Teaser: Can’t Fight This Feeling

Forgive me, darling readers. December was a horrible month for us. And to make matters more complicated, I had dental surgery on the same day as the release of Can’t Fight This Feeling, Book 2 in the Craving 1985 Series. All went well and I’m recovering, but I can’t believe I forgot to post a teaser for the release of Rob and Marcy’s book! Allow me to rectify this now.

Welcome to 1985

Marcy Maxwell

I’ve worked damned hard to get where I am. After a failed marriage to an abusive asshole, I’m in no hurry to dive into another relationship. My business is booming, and I’m rubbing shoulders with the cream of New York!
But when one of my clients gets rough, I have no one to back me up. So I run to the one man who will bandage me up without judgment. My brother’s best friend. He knows too much, has seen me at my worst, and is completely off-limits.

Dr. Rob Thompson
I’ve been in love with my best friend’s sister from the first moment I met her. But she hates my guts. After her divorce, I watched her hit rock bottom. Her pride and persistence made her ten times hotter, and a million times more stubborn. There’s no convincing her of anything, let alone my sincerity. Until she finds herself in hot water.
I would do anything for her, even if it means sacrificing everything.


Chapter One

Marcy

I hate weddings.

That’s the first thought I had when my brother told me he was getting married. I love Arthur and Kate, but the thought of helping to plan a wedding and being an active participant in the whole event leaves my skin crawling.

I tried it once, the whole marriage thing. It’s bogus. I’d rather use my toothbrush to clean the bathrooms in Grand Central than tie the knot again.

But this isn’t about what I want. This is about my brother finding the love of his life across time itself. I don’t know how much of Kate’s story I believe. I mean, it’s pretty hard to swallow the yarn she told me.

From the future? Yeah, sure. Whatever.

But she makes my brother happy, and she’s pretty awesome. So I’m not going to rain on their parade.

I slide a tip into the caterer’s hand. “Thanks.”

“Enjoy your party.” He nods and leaves with his crew in tow.

“Did you finish those favors yet?” I ask my assistant, Liana, while I inspect the cake.

“Yeah. When did Arthur say Kate would be back?”

“Rob should be bringing her any minute.” I glance at the clock. Five to five.

Arthur suggested I throw a small bachelorette party for Kate instead of a bridal shower. I had no idea what it was until he explained. I guess it’s a big deal in the future. I don’t know. But it gives me an excuse to kick back and relax. Work has been crazy lately, and I’m in desperate need of some downtime.

Besides, Kate doesn’t have a lot of friends. And that resonates deep. I remember a time when I had no one but Arthur looking out for me. Well, Rob was there too, in a way offering support, especially that night…

I shake my head at the direction of my thoughts. I will not think about that night or my brother’s best friend. Not now. Not ever.

We put the finishing touches on the decorations. The moment the door opens, Liana pops the champagne.

Kate jumps and laughs, her eyes wide as she enters Arthur’s penthouse. “Marcy.” She puts her hands on her hips. “Did your brother put you up to this?”

I wrap my arm around her waist and lead her into the living room I converted into our party oasis. “He may have mentioned it in passing.”

“Thank you.” Kate takes a champagne flute from Liana.

“You’ve given us a reason to celebrate.” I wink and take the offered glass from Donna. “I never thought I’d see Arthur delirious in love.”

“To love then.” Kate lifts her glass. The small group of women around us cheer in agreement and drink.

I can’t toast to that. I won’t. Love ruined me. My hand trembles as I bring the glass to my lips.

A shadow flickers by the door.

Rob stands in the entryway, leaning against the doorframe, his blue eyes narrowed on me. His dark blond hair is short enough to keep it out of his eyes but long enough to run fingers through it. From a distance, he’s the perfect image of a medical professional. But I’ve seen him up close and personal.

That man is a hazard to my health.

While Kate is distracted by the small buffet and animated conversation, I cross the room, bracing for an oncoming storm with Rob.

“Thanks for bringing Kate.” I gesture to the door. “You can go now.”

A lopsided smile transforms his face from serious to amused, and he presses his hand to his heart. “That eager to kick me out? I’m hurt.”

“You’re so dramatic. Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Arthur hasn’t even left work.” He straightens, and I’m reminded of the staggering height difference between us. He looks down at me. “Why do you hate me, Marcy?”

“I don’t hate you.” A lump lodges in my throat and I swallow it. “I just don’t have time for playboys.”

Rob scoffs. “I’m not a playboy.”

“Whatever. Now shoo. This party doesn’t include you.” I press my hand against his chest, urging him back toward the door. He’s like a brick wall beneath my hand. I ignore the way his body flexes beneath my touch.

“Fine. We’ll be at the bar, then crash at my place.” He collides with the wall by the door and rests his hand on the knob. “Enjoy your evening.”

The moment the door closes behind him, relief and regret simultaneously slam into me. Why does he make me feel this way—twisted up and confused to the point I can’t think clearly? I know there’s sexual tension between us, but exploring it is not an option. Period.

I return to the party. The half dozen ladies I’ve gathered to celebrate Kate’s status as bride-to-be are ready for food and booze. By the time we cut the cake, the tension between Rob and me has lessened to a nagging pinprick in the back of my mind.

Kate curls up on the couch beside me, balancing her plate in one hand and stabbing bits of cake with a fork. “Thanks for the party, Marcy. You didn’t have to do this.”

I wave my hand. “Don’t worry about it. I like the idea of this much more than a stuffy, boring bridal shower.”

“The only thing missing is some strippers.” Kate laughs and stuffs a bite of cake in her mouth.

“Strippers?” I gawk at her before chuckling. “Why didn’t I think of that?” My voice drops low so only she can hear me. “Is that a big thing in the future?”

She nods adamantly.

“The future sounds like a wild trip.”

Kate’s mood sobers, her eyes glistening with tears. “It’s…different.”

My heart goes out to her. I have no frame of reference for the emotions she must be feeling—torn from her life and thrown into the past. It must be terrifying and heartbreaking. She doesn’t offer any details, but she doesn’t have to. Arthur’s told me enough to know she felt like an outsider in her own time.

I wrap my arm around her and pull her against me. She leans her head on my shoulder. We’ve all felt that way at some point, and even though she can’t talk about it, I want her to know I’m here if she needs me.

“So what’s going on with you and Rob?”

Well, that shatters the heartwarming moment. Kate sits up, her gaze curious when it fixes on me.

“Nothing. Why?” I sip my drink and focus on a streamer hanging on the far wall.

“Come on. I may have been here less than six months, but I’m not blind. You two have some kind of thing going on.”

“We most certainly do not have a thing,” I growl. “He’s my brother’s best friend. That’s it.”

“Really?” She looks unconvinced.

“Look, it’s simple. The only thing we have in common is Arthur. That’s it. There is nothing between us.”

“Would you want something?”

“With Rob?” I scoff. “Not in a million years.”

“Why?” Kate’s question is like a blade through my heart. “He’s a nice guy. I think you two would make a great couple.”

“I just don’t look at him that way.”

“Why not? He looks at you like he wants to—”

“It’s complicated,” I snap.

Hurt fills her eyes at my harsh response.

