Cover Reveal Goodness

If you weren’t able to join us for the cover reveal party on Wednesday the 18th of March, you are in luck. I have the cover here for your perusal! If you were unable to join and are bummed you missed out on winning possible prizes like gift cards and coffee and tea and books galore, fear not, for on April 1st, we are going to have another smashing party on facebook for our release day! You can join us there: Beaux, Ballrooms, and Battles Release Day Party

One of the most exciting and anticipated moments of an author’s writing experience comes when that book cover arrives in the in-box. I have had this great experience many times now. A few of my covers have made me feel ecstatic and thrilled. A few of my covers came with a smidgen of disappointment.  As you write the story, things form in your mind’s eye and you begin to see the world, the backdrop and the people of your creation. Sometimes it is hard to convey that to a cover artist. Other times you don’t even get a say in what the book cover will look like.

I am super picky about historical covers. I do not really like it when a Regency heroine is wearing a gown my daughter bought at Charlotte Russe and would wear to prom–providing that it isn’t the daughter who is into the vintage look and found a Regency type gown that she up-cycled. If the hero is on the cover and he’s wearing a Victorian tie with a Windsor knot, I am going to quirk an eyebrow and wonder what inspired that selection. (But, I will keep my mouth shut because I know what goes into cover art design and trying to get the perfect feel can be a near impossible thing.)

Thankfully, the cover art for Beaux, Ballrooms and Battles is simply gorgeous!

First: It looks like a painting that was done by a Regency artist.

Second: It includes the background of an authentic painting by a British artist. (Alas, the artist Robert Alexander Hillgford was Victorian!)

Third: The colors are just so reminiscent of war, with the smudges of grey and mauve.

Fourth: The hero is a soldier and his visage is so utterly Regency.

Fifth: The font. It is sweeping. It is swirly. It is clear and concise.

I am so very proud of this cover and the anthology it represents.

Isn’t is stunning?

#LoveatWaterloo

Beax, Ballrooms and Battles

 

 

Waterloo-palooza!!

There is something exciting about having a stunning book cover and keeping it under wraps until there is a big party to celebrate the unveiling. Well, that’s just what we decided to do for our upcoming Waterloo-themed anthology releasing on April 1, 2015.

Our party will be held on Facebook. You can join it here: Beaux, Ballrooms and Battles Cover Release Party

There will be prizes, many many shiny fun prizes. For five extra entries check out this link: Rafflecopter extra entries

And here is a teeny glimpse of of the cover scheme:

portrait

Beaux, Ballrooms, and Battles
For Readers who enjoy a bit of history with their Romance…

A historic confrontation

Beaux, Ballrooms, and Battles is a celebration of the bicentenary of the showdown between Wellington’s “Infamous Army” and Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Wellington’s Allied Army consisted of a hastily organized mélange of inexperienced men from several countries who didn’t even speak the same language.

A backdrop of war

While life in Regency England continued much as it had been, the war with Napoleon was a constant source of preoccupation as young men who eagerly set off to become heroes in battle sometimes returned with life-changing injuries or worse, didn’t return at all.

Nine stories of love tested by the trials of war

A collection of sweet Regency stories of courage, hope, and the miracle of love surviving in uncertain times, brought to you by nine distinguished historical romance authors.

Jillian Chantal • Téa Cooper • Susana Ellis • Aileen Fish • Victoria Hinshaw • Heather King • Christa Paige • Sophia Strathmore • David Wilkin

My story is called One Last Kiss.

Courtesy of Flickr

War is coming and Colin is ready for it, except when he thinks about the possibility that he could well and truly die without ever kissing Miss Beatrice Ainsley. When a horrible tragedy happens on the battlefield, Wellington entrusts him with a great obligation. Colin must turn to his duties, putting aside all thought of the woman who has plagued his dreams and driven him to distraction.
Beatrice has lived the simple life as the ward of her uncle, a powerful titled lord. She’s watched from afar as her cousins lived the high life. Napoleon’s unexpected advance interrupts her idle pursuits and the devilish Lieutenant-colonel Sir Colin Scoville’s departure brings great upheaval.
Amidst the horrors of battle and the ensuing turmoil, Colin and Beatrice long to be reunited. Yet, Colin must journey to Charleroi and an uncertain future upon the battlefield. He promises to come back to her.
She holds onto his promise to return.
He must… because he took her heart with him to Waterloo.

