Tag Archive | love

Hear ye! Hear ye! A major announcement…

1_herold

Conquest of a Queen, the very first book of my Courtships of Quendaris series is published at last! It was a long and hard journey and I look forward to writing more adventures featuring Isabel, Nancy, Prince Alaric and the rest of the crew. The ebook is now available on Smashwords and is coming soon to a bookstore near you. In the meantime, you can buy it in print here.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’m stepping away from the realm of Baelcrest for a bit but I’ll be back with more adventures soon. Stay tuned for news about my next book already in progress.

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Luck o the Irish

It seems everyone has it this weekend. So in honor of St. Patricks Day I’m happy to present a sexy little Irish tale inspired by a flash fiction contest. Enjoy and stay safe out there!

Chapter One

This is the story of two Irish sisters, twin sisters though you couldn’t tell by looking at them. Though the babies shared the same womb, when they were born one was the epitome of beauty. The other was so ugly that their father, having stumbled in from celebrating at the pub exclaimed “Faith and Begorrah!” before releasing a loud belch and dropping dead on the floor. Faith grew to be a lovely creature with hair like copper, eyes like the hills on a summer day and skin pale as moonlight. Her voice was rich as honey when she sang and she never had a harsh word to say to or of anyone. It was lucky that Faith was so lovely and fair for she was also dumb as a stump.

Begorrah, on the other hand, lived in her sister’s shadow. Dark and plain was she with hair dark and wild as a midnight gale and eyes deep as mud. Having spent most of her days frolicking in the sun, her skin was ruddy and dark and she barely spoke at all. Where her sister was loved and adored, Begorrah was met with uneasiness and disquiet. It was often whispered that the girl was a changeling brought in the moment of the father’s death. Still, Begorrah was shrewd and while she kept her mouth shut, her eyes were always open. She knew who in the village could be trusted and used her shrewd mind and intimidating manner to love and protect her little family.

One night as the household slept, Faith was gazing from her window up at the bright full moon and the star-filled sky above. The most beautiful of stars seemed to dance and float down to her from the heavens. Never had she seen anything so enchanting.

“Dance with us!” They seemed to say and so she did.

Out the door and down the path Faith danced with the stars. So happy was she that she sang out which woke her sister from her slumber. Begorrah gasped and called out, “Faith no! Tis the Teine Sidhe, the Fairie Fire, ye be dancing with!”

But her call went unheeded and the beautiful maiden disappeared into the woods. Begorrah swore, threw her shawl about her shoulders, and raced into the woods after her sister. Though she couldn’t see them, she was able to follow her sister’s song as it floated through the trees. Finally, she saw a brightness up ahead and stopped at the edge of the clearing. The girl frowned and ducked down, peering through the brush at the sight before her. It was a marketplace where no marketplace should ever be. Makeshift stalls lined the brightly lit clearing, showing their weird and exotic wares to the various creatures, beautiful and hideous alike, that strolled before them. Begorrah scanned the scene but could find no sign of her sister. Oh where could she be?

Suddenly, a great commotion drew the crowd’s attention to the opposite side of the clearing where a large and gaudy patchwork tent had been raised. Begorrah gasped and shook her head violently. Stalking out of the tent was a little man dressed in a bright green suit. A large green top hat sat jauntily upon his fiery brow and a crooked smile formed a chasm within his thick red beard. The jingle of the chains he held behind him echoed as the din of the crowd died down and on the other side of those chains was wrapped firmly around the dim and beautiful Faith.

“I must do something!” Begorrah thought. But what?

The crowd began to murmur and somewhere somebody shrieked.

“A human! He’s brought a human!”

“Pipe down all o’ ye!” The leprechaun spat. “This human is me prize. I won her fair and square!”

“Aye, and just this morning I suckled the Morrigan’s tits until she screamed me name with pleasure!” Someone called followed by raucous laughter.

“Twas me uncle disguised as a Buar Sidhe amongst the old farmer’s cows ye suckled again!” Came another voice followed by more laughter.

“Shut up all of ye!” The leprechaun shouted again. “We have ourselves a visitor.”

All eyes followed as the little man pointed to where Begorrah had been hiding. Drawing her most intimidating manner, she stood bringing gasps and more screaming from the crowd, and stepped into the clearing.

“Welcome to the Bodacha market, lass. I believe this is what ye have come for?” He yanked the chain and Faith stumbled forward with a jingle.

Begorrah stepped forward, causing those Fe closest to her to stumble back, and glared at the leprechaun.

“Ye will hand my sister over to me now!” She snarled even as her heart pounded with fear in her breast.

The leprechaun smiled. “Hand over me prize? Me prize which I’ve won fair and square? I think not!”

Begorrah smiled. “Fair and square? Pull the other one, even ye friends don’t believe that!”

A few of the Fe tittered in spite of themselves.

“Believe it or not, it happens to be true.” He laughed with a glint in his eye that heightened Begorrah’s suspicions. “But if ye be wanting your sister back I’ll strike a bargain with ye.”

Begorrah folded her arms over her breast. “Only a fool would bargain with a leprechaun!”

“Suit ye self.” He shrugged and turned.

Faith’s wide eyes pleaded to her sister as tears streamed down her face. Begorrah gritted her teeth and she silently cursed her sister’s foolishness.

“Wait!” she called. “What is the bargain?”

The leprechaun turned back, grinning ear to ear. He violently yanked the chain, pulling Faith to her knees, and dragged a stubby finger down her tightly drawn, trembling face.

“Your sister is quite lovely, even for a human. She will make a perfect teind for the demon Scathach, don’t ye think? Now if ye can find an even better tribute by the next full moon your sister is free.”

Begorrah shook her head. “No, I will not leave her with ye for so long!”

“Then ye best be moving on.” He smiled again. She was beginning to hate that smile.

“Be well, Faith, I will return.”

To her credit, the beautiful girl released a sob but threw back her tiny shoulders and nodded silently. Begorrah hated to leave her behind but what other choice did she have?

Chapter Two

“Ye left her there, with those monsters?” Her mother wailed. “Oh a thaisce, my treasure! What will become of her?”

Mamai, I promised to rescue Faith from the leprechaun and I will.”

“Begorrah, ye cannot trap another person to take Faith’s place! Tis an evil thing!”

“I know it but I will do what I can to free Faith.”

“Well, if ye must but find her replacement elsewhere. The last thing we need is to have the whole village upon us with pitchforks!” Her mother sighed, angrily.

So with a bundle of provisions and her traveling cloak about her, Begorrah set off to find a tribute fitting enough to release her sister from the clutches of the evil leprechaun. She wound her way through hills, forests and villages. It seemed word of her search journeyed ahead of her for soon the girl found herself facing boarded up homes and taverns. This was bad enough but being chased from town to town by angry torch wielding crowds was worse. Soon she found herself shivering beneath bushes, sleeping in ditches and living off nuts, berries and whatever small woodland creature she was able to capture and kill.

After one particularly bad encounter with a group of angry villagers, Begorrah sat beneath a tree deep in the woods, catching her breath and nursing a nasty cut on her leg where a pitchfork had gotten her.

“May I be of assistance?” She heard a man say.

She looked up, terrified that she had been discovered, to find a man standing before her so handsome it made her heart ache. He was tall and broad shouldered. His midnight hair danced in a breeze she herself did not feel. His grey eyes glimmered like pure silver as they peered at her kindly, almost caring. He wore the garb of a nobleman and Begorrah wondered what a member of the highborn would be doing in the deep dark woods at this time of night. She was met with a heady, intoxicating aroma when the man dropped to one knee and gently placed a broad hand upon her calf.

“May I?” he asked, his eyes seeming to burrow into her soul.

She nodded, unable to find her voice and he lifted her skirts over her knee to get a better look at  the injury. Her skin tingled where he ran a finger along side the long jagged cut. He whistled softly and shook his head.

“This must hurt a great deal.”

It should have hurt, in fact, Begorrah had no doubt she would bear an ugly scar the rest of her life but it didn’t. All she could feel was a delicious warmth creeping up from where the nobleman touched and stroked her leg. Her nipples tightened as she throbbed below. He smiled at her then and she thought she would burst.

“No pain? Ah, the maiden is brave as well as beautiful.”

Begorrah gasped as her heart trilled. “Ye think me beautiful?”

“Aye, a stóirín, gentle as a lamb ye are with eyes like the down of a fawn and skin as soft. How I wished to taste the wine of your sweet lips when first I saw ye!”

He had drawn closer to her and buried his hand in her curls while cupping her face. Softly, he ran his thumb over her lips as he spoke, causing her to shiver. Begorrah realized she wanted this man, wanted his hands and lips on her body, and forgot all else.

“What is your name?” she croaked.

“Ye may call me a Ghrá mo Chroí.” He murmured and kissed her.

My heart’s beloved. It was a term of endearment, not a name but Begorrah didn’t care. His tongue tickled and tugged at hers and even as he pulled her to him, her body craved more. In the distance she heard a strange sound but dismissed it. The heat of his body met hers through their clothing and she wanted more than anything to lose that barrier between them. Her fingers fumbled at the ties on his blouse and trousers as he loosed her gown and pressed his lips to her throat. She threw her head back and moaned as he tasted his way down to her shoulder and cupped her breasts. A curious heat built up within and she whimpered with pleasure as he circled a nipple with his tongue. His mouth closed around it and suckled and she arched her back crying out and clawing his back as lightning raced up and down her belly.

The sound came again, like some kind of horn, but again she ignored it. He continued to lick, kiss and tease her breasts as his hands moved to caress her backside sending wave after wave of pleasure coursing through her body. Only when she collapsed, panting on the ground, did the man move his kisses down her belly.  He slid her gown off completely as he nibbled her hips and continued lower still. Impossibly the sensations began again, a pair of pink buds rose upon her breasts as her hips moved to meet his lips of their own accord.

When the beautiful stranger started to nuzzle the down between her thighs, Begorrah sat up gasping with fright. “No, ye cannot! Ye must not, tis a sin!” she cried.

The gorgeous man looked up and smiled. His eyes practically glowing as he responded, “O, a Shearc, It would be sin to not!”

He dropped his head and ran his tongue softly, slowly, up her throbbing slit. Begorrah dropped her head and slipped back to the ground with a low drawn out moan as she was overcome by a most delectable bliss. He continued to lap at her, long and slow at first, then quicker. His attentions grew more firm as he twirled, teased and dipped his tongue inside her. Begorrah was panting and slick with sweat, calling his name over and over again as the sensations grew stronger and more powerful. Somehow, he was able to bring her to the peak where she felt as if she might explode, then stifled her urgency, drawing out her pleasure so that it became more sweet before building it up again. Just when Begorrah felt she could stand it no longer, her entire body feeling like jelly, he plunged his tongue inside and she burst. Screaming as pleasure sprang from every limb, rushing from her fingers and toes like a bright light, the strange sound grew louder. Begorrah started to become irritated. What was that?

