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Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! This is the last snippet from the third book in my Two Thrones series Lady of Thorns that I’ll be teasing you with. And I mean that this time!

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!


Amelie held up the missive. “I received a letter from Marcus, of all people.”

“Oh? What does he have to say?”

Clearing her throat, she read:

My dear Amelie:

I’ve just received word of your upcoming wedding to Counselor LaPorte. Allow me to pass along my best wishes, as well as an explanation for my hasty departure in the spring. As you know, I left Illium due to my dear brother Antonious’s clumsy efforts to frame me for his attempted assassination. I had hoped that my grandmother would temper matters at the palace, but it seems that Antonious is still determined to see me dead, and had sent assassins to Lierdhe to achieve this. I was able to dispatch them with Roylus’s help, but I couldn’t bear the thought of putting yourself or your good lady mother in danger so I decided to leave and take any further threat with me. Please know that I will always have the greatest affection for you, and if LaPorte puts a foot out of line I will be pleased to sweep you away and make you the happiest woman on the continent, as well as the richest.

All my love,
Marcus

She laid the letter aside and slid down into Alain’s waiting arms. “So he didn’t leave because of me. Well, not because of my looks, in any case. I feel a bit guilty now for being so angry at him when all he was doing was protecting me.”

Alain kissed her temple. “Don’t feel bad. I’m afraid our friend will always have an adventurous life, what with his family and all. If he truly does care about you, the best thing he could do for you is take the target off your back.”

“Which he has.” She slid her leg up his. “As long as you keep me happy, of course. Who knows, I might enjoy being the kept woman of a robber baron or whatever scheme Marcus is pursuing these days.”

“Oh, really.” Alain clambered over her, giving her a firm kiss. “Is that a challenge, my lady?”

She grinned up at him. “I do believe it is, counselor. What are you going to do about it?”

“Well, clearly I need to stop my wayward bride-to-be from looking elsewhere for her pleasure.” He slid a hand underneath her pillow and pulled out pieces of soft cotton rope. “Perhaps if I tied you to the bed and drove you insane with pleasure, that might keep you from straying?”

A delightfully wicked heat flared to life inside her. “Perhaps,” she drawled. “But you’ll have to be very forceful to hold my attention. I’m quite strong-willed, you know.”

“Yes, I’m quite aware of that,” he drawled back. Plucking up one of her hands, he tied one end of a rope around it, then bound it to the headboard. “Luckily for me I’m equally as strong-willed. Quite a match for you, don’t you think?” Repeating the process on her other hand, he tugged the bedcovers from her body before sliding down the mattress with more ropes. He secured her ankles to the footboard, siting back to admire his work. “There. You’ll be hard-pressed to chase after Marcus like that, sweetheart.”

She squirmed in her bonds, enjoying the soft but firm grip on her limbs. Pretending to yawn, she arched her back, letting her nipples rub against the thin fabric of her nightgown. “Oh dear. It seems that I’ve been captured by the most dangerous, vicious street rat ever to stalk the streets of Mons. Whatever shall a poor, innocent noblewoman do?”

“Surrender to her captor, of course.” Running his fingertips along her calf in a ticklish caress, he stroked the underside of her knee. “Especially as he plans on ravishing your helpless body.” His fingers trailed upwards, dragging the hem of her gown up and exposing her spread thighs and the fluff of dark curls between them. “Look what we have here. Could this be where her ladyship hides her secret treasure?”

Amelie tossed her head, fully into her imaginary role now. “You’ll never make me give in, villain. Never!”

“We’ll see about that.” His fingers dipped between her legs, stroking and teasing. “It seems you like this, you naughty girl. You’re wet as a spring shower.”

She held in a giggle, relishing the way he played with her slick outer lips and clitoris. “Nonsense. I hate everything about it.”

Smirking, Alain leaned down and kissed her mound before shifting his oral attentions to her damp, aching flesh. Amelie wished he’d gagged her because the way his tongue was dancing on her clitoris promised to bring her to climax quickly and very strongly. Dammit, and Sibeal and Tomas are in the next room, and Maman and Stefan are down the corridor. It’s not fair!

Just as she was about to tumble over the edge, he stopped, blowing a cool breath over her. “Not yet. Not until I say, my lady.”

