Of leading ladies and gate-crashing male protagonists
NOTE: This blog post was written for and originally posted on that most excellent blog The Bluestocking Belles – a group of authors that elevate Regency romance to dizzying heights. I recommend you drop by and visit – if Regency is your cup of tea, that is. Actually, even if it isn’t, as the belles are known for their wit and repartee 🙂 It has been somewhat rewritten since the original posting – a consequence of time passing…
Last Monday was the official publication date of the first book in my new series, In The Shadow of the Storm. So I decided to celebrate with an informal get together with my principal ladies. I do one-on-one’s with all of them regularly, which is how I know what they think and feel, what their opinions are on things as diverse as sex during Lent to the present oil-price. You see, my ladies come from different time periods, so what is everyday business for one of them, is a brand new world for the others. Makes it sort of interesting to toss them all together – especially as I thought we’d discuss something as incendiary as feminism.
Me, being a modern person, take it for granted that I as a woman have the same rights as any man.
“Yeah!” Alex Graham mutters, giving me a look somewhere between amused and irritated. Alex is also a firm believer in equal rights, having been born in the 1970s. Unfortunately for her – at least from that perspective – she no longer lives in the present day. Alex Graham has, through a number of weird and wonderful coincidences, been transported back to the 17th century, a time in which women have very few – if any – rights.
“That’s because women have less sense than us men,” Matthew Graham says, winking at his wife. As gorgeous as ever, he has appeared in the doorway, his linen shirt unlaced sufficiently to allow a peek at a broad and hairy chest. His wife is nowhere near as exposed. Matthew is a firm believer in some things being for his eyes only, and Alex is therefore wearing a bodice with a high cut neckline, her hair covered by a neat lace cap, and her long skirts hinting at curves no one but Matthew is ever allowed to appreciate.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” I protest. “This is ladies only.” Not that I mind – not at all – which he knows, being fully aware that this author has a major crush on him.
There is a low laugh from somewhere behind me. Yet another male gate-crasher.
“That’s being very discriminatory, don’t you think?” Jason settles himself on the sofa, drapes a possessive arm round Helle’s shoulders and pulls her close. “Besides, I like cake.” And I like Jason, all six feet and more of him with that absolutely magnificent mass of mahogany coloured hair, and…Sheesh! Get a grip, I admonish myself.
“Aye,” Matthew Graham says, joining his wife on the bench by the fireplace. “So do I.” He extends his booted legs towards the fire, muttering something about it being damned cold for October, and what will it mean for the winter?
Kit de Guirande has so far not said anything, sitting very much to the side while regarding the others from under her lashes. A sheer veil covers her dark-red hair, she is wearing a kirtle in the deepest of blues and fiddles with the belt from which hang her keys. It is with relief she smiles up at Adam when he sort of steps out of the shadows to stand beside her, a protective hand on her shoulder.
Adam de Guirande nods at Matthew – they’ve met before in my rather roomy head, both of them being men of honour and convictions, willing to risk life and freedom for things they find truly important. Something that has both Kit and Alex enduring sleepless nights, let me tell you.
Where Matthew is dark, Adam is fair, arms bulging after years swinging swords and carrying shields. He is also very much a product of the early 14th century, and when I inform him as to the subject of the day, he raises his brows, mouth twitching with a contained smile. But he doesn’t say anything, more than secure in the knowledge that in his home he rules and Kit follows. Most of the time.
Helle is giving Kit’s clothes an admiring look. She herself is in her customary jeans – although at times she has throw-back memories to a life in which she wore sweeping garments of linen and fine wool, her head, her face, covered by veils her grandmother spent hours embroidering.
“Some sort of princess,” she confides to Kit, who looks very impressed, “but that was like three thousand years ago.” She pats Jason on the leg. “We met already then, but things went pear-shaped, and since then we’ve been tumbling through time, trying to find each other again.”
“And now we have,” Jason says, but he can’t resist throwing a look at the darker corners of my mind. Wise man, Jason; there’s plenty of evil lurking there, most of it in the shape of Sam Woolf, Jason’s personal nemesis.
