Sunday, June 2, 2013

Courting the Devil -- Blurb & Excerpt


Four years after a near fatal blunder uproots her from her home and inheritance, Anne Darvey, daughter of the Marquess of Esterleigh, finds herself an indentured servant on a farm near Fort Edward in New York, as the British army advances toward Albany. Driven by guilt over the pain she has caused her father and grief over her lover’s death, she sets out to deliver a message. The consequences lead to the discovery that all is not as it seems, and sets in motion events that lead to love and danger.

Set against the backdrop of the American Revolution, Courting the Devil is the second book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, which follows Anne from her childhood in the rural English countryside, to London society, and into the center of the American Revolution.

Fatigue overtook him. The long day had left him worn and aching. Yet he could not sleep. The feather bed was soft, the linen clean and freshly pressed. But he could not keep his mind from dwelling on that woman. Annie… When he closed his eyes, his mind conjured images of her as she stirred a thick, bubbling kettle of grease and lye on the open fire in the yard, until her lithe arms rippled, and sweat poured over her face, shining on her skin in the last light of the setting sun. In the close and sultry night, if he fell for a moment from consciousness he saw those exquisite violet eyesso filled with resignationand heard her soft voice carefully controlled against even the slightest hint of inner turmoil, her manner restrained. He recognized it all for a telltale sign of guilt, for he too lived under its dark cloud, though his eyes and voice would never betray him as hers did. Yet it festered inside him.
Because of his dedication to the cause, his father was dead.
“Proceed with vigilance.” The cryptic reminder of the note had been all but forgotten. “Uncle is aware of our devotion.” Damn, why has it come to this? 
Leaning his elbows on the sill of the open window of his small upstairs room, his chin resting on his hands, Harris gazed over the treetops, at the sky overstretched with a gauzy net of clouds. Jagged lines of light flashed ceaselessly in the distance. Below the window, an eerie incandescence flickered across the enclosure where the pan of lye soap cooled in the night air. There was no sign of rain, no rumble of thunder.  Only the occasional croaking of a lone bullfrog near the pond on the other side of the house broke the stillness of the night. Not so much as a breeze stirred.
By his pocket watch, the hour had gone past ten. By the hush that had stolen over the house, all were asleep.
Seeking respite from his thoughts and the unbearable heat of his room, Harris pulled on his clothes and slipped outside into the stuffy night. The Betty lamp proved unnecessary in the light of the flashing sky, but he took it nonetheless. Despite its feeble flickering, it provided some comfort against rocks and roots as he made his way down the wooded slope beyond the gate.
His memory had not failed him. Summer nights were infinitely cooler by the pond near the creek. Brighter as well, with milky flashes of light reflecting off its smooth surface and a riot of fireflies darting among the reeds, twinkling over the water like so many stars. Had there been a moon, it would have floated on the water, sending glimmers of light up to the treetops.
He would have seen her then by moonlight.
Rather it was the dull light of the ill-smelling flame of his lamp that revealed her there at the edge of the pond in the tall grass, sitting in nothing but her damp shift, her back against the trunk of a sycamore, as she applied a towel to her hair. Had he’d arrived moments earlier, he might have seen her emerge, dripping from the creek like some water nymph. He paused where he stood and watched for a moment, then he cleared his throat and continued closer.
The brush crackled under his feet. He slowed his steps when she turned, a startled look on her face, her fingers frozen in the wild tangle of thick, dark hair tumbling over her shoulders and down the length of her back. At the sight of him, she quickly covered her chest with crossed arms.
Harris hesitated, holding up the lamp so that its light revealed his face, causing her to blink into the brightness. “No reason for alarm,” he reassured, and hung the lamp on a bough just above her head. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
She turned away and on her knees quickly gathered up the objects spread out on a towel in the grass. He leaned on his hand against the tree, and regarded her with interest. In the light of the swinging lamp, drops of water shimmered on her bare arms. The smell of milled soap with a hint of lavender emanated from her hair, mingling with her own sweet, warm scent on the heavy air. Though coarsely made, her damp chemise clung to her like second skin, revealing the soft, round contours of a supple body. He imagined his hands holding her close, the feel of her, lithe and wet, against him, and fought back the stirring in his groin.
