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Entries in Ann Lawrence (1)

Monday
Jun172013

Day 1: ROMANCE PREVIEWS featuring LORD OF THE HUNT by Ann Lawrence

LORD OF THE KEEP

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Let's set the stage for today's excerpt:

Featured Book

Joan Swan and her hunting dogs have saved Adam Quintin from a wild boar, but she has become trapped in the forest clearing by his gratitude. As men arrive to admire the kill, including a man from her past named Brian de Harcourt, Joan realizes she’s standing among the many suitors for Lady Mathilda of Ravenswood. These men are barons or knights. Men of wealth and weapons. Powerful men, Brian included, and she’s simply the daughter to the hunt master. She knows she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. She trusts a pack of dogs more than a pack of men.

 

Excerpt - Day One

Men surged into the clearing, their horses shying from the sweet stink of the boar's blood. Soon the clearing was crowded with men. The scent of greenery was overwhelmed by that of horses and men.

"This is quite a trophy." Brian de Harcourt dismounted and approached the dead boar. He measured the tusks against his forearm.

Others did as he, touching the beast and prodding it with their feet. A woman was not safe with so many men--with these men in particular. Joan’s heart beat more quickly. Her hands began to sweat.

Brian drew a short sword and hacked a tusk from the felled beast. "Here, Adam, have it carved into dice. They would surely be imbued with your good luck." He tossed the tusk to Adam in a spray of blood.

He let her go to catch the trophy.  Blood dotted his mantle and hers. He frowned. "Brian, you've insulted this young woman."

"Joan's not easily insulted, are you?" Brian inclined his head to her.

Joan made a deep curtsy to him, but bit her lip on any retort. Brian's father held an adjoining manor, though Brian had not deigned to visit Ravenswood for nearly two years.

Heat ran over her cheeks. Brian could be at Ravenswood for only one purpose--the Harvest Hunt and Tournament at which the lady of Ravenswood was set to choose a husband. The suitors, ten in all, were all due to arrive before nightfall.

Joan carefully turned to Adam, a man more of her station--a man who, by the lack of ornamentation or trim on his black garb, was the only man she might comfortably speak to or acknowledge with any propriety. "You owe me nothing. Now, I must go."

"Surely you could use a few pennies?" Brian's words held her in place.

How dare Brian imply she was needy? Her father was Master of the Hunt, not some lowly kennelman. She fought to keep her voice mild. "I ask no reward, my lord."

There were quick, sharp exchanges of quips about Adam's unhorsing from the newly arrived men, then a voice penetrated the banter. It was as hard and harsh as the winter wind that would come in a few weeks.

"Ah, Adam Quintin and a wench. A dog and a bitch will always end up in the grass together."

Joan pulled against Adam Quintin's hold. His fingers tightened on her arm, then relaxed and slid down to take her hand. The sensation was soothing, but nothing he could do would make her feel at ease, save that he would release her--and she could flee.

"I can only assume, my lord Roger," Adam said, "that you've spent so much time with your men, you've forgotten the proper conduct before a woman. Lady Mathilda will be tossing you in the moat where you'll stink as much as your manners if you don't improve them."

There was a beat of silence. Then the men laughed and the baron reddened. Joan was a bit shocked a lord would tolerate so tart a response from a mere swordsman.

The baron jerked his reins and retorted, "I've no time for such nonsense. Fetch someone to butcher this animal." With a kick to his mount, he and half the party cantered off. The ground trembled at their departure.

"Forgive Lord Roger's churlish manners," Adam said to her.

Joan's heart slowed, her stomach eased. "It is nothing."

She squared her shoulders, prayed the man would release her hand. It made her uneasy to stand with her fingers in his.

Just as the thought entered her head, he dropped her hand and made her a more proper bow. "A few hours in the saddle and Lord Roger's as prickly as that boar's snout."

Then Adam smiled and Lord Roger and Brian de Harcourt fled her thoughts. She could but stare at his eyes. They were blue as a field of harebells and framed with thick black lashes.

"Now," he said. "Your name is--"

"Plain Joan," interjected Brian.

Adam raised a black, straight brow. He cocked his head and considered her. "Plain Joan?"

