‘A Knight’s Tale: Montargis’ on Preorder Now (with Excerpt)!

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Quince paste. Doesn’t it look like Turkish Delight?

My new book, the follow-up to A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth, is now on preorder on Amazon.com for $2.99.

As it’s set in medieval France in the late thirteenth century, I have been enjoying the research… particularly into foods of the era. On one fascinating blog I read about how raw quinces are inedible, but when cooked they turn into a beautiful ruby-red jelly and were a favorite dish of the time (one that Joan of Arc was apparently partial to). This sweet jelly was considered medicinal, as were most jams, I learned. Not only that, the strained pulp was made into a quince paste called membrillo that was eaten with cheese.

Here is the blurb for A Knight’s Tale: Montargis; I’ve included an excerpt below!

France, 1266. Will and his lover, Stephen, are safely ensconced at Montargis Abbey, a Dominican convent two days’ ride south of Paris, where the widowed Lady Eleanor de Montfort has chosen to live out her days in peace and seclusion with her young daughter. Will and Stephen fall into a pleasant routine of chores, while Wilecok keeps the small household running with his work in the kitchen. It’s in many ways an idyllic life, one that Will could not have predicted. And when they hear that Kenilworth Castle has fallen after a long siege, it seems that the rebellion against the English Crown that the Montforts spearheaded has well and truly ended.

But the reappearance of Simon, as he and his younger brother Guy both drift back to France separately after escaping house arrest in England, brings a complexity to Will’s life, for he is still passionately attracted. Even as he and Stephen grow closer and more deeply attached, the shadow of Simon periodically falls over their relationship. A sudden, horrific act of murder in the year 1271, Will’s 25th year, shatters their calm. In the aftermath, Lady Eleanor commands a reluctant Will to journey to a castle in southern Tuscany to visit her mortally ill son. It’s here that he will learn the devastating truth about Simon’s misdeeds, a truth that Will has not wanted to face, and that changes everything.

This lusty, bittersweet sequel to A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth spans another six years in Will and Stephen’s lives together, and ends in the South of France, where the mystery of Stephen’s tragic past is finally laid to rest. Yet the two still face an uncertain future together in a dangerous world.

Excerpt from A Knight’s Tale: Montargis

We were traveling northeast out of town along a country road. It was very beautiful that day, the stone walls and leafy hedgerows reminding me of England.

“Have you been this way, Wilecok?” I asked. Perhaps he had, since he seemed to know where it was. “And what are we doing?”

He looked concerned at my obliviousness. “You can’t guess?” he finally said.

“No, not at all.”

“I thought you might have had a letter.”

“No, nothing like that. From who?”

“Simon,” Wilecok said out of the corner of his mouth. He spat moodily into the road.

I gave a sudden start. “Why… why the secrecy?”

“Why do you think?” Wilecok said. “Doesn’t want the Countess to know he’s here. Just wants to meet with you. A rendezvous.”

He drawled the word in a sarcastic way, not looking at me. I was young enough still to blush, but old enough that I said nothing more to him about it at that moment. I kept my own counsel.

“We’ll be there within the hour,” Wilecok said after we had gone a little further. “’Tis odd you wore your sword today. You don’t usually.”

“I know.” I patted my sword belt. “Yes, for some reason I put it on this morning. I haven’t used it in ages, of course.”

“A knight should have his sword.” Wilecok had a strange smile on his face.

I said nothing. It was on the tip of my tongue to swear I wasn’t going to do anything wrong, but I reminded myself that I owed no reassurance to Wilecok. And anyway, I doubted he would believe me. He seemed to know what was going to happen better than I did.

It was deliciously quiet, the wind caressing my face.

“Simon must have been in England,” Wilecok murmured. “Guy is going to wait for him nearby and then they’re going to proceed back to Italy. It’s a journey they’ve done many times by now.”

“He might have been in Paris,” I said, for want of something else to say. “Have you ever been to Italy, Wilecok?”

He glanced over at me, his face a little more relaxed now.

“Nay, never gone that far. With the three boys over there, I wondered if the Countess would send me. But she’s not been cruel enough to do that! It’s a brutal journey at any time of year.”

Messengers had sometimes come from England or Italy or the Parisian court with letters for Lady Eleanor, I mused. But it was true, she had always sent messages back with them, but hadn’t sent out any of her own.

“I always thought, Will, that she’d end up using you for that job. But she hasn’t yet.”

“As a messenger?” It had never even occurred to me.

“Aye.” Wilecok’s speed had slowed to an amble. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“Now you ask me!” I said with a laugh. The trees were getting taller and thicker, I did notice that, and we pulled up to where a small trail led into the wood.

“Clotilde tells me this forest is sacred to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, who was also a bishop,” Wilecok rambled, taking a drink from his water skin. “I’ve never been fond of forests, myself. Too easy to get lost in ’em, killed by a wild boar…”

“Should I go in on foot?” I asked. I was nervous now, but I didn’t want to let him see it.

