Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Highwayman's Bite is out! Read the first chapter!

It's here! The Highwayman's Bite is HERE!
You can get it on
and Google Play!

This might be the last Scandals With Bite book in the series, we'll see. I had a lot of fun playing with the kidnapper-trope and seeing if I could bring anything new to it. Also, the legal situation with rogue vampires is so frustrating and a catch-22, that it reminds me of a lot of real laws in the world, lol.

Anyway, I am so excited about this one and I hope you all enjoy it!

Here's the first chapter!

Chapter One

Lancashire, England, 1825

Vivian Stratford peered out the carriage window and yawned, though sleep was impossible on this long journey. The full silver moon in the sky was so bright that the carriage lanterns were almost unnecessary. The rutted road to Blackpool was fully illuminated, a bright path to her impending isolation.
Vivian’s father had packed her off to her reclusive uncle, who would keep her locked away until the scandal died down.
Madame Renard, Vivian’s companion, made an indelicate snorting sound as she woke from her doze. “Have we arrived yet?”
Vivian shook her head. “No, but the moon is bright. Perhaps we can stop and have another lesson?”
Madame Renarde sighed and stroked her square jaw. “My joints are aching too badly for such rigorous exercise. Besides, it is not safe for women out in the dark.”
“We are in the middle of nowhere,” Vivian retorted a little sharper than intended. Immediately, she was contrite. “I am so sorry, Madame. I’m only weary of being trapped in this carriage. I want to stretch my legs and practice…”
Madame Renarde straightened her cap with a frown. “Your father told me to never allow you to touch a rapier again.”
Vivian had expected as much, but hearing the confirmation still felt like a thrust to the heart. “Did he find out about you teaching me?” Or worse, Madame’s bigger secret?
“No,” Madame Renard said quickly. “And I will not stop teaching you. I know that fencing is your passion. Without passion, people wilt like flowers. But we must be careful, and I think it would be wise to keep our steel sheathed for a time. At least until we learn your uncle’s habits, so we can discern a safe time and place to fence.”
Yes, that sounded like the wisest course of action. Especially since it was Vivian’s blade that landed her in this scandal-broth, which resulted in Father packing her off to her great-uncle’s estate. But Vivian was veritably rabid with the need to have her sword in her hand. Those blissful moments of thrusts and parries, dancing on her feet with the ring of steel in her ears, were the only times she felt she had any control in her life.
The rest of the time, Vivian always had to submit to what someone else wanted of her. From her governess to her tutors, her dancing instructor, her father, and her suitors, she was always expected to comply, to play a part like a scripted actress that would end with her… what?
The unanswered question made her age-old panic slither over her like funeral crepe. While Vivian was aware that she was supposed to marry a suitable man with a good title and preferably a substantial income and bear him heirs, she couldn’t stop from wondering, what else would there be? In all the stories of fair ladies and princesses, they ended when the heroine married her dashing hero. Why couldn’t Vivian be more like a hero? Have adventures and defeat monsters just as Beowulf and Odysseus did in her favorite stories.
Her governess had told her such thoughts were unnatural. Her father only squinted and frowned. Most other ladies her age either shunned or mocked her for wanting more than landing a good match, even going so far as to say that with her small dowry and plain looks, she should be grateful for any match. In the face of such censure, Vivian learned to be silent about her unconventional thoughts and wordless sense of want for something more.
Only Madame Renarde understood Vivian’s inner turmoil when she’d been hired shortly before Vivian’s debut in Society three years ago.
“I know precisely what it is like to feel that the life Society expects of you is somehow wrong in a way that you cannot quite identify. Yet the notion haunts you like a shade.” Madame Renarde once told her.
The paid companion had only been at Father’s estate for two months before she’d come upon Vivian late at night out in the garden. Vivian had broken down in helpless tears without even knowing why. The French matron had pulled Vivian into her arms and coaxed the story out of her as Vivian rested her head on the companion’s surprisingly broad shoulder.