Here is a sneak peak of each story:

Jillian Chantal: Jeremiah’s Charge

Emmaline Rothesay has her eye on Jeremiah Denby as a potential suitor. When Captain Denby experiences a life-altering incident during the course of events surrounding the Battle of Waterloo, it throws a damper on Emmaline’s plans.

Téa Cooper: The Caper Merchant

The moon in Gemini is a fertile field of dreams, ideas and adventure and Pandora Wellingham is more than ready to spread her wings. When Monsieur Cagneaux, caper merchant to the rich and famous, introduces her to the handsome dragoon she believes her stars have aligned.

Susana Ellis: Lost and Found Lady

Catalina and Rupert fell in love in Spain in the aftermath of a battle, only to be separated by circumstances. Years later, they find each other again, just as another battle is brewing, but is it too late?

Aileen Fish: Captain Lumley’s Angel

Charged with the duty of keeping his friend’s widow safe, Captain Sam Lumley watches over Ellen Staverton as she recovers from her loss, growing fonder of her as each month passes. When Ellen takes a position as a companion, Sam must confront his feelings before she’s completely gone from his life.

Victoria Hinshaw: Folie Bleue

On the night of the 30th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, Aimée, Lady Prescott, reminisces about meeting her husband in Bruxelles on the eve of the fighting. She had avoided the dashing scarlet-clad British officers, but she could not resist the tempting smile and spellbinding charm of Captain Robert Prescott of the 16th Light Dragoons who—dangerously to Aimée—wore blue.

Heather King: Copenhagen’s Last Charge

When Meg Lacy finds herself riding through the streets of Brussels only hours after the Battle of Waterloo, romance is the last thing on her mind, especially with surly Lieutenant James Cooper. However, their bickering uncovers a strange empathy—until, that is, the lieutenant makes a grave error of judgment that jeopardizes their budding friendship…

Christa Paige: One Last Kiss

The moment Colin held Beatrice in his arms he wanted one last kiss to take with him into battle and an uncertain future. Despite the threat of a soldier’s death, he must survive, for he promises to return to her because one kiss from Beatrice would never be enough.

Sophia Strathmore: A Soldier Lay Dying

Amelia and Anne Evans find themselves orphaned when their father, General Evans, dies. With no other options available, Amelia accepts the deathbed proposal of Oliver Brighton, Earl of Montford, a long time family friend. When Lord Montford recovers from his battle wounds, can the two find lasting love?

David W. Wilkin: Not a Close Run Thing at All

Years, a decade. And now, Robert had come back into her life. Shortly before battle was to bring together more than three hundred thousand soldiers. They had but moments after all those years, and now, would they have any more after?

As you can see, there are going to be some awesome people joining the party. All of the authors in the anthology will be hosting at various times and there are many fantastic guests coming too.

And, there are going to be a plethora of prizes. There are individual prizes and a huge grand prize too.

I hope you will join me at 12:30 pm EST as I talk about fun facts of Waterloo. It will be a little bit like Sheldon and Amy’s Fun With Flags but not really about flags and more about well Waterloo.

Christa

 

 

 

 

Release Day: Cue the mistletoe and merry making!

Today, my second sweet Regency novella, co-written by the lovely and talented Vivien Jackson, has been released into the wild. It features a plethora of yuletide scheming which can be summed up nicely like this:

The 12 tidbits of A Christmas Scheme

In the 12 tidbits of A Christmas Scheme, you are in for these treats: (Feel free to hum along in the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas!)

12 Language lessons

11 Nursery knickknacks

10 Snowflakes a-snowing

9 Christmas traditions

8 Sweet meats a-cooking

7 Charades a-crafting

6 Diners a -dining

5 Se-cret schemes

4 Innuendos

3 Notes of import

2 Lonely lovers

And

A Foreign lord from Ben-ga–li

(Just a note, there may or may not be an exact amount of each of these tidbits, I did not in fact count them for accuracy!)

