Friday, August 5, 2022

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Crusader's Path by Mary Ann Bernal

 

From the sweeping hills of Argences to the port city of Cologne overlooking the River Rhine, Etienne and Avielle find themselves drawn by the need for redemption against the backdrop of the First Crusade.

Heeding the call of His Holiness, Urban II, to free the Holy Land from the infidel, Etienne follows Duke Robert of Normandy across the treacherous miles, braving sweltering heat and snow-covered mountain passes while en route to the Byzantine Empire.

Moved by Peter of Amiens’ charismatic rhetoric in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire, Avielle joins the humble army of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Mentz, the peasant Crusaders do the unthinkable, destroying the Jewish Community. Consumed with guilt, Avielle is determined to die fighting for Christ, assuring her place in Heaven.

Etienne and Avielle cross paths in Constantinople, where they commiserate over past misdeeds. A spark becomes a flame, but when Avielle contracts leprosy, Etienne makes a promise to God, offering to take the priest cowl in exchange for ridding Avielle of her affliction.

Will Etienne be true to his word if Avielle is cleansed of the contagion, or will he risk eternal damnation to be with the woman he loves?

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EXCERPT

Ribbon lightning flashed across the darkened sky as Duke Robert and Etienne reached the outer castle walls. Crackling thunder shook the ground beneath them as they dismounted near the stables. The grayish clouds burst open, sending a deluge of water upon the earth. Strong winds whipped the rain, stinging the face as the men fled inside, pulling their mounts behind them. The animals neighed, standing on their hind legs, threatening to trample anyone in their way.

“All is well, hush,” Etienne said, trying to calm the horse, rubbing its face and neck with his hand.

Duke Robert managed to get his stallion into its stall and proceeded to inspect the length of the barn, comforting the animals.

“I think it best to stay here until the storm passes,” Etienne said.

Sitting on a bale of hay, Etienne leaned against the wall. Looking at the loft, he remembered a stormy night when he and Isabella took shelter on a warm summer’s day. He recalled her laughter, her wet hair sticking to her face, her eyes sparkling when he touched her cheek. Invigorated by the smell of freshly cut hay, they tumbled in the straw, satisfying their desire numerous times until the rain stopped.

You need to go home, Etienne thought.

“Has there been word of Henry?” Duke Robert said, sitting across from his favored friend. “But I have interrupted your thoughts.”

“I was just wondering how long the storm will last. As for your brother’s whereabouts, the spies have not returned. He cannot be far.”

“Have you given His Holiness’s call for an Army of God much thought?  I dare say I am intrigued. My soul is in need of saving, but the peasants would revolt if I taxed them to pay for such a lengthy campaign.”

“He did say full remission of our sins,” Etienne said. “I am tempted, but my sword is yours, Your Grace.”

“Ah, that is good to hear, because, my friend, I am inclined to join the campaign. It would free me from this useless fighting. And William Rufus would probably lend me the money, or I could ask Henry. Upon our return, they would not dare to rise up against me, lest they be excommunicated.”

“If that is your wish, so be it. I would visit Argences before we leave. Isabella can rule in my absence, as she has done in the past, until we are safely home.”

 

Mary Ann Bernal

Award-winning author, Mary Ann Bernal, attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her recent work includes Crusader’s Path, a redemption story set against the backdrop of the First Crusade, and Forgiving Nero, a novel of Ancient Rome.

Since Operation Desert Storm, Mary Ann has been a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other support programs. She appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has been a featured author on various reader blogs and promotional sites.

Mary Ann currently resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: On Bur Oak Ridge (Sheltering Trees: Book Three) by Jenny Knipfer



The plot has its twists and turns to keep readers intriguedto the very end. A great comfort read that will soothe the spirit with renewed hope and faith. ReadersFavorite five-star review

A HISTORICAL NOVEL OF FINDING HEALING AND A SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE

In the early 1900s, quiet and reserved Molly Lund finds refuge from her past at the Nelsonsfarm in Minnesota. In an attempt to turn a new page in her life, Molly works at making peace with her losses and coming to terms with the disfiguring burns on her face.

Samuel Woodson, the Nelsonshired hand, carries his own cares. Split from his family and bearing a burden of misplaced guilt for an act that haunts him, Samuelseeing past Mollys scarsdraws her out of her self-protective shell.

Molly and Samuel form a friendship, but just as their hearts lead them deeper, an unexpected guest comes calling, demanding whats his.

