Lovers & Legends Series

Book cover for The Knight's Broken Promise

The Highland Laird's Bride

Publication: June 2016 by Harlequin Historical
ISBN13: 9780373307395

At the gates of a Scottish keep...

Lioslath of Clan Fergusson has defended her clan and her orphaned siblings against countless enemies. So when Laird Colquhoun, the man responsible for the death of her father, arrives at the gates of her crumbling keep, she’ll fight him all the way!

It’s soon clear Bram’s famed tactics of seduction and negotiation won’t work on this guarded, beautiful woman. But when the sparks between them turn to passion, and they’re forced to wed, Bram must do whatever it takes to win over his new bride…

Available from:

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Read an excerpt

Chapter One

Scotland — 1296

‘You were expecting me.’

Lioslath of Clan Fergusson stopped pacing the darkness of her bedroom and adjusted the knife in her hand. From years of training, she knew simply on the utterance of his four words where Bram, Laird Colquhoun, stood in the room, and the precise location of his beating heart.

She knew it, even though her back was to him and she’d been caught pacing. Defenceless. Or so he thought.

The laird was right; she had been expecting him. Expecting him as one views a storm on the horizon. Ever since he and his clansmen, like black clouds, crested a nearby hill. Since he alerted her young brothers, who raced to the keep, giving them precious moments to lock the gates. All the while the storm of Laird Colquhoun and his clansmen gathered strength and lined up outside the keep with arrows and swords like lightning about to strike.

But they hadn’t struck. And it had been almost a month. Which meant weeks of her climbing the haphazardly rebuilt platform to look over the gates; weeks of hearing the Colquhoun men below her even before she climbed the rickety steps.

It had been almost a month, and still they didn’t strike. Although she barred the gates, though the villagers shunned him, Laird Colquhoun hadn’t struck like the harshest of Scottish storms. Rather, he and his clansmen enclosed the keep. Surrounded, she felt choked by his stormy presence, suffocated by the battering wait.

But this morning, she knew the wait was over when she spied the carefully placed food at the outside entrance of the secret passage. Her captor had discovered her tunnel. She knew, despite the fact she locked the gates, the storm would get inside.

When he hadn’t come during the day, Lioslath expected Bram of Clan Colquhoun this night. She was no fool.

But she hadn’t been expecting his voice. Deep, melodious, a tenor that sent an immediate awareness skittering up the backs of her legs and wrapping warmth around her centre.

So she didn’t immediately turn to see him, even though a man was in her bedroom. Forbidden and unwanted. She didn’t pretend maidenly outrage as she had carefully planned, to provide a necessary distraction and give her an advantage before her attack.

It was his voice. It was...unexpected.

It didn’t fit here, in the dark, in the intimacy of her bedroom. It didn’t fit with what she’d seen of him so far.

Arrogant, proud, superior, Bram rode through her broken village to her weather-worn gates thinking himself a welcome benefactor with his carts of overstocked gifts. Or worse, as laird of the keep bestowing treasures to his people.

Since Laird Colquhoun began the siege, he’d been an abrasive force, from his vibrant red hair to the length of his strides as he walked amongst his men. His voice booming orders; his demands to open the gates. His constant laughter. Everything about him she instinctively rejected.

But not now.

Now his voice reverberated with some power, some seductive tone she’d never heard before. She felt his voice. And it shouldn’t have felt like this. Not to her. She calmed her wavering heart.

Never to her.

Allowing the cool night air into her lungs, she turned and immediately wished she stood elsewhere.

The full moon cast light through the window and holes in the roof, but his back was to the light and Bram remained in darkness.

She knew the darkness would give his voice an advantage. She adjusted the knife, careful to keep it close and ready. Her plan might have changed, but not her intent. Bram of Clan Colquhoun was expected, but he was not wanted. He had arrived too late for that.

