Today my special guest is Abby Wood, who’s just released her eighth thirteenth thirty-seventh most recent book this week at Loose Id. Didja Know…? is a novel-length paranormal menage you don’t want to miss. Didja Know she’s giving away a free copy today? Just leave a comment and your name goes in the hat!
There’s an excerpt below, or you can buy it here. But first, ladies and gentlemen… Abby Wood!
Abby: Thanks for having me here today, Fiona. Be gentle….I’m shy. 🙂
Fiona: *snort!* No you’re not 🙂
Anyway, since I’ve been wandering around with publishing folks, I’ve found that lots of writers are creative in other ways, too. I know one who’s a professional symphony musician, another writer friend of mine was a professional ballet dancer, and I know lots of visual artists and graphic designers. But even those who aren’t professional performers often do things like knit or decorate cakes or grow prise-winning zombie cabbages. If you weren’t so busy writing, what other creative thing would you do instead?
Abby: Interesting question. Besides writing, my creative side only dabbles in things. I can crochet. My mom and granny taught me how to crochet when I was around six years old. My family loves huge afghans, so I only manage to make one every couple of years. I love to paint too. No, not pictures…walls, picnic tables, barns. Lol Yeah, I know weird! One creative thing that took me by surprise was when we were building our house two years ago. We decided to use cedar shingles on the outside. My husband showed me how to make chalk lines, hammer shingles in the right pattern, and by the time I was done with the first row I was hooked. I shingled everyday by myself while he was at his day job. I was able to hang from ropes 2 storys in the air and hammer while the kids kept handing me shingles. I would seriously think about going to work for a shingling company…I love it that much.
Fiona: LOL! You write all kinds of terrific stories in lots of different sub-genres. Do you have a favorite? Or do you just like the freedom of going different places each time you start something new?
Abby: Yeah, this is a hard question to answer. I’m one of those authors who loves the current book best, until I write my next book. Lol I love the familiarities of contemporary stories, and yet, like to stretch into the paranormal. The one sub-genre that took me by surprise was writing westerns. Oh, I love me some cowboys.
Fiona: You’ve published quite a few books this year! How do you juggle all the “behind the scenes” work–the edits with your various editors, the blogging and social networking with your fellow authors at different publishing houses, the interaction with readers…and still find time to write?
Abby: I’m a vampire. I do not sleep. Seriously. Ok, maybe I don’t do the whole blood sucking and visiting the Peckerwood Community Center (You all will have to read my coming soon book To Play or Obey? to understand what I’m talking about) but I don’t require a lot of sleep. I go on 3-4 hours of sleep a night, and feel perfectly fine. Really. I’m not crazy. I’m not.
When I receive edits, I usually sit there and work from start to finish. It drives me nuts to take a break or have to come back and try to get in the groove again. I’ve got in the habit during my non-writing time of just leaving my slow lil’ dialup on and checking emails, posting a tweet, or bugging other authors when I walk by the computer doing all the mundane house chores that I really don’t enjoy doing.
Fiona: When you were a kid, what did you want to be “when you grew up?” (You can learn a lot about a person by knowing how they saw themself as a kid. I’m not sure what, but I think it’s kind of interesting anyway).
Abby: I wanted to be a lot of things, a nurse, an architect, a pro tennis player, a writer, a fishing guide. But, one thing that I always wanted to be is a mom. Writing and being a mom at the same time is a really nice life. Although, I do escape and throw a pole in the water to get my fishing fix a few times a month. Hm…I wonder if anyone will pay me to fish?
Fiona: LOL! And you have a nifty pink foshing pole, too. Heck, I’d pay you to fish for me. Know how to catch squid?
If you got a seven-figure, multi-book deal tomorrow, what would be the first thing you’d do?
Abby: A fishing boat, and then I’d go buy me every pair of boots that caught my eye. *drools*
Fiona: We’ll hit the Tony Lama store! I’m there!
So what’s the weirdest thing currently in your garage/basement/shed/other dedicated storage area? (heh-heh-heh… yep, I’m getting you back for the calamari question!)
Abby: Oh, now that isn’t playing fair. I really did think you’d have something “normal” in your fridge. Who has 3 week old calamari?
Fiona: Let’s stick to the script, shall we?
Abby: Lol I’ll pick the barn. Hang on, I’ll go take a look around and see what I can come up with….
Wow, you know what? The weirdest thing we have is a pitchfork. *nods with a straight face*
Ok, ok, I’ll tell you the truth. We have a freezer with a skunk, coyote, and the beards of two turkeys in it.
