Posts Tagged ‘new release’

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:

www.exmoorponysociety.org.uk
http://www.exmoorponies.co.uk/
http://www.horseshowcentral.com/ponies/exmoor_pony/376/1

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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It’s the weekend and we’re busy decking the halls here for Christmas. So no facts today…just danger and urgency and the spark of passion…in my favorite room of any great house – the library. I hope you enjoy this one!

Excerpt:

“Whatever you want, I have no interest. I demand you let me go this instant.”

His only response was his obscene laughter.

“Sir, you are in your cups.” She tugged for all she was worth. “Come morning you will regret your actions.”

“Shall I, mon amie?”

“Indeed, yes!” She lashed out with her hand, her palm striking the side of his head and not the cheek she had aimed for. But she was not Laurel Sutherland’s sister for nothing, nor Aidan Phillips’s sister-in-law, for that matter. They had taught her how to fight, to defend herself. If this man refused to behave like a gentleman, then it was time for her to stop behaving like a lady. She lifted her foot. . . .

Her knee hit squarely in the man’s groin. He let out a yelp, his arms loosening and opening a fraction of space between them. As he bent over, she seized the opportunity and swung her fists, jabbing at his throat, and something fleshier—his cheek this time? When he howled and lurched backward, she ran, blindly, having no notion in which direction she went. She only hoped she would end up at the library where she could escape to the terrace and the safety of the ballroom.

“Miss Sutherland, is that you?”

She collided with a torso—solid like the stranger’s yet familiar, protective. Arms closed around her, wrapping her in safety. “Lord Drayton? Please let it be you this time.”

The bravado that had saved her from that drunkard’s lascivious intentions now abandoned her in a torrent. Sobs choked her voice, strangling the syllables of his name. Until this moment, she had not realized how frightened she was. Who had accosted her? Could it have been Mr. Fenhurst, who had always been kind to her and her sisters? Or Lord Arnold, whose youthful wife proved he had a penchant for younger women? The man in the corridor had seemed larger and stronger than either of those two, but could her fear have magnified his size and strength?

She buried her face against Lord Drayton’s shoulder.

“What is it? What happened?” The questions came sharply, penetrating her fear, demanding an answer. “And what did you mean, by ‘this time’?”

She pressed her cheek to his coat front. “There was a man. At first I thought he was you following me . . . but . . .” She raised her face, taking in the firm lines of his chin, his jaw, the stony contour of his cheek. “It wasn’t you.”

“I did follow you, Miss Sutherland, but when I heard you stop in the corridor, I assumed—” He broke off. His hand cradled the back of her head, his fingers gently stroking her hair. The library door stood open beside them. Lord Drayton held her tightly, his lips tickling her ear as he made soothing sounds to calm her. She relished the reassurance of masculine superfine, and the muscle beneath, against her cheek.

“It was my own fault,” she said. “He must have seen me leave the ballroom and followed me. He must have assumed I went looking for . . . for . . .”

He framed her face in his hands and raised it from his chest until their gazes met. His voice, when he spoke, was as steely as a knife-edge. “What did he do?”

“He . . .” Now that she was safe, it all seemed a blur. He had seemed to materialize out of nowhere, from the shadows themselves.

An ill sensation rose, wrapped in layers of shame that forced her head down. There were reasons decent young women didn’t wander alone through dark corridors. She drew a steadying breath. “He seized me and refused to let go.”

The earl’s hands tightened until she could feel the calluses, acquired from years of riding, against her cheeks. “Did he take privileges with you?” When she didn’t answer, he spoke more loudly, more fiercely. “Did he hurt you?”

“He didn’t hurt me exactly. In fact, I may have injured him. I struck him and kicked him as hard as I could. Then I ran.”

She couldn’t be quite certain, but she thought the corners of his mouth lifted in what might have been a smile.

“Come.” His strong arm looped about her waist. As he walked her into the library, she didn’t know if it was lingering fear and shock that made her knees wobble, or the intimacy of his hold. But if not for his steadying arm and the solidness of his side against her, she would have toppled. He brought her to the settee before the fireplace and gently handed her down onto the cushions.

He crouched at her feet. His hand closed around hers, disconcerting and heavenly. “Did you recognize anything about him?”

She tried to focus on his question, rather than on those calluses across the base of his fingers, or on how she might lean over and press her lips to the silky hair at the crown of his head. “It was too dark. I could make out only that he was older than . . . than you. Not quite elderly, I shouldn’t think. Middle-aged.”

“Did he say anything?”

“Very little. He said . . . that he wasn’t you.”

The earl responded with a curious lift of his eyebrow, making her regret the disclosure. Don’t ask. Please, don’t ask.

He drew back a little. “Of all things, why would he declare that?”

“Because . . .” She sipped her sherry, wishing she could crawl into the glass and drown.

He grasped her wrist, and gently lowered her arm. “Why, Holly?”

The echo of her Christian name reverberated through her, then settled with a heated thrum deep in her belly. She had often heard him speak her sisters’ names, Ivy and Willow, even Laurel. But never Holly. Never once had he looked at her and allowed his lips to form her name.

How sweetly it rolled off his tongue, making her pulse leap, her heart swell. His presence suddenly filled the room, her world, and each breath she drew came laden with his musky scent, fueling a sudden longing to toss her sherry aside and throw her arms around his neck.

“Holly?”

She shut her eyes, blocking out the tempting sight of him. “I told you, I thought he was you. I thought you had been following me, and when he caught me, I . . . cried out your name.” Good heavens, she kept digging herself in deeper. What questions would he ask now? What answers would he demand?

