It went live over the weekend!!! My latest Regency-based romantic suspense is available from Black Opal Books. Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep is the first book in the Twins’ Trilogy. The Earl Claims His Comfort and Lady Chandler’s Sister will follow. You will not want to miss this one!!!
HUNTINGTON McLAUGHLIN, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, and being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and ANGELICA LOVELACE is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined ins a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart.
As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Miss Lovelace as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit Angelica to align herself with the earldom or to claim the only woman who stirs his heart – and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress as his wife?
We have an excerpt of when Huntington McLaughlin and Angelica Lovelace first notice each other. Chapter 1
Excerpt from Chapter 3 (The first time Huntington and Angelica meet, but it is far from auspicious…)
Angel cursed the Fates with every soggy step she took. Her half boots sank into the quick-forming mud as she attempted to climb the steep slope. Her cloak caught upon every bramble and every twig, but the rain was too heavy and too cold to abandon the outer garment.
She caught at one of the rough-shaped bushes clinging to the side of the slope, pawing for a finger hold that would prevent her leather soles from sliding down the way she just came. As the rain swelled the river into which her coach had pitched, she refused to turn her head and look upon Lord Mannington’s second coachman, whose body rested against the back of the coach’s box, his life long removed. The broken left side of the coach sat upon Mr. Brothers’s chest, and the man’s neck was bent at an odd angle. Angel had offered prayers of deliverance for the man’s soul as she knelt beside him while searching for a sign of life before she made the choice to leave the man in God’s benevolence.
When the coach dipped over the road’s edge to turn upon its side, she did not scream. Instead, she braced herself against the coach’s backbench to keep from tumbling head first into the air.
With the sound of tumult drowning out her heartbeat, Angel made a resolution to survive, for she knew word of her demise would kill her father. All he would have remaining in the world would be her younger brother Carson, and Car remained in America with Papa’s business partner. So, Angel fought for her entire family.
She knew Horace Lovelace’s nature. He would blame himself for not accompanying her, as if his presence would have prevented the disaster. Her father remained at Fordham Hall because he contracted the sniffles and a slight cough with a low fever.
“I will wait with you,” Angel had insisted.
“No,” her father protested. “To be invited to the Duchess of Devilfoard’s house party will translate into your acceptance among the beau monde. You cannot give insult by not arriving when expected. I will follow in a few days. I sent a note to your mother’s dear friend, Countess Gunnimore, to explain my delay. Lady Gunnimore will assume your chaperoning until I arrive. Lord Harrison showed us a great service in procuring an invitation for his family’s fête. We must not disappoint.”
As the Manningtons were invited elsewhere, Angel set out for Warwickshire with only a maid in tow. Unfortunately, at the last stop, Mari claimed a like illness as to what struck Angel’s father, and so she had sent the girl home with the single footman to escort her.
“Thank Goodness only Mr. Brothers suffered,” she grunted as she clawed her way up the hill, bit by bit. “This situation could be much worse. Mari and Dono could also have been killed.”
Hunt cursed his decision to send Etch and his carriage ahead. The rain came down so violently, he could no longer see the road. He was now riding purely from instinct. There was not a dry thread upon his body, but he meant to reach The Yellow Hen, which was less than three miles if he guessed correctly. He thought himself near Halford, still some ten miles to Shakespeare’s reported home of Stratford-on-Avon and many more to his home outside of Bedworth. From the corner of his eye, Hunt could make out the muddy approach of the River Stour flowing over its banks. The Stour to the Avon to the Severn, he thought, but that would take him to the west, when he needed to reach the River Anker instead.
Fingers of watery rivulets joined the standing water upon the stone road. He began to wonder if, while racing the approaching storms, he had made a wrong turn. The sheets of water streaming over Alibi’s neck convinced him to act without caution, and although Hunt thought himself still in Oxfordshire when the rain caught him, perhaps he had achieved Warwickshire. If so, The Yellow Hen was long since forgotten.
He gave his head a good shake to clear both his vision and his thinking, and Alibi mimicked Hunt’s actions. As if entranced by the mighty horse’s movements, Hunt did not see the attacker’s approach until it was too late!
Angel pulled herself over the lip of the stone roadway before collapsing into a cold muddy puddle. Several inches of water stood upon the odd-shaped stones while the excess cascaded over the edges sliding down the slope to meet the rising stream crawling its way upward. If the rain continued for much longer, one would not be able to tell where the road ended and the water began. Pulling herself to her knees, Angel rose slowly, exhaustion claiming its due. She did not hear the stranger’s approach over the rumble of the thunder and the beating of her heart pounding in her ears.
It was only afterward that she realized her sudden appearance frightened the man’s horse. The beautifully powerful animal rose up on his hind legs to paw the air above Angel’s head. On impulse, she covered her head with her arms. She heard the man attempting to calm the animal and the shrill cries of the beast in counterpoint to the continued war with nature. She shuddered, but before she could respond, a hard thump announced one of the battles was lost.
Without considering the consequences, she bolted into action. Accustomed to being around horses, Angel caught the animal’s reins before it ran off into the shadowy mist.
“Easy, boy,” she pleaded as the animal jerked its head to free her grip. “Easy.” She stroked the stallion’s neck to quiet its fear. “I shan’t hurt you.” The horse showed its teeth, but it did not bite her. Her hand traced the animal’s neck to its shoulder. “Permit me to see to your rider.” Gently, Angel patted the steed’s neck before dropping the loose reins and praying the animal was trained to remain in place when the reins went slack.
Lifting her rain soaked cloak and gown, Angel sloshed her way toward where the man lay upon his side in the muddy water.
