with a swat to the back of their heads--Dodie's touch was never an easy one. The boys would have preferred to be elsewhere, like the bailey where they could watch a few of the soldiers practice their fighting skills.
Dodie's husband, Jacob, was a tall, thin man. He shoved a wooden paddle into an oven and slid out the source of a delectable aroma--several loaves of bread--which was then dropped onto the nearby table to cool. The kitchen maid ducked and neatly avoided being smacked with the passing paddle when Jacob turned to remove more bread before it could burn. Never missing a step, the maid approached another table and set down the basket she carried. Herbs and freshly cut flowers added to the symphony of scents. She glanced about, amazed that more people didn't collide into one another within the tight confines of the kitchen. The space was about one third the size of the great hall, but even then, when it got busy, there wasn't much room for getting around.
She set the flowers aside then took a sharp knife to chop the herbs. Each went into a separate small bowl according to type. She liked working in here amid the hustle and bustle of preparing meals and the frequent disagreements that didn't always directly involve the chores that went on. Sometimes the arguments were of a more personal the one currently brewing between two of the girls who were supposed to be plucking feathers.
"No need for disputes, children," the maid chided them. "There's more than enough work to go around and not enough time to get it done. Leave the arguing for when you have a chance to do it properly." The girls, she noticed, had crimson faces, but she wasn't sure if it was from the light-hearted scolding or the heat of the kitchen. Since they always had work to keep them busy, the maid knew the quarrel would soon be forgotten.
The maid looked up to see a young boy making his way around tables and the kitchen staff in an attempt to reach her. He was out of breath when he finally stood before her. "What is it, Jemmy?" She waited until the lad had caught his breath before getting a response. He must have been running all the way from wherever  he'd come.
" are to present the council chamber...immediately...if not sooner."
Tessa patted Jemmy on the should and gave him a brief smile. Oh, lord, what have I done this time?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Band of Gold

     Derek stared up at the sky and vaguely wondered how it could have managed to get any darker. He watched the rain come down like so many tiny shards of sleet. He closed his eyes and let it pelt his face. There was no point in chasing her. He'd been dumb enough to leave his car out front and she'd grabbed his set of keys on her way out the door. She was so quick he could almost believe she'd planned it. The only problem with that scenario was the fact she had no way of knowing he'd parked out front rather than in the garage as he always did. By the time he got her car out of the garage to go after her, she could have vanished in any direction. He had no idea where she might go. All he could do was wait and hope she quickly came to her senses and slowed down before something happened. Nothing for him to do but give her time to cool off and see reason. Maybe then, they could discuss the problem like two adults. Derek reluctantly stepped back into the house and eased the door closed.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fool's Gold

coming in Feb. 2013
 Candace McAvoy is trapped in the past and about to get stuck with marriage she doesn't want. Being rescued by a tall, dark stranger has its advantages but she might just be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. What's in it for him?


She stopped short before running headlong into a third man. “Where do you think you are going, wife mine?” he asked, the corners of his mouth turning up in a slow smile.

Candace stepped backward, two steps for each one he took until she found herself surrounded.

“Nathan Granger. What brings you out of your hidey-hole?” Jamie asked, amused to see the intruder Lynsdale would surely determine was unwelcome. Jamie knew of a grudge between them but not the particulars.

“You cannot marry her.” The stranger ignored Jamie’s comment in favor of his own announcement. He grasped Candace’s wrist, ignoring her attempt to free herself.

“Why is that?” Lynsdale demanded. “Are you saying you have a prior claim on her?”

“I am saying exactly that. We were handfasted this last fortnight, for a year and a day. There is no undoing what was promised before witnesses.” He had the right of it, the strongest claim. In spite of Candace’s subtle tugging to get free, he refused to relinquish his hold on her.

Jamie snickered. “I never thought of you as the kind to take a wife, whether handfasted or in a kirk.”

When Nathan’s words finally penetrated Candace’s brain she looked up at the man she thought might have arrived to rescue her. “What are you saying?”

“Are you so daft you’ve forgotten your promise? You wound me.”  The hurt expression on his features failed to reach his eyes.


“Must you always demand the last word be yours?”

Candace’s jaw fell open while she stared up into his deep blue eyes. No one ever spoke to her in that manner or tone.

