The joys of December, she said darkly
For other people, normal people who don’t have other people in their heads forcing them to write down their stories, December can be fraught. There are holidays to prepare for, gifts to buy, houses to clean, families to deal with, and all the other joys that come with a massive communally celebrated event.
For writers, we get all that plus deadlines. For instance, as of tonight I have officially pulled the trigger on the pre-orders for The Crimson and the Black (Hidden Empire Book 2), with a release date of January 25, 2022, and Crystal Shard (Paladins of Crystal Book 1) with a release date of March 15, 2022). Are the books finished? Ho ho ho—you must be jesting.
But it is a truth universally acknowledged that Nicola works best with deadlines, otherwise she’ll faff about and waste time reading social media or watching Netflix. And it’s not like this is totally impossible or I’m starting from zero. Crimson is about 1/3rd finished—if I light a fire under my butt I should be able to get the rest of it knocked out by New Year’s Eve, and the editor stands ready to take acceptance of it on January 7th after I do a fast edit. I will also be working on Shard (which is about 2/15ths finished by comparison) in parallel, but that doesn’t have to be ready until mid-February so I can focus on Crimson as necessary.
As I’ll be rapid releasing the Paladins of Crystal books starting in March with Crystal Shard, I’ll be starting Crystal Blade as soon as Crimson is done. The plan is to work on two books at the same time with the focus on the next one to be released in order to meet the release schedule:
- March 2022: Crystal Shard
- April 2022: Crystal Blade
- May 2022: Crystal Reflection
- June 2022: Crystal Citadel
- July 2022: Crystal Empress
Barring death or something bad happening to my hands, I should just about be able to pull it off. And then I’m taking August off because phoo. My writing schedule for the rest of the year will depend on what’s selling best which at the moment are the Two Thrones, Hidden Empire, and Pacifica Rising series. If that’s still the case in August, I may do Mage of Fire, To Love a Wild Swan, and Uncertainty Principle to round out 2022. And yes, I can hear the shrieks of outrage from Olympic Cove fans who are waiting patiently for the last two books in the series. All I can say right now is that I have to work on what’s profitable—if sales of Cross Current pick up, I’ll do those books instead.
But—if Paladins of Crystal does as well as I think it can, I have two related series that I can start working on in September and start off with a January 2023 rapid release schedule. My goal right now is to make $50K in income by the time 20Booksto50k 2022 starts in Vegas, and this is how I’m going to do it.
*touches fingertips together* That being said, I need help from you. I’ve found some places that advertise reverse harem romances and I’m contacting them, but if you know of any reviewers, bloggers, sites, et al that specialize in RH, please please PLEASE point me towards them. I’m going to stack promos around the release of Crystal Shard, but I want the RH fandom to be aware well before then that the book is coming out and the other four in the series will follow quickly.
So, yeah, December is gonna be a busy month for me. But I feel good about this—I have solid outlines, I know my characters well, and I’m going to do my damnedest to write some amazing romances. Let’s get ‘er done.
BOY, it’s been a busy two months
When last I left you, my friends, I was prepping for my sister’s arrival (aka frantically trying to make the house not look like a heavy metal band had been camping here for the last six months) and getting started on TikTok. I’m happy to say that the house was indeed cleaned, the visit was lovely, and she’s coming back with her husband in two weeks. Which is good because I need the time to re-clean this place–granted, it’s not nearly as bad as it was in September, but I got some contract work this month and went to Vegas for a week (more on that later) so some of the housekeeping kinda slid by the wayside.
As for TikTok, that’s turned out to be an immense amount of fun — I’m coming up with skits I want to do, I made it over a thousand followers so I can now put a URL on my profile page that links to all of my books, and generally it’s a good outlet for being the goof that I am. It also gave me a good reason to buy a new tiara (there’s a Thing on BookTok where if you’re a romance writer you wear a tiara while you do your videos. Far be it from me to say no to wearing a crown).
And that extra tiara (I now have three) came in handy when I went to Vegas for 20Booksto50k® 2021, which is a faboo conference for indie authors and publishers. In the space of five days I learned SO MUCH both about the craft of writing and the business of being an indie author — marketing, ads, stacking promos, how to construct a book launch properly, bookkeeping, starting LLCs and similar companies, everything from soup to nuts. I came back thoroughly pumped, started adding A+ content to all of my Amazon books, tweaked blurbs and ads, and rewatched videos of panels to get deeper into the best way to construct Amazon and FB ads.