“That is it, exactly,” Vivian had said, wiping her eyes. “I only wish I knew what it was that I want.”
“It will come to you.” Madame Renarde stroked her hair. “Until you do, I advise that you find a hobby that gives you pleasure. Such can clear your mind and allow your deeper needs to come forth.”
“I do have hobbies.” Vivian had lifted her head from her companion’s shoulder, slightly embarrassed that she’d been caught in such an emotional state. “I read, dance, and study various languages.”
“Yes, and your dance steps are quite deft.” The companion’s gaze had turned speculative. “Wait here.”
Vivian had sat on the marble bench, listening to the wind whispering through the leaves of the trees and rosebushes, her curiosity stretching the minutes to seem like hours. When Madame Renarde returned, Vivian blinked in astonishment to see two thin swords gleaming in the moonlight.
“You’ve brought rapiers?” she’d asked, wondering if she was dreaming. Vivian had never seen a woman with a sword, much less two.
“Would you like to learn how to fence?” Madame Renarde tossed one of the blades toward Vivian. The rapier streamed through the air in a gleaming arc and stabbed the grass beside Vivian like a javelin. She stared the quivering metal, fascinated by its delicate, deadly beauty. Slowly, she’d reached down and gripped the pommel, pulling the blade from the ground. A primal desire flowed through her being. The sword represented power. She wanted it.
“Yes,” she’d whispered.
Madame Renarde executed a salute that was both elegant and theatric. “First you will learn the stances.”
They’d trained almost every day. And sometimes, Madame Renarde would disguise Vivian and take her to witness fencing matches. Vivian longed to compete, but as a female, she’d never be permitted.
Madame Renarde was a master fencer, astonishingly quick and nimble for a woman in her forties. Vivian asked her how and where she learned, but it was two years before the woman trusted her enough with that story. And months more before she learned of her companion’s ultimate secret.
A secret that her father must never uncover, or Vivian would lose her closest friend forever.
The memories cut off when the carriage jerked to a halt, throwing Vivian against the cushions, and making poor Madame Renarde fall to the floor. The horses shrieked and made the conveyance lurch again before a man’s voice boomed, “Stand and deliver!”
“A highwayman,” Vivian whispered, her pulse in her throat. She’d heard tales from her father of the times when the thieves ran rampant through England’s country roads. But these days, highwaymen were rare.
Madame Renarde recovered first. She reached under the seat and withdrew her rapier, quick as the fox that was her namesake. Then she leapt up from her seat, positioning herself in front of Vivian.
When the carriage door was flung open, Renarde thrust her blade forward. Vivian heard a hiss of pain before a man came into view. The large slouch hat that he wore cast most of his face in shadow, but she could see an exquisite sculpted chin, mischievously arched lips—and the barrel of the pistol he pointed at them.
Madame Renarde sent the pistol flying out of the highwayman’s grasp. Vivian expected him to flee right then and there, but instead, he brought his own blade to meet Madame Renarde’s sword with a speed that made Vivian gasp.
The ring of steel was piercing in the closed space of the carriage.
The highwayman laughed. “I had not expected such a diverting encounter. You are quite good for an old man. I don’t know why you hamper yourself with skirts.”
Both Madame Renarde and Vivian sucked in sharp breaths. How did he know?
Madame Renarde had fooled everyone they’d encountered, including Vivian herself for several months. The shocking observation took the companion off guard, and her sword went clattering to the carriage floor.
“Don’t you hurt her!” Vivian shouted and dove forward to meet the highwayman’s blade with her own.
He moved back, visibly startled by her attack. Vivian continued to lunge, attacking him with fury of a magnitude that she’d never experienced. The highwayman deflected her blade with lazy parries, yet he continued to retreat.
Triumph swelled in Vivian’s breast… until her feet touched the packed dirt road outside the carriage. He’d lured her out here so that he’d have more room to regain his offense. Sure enough, the highwayman danced at her and brought his arm across in a Coup d'arrêt attack. But it was a feint, she should have seen that. She barely got her blade back up in time.
“I see that you are a student of that Molly in the carriage,” the highwayman said with a grin. His white teeth flashed in the moonlight. Something seemed off about those teeth, but she didn’t have time to ponder it.
