Chapter Three: Everything Nice?

Hey, Lovebugs! Happy Freebie Friday!! 

Here it is. The finale. I hope you find it as satisfying as I did. I wrote it with a great, big, jack o’ lantern grin on my face.

Hope you enjoy! Hugs!

~Jojo

Pssst.

It’s almost HALLOWEEN!!!

frills-and-chills2

Stop!!!!

If you have not read the first two chapters of Dark was the Night, you will be LOST!!!

Click HERE to start at the beginning. Chapter One: Sugar

Click HERE if you missed the last chapter. Chapter Two: Spice

That said, please continue. 😉

Dark was the Night

Chapter Three

Everything Nice?

The day crawled by at a pace slightly less animated than that of a slug. Felicity gritted her teeth over her mother and father’s stern lectures of irresponsibility and selfishness. It’d been the same since she’d first broken things off with Laurent.

“You must make things right with the Lakewood boy,” growled her father.

“Do you think of no one but yourself? How are Papa and I supposed to cope as we age?” griped her mother as she helped herself to her third box of the chocolates Laurent had sent the day before. Felicity had to bite her tongue to keep herself from responding scathingly that they had both been getting on fine until they supposed extreme wealth was a viable option.

She sat in silence through the evening, watching her mother pour herself a sixth sherry and stare morosely into the fire. This was nothing new. Her parents had always wanted more than they had.

A better daughter, a better spouse, better food or a better house! Felicity chanted in her head as she darned one of her father’s socks. Never mind the garden or the chickens. They let Felicity care for the everyday chores while they sat and brooded over their lack of social standing and argued over the last bun from the bakery.

I suppose the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, thought Felicity. Had she really been so different from them? In roping Laurent, she had hoped for the greatest love that ever had existed. She had thought to please herself and pacify the parents that always claimed she was the heaviest of burdens upon them at the same time.

He said he’d find me, whispered a voice in the back of her mind, drowning out her father’s droning. Damien. His pale, handsome face flashed before her eyes. He said he’d come for me.

But how? Was she supposed to meet him in the dark of the wood? Find his bestial cottage as the rain thundered down on her head? Lightning flashed outside the window in the gray evening light and a clap of thunder shook the very foundation on which they sat.

Felicity’s mother looked toward the window, beyond which they could just make out the last of the townspeople finishing their shopping and rushing for cover, arms and purchases flung over their heads to ward off the chill of the pounding rain.

The sky darkened steadily and the thunder continued to shatter over their heads, making the windows rattle in their frames.

“Here you are, Papa,” said Felicity, handing the mended sock to her father. He took it from her without thanks and stuck his hand through the sock so that he looked utterly bizarre in the firelight. His little finger pushed at the seam Felicity had just made and she heard the snap of thread before it poked out of the freshly repaired tear.

“You didn’t do it strongly enough,” he sniveled, and he handed the ruined sock back to Felicity. She took it with a sigh and sat back down in her recently vacated seat. Another flash of lightning split the black sky outside the front window and Felicity looked up, startled.

For a moment, as the light glanced off the corner of the house, Felicity thought she saw the silhouette of a man standing there behind the flood of rain from the gutter. When she looked again, however, there was no one there. She shook her head, finished with the sock and, instead of handing it back to her father, sat it down beside the basket of freshly laundered clothing. She then stood up, her fingers covering her lips as her mouth gaped in a wide yawn.

“I think I’ll go to bed,” she said. Neither of her parents answered her. Felicity’s mother was slumped sideways in her chair, snoring gently. Her massive form was spilling over the edge of the seat in an undignified pile, the sherry glass in her fingers close to spilling. Wrinkling her nose in disgust, Felicity took the glass from her mother’s sausage-like fingers and propped her up with a pillow.

“Goodnight, Papa,” she said. He grunted, glowering into the fire. Felicity moved towards the hall, but her father’s voice called her back.

“If you don’t marry the Lakewood boy, you’ll no longer be welcome in this house,” he said. Felicity stopped in her tracks and turned to face her father in shock.

“What—?”

“You heard me,” he said, still not bothering to look at her. “You make it up with that boy or I’ll toss you out on your ear.”

Felicity blanched. Her knees began to shake. “But I don’t—.”

“I’m not giving you an option,” he said, finally twisting his head to look at her. “You’ll go to him tomorrow. I’ll send the neighbor girl with a note in the morning. Wear something pretty.” He turned away from her, leaving Felicity sputtering with indignation in the doorway.

Felicity couldn’t sleep. She listened to the thunder roll across her bedroom ceiling and dreaded the dawn. Lightning flashed over her face at regular intervals, illuminating the room in its haunting glimmer. The darkness seemed to shimmer for a few moments each time this happened. It danced around her bedroom in delight, as though it knew things she didn’t. Felicity couldn’t help but feel as though the shadows were aware of her self-made predicament.

It was during one of these flashes of light that there came a tap on her window. Felicity had been staring at the ceiling, watching the branches of the trees in the nearby woods cast dancing shadows over the wood. At first, she assumed the wailing wind had picked up a twig and tossed it against the side of the house, but then the sound came again, and she sat up on her elbow to peek over at the window next to her bed.

She gasped. Then she smiled.

Shrouded in a cloak so thick it could have been made from the shadows themselves, Damien was standing a foot away from the thick glass, cricking his fingers at her in a most inviting way. His icy blue eyes danced with mirth as the wind whipped through the trees behind him. Curiously, he looked untouched. Neither the wind nor the pounding rain seemed to be making a mark on his perfect appearance. He merely looked as though he were standing in a light wind. The eeriness of this picture made Felicity’s skin crawl with excitement.

His white-blonde hair stood up in that carelessly attractive way that caused Felicity’s fingers to ache to muss it, and he was bathed in darkness. Damien gave her a questioning look and then gestured for her to come to him once more. Felicity had been staring at him, her mouth open in astonishment.

Did this mean she was not insane after all? Or was her delusion growing beyond the restraints of nighttime forays into the woods? Should she open the window? If she were to let him in, would she lose herself? End up in an asylum?

But he looked so very inviting. So very… Real. Felicity felt a thrill of foreboding as she slipped out of bed, carefully straightened her nightgown, and slid back the catch on the window. Damien shoved the pane upwards with a noise like cannon fire in the still silence of the sleeping house and then proceeded to climb through the gap without hesitation or invitation.

Felicity listened for the grunting snores of her parents but heard nothing. A strange, otherworldly stillness seemed to have settled over her room. While just outside the window trees shook with gale force, the wind seemed to be forgetting to wail.

Damien unfolded himself like an accordion and straightened up, smiling mischievously. Looking very much like a wolf that had just entered the chicken coop.

Felicity opened her mouth to hiss a reprove or banish him back outside, but before she could get the words out, Damien wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. All the air left her lungs. His hands held onto her so tightly he might have been hoping to meld them into one being. It was only after a moment that Felicity realized she was clinging to his hard body with equal force and abandon. His lips were of fire and ice. They tasted of musk and Fall and desire. Felicity wouldn’t ever know how long they stood there, lost in each other. She only noticed when Damien began shoving her gently towards the bed. Her mind called a halt. Her body, while protesting slightly, shoved him away.

Damien looked taken aback and then he smiled again, knelt on the floor, and kissed her hand. “My apologies,” he muttered huskily, his chest heaving as he attempted to gain his breath. “I forgot myself for a moment.”

Felicity caught sight of herself in the mirror across the room as another fork of lightning flashed silently over the sky outside. Her auburn hair was tangled around her face, her cheeks and lips both red with passion. She looked hauntingly beautiful. Not like the small, girlish figure of a few hours ago. She suddenly felt very worthy of Damien’s attentions. Of course, this creature of the night would choose her. She was a match for him.