‘Get out,’ she said, without menace. Dog hid in a corner. She needed not to alert him to her tumultuous feelings; she needed to remain calm and keep to their routine. For years they’d hunted together. Dog knew what the knife in her hand meant: for him to lie in wait for her signal—and surprise their prey. ‘Get out of my room and away from the keep. Weren’t the closed gates and the hurtled dung enough deterrent? Leave, Laird Colquhoun. You never should have come.’

*   *   *

Bram could only stare.

Weeks of being barred entrance to the keep of Clan Fergusson, of wasting time while determining the layout of the keep and the village. Of glimpsing the woman who, without schedule, would appear at the top of the gates. Visible, but never near enough to truly see her.

But now, as shafts of moonlight illuminated her form, he did see her. It was as if the night created another star. One brighter than those poised in the sky above this tiny room.

He glanced around. A single bed, a small table at the opposite wall. Something large, like a trunk, in the dark corner nearest her. A simple room and too meagre for her beauty, but at least they were alone.

‘You were expecting me,’ Bram repeated, now realising the meaning of finding this woman fully dressed and pacing. ‘You received my gift this morning. You observed us today. You knew I was coming.’

‘Your gift?’

‘The deer and vegetables by the entrance,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know if you would take them.’

She frowned, a darkness marring her eyes.

He knew she’d been stealing their food for the past week. Until yesterday, he hadn’t known how. When he discovered the tunnel, he knew he had to let her know his intentions. So this morning, he placed the food at the entrance. He only meant it as part of his negotiations.

But now he knew, instantly, he failed.

‘You didn’t want to take them,’ he answered for her. He was a master at diplomacy, but his gift hadn’t softened her towards him. She locked the gates against him and his clansmen. The food was only a reminder.

‘Why aren’t you leaving?’ she said instead.

Because what he came to do wasn’t done. He had to be here. Tonight. While he’d been waiting for the gates to open, danger came to his clan. His duty as laird necessitated he end this stalemate, but it wasn’t duty he thought of now.

Lioslath’s short black hair curled and spiked defiantly. It highlighted her sharp cheekbones and softly angled chin. Her skin was pale in the moonlight, and it emphasised the size and brightness of her eyes. And the colour...

They were blue, intense and startling against the blackness of her hair and thick eyelashes. It was as if under her finely arched brows shone the brightest of summer skies.

In the moonlight, he couldn’t fully see the outline of her body, but he didn’t need to now. Every time she stood on the platform, the wind plastered her paltry clothing to curves that made beggars of men. Including himself.

His reaction to her wasn’t in the plan he and his brothers devised: for him to make amends to the Fergussons, to wait out the winter and to hide from a certain English king.

A complicated plan made simple by the fact that all of it could be done on Fergusson land and that Lioslath needed to know only one of those reasons for his being here. The one he explained in the letter he wrote last April. To remedy the wrongs that had been done to her clan and family by lending aid and comfort to the Fergussons’ orphaned children.

After all, he’d tried to ally the Colquhoun clan with theirs, when he had married his sister Gaira to Fergussons’ laird and Lioslath’s father. When Gaira had refused such a marriage and fled to their sister at Doonhill, Lioslath’s father had been killed.

Unfortunately, the Battle of Dunbar had delayed Bram’s arrival by summer. It would soon be winter, and his intent to help this clan would prove more difficult. Yet he was here now.

Here, now, and in her room. It had been a simple act to arrive here by a cleverly hidden passage. He’d been surprised the tunnel led to under her bedroom. When he found her here, he’d been pleased. After the political and personal turmoil of the past year, his brothers’ fateful arrival and portentous messages, he needed something to be simple.

But there was nothing simple about Lioslath. A woman who was created as if the moon and sun deemed her beauty worthy of them both. Had he known the quality, the sheer magnificence of her beauty, he would have breached the weak defences a fortnight ago. Any man would have.

He cursed himself at his use of reasonable diplomacy. The food he tried offering failed because he’d been laying siege to a decrepit keep instead of laying siege to the beautiful female inside.

