Friday, November 25, 2016

Christmas Spirits (Spirited Storms #1) (The Spirited Storms)

Christmas Spirits
(Spirited Storms #1) 
(The Spirited Storms)

(A Novella)

FREE - 11/25/16 - 11/29/16

Mary Soares was supposed to spend Christmas, nice and warm on her family’s estate in Falkirk, Scotland, tending to their whisky business. However, the English have made smuggling almost impossible, and so order after order is waiting at the distillery until it’s safe enough to continue shipments. Most customers understand this. Most customers are reasonable. The Duke of Danby is not most customers. After a number of demands from His Grace, insisting upon his order, Mary decides to deliver the whisky herself.

Benjamin Storm, Earl of Kenley, breathes a sigh of relief when his summons from the Duke of Danby has nothing to do with matrimony or a stack of special licenses. Instead, his uncle just needs Benjamin to travel to Scotland and procure his missing whisky shipment in time for his holiday festivities. The chore sounds easy enough, at least until he encounters a most unusual smuggler on her way to Danby Castle. Benjamin’s life may never be the same.

*This story originally appeared in “The Duke’s Christmas Summons” anthology.

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I am very much aware that you have been avoiding me since the wedding of Mr. Jonathan Bridges and Miss. Genviève Mirabelle nearly a year and a half ago. Your excuses in the past have been flimsy at best, and I will accept no more. You will attend me in Yorkshire, with your equally absent siblings and remain at the castle through December 26th. If you wish to stay longer, I have no objections. However, you must present yourself to me no later than December 17th. If you fail to do so, the retribution will be harsh and long in duration.