A Christmas Scheme

A Christmas Scheme

Blurb:

With her brother’s recent marriage to the daughter of an earl, Kate Avery is no longer needed to keep his house or look after their younger sister. She’s free. But for what? Secretly she wishes for purpose and adventure, but finding it seems unlikely. Then her brother arrives home from London just in time for Christmas…with an exotic and mysterious visitor.

A displaced Bengali lord, Kiran now serves the British Crown in a covert capacity. He’s been charged to deliver a secret message to the Earl of Withering at his country estate. He feels out of place in this very English home and is eager to leave until he meets Kate, who shares his desire for adventure.

Kate and Kiran must choose between the loyalties they have long held and the unexpected affection that blooms between them.

(Technically, this is a sequel to A Christmas Caroline, but you don’t need to have read that one first!)

Available: Amazon | Ellora’s Cave | All Romance eBooks | Nook |

Where research took me:

I love research. It is one of my favorite aspects of being an author. Learning about foreign lands, historical events and various cultural traditions always excites me. Recently, my research has taken me to diverse places and some of it was exotic while others were a bit creepy. Today I want to share a few of these research jaunts with you so you can have a glimpse into some of the things I am working on currently.

First up:

If you haven’t heard our exciting news, Vivien Jackson and I have contracted another sweet Regency for Ellora Cave’s Cotillion Christmas series. This story was a challenge to write mainly because our hero was not your typical British aristocrat. No, indeed not. He hails from India. So, you can imagine my excitement at hunting down information to include in the story. Some of those aspects were extremely intriguing and sometimes I found myself lost in the early 1800’s far away in Bengal. One of the distracting research jaunts I took while gathering details for A Christmas Scheme took me to Regency era India.

Fort William Kolkata:

Fort William 1760
There are many interesting locations in Fort William. Also, the history of the British colonization there is extensive. Here is a glimpse of places, events and people that I researched for A Christmas Scheme:

  1. Richard Wellesley
  2. William Carey
  3. Fort William College
  4. Saint Peter’s Church
  5. Fourth Anglo-Mysore war

On top of our Hero’s native land we found ourselves knee deep in snow during a cold winter at an English country estate. Vivien and I mused many different aspects of this Christmas setting and that came with a Google image search so that we could imagine the way the estate looked, the various entry points and an important building that plays a role in our romantic couple’s interactions. There were fascinating links about architecture including gables and eaves, gates and latches, corridors and libraries that enthralled me.

What to wear in winter!

What to wear in winter!

And, don’t get me started on fashion for men or women, British or Bengali…I’ll spend way too much time finding every last detail from stitches to cloth because I want our story to be accurate to the Regency period. I will say that I really enjoyed learning the cultural words for Bengali clothing. I think I spent an entire day on Google Books trying to find the correct word for trousers in Bengali. If you want to know, check out A Christmas Scheme when it comes out in November 2014!

 

 

 

 

Bite me.

(Thank you Stefan Salvatore for that fangtastic segue.)

It is always fun to switch from the Regency to my vampires. The Kan Asma Vampires series has a race of people who have extensive histories. This allows me the opportunity to research a plethora of things. In my current WIP, Gunnar is not of the typical Turkish decent that the majority of Kan Asma people come from. He is half-Viking and I had fun looking up the history of trade and shipping routes, language and customs as well as names from Scandanavia. But, the aspects of the Kan Asma culture that I really enjoy researching are always those from the Abkhazian rites and traditions. Though I don’t hold to these rites completely, my Kan Asma vampires have roots with this culture and they’ve adapted many of the ceremonies to fit their own rituals. Recently I looked up a few things that will be included in Gunnar’s story.

  •  Birth traditions, wedding ceremonies, death rituals all tied into the Kan Asma mating rites and the Goblet Ceremony Circassian Wedding
  • Metal work and weaponry daggers and gold goblets
  • Food glorious food…kan asma food

Oh, and after a very long time trying to figure out an integral scene I finally found what I was looking for and it turned out to be something I never expected.