The man knelt between her legs, his impressive member hovering towards her. Even as she thought, yes, fill me! She noticed the clay pipe clutched between his teeth. Why would she notice that now? The sound grew louder still. The pipe, he was puffing on the pipe but there was no smoke? How?

EEEEYAAAAW!!!

Begorrah sat bolt upright. Sunlight trickled through the trees and she lay, fully clothed, at the foot of a donkey. She scrubbed her face and looked about her, confused. She was dreaming. The donkey had woken her up and she had been dreaming. Oh but what a dream! Begorrah blushed to think of it. Her mother would have her horse whipped if she knew but when did she fall asleep? She pulled back her skirts to check on her leg and gasped. Her injury was gone! There was no blood, no scar, no sign that she had ever been hurt at all.

A realization hit her then, she had encountered a Gancanagh! All women were warned of the handsome silver tongued faerie who carried a clay pipe but didn’t smoke it and seduced women that traveled alone. Any woman foolish enough to lie with a Gancanagh spent their remaining days pining for their lost love. Their days of suffering were often short as these women had a tendency of throwing themselves into the sea when they didn’t die of heartbreak. Like others her age, Begorrah had dismissed the tale as an attempt to frighten women into never venturing anywhere without a chaperone.

She looked up at the donkey that had saved her life. Where had he come from? It was no matter for it appeared to belong to her now. As she made her way out of the woods the donkey followed close behind. At night, it seemed to watch over her. It even let her ride on its back when her feet grew weary. Still Begorrah wept as she watched the moon disappear from the night sky. Time was running out and still she didn’t know how to save her sister.

Chapter Three

One night, having made camp amongst the soft rolling hills, she was awakened by the sound of galloping horses and the shouts of men. Her heart thundered in her breast as she leapt to her feet and looked around. Begorrah gaped as she spied an army of men riding circles around the largest mound. She rubbed her eyes and smiled as the land shimmered and a door suddenly appeared. She only had a vague idea where she was and had hoped she traveled in the right direction. Now she knew for she stood before the fabled Hill of Mullaghmast, home of Georoidh Iarla, the Earl of Fitzgerald!

Cautiously, the girl approached the hill wondering how she could enter without being trampled by the silver shoed steeds that raced past. Suddenly, a large gloved hand clamped over her mouth and powerful arms seized her and dragged her behind another hill. Being large and strong, Begorrah struggled and screamed, even biting the hand over her mouth but her captor made no indication of being harmed. Only when she tired and closed her eyes, expecting the worst, did her captor speak.

“That’s better. Now if ye would settle down I can help ye!” A deep male voice breathed into her ear.

Aye, even an ugly duck like she knew what kind of help he was thinking and she wanted no part of it. She relaxed her body and when he released her she spun around and brought her knee up to connect with the most masculine part of her captor. He growled and Begorrah suddenly found herself on the floor, her head feeling as if she’d been kicked by a mule. She looked up, fists balled, to find the man on his knees glaring back at her . So she had managed to hurt him.

Never hit a man like that!” he snarled.

“Well ye can’t use it on me now, can ye?” she bit back.

The man looked startled.

“Ye thought..” He blinked and then chuckled. “Fear not, cailin, I will not ravage ye.”

Begorrah looked at the man and suddenly felt foolish. Dressed as a warrior, his dark hair brushed his shoulders and fell into sharp green eyes that twinkled when he laughed. Of course he wouldn’t ravage the likes of her.

“Who are ye, laoch?” she asked the warrior.

“I am Ethal Anbual of Ulaidh.”

Begorrah blanched at the name and felt doubly stupid about her assumption then.

“Ethal Anbual,” she stammered, “The king of the Fe of Ulaidh?”

Ethal nodded. “The same.”

Begorrah stumbled to her knees with apologies but he held up a hand to silence her. His eyes bore into hers and suddenly her mouth went dry.

“Now, who are ye and what are ye doing in a place like this?”

“My name is Begorrah, sire, I have come to ask the Earl of Fitzgerald for help.”

Ethal looked at her oddly.

“Alone? Tis a dangerous undertaking for a girl such as ye.”

Begorrah blushed and nodded. “Aye, but my sister is in even graver danger than I. Tis for her sake that I am here.”

Ethal rose to his feet and held out a hand which Begorrah took, hesitantly at first. He pulled her to her feet and said, “Then we shall visit Georoidh Iarla and see what he has to say.”

They approached the massive hill and watched as the army continued galloping. Begorrah jumped as Ethal placed an arm around her waist and pulled her against his hip and took her hand in his. She looked up and realized they were walking faster.

“What are ye doing?” she asked.

“There is a small break amongst the riders that comes once every few days. We must use it quickly or prepare to make camp.”

“Oh but I don’t have time for that!”

“Nor I, which is why we must hurry!”

They seemed to rush headlong into the men and suddenly she saw it, the slightest sliver of a space between galloping horses. Begorrah would never have known to look for it but the two of them charged through and into the doorway. She bent forward to catch her breath as Ethal released her. She couldn’t be sure whether her breathlessness was entirely from the breakneck speed in which they ran into the hill or if her close proximity to the king had anything to do with it. She could still feel the heat of his body where it had been pressed against her own.

The interior of the hill was made up of vast archways and furniture that looked to have been carved entirely out of stone. There appeared to be symbols and pictures chiseled in the stone of the archways and across the room on a vast throne sat a man garbed like the soldiers who circled the hill outside. He gazed at the couple with eyes of ice as they approached. Ethal slammed a fist to his chest and bowed.

Go dtaga do ríocht!” He greeted the Earl. May thy kingdom come.

Gurab amhlaidh duit.” The reply came like the sound of leaves on the winter wind. And to you.

The Earl looked at Begorrah, who gave a courtesy, and asked, “A young maid, here?”

“Forgive my lowly presence but I need your help.” She said, unbidden.

“How may I assist you, child?”

Begorrah glanced at Ethal who gave a quick nod and replied, “My sister, Faith, has been captured by a leprechaun who is holding her as his teind. He won’t release her unless I find him a replacement he thinks suitable. I have no wish to subject another poor soul to her fate, to be sure. How can I stop him?”

A smile played on the Earl’s lips while Ethal simply gawked at her.

“Tis an arduous undertaking especially for a maid. Can your young man not help you?”

Ethal started while Begorrah’s face grew hot.

“Begging your pardon, this man is not mine.” She stammered. “That is I have no young man, I am alone in this.”

The Earl clucked. “Tis a shame. I shall appoint this man as your guardian in this quest. Tis dangerous to venture alone even for a man.”

Begorrah was horrified. Surely a king of the Fe had his own reasons for visiting a man who woke once every seven years hoping that the sleeping spell that held him would at last be broken so he could take his rightful place as ruler of all the Eire. She opened her mouth to object but Ethal was already speaking.

“It would be my honor to assist the young maid in her quest.”

“Excellent!” The Earl turned his gaze back to Begorrah. “Child, to rescue your sister ye must find something to entice her captor and bargain for her freedom.”

“If we journey to Connacht we’ll come upon the mound of Cnocc Midh where Iunadh, a queen of the Fe, dwells.” Ethal spoke up. “Queen Iunadh’s hair looks to be made up spun gold and is strong as it is fine. A single strand would lock and hold any doors shut that may guard the leprechaun’s beloved treasure against the strongest blade and the most nimble of thieves.”

“Good man!” The Earl said again, clapping his hands, “Fare ye well.”

When they left the hall, Ethal and Begorrah realized they didn’t need to rush at the door the way they had come in and they settled behind a distant hill.

“I thank ye for speaking to the Earl in my stead but I cannot ask ye to grant me any more of your time.” Begorrah said.

“Tis my honor to aid ye in your quest, Begorrah.”

“Ye have said as much to the earl but why?”

Ethal blinked. “Why?”

“Let’s not pretend ye are not so much more important than I, sire.” She said matter of factly. “Ye were waiting to see the Earl yourself yet ye only concerned yourself with my business. We have never met before today so why do ye wish to help me?”

Ethal looked into those deep brown eyes that flared gold as she spoke. This was no ordinary peasant woman. There was a sharpness in those eyes, determination, even anger. The women in his life swooned and flirted with him. A simple peck on a dainty hand and a quick but steady gaze in the eyes and a maid became soft and pliant in his hands. Begorrah, however, was guarded. Dare he say, she was even suspicious of him? Him, the dashing hero and king of the Fe of Ulaidh! Of course she had every right to be since they were strangers but it was a bit unnerving to find an untrusting woman. He took her hand in his and gazed into her eyes again.

“Would ye be more at ease if I said because it is my noble duty to aid damsels in distress?”

Begorrah stared back. “No.”

Ethal bit back a smile before pulling her close. He could feel her heart flutter as their bodies crushed against each other. Their breath mingling and he suddenly found himself falling into the amber pools of her eyes. He grew heady. What was wrong with him?

“What if I told ye your beauty has captivated me and one such as yourself should not suffer such slings and arrows?” He breathed.

Holding his gaze she replied flatly. “I’d tell ye to pull the other one.”

Ethal barked a laugh and released her, surprised by her candidness. It appeared Begorrah was a force to be reckoned with. He knew then that he would like her.

“So what can I tell ye that would ease your mind?”

“Ye can tell me why ye want to travel to Cnocc Midh. Tis at least a two day journey, nearly a week from where ye hail. So why there?”

Begorrah couldn’t believe her own insolence. She, a lowly human peasant woman was challenging a faerie noble! She tried not to think of all the stories the elders had told about the consequences of crossing the fe. Still, she knew enough about the sneaky nature of people from observing the people of her own village, never mind the untrustworthy nature of the fe, to suspect Ethal was using her for his own devices. She’d rather run the risk of being turned into a snail than fall into a trap she wasn’t prepared for. Ethal stared at her silently for several moments and Begorrah steeled herself for the man’s wrath but he merely chuckled and shook his head.

“Alright. The king of the Fe in Connacht, Fin Bheara, has been stealing from my people and ravishing our women. He has been a thorn in my side since I took up the crown and I intend to do away with him once and for all. His wife, Queen Iunadh, is rumored to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She wears a silver veil so no one living can say for certain but what is certain is she is fed up with her husband’s dalliances. I will gain audience with her and ask for her aid.”

Begorrah gaped at him. “You’re going to ask the queen to help you kill her own husband?”

“There are other methods for doing away with a nuisance besides death, Begorrah.” Ethal’s smile made her blood run cold.