“Oh,” Kit croaks, shuffling on her stool so that her back is firmly pressed against Adam’s legs. He bends over and murmurs something in her ear along the lines of me having a most fertile imagination, nothing to be worried about – at all. I smile at him. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve made up when it comes to him – and Kit, who may appear acquiescent but who lets nothing stop her when her man requires rescuing. Which he does on occasion, being torn apart between his loyalty to his liege-lord, Baron Roger Mortimer, and his growing affection for Lord Edward, heir to the throne and son to Edward II, that most inept of kings.
“Well,” I say, “shall I be mother?” Uncomprehending looks from Matthew and Adam, a titter from Alex.
“Tea?” Adam sniffs suspiciously at his mug.
“Best thing in the world.” Alex sighs happily.
“I thought I was the best thing in the world,” Matthew teases, reaching for a slice of sponge cake.
“Best man, not thing,” Alex says.
There’s a mild snort from Kit, accompanied by a secret little smile she directs at Adam, now sitting beside her.
My readers have as yet not made Kit’s or Adam’s acquaintance – the first book in their series has just hit the virtual shelves. I, however, have been living with them close to three years by now so I know why Adam limps so badly, and how Kit was coerced into impersonating someone else to marry him. I have held my breath as Kit has thrown herself headlong into rushing waters in a desperate attempt to save Adam’s life, I have kept my fingers crossed at daring escapes over slippery rooftops at night. And I have smiled and looked away when he loves her, so attracted by this wife of his he disobeys the teachings of the church and beds her during Lent.
“And what about us?” Alex kicks me softly on the shin. “Are you going to abandon Matthew and me?” Oooo, she sounds quite jealous.
“Of course not.” I give her an encouraging smile. There will be more about Alex and Matthew, because despite eight books there are things to clear up – and I love this leading couple of mine to bits. Him with those magical hazel eyes and his slow smile, her headstrong and loving – the two of them make an impressive duo as they face whatever calamities life throws in their way. There have been many of those.
“As long as you don’t kill off any more of my babies,” Alex warns, shoulders hunching together. I can’t resist the urge to reach forward and stroke her cheek. She’s lost so much, my Alex.
“So, women’s rights,” I say, trying to revert to the original subject.
“Overrated,” Jason says, and laughs when Helle smacks him over the head. They make a handsome couple, her blond curls standing in a messy halo round a face dominated by turquoise eyes. Shapely and fit, she lounges back on the sofa and her top rides up, revealing a couple of inches of tanned skin. Kit looks scandalized. Alex looks jealous. Jason scowls at the other two men and yanks Helle’s top back down. He may be living in the 21st century, but Jason comes burdened with perceptions developed over an endless number of lives, leaving him very possessive when it comes to his woman.
“They’re necessary.” Alex scrapes at something on her skirts. “Women are people, not chattel.”
“Women are vulnerable,” Adam breaks in. “They don’t need rights, they need men who protect them.”
“Really?” Helle sounds anything but impressed. “And what if the man set to protect them is the one who abuses them?”
“Then that is wrong.” Adam shrugs.
“I’m not vulnerable,” Kit objects. Her voice is low and dark, sultry enough that both Matthew and Jason throw her interested looks.
“If women were vulnerable, the human race would have gone extinct long before they lived in caves,” Alex says.
“Yeah,” Helle agrees. “Let’s see a man give birth to a baby or two.” She shares a quick look with Jason and ducks her head. Sensitive subject, that of children – at least for these two, who had a girl in the long ago, a child cruelly stolen from them and never found.
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Adam extends his hand to his wife. “You know I have the utmost respect for you, my lady, and I, if anyone, knows just what you are capable of. My point was rather that it shouldn’t matter if women have rights or not – they should be cherished and honoured, loved and protected, no matter what.”
“Hear, hear.” Matthew raises his mug. “To our women.”
The ladies in the room look quite pleased, and I decide there’s no point in continuing this debate. Instead, I recline against the wall and sip at my tea. I narrow my eyes at Jason and Helle, sitting with their heads close together. I wonder if I should tell them just what I – and Sam – have in store for them. No, I decide, why spoil this moment for them; better serve up more cake and tea. Besides, Jason and Helle won’t be hitting the bookshelves until 2017, so there’s no need to frighten them silly – yet.
Below, a little excerpt from In the Shadow of the Storm, the first in the Kit and Adam trilogy (and yes, it is somewhat steamy, not a “dot,dot,dot” in sight):
After the long, confusing meal, Kit succeeded in sneaking off to her room – their room, she amended, noting that the small space was cluttered with Adam’s belongings, most of them spilling from a large chest. In contrast, her few garments were hanging neatly from the clothes’ pole, tucked away in an alcove just beyond the bed and half-hidden behind a length of linen suspended from the roof.
