A Preview of Aurelia: Ria meets Chane Bellamy

Aurelia by Andrea ParnellMy next historical romance is Aurelia, the story of Ria Kingsley, an outcast in Savannah society shortly after the American Revolution who seeks to claim her pirate grandfather’s hidden fortune. Her dangerous journey brings passion and danger…much of it in the form of the handsome, hot-tempered sea captain Chane Bellamy with whom Ria makes a desperate bargain to secure his help in her quest.

Here is an excerpt from Aurelia, revealing Ria and Chane’s first meeting…


From trembling lips that indicated hurt feelings, Celeste raised a weak protest when Ria changed direction. “Where are you going, Ria? Not to the docks. You know the place scares me nigh as much as Grandfather Dag.”

“It is necessary, Celeste,” Ria said gently. “I want to take a look at the Aurelia.” Her father’s ship, hers since his death, sat at its moorings on the Savannah River. Hyatt Landis, her father’s solicitor, had taken charge of it. The ship was prey for vandals, and Hyatt, who had newer ships of his own now, had lately been demanding she sell the Aurelia.

Ria sighed wistfully. She’d refused until the choice was close to being made for her. The charges for keeping the Aurelia moored were mounting, besides which, she owed Hyatt for the repairs he had commissioned. She did not expect him to wait much longer for payment of her bill. The scoundrel! How she would like to show Hyatt for the blackguard he was. Convulsively, her hand squeezed around the lump Grandfather Dag’s coins made in her reticule.

Hope rose and fell inside her. A bag of pennies likely. Copper dreams.

“Look! There’s Hyatt,” Celeste announced none too happily. She didn’t care for Hyatt. He reminded her of a bird, an image made apt by the beaklike crook of his nose.

Ria saw him near the Aurelia’s longboat, flanked by two other men. One was tall, lean and black-haired, and by his stance and expression the dominant one of the unknown pair. He also stood in stark contrast to Landis, a head taller than the solicitor, lean and long where the other was thick-bodied and short of limb. His companion was fair-haired, not a man to turn a lady’s head, but attractive in an unobtrusive way.

But it was the black-haired man who held her eye, his leanness giving way to a look of sleek power, his glistening hair blue-black beneath the sun, the strong line of his jaw a backdrop for a softly curved and sensuous mouth. His shoulders were broad enough to carry a gilded suit of armor, Ria mused.

The wind caught the black-haired man’s words and carried them along the wharf before any of the party was aware the girls approached.

“She’s a fine vessel, sound and fast by the look of her hull,” he said. “A runner.”

“And the only ship in the harbor for sale,” Hyatt Landis pointed out, getting a snort from the gap-toothed William Pollack aboard the longboat. Pollack was Landis’s man and lived aboard the Aurelia to keep her safe.

“That, too,” said the black-haired man, smiling. “She will do if the price is agreeable.”

“Count yourself touched by luck. You can have her at a bargain,” Hyatt hastened to say. “No local buyer will have the Aurelia.” He noted the reaction to his words and hastened to explain himself. “Not that she isn’t as seaworthy as you’ve noted. It has nothing to do with the ship. The former owner —”

“The present owner is here,” Ria said sternly. “And if the Aurelia is sold it will be at a fair price for her worth.”

The solicitor had the shifty, uncomfortable look of a man up to no good. Ria felt her anger rise as she closed the distance between them. What right did Hyatt have to tell of her family’s disgrace, as she was sure he had been about to? And after all her father had done for the man. The nerve of him! If Marcus Kingsley did not garner the solicitor’s respect, he at least deserved his silence.

“Why, Ria! And Celeste. I did not expect …” Hyatt, flustered, red-faced, pulled a linen square from his coat pocket and mopped his damp brow. But he recovered quickly, easily slipping into the role of proper gentleman. “What a pleasure to see you,” he said smoothly. “I was just telling Captain Bellamy about the Aurelia and how anxious you are to sell.”

Chane Bellamy had spun on his heels and met the furious glare of eyes the color of a storm-churned north sea. If not for those striking eyes, the girl’s face might have been almost plain; her lips were drawn tight and there was a high color in her cheeks. And her hair was red, a mass of unbridled flame about her head. She wore a pigeon gray gown with an ecru lace collar that must have been handed down through several generations. The somber look of her costume was entirely wrong, too puritan for the stunning hair and eyes. Should he wonder at her station in life, the gown told him plenty: it had a tired, overworn look, the satin piping on the sleeves and the hem of it frayed beyond mending.

The same was true of the other girl’s faded saffron gown. His eyes lingered on her, longer than was courteous. No misuse of color or ill choice of style could dull her beauty or hide the bounty of her curves. Her hair was an exquisite mass of blond curls that framed a perfect china-doll oval face, which was shyly downcast. Her eyes, the brief second he’d seen them beneath the golden lashes, were a soft glowing brown, like big amber gems catching the sunlight. Her skin, fairer than her irate companion’s, was the palest alabaster and looked as if it would be softer than a whisper to the touch.