Leeches. leech
(Yes, I did spare you the icky disgusting real photos because they make me cringe!)

Well, there you have it. Can you imagine living inside my brain on research? It is full of random things like Bengali pants and creepy worm-type creatures that suck blood.

Now, I am sure there is something else I am supposed to be researching today.

Oh yeah, The Viper Room! Google here I come.

Have a great week everyone.
Christa

Christmas Traditions: Caroline

A Christmas CarolineThe second short story released in the Christmas Traditions Cotillion from Ellora’s Cave is my very own story, co-written with the stellar Vivien Jackson: A Christmas Caroline.

Writing this story was an incredible adventure that took us on a research journey that often had us excited by new and unique discoveries from the Regency period during Christmas.

Blush sensuality level: This is a sweet romance (kisses only, no sexual content).

Lady Caroline Selwyn’s world centers on her father, so when she receives dire news of his health—two days before Christmas, no less—her first thought is to weep. Her second is to make this Christmastide the best he’s ever known. She rummages in memory for festive traditions, plans charades, purchases bean cakes…and acquires an affianced husband. Oh, not a real one—what she does is convince Papa’s physician to pretend an engagement, for just a few weeks.

Doctor Samuel Avery can hardly credit his complicity in this madcap deception. Whatever was he thinking? But it does seem to improve the comfort of the earl, and his own sisters are in alt at the idea of his impending nuptials. And he has admired Caroline for so long, the role of her betrothed is easy to play. In fact, the scheme seems in every way perfect. Except that it is not true.

A Blush® Regency romance from Ellora’s Cave

Available now: Ellora’s Cave | Amazon | All Romance e-Books

Six Sentence Sunday: November 7th

Paranormal Regency, oh my. For a long while, I have let this novel linger unfinished but with a little prodding from writing pals and an aha moment, I think I might have found the revision I need to do, to get this story going again.

First up, inspiration:

This is a Roman mythology romance based in Regency era Greece. 

Touching her burned through him like wildfire, whipping his need for her into a blazing inferno. Sarai stiffened and shivered before she glanced down.

With a jerk his body responded and her stare held fast to the sight of him, to the evidence of his desire. Her mouth opened to speak and closed, consternation lined her pretty features. Mercury cocked his eyebrow up as she tried to articulate the obvious.

“You, you are…” Sarai stammered, her voice lowered to a maidenly whisper, “Unclothed.”

“Indeed, and you are quite bewitchingly dressed,” Mercury said while looking his fill.

For other Six Sentence Sunday post, click back to the Six Sunday website.

Christa

Excerpt Monday June 2010

 Excerpt Monday Logo

Welcome to my June Excerpt Monday post! 

But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
 

Boots and a Cravat!

 

Today, I have shared with you a little tidbit from the Scandal series. Regency romance has always been my favorite thing to read. It is my dream to someday complete this series and share it with you.

Meet Lady Julia and the duke who will steal her heart.

Blazing torches lit up the pathway meandering through manicured hedges and aromatic plants. They continued walking. He directed her to a bench nestled between colorful flowerbeds and there she waited for him to release her. But, he did not let her hand go. He made no move to assist her to the seat.

 “Your grace, I find this highly improper. Indeed, I am mortified at being removed from the ballroom without my chaperone!” She turned on him, stepping backward until the stone bench hampered her movement.

 “Such flagrant and bold attentions I would expect from a rakehell.” Raising her chin, she pinned him with a haughty stare. “I should not have been so careless in your company! Have I been mistaken in our dealings? ” With her arms crossed over her chest, she fought to retain her composure.

 If he even suspected her feelings were far more brazen than her speech, it wouldn’t do her any good. The direction of her thoughts frightened her. She had to tamp down the most salacious images flitting through her mind. Like a flighty girl, she diverted her stare behind the duke’s shoulder and focused on the plush green vines climbing the wall. Julia chewed nervously on the inside of her cheek.

 Strong fingers encircled her upper arm and grasped firmly. She jerked at the heated contact.

 “No,” he replied mildly. “You have not been mistaken.”

 Julia felt her eyebrows rise of their own accord. She had never learned the art of hiding her reaction to surprise. Right now, he certainly had her off her guard.

