Blog Archives

Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies, and many thanks to the lovely and talented Angelica Dawson who makes Mid Week Tease possible!

This week I’m featuring a rather intriguing scene from the third book in my Two Thrones series, Lady of Thorns. In this teaser Amelie is trying to talk Alain (who is quite sought after by the noblewomen of Mons for his skills in the bedroom) into going to bed with her–for science! Or at least for experience. Will Alain agree to this most unexpected request? Keep reading to find out, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!


LaPorte blinked once, slowly. “I … beg your pardon?” he finally said.

Amelie stiffened her spine. “You heard me,” she said evenly. “I would like you to take me to bed.”

The counselor blinked again, leaning back in his chair. “Yes, that’s what I thought you said,” he murmured, his voice slightly faint. “My lady—”

“Before you refuse, hear me out,” Amelie said quickly. She had to get this out before her courage failed. “I don’t mean this to be some sort of grand affair. I like and admire you, and I find you to be a handsome man, but I have no romantic feelings for you.”

If LaPorte’s eyebrows rose any higher, they would merge with his hairline. “No?”

“No.” She licked dry lips. “I mean this to be—a course of study, for lack of a better word.”

She waited, watching him. To her relief he didn’t burst into laughter, or seem angry. In fact, he seemed more curious than anything. “Study.”

“Precisely.” This next part would be exquisitely embarrassing, but there was no other way except through it. “Lierdhans are comfortable with sensuality. Clearly, I don’t share that same sort of ease, but I believe it’s from lack of practice, not any sort of inherent lack in myself.” The thought of the pleasure that had sent white sparks shooting across her vision the night before danced in her memory, and she could feel her cheeks heat even more at it. “If your earlier statement is to be believed, I do possess certain … charms.”

His head came up slightly at that, but he said nothing.

She took a deep breath and plunged on. “I would like to feel more comfortable with physical intimacy. But I can’t gain that experience without a willing partner. And few men wish to brave the Lady of Thorns, so I sit here at an impasse.” She tried to smile, but felt it quirking towards bitterness. “And throw myself on your mercy.”

“Ah-ah.” The counselor lifted one finger. “First off, you needn’t throw yourself on anyone’s mercy, least of all mine. I believe I already said that what you require is a man of stronger mettle than those you’ve encountered to date. If they aren’t willing to risk the thorns, they don’t deserve the rose at the heart of the briar.”

Tears rose in her eyes at the unexpected compliment, and she quickly blinked them away. “Thank you.”

Another finger joined the first. “Second, are you sure you don’t wish to save this sort of exploration for the man you will marry? I can assure you, few husbands would be horrified to find their wife virgin on their wedding night.”

She imagined Daniel climbing into bed beside her, while she lay there like a corpse from sheer embarrassment. “That’s assuming I marry at all, which doesn’t seem to be likely at this point.” Yes, snap at him. That will entice him, I’m sure. She took a breath and softened her tone. “Counselor, I know how strange my request must sound, believe me. But at the moment my virginity is more of a millstone around my neck than something I can gift to a man I don’t know I’ll ever meet. I wish to be relieved of it by a man of experience and tact.”

LaPorte didn’t smile, but a certain glint entered his eyes. “While my colleagues at the Law College might wish to debate you on the topic of my tact, I do admit that I possess a certain amount of experience in the pleasures of the flesh.” The glint sharpened. “Do you use childbane?”

Her cheeks felt even hotter if that was possible. “Since my first courses. It’s common practice for Lierdhan girls once they become fertile.”

“Good. Then we won’t have to wait for you to procure a dose or for it to take effect.” There was something in his expression now that made her heartbeat speed up. “We can start after dinner tonight.”

Her mouth dried. “Tonight?” It came out as a squeak.

“Unless you have an objection.”

She hadn’t expected him to agree this quickly. She’d racked up a number of arguments, logical reasons why their bedding would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. For him to say yes so easily came as a shock. “No, no objection.”

The smile he gave her had a definite predatory cast. “Good. After you retire for the evening, come to my room.”

Your room?” That, she hadn’t expected. In her mind, their encounters had always taken place in the familiarity of her own bed.

“For the purposes of discretion. This being your home, you would be able to explain your presence in the halls late at night better than I could. Also, there may be some blood. If your sheets are stained outside your courses—”

“That would be difficult to explain,” she concluded, wishing she would stop blushing. He was being logical, dammit. “Although I can lift blood out of fabric with a spell easily enough.”

“Good to know if it becomes necessary. There’s also the fact that I’m at the far end of the guest wing, while you reside in the family wing. There’s less likelihood that someone will interrupt us in my room, or hear any—noises.”

Her embarrassment dimmed as a soft heat bloomed to life between her thighs. “Eminently sensible,” she got out.

He gave her a brief, appreciative nod. “I do my best, my lady.


Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to view this Linky Tools list…

Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! This week I’m teasing you with another snippet from the third book in my Two Thrones series, Lady of Thorns. Please note that this story will NOT be about Danaë and Matthias (their parallel adventure will be in Book 4), but it does feature Lady Amelie le Clerq, the young, prickly Terra magistra and heiress to the Lady of Lierdhe, and the eminently sneaky Counselor Alain LaPorte from Palace of Scoundrels. The best way I can describe it is, imagine Lady Mary Crawley from Season 1 Downton Abbey and Alan Shore from Boston Legal going head to head.

So to speak. Ahem. And while I know I promised some hanky panky this week, I thought I’d give you a peek at the other half of the romantic equation. Next week, naughty business for sure!

Many thanks to Angelica Dawson for hosting us, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!


Alain LaPorte studied the business contract, lips pursed in thought. “You were right to bring this to me,” he said to the man seated on the other side of the desk. “It’s a sweet bit of legal chicanery.”

“I was afraid of that,” Ser Olaoye Jogimo said. The glassblower was known throughout Mons for his elegant work, particularly in mirrors, and supposedly had the ear of the king himself. “The terms were just this side of too reasonable, and Ser Rorche made it clear that he wanted it signed as soon as possible before he left on a trip to one of his lavender fields. He’s too good a businessman to offer a contract like this so quickly unless it benefits himself, but I couldn’t see where the trap was.”

“Unsurprising.” Alain tapped the offending clause. “He’s using a very old business law called familia onus, where a failure on an artisan’s part to fulfill a contract could be passed on as a debt to a family member, if that family member was wealthier than the artisan. Enough well-to-do businessmen and noblemen alike were stung by it that they reached a rare agreement and had the law changed so that none of them could be held to account for the poor business decisions of their relatives.”

The glassblower’s eyes narrowed. “There’s a but in that statement.”

Alain nodded. “The revised law only applies to guild members and businessmen. Ser Rorche, however, must believe that you have a relative who is quite wealthy in his own right but is not a nobleman nor a guild member. If you have any issues fulfilling this contract, Ser Rorche could have demanded restitution from that relative.”

Jogimo let out a slow, hissing breath through his nose. “That would have been extremely foolish on his part.”

“Mm. I assume that you do have a rich relative?”

“You could say that. My mother is an Aqua mage, and she’s done quite well for herself over the years.”

Alain winced. “Oh, dear. Yes, she would definitely be affected by the familia onus rule. And of course Ser Rorche could elect to have the debt discharged in non-financial ways.” Meaning Ser Jogimo’s magistra mother could be required to work magic, most likely expensive magic, at Rorche’s request. As Jogimo had already pointed out, that would have been foolish in the extreme, but most businessmen didn’t know the many ways a mage could make their irritation known.

Alain, on the other hand, did. He still remembered the former client who had tried to legally force an Aqua mage into creating a freshwater spring for him on his estate. The mage had finally acquiesced, and the client triumphantly took the first drink of water from the spring. And the last. Alain wondered if the man was still celibate due to the now-unfortunate color and consistency of his semen.

“However, we’re assuming that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the contract,” Jogimo continued. “I’m confident that I can produce the number of jars Ser Rorche needs.” He toyed with a silvered glass pendant hanging around his neck. “The thing is, counselor, I’m in the middle of expanding my shop. This particular deal would help fund that greatly. I don’t want to pass it up if I don’t have to.”

“Oh, you shouldn’t. Rorche is a well-respected perfumier and purveyor of fine toiletries. He was just trying to be clever, as any self-respecting businessman would. You can be clever right back at him.” Alain plucked a sharpened quill from a cup and dipped it in ink, then struck out the offending clause in the contract, writing something in the margin. “This removes the familia onus clause and offers a cash guarantee of 25 per cent of the full amount of the contract in case you cannot supply enough jars for Rorche’s creams and unguents. That being said, don’t offer this unless you’re sure you can produce the goods or the cash guarantee.”

Jogimo’s mouth curled in a thin, determined smile. “I can do both. Any other traps I should be aware of?”

“Not that I can see.”

“Good. Then I’ll have this rewritten by my clerk and sent back.” The glassblower got to his feet, straightening his elegant Ghobian robes. “As for your fee, counselor.”

He pulled a small wash leather bag from an inner pocket and handed it over. Alain noted the bag’s weight and peered inside to confirm his suspicions. “That’s more than half again of what I charge for this type of consultation, Ser Jogimo,” he said mildly.

There was a hint of amusement in Jogimo’s expression. “Consider the extra a retainer fee. I suspect I’ll be returning to you for more consultations, if you find that acceptable.”

“I do.” Alain stood and gave the glassblower his hand. “In which case, consider me at your service.”

Another of those thin smiles, and Jogimo left with his revised contract and an idea of what he could expect from his new business partner. Alain took his seat again in satisfaction, opening a drawer in his desk and dropping the clinking wash bag into it. Behind him, he could hear the clock tower that stood at the center of the Law Court striking the hour. Just enough time to get back to his rooms, have a wash, change into clean clothes, and meet Lauranne for dinner at her townhouse. If business kept up like this, he would have to think about buying something nice for her, assuming he could find something that her husband wouldn’t notice—

A knock at the door sounded, and a weathered face topped with a mop of greying hair peered around the edge. Under normal circumstances Petyr Colombe had the sangfroid of a professional gambler, but today the law clerk’s eyes seemed a bit wild. “My apologies, counselor, but you have a visitor,” he said, his customary rumble low and whispered.