Any other time he would have been raring to practice his seductive skills on either of the two. But not now. Trouble over a woman had helped put him in his present difficult spot. At the moment, he did not feel kindly disposed toward any one of the fair sex.

From nearby, Chane Bellamy heard his friend, Axel Gresham, gulp a breath and knew that he, too, had been struck by the quiet girl’s extraordinary beauty.

“You did not tell me anyone was interested in the Aurelia,” Ria addressed Hyatt curtly. “As you should have.”

“He came to my office only this afternoon.”

“And I am very anxious to buy, Mademoiselle …”

Hyatt rudely overlooked the introductions. “Of course, I planned to notify you immediately after Captain Bellamy had a look at the Aurelia,” the solicitor responded with a smile, though he clearly did not like the implication that he had acted beyond his authority. “As it’s turned out you’ve saved me a trip to Palmira.”

Ria doubted he was glad of it, since he visited as often as he could find an excuse. Soon he wouldn’t need one. He’d asked her stepmother, Opal, to wed him and as Palmira belonged to Opal, Hyatt would shortly be living in the house with the three of them.

“So I have,” Ria responded. The thought propelled her into a high temper, which took her beyond careful consideration of what she said next. “But perhaps you have wasted the captain’s time,” she said, resting her hands on her hips, thereby sending her silk reticule swinging like a pendulum from one wrist. “I have decided the Aurelia is not for sale.”

“Ria!” Hyatt sputtered, his eyes going first to her face and then suspiciously to the scrolled paper protruding from the reticule she’d hastily concealed in the fullness of her skirts. “What alternative is there but to haul her out to sea and let her rot?” he demanded. “Or would you rather leave her to the mercy of your father’s enemies?” Mottled color spread on the skin above his collar. “My generosity is at an end, I warn you. I will not carry the expense of a useless ship and take on two grown women who are too stubborn for their own good.”

Chane Bellamy listened carefully to the exchange and watched intently the emotions that flared in the girl’s green eyes. There was more afoot here than a disagreement over the sale of a ship. Whatever that difference was did not concern him; the Aurelia did. His vessel, the Trinity, had caught fire and burned a week past. He’d lost none of his crew and the cargo had been offloaded the day before. But without the Trinity he had no way to complete the mission he had set for himself. He needed a replacement vessel, and fast. The Aurelia was it and he meant to have her.

“Mr. Landis,” Chane said, his voice glazed with the accent of his native French tongue. “If you would allow me to talk to the Aurelia’s owner alone, it is possible we could come to an agreement.”

He had a quiet arrogance about him. Ria heard it in the deep resonance of his voice, saw it hidden in the intense blue eyes, shadowed again in the tilt of the strong square chin. He was accustomed to having his way. And he was assessing her, giving her a critical look now that he had torn his eyes from Celeste. She felt him searching out her weaknesses as one might look for cracks in the foundation of a building … to find a place where one might begin to tear it down. She tried to picture herself as he saw her, a silly, penniless girl defying her elders. Pitiable.

Bellamy. Captain Bellamy. So, this was the man she’d heard so much about. On the church grounds following Sunday service, Elizabeth Carter had been telling her friends how many dances she’d shared with a handsome sea captain at a recent ball. “Sky blue eyes, hair black as a raven’s wing, light on his feet as a gypsy dancer,” Elizabeth had described him. Ria remembered, too, the quick disdainful turn of a shoulder and raised chin when Elizabeth had seen her approaching; the snooty girl and her friends had then walked off without so much as a word to Ria.

Hidden in the folds of her skirts, her hands were clenched into tight, aching fists. This Captain Bellamy who was so light on his feet was looking at her as if he could control her as easily as he could ask her to dance.

Her anger flared again, and Ria vowed silently, as she felt his eyes upon her, that this time Captain Bellamy would not get his way.


I hope you enjoyed this preview of Aurelia. Look for the book at your favorite online retailer soon!

See you soon,


Glory Warren, A Woman Ahead Of Her Time

In A Time When Being Different Is A Deadly Sin.


AndreaParnell_WildGlory_200pxWILD GLORY
Glory Warren’s eyes fell on the group approaching the village and she knew a moment of hope. One among them wore a lush black beard and was assuredly not an Indian.

“You there,” she cried to the man who towered a head above the savages. Heaving for breath, she raised her hands to show the bonds. “Tell them to set me free.”

“And why should I do that?” The trapper, garbed as the savages in fringed buckskins, though devoid of feathers, parted a path through those clustered around the girl. She was a sight to behold—chin held high, arms uplifted, a woman-child who faced the Indians with bold impudence rather than trembling and cowering before them.