“No, ride in. But Will—”

He seemed about to say something embarrassing, but I was desperate not to hear it.

“I’ll stay here,” Wilecok said gloomily. “Young Guy might be waiting with me when you come out. Just preparing you.”

I chuckled slightly. “Lucky you, Wilecok, you get to entertain him!”

“Aye, while you entertain his brother,” Wilecok mumbled. He did not meet my eyes.

It was strange what heavy weather he was making of this! Being around the nuns must have affected him after all, I thought. Or it’s his age.

“It’s only Simon,” I said. “Do you remember your rather coarse advice to me once, in Oxford?”

“No,” he said swiftly. Then, “I’ve no doubt I said something stupid.”

“It was romantic advice. Cynical. Something about separating love and … and the physical act.”

“Ah, right, I see. I think I’d still say to you now: be careful.”

I glanced at him.

He gave a sigh. “No matter what you tell yourself, you’re prone to falling in love with him.”

That stung. I took this jab in as I spurred the horse away up the path without replying, a tight flush of anger suffusing my body. It wasn’t true… I wasn’t young and stupid anymore. I hadn’t had those thoughts about Simon for years! And the odd thing was, I really hadn’t, not for a long while. What had changed? I couldn’t tell, but the last year or two with Stephen had been placid and lovely. Once I’d understood that Charles of Anjou’s Italian campaign had ended successfully, I no longer wanted to join the brothers in whatever misadventures they were up to in Italy. I’d accepted that it wasn’t my fate. As Wilecok would say, it wasn’t in the cards for me.

The horse’s hoofs were silent, and I quietly entered the wood, the breeze making the leaves rustle slightly. These were ancient oaks. Shafts of sunlight hit the grassy floor at intervals. Rain wouldn’t penetrate much here, so it wasn’t muddy. I slid off the horse, the ground soft under my feet. I tied her loosely to a branch, giving her a pat and telling her to be good.

She munched contentedly, head bent. Hand on pommel, I walked further in. It felt so delicious to walk on the earth, to smell the moistness of rotting leaves, to be away from the paved gray stones of the Abbey.

Even if we just talked, it was enough, I thought. For once not to feel like a child, to make my own mind up about things! Of course it was true that I had been ordered here and it was not my idea, but I was secretly thrilled to be there nonetheless.

I walked to the end of the clearing and made my way even further in, cutting my hand on some brambles. But it was all right, because standing in a glade surrounded by a circle of tall beech trees was Simon, back turned to me, his body resting against his horse as if deeply weary. From behind he was just some knight, armored still, and I was glad he had not taken his mail off. It meant he was not quite sure of me, and I liked that, in a perverse way.

“Simon,” I called.

He turned, and I was shocked to see how much older he looked. There were lines on his face now; his once-supple skin was leathery and tanned. Though his blue eyes stood out rather more, and as he strode toward me, it was his eyes I watched, noticing how his own gaze dwelt on my lips.

“I told you it would be several years,” he said wryly. He’d stopped several paces away.

I nodded, swallowing my nervousness down. Trying to breathe.

“I wanted to see you.”

I still said nothing, waiting.

“I just came back from England. I went over there in secret. I rode all the way to Evesham Abbey to see Father’s grave. It was awful, Will.”

“I’m sorry,” I told him, putting my hand on his arm. This broke the spell, and he hugged me to him fiercely.

***

I will have more news soon about a couple of exciting promotions coming up in early February!

 

 

 

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End of Year Reading

imagesAs the new year approaches, I’m burying myself in a good biography, something I love to do. This one is Douglas Botting’s bio of Gerald Durrell, which is available on Kindle US for the bewilderingly cheap price of $1.99 (it’s 672 pages). There are no illustrations, which I hardly miss, because the combination of Botting’s effective narration and the excerpts of Durrell’s colorful, amusing sensory word painting from letters and diaries gives me all I need.

However, to my surprise, it’s really sad. One would have thought that Gerald was the happiest member of the Durrell family, very successful as a writer and founding his own zoo on the island of Jersey by the time he was 40, but even though I am only halfway through, he has hit the middle-aged doldrums, and although his second marriage clearly perked him up a bit, I don’t expect the whole picture to change much.

I was a Durrell fanatic as a young teen, even hunting down and reading first wife Jacquie’s not particularly fond memoir, Beasts in My Bed. It is strange to know the truth, that this man was an alcoholic depressive who barely showed his face in the zoo that he lived beside and supposedly loved so much. When an attempt was made around 1970 to gently push him aside and hire a full-time administrator, however, he went ballistic and essentially forced his board to resign instead. Although I’m far from the end, the book has made me think about what it means to realize one’s vision fairly early in life, and how happiness ebbs away no matter what one does or however much one achieves. There is a universality in this that lets each individual person off the hook.