Will Molly and Samuel find a way to be together or will they be separated, due to impediments beyond their control? Can they trust in Gods plan and travel a path that heals the hurts of the past? 


Readers of historical fiction, Christian historical fiction, and Christian historical romance will delight in this beautifully wrought story of the healing power of love.

A heartwarming story of healing from external and internal scars. Through some of lifes harder lessons the characters learn to trust, forgive, and find second chances out of the ashes of pain and loss.

Anne Perreault, author of eighteen inspirational novels, including the Yellowstone series

Trigger Warnings:

Grief, trauma from burns, accidental death, time in an insane asylum

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Excerpt

Samuel

Mabel appears out of nowhere, a huge smile on her face. Samuel! Just the person we need.” She wipes her hands on her ever-present apron. You have a guest, a visitor.”

She waits expectantly.

Wh-who?” I stutter out.

I cant imagine who could have come calling for me. No one I know from home knows where I am. At least, I dont think they do. Sitting on the bench, I yank my boots off and peel off my coat.

Mabels eyes twinkle in the lamplight as she leans against the door jam. Youll never guess.”

I shake my head and shrug, waiting for her to tell me.

Your mother. Isnt that nice? I bet youve missed each other. And theres nothing like being with family for the holidays. Thanksgiving will be upon us before we know it.”

Her words fade as one thought fills my mind: Mother is here. Its been months, but Im not ready to talk to her yet and definitely not ready to forgive her, or myself for that matter.

Samuel?” Mabel places a light hand on my shoulder. I thought youd be pleased.”

Her lovely features wrinkle.

I shake my head, slow and purposeful. Didnt Linc tell you?”

She lowers her voice and one brow. Tell me what?” 

Swallowing, I say, Of our...difficulties.” I dont want to reveal too much.

She places one hand over her heart and pats the back of her head with the other. Of course, he mentioned your fathers death and your grief, but…”

We catch each others gaze in the seconds of uncomfortable silence between us.

My mothers head appears around the corner of the doorframe to the kitchen. Samuel?

Shes changed. Her once prim but happy smile and flashing, gray eyes only reflect the pain of burying one husband right after another.

I sit up straight and clear my throat, grubbing out, Mother. I didnt expect to see you.”

Forcing myself to look into her eyes, I hold steady. Out the corner of my vision, Mabel slips back into the kitchen without a sound.

Mom sighs. I gather you didnt.” She dabs at her nose with the hankie she's pulled out of her lace-edged, black sleeve and sniffs loudly. She has always known how to cook up a thick amount of theatrics. How could you go off and leave me all alone? I just dont understand it.”

Mother keeps her eyes cast down in martyr mode, playing her usual victim card.

Anger brings me to my feet and my voice rises in volume before I can tamp it down. How on Gods green earth would you expect me to stay?” A stream of ire bursts forth After giving the farm away to that money-grubbin...” I slap my hand on my thigh and step closer to her until her face is inches from mine and spit out my accusations. And to see you preening to him like a peahen before Pa was even cold in the ground.”

She looks up then, eyes hard and icy.

Shush your mouth!” she whispers fiercely and glances toward the kitchen, where I vaguely hear Mabel loudly clinking dishes. You should know me better than to think I, in any way, acted improper with Alfred. Wed been friends for many years, and he comforted me and supported me when your father took his turn.”

Grabbing at her black, lace collar, Mother looks up at me. Her small, thin, drawn face gives me a prick in the ribs.

She is my mother, after all.

Her skinny index finger presses against a shirt button on my chest. And you with your pointing finger. I might point mine right back at you.”

The old guilt rears its head again. I swallow, my ears buzz, and a weariness at the same repeated battle with Mother knocks at my brain.

I brush her finger away and turn. Mabels getting supper on the table. Lincoln should come in any time.”

We still stand in the entryway, awkward and opposed, and I have no desire to keep bickering with Mother in front of Linc and Mabel, much less Molly. I wonder where she is.

Her mouth relaxes and her eyes soften. Yes, well. I missed you, Samuel. A mother wants to see her son.”

How did you find me?”

Paul Richardson saw you at a dance and mentioned that he had.”

That old schoolmate of mine. Leave it to Paul, gossip itself and worse than an old lady at a quilting bee. Ah. Well, I didnt see him.”

No. He mentioned that your eyes were fixed…elsewhere.”