Suddenly, everything became clear to him on how easy it would be to get her cooperation. And he needed her cooperation if his plan to remain here for the winter were to work.

‘You want me to leave? After all, we need to…negotiate. This is your first meeting with Laird Colquhoun,’ he said. Self-assured, he knew who he was, what his power meant to any lass. ‘You couldn’t desire this to be so brief.’

She was beautiful and probably used to men and flirting. He’d been a fool to stay outside the gates. A fool thinking not to frighten the children and families with force. All he had to do was to coax, to flirt, to please.

‘Brief? I desire—’ she put emphasis on the word ‘—for it not to happen at all.’

He liked the word ‘desire’ coming from her mouth. He liked the shape of her full lower lip, the deep dip on her upper one. Her lips were shaped like a bow, as if an angel had pressed its fingers there to keep a secret.

‘But it has.’ He shrugged, pretending a nonchalance his body didn’t feel. ‘I’m here to get past our introduction. You are Lioslath, after all,’ he murmured. ‘The eldest daughter?’ He’d introduced himself when he came to the gates, but she hadn’t. Maybe some sense of propriety was needed, even here, in her bedroom.

In her bedroom, where she stood waiting for him. His anticipation tightened. Maybe she knew this game as well as he.

Her frown increased. ‘You came to this room not knowing who I am?’

Satisfaction coursed through him. She did know the game. She was coyly, if not suggestively, asking him to guess who she was. Flirting would be easier than he thought.

‘I know exactly who you are.’ He stepped towards her as she held still. The room was small; it wouldn’t take much to be right against her. ‘The lass I will soon kiss.’

Her lips parted as her brows drew in. She shook her head once as if answering a question inside.

Did she think he wouldn’t kiss her? Then she didn’t know him very well. Another regret for his delay. She would soon learn that he kept his word.

‘I am not fond of jests,’ she said. ‘Nor those who try my patience.’

She stepped outside the shafts of light and he felt the loss of vision. He might be within the gates now, but she continued to bar him with her sparring words. A game she clearly played well.

But it was late, and although he was known for his game playing, he knew when to steal forward, especially when he had the advantage. She was a woman, after all. He always knew how to get his way with women. She would be no different.

‘Come now, enough of this game,’ he said. ‘It is night and we are alone. Isn’t there something else you’d rather play?’

Play? Games?

Lioslath didn’t understand this man.

At first she blamed the lateness of the night, the way his voice seemed to reach into her. Blamed her continual hunger and thirst for her addled mind. She knew she was addled, because when he mentioned game, her mouth watered with the wanting of succulent meat. But that wasn’t the type of game he meant.

‘I never play games.’ She found the very word offensive.

He waved and she followed the gesture. His hands were finely tapered, with a strength and eloquence that was as unexpected as his voice.

‘Come, I’ve seen this ploy before,’ he said. ‘In the past, it has made the reward sweet. But we have waited long enough, love. Trust that my willingness to participate in this game you play could not be any truer.’

Was this man flirting with her? Since childhood, and until only recently, she’d been ignored. She slept in stable lofts and no man flirted with her. Ever. They wouldn’t dare.

No, it couldn’t be flirting. It was merely his abrasive ease with words, with manners, with everything. A man who thought himself charming as he used words like ‘lass’ and ‘love’.

He didn’t charm her, yet he didn’t seem to be leaving. She had a choice to make. The knife or Dog? It was late, a knife would make a mess she’d have to clean and she needed her sleep.

‘You need to leave now,’ she ordered.

With a wave of her hand, Dog rose. Bram’s eyes widened, not with fear, but with surprise.

‘That’s a dog? I thought it was a trunk.’ His grin changed. ‘Hardly welcoming having a—is that a wolf?—in your room, since you were expecting me.’

He took his eyes off Dog, which was foolish, or arrogant.