Hooking a finger under her chin he gently eased her jaw upward until her mouth was firmly shut. “Close your mouth, woman. Not another word.”  He whispered the warning in her ear and backed away, but not before he’d left a kiss on the sensitive skin just behind her earlobe. He smiled at her shiver and stepped back, a look of arrogant satisfaction on his face.




McKinley's Jewel


For the last four hundred years, a story about missing gems pops up now and again but no one has ever been able to verify the story. When the laird goes missing, his personal assistant, Bonnie-Jean Russell wonders if the disappearance has anything to do with the legend. She doesn't have much time to get to the bottom of the mystery or discover if what's in her heart is the real thing.
“To more pleasant subjects,” Colette said, after taking a bite of her salad. “How is that handsome laird of yours? I hope he’s not working you too hard, what with the upcoming charity ball.”

“He’s not my laird, and no, he’s not working me too hard. There is one odd thing though,” she continued, a puzzled look on her features. Had it already been a week since he’d told her about his father’s loan? It seemed like only this morning they’d conversed about that and the ball. Shortly after he’d left for what he’d said would be a short business trip. Bonnie thought there might be a woman involved somewhere and he’d gone off to see her. No, somehow that didn’t feel right either. “He’s been away for several days now, and it isn’t like him to disappear just before an important event like the ball he’s hosting.”

“Did you report it to the police?”

“No, it could be a last minute business trip...he said as much but I think this time it’s more personal.  Sometimes he’s gone as long as a month. The police will just say it’s another one of those impromptu trips and he’s been too busy to keep in touch. The fact the timing is all wrong doesn’t matter to them.”

“Where did he go? Perhaps he’s been negotiating some sort of deal and it’s taking longer than he’d planned.”

“That’s my point. As his assistant, I always make his travel plans for him, and he lets me know where he’ll be in case I need to get in touch with him. This time…this trip wasn’t on his agenda. It’s as if he’s vanished into thin air. I can’t reach him on his cell phone. All my messages have gone to voice mail. I’m worried something’s happened to him.”

“I’m sure he can take care of himself. He never struck me as the helpless sort. Tell me about the ball. What do you have planned this year?” Colette changed the subject as if the laird were on a brief vacation and due home any minute.

“Candace actually came up with a good idea. She suggested a bachelor auction to raise more money. David is supposed to be one of the bachelors.”

“Who would have thought beneath all that red hair, there might actually be a brain.” Both women laughed at the comment then concentrated on finishing their lunch.

The Legend and the Laird

Her need for revenge outweighs her duty to her betrothed and his clan. Raven McDraoigh and her mentor have been riding through the Scottish highlands for several years, searching for clues to the man responsible for her mother’s murder and the massacre of her clan. When she runs out of places to search she can only turn to her betrothed, Jamie McKay, laird of Clan McKay. But Jamie has other ideas in mind.

       For the last ten years, Jamie believed his wife was dead, murdered along with her mother and clan. Imagine his surprise when she turns up on his doorstep. A battle of wits is about to take place. Jamie wants a wife, a partner to lead his clan. She won’t give in until she’s fulfilled her vow.

When the McDraoigh Legend stands against the Laird of Clan McKay, there’s sure to be fireworks.