 “Then you must have intended to haul me out here to the garden so you could ravish…” She closed her mouth, stunned with the direction her flippant reply was heading.

 The duke’s shrewd mien altered when the corners of his lips quirked. Julia’s breath hitched. Good heavens! The sensual curve of his mouth teased her into wanting it pressed to hers. While he peered at her, lines formed deep grooves beside his eyes. Something glinted in his vibrant gaze. Julia thought it looked like hunger. He blinked though and in the next instance, it was gone.

 She realized he knew how ill-at-ease she was. His large stature overwhelmed the area and he blocked the moonlight. The touch of his palm to her skin felt distractingly warm and little tingles ricocheted out from his hold, all the way down her arm. He examined her, from the elegant coif of her head, to the satin slippers covering her toes. She couldn’t stop the shiver his inspection caused.

 He must have been intimately aware of the affect he had on the female sensibilities. Though she wanted him to do something to lessen her discomfiture, he made no move to settle her nerves. Indeed, the wretch leaned in closer. She could fair feel the heat of his body and the crisp male scent that teased her senses. Biting down on her bottom lip, Julia willed herself to remain rational. All thoughts of propriety dissipated when he slid a finger beneath the spill of lace at her shoulder.

 “Ravishment? My dear, sharing a spot of fresh air in a garden is hardly ravishment.” He tsked under his breath and took a step closer, still. Julia stopped torturing her lip but completely forgot to close her mouth. He was really quite beautiful, she thought, and then felt her face blush at the direction her mind had rushed toward.

 “Now,” the duke went on easily, “say I were to kiss you, here, where no one can see us. Would that be ravishment by your definition?” He waited for her reply, but Julia could only watch his wicked mouth as he added, “No? Something such as…” He had neared her throughout this whole little speech, and by that point, only a breath separated their lips. If Julia so much as puckered, she’d be kissing him.

 Her knees felt suspiciously weak, and her breath came out on uneven wisps. She felt her eyelids droop and, on impulse, her chin tilted up.

 The next second passed and, Lord help her, she was kissing him. She had started it! It was all her fault!

 And yet … this felt neither scandalous nor particularly offensive to her person. Indeed, it felt somewhat … perfect. Unlike their previous kiss, which had been hard and demanding, this one was soft, utterly light. The duke let Julia lead the way, and she rather enjoyed the sense of power his surrender evoked. When she was good and ready, she parted her lips. Instantly, he responded to her cue. Emboldened, she teased her tongue against his teeth. She thought he might have groaned in response. With the sweep of his tongue along hers, Julia felt a surge of something so bright and strong it might have been joy. Heaven help her, she wanted even more.

 But modesty got in the way.

 At length, she drew back and glanced at him. A muscle ticked at his jaw. He returned her stare, watching her closely. Her tongue slid out and traced her lips, tasting him there. She exhaled, slowly.

 “Was that ravishment, then, your grace?” she asked, pleased that her voice sounded somewhat even. To her own ears, she discerned a bit of self-satisfaction.

 He grinned, wolfishly. “A fine start, you ladyship.”

 His other hand skated across her hip to the small of her back. A little pressure with his fingers drew her gently against his body. She could definitely feel his warmth now. Any cultured young lady would be highly offended at his liberties. This was where she ought to slap him or stomp on his foot or something. But … he hadn’t just kissed her, open-mouthed, after all-she had kissed him. And she truly liked that feeling of control. Liked it very much, in fact.

 “Theoretically, let’s say a lady wanted to ravish a nobleman…” Julia began, raising her hand and tracing the intricate fold of his cravat. In a daring move, she brushed her fingertips across the smooth underside of his chin.

 Triumph simmered low in her belly when he sucked air over his teeth.

 “In a garden?” the duke finally queried.

 “Yes. In a garden. Would she start with kisses, do you think?” Julia felt impious and wanton with the tone of this conversation. But, she really didn’t want to stop.

 “Most assuredly,” his gruff reply drew her even closer.

 “And proceed to…” She let her voice drift off on a question.