I sigh and take her hand. “Let’s not talk about this non-existent thing between Rob and me.”

“I just want to see you as happy as Arthur and me.” She squeezes my hand. “You deserve to be happy, Marcy.”

She knows the truth of my messy past; she’s just too kind to bring it up. I’m sure Arthur has filled her in on the details of my failed marriage and my subsequent struggle. How I refused to take his money and clawed my way up from the ground to reach this point. Arthur walked beside me the whole way, but I wouldn’t let him help me.

It was something I had to do myself. To prove I am strong enough to overcome what that bastard did to me.

“Thanks, sugar.” I kiss her cheek. “Let’s focus on you for now. In a week, you’ll be married and off on your honeymoon.”

“It’s so exciting.” Joy fills her eyes at the reminder.

“Have you picked a destination yet?”

“Italy. He’s promised to show me Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan. A whirlwind tour of the country over two weeks.”

Jealousy rears its head. Not over the trip to Italy. I could buy a ticket and spend a year roaming the country with the funds I have tucked away. No, it’s not the destination causing me pain; it’s that she’ll have Arthur by her side for the adventure. They’ll share the experience, and it’ll be a memory they carry into their golden years together. I can’t help but envy that.

“Nona would be so proud.” I beam at her, swallowing the sting of my own disappointment. “Be sure to take plenty of pictures.”

“I wish I had my iPhone. This film stuff is so old-school.” Kate claps her hand over her mouth. “Forget I said that.”

“Oh, honey, if I don’t recognize something you say, I block it out.” I wink. “At some point, I’ll figure it all out, but I don’t need to know the future. The present is enough of a challenge.”

“That’s true.” Kate leans back against the couch. “If there’s no stripper, then what do you have planned for us?”

“Well, I have two options. Games or gossip,” I tell the group as the guests gather around us. “What’ll it be?”

“You work with the hottest celebrities on a daily basis,” Kate’s coworker, Gladys, says with a glint in her eyes. “Let’s gossip.”

“What about both?” Kate asks, sitting up. “Marcy can name a celebrity, and we’ll ask her yes-or-no questions. If it’s yes, she drinks. If it’s no, we drink.”

“Sounds like a dangerous game but I’m in.” Liana settles a chair nearby and fills her wine glass.

While the other women scramble to fill their glasses, I prepare myself mentally for this game. Normally, I wouldn’t encourage gossip about my clients. But these ladies know me well enough to keep it within the bounds of my established rules. I may work in an industry that allows me to rub shoulders with the elite of New York City, but I’m certainly not a snitch or a sellout.

“Here is the only rule.” My gaze skims over the five guests and the bride-to-be. “I reserve the right to not answer a question if it crosses the line of client confidentiality, but I’ll entertain all questions before making that decision. Deal?”

“Deal,” they chime in unison.

“All right, Kate. You pick the first celebrity.”

“Jon Bon Jovi.” Her eyes sparkle. “Is his hair as soft as it looks?”

With a wicked grin, I salute her and take a drink. The ladies cheer my confirmation.

The evening continues with laughter and scandalous revelations about our favorite celebrities. Since I found success as a stylist to the stars, my view of celebrity culture has changed. I see them as people first, not commodities. Not all of them are pleasant, but for every asshole, there are ten who treat me with respect and courtesy.

I’ve spent a lot of time building my reputation as the top stylist in the city. It doesn’t put me in the spotlight like being an actor would, but it’s my passion and I’m proud of my accomplishments.

By the end of the night, I’m pleasantly exhausted. I’m not as young as my mind thinks I am, and these late nights take their toll. I’m closing in on forty. That alone terrifies me. The last thing I want is to wake up at seventy with regrets. Maybe I should start figuring out what I want to do outside of my established empire.

In one week, my brother will be married to a wonderful woman, and I’ll be on my own again.

That’s not true. My family will expand with Kate’s presence. I just can’t help but feel the gaping hole in my chest expanding.

Why should I need a man? I’ve done just fine without one. The last thing I need is another asshole barging into my life, ruining my hard work, and stealing my thunder before beating me unconscious.

To hell with marriage and men. After Arthur and Kate’s wedding next week, I’ll wash my hands of the whole institution.


I hope you enjoyed this little teaser! Thanks for stopping by.

xoxo,

Kirsten

Christmas Giveaway!

This year I’m hosting a Christmas Giveaway. Just like the last giveaway, I’ll have two separate categories. One for International Readers and one for US Residents! Please enter the correct category. No entrants under 18 years of age, please. Rafflecopter links as buttons below the giveaway images.

Good luck and thank you for all your support!

Giveaway prize for US Readers only! A pair of teacups, five signed paperbacks, and two hand made pendants!
Giveaway prize for International Readers! Your choice of 4 ebooks from my backlist.

Inspiration: Captain Pike, the Orient Express, and Daddy Issues

One bright summer day, I was chatting with my good author friend, Brianna Hale, about an idea she had for a new story. An older man who falls for the daughter of his close friend. Her story was contemporary, set in a fictional European country and a train crossing the continent. But the concept intrigued me.

More than that, it took root in my mind. Why? What’s so special about this story idea?

The man who inspired the hero of her story is one of my favorite Star Trek captains. See, we’re both fans of Star Trek: Discovery and had been smitten by the new incarnation of Captain Christopher Pike. Any Trekkie will tell you the importance of his character and the horrible fate he experiences. His journey is engaging and thrilling. Truth is, we were both smitten by his silver fox charm, those soulful blue eyes, and of course, the matching dimples he flashes with a warm smile. Anson Mount is sinfully gorgeous.

The best part of her idea was the romantic pairing that kindled her book idea. In our discussions about the handsome captain, I discovered Brianna also shipped Captain Pike with Ensign Tilly. While these two never hook up on screen, I daydreamed often about the thousands of possibilities. The way he looks at her…freaking swoon. I even indulged in writing a short fan fiction, giving them a stolen moment of passion. *wink*

Using the basic premise that inspired Brianna’s book, I crafted my variation in the late Victorian era. I altered everything else to fit my spin on her original concept with her permission, of course. One of the biggest components I kept was the train. But I needed it to fit the era I chose to write in, 1899.

Enter the Orient Express. It filled in the blanks for the inspiration I needed showcasing travel in the lap of luxury in the early 20th century. I took a page from the history of the Orient Express and created the Alpine Express. A sister line to the world famous express. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take a trip through the alps on a fancy train with all the amenities.

Placing the characters together in close quarters on a train put them in a position where they couldn’t escape. It forced them to face each other and the truth of their attraction. Add in a little mystery, a long-lost friend, some political intrigue, and an avalanche and watch the chaos ensue. But this story wouldn’t be complete with a little forbidden romance, would it?

Matilda Hudson is in love with Major Anson Montgomery. The worst part: he’s her father’s closest friend. When she meets him for the first time at twelve years old, she falls hard. But when he leaves the country, he never returns. She sends him letters, which he kindly returns, but he shows no interest in his best friend’s daughter. Until he meets her again on her twenty-first birthday in Paris.

Oh, the torment and indecision.

When she chases after him, following him onto the Alpine Express, he’s left with no alternative but to return her to her father and wash his hands of her foolish notions. But deep down, he grows to care for her and everything falls apart.