Her beauty stole his breath and for a time he stood and stared, recalling the long space of time since he had seen or held a woman of his own kind. Aware he might have this one if he so chose, he allowed his senses to play out what he might do with so lovely a female. A stab of regret pained him, a pointed reminder that he was not totally uncivilized, decidedly not enough to bend an unwilling woman to his will.

The trace of a smile on his lips mocked the adjustment of his thoughts. The girl bore his lengthy perusal with surprising patience or else needed time to consider a reply to his crusty remark. Still uncertain of what was best done with her, he made no haste to pull his eyes away. She was worthy of a long look.

Ebony hair as dark as any savage’s hung to her waist in loose, luxuriant braids. The cords that had held the ends secure had been lost. Here and there a strand had worked free and lay in a damp abandon of curls against her neck and shoulders. As he observed the twists and turns of black silk he had the urge to free the whole of it and see how the dark masses would shine in the afternoon light.

Her skin was as tempting. She was no milk white English maid who looked as if she had grown without the benefit of the sun. Some Spaniard had cut a notch in the family tree and the subtle proof of it glowed in the honey and cream color of the girl’s skin. A steady glance at the fine-boned face revealed what it was about her that had the village mesmerized. Black-lashed eyes of an oddly crystalline blue sparkled as if they emitted a mystic light of their own. He had the strange feeling, as he suspected the Indians did, that if he looked into them long enough he might be set afire.

Glory’s patience gave way as she waited for the man to come to his senses. She found her tongue. “Because you are English and because you ought to,” she snapped, angry to find the Englishman as impossible to deal with as the Indians. She had not been mistreated other than being hauled to the village and put on public view. She’d concluded she was not to be scalped or tortured and that the Indians were as alarmed at having her among them as she was to be there, but not a single one could or would speak to her in words she could understand. For an hour they had stood and stared at each other. She’d had enough of it.

Quade laughed at this second display of spunk, though he detected in the tremble felt when he caught hold of her bound hands that it might soon run out. Still chuckling, he pulled a broad-bladed knife from a leather scabbard strapped to his side. The steel blade gleamed a threat as he tested the tip with his fingers.

“I am not so English as you think and I do little I ought to.” His dark eyes met the angry heat of hers for a moment, then he turned aside to speak to Tomanick and those on his council. Receiving a nod of approval he wheeled back to the girl. “What’s in it for me if I cut you free?” he taunted.

“Cut me loose and find out,” she returned, shooting a challenging glance at the trapper.


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An Excerpt From Devil Moon

Meet Rhys and Teddy from Devil Moon

Devil Moon by Andrea Parnell (Trove 2013) Inside the Brass Bell Saloon, Teddy Gamble led to a corner table, kicked back a chair and sat.

 “Marc André Rhys Delmar at your service, mademoiselle.” Smiling to full effect, Rhys slid into a second chair and squared himself across the scarred bar table from Teddy Gamble. Her expression was that of a caged cat, one of pent-up energy and barely held-back anger. He stared at her because it was impossible to do otherwise. She was like no woman he’d ever seen. Her face was finely boned. And her hands had tanned a honey-brown from the sun. They were nearly the same color as the fringed buckskin shirt and trousers she wore. Her eyes, all banked with angry fire, were the most striking he’d ever encountered, a glowing green color as remarkable as the stones she wore.

 “It’s plain Teddy, here,” she said. “I don’t need any mademoiselle or mouthful of names to know who I am.”

With a whisk of her hand, she pushed the dusty hat from her head and sailed it into the seat of an empty chair at the table. Rhys had been prepared for a cropped head of straggly hair but was surprised to discover that Teddy Gamble had an abundance of shining tawny locks which had been gathered in a braid and pinned beneath her hat. With some relief he concluded he’d been right to suspect that the woman had at least a tiny element of femininity to her.

 “A thousand pardons, mademoi—Teddy,” he said. “I only intended politeness.”

 “Well don’t tangle yourself up in it,” Teddy snapped. “Just spit out why it is you think you’re part owner of the Gamble Line.”

 Rhys flashed another smile. “It is not what I think. It is what is true.” He fished in his inside coat pocket for the leather packet in which he’d placed the papers given him by Zachary Gamble. “Monsieur Zachary Gamble wagered his share of the company in a game of cards.” With what was, to Teddy, agonizing slowness, he spread the papers on the table for her to view. “He lost.”

 Teddy’s heart faltered a beat. Her Uncle Zack’s exaggerated penmanship was unmistakable. He’d signed his interest in the company over to the Frenchman as a pledge against a gambling loss. And evidently her Uncle Zack had either been unable or unwilling to ante up the cash to buy that interest back.