Chapter Four

The pair traveled for several days before arriving at Cnocc Midh. Not surprising, Fin Bheara was not in residence but his wife received her royal guest and his shabbily dressed companion. As Ethal began his elegant speech to the lady, Begorrah was able to slip away and searched for the royal bedchamber as they had discussed earlier. Ducking into the shadows when she heard someone come down the hall, she was easily able to find the heavily perfumed room and slipped inside. Multiple swathes of silk of varying colors and transparency drifted down from the ceiling over a plush round bed. Dainty gold and ebony furniture dotted the room and a gilded covering had fallen over it all. Upon closer inspection Begorrah discovered the film to be hair shed from the head of the queen as Ethal had mentioned. She stuffed a handful into her bundle and turned to find a pair of tall guards hovering over her.

***

Iuradh yawned as she listened to the pretty words spilling from the perfect lips of the beautiful king standing before her.

“Pray, be silent!” she interrupted finally. “Ethal Anbual, ye are my enemy and the enemy of my people yet here ye stand plying me with words of woo. What is it ye want of me?”

“Nay,” Ethal responded dropping to one knee in a dramatic pose, “I and my people have no quarrel with ye and yours but with your husband, the king.”

The golden queen smiled behind her shimmering veil. “Ye and every other male in the land.”

Ethal Anbual was no fool, she knew, and would tread lightly as he ventured into dangerous territory. Iuradh was no fool either. The Fe were free and easy. Sex was a pleasurable way to pass the time. It allowed her people to express their devotions to deity and noble alike. When Fe men went off to war they often sought solace in the bed of another, being separated from their partners for a length of time. Men strayed, as did women, it was a part of life. Even the queen of the Fe took a lover when it suited her, though unlike her husband, she was much more particular. At the moment she could think of any number of things she’d like to do to the hard, well formed specimen kneeling before her now. It was the choices her king made in his dalliances that irked her. The man had no discretion, no tact in who he laid with and it was becoming an embarrassment to her. Iunadh knew of the recent troubles caused by Fin in Ulaidh and Ethal’s visit had been expected. Like him, the queen grew weary of her husband’s antics and she wanted a long respite. As she saw his plain and disheveled companion slink off into the shadows, she put her plan into action.

“Aye, the countless dalliances of the king of the Fe of Connacht is no secret, my lady.” Ethal was saying, “If I may be so bold, the man is a waste of the attentions of an enchantress such as ye.”

Iuradh smiled in a way she knew would make her eyes sparkle like sapphires.

“Are ye proposing to take his place, Ethal Anbual?” she cooed.

Ethal bowed his head in deference. “Aye, though I am not worthy of such an honor.”

The sound of scuffling drew their attention and Ethal started and grew pale as his accomplice was dragged into the room by her guards. The queen watched with interest as the girl struggled against the men before being thrown to the ground. Rising to her knees, the wild haired girl lifted her head and regarded her with keen eyes that seemed to glow with gold. She noted the change in Ethal’s stance and demeanor as the girl had been brought in and heeded her movements as she bade the prisoner to stand. Though appearing as a common human peasant, Iunadh could sense there was much more to the girl. There was a determination in her face, even power, as she stood upright and proud before the queen. Iunadh laughed to herself. The girl had been caught stealing from her bedchamber yet stood before her like the bravest of knights. How interesting.

“Ye have been caught stealing from the royal bedchamber.” Iunadh boomed. “What say ye?”

“Aye.” The girl responded quietly.

No denial? No tears? No begging for mercy?

The queen smirked. “Theft of such a degree is an offense punishable by death. What say ye now?”

“There are other methods for doing away with a nuisance besides death, Highness.” She replied smoothly.

Ethal started at the remark and turned to Iunadh with a look of desperation she never thought to witness on the man.

“My lady, tis only out of desperation that this girl was found in your bedchamber.”

“Clearly, the girl hoped to take away a trinket or two to sell or trade for drink. Can she not speak for herself?” The queen barked.

“Aye.” She said again quietly.

Her expression was almost defiant. Iunadh smiled, the peasant had pride and she had managed to insult her.

“So, what was it ye hoped to swipe for your prize? My jewels, some silk, a vial of perfume, perhaps? What was so vital that ye would risk your life in such a foolish endeavor?”

“A lock of your hair to gain my sister’s freedom.”

The queen frowned, confused, and looked at Ethal who nodded solemnly.

“Explain.”

The girl poured out a tale of woe like nothing she had ever heard. Damn leprechauns were never a favorite of hers, like her husband they caused more trouble than they were worth. Ordinarily a queen of the Fe wouldn’t interfere in the trivialities of man but she was impressed by the girl’s bravery and determination. She was fueled by the love of her family and a need to protect them. Iunadh rarely ventured into the human world and rarer still, encountered a human with loyalty and integrity. She was moved to help the girl, especially as in helping her she would help herself.

“What is your name, child?”

“I am called Begorrah.”

“Ye are correct. There are other methods to do away with a nuisance besides death and ye shall aid me in doing away with the nuisance in my life.” She leaned forward. “Begorrah, ye shall find my husband, Fin Bheara, and seduce him.”

Begorrah flinched. “I am to seduce him?”

The queen smiled. “Aye. Ye shall appear to him luscious as a nubile nymph riding my prize steed. He will be thoroughly enticed by you and he will turn on his charms but do not let him seduce you. Instead, bade him to tame the beast on which ye ride for she abhors all men. Tell him only then will ye let him bed ye.”

Begorrah’s mouth fell open. “But I do not wish to lay with your husband.”

“That is good. Remember that when he sets your loins aflame and consumes your mind with thoughts of him inside ye.”

She chuckled as the girl reddened deeply from head to toe. Such innocence. Yes, she could see why Ethal was so smitten with her, even if he himself didn’t know it yet.

“Fear not, if ye do as I say ye will not have to lay with him. The beast on which ye will ride is Capall Sídhe, a shapeshifter in the form of a horse. Once Fin Bheara climbs upon her back he will be captured until I deem him worthy of release. My husband is a little too hot-blooded for the form of other females and needs to learn to be more particular. A few centuries beneath the waves should cool him off.”

***

Begorrah still trembled as she and Ethal left the hill. The queen of the Fe was as cold and frightening as she was beautiful. There was a reason humans were advised never to tangle with Faerie folk. Once all this was over Begorrah intended to have as little to do with the Fe as possible. She hoped Faith would learn the same lesson.

“Ye were wonderful!” Ethal beamed. His optimism was beginning to irritate her.

“Wonderful? I was caught by the queen’s guards. I was almost killed and now I have to seduce her husband. How could I possibly manage to do that?”

Ethal stopped walking and turned. His eyes roamed her form so intimately that Begorrah could feel herself flush.

“Tis not the impossible task ye may think.” He said finally. “Once we locate the Capall Sidhe ye shall bathe and shed your garments. The vision of ye upon a brilliant white steed would make any man yield his senses.”

Ethal’s words and the expression upon his face made Begorrah’s heart thud in her breast. She had seen such a gaze from the many men who adored her sister, her lovely, gentle, graceful sister. Never her, she must be going mad.

“Sire, I have never been seen by a man and it will be difficult to ride in such a state before Fin Bheara. I cannot allow myself to be seen by ye as well.”

Ethal smiled and her heart fluttered. He reached out and stroked her hair, rolling the unruly curls between his fingers, and Begorrah forgot how to breathe.

“Aye, the temptation would be far too great. However, when arranged strategically, your tresses shall preserve your modesty.”

They traveled to the lake and valley Queen Iunadh had directed them to find the Faerie horse. To their surprise, the queen herself appeared from the mountainside guiding a beautiful white horse with shimmering mane behind her. Begorrah had never ridden a horse and knowing what the beast truly was had frightened her. What was she doing? How could she hope to pull this off? Begorrah frowned as the half moon rose in the sky. She had to be brave, she was running out of time.  The queen sent Ethal to confirm Fin Bheara’s whereabouts while she insisted Begorrah bathe in the lake. Frightened at first, the girl realized if the queen of the Fe had wanted to harm or kill her, she wouldn’t have gone through such lengths to do so.

The water was much warmer than Begorrah had anticipated. As she ducked beneath the surface, shaking her head so her hair could fan out above her, she reveled in the smooth comforting feel of the water. This was no ordinary lake. No doubt it was the magic of the water Queen Iunadh intend to use to make the girl attractive enough to lure her husband to his fate. When she reemerged, her skin seemed to glow in the moonlight. Her frizzy curls had settled down and cascaded to her hips. Feeling self conscious standing naked before the lovely queen of the Fe, Begorrah arranged some of her hair down the front of herself as she stepped on shore.

“Wonderful!” The queen nodded approvingly as the girl approached. She brought the Faerie horse forth and Begorrah hesitated.

“Come now,” the queen laughed and held out her alabaster hand. “I am gifting this beast to aid ye in doing my bidding. No harm will come to ye.”

Begorrah managed to mount the horse with the queen’s help and had just finished putting her hair to rights, all the time listening to the queen’s instructions, when Ethal returned. He stood fast, his eyes on her as she approached on horse back, blushing furiously.

“Ye are a vision!” Ethal said in awe.

“Take hold of yourself, Ethal Anbual.” Iunadh admonished him. “Did ye find my husband?”

“Aye, he is sleeping off the drink on the edge of a clearing a short distance from his men who also slumber.”

“Then it is time.” The queen turned to Begorrah. Her eyes seemed to glow as she said, “Remember girl, ye are to entice him to ride the horse. Lay with Fin Bheara and I will end ye!”

Begorrah shivered and swallowed hard. “I will remember.”

Begorrah didn’t need to know where to direct the horse as she appeared to know exactly where to go. She wondered if she would be successful. She had no interest in bedding the queen’s husband and being already cautious from her encounter with the Gancanagh, Begorrah was determined not to let her guard down a second time. Perhaps when all was said and done she would do well to watch Faith more carefully. While she herself often went ignored by the opposite sex, the men of the village flocked to her beautiful and elegant sister yet she never succumbed to any of their wiles. The wagging tongues of the mens’ wives and intended held more of a threat to Faith and Begorrah knew how to handle the situation for her. She herself knew not how to defend against the attentions of men and had been caught off guard twice in recent weeks. She knew not what magic the lake in which she bathed contained but it appeared to be working judging by Ethal’s reaction in the clearing. She was determined to make this work. She had to get the lock of hair from the queen so she could rescue her sister and end this nightmare. She longed to return to her quiet life sitting by the fire in the cottage with her darning while listening to her mother spin tales as she stroked the hair of the gentle pretty girl who rested her head on her knee.