Something strange was taking place as Felicity looked at herself in the mirror. Something, incredible. She watched her reflection grin wickedly, she saw herself turned inside out. Not physically. It was as though a dormant magic had burst to life inside her chest. It enveloped her. Her skin shone with it, she looked radiant. And Damien was looking at her with wide-eyed confusion.

He sat back on his heels, his hand still gripping hers and stared at her. Felicity smiled. Damien’s face relaxed as he stood. He picked up a strand of her hair, cocking his head to the side to examine it.

“What is this? What are you?”

“What are you?!” laughed Felicity, no longer afraid of waking her parents. No longer afraid of anything at the moment.

Damien did not answer for a long time. He examined her quizzically then, still looking curious, he kissed her once more. The fire of his lips burned a trail over her entire body.
“I am the son of shadow,” he whispered. “Shadow and human. I am the keeper of the gate between our two worlds, as I was born of both.” Felicity felt her eyebrows fly into her hairline. A flurry of questions bubbled to her lips. Damien held a long, succulent finger over her mouth.

“I think,” he said, now examining her body with a satisfied air. “I have claimed you.”

Felicity shook her head. “You do realize you’re talking nonsense to me,” she said waspishly. She took a step back from his delicious, captivating gaze and sat down on the bed behind her, arms crossed over her chest.

Damien prowled after her, crouching down in front of Felicity to look up into her eyes.
“I have told you what I am,” he whispered. He reached up and took hold of her fingers, tracing the invisible veins beneath her skin. “I am not one for pretend.”

Felicity glared at him and pulled her hand from his, though the loss of connection felt rather like the separation of a limb. “You’re talking in riddles,” she said with a bluntness that caused Damien’s handsome mouth to quirk upward in a seductive leer.

“I’m not,” he growled. He stood up and towered over her. The shadows moved with him. With a wave of his hand, he cleared the darkness from beneath the bed and thickened that within the closet. A crick of a finger formed shapes in the black of the room. Made things creep and crawl. Made the room look huge and then small.

After a few moments of chaotic shifting and sliding, Damien lowered his arms. The shadows resumed their proper places, and Felicity’s eyes had expanded to the size of dinner plates.

“They obey me because I am one of them,” he breathed. “I lord over them as a sentinel. A guardian of correction and justification that keeps the darkness from overthrowing the light. I am balance. Precision.” He bent forward and settled his lips just above hers. Hovering there, with the night shrouding his face like a veil, he truly appeared a king of his realm. “I believe I would be right to take you as my own, as the darkness seems to have marked you as my equal.”

Felicity couldn’t breathe. Not with Damien’s mouth inches from hers. Her chest was heaving with terror, with exhilaration, and with excitement.

The idea of a world other than the one she inhabited with her parents, with Laurent and even Dottie from the market. The thought that there was something beyond. Something more. It captivated her soul just as much as the man that was before her. She wanted Damien. She wanted his arms to surround her in shadow, and strange heat and beauty.
She sat there, shaking, looking up into the face of darkness. He smiled his capricious smile, his white teeth bared in a delighted grin.

“Come with me now,” he said. It was not a request; it was a demand. Felicity raised her eyebrows at him.

“Where will we go?”

“Not far.” Damien planted a rather chaste kiss on her lips and straightened once more. “Not far at all.”

Felicity hesitated, feeling as though she were about to step into nothingness. As though she were on the precipice of a decision that would transform every aspect of life as she knew it.

“I will return you to your bed before the dawn,” he said. His cold eyes danced, begging her. He offered her his hand.

Felicity glanced around her darkened room. She thought of her father’s demands, of her mother slobbering over her sherry glass in the corner. She thought of Laurent, of Hannigan, and then she smiled playfully. “Perhaps I do not have to return at all,” she said and she placed her hand in his.

Damien’s responding smile was victorious. He pulled her to him and kissed her once more, then he led her to the window.

She walked with Damien into the night. The storm raging around them, but never touching a hair on their heads. The shadows accompanied them. Twirling and leaping with the swaying branches of the wood, they celebrated.

And when came the dawn, Felicity’s bed was empty. The window was closed. The room was cold.

As though she had never been there at all.

Dark was the Night


Freebie Fridays will be put on a brief hold while I finish get ready to release the second book in The Brittler Sisters Series.

In the mean time, feel free to indulge in the first Frills and Chills installment

A Brush with Death


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THIS IS THE ONE

Sneak Peek of Book Two in The Brittler Sisters Series

Due out this November, the second book in the series finds Dianna encumbered and irritable, but looking forward to the birth of their first child. Having been constantly on the watch for any signs of Tiponi’s vengeful tribesmen for over a year, both Shiye and Dianna are convinced of their safety.

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Be sure to subscribe to The Rumor Mill Newsletter for updates!!
Here’s a quick peek of the very first chapter.

Little Rose

Book Two in The Brittler Sisters Series

Chapter One

For My Loved Ones,


I miss you. It’s been a long time since I left Manhattan, and I am anxious for news. Tell me what has happened in your lives. Spare no details in your response, and I will spare none as I tell you what has been happening in mine. 
Dianna paused to run the tip of her fountain pen over her bottom lip as she thought. She sat at the scrub kitchen table. Her ankles crossed beneath her faded brown skirts.
She’d been out of touch with her family for the past year and could only imagine their anxiety for her. It wasn’t as though Dianna had had any choice. It wasn’t easy to mail regular correspondence when you were on the run from murderous natives.
Dianna exhaled violently, her blonde curls blowing away from her face as she did so, and looked around the tiny cabin. It was comprised of one room. The kitchen sat to the left of her. The bed: a few paces away on her right. Between the dining area— where Dianna now sat— and the bed, was a small stone fireplace. Within it sat a char black pot, hung from an iron peg.
It was a small space, but it was home, and it had been for nearly an entire year. The quilt on the bed was handmade and bore a embroidered pattern of leaves across its brown and gray surface.

Dianna heaved another sigh and then smiled as her eyes fell onto the cradle that sat at the end of the bed. It was comprised of sturdy wood and a deep red-brown in color. Shiye, Dianna’s husband, had carved intricate pictures on both the head and footboard. Two crossed feathers, surrounded by a twisting garland of oak leaves, decorated the head. A single feather surrounded by a garland of pine branches sat upon the foot.
“You see?” Shiye had told her, tracing his finger over one of the feathers. “One is for you, one is for me. The other is for our child.”
Her husband’s words seemed to echo to her for a moment, and Dianna sent up a silent prayer for his safe return. Shiye had gone on one of his frequent trips. Hunting and scouting the area for signs of danger. He was likely on his way home now; he’d been gone for several days.
Dianna laid a hand over her stomach to feel the reassuringly warm fumblings of her baby.

“You’ll be as warm blooded as your papa, sweetheart,” she whispered to her belly. Then she stood with a groan and strode over to the window to pull open the shutters. Sweat was beading on her forehead, though the spring night was relatively mild. Stars twinkled on the surface of the nearby river, making it look as though thousands of fireflies lay trapped beneath the rippling water.
She was on the point of turning back to her letter when a movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she stopped, staring hard at the shadows of the surrounding trees. Nothing moved, but Dianna’s spine itched with discomfort.
“Shiye?” she called hesitantly into the night. Her right hand wandered over the back of her waistband and she pulled a small throwing knife from its sheath there. “Who’s there?” she called again. A delicate fawn slipped out of the undergrowth a few feet away and Dianna let out a sigh of relief. Replacing the knife Shiye had given her in its leather scabbard, she turned away from the window and sat back down at the table to continue her letter.
Greyson Crowley and I were not meant to be. I must confess that I was too blinded by the excitement of my journey to note that the man was an obvious drunkard, a liar and a scoundrel. Fortunately for me, we were unable to marry upon my arrival in Cheyenne, and I was still unattached to him upon my discovery of his true nature. 