Great. Thats all I need: suspicions about a supposed romance.

Lincoln steps into the house, his gaze down until he sees us. Supper on yet?” He removes his crusty barn cap and nods at Mother. Excuse me, Mrs. Woodson...ah, that is, Mrs. Skaggs now; Sam has informed me.” He grins and extends his hand, then thinks better of it and wipes it on his side. Its been some time since I saw you last. Im sorry for your loss.”

Mother nods her head and offers the briefest of smiles.

Thank you. Youre looking well, Lincoln.”

Mabel appears around the corner. She looks to Lincoln.

There you are.”

Its getting much too tight of quarters for me, and I wedge past Mabel. We should make our way in and let Lincoln have room to get his barn things off.”

I motion with my hand toward the kitchen to Mother. Yes, of course,” Mother says, stepping by Mabel as well.

I point out the dining room and head to the washroom. Her voice comes from behind me. Samuel.”

I stop but dont turn. Yes.

I...” Her voice cracks. I dont know how to fix whats broken between us.”

The breath I didnt know I held fizzles out of me.

Ya, me either,” I admit, and I go to wash the last remains of barn smell from my hands and arms and pray for Gods mercy for the rest of the evening.

Jenny Knipfer

Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling.

Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions.

All of Jennys books have earned five-star reviews from ReadersFavorite, a book review and award contest company. She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association.

Jennys favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set.

She deems a cup of tea and a good book an essential part of every day. When not writing, Jenny can be found reading, tending to her many houseplants, or piecing quilt blocks at her sewing machine.

Her new historical fiction, four-part series entitled, Sheltering Trees, is set in the area Jenny grew up in, where she currently lives, and places along Minnesotas Northern Shore, where she loves to visit. She is currently writing a four-part novella series entitled: Botanical Seasons and a three-part fantasy series entitled: Retold Fairy Tales.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Book Spotlight: The Du Lac Chronicles (Book 1 of The Du Lac Chronicles) by Mary Anne Yarde

 


A generation after Arthur Pendragon ruled, Briton lies fragmented into warring kingdoms and principalities.

Eighteen-year-old Alden du Lac ruled the tiny kingdom of Cerniw. Now he half-hangs from a wooden pole, his back lashed into a mass of bloody welts exposed to the cold of a cruel winter night. He’s to be executed come daybreak—should he survive that long.

When Alden notices the shadowy figure approaching, he assumes death has come to end his pain. Instead, the daughter of his enemy, Cerdic of Wessex, frees and hides him, her motives unclear.

Annis has loved Alden since his ill-fated marriage to her Saxon cousin—a marriage that ended in blood and guilt—and she would give anything to protect him. Annis’s rescue of Alden traps them between a brutal Saxon king and Alden’s remaining allies. Meanwhile, unknown forces are carefully manipulating the ruins of Arthur’s legacy.

Trigger warnings:

Torture, Warfare

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Mary Anne Yarde

 

Mary Anne Yarde is a multi-award-winning and bestselling author of Historical Fiction, as well as an award-winning blogger. She studied History at Cardiff University and went on to study Equine Science at Warwickshire College.

Mary Anne is a passionate advocate for quality Historical Fiction and founded The Coffee Pot Book Club in 2015 and became a professional Editorial Reviewer in 2016.

Mary Anne's award-winning series, The Du Lac Chronicles, is set a generation after the fall of King Arthur. The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Britain and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical facts, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Book spotlight: The Mallory Saga Series by Paul Bennett

 

Follow the Mallory family as they attempt to live a peaceful life on the PA frontier in 1756. They face tragedy and loss as they become embroiled in The French and Indian War - Clash of Empires. In Paths to Freedom, the colonies are heading to open revolt against King George III, and the Mallory's are once again facing the spectre of war. Crucible of Rebellion continues the Mallory story through the early years of The Revolutionary War. Book 4, A Nation is Born completes the Revolution and The Mallory's have played their part in the victory. In book 5, A Turbulent Beginning, the nascent nation finds it hard going to establish a peaceful existence. The Natives of this land resist the westward expansion of white settlers.

Trigger Warnings:

Violence and battle scenes, mild sexual content, and profanity.

 


Book 2 - Paths to Freedom

The French and Indian War is over, but the aftermath widens the gulf between the colonies and King George III. A hard handed approach by the King and Parliament fuels the flames of resistance; flames that soon engulf the Mallory clan, consuming the frontier, shattering their hopes for Mallory Town, and changing their lives forever. Revolution is nigh.