Oh, and I’m doing NaNoWriMo, too, because I’m a masochist who doesn’t know when to say no. Right now I’m up to 35,085 words on Crystal Shard (ooh — did I mention that I’m doing a rapid release Reverse Harem series next year? I’m doing a rapid release RH series next year) as well as finishing The Crimson and the Black (and man, did I get some insights into that book while in Vegas). Right now it looks like Crimson will be coming out mid-January, and Crystal Shard will be coming out mid-March with the next four books in the series following in April, May, June, and July. Oh, and I’m also working on Mage of Fire (Two Thrones 5), release date TBD.
Yeah, definitely a masochist. But at least I’m having fun.
So KING OF BLADES is live
And it’s selling briskly, so I’m pleased with that. I’m also amused that a writer friend of mine commented on FB, “So how did you get Don Draper to pose for the cover art?” Hey, I would not object to Jon Hamm posing for one of my covers, but I suspect his rates would be expensive as hell.
However, that did remind me of something that I kinda wanted to head off at the pass. Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the model on the cover of King of Blades is the same one I used on the cover of Shifter Woods: Howl. Why would I do something like this, you ask?
Well, because I think he’s hot, whoever he is, and he worked as both my world-weary coyote shifter sheriff and my determined king about to become the father of twins. That’s the beauty of indie publishing — you have full control over the covers. And if I want to use this austere, muscled stunner twice, by God I will.
Speaking of publishing, I just got word a little over an hour ago that Blades was accepted into the Premium catalog at Smashwords, so it should be available at B&N by tomorrow morning and at Kobo and iTunes within a day or so. I’m working on the print version and that should be available by the weekend, and I also need to put it up at Eden Books tomorrow.
While all that’s in play, I’m also back at work on the fourth book in the Olympic Cove series, Cross Current (and isn’t that a lovely cover at right?), with a goal of getting that out on *checks calendar* 11/24/20. I’ll be setting that up for pre-order sometime this weekend, so if you’ve been patiently waiting for the next book in the series, mark your calendars and pre-order it. Here’s the (unedited) blurb:
Fresh from a divorce, high school history teacher Matt Taber retreats to a cottage on Olympic Cove to lick his wounds before school starts up in the fall. But the Fates have other plans for him in the form of a merman running from a deadly family history, three selkies who have to satisfy a royal demand, and a new career as the Oracle of the Waters. Can Matt adjust to his new life before the Mad Nereid comes calling?
And there’s more good Olympic Cove news — I’m completing the series next year. Books Five and Six (tentatively titled Riptide Bay and Hurricane Eye) will be completed right after the first book of 2021, Hidden Empire’s The Crimson and the Black. So for everyone who prefers their series to be completed, you’ll be able to buy the Olympic Cove box set sometime in July. But if you hate the idea of the series ending, don’t worry — there will be additional novellas set on the cove, as well as related books (I have this image in my head of a grumpy and very reluctant Hephaestus being dragged to Earth by Hermes to help him get the Olympic Wi-Fi working, and falling in love with a female blacksmith). So many books to write, so little time…
King of Blades, Day 3
Today’s word count: 3,009
Total word count: 15,364
Approximate words to go: 64,636
So, today was surprisingly productive, despite the fact that every single member of the J Crew insisted on sitting on me at some point during the day. Which is fine, now that I can dictate, but Jasmine likes to squirm around while I stroke her ears, Jeremy insists on resting his big head on the keyboard, Jessie leaves me with one hand, and Jemma wants to be combed (and believe me, she needs it). JJ is the only one who’s content to just sit on my boobs/belly like he’s doing right now, unbothered by my hand movements as I type. If they were all like this, my writing life would be a lot easier. As it is, I’m going to go out on the patio tomorrow so that I can get a couple of solid hours in without a furry little feline trying to grab my attention or demand that I put kibble in his bowl (to be honest, that’s all JJ, but he’s an old guy who needs to keep his weight on so I’ll feed him separately if he wants it).