Danby Castle, Yorkshire ~ December 17, 1816

Benjamin Storm, Earl of Kenley, eyed his great-uncle, the Duke of Danby, with trepidation. For the past year and a half he’d been able to avoid His Grace, but no longer. The threat in the missive was non-specific, but Benjamin was not about to take any chances. While he wasn’t exactly certain what His Grace could actually do to him, the gentleman was the Duke of Danby and held almost as much power as Prinny or the Prime Minister.
“Where are your siblings?” His Grace demanded. “I was very specific that you bring them with you.”
Benjamin resisted the urge to pull at his cravat and sat straighter in the chair before His Grace’s massive desk. “I have no idea where Nathaniel is, though last I heard, he was in India.” That was months ago. His brother could be anywhere right now and if he ever bothered to write, Ben would know where that was.
His Grace frowned.
“As you are well aware, Abigail gave birth to a son a few weeks ago and cannot travel.”
“Your sister is not my concern,” Danby ground out.
Of course not. Abigail was married and just delivered her fourth child, which only solidified Benjamin’s suspicions of why he’d been ordered to the castle.
“What of Samuel?”
His other wayward brother, and Nate’s twin. “Barbados.”
“Still?” Danby demanded incredulously. “He’s been there five years!”
Benjamin simply stared at his great-uncle and wished to be done with this unnecessary conversation. Danby knew exactly where his brother was. In fact, he likely knew where each of his siblings were at this very moment and what they had for supper a week ago. “Yes. He has.”
“He needs to come home.” His Grace thumped his cane against the floorboards. That’s probably why there was no carpet or rugs in this room. One could not have the desired effect of a thumping cane if it were muffled by tightly woven wool.
“I believe he rather likes it there,” Benjamin answered dryly.
“Bah!” Danby narrowed his eyes on him. “Is he still with that Easton fellow?”
The Duke didn’t like Easton, never had. As younger sons, it had been Easton who decided to travel to Barbados and take over his uncle’s plantation. Samuel thought it a grand idea and went along and soon after purchased his own land. Neither had returned to England and saw no reason to do so. “Yes, he is. Both have been very successful in their endeavors and have become very wealthy gentlemen.” So successful that if the crops didn’t improve next year, Benjamin would be seeking financial assistance from his younger brother to help save the estate. It was far more palatable than marrying a dowry.
“I assume there is an excuse for each of them for not being here?” His Grace grumbled.
“Peter remained home with Mother, as did my younger sisters,” Benjamin answered honestly. “Mother has not been feeling her best and they are concerned, as am I.” He sat forward. “So, if we can bring this interview to an end, I’d like to return home.”
Danby narrowed his eyes. “Your mother is no more ill than I am. She twisted an ankle, which would not prevent her from entering a carriage and traveling.”
“Besides the discomfort, of course,” Benjamin answered wryly.
“She injured it a fortnight ago.” Danby thumped his cane again. “There is no reason she could not travel. If it still pains her, you need a new physician. I’ll send mine if she doesn’t recover before the ball.”
Benjamin didn’t bother to argue. He knew as well as His Grace that his mother had latched onto the excuse so she didn’t have to endure a holiday at Danby Castle. It wasn’t the castle she objected to as much as the current owner. Further, he wouldn’t put it past the woman to have intentionally caused the injury. “Do as you see fit.” He’d let his mother deal with His Grace because Benjamin wasn’t about to become embroiled in the middle of any dispute that may arise.
“Very well then,” Danby announced as he stood. “Let’s discuss the reason why I summoned you.”
Benjamin already had a fairly good idea, but held his tongue. Instead, he watched as his great-uncle strode to the sideboard and poured two glasses of a golden liquid.  Benjamin followed him to the sitting area, hoping he didn’t have to return to his seat before the desk. It was too reminiscent of sitting before the chancellor and waiting to be disciplined. That was many years ago, of course, but that sick feeling he always got in the pit of his stomach returned with a vengeance in these situations. Besides, he was a gentleman of nine and twenty and did not need to be disciplined by his great-uncle like a wayward school boy. They could discuss His Grace’s concerns in the comfort of the chairs or the blue and gold settee arranged before the fireplace. 
Danby turned and handed him a glass before taking a drink of his own and sinking into the well-worn dark leather chair.
Benjamin sipped slowly and let the liquid roll over his tongue to burn a trail down his throat. No hint of poison could be detected. Not that he expected His Grace to try and kill him, but he wouldn’t put it past the old man to somehow put something in his drink that would render Benjamin unconscious only to wake and find himself married to a lady of the duke’s choice.
The whisky was excellent, however. Superb in comparison to the others he’d enjoyed over the years, and he took another sip. If anything, His Grace had excellent taste in whisky.
His great-uncle gestured to the settee and Ben settled into the comfort of the soft cushion.
“Why haven’t you married?”
Benjamin practically choked on the whisky. He knew the question was coming but would have preferred if it hadn’t been asked mid-drink or without a more pleasant lead in to the topic.
“I have not found the right lady.”
“Have you looked?” Danby demanded.
“Diligently!” he defended. “For the past five seasons, if you must know.” Benjamin knew he owed a duty to the title. He was an earl and was expected to produce an heir and a spare before his death. As much as he’d like to think he could rely on at least one of his brothers to fill the role should something happen to him, Benjamin did not have the confidence they would. Nathaniel, the spare, was never in England long enough to even discuss the matter, and half the time, Benjamin had no idea where to even find him. Should something happen, he wouldn’t be surprised if Nate faked his own death to get out of those duties, thus foisting them onto his twin, younger by five minutes, Samuel, who had no intention of ever leaving the Caribbean. Sam wouldn’t go so far as Nate to avoid the responsibility. He’d just ignore it as if it didn’t exist and go about planting sugar as if nothing had changed.
Danby snorted. “You couldn’t find a bride in five years? Where were you looking? The brothels?”
Benjamin looked his great-uncle in the eye and in all seriousness answered, “In truth, I found many candidates that would suit at Madame Delight’s. Unfortunately, society would frown on a soiled dove becoming my countess.”
The corner of Danby’s mouth quirked slightly then he frowned again. Had Benjamin not been watching, he would have missed the reaction completely.
“What’s wrong with the suitable young ladies?”
“That depends on which lady you are inquiring about.” He had met a number of them, and though none would suit, the reasons varied.
Danby pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it.
“Good God, is that list of ladies?”
“You should have anticipated that I’d be prepared.”
Benjamin suffered a sigh and stood. He was not going to be allowed to leave until his great-uncle was satisfied, so he poured more whisky into his glass. If he must endure the interrogation, there was no reason why he could not partake of the excellent whisky in the process.
As His Grace began listing names of the current crop of debutantes and those who had been out for a few years, Benjamin in turn provided one word answers of why he would not consider them, such as: pretentious, unkind, antagonistic, condemnatory, insipid, anxious, conceited, feather-brained, bluestocking and silly.
Danby folded the list and Benjamin hoped this meeting was concluded.
“I noticed you used silly several times.”
“In truth, Your Grace, I do believe those being presented get sillier each and every year.” Ben sat back down, relaxed against the upholstery and crossed his legs, feeling much more at ease. He wasn’t sure if it was because the interrogation was turning into a conversation between gentlemen or the whisky or both, but Ben was glad to no longer be on edge.
“Yes, I can see where you’d believe so.” He stood and refilled his glass. “A few of your relations fall into that category.” He returned to his chair and took a sip. “Three come to mind immediately,” he grumbled.
“Three?” Benjamin was not sure which of his relations Danby referred to. There were so many first, second and third removed…unless he referred to the triplets. One of them had caused quite a scene last season.
“It does not matter,” Danby dismissed. “I’ll deal with them, and their mother.”
By the austerity in His Grace’s eyes, Benjamin was thankful he was not part of that family, whoever they were.
“So, you don’t want a silly chit.” He nodded and took a drink. “What of physical characteristics. Are they not pleasant to look upon either?”
Benjamin chuckled and shook his head. “They are all pretty, some beautiful, but that means little when contemplating a future.”
Danby frowned at him.
Ben blew out a sigh. “Of course I wish for an attractive wife, but beauty often diminishes over time. I’d rather have someone I enjoy spending time with, conversing with, than simply looking at.”
His Grace settled back, studying Ben with shrewd eyes.
“God willing, I’ll be spending many years with my bride and I’d prefer to like her, even love her, as opposed to a beautiful lady with little substance.”
For the longest time His Grace said nothing and Ben’s nerves began to resurface. Not for one moment had he forgotten what Danby had done to his own grandchildren to see them married off, and he wasn’t fooling himself by thinking His Grace didn’t have the same plan for him. All he could do was wait for the pronouncement. An order to go find a bride and be quick about it, ignoring what Ben may wish.
As the silence continued, Ben finished his drink and poured another. He would remain at the castle tonight regardless of how much he wished to be gone, and if Danby was going to issue a dictate that would see his life miserable, he might as well get properly foxed. He stared down into the glass. He was going to be miserable enough on the morrow, perhaps he shouldn’t add a headache and sickness to his misery. Besides, he shouldn’t lose his head now. Not while sitting with Danby. His Grace wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of the situation and secure an agreement from Benjamin that he would regret for the rest of his life.
“Very well,” His Grace finally said.
“Very well, what?”
“You know what you want. I’m certain you shall find it.”
Ben eyed him suspiciously. That was too easy.
“I can see you’ve given this a good deal of thought and am confident you will make the right choice when the time comes.” He finished his drink, set the glass on the table. “Now that the discussion of your future is concluded, I have a request before you return to your mother.”
Ben set his glass aside, no longer wishing to drink. Apparently His Grace was going to let him plan his own life, much to his relief.
“I’ve been waiting on a delivery and it hasn’t arrived.”
“What type of delivery?” He couldn’t imagine anyone would have the daring not to fulfill a request by the Duke of Danby. Well, unless they were dead.
Danby nodded to the decanter. “The finest whisky ever produced.”
“Whisky? That’s what you’re waiting on?” Yes, it was a fine whisky, but Ben was just as certain bottles could be procured from other sources if necessary.
“Two cases of the spirits. I need it before Christmas.”
“I’m not sure how I can be of assistance.”
“Dear boy, I wish for you to go and retrieve them.”
“Spirits for Christmas?” He couldn’t believe this was what was being asked of him, but it was far preferable to a strange bride.
“Exactly! Christmas Spirits.”

