I thought I had scheduled blog posts for last week, but it looks like I didn't. Oops? In any case, I'm starting off this week with a Blog Hop! This hop is huge, folks, so be sure to click over to check out the 261 other participants. That's a grand total of 262 participants and 262 prizes up for grabs. Check it out at http://thebloghopspot.com/event-page/.
I'm giving away a copy of my fantasy romance novel Ring of Darkness from Noble Romance. I wrote a post about how this book came about here, so check it out if you like. Below is an excerpt.
To enter the contest to win a copy of the book, just leave a comment below before the end of the day on February 14th. I'll draw from the entries and contact the winner no later than Friday of this week.
Some info about the book:
Brienda is upset at this turn of events, but she comes to believe it is part of a larger plan and the God-Mother has put her in this place to bring not only peace but a restoration of balance to the ancient powers of her world. She is right, and, in the end, the larger plan will demand more from her than she ever thought she could give--including Tamalor.
EXCERPT: Ring of Darkness
Finally bathed, dressed, and ready for dinner, Brienda stood in front of her long mirror, appraising her appearance.
The dress seemed immodest at best, but Brienda knew the show of décolletage was fashionable. The blue flattered her, she supposed, as did the blue ribbons Liara had braided into her flyaway, blonde hair.
Too many freckles, she thought, all over her face and her breasts. Then she wondered why her freckles bothered her. She didn’t know what she should be feeling. Her emotions were in such a jumble she couldn’t pin down any of them. She only knew she didn’t want to cry.
"Do I look all right?" she asked Liara. She felt so pale as to be nearly nonexistent, merely a blue dress encasing nothing.
"You look lovely, Milady. Here, let me put some color on your cheeks."
The rouge covered some of the freckles, but seemed garish to Brienda. Liara also supplied tints for Brienda’s lips and eyelids. When she had finished, Brienda felt even more unreal, as if the makeup and fine clothes were all that was left of her.
"There," Liara said, admiring her handiwork. "The Lord Callista will be enchanted."
Was this what would enchant the Lord Callista? A pretty dress and a painted face? Or perhaps he didn’t care about her appearance at all, but only about ending the war with Grammale. Her lips trembled; apparently, she was going to cry whether she wanted to or not.
"Don’t be nervous," Liara told her. "You’ll be fine."
She wasn’t nervous. She was terrified. Nevertheless, when her father came to fetch her, she drew herself up tall and refused the arm he held out for her.
"Lord Tamalor won’t appreciate defiance," Baradan said in a low voice.
Brienda didn’t answer. If doing everything she could to maintain her sanity constituted defiance, then so be it.
They turned the corner, heading toward the Hall. "You do look lovely, though."
"Thank you, Father," she said coolly.
They fell silent. Brienda barely noticed. She wished she had her prayer beads, but had no way of carrying them in the extravagant dress. The prayers calmed her as she recited them in her head, but she was losing count of the number of repetitions without the beads.
As they neared the hall, Baradan grasped her shoulder. "Don’t disgrace me," he said.
Brienda gave him a bitter smile. She had no intention of disgracing anyone.
The hall was full already, the long tables lined with people. Even the dogs, hovering among the dried rushes on the floor, seemed expectant. Baradan led Brienda to the seat next to his. On the other side of the table sat three empty chairs.
"They’re not here yet," Baradan explained, a grin twitching at his lips. "Apparently the Lord Callista ripped his trousers."
Surprised and more than a little amused, Brienda fought back a smile of her own. "I hope he had an extra pair."
Baradan laughed. "The thought of marrying you must have overly excited him."
Brienda’s smile died. Trust her father to find lewdness in everything. He hadn’t even been able to make the trip back from the temple without taking serving girls to bed at every inn, often in groups. Several had looked younger than Brienda. She’d been grateful he’d made allowances for her to have a separate room wherever they stopped, though even that hadn’t shielded her from the noise.
He leered happily at the girl who refilled his glass. She acknowledged his look with a smile before turning politely to Brienda. "Wine?"
Brienda nodded. The girl filled her glass. Tasting it, Brienda barely registered the fruity aroma and rich flavor, but the warming effects of the alcohol steadied her.
"Why didn’t you tell me the wedding was in a week?" she asked Baradan quietly.
"I thought you had enough to think about." He still watched the door to the hall. His mouth twitched. "Here he is."