I’ll post again in the New Year with news of my preorder for the sequel to A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth.

All the best for a happy and peaceful New Year!

 

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A Jumbled Year

What a jumble this year has been!

We end the year with Doug Jones‘s historic win in Alabama (yay) and the GOP Tax Bill passing the House and Senate (grrr). Robert Mueller will either save us or be ignominiously fired by Rod Rosenstein’s replacement. So much is up in the air, but at least people are woke, to use a word I never expected to use in a blog post!

I have been very caught up in the #MeToo movement and news as well. This deserves a post all of its own. What lingers with me most are Uma Thurman’s words about Harvey Weinstein. “I’m angry,” she said, and, addressing Weinstein by name, “You don’t deserve a bullet.” She may turn out to be his greatest nemesis yet.

It has been simultaneously empowering to hear and see women speaking out after years of silence, and disheartening that we have all had to be part of such a rotten, brutalizing system. I remember naively thinking in the early ’90s that we could safely think of ourselves as “post-feminist” now. Well, nope–that was a little premature.

Book News: My novel Time of Grace is available now on all platforms, including Google Play and iTunes. Since Smashwords unexpectedly announced an End of Year sale, I wanted to enroll Time of Grace, at least. The ebook will be available there for 50 percent off, starting Dec. 25 and running through January 1st. (Update: My novel The Leaving is also available, for only 99 cents!) Note: You can still use the SW coupons provided onsite to purchase Elsie Street and its sequel for 99 cents each through December 31, 2017!

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Book 2 of A Knight’s Tale, out early next year!

I will be announcing a pre-order for the follow-up to A Knight’s Tale soon! The new book is called A Knight’s Tale: Montargis and it follows the fortunes of Will and Stephen as they find a peaceful haven with Lady Eleanor in Montargis Abbey in central France. But when a notorious murder is committed by Guy and Simon in 1271, Will must journey to Italy to see an ailing Simon, now excommunicated and a fugitive, for what is probably the last time. To Will’s horror, it turns out that Simon’s very public crime is not the worst thing he has done. Expect the book to be published in early February 2018.

I’ve been a member of the bustling M/M Romance group on Goodreads for a while. They have an ARC review program called Don’t Buy My Love (DBML). A Knight’s Tale, Book I has been included in this program and a limited number of free copies (in mobi and PDF format) will be given out starting 12/24! You have to be a member of the group to participate; then just go to the DBML folder and sign up under the book’s name. Reviews are due in January. Just thought I would mention this here in case any of my blog readers are already in this group. For the record, I don’t have a problem giving out review copies to people who ask me individually, either…

Phew, I think that’s it. Stay safe, everybody, and Merry Christmas. We’ve nearly made it through 2017!

 

 

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New Novel—A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth

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Now on preorder; publishes September 19.

At long last, I have a new book out! A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth was published September 19. (It is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited as well.) I’d like to share a few insights here into my thought process while writing the novel.

It’s only my second try at full-length historical fiction/historical romance, and it’s also the first time I have written anything set in the medieval period in England. Research was fun—and sometimes hair-raising because I set the book in the period of the thirteenth century known as the Second Barons’ War (1264-67). There was a lot to learn about the Norman period in England, where an elaborate feudal system had been set up by William the Conqueror after 1066, but where royal power was also in the process of breaking down.

A Knight’s Tale centers around Will Talbot who, when the book opens, in 1260,
is fourteen. He’s riding off to be a squire at the nearby castle,
Kenilworth. He doesn’t know anything about the noble family, the de
Montforts, who live there besides the name—he’s never met them, but is
awed by them. I liked the idea of introducing an innocent character to
a complex situation…into the family of Simon de Montfort, Earl of
Leicester, a Frenchman who’d claimed his ancestral lands in England
years before and who just happened to marry the king’s sister.

As I had Caroline, the main character in my novel Time of Grace,
discover that the country of Ireland was not remotely as peaceful
under English rule in 1915 as she thought it was, so Will gradually
discovers that Earl Simon and his fellow barons have usurped the
king’s power in a reform parliament, which will end up leading to
armed confrontation—and civil war.

I was fascinated to learn more about Simon. A highly intelligent man
who could talk himself out of any situation, Simon de Montfort charmed
his way into King Henry III’s good graces when he arrived in England
in 1230 as the penniless young second son of a noble French family. He
was given the title Earl of Leicester, which he had to petition the
king for. He served at the royal court for seven years. His close
relationship with Henry is evident, but once he seduced the king’s
youngest (and favorite) sister, Eleanor, who had taken a vow of
chastity a few years earlier after being widowed at only sixteen, he
had one strike against him. And yet they married, with the king’s
blessing (though Simon had to rush off and beg forgiveness from the
Pope!). In 1244, after Eleanor had given birth to three young sons,
the family was given Kenilworth Castle as a gift from the king.