Falkirk, Scotland

“Are ya certain Lachlan is no’ goin’ to return for Christmas?” Mary Soares asked her mother, hoping for a different answer this time.
“Ye ken his wife just had a bairn. They canna travel.”
“I doona know why she couldn’t have had the babe here like the first one,” Mary grumbled. Had her brother and Madeline just come north for the birthing then she would not be in this predicament.
“Yer brother had it difficult enough this summer with all the rain, getting’ stuck on the road, the poor barley crop, and bleak skies. He dinna wish to add to his troubles by takin’ his family away from Grosmont for fear they’d get stuck or encounter ice covered roads.”
“Aye, but the babe was born a month ago. Surely he could come now.”
“And not make it back in time for Christmas?” her mother scolded. “That would be unfair to Maddie and the children.”
Mary blew out a breath. Of course her mother was right, but it didn’t help their circumstances at the moment. With a sigh she settled at the scarred table in her work room. Her brother, Lachlan Grant, Marquess of Brachton, was to have seen to the delivery of the mounting orders for whisky. Her sister’s husband, Magnus, was to have helped, but he’d fallen from a ladder nearly a month ago and still couldn’t stand up straight without severe pain.
“I wish Ian would come home.” Ian was the next oldest, and in charge of the distilling, but he also helped with deliveries on occasion. However, he’d been in Edinburgh for the last fortnight waiting on the ship to take whisky to London. For years Jonathan Bridges had shipped her brother’s whisky to his London warehouse and the ship was to have been here by now, but had been delayed by the weather. At least that was what they all assumed. But, until the ship did dock, Ian had to remain because they trusted nobody else to see to the cargo.
There were several men and lads who helped with the distilling, but never on the deliveries. It was far too dangerous. She’d never forgive herself if they were caught by the excisemen who were currently in the area looking for smugglers. She’d seen the lights when they appeared on the hillside as soon as the sun set yesterday. A warning to all of them not to take the whisky from hiding until the gougers were gone. 
At the moment, Mary had few options available to her. They could pay the taxes, which were so high that it was impossible to make a profit. Wait until the excisemen were gone. Or, risk moving the whisky. If caught, the whisky would be confiscated. Or worse, someone could be killed. It wasn’t unusual, unfortunately, for fighting to break out between the gougers and the smugglers, especially along the border, often ending with someone’s death. Tensions were high as it was. Crops failed this last year because of the unusually cold weather, and food was scarce in many places. Not only did smugglers need to worry about the excisemen, but thieves as well.
In the past, only Lachlan or Magnus drove the wagon to the docks in Edinburgh or over the border into England but as neither of them were available, the task would now fall to her.
She rifled through the orders, setting aside those who would receive a note explaining the delay and held back the most demanding requests. Three letters and all from His Grace, the Duke of Danby.
If she thought him reasonable, she’d write to him as well and explain the current set of circumstances they found themselves in, but nothing about the Duke of Danby struck her as reasonable. Demanding – yes. Reasonable – no.
He’d been to her home twice, when once would have been more than enough, to call on her brother. Why His Grace hadn’t called on Lachlan at his estate in Grosmont was beyond Mary’s comprehension. Grosmont was in Yorkshire, Danby Castle was in Yorkshire, so it stood to reason that estate was much more convenient for His Grace than traveling to Falkirk, Scotland.
He was also their most important customer and one they did not wish anger. Lachlan had reminded her time and time again that whenever His Grace requested a shipment, it was to be sent immediately. Which was all fine and good, until there was no one to make the delivery.
She needed to find a way to get the whisky to Danby Castle and the rest would just have to wait. Except she had no idea how to go about it.
Lifting the lamp from the desk, Mary made her way to the stables. She could use the traveling coach, with the Brachton coat of arms, as her brother often did, with the bottles wrapped in wool and hidden in the seats and floor. But, that would require a driver and a maid to accompany her, thus putting three people at risk if they were caught.
Beside the coach was the wagon Magnus used for deliveries, and above it on wide shelves, the means in which he used to hide the whisky. A smile pulled at her lips. “Of course!” She had driven many wagons in the past and was quite comfortable doing so. Happy with her plan, Mary made her way to the distillery and gave instructions to have the wagon prepared so that she could leave at first light and hope the excisemen were gone. She couldn’t delay longer or His Grace wouldn’t have his whisky in time for Christmas. She wouldn’t be home by Christmas, but at least His Grace would be happy, and that was really all that mattered.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ruined by a Lady (Spirited Storms #3) (The Spirited Storms)