 But be that as it may, Teddy wasn’t about to accept the fancy man’s claim without a challenge. “Uncle Zack will have to tell me himself that he surrendered his interest to you,” she said coldly. “For all I know you robbed him and forged that signature.”

 Rhys blanched white. He came halfway out of his chair, then thought better of his action and eased himself down again. “Mademoi—” He paused, blew out a long breath then spoke with deliberate slowness to Teddy. “If Monsieur Gamble could tell anyone anything I would not have come halfway across the world to redeem these documents.”

 “What do you mean?” Teddy hissed.

 “Your uncle is dead.”


Rhys and Teddy are setting the West on fire in Devil Moon. If you like stagecoaches and lots of sparks, look for Devil Moon at your favorite ebook store.

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Excerpt from My Only Desire

My Only Desire

A Guns & Garters Western Historical Romance

A man in chains.

A  woman in charge.

Sunny Harlowe is a bounty hunter who always gets her man. But this time she’s captured trouble in Price Ramsey, a scoundrel who always gets his woman.

My Only Desire by Andrea Parnell“Sunny. Do you know what I thought the first time I saw you?”

“Let me guess.” With difficulty, she broke her gaze away from his and swung off the pinto.  “You thought, ‘There’s a woman I haven’t had.’”

Dammit. Nothing was easy with this woman. But he fortified himself for the new assault. “No,” he said tenderly. “I thought, ‘There’s the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen.’ ”

“Hah!” She tossed the stirrup up on the seat of the saddle and unbuckled the girth.

“And the next time,” he continued. “I saw you, and I forgot I was supposed to be shooting at the target Delos tossed for me.”

“You hit it.”

“Barely,” he said. “I tried to find you afterwards.”

Pretending indifference, she unshackled the chains on Price’s handcuffs so he could dismount. “I didn’t want you to find me,” she said.

“No,” he ground out. “But you wanted me, Sunny. I’m not wrong about that. I’m not wrong about what I saw in your eyes before you disappeared.”

“Over there.” She pointed at a thick part of the grove. “Go.”

He obeyed, docile as a lamb while she hooked his shackles around still another tree.



“Kiss me,” he said softly.

“You’re crazy,” she hissed.

“I know.” His eyes flashed, and his low, husky voice sent a shiver up her spine. “I am. Look at me. I can’t move more than a foot. I can’t hurt you. I can’t do anything to you that wouldn’t leave me in a worse predicament than this. Kiss me. Please. It’s not too much to ask.”

“Yes, it is…”

She said it too slowly, and he knew she was thinking about it. And she was standing so close. A tilt of his head was enough. His lips touched hers, light as a breeze. He didn’t raise his hands. He didn’t want to remind her of his chains.

Sunny moaned softly as his mouth opened and closed hungrily on her lips, tender yet demanding.  The shock, the satisfaction caught her.  She trembled, felt a whirlwind rise and twist within her, felt the spiraling power of it numb her mind and inflame her senses.  Her knees shook and her eyelids slid down as the heart of the storm swept deep in her abdomen then spun up and out, higher and higher.  And then he stepped away…


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An excerpt from Whispers At Midnight

Whispers at Midnight is a Gothic Romance set in Colonial Era America.  I particularly like exploring the early days of our country and imagining what might have been.  The following excerpt is from the prologue. I hope you will enjoy it.  A longer excerpt is available at Amazon.

Whispers At Midnight

Virginia, July 1730

The night was hot and still. More so than any Evelyn Wicklow could ever remember. She held tightly to her husband’s arm, so that her steps would not falter and reveal the tug of fear at her heart. Not a sound rose up in the cloying heat, not the chirp of a cricket, not the song of a bird. It seemed both time and the movement of the elements had come to a halt as an omen of the evil she sensed.

“He’s a heartless man, Jubal,” her lovely, sad voice petitioned Jubal Wicklow. “If only there were another way.” Her soft gray eyes, rimmed with worry, pleaded silently with him. At sunrise Jubal would fight a duel on the riverbank near Wicklow House. Knowing he had been one of the best shots in England failed to ease Evelyn’s mind, for deep in her soul she already knew the outcome of this senseless contest.

A dark wave of apprehension swept through her as hazy images clouded her thoughts. Her head ached violently, yet her hands clung lovingly to those of her husband. Since childhood she had borne the peculiar gift of foretelling the future. Evelyn had often thought that ability was more of a burden than an advantage. Sometimes, as now, when the vision involved those to whom she was closest, what would happen could only be viewed through a deep, murky mist and not clearly enough to see one’s way. And yet she had read disaster in the dark warning clouds long before she knew John Mott had come to Virginia.