Frowning, Alain checked the ledger that served as his desk calendar. Jogimo had been the last scheduled client of the day. “If it’s a new client, ask him to come back tomorrow.”

Colombe shook his head as minutely as possible. “It’s the king, counselor.”

“Oh.” Alain tugged his robe straight. Lauranne would simply have to wait. “By all means, show him in.”

Colombe nodded and disappeared. A moment later the door swung open and King Matthias IV of Ypres entered. Alain got to his feet, giving the monarch a respectful bow. “Your majesty.”

The king held up a hand. “I apologize for showing up unannounced, counselor. I had planned on coming earlier but the day got away from me.”

Everyone in Mons knew that the king was preparing for his annual visit to Hellas to see his wife Queen Danaë. Now that the queen was six months’ gone with child, it was no surprise that the king’s thoughts were focused on crossing the Apennines and reuniting with his wife and incipient heir. “I’m at your service, sire,” Alain said gallantly. “Before we get down to business, however, let me take this opportunity to congratulate both you and the queen on your happy news.”

The king’s expression changed, becoming ever so slightly awed. “Thank you, LaPorte. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it myself. I’m not sure what I’ll do with a brace of babes. Dandle one on each knee, I suppose.”

Alain’s attention perked at that. City gossip had it that Queen Danäe was expecting two babies. “So the queen is having twins, then?”

“Oh, yes, and a most active pair they are, as well,” King Matthias said, then coughed. “At least, that’s what I understand from the queen’s reports. I’m looking forward to seeing her in person.”

Alain tried to imagine the tall, slender queen of Hellas with a belly full of twins. The image was unnerving. “Completely understandable, sire. Now, as to the purpose of your visit?”

“Yes. I was wondering when you planned on heading to Lierdhe?”

Oho. Alain suspected he knew where this was going. “I was leaving tomorrow, sire.”

“I see. And how long do you think it’ll take for you to finish negotiations on the countess’s new irrigation system?”

Of course the king knew about the plans in Lierdhe. “I shouldn’t think more than a week, with a few days travel time on either side.” In truth Alain hoped to cut it down to five days, but even his brief contact with the Lady of Lierdhe was enough to illustrate the force of her will. If she came to loggerheads with the Earl of Bertram on any point, the negotiations would almost undoubtedly run long.

King Matthias nodded. “And you will keep me apprised of your progress, of course.”

And there was the crux of the matter. Lierdhe, the most prosperous farming province in Ypres, had been used by the countess as a bargaining chip to settle her debts. If things had gone according to plan, the province would have become part of the Earl of Leuven’s holdings, making him an extremely powerful man and a possible threat to the throne. Clearly the king didn’t want to risk something similar happening again. “I would be happy to keep the palace updated on my progress, sire. But I thought you yourself started out for Hellas tomorrow.”

The king allowed himself a small smile. “I do, but the prime minister has ways of getting in contact with me. If anything strikes you as odd, send a bird to him immediately.”

Alain bowed. “Of course, sire.”

“Good. I’ll leave you to your preparations. I have my own to complete. Save travels.”

“And to you as well, sire.”

With a brisk nod, the king left. Alain silently counted to ten. Before he reached the final number Colombe slid into the room, closing the door behind him. “I’ve never seen his majesty that close up before,” the clerk said, sounding moderately impressed. “He’s a tall man, isn’t he?”

“Quite tall.” Alain picked up a sheaf of papers and slid them into his satchel. “And he’s made a specific request of me. Once we reach Ardenhaal, you’ll need to find a public bird cote. I may need to send word back to Mons quickly.”

Bushy brows rose at that, but his law clerk was, as always, discreet. “As you wish, counselor.”

The college tower struck the quarter hour. “And on that note, I’d best leave before I have more any last minute visitors,” Alain said, grabbing his black velvet beret and donning it. “I’ll meet you at the gates of the college at first light.”

“Aye.” Colombe threw him a vague salute. “Tomorrow at first light.”

Satisfied, Alain strode out of his office. He still had to pack a few odds and ends, but first he had an appointment to keep at Lauranne’s townhouse.

****

The beautiful blonde next to him in bed stretched lazily, looking like a cat who’d just had an excellent saucer of cream and was now preening in a patch of sunlight. “That was lovely, darling,” she said throatily.

“That was rather good, wasn’t it?” Alain said, only slightly breathless as he rolled onto his back and tucked his hands behind his head. “You quite outdid yourself, my dear.”

“Yes, well.” She flipped over, her pert bottom pale and enticing in the candlelight as she traced his lips with an elegant finger. “I wanted our last hurrah in bed to be a memorable one.”

His mind thew off the post-coital fog, clicking back into its usual speed. “Last hurrah?” He kissed the tip of her finger. “I’ll only be gone for two weeks or so. Surely you can wait that long for me?”