He moved into reposte, a counter attack that rivaled hers in speed and precision.
She matched his attack with the requisite parries, naming them in her head. Tierce… quinte… septime.
As they danced, and their rapiers clashed, Vivian realized two things. The first was that she could tell that he was holding himself back. He’d disarmed Madame Renarde with little effort, and yet Vivian was still holding strong. Yes, she was faster on her feet than the older woman, but Madame Renarde was quicker and more well-versed with her blade. Madame Renarde was a master who’d trained under someone even more impressive, yet this highwayman before her was equal, if not superior to her companion’s skill. He moved beautifully, and Vivian could see that he was capable of more. She should be insulted that he was letting her continue the match. If not for her second realization.
She was enjoying herself.
As ludicrous as it was, her being outside in the middle of the English countryside in the cool September night, crossing swords with a highwayman bent on robbing her, should have been terrifying. Yet her blood sang in her veins, her face flushed with pleasant heat, and her heart pounded in exhilaration as they moved together, more exciting than any waltz.
“Flawless passa-sotto,” he murmured as she dropped her hand to the soft grass and lowered her body to avoid his blade.
His praise warmed her all over. At last, a man appreciated her swordplay rather than scorning it. Vivian shook her head. Had she gone daffy? Why should she care what this thief thought of her? Furious that he was able to wreak such havoc on her emotions, Vivian redoubled her attack.
The highwayman grinned as if he read her thoughts. “I’m afraid I must cut this diversion short.” In an executed move, he knocked the sword from her hand. “Out of respect for your defense of the Molly and the skill that he taught you, I will not rob your odd companion.” Before Vivian could breathe a sigh of relief, he stepped forward and seized her arms. “But I cannot depart empty-handed.”
He snatched the jeweled comb that held her hair neatly atop her head.
“How dare you!” she said as her brown tresses tumbled about her shoulders. “Give that back!”
“I have to take something.” The highwayman chuckled. “I wager that fancy locket between those lovely breasts would fetch an even better price.”
Vivian reared back, clutching the locket that had been her mother’s and her grandmother’s before her. The locket that held her mother’s miniature. Desperation flooded her heart. “Please don’t take it.”
“I’ll let you keep the trinket,” the highwayman said, his gloved fingers lightly caressing the bare flesh of her upper arms. Gooseflesh rose up on her limbs, but surely it was only the chill night air. “In exchange for a kiss.”
“I beg your pardon?” she whispered as her heart hammered against her ribs. She’d been kissed twice in her two Seasons and only one had been welcome. But she’d never had a man ask her for a kiss. Much less a highwayman who’d already taken her comb.
“A kiss from a beauty such as yourself to warm me in this cold, lonely night.” The highwayman tilted his hat and favored her with a rakish grin. “That is the price I demand. That, or your locket.”
Heat flooded Vivian’s cheeks as she studied him. His eyes glittered in the moonlight, but the shadow of his hat made it impossible to discern their color. From what she could see of his nose, it was straight and pleasing. Her eyes traveled back down to his firm, masculine jaw, and the sharp curves of his lips. Her mouth went dry as she whispered, “Very well.”
She rose up on her toes and lifted her chin to meet him. In time with her move, he lowered his head. Their lips pressed together like the meeting of their swords. His hands slid down to clasp her waist and she reached up to loop her arms about his neck. He deepened the kiss like a Coulé, sliding his lips over hers in a testing exploration as he’d done with his blade.
Vivian moaned and opened her mouth further, submitting to him even as she reveled in the taste of him and the forbidden sensations he wrought. This was no chaste peck on the lips like she’d received from an awkward suitor. This was passion made flesh.
Suddenly, he released her with a ragged gasp. “With kisses like that, I’d soon beggar myself. I will depart before I am tempted to ask for more.” He saluted her with his sword. “Thank you for the diverting match and your sweet kiss. I will dream of you.”
With a rakish tip of his hat, he disappeared into the shadows.

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