She whined, raising her hips in a silent plea, but he ignored it in favor of scattering kisses and nibbles on her inner thighs. Once her passion had ebbed sufficiently, he returned to his efforts, sliding two fingers inside her and adding a wonderful massaging tease to the sensual work being performed by his lips and tongue.

He backed off twice more, leaving her more and more wound up until she was straining against the ropes and biting her lip deep enough to taste blood. “Alain, please,” she finally begged in a ragged voice. “I can’t stand this anymore!”

He lifted his head, licking her wetness off his lips. “You don’t climax until I say so,” he murmured. “And quite frankly, I don’t think I’ll be letting you do it anytime soon. If I do, you’ll just get up and run after Marcus.”

“I won’t, I swear it,” she gasped. “I’m yours, now and forever.”

He kissed her clitoris and she shuddered at the sensation, so powerful now that it was just this side of pain. “Mm, still not convinced. You’ll have to do better than that.”

“How?” It came out as an embarrassing wail.

“Tell me how beautiful you are.”

She stared down at him, momentarily drawn out of her erotic haze. “What?”

He rested his chin on her mound. “Tell me that you’re beautiful. Make me believe that you believe it. You do that, and I’ll let you climax.”


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Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! This week I’m teasing you with yet another snippet from the third book in my Two Thrones series, Lady of Thorns. By this point Alain’s sensual education of Amelie has progressed admirably — perhaps too admirably. I believe a certain lawyer’s heart may be thawing just a bit towards his fractious, sexy student, muwahahaha…

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 had set Colombe onto the task of procuring some soft cotton rope. His clerk had performed admirably as usual, and a hank of the stuff, neatly cut into useful lengths, now resided under the pillows.

But erotic restraint required a certain mindset for both parties to enjoy it, and he’d nettled Amelie with his questions about young Vandenberghe. His concern was honest; the earl’s heir was certainly handsome enough, and his blood made him an appropriate candidate for the Lady’s Consort, but there were neither shared interests nor frisson between Amelie and Vandenberghe the Younger. A pretty face would pall if there was nothing interesting behind it; with that lack of connection, Alain feared that Amelie would wind up turning to a lover for comfort within the first year.

And it won’t be me. By that point he would be back in Mons, pursuing his legal career and his next bed partner. There was nothing more than physical attraction between the two of them, he was aware of that, but he was surprised to find that he wanted her … happy.

He tugged her into his arms, brushing a soft kiss across her lips. She responded, molding against him with that mind-melting ease that made him re-consider the hidden ropes. No, another time. I know what I want to do with my spirited little minx tonight.

He eased the nightgown from her shoulders, kissing them as each one was bared. “Have you ever heard of soixante-neuf?”

She blinked up at him. “I have not. I wasn’t aware there were that many positions.”

“It’s not a number so much as a description of what the participants look like.” He smiled at her confused expression. “Let me remove my clothes and I’ll demonstrate.”

He stripped quickly, laying his breeches and shirt across the footboard of the bed while Amelie crawled onto the golden velvet bedspread. The color lent a glow to her pale skin and dark hair, making her look like an otherworldly goddess waiting to receive her due devotion. He felt himself thicken in anticipation, but didn’t try to encourage his erection more than that.

He joined her on the bed, stretching out in such a way that they were roughly top to tail. It gave him a wonderful view of the dark moss that crowned her mound, with a hint of the feminine cleft at the bottom. “This position allows the participants to enjoy each other orally at the same time.”

“I see.” She reached out and stroked his shaft, running a fingertip around the edge of the head. “Oh, I see. Sixty-nine. Yes, we would look like the numbers, wouldn’t we?”

“Indeed.” He leaned forward and rubbed his nose against her crispy curls, following it up with a kiss. He could already smell her desire, warm and humid, and looked forward to dipping his tongue in her honey. “Granted, it’s not as straightforward as lying back and receiving your lover’s attentions and then returning the favor, but I find the distraction rather useful in extending the festivities.”


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Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! This week I’m back to Lady of Thorns for my teasing snippet (mainly because I’m on deadline to finish it by Friday and yeah, WHEE). Amelie is back in Alain’s bedroom for more one-on-one instruction when he mentions an, um, advanced course of study. Ahem.