I would, but I’m afraid it’s not up to me.” She pulled away, sitting up and reaching for a filmy robe. “Bernard has finally been reposted to Mons, and he’s quite insistent on starting a family. And frankly, I’m not getting any younger. I’ll be stopping my childbane as soon as he gets back, and I’m afraid that continuing our little dalliance might confuse the issue.”

Alain watched her lush curves disappear under pale peach silk with a mild sense of regret. “Ah. I see.” And if he was ruthlessly honest with himself, he did. Lauranne Fontaine was the wife of a Ypresian cavalry colonel, a wealthy heiress in her own right, and one of the brightest lights of the capital’s social scene. Theirs had been a most enjoyable affair, but he knew it came with an expiration date. “The queen’s fecundity seems to be creating quite the fashion among the nobility.”

“You wouldn’t be wrong.” Lauranne finished tying the robe’s belt, toying with one end of the delicate silk. “At least six other noblewomen I know are all pregnant or trying to fall pregnant. Their majesties’ offspring will have quite the age cohort to choose from when it comes time for a betrothal.”

He imagined all those clever Ypresian noblewomen jockeying for a chance to get their children on the throne. It would be a scrum for the ages. “If she’s even half as lovely and talented as her mother, I’m sure your child will have the best chance at a royal wedding,” he said gallantly.

Lauranne gave him a flirtatious look from under her thick lashes. “You do have the most marvelous way with words, counselor,” she purred, reaching over and stroking his shoulder. “I truly am sorry about this, you know. If there was any way around it, you know I’d much rather stay with you.”

He captured her hand and kissed it. “I know. But as you said, our affair would risk confusing the issue. Best to make a clean break of it and give your husband’s seed a clear field of battle.”

She made a face. “That’s an unfortunately accurate comparison. Bernard makes love like he wages war—all sound and fury, with him as the winner in the end. Perhaps once I have the child and get my figure back, we can pick up where we left off?”

It was never wise to burn a bridge if it wasn’t necessary. He let a polite leer cross his face. “You know where to find me.”

“Indeed I do.” She dropped the tie end and considered him. “We do have time for another glass of wine before you go, if you like. Bernard won’t be arriving until the morning.”

Her sultry meaning was clear. His penis felt enthusiastic about the idea, but his brain reminded him of all the things he still had to pack. In the end, practicality won out. “I would, but tomorrow’s journey will be long and tiring,” he said, rolling out of bed and locating his scattered clothes. “And I probably should get at least an hour or two of sleep. I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait until you’ve produced the newest blossom on the Fontaine family tree.”

She pouted endearingly, but he continued to dress. Ten minutes later he kissed her goodbye and rode back to the law college and his rooms, mind already on the trip to Lierdhe. He would miss Lauranne’s wit and sensuality, but living in the capital of Ypres meant that there were always more rich, charming women who appreciated a man of his skill and discretion.

He decided to send Lauranne a silver teething ring when the time came. We may well take up where we left off, after all. And in the meantime, I’ll just have to find some way to entertain myself…


Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to view this Linky Tools list…

Lady of Thorns: Many Happy Returns

For those of you who read yesterday’s Mid Week Tease and wanted to know how the rest of that scene turned out, I live to serve. Enjoy!


“Well, it could have been worse, milady,” Jeanette said judiciously, holding up the stained copper silk and studying it. “At least you didn’t make the entire tree blow up.”

“That’s not nearly as helpful as you think it is,” Amelie muttered, getting the last bit of sticky juice out of her hair. She slid under the water in the tub to rinse, shaking her head from side to side to sluice out the suds, then resurfaced. “You should have seen their faces.”

Her maid made a noncommittal noise. “But the apples ripened.”

“Yes, the apples ripened, which means the Harvest Festival is officially underway. Hopefully that will keep Maman satisfied.” Amelie stood up, accepting a bath sheet and wrapping it around herself. “And I can get back to my real work.”

Jeanette helped her out of the tub and shooed her over to the vanity table. “Excuse me for being blunt, milady, but these will be your duties someday. You can’t stay in your office forever.”

Amelie wished she was still young enough to stamp a foot, absurdly petulant as that would be. Instead she dropped onto the padded chair, allowing the maid to work on her hair with a drying cloth. “Perhaps Maman should have made Sibeal her heir after all. She could have blown up the entire square and everyone would have congratulated her.”

“Mayhap, but Lady Sibeal isn’t a Terra magistra,” Jeanette said mildly, pulling out a comb and running it through Amelie’s damp locks. “You are. And frankly you have the better mind for governing a province.”

“So you say. Maman says I’m too cold and analytical.”

The maid sighed. “Her ladyship has a different view from yours on what makes a good countess. It doesn’t meant that hers is the only correct way.”

“Oh, isn’t it?”

Both of them started, turning guiltily towards the tall woman standing at the bedroom door. With her titian hair coiled into an elegant updo, hazel eyes that changed color depending on what she wore, and a form-fitting maroon gown that highlighted both a heavy strand of emeralds and creamy décolletage over the square cut neckline, Henriette le Clerq looked like the harvest personified. “Do go on, Jeanette,” she suggested.