Ruined by a Lady
(Spirited Storms #3)
(The Spirited Storms)

(A Novella)

** Previously published in Evading the Duke ***

There is nothing Samuel Storm wants more than to leave London behind him and return to his plantation in Barbados, until he sees a portrait come to life. At least he’s fairly certain the girl across St. Paul's is the same one depicted in the scandalous painting he owns back in the Caribbean. But how can he be sure? And why would a lady pose for such a painting?

Lady Jillian Simpson has made many mistakes in her life, but the worst was falling for an artist who took advantage of her trust. She is fairly certain her father has found and destroyed all of the paintings, all but one, at least until she encounters the dashing Mr. Storm and learns another exists. But after everything she’s experienced, how can she ever trust him with her secret or her heart?

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You and Samuel must return home immediately. The most horrendous circumstance has occurred and I am so beside myself that I do not know what to do. It is far too distressing to even write in a letter. Suffice it to say, nothing this horrific has happened to our family in a very long time, and your presence is needed most urgently.



April 18, 1817, London

Samuel Storm sucked in a breath the moment those familiar blues eyes met his. It had to be her. But how was it even possible?
He took a step in her direction but Nathaniel, his twin brother, placed a hand on his arm and handed him the missive that had been delivered as soon as they stepped out of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sam took it without removing his eyes from her. The late afternoon sun shone on her head, making it appear as if her blonde locks were laced with gold, and for a moment she glanced back. Her haunting Caribbean blue eyes met his before she was assisted into a carriage displaying the Duke of Eldridge’s coat of arms. An older man stood waiting. By his regal bearing, no doubt he was Eldridge.
Either the duke’s daughter at one time sat for a rather scandalous portrait, or a woman who looked exactly like her had. That very portrait hung in his home in Barbados, and Sam needed to know if the two were one and the same.
With reluctance, Sam tore his eyes away from the duke’s carriage and glanced at the missive. The one thing that had not changed in the five years he’d been gone was the habit of his mother to succumb to hysterics.
“What could be so blasted important that she thought it appropriate to pull us from a wedding?” Nate demanded.
Sam handed the summons back to his brother who promptly crushed it in his fist.
“At least the footman ignored her dictate and waited until we exited the church or you might have missed the wedding you stood to witness for Roxburg,” Nate grumbled.
Sam and Mark Easton, the Duke of Roxburg, had been friends for a number of years. The last five of which they’d lived in Barbados, each managing their own sugar plantations. Life had been good living on an island of beautiful women when one was wealthy and a bachelor. Roxburg’s sudden change in title was what brought them back to London. Not that Sam needed to return, but Roxburg had wanted the one gentleman he trusted by his side when facing society once again. Not that he needed Sam. In the month that Sam was away visiting his family, Roxburg had met his wife, and the two had married just a short time ago.
“Let’s make it quick,” Sam was resigned to deal with their mother, but waste no more time than necessary on whatever crisis had arisen. He and Nate had planned on going to their club until it was time for the ball. Roxburg managed to obtain a Special License so that he could be married at the earliest time the church was available, which happened to be today at five. He had also decided to forgo the wedding breakfast in lieu of a ball, which he insisted would begin in a few hours and not late in the evening as was tradition.
“If Mother starts going on and on about torn flounces, stained gloves, or spilled tea at the al fresco, I swear I’ll send her right back home and let Ben deal with our sisters.” Benjamin, the Earl of Kenley, their older brother, could see to their three younger sisters attending the Season.
“I’d hate to see her reaction if something actually horrific occurred,” Sam grumbled after he followed his brother into the carriage and relaxed against the squabs. As he glanced out the window, the duke’s carriage passed and his eyes met those all too familiar blue eyes.
Could it really be her?
He’d first spied the painting in a gallery in New Orleans and knew instantly that he must have it. Not so much because of the lush body that lay in repose upon a fainting coach, a long leg extended and uncovered, though white gossamer shielded the rest of her body, or because of the delicious breasts practically spilled from a fitted corset, or the full, red lips beckoning for a kiss. Not only did he want that woman on his own couch, clad similarly, but he wanted to know her too. Those blue eyes conveyed innocence, seduction, spirit, vulnerability, rebellion, and sadness that pulled him in. He longed to ask why sadness lurked in the deep recesses of her blue irises. Why her mouth may tip at the corner when there was no happiness? Why was she haunted?
It was ridiculous, of course. The girl was a model and the artist was simply excellent at his craft. Yet, when Sam spied the lady in St. Paul’s Church, not only did the same emotion lurk in her eyes, but the sadness seemed deeper.
Yes, she smiled, but it was forced. The tension in her jaw betrayed what she was trying not to show.
Did nobody else realize she wasn’t happy?
He needed to know her.
Just because the lady in the painting bore a striking resemblance to Eldridge’s daughter, it was impossible that it was her. A duke’s daughter did not pose for erotic paintings, yet Sam felt the same pull towards Eldridge’s daughter as he had experienced when he first viewed the painting, and he had every intention of gaining an introduction.
The carriage pulled up before their townhouse and the gentlemen jumped out and hurried to the door. Not because Sam believed distressing news awaited them, but because he wanted to be done with whatever had fluffed mother’s feathers this time.
They found their mother, the Dowager Countess of Kenley, in the sitting room with three of their younger sisters. Hannah was pacing as if she were too agitated to sit. Tabitha was stitching, which he learned she often did when there was little else to occupy her time, and Deborah simply sat in a chair by the window, watching the others as if in deep contemplation.
His oldest brother, Benjamin, relaxed with his lovely and enchanting wife, Mary, sipping tea. It certainly didn’t appear as if there was anything urgent that required his or Nate’s attention, which he already suspected would be the case.
“What happened?” Nate demanded, his tone laced with the irritation Sam felt.
“We were at Lady Emma Heathfield’s al fresco when we saw him.”
“Who?” Sam asked. He had not been back in England all that long, but nobody had uttered a word about any gentleman his mother feared.
“I didn’t know what to do, so of course, we left immediately.” His mother waived a handkerchief in front of her face. “Oh, I do hope he didn’t see us. Though it was highly rude to leave so quickly without paying our respects to Lady Heathfield, but it was necessary given the circumstances. I must send her a note of apology right away.”
“Stop!” Nate yelled. “Who did you see that has you so upset?”
Her eyes widened and she looked at them. “His Grace! The Duke of Danby.”
“I don’t understand why this is important.” He was a duke. Wasn’t he required to be here with Parliament in session, and what the blazes did his great-uncle being in London have to do with them? “You do realize I was at the wedding of my closest friend. I stood as a witness.”
His mother’s eyes grew wide. “But, it is the Duke of Danby.”
“I don’t care if it’s the Crown Prince,” Samuel yelled as he turned for the door. Of all the ridiculous nonsense. He needed a drink and only in a place where reasonable gentlemen were allowed.
“But, you don’t understand,” their mother cried.
“What the blazes is there to understand?” Nate demanded.
“He’s going to ruin everything.”
Sam turned just in time to see his mother’s eyes fill with tears.
“He’ll ruin my family.”
Ben stood and assisted Mary to her feet. “My wife and I are going for a drive in the park.”
“But, but, but….” their mother sputtered.
Ben didn’t look back and stopped before his brothers. “As I need to deal with this all of the time because neither one of you can be bothered to remain in England, you now have the pleasure of calming her while I enjoy the afternoon with my wife, which was ruined by her early return.”