I also decided to be a complete loon, not learn a damn thing from Shadow of the Swan, and put King of Blades up for pre-order at Amazon. The release date is October 27, so as long as I stick to my writing schedule more or less and maybe have a couple of 5K days in there I should have the first draft finished on October 5, which will give me more than enough time to get everything through edits, polished and in publishable shape by October 23 (aka Upload Day). Once they finish chewing on it and give me a link, I’ll add it to the new King page here and make it available on social media.
And once the first draft of King is finished, I go back to Cross Current and start work on that. I said I was going to publish three more novels by the end of the year, and by God I intend to stick to my word.
NaNoWriMo, Day One
Yes, I’m doing it again this year, and I’m working on King of Blades (Two Thrones Book Four), which should make the Matthiaë fans out there happy. I’m looking to finish it by November 30, with a release date around the third week of December, whee!
The plot: Matthias’s yearly visit to Hellas and the games that are celebrating Danaë’s pregnancy are complicated by family strife, old friends, and a string of accidents that may not be all that accidental. With Danaë distracted by her double pregnancy, Matthias has to sort out this new threat to his ever-growing family.
Day 1 word count: 1667
Daily snippet: The traveling party moved slowly through the shadows of the majestic Arpinnes mountains, toiling upwards towards a narrow gap in the range. In winter the gap would be all but impassable due to blizzards and the sheer amount of snow and ice deposited there, but this early in autumn the route was still clear enough for King Matthias IV of Ypres and his coterie of guards, servants, and courtiers to cross over to the other side. Once they descended and reached the small strip of land that formed the eastern border of Ypres, there would only be a short sea journey remaining before they reached the glittering island kingdom of Hellas, ruled by Matthias’s wife and co-ruler Queen Danaë.
Which couldn’t come soon enough for his riding companion. “Why is it so bloody cold up here?” Prince Ezeudo Debare of Ghobos asked, burrowing deeper inside his fur-lined cloak. “This is horrendous.”
Matthias swallowed a sigh. “I’m not really sure. All I know is that it’s always colder in the mountains that it is down on the plain. Consider yourself lucky we’re crossing now. Last time I did this trip there was snow on the ground.”
“Snow.” A disgusted sound followed the word. “I’ll take the desert, thank you very much. At least the air there doesn’t turn my lungs to ice.”
He considered his companion, one of his oldest and most trusted friends. “Ezeudo, do you ever stop complaining?”
“No. It keeps my mouth warm.” The prince grinned unexpectedly, teeth white against his dark skin. “Besides, if I stopped complaining you’d wonder what I’d done with the real Ezeudo.”
“This is true. Remind me again why your wife tolerates you?”
“Because she is the moon to my sun, the love of my life, and I venerate her as I venerate all the deities. Also, she enjoys my large penis.”
Matthias snorted. “I’ll take your word on that, my friend.”
Another flashing grin from the Ghobian. “You’re going to tell her I said that, aren’t you?”
And in case you were wondering, yes, the flu strain that’s going around this year is indeed a stone bitch. Next year I’ll get the shot, I promise.
But I’m back, and upright, and I’m even banging out words on the keyboard. That being said, I was supposed to have To My Muse finished by the 26th. Ho ho ho. So now I’m looking at 2/15 as a finishing date with a release sometime in March. Sorry about that, but it’s hard to write when you just want to stare at your bedroom ceiling and die quietly. Once Muse is done, I’ll get to work on King of Blades (Two Thrones 4). In fact, here’s the schedule for the year:
- To My Muse (contemporary romcom novel – standalone)
- King of Blades (fantasy romance novel – Two Thrones)
- Cross Current (fantasy romance novel – Olympic Cove)
- Uncertainty Principle (SF romance novel – Pacifica Rising)
- Shifter Woods: Snarl (paranormal romance novella – Esposito County Shifters)
- Shifter Woods: Scream (paranormal romance novella – Esposito County Shifters)
- Untitled holiday story (fantasy romance novella – Two Thrones)
So that’s four full-length novels and three novellas, which is pretty good output if I do say so myself. And of course there’s one half-finished novel and two that I have covers for and still have to plot out. Sleep? What means this word, sleep?