Oh, and yes, that is a Star Wars in-joke there. I do love my meta pop culture references…

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 got to his feet when he heard the scratching on the door. It opened and Amelie peered around the oak panel. “May I come in?”

He couldn’t stop the curl of anticipation that went through him. “Yes, please.”

Tonight she wore the same plain wrapper she had the night before, but when she undid the belt and let it slide off her shoulders he almost swallowed his tongue. Underneath she wore a short, silky gown of pale yellow with a low décolletage that framed her collarbones and the subtle curves of he breasts. Lower down it clung to her hips, and he imagined he could see the pink dots of her nipples and the dark fluff at the tops of her thighs through the delicate material.

“I’d forgotten I had this,” she admitted, draping the wrapper over a chair and walking into his arms. “It’s one of my ceremonial gowns from when I was younger. Do you like it?”

The way he was rapidly swelling in his breeches was physical proof of that, and he pressed his groin against her. “You are absolutely luscious. Although I have to wonder why a girl was wearing something so revealing.”

“It was an overgown. I wore a white chemise underneath.” She draped her arms around his neck and sighed happily. “Although I have to say, I much prefer wearing it this way. It’s extremely soft, don’t you think?”

He groaned as she executed a little shimmy against his throbbing cock. “You’re a minx, woman. It’s soft and very lovely, but I’d much rather be touching your skin.”

“I see.” Another wiggle. “The nice thing about this gown, counselor, is that it’s short. Quite easy to lift.”

He was never one to overlook a hint. Sliding his hands down, he gathered the hem of the gown and pulled it up until he’d bared her firm, silky rump. “If you continue to be this naughty, I may have to spank this beautiful bottom of yours.”

The glint in her eye turned challenging. “You might find that something of a challenge.”

He stroked the lovely curves, gently pinching one. “Not if I tied you to my bed first.”

A soft inhalation and a widening of her eyes was his answer. Interesting. She likes a bit of spice with her lovemaking. “Would you enjoy that?” he purred.

“I … I don’t know.” But her sped-up breathing and the color in her face indicated otherwise.

Tying a beautiful woman up and turning her into a writhing bundle of sexual need was one of his favorite activities. “I’d be very careful and use the softest ropes so that your skin wouldn’t carry a mark. But you wouldn’t be able to move when I was done. You would be completely at my mercy, your body turned into my own personal playground. And believe me, Amelie, I would play with you for hours until you begged me for release.”

She shivered deliciously at his words. “I don’t know if I could stay quiet if you did that.”

“Oh, a soft cotton gag would mute any noise you made.”

“Then how could I beg you?”

He brushed his lips over her ear. “You would whimper, of course. Widen your eyes and plead with me silently. Strain against your bonds towards my hands, my mouth, my cock. There are all kinds of ways you can beg without words.”

That lovely scent of fruit and cream from her skin deepened, taking on a hot note of mulled cider, and she squirmed. “You’re a wicked man, counselor.”

“Mm, I know.” He pushed his thigh between hers, gently rubbing against her heated flesh. “It’s why you like me, my lady. You need more wicked men in your life.”

She groaned as his hands cupped her ass, squeezing. “I like nice men, too.”

“I can be nice. Allow me to demonstrate.”


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Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Sorry about that! We’ve been kind of focused on Harvey here in Texas and I forgot today was Wednesday. As always, thanks go out to Angelica Dawson for making Mid Week Tease possible. And with that, here’s another saucy little snippet from Lady of Thorns, where Lady Amelie de Clerq, tired of her offputting reputation, has convinced the rakish lawyer Alain LaPorte to tutor her in lovemaking skills. In this bit, she decides that she wants a bit more, erm, hands-on instruction. As you do.

Check out the link after the snippet to see more awesome Mid Week Teases!


Amelie turned onto her side to face Alain, resting a hand on his chest. “But you haven’t had any pleasure yet.”

“On the contrary, I gained a great deal of satisfaction from yours.” He took her hand, bringing it to his lips for a kiss, then drew it down and wrapped it around his rigid erection. She squeezed gently, enjoying the sensation of soft skin over a warm, heavy core. “I enjoy my partners’ delight as much as I enjoy my own. It was immensely exciting for me to feel you reach your peak under my fingers and mouth and know I brought you there.”