It didn’t matter. His time with her was over. It had gone on too long. She blamed her hunger, his voice, the fine movement of his hands. She blamed him for everything. It was time to remind him of it.

‘Aye, I was expecting you,’ she said, with as much scorn as she could paint the words. ‘Expecting as one does a plague, or a pestilence. And I welcome you just as much.’ She shifted her stance, getting ready to throw the dagger. ‘You need to leave. I’ve warned you.’

‘We haven’t begun, Lioslath. Why would I leave?’

He was arrogant. Vibrant. Too full of life. She made another signal and Dog, with a noise deep in his throat, came to her heels.

The sound always raised the hairs on her neck and she had no doubt it did the same to Bram. But he did not take his eyes from hers, did not see Dog as a threat, and so he forced her hand.

‘You need to leave because I was expecting you, Bram, Laird of Colquhoun.’ Lioslath stepped into the light, lifted the dagger, made sure it glinted so he’d know what she intended. ‘But I do not think you were expecting me.’

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Book cover for The Knight's Broken Promise

Her Enemy Highlander

Publication: 1 September 2015 by Harlequin Historical
ISBN13: 9780373307227

In the wilds of Scotland...

Impulsive Mairead Buchanan’s only goal is to track down the man responsible for her brother’s death. Until a shameful encounter with Caird of enemy clan Colquhoun proves a distraction she can’t ignore...

Nothing could prepare Mairead for the path she’s thrown onto when the secrets of a jeweled dagger are revealed and she finds herself kidnapped by this sexy highlander! With Mairead’s recklessness a perfect foil to Caird’s cool command, can these two enemies set their clans’ differences aside and surrender to the desire that rages between them?

Available from:

- Harlequin
- Amazon
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Read an excerpt

Chapter One

Scotland—September 1296

Mairead Buchanan tried to calm her heart and failed. She didn’t even know why she tried. She knew it wasn’t possible. It had been pounding like this for over a fortnight and now it was only worse. Inside her thumping heart, grief clawed sharp.

But she didn’t have time for grief, didn’t have time to be reasonable, or to think. She was about to break; she just needed to do.

This nightmare had to end. And here, tonight, where she stood observing the shadows of a disreputable inn and freezing in the night’s damp cold, it would.

The candles on the inn’s ground floor were finally extinguished. The windows were black; the main shutters were closed. Not even a woman laughing in the distance marred the soft rustling of the night breeze. It was late; it was time.

Yet even now she fought what she had to do. Even now, she wanted to shake herself, to run in circles like a madwoman trying to escape what she had seen, what she had done. What she could not ever repair. Her brother, Ailbert, collapsing to the ground. His eyes going vacant, losing their sight. She clenched her eyes shut. Grief clawed. She clawed back.

It wouldn’t do to think of Ailbert now. Her anger or her pain. She must still her heart and retrieve what was stolen from him. It was the only way to save her family from Ailbert’s recklessness. If she didn’t retrieve the priceless dagger, the laird would certainly punish her family.

Scotland was being ravaged by war and conflict. Her mother and sisters would never survive the humiliation or the certain banishment from the clan. Without the clan, there was nothing to protect them from the English. They had nowhere else to go. No other family to turn to.

For her family’s sake, she followed Ailbert’s murderer to the inn. The man had actually paid for a room. Had probably eaten his fill and was now sleeping soundly. Ordinary actions her brother would never do again. Fury swamped Mairead’s grief and she welcomed it. Grief and desperation consumed her, but only anger would get her through this night.

Looking over her shoulder and into the gloom of the evening, she took a big breath. There was no one behind her and she had had enough of waiting.

Silencing her breath, she opened the door and let herself in. It was darker than she imagined; the shadows blanketed furniture and walls. It was unnaturally quiet and she concentrated on the sounds she could hear. The hammering of her heart, the air as it left her body, the creak of the boards as the night wind buffeted the old building.