As Brianna and I talked about our individual projects, we joked our heroines had Daddy issues and that’s why they fell in love with men so close to their own father’s age. While there’s no underage flirtation or taboo romance in my story, there are some who may dislike the whole age gap romance and the fact that she loved him since childhood. I absolutely understand this hesitation. These tropes aren’t for everyone.

Seduction on the Alpine Express has a special place in my heart. When I started this story, I did not know the wonderful secondary characters it would create. This story introduces us to the major’s friend, Nikolai Veronia, a Russian bodyguard. Nikolai stole my heart, and I wrote his story in Temptation on the Alpine Express. I’ll write his story’s inspiration in a later post.

A huge thanks to Brianna Hale who gave me the spark for this book. I hope one day she finishes the story she started using these characters as the inspiration. I’ll be first in line to read it.

If you haven’t seen Captain Dimples in action, I highly recommend you check out Star Trek: Discovery (he’s only in season two) as well as Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with Captain Pike at the helm.

As the good captain says, “Hit it.”

That sounds so naughty out of context. Oh, well.

All my love,

Kirsten

Inspiration: Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, and Pin-Up Couture

When I started writing Confessions of a Fangirl, I never imagined it would spark two additional stories. Jen’s best friends, Maggie and Lily were too vibrant to be passive secondary characters. They deserved their own stories, and I followed my heart, giving them both the happy endings they deserved.

Lily’s story is a bit different from the first two. She doesn’t lose herself in fandom or video games, but she struggles to find balance between work and chasing her dreams of being a famous designer. Lily gives a lot of her time and herself to those inside her inner circle, her friends, her roommates, and even her job. Cutting ties with the toxic relationships in her life leaves her frustrated and alone, but in the end, it helps her grow and finally achieve her dream of being a pin-up couture designer.

When I first wrote Mr. Roberts’ character, I didn’t think much of his role over the course of the series. He was just Jen and Lily’s boss. But in my head, I imagined Cary Grant in all his silver fox glory. I’m a sucker for age gap romances and wanted to indulge in this trope with Lily’s story. She happens to be a fan of older men, so pairing her with her dashing boss fit perfectly.

The age gap, office romance storyline doesn’t work for everyone, but these two tropes ended up being the keystones to Lily’s romantic adventure. Sprinkle a little mutual pining and holiday fun, and there’s a spicy romance hot off the press.

Mr. Roberts is the quintessential stunning silver fox. Why would I not have him channel that vintage Hollywood leading man personna? Lily’s a fan of all things vintage. It makes sense why she would be attracted to a handsome, older man who carried himself with confidence and class. She wears exclusively vintage styles with a pin-up girl flair. It’s like these two were made for each other.

While Lily lusts for her dapper boss, she’s also drawn to the idea of the rough and rugged cowboy. Enter Sam, a cowboy from Wyoming she meets in a Discord chat room. Lily’s never been farther West than the Poconos, let alone set foot in what her father would call a flyover state. But a newfound friendship with Sam opens doors she otherwise wouldn’t have explored.

Is this a love triangle? Perhaps. Read the story and see for yourself how it plays out. But I can tell you that Sam took his inspiration from Clint Eastwood, and we all know how sexy Blondie was in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. *swoon*

I love both the dapper gentleman and the rough and tumble cowboy. Lily’s story let me explore the delights of both types of men. It was no hard task to let my imagination run wild with both fine men. *wink*

This is a romance novel straight to the core, and it should go without saying that Lily’s undying devotion to her dream of creating vintage inspired pin-up couture lies at the center of it all. This dream of being a pin-up fashionista is her one true love, her heart’s desire, and both Sam and Mr. Roberts know and support her.

Did I mention she’s also an amazing cook? But don’t let her sweet exterior and kind heart fool you. If you cross her or mess with anyone she loves, she will not hesitate to strike back. Ask Gavin, her roommate and best friend since seventh grade. She punched a bully in the face for messing with the new kid. Lily’s dedication to her craft and those she loves only endears her to me more.

Seeing her in Confessions of a Fangirl and again in Confessions of a Gamer Girl made me want to write her story. She’s a wonderful character who deserved a happy, fresh start with a supportive man by her side.

Maybe we’ll see more of Lily, Maggie, and Jen in the future. I’ll never say never, so keep an eye out for Easter eggs and guest appearances in future books.

If you could fan cast a movie version of Confessions of a Glamour Girl, who would you have play Lily, Jackson, and Sam? And for funsies, you can cast Maggie, Gavin, Shaun, and Jen too. Tell me in the comments!

Teaser: Confessions of a Glamour Girl

Finally, the cool autumn nights have arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I’m ready for the chunky sweaters and spiced apple cider. But I’m most excited to share a sneak peek at my September 27th release, Confessions of a Glamour Girl.

This is the third and final book in my Her Confessions Series. I can’t tell yet if there will be a spin-off or a subsequent series built on this world, but I won’t close the door to possibilities in the future. For now, this will be goodbye to Jen, Maggie, and Lily.

If you’re in the mood for an Age Gap, Office Romance, then you should definitely snatch a copy of Confessions of a Glamour Girl. Lily’s story will give you all the warm, fuzzy feelings. Check out the first chapter below…

Chapter One

First Day at Valentina’s

I might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign over my head that says New Girl. After suppressing the urge to retreat, I take a deep breath and ignore the curious glances. Lifting my chin high, I cross the lobby, savoring the click of my kitten heels on the marble tile.

Staring is rude, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. Gawking. Not that I can blame them. The cherry print swing dress with the red petticoat always turns heads. Probably not the best choice for my first day working in a corporate position, but I don’t care. This is me, and I refuse to dim my shine to conform to ridiculous contemporary fashion standards. I readjust the purse strap over my shoulder, cursing the soft cashmere of the bolo sweater.

A glance at the clock on the wall calms my nerves. I have fifteen minutes until I have to be on the forty-fourth floor. I skipped my morning coffee to ensure I would be on time, but the lack of caffeine has undermined my confidence.

This is my first major step toward financial independence. After five years in college and six years working at a boutique downtown, I am still dependent on my father. He has paid for everything to get me to this point. My college degree. My wardrobe. My hobbies. Everything. Hell, he owns the Brooklyn Heights brownstone where I live with my three roommates. We pay rent, but still, I have my dignity. I’m tired of being daddy’s little girl, living on his charity.

Which is why I applied to Valentina’s. If I want to make my mark on the fashion industry, I need to understand how it works. College didn’t prepare me for that, but this will. Valentina’s is the largest high-end department store in the country, and I fully intend to learn everything I can.

With a yearly salary and room to advance, this job will give me the advantage I need to break free from my father’s controlling grip. He might be the most wealthy, powerful man in New York City, but he’s far from generous. He never invests in anything that won’t guarantee him a return. Me included. He’ll be pissed when he finds out my long-term goals don’t include him.

I’m relieved to see there’s a café in the lobby, and I step in line behind a tall man in a dark gray suit. While I wait, I admire the expensive fabric and the custom cut of the jacket. As a designer, I  take in every detail, noting the polished brown leather oxfords and expertly tailored suit. Whoever this guy is, he knows exactly what to wear to make an impression.