 “Oh, very likely she would then chatter his ears off, whilst she had him her captive audience,” he smirked, unabashed at his answer.

 Julia paused and looked up at him. She tried to convey a stern expression. He seemed in all seriousness, but she could see the flicker of humor in his eyes. A giggle bubbled past her lips, and she relaxed against him. She felt the answering rumble of laughter in his chest, and leaned even closer. Reckless, she reached up and laced her arms about his neck.

 “But let’s say that this is no typical lady,” she whispered, quite serious now. 

 “Ah,” the duke breathed, flattening his palm low on her back. His hand might have edged against her bottom. A little sweep of his thumb delved lower, just a tiny hint of scandal. The slip of pressure was fleeting as if at any moment he fully expected her to deliver an inevitable set-down. Julia moved her fingers against the fine hair at his nape. The dark waves were silky smooth, like she had always imagined.

 Julia went on. “This lady, the theoretical one, has no notion about how to conduct a proper ravishment, you see. She would need some guidance.”

 The duke’s eyebrow arched up. She felt the muscles of his chest firm while he considered Julia’s obvious confession. Truly, she did not know what to do next. Despite that fact, she was loath to stop touching him. She did not want to be released from his embrace. Swallowing back her nerves, she became resolute that she would learn more.

 Holding out her hand, he captured it within his own. The contact of her palm against his sent a bolt of heat through her veins. She tried in vain to suppress the resultant shiver.

 “If one was to continue with such a ravishment, where should she touch him, first? Show me.” Opening the door for bold and indecent decorum, Julia allowed him to place her hand on his chest. He slid it beneath the thick brocade of his waistcoat to the linen shirt underneath. The steady beat of his heart echoed against her palm.

 Inclining his head, he spoke guardedly, “She would touch him where ever she so wished!”

*
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Excerpt Monday. Paranormal Regency Romance

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Once a month, a bunch of authors get together and post excerpts from published books, contracted work or works in progress, and link to each other. You don’t have to be published to participate–just an writer with an excerpt you’d like to share. For more info on how to participate, head over to the Excerpt Monday site! or click on the banner above.

My first love in the romance genre was Regency. There is something so intriguing about an innocent young débutante and her first taste of passion. However, some time after I began reading historicals a friend introduced me to the paranormal world. Soon, I wondered if there could be a way to merge the two.  The following excerpt is from my WIP novel Ere Mercury Rises. I have a soft spot in my heart for the god Mercury. (Some of you may recognize him as Hermes in the Greek Pantheon). The first half of this Regency takes place in London during the “Little Season” and then tragedy strikes. The heroine, Sarai, travels to Greece and a situation unfolds that unites both god and human. It is similar to the events of the Trojan war. I hope you enjoy this excerpt. Mercury is done with using dreams to seduce his love. Now, he is going to show her exactly what he wants from her.

****

Mercury’s thoughts turned inward. He concentrated on the location of his next duty readying himself for the hieron transition. Shedding this mortal body and moving into the aether gave him much more freedom and amplified his powers. His divine abilities of travel had manifested just a short time after his birth and they had grown stronger with each passing century. All it took was a little focus and normally this never posed him a problem.

Never, ended tonight.

Instead, he found his mind attuned to the goings on within the party. His senses reached out seeking Sarai attempting to locate her within the crowded ballroom. The emotions running through her thoughts assailed him and an overwhelming desire to go to her careened through him bludgeoning his self control. Taking a step towards the house and another, he nearly succeeded in throwing his father’s declaration to the wind. Consequences, be damned! An incredible yearning simmered deep inside him; one that prodded him to barge in on that fête, take hold of his woman and lay claim to her heart before all in attendance.

Outright disobedience to his father, the king of all gods, was the only thing standing in his way. Mercury did not want to see Jove’s fury raining down upon his own head, or Sarai’s for that matter. In a fit of rage, dear old dad, could inflict severe damage. Jupiter striking him down with an infamous thunder bolt was not the greatest concern, indeed not! Handing over Sarai to the wily, shallow Eros as a punishment was though; and that did not sit well with Mercury. Losing her would be intolerable.