Did I mention I’m also making more jewelry? We’re talking stuff that needs to be soldered and polished — two amethyst cabs and one green turquoise one that will be made into a bracelet for my BIL. So many sparklies!
And in case anyone is wondering, making stuff is part of my writing process. I’ve learned that if I do nothing but write, I jam up and can’t get anything done. Thus, crafts. Also another income stream, which is always good.
The one where Nicola learns not to assume
As you know, Bob, I released my Two Thrones holiday novella Red Robin and the Huntsman this week. So far it seems to be doing well, which pleases me, and I’ll be getting to work on Two Thrones Book 4 in January.
But I must admit that I learned something interesting with RRatH. I’m from Chicago, you see, and grew up thinking that most people knew Robin is a diminutive for Roberta. So when I wrote the novella, I initially introduced the female lead as Lady Roberta Busse, Countess of Wellen, then referred to her as Robin when one of the Bardahlson brothers or she thought of herself.
Wrapped up all the edits, sent it off to my crit group and my betas, and sat back satisfied that I’d done a good job. And the responses I got indicated that yes, it was a good story with just a few easily fixed goofs here and there…
…except that fully half of them were confused at Roberta/Robin. They got it from context, but suggested I make it clearer that Robin is Roberta’s nickname.
To which my response was, “Huh?” Because in my experience everyone knew that “Robin” was a nickname for “Roberta,” so I thought it was obvious that the names referred to the same person. After some questioning, however, I realized that I was basing this on a regional bias. If you’re from Chicago or a Northeastern urban area, most Robertas take Robin (or Robyn) as their diminutive. But if you’re from the South, West, or Midwestern rural areas, the most common diminutive for Roberta is Bobbie. The first readers who were confused by the Roberta/Robin connection were all from the latter regional areas.
So I put in a line making it very clear that Lady Roberta was also Robin, which fixed the problem. It also taught me never to assume that every diminutive is obvious!
Red Robin and the Huntsman is LIVE!
Phoo! Sorry about the radio silence for the last few weeks but I have been nailed to my chair getting Red Robin and the Huntsman ready for release! It’s a second chances holiday novella set in the Two Thrones universe and follows the adventures of Ypresian army captain Duncan Bardahlson (eldest son of Lord Commander Ferdal Bardahlson) and his bickering brothers Ewan and Hamish as they’re dispatched to the tiny province of Wellen right before the winter holiday of Frostfair to apprehend a legendary bandit known as the Redbird. One little problem: Wellen is governed by widowed countess Lady Roberta Busse, who also happens to be Duncan’s long-lost love. Oops.
There’s snark, wine, an overbearing tax collector, an impish priest, a rather large pig, an extremely smart eight-year-old, a LOT of porridge, and a love story that is guaranteed to have you cheering by the last chapter if I do say so myself. Plus it’s available on Kindle Unlimited so you can even read it for free if you have a KU membership!
And now, I clean and put up the Christmas tree — whee!
Mid Week Tease: Red Robin and the Huntsman #MidWeekTease #MWTease
Hello, lovelies! I know I said I wasn’t going to post any more teasers from Red Robin and the Huntsman, but I don’t have anything else that’s ready to go, so here’s another scene. Oh, and I’ve just added the reference pic I use whenever I write these two. You should see who I have in mind as Duncan’s brothers!
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!
Robin grinned up at him. “I always wanted to see you naked. I used to daydream about this, in particular.” She touched the belted V of muscle that bracketed his hips. “It disappeared into your breeches like an arrowhead. I always wanted to see how far down it went.”
His dark eyes glittered in the candlelight. “All the way down, my lady.”
“Really? How delightful.” Letting her fingers trail down his chest and abdomen, she reached the fastening of his breeches. Undoing them was the work of a few moments, and she eased the placket open. As he claimed, the muscle band continued to the top of his groin, where a deliciously thick length pressed in a diagonal against the fabric of his breeches. All she had to do was pull them open further—
He took her hand, pausing it. “If you touch me now, I’ll spend,” he said matter-of-factly. “And I’ve been dreaming of this for far too long to go that quickly. Lie back down, there’s a good lass.”