He steps up to the counter and orders his drink. “Doppio. Two sugars.” The deep, confident cadence of his voice leaves me breathless. He steps to the side, glancing to the left and giving me the perfect view of his profile.

Holy shit. Silver fox alert. I’m not normally attracted to older men—unless they’re Cary Grant or Gregory Peck—but dark hair threaded with silver at the temples is my kryptonite. Something inside me whimpers.

But it actually escapes my lips and he turns toward me. Oh. My. God. I look away and fidget with my purse.

“What can I get started for you, hon?” The petite barista raises a brow in question. She’s kind enough to not say anything about my gaffe.

“Cappuccino with caramel drizzle, please.”

She rings up my order and takes my money. I step off to the side to wait for my coffee, joining the sinful silver fox, who looks like he just stepped out of a vintage noir film set.

His attention remains on the newspaper in his hand when I stand beside him. Who is he? Does he work here? The thought of working alongside this man on a daily basis has my body thrumming. How the hell would I get any work done? I’d be distracted all the time.

The barista sets his drink on the counter and calls out his order. I manage to tamp down my disappointment when he takes the cup and walks away.

“Cappuccino with caramel drizzle.” She sets mine down on the counter. I grab it, making sure the lid is tight before I head for the elevator. I step into the full car right before the doors slide closed. When I reach for the button for the forty-fourth floor, it’s already lit.

It stops a few times on the way up, and by the time we reach the thirty-second floor, there is only one other person in the car with me.

The silver fox. He’s still reading his paper. I hold my breath and close my eyes.

“Please don’t be on the same floor,” I mutter.

“What number?”

Oh, shit. He heard me. I clear my throat and turn with a smile. “Forty-four.”

He looks up from the paper and I’m pinned in place by his ice blue eyes. “Hmm. You must be the new hire.” He folds the paper beneath his arm and takes a sip of his coffee.

“Yes, sir.” I’m so screwed.

“What’s your name?”

“Lily Astor.”

His brow knits momentarily, accentuating the firm set of his jaw, but his expression quickly relaxes. “Ah, yes. Miss Astor.” He holds out his hand. “Mr. Roberts.”

I shake his hand. His firm grip conveys strength and confidence, and it takes all my effort to mirror it.

The elevator comes to a stop on the forty-fourth floor, and I sway at the sudden halt in motion. His hand grips my elbow, steadying me. Before I can speak, the doors slide open.

“If you will come with me, Miss Astor.” He gestures for me to exit first.

I do, but the moment I’m out of the cloistered space, I step to the side and allow him to lead me down the hallway. We make our way through the maze of cubicles and hallways lined with offices. I keep my attention focused on his broad shoulders and curse myself for not looking up the staff I would be working with before I arrived.

“Good morning, Mrs. Foster.” Mr. Roberts nods to the woman sitting behind a desk outside a row of large offices facing the southern tip of Manhattan.

“Good morning, Mr. Roberts.”

He pushes open the door and steps into the office beyond the secretary’s desk. “Come in, Miss Astor.”

I nearly stumble over my heels but manage to compose myself quickly. Mrs. Foster casts me an encouraging smile before I follow him into his office. I glance at the door in passing and gasp when I see his name and the title beneath it. Vice President. Mr. Roberts closes the door behind me.

Oh. Sweet. Hell. I’ve been lusting after the vice president of the company. I take a fortifying sip of my cappuccino and hiss when it burns my lip.

“Please, sit down.” He gestures to the leather chair beside his desk.

Maintaining some semblance of decorum, I gently sit on the edge of the chair, careful not to mush the crinoline skirts, and cross my ankles.

He rounds the desk and unbuttons his jacket before sitting. “Well now, Miss Astor. I have a few questions before I let you get settled in.”

“Yes, sir. Of course.” I clear my throat and pray my voice sounds stronger than my confidence.

He pulls a file from the corner of his desk and opens it. “It says here you have a degree in fashion design from NYU.” He sets the file aside and meets my gaze with an intensity that leaves me simmering.

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell me, Miss Astor.” He steeples his fingers together and leans back in his chair. “Why Valentina’s?”

“Valentina’s is the oldest, most successful department store chain in the country. I want to learn all I can from the leader in the industry and be instrumental in reviving vintage fashion.”

“Interesting.” The corner of his mouth lifts, betraying his amusement. “Why work for us? With your family connections, I’m sure you could cast your influence with a much larger shadow.”

“I’m sorry?” I feign ignorance, but inside I’m cursing myself for not changing my name. Of course, they would run a background check before they hired me. My father once again asserts his influence without effort.

“Surely you don’t need to work when your father is one of the wealthiest men in the country.”

“In all transparency, sir, I may be the daughter of Monroe Astor, but our connection is in name alone.” I straighten my shoulders and keep my jaw from trembling.

“The tabloids once painted you as a daddy’s girl searching for her prince charming.”

“The tabloids print lies and fabrications to suit their own ends.” I pin him with a confident stare. “I am not a daddy’s girl any more than I am a media darling. I applied to Valentina’s in an effort to step out from under my father’s shadow and cultivate a name for myself. Now, do you have any other questions, or may I be permitted to do the job you have hired me to do?”

“Of course, Miss Astor. Please, forgive me. I did not mean to pry into a sensitive subject.” Mr. Roberts rises from his seat. “I look forward to having you on the team.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m excited to be here.”

He reaches the door before I can and opens it. “Mrs. Foster, will you please show Miss Astor to her desk?”

“Of course, sir.”

Mr. Roberts turns to me. “If you need anything, Miss Astor,” he smiles, and my heart shatters at the charm he carries with such ease, “please do not hesitate to reach out. My door is always open.”

“Thank you.”

Mrs. Foster leads me down the hallway, but the tension between me and Mr. Roberts remains like a nagging itch in the back of my mind. This will either be the best experience of my life or a waking nightmare.

One thing is for sure. I can’t indulge in vivid fantasies about my boss. Mr. Roberts might be the modern equivalent of Cary Grant with Paul Newman’s eyes, but I can’t let that distract me. His assertion about my father was accurate. I could have just batted my eyelashes and my father would have hung the moon for me. But that’s not what I want.

I’ll do it myself. I’ll show every last one of them how tough I really am. I’m more than a rich man’s daughter with a pretty face and expensive taste.

One day I’ll have my own vintage line with staying power like Gucci and Versace. But it won’t be my father’s name they see—it’ll be mine.

Lily Starling.


Thanks for checking out a sneak peek at my new release! I’m excited to share Lily and Jackson’s story with the world. xoxo

Releases September 27th…Check it out on release day for a special sale!

Much love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Birthday Giveaway!

This week I’m hosting a Birthday Giveaway for both my US and International readers to show my thanks and celebrate this monumental milestone. Thank you, darling readers, for all your love and support.

For my US Readers, I’m offering a chance to win a pair of gorgeous tea cups and SEVEN signed paperbacks.

For my International Readers, I’m offering a chance to win YOUR CHOICE of 4 eBooks from my backlist.

I’ve listed them separately, so everyone gets a fair chance. Please be sure you enter the correct giveaway and good luck!

I will announce the winners on September 1st on all my social media platforms.

