I have been so busy between revisions on my newest Hearts of Metal book and wrapping up The Highwayman's Bite that I've been slacking at blogging. So I'm going to offer a free copy of my Heavy Metal Romance, Kissing Vicious, and also provide an exclusive excerpt of The Highwayman's Bite!
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And if Rock Stars aren't your thing, my regency paranormal romance, The Highwayman's Bite is up for Pre-Order!
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Excerpt of The Highwayman's Bite
Rhys awoke to the sound of coughing. Not the gentle clearing of a throat, or the embellished affectation Madame Renarde had employed when trying to make a point, but a deep, racking explosion that echoed through the cave walls.
“Are you quite all right, Madame Renarde?” he inquired softly.
The ladies’ companion lit the lantern beside her bunk and blew her nose with a honk. “It’s the damp,” she explained. “I’ve never been able to abide it long.”
Rhys peered at her closely. With her first coughs and sneezes, he’d suspected she was attempting to feign illness so he may release her, but from the look of the woman’s pale visage and watery eyes, that was not the case. Fine stubble also sprouted over her face, betraying the body in which she was born.
“Lord Thornton ought to have received my letter today,” he said in reassurance. But that didn’t feel like sufficient comfort. “I have a jar of honey that should ease the cough. And I can prepare a hot bath and give you use of my razor if you care to shave.”
Madame Renarde gave him a look that made his throat tighten. “You’re a good man, Rhys…” she trailed off, hoping he would slip and give his surname, then shrugged when he did not. “Too good to be a criminal. Why did you not engage in honest employment rather than theft and kidnapping?”
“Aside from the fact that theft is more profitable, and thus more effective in helping my family, it is a complicated situation.” Rhys shrugged and took a large cauldron from its place. He could have taken the whole bathing tub, which he did when he was alone, but that would look suspicious. “I’ll fill this with seawater for your bath.”
“May I accompany you?” a voice asked.
He glanced at Vivian’s cot. She was awake and buttoning her boots. A surge of pleasure flickered through him at the prospect of her company. “Of course.”
Madame Renarde began to object, but another coughing fit took over. Selfishly, Rhys took Vivian’s hand and led her out of the cave.
“I’m worried about that cough,” she said, bending to pick up a seashell.
Rhys nodded. “I’m going to put honey in her tea and encourage her to rest. I’ll see about finding some soup for supper as well.”
“And if she doesn’t get better?” she looked up at him imploringly.
He stopped and watched the waves crash against the shore. “Then I shall take her back to your uncle.”
“But not me?” Her hand touched his sleeve, a pleading whisper.
He shook his head, refusing to weaken. “Not you. I need that money, Vivian.”
“I know.” She sighed. “You may not believe me, but I do sympathize for your family, I truly do.”
“Thank you.” It seemed no one did these days, so her words meant more than he’d anticipated. “I will know on Saturday if your uncle agrees to pay the ransom.” He bent at a curve of shale that formed a shallow pool and dipped the cauldron in the water. “I hope he does.”
“As do I.” Vivian followed as he carried the cauldron back into the cave. “I wonder what Uncle has made of my absence?”
“He likely fabricated a tale to preserve your reputation.” Rhys wanted to reassure her further, but the words stuck in his throat as they were once more back in the presence of her chaperone. Instead, he shrugged and set the cauldron on the grate and added more wood to the fire. “I know enough about Viscount Thornton to be confident that he will ensure that you are beyond approach when this is over.”
Madame Renarde regarded him with narrowed eyes. “And how are you certain of that? Ladies have been disowned for less.”
Rhys crossed his arms over his chest. “You had best pray to the heavens that you never learn what I know of Lord Thornton.” But as he issued the threat, he realized that perhaps it was Lord Thornton who should be praying.
He could use that as leverage, but he wouldn’t, not unless he needed to. Revealing the existence of vampires to a mortal was punishable by death.
Then again, Rhys was already a rogue vampire, who invaded other territories and had abducted a Lord Vampire’s kin. He already had a death sentence hanging over his head and had for some time, what was another?
While Madame Renarde bathed, Vivian and Rhys walked along the beach once more. He observed her pensive frown as she sifted through shells buried in the sand. “How did you come to learn secrets about my uncle? Do you know each other?”