She wasn’t sure why his statement pleased her so much, but it did. “Still, I do think that it’s time for the gander to enjoy some of the same sauce as the goose, don’t you?” She stroked him experimentally. “Show me what you like.”

“All right, then.” He rolled onto his back, throwing an arm around her and pulling her with until she was cuddled against his side. “While that fine object in your hand is the center of most men’s desire, there are other places that will pleasure him nearly as much.”

He tugged her hand loose and guided it until she cupped the warm, silky sac of his scrotum. “Many women have a tendency to overlook this part during lovemaking. If you learn how to play with a man’s stones properly, I can guarantee that he’ll worship you and do whatever you ask.”

That sounded promising. She considered the firm, egg-like shapes in their furry pouch, stroking her thumb experimentally along the grain of the hair. His testicles shifted under her touch, tightening closer to his body. “Oh. Did I do that?”

“You caused it, yes.” She could hear the amusement in his voice. “They rise and lower depending on stimuli — heat, cold, the touch of a beautiful woman.”

“Flatterer.” Fascinated, she continued to explore. She’d always thought that a man’s parts were somewhat ungainly, a floppy tube and bag that seemed added as an afterthought rather than as part of a grand design. But up close, so to speak, she could see the appeal of the organs. They really were rather marvelous, a combination of softness and firmness that drew her touch like a flock of doves to a dish of birdseed.

Her hand slipped under his balls and he spread his legs wider, allowing her to tease the springy hair in that shadowy furrow. “There is something you can do if you reach further back, but I would recommend that we save that for a future lesson,” he said, sounding a touch breathless now.

His comment was intriguing, but she was more interested in the more accessible parts of his body. She arched her neck and licked the nipple closest to her, letting the tip of her tongue toy with it as he’d done to her. He rewarded her with a low, pleased growl and she stepped up her efforts, sucking the hard nub before delicately worrying it with the edge of her teeth.

That caused him to suck in a breath. “Teeth. Yes. They’re an acquired taste with many men, but I happen to like them when they’re applied with care.”

“Good to know,” she mumbled, giving his nipple a slightly firmer nibble before running her tongue around it, then around the edge of his areola. “Why do men have these, anyway? It’s not as if you’ll ever feed a baby.”

“I have no idea. But I’m very glad I have them, especially at the moment.”

“Mm.” She shifted so that she could take his other nipple in her mouth. His chest hair was crisp and a bit prickly against her chin, and this close the scent of his skin was mouthwatering, a combination of musk and clean linen over something utterly male. His taste was even better, salt and a hint of savory that reminded her of woodsmoke. She decided she could run her tongue over him for hours, learning the different tastes and textures of his body.

His cock, however, had other ideas and throbbed once against her wrist. She let his balls slide out of her palm, turning the gesture into a caress of that lovely fat shaft. It seemed harder than before, the veins standing out now. “I think someone’s impatient.”

“He can wait.”

She wasn’t sure if she could. “Please. I want you, Alain.”

He urged her to look up at him. “Are you sure? We don’t have to do this at all tonight if you don’t wish to. There are a number of other things I think you would enjoy—”

“No.” The slow desire in her began to build again. “I want you inside me. Now.”


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Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! Thanks as always go out to the lovely Angelica Dawson for making Mid Week Tease possible. And now, here’s another sexy snippet from my current WIP Lady of Thorns (Two Thrones 3). The prickly Lady Amelie and the clever lawyer Alain have cooked up a plan between them to get Amelie comfortable with physical intimacy, but I don’t think either of them expected what’s about to happen. Whee!

Make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!


“Now, may I take off your chemise?”

Wordless, she nodded. With an unhurried grace he undid the ties at the neckline and eased it off her shoulders, letting it fall to her feet. Her nipples pebbled up in the cool air and she struggled to keep her hands at her sides, aroused and ashamed at the same time.

He seemed to understand and took her hands in a gentle grip, holding them away from her body while he studied her with what she prayed was an appreciative smile. “Oh, yes. You’re a graceful willow, with a bottom as ripe as an apple.”

She bit her lip. “I’m many things, Alain. Graceful is not one of them.”

“Mm. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.” He let her go long enough to lean down and grasp the bedcover, drawing it back. “Get in before you grow chilled.”

She did, appreciating the camouflage of the bed linens and the lingering heat from the warming pan one of the maids would have swept over the sheets. “Are you joining me?”

