BSE is now available directly at BarnesandNoble.com, and it appears that the print version is back up and available on Amazon. Also, just realized that if you are Amazon prime members, you get the print version at $2 less!
So, as I continue to iron out the kinks and organization of the publishing and marketing world, I’m hard at work smoothing out my next release: Love of a Lioness. Some of you have read the unpublished mansucript and I tell you that it is worth a re-read as I have rewritten several parts. To those of you who haven’t read this story before, I offer you this excerpt. I plan to release this story by the end of October, if possible. This is the title that beat out 9,500 other manuscripts to advance to the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough New Author Contest earlier this year and what Publishers Weekly called “sensual” and “passionately intense.” Enjoy!
The English Channel 1343
The moonless night blackened the sea to a swell of boiling pitch. Waves pounded the ship like powerful fists before cutting away from the bow as it plowed through. The cog had been fitted into a warship, with castles mounted fore and aft, and a crow’s nest wide enough to house half a dozen archers crowning the single mast. Every plank had been painted black, every lamp extinguished. Perfectly cloaked, The Christien remained unseen though she was nearly within hailing distance of the French galley.
Steady fingers curled around the rail of the deck. Dark, almond-shaped eyes narrowed against the sea spray. A rough wind snapped in the blood-red sail overhead and though she gave no acknowledgment of his approach, she waited until her second-in-command stood behind her before she spoke. Her voice was low, almost too low for him to hear. Her gaze fixed on her approaching enemy. Her body steeled against the rocking of the ship.
“When I was a child my father told me tales of Eustace the Monk,” she said calmly in spite of what was about to befall them.
Bull’s brow creased at the oddly-timed declaration. “The pirate?”
She nodded. “Every time we sailed past the Channel Islands at night he would whisper into my ear, ‘Do you see them, the ghost ships of the Monk floating like phantoms across the water?’ For hours I would peer at the waves moving in the distant dark, and each time I nearly convinced myself that they were there.”
Bull said nothing but spared a glance at the men working the oars while he shifted the rudder, maneuvering them into better attack position.
“Do you know why Eustace became a pirate?” she asked.
“I do,” she said into the chilled silence around them. Her hand whitened against the grip she had on the hilt of her cutlass. “His father was murdered.”
He watched his captain with sympathy and silence, sensing the pain her voice.
“It is said that Eustace studied black magic and performed dark miracles,” she continued and rows of tiny bumps raced up his arms and prickled his bald head. “Do you believe in black magic, Bull?”
He scolded his superstitions and forced logic to rule his mind. “I believe in the magic of fear. It can make a person believe anything.”
She smiled softly. “Let us prove that truth now. Quietly, prepare the crew to grapple and board. And furl the sail. It’s time to introduce the French to our own black magic.”
He nodded and left her where she stood. Within moments her entire crew was poised and ready, cutlasses or longbows in hand. Though she could not see it, she knew her second ship was closing in on the other side of the galley. Equally disguised in black with red sails, the two crews together boasted a hundred and twelve bloodthirsty, superstitious, hardened, skillful, French-hating seamen. And all loyal to her.
They were dressed in all black, woolen hose tucked into side-laced soft leather boots, tunics draped to mid-thigh and secured snugly over the torso by fitted leather doublets. Scabbards rested on each hip of the men-at-arms, each housing a cutlass. For the archers it was a scabbard to one hip and a quiver full of arrows on the other. The only feature betraying their captain’s gender was the tied rope of deep auburn hair that hung to her waist.
She raised her cutlass overhead and turned the blade until it paralleled the railing. The deck behind her and the sky above began to glow as little spheres of golden light sparked to life on the ends of pitch-soaked arrowheads. Across the galley’s sleepy deck, more flames lit up in a row of burning orbs flicking from the archers on her second ship, the Siren. As the cry of alarm rent the night from the watchmen of the locked-in galley, the captain of the Black Fleet cut the air with a swipe of her cutlass. Two dozen flaming arrows arced high overhead, illuminating the three ships as the one in the center filled rapidly with sword-drawn soldiers.
The two cogs scraped along the sides of the galley, their wooden planks groaning and creaking in reply. Grappling hooks clawed at the galley’s railings as the captain led the charge up and over the rail with a screaming command. The Siren’s decks emptied in reply and the clash of metal blades and battle cries rose above the hiss of extinguishing flames as the arrows descended into the sea. Two arrows had pinned strategically to the mainmast of the galley and as the beam bellowed and erupted into an inferno above, the deck below was awash with the blood of her sailors.
Archers from the crow’s nests of the Christien and the Siren fired steadily every five seconds, dropping French soldiers even as they scurried from the fray and into the sea. The captain’s men were primed for battle and wiped out the sleepy crew. She cut away swiftly and deftly, her eyes roving in search of a familiar face, a face that had been burned into her memory, but he was not among them.
Almost as quickly as it had begun, the battle was over. The galley had held nearly two hundred soldiers. The three survivors were on their knees with sword tips pinned to their throats. The captain circled the blood-soaked deck for her own dead but none had fallen. Her hair had come unbound and whipped about in the channel winds as she ordered everyone back to their ships.
Once they were a safe distance from the burning skeleton of the galley the three French soldiers stood at the end of the Christien’s deck, trembling and soaked in their own blood, sweat and urine. She stood before them as the fire roared into the sky behind her, igniting the subtle red of her hair as it snapped all around her.
“It appears God has favored you this night,” she said as she paced before them. “You have been spared for one reason alone. Your king has taken lives and liberties long enough. You tell Philip that he has awakened a beast in Brittany who will not rest until she sees his trade crippled and his navy burnt to ash. Tell him that he can spare his men this fate if he will send one man to me. Remember this name well, and carry it with you throughout your country. Antoine Beauchart. The beast of Brittany seeks the Count Antoine Beauchart.”
One of the captives murmured quietly to another.
“What did you say?” she demanded, hoping he knew of the wanted Count. “Speak or I may be reminded that it does not take three men to deliver one message!”
To reinforce her threat she held her sword to the man’s throat. His knees knocked like clattering teeth but he summoned his voice.
“I said you are like a lion wreathed in flame.”
“A lion,” she tested the word before her sinister laugh echoed off of the waves in approval. “Yes. You tell the king to send his man to me, or he will continue to suffer the wrath of the Lioness of Brittany!”