Blushing, Jeanette dropped into a deep curtsey. “I’m sorry, my lady. I didn’t mean—”

“Of course you did.” Henriette swept closer, holding a piece of rolled-up paper in her slender hands. “And you’re quite right. My daughter’s views are different from my own. When she becomes the Lady, she may rule Lierdhe as she sees fit. In the meantime, however, I am still the Lady of Lierdhe and must do as I deem best for my province and my people, even if that runs counter to my daughter’s views.”

Jeanette bowed her head. “Of course, my lady. I apologize.”

“Mm. You may go.”

The maid bobbed another curtsey and left. “I wish you wouldn’t scold Jeanette, Maman,” Amelie said wearily. “She did nothing to deserve it.”

“Oh, my dear, that wasn’t a scolding,” Henriette said, waving the roll of paper. “That was merely a reminder.” She pursed her lips. “I heard about the little contretemps at the ceremony today. Apple juice everywhere, the mayor said.”

Leave it to her mother to bring that up. Controlling her temper, Amelie picked up the comb Jeanette had dropped and went back to work on her hair. “I was distracted by one of the children. It won’t happen again.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Henriette said idly. “Practice makes perfect and all that, and it’s not as if I can step down until I know the family line will continue.” Before Amelie could come up with an appropriate reply she continued, “Speaking of that, however, I just received the most wonderful news from your sister.”

“What does Sibeal have to say?”

A beaming smile crossed her mother’s face. “She’s with child. She writes that she should give birth in the spring, and we’re to come to Wolf’s Lair to see the baby.”

For someone who had resisted the match so severely, Amelie thought, her mother certainly seemed happy with it now. It was ironic, considering the chill that had dropped over their own relationship ever since the King of Ypres had ridden to Lierdhe at Amelie’s request to stop the forced wedding of her younger sister Sibeal to Clement Reynard. The wedding had been Henriette’s way of dealing with rising debts from her drought-stricken province; she’d made an arrangement with Gregor Reynard, the Earl of Leuven, for a loan of two million gold soleils to cover seed costs in exchange for one of her daughters marrying the Earl’s heir Clement. When Amelie had broken off the engagement due to Clement’s boorish behavior, the countess had thrust Sibeal into her place, locking Amelie in a mage-warded cell to keep her “out of trouble.”

But King Matthias had put a stop to all that. Now Sibeal was happily married to Duke Tomas Villiers, the man who had ridden at the king’s side to her rescue, and Lierdhe was safe thanks to the earl forgiving half his loan (at sword point, admittedly) and a generous wedding gift of one million soleils from Villiers, the crown, and Prince Marcus of Illium.
Amelie ignored the sharp pang at the thought of Marcus. He’s gone, and that’s all there is to it. “How wonderful. I’ll write to Sibeal tonight.”

“I’ll have the seamstress start on a layette immediately,” Henriette said, pacing now as she tapped the rolled letter against her chin. “White and green, I think, with our sigil worked in silver thread. And some new gowns for Sibeal, of course. And we must have a purse for the child.”

Amelie thought of the ledgers in her office. “Don’t make it too extravagant. This year’s harvest was much better than the last two, but it was hardly a bumper crop.”

Henriette stopped in mid-stride, the doting grandmother-to-be replaced by the shrewd countess. “How bad?”

“Not bad, but the farmers say it won’t be up to the amount we’re used to, either. They estimate we’ve had an eight percent decrease in yield.”

“Drat.” The duchess resumed her pacing, but this time her smile was gone. “I thought the spring rains had taken care of the drought.”

“They eased it, yes, but it will take more than one wet spring to fully heal the land.” Amelie toyed with her comb. “You might want to reconsider my proposal that we send a request to the Aeris chapter house. If we can have a team of their mages generate a steady amount of rain through the winter—”

Henriette shook her head, two delicate curls bouncing with the movement. “The Aeris don’t believe in interfering with natural weather patterns. And even if I could talk them into it, it doesn’t sound as if we have enough money to pay their infernal fees.” Her hazel eyes narrowed in thought. “Besides, we don’t need Aeris help with this. We can install an irrigation system fed directly from the Lier. And our farm workers can create the irrigation channels, with help from us as required.”

Creating a ditch via magic was certainly one of the easier tasks a Terra mage such as her mother or herself could perform. “That would certainly be practical,” Amelie allowed. “But how would we go about planning such a thing, much less installing it?”

“I’ve already contacted the Earl of Bertrix. He’s willing to lend us some engineers for the project.”

Amelie felt her mouth drop open and closed it quickly. “You must be joking. You loathe Stefan Vandenberghe. I’ve heard you call him a dirt-grubbing troglodyte to his face.”

Henriette flicked long fingers. “That was only because he called me a high-handed harridan. But I’ll admit the blasted man is clever when it comes to earthworks. He’s already agreed to help us plan and install an irrigation system for a share in our harvests over the next five years.”

