(oh I am so in love with this cover)
I wrote this as a prequel to my new Regency series, Cursed Treasure. There was no way it could be any longer, it just fitted this length.
Luckily Evernight agreed and said they'd be happy to publish it as a free read.
So from today, you can download it for free, for ever ( well as long as Evernight publish it)
by clicking ...here...
and here's the first wee bit to tease you...
The Moon Curse
"Pay the price. The heart of ye child to be liftin' the curse. Dare ye risk it?"
English Channel, 1789
The boat was small and smelled of stale fish. The tide was high, and the water a sullen, choppy, dark brown swell. Huddled on the bottom boards with a sobbing baby on one side and his sick mother throwing up into a rough wooden pail on the other was not the nicest place to achieve freedom.
Not that she had, yet. The French coast was still much too close for comfort.
Marie-Josephine decided she would prefer to help sail the boat instead of being told to hold on and stay out of the way. Patience was not her best trait. Plus, the attitude of the captain could almost make her wish herself back in her beloved France. Almost.
Except there was the not inconsiderable presence of Madame Le Guillotine and the sure knowledge she'd be on her way to make her acquaintance if she ever set foot on French soil again. Her enemies had made certain of that. She sighed as the boat pitched and she rolled over onto a coil of rope. The tarry strands stuck to her bare ankle—her stockings had shredded and been discarded days before—and scratched the skin. It was nothing compared to what others suffered. Luckily, the next wave rolled her back toward the side of the vessel once more. Spray flew up in the air and covered her face. The sharp, bitter smell that often portended storms smell of ozone filled her nostrils. It was not a night anyone sensible would choose to be afloat. Hopefully, that would work in their favor.
She resumed her musings. Anything to take her mind away from this present danger, even if it was only reliving dangers past.
Apart from being Mademoiselle de Coeur, daughter of a count, her calm rejection of Etienne Blanc, who most certainly was no aristocrat, and a pig to boot, would have made her future—or lack of one—certain if she had stayed. No, wailing babies, sickly mothers, and all, it was better to be where she was. After all, at least she had a chance of survival, slim though it seemed at that moment.
The captain—Theo, one of the sailors had called him—looked down as he stepped over her and the baby he'd thrust at her with a growled, "Take him and hold him secure." He spoke French as good as she or any aristo, but he didn't look like a Frenchman. However, he did look dangerous; she wouldn't want to cross him. "It's going to be a rough passage." He'd spoken no truer words. From the first moment they'd left the tiny cove that they had spent days walking to, the boat had rocked and swayed like a lantern in the wind.
Now, he winked. It seemed his good humor had been restored. "Nice day for a sail, eh?" Almost immediately he transferred his interest away from her and shouted orders to his crew before he adjusted the flapping sheets.
He might well be a sailor, but to Mijo's admittedly untutored eyes, he looked every inch an aristocrat, and none the ruffian he purported to be. Even his voice was cultured, and his impeccable French, with more than a passable accent, was not that of the peasantry.
However, at that moment, Mijo couldn't have cared if he was the king of Britain or a hermit from a cave, as long as he continued to be in charge of the worsening situation.
A seaman shouted something, and Theo swore. "We're being followed. Hold on to something and say your prayers." His dark eyes flashed, and he blew her a kiss.
Mijo would have maintained he was enjoying himself more and more with every moment that passed. He climbed the rigging like a monkey and barked out orders to his three-man crew. As he laughed and obviously revelled in the thrill of the chase, she tried to flatten herself out of the way of large, heavy feet and wet ropes. Once a booted foot hit her side, and she winced.
The crewman looked down. "Sorry, ma'am."
"Sans importance." The wind caught and tossed away her words as, with a flurry of canvas, they added more sail, and the boat leaped eagerly to the challenge and sped along. The sheets billowed ghostly in the dark night sky, the only sounds apart from the rushing water and the thud of the waves, that of the ropes that held the sails and the creaking of the hull.
Beside her, the young mother retched, and in front of them, several others looked away and took refuge where they could. It was obvious they deemed themselves unable, or unwilling, to aid the poor woman. The baby, obviously spent, was silent. It could be a scene from any of Mrs. Radcliffe's gothic novels, except it was real and not between the covers of a leather-bound book.
The moon slid in and out of the clouds. Why had they fled when there was a moon? Sheer stupidity, or necessity? She knew it was the latter, and their captain—Theo—was either very brave or incredibly foolhardy. Whichever, she was eternally grateful, or would be when they reached dry land.