“Forget him,” the Duke of Eldridge ordered his daughter.
Lady Jillian Simpson blinked at her father hoping her face conveyed innocence. “Who?”
“That gentleman you kept looking at in the church.” Her father frowned. “He’s beneath you.”
She knew better than to argue or question him further. Father had very specific ideas about who he believed was worthy of her, not that she’d managed to marry any of them. Save one, but as nobody knew of the marriage, they weren’t aware of the annulment either. It’s as if it never happened.
“It’s bad enough that those Valentines are marrying titles while you remain unwed, but I will not tolerate them marrying better than you.”
They’d just left the wedding of the Duke of Roxburg and Miss Bianca Valentine, which meant Jillian had better set her cap on a duke. She no longer gave a wit of what title a gentleman may or may not have, but even her father must realize that finding an eligible duke to marry might be rather difficult. It wasn’t as if they grew on trees, waiting to be picked.
“That man you were watching is Mr. Samuel Storm.” The mister was said with disgust. “His older brother is the Earl of Kenley and there is another brother between Mr. Storm and the title.”
Heaven forbid she marry a mister. Her father would have an apoplexy. As much as the idea of acting in such a rebellious manner would give her great pleasure, Jillian did not have the nerve to face the inevitable consequences and thus accepted her lot in life. As the daughter of a powerful duke, she would marry the highest title she could attain, and settle into her role as lady, wife, and eventual mother. All she could hope for was that she at least liked her husband, instead of any of the lesser emotions like love. Father hadn’t loved her mother, the daughter of an influential marquess, nor did he believe in its existence.
Jillian glanced out the window. Of course she thought she’d been in love once. She’d been a fool. Young and naïve. Never would she love again.
“You know who you are to charm, Jillian. You are two and twenty, and I will see you married to an acceptable title before this Season is done.”
Taking a deep breath, Jillian straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin, shut down all emotions. The cloak of superiority she’d fought in her youth had since become her most comfortable persona and the strongest of armor. As long as she let no one in, she would be safe. And, she must put Mr. Samuel Storm from her mind, if that were possible. There had been something arresting in his clear emerald eyes when they met hers. Almost a recognition, then delight and something else she could not understand. Her breath had caught and her pulse sped. It wasn’t a reaction she was familiar with, and she wished she knew what it meant. 

