Posts Tagged ‘Contest’

The Exmoor Pony is the oldest breed of native pony in Great Britain, first domesticated by the Celts. They are  stocky, sturdy animals, known for their hardiness and resistance to many of the diseases that affect most other breeds of horses. I first read about them years ago, and the notion of an ancient, almost mystical breed of pony running wild on the moors and mountains of Devon captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. The seed of Recklessly Yours was planted then. In the story, Colin is protecting a herd of Exmoors, although in his own words, he belongs to them much more than they could ever belong to him. His fate, and that of his family and those who live on their Devonshire estate, is closely tied to his ability to do right by these exquisite creatures.

If you’d like to read more about Exmoor Ponies, here are some links:

Excerpt: (In which Holly is attempting to avoid a gang of angry villagers outside Colin’s estate on the Devonshire Moors…)

Beyond a doubt, she had taken a wrong direction. As she raced around the rheumatic twist of a dead rowan, the stream, foaming furiously, wound its way across her path and brought her to an uncertain halt. Some dozen yards to her left, a very different footbridge from the one she’d first crossed spanned the flooded banks. This one, made of wood, appeared much older and narrower than the other. She sprinted to it only to discover the planking to be faded and splintered, even broken in places. The structure hardly looked trustworthy.

Another glance behind her revealed no sign of either the villagers or the man in the greatcoat. Had they given up their pursuit, or slipped into hiding to await her next move? She scanned the horizon ahead of her and to her great relief detected the corner of a chimney scraping the sky. The rain began to fall harder, obscuring her vision.

Grabbing hold of the rail, she gingerly placed a foot on the first plank. The bridge trembled slightly but otherwise seemed solid enough. The way across couldn’t be more than a dozen yards, a stone’s throw. If she went quickly and remained light on her feet . . .

Halfway across, the bridge sagged beneath her weight. The stream lapped at her feet, shocking her toes with frigid water and making her afraid to move in either direction. Logic demanded she continue forward, but her next step produced a resounding crack.

The slat splintered in half and one foot fell out from under her, plunging calf deep into the racing water. She gripped the rails with both hands and for several seconds clung to hope. Then the bridge shuddered and broke apart. Holly felt herself falling, splashing into the frothing, frigid water, engulfed in her own terror and the relentless current.


Deep into the valley a mile and a half from Briarview, Colin shortened Cordelier’s reins to slow the stallion’s pace. The Exmoor ponies coursed around him and pounded past, their ranks narrowing as they surged between the rocky granite tors that ringed the valley’s eastern rim. Cordelier came to a restive halt, snorting and pawing the ground while the last of the herd disappeared at a gallop.

As the trembling of the ground stilled and the air quieted, the euphoric thudding of his heart eased and the rush of blood through his veins calmed. They were his responsibility, those ponies, and his duty to protect them brought him joy he never spoke of, not to another living soul. However much his father believed he owned the herd that roamed his land, Colin knew the ponies belonged to no man. They belonged to the earth, to tradition and legend. They were free, and only by the dictates of their collective will did they tolerate an outside presence among them.

As they tolerated Colin and Cordelier. As a boy he’d discovered that all he needed to do was ride out across the moors, and the ponies would gallop with him, accepting him as one of the herd. He didn’t understand it, but the realization had dawned that he belonged to them far more than they could ever belong to him. True, they needed his protection from those who would separate or abuse them—men like his father—or those who would destroy their native habitat, but he needed them just as much, for it was only with them that he felt truly alive.

He laughed out loud at the notion, a bitter sound bitten off by a rainy gust. Ironic that it took a herd of wild ponies to remind him that he was a free man with passions and dreams of his own, and not merely Thaddeus Ashworth’s heir. Here, on the upper reaches of the Devonshire moors, with the ground coursing beneath him and the sky stretching above, the pounding of hooves drowned out the cynicism and self-doubt his father had planted inside him at an early age.

At least, all that had been true as recently as two days ago. Now, however. . . .

The conviction had filled him that with Holly at his side, he had the power to break free of whatever curses, real or imagined, held him and his family. With her in his life, he might finally know happiness.

Sucking a draft of soggy air deep into his lungs, he swung Cordelier about and headed for home. Bringing Holly into his world would more likely change her life for the worse, than his for the better. It was not a chance he’d willingly take.

He neared Briarview’s forested acreage, preparing to jump Cordelier over the stream that looped around it. He leaned low over the stallion’s dark mane just as a tangle of rotten, broken boards rushed by on the water. Screams pierced the wind. Colin lurched upright in the saddle, prompting Cordelier to bounce to a stop. Colin pricked his ears, and another desperate cry sent Cordelier rearing up on hind legs, his front hooves thrashing.

Colin’s blood ran cold. The old footbridge. With a tap of his heels he and Cordelier set off at a gallop.

In less than a minute he came upon a half-submerged flurry of dark skirts and white petticoats; a pair of hands groped frantically at the air. Holly’s desperate face appeared briefly in the foaming waters. The current closed over her, flipped her around, and thrust her upward again. All Colin could see of her now were glistening, streaming ribbons of red hair. His heart rocketed into his throat. Oh, God . . . oh, God.