Waves crashed over the bows, and within seconds Mijo was soaked. She shivered and handed the baby to his mother, who was now half sitting up. The little mite would give her something to concentrate on, and if he stayed next to Mijo, he stood a good chance of being drowned or stamped to death by a misplaced boot.
And just to tease you, even more. Here's the first few paragraphs of My Lord Suitor book one of Cursed Treasure...and *drum roll* I've just got a publishing date for it. August 7th...
Tessa loved Devon. The hills in the distance, the sea murmuring in the background, and the wind that got up in a minute and teased the treetops and grass of the rolling fields around her. Whatever the season, she was drawn to this area of the country. However, she admitted to herself, autumn was her favorite. It was a joy to see the blackberries ripe, plump, and juicy, and decking the hedgerows as they displayed themselves for picking and eating—as it was to watch the leaves turn to the golds and russets of the end of the year, and fall to carpet the earth with their glorious hues. It was satisfying to know the harvest was safely gathered and the grain and vegetables securely stored to see them through anything the winter would throw at them.
Here, she felt she was herself. Not someone who had to appeal to those chinless wonders who called themselves young bucks or pinks, or even the elite gentlemen of the ton. Here she was just Tessa. Even at night when, as her maman said, pixies danced and the night creatures played, Tessa felt welcome. Perhaps being born on the stroke of midnight had something to do with it. Not only did she straddle two days, with her birthday on All Hallows Eve, she hovered over the cusp where the veil between the living and those who had passed was thinnest. She sensed emotions deeply, sometimes to her detriment.
Tessa shook her head and let her hair dance around her shoulders. Freed from its normal neat and tidy-ish chignon, it fell almost to her waist in a mass of russet-colored curls, and covered her cloak like a cape. She kicked a pile of leaves high into the air, spun around in a circle, and let her hair fly out around her. She laughed, her voice melodious on the night air. Then she sighed. For some reason, tonight she was twitchy, and she had no idea why. That in itself was peculiar. Tessa thought deeply and had an intuition far greater than most. It was rare she couldn't work out what her feelings and thoughts meant. Perhaps because her parents were, in the words of her sister Amalia, loved up, and Tessa felt excluded? Where Amalia got her expressions heaven knows, but Tessa thought it fitted their maman and papa perfectly. However, it didn't explain her own state of mind.
Oh, it wasn't their fault she felt cast adrift, it was the whole find-a-soul-mate scenario. Why couldn't she experience that?
After a harmonious evening, playing childhood games such as "go fish" and "spillikins," the rest of the family had retired to bed, and as far as Tessa knew all their candles were snuffed, and all the other occupants of the house were fast asleep. But not Tessa. The age-old call of the night had tempted her senses and demanded she listen and join them—it—outside.
The air sang, and the scents of the earth and all things that grew there surrounded Tessa, and as she'd hoped, brought a modicum of peace. However, it was not enough to stop her wondering why she was on edge.
She gathered her cloak around her as a gust of wind teased the fallen leaves to swirl upward in a mini whirlwind of what would be, in daylight, glorious color. She could imagine it. They created a barrier between her and the trees on either side of the ride—one of the swaths of grass several yards wide, which bisected the woods around Birch Hall's gardens. For several seconds she was in the center of a cloud of dancing foliage. Several twigs and leaves landed on her hair and shoulders, and one tiny one settled on her nose. Tessa scrunched her nose up and blew it off. It tickled.
A rabbit, barely discernable in the darkness, scurried across the grass with hardly a look in her direction, followed by several others. The final one—the buck—stopped a few yards away, sat, twitched, and then satisfied all was well, disappeared down a burrow.
Somewhere nearby in the dark night, an owl hooted to be answered by one closer to her.
Tessa shivered. Stories of smugglers and their way of communicating with each other infiltrated her troubled thoughts, and she looked around nervously. She should not be out tonight, but that tempting, teasing, indefinable something called to her, and she'd ignored her thoughts and left the house. Now maybe it was time to regret her spur of the moment decision. Heaven knew Mijo had warned her about her ‘act now, think later’ impetuousness.
A gust of wind shook a nearby tree, and its leaves fell softly to the ground like silent raindrops of molten gold. Tessa shook her head at her fanciful thoughts. She bit back a whimper as a whirring noise made her jump and turn around. The glimpse of the pale feathers of an owl as it flew in front of her went some way to assailing her fears.
Fool, All Hallows' Eve is not yet upon us. She should know. It would add another year to her age and yet more insinuations of how unmarriageable she had become. As far as Tessa was concerned, long may that state reign.
Love R x