But Simon was hot-tempered and fiery, a self-righteous opportunist.
Devoutly religious in his later years, the friend of many bishops and
Franciscan friars, he made clear by his actions that he did not
respect the king at all. Even I, reading his biography in 2017, was
surprised by what he got away with. During a trial in the early 1250s
after he’d had a rocky few years as the governor of Gascony and had
been recalled in disgrace, he snapped at the king, “Are you even a
Christian?” A man who was compelled to rock the boat, he ended up
trying to do the impossible—to rule England via parliament while the
king was ostensibly still on the throne, his power weakened.

Unfortunately, while Simon was a hero of the people (especially to
Londoners and small landowners), he ended up becoming a martyr. I
first became aware of him while watching an English TV documentary a
few years ago. The historian—it may well have been Michael Wood—stood
at the spot near the river where Simon died at the Battle of Evesham
while a local described Simon’s grisly end to him with great emotion.
So much so that I never forgot it. While researching this book I came
to feel a strong sympathy for Simon’s wife, Eleanor, as well. She was
put in an impossible position between her husband and her brother, and
her greatest concern must have been for her sons, who fought alongside
their father. In many ways, they were a tragic family.

But then, as in Time of Grace, I wanted to tell a love story.
Adolescents see themselves as the center of their world, and Simon and
Eleanor’s large and bustling household at Kenilworth is the backdrop
for Will to discover and accept his love for another boy, Stephen, a
chaplain’s clerk with the gift of second sight who serves the
Dominican friar at the castle, Brother Michael. Both Will and Stephen
are fictional characters, of course, but I hope I have made them seem
real. And the two strong-willed Montfort sons, Simon and Henry, whom
Will and his friend Thomas serve as squires, were very real historical
characters. I wanted to show Will growing up and discovering who he is
over the course of a few years, bringing him up to the Battle of Lewes
in 1264 when he is eighteen, after which he is knighted as planned.
But then his life takes an unexpected turn.

I like writing this kind of queer history, writing LGBT characters and
their unruly desires into history. They were assuredly there; it’s
just that so often they have been erased by the historical record. One
has to read between the lines; when someone is described as a king or
queen’s “favorite,” it is a pretty big clue. And although
homosexuality was considered a sin, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
it was seen as more of an “act” than a lifestyle, which paradoxically
made it less offensive.

Still reading? Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of A Knight’s Tale:

England, 1260

I grew up near Kenilworth, a small town in the county of Warwick. It
was in the middle of the green month of May that Richard de Havering,
Earl Simon de Montfort’s steward, rapped on our manor door with a big
stick. I had glimpsed him from afar for the past couple of years as he
rode over to collect the annual rents from my lady mother, Alice. When
my father was alive he had attended the joyous Christmas revels at
Kenilworth Castle, where the Montforts lived. I had been told about
them, but by the time I was old enough to go with him, Father had
died.

Sir Richard was coming to collect me. At fourteen years of age, rather
late to start, I was bound for the castle, to learn the life of a
squire in preparation for knighthood, as my father had wished. It
helped that my mother had recently remarried, and our house and lands
were now in the possession of her new husband, Sir John, as the laws
dictated.

During the beginning of our journey, I chatted politely to Sir
Richard. As we neared the castle walls, though, I fell silent.

“Don’t be afraid, boy,” Sir Richard said.

I was more awed than afraid at that moment. Instead of a moat, there
was a lake surrounding the castle, vast, calm, peaceful, with two
white swans floating on it. Oddly, they were followed by four little
dark cygnets.

“That’s the Great Mere,” Sir Richard told me. “Keeps
attackers at a distance. This is a very well-defended castle, you
know. It was built more than a hundred years ago and then reinforced
by King John, the present king’s father.”

The present king was King Henry III, that I knew, and his youngest
sister, Eleanor, was the lady of this castle. It had been granted to
her and her second husband, Simon de Montfort, around fifteen years
previously, in the early years of their marriage. Now the Montforts
had six children, five sons and a daughter. I would see the sons in
the Great Hall; I would probably serve them, train with them, and
attend to their horses.

“Will they know who I am, up at the castle?” I asked. It bothered me
that I would have to introduce myself, that they might see me as a
scullery boy.

“Just mention your father’s name,” Sir Richard said. “You are William
Talbot, son of Geoffrey, a faithful vassal of Earl Simon.”

Will I be well treated here, was what I wanted to ask him. But I bit
my tongue, because it sounded fearful and peevish. I was an only child
and had rarely played with boys my own age. If I had been more
bookish, I might have been sent to the friars in Coventry to become a
scholar or a clerk, but my parents had not pushed me in that direction
and I’d not been drawn to it. I was active, strong, a good horseman.
My eyesight was excellent. But I was also curious and, in my mother’s
words, sweet-tempered. “You expect the best of everyone, child,” she’d
always said.