Her heart beating far too quickly, Brenda looked toward the door. Three men had entered the hall. Two wore plain brown soldiers’ uniforms, while the third was unmistakably Lord Callista. She recognized him from the scrying bowl. The realization unnerved her.
Tall, broad, and dark, her future husband wore a black doublet and trousers, black boots of fine leather. A heavy gold signet ring decorated his right thumb.
Carefully, her hand shaking on the wineglass she’d just set down, Brienda looked at his face. Among the fair men of Grammale, he was striking. His skin was nut-brown, his long, black hair tied back with a simple, black cord. He had a long, straight nose and a full lower lip. Amidst the darkness, his eyes were startlingly blue. He looked across the room, saw Baradan, and smiled. Brienda felt a little weak. She set her glass down and was surprised to find it half-empty.
Baradan stood as Tamalor approached, sketching a brief bow, which Tamalor returned.
"Lord Grammale," Tamalor said. "A pleasure to see you again."
Brienda averted her eyes. Tamalor’s voice was deep but gentle, with a clipped accent that made him sound as if he were talking too fast.
"Yes," Baradan answered. He cleared his throat. Tamalor had politely avoided looking at Brienda. "This is my daughter, Brienda."
The introduction gave Tamalor leave to address his bride-to-be. "Milady," he said. He looked directly into her eyes and smiled, putting out his hand. "You look lovely, if I may say so."
Brienda laid her hand in his. His palm was rough with calluses. This close, she could smell him, the odor faint and musky. She trembled as his lips touched her hand. He was a strange and alien creature, something she’d never thought she would have to become acquainted with.
She withdrew her hand as he straightened. The reality of what would happen to her had suddenly struck. Those big, rough hands would touch her. He would invade her with his body and change her forever. There would be no rescue—of that she was suddenly certain. But how could she possibly bear it?
She couldn’t eat the extravagant dinner. The roast quail, one of her favorite dishes, stuck in her throat. Lord Callista and her father spoke of treaties and battles and debated points of horsemanship. Brienda fought back tears and drank too much wine. Her gaze kept wandering to Tamalor, wondering how much he would hurt her. Wondering what it would be like to be separated from the God-Mother forever.
Catching one of Brienda’s surreptitious glances, Tamalor smiled at her. The smile made small lines appear at the corners of his mouth and eyes. His mouth was gentle, not hard like her father’s. She couldn’t stand to hold his gaze. She took another sip of wine, and her head spun.
"Father," she whispered.
Absorbed in conversation with Tamalor, he didn’t answer. Brienda tugged at his sleeve. "Father, I need to leave."
He turned toward her, his mouth a thin line. "You’ll stay until you’re excused."
"Father, I don’t feel well." She tried to keep her voice low, but desperation leaked into it. Tamalor leaned toward her.
"Is something wrong?"
"It’s nothing," Baradan shot back. He turned back to Brienda. "You’ll stay until I say you can leave."
"Then I would suggest you let me leave before I vomit all over the table. I don’t think that would make a good impression on the Lord Callista." She managed to keep her voice low, but inside she was fuming.
Over Baradan’s shoulder, Tamalor said, "Milady, you don’t look well. Perhaps you’re in need of rest?"
Baradan’s eyes flashed angrily at Brienda before he turned back to Tamalor. "Perhaps you’re right," he said, as if it had all been his idea. "I’ll send for Liara."
"Thank you," Brienda said, trying to sound grateful and failing miserably.
Liara came promptly. Relieved, Brienda took her hand and let the older woman help her from her chair. Tamalor stood as Brienda did.
"I hope it’s not serious," he said. The mild, accented voice carried genuine concern.
"I’ll be fine," she assured him in a quavering voice. "It was a long trip. I only need to rest." She couldn’t look at him. Maybe later she could try again. She’d have to look at him sometime, she supposed.
"Well, then." He lifted his hand, and, for a moment, she was afraid he would touch her. But he only turned the hand slightly and lowered it again. "Sleep well."
"Thank you." She should say something else, she thought, and stammered, "You, too." Shakily, she took Liara’s hand and let herself be led to her rooms.
Liara looked concerned. "You didn’t eat very much."
"I wasn’t hungry. I need to sleep. I’m exhausted. They shouldn’t have made me do this. Can you—" She stopped. Tears rose in a great lump in her throat, stinging her eyes, blinding and choking her. She swallowed hard. "Leave me, please."
Liara departed quietly. Brienda crumpled to the bed and wept.