Weathering Captain Storm (Spirited Storms #2) (The Spirited Storms)

Weathering Captain Storm
(Spirited Storms #2)
(The Spirited Storms)

(A Novella)

Captain Nathaniel Storm fell in love with Miss Isabella Valentine during the time of war. She followed the drum, he knew his duty. If not for the fear of making her a widow, Nate would have claimed her as his long ago.
Isabella knew Nate could never been hers, but that didn’t stop her from dreaming of what could have been if her life was as she claimed. She thought never to see him again after he was reassigned to a different regiment, which was for the best. Until he returned...
His kisses spark lightening.
Her smile is as bright as the sun.
His eyes as green as new grass.
Hers as grey as a stormy sea.
His presence and touch, are tumultuous to her soul, tossing and turning her about, wondering when it would end. Will she weather her love for Captain Storm, or will it destroy her in the end?
On the eve of Waterloo, she is nearly within his grasp, but will Isabella’s secrets make her as elusive as a rainbow after a summer rain. 

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Brussels, May 1815

“Lieutenant Storm, get back in that bed right now.”
Nate jerked his head toward the voice, convinced he was only hearing what he wanted, but there she was, Isabella Valentine, striding down the aisle of cots, those lovely red lips fixed in a frown.
He grinned.
He’d happily get back in his bed if she’d join him.
Those were his thoughts today, just as they had been the first time she’d said those very same words to him. The first time they’d ever spoken. Nate had stayed away from Isabella. Not that he hadn’t noticed her moving among the injured and sick, but he’d assumed she was married to Dr. Orlando Valentine and had followed the drum. A married woman was always off limits, no matter how beautiful or desirable, and he’d envied the good doctor. It was only after he took a bayonet to the side that left him laid up, waiting for the blasted thing to heal, that he learned that Isabella was the good doctor’s sister, and an unmarried miss.  
She’d chastised him them for moving too much and ripping a few of his stitches, and it was Isabella who repaired them because the doctors and surgeons were busy with the more seriously wounded men.
Nate could still remember her soft fingers pressed against his side as she cleaned his wound then tried to gently stitch the ones that’d been torn. Nate had felt none of the pain as the needle pricked his inflamed and irritated skin. How could he when her kind grey eyes were so full of compassion and she smelled like heaven, as if she’d bathed in moonlight?
Perhaps it was because Isabella was one of the few women who were respectable. Or, maybe it was because she was the only miss who wasn’t a camp follower, or maybe it was because she was simply Isabella, but Nate began to fall in love with her that very day.
However, as much as he’d tried to occupy all of her time then, she gave him no more attention than she did the others, much to his irritation.
Once he was free from the sickbed, he’d visited and talked with her in the evenings, but many soldiers also wished for her companionship, and he was constantly fighting to be noticed. It was no different from being one of many bachelors at a ball, vying for a dance with the prettiest and sweetest debutante.
After the Battle of Toulouse, Nate had even less time to spend with her because he began to divide his free time between Isabella Valentine and Mary Soares.
Dear Mary Soares, who had been injured and then rejected by her husband. Of course, her husband had already been unfaithful more times than Nate could count, but at least Soares tried to be discreet about it in the beginning. It became much worse after his wife was struck down, leaving a scar on the side of her cheek and neck.
Nate had carried Mary from the battlefield, sat by her when she was ignored by her husband, and then took her walking in the evenings so she wasn’t near her tent when the major brought a light skirt back for personal entertainment. Isabella occasionally joined them on these walks, but not nearly as often as Nate would’ve liked. He was always torn between trying to protect Mary from the shame her husband brought, and wanting to be with Isabella, hoping she’d see him more favorably than the others under Major Soares’ command.
Nate hadn’t laid eyes on Isabella for nearly a year, and he had missed her; but he hadn’t realized how very much until she leaned over a patient and checked the man for a fever. It shouldn’t be a surprise, many of his nights were filled with dreams of Isabella in his arms and in his bed, her soft voice in his ear, the tenderness of her touch against his skin.
He should have courted her back then and expressed his feelings, but he held himself back. War was not the place to begin a courtship, and he was never certain where her emotions lay in regard to him. She was kind and caring to every soldier, never once indicating she saw him any differently than the dozens of others who conversed with her daily.
Frankly, he was afraid he’d profess the truth of his heart, and she’d tell him that she thought of him only as a dear friend. As it was nearly impossible to avoid one another, Nate had kept his feelings to himself so as not to cause an uncomfortable and awkward situation between the two of them.
However, they were both here now, and he was going to make the best of it. This war would end, eventually, and he’d return home. If he learned nothing in the year away from Isabella, he did know that he wanted her with him, and this time he wouldn’t hold back. He would claim her as he should have before.
The only drawback to being in Brussels and this close to Isabella meant that he’d be near Major Soares, the ass. If Nate hadn’t punched the man, he wouldn’t have been transferred to a different regiment, and then he wouldn’t have been separated from Isabella in the first place.
Isabella stopped beside his bed and placed the back of her hand against his forehead. “You are feverish.”
He hadn’t been until he heard her voice, though he wouldn’t explain the sudden rise in his body temperature.
“I feel well.”
“You’re a soldier with a fever. Not to be taken lightly.” She glanced around the small medical tent. There wasn’t an empty cot and each patient suffered from either dysentery, typhoid, typhus or pneumonia. Luckily it was only a small percentage of the men who had arrived in Brussels after following Wellington. “It’s better to keep the ill from the others. We’ve both seen the devastation disease can cause to an army.”
An unchecked illness could bring an entire regiment to their knees, unable to fight and dead soon after. Begrudgingly, Nate had to admit Isabella was correct. “But, I’m not ill,” he pointed out. “My head ached a few days ago and I did have a fever. If I remain here, I will become ill.”
“You will remain as long as you are flushed and warm.” Isabella pushed on his shoulder. “Now lie back and rest.”
“Perhaps illness isn’t the cause of my condition.” Nate grinned and winked at her, and the soldier beside him chuckled.
“I’m not letting you leave this bed until I’m convinced you’re better, and then I will inform the doctor.”
“Isabella,” Nate began to plead.
“Nathaniel!” She lifted an auburn eyebrow and her grey eyes bore into his. Her tone was no different than he’d heard too often from his nursery maid, housekeeper, and even his sister’s governess.
“Do you know our lovely nurse, Captain?” the man beside him asked in surprise.
“Captain?” Isabella questioned with a smile. “Congratulations on your promotion.”
“All the more reason why I should not be wasting time in this sickbed when I’m not sick at all.”
“You will rest, and you will get well. You can’t lead your men if you’re dead.”
With that, she turned and marched away, having delivered her orders, and all Nate could do was watch the gentle sway of her backside beneath her dark skirts.
He would get well and quick. Then, he would pursue her as he should have done a year ago. For now, he had time. During the day, he and his men would continue to train and prepare for the eventual confrontation with Napoleon. At night, she would be his.
* * *
Isabella exited the hospital tent and went directly to her brother’s tent. She was not allotted one for herself, but Orlando made room for her in his, both giving each other privacy when needed.
It was all she could do not to run from the hospital, and she ignored everyone who called out to her, not stopping until she sank down onto her cot.
Nate Storm had returned!
She never thought she’d see him again. He was the man she dreamed about. The only man she’d ever loved. They were friends, and she cherished the memories of the short time they were in the same regiment, before he was transferred. Of course, she knew he’d never be hers. While she might love him, Nate loved Mary, a woman he could never have because she was married to Major Soares. Not that Nate had ever behaved inappropriately toward Mary, but a man does not spend so much time with a woman without caring deeply for her.
It used to pain Isabella to see them together. Their heads close in conversation. And even though Nate always asked Isabella to join him and Mary when they walked in the evening, she declined when it was too painful to have to witness the closeness they shared. Other times, she went along because it was her chance to have a bit of Nate, even if only for a short time.
Now, he was here. Her heart sang for joy, her stomach twisted in knots, her hand shook when she pressed it against his brow, and her blood heated when he winked at her. Thankfully he didn’t seem to notice. As much as she wanted to remain by his side, Isabella knew she could not. If she lingered but a moment longer, she might not have ever left, and that would never do.
Besides, Mary was in camp. As soon as Nate realized his love was near, his attention would be for her friend, and Isabella wasn’t sure she could stand to watch the man she loved, pine after another. Both of them wanting what neither could have.