Torn between a deliciously wicked desire to see him reach his peak and a burning need to have him inside her, Robin did as he asked. He straddled her body, leaning down to capture her mouth in another of those deliciously sensual kisses. His chest hair teased her nipples as they kissed, and she wanted to grind against him until the throbbing flesh between her legs finally gained some relief. But with his knees planted on either side of her thighs she was effectively trapped, waiting on his pleasure.
Not knowing what to do with her hands, she let them rest on his back, tracing the valley of his spine between the long bands of muscle there. Unexpectedly he lifted his head and sucked in a quick, happy breath at her touch.
How long has it been since he’s been touched like this? It gave her an idea. “Move to the side.”
“It’s all right. Move for a minute.”
He did, gingerly balancing on the edge of the narrow bed. “Did I hurt you? I tried to keep my weight off—”
“No, you’re fine.” She rolled into a sitting position, patting the coverlet where she had just been. “Stretch out on your stomach.”
He blinked, then glanced down at the unmistakable bulge in his breeches. “That’s … not the best idea right now, love.”
She bit her lip. “Oh. Well, just sit on the edge of the bed, then.”
He did, reluctantly. Moving to kneel behind him, she studied his broad back. Thick with muscle at the shoulders, it tapered down to a trim waist, evidence that he hadn’t been spending the last twelve years commanding a desk. The waistband of his loosened breeches gaped, and she could just make out a pair of dimples bracketing his spine. Idly, she wondered what he would do if she licked them.
First thing’s first. Sliding her hands up his back, she started rubbing his shoulders, pressing her thumbs into tight muscles as she massaged. He made a noise she’d never heard before and sagged under her hands. “Oh, gods. That’s it—I’m marrying you if I have to bribe Patriarch Reniel himself.”
“I don’t think you have to go quite that high.” She kissed the valley of his spine and felt him shudder. “Pater Colbert would be more than happy to marry us.”
He reached back, stilling her hand. “I mean it, Robin. I want to marry you. If you’ll have me, that is.”
She trailed her mouth across the skin of his back to his neck, gently sucking there and raising another full body shiver from him. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Tonight, I want you to make love to me, captain. Can you do that?”
She felt more than saw him smile. “Whatever my lady wants.”
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Mid Week Tease: Red Robin and the Huntsman #MidWeekTease #MWTease
Hello, lovelies! This week I’m teasing you with one last snippet from my holiday novella Red Robin and the Huntsman before its release next week!
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!
Duncan woke early after a fitful night’s sleep interspersed with dreams about Robin. In one she was being carried off by brigands, and in another pirates. Despite his best attempts at carving a path through the men he could never reach her in time and was forced to listen to her screaming for help as she was borne off by her captors.
Out of sorts, he dressed and headed down to the chilly dining hall. From the smell in the air, there would be no meat or eggs available for breakfast this morning. His suspicions were confirmed when Adele hauled a cauldron full of oatmeal into the hall and started dishing it out. “There’s no raisins, I’m afraid, and we don’t have cream,” she said apologetically as she placed a steaming bowl in front of him. “But there’s some fresh milk and I can fetch a bit of sugar, if you like.”
Unappetizing as it was, the oatmeal was still better than some of the things he’d eaten on patrol. “This is fine, thank you.” Duncan reached for the salt cellar and sprinkled some on the oats. The contrast between the beige glop and the elegant pewter bowl acted as a sobering barometer of the Busse family’s finances.
To his surprise, the next person in the hall was a young boy, his reddish-brown hair cut neatly in a bowl crop and his large brown eyes bright and intelligent. “Hello,” he said as he climbed onto a chair. “You must be one of the soldiers come to help Ser Arthur.”
“I am,” Duncan said, twigging to the boy’s identity, “my lord. Captain Duncan Bardahlson, at your service.”
“I’m Charles Busse, Count of Wellen. But you can call me Charlie.” The young count beamed at Adele as she served him. Duncan noted that she took a sugar bowl from the sideboard, carefully scraping out grains of brown sugar to sprinkle on the boy’s breakfast. “It must be very exciting to be a soldier. Have you fought many thieves before?”
“Once or twice, aye. Usually horse thieves, although there was one time when I had to track down a jewel thief.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “Really? Did you catch him?”