Nothing else.

Swiftly and nimbly, she weaved through the benches and trestles on her way to the stairs. She wasn’t certain which room the murderer occupied, but she’d give herself no more than an hour to search the rooms for the stolen dagger. Any more time and travellers would be likely to stir.

She had to have—no, needed that dagger. She’d lie and steal if she had to. She’d even go into strangers’ rooms and risk her life. The dagger’s large handle was made of finely decorated polished silver and was inset with two rubies. If she could sell it, like Ailbert had intended, the debt he’d incurred could be repaid. Everything would not be lost by his reckless gambling and then, only then, could she grieve.

Walking down the small hallway, she stopped at the first door and eased the heavy iron latch open, only to find the room empty. Gently closing the door, she peered over her shoulder. She was alone.

Mairead crept to the next room and winced as the door clicked loudly. A narrow window on the opposite wall provided the light needed to illuminate an occupied bed.

From the size and shape of the lump, it looked to be a man. Her brother’s murderer was large and this man looked large, but she couldn’t tell whether the bed linens gave him the breadth or if it was the man himself.

Reminding herself she needed the bed occupied, she released her breath and entered the room. Clothes were strewn over a stool at the foot of the bed. A pair of boots sat nearby. Perhaps the dagger was here. Grateful that the floorboards did not squeak, she knelt on the floor.

The dim embers in the fireplace provided little light, but the unshuttered window gave plenty. His clothing consisted of a cloak, braies, dark leggings, a whitish tunic, boots and a pouch.

The man in the bed was naked.

The bed creaked as the man shifted and gave out a heavy breath. Mairead tensed, ready to run, until he stilled.

Her heart wasn’t so accommodating and continued to hammer in her chest. Trying to steady her nerves, she continued her search, but her fingers trembled as she felt along his boots. There was no dagger placed deep in the feet. Careful of the attached belt, she pulled the pouch off the stool and on to her lap. A slight jangle of coins made her jump, but the man remained still. The bed linens continued to rise and fall with each steady breath.

Not bothering to open the pouch, she felt along the fine leather. No dagger. She felt the tunic, the braies and the thin leather leggings. Nothing. That left the cloak.

Gathering it in both hands, she was instantly aware of the fine soft wool. Never having felt such a cloth before she reveled in its feel as she pulled on the immense amount of fabric. The stool upended, and she made a grab for it. Too late. It fell with a dull thud to the floor. The man’s deep breathing stopped abruptly.

She froze.

‘Who’s there?’

His rough voice commanded the little room. She didn’t answer. Maybe it was too dark for him to see. Maybe if she didn’t make a noise he’d go back to sleep.

The man rose in a half incline. Though she willed her body to remain still, slight tremors began in her legs and arms. If possible, her breathing grew louder.

The bed linens did not make him look large. He was large. His chest was bare of any ornament. She could not see the texture of his skin, but could see the ripples and curves of deeply embedded muscles coursing from his wide shoulders down his arms. His long loose hair gave his dark face a wild and untamed look. The rest of him was partially concealed by the bed linens, but not the glint of steel he held in his hand. This was a man who slept with weapons.

‘If you...think I cannot see you, you forget you sit within the light of the window.’

This was not the murderer. His voice was too calmly masculine, too reverberating, too...slurred. He was drunk!

Relief skittered through her. Thinking only of slow responses from a drunken man, she leapt for the door.

Her eyes did not register the blade flying past her arm. But she heard the sharp slice it made in the oak door, mere inches from her outstretched hand.

Chapter Two

Mairead’s hand froze along with the rest of her body. But her eyes blinked rapidly as she tried to focus and comprehend.

Had he thrown a dagger towards her? She peered closer. It was only a small boot blade, and not the dagger she wanted.

What kind of man slept with a small blade and a sword in his bed? Her hand could have been cut, or worse, sliced in two!

She whirled around. ‘How could you throw a dagger at me?’