She ducked her head. "Aye. So I am called."

His voice dropped even lower. It coiled about her like a silken thread. "Lord Brian is right. I must reward you in some manner, Plain Joan."

Now. I must go now. She turned. Her path was blocked by a small, wiry man on a dun-brown mare coming straight toward her. He led a gray horse as huge as any she'd ever seen. Its hooves were the size of meat platters, its black mane plaited in a fanciful manner with leather thongs. The horse danced and pawed the ground as it neared the dead boar.

"Yer mount," the little man said to Adam. "Ye rightly named him when ye called him Sinner."

Adam grinned and looked sheepishly in Joan's direction. "He should be called Lady. He's as spoiled as any of those fine creatures." Then he took the reins and patted the destrier's heaving side. "And he dumped me like an inconvenient suitor the instant he saw that boar." The horse bumped his shoulder.

Slung across the battle charger's saddle was a shield. Adam was no common man-at-arms, for the shield bore his personal device. It echoed the simple shape of his mantle pin, but painted on the leather cover of the shield, she saw it more clearly. It was a gold 'V' rendered as if by an illuminator of fine manuscripts. The Roman numeral of five--five for a man whose name meant fifth son.

Men with their own devices were not simple. That she'd mistaken him so, staggered her.

"I have to forgive him, though," Adam said as he pulled himself into a sleek saddle of Spanish leather. "There's no finer horse in a battle in all of England."

Joan darted into the trees.

He was a knight. Mayhap a lord. That meant he, too, was here for one purpose only--marriage to the most beautiful woman in Christendom. Lady Mathilda.

Joan heard Adam Quintin shout after her, but she ignored him. She'd save a beggar with her hounds if he had been one so cornered. And in truth, 'twas the dogs, not she, who'd done the work.

The dogs were waiting on the bank of the river that wound from Winchester to Portsmouth Harbor, passing Ravenswood Castle on its way. They had run through the shallows, romped on the banks, cleaning themselves.

She hugged them one by one, stroking velvety ears and rubbing smooth bellies. "You made me proud, my loves. You rescued a man of worth for Lady Mathilda."

She remembered how he'd been addressed with familiar ease by the other men. It took little effort to imagine the carnage to the men's friendship as they vied for Lady Mathilda's hand.

Plain Joan, Brian had called her. His tongue was as quick as ever. Her cheeks heated that Adam Quintin should be introduced to her in such a manner. Now, Brian's opinion would be Adam's. It was an uneasy thought and she thrust it aside.

Her passage through the woods was no longer a joy, the dogs frolicking ahead of her no longer the pleasure of the day.

At a barely perceptible crossing of one deer path with another, she turned to the west. She would come up to Ravenswood Castle from that direction lest she meet any more men who might be rushing to fall at Lady Mathilda's feet.

But as Joan walked, she found her thoughts on fields of harebells. Harebells as blue as the new gown Lady Mathilda had worn this morning at chapel.

Adam Quintin was as fine in appearance as Brian de Harcourt, mayhap finer. Lady Mathilda would have great difficulty choosing between them.  Joan discounted Lord Roger altogether. He looked like a starved crane. She hoped Brian fell in the foul water of the moat along with the rude Roger.

"Adam Quintin." She said the name aloud without thought. One dog lifted his head and whined. "Aye. You're right. I will not think of him." The young hound woofed. She patted his head. "Nay. I mean it. He's forgotten already."

About LORD OF THE HUNT

Adam Quintin, a man with a secret past, is on the hunt for a traitor to the crown. To find the traitor, Adam must join the many suitors of England’s most desirable heiress. But when he arrives at Ravenswood Castle to begin his mission and his courtship, his life is saved by the seductive, yet humble daughter to the keeper of the hunting hounds.

Joan Swan has her own secret mission—preserve her father’s livelihood as master of the hunt. Her task becomes nearly impossible as suitors flock to court the lady of Ravenswood. Can Joan protect her ailing father? Can she protect her heart once she falls in love with Adam Quintin, a man destined for her lady?

Originally published January 2003 in mass market paperback by Dorchester Love Spell.

To Learn More:

http://annlawrence.com/LOH.html