James Alexander MacKay slouched in his chair and stared at the document on his desk. How had he gotten himself into this mess? He had been polite to Lord Carlisle’s stepdaughter, and manners had somehow been mistaken for courtship. The nobleman was showing signs of impatience, waiting to see the chieftain’s mark on the paper. True, Jamie was expected to marry. Having no siblings, the responsibility of an heir fell to him alone. Andrew was the only person to know the truth of the matter, and he’d been sworn to silence long ago.
Andrew sat back in the window seat. Despite the warmth of the sun glowing through the window, he felt the cold stones behind his back. The spring day was bright, but couldn’t dispel the foreboding he felt. Andrew seemed to pay no attention to his nephew’s dilemma, preferring to stare at the distant mountains. Jamie’s future lay somewhere beyond those mountains, but the younger man refused to do anything about it. Sometimes, Andrew didn’t understand his nephew. Willing to try one more time to get Jamie to see reason, he never turned from the highland view he loved. “Tell Carlisle outright why you cannot sign that foolish paper. It is the only way to end this farce.”
“You, of all people know I can’t do that. No one but you, knows of that other business, and until I’m shown proof it is done, I can do nothing about this, except delay him longer. Even if nothing stood in the way, I’d sooner cut my own throat, than be wed to that…that harridan.”
Andrew laughed at the apt description, but had to agree with Jamie. Before either could comment further, a rap on the library door drew their attention. The young servant lost her balance when the door was shoved open. Andrew rose quickly at the disturbance, turning in time to see a stranger grab the girl’s arm before she fell. The girl quickly stepped back,  moving closer to the door. She crumpled the edge of her apron within her fingers, nervous over the intrusion into the chieftain’s library. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted when a pleasant female voice cut in.
“Rather a messy solution, I would think, and your people would have the untimely chore of choosing a new chieftain.” The newcomer stood before the desk as Jamie dismissed the servant girl with a nod.
Jamie and the newcomer studied each other carefully, while Andrew watched the scene with amusement. He had a fairly good idea who their guest was and had expected her to arrive eventually.
Jamie sat back and ran the feathered quill through his fingers, slowly, contemplatively, never taking his blue eyed gaze from her. There was a kind of arrogance in her stance. He liked that. It meant she wasn’t easily intimidated. One hand rested lightly on the hilt of a broadsword, while the other remained loosely at her side. A dirk was sheathed at her belt. Her black hair was partially hidden beneath a dark bonnet. Pinned to the bonnet was a clan badge with what looked to be a thunderbolt, holding three merlin feathers securely in place. Chieftain?
Her pale skin gave contrast to the blush on her high cheekbones. Something about her black eyes was rather unnerving when she returned his stare. She refused to look away or be forced to back down. She was dressed in black, from her linen shirt and breeches, which hid nothing of her slim figure, to the fitted knee-high boots. The light silver tartan, with its intercepting lines of emerald green and black, and two shades of yellow, presented a plaid unfamiliar to Jamie. The lower part of the tartan was caught within her wide belt, holding it in place. A larger version of her clan badge held the gathered wool at her shoulder.
Jamie studied her weapons again. Can she really use that broadsword or is it only for show? It should weigh her down, yet she manages it adequately.   It was rare when a woman learned to use a weapon other than a dagger.  Even then, she didn’t often learn to wield it with any proficiency. Her serious demeanor remained unruffled under his scrutiny. He strongly suspected there was an impish inclination beneath her indifference, waiting to escape, if only for a moment. Brief incidents of subtle humor flashed across his memory and he was sure of a connection.
Unbidden, his thoughts turned in another direction. The betrothal contract.  Lord Carlisle was desperate to marry off his stepdaughter, Cordelia, and believed Jamie was the only man capable of handling the willful young woman. Cordelia was beautiful, with her slender figure, hazel eyes and thick ash blonde hair, but she was intolerably demanding. She’d left a month before, and his home was still being put to rights. The term ‘witch’ was too kind for her.  There could be no comparison between Cordelia and the woman who now stood before him.
“I know who you are,” he finally commented while he glanced, once more, over the supple figure, before returning her stare. “You…are my conscience.” He grinned again.
Raven was well aware of the distracting thoughts racing through his mind. Her eyes widened briefly at the sudden change in thought. His revelation startled her, although it wasn’t quite what she expected. The link between them, indeed, must work in both directions. She would have to study the matter further. If he is stronger than originally thought he could interfere with my plans…unless I can control him. “If that is what you believe…” she allowed the rest of her statement to go unfinished. “I’ve come here to fulfill two promises made. Fulfilling one will depend on the results of the other.”
Andrew glanced at Jamie, then the woman. “Exactly, who are you?”
Raven slipped a ring from the first finger of her left hand, placed it on the document before Jamie, then stepped back and resumed her previous stance.
Jamie picked up the ring and studied the emblem, while Andrew looked over his nephew’s shoulder. “That is the signet of the Clan MacDraoidh.” Andrew turned to Raven.  “How do we know you didn’t steal the ring?”
Jamie raised a hand to ward off further questions from his uncle.  “Clan MacDraoidh no longer exists,” he goaded, no longer amused. He tossed the ring onto the desk where it bounced once, before settling on the contract, like some sort of omen.
“Then,” she concluded, reaching into the pouch on her belt, “I must be a ghost.” She reluctantly pulled out a folded sheet of parchment with a broken seal and placed it next to the ring. Introducing herself was no problem. The contents of the document could very well be. “May I introduce myself.  I am Raven Althea MacDraoidh.  Chieftain of Clan MacDraoidh—if, as you suggest, there is still a clan to lead.”