Amelie ran the figures in her head. Much depended on what the earl considered a share, but if Lierdhe’s fields had access to guaranteed water then their house could afford to give up a certain percent of each harvest. And the earl, ruler of a dry and rocky province on the border of Ypres near Munoz, was known for his brilliant aqueducts and other strategies to transfer water across his lands. If anyone could design a functioning irrigation system for the rolling fields of Lierdhe, it was the Earl of Bertrix. “Does that include this harvest as well?”

“No, not until the system has been installed and is working properly. I’ve invited the earl and his entourage to come to the Harvest Ball so that we can discuss terms. You’ll have a full report on this year’s harvest by then, of course.”

The Harvest Ball. Amelie wanted to groan in dismay. In previous years her mother had used the ball to trot potential suitors in front of her like some fairy tale come to stiff, uncomfortable life. She’d been allowed to skip it last year due to her doomed betrothal to Clement, but clearly her mother had the matrimonial bit in her teeth again.

The only boon about that was that Henriette had been forbidden from having any say in Amelie’s future consort, by both royal and magical decree. Lette Melliers, the Terra Grand Magistra of Ypres, was an old friend of her mother’s but hadn’t been happy about Henriette’s actions in the spring. Both King Matthias and Lette had laid down the law; Amelie’s husband would be her choice, and her choice only.

Which meant she would be expected to make an appearance at the ball and view whatever potential suitors could be scrounged up, as well as sit in on the negotiations with Vandenberghe and provide facts and figures as needed. Her head started to hurt at the thought. “I take it we’re lodging Vandenberghe’s people at Ardenhaal?”

Henriette sighed. “Unfortunately. I’ve also asked the king to send that lawyer of his to assist us with the negotiations.”

That came as a surprise. Counselor Alain LaPorte was the lawyer who had advised King Matthias on the unlawfulness of Sibeal’s betrothal agreement. Amelie wondered if her mother was going for some kind of record in personal shocks. “I thought you called him a duplicitous snake.”

“He is. But if I’m to deal with Vandenberghe, I’d prefer to have a duplicitous snake working on my side.” Henriette pointed the rolled-up letter at her. “As you take on more of my duties, you’ll learn that ruling a province isn’t all pretty dresses and balls. You’ll often be called upon to do things that go against your personal preferences.”

Such as marry a rich boor. “Forgive me for not being able to stomach Clement Reynard, Mother,” Amelie said through her teeth. “But if you had gone to the king as I’d begged you—”

Henriette held up a hand. “We don’t need to rehash this, Amelie. The de Clerqs still rule in Lierdhe and Sibeal is happily married with a baby on the way. Things have turned out for the best, which is all I can ask for.”

Which was completely false. Her mother could, and would, ask for the sun and moon on a silver chain if the mood struck her. “If you want me to have the latest figures for the negotiations, I’d best get back to work tomorrow. Was there anything else you wanted to tell me?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Henriette said, attention straying back to the letter in her hand. “I’ll let you get ready for bed. Good night, my dear.”

So much for that. She tried for a polite smile, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate. “Good night, Maman.”

The countess swept out of the room. After a moment, Jeanette came back in, one hand behind her back. “Is the coast clear?”

Amelie slumped on her chair. “As clear as it’ll ever be. I’m sorry about her scolding.”

The maid shook her head. “It was my own fault, milady. My mother always said my tongue will get me into trouble one of these days. Now, shall I help you get ready for bed?”

After the disasters of the day, all she wanted was to be left alone. “No. I think I can do that much for myself. But thank you.”

With a surprising hesitancy, Jeanette approached the vanity, bringing out what she had hidden behind her back. “Then I’ll give you this, milady.”

She put down a small plate that held an iced almond cake. Amelie stared at the pastry, her throat tightening. Someone had remembered, after all.

“I—thank you,” she stammered. “That was very kind of you, Jeanette.”

“I know it’s not much, but everyone should have a cake on their birthday.” The maid gave her a sympathetic smile. “Many happy returns, milady, and good night.”

With a quick curtsey she was gone. Blinking back tears, Amelie reached out and broke off a bit of the cake, wondering if its sweetness could offset the sour thing that had become her life.

Happy twentieth birthday to me.

Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! This week I’m teasing you with the opening to the third book in my Two Thrones series, Lady of Thorns. Please note that this story will NOT be about Danaë and Matthias (their parallel adventure will be in Book 4), but it does feature Lady Amelie le Clerq, the young, prickly Terra magistra and heiress to the Lady of Lierdhe, and the eminently sneaky Counselor Alain LaPorte from Palace of Scoundrels. The best way I can describe it is, imagine Lady Mary Crawley from Season 1 Downton Abbey and Alan Shore from Boston Legal going head to head.

So to speak. Ahem.

And voila, hijinks ensue! Next week I’ll post a snippet of their first love scene together, so stay tuned, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!


A crisp autumn wind blew through the village of Greatham, fluttering the leaves of the great apple tree in the square and making it look as if the tree was waving at the gathered villagers. As today was the official beginning of the Harvest Festival, everyone had been fortified with mugs of ale and hot pasties courtesy of the Duchess of Lierdhe while they waited for the day’s main event. A ragged but happy cheer rose when the duchess’s carriage finally rolled into view, the grand vehicle coming to a creaking stop next to a wooden platform where the mayor and other village officials waited for their esteemed visitor.