“Aye, but there will be no reasoning with John,” Jubal Wicklow responded calmly as he clasped Evelyn’s hands between his own. “Four years at sea with the man and I learned to know him well.” He did not try to make light of her words; instead he marked the depth of anguish in her voice and eyes. She was so lovely to him, with her fair hair and eyes which at times were as luminous and mysterious as silver moonlight. He never tired of looking at her, his Evelyn, the sweetest treasure a man could ever possess.

Jubal Wicklow smiled reassuringly. As always, Evelyn aroused his protective instinct. He did not ask what she saw. He knew the effort would only heighten her pain. He understood his wife’s power and the toll it required of her delicate body. For even though she possessed great spiritual strength, she was as fragile and beautiful as an orchid. Above all things in life, he swore to himself, he loved Evelyn and their young daughter, Elise. Nay, more than that, he loved nothing or no one else on earth.

Evelyn lifted her pretty chin. “I prayed, Jubal, you could settle this debt with John Mott without bloodshed.” Still, she did not believe prayers could help and would send Elise to a trusted friend in Williamsburg.

Jubal led his wife into the newly finished maze of hedges, her single request for the grounds of Wicklow.

“Bloody bastard,” he said, and nodded. “Begging your pardon, my love, but it boils my blood that he should come here making his challenge after a full decade. As for the debt he claims, there is but what he invents. John holds no right to the gold or the ruby. The full bounty we took on our last voyage we divided before returning to England. I take no blame that John Mott’s share rests on the ocean floor. He sailed into weather no sane man would have faced.” Jubal halted his steps at a turn in the hedges and glanced about until his puzzlement brought the wanted smile from Evelyn. She pointed out the correct path. “The blighter lost his crew to the last man,” he said. “It should be enough he has his life.”

“It is more than gold and jewels he has come for,” Evelyn said softly. She had not thought John would follow them to the colonies. With an ocean and the passage of time between them it seemed that her dreadful destiny with the man could be overcome.

Once she had been betrothed to John, a prosperous sea captain and a widower with a young child. As a girl of seventeen she might have been enthralled with the handsome Mott and even delighted in accepting the marriage her parents arranged. But there was always something about the man that his smooth words and elegant manners could not overcome. He frightened her.

A fortnight before the date of the wedding, John Mott introduced her to a seafaring companion, the exuberant and red-haired Jubal Wicklow. One week later Evelyn and Jubal eloped and in so doing made a fierce enemy of John Mott. Having seen in her vision what John meant to do, Evelyn convinced Jubal that they should leave immediately for the colonies. A month following their departure, John wed another young woman.

For once Evelyn believed the visions had been wrong. John had forgotten them. But now, on the tenth anniversary of her marriage to Jubal Wicklow, a duel would be fought. She did not enjoy seeing John Mott’s face so plainly in her mind. Indeed she could not shut it out as she prayed that once again what was destined would be postponed.

Jubal Wicklow embraced her. “You must not worry, love. No harm will come to me. Not to any of us. I promise you.”

“Jubal, my darling,” she whispered, wishing she could be reassured. “If it should, you must remember this: we will find one another again. That I can promise you.” Her soft, liquid eyes gazed deeply into his and then she kissed him long and lovingly. “For time, my darling, is only a moment after death.” Her voice softened. “I will wait for you, Jubal.”


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An Excerpt from Delilah’s Flame


Delilah’s Flame

Smiling, Delilah invited Tabor to a table and asked Fat Jack to send over the bottle of French wine she’d had delivered to the bar. One thing she had never been able to master was drinking the horrible whiskey these places served. While she waited, she gave Ta­bor, seated beside her, an analytical look. Rugged, he had a trace of arrogance only half-hidden in the gray eyes. That at least didn’t surprise her. His hair was black, a bit too long. Did that mean he couldn’t afford the price of a haircut? At least he was clean and smelled . . . rather nice.

The barkeep came and poured her wine. She eyed her companion more discreetly now: worn boots, gray cord pants, a black shirt and leather vest. The gunbelt and ivory-handled guns were probably the most ex­pensive items of his attire. He didn’t look as if he’d fared as well financially as his former companions. She saw a ray of hope. If Stanton had become just a drifter or cowhand, concocting a quick plan would be easy. She could be done with Tabor Stanton before she left Yuba City.

Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Won’t you join me?” she asked, signaling the barkeep to wait a moment.

“No, thank you. I’ll stay with whiskey.” Reluctantly the barkeep left, his gaze so intent on Delilah he backed into a customer and got splashed with beer.

Tabor’s eyes hovered on her too. With the grace and refinement of a duchess she sipped her wine. He could easily believe the talk that she was from down-in-the-pocket British aristocracy. As a naval officer he had spent time in England. Only the years of training genteel British girls received in the social arts could account for her elegant manners.