I spent some time recovering from a head injury inflicted upon me by the wretched man, and it was during this time that I met my new husband. His name is Shiye, and it was he who found me after Greyson Crowley’s drunken antics nearly ended my life. Shiye saved me and aided me in my recovery. Soon after, we were married in Cheyenne. 


I cannot tell you where I am now, for fear of this letter falling into the wrong hands. For Shiye has been falsely accused of a terrible crime by his people and we are, to the best of my knowledge, still being pursued by them. 


I will tell you that I am happy. For not only have I discovered a wonderful and loving husband, I am also with child. I hope someday soon, that we can arrange to meet, so that I might get to see you all. I miss you more than words can say. 
I am so sorry that I lost touch with you over the course of my ventures. I hope you will forgive me. I desire nothing more than to see your smiling faces, and I think of you always. 


Yours forever, 

Dianna

There. That sounded alright. Although there was no guarantee that her family would respond to her letter, Dianna was desperate to make contact with them. She felt horrible about leaving them without any information or means of reaching her, and could only hope that they would find it in their hearts to forgive her and write back quickly.

An ever-present feeling of guilt threatened to overwhelm Dianna for a moment. It swelled inside her like some noxious gas, making it hard to breathe. She flattened her palms against the table, fighting for control.

There came a steady crunch of footsteps outside the cabin and Dianna tensed again, reaching for her knife. The footsteps stopped and Dianna heard a grunt, followed by the thud of something large being tossed to the ground. She smiled, her body relaxed, and she stood quickly to open the front door.
Shiye was bent double, his hands busy in a small bag of supplies at his feet. Next to him, bloody and gutted, lay a string of rabbits, a few featherless birds, his hunting knife and his bow. At the sound of the door opening, he straightened and opened his arms just in time. For Dianna had flown at him with enough force to nearly knock him flat. Without giving him a moment to catch his breath, she kissed him.
Shiye chuckled beneath her lips and his arms encircled her. “I have missed you as well,” he said pleasantly. Dianna clung to him fiercely. Feeling such a powerful wave of happiness that, for a moment, she couldn’t speak. Shiye’s welcome heat radiated into her skin, warming parts of her soul that always grew cold in his absence. Before her pregnancy, Dianna had always gone on these short expeditions with him. Now though, the idea was quite out of the question.
“I expected you back days ago,” she said angrily, pulling away from her husband to confront him with a furious stare. “What happened?” He was only thirty and two to Dianna’s twenty-nine years, but his dark eyes were ringed with an age that only terrible trials can bring. Over the last year or so, this look had lessened slightly. He had grown content and —Dianna hoped— he had begun to forgive himself for the terrifying events in his past that had truly been out of his control.
Shiye’s high brow fell in a look of irritation. “I found signs of passing and tracked them over the mountains. It was likely only a traveler, but I needed to be certain. They were close to us, but they seem to have left the area.”
Dianna felt a distinct sense of unease grow in her belly. The baby squirmed. She lay a protective hand over the wiggling in her stomach and bit her lip. “Are you sure? We haven’t had anyone come this way for a long time, should we…?”
“We’re safe,” Shiye cut her off. His hands came to rest over her’s, and he smiled down at her. “I tracked them a long time, whoever it was headed East, away from Cheyenne. If it were a tracker, they would have headed back to the village to bring the others. Not East.”
Dianna felt her shoulders relax, and she smiled up at Shiye as the baby gave another firm kick to their joined hands. Shiye crouched down in the dirt to press a kiss to Dianna’s belly. “I missed you both,” he whispered, wrapping his hands around Dianna’s lower back and pressing his ear to her stomach. Dianna giggled as she felt the baby jolt once more, pressing against Shiye’s cheek.
“Welcome home,” she whispered.

Little Rose

Now available for Preorder!!

Click HERE to order now!


Watch for Josephine Blake’s Little Rose coming in

November of 2016


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For a sneak peek of Josephine Blake’s debut click HERE

THIS IS THE ONE

Exclusive Interview with THE AMAZING Linda Lael Miller

I met Linda at the Historical Romance Retreat in Spokane, WA this year. I was a little starstruck, a little nervous and crazy excited to be in the presence of such a fantastic pillar of Western Romance. I mean, she has written and published over one hundred historical and contemporary novels, she’s phenomenal. And here I am, this awkward little blonde chick swimming through the sea of authors and readers, just trying to poke my head out and catch her attention. I bobbed along for a bit and finally, it was my turn.

I think I might have cried a little.

(Sorry, Linda! 😉

Linda Lael Miller is just as warm and friendly in person as you would imagine from reading her amazing work. She was full of advice, energy and pizzazz!

I fumbled, I stumbled and, to no one’s surprise, I blushed but I finally managed to ask her if she wouldn’t mind taking a moment to answer a few questions for my blog. I couldn’t believe she agreed!!

So, let’s get right down to it and learn a little something extra about a woman who is, for many of us, a heroine herself.

The first thing I did when I sat down to write an interview was ask a fantastic group of individuals (Pioneer Hearts. You read Westerns? Join us.) whose opinions I deeply respect, what sort of questions they would ask Linda if they had the chance.

The first couple questions are from them.

Q #1: With such an extensive list of books, do you ever re-read any of your books from days gone by and wonder where that story came from or wish you could retell the story knowing what you know now? If so, have you ever done so or ever considered it?

Linda said: I never have time to re-read old books, though I sometimes listen on audio—Jack Garrett reads all my Recorded Book versions, and he does such a great job as a narrator!  Sounds a lot like Sam Elliott.  🙂  I’d like to think I’ve grown as a writer over these many years at the keyboard, but I’m all about the book I’m writing now, and the ones I’m planning in the future.

Q #2: Will your books every be on Kindle Unlimited?

Linda said: I don’t know.  These decisions are made by the Amazon people in the case of Kindle, and the process is probably similar with Nook, etc.

Q #3: Where does your inspiration come from? Each one of your books is distinctly different, and I know that is hard to do.

Linda said: My writing is organic, by which I mean, it grows from the characters, situation and setting, but especially the characters.  I see the stories in my mind as I write them, and really get involved.  Often, they show me things I hadn’t expected, which is one of the many reasons I love this job.

Q #4: Will you ever do another vampire series?

Linda said: Probably not.  Publishing, alas, is a business, and the vampire books were embraced by a much smaller audience, however loyal.  My publishers aren’t willing to go there because of lower sales.  I did enjoy writing those stories enormously, but there’s no getting around the economics.  Also, I think there have been so many wonderful books in that genre since that I would have a very hard time coming up with anything original.

Q #5: When will Kate Mckittrick get her story?

Linda said: At this point, I have no plans to write another Mckittrick book, but you never know when inspiration will strike!

 

The following questions were to satisfy my own curiosity!

 

Q #6:  I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you established the Linda Lael Miller Scholarships for Women Foundation. What inspired you to do that?

Linda said: Well, thank you.  I helped over 50 women while the scholarships were in force.  They are on hiatus at the moment, unfortunately, though I do hope to bring them up.  Again, the problem was economic.  The administration costs were 3 times what the scholarship recipients received, and that just doesn’t make sense.  I looked into forming a foundation, but that involved so many rules, which would negate my purpose of giving women the help they needed—a lap top, gas money, child-care in addition to tuition and books.

Q #7: Tell us about your father. He was a town marshal. Did he inspire any of the characters from your books?

Linda said: My dad will always be my favorite cowboy!  I did draw on his courage, his integrity and his willingness to work hard.

Q #8: Why do you think the West is such a fantastic setting for Romances? What qualities about that setting make it so wonderfully exciting to read?

Linda said: I love the West, partly because I’ve lived in it all my life, except for brief stints in London, Florence and Venice.  I believe it appeals to many readers because of the wide open spaces, the breathtaking scenery, and the courage of those who settled it back in the day.