Ratted: The Baxter Boys #1 (The Baxter Boys ~ Rattled)

Ratted: The Baxter Boys #1
(The Baxter Boys ~ Rattled)

(Short Story)


She enters the tattoo shop with an envelope full of memories and a heart filled with longing. What she leaves with is more than she dreamed of, and it just might be the first step to healing the wounds of the past.

Rattled is a short story and was originally published in the anthology "Forget Me Not: Charity Anthology Supporting Alzheimers and Brain Health"

***Recommended for adult readers due to language, sexual content and adult situations***

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I shake out my hands, take a deep breath, but continue pacing in the green room. Why am I so nervous? This is all I’ve thought about for over a year. I’ve saved every penny and existed on ramen noodles just so I could get this done. And it has to be today. And it has to be here. The Reeds are and have some of the best tattoo artists around and I can’t just trust this to anyone.
I’m not alone in here. There are others, all waiting to see a tattoo artist, but I’m not really paying attention to them. I’m too anxious to just sit and make idle chitchat with a stranger.
I planned ahead and made the appointment weeks ago, but instead of getting on the schedule, I was asked if I’d be interested in letting one of the artists being auditioned for the show do my tat. At first, I rejected the option. This was an important tattoo and I didn’t want it fucked up by an amateur. But then I went back and watched the previous shows. The Reeds don’t just let anyone walk in off the streets and start tattooing, or even audition. The artists are vetted way before they are trusted to apply ink. So after thinking about it further, and knowing the price is half of what I’d saved for the occasion, I called back and asked if I could still participate.
It’s probably better that I didn’t get one of the Reed brothers anyway. I’ve watched since their show first aired and if I came face to face with any one of them I’d probably go all fan girl and humiliate myself. Today is going to be hard enough.
It’s already hard.
I clutch the worn manila envelope close to my chest. Everything that’s important to me is in here. It’s with me always. If it’s not in my big purse, it’s in my backpack. It goes everywhere I go, and what I want is in there.
My stomach churns and I take a deep breath. I just hope to hell that whoever I get assigned to doesn’t fuck this up.