He licked his lips. “I didn’t expect to find anyone here at this hour of the night. Forgive the intrusion, I–”
She glanced up at him, a look of uncertainty in her eyes, along with the flashing sky. “No need for apologies, sir. I was just about to leave.” She rolled her hairbrush and a small, well-used sliver of soap in its original paper wrapper into the frayed huckaback towel. After slipping into her shoes, she snatched the coarse-woven skirt and linen bodice from the low bough from which she had hung them. Having wrapped everything in the skirt, she rose with the grace of a goddess and turned toward the path back to the house, the bundle clasped to her breast.
He stepped away from the tree and blocked her escape. She halted just short of him, but did not avert her eyes from the ground before her. “I wish you wouldn’t go,” Harris said through the dryness in his mouth.
Maintaining her focus on the dark path beyond the circle of light cast by his Betty lamp, she drew in a slow breath. In spite of the heat, she shivered. “There is nothing to keep me, sir.”
He laughed softly. “I hope that was not meant to be a gibe at my vanity?”
She shook back the mane of dark, wet hair that had fallen over her face, but kept her eyes averted. “It was not my intention to appear so bold.”
“Then I’m very much relieved!” His gaze wandered over her wet, scantily clad form, at the soft rise of her breasts before they disappeared under the cover of her infringing bundle. “But I forget myself. It is your modesty and virtue that–”
“Excuse me, Mr. Harris. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired.”
“It’s too hot to sleep. I thought I would—”
“You needn’t explain yourself. Not to me, sir. Now, if you will kindly let me pass …”
“You don’t like me, do you?”
At that she raised her eyes fully upon his face with a slow and deliberate stare, as if the impulse to look at him had been spontaneous and she resisted its appeal with all the self-control at her disposal. “My feelings are of no consequence, Mr. Harris,” she said in a soft voice, devoid of expression. 
“But you do have them. Are you dismissing them as insignificant, or is it that you have no desire to discuss things of a personal nature?” Her soft, full lips were enticing. Even in the sweltering night air, the heat emanating from her body wrapped around him like a caress.
“If you really must know, sir, I have no time for such diversions.”
“Nor anything else, I dare say.” Fighting the urge to clasp her to him and taste her mouth, he stepped aside to let her pass. “You push yourself far too hard. It’s a sure sign.”
Just beyond the spill of light from the hanging lamp, Annie stopped and raised her head. For a long while she stood in silence, as if waiting for him to speak.
He sensed he had struck a nerve. “A sure sign of what, you might ask. Then again, I would be presuming to know your mind, which, I assure I do not… All right then, I’ll tell you. I notice things about people who labor for a living, Miss Annie.” He stepped toward her, outside the circle of dingy light. “Those who work for their own subsistence tend to perform their duties with an honorable sense of purpose. For when successfully accomplished, the task at hand yields its own reward. From my own observations, I’ve also noted that those who are obligated to toil in the service of others tend to do only that which is expected of them. No more, no less.” He paused.  Again the sky flickered, revealing her standing with her back to him, head lowered. “Where rewards are few, there is nothing to be gained by working one’s self to an early grave. That would leave one unable to savor the freedom earned by such senseless toil.”
She turned slowly and swept his face with her gaze. “Do you not work for your living, Mr. Harris?” In her soft voice, he detected a note of challenge.
“I am a schoolmaster, Miss Annie.” And then he vacillated, his mouth twitching into a smile. “I was a schoolmaster…until I lost all my students! For the life of me I can’t fathom why…” She did not appear moved by his attempted levity. “But, no, I never had a reason to earn a living. My father was…well-connected.”
Her eyes shimmered in the darkness. “It is said, Mr. Harris, that the Devil finds work for idle hands.”
He laughed softly. “It is also said, Miss Annie, that to speak of the Devil is to court his presence.”
She lowered her face until shadows once more enveloped her features, her hands tightening around the bundle. “If that is so, then I hope he finds me busy. Good night, Mr. Harris.” She vanished quietly into the darkness.

Deepest thanks to Goddess Fish for the opportunity to share with you today
The three books of The Serpent's Tooth trilogy are available from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, ARE, and in paperback.


If you would like to find out more about Kathy or her novels, please visit her here: 
Books We Love Publishing




Debby said...

The revolutionary War is an excellent back drop for many stories. Looks like this one will be just as great.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Jennifer Wilck said...

Great excerpt!