Q #9: What are some of your favorite reviews from your readers? 

Linda said: The truth?  I rarely read my own reviews.  The really good ones might give me a swelled head, and the bad ones hurt my feelings.

(Linda, that answer inspired me!)

Q #10: What is the very first book you ever published? Where can we get ahold of a copy?

Linda said: My first published book was “Fletcher’s Woman”, and I’m sure it’s in print, therefore available wherever books are sold.

Q #11: Can you tell us your favorite author?

Linda said: I have so MANY favorite authors: Dorothy Dunnett, Taylor Caldwell, and others who wrote big historical sagas I could sink my teeth into.  I also love suspense—I will buy a book by Joy Fielding or Linwood Barclay, to name just two, without even reading the blurb.  🙂  I also read an enormous amount of nonfiction—especially the American Civil War, since I’m in the process of writing a series set in that era.  I love all of David McCullough’s books.  I read a lot of psychology, too, being a student of human nature—what writer isn’t?—and at the moment I’m particularly fascinated by the Enneagram.

Q #12: What is the top item on your grocery list this week?
Linda said:  🙂  Dog and cat food!  I’m a MAJOR animal lover.

Q #13: What is your ideal birthday gift?
Linda said: To receive?  Send over Rob Lowe, please.  🙂

Q #14: What are you working on now? Can we have a sneak peek???
Linda said:  I’m working on “NORTH OF EDEN”, a sprawling story set in the Gettysburg, PA area (mostly) and centering around the famous battle of July 1, 2, and 3, of 1863.  There are some battle scenes, but my story is mostly about the way the ordinary people coped with having a war fought just down the road, or even in their front yard.  In other words, while some of the characters are soldiers, the novel is mainly about women like my heroine, Caroline Hammond, who helped take care of the wounded in the aftermath of the battle.

Q #15: (We’ll round off with this real hard-hitting question. One that everyone is dying to know, I’m sure 😉 Linda, can you tell us what breakfast you would have if you could have anything in the world? And where would you eat it if you could eat it anywhere you wanted to?

Linda said: I’m so boring!  My favorite breakfast is crisp bacon, hash brown potatoes and eggs over-medium, with wheat toast.  I guess if I could choose the place too, I’d pick the White House dining room.  🙂  (Doesn’t matter who’s President.)

That concludes our interview with Linda Lael Miller. 
I’d like to personally thank Linda for joining us today and tell her, yet again, what an absolute delight it was to meet her at the HRR. I hope to see you there next year as well!
 The daughter of a town marshal, Linda Lael Miller is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 historical and contemporary novels, most of which reflect her love of the West. The “First Lady of the West” lives outside Spokane, Washington, where her rescued horses, dogs and cats live the high life.
Published since 1983, Linda was awarded the prestigious Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 by the Romance Writers of America. She was recently inducted into the Wild West Heritage Foundation’s Walk of Fame for her dedication to preserving the heritage of the Wild West.
Hallmark Channel is developing a series based on Miller’s Big Sky Country novels published by HQN Books. In addition to writing more contemporary cowboy romances, she is working furiously on a big book Civil War series for Harlequin. When not writing, Linda loves to focus her creativity on a wide variety of art projects.
More information about Linda and her novels is available at http://www.lindalaelmiller.com and on Facebook. 
 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two: Spice

Hey, Lovebugs!

Happy Freebie Friday!

It’s time to pop back into Felicity and Damien’s twisted little world.

NOW STOP!

If you haven’t read the first chapter of Dark was the Night, you will be LOST.

If you’re new to Freebie Fridays, here’s the run down.

On select Fridays of every month, I release a FREE short story. A few of these stories are stand-alone pieces and a few of them are meant to be read as a series. Check out the titles of each story to find out where to start. When at a loss, click the short story section from the drop down menu on the home page. If you’re on a mobile device, it’s those three little lines on the left-hand side of your screen at the top of the page. 🙂

I think that covers it. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to leave a comment! I hope you enjoy the second chapter of Dark was the Night!

XoXo

~Josephine Blake

frills-and-chills2

Dark was the Night

Chapter Two

Sugar

The night was mild, thankfully, and she found her way more easily than the last time. The vicious eyes of the cottage beast were not there to guide her, however, and Felicity found herself growing more and more uneasy as the night faded around her.

His home had been close. Somewhere around here. She was sure of it. Then she spotted it. Two hulking trees, twisting into a strangely unnatural shape that was both unusual and beautiful. The cottage had been in this spot! It had sat there, between the oaks, its windows glowing brightly in the darkness. How can it not be here?

Felicity took several deep, calming breaths. She had had the sense to bring a lantern this time, but suddenly it sputtered and began to fade.

“No, no, no. Don’t you dare,” she said to it, but the light went out with a quiet pop. And now the terror set in. She was lost this time, truly lost, and alone in the darkness. Calm down. Calm down. She stared all around her for a source of light in the pitch blackness, and, out of nowhere, there it was.

Two great, glowing, bestial eyes glared down at her from just over the way.

“Damien,” she whispered in relief, then louder, “Damien!” she began to make her way towards the windows of the cottage, but the closer she tried to get, the farther away they seemed to crawl.

“Damien!” she shouted out into the night. She turned, startled. The hem of her dress had caught on the branch of an elm, and she bent to untangle it.

There was a small pop, and the cottage’s predatory eyes vanished, plunging Felicity into darkness once more. She sighed in exasperation. “Please, Damien?”

“You called?” The light flared just behind her, and Felicity turned an irritable gaze onto the beautiful, bewitching man who lived deep in the heart of the woods. He was just as enticing as the last time she had seen him. His hair falling into his eyes in that carelessly handsome way, his sharp blue eyes dancing at the sight of her.

“Ahh, Felicity, my dear. How wonderful to see you again.” He bent to release her once more from the entangling elm branch, and she frowned at him.

“Why was it so difficult to find you this time?” she asked, and he smiled his capricious smile as he offered her his arm.

“Because you brought a light to frighten away the darkness,” he said cheerfully. “My shadows don’t approve of the light, you see.”

“Your shadows?” He cast a sly sidelong look at her and clicked his fingers. The lights in the cottage windows burst into life, illuminating the whole of the small building right beside them, although Felicity had been sure they’d only taken a handful of steps in the dark.

“You’ve come to take back your kiss?” he said, holding his front door open for her.

Felicity nodded curtly and stepped over the threshold. “Laurent has been much less than what I hoped he would be,” she said, affecting a neat little shudder of disgust. “I would be glad to be rid of him.”

“Indeed?” said Damien, setting his lantern down on the table and clicking his fingers once more. The lantern went out with another little pop and Felicity stared. “Would you like me to treat him as an enemy?”

“Certainly not,” said Felicity sharply, “I would simply like him to become less involved with me.”

Damien gave a small chuckle.

“Would you like me to draw up another contract?” he asked, his eyes danced, making it look as though he was enjoying some private joke.

“Yes, please,” said Felicity, and she hovered over his shoulder while he bent over the small table and unscrewed the ink pot. His white-blonde hair flopped forward, screening his words from her view.

“These are my terms, you may accept them, or walk away,” he said, finally straightening up.

“‘One pleasant kiss’,” she read icily, and Damien chuckled again. He took a step nearer to her and held out the contract for her to sign, the predatory gleam in his eye was unmistakable. There would be no trickery this time.

“Alright then,” Felicity grumbled, and for some unknown reason, she felt a thrill of excitement as she scribbled her name down on the piece of paper.

Damien’s smile could not have looked more satisfied. He beckoned Felicity over to him, and she came, reluctantly closing the distance between them in two short strides. She stood in front of Damien and closed her eyes tightly, so as to save herself the embarrassment of being able to look into the depths of his.