Lady Amelie le Clerq swallowed hard as she peered out the window of the carriage. She had tried to argue that the village was close enough to walk to from their castle, but Countess Henriette le Clerq, the Lady of Lierdhe and ruler of the province, had decreed that her heir would arrive in a dignified fashion for her first Ripening Ceremony and that was simply that.

Hence the carriage, not to mention the dress. Amelie scowled down at the diaphanous copper silk gown with its golden girdle that was the Lady’s ceremonial garb for this day. On her mother the gown looked both beautiful and dignified. On her…

I look like I’m playing dress-up. She had a woman’s curves, barely, but they weren’t balanced the way her mother’s were. Too much flesh across the hips, not enough across the breasts, and then there was the good hand’s span of exposed ankle between ground and hem. Worse, there was muscle underneath the softness, a result of her daily walks and the occasional stop to help a milkmaid or farm hand with a task. Amelie believed that a better understanding of her people’s daily lives could only aid her when it came time to govern Lierdhe, but her mother had been horrified the day she came home with one arm slimed to the pit from helping out with a difficult foaling.

Despite all that activity, she still had an exasperatingly round face with an upturned crabapple for a nose, as well as the dark eyes and hair that were a legacy from her father’s family. She couldn’t help feeling like a plump, drab wren next to her glorious cardinal of a mother. And now, wearing the Lady’s garb and about to perform her first Ripening Ceremony, she felt like an impostor as well.

Stop being ridiculous. You’re a fully qualified Terra mage and can perform this ceremony in your sleep. She studied the crowd again and tried to will her nervous stomach to calm as she stepped down from the carriage. The surprised faces in the crowd made it clear that not everyone had been informed about the change in the ceremony.

Squaring her shoulders, she headed for the mayor, a stocky man whose bushy eyebrows and red nose gave him a fatherly attitude. He bowed at her approach. “Lady Amelie, welcome,” he boomed. “It’s an honor for our village to host your first Ripening Ceremony.”

Her answering smile felt stiff, but she had no time to come up with something better. “And it is my pleasure to perform this ceremony for Greatham, mayor,” she announced, hoping no one could hear the tremor in her voice. “Shall we begin?”

“Of course.” He snapped his fingers and an official handed him a carved wooden cup full of spring water. “So that our lands may always be nourished and fruitful,” he announced, handing the cup to her.

Amelie had watched her mother perform this ceremony since she was a toddler. At the center of the square, a doubled circle of children ringed the gnarled apple tree. The children would part and pass the Lady through into the center, then begin dancing in a circle while singing a hymn praising Lierdhe’s autumn bounty. The Lady would pour the water onto the roots of the apple tree, symbolically nurturing it, and release the binding spell placed on it after it had bloomed in the spring. Using her Terra magic, she would then coax the tree into bearing fruit within minutes, a visual representation of the province’s fruitfulness.

This year, however, her mother had decreed that Amelie should take on the Ripening Ceremony in Greatham, the village closest to their home of Ardenhaal and the traditional site for opening the Harvest Festival. “You’ll have to do it eventually, and it’s best that you get some experience,” Henriette had said blithely. “Besides, it will be good to let the people see you performing magic, don’t you agree?”

Amelie felt the barb hidden inside her mother’s offer. The Terra magic involved in releasing the binding spell wasn’t difficult. Getting the tree to produce ripe apples at an unnatural speed was more challenging, but not beyond her capabilities. It was doing all of that while wearing a ridiculous scrap of copper silk and being watched by a crowd that made her stomach cramp.

She tried to dredge up some saliva, wondering how horrified the onlookers would be if she took a sip from the cup. You can have all the water you want later. Just get through this now. The older villagers gathered closer, many of the adults holding mugs of ale in one hand and pies or pasties in the other in celebration of the holiday. Under normal circumstances she enjoyed the smell coming from the food and drink, but today it set her already cramping stomach on edge. She swallowed hard, willing herself not to throw up in front of her mother’s subjects. I can do this. I can.

Taking a deep breath, she called, “Children of Greatham, let the Lady pass.”

Two sets of girls, most likely chosen for their good behavior, dropped their linked hands on cue. Amelie stepped past them into the cool shade of the apple tree’s spreading boughs, ignoring the giggles behind her. The tree’s life force reached up to her, a rich golden stream steadying her nerves.

Tipping the cup, she poured the water over the gnarled roots while saying a silent prayer, watching the dry brown earth turn moist and black. Depositing the now-empty cup on the ground, she straightened and looked up at the knobby branches and their clusters of green leaves. Her mage senses perceived the binding spell like a sticky caul that covered the branches, holding back their bounty. The tree ached with the need to bear its fruit, and she could feel that pain deep in her own belly.