“Sir?” she said with true regret. “How badly are you injured?”
Angel prayed this stranger did not share Mr. Brothers’s fate. She could not bear another innocent’s death upon her conscience. The thought of the kindly coachman brought tears to Angel’s eyes, but she had no time for grief. The stranger offered no response nor did he move beyond a single breath escaping his lungs.
Carefully, she edged the man onto his back before running her hands up and down his legs and arms. She realized he could have an injured ankle, but removing his boots was not an option at the moment. It was imperative for her to assist him to his horse before he, literally, drowned in the muddy waters rushing across the road.
“Sir.” Angel placed her hand upon his shoulder to give it a good shake.
Immediately his eyes sprang open, and a string of curse words announced that she had discovered his injury.
The man grabbed at his shoulder. “Bloody hell!”
Angel jumped away, not wishing to touch him again. “I apologize, sir. I did not mean to bring you pain. Are you able to stand?” She shot a glance at the rising water sloshing against his side. “We are in a tenuous situation. We must seek higher ground.” In hesitation, she knelt beside him. “Have you suffered injuries beyond your shoulder?”
Hunt looked up into the most mesmerizing eyes that he ever beheld: A bluish green, the shade of the ocean upon a sunny day. For a moment, he could not think. His head hummed a song Hunt did not recognize.
“Where am I?” He was aware of a cold rain dripping from her worn bonnet to splash upon his chest.
She watched him with an indefinable emotion. “We are somewhere in Warwickshire.” A quick glance to the right preceded her frown. “At least, I think we are.” Her scowl deepened. “We are in a steady rain, and the water is rising quickly. I insist upon supporting you to your horse. I doubt I could lift you to the saddle, but I would endeavor to do so if your injury prevents your mounting on your own.”
Her words amused him. Unless Hunt underestimated her stature, she would not reach his shoulder. “Assist me to sit, instead.”
He noted how the water sloshed against his jacket’s sleeve as she made her way behind him. He was lying in a stream of water!
Her fingers crawled beneath his shoulders and nudged him upward. Despite lying in a pool of cold rainwater, heat shot straight to his chest. Hunt never experienced anything like it in his eight and twenty years. He used the hand, which did not throb with shooting pains, to shove himself to a seated position. Everything about him swirled into a mixture of gray and green and brown. He felt his stomach turn over, but he breathed through the darkness that sought to consume him. The woman did not err in her estimation. They were in danger, and he must reach Alibi if they were to survive.
Hunt did not know when “he” became a “they,” but it had. The moment his eyes rested upon hers, he claimed himself her protector. Surely the woman lived nearby. He would assist her home and beg for a physician to be called.
Crawling to his knees and then to his feet, Hunt bit into his bottom lip to keep from calling out in pain. He swayed in place, and the woman hurried to brace his weight. Although she was beautiful enough—her skin pearly white—to be a fine lady, Hunt could not imagine her so. What lady of Society would wallow through the mud to tend him?
“Can you cross to the horse or should I bring him to you?” She shoved her wet body underneath his arm to keep Hunt from tipping forward.
With a deep steadying breath, Hunt again clenched his teeth. “Lead on,” he gritted through tight lips. With a knee-buckling lurch, he took a dozen steps to reach Alibi’s rump. “Easy,” he cautioned as he used the horse to brace his weight.
Muddy tracks of water streamed down from his hair, and Hunt used his free hand to sweep it back from his forehead. His hat had long-since drifted away in the narrow stream of water carving a deeper rut in the road.
“Hold his reins,” he instructed the woman, a woman whose name he had yet to learn. All in good time, he thought.
The lady lifted his arm so he might catch the rise of the saddle before she moved away to hold Alibi’s head still. When she nodded her preparedness, Hunt captured a deep breath, placed a foot in the stirrup, and lifted his frame to swing a leg over his horse. His settling heavily into the saddle made Alibi skittish again, but the woman’s melodic voice—one that reminded him of God’s angels—coaxed the stallion to stillness. Even so, in spite of his best efforts, Hunt thought the ground rose up to greet his descent. Desperately, he wrapped his arm about Alibi’s neck and slumped forward.
“Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no,” she reprimanded as she rushed to secure the man to the horse. He rested against the animal’s neck, his face buried in the horse’s wet mane. Angel thought again of those dratted Fates who meant to vex her. Jerking the ruined bonnet from her head, she ripped the ribbons from their fastenings. Tearing them loose, she tied the two pieces together, lapped one end around the carbine bucket and the other around the stranger’s wrist, and tightened the makeshift rope to balance the man in place.
Self-consciously, Angel looked around before hiking her skirt to her knees.
“Papa would be furious,” she chastised, as she put her booted foot upon the stranger’s, caught the tails of the man’s jacket, and pulled her weight into the saddle behind him.
The stranger did not move, and again Angel placed her hand upon his back to feel the rise and fall of his chest before noting the red mark of dried blood upon the back of his head. The water continued to rise—likely some two inches deeper.
“We cannot wait any longer,” she said as she caught the reins from the stranger’s loose grip, wrapped her arms about his waist, and kicked the stallion’s side to set the horse in motion.
“I pray we find assistance soon,” she said as the animal walked smartly through the running water. “I fear my…” Angel did not know what to call the man. They had not even exchanged names. “I fear my acquaintance hit his head on the road’s stones.”
GIVEAWAY: I have 2 eBook copies of Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep to be presented to those who comment below. The giveaway ends at midnight EDST on August 11, 2016.
Black Opal Books (eBook and Print copies available ~ Print copies include an autographed book plate)