She knew those days were numbered. Soon Faith would marry the chieftain’s son and start a family by her own hearth. Her mother, still a beauty in her own right with gold streaking her red hair, pale blue eyes and lithe figure, had the attentions of the widower blacksmith. Once Faith was married, Begorrah knew it would only be a matter of time before her mother and the blacksmith tied the knot. As always when the questions came unbidden, Begorrah didn’t know the answer. What would become of her? She could serve as Faith’s handmaiden in her new home. She could continue studying with the medicine woman and hope to take her place in the village one day. At worst she could find herself wed to the old butcher. The man had managed to lop off a hand due to a combination of losing part of his sight and all of his mind but that didn’t stop him from grabbing at Begorrah with the other whenever he paid a visit to the blacksmith. Begorrah had been careful not to venture too close to the man but as best friend to her mother’s intended and soon to be man of her family, it was almost certain that the butcher would ask the blacksmith for Begorrah’s hand.

Though she was plain to look at Begorrah ached to be loved by a man who was good and kind. She knew she would never catch a wealthy or handsome man like her sister and mother but she didn’t need to in order to be happy. Her fickle heart had leaped at the attentions of Ethal Anbual but the man ruled over the Fe of Ulaidh. He wasn’t even human himself and Begorrah had had her share of magical beings. Still, if he ever asked for her… Concentrate girl, she shook her head, focus on rescuing Faith.

Chapter Five

The rustling leaves caught Fin Bheara’s attention and he sat up peering into the trees. More rustling made him stagger to his feet as a belch escaped him.

“Who’s there?” He called, drawing his sword. “Show yourself!”

Begorrah took her cue and burst into the clearing, a raven haired goddess riding sideways on the bare back of a magnificent white horse. As they circled the swaying man, Begorrah got a better look at her intended prey. Fin Bheara was tall and lanky with hair that showed like a golden halo in the moonlight. His elegant garb was stained with wine. His dark eyes attempted to focus on her as she rode closer and she could see fine stubble along his lip and chin. Even if she had entertained the idea of seducing the Fe king for her own devices, she knew she would have no problem keeping herself in check. Though Begorrah suspected the man was more attractive when he was sober, he still didn’t hold a candle to Ethal. She gave herself a mental shake and smiled at the confused monarch, now was not the time to be thinking about Ethal.

“Good morrow, my lord.” Begorrah said.

“Where dost thou hail, lady fair?” Fin asked, his eyes roaming her body.

“I ride from yonder vale as I do every night.”

He stepped closer. “Alone? Tis a dangerous undertaking.”

Begorrah threw her head back and laughed, “I have my gentle steed to protect me from harm.”

The movement allowed Fin a peek of the side of her breast and navel. His eyes widened slightly as a smile played upon his lips.

“Aye but a steed can only offer so much protection for a beauteous maiden.”

Begorrah imitated the gentile grin she had seen Faith employ many times and fluttered her eyes. “My lord, would ye be offering the services of your protection?”

Fin’s eyes twinkled as he stepped beside her and placed a hand on her bare knee. “Aye, as king of the Fe tis my sworn duty to assure all female folk of the realm return home safely.”

Begorrah dipped her head, allowing the king view of her other breast, “Ye honor me, highness. Will ye come with me now?”

She lowered a hand down to the king who took it and hoisted himself up beside her. The horse began to dance sideways and Begorrah tamped down her fear as she tightened the reins to settle hher again.

“My apologies, sire.” She turned her head and peered at him from beneath her lashes. “The beast does not hold favor with men, whatever their pedigree.”

“Mayhap it would take the firm hand of a king to tame the beast. Shall we find out?”

“Would ye not rather see me safely home first?” Begorrah’s eyelashes fluttered again and she leaned closer to him this time allowing the king full view of all that lay hidden beneath her tresses.

“Of course, lady fair, forgive me.”

Fin placed his arms around her waist as she turned the horse around and headed back into the trees. As they rode, Begorrah discovered just how talented the great Fin Bheara was at seduction, even drunk. He let his hands relax so that they caressed her hips and thighs with every movement of the horse. Slowly they traveled and slipped down to stroke her nub and behind until Begorrah was nearly undone. Fin chuckled softly when she shifted her hips and tightened her legs. His hands roamed up her back and belly and along her sides until he had reached up and pulled her hair away from her ear as the other cupped her breast. His teeth closed gently on her earlobe and tugged, sending a tingle through her body. She closed her eyes as his palm teased her nipples erect while his tongue tasted the sensitive skin behind her ear. She moaned, a mixture of relief and disappointment, as she saw they were nearing the vale.

Fin glanced up a moment as he smiled and said, “Odd. I know this vale.”

“Is it not so that the king should have intimate knowledge of every crevice within his kingdom?” Begorrah asked hoarsely, shifting her behind so that it rubbed against her passenger’s growing bulge as they rode.

“M’fhíorghrá, a chuid den tsaol. Tabhair póg dom!” He hissed into her hair, growing harder against her, and bit her neck. You are my true love, my everything, kiss me!

The horse took the couple into the vale and strode along the shore of the lake as Begorrah locked Fin in an embrace and he crushed her lips with his. She had to drive him to a frenzy before slipping off the horse as he entered the water so he couldn’t tell what was happening until it was too late. If her timing was off she too would be pulled down, the queen had warned her. She wanted to make the king as heady as the Gancanagh had made her. As his hands and lips roamed her body she closed her eyes and thought of Ethal. Her body responded to his touch as if it was the king of Ulaidh not Connacht that caressed it. She moaned as Fin pressed his trembling length against her pulsating warmth.

“I must have you!” He groaned, biting her shoulder.

A cold wetness brushed her toes and Begorrah’s eyes flew open when she realized they were riding into the lake. She also saw Queen Iunadh standing in the distance behind them glowing in the moonlight, her hair waving in all directions. Fin shifted and she saw he had released his manhood from his trousers and was preparing to enter her.

“No!” she cried and struggled against him.

Fin smiled and held her fast. “Fear not, little one, it will only hurt for a moment.”

“No, no! We can’t!” She screamed, pushing away from him and trying to slide off the horse as they ventured further into the water.

“Have a care, you’ll knock us both into the water!” He laughed then blinked.

He glanced around, noticing their surroundings, that he was knee deep in water, for the first time and turned to see his wife standing on the beach. His face twisted into a snarl as he turned back to find Begorrah was sliding herself into the water.

“Oh no ye don’t, ye little cunt!” Fin growled, pulling her across the mare’s back by her hair.

“Let me go!” She screamed, dragging her nails across his face.

He tugged her hair hard enough to make her yelp and pressed his dagger to her throat.

“Ye may have thought ye was clever, falling in league with my wife but if ye notice she isn’t coming to help ye. No one is coming to help ye. If I go down I’m taking ye with me!”

Begorrah could feel the water rising still and knew that soon she and Fin both would sink beneath the waves on the back of the Capall Sidhe. She had seen the queen fuming by the water and knew that she had gone too far with the king even though she had been thinking of another. In a matter of days her darling sister Faith would be sacrificed by that accursed leprechaun. Neither of them would see their mother, their people or their village again. She had failed!

Suddenly, Fin’s body jerked. They exchanged glances before both looked and saw a pool of blood spreading from the point of a blade sticking out of his chest. Begorrah felt a hand grab her and tug her off the horse as Fin slumped forward just before man and beast slipped beneath the waves. Ethal wrapped an arm around her and swam with her to shore. Numb and trembling from terror and the temperature of the waves she allowed herself to be dragged on to the sand. He saved her! The man she loved had saved her! Begorrah knew then that, even if he did not return it, her love for him was true. She pulled herself up to her knees and dropped her head, her curls shielding her modesty. After a moment a pair of silver slippers stood before her.

“Forgive me, highness. I went too far.” Begorrah said, closing her eyes and bracing for the queen’s wrath.

“Nonsense!” Iunadh giggled. “Ye did everything perfectly.”

Begorrah gaped at her, realizing the beautiful queen did in fact looked pleased. She glanced at Ethal who did not look pleased. His eyes glittered and his jaw set as he looked down at her. If she had been successful then why was he so angry with her?

Chapter Six

Inside the Hill of Mullaghmast, Begorrah was bathed and dressed in fine silks with flowers weaved into her curls. Her faithful donkey had been transformed into a fine black stallion and another donkey had been laden with sacks of gold, jewels and fine fabrics for her to take back home. True to her word, Queen Iunadh gave Begorrah a lock of hair from her head and allowed her to keep the hair she had picked up from the floor of her bedchamber. Much to the girl’s surprise, Ethal insisted on journeying home with her.

“Leprechauns are tricky and devious. I will make sure he does not go back on his word and releases your sister to ye.” He said.

He had shown her nothing but kindness since they met and she knew she had no reason to doubt him, especially as he no longer seemed angry with her. She also realized that her village was on the way to his home in Ulaidh and that Ethal was doing her yet another kindness.

It was the eve of the full moon when Ethal and Begorrah appeared in the Bodacha market. This time the patrons bowed and scraped, some even trembled as they passed and approached the large tent. No one dared interfere in the business of a king of the Fe. When the leprechaun emerged he blanched before growing angry.

“What is this? How dare ye involve the highborn of the Fe in our business!” he screamed, waving a fat little finger in Begorrah’s face.

“Where is the maiden, Duoan?” Ethal bellowed and the leprechaun winced at the sound of his given name.

“She is here, highness, but we have an agreement, this maid and I.”

“She has told me of your agreement and she has fulfilled her part in it.”

The leprechaun eyed the stallion and pack mule greedily and rubbed his hands together.

“That remains to be seen, sire, although she has made a valiant start.”

He started towards the animals when Ethal held out a hand. “Hold leprechaun, there is nothing to concern yourself with there.”

The little man frowned, confused, and glared at Begorrah. “What have ye brought me then as a fit tribute to Scathach that I may release your sister to ye?”

The crowd gasped as Begorrah drew forth a single strand of gold.

“Tis a hair of Iunadh, queen of the Fe of Connacht. No weapon is strong enough to break it, no fire is bright enough to burn it. Where ever it is ye hoard ye treasure, this strand can be used to protect it from theft.” She told him.

A low whistle escaped from the leprechaun’s fat lips and Begorrah smiled. She had done it. He reached for the hair but Begorrah pulled her hand back and when he shot her a nasty look she met his eyes with a steady gaze.

“Is it satisfactory?”

The little man chewed his lip for a moment before giving a brief nod.

“Now where is my sister?”

The leprechaun snorted then disappeared into the tent. After a moment, Faith emerged. Her clothing was a bit tattered, her hair disheveled but she looked otherwise unscathed. Tears erupted from the eyes of both sisters as they fell into each other’s arms and kissed each other senseless.

“O Begorrah, you’ve returned!”

“Silly goose, I said I would, didn’t I?”

They giggled and looked each other over. Begorrah had completely forgotten about her fine attire until Faith began to moon over it. A voice interrupted the reunion.

“And now may I have me prize?”