We clattered up a sort of long, narrow bridge that led to the outer
castle walls. The sun was shining on the reddish facade and I gazed up
at the tall sandstone keep. My father had described it many a time.
Most castles were gray and grim, like Warwick Castle, not too far
away, which I’d glimpsed once, but Kenilworth had a warm beauty, a
charm.

The portcullis drew up (’twas natural, since we were being watched by
the guards whose job it was to man the walls) and Sir Richard and I
trotted through the gate. He placed a protective hand on my shoulder,
this gray-haired man of my father’s age. He would have been fifty or
so, I see now, looking back as I do from the same age he was then. His
body was still vigorous, but he seemed aged to me.

I smiled at him, which caused him to look slightly taken aback at my
familiarity.

“I promised your father I’d deliver you to Kenilworth,” he said
gruffly. “But from here on, it’s your job, boy. To prove yourself, to
show your worth to your masters. Indeed, you may not see me for
another year. But I’ll be watching out to see how you do.”

He clapped me once more on the shoulder and dismounted onto a wooden
block that was provided for him by a groom. I slid off my own smaller
horse, Lucy, a chestnut mare, not waiting for any assistance, should
any be offered. I clutched the leather traveling bag my mother had
given me and awaited further orders.

“His horse will go in the stables,” Sir Richard said to the groom. “In
case he has to go back home for some reason, it’s better to keep the
animal here. Don’t worry, she’ll be well kept.”

The man nodded silently and led Lucy away.

There was constant, bewildering movement within the walls as I looked
around, people calling to each other, windows opening and closing. The
kitchens must be close, because I could smell the aroma of roast
meats. I also smelled the kitchen fires. But the courtyard was oddly
bare.

Sir Richard pointed to an opening in the wall. “There’s a staircase
inside there. Go up, and you’ll be on the first floor, where the Great
Hall is, and there should be a solar there for you. You’ll have to
share with another lad, I forget his name.”

“A solar?” I repeated.

“Yes, a solar, a bedchamber,” he said impatiently, looking around.

“Ah, good,” he said, as another man approached with a tankard of ale
for Sir Richard. The servants wore aprons, I noticed, both men and
women. They were neatly dressed and polite, I would discover in the
days to come, unlike the knights, both young and old, who were rowdy
and loud.

“Bring some ale for my young friend here,” Sir Richard told the man,
who scurried away.

“Nay, sir, there’s no need,” I told him, for I was not used to ale.
The water in our well was pure enough, and I sometimes

drank a little red wine with dinner.

“You’ll want to fit in with the others, won’t you?” he said as if it
was obvious. “Might as well start now.”

The serving man returned and I drank from the pewter tankard until Sir
Richard appeared satisfied. I wiped my mouth rather uncertainly.

“There. Good. Well, I must get on. Just go up the inside stairs, as I
said, and you’ll find yourself in the Great Hall, where some woman of
the household will be there to assist you.”

He mounted again, and I watched rather incredulously as Sir Richard
rode away through the open gate.

“He’s a busy man,” a curly-haired boy of my own age said, appearing at
my elbow. “Who’re you?”

“I—Will Talbot. My father was Geoffrey Talbot,” I stammered.

“Will. I’m Thomas Despenser. You’re a squire too?”

I nodded.

“Well, what is it? Cat got your tongue?”

“No, it’s just…” I looked around. “I don’t have any idea where to go.”

“He told you to go up the stairs, didn’t he? That’s the way to get
inside this place. I’ll show you.”

Thomas wore a tunic and bright scarlet leggings. I assumed as I
followed him up some winding stone stairs that I would probably be
sharing a room with him, most likely sleeping in the same bed. The
thought didn’t alarm me, and I was glad he was friendly, but I felt
watchful.

The dark stairway opened out into a beautiful long room with a massive
fireplace at one end and two trestle tables covered in white cloth.
This would have been the room my father saw every Christmas. I looked
around in awe at the thickly woven wall hangings, more fancy than any
I had seen, depicting ladies and unicorns and battle scenes. The floor
was covered in rushes. It was deliciously cool after the heat of the
day outside. No doubt in winter it would be freezing, but then there
would be a roaring fire.

“Stop dreaming,” Thomas said, nudging me. “We sit at the lower table,
you know. The family sits at the high one, nearest the fire. The round
one.”

He smiled, and I smiled rather awkwardly back.

Since we were alone in the room, I whispered, “Are they good people?”

He grinned. “Aye. Henry and Simon in particular, the two older sons,
they’re able fighters. You’ll see a lot of them. Earl Simon and Lady
Eleanor travel around a lot. They’re gone now, in fact, to Paris. About ten years ago they spent most of their time in France. Earl Simon was seneschal of Gascony then, at the
King’s command.”

This information rolled off his tongue proudly. I felt dazed.

A comely damsel of perhaps sixteen approached, her brown hair neatly
tucked under a cap.