“Her. And yes, I did.” The rest of that tale wasn’t appropriate for young ears, however, and the lady in question was now happily married to the jewel merchant she’d been robbing so everything had worked out in the end. “We’ll be heading out this week with Ser Arthur’s men to guard them while they collect the taxes.”
Charlie’s feathery brows lowered at that. “Do you think the thieves will attack again?”
“If they do, they’re very foolish. But we’ll be ready for them if they do.”
Ewan and Hamish picked that moment to troop in. Duncan made the introductions while Adele scooped out more bowls of oatmeal. Ewan gave his breakfast a disgusted look, but dug in while Charlie continued to ask questions about the upcoming tax collection. Duncan couldn’t help but be impressed with the child’s canny inquiries. Aye, you’re definitely your mother’s son.
Ser Arthur was the last to make an appearance, grimacing at the food. “Adele, why are we serving our guests oatmeal?” he asked. “I specifically requested ham steaks and eggs. You can’t expect soldiers to ride on this slop.”
Adele pressed her lips together. “We don’t have any ham steaks or eggs, Ser Arthur,” she said stolidly. “My lady said this was to be served for breakfast. ”
“Ach. Women.” Devines shook his head as he took his seat. “I’m sorry about that. I had asked for a proper breakfast, but this home clearly needs a stronger hand on the reins, eh?”
Charlie’s face reddened at that, and his fist tightened on the spoon. Quickly, Duncan said, “Oatmeal is quite filling and sticks to your ribs, Ser Arthur. The fact that we’re eating a hot breakfast at all is a pleasure, truly.”
“You’re too kind, captain. We’ll have to do better for you after you return.” After ordering Adele to bring him milk and sugar, the tax collector started on his own breakfast, orating between bites about his service to the king and how he would have gone into the army, “except I have these bone spurs, you see. Would’ve made me quite useless on the front lines.”
Duncan decided not to mention that a decent Terra mage could have healed something that minor. “Does that mean you won’t be coming out with us, Ser Arthur?”
Devines waved a sticky spoon at him. “Oh, no. Best for me to stay here and coordinate, don’t you think? I have full faith in you and your men’s abilities to keep the king’s taxes safe, captain.”
In other words, he didn’t want to travel in the cold weather. Duncan glanced at his brothers. Neither of them did anything as blatant as roll their eyes, but he could tell they both shared his rapidly dropping opinion of the tax collector.
Despite Charlie’s presence at the table, it was clear that Roberta wouldn’t be making an appearance at breakfast. Best to take that as a message and get on with it. “While we’re on the topic, gentlemen, may I suggest we head to Ser Arthur’s office after breakfast and plan out how we’re going to tackle the collection?” Duncan said.
The other men grunted in agreement, although Charlie seemed a bit forlorn. “Can I come with you when you gather the taxes, captain?”
Devines laughed loudly before Duncan had time to come up with a politic refusal. “Don’t be ridiculous, my lord,” the tax collector said, smirking. “You’re far too young for such a dangerous trip.”
The boy glared at the tax collector. “I’m not ridiculous, and I wasn’t talking to you, Ser Arthur.”
Devines’s smirk evaporated. “You impudent young pup. If you were my son, I’d take you over my knee for such impertinence,” he declared.
“But I’m not your son, am I?” Charlie shot back. “In fact, I’m count here, which means that I outrank you.”
Duncan cleared his throat before Devines could make matters worse. “My lord, while I appreciate your concern for your people and your lands, I’m afraid we can’t take civilians on this trip, what with the cold weather and the potential risk from brigands,” he said, careful to keep his tone respectful.
“But you’re taking Ser Arthur’s men,” Charlie pointed out.
Oh, he was most definitely Robin’s son. “They’re treasury employees, and as such are part of the royal government. Besides, it’s your duty as count to remain here and protect your estate and your mother.”
His words had their intended effect, and the boy nodded reluctantly. “All right. But I’d like to go into Halle this afternoon to see the holiday decorations. If you’re not leaving until tomorrow, you could take me there, couldn’t you?”
As if Robin would let him take her son anywhere. “We’ll have to ask your mother—”
“I’ll do it.” Limber as an eel, the young count slid off his chair and dashed out of the dining hall.