“Do you think a kiss from me will be so intolerable?” whispered Damien, the amusement in his husky tone was unmistakable. The spicy scent of his breath played over her skin.

Slowly, as though he were relishing the right to touch her, Damien drew the tips of his fingers down her bare arms. Felicity felt goose flesh rise in the wake of his touch and her lips parted in a perfect ‘O’.

“I said one, pleasant kiss,” he said quietly, bending forward to nibble on her ear. She felt him circling her, his fingers dragging over the flat of her stomach as he embraced her from behind. His hands cupped her hips. “That means, I won’t be wanting to kiss a block of ice again.”

Felicity’s eyes snapped open.

“I don’t make a habit of kissing strangers, you know,” she said, spinning in his arms to face him, her hand caught back as if she were going to strike his cheek. His blue eyes smoldered at her, and he slipped his fingers into hers, holding both her hands firmly behind her back.

“But, my darling, I am not a stranger,” he said. “I am more familiar to you than the sunrise.” He brushed a strand of her copper hair back from her eyes.” I know the way you move and speak better than anyone alive.” He pulled her closer to him until their figures were silhouetted together in the firelight. “I am the darkness,” Damien whispered. “I move around you, I breathe with you. I am the shadow that thrives beneath your bed. I wrap myself around your body when the lights go out. Who could be more familiar to you than I?”

Damien bent his head until his mouth was only inches away from hers. Felicity was trembling, her eyes wide. He brushed his lips over her brow, smiling in a satisfied way. She had gone numb. She couldn’t move.

 

When he kissed her, fire seared through her veins. Felicity was captured by the sensation, for it was like nothing she had ever felt before. She couldn’t think, and she didn’t want to. She flew away into the stars, got lost in the succulent night. His hands roamed over her body and all she could feel was warmth and shadows. His fingers skimmed so lightly over her skin that she felt as though she were being wrapped in a fine, gossamer web of silk.

She was breathing heavily, and she heard Damien let loose an animalistic growl as he yanked her closer still. He seemed just as lost as she was, just as fascinated by their contact. His hand made its way up her back and twisted into her hair, angling her head so that he could deepen the kiss. Felicity was drowning in the searing heat of him.

 

Damien stepped back so suddenly that he bumped into the table behind them. He released Felicity quickly, as though he could no longer bear the feel of her beneath his hands, and almost pushed her away from him.

 

Felicity looked at him in shock, stumbling backward slightly. Damien reached out a hand to steady her and then released her once more. His hands were braced on the table and he faced her, his eyes full of an element of shock and wonder.

Felicity straightened her skirts, turning away from his crystalline gaze and feeling her cheeks reddening with embarrassment. What was that? She asked herself. What is this man?

 

“Your kiss has been returned,” he said, still eyeing her with confusion, as though he was just as unnerved by what had just passed between them. “Your man will seek you no more.”

 

Felicity wasn’t listening. She was staring at the man before her as though she were suddenly seeing him for the first time. “You bewitched me,” she said. She clutched at the neck of her silken dress and felt fear slide back into her throat like bile.

Damien was no longer smiling. His eyes were narrowed at her, he looked winded. His normally smooth, white-blonde hair was poking out at odd angles. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and peered at her with a frown on his beautiful face.

“I beg your pardon, Miss,” he said irritably. “I’ve done nothing of the sort.”

“You’re toying with me,” insisted Felicity, and she took a step away from him, widening the gap between them so that she was out of the reach of his incredibly masculine arms. She now stood in the center of his tiny kitchen. “You have cast a spell over me.”

Now Damien looked exasperated.

“I’ve done nothing to you, Felicity,” he said calmly, pushing off the table and taking a step towards her.

She backed away again, jumping with fright as she fell against the counter and made the pans rattle in their holders.

Damien looked seriously annoyed now. He took a measured step back from her, his frown deepening.

“Lost your nerve, have you?” he said, and he waved to the door. “You’ve done what you came here to do. I’ll not keep you from going.”

Felicity stared at him. Was this more deception? Why wasn’t she running for the door? Even as she feared him, she could still feel his lips on hers. She bit her lip nervously and could still taste his heat, like whiskey and spice. Like the October air had melded darkness and rich, sweet fall smells into a taste. Her hazel eyes found his blue ones and she straightened at the look of animosity on his face.

“What right do you have to look so put upon?” she asked scathingly.

“What right do you have to accuse me of bewitchment?” Damien responded with equal rancor. “If anything, I have removed a curse of your own making.”

“Of my making?!” screeched Felicity, forgetting her fear and coming right up to him. “It was you who gave me the means to entrap Laurent.” She poked him hard in the chest, and Damien flinched and glared at her. Seizing her hand, he brought his eyes down to her level.

“The drink you gave your greatest love would have had no effect on him without your aid,” he spat.

Felicity struggled to throw off his astoundingly tight grip. “Unhand me, you fiend.”

He let go of her wrist and Felicity tumbled into a pile of silk and ruffles at his feet. Damien stomped around the place where she sat on the floor, his black boots looking as though they might very well break through the floorboards at any moment.

“I would like you to leave,” he said waspishly, striding over to the door and pulling it open.

“With pleasure, sir!” shot Felicity as she struggled to her feet.

“I should have known this would come back to bite me. A spoiled child turns up on my doorstep, begging for me to help her. I comply and-“

“Only after seeking out the best possible way to take advantage of her!” snapped Felicity, striding past Damien and heading out into the night.

“Who took advantage of whom?” asked Damien, reaching out to pull Felicity to a stop on the front stoop.

Felicity felt the bite of flame in his touch and was instantly distracted. Looking up into Damien’s darkly handsome face, she knew he had felt it too. She froze. Neither of them pulled away.

“Please stop,” whispered Felicity. She couldn’t control herself. She suddenly wanted to feel his lips on hers again. She wanted…

Damien let her go, looking as though it was costing him everything he had not to take hold of her once more and pull her back into his arms.

“What are you?” he asked in wonder.

Felicity pursed her lips, unsure of how to respond to such a question. Her fury had fled the moment his skin had come into contact with hers. She felt as though she were being pulled towards him by some invisible cord.

“I think I have more grounds to be asking that question than you,” said Felicity finally. She took a step nearer to him and looked up into his incredible face. “What are you?”

Damien shrugged. “I’ve already told you what I am.” He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his vest and leaned casually back against the frame of the open door, looking preoccupied.

“You haven’t,” whispered Felicity. She ran her hand over the soft, black velvet of his vest. “You haven’t explai-“

“Would you like me to show you?” he asked suddenly. He looked violent, frightening. His handsome features had pulled together in a sneer, and he pushed away from the door frame so that he towered above her. The shadows outside the cabin seemed to grow deeper, creeping toward them like so many starving beasts.

Felicity cocked her head to the side at his show of ferocity, unperturbed. “Yes, alright then,” she said, and she reached forward and took hold of his hand. Damien seemed to deflate before her eyes. The shadows resumed their usual form.

It was as though they’d kindled a small spark between their joined palms. It was living between them, the heat causing Felicity’s hand to tingle in a strange, but not unpleasant, way.

“Where is your fear?” asked Damien, idly. He reached forward and brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes.

Felicity laughed. “It should be here,” she said, touching her throat with her free fingers. Damien’s eyes followed her hand. “But I’ve never had much sense,” she giggled.

Damien cracked a smile and shook his head. “I can see that,” he said, giving her a small dig in the ribs with their joined fingers.

A cool autumn breeze blew then, twirling Felicity’s skirts around her ankles. Orange and brown leaves leapt and danced in the firelight that poured from the open doorway and Damien looked up at the horizon. His gaze darkened significantly.

“Dawn,” he said, nodding towards the pink tinge above the wide expanse of trees in the distance.”You must go.”