He couldn’t figure Delilah out. That diamond around her throat would keep a good-size estate running a couple of years. That she had so much tied up in the diamonds dispelled the theory she was in need. She was a riddle, all right, a beautiful, tempting one. A grin manifested itself on his lips as he recalled he had always liked a good riddle.

Thank you for stopping by to read an excerpt from Delilah’s Flame, an Historical Western Romance by Andrea Parnell

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DARK PRELUDE, an excerpt of the prequel to Dark Splendor

Dark Prelude (a prequel to my historical Gothic romance novel Dark Splendor) is free and is available at all major ebook  retailers.

Read Dark Prelude as a free download from Amazon Kindle Store.

Dark Prelude

There is a serpent in thy smile, my dear,
And bitter poison within thy tear.
—Shelley, The Cenci

Chapter 1

Shivering miserably, Silvia Bradstreet, clutched her heavy woolen cloak against the wind, her gloomy thoughts little better than the weather. Had she come to this? That she would freeze to death on the London streets? Winter held a formidable grip on the city, shutting out the sun with murky, grey clouds and the bitter pelting of a late snow that fell to the streets like a shower of brimstone to become dingy slush mottled by tracks of those unfortunate enough to be about in the treacherous weather.

The fierce wind bore a chilling moisture from the sea as it wailed between blackened buildings, sounding like the mournful cry of despairing souls. How foolish she had been not to defy Uncle Hollister. Lately he had grown impossible, his sober days largely outnumbered by the drunken ones. But to send her on a fool’s errand in such weather was demeaning and cruel.

Still, she had little choice.

At times her uncle flew into a scalding rage over the simplest matter and she had begun to fear for her safety. Today his attack of angry words had wounded her pride and brought a flood of tears to her eyes. “Curse me, Missy. I’ll be master of this house ’til my dying day and I’ll not have you trying to run it for me,” he had shouted and kicked a chair across the kitchen. “Left to you we would eat nothing but soup and stew! Now get to the butcher and buy the chops and have a dinner on the table this night that’ll fill a man’s belly! And don’t be forgetting your place again!”

With that he had taken the stewpot from the stove and tossed it into the street. She choked back a lump in her throat. No danger she would forget her place again. She had no place. Her once kindly uncle had turned caustic and she was little more than a maid to him.

She sighed ruefully, then set her jaw and trudged on. Lips, blue from the cold, curved into a deeper frown. She had a more immediate concern than Uncle Hollister’s abominable disposition— getting home before the cold claimed her. Because of her uncle’s poor credit, she had been forced to walk blocks farther to find a butcher they did not owe. Passing the docks, as she made her way home with the bundle, the wind roared colder and stronger, biting and stinging her face like a spray of icy needles.

Behind her a carriage rattled its way along the cobbled street, spinning dirty snow behind its wheels. Before she could jump aside, a splash of filthy wetness splattered her cloak. The carriage swept past while Silvia shook the snow from her garment. Almost instantly a stabbing cold pierced the damp fabric to sap the little remaining warmth in her body.

She could fight the chill no longer and drew into the narrow, secluded entry of a shipping company to escape the angry wind. A lantern mounted beside the door flickered haltingly in the dimness of the winter afternoon.

Silvia folded her arms across her chest. Still she shivered with cold. She thought dejectedly of her situation. There was no reasoning with Uncle Hollister. He would have his way and damn those who tried to deter him. She sighed dispiritedly, longing to reach the warmth of the kitchen. But the numbness of her feet and the thought of the rude welcome she would receive from Uncle Hollister kept her from hurrying back along the street.

Slumping against the wall in despair, Silvia brushed the snow from her lashes with the back of a dusky wool mitten. Her gaze lingered on a notice posted beside a window frame in the entryway. The lines blurred together until her eyes cleared.

Able bodied men and women wanted
Passage paid
Sailing date: the twentieth of March, in the year of our Lord, one thousand and fifty-one.

Dark Splendor, Gothic Historical Romance excerpt

Thank you for viewing an excerpt of Dark Splendor. I hope you enjoy this bit of adventure.

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Dark Splendor

There is a serpent in thy smile, my dear,

And bitter poison within thy tear.

—Shelley, The Cenci

Chapter One

 March 1751

Silvia Bradstreet stirred only slightly when the wooden door of her cabin creaked as it slowly opened.

She slept the heavy sleep born of exhaustion, and neither the pitching of the ship nor the shouts of deckhands, though loud enough to rattle the masts of the Eastwind, roused her. A hazy light split the darkness of the tiny compartment and disappeared beneath the shadows of two men who quietly entered.

Roman Toller roughly caught his brother by the arm and halted him in mid-step. A lump like a burning chunk of coal lodged in his throat as his eyes roamed over the figure of a young woman sleeping soundly in the bunk.