Also, I’m hosting a sale for Mississippi Moonshine this week. Only 99 cents!

I hope you enjoy it! Sending you all my love.

Kirsten

Teaser: Reign of Wicked Temptation

The day has arrived. All three books in the Prince of Whispers Trilogy are now available in print and ebook!

In celebration of yesterday’s release of Reign of Wicked Temptation, allow me to share the first chapter here for your enjoyment. It’s on sale for 99 cents until August 11th. Grab your copy now. But remember, this cannot be read as a stand alone!

I’ve listed some content forewarnings beneath the blurb. This prince isn’t for everyone. Please proceed with caution. No readers under 18 years old. (This book contains explicit language, adult situations, and violence.)

When he whispers, you will come.

Darkness hangs over the King of Meradin. Crispin suffers, unaware of the fate of his queen and his most loyal companion. His rage simmers beneath the surface threatening to consume the kingdom and what little remains of his soul.

Nothing is what it seems and he can trust no one. With Ruby and Henry missing, Crispin refuses to address anything besides recovering what belongs to him. He vows the kingdom will not rest until the queen and his trusted steward are returned unharmed.

Crispin’s past actions have led him to this point, and he must face the consequences before peace can be restored to the land. True change comes from within. In order to save Ruby, he will need to make the ultimate sacrifice.

***Author’s Note: If you’re not a fan of anti-heroes with dominating and questionable morals, explicit intimate scenes, or graphic language and violence, then this may not be the book for you. For a complete list of content forewarnings, please visit kirstensblacketer (dot) com and click on the Jen Bradlee tab in the menu.***


Chapter One

A scream pierced the darkness. Henry gasped and coughed, a familiar metallic taste burning his tongue. He groaned and pressed his hands against the cold stone floor. His body ached worse than it ever had after sparring or a long day in the saddle. Worse than when he and Crispin took down a band of thieves on the border, and he earned himself a scar on his side as payment for his good deed. The pain hung heavy around his shoulders, pinning him to the floor. The abrasive stone cooled his cheek. Even as he struggled to right himself, his limbs refused to cooperate.

Henry took several deep breaths and rested, willing his body to function. Where was he? Flashes of the altercation in the forest flickered in the back of his mind. Riding along the moonlit road. The wagon blocking their path. The raiders.

“Ruby!” Henry shouted with the effort it took to push himself up. Where was she? Had they taken her? Killed her? Where was he? The questions trudged through his mind, slowed by the haze of pain radiating through him. His head pounded like a hammer against an anvil, and his limbs ached with heaviness, protesting with every movement. Whoever took them captive must have beat him while he was unconscious. Never before had he experienced such agony ripping him apart from the inside.

The room contained a bed along the wall and a pot in the corner. Try as he might, he could not focus on the items in the room. He blinked attempting to clear his vision. Henry touched his face, covering his swollen right eye. The blur cleared into solid forms. He made a conscious effort to keep his injured eye closed and surveyed the room once more.

A prison cell. The sliver of light came through a thin slat in the solid wooden door held in place with iron hinges. Gripping the edge of the bed, Henry pulled himself up but stumbled at the tightening pressure around his ankle. He jerked his feet, dragging a chain across the stone. Manacles bound his feet, fastened to the wall by a chain.

Fighting against the restrictive bonds, Henry managed to pull himself up and sit on the bed. Another scream pierced the silence. His heart pounded harder, sweat formed on his neck, sliding over his skin and sending a shiver down to his bones.

Henry leaned against the wall in an effort to regain his balance. Nausea overwhelmed him. Had he anything in his stomach, it would have spilled with little resistance. He braced himself as the waves slowly subsided. He pressed his eyes closed, fighting off the instability of his vision. It reminded him of the sea voyage to France where he spent most of the trip bent over the rails unable to stand or eat. This was no voyage. This was far worse than he could have ever imagined.

He licked his cracked lips, tasting the blood caked upon them. He moaned at the sting and longed for the sweet, refreshing kiss of a mountain spring or a dram of mead, anything to quench his thirst and clear his mind.

Another scream echoed from beyond the door and gripped his soul. Ruby.

Ignoring the protests of his body and the limits of his chains, Henry shot off the bed and lunged for the door. The manacles snapped tight, bringing him to an abrupt halt and slamming him down onto the ground. Jarred, Henry struggled to his feet, bracing his hand against the cold stone wall.

Murmured voices filtered through the narrow slat in the door. He could make out nothing but the low cadence of two distinct voices.

“Release me, you sniveling bastards!” Henry shouted. His voice broke mid-curse, hoarse from disuse and thirst.

“You live. What a pity. I had a wager you would die during the night.” A deep chuckle filtered through the slat.

Henry glared with his good eye trying to glimpse his captor, but he saw nothing but a shadow against the wood. “Where is she?”

“The queen is no longer your concern.” The man’s tone implied his malicious intent toward both of his captives.

“If you harm her, I will eviscerate you and leave your rotting carcass for the crows,” Henry growled. His hands balled into tight fists.

“You waste what little breath remains in you.” Even though he could not see the man’s expression, pleasure reflected in his words. “If you persist, I shall be forced to punish the queen for her guard’s inability to follow direction.”

Even though he never relayed Ruby’s state, Henry took this information as a sign she was not dead as he feared. He inhaled deeply, allowing this small shred of hope to fill him with a steadying peace.

“Whatever game you play at, you will not win. The king will come for her.” Henry chuckled at the horrifying image his words brought to mind. Crispin would certainly come, and he would show no mercy. “He will slaughter you with pleasure, as well as anyone who follows your direction.”

“He is inept and consumed by childish, petty distractions.” His captor sounded bored. “The queen and the kingdom are no longer his. History will regard him as nothing more than a stain on the royal bloodlines of Europe.”

“The people of Meradin are loyal to King Crispin and Queen Eleanor.” Strength infused Henry. “This act of treason will not stand.”

Coarse laughter met his statement. “Once the people see the man beneath the crown for what he truly is, a selfish, deceitful imposter hellbent on his own personal gratification at the expense of those around him, they will turn their hearts.” The amusement faded. “Even after he used you for his own perverse pleasure, you stand steadfast in his service. Such loyalty is misplaced.”

A chill coursed through Henry. “My loyalty is mine to do with as I see fit.”

“And your body, does that also belong to you, or does your king control it as well?” The faceless villain tormented him.

Henry shook his head, reigniting the stabbing pain. “I know not what you imply with such venomous assumptions, but I am my own master.”

“You went willingly to his chamber. Indulged in wicked acts with them both freely of your own will?” Hearing it aloud brought shame and uncertainty.

“You rely far too heavily on the whispers of servants and idle gossip.” He swallowed the fear rising in the back of his throat. His chest tightened as the walls around him crept closer.

“The truth matters not. Rumors and gossip foster revolution. The people will demand a king who will not desecrate their kingdom for his own wicked desires.” The captor tisked. “’Tis better if you concede defeat. No one is coming. Death will bring the relief you crave. Freedom is merely an illusion.”

Before Henry could respond, the sound of receding footsteps echoed beyond the door.

“You son of a bitch! You will burn in hell for this, mark my words!” His throat burned from the effort he expended. He screamed and the anguish escaped, sliding off the stone and filling his soul with grief. How could he have allowed this to happen?