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Clash of Empires

Paths to Freedom

Crucible of Rebellion

A Nation is Born

 A Turbulent Beginning

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Paul Bennett

 

Paul was born in Detroit when the Big Three ruled the automobile industry, and The Korean Conflict was in full swing. A lifelong interest in history and a love of reading eventually led him to Wayne State University where he majored in Ancient History, with a minor in Physical Anthropology. However, to make ends meet, those studies were left to the realm of dreams, and Paul found himself accidentally embarking on a 50-year career in computers. A career that he has recently retired from in order to spend more time with those dreams….seven grandchildren will help fill the time as well.

He now resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Daryl, just a few minutes' walk from the North River, and the site where the Revolution almost began.

The Mallory Saga is the culmination of Paul’s love of history, and his creative drive to write stories. With Nightwish and Bruce Cockburn coming through his headphones, and many cups of excellent coffee, Paul hopes to carry the Saga into the late 19th century, bringing American History to life through the eyes and actions of the Mallory family.

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Friday, July 22, 2022

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Cragside: A 1930s murder mystery by M J Porter

Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.

But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.

Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she cant possibly have committed.

Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who dont want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, cant be ignored.

Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.

Trigger Warnings:

Description of murder scenes and bodies


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 Excerpt

The reader's first introduction to Detective Aldcroft

“Ah, Lady Merryweather.” The voice of Detective Inspector Aldcroft is uncertain, far from the confident man I was forced to speak to yesterday. He’s not at all the confident man who ordered my apprehension for a crime I hadn’t committed.

“Detective Inspector,” my words are like ice. I see him shiver at them as he comes to an abrupt stop in front of me, as I do the same. I raise my chin, refusing to be cowed by the state he finds me in, with my blond hair dishevelled by the rain and by not seeing a brush for over twenty-four hours. I’ve slept in my travel clothes. I know I smell of the damp police station, but my eyes are ice blue and clear. My fury ensures I’m thinking clearly. 

The detective looks little better than I imagine I do. His overcoat is dark with rain, and beneath his feet, a trail of water pools that one of the housemaids will need to clear up before someone slips.

Silence falls between us, the sound of the kitchen drifting to us. Perhaps the sobbing housemaid has returned inside to make tea. Or maybe Mrs Underhill has taken refuge in what she knows best; providing for the household living at Cragside.

Evidently, Aldcroft has been outside. Aldcroft knows what’s happened in the rain. He knows the identity of the victim who’s been injured on the rockery.

“Well. Um. So I see you’ve been released.” He licks his lips before he speaks. I try not to note how snake-like the action is.

“Of course I have. It seems that even the Northumberland County Constabulary actually require proof of a person’s guilt before holding them indefinitely on suspicion of murder.”

“Ah, yes, well, um, apologies, Lady Merryweather. My humble apologies.”

Aldcroft runs his wide-brimmed hat through thin fingers, his eyes trying to look anywhere but at me. He’s a man of moderate height, a few inches taller than me now that I’ve discarded my shoes. His lips are covered with a fine brown moustache, although no beard. His police-issue overcoat is black, his boots filthy, the hems of his trousers spotted with what I hope is mud. And I feel just a single moment of pity for him, quickly banished. This man doesn’t deserve any kind thoughts.

“Good day,” I turn to continue my path to the library, thoughts of hot tea and something to eat driving me onwards to hunt down one of the housemaids who aren’t assisting the butler and whoever else is on the rockery. I know I’ll pass the stairs to the Turkish bath on the way, but right now, I’m cold and hungry. Bathing can wait.

Only Detective Inspector Aldcroft speaks. Somehow, I sensed he would. I consider whether he has, in fact, been seeking me out, having heard the growl of the motorcar engine pulling up on the gravel drive.

“Well, actually. If I could. If you wouldn’t.” And Aldcroft pauses again. “You’re cold. Let’s talk before the fire. There’s tea and biscuits,” and he indicates with his hand that I should lead into the library. I open my mouth to speak, to proclaim my innocence, but I bite down on those words. I won’t beg. I never have before, even when facing the noose.

I wish I’d kept my shoes on then. My passage makes no sound on the wooden floor, robbing me of the chance to make my displeasure felt in such an obvious way. Instead, I have to rely on rigid shoulders and tight steps. It won’t do. Not at all.