“I was following you,” he said quietly but harshly. His subdued fierceness quickened her pulse. He rose higher on his knees, his hands sliding along her thighs to settle at her waist. His palms cupped her hip bones, raising an ache between them that nearly made her cry out his name all over again. She shut her eyes.

He swore under his breath. “I heard you running down the hall, and I followed until I realized you weren’t alone.”

Her eyes snapped open. “You heard him?”

“Yes, dammit. I could have spared you the entire unsavory experience had I not deemed my interference less than welcome.”

“You thought I’d gone to tryst?” Her stomach tightened into a ball of dismay.

It was his turn to lower his face in silent rumination. Holly slipped a hand beneath his chin, his evening bristle rough against her fingertips, disquieting and oddly reassuring at the same time.

Reassuring? By his own implied admission, he had believed the worst of her. The fact of it stung, but she couldn’t help repeating her question, though this time it came out as a statement. “You thought I’d sought an assignation.”

His nostrils flared. His eyes flashed defiance, but beneath it, uncertainty. Apology. “Yes. I am sorry. But yes.”

“You think that because I enjoy riding fast, I am fast.”

He seized her wrist. “Dammit, no.”

#

“I came back,” he said, the words both an avowal and a plea. Her wrist was small and warm, so delicate in his hand. He gazed down at it, then upward to the satiny whiteness of her arm, the skin so much paler, purer, than his own. “If I had believed you to be fast, I would not have come back to stop you. I would not have wished to save you from a grievous error.”

The error of giving herself to an undeserving boor like Bentley, or for that matter any other man on the face of the earth.

Any man that wasn’t him.

Never mind that he was the one man who couldn’t have her, not now, not at any time in his foreseeable future.

“You came back for me. . . .” Her voice melted to a soft little whimper that undid his remaining composure . . . and his resolve.

“Yes. God yes, Holly.”

He released her wrist and rose onto the settee beside her. Then she was in his arms, sinking into him, her fragrant warmth spreading across his shirt front. Months and months of standing firm fell away like a house of cards in a sudden draft, leaving him exposed, vulnerable, wanting.

He tried telling himself he’d allow nothing more than a brief touch of their lips, a small taste of what he could not have. But her lips were full and moist and at the slight prod of his tongue, they parted for him, invited him in, and sent him spiraling headlong into pleasure. She tasted of sherry and sweetness with a dash of spice, and every irresistible thing he could think of.

Until he could no longer think at all…

His hands began moving, exploring… His fingertips trembled over long, elegant lines and tight, exquisite curves. He had been correct about the riding. Where other women were soft and malleable, she was firm and sculpted, an artist’s masterpiece, but warm, alive, unknowingly seductive.

His lips followed his fingertips down the curve of her chin, the underside of her jaw, and down…but he tamped down every urge to proceed any further. If it killed him—which he feared it might—he would take no more from her than could be winked at in the morning.

For he knew—beyond a doubt—that Holly Sutherland would wink at none of this. She was no experienced paramour, and this was no conquest for her, no game of seduce the earl with which she would regale her friends afterward.

He would have bet a piece of his soul that each kiss, each touch, held meaning for her, or she would not be here, would not be kissing him back. All the more reason to let her go before another of their heartstrings tangled. He would not be like his father, a man who dallied with innocence, taking what didn’t belong to him without a qualm.

But he didn’t let her go. He held on and inhaled the fragrance of her skin and hair so deep as to never, ever forget it. He kissed every part of her that he dared—her throat, her shoulders, her lips—so he would always remember the feel of her, the taste of her on his tongue.

Then a thought, a prayer, sprang to his mind: perhaps someday . . .

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in my drawing. There are three copies of Recklessly Yours and one bookstore e-gift certificate to be won. Winners will be chosen on Monday!

One more excerpt tomorrow…

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OUTRAGEOUSLY YOURS

 

I’m so excited to finally be able to share my December cover! This, to date, is my most dressed hero. If you look to the right, you’ll see that the heroes of the Blackheath Moor books were practically naked from the waist up. Very manly and muscular and exposed to the weather. I hope they didn’t catch cold! Then for Most Eagerly Yours the shirt is open but a little more on him.

Now we actually have a coat with a bit of waistcoat peeking out the bottom. Yet Simon is still in a scandalous state of dishabille with his missing cravat and his shirt sprung shamelessly open. Ivy is taking it in stride, however. She may be innocent (although admittedly not so VERY innocent at this stage in the story) but she’s certainly no retiring young miss.  

Ivy is intelligent and purposeful in everything she does, and I think this is accurately conveyed by her expression.  As she herself proclaims, even in passion she takes full responsibility for her actions. If she is going to BE kissed, it is because she has every intention of kissing back.  It looks to me as if she might even be thinking about initiating a thing or two herself.

Who could blame her? I happen to think this is my sexiest cover so far. There’s something about the cut of a well-tailored coat that enhances a man’s best attributes – his shoulders, powerful chest, even his height.  A good coat turns a man into a formidable wall of masculinity that a heroine can’t help but want to melt against. You know in the next scene he’ll sweep her up in his arms and carry her somewhere delightfully private. There will be plenty of time then for that coat to come off!

So what’s sexier? An undressed man? A minimally dressed man? Or a man whose breeches, boots and dashing coat give a breathtaking promise of the sensuality lurking within?

(OK, I’ll admit I worded that last question in a blatant attempt to skew the results.)

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