Mercury paced, ordering his feelings. The painstaking task of pulling his mind away from Sarai and onto those affairs he must attend to was an arduous one. Nevertheless, he was bound to duty. Taking in a deep breath he once again prepared for the transition from his human form into the freer immortal one.

The crunching of gravel brought his awareness back to the forefront. Mercury stepped into the shadows, waiting and watching but remaining concealed from anyone’s view. The softest hint of perfume came to him on the breeze. Recognition hit him like a fist in the gut, inhaling deeper he took the essence all the way down savoring the sweet fragrance.

Sarai was returning.

A sense of urgency hung to her like a cloak, her pace was both erratic and fast. By Jove what had her rushing in such a manner? Closing his eyes he reached out his senses, wanting to assure himself she had not been harmed, nor hurt in any manner. Tentatively he scanned her for physical defect, or injury. When nothing out of the ordinary emerged, he reached even deeper and slid into her thoughts. It was all he could do to hold back the groan which formed low in his chest.

She thought of him.

Learning that her mind whirled with memory of him and those evocative lips murmured his name bolstered Mercury’s confidence and he grinned victoriously. Her whispered words could barely be discerned over the cacophony of the night, its many birds and rodents scurrying about here and there. Even the wind pulled her words away whipping them from her lips. With a curse Mercury vowed to repay Zephyrus for such meddlesome behavior. It hardly mattered. Nevertheless, Mercury focused on the minute sound and reveled in the beauty of her voice.

The closer she came, the harder it was for him to remain concealed in the shadows. Sarai stepped up the first step of the gazebo and paused. She cocked her head to the side, looked directly at where he stood. Crossing his arms over his chest, he forced himself not to move. He needed to know why she had come back. The way the moonlight illuminated the exquisiteness of her features, shimmered with the beading on her gown drew his eye, mesmerized him. Mercury wanted to snap his fingers and use his powers to make her stay right where she was.

Quickly tamping down that urge, he let her move on, tracking her every step. She ascended the stairs and entered the shadowed gazebo. After stopping, she scanned the periphery searching for something. The tension in her shoulders dissolved when she found it. Hurriedly she jogged across the wooden floor, taking hold of the white, silk gloves. She lifted the pair up, held them to her breast. A wave of relief washed over her and Mercury felt the change in her demeanor, the ebbing away of that tense apprehension.

Her goal obviously achieved, Sarai must have found what she’d come for. Now, she ambled about the interior. When her eyes widened, her lips parted he narrowed his stare on what she was glancing at. His mouth quirked up as she strolled cautiously to the planter secured to the railing.

The crocus had long since wrapped back up into a tight, protective furl. Their yellow tubular stocks hid the crimson stamens from view. Tentatively, she reached out and ran her fingertip over the silky petal. She traced all along the flower, her motions gentle and tender. Mercury drew in a shaky breath, imagining that same touch upon his heated skin.

She bent down inhaled deeply.

And abruptly sneezed.

Mercury chuckled softly. Sarai straightened with a jolt, her eyes wide and alert. He had startled her.

Deciding in that instant he could not let her run from him, he strode out of the tree line and headed straight for her. Before she fled back into the obscurity of the ball, to the seductive charms of his cousin, he had to claim the moment for himself.

“Like the salty tang of the ocean breeze.” Mercury walked towards the gazebo. “Krokus would not have borne the ignominy of any other scent.”

He watched her stagger backwards, her eye flitting up and down, as she stared at the crocus and then back to his face.

The flowers opened wide, blossoming and stretching out to him. Mercury felt a stab of emotion at the reminder of his lost love. The memory of their time pierced him like a thorn; the stinging reminiscence bolstered the need he had to hold onto the opportunity before him. The chance to experience a deeper connection once again, a relationship that promised so much more than the games of the flesh, dalliance.

Lifting his eyes, he met her apprehensive stare. She exhaled sharply an enticing blush spread across her cheeks. Nervously she clenched her fists, took another step, backing away from him. Mercury moved unhurriedly and came close to the post of the gazebo. He remained outside observing her, while she tried not to observe him.

