Let us find solace in the quiet…"
Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real and maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren't so far-fetched after all.
A handsome stranger–wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past–appears in Emmy's bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him in an ancient book. But when growing threats to her safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, Emmy must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page?
Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.
Mental health issues, panic attacks, grief, references to abuse, references to cheating, character taking medication, references to therapy, references to suicide, references to section, references to body image references, misogyny.
The stranger turned, and the book Emmy had just picked up almost slipped from her grasp again. It was yesterday’s knight-in-less-than-shining-armour, this time sporting a frilled collar, a kind of ruby coloured velvet blouson, and what appeared to be matching tights. This guy is weird, she thought without charity, hissing at the tiny, treacherous part of her that was delighted to see him again.
“Allow me, my lady.” He knelt to help, and in the scramble to pick up the books, their fingers brushed. Emmy jumped as a crackle of static bounced between them; dust motes sizzling and swirling in tiny eddies. Emmy shook her head sure she was imagining things. She allowed herself a rueful smile. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Thank you. Now you’ve left the sword at home, is there something I can help you with?” The whispers in her head were growing and her big toe throbbed. She wasn’t in the mood for chivalry.
“I would take great pleasure in accepting your kindness, my lady. Your tone, however, suggests I hath offended again. I should leave you in peace. I will not risk your ire further by rolling the dice today.”
He rose and headed for the door.
“What? Wait! You can’t keep barging into my shop like this, looking like you do, talking in riddles, and then flouncing off! How do you know my name? What do you want?” Emmy was on her feet too, anxiety now piqued with anger. She balled her fists at her sides and stood up as tall and straight as her six feet two inches allowed, but it was more a self-defense mechanism than the action of an aggressor.
The stranger faced her again, blue eyes blazing with an emotion that cut through Emmy’s temper, weakening her resolve. I just want to understand him, that’s all. Nothing more than that.
“What do I want? My freedom. Good day, my lady.”
Then he was gone. Again. Stymied, Emmy watched as he strode past the window and out of sight. She uncurled her hands, wincing at the nail marks she’d dug into her palms, which were now red and sweaty. What on earth? Why does he need my help, no, my assistance? ‘I would take great pleasure in accepting your kindness’, yeah and I would take great pleasure in…in -
Her eyes widened at the preposterous turn her thoughts were taking. “It couldn’t be,” she breathed. “‘I would take great pleasure in licking the sweat from your bosom, as I lay your delectable body across my table.”’ Then she remembered his comment about not rolling the dice and, with her heart hammering a piano concerto, quickly locked the shop door before tearing up the stairs. Her hands trembled and the skin on the nape of her neck prickled. She tried to tell herself to stop, that she was over-imagining things, she needed to start her relaxation techniques: You’re stressed. You’re taking too much on. You’re grieving about Maggie. And you stupidly didn’t take your meds again last night!
Thinking about Maggie was a sobering slap to the face, and she paused, resting her riotous head on a low beam and panting as if winded. But Maggie reminded her of the letter, and the letter reminded her of Jonathan and The Book, and round and round her thoughts went until, with a deep breath, she looked down at the old volume and opened it. The familiar smell of lignin drifted up to meet her nostrils and she inhaled it like smelling salts, allowing its comforting scent to strengthen her spine and bind her resolve. The Book was heavy, but her hands were now steady, and she remembered childhood swimming lessons, diving to the bottom of the pool to lift the dead weight. She shivered, sweat beading on her top lip and trickling down her back. ‘A clean and natural sweat’. With fevered eyes, she read the random page she’d opened the book at:
I remove my doublet and shirt, affording me small, sweet relief from the stifling heat.
With creeping foolishness spreading through her veins and heating her cheeks, Emmy closed her eyes and waited. When nothing happened, one eyelid crept up like a roller blind. Nothing. She threw The Book back on the bed, as if its surface scalded, dashing away the treacherous sting of tears on the back of her hand. Jesus, Emmeline! What did you think was going to happen? Your mystery man was going to pop up out of a book as if by magic? Keep taking the tablets, Em.
Laughing through her tears, she made her way down to the shop, glancing over her shoulder as a familiar voice called her name. Maggie?! She was halfway up the stairs again, heart almost exploding with relief before reality kicked her hard in the shins. Another hallucination. She sank on to the cold metal steps, one hand gripping the railing, the other at her chest. After several minutes, she stood, straightening her clothes, her face set. She kept her eyes on each step as she headed back down the spiral staircase, daring herself not to cry. Then the wind was knocked clean out of her and she almost went sprawling as she collided with something as hard as oak.
Her head snapped up and Emmy found herself face to face with the very real - and very near-naked - handsome stranger!
Ignoring voices and visions was difficult, but rationally she knew they weren’t real, even if sometimes they got the better of her. She could cope with them most of the time. This was different. Reasoning with herself that it wasn’t possible, that things like this couldn’t happen, Emmy couldn’t deny the very solidity of him in the air; the way his ribcage rose and fell; the sound of his shallow breathing; his spicy scent spiked with old vanilla and musk. Swallowing her fear along with the key to an imaginary chastity belt, Emmy didn’t step away. Instead, she lifted her chin and spoke clear and strong.
“Okay, Mister. I’ve had enough! You’re going to tell me what the hell’s going on. Right now!” She punctuated with precise jabs of one pointed finger in the centre of the dense, dark hair on the man’s torso. Her breathing quickened, indignation sending tiny thrills pulsing between her chest and belly. This would be so much easier if he didn’t have a marble chest, alabaster abs, and eyes like lost galaxies. Emmy scrambled to pull herself together, imaging how Lizzie would scoff at how easily Emmy’s mind had run to typical romance hero descriptors. Scrambling for neutral territory, she cast her eyes downwards and started when she saw he was still wearing the ruby tights. Or were they called hose? Either way, they were very tight tights.
Jeanna Louise Skinner
Jeanna Louise Skinner writes romance with a sprinkling of magic. The Book Boyfriend is her debut novel and she is currently working on a prequel. She has ADHD and CRPS, a rare neuro-inflammatory disorder, and she is passionate about writing about people underrepresented in Romance, especially those with disabilities and chronic health conditions. She’s also the co-creator of UKRomChat, a much-lauded, Romance-centric live Twitter chat. She lives in Devon with her husband, their two children, and a cat who sounds like a goat.