“Holly!” he shouted, “I’m coming!”

He turned Cordelier again and urged him to a full-out gallop along the bank of the stream. As he went, Colin slid free of the stirrups and slung a leg over the stallion’s neck so that both his feet dangled toward the water. Holding his breath, he waited until he rode up even with Holly, and then passed her by several long paces. In a few more yards the watercourse would narrow slightly—enough, he prayed, for what he intended.

A tightening of the reins slowed Cordelier to a canter. Colin mentally counted to three, then propelled himself from the saddle, hitting the bank with a force that clacked his teeth together. Using the momentum, he slid down the bank into the water. Submerged chest deep, he fought past the chill and battled the current to reach the middle of the stream.

His arms outstretched and his feet braced as solidly as possible against the rocky stream bed, he waited as swirling fabric, streaming hair, and Holly’s white, terrified face rushed closer. She hit him with an impact that knocked the breath from his lungs. His feet threatened to slip, his legs to swing out from under him. He closed his arms around her and she went limp against him, her own arms hanging slack, her legs tangling with his. The water clawed at her saturated skirts, almost prying her loose from his arms.

Clutching her tighter, he called on all the strength he possessed to hug her to his chest. He sidestepped toward the far bank, where the overhanging branches of a willow tree skimmed the current. Limbs stiff with cold and muscles aching from the exertion, he fought his way closer to the tree and chanced lifting one arm from around her. Reaching out, he gripped a branch and hauled himself and Holly out of the water and onto the muddy bank.

Her eyes closed, her body wilting against the ground, she showed no signs of consciousness. On his knees beside her, he swept the sodden snarls of hair from her cheeks and cupped her face in his hands. “Holly. Oh, God . . . please . . .”

He rubbed her cheeks, hands, and arms in a desperate attempt to force the blood to flow. Hunching over her, he slipped an arm beneath her shoulders and lifted her against him, pressing his lips to her forehead, to her mouth. Then he remembered something vital. As her sister had once done for Simon after an experiment had nearly killed him, he opened her mouth and breathed into her, forcing air in and out of her lungs. All the while he prayed and raged and promised God anything . . . anything. . . .

A sputtering cough sent dizzying relief all through him. Her eyelids fluttered, and a racking cough shook her frame. Over and over she coughed, cringing from the force, her shoulders wrenching.

Twisting away from him, she doubled over, her face hanging low over the ground as she gagged and purged the stream water from her lungs. Helpless to provide relief, Colin thrust an arm across the front of her shoulders to support her while with his other hand he gathered her hair and held it back from her face. Each convulsion echoed through him until the tension flowed from her body.

“What . . . happened?” Her head hanging, her voice came as a tremulous flutter. Wiping shaky fingers across her lips, she gazed feebly up at him. Her image blurred before his eyes, obscured by tears he couldn’t prevent. He felt her cold palm against his cheek. “You saved me.”

Then her hand fell away and she collapsed against him in a dead faint.


Last chance to leave a comment to be entered in my giveaway. There are three copies of RECKLESSLY YOURS and a $15 e-gift certificate, and I’ll be choosing the winners Monday with Random/org. Check back to see if you’ve won!

And if not, click on the covers below to see where you can find Recklessly Yours, and books 1 & 2: Most Eagerly Yours and Outrageously Yours…


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Happy New Year! How is yours so far? A new year is a time for second chances, for making changes in our lives, and for being, maybe, an improved version of ourselves. 

I’ve had a good start so far, getting the tree down and decorations put away on New Years Day, gathering up several bags worth of stuff and bringing them to the Good Will, and…hurray!…at long last I finished the first draft of RECKLESS YOURS, book three in my Her Majesty’s Secret Servant’s series. I often call myself a first draft writer, in that my first drafts tend to be very whole and readable. But one thing I would never do is turn in a manuscript without going over it again from start to finish with a very critical eyes. There’s always room for improvement, and always those pesky mistakes you never noticed the first time around.

Take today, for instance. I found a glaring error in the opening pages of Recklessly Yours that no one caught previously – not me, not my editor, not my critique group, and the mistake actually appears in the teaser at the back of OUTRAGEOUSLY YOURS.

Actually, it’s not so glaring, or it would have been noticed before now. But I can’t help chuckling. The mistake is in a date I quoted in the narrative, or rather a year, which could only be possible if Simon de Burgh’s generator, in Outrageously Yours, is capable of time travel. It’s too late for the teaser in Outrageously Yours, I’m just glad for a second chance to get it right for the actual book!