“In a moment.” Giving her a lazy smile, he slowly stripped off his shirt, letting the garment fall to the floor next to her chemise. She swallowed hard, unconsciously rubbing her thighs together in anticipation.

His torso wasn’t the heavily muscled body of a farmer or warrior, built to wield a sword or a scythe. Instead, he was pale and lean, with well-defined shoulders and light brown hair softly thatching the flat pads of his pectorals. His nipples were small and dusky pink, only a few shades darker than his skin, and the cool air had caused them to stand up. A fine trail of hair led downward across a belly as lean as the rest of him, disappearing into the waistband of his breeches.

Still with that infernal smile, he pulled off his boots. Only then did he undo the ties of his breeches, pushing them down in a slow tease. More hair appeared first, a darker brown than the trail leading to it, then the thick root of his penis. Amelie couldn’t help the small sound that escaped her when it bobbed free, a goodly length with the smooth skin stained a dusky rose in the firelight. Darker veins were starting to show beneath the mushroom cap, and she saw a tiny bead of moisture caught in the eye there.

He planted his hands on his hips, clearly enjoying her stare. “Do you approve?”

She tried to swallow. “It’s very … nice.”

He peered down at it. “Nice?”

His mock-incredulous tone made her giggle. “I’m sorry. That’s not an appropriate thing to call a man’s pride and joy, is it? It’s very handsome.” The dryness returned to her throat. “And thick.”

“Ah. Thank you.” He grasped the shaft, squeezing it and causing the veins to distend. “I think you’ll come to appreciate the extra heft.”

He finished kicking off the breeches and climbed into bed as Amelie scooted over. “Now,” he purred, turning onto his side and propping his head on his hand, “before we begin, do you have any questions?”

She could feel the heat coming from his naked body. A sudden urge to cuddle into his arms and soak in the warmth surprised her. “I—no. But thank you for asking.”

“This is for your edification, Amelie, as well as our mutual pleasure. If you have any questions at any point, you need only ask.” His expression turned gentle. “And if something displeases or hurts you, tell me immediately and I’ll stop.”

His simple, quiet kindness caused tears to rise, and she blinked quickly. She didn’t want to cry, not now. They had much better things to do. “Kiss me again, please.”

“With pleasure.”


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Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15Hello, lovelies! Hope you’re ready for a hot scene from my forthcoming fantasy romance Lady of Thorns. Tired of her reputation as the stiff, standoffish Lady of Thorns, Lady Amelie de Clerq has asked Alain LaPorte to tutor her in lovemaking, but she’s about to get more than she ever expected.

As always, a huge thank you to Anglica Dawson for making this possible, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!


“How do we do this? Go from sitting here to naked and in bed?”

Alain studied her, then drained his goblet. “Like this, my lady.”

Getting to his feet, he held out his hand. The fluttering in Amelie’s stomach grew, but she rose and took it. A tingle raced over her skin, surprisingly similar to the feeling of worked magic. But this isn’t magic. Is it?

The heat from the fireplace combined with the warmth from his body as he took her into his arms. His hands spread across her back, the touch sinking through her gown and into her skin. “May I kiss you?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. He lifted her chin and brushed their mouths together, catching her lower lip between his own in the softest of bites. Her nipples pebbled up, rubbing against the cotton of her chemise as her body responded to this sublime seduction. His tongue slipped between her lips, a clever intruder that probed every corner of her mouth. She met it boldly with her own tongue, delighting in how this man could set her on fire with something as simple as a kiss.

He pulled away, hazel eyes dark now with desire. “There is honey in your kiss, my lady. The sugared touch of your lips is sweeter than the ripest fruit.”

She couldn’t help smiling at the poetic compliment. “All the better to feed a hungry man, counselor. The bounty of my harvest is yours.”

“Mm, and I intend to take full advantage of your bounty.” Another kiss, deeper and richer, and Amelie drowned in the golden pleasure of it. When they parted this time, they were both breathing heavily. “May I call you Amelie?”

Her first name on his lips, a privilege restricted only to her immediate family, sent a wicked tingle though her. “If I can call you Alain.”

“Of course. Lovers should be on a first name basis, don’t you think?”