She sank down on the bed and cradled her head in her hands. How was she to cope in this unfamiliar role? How was she to keep up the subterfuge that she was someone she wasn’t? She’d spent most of dinner shoving the food around on her trencher while she watched the others eat. Spicy roasts, bread that was warm from the ovens, cheeses and wines, dried fruits and miniature pies – she’d never seen such a selection of food before, accustomed to the plain fare and quiet peace of meals at Tresaints. Her stomach grumbled, unhappy with her for not having fed it more, but Kit had spent most of the meal struggling with her conscience. What she was doing was wrong, and things were not helped by Adam’s courteous behaviour at dinner or by the way his eyes had lingered on her. Sweetest Virgin, what was she to do?
Kit rose and wandered over to Adam’s chest. Tunics lay thrown together, she saw the coloured leather of a boot, the heavy buckle of a belt. She picked up a long length of hose, found its pair and rolled them together. The tunics were shaken, inspected and folded, with Kit caressing the fine silks of his two supertunics. There was a deep blue woollen tunic that must fall down to his knees, a number of linen braies and three long linen shirts. She held one to her nose, capturing a faint remnant of his scent. Her husband… despite the unorthodox aspects of their union, she couldn’t quite suppress a little shiver. Just the thought of him had her privates contracting, heat flaring between her legs. Lust, she chided herself, this is mere lust.
“My squire can do that.”
She whirled, finding her husband by the door.
“I don’t mind,” she said. This was something she felt comfortable doing, with the added benefit of being out of sight from all the people who thronged the castle.
She folded a thick cloak, knelt to tuck it in, and heard him crossing the floor towards her. His boots squeaked, a leg clad in thick hose appeared in her field of vision. She placed a hand on his leg. He inhaled when she moved her hand upwards.
“What are you doing?”
Her cheeks heated at her daring. Would he find her too forward?
“Exploring my husband,” she said, caressing the narrow patch of bare skin she found on his upper thighs. The hose-points were tied to the rougher fabric of the linen braies, and Kit counted two ties as her fingers traced their way round his leg. She suppressed a nervous titter. She had never inspected a man’s undergarments before. His hand clasped hers, arresting it, through the fabric of his tunic.
“My turn today, my lord.” She looked up at him, still kneeling at his feet. His face was flushed, those grey eyes of his inscrutable.
Adam gestured with his head. “The door – it’s unbolted.” He sounded hoarse, breathless even.
Kit lurched to her feet, nearly stumbling until he caught her, holding her close. Stubble gilded his cheeks, straight fair lashes framed his eyes, and a lock of dishevelled hair fell across his brow. His lips grazed her ear, her jaw. She breathed through her mouth, eyes closed. His lips on hers, a strong hand at her waist manoeuvring her backwards, to the door. The bolt screeched into place. He pressed her against the door and she moaned into his mouth. Adam tore away, gasping for breath. His hands under her skirts, masses of fabric wedged between them, making it impossible to get him really close.
“Bed,” she said, tugging at his belt.
“Here,” he panted, “now!” He lifted her, entered her, and she clung to him, helpless in his arms, incapable of doing anything but taking what he gave her.
“God’s blood!” he exclaimed afterwards, leaning his forehead against hers. Her pulse was painfully loud in her head, her legs wobbly. Kit released her hold on his tunic, tried to straighten up.
“Indeed,” she said. The bed. She stumbled towards it, needing to lie down, to rest. The bed creaked with his weight when he joined her. Supple fingers unloosened her veil and braids, travelled further down to the lacings at the side of her kirtle. Garment by garment he stripped her, before undressing himself and lying down beside her.
“It seems that in this we are well suited, my lady,” he murmured. His eyes were dark and soft, his hand gentle as it caressed her cheek. “A good start,” he added, leaning over to place the lightest of kisses on her mouth. Hesitantly, she raised her hands to cup his face.
“A very good start,” she agreed. He laughed, took her hand and placed it on his chest.
“All yours,” he said. “Explore me to your heart’s content, my lady.”
I hope you enjoyed the above excerpt. The book is available on Amazon plus on various other on-line retailers.