So just for fun, I’m offering a free book of the winner’s choice to the first person who finds the mistake and mentions it on my Facebook page. So read the excerpt and see how detail oriented you are – and I’m sometimes not! I’ve shortened it up a bit. Holly Sutherland has been traveling through the night, and has just arrived in Windsor, at the royal mews, for reasons still unbeknown to her. All she knows is that the queen has a special task for her to perform…


Windsor, England
Spring 1839

Holly was surprised to step into a cozy room furnished with a faded but comfortable looking settee, a small oaken table and chairs, and a brazier set beside an unassuming brick fireplace.  The effect was one of a slightly shabby retreat, the furniture perhaps having been deemed too worn to remain any longer in a drawing-room but good enough to host a party of aristocratic riders.  Then again, such a room in Holly’s childhood home of Thorn Grove, the modest country estate owned by her now-deceased uncle Edward, would have been considered perfectly adequate as an everyday ladies’ parlor.

“Her majesty’s private viewing salon, miss,” Roger explained.  He pointed to a curtained window across the way.  “If you look out, you’ll see the enclosure where the royal horses are put through their paces.”

She moved to the window and glanced out the wavy panes at a paddock enclosed by high walls that sagged here and appeared to be crumbling there.  A thick layer of sawdust had been strewn on the ground in a futile attempt to soak up the mud from the recent rains.  Having recovered sufficiently from her bemusement, she experienced the beginnings of indignation on Victoria’s behalf.  Her queen – her friend – deserved better than this.  She turned back into the room.  “Forgive me for saying so, but these stables are in deplorable condition.  Not at all befitting a queen.”

“Indeed not, miss.” Roger struck a lucifer and lit an oil lamp.  “There are to be new stables built later in the year.”

“Oh.  Well, thank goodness for that.”

“Do make yourself comfortable, if you please, miss.”

A cheery fire, laid earlier by some unknown hand, flickered from the grate in the hearth.  Roger set about lighting the brazier while Holly settled on the settee and glanced about the room with a mounting curiosity she knew better than to voice.  As in the coach, she set her book firmly on her lap, the gold embossed lettering staring up at her to announce the title: A Chronicle of the Royal Ascot, from 1711 to 1847.

Puzzling.  But even more puzzling had been the secret message tucked inside.  Both the tome and the note had only hours ago been delivered by Roger himself to the Knightsbridge Readers’ Emporium, the London book shop owned jointly by Holly and her sisters.  She’d barely had time to comprehend the note’s meaning – that, like her sisters Laurel and Ivy before her, she was being called to the service of her country – before she found had herself whisked without further explanation out of the city and across the moonlit countryside.
Within moments, Roger handed her a steaming mug of tea.  He then opened a cupboard, and returned to place a covered platter on the sofa table in front of her. 

“Scones, miss, fresh from the castle ovens.  You shouldn’t have long to wait now.”  With that, he bowed his way out of the room.

Wait for what? she yearned to call after him.  But such a question would yield her little.  Fellows such as Roger were trained to follow directions and follow them well, neither asking nor answering questions that were none of their concern.  A smidgen of perplexity forced a sigh to her lips, quickly followed by a yawn. 
And no wonder; she had traveled through the night. 

Holding her veil aside, she drank some tea and continued a half-hearted perusal of the room.  She strained her ears, hearing only the hiss of the hearth fire punctuated by the muffled, far-off drone of the grooms and stable hands.  She nibbled an almond-flecked scone and tapped her fingers on the cover of the book.  Then, in a surge of impatience, she flipped open the cover to reread the urgent summons that had brought her so summarily to Windsor:

Dearest Holly,
I need you – and only you.  You must come to me at Windsor at once!  Tell no one, except your sisters, of course.  But please, make no delay!”

At the approaching clatter of footsteps, she flinched and snapped the book shut.  In the same instant, the undoubtedly feminine stride struck her as entirely familiar.  She set the book aside and came to her feet as a petite figure swathed in a forest green riding habit swept through the doorway.

“My dearest Holly, you are here!  At long last you have arrived!”

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What a month February has been! On top of my deadline, I’ve been hit with a cold immediately followed by a stomach virus. Yikes! Somehow I’ve managed to keep working and am on track for handing in my book a week and a half from now, but a lot of other things have had to be pushed aside. For one thing, blogging! Haven’t done a lot of that this month. For another, the contest I’d planned for, oh, right about now. Unfortunately, the drawing for the beautiful Victorian necklace will have to wait until next month, BUT…

Here’s a quickie for now: NAME THE HEROES!
Find the heroes on this blog (hint: look at the top of this page to find them), and email me an entry with each actor’s name to It’s easy! The only one that may present a challenge for some of you is the last gentlemanly hunk, but if you scroll down through my “Just For Fun” links, you’ll find a big hint as to his identity.

All correct answers will be entered in a random drawing for my upcoming release, MOST EAGERLY YOURS! *, book one of Her Majesty’s Secret Servants.

So come on, ladies, name those heroes! (And enjoy the pictures!)  Who would you add?  You have one week. I’ll choose a winner on Saturday, Feb. 27th!

*Or a prize of equal value if you live outside the Continental U.S.
**Email addresses are kept strictly confidential and are never shared. If you do not wish to be added to my newsletter subscriptions, just say “no newsletter.” I’ll understand!

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Today should be the last day to enter my drawing for a gift card, but I’m extending through Sunday, and adding an ARC of MOST EAGERLY YOURS to the prize!

Leave a comment or subscribe to this blog to enter!

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