I bend and place my shoes before the vast fireplace in the library, noting as I do that there’s a fine spread laid out on the dark wooden table but that none of the other houseguests is partaking of the delicate sandwiches or gently steaming teapot. The library, which only a day ago had housed twelve people, is now silent and empty, even if every single electric lamp is turned on, including the converted cloisonné vases. The glass pendant shade over the table adds a warm glow to the cold food.

The fire is well-stocked with burning coals and logs, no doubt from the many trees on the estate. The smell is fragrant with pine and the promise of the coming Christmas.

I pull out one of the wooden backed chairs surrounding the table and hang Williams sopping overcoat over its back, stifling a shiver. My eye catches the hem of my sopping skirt. Aldcroft hesitates in the doorway, his eyes peering back towards the open front door. I believe he might attempt to escape at any moment, although he’s asked for this conference.

“Well, come in, or go out, but don’t hover,” my tone is reassuringly acerbic. I’m pleased to be feeling so much myself, despite the tribulations of the last twenty-four hours.

“Yes, well,” and Aldcroft casts a fleeting look along the inner hallway one more time, as though the answer lies out there.

I begin to pour myself tea into the delicate china cups, thinking of Williams. I can’t leave him without sustenance, but I need to see what the Detective Inspector wants first. Equally, I wish for a huge mug so that I can grip it between my two white-rimmed hands.

Carefully, I place two lumps of white sugar into the dark brown mass and then liberally apply the milk.

Only then do I remember my manners.

“Would you like one?” But Aldcroft shakes his head miserably, his lips fixed in something similar to a grimace.

I stand and take a sip, wincing at the tartness of the too-long brewed tea, but welcome the warmth and the sweetness. It soothes me like nothing else. At least it’s better than the mixture they’d given me in the police station, which had not been worthy of the name tea. I don’t even think it deserved the name mud. It had been something indescribable, but I’d needed the warmth.


MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: The King’s Inquisitor by Tonya Ulynn Brown

 

The queen of Scotland is dead. Her almoner’s son, William Broune, has fulfilled his father’s wish that he should serve the king, James VI, at court. William finds himself caught between loyalty to the king or loyalty to his conscience. As William is forced to serve as the king’s inquisitor in the North Berwick witch trials, he must make a decision. Will he do what the king asks, and earn the wife, title, and prestige he has always desired, or will he let a bold Scottish lass influence him to follow his heart and do the right thing?

If William doesn’t make the right choice, he may be among the accused.

Trigger warnings: Some violent imagery.


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 EXCERPT

“Mother,” I started slowly. She looked up at me from her plate, a smear of lemon glaze stuck to the corner of her mouth. “Do ye recall how I told ye of a plot to put the king in danger and remove him from the throne?

Mother, to her credit, shot her eyes to William, then back at me. I was thankful that she was in her senses and knew enough to be leery of mentioning such things in front of people we barely knew. Especially when it pertained to the help we were trying to give the accused witches. A slight nod of her head told me that she knew exactly to what I referred. 

“I had to share the information with someone we could trust. I told Sir William of what information I had in hopes that he could prevent the plot from coming to fruition.”

Mother swallowed the bite of wafer that she had been chewing. “But Ailsa dear, I thought ye said that Master Broune was not to be trusted?” 

William coughed, almost spitting his tea down his beautiful velvet doublet.

“I don’t know that I said those exact words—” 

“Nay, not those exact words. But ye said he wanted something, and we must be very careful what we say or do around him.” She sat, wide-eyed, clueless as to the fact that she had just embarrassed me and shared something that I had spoken in private. 

“Mother,” I began, but William cut me off. 

“Mistress Blackburn, Ailsa is right. I do want something. I want to be your friend. You can trust me. I will not betray any confidence that has been shared.” He looked as if he would have said more, but he was suddenly taken with a sneeze that practically rattled our cups.     

Mother was unphased. She fluttered her eyelashes again and said in a sickeningly sweet voice. “That is kind of ye, but ye might not say as much when ye find out how Ailsa came about the information.”      

“Mother!” I was horrified. What was she doing? William wiped his nose with a scrap of cloth he had tucked into his pocket and looked at me, the shock on his face reflecting my own. Mother said no more as she stuffed another wafer into her mouth and took a gulp of tea.

“I have already shared it with him, Mother.” 

“Aye, that is why I am—” Another sneeze overtook him, cutting his words short.