Fiona: Wait a minute… skunks and coyotes? And you gave me a hard time over some overdue seafood…??? Didja Know dead coyotes in the freezer is… um… *different?*
Abby: My husband is also licensed trapper, and after he skins the animals, he puts them in the freezer until summer time when he can dry the pelts. Now that isn’t weird to us, but I imagine it is to everyone else. Lol
Fiona: ROFL! That’s really cool! Just be careful when you send the kids out to the freezer to get a package of hamburger. 🙂
Finally, tell us a little bit about Didja Know…? How did you get the idea for this very *unusual* paranormal ménage?
I’ve always wanted to write a story about a woman who is an herbalist and provides the people in her town with potions and cures. There is so much mystery behind herbs and their medicinal purposes. People either believe or don’t believe in the power of plants. I knew my character would be someone that the town people ran to for help, but never quite accepted as “normal.” From there, my mind wandered even further into the abnormal. How many people grow up with a ghost for a best friend? *put down your hand, Fiona! Lol* Once I had a very unusual heroine set in my head, I knew I was going to have to step it up to find a hero that made even my heroine look relatively sane. That’s where Frank…and Frank entered the picture. That’s about all I can share with you without giving the story away. There are a lot of surprises and twists that will have the reader wondering what will happen next.
Fiona: And so how about a blurb and an excerpt?
With a ghost for a best friend, Chantel wasn’t surprised when Frank showed up at her house claiming he disappeared every night and wanted her help. What did surprise her was the undeniable urge to have sex with him, and the sudden revival of her fantasy to have a threesome–with him…and him?
As she gets closer to learning what brings Frank…and Frank…to her doorstep every morning, she realizes her simple herbal cures are not the answer. But can she find the strength to risk it all when the cure may send her dream men away forever?
Excerpt: Didja Know…? By Abby Wood
“Let’s play Didja. Please…”
Chantel shook her head to remove the stray strands of curls out of her face. “No, I have to get this yarrow planted or half the women in Duluth will be mad at me.”
Kneeling beside the raised flowerbed in front of her house, she dug another hole in the soil. Her hand spade sliced through the cultivated dirt and turned a tedious job into an easy one she always enjoyed. To have her hands in the dirt and to nurture her plants brought contentment to her life.
For the past six weeks, she’d babied the tender plants inside her greenhouse from the seeds she’d collected from last season’s plants. Now that the perfect weather presented itself for outside planting and the sprouts had grown strong enough, she’d plant them outside and wait for them to bloom.
“Those women take advantage of you, Chantel, and don’t deserve your kindness.”
She sighed and pointed the spade in her friend’s direction. The action spewed dirt across the sidewalk. “That may be, but it keeps a roof over our heads, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t need a roof.” Her friend, Eve, raised her chin.
“True, but I do.” She grinned.
“Oh, very well. Plant your precious flowers and get the dirt all over yourself. It’s no skin off my nose.” Eve sat down on the front step and situated the folds of her dress over her legs. “Why you lower yourself with these menial tasks is disgraceful.”
Chantel glanced over and smirked. You’d think Eve sat at a king’s table for how much fuss she gave the same evening gown she’s worn every single day since Chantel’s childhood. The fact that her clothes remained the same must not have mattered to a ghost.
She picked up the yarrow and hit the side of the pot with her spade to loosen the soil from the container. Without disturbing the fragile roots, she placed the plant in one of the holes and gently patted the dirt down. It did no good arguing with Eve. She’d never understand how bills needed paid. The so-called menial tasks she did every day supported her without having to get a so-called real job in town.
“When do you think you’ll go to town again?” Eve sat with her hands clasped in her lap, knees together, and her ankles crossed.
“I don’t know, but you’re staying at the house the next time.” She picked up another plant and thumped the side of the container. “You blew it last time.”
A sound that resembled a snort but had to have been a scoff because Eve swore she’d never make such a rude noise, came from the right of Chantel. “It wasn’t my fault you talked to me in front of the others.”
“It’s not an easy thing to keep silent with you swooping down around everyone and blowing in their ears.” Chantel’s cheek twitched. “You create chaos wherever you go.”
Eve clapped her hands and giggled. “Did you catch the expression on Old Man Turner’s face? He thought Mr. Sumner was getting fresh with him.”
Chantel burst out laughing, sat back on her heels, and gave in to the fun conversation. Eve never failed to get a rise out of her no matter the situation. She got into more trouble with Eve’s childlike pranks than she’d ever find on her own. Every one of them worth the consequences, though.
“We have to be more careful, Eve. It’s one thing to go a little crazy on occasion, but another thing to make people suspect I’m losing touch with reality on a weekly basis.” She dug the last hole. “They already whisper enough about me without me adding more bizarre behavior for their loose tongues.”
“I’m sorry.” Eve stopped her laughter and sniffed.
“I know you are.” She patted the last plant into the ground and stood up. She brushed her knees free of dirt. Her head lifted at the dog barks coming from the backyard.