Her gaze fixed on his face, she lifted her chin determined not to gape at anything else. Mercury could feel the confusion swirling within Sarai’s mind. Those firmly rooted convictions regarding what she thought was right and wrong warred intensely with her curiosity. Smirking, he tossed his shoulders back and set his hands on his hips, arms akimbo. He realized he truly wanted her to look at him, finally see him beyond the shadowy figure from her dreams.

Oh but he craved much more than just her inspection. The lingering sensation of her fingers fluttering along his skin, the slide of her silky thigh against his, and the heat of her mouth as he brought them together in the fiery bliss of a passion filled kiss were all things he craved. The thoughts were provocative enough to prod him forward. In a blink, Mercury vaulted up and over the railing landing directly in front of her.

Panicked, Sarai shied away. When she stumbled, her gown impeded the sudden movement, catching her off balance. Mercury reached out with lightning reflexes, sliding his hands around her shoulders to steady her. Touching her burned through him like wildfire, whipping his need for her into a blazing inferno. Sarai stiffened and shivered. Then, she glanced down.

With a jerk his body responded. Her stare held fast to the sight of him, to the evidence of his desire. Her mouth opened to speak and closed, consternation lined her pretty brow. Mercury cocked his eyebrow up as she tried to articulate the obvious.

“You, you are…” Sarai stammered, her voice lowered to a maidenly whisper. “Unclothed,” she finally added.

“Indeed, and you are quite bewitchingly dressed.” Mercury looked his fill. Somehow knowing what lay beneath that silk creation, now hidden from his view, added to her allure. The tight corset and elegant bodice drew his eye to the flesh he so thoroughly enjoyed last night while the skirts obscured the curve of her hip, the line of her lovely legs. His fingers flexed as he imagined peeling away the yards of material hindering him from seeing her body displayed for his, and only his, eye.

He slid the palm of his hand over the lacey edge of her dress and swept the gossamer strap down until her shoulder was uncovered. She took a shallow breath. Her body trembled in his protective hold.

“Sarai,” Mercury murmured as he bent his head and pressed his lips to the warm exposed skin. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply savoring the perfume that clung to her. The scent of jasmine and honey could not hide the more heady fragrance of her desire. It was there under the surface, diminutive and restrained. But he had cultivated it last night when he guided her into her first experience of passion and he would never forget the appeal of such sweetness. He moved slightly, set his mouth to her throat, where her pulse rushed a pounding cadence. Sliding his tongue out, he traced the throbbing beat savoring her shuddered response.

Mercury straightened, they were so close. Near enough for him to tilt his head and take her mouth, claiming her with the power of his kiss. One meant to beguile and captivate; a lasting reminder of who she belonged to and who she did not. Definitely not that hominis stercus, even if he wore a golden crown and pranced about like a dandy.

A shock of fury shot through him as he recalled why she was in this gazebo. Who she had been with earlier, that scandalous cad had tried to debauch her. Foolish mortal dallying with the object of a god’s obsession! Mercury would not stand for such insolence again. The Bavarian prince cavorting with Sarai, kissing Sarai, touching her infuriated Mercury, rage swirled together with need until he nearly saw red. Lifting his hand he brushed his fingertips over her mouth as if to wipe away any remnants of that human’s seduction.

Then he bent his head, a sliver of space remained between them, he hovered there drawing out the moment. She exhaled; he took her breath deep into his lungs. When the tip of her tongue slid out, moistening her lips, the urge to cover them with his own bludgeoned his control. He fought the craving, mentally shackled the wild beast raging inside him prodding him to close the distance and take her. Lifting his hand, he cupped her cheek within his palm.

The warmth of her skin burned deep but nothing prepared him for her response, she leaned into his touch and murmured his name, “Mercurius.”

Emotion swamped his normally cool demeanor and he nearly moaned at the sound of his name as she whispered it.

“I have truly lost my sanity.” The despair in her voice echoed through the silence. It overwhelmed him.

Sliding his thumb under her chin, Mercury tipped it back forcing her to look directly at him. “No. This is not an illusion Sarai, nor a hallucination. It is time you accept the truth, this reality.” Before she could utter another word, he bent down and took her lips in fierce possession.

***
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