Her dark hair spilled over the contrasting whiteness of the pillow like tassels of black silk he had seen displayed in stalls in an Eastern market. Beneath the blanket her slender form rose softly with each slow breath. She lay curled like a kitten spent from its play.

“Bloody hell, Morgan,” he muttered. “What is this?”

“God’s pity, man, if you have to ask.” Morgan Toller’s lips curved into a teasing grin. “It’s a woman, plain and simple.”

“That I can see,” he growled. “But why is the wench sleeping in this cabin?” Roman’s lids half-closed and his nostrils flared as his eyes, cold as blue ice, met his brother’s.

Morgan stared at the pleasing curves of the lithe form beneath the blanket. His chest swelled with the fullness of a deep breath he exhaled softly. “The captain said we’d find a surprise below.”

“Aye. That he did,” Roman agreed. The beginnings of a smile quivered on the corners of his lips. “And I’ll admit I thought he meant a bottle of vintage wine.”

“We must be certain to thank Wilhelm for improving the stock on his ships,” Morgan said, looking wryly at Roman. “This trip may prove to be less bleak than I expected,” he added, followed by an easy chuckle.

“The old scoundrel is up to something, I’ll wager. Summoning us to the colonies with no explanation of the urgency.” Roman’s brows raised sardonically. “And this.”

“Let’s consider that he is seeing to our comfort,” Morgan chided lightly. “And this is a flower in the desert. Or on the ocean, as it seems.” He rubbed his hands together and his mouth curved into a half-grin. “The only problem as I see it is there is one woman and two of us.”

“I begin to see your point.” Roman landed a hard but playful blow to Morgan’s jaw. “Pull out a coin. We’ll toss for the first night with her.”

Morgan scowled and rubbed his jaw. “Find another outlet for your bad temper, man,” he railed. Still he reached into his pocket and withdrew a coin. “Call it,” he said jauntily, tossing the goldpiece into the air.

“Heads!” Roman snatched the spinning coin before it landed in Morgan’s waiting hand. “Heads. And you sleep alone,” he jeered, slapping the coin to his forearm and uncovering it for Morgan to see.

“Alone,” Morgan scoffed derisively, opening a silver flask of brandy and raising it to his lips. “Well, I’ll be off to my solitary cabin and misery.” He took a second swig from the flask and ceremoniously replaced the cap. A tight-lipped smile rested uncomfortably on his crestfallen face. “And you with a preference for redheads,” he remarked dryly.

“Aye. But with every moment I begin to like raven-haired beauties.” Roman’s chin jutted out stubbornly as he flashed a triumphant grin.

Morgan smiled. “I’ll leave you to your pleasure, Roman,” he chortled, and there was a taunting gleam in his eyes. “We’ll talk at dinner. If you have the strength.”

The fading ring of the Tollers’ voices, though certainly strong enough to break a normal sleep, were hollow echoes to Silvia, lost in the musing deepness of her dreams. The unwelcome sounds intruded as murky shadows in her slumbering thoughts. Stretched out beneath the verdant leafy awning of a tree, she watched milky white clouds float like fleecy ewes crossing an indigo field, while songbirds chirped a melodious note that lulled her even deeper in sleep.

Roman closed the door quietly behind Morgan and secured it with the bolt.

Silvia stirred faintly at the rasp of the lock catching. A dark intruder entered her dreams, a menacing shadow floating in a peaceful sky. She sighed aloud and curled up tighter.

Pausing when she turned her face toward him, Roman stood quietly, hardly daring to breathe, but her eyes remained shut. The innocence in her face surprised him and for a moment a pang of conscience bit at him. He whispered a curse. What reason did he have for remorse? Wilhelm Schlange solidly calculated every move he made. If the man had placed this woman at his disposal, why should he question that she did not look the part?

His eyes dwelt on the smoothness of her skin, fair and creamy white and with the soft luster of fine satin. Her rosy lips were parted a bit, as if set for a kiss, and the pouty fullness showed to a tempting advantage.

He exhaled slowly, letting the air whistle soundlessly through his teeth. She was beautiful. Her black lashes curled softly and were longer than any he had ever seen.

“A flower at sea,” he whispered, and lowered his frame to the chair near the bed. With growing urgency he removed his boots and stockings and rose to drape his coat and cloak over the back of the chair.

He caught his breath, feeling the thrill of arousal as he anticipated the touch of her tantalizing curves. Recklessly stripping away his silk shirt, he stood beside the bed wearing only his breeches. Feeling a surge of warmth in his flesh as passion flared within him, Roman carefully raised the blanket and silently eased into bed.

She wore only a simple chemise adorned on the bodice by tiny lavender bows. He groaned, and his fingers gently touched the streaming ribbons pressed like violets in the snow against the paleness of her breasts. Her body was warm to his touch and the delicate smoothness of her skin brought a lusting flame to his eyes.