Faith’s eyes widened when they saw Begorrah’s grow dark and her jaw set. She knew what that look met but stayed silent and stepped to one side.

“Oh yes,” Begorrah replied, “Ye shall have your prize.”

She and the leprechaun approached each other. He held his hand out as she reached inside her bag and drew a much larger shinier strand of hair. She grasped his arm, spun him around and started whipping him with the hair. The throng of onlookers screeched with laughter and cheered as the little man howled and jumped about. Begorrah held him with an iron grip and whipped the leprechaun until her arm grew tired. Then she switched hands and continued to beat him soundly. At last, she threw him to the floor and tucked the hair away again. This time she drew the original strand of hair she had shown him, one of the few she had picked up from the floor of the queen’s bedchamber, and tossed it to the floor beside him.

“That is to ensure ye never take a human as your teind ever again!” Begorrah told him as he whimpered. “If I ever hear that ye are even entertaining the idea of tricking another human that way again, ye had better leave the country for ye will get more of the same!”

The leprechaun trembled and crept back into his tent, cursing all humans. Ethal placed Faith upon the back of the stallion and he and Begorrah made their way back to the village.

There was much rejoicing when the sisters returned. Their mother hugged her daughters with equal gusto and the villagers cheered. The Chieftain held a special feast in Begorrah’s honor and Faith married his son that very afternoon. The village was most honored by the presence of a king of the Fe and bestowed many gifts upon him for helping rescue their beloved Faith.

***

A weary Begorrah slipped away from the festivities later that evening for the sanctuary of her room in the loft. The couples had paired off and Ethal Anbual was being regaled by tales of the bravest warriors of the village while prettier maids than she fawned and blushed over the man. Life in the little village would return to normal soon enough and Begorrah would fade into the background once again.

“There ye are!” Her mother said, her head popping up from the floor. “Tis not polite to keep guests waiting, Begorrah.”

Begorrah furrowed her brow. What guests? Everyone was still celebrating in the square. She climbed down the ladder after her mother and smoothed her skirts as she turned. In the main room stood her mother, the blacksmith, Faith and her new husband along with the chieftain himself and Ethal.

“What’s happening?” she asked as she looked from one face to the other.

“Tis a momentous occasion.” The chieftain, a large hairy ginger, boomed. “Ethal Anbual, king of the Fe of Ulaidh, has asked for your hand.”

Begorrah blinked. “Who’s hand?”

“Yours silly!” Faith giggled.

Begorrah blinked again. “He did?”

Ethal crossed the room, his eyes shining as he took her hand in his.

“He did.” He replied softly.

Begorrah forgot to breathe.

“Why?” She whispered.

He leaned his forehead against hers and gazed into her eyes.

“Táim i ngrá leat.” He whispered back. Because I am in love with you.

Tears welled up in her eyes and he pulled her to him and kissed her. Her heart swelled and as his kiss deepened, his hands grasping the fabric of her gown into fists, she could feel parts of him swelling as well and her body answered.

“So will ye marry him?” Begorrah heard her sister say. “Will ye take him for your husband?”

Yes, her heart answered. Forever and always, yes!

 

Most romantic cities in America

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Recently Amazon put out a list of romantic cities based on sales of romance novels and relationship books. Not only is the list kind of a shock to most people but the cities named seem to be the antithesis of romance (hence the high rate of romance novel and relationship book purchases I guess). I mean of all the cities in Florida alone when I think of romance Orlando, Miami and Clearwater don’t exactly spring to mind. So, just in time for Valentine’s Day, here is my top 5 favorite romantic cities in America in no particular order.

1. St. Augustine, Florida

This is one of my most favorite places in the US. As the oldest city in the state (possibly even the country) St. Augustine has old world charm of cobblestoned streets, quaint shops, and great restaurants.

Visit the fabled Fountain of Youth or the local winery, San Sebastian. Take a historic tour via horse drawn carriage or ride across a beautiful sandy beach on horseback!

2. Seattle, Washington

Probably the one selection on Amazon’s list that I agree with. Located in a valley surrounded by beautiful snowcapped mountains, Seattle is ideally located for those who like to hike, go berry picking, swim, sail and like a bit of night life.

Pike Place Market is a must see but so is the sweet little Waterfall Garden in Pioneer Square. There are plenty of great places to stay in the city but if you want to snuggle by a cozy fire in the mountains head to the Salish Lodge and Spa in beautiful Snoqualmie.

3. Savannah, Georgia

You just can’t have a romantic city list without Savannah, the most beautiful city in Georgia. Visit old cathedrals, quaint markets, ride on an old fashioned riverboat and take part in the annual Valentine’s Day vow renewal ceremony.

4. Charleston, South Carolina

Again, no list would be complete without Charleston. History fanatics can stroll through plantations or take a pirate tour.

Culture buffs will enjoy the various wine, art and music festivals that occur throughout the year while foodies have their pick from an array of dining choices.

5. Poconos, Pennsylvania

Adventure seeking outdoorsy types will love it here. There’s skiing, tubing and snowboarding in winter and boating, rafting and horseback riding during the warmer months. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Poconos as it’s home to my favorite cheesetastic romantic getaway Caesar’s Cove Haven.

Flush with 70s style decor, heart shaped and champagne glass tubs and private swimming pools and starlight ceilings, this all inclusive romantic resort is great for a long weekend. You’ll feel like you’ve been there for a week.. in a good way!

Whatever your price range, whether you’re in a high priced resort or feeding each other strawberries and sparkling wine at home, your romantic adventure is what you and your significant other make of it.

 

Body Image and the Romance Novel

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It never fails. When reading a romance novel, the men are always well built and muscular with enormous genitalia while the women are gorgeous and well proportioned with smooth skin and smell of either some type of flower or confection. Some say this sets the reader up for unrealistic expectations and the beautiful characters can’t be related to. I agree however, there are a few things to consider.

 #1 A large majority of women hate how they look

It doesn’t matter how beautiful, thin or curvy a woman is, most of us absolutely hate how we look. I won’t get into the whole debate about body image in society, impossible expectations portrayed by the media etc. because we’ll be here all day. The fact of the matter is women are our own worst critics. Personally, I look in the mirror at least twice a week and frown at my graying hair and extra flab. Meanwhile my husband can’t seem able to keep his hands off me and I have friends who tell me I’m gorgeous. This brings me to my second point.

 #2 The hero will always find the heroine attractive 

That’s just the way the formula goes or at least that’s how I use it. If you notice, in many novels the heroine hates her body or doesn’t feel she measures up to the goddesses who surround her yet the hero absolutely adores her. The same traits she might hate seem to drive him crazy with desire. Even if she appears homely to the hero at first, it isn’t long before he takes a good look at her and realizes, wait a minute, this woman is beautiful! In my opinion this is where fantasy and reality meet. No matter what any of us looks like the person who makes your heart skip, your pulse race and causes butterflies to flutter in your stomach with a simple touch or look is the loveliest person you will ever meet.

 

#3 How do you write a “realistic body”?

She stood framed in the doorway, her satin robe caressing her figure. He approached her, a goofy look on his face as he undid the sash and slipped the robe down to her feet. He smiled, noting how the corn pads drew his attention to the shimmering polish on her toenails. The varicose veins, born from hours of standing on her feet as a waitress, fanned out like a roadmap on her legs. He massaged her cellulite dimpled behind as he kissed his way up and around her panis. He relished in the feel of her swollen nipples brushing his forehead as he kissed his way up to her bare breasts. As he stood upright, his soft belly jiggled and slid against her body. She groaned, caressing his bald spot and running her hands through the thick hair of his back. She squeezed the extra cushioning along his waist.

“Your love handles drive me crazy!” she murmured.

****

Not too sexy is it? At least, not as sexy as a scene describing a more perfectly formed couple anyway. Reading in general is a form of escapism and the romance genre especially so. While the hero and heroine don’t have to be underwear models, I think there is a growing tendency to make these couples to be a little more realistic while still maintaining artistic license. There’s not as much call for washboard abs and perky breasts and I can’t remember the last time I’d read of a virginal heroine gasping when her hero unleashes an appendage the size of a tree trunk. There are writers who specialize in BBW romances which feature plus sized women and men and I applaud those writers. I understand they’re doing very well and I intend to study those books as I’m curious how they handle the descriptive scenes. There’s also the growing trend of books featuring men who are physically or emotionally damaged and so far the books I’ve come across in this trend are very well written. I’ll encourage anyone to seek out and pick up books featuring these types of characters if you haven’t already.

Some day we may see romance novels featuring people who look just like you and me but to be honest, wouldn’t it be more fun to pretend to be a beautiful enchantress who is driving some gorgeous hunk absolutely wild, even for a little while?

Review/Guest Post: The Serpent’s Tooth Trilogy by Kathy Fischer- Brown

Good morning folks! Apologies for my silence lately but I’ve got all kinds of balls in the air at the moment. So to make up for it, today’s post is a long one but very good. I’ll be reviewing the Serpent’s Tooth Trilogy with excerpts from the books and you’ll also hear from the author, Kathy Fischer-Brown, on how she did research for the subject matter. It all makes for an interesting read so grab that cup of coffee and get comfortable.

Historical Fiction
Date Published: 6/13/2012
 

Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter (Book 1)

As a child, Anne Fairfield dreams of the father she never knew, the hero who died fighting the French and their Indian allies in a land across the sea. Her mother’s stories, and fantasies of her own devising, sustain and nurture her through a poor and lonely existence. Until one winter night, a strange man comes to call, and the life she has known comes crashing down like shattered glass.

Forced to confront sordid truths, secrets and lies, the headstrong young woman begins to learn that, like generations of women ruled by their hearts, she is destined to follow in their footsteps.

Set against the backdrop of 18th century England, Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter is the first book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, which follows Anne from the rural countryside, to London society and into the center of the American Revolution.

Excerpt

“Are you hurt?” He bent toward her.

She flinched away. “No thanks to you, I think I’ve escaped permanent injury.” She turned her eyes on him, a glowering look that held a trace of fear.

The look took him aback. “Forgive me, I was afraid that you—”

Her eyes softened, a rush of color surged in her cheeks. She turned away, as if embarrassed. “Is it your custom to go around sneaking up on people?” She rose gingerly, flexing her left ankle.

“To be quite truthful, it’s not.” He smiled sheepishly and scrambled to his feet. “Is it your custom to go climbing over walls?” He found her shoes in the grass and deferentially offered them to her. “Sensible people would use the gate.”

“Perhaps I’m not sensible!” Without a word of gratitude, she snatched the offering from him and winced as she slipped her left foot into the boot. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go.”

She hurried off, but soon moderated her pace to a hobbling limp. He followed with caution.

“Stealing off to see the old witch, are you?” Relief coursed through him that she had not seriously injured herself.