“Why?” asked Felicity, her grip tightening on his hand. “Let me stay. You were going to show me-“

“You can’t stay,” he said hurriedly, his eyes flicking around the trees behind him as his fellow shadows began running for cover. “You have to leave before the dawn.”

“But why-?”

He silenced her with a second kiss. The heat grew between them, sparking and leaping to even greater heights, and Felicity wanted to stand there and kiss him until she died. Her heart pounded in her ears. His lips were insistent.

“Go,” he said as he pulled away, and he glanced again to the rising sun. “I will find you.”

“But-“

“I will find you,” he said again. He gave her a light shove, starting to look strangely fearful as the pink tinge turned to orange and the deep blacks of the sky began fading to purple.

His fear was infectious. Felicity turned and stumbled off the porch.

“But how will you-“ she looked back over her shoulder and felt panic erupt in her chest at the sight that greeted her.

Damien’s beast of a cottage had disappeared.

Felicity spun on the spot, looking into every shadow, into every dark corner of the small clearing, but there was no cottage. No creature with glowing eyes to guide her to the mystical man of the wood, whose delightfully wicked lips tasted of spice and heat. No Damien. No anything.

Her knees felt weak. The last of the shadows were fleeing. The darkness had abated. Felicity spotted a large stump a few feet away and sank down onto it as the morning sun climbed the treetops. She was trembling with shock and confusion, and she abruptly became of aware of a throbbing pain developing in her temples.

This is it, Felicity, she thought. You’ve gone and done it now. She sighed, smoothing a crease in her skirt. You’ve gone and lost your blasted mind.

 


Chapter Three of Dark was the Night will be available on October 28th

In the mean time, feel free to indulge in the first Frills and Chills installment

A Brush with Death


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THIS IS THE ONE

Dark was the Night: Sugar

Hey, Lovebugs! Happy Freebie Friday!!

So, I had originally intended this next story to be a single, stand alone piece but, as usual, the characters had much more to tell me than I had predicted. I had to fight the urge not to reveal Dark was the Night as yet another full-length novel. As such, this story will be told in multiple installments this month.

Enjoy, Lovelies!

frills-and-chills2

Dark was the Night

Chapter One

Sugar


I can’t believe I’m doing this.

Dry autumn leaves crackled beneath her feet. The wind howled through the trees around her, carrying a chill that nipped at the exposed skin of her cheeks and wrists.

I should turn back.

No sooner had Felicity had the thought than she saw her destination peering out at her through the black night. The skittering sounds of the creatures that rustled in the brush around her feet caused yet another shiver to play its tune down her spine. She took a deep breath, swiping strands of her auburn hair out of her damp lashes, and tugged her blue shawl more closely around her shoulders.

I’ve come this far, haven’t I?

The windows of the tiny cottage looked like the eyes of some giant, lurking beast, glaring out at her from between the trunks of the large oaks that surrounded it. Felicity glared right back. The eyes of the massive creature seemed to brighten, daring her to come nearer. She swallowed past the lump that had risen in her throat and took another step.

Her brown dress snagged on the grasping branch of an elm, and she had to stop to pull it free. In those few crucial seconds, something happened. The lights in the cottage ahead went out with an almost indecipherable pop.

The very air around Felicity seemed to come alive as darkness descended on her like a pack of hungry wolves. The night wavered, the blackness settled and became complete. Felicity could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She could hear the blood rushing in her ears. Her hair fell around her shoulders and tumbled into her eyes once more. She shoved it away again irritably, her eyes straining to make out anything in the pressing blackness. The night thrived with silence. It was this, above all else, that made her breath hitch in her chest with terror.

“You shouldn’t have come here, my dear.”

The voice spoke so close to the back of her neck that she felt it dampen the small hairs there in passing. Felicity repressed a shriek as a lamp flared a few feet away from her.

The person holding the lamp came as something of a surprise. Not crotchety, not ugly and old with warts and a bulbous nose. Not an anciently terrifying woman with a chant and a broad stick. No. Not a woman at all.

He was very handsome. His white blonde hair fell into his eyes with a lazy indifference that made it clear he had not a care for what he looked like. His jaw was strong and there was something wolfish in the grin he was bestowing on her. His eyes were a piercing shade of icy blue. Handsome had not been the right word. He was beautiful. In a haunting way that made chills break out over Felicity’s pale skin. In the way a horrible accident is drawing, she desperately wanted to stop looking at him but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. His evil grin widened.

“Are you lost?” His beautiful lips said the words, but his sharp blue eyes told her he knew the truth.

Felicity straightened up from the bent position where she had still been trying to untangle her skirt. “I’m not lost,” she said, trying to inject a note of confidence into her trembling voice. “I wish to speak with the woman who lives over the way.” Felicity nodded her head to the place where the grotesque eyes of the cottage beast had paralyzed her only a few moments ago. His smile widened further still. He looked like a cobra, capricious and cruel, with no hint of humanity in his steady gaze.

“There is not a woman over the way,” he whispered.

Felicity sighed. She still could not look away from him. They were the only two living beings in a sea of night. The moon, the stars… they all seemed to have dimmed. There was nothing but her and this handsome, evil creature in front of her.

His light blue gaze flickered over her body and he licked his lips hungrily. Felicity felt chills erupt wherever his eyes touched, he seemed to look through her.

“Then I am lost,” she said, ignoring the pressing danger of her situation. “I am looking for the one who can bewitch enemies and help crops grow. The one who made Bishop Dreyers fall in love with Emily Peebles.”

He chuckled, and Felicity knew he laughed at her, not her words.

“What?” she asked irritably, tugging on her trapped skirt again without taking her eyes from his.

He said nothing, but approached her slowly, holding his lantern aloft. After a moment’s cursory examination, he bent down and freed her from the elm’s clutches. The branch seemed to shrink back, as though it had been reprimanded. Felicity stared at him as he rose, and his proximity brought an unwelcome blush into her cheeks.

“Which is it?” he asked unblinkingly.

“Which is what?” snapped Felicity growing frustrated with the way he ruffled her generally stoic personality.

“Do you desire to bewitch an enemy? To make your family’s crops flourish? Or do you desire love?” He said this last word in such a scathing tone that Felicity could not help but be insulted.

“What I do not desire,” she said, swirling her skirts and finally severing her gaze from his fine form, “is to be made a game of. I will see my way to my destination, sir. There is no need for you to accompany me with your light.” She turned away from him, but the insolent man caught hold of her elbow.

“If you leave now, you will never receive the thing you seek.”

Felicity jerked her elbow from his grasp, “how dare you presume—”

“It is love then,” the beautiful man said with an exasperated sigh, and he shook his glorious blonde head. “It is always love with the young ones.”

“Forgive me, sir,” she spat, “But you do not appear to be the expert on the subject with which I wish to speak.”

His dazzling smile was back, it made him look quite demented. “But I am he,” he said, his words slithering out of his mouth like the forked tongue of a serpent. “I can give you what you desire.”

Felicity narrowed her eyes at him. Was he playing her for a fool?

“You?”

He said nothing, but that horrible, manic grin stayed in place.

“Emily said I was to look for a witch,” she said, shock flitting into her mind. “You are certainly not a witch.”

“Wizard would be the more preferable term,” he said idly, examining his fingernails. “Witch always sounds decidedly feminine, and as you can see,” he glanced down at his handsome frame, “I am decidedly not feminine.”

He had a point there. Felicity let her eyes do a bit of their own exploring and she found her interest piqued, despite herself.

“Although, I would prefer to be addressed by my name,” he said. He stooped to pick up his lamp and offered her his arm. Felicity hesitated before placing her gloved fingers on his forearm.

“Which is what?” she asked as he guided her through the trees to the small cottage over the way.

“My mother named me Damien,” he said and he glanced down at her with another terribly beautiful smile. “It has been a long while since I heard my name on another’s tongue.”