Deep in sleep, Silvia responded with a sigh to the gentle stroking. While lost in her dreams, butterflies fluttered delicate wings about her face and neck. The caress of his lips at her throat and the nimble movements of his fingers in her hair were soft kisses of sunshine. She turned to him, her parted lips trembling beneath the rustle of his warm breath.

As she became aware of a shadowy image through closed eyes, her heavy lids reluctantly flickered open to reveal a face pressed close to her own. Just for a moment, as another lilting sigh sounded in her throat, did she know a trace of alarm. But sleep held her prisoner and his eyes were the blue of the sky in her dreams.

“Wake up, little flower,” he murmured, rolling closer so that the hardness of his chest pressed sensuously against the softness of her breast.

His voice was soothing, rich and deep and sweet to her ears. The face was dreamlike, fetchingly handsome, the nose straight and nostrils flared in passion, the cheekbones high, and the chin squared and strong. His flaxen hair was long and tied at the back of his neck with black cord. He had a provocative twist to his mouth and perhaps it was the small vestige of arrogance she detected there which disturbed her.

A subtle movement wrapped his arm about her shoulders and lifted her to him. With a gentleness that transcended his passion, he softly kissed her eyelids and watched them quiver fully open. Rimmed with the lushness of dark lashes, her eyes were golden like honey before they darkened with a pall of fear.

Her scream rent the stillness of the cabin. Perplexed, Roman cursed and silenced her by clamping his hand across her mouth. He frowned and shook his head as if to assure her his intentions were pleasurable and not painful. Possibly he should have awakened the girl before getting in bed. He had not counted on her shocked reaction.

“Quiet now?” he asked softly.

She shook her head in agreement beneath the pressure of his hands. Her pupils widened and her eyes became almost catlike, glowing yellow and angry.

Thinking her calmed, Roman withdrew his hand, but before he could affect one of the devastating smiles he used so well, she screamed again. He moved his hand as swiftly as a striking snake to cover her mouth, but this time she caught the side of it in her teeth. With all her might, she bit down.

“Bloody hell, woman,” he shouted, rolling roughly across her and jerking his hand away to examine it for signs of broken skin.

“Get off!” Silvia groaned as his weight crushed the breath from her lungs. She squirmed beneath him but his body held her tight. Frantically she pummeled his face and chest with the strongest punches she could inflict. All the same, her rampaging blows were useless in dislodging him. With a gasp, she swung her arm beside the bed and caught the top of her boot, flinging it furiously at his head. The wooden heel struck him in the temple, stunning him enough for her to shove him aside and jump from the bed.

“Swine!” she screamed, racing the few feet to the door. She would have fled the cabin in her chemise, but in such a panicky state, the workings of the bolt proved too much for her.

Dazed, Roman struggled to his feet, rubbing the swell of a knot on his brow.

“Keep your hands away!” she shouted, snatching up her other boot and holding it menacingly in front of her.

“Easy now.” Roman raised a hand defensively in front of him. “You’ve damn near taken my head off already,” he stammered incredulously.

The woman was a demon and he had suffered enough of her fury. A drop of blood trickled from the wound above his eye and ran a crooked path to his cheek. But as he wiped at it with his hand a quick smile ruffled his mouth and a look of consummate disbelief paled his blue eyes.

“Get out of my cabin,” she ordered, her eyes igniting in a wildfire of golden lights. Cautiously backing around the room to allow him passage through the door, she steadied her trembling legs against the wall. “Out,” she sobbed.

Roman backed toward the door, wanting no part of the other boot.

“You’re no flower, but a spiny thistle.” His tone cracked sharply. He had assumed he would be welcome in her bed, so his exasperation was painfully vexing. Roman found himself in the hall barefoot and shirtless and dared not knock for the return of his garments.

His pride gave him no protection from the cold and he faced the option of exposing himself to Morgan’s ridiculing gibes or chancing that Captain Langham’s cabin would be empty.

He stepped two paces away and paused to make a sidelong glance at the door. Irritably he made a small mocking bow toward the portal. As his head dipped in pretentious deferment, the hinges creaked rudely open and his garments flew like rubbish through the air to land in a grudging heap at his feet.

“And a good evening to you,” he called out in his mellow voice. His own ire had succumbed to humor, and with a conciliatory shrug to his broad shoulders, he gathered up his garb and stepped lightly to the captain’s quarters, where he clothed himself. A bottle of wine sat at liberty on the table, and when Langham came below a short time later, Roman had partaken of a good portion of it.

Shivering with a chill of fear, Silvia pushed the chair against the door. As soon as she was calmed and could dress, she would seek Captain Langham’s protection. Surely he would take measures to ensure her safety on the voyage.

Dark Prelude, a prequel to Dark Splendor, is available free at Amazon and other ebook retailers.