‘You’re a woman?’

‘Ach, of course I’m a woman. Even in this dim light you must see I’m wearing a gown!’

He made a noise, somewhere between a huff and a groan, as he shoved the linens away and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

He was not just a large man, he was huge. He carried his sword loosely at his side. She didn’t care about his sword. She cared about his nakedness walking towards her.

‘Who are you?’ he demanded.

The dim light wasn’t going to hide him much longer. She could not only see the size and shape of him, but also—

He was magnificent. Just stunning. It was as if he reinterpreted everything she’d ever known about the opposite sex. There wasn’t a Buchanan man built like him. She didn’t even know men were made like this.

She couldn’t tell the colour of his hair or eyes, but the light did not hide the hard slant of sharp cheekbones, the bold line of a straight nose. And lips beautifully curved, shaped full underneath.

Her eyes didn’t want to blink. Her chest felt light and constricted at the same time. Her breath came in short gasps. Was she going to actually giggle?

He walked nearer. He was naked. Utterly naked.

Revealed to her were the defined curves of powerful shoulders and arms, the very masculine breadth of his chest, the fluid movement of muscles tapering slightly to a rippled stomach.

She should have turned away, but she couldn’t. Maybe it was the darkness making her bold. Maybe it was her impulsiveness, a trait her mother lamented, stopping any maidenly blushing. Or maybe she looked because she couldn’t help herself. Aye, that was it.

Her eyes dropped lower.

Her mouth became dry, her lips parched. Fearing her mouth hung open, she licked her lips, only to feel the moisture evaporate like all the thoughts in her head. Her legs suddenly felt like tall reeds of grass swaying in the wind. Try as she might, she could not lock her knees.

He growled, low, almost a purr except for the fact it was so masculine. So predatory. She didn’t know how to interpret the sound and couldn’t seem to look to his eyes for any help.

“Do you like what you see?’ He set the sword against the bed. Her eyes thankfully followed the movement. But averting her eyes did not give her balance and she looked back up.

“I like what I see.’ His eyes were too intense, too penetrating and held her immobile. ‘I like what I see very much.’

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Book cover for The Knight's Broken Promise

The Knight's Broken Promise

Publication: February 2015 by Harlequin Historical
ISBN13: 9780373307081

Black Robert. The most feared of all King Edward's men....

When an English knight approaches the charred ruins of her sister’s Scottish village, Gaira of Clan Colquhoun knows better than to trust this fierce-looking man. Yet, struggling to set her war-shaken world to rights, she has little choice.

Robert of Dent will see her to safety. He can promise nothing more. Never again will he make a vow like the one he broke years ago, even though Gaira’s fierce resilience makes him long to protect her.

But what will happen when Gaira discovers exactly who Robert is?

Available from:

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Read an excerpt

Chapter One

Scotland—April 1296

‘Faster, you courageous, knock-kneed, light-footed bag of bones!’ Gaira of Clan Colquhoun hugged lower on the stolen horse.

How much time did she have before her betrothed or her brothers realised in which direction she had fled? Two days, maybe three? Barely enough time to get to the safety of her sister’s home.

She couldn’t push the horse any faster. Already its flanks held a film of sweat and its breath came in heavy pants with each rapid pound of its hooves. Each breath she took matched the same frantic rhythm.

There it was! Just up the last hill and she would be safe. Safe. And there would be food, rest and the vast warmth of her sister’s comfort and counsel.

She turned her head. There was no sign of pursuit. Her heart released its fierce grip and she eased up on the reins.

‘We made it. Just a bit more and you can eat every last grain I can beg from Irvette.’

She smelled the fire before she crested the hill. The stench was a mixture of blackened smoke, heat, dried grass and rotting cow. The horse sidestepped and flicked its head, but she kept its nose forward until she reached the top.