She stopped and half-looked up at him, a flickering smile spreading over her full, ripe mouth. “Hetty Powell is not a witch!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he teased. “And I wouldn’t make it a habit of calling upon her without an escort. Old witches have a special fondness for saucy young maids. Feed ’em lots of tea and biscuits, they do…soften ’em up, make ’em sweet and tender!”

She looked up at him fully. “Are you offering me your protection?”

The candor expressed in her voice and those clear, violet eyes left him momentarily speechless. “I wish only to accompany you.”

“You are an ill-mannered young man!”

“And you’re an impetuous young woman. You’ll not go far on that ankle.”

“That remains to be seen!” She turned from him and walked lamely away.

“I can’t help feeling responsible,” he called out and hurriedly overtook her.

“You are responsible!”

“What possessed you to climb that wall?”

“It’s none of your concern.”

“An impressive display of skill and daring, I must say.”

“Would you?”

“Indeed! Not to mention agility and—”

Anne stopped suddenly and gazed hard at his face. A shiver of apprehension vibrated up her spine. For all his seeming sincerity, he was not to be trusted. Surely he would find a way to return her to the hall and inform her father of her attempted flight. “What do you want? Why must you pester me so?”

His gaze turned searching, steady. His voice was almost pleading. “Allow me to walk with you and I’ll promise not to speak another word.”

An uncomfortable heat rose in her face. She glanced away. “Then I might as well walk alone,” she said softly.

Date Published:  8/31/2012

 Courting the Devil (BOOK #2 May contain spoilers)

Four years after a near fatal blunder uproots her from her home and inheritance, Anne Darvey, daughter of the Marquess of Esterleigh, finds herself an indentured servant on a farm near Fort Edward in New York, as the British army advances toward Albany. Driven by guilt over the pain she has caused her father and grief over her lover’s death, she sets out to deliver a message. The consequences lead to the discovery that all is not as it seems, and sets in motion events that lead to love and danger.

Set against the backdrop of the American Revolution, Courting the Devil is the second book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, which follows Anne from her childhood in the rural English countryside, to London society, and into the center of the American Revolution.

Excerpt

His memory had not failed him. Summer nights were infinitely cooler by the pond near the creek. Brighter as well, with milky flashes of light reflecting off its smooth surface and a riot of fireflies darting among the reeds, twinkling over the water like so many stars. Had there been a moon, it would have floated on the water, sending glimmers of light up to the treetops.

He would have seen her then by moonlight.

Rather it was the dull light of the ill-smelling flame of his lamp that revealed her there at the edge of the pond in the tall grass, sitting in nothing but her damp shift, her back against the trunk of a sycamore, as she applied a towel to her hair. Had he’d arrived moments earlier, he might have seen her emerge, dripping from the creek like some water nymph. He paused where he stood and watched for a moment, then he cleared his throat and continued closer.

The brush crackled under his feet. He slowed his steps when she turned, a startled look on her face, her fingers frozen in the wild tangle of thick, dark hair tumbling over her shoulders and down the length of her back. At the sight of him, she quickly covered her chest with crossed arms.

Harris hesitated, holding up the lamp so that its light revealed his face, causing her to blink into the brightness. “No reason for alarm,” he reassured, and hung the lamp on a bough just above her head. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

She turned away and on her knees quickly gathered up the objects spread out on a towel in the grass. He leaned on his hand against the tree, and regarded her with interest. In the light of the swinging lamp, drops of water shimmered on her bare arms. The smell of milled soap with a hint of lavender emanated from her hair, mingling with her own sweet, warm scent on the heavy air. Though coarsely made, her damp chemise clung to her like second skin, revealing the soft, round contours of a supple body. He imagined his hands holding her close, the feel of her, lithe and wet, against him, and fought back the stirring in his groin.

He licked his lips. “I didn’t expect to find anyone here at this hour of the night. Forgive the intrusion, I–”

She glanced up at him, a look of uncertainty in her eyes, along with the flashing sky. “No need for apologies, sir. I was just about to leave.” She rolled her hairbrush and a small, well-used sliver of soap in its original paper wrapper into the frayed huckaback towel. After slipping into her shoes, she snatched the coarse-woven skirt and linen bodice from the low bough from which she had hung them. Having wrapped everything in the skirt, she rose with the grace of a goddess and turned toward the path back to the house, the bundle clasped to her breast.

He stepped away from the tree and blocked her escape. She halted just short of him, but did not avert her eyes from the ground before her. “I wish you wouldn’t go,” Harris said through the dryness in his mouth.

Maintaining her focus on the dark path beyond the circle of light cast by his Betty lamp, she drew in a slow breath. In spite of the heat, she shivered. “There is nothing to keep me, sir.”

He laughed softly. “I hope that was not meant to be a gibe at my vanity?”

She shook back the mane of dark, wet hair that had fallen over her face, but kept her eyes averted. “It was not my intention to appear so bold.”

“Then I’m very much relieved!” His gaze wandered over her wet, scantily clad form, at the soft rise of her breasts before they disappeared under the cover of her infringing bundle. “But I forget myself. It is your modesty and virtue that–”

“Excuse me, Mr. Harris. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired.”

“It’s too hot to sleep. I thought I would—”

“You needn’t explain yourself. Not to me, sir. Now, if you will kindly let me pass …”

“You don’t like me, do you?”

At that she raised her eyes fully upon his face with a slow and deliberate stare, as if the impulse to look at him had been spontaneous and she resisted its appeal with all the self-control at her disposal. “My feelings are of no consequence, Mr. Harris,” she said in a soft voice, devoid of expression.

 “But you do have them. Are you dismissing them as insignificant, or is it that you have no desire to discuss things of a personal nature?” Her soft, full lips were enticing. Even in the sweltering night air, the heat emanating from her body wrapped around him like a caress.

“If you really must know, sir, I have no time for such diversions.”

“Nor anything else, I dare say.” Fighting the urge to clasp her to him and taste her mouth, he stepped aside to let her pass. “You push yourself far too hard. It’s a sure sign.”

Just beyond the spill of light from the hanging lamp, Annie stopped and raised her head. For a long while she stood in silence, as if waiting for him to speak.

He sensed he had struck a nerve. “A sure sign of what, you might ask. Then again, I would be presuming to know your mind, which, I assure I do not… All right then, I’ll tell you. I notice things about people who labor for a living, Miss Annie.” He stepped toward her, outside the circle of dingy light. “Those who work for their own subsistence tend to perform their duties with an honorable sense of purpose. For when successfully accomplished, the task at hand yields its own reward. From my own observations, I’ve also noted that those who are obligated to toil in the service of others tend to do only that which is expected of them. No more, no less.” He paused. Again the sky flickered, revealing her standing with her back to him, head lowered. “Where rewards are few, there is nothing to be gained by working one’s self to an early grave. That would leave one unable to savor the freedom earned by such senseless toil.”

She turned slowly and swept his face with her gaze. “Do you not work for your living, Mr. Harris?” In her soft voice, he detected a note of challenge.

“I am a schoolmaster, Miss Annie.” And then he vacillated, his mouth twitching into a smile. “I was a schoolmaster…until I lost all my students! For the life of me I can’t fathom why…” She did not appear moved by his attempted levity. “But, no, I never had a reason to earn a living. My father was…well-connected.”

Her eyes shimmered in the darkness. “It is said, Mr. Harris, that the Devil finds work for idle hands.”

He laughed softly. “It is also said, Miss Annie, that to speak of the Devil is to court his presence.”

She lowered her face until shadows once more enveloped her features, her hands tightening around the bundle. “If that is so, then I hope he finds me busy. Good night, Mr. Harris.” She vanished quietly into the darkness.

 

Date Published: 2/6/2013

The Partisan’s Wife (BOOK #3 May contain spoilers)

Faced with an impossible choice, Anne Marlowe is torn between her husband’s love and the hope of her father’s forgiveness. As American forces follow up on their tide-turning victories over the British at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, Peter is drawn deeper into the shady network of espionage that could cost them both their lives.

Is his commitment to “the Cause” stronger than his hard-won love for Anne? Will her sacrifice tear them apart again…this time forever? Or will they find the peace and happiness they both seek in a new beginning?

The Partisan’s Wife follows Anne and Peter through the war torn landscape of Revolutionary War America, from the Battle of Saratoga to British-occupied New York and Philadelphia, and beyond.

Excerpt

At last, she stopped pacing and leaned against the wall, arms crossed over her breast. “My God, Peter! How could you?”

He forced a sheepish smile but made no attempt to answer.

“You lied to me! Shipping trade indeed!”

“I swear I never lied.”

“Half-truths, then!” She pushed away from the wall. “‘I’m finished here. I’m done with that!’ Why didn’t I see?”

“LeClair will find a way out of this.”

She looked at him in challenge. The candle flame shone in the mirror of her eyes. “You seem so assured.”

“I have the utmost confidence in LeClair. When he returns, we’ll ferry across the river into Paulus Hook. We’ll be safe in New Jersey.”

“And then…?”

He stood and regarded her, his mouth a taut line. “Didn’t you say in no uncertain terms that you wished to go to Philadelphia?”

“I never said I wished to go. I said I had to go.”

He paused for a long moment. “You know I can’t go with you.”

“You can’t come with me…?” she said with astonishing composure. “Or, more precisely, you won’t come.”

“I can’t.” He reached for her hand; she yanked it away. “I can’t go with you.”

“Why? So that you may continue to play at your little game of masquerade and intrigue, exposing yourself to danger? For what purpose? Have you no concern for my—”

“You are not the only one blessed with a cause!” He glared at her. “It would appear that we are each compelled to do as our conscience dictates.”

Steadily she met his gaze through the candle light. “And if you could come with me…?”

Her wide-eyed face betrayed her apprehension, as though she already knew his answer yet hoped against hope for the response she longed to hear. It could have been so simple to play along and accommodate her wishes and, for her sake, make promises he could never keep. For his own sake, he chose not to respond.

 

REVIEW

In book 1, Annie finds that the father she’d grown up believing was a war hero who died in battle is actually an English lord who abandoned her mother because his family didn’t approve of the match only to return 16 years later as her mother lay upon her deathbed. She’s made to promise her mother she’d go with him to Esterleigh Hall and to try to love him but this is a tall order. While already dealing with her resentment for the mythical hero turned louse, she also must contend with the bitter ex-wife and a disinherited brother as well as learning and adapting to the heartless, cutthroat ways of London Society.  To further complicate matters, she loses her heart to a dashing young servant who’s bound for America in order earn his fortune and be worthy of her hand. In book 2, Annie is kidnapped by what is essentially her wicked stepmother and shipped off to a farm in Upstate New York where she toils as an indentured slave during the American Revolutionary War. With the farm being right smack in the middle of the battlefield, Annie takes the opportunity to escape and seek out the best friend of her sweetheart. In book 3, ties up all the lose ends left in the first two books as Annie finds herself embroiled in the rebellion thanks to her husband, Peter, while at the same time trying to find her estranged father after discovering he had traveled to New York to find her.