She smothered a delighted squeal when he swept her up, carrying her to the bed. Setting her down again, he cupped her face and gave her the most passionate kiss yet, his hands stroking down the column of her neck to her shoulders. Her breasts ached with a sweet need and she wanted his hands on them.

“I’m going to undress you now,” he murmured. “And then I’m going to start at the top of your head and kiss every part of you.”

She couldn’t believe that she whimpered at his statement, but there was no denying the soft sound that escaped from her. She let him turn her, felt his fingers work at the laces of her bodice. As it loosened she shivered, imagining his touch on her breasts, her belly, the soft flesh between her legs.

The bodice fell away from her, a shed skin ready to be stripped away. He pushed it down her arms, exposing her shoulders and pressing his lips to one. “Beautiful,” he murmured.

She wasn’t sure if it was the compliment or the feel of his lips that sent more bolts of desire crackling across her nerve endings. Quite frankly, she didn’t care. She needed more.

He urged her gown to her hips and then to the floor, helping her step out of it. Removing her stays was interspersed with more warm, sweet kisses across her shoulders and neck, whispered endearments filling her ears. She gasped when he nibbled on one lobe, the wet heat of his mouth a most delightful shock.

And then the stays joined her gown on the floor. She turned back to him, clad only in her chemise and stockings. Her nervousness returned, and she didn’t know where to look, finally staring over his shoulder at the waiting bed.

A crooked finger slid under her chin, urging her to look at him. “What is it?” he asked.

“I feel … exposed.” it sounded ridiculous, but it was true. When he was behind her, she could enjoy his caresses knowing that he couldn’t see her. Now, however, she was acutely aware that he was face to face with the Lady of Thorns, and the echoes of every cutting comment sounded in her head.

“That’s because you are. Exposed, and lovely enough to make my head spin.” He paused. “You don’t believe that I want you, do you?”

Her eyes stung, and she blinked to hold the salt water at bay. Damn it all, was she truly that transparent? “I believe that you’re willing to adhere to our agreement, which is kind of you.”

“No, it’s not. I’m afraid you’ll find that I’m not a kind man, not in the slightest.” His voice lowered. “My lady, a man may lie about his wealth, his occupation, even his family name. But one thing he cannot lie about is when he’s attracted to a woman.”

His hand slipped around hers and drew it down. She knew instinctively what he was doing but still gasped when he pressed her hand against the heavy, warm length in his breeches. The muscles between her legs contracted in a unexpected clench at the physical proof of his desire.

He folded her fingers around him, keeping her palm pressed against his hardness. “I wanted you from the first moment you walked into the king’s study, travel-stained and exhausted as you were. If we hadn’t had other matters to attend to, I would have pressed my suit then and there.”

Amelie could still remember the acrid stench of the privy that had been the only avenue of escape from the mage-proof chamber where her mother had jailed her. With only enough time to crop her hair short and change its color, she had spent a sleepless night riding across country to reach Mons and plead for Matthias’s help. “I was a fright,” she muttered. “How could you have wanted me?”

“You were stunning. A warrior goddess come to earth to claim fealty from the king.” His hand began to move hers, guiding it up and down the heated ridge. “Although I prefer your own hair color. The blonde didn’t suit you.”

“I meant it as a disguise.” Her thoughts were fragmenting, split apart by the promise of his flesh against her palm. The growing ache between her thighs throbbed, making her wonder what it would be like to feel him inside her, filling her. Would it be as delicious as the gossiping girls promised, or would it be yet another disappointment? “You don’t mind that my hair is brown?”

“It’s not brown. It’s sable, with streaks of caramel and auburn in the sunlight.” He studied her irises. “And your eyes are the color of rich, dark sherry with a hint of russet in their depths.” He leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose. “Your nose is lovely and delicate, and as I already mentioned there is honey in your lips. Your skin is soft and creamy and gives off the most delicious scent, and I can’t wait to worship your breasts with my mouth.” He moved his mouth to her ear, breath warm on the shell. “Or that sweet flesh between your thighs. Mark my words, Amelie, I fully intend to taste you there tonight.”

The thought of his mouth between her legs caused that area to grow alarmingly wet. “You can’t,” she whispered, delighted and shocked at the same time.

“Oh, I can. And I’ll enjoy it. You may well become my favorite dessert.”


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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.


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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…


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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?”


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