“Damien,” repeated Felicity, and she watched him close his eyes briefly, like a lion in a ray of sunlight.

“Yes,” he said, and his lilting voice was a purr. There was something predatory in the look he cast her as he pulled her to a halt in front of the cottage door. Felicity hadn’t even noticed them approach it. She glanced at the unlit windows on either side of the threshold as he pulled out a set of keys and shouldered the heavy wooden door open. The hinges screeched wretchedly and even Damien winced.

“I meant to oil them weeks ago,” he said suddenly looking much more human-like indeed as he rubbed the back of his neck in an abashed sort of way.

Felicity smirked at him as he held the door open for her, she hesitated once more before moving into the darkness within. Damien shut the door with a snap behind her, and he stepped forward, bumping into Felicity.

“My apologies,” he said and his breath in her ear sent another dancing shiver over her body, as though she was enjoying some sort of illicit thrill from his closeness. She felt him move away from her and a moment later, her eyes adjusted as the lantern in Damien’s hand swung into view, illuminating the modest surroundings.

The cottage was made up of a single room. There was a small bed in the corner next to the fireplace with a set of bookshelves surrounding the entire length of the headboard and the wall beside it. A single rocking chair sat opposite the bed on the other side of the room and two more bookcases lined the walls next to that. Felicity felt her eyes go wide as Damien made his way across the room and bent to start the fire. She watched him with feminine appreciation for some time before realizing what she was doing and hastily turning her gaze to the rest of the room.

She stood in the middle of what appeared to be a tiny kitchen. She smiled as she noted the tidiness of the place. Even here there were books. Neatly lining the sill of a third window that sat above a sunken basin in the countertop. Felicity approached it interestedly and saw a pump sticking out of the top of the basin, much like the one her family had outside their home next to the garden. She was always having to cart loads of dishes and laundry back and forth from it to get water. How nice it would be to have it directly in one’s home. There was a small, brown, wooden table in the corner, a single chair sat next to this. It looked as though it had been pushed back in a great hurry. Scroll upon scroll of parchment littered this table and a small candle, nearly burned down to the stub sat perched upon it. In fact, given his obvious proclivities for the paranormal, she was shocked by how normal everything in his house seemed.

Damien cleared his throat and Felicity spun back to him. His white-blonde hair looked gold in the firelight.

“Shall we get started then?” he said, rubbing his hands together. His blue eyes gleamed excitedly. Felicity caught sight of herself in a mirror across the room. She looked haughty and pale, although her cheeks were flushed and her chestnut locks were rather tousled from her journey through the woods in the dark.

She held up her hands, palms out.

“I would like to discuss methods of payment before we begin,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her, and lifting her chin obstinately.

“I require a kiss,” said Damien. His evil grin was back. He looked more likely to devour her whole rather than kiss her, and Felicity felt her resolution waver once more.

“A kiss?” she asked doubtfully, turning on the spot to keep him in view as he prowled around her in a hungry circle.

What was she doing? I am alone in a cottage with a strange man that I met in the woods. Not a soul knows where I am.

“A kiss,” Damien repeated, coming to a stop in front of her and blocking the path to the door, still grinning as if he knew exactly what she was thinking, and was highly amused by it. Felicity swallowed, lifted her muddy skirts, and made to stride around him.

“I will not bend to such an impertinent request. I am not a strumpet. I am a well-bred lady, and your outrageous suggestion has now brought me to my senses. I will bid you a good evening, sir, and return from whence I came.”

He stopped her once more by taking hold of her elbow. At the same moment, he fished something out of his jacket pocket.

“All you require,” he said, a hint of coercion wheedling its way into his deep, throaty voice, “is in this bottle.”

It was a tiny little thing, no larger than her thumb, wider at the base and slimmer at the top with a small wax seal holding the cork in place. It was full of a light green liquid and seemed to sparkle in the dancing flames of the cracking fire. Felicity halted as the firelight glanced off the bottle in his hand and made Damien’s eyes glimmer too. Sparks erupted from the place where he still held her forearm.

She eyed the tiny bottle with the air of a practiced salesman. “In that bottle?” she almost scoffed, taking hold of his fingers and forcibly removing them from her arm. “I doubt that the contents of that bottle would cause any significant change in my circumstances.”

Damien’s grin did not falter, but he looked suddenly forbidding in the shadowed light. “You think I would cheat you?”

“I think you are not so much a witch, as a swindler, trying to lure young women into your trap.”

He looked annoyed at her blatant disregard for his opinion of the word witch. Then his wolfish smile returned. “You think I wish to entrap you, my dear?”

Felicity nodded decisively. “I think that is precisely what you are doing. For surely a kiss from my very own lips is worth far more than the contents of that bottle.” She lifted her skirts once more, and this time, she stepped out of his reach as she made her way to the door. “I will take my leave of you, sir.”

She reached the door and managed to slip the catch, but as it crept open, shrieking in protest, Damien’s hand came down on the back of it, and the door slammed closed once more.

She could feel his hot breath as he all but buried his unshaven jaw in her long auburn hair. It sent chills up the back of her neck and caused the muscles of her stomach to tighten in protest. He pressed his body uncomfortably close to her and Felicity registered the intense heat that emanated from him. He didn’t touch her, but he leaned so close that she could feel that heat against every inch of her body, then whispered in her ear:

“I could entrap you easily, pretty. There are miles of woods between us and the village. Who would hear you scream?” He backed away so suddenly that Felicity almost collapsed with relief and strangely, with disappointment. She watched him as he strolled casually over to the table and pulled out a new sheet of parchment. Without looking at her, he unscrewed the cap on an old ink pot, dipped a quill into it and began to write.

When Damien next looked up at her, he gestured her over to see what he had written. Felicity frowned at him and approached warily, lest he seek to grab hold of her once more. He did not move, but extended his arm and blew on the parchment, waiting for the ink to dry.

“There it is. Binding. A sales agreement. A single kiss for one love potion. All you have to do is sign.” He tapped the end of his quill next to the place where he had signed his own name. Damien L. Sharman.

“Sharman?” she asked disbelievingly.

Damien gave a shrug. “Everyone has to have a name, Felicity.”

“How do you know my-” he gave her another wicked grin and added a roguish wink. “I’ve no doubt you would be very surprised to know the things I know, my dear.” Felicity glowered at him and Damien chuckled.

“Do we have a deal then?”

Felicity dithered on the spot. This was what she had come here for. Although, she had expected to make a deal with the Woodland Witch, what she had not expected was that the Woodland Witch would be a devastatingly attractive and evilly charming young man. She bit her lip as she stared down at the contract in his hand.

“Can I not tempt you with the gold in my pocket?” she said half-heartedly.

He glared at her.

“We are not haggling, miss. A kiss is the price. Love for love. It is an even exchange.” He suddenly sounded business-like, and Felicity had the impression he had struck deals like this before. The thought did not soothe her consciousness, but the little green bottle glittered on the table before them, and she thought of Laurent. Of his dark, wavy curls and the way he smiled at her as they passed in the street. She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything in her life, and Felicity Devonshire was used to getting what she wanted.

Without giving herself another moment to change her mind, she swiftly grabbed the quill from Damien’s hand and signed her name just below his.

“Very good,” he said. He blew on the parchment, and Felicity’s eyes found his lips. They were full and inviting; they looked warm. Her mind wandered. What would they feel like against her own?

Damien was speaking again, and her eyes snapped guiltily away from his mouth.

“When you have given him the potion, you must wait five minutes and then invite him to take a stroll with you. He will accept. And if he does not, you may return here for a full refund.” His eyes glinted mischievously, and Felicity felt a blush creep into her cheeks once more.

“You may rest assured that I will not be returning, sir, no matter the outcome.”