It’s difficult to review a series because I don’t like to drop any spoilers but I found The Serpent’s Tooth Trilogy to be a very interesting series. It isn’t often you find an author tackling the subject matter of the American Revolutionary War in this way and it was very nicely done.  Katy Fischer-Brown immerses you into the time period and you learn a lot of little details about life in the 18th century without bogging down the story itself. Although each book is a bit slow to start, the pace isn’t excruciating and it really is worth waiting for the story to pick up. Once it does, well…

Researching the Historical Novel Then and Now

When I started writing seriously in the dark age before computers, researching the historical period in which I had chosen to set my books was no easy task. The local library didn’t always have a particular resource on its reference shelves and if the book was long out of print, it was unavailable at any cost (no Alibris back then). Inter-library loan was the only way to go and even that didn’t always pan out. Travel was not always possible, especially on a limited budget. Letters to experts was a practical resource, as were phone calls, but in the days before the breakup of Ma Bell, calls from Indiana to New York were expensive.

Today, those same resources and more are just a few key strokes away. Many of the same research materials I used to wait weeks for have been scanned and uploaded to the web. In addition, there are hosts of fabulous materials I would never have dreamed of back then. Old maps and documents, in addition to diaries and other first-hand accounts are all available online if you know how to find them.

When I pulled “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy out of mothballs and dusted it off for an overhaul, I found myself tapping in to these resources. With all of the material I was able to find, I scrapped entire portions of the story in favor of rewrites based on information I was able to discover.

As a native New Yorker, I was especially fascinated to learn of the vast changes that made Manhattan what it is today. From street names to the layout of the streets themselves as the population grew and expanded north of Wall Street, the old city of the mid-eighteenth century can no longer be found. There are a few photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries of long-gone buildings from the period and some extraordinary descriptions in old books. Paintings and maps of the period also give us glimpses. Land fill long ago altered the shape of lower end of the island (where the Dutch established their first settlement in North America on land inhabited by the Native Americans who lived and hunted there). Creeks and streams, hills and forests were plentiful on Manhattan, serving the hosts of indigenous animals that made their homes there. The creeks, streams and fresh water ponds were later filled in, becoming (to name just one) Canal Street.

Street names were especially interesting. During and after the Revolution, many streets, such as King Street, King George Street, and Queen Street, were renamed, remapped, and/or rerouted. Today you’ll find Pine, William, and Pearl Streets. In The Partisan’s Wife, the area in which Peter and Anne’s house stood, then called Wynne (or Winne) Street between Bayard’s Lane and St. Nicholas Street, is now Mott Street in the heart of Chinatown, which was basically unsettled in the mid-part of the 18th century as was pretty much everything to the north. The West Village was farmland and rolling hills. Many streets and avenues in old New York evolved from long driveways belonging to huge mansions with gardens, orchards, and expansive lawns. For example, the long drive that belonged to the Bayard homestead in the late 1700s was for a time called Bayard’s Lane. It’s now part of Broome Street on the Lower East Side.

Unfortunately, few buildings from the period remain standing on lower Manhattan — Fraunces Tavern and St. Paul’s Chapel being a couple of exceptions — as a multitude of fires and later human development over the next century or so led to the destruction of pre-Revolutionary War era buildings…many in the name of progress.

To write historical fiction is, to a large extent, to live there for a while and become comfortable with the clothes, attitudes, and customs of the time. It’s also my desire to take the reader along and hope they enjoy the journey.

Kathy Fischer-Brown

Author Bio:

As a child Kathy wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She also wanted to act. After receiving an MFA in Acting and playing the part of starving young artist in New York, she taught theater classes at a small college in the Mid-West before returning home to the East Coast, where over the years, she and her husband raised two kids and an assortment of dogs. During stints in advertising, children’s media publishing, and education reform in the former Soviet Unions, she wrote whenever she could. Her love of early American history has its roots in family vacations up and down the East Coast visiting old forts and battlefields and places such as Williamsburg, Mystic Sea Port, and Sturbridge Village. At the same time, she daydreamed in history classes, imagining the everyday people behind all the dates and conflicts and how they lived.

Claiming her best ideas are born of dreams, Kathy has written a number of stories over the years. Her first published novel, Winter Fire, a 1998 Golden Heart finalist in historical romance, was reissued in 2010 by Books We Love, Ltd.

When not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, photography, playing “ball” with the dogs, and rooting on her favorite sports teams.

LINKS:

Website:  http://www.kfischer-brown.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KathyFischerBrownAuthor?ref=hl

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/KFischerBrown

Blog: http://illsay.wordpress.com/

BooksWeLove (Publiisher) : http://www.bookswelove.net/kathyfischerbrown.php

Relationships and the couples retreat/workshop

Throughout the 13 years my husband and I have been married we’ve had our trials and tribulations. At one point things were so bad that we actually considered counseling. Personally I’ve never been a fan of Psychologists but I have to admit that the counseling helped. By utilizing workshops by groups like Marriage Encounter, CREDO and the Wounded Warrior Project we like to fine tune our relationship every couple of years or so as you would a car. Over the years we’ve discovered there are a few similarities that always seem to pop up with couples having problems.

Somebody didn’t get their tuneup

The biggest issue is communication. Yeah I know, my male readers are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads but the fact of the matter is, whether you’re in a hetero or homosexual relationship you are two people who are steadily involved in each other’s lives and neither of you are mind readers. Male or female if there’s a problem you need to speak up about it and the other party needs to listen and I mean actively listen. Many people don’t actually listen to what the other person is saying because they’re too busy formulating their rebuttal to throw in as soon as the other person stops speaking rather than actually stopping to consider what that person is saying. In doing so you’re disregarding your partner’s grievance which is probably why you find yourselves talking in circles. Stop, listen and consider what your partner is telling you. Rather than feeling insulted immediately, think. Do you see any grain of truth in your partner’s complaint?

Also if you have an issue, don’t keep it bottled up so that it can fester and grow until you end up blowing up about it and it becomes a whole big thing in your relationship. People keep issues bottled up inside for a majority of reasons, usually because they don’t want to rock the boat or upset their partner. First why are you so concerned about upsetting your partner? Remember your feelings count too. If your partner doesn’t want to talk about anything they don’t actually respect you or the relationship enough to want to make you happy and work on the problem whether it’s a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding or a legitimate problem. If you’re afraid of your partner becoming violent that’s a whole new issue you need to think about and ask yourself why are you with this person? Violence is NEVER ok and it’s never the answer!

Lack of respect and consideration is also an issue that seems to be evident in both sexes. I’ve seen women who get upset that their partners take no interest in their favorite activities yet they won’t try to take an interest in their partner’s favorite activities either. While couples don’t have to be joined at the hip, occasionally taking part in each other’s hobby or interests isn’t going to kill you.

Unless your partner is an amateur knife thrower…

When a couple decides to go to one of these workshops or retreats, it should be because both parties want to go. Everyone should be willing to examine their relationship. There should not be any “sacrificing” or anyone being dragged to anything against their will because I guarantee that couple will not get anything out of it. You’re wasting your time, the time of the people running the event and taking up space that a couple who actually wants to be there. I’ve seen things get downright nasty among couples like this and one guy was such a festering asshole that he was making fun of the other guys taking part in the event. The man was bored, didn’t hide the fact he did not want to be there, didn’t even try to make an effort and created a hostile environment for everyone involved. For anyone reading this, male or female, if you’re this much of a douche that you consider the fact your other half is unhappy with the state of your relationship is a joke and not worth your time to explore, do the world a favor and stay your happy ass home! In fact, if this is the way your other half behaves, consider why you’re putting up with it and realize you deserve so much better.

Being in a successful relationship takes work from both parties.  If you and your partner have never ever argued about anything ever in the course of your whole relationship, I hate to say it but there’s definitely a problem. Never arguing about anything doesn’t mean you have a picture perfect healthy relationship, it means someone is holding something back. Now I’m not saying that arguing all the time is essential because it’s not but unless the other person is your clone or vice versa, you are both completely different individuals with your own mindset, thought process and vices and from time to time you will clash over something, be it major or minor. Arguing over something doesn’t mean your relationship is over if that relationship is healthy. Even if you guys are happy and have been going through a really great patch in your relationship, it doesn’t hurt to visit a retreat or workshop from time to time. This weekend my husband and I visited a workshop and when asked prior to attending what issues you’d like to work on, we sat there and honestly couldn’t think of a single thing. We attended anyway, had a nice relaxing time together and enjoyed ourselves which we found to be a much needed opportunity since our daily lives tend to focus around his medical issues, VA appointments and the military retirement process and we don’t get as much downtime as we would like. Bottom line, the couples retreat or workshop isn’t a bad thing and your marriage or relationship doesn’t need to be in trouble for you to attend. It’s a great way to approach any issues you might have with a new perspective and helps to circumvent any possible issues that may come up in future and get to know each other a little better while becoming closer.

Disclaimer: Noemi Betancourt is a romance novelist. Relationship opinions and advice is based on personal experience and should not be taken as professional advice. If you have any relationship issues and need counseling or intervention, please seek out a professional.

Dogtags and Desire: Military Women Romance Novel Excerpt

I have been a military spouse for just over 10 years and one essential part of being a successful military spouse is the ability to keep busy! One way I have done so is writing and one project I’ve been working on is a compilation of love stories geared towards spouses and women serving in the military. This compilation is nearly complete and should be published sometime this year, I’m just trying to decide whether to keep it in compilation form or throw all the characters together into a single novel.

Before you ask, no I am not a fan of Army Wives. I was excited about the concept but got disenchanted when I saw one of the first story lines embraced the stereotype that all spouses screw around on their husbands during deployment. I also found the show a little overdramatic and too soap opery (is a word?;). In my experience, the life of a military wife is packed with enough drama all on its own without involving secret segregates and hostage situations.

Anyway, the following is an excerpt featuring Navy couple, Grace and Daniel. Enjoy!

Homecoming

Gracie stood on the pier waiting.  She had been waiting 18 whole months for this moment and the past two weeks were the most agonizing.  The young blonde had cried herself to sleep more times than she cared to remember.  She bit her deep red lips to fight back the tears as her heart remembered sinking on the morning of yet another holiday spent alone and lurching when she got word Daniel had been injured.  Thankfully the wound hadn’t been fatal although she had secretly wished it had been just bad enough to send him back home to her.