He noticed that she did not bother asking what the secrets were. Clever woman. He answered carefully. “I have not made his acquaintance, but he is well known in certain circles I frequent.”
Vivian’s eyes widened. “Is he a criminal then?”
“Forcing a woman and her two children from their home should be a crime,” Rhys said. “But no, he hasn’t broken any… English laws that I know of.” This conversation was veering toward dangerous territory. He changed the subject. “Why are you afraid of marriage?”
A seashell dropped from her fingers as she froze. “I beg your pardon?”
“I heard you speaking with Madame Renarde about it the night before I took you.”
Her fists clenched at her sides and her chin jerked up as she looked at him with blazing fury. “You were spying on me?”
He took a step back and held up his hands in mock surrender. “I needed to gather information about your comings and goings so I could execute my plan.”
“Ah, so you spied and eavesdropped to best know when to kidnap me.” Vivian faced him with her hands on her hips and a derisive curl of her lips. “You know, that does not redeem you in the slightest.”
Rhys shrugged off the guilt that threatened to engulf him. “What can I say? I am the villain in this situation.” He circled around her in a way that he hoped looked menacing. He needed to remind her who was in charge. “Answer my question. I thought all blue-blooded maids dreamed of nothing but landing a man with a lofty title and running a noble household. Why not you? You’re certainly beautiful enough to take your pick.”
Roses bloomed in her cheeks at his acknowledgement of her beauty. “I do not see how it is any business of yours what I want or don’t want for my future.”
“It is my business because if you are planning on being a spinster, the matter of your chastity holds less weight as a bargaining chip.”
She flinched as if he’d struck her and crossed her arms over her chest as if to shield herself from his advances.
Rhys cursed and backed away. “No, I am not plotting to ravage you. I only seek to find the most expedient manner of making your uncle pay my ransom.”
Her face reddened further. “I am not about to aid you in making myself a tool for your benefit.” She paused and added through clenched teeth, “Or my uncle’s.”
She was hurt, he realized. He’d done that to her and so had Blackpool. Her words that he’d overheard twisted in his heart like a blade. “…I am filled with such terror that I almost feel ill with it…. Consigned to a lifetime of thinghood.”
Thinghood. Rhys was beginning to grasp what Vivian meant by that. He and Blackpool were indeed using her as a pawn in a game, giving no consideration for her thoughts or feelings.
The realization made him feel terrible. Alas, it was not to be helped. Not if he wanted to keep Emily and her children out of the poorhouse.
Perhaps there was a way to atone for his callousness. “What if I allowed you a chance at gaining your freedom?”
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What do you mean?”
“I suggest we duel. If you draw first blood, I’ll release you.”
She frowned, but there was a glint of hopeful joy in her eyes. “Is this some sort of trick?”
He shook his head. “No. I just think we spar better with swords than words.”
“And you’re confident that you’ll win.” Her lips curved in a reluctant smile.
“I am.” Skilled as she was, Vivian was still a mortal and could not match his speed.
“Then why bother giving me the chance?” Oh, but despite her argument, naked longing emanated from her, with those sparking eyes and her fingers curling in readiness to hold a sword.
Rhys gestured for her to follow him back to the cave. “Because then at least you’ll have some agency in the matter. Despite the circumstances and my intentions with you, I do regard you as more than a game piece.”
“You’re allowing me, your prisoner to fight you with a sword just to prove you regard me as a human being?” Vivian shook her head and chuckled. “I think you may be the worst villain ever.”
Though he was gratified to see her spirits raised, his pride stung. Without thinking, he seized her shoulders and pulled her against him.
Her mockery could not stand. He needed to remind her who was in control.
He lowered his face until their lips almost met. “Would you prefer me to be more villainous? I could always dispense with the blades and ravage you after all.”
She sucked in a breath, her large brown eyes searching his to see if he was serious. He’d meant to frighten her, but from the way she leaned into him and her tongue wet her lower lip, he may have failed in that goal.
Her hands moved up and splayed against his chest. A low growl rumbled in his throat as his lips almost claimed hers.
Then Vivian shoved him away with such sudden force that he nearly fell on his arse. “I’ll happily duel with you,” she bit out and strode into the cave.
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