I’ve checked my station five times. I have everything I could possibly need for a tat. All I can do now is wait for the skin to get here.
I just hope she’s clear in what she wants, and that she’s not difficult to please. I’ve done tats that are perfect, yet sometimes customers are just never happy, and others have remorse. But for the most part, everyone has been happy with my work, often returning and referring customers. I need one of those today. This is too important and I don’t need a bitch or an asshat showing up, being a pain in the ass.
I need to land a spot on the show. I need to work for the Reeds.
I’m good at what I do. Damn good. But they’re better. Nobody is as good as they are, and anyone who gets an opportunity to work with the Reeds will only get better.
Once I’m on the show, I’ll have a regular paying job and I’ll be creating art. In time, I’ll have name recognition and will be able to do what I really want.
The door starts to open and I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. “Your skin is here, Mr. Dosek,” says one of the producers.
A young woman steps through the door. Her dark head is down and she’s clutching a wrinkled and stained manila envelope to her chest. The door closes and she slowly looks up.
Her brown eyes meet mine and widen. “What the fuck?” she says by way of greeting.
I glance around. There is a cameraman watching my every move and recording everything I say. Is this some kind of joke? Are the Reeds really auditioning me or is this about to turn into a bad episode of “What Would You Do?”
I shake the stupid thought from my head. How could the Reeds, their producers, or anyone know of my connection to Kelsey Fry? I haven’t seen her in five years. Not since I graduated from Baxter Academy of Arts.
“Hi Kelsey, how have you been?”
“Are you really the artist?”
I hold out my hands palms up and smile. “Yep.”
She turns to the door. “Well, I want someone else.”
If she walks out now, it’s a fail. Immediate crash and burn. Besides being a great tattoo artist, people skills and customer service are also at the top of the list to get hired. I won’t get another chance if she leaves. I’ll be shown the door. “Please?” I hate to beg, but I will. “Don’t go. This is too important to me.”
Kelsey slowly turns, her mouth open and dark eyes wide. “Too important to you?” she asks with indignation. “This,” she thrusts out the envelope, “is too important to me, and you are the last person I want doing my ink.”
I can’t really blame her. I was a fucking dick to her back then. I hated her for what she’d done and a part of me still holds a lot of resentment for her actions. But I have to set it all aside. Make it right, at least until the tat is done. My future depends on it.
“I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” she yells.
I take a deep breath. “Listen, I was seventeen. I had a chip on my shoulder. I was an ass and I treated you like shit.”
“You got that right.”
“It was also a long time ago.”
“Not that long.” She snorts and then narrows her eyes on me. “And I’m supposed to believe you’ve changed? That you’re no longer a dickwad?”
I chuckle. “I’m pretty sure I can still be that, but not in here. Not with you, and never, ever when I’m doing a tat.”
“I still don’t want you touching me.” She takes a step back and I rush forward.
“Listen, I swear that it will be the best tat you’ve ever had. It will be perfect and exactly what you want. Please, don’t walk out. You won’t get another artist and I’ll get booted.”
She frowns, biting her bottom lip. “I can’t just switch with someone? Others are waiting in the room. I’ll just ask one of them to trade.”
“If I lose a customer, I’m out.”
“I can explain—”
“It won’t matter.” I step closer. “Please, Kelsey, I need this. It’s a chance for a break and I could really use one.”
Her brown eyes study me as she bites her bottom lip again. It seems like forever before she says anything. “Do you promise not to give me any shit for what I want, or why?”
I hold up my hands like I’m surrendering. “I swear I won’t.”
“I mean it, because you aren’t going to like what I want, and I’ll be damned if I have to listen to your opinions on the matter again.”
My gut tightens. What the hell does she want? We’ve only disagreed once, when I yelled at her for being a selfish stupid bitch. We never talked again after that. Just glares in classrooms and on campus. Thankfully, we didn’t have that many classes together because I was a year older and our art concentration was different. “I swear. I have no opinions or thoughts in this room except for what the customer wants. There are some things I’m morally against, but it isn’t my skin.”
“Would you turn someone away if they wanted something you are morally against?”
“I have twice before.”
“Then I might as well head for the door now because you’ve made your opinions of my choices very clear.”
“Wait!” I have to stop her before she’s gone. “I’m sure whatever you want doesn’t come close to my moral compass code.”
She snorts. “Really? I’m not so sure.”
“Unless you want a swastika, I’m sure there is nothing you can suggest that I’d find offensive.”
She turns, a look of disgust on her face. “God no! Do people really get those?”
I shrug. “I’ve seen them. I just don’t do them.”
She tilts her head and studies me. “Anything else on your list I should know about?”
“Nope, that’s pretty much it—or any hate symbol, for that matter.”
She’s nodding, studying me, back to biting her bottom lip. “Are you any good?”
“Would I be here if I wasn’t?” I grin.
She doesn’t return it. “Your ego has never been in question. Are you any good? Because this is important.”
I’m not going to win her over with apologies. “I am good. One of the best. And trust me, this is just as important to me.”
Again she studies me, and it’s almost like I can see her battling with a decision behind those dark brown eyes. Slowly she holds the envelope out to me. “You better not fuck it up, and you better not give me any shit.”
I assume there’s a picture of whatever she wants on her body in the envelope. I reach out for it. Her hands are shaking and if I’m honest, so are mine. Seeing her for the first time since high school, and remembering how much I resented her and made her life hell, has me unsettled. I’m afraid karma is about to bite me on the ass.
She lets go before I can grab the envelope and it falls to the ground. A small pink rattle rolls out onto the floor.
She may be anxious about all this, but seeing what just came out of that envelope has me a bit rattled too.
The old anger at what she did surges, but I force it away. She’s a client. I won’t judge her for her decisions or actions. I may have then, but I won’t today. Not in this room. And not when I have so much to lose.
When the tat is done, and I’ve made the show, then I can go back to resenting Kelsey Fry once again.