He should never have taken Ruby out of the castle. He endangered them all with his careless actions, and they now suffered the consequences of his poor decision. Ruby was alive, for the moment. That alone gave him comfort, and yet he knew that comfort would be short-lived. Whoever captured them had much larger plans than he first assumed.

Their captor intended to use the queen to force the king’s hand. They would take the throne by force. Blood would fill the streets if he successfully turned the people against the monarchy. Those who were loyal to Crispin would suffer.

He could not focus on something out of his control. First and foremost, he needed a way to escape and steal Ruby away from this madman.

Henry rested his head against the wall. Who could possibly want to tear the kingdom apart? There were many who disliked Crispin and wished to remove him from the throne. But none he knew of were brazen enough to invoke his wrath by taking the queen. Ignoring the pain and his thirst, Henry took what tools were given to him and replayed the events leading to their capture. If all he had was time, he would use it to the best advantage. There was always hope, even if it felt helpless. If only he could force himself to believe it long enough to survive.

Inspiration: Assassin’s Creed, Teresa Medeiros, and the Sarcastic Muse

My foray into medieval romance didn’t begin as Jen Bradlee with The Prince of Whispers. It began with the Shadow Guardians a long time ago. These two books drew vastly different inspiration than Jen Bradlee’s trilogy.

The book took on life years ago in the kernel of an idea I had for a story when I was fifteen. I made some notes and tucked them into a folder where they sat for years. It wasn’t until I joined a writer’s group in Clarksville, Tennessee, in my mid-20s that I really considered writing anything of length and substance. Until that point, my writing remained confined to poetry and journaling. But I always wanted to write a novel. This group encouraged me to do so.

But they weren’t the only ones. While living on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with bestselling historical romance author, Teresa Medeiros. She loved the idea of my Shadow Guardians and encouraged me to write it. I’m a huge fan of her work and always wanted to become a romance author. Her kind words and support sparked a renewed desire to write a novel.

Between Teresa Medeiros’ encouragement and my monthly writer’s group, I had finally uncovered my calling. This writer’s group consisted of a variety of authors from several genres, but I was the only romance author in the group. Even so, they helped me polish my voice and strengthen my prose. When I left the group (thanks to a military PCS), I kept in touch with a handful of the authors from the group and we started our own writer’s blog/group called The Sarcastic Muse.

The Sarcastic Muse no longer exists, but their influence lingers. They gave me the support and encouragement I needed to write a full length novel. One of the members sat with me on Skype every day as I wrote the first draft during National Novel Writing Month in November of 2012. Often we would sit in silence and work, occasionally bouncing ideas off of one another and brainstorming in those moments between writing sprints. I wrote 50,000 words in one month. The most I had ever written up to that point. And I couldn’t have done it without my fellow writers cheering me on.

But where did the idea for An Irresistible Shadow come from?

Well, the very first idea I had for the book was for a spirited princess who disliked all her father’s knights to fall in love with one of the mysterious warriors who appears at court. As you can see, the idea evolved into a story about Baron’s daughter who preferred her independence over the traditional expectations placed upon her by society. Of course, she falls in love with a mysterious, hooded stranger who claims loyalty to none and has deigned himself to be her personal protector. A Shadow Guardian.

Where the hell did I get that idea?

Blame Assassin’s Creed. One day I saw a picture of Ezio, and the faded outline of my Shadow Guardian took hold of my muse.

I borrowed some of Ezio’s design and created my secret protector. Most notably, the deep hood covering his identity. Gabriel became my first Shadow Guardian in An Irresistible Shadow. He’s a knight of sorts, with a heavy investment on the unstable activity along the English and Scottish border in the 14th century. His passion is only exceeded by his skills.

Evelyn, my brash, independent heroine, was heavily inspired by Merida from the Pixar movie Brave. She’s the perfect complement to Gabriel, and together they make a formidable team.

I loved writing their story. Now, I look back on their book with fond memories. My first novel. My first big publication. My first everything.

This book brought me so much joy and tons of experience. It paved the way for me to enter the publishing world and taught me a wealth of knowledge for editing and marketing. I waded through the tangled process of becoming a published author and came out with a shiny novel. An Irresistible Shadow will always have a special place in my heart, even with its newbie flaws.

And of course, it spawned a second novel thanks to two very persistent secondary characters.

I wouldn’t be the author I am today without this novel and those who encouraged me to write it.

Thank you, my friends, for having faith in me and showing unwavering support and love. I appreciate it more than you can possibly imagine.

You never know when inspiration will strike or where it will come from. Write all of your ideas down and tuck them away. There just might be a novel hidden in those random thoughts. I hope this inspires you to write it.

All my love,

Kirsten

Teaser: Seduction Most Wicked

When he whispers, you will come.

Here is a sneak peek at the second book of The Prince of Whispers Trilogy, Seduction Most Wicked. I’ve listed some content forewarnings beneath the blurb. This prince isn’t for everyone. Please proceed with caution. No readers under 18 years old. (This book contains explicit language, adult situations, and violence.) Releases on July 12th. Enjoy…but be warned, this book ends on a cliffhanger. Book 3 releases August 9th.

With Ruby by his side, Crispin Saville takes his place on the throne as King of Meradin. The first months of his reign are fraught with rumors of treason and deceit. Crispin and Henry, his trusted ally, search the kingdom to root out those who threaten the stability of the monarchy.An unexpected guest shakes the foundation of Crispin’s kingdom, setting off a series of events which could destroy not only the kingdom but his hard-won bond with Ruby.Deception runs rampant within the walls of the castle. Secrets and lies infiltrate those closest to the king. Ruby uses her influence to calm the raging tempest inside him, but his wicked heart may be stained beyond redemption. It will take more than love to save his soul and the future of Meradin.

Contains: Still Morally Gray Hero, Possessive Hero, Questionably Poor Decisions made by Secondary Characters, Dubious Consent, Explicit Sex Scenes, Mature/Graphic Language


Chapter One

Was Crispin dead?

The concern for her husband’s life weighed as heavily upon her as the bounty once had. Ruby wrested herself from those distracting thoughts, determined to focus on the task before her. The harvest festival would take place within a fortnight and much of the planning remained. There was no time to worry about something over which she had no control. She wandered among the tables in the great hall, her gaze skimming over the selections brought for her approval by the villagers to decorate the town.

Two moons passed since her marriage and the coronation, and still, she could not find comfort in her new position. While she knew her life as queen would not be as exciting as her life as an outlaw, it granted her small windows of opportunity to place her mark upon her kingdom without being branded a traitor. She longed for the freedom of the forest, but the path that lay before her bound her both to Crispin and the people of Meradin. This truth proved unshakable.

“Have you made a decision, your majesty?” The servant girl, Ivy, stepped forward. Her hands folded demurely in her lap, eyes downcast.

“I have not.” Ruby waved her hand across the selections. “I am indecisive. They are all beautiful in their own way. Perhaps you could offer some perspective, Ivy.”

Ivy’s gaze snapped up to meet hers. “You wish for my opinion?”

Ruby regarded her with a smile. “Aye, I trusted your judgment when it came to my trousseau, why would I not grant you the same leave when it comes to decorating for the harvest festival?”