“We’ll see,” he held out the bottle to her. Felicity reached out a hand to take it, but he snatched it back out of her reach. “Ahh, I believe it is time for payment, my dear.”

“Oh, very well,” said Felicity and before he had a moment to prepare himself, she took hold of his face and planted a firm, unyielding kiss on his hot lips. He tasted of musk and cinnamon. She could feel him fighting to take control of the situation, but before he could pull her any closer, she had backed away, now holding out a long-fingered hand for the tiny bottle.

He frowned at her, the corner of his mouth wrinkled in discontent. “I’m sure I could have got just as much enjoyment from kissing a block of ice.”

“You did not specify what kind of kiss was to be had, only that one must take place. In fact, I rightly could have made you kiss the backside of a horse rather than my own lips.” She pointed at the contract. “One kiss, you wrote. Your payment has been made in full. Hand over the bottle.” She cricked her fingers at him when he was slow to obey.

With an irritable growl, Damien removed the tiny bottle from the table and slapped it into Felicity’s hand. “Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure doing business with you.” With that, she tucked the bottle into her blouse, turned on her heel and stomped out the front door, leaving the infamous Woodland Wizard standing stupefied in his neat and orderly kitchen.

 

Felicity couldn’t believe what she’d just done. Feeling slightly triumphant, she exited the cottage and raced for the patch of lights she could see in the distance. Home was that way, and so was Laurent.

Rain began to fall an hour later as she drew closer to her family’s estate on the outskirts of Hannigan. It was still very dark, and though she’d finally found the road again, she had no idea how she was going to explain the damage she had done to her dress. The hem was coated with mud and grime, and she was still pulling the odd twig or leaf out of her tangled hair. Why did it have to rain now, why?

By the time she reached the backyard gate, the morning sun was creeping over the nearby hills and she was greeted by the crowing of the rooster in the hen house. Shaking her head, she removed her shoes, crept silently through the back door and down the hallway to her bedroom, very conscious of every creaking floorboard she met on her way.

It was with a sigh of relief that she slid her bedroom door softly closed and turned to face the empty room. She caught sight of herself in her dressing table mirror and gasped. She was quite the sight. She’d managed to smear mud over her right cheek and her dress would need darning in several places. Her hair was lank and damp, and she caught sight of a few spare twigs she had not yet managed to extricate.

With a groan, she moved across the room to her bed and lifted the dust ruffle. Placing her filthy boots beneath the mattress, she reached for the buttons of her dress and began to strip off.

By the time she was finished cleaning herself up, the water in her wash basin was a murky brown, and clumps of dirt littered the floor around her feet. Grumbling to herself, she dressed in a fresh outfit, tossed the water out the window, and went in search of a broom.

 

Greeting Laurent at the mercantile with deep-set rings around her eyes and a countenance so pale she was nearly insubstantial had not been her initial plan. However, as nothing else had gone to plan as of late, she couldn’t really begrudge fate the little extra jab in the ribs.

Mother had sent her to market first thing after breakfast, and though she’d pleaded a headache, her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. So it was that Felicity was to be found a few hours later strolling through the aisles with bleary eyes and a basketful of fruit.

Due to her exhaustion perhaps, she did not immediately recognize her beloved when he smiled at her as they passed.

“Laurent,” she shrieked, nearly dropping her basket. Heads turned in their direction and Felicity had to force herself to remain calm. He approached her, looking concerned.

“Are you feeling well, Miss Devonshire?” he asked, fixing her with his heavy-lidded eyes.

“Very well, indeed Mr. Lakewood,” she said, choosing not to draw more attention to her outburst than was necessary. “And how is your mother?”

Laurent frowned, but tactfully let the subject drop. “She is finally gaining on her illness,” he said, inclining his head. “I thank you for your concern. Is your family well?”

“Quite well, yes, thank you, and yourself?”

“Very well, indeed. Might I ask why-”

“Oh, Dottie!” exclaimed Felicity, purposefully cutting Laurent off in mid-sentence, “What is it you have there?”

“`Tis not so exciting, Miss,” responded the woman behind the fruit stand, “`Tis only the cider from Mr.MacDarren’s apple orchard.”

“Might we try some, please?”

Dottie looked surprised. “Well, of course, Miss,” she said with a smile, and she poured two glasses, one for Laurent and one for Felicity.

“I’ll get us some sugar, shall I?” said Felicity, and she whipped away so fast that Laurent barely had time to mutter:

“I don’t much care for sug-”

In a flash she was back again, stowing the empty little bottle in her basket and handing Laurent the cup. As he took a sip, victory reared to life in her chest. Aha, she thought, it is done.

 

And done it was. Laurent smacked his lips appreciatively as he handed Dottie back her glass. “That was scrumptious,” he said, delightedly. “I do believe I will take some home to Mother.”

Felicity watched, anxiously counting the minutes, as Laurent paid for his cider and gave both Dottie and herself deep bows.

“Ladies, I thank you,” he said and he prepared to take his leave. It was now or never. Felicity spoke to the back of his frock coat.

“Oh, Mister Lakewood, won’t you care to accompany me on a morning stroll?”

Laurent Lakewood stopped in his tracks and turned to stare at Felicity with such intensity that for a moment, she feared Damien’s drink had driven him mad. Then his face split into a wide grin.

“Well, of course, Miss Devonshire. I could use a brisk morning jaunt.”

He spun round, offered her his arm, and guided her away from the mercantile and into the nearby street.

 

That was the beginning of the most scandalous courtship the small town of Hannigan had ever known. In no time at all the entire town was talking about how Laurent Lakewood was courting Miss Felicity Devonshire, a young woman far below his station. Felicity’s parents could not have been more thrilled, and unfortunately, Laurent’s parents could not seem to talk sense into him. There were rumors that an engagement would soon be at hand.

“Mother was telling me just the other day,” those eight words. If Felicity never had to hear those same eight words again as long as she lived, she might die happy. Annoyed, but happy.

Laurent was lounging on the settee in his parents richly furnished parlor room, sucking on the straw that was sticking out of a glass of apple cider.

Felicity was watching him with a disgusted look on her face. His tongue snaked out of his chapped lips and wound its way around the straw, pulling it into his mouth. How had she ever thought him attractive?

“Laurent?” he scowled at her as she interrupted his monologue, but then brightened. She had been perusing his father’s library, which was perhaps, more limited than the selection she had seen in Damien’s cottage but impressive none the less.

“Yes, dear?”

“I would like to call a halt to the proceedings. I am no longer interested in being courted by you.” She did not look at him while she spoke. She was accustomed to letting his words wash over her,mand doubted he had even heard her interruption. He had.

“What do you mean, darling?” he said idly, sticking out his tongue again to search for his wandering straw.

“I mean what I said,” Felicity spun to face him, her hands on her hips. “I’ve had enough of you and your nonsense.” She gestured to the way he lay sprawled across the settee. Laurent sat up suddenly, his boots scraping across the mahogany table in front of him.

“You can’t end our courtship,” squawked Laurent, aghast, “I will not allow it!”

“You will allow it. I refuse to be involved any further with you. Your attentions are no longer welcome. I will not marry you.”

With that, Felicity left the wealthiest household in all of Hannigan, her dreams of love and wealth irritatingly shattered.

It was not as easy as that, though. Laurent Lockwood was not used to being told no, and he begged and pleaded for her to return to him in the most annoying fashion until Felicity was quite sick of it.

“That is enough,” she said to herself, looking at how her room sparkled with gifts and tokens from him. “I’ve never met a man who was so incurably selfish, even while in love.”

Felicity sighed. Unfortunately, she knew what she would have to do to rid herself of the pestilence that was her former beau. She was going to have to shelve her pride and visit Damien once more.

 


Click HERE to read Chapter Two of Dark was the Night

Also, feel free to indulge in the first Frills and Chills installment

A Brush with Death


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THIS IS THE ONE