Devines huffed, tossing his napkin on the table. “You shouldn’t indulge the little rascal like that, captain,” he growled. “If I’d spoken to my father like that, he would’ve given me a taste of the strap.”
Duncan strongly doubted that Devines had ever felt so much as a flick on the ear, much less a strap across the backside, but he didn’t want to get into a discussion on child-rearing with the overbearing man. “I’m sure that her ladyship won’t want his lordship escorted off the estate grounds,” he said instead, scraping up the last of his oatmeal.
As it turned out, he was wrong. After the meeting had been wrapped up by a still huffy Devines, he’d gone to the stable to brush Fremder when he heard light footsteps behind him. They were followed by a tart, “So you’ve offered to take Charlie to Halle this afternoon?”
Duncan gathered himself, then turned to face his hostess. Robin was still wearing widow’s grey, but the shade held a hint of blue today. And even irritated, she was still beautiful enough to make his heart beat faster. “He wanted to go with us on the collection trip,” he said as evenly as possible. “I said that his duties were here, protecting you. He then asked if I could take him to Halle. I said it would be up to you. I assumed you wouldn’t want him going anywhere with me.”
Her eyes narrowed at his perfectly reasonable explanation. “Normally, I wouldn’t. But it would be good for him to attend the candle lighting ceremony this afternoon and tour the crafts fair. His people need to get to know him.”
She couldn’t seriously be suggesting… “Not being a nobleman, I’m not familiar with what airs and graces need to be put on for one’s people,” Duncan muttered, returning to his task.
She snorted, the sound still familiar even after so many years. “Oh, please. You needn’t sound as if I’m making Charlie out to be heir to the throne.”
There would be no finishing Fremder’s coat while she was there. Duncan turned back to her, currycomb in hand. “I’m not. I’m simply saying that I’m not a nobleman and I don’t know what goes into the job, all right?”
“I’m not asking you to tutor him in etiquette. But Charlie should go to Halle for the ceremony.”
“So take him.”
He realized his mistake when he saw her jaw muscles tense. “We had to sell the carriage and horses. All I have left is that grey mare.” She nodded at a pudding-like horse placidly chewing hay. “And it wouldn’t do for me to ride into town on her with Charlie on my lap like a baby.”
Her statement confirmed Duncan’s suspicions that the Busse family had fallen on hard times. He wanted to ask what had happened, but the set of Robin’s shoulders suggested that now was not the time. “You might have noticed that I don’t have a carriage, either, my lady.”
She shook her head. “You’re a soldier. If Charlie rides with you, that would be all right. You’d be his bodyguard for the day.”
He had set this trap for himself well and proper. “I need to finalize plans with Ser Arthur before we leave tomorrow,” he tried.
Now she gave him a disgusted look. “Charlie said you just spoke with Ser Arthur. And it’s hardly as if you’re planning an invasion. You ride with his men and yours, you collect the tax, and you fight off anyone foolish enough to attack your convoy. Anyone with a basic understanding of military strategy would know that.”
“True. But a good strategist would want to make sure that everything comes off smoothly.”
Another snort. “Fine. I’ll tell Charlie you were too busy working on tactics to take him to Halle.” She turned to leave.
The boy’s hopeful face appeared in his mind. Duncan sighed. “Is it really that important for him to go?”
Robin paused. “Yes. He needs to get out, to see his people. And it’s good for them to see him. Besides…” She trailed off, her shoulders dropping a bit. “He doesn’t ask for much. I hate telling him no for something this … small.”
Duncan fought off a sudden urge to take her into his arms, if only to cuddle her and give her some sort of reassurance that everything would work out in the end. Aye, and you know damn well she’d plant a knee in your bollocks if you tried it. Hands to yourself, man.
Although… If he was honest, it wasn’t actually a bad idea to go to Halle for the afternoon and get a feel for the town. If nothing else, it was better than spending the time listening to Devines’s interminable stories or staring at the gloomy ceiling in his room. And if he took Ewan and Hamish with him, the three of them could share babysitting—no, count-sitting—duties. “Fine,” he said, making sure that his tone was properly put-upon. “I’ll take him into Halle.”
An unexpected sheen appeared in Robin’s eyes, making them glisten. “Thank you.”
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