“I am your humble servant, my queen. Truly.” Ivy hesitated when the door opened behind her and Vivienne entered the room. “I do not wish to overstep the bounds of propriety.”

“How in heaven would you selecting some garland be overstepping?” Ruby inclined her head to Vivienne who came to a stop beside her.

“I agree.” Vivienne brushed her fingers over the woven garland. “Which would you choose, Ivy?”

“This greenery would stand out the best against the individual stands with the red and gold accents. These garlands would be best around the inner and outer bailey.” Ivy itemized each piece placing it perfectly in the mind’s eye. When she finished, she bowed her head.

Ruby motioned to the other servants. “Take these with instructions for the villagers to have more made for the celebration.” The weight on her shoulders lightened with the decision. She turned to Ivy. “My thanks for your help. I am confident in your selection.”

“As you wish, your majesty.” Ivy bowed and followed the other servants out of the room bearing an armful of garlands and fabrics.

Once the solid doors closed leaving her alone with Vivienne, Ruby collapsed on a nearby bench. Longing and exhaustion clawed at her chest. She gazed at the vaulted ceiling wishing it were canopied expanses of blue sky.

“Come, my dear.” Vivienne ventured toward the staircase leading into the heart of the castle.

Ruby pulled herself to her feet wondering where Crispin’s mother intended to take her. They wove through the corridors and passed Crispin’s chambers. Her heart ached. She missed him desperately.

The day after the wedding, Henry’s family disappeared from the capital of Culver without taking their leave. They gave no indication as to the reason for their sudden departure. Even though Ruby felt nothing but relief at their absence, Crispin and Henry immediately banded together in his private chambers only to emerge and leave the castle the next morn, abandoning the tournament which was to be held in honor of their marriage. He kissed her thoroughly before leaving without a word of explanation.

After two moons passed, the only assurances of his safety she received were from the messenger relaying information to the privy council. Part of her resented him for departing with such haste and shrouding his intentions in secrecy.

Vivienne stepped through the archway leading to Crispin’s personal garden. The flowers faded on the vine, retreating from the burgeoning chill of the approaching winter. Ruby brushed her fingers over the bruised petals.

“Come, let us tarry a while.” Vivienne sat on the stone bench against the wall and gestured for Ruby to join her. “Speak to me, child. I cannot offer comfort if you do not unburden your heart.”

“My apologies.” Ruby settled onto the bench and leaned against the wall.

“I do not want your apologies, I desire to know what thoughts plague you.” Her soft voice held no censure, only concern.

“I cannot help but wonder if I have made a mistake.” She toyed with the gilded hem of her gown. “I made a much better outlaw than I do a queen.”

“You judge yourself quite harshly.” Vivienne took her hand.

“’Tis the truth. I may be of royal blood, but deep in my breast beats the heart of an outcast.” Ruby attempted to collect the chaos of her thoughts into coherent reasoning. “I cannot even make the simplest of decisions in preparation for the festival, how am I going to influence the kingdom?”

“You are adrift in an unfamiliar sea. I understand.” She nodded with sage understanding. “Even though I was raised in the court from birth, I had not been the first choice. With three elder sisters, my parents placed low expectations on my marriage ever forging a strong political alliance.”

Ruby studied her profile as she spoke. Everyone knew Queen Vivienne was the Bavarian cousin of Catherine of Valois. But these intimate details of her past were not something often discussed among courtiers. Vivienne knew better than to foster any gossip of the royal courts.

“The first time I saw Edgar, I wanted to strangle him. He paid me no mind, focusing all his attention on my elder sister, Sophia. They were engaged within a fortnight.” Vivienne chuckled at the memory. “Before they were to leave my parents’ estate and return to Meradin for the wedding, Sophia eloped with the stable master’s son. My father offered me as a replacement for Edgar’s stolen bride.”

“Against your will?” Ruby bit back the fury of indignation on her mother-in-law’s behalf.

“Not completely against my will.” Vivienne winked with a grin on her lips. “I seized it for the opportunity it was. A chance to become queen and exert some influence, even if it came through my husband. Although, I found myself floundering the first few years. Nothing prepared me for the reality of wearing the crown.”

Her story tugged at Ruby’s heart. “So there is hope for me?”

Vivienne drew her close and pressed a kiss to her head. “Aye, my child. There is hope for you still. Do not be disheartened. I shall instruct you, should you need it, but trust your intuition. It will not lead you astray.”

“How can you be so certain?” Doubt fluttered in the pit of her stomach even though the words bolstered her confidence.

“When you were in the forest living as an outlaw, which did you rely on more, your training or your intuition?”

Ruby pondered the question for a long moment, but the answer formed in her mind immediately.

“You saw my son in trouble and acted on intuition alone, relying on your training to come naturally.”

“Aye.” The reasoning behind her assessment soothed the chaos in her mind.

“Even with all the training in the world, it means nothing if you do not trust your intuition. It will guide you to the right path, as it always has before.” Vivienne’s gracious smile warmed her.

“My thanks for your words of wisdom.” The restless unease in Ruby’s soul settled leaving just a smidgen of lingering doubt deep in the pit of her stomach.

“I have faith in you, my dear. One day, you will be the regaled as the most beloved queen in all Meradin’s history.”

Ruby snorted at the statement but covered her mouth quickly. “My apologies. I did not mean to laugh.”

“You will see. One day.” Vivienne stood and brushed her hands over her fine crimson velvet skirt. “I have some things to attend. Perhaps you should take some time to rest in your chambers, you look pale. Have you been eating?”

“Aye. I have not slept well since Crispin departed.” Inside, relief washed over her. She was exhausted but did not wish to retreat from her duties. “A rest will do me wonders.”

“I understand. I shall send Ivy with some warm broth.” She paused in the doorway and glanced back at Ruby. “And do not fret, my dear, Crispin will return soon. Lord knows you will need your strength for when he returns.”

Ruby’s face warmed at the implication of her words. After their wedding night, the entire castle witnessed the ferocity of Crispin’s desire for his bride. The thought of his return left her body warm and planted a desperate ache deep inside her.

Once she reached her chambers, she freed the pins from her hair and loosened the plait before lying on the coverlet. Images of her husband floated through the haze of her memories. His wicked mouth on her skin. His teasing fingers parting her folds. His body fitting perfectly to hers. Ruby’s breathing came in shallow bursts as the restless ache consumed her.

A knock at the door pulled her from her sensual thoughts.

“My queen.” Ivy entered the room bearing a tray. “My apologies, I did not realize you were abed.”

“’Tis no matter.” Disappointment replaced the aching need. She rose from the bed and settled in the comfortable chair beside the hearth.

Ivy placed the tray on the table beside her. “Will you require anything more, your majesty?”

“Nay, I shall be quite content.” She lifted the bowl to her lips and sipped the broth. Her stomach twisted and lurched against the scent, making her flinch.

“My queen.” Ivy knelt beside her upon observing her distress. “Are you well?”

“’Tis nothing more than a passing pain.” She pressed her hand against her midsection and groaned. “The taste does not bother me, but the aroma leaves me ill. Perhaps I should have some peppermint tea.”