“This is Christiana de Craiwell,” Thomas said. “She serves the Lady Eleanor.”

“I’m Will,” I told her.

She smiled. “I can bring you to your solar.”

“You’d better tell him who he’s with,” Thomas muttered.

“You’ll be with Stephen,” Christiana said, lowering her voice. “He’s…”

“The chaplain’s clerk!” Thomas said in disgust.

“Now, Thomas.” The girl’s voice was cool. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“There wouldn’t be anything wrong if he was more normal.” A sneer
tightened Thomas’s features. “But he’s not, and we all have to suffer
his foreign ways.”

“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Christiana said stoutly.

“You don’t think so,” Thomas told her, “because you’re a girl.”

It was an argument they had probably had a few times. And I could see
how fond he was of her as they stood close together, bickering.
Meanwhile, from the other end of the room, a boy approached.
He seemed to float through the room towards me. The tall windows were
letting in golden slants of sunlight, and the sun flashed on his blond
hair as he approached. His paleness was in marked contrast to Thomas’s
tanned skin; he was also very slender.

He happened to have my mother’s coloring, along with her pale blue
eyes. My father had passed down to me his brown, shaggy hair and
blue-green eyes, though my own hair was more of a healthy mop. I ran
my hand through it in a nervous gesture. This was the boy, then, that
I was going to be sharing a chamber with? He seemed older than me. He
probably was, I guessed, but not by more than a year.

For some reason my breath caught in my throat. I waited for the couple
by my side to introduce me. They said nothing.

“Are you Will?” Stephen said, as he got closer. There was a sort of
smile in his voice that marked him out as different from the other two
I stood with, more of an adult.

I nodded.

“Stephen.” He held out his hand and I took it. I expected it to be
cold and clammy, but in fact it was warmer than mine, and he gave my
hand a good squeeze.

“Just as we were speaking about him. I’ll see you later, Will,”

Thomas said over his shoulder as he strode away. Christiana exchanged
a polite smile with Stephen and hurried after him.

I was glad they were gone. It was difficult for me to understand the
way they treated him, and I didn’t want him to see me as part of a
group who excluded him. But I wasn’t quite sure what to do next,
either, so I hoped he would take the lead.

Which he did. His English was perfect, but he spoke with an odd,
slightly lilting accent that seemed as if it wanted to break into
French any minute. So that was what Thomas had meant by foreign, I
supposed. Yet Earl Simon himself was of French birth, and no one held
that against him…

“Come this way,” Stephen said. His walk was graceful, fluid, but I saw
what Thomas meant. He seemed more like a courtier than anyone I had
ever met, fit to be at a royal court. This was lavish enough, but not
quite the place for him. I wondered how he had come to be here.

“How long have you been at Kenilworth?” I asked, clearing my throat.
My words seemed blunt compared to his.

“Oh…” Stephen seemed to consider this as he led me through a doorway
at the top of the room, beside the fireplace. “A long time. Earl Simon
brought me back from France around ten years ago, after one of his
campaigns.”

“You are an orphan?” I blurted it out and then stopped to think how it
must have sounded. “I’m sorry, I just assumed…”

“Yes, an orphan.” He turned to face me and we stood close together in
a little passageway. “So I’m told.”

I could feel his breath on my face. It was actually sweet, as if he’d
been chewing mint, which he probably did, I thought. Maybe they all
did that here… I was conscious that my own breath no doubt stank of
ale, and that I was sweaty from the ride.

“We sleep here,” he said, turning again, gesturing to a stout door
that swung open to reveal a little room, the walls whitewashed, with
one narrow slit as a window. He showed me how the door bolted from the
inside.

“So there’s no way out,” I mused.

“Except the door. That’s right,” he said.

A shaft of light from the window shone on the flagstones, which were
covered sparsely with rushes. A simple wooden pallet, topped by a
straw mattress and bolster, lay in each corner. I spotted two chamber
pots and a deep cedar clothes chest, which we would share, I supposed.
It was more like a monk’s cell, or what I imagined that to be, than
I’d expected.

“They had one proper bed in here years ago, but then someone became
sick…” he murmured. “I’ve not had a chamber-mate for the whole time
I’ve been here, though.”

“I wonder why they changed it now?” I asked, lowering my bag onto the
bed that was clearly mine. Then I sat down myself.

“Don’t know,” he answered. “Perhaps because the room is so small, they
didn’t fill it…”

“Oh,” I said, worried that he might have preferred to stay alone.

“No, no,” he said quickly. “Don’t misunderstand. I’m glad to have
you.” He curled up on his bed, still looking at me. “It’s lonely.”

His smile was unexpected and disarming. I smiled back, since the way
he talked to me actually made me feel more comfortable than I’d felt
when the other men, Sir Richard and Thomas, had spoken to me. His
friendliness seemed more genuine, perhaps. Deeper.