“Oh dear, ye aren’t catching a cold, are ye, son?”

“Mother, don’t call him son.” I was mortified. This visit was quickly turning into a disaster, as so many of my encounters with this man seemed to do. “He is the king’s man. Ye must address him with respect.” 

“It’s all right,” he began before a third sneeze shook his body. His eyes were beginning to water, the rims reddening in irritation. Just then, Sadie mewed at him from below as she wrapped her tail around his calf and rubbed her head against the soft leather of his boot. “Ah, there is the culprit.” He leaned away from Sadie as if she had the plague and tucked his legs beneath his chair.

“What do ye mean, sir? She is the sweetest feline ye will ever lay eyes on.” I picked Sadie up and rubbed my cheek against her head.     

“I mean I have a reaction to such animals. Their fur causes my eyes to itch, my nose to run, and a series of sneezes to ensue.”

“Oh.” I gulped, understanding taking hold. I quickly took the feline to the door and shewed her outside to get some fresh air. “I am sorry. I did not know.”

“How could you know?” Achoo. Another sneeze bellowed forth. 

“My, ye do shake the crockery,” Mother observed. I giggled.

“My apologies,” he said sniffling as he wiped his nose again. Inwardly I beamed; for once this man was not in full possession of his composure. Finally!

“Sometimes my eyes itch. In the spring when the flowers are at their first bloom. This always helps me.” I handed him a cloth that I had wetted and rung out. I had folded it into a rectangle and motioned to his face. “Lay it over your eyes.”

“Here now, Ailsa,” Mother crooned. “Let him lay upon the bed for a moment. It’s hard to keep the cloth over your eyes when ye are sitting upright.” She grasped him under his upper arm and pulled him from his chair. I marveled that this small woman could lead such a large man, like an ox with a ring through his nose.     

“I don’t think that is necessary,” William began.

“Ye will do well to just obey, sir,” I advised, struggling to hold down my amusement.

“You’re laughing at me,” William accused, pulling the cloth from his eyes, and sitting back up on the side of the bed to glare at me. A red, glassy glare.

“Ignore her,” my mother commanded, pushing him back down.     

“Mistress Blackburn, my boots, they are dirty. I don’t want to soil your bed linens.”

“Oh pish,” Mother waved away his concern with her hand. “Here, we can solve that.” And with a huff, she pulled his boot from his right foot.

“Mother!” All decorum was completely gone.

“Mistress—” 

“Shh,” Mother hushed, but I could clearly see that William was uncomfortable. 

 “Mother, Sir William is very particular about his clothing. I don’t think he wants his boots removed. Just leave him be for a moment. The wet cloth will help, and he’ll be good as new.”

Mother huffed in disagreement but said nothing more. I watched as William’s chest slowed to a steady pace, his breaths calming and relaxation taking over. He was silent for several minutes, and I was afforded the opportunity to admire him unashamedly, without being seen. A dimpled chin and strong jawline, covered with the first appearances of dark whiskers could still be seen from beneath the cloth, and thin, smooth lips parted slightly as he pulled breath into his lungs. 

Heat crept up my neck as the awkwardness of the situation began to take hold. I could have probably observed him for another hour or so and wished for an instant that I had taken up drawing lessons along with Bess’s mother. He would have made a fine study in the human form, but instead I finally said, “At least ye aren’t sneezing anymore.”     

“Aye, I do believe the warm cloth has helped.” He sat up and removed it from his eyes. The rims had returned to a faint pink, and his cobalt blue eyes fastened onto me. 

“My apologies for my mother’s overbearing nature,” I whispered, trying my best to tamp down another smile. “Sometimes she won’t take no for an answer.”

“She means well.” He handed the cloth back to me and picked up his boot, shoving his foot into it. Something in my chest warmed to his gentleness concerning my mother. Most men of his position would have been put off by her antics. Indeed, I wasn’t sure what had gotten into her. But I was thankful for his understanding, even if I didn’t understand her myself. 


  Tonya Ulynn Brown

Tonya Ulynn Brown is an elementary school teacher. She holds a Master’s degree in Teaching and uses her love of history and reading to encourage the same love in her students. Tonya finds inspiration in the historical figures she has studied and in the places she has traveled. Her interest in medieval and early modern British history influences her writing. She resides in rural southeastern Ohio, USA with her husband, Stephen, two boys, Garren and Gabriel, and a very naughty Springer Spaniel. 

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