Raising her arms, she murmured the releasing spell under her breath. Slowly, the caul began to peel back from the tip of each branch, gathering speed as it reached the trunk and unraveled towards the ground. She took in a deep lungful of air as she waited, noting all the scents; the moist dirt at the bottom of the apple tree’s roots, the dry spice of healthy wood, the odor of sugarplums, milk, and a hint of urine from the children, clean sweat, pasties, and ale from the adults, the pungency of manure and other odors that came from living together in a village, and above it all the smell of plants that knew it was time to give up their gifts and bow to the farmer’s scythe.

Within a minute the tree was free from its binding, a light breeze ruffling the leaves and making it seem like the branches was stretching in relief. Amelie allowed herself a sympathetic sigh. The first part was done. Now came the fiddly bit.

She let her hands drop to her sides, spreading her fingers wide, and lowered her mental shields to the ground under her feet. For her, every contact with the earth felt like a low, thrumming note that ran over her long bones, singing to the part of her soul that connected with her element. Today the earth welcomed her, cradling her in its slow, unstoppable immensity.

It was time. Sinking her mental reach deep into the earth, she drew upon its power, letting it stream up through the soles of her feet, filling her to overflowing. The spell she held in her mind would flow outward onto the dusty grey-brown bark, spreading over the trunk and branches, finding the tiny fertilized buds and prompting them to swell and ripen into red-gold apples. All she had to do was let it go—

An outraged squeal startled her, breaking her concentration. Annoyed, she turned towards the source of the interruption and spotted a tiny girl who was trying to tug her long russet braids out of the grasp of a boy in the outer ring.

He dropped the braids when he saw Amelie’s glare, giving her his best innocent smile. She remembered her male cousins doing the same thing before her Terra power manifested, thinking it was great sport to try and make her cry.

Locking gazes with the boy, she crooked her finger. After a quick check to make sure she wasn’t summoning one of the other children, he came over, hands clasped in front of his holiday smock.

“Yes, Lady Amelie?” he piped, eyes wide and ingenuous.

She leaned over so that they were nose to nose. “If you ever pull a girl’s braid again,” she said quietly, “I’ll turn you into a tree and have you chopped up for firewood. Do you understand?”

She didn’t mean it, of course. For one thing, she wasn’t even sure if it was possible. But the threat was effective. “Y-yes, my lady,” the boy gulped, ingenuousness vaporizing into fear.

“Good. Now get back into the circle.”

He dashed back to his place, and the scent of urine intensified. Drat. She tried to smile at the now-quiet children, but they stared at her as if she was about to turn into a monster and eat them. Double drat and damn for good measure.

With no other option, she turned back to the waiting apple tree and quickly rebuilt the spell. It wasn’t as easy this time and she had to make an effort to smooth the rough edges of the magic. Taking a deep breath, she gestured towards the tree as she released the spell, waiting to see the buds swell into ripe apples.

Nothing happened.

A soft murmur built behind her, and a creaky old man’s voice muttered, “Aye, what’d you expect from t’ Lady of Thorns?”

Amelie’s cheeks prickled in embarrassment at the old nickname. Gritting her teeth, she did her best to ignore the waiting crowd and went through the steps of the spell again, finding the word she’d left out.

The murmuring behind her increased as she rebuilt the spell a third time, casting it at the tree harder than she meant to. The gnarled branches swayed under the impact, their nubs exploding under the force of the magic into apples.

In some cases quite literally exploding, showering the ground with sprays of juice and pulped fruit. The children squealed at the arboreal attack, breaking formation and dashing back to the safety of their parents. A startled Amelie wiped a smear of apple from her cheek before she turned around to face her people.

The expressions on their faces were … memorable. “May Greatham have a fruitful harvest,” she called, wishing she could crawl into a hole and pull it shut behind her.

#

“Well, it could have been worse, milady,” Jeanette said judiciously, holding up the stained copper silk and studying it. “At least you didn’t make the entire tree blow up.”

“That’s not nearly as helpful as you think it is,” Amelie muttered, getting the last bit of sticky juice out of her hair. She slid under the water in the tub to rinse, shaking her head from side to side to sluice out the suds, then resurfaced. “You should have seen their faces.”

Her maid made a noncommittal noise. “But the apples ripened.”

“Yes, the apples ripened, which means the Harvest Festival is officially underway. Hopefully that will keep Mother satisfied.” Amelie stood up, accepting a bath sheet and wrapping it around herself. “And I can get back to my real work.”

Jeanette helped her out of the tub and shooed her over to the vanity table. “Excuse me for being blunt, milady, but these will be your duties someday. You can’t stay in your office forever.”

Amelie wished she was still young enough to stamp a foot, petulant as that would be. Instead she dropped onto the padded stool, allowing the maid to work on her hair with a drying cloth. “Perhaps Mother should have made Sibeal her heir after all. She could have blown up the entire square and everyone would have congratulated her.”

“Mayhap, but Lady Sibeal isn’t a Terra magistra,” Jeanette reminded her, pulling out a comb and running it through Amelie’s damp locks. “You are. And frankly you have the better mind for governing a province.”

“So you say. Mother says I’m too cold and analytical.”

The maid sighed. “Her ladyship has a different view from yours on what makes a good countess. It doesn’t meant that hers is the only correct way.”

“Oh, isn’t it?”


Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to view this Linky Tools list…