The Heart Remembers


There's only one thing Sylvia wants in her life but at the rate she's going, she'll lose her chance before she realizes it's there before her. When love is forced to take a back seat to duty, there's no telling what might happen.                                                                                                                     
Aubrey crossed his arms over his chest, then straightened them and leaned against the fence’s toprail, next to Sylvia. He appeared to have something on his mind. He casually covered her small hand with his larger, callused one, then stared at their joined hands, a wistful expression on his face. “Am I expected to prove my worthiness, like one of those knights?” he asked, half joking.

“You have nothing to prove to me, Aubrey.” Sylvia stretched her fingers then curled them down so they fit snuggly between his. Aubrey was everything Sylvia could ever want in a man. His thick hair shone blue-black in the sunlight. His brown eyes were so dark they could pass for black. They hid a wealth of emotion. Aubrey was powerfully built, due to his work at the forge, blacksmithing and making swords. He was well known for the quality of the weapons he forged and often sought after for his skills. More than anything, he was a man comfortable with who and what he was. One day, he would make some woman very happy.

“Don’t I?” he asked in return, a look of doubt in his eyes. 

“Sylvia! I need you here, right now.”  A voice called from behind them.

The shrillness of it set Sylvia’s teeth on edge. She glanced behind her at one of the merchant booths, then turned back and leaned her forehead against the nearby toprail. She mumbled something under her breath, then glanced back again and nodded to her mother, carefully keeping her features blank. Sylvia turned to Aubrey. “Wish I lived in a time when people deemed me smart enough to run my own life and make my own choices.”

“Sylvia, you’re twenty-seven. How can you let her do that to you?”

“Control my life? Easy, when she has the means to manipulate everything and everyone around me. She chases away anyone she doesn’t like. That usually adds up to everyone.”

“She doesn’t manipulate me,” Aubrey replied.

“Oh no, of course she doesn’t,” she replied with sarcasm. “She can’t because you never come around anymore.”

“You’ve been too busy helping her, running her business. You don’t have time for anyone or anything else.” Aubrey glanced at Sylvia’s mother and caught her glare.

“Same thing.”

“Not really,” he replied, turning his attention back to Sylvia.  “You’re not a little girl anymore, Sylvie. You don’t need someone to give you permission to do anything.” He raised her hand to his lips and lightly kissed her fingers.  “You have some hard choices to make, and you’d better make up your mind soon as to what you want, before you lose out.”

Aubrey gave her a moment to let his words sink in, then backed away from her and headed toward the blacksmith’s forge.

“Is that a threat?” she called after him, when she finally found her voice.

Aubrey turned to her but continued walking backward toward his forge. “No threat. Just a statement of fact. No one will wait forever while you try to decide what you want to do.” He turned away again, but not before she caught a flicker of disappointment in his features.

Sylvia studied the play of muscles across his back, the way his t-shirt stretched when he flexed his broad shoulders. There was a sadness in her eyes. He was right. If she didn’t break free of her mother’s iron-fisted control, she’d lose the best thing in her life--if she hadn’t all ready. She’d heard the rumors. Aubrey wasn’t sitting home every night. There were any number of women who would gladly take her place and claim him for their own.

“Sylvia!”  The call came again, more shrill and insistent this time.

“Yes, Mom, I’m coming.” Sylvia cast one more look in Aubrey’s direction and saw him talking with Kendra. A smile lit his rugged features, while he pumped the bellows at the forge. He was showing off for her, and Sylvia knew he was also driving home a point. One day, she promised herself, she’d have what she wanted most--a home of her own, a family, and the love of a good husband. The problem was, it might already be too late for her and Aubrey. She released a sigh, believing dreams never came true--at least not for her--and headed back to work. “What is it, Mom?”