“I’ve never met a French lad,” I said. “Is the name Stephen used over
there too?”

“It is,” he said. “Etienne is what we say, or Stephane.”

“Which do you prefer?” I asked.

He thought. “I don’t know. I don’t remember what my parents called me,
I mean, I don’t remember their voices, speaking to me. But I think
Etienne is probably the name I was christened with.”

He looked down rather shyly, and I blurted out, “My father is dead too.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” After a moment, he asked, “What did he die of?”

“Smallpox.” As I said it, the last dreadful image of my father on his
deathbed three years previously passed through my mind, and I
grimaced. “My mother caught it too. She survived. I nursed her through
it.”

“You must be very brave,” he whispered.

And that, I supposed, was what Thomas meant by not normal. Because
even I knew that it was unusual for a boy to say that to another. Yes,
his manner seemed more like a girl in some ways. I could see how he
could be tremendously flattering.

I gulped. “I… don’t know about that. It was my mother. The servants
were afraid to come near. But I didn’t catch it. I think they thought
we were all going to die…”

He gazed at me intently. “I’m terrified of it. Smallpox. My face being marred.”

I almost laughed. “You shouldn’t say that sort of thing, you know. Admit that.”

“I know,” he murmured. “But it’s true, and perhaps you won’t judge me.”

“I won’t judge you,” I said. “Would you like to come see Lucy, my mare?”

He gave me a surprised look and his face brightened. “Yes, of course.”

***
I didn’t know if he liked them, horses, and this was a test that he
passed with flying colors. As I watched him feed Lucy a carrot, his
hand up close to her teeth, I wondered if there was anything he did
that wasn’t graceful, deft.

“You must ride, then,” I said at his elbow.

“A little. I like it, when I get the chance.”

“Do you dance too?” I teased. He regarded me oddly.

“You seem like a courtier. You seem like you would dance.”

He said nothing for a moment. Then, “The women are taught to dance
here. Not the men.”

Lucy stood still while I stroked her ears. “Good girl,” I told her.

“You can come see her whenever you miss home,” Stephen said quietly.

“I hope I will be too busy to miss it,” I mused. I didn’t feel like
telling him about my mother’s new husband, Sir John, how things had
changed so dramatically for the worse since he had appeared in our
lives. It was something I was not able to put into words, even for
myself.

And she was with child, her belly already swollen.

“Is your mother dark, like you?” Stephen asked.

“No, she’s fair.”

Like you, I almost said. It was on the tip of my tongue. We stood
there side by side in the quiet, warm stable smelling of hay and dust,
our shoulders almost touching.

There was one good thing about this new life, I thought: I would never
tire of his company.

 

 

 

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For Smashwords Readers Only…

71tE6kkxQsLI don’t often do Smashwords-only deals, but because the site now allows authors to set public coupons for their books and showcases them in a Special Deals section, I decided to set my novels Elsie Street and The Pull of Yesterday both at 99 cents with a coupon (which you don’t even have to enter anymore–discount appears at checkout!).

The site is rather clunky, but I have always felt fond of Smashwords. I particularly like that they pay monthly now. While my historical novel Time of Grace has been Amazon KDP/KU-only for several years, I look forward to putting it back in wide distribution via SW in mid-September. (For those readers who have a Kindle Unlimited subscription and would like to read Time of Grace, now’s a good time.)

More writing news: I will have a cover reveal for my new book–an LGBT historical novel set in Medieval England–coming soon! At the moment I’m sitting tight till my beta reader reviews it and reports back. I thought I would be finished by the end of June, but for me, novels always hit a curious block at the halfway point. So I’ve had to have patience with myself for not wrapping it up quickly. I hope the book is better for the delay. It is certainly going to be longer than I thought, about the length of Time of Grace.

Expect to see something new from me in September, anyway, barring the beta reader giving me a thumbs-down!

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Some Thoughts on Charlottesville as the Eclipse Approaches

downloadI don’t have anything particularly profound to say about the tragic events in Charlottesville this weekend except to say that my greatest fear after Trump was elected was that there would be blood in the streets. And so it has proved. Heather Heyer, 32, a Caucasian woman who was there to support the counter-protesters, was killed by a car driven into the crowd by a young white male neo-Nazi from Ohio. But it could have been anyone of any race who died. The point is, they wanted to cause havoc and fear, and they did.

My greatest hope? That decent people will fight back. And they are. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave a news conference on Sunday to declare that the violent Nazi protesters were not welcome in his state. GoDaddy dropped The Daily Stormer–it was news to me that this organ existed–from being hosted on their servers. The president was forced, belatedly, to give an insincere speech condemning racism.

(Perhaps he will also be forced to drop Steve Bannon now. Anthony Scaramucci appears to think so…)

“Blame lies at the top,” I wrote on my Facebook page after Heyer’s death. It is strange to speak out. Pointless, perhaps, and there is always a fear of repercussions. One would think that there was only one “right side,” and Joe Biden tweeted this over the weekend, but in this political climate, it appears that evil has the upper hand. For now.