The unusually warm spring breeze played with loose strands of shiny flaxen locks done up in Greek goddess fashion as she glanced around to the other wives and families who were loaded with flowers, balloons and gifts and making small talk with each other as the minutes endlessly ticked by.  Suddenly someone gave a yell and everyone turned and began waving though the ship was still just on the horizon and too far to make out any details.

Gracie’s heart pounded and she fought for a second time to keep the tears from falling.  He was home, finally, he was home!  The air crackled with electricity as the boat slowly approached and took forever to tie up.  People were already yelling to each other on cell phones and once liberty was called cheers erupted from ship and pier alike. Gracie’s anxiety continued to rise as she watched the sailors pour off the ship, reunite with their loved ones and disappear into the parking lot. Finally, the familiar silhouette of her husband appeared on the brow. His grin reached from ear to ear as they approached each other, his blue eyes sparkled as they roamed over her brand new figure. It had been almost two years since they had been together and although she had caught the eye of many men as the pounds melted away, she had never been tempted to cheat on Daniel no matter how much she liked the new attention she’d been receiving.  The line, “he’ll never know” just never washed with her.

The drive only took ten minutes but felt like eternity and the closer to home they got the more her heart pounded, her stomach filled to bursting with butterflies.  She knew her husband wasn’t the least bit nervous as he kissed her hungrily at every stop light and intersection and caressed her thighs and arms, running his hands over her abdomen and hips as she drove.

“You’re gonna make me crash, honey,” she giggled as he leaned over and began kissing her shoulder while cupping one of her breasts.

“So pull over,” he replied with a mischievous smile and tone that made Gracie’s breath catch in her throat as a throbbing began below.

The young wife was thrilled as she’d been slightly worried that her husband might not like that she had lost so much weight but he was pawing her no differently than when she’d been “pleasantly plump” as he referred to her whenever she obsessed about being too fat.  As they pulled into the driveway, Gracie’s heart pounded again.  She had another surprise for Daniel but wasn’t sure if he’d last long enough to receive it.  The rich giggle that escaped her then betrayed her thoughts as they got out and Daniel looked at her.

“What?”

She looked at him with a seductive little smile, her body tingling with excitement while her grey eyes twinkled as she replied,

“Nothing dear.”

Daniel laughed and grabbed at her as she hurried past him and she yelped and giggled while trying to open the front door.

“Don’t give me that, what are you up to?”

“You’ll find out,” was all she would say.

He took her hand in his and swept her into his arms, pulling her into a fierce kiss as he kicked the door closed behind him.  Gracie grew giddy and white hot all over and melted into arms, his bulging manhood pulsing against her, and it took everything she had to push him away.

“No no, sweetheart, not yet,” she teased breathlessly, and placed a finger on his lips when he opened his mouth to protest.

Taking his hand she led him into the spacious living room with large windows overlooking the bay and roman style columns.  She had given it a glorious makeover with the extra pay Daniel got from a recent promotion and she took pride in it although at the moment she knew he wasn’t all that interested in the immaculate white couches sitting before their stone fireplace or the plush white rug that replaced the old shag carpeting.  Gracie pushed her husband into a white overstuffed recliner and tapped a couple of buttons on a remote on the fireplace.  Fwoosh! The fireplace roared to life as the new stereo system began to softly play a selection from Sade.

Daniel smiled, his azure eyes displaying a hint of confusion mixed with excitement.

“Wha-?”

“Shh!” she replied as she began to sway back and forth in time to the music.

She turned her back to him, swishing her hips as she slowly lowered the zipper on the back of her dress and looked over her shoulder while slipping the dress off one shoulder, then the other. Once she’d gotten the confidence, she had secretly taken a class and rehearsed this routine over and over to get it just right for today.  Gracie turned to her husband then and let the dress drop to the floor, giddy with pleasure as she saw the ridiculously large grin on his face grow even bigger as he took in her shapely form in nothing but a black lacey peek-a-boo bra and thong contrasting her soft porcelain skin.  Giving him a wink, she slipped the straps off and reached back to undo the clasp before turning her back to him again.  She tossed the bra over one shoulder making sure it would land on Daniel and he picked it up, kissed it and held it out to her as if toasting her with a glass.  Giggling she turned back and ever so slowly bent over and pulled off her thong.  The music changed on cue to a faster beat as she kicked it to one side and planned to really let her husband have it.  She swished over to the nearest pillar and began twirling around it in time to the music.  The moves she did would have made any professional pole dancer proud and her heart leapt as she saw Daniel’s mouth drop in astonishment.  Yes, dear heart, she thought to herself as she really got into the routine, the little wife has been keeping herself busy.

As the song wound down she gave a final twirl and as she came to face Daniel she discovered he was suddenly right there, unable to take anymore.  His face held a wild, animal expression as he pulled her to him, moaning a little as he kissed her hard.  He ran his hands down her back and under her cheeks before lifting her up off the floor.  She wrapped her legs around his waist and groaned as he pushed her up against the column and nibbled on her ear and neck.

“Oh God, Daniel!” she gasped as he entered her.

“Oh baby, I love you so much!” he whispered to her as he gyrated  into her and let his pants drop to the floor.

Her flame built up from deep within and she moaned louder and louder with her head thrown back and eyes closed, feeling one of Daniel’s hands massage her bottom while the other caressed her breasts.  He backed up away from the wall and she leaned back as he kissed and sucked on her breasts before coming to his knees on the soft rug.  Gracie lowered her feet to the floor and pushed her husband on to his back.  As she cradled him, the two of them covered in sweat, her loose hair shimmering in the firelight, she reached down and tore Daniel’s shirt open.

He laughed, once again surprised at her assertiveness, and she leaned down and kissed him roughly.  His hands ran up and down her body with intensity and he moaned as she licked and nibbled his nipples, chest and stomach before she began to ride him.  He pumped into her harder and faster as she rode in time with him until their collective moans and sighs rose up into a tremendous cry.

She lay on top of him and he caressed her hair as their breathing settled.  Out of nowhere Gracie began to sob and Daniel froze.

“Are you alright, honey?” he asked her trying to sit up.

She rolled off him and sat up beside him, wiping the tears from her face and laughing.

“Yes, Danny, I’m sorry.  I’m just so happy!”

“I know darling, I am too.  I’ve wanted to hold you in my arms for so long. I thought this day would never come!” he replied holding her in his embrace again.

The couple lay back down on the soft rug again before the fire and made love three more times as twilight turned to night.

Gracie awoke the next morning and listened to her husband’s heartbeat and steady breathing as she lay across his chest as he slept soundly on the rug.  It had taken her a moment to realize Daniel had in fact returned home, so used to his absence as she was. She rose quietly, slipped on his shirt and padded into the kitchen to make breakfast.  A disturbing thought had occurred to her, one that she had completely forgotten about and didn’t know how to handle it though she thought she would’ve had an answer by now.  Before he left Daniel had expressed interest in starting a family but the idea had always left Gracie cold.  Now that he had returned the concept would surely come up again and try as she might, she really wasn’t comfortable with the thought of having children.

“Hey, don’t burn my bacon,” Daniel joked as he slipped his arms around her waist and kissed her on the neck.

Gracie jumped and moved the pan off the burner.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Of course now that my husband has returned to me,” Gracie replied smiling and putting her arms around him.

Daniel swept his wife up in a long deep kiss until the smell of smoke got their attention.  Gracie turned to discover the charred bacon was now accompanied by crispy cajun style eggs and sighed.

“What would you say to going out for breakfast?” Daniel chuckled.

“Sounds like a good idea to me!”

Upstairs as they were dressing they stopped to make love a few more times before actually getting around to putting clothes on.

“Gracie?”

“Yes?” she replied from the bathroom where she was fixing her hair.

“Now that I’m home have you given any thought to what we talked about before I left?”

She put down the hairbrush and looked at him in the mirror as he sat on the bed.

“You mean about having children?”

“Yes.”

She picked up the brush again and ran it through her hair a few more times before answering,

“To be honest I haven’t really thought about it much lately.”

“Not even while I was gone?”

She turned to face him.

“Of course not I was too busy worrying whether or not I’d ever see you again.”

“Alright, so now that I’m home what do you think?”

She sighed, “Daniel.”

“Ok look,” he interrupted raising his arms, “before I left you said you were too heavy to have a healthy pregnancy.  Now that you’ve lost the weight I know you’re probably concerned about putting the weight back on but baby, don’t you want to have kids with me?”

“I just don’t understand what the rush is, we’re still young, Danny.”

“We are, which means we’ll have the energy to raise them!”

They stood there silently staring at each other as the air filled with tension.  Then Daniel’s expression suddenly softened.

“Is it because of your mother?” he asked.

Gracie was stunned as the words crashed against her and she crumpled on to the bed sobbing.

Gracie and Daniel practically grew up together and he knew her life growing up wasn’t easy.  No, she hadn’t been poor, she grew up in a modest little house with white picket fence and a yard and she’d had her own room.  No, her parents weren’t drunks and nobody had beaten or molested her.  They were a God fearing church going family who lived a quiet, non-eventful life.  While her father was away at the office most of the day her mother played the obedient little housewife cooking and cleaning, hosting cocktail and dinner parties and conducting herself just so.  She was also busy ignoring her daughter.  Gracie never got tucked into bed, never had bedtime stories read to her or kisses good night.  Her scrapes were never soothed or kissed all better, in fact, Gracie’s interactions with her mother were the briefest possible.  It was as if she didn’t exist as a child and as a teenager nothing she did could please her.  It was bad enough that she couldn’t be the happy homemaker but any time she went out whether to study, go to a dance or on a date she was met with accusations of being a whore.  The harsh words out of her mother’s mouth during those days made Gracie long for the days of silence in her childhood and when Daniel had decided to join the military and asked her to run away with him and get married she couldn’t say yes fast enough.  The reason she didn’t want children wasn’t because she didn’t love her husband, he was and always had been her best friend, but because there was a possibility that any children she did have would face the same type of mother.  The woman had no maternal instinct, Gracie was sure of that, and she didn’t know if it was hereditary.

“I just don’t want our kids to go through what I went through,” she sobbed as Daniel held her close.

“I know baby, I know,” he said, “but with the childhood you had wouldn’t that make you more determined not to be the same way with our kids?”

“Of course,” she sniffed, “but what if being cold and cruel is genetic?  You’ve seen my family.”

Daniel lifted Gracie’s chin so she could look at him and smiled,

“Well if it is then it’s surely skipped a generation.  You are the warmest, most loving and most generous person I’ve ever met and always have been.”

He gave her a warm soft lingering kiss on the lips and they stared into each other’s eyes before Gracie gave a deep sigh.

“Besides,” he continued, “I always thought you were adopted or your parents were pod people or something.”

Gracie chuckled, “Sometimes I do too.”