The maid studied her for a long moment, her sharp gaze narrowing. “I shall fetch it now.”

Ruby nodded, bracing her head in her hands. The door closed behind Ivy leaving her alone with her thoughts once more. She attempted a few more sips of the broth, but the scent became more unbearable. With a groan, she pushed it away and returned to the bed.

Lying down seemed to soothe the persistent discomfort, but removing the scent eased the churning in her abdomen even more so. Ruby rubbed her hand over her stomach. A tendril of fear crept into the back of her mind.

When Ivy returned, she urged Ruby to sit up in bed and made her comfortable by propping cushions around her before providing the steaming mug of tea. The pungent mint immediately soothed her. It brought memories of her childhood with Marian and Guy to the surface. A tendril of homesickness wove around her heart constricting it. How she missed them. Perhaps she should send for Marian to come visit. She possessed ways to ease her concerns when all others failed.

“My queen, I hope this is not forward of me, but I am concerned for your health.” Ivy met her gaze directly. “Shall I send for a healer? Or perhaps the Queen Mother?”

Ruby sipped the tea. “I appreciate your concern, Ivy. But I do not wish to cause anyone undue worry on my account. I am perfectly well.”

Ivy fidgeted with the hem of her kirtle but her gaze remained steady. “Ma’am, ’tis possible you are with child.”

Hearing the words aloud voiced the fear she refused to acknowledge. Ruby pinched her eyes closed and conceded. “Aye. ’Tis a strong possibility.”

“Such news should be cause for celebration, should it not?” Ivy asked, her green eyes bright. “The king will be overjoyed at the news of an heir. The whole kingdom will celebrate!”

Ruby grasped Ivy’s hand and held it tight. Fear pulsed through her, threatening to tear her in two. “Promise me you will tell no one. Not a soul. Not until…well, until I am certain.”

Ivy took her hands between her own, her expression softening. “I promise, my queen.” A frown pulled at her mouth. “But you must at least inform the Queen Mother. She will understand your plight.”

“I will think on it.” Ruby swallowed hard not allowing herself to consider the implications of the conversation with Vivienne. “I do not wish to give her false hope.”

“A child is a blessing.” Ivy smiled, and her face transformed, revealing a hidden beauty.

“Aye.” Ruby took another sip of her tea. How had such a lovely maid escaped the notice of every man in the castle? The passing thought made her pause, but she pushed it away.

A child would be a blessing if only she could be certain of who the father was. Even though she had been faithful to Crispin, one night created chaos and conflict in her mind. Her body warmed at the memory of being blindfolded. The touch of two men. The pleasure they wrought with little effort. And the shame that stalked her every day since.

She hung her head. Could it be possible this child belongs not to the king but to his closest friend and confidant? The thought alone left her filled with a writhing agony. What if the truth somehow emerged? Was it not treason to betray the king? To tarnish the monarchy with this blatant infidelity. Would Crispin consider such a revelation treason?

“All will be well.” Ivy took the cup from her hands and set it on the bedside table. “You will see. The king will return soon and all will be well.”

“I do hope so.” Ruby settled back against the cushions and closed her eyes.

“If you require anything, I shall be in the kitchens.” Ivy retrieved the tray with the bowl of uneaten broth.

“Grammercy, Ivy. You have been a gift from heaven during the king’s absence.”

“I live to serve you, my queen.” Ivy bowed and left the room.

 “What am I to do?” Ruby whispered against the coverlet, clutching the fabric tight. The sound dissolved in the empty room. “I cannot tell Crispin. I cannot tell Vivienne. Where else can I turn?”

Panic consumed her in waves. Slowly it pulled her down into the darkness of her deepest fears. If this child were not truly the heir of Meradin, what horrors would Crispin unleash upon her? Even though the events of that night were of his ministrations, his command, would he still blame her for fostering a bastard in her womb? She buried her face against the cushions.

Unable to quell the rising panic, Ruby rose from the bed and darted into the hallway. With determined steps, she wandered the corridors until she located Mina, her young maid, outside the king’s presence chamber.

“Fetch the swordsmith’s apprentice, Matthew. Have him meet me in my chambers. Quickly.” Ruby kept her voice low.

With a nod, Mina darted down the hallway and around the corner.

Ruby returned to her chamber and paced the floor near the window overlooking the inner bailey. The autumn wind rattled the thick pane of glass. Her hand settled on the curve of her stomach. Truth be told, whoever the father of this child, she would treasure it regardless. She would defend and protect it until her dying day.

A knock at the door shook her from her thoughts, and she bid them enter.

“You summoned me, your majesty?” Matthew bowed low. His young face smeared with dust and dirt. His rough hands twisted his cap.

“Aye, Matthew. I require you to travel to my mother’s cottage and bring her to the castle post haste.” A calm settled in the depths of her soul as she issued the directive.

“At once, ma’am.” Matthew bowed once more and retreated from the room.

Ruby detested using the young man as her own personal messenger, but she trusted no one more than she did the young blacksmith. She came to the aid of his family on multiple occasions and gave him a position within the castle to ensure his family a comfortable life. In response, they swore fealty to her. A fact she chose not to exploit. However, in her desperation, she required someone who could be trusted completely and knew where to find Marian.

Until she spoke to her mother, she would remain in her chamber. Vivienne would certainly be understanding and supportive if she chose to trust her with this revelation, but she required the comfort and advice of a woman who knew the depths of her soul like no one else.

Marian would know what path to take. How to best reveal the news to Crispin and the kingdom. But this conversation would entail revealing the sinful details of the night of passion spent with both Henry and her husband. Could she face the shame of revealing such information to her mother?

She bit her lip. Perhaps she had been hasty in summoning Marian, but it was too late. She would need to reveal the truth sooner or later. If anyone could understand without passing judgment, it would be her mother.

After retrieving her now cold tea, she settled before the hearth and stared into the flames. The moments drifted away until the sun set beyond the window and darkness filled her chamber. When Ivy arrived with some bread and dried fruit, she nibbled on the fare and found it fortified her without making her ill.

Before she drifted off to sleep, Matthew arrived breathless at her door. “I did as you commanded, my queen. But the cottage was empty.”

Disappointment gripped her heart but it also gave way to relief. “My thanks, Matthew. Please find something to eat in the kitchens before returning to the smithy.”

“Many thanks, ma’am.” His youthful grin infected her with hope.

Once Matthew took his leave, Ruby prepared for bed. On the morrow, she would visit her mother. Crispin was not present to dictate the boundaries of her royal prison and determine whether she could leave the castle grounds. She would take two guards and make the journey without incident.

For the first time in weeks, a sense of peace settled over her. Perhaps she merely needed to escape the confines of these stone walls. Ruby could not run forever, but she could embrace the opportunity to forget for a while.

Comforted by her plan, Ruby nestled beneath the blankets. Soon Crispin would return, turning her whole world upside down once more. While she longed for his return and the comfort of his touch, his presence hung like a shadow over the castle.

In truth, they were still so little acquainted and newlywed. There was still much to learn from and about one another. But one thing she knew for certain. She would never be able to keep a secret from the King of Meradin. Especially not one with such monumental consequences.


Thanks for reading!

Love,

Jen Bradlee