At any rate, one of the things I enjoy is reading Austin Kleon‘s newsletter. He’s the author of Steal Like an Artist, and an eclectic guy who lives in Austin, TX. This well-written piece by Ross Andersen in The Atlantic inspired by the upcoming solar eclipse on Aug. 21 appealed to me, and I thought I would share it. I am not particularly interested in the eclipse, actually… but I enjoyed reading about the historical implications of such fear-inspiring natural events. Did you know that eclipses often preceded the death of powerful kings? Alexander the Great went so far as to execute a “substitute king” after one such eclipse!

Nowadays we feel more awe than fear at the sun being briefly blotted out, but nature has a way of pointing out our basic insignificance.

I hope that these traumatic times allow the country to come out morally stronger. We are seeing good and bad duking it out in such primary colors right now. There will be more chaos to come, and more people emerging who view, as Littlefinger does in Game of Thrones, chaos as a ladder.

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Another promo!

Time of Grace2My LGBT historical novel Time of Grace is free for two days, Sunday, July 16 and Monday, July 17 on Amazon. Although Time of Grace has been in the Kindle Unlimited program for a while now, I’d like to take it wide by the end of the year so that it will be available once again on Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Google Play. This will probably be the last promotion on Amazon that I do for the book.

The summer slump that many indie writers complain of has been worse than usual! I think people are too exhausted by the political shenanigans in D.C. to read. (I’m personally hoping that the horrendous health-care bill will be stalled indefinitely.)

A reminder that my ADHD memoir, Connecting the Dots, is half price on Smashwords till the end of the month.

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Summer/Winter Sale on Smashwords

SW SW saleIt’s nearly the end of June, so I enrolled a few of my books in the annual Smashwords Summer/Winter sale! Although the “winter” part of the name refers to the Southern Hemisphere, it could also refer to summer in San Francisco, where Karl the Fog has been very active lately. But I digress…

Here’s what Mark Coker of Smashwords says:

The sale represents a massive collaborative marketing event for Smashwords authors and publishers.   Each author and publisher – simply by promoting their own books – helps expose those same readers to the thousands of other participating books.  

For one month only, readers can discover tens of thousands of special deals 25%-off, 50%-off, 75%-off and 100%-off (FREE!). So whether readers are looking for a great beach read or something to keep them cozy on a cold winter’s night in front [of] the fireplace, they’ll find it here.

You’ll find it July 1st through July 31 on the Smashwords.com home page. Writers, here’s the link to enroll:

https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos

From my catalog, my AD/HD memoir, Connecting the Dots, will be 50% off, and The Pull of Yesterday, book 2 in the Elsie Street series, will be free all month!

I have been working on a new book in the historical fiction/historical romance genre, and I hope to have an announcement about a pre-order soon.

 

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Memorial Weekend Freebies

Here’s a quick link to an upcoming erotica promo that looks interesting–I know that at least two ebooks feature historical erotica, if that’s your thing (and it kind of is mine!).

https://lyndabelle.com/2017/05/26/memorial-day-weekend-eroticaerotic-romance-deals-free-0-99-may-26-29/

Books are a mixture of free and 99 cents.

Also for Memorial Day Weekend, my memoir It’s Not You, It’s Me is back on Amazon and will be free on Sunday and Monday, May 28 and 29. For KU subscribers, it’s always free 🙂

It’s Not You, It’s Me is essentially a lesbian breakup story. As one reviewer said, “It’s Not You, It’s Me” follows the raw, exciting, and painful trajectory of a “wrong” relationship. We’ve all been there. West slowly and deliberately lets us walk with her down this path, knowing things will end poorly but hoping we are mistaken.

As time has gone by, I see this relationship through different lenses. Now it seems to involve a lack of foresight on my own part more than anything else. It has taken me nearly twenty years to come to this insight, though!

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Please Don’t Buy My Book (says David Gaughran)

Happy Spring! Ever thought about Amazon’s also-boughts and how it affects your writing sales? Author David Gaughran shares his experiences.

David Gaughran

I’m just back from The Smarter Artist Summit in Austin, Texas. I won’t try and capture the magic of the event – Kobo Mark does an excellent job – but I would like to talk about the big takeaway: the dangers of Also Bought pollution.

Also Boughts are probably the most important aspect of the entire Amazon recommendation ecostructure. And also the least understood.

They are much more than a little strip under your book’s description – they power a huge chunk of the recommendations that Amazon serves to readers.

The Also Boughts are what tells Amazon that the readers of my non-fiction also like reading Susan Kaye Quinn, Sean Platt and Johnny Truant. Amazon uses this data to decide who to recommend books to – because Amazon is always seeking to show readers the books they are most likely to purchase.

For this reason, it’s important to monitor your…

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