Then she saw the horror in the valley below. Reeling, she fell upon the horse’s neck and slid down the saddle. Her left ankle twisted underneath her as it took the brunt of her descent. She didn’t feel the pain as she heaved her breakfast of oatcakes and water.

When she was emptied, she felt dry dirt under her hands, crunching grass under her knees. Her horse was no longer by her side.

She stood, took a deep breath and coughed. It wasn’t rotting cow she smelled, but burnt hair and charred human flesh.

The stench was all that remained of her sister’s village. The many crofters’ huts resembled giant empty and blackened ribcages. There were no roofs, no sides, just burnt frames glowing with the fire still consuming them.

The entire valley looked as if a huge flaming boulder had crashed through the kindling-like huts. Large twisted and gnarled swirls of black heat and smoke rose and faded into the morning sky.

She could no longer hear anything. There were no birds chirping, no rustling of tall grass or trees and no buzzing insects. All of Scotland’s sounds were sucked out of the air.

Her heart and lungs collapsed. Irvette. Her sister. Maybe she wasn’t down there. She wouldn’t think. Pushing herself forward, she stumbled as her ankle gave way. It would be useless for the sloped descent.

She looked over her shoulder. Her horse skittered at the base of the hill. He was spooked by the heat and smells; she could call, but he would not come.

Bending to her hands and knees, she crawled backward down to the meandering valley. Blasts of heat carried by the wind ruffled up her tunic and hose. She coughed as the smoke curled around her face. When she reached the bottom, she straightened and took off the brown hat upon her head to cover her mouth.

Her eyes scanned the area as she tried to comprehend, tried to understand what she saw. Thatch, planks of wood and furniture were strewn across the path between the huts and so were the villagers: men, women, dogs and children.

Nothing moved.

They were freshly made kills of hacked and charred bodies. The path was pounded by many horses’ hooves, but there weren’t any horses or pigs or even chickens.

Dragging her left foot through the ashes behind her, she stumbled through the burning village, which curved with the valley.

At the dead end of the devastation, the last of the crofters’ huts stood. More intact than the others, it was still badly scarred by the flames and its roof hung limply with pieces falling to the ground.

Near the doorway, she looked at the two burned and face down bodies of a man and a woman. The man was no more than a husk of burnt flesh with his head severed from his body.

But it was the woman’s she recognised: the flame-coloured hair burnt at the tips and the creamcoloured gown smeared with dirt. Blood spread along the gown in varying flows from the two deep sword-thrusts in the stomach. Irvette.

Her world twisted, sharpened. She suddenly heard the popping and hiss of water, the crash of brittle wood splintering into ashy dust and a high keening sound, which increased in volume until she realised the sound came from her.

She stopped, gathered her breath and then she heard it: a whisper, a cry, fragile and high-pitched.

She quickly limped into the hut and weaved before crashing to her knees.

‘Snakes and boars,’ she whispered. ‘Thank God, you’re alive.’

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Meet Nicole

A colour photo of Nicole Locke.

Nicole discovered her first romance novel in a closet, where her grandmother, the godmother in the romance black market, was hiding hundreds. Knowing her grandmother wouldn’t approve, Nicole hid in the closet to read them. It was only a matter of time before she was found out and given an offer she couldn’t refuse: enjoy them, but out in the living room please. Oh, and if she could go to the store and get a few more.... A few more? Nicole got two jobs.

Inexplicably, Nicole stopped reading romances (she blames her handsome university English professor, who she was trying and failing to impress). So she didn’t discover them again until, at work, where another black market book swap occurred. Instead of swapping for another forgettable book, Nicole chose a romance (which she still reads).

Needless to say, she didn’t return to work (good thing it was after 5:00 pm) and she didn’t immediately return home either. At that moment, she insists Etta James was singing “At Last”. It was only natural she’d start writing romances as well.

Currently, she lives in London with her two completely opposite children, who if not for their birth certificates and their red hair, she’d argue they weren’t related, and her husband, who if not for his red hair, would have returned them.

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