“Now what?” She headed toward the backyard, where she kept the stray dog penned up.
The usually calm black-and-white dog jumped up and down on the side of the rickety pen in a frenzy of excitement. “What are you so excited about? Hm?”
Chantel reached over the fence and rubbed the fur between Dawg’s floppy ears. With no luck finding his owner the past three weeks, she’d grown to love the furry pooch. “You’re a good doggy, aren’t you?”
“He’s more of a fleabag with legs in my opinion.” Eve stood back a safe distance from the pen.
“You just haven’t become friends with him yet. Once I’m sure his owners are not coming for him, and he’s living in the house, you two will become fast friends. You’ll see…” Her smile directed at the mutt.
“Yeah, right. The dog hates me,” Eve said. “First chance he gets he’s going to bite through half my leg. Just you wait and see.”
“He only needs to get to know you. He’ll learn. Right, Dawg?” She turned her head in Eve’s direction. “He’s probably never seen a ghost before.”
“That is such a stupid name for a dog.” Eve cast her eyes up.
“Can you think of a better name?” Chantel stepped back from the fence. The dog almost jumped to the top in an attempt to get out of its pen. What in the world is wrong with you, dog? Keep acting like that and Eve will start whining even more.
“I’d call him Stupid, Brainless, or—”
The rest of Eve’s suggestions got lost in the incessant barking, and both women jumped back and gasped. The hyperactive little dog scrambled over the fence and ran across the yard faster than they’d ever seen him run.
“Dawg!” Chantel clapped her hands.
“Oh God, the beast is out. Save me! Save me!” Eve held the ends of her dress off the ground and twirled in a circle in pure dramatic zeal.
“Knock it off, Eve. The dog can’t even see you, much less bite you.” Chantel glared over her shoulder as she took off in a jog to follow the same path the dog ran. After all this time, she didn’t want him to run away. She loved the little sweetheart, fleas and all.
“Dawg! Come back here…” She rounded the corner of the house and screeched to a stop. She shrieked, and her hands came up to cover her mouth. Her dog jumped all over a man who lay on the ground. Oh no!
The man covered his face with his arms to defend himself against Dawg, who bounced back and forth around his head in search of an open spot to squeeze his head in to lick his face. She giggled and dropped her hands. Obviously, the pup liked this man.
The man grumbled, attempted to catch the dog, but Dawg dodged his hands. Chantel burst out laughing. The sight of man versus beast amused her, and she wondered which one of them would win the title for the championship showdown.
“What is wrong with your damn dog?” The man heaved himself up off the grass and stepped back. That didn’t deter Dawg. He attached himself to the shoestrings on the man’s sneakers and attempted to tear them off.
“He’s really not my dog.” She laughed and walked over to pick Dawg up, but the dog’s back end sidestepped every time she attempted to grab him. “He’s a stray that I’m keeping if no one comes forward and claims him.”
Her hands finally made contact with the speedy ball of fluff, and she pried his teeth away from the shoelaces. She clamped him to her chest. The dog yipped in protest at the tight hold. She crooned low into Dawg’s ear and smiled up at the man in front of her. Oh my God, he’s gorgeous.
“I bet his last owners dumped him off here, because he has no manners.” The man brushed his sleeves off and looked down his nose at the obnoxious dog in her arms. “Little shit needs obedience school.”
“How can you say that?” She frowned. “He likes you.”
She pushed Dawg’s head against her shoulder in an attempt to protect the dogs self-esteem. “I swear he must be the most misunderstood dog in Duluth.”
“Likes me? I think he needs to be fed. I think he took a chunk out of my neck!” He roamed the curve of his neck with his hand, searching for signs of blood.
She shook her head and turned to walk Dawg back to the kennel. With her luck, she’d never be able to keep the pup contained in the pen now that he knew how to jump the fence.
“Hey! Wait. Where are you going?” The man caught up with her.
“To lock this vicious, hungry dog up in his kennel. We wouldn’t want to have him attack you again and end up eating you for dinner, now would we?” She bit down on her lip to keep from laughing. Although I’d love to have a taste of you.
Dawg wormed his way up the front of Chantel’s shirt and barked over her shoulder at their visitor who followed close at their heels. She’d never seen the dog act this way. Even around Eve, he snarled and snapped and never showed such pure unadulterated happiness. With this stranger, the dog wiggled his rump at super high speed. Didn’t the man realize Dawg only wanted to play?
He must not be a dog lover. Anyone with a spot of sense knew an overexcited dog that licked and jumped wasn’t planning to take a chunk out of the man’s leg. He only wanted to play with this new attraction. She ran her hand down his furry back. His little doggy heart pounded a mile a minute.
“You wouldn’t happen to be Chantel, would you?” The man kept stride with her and the dog.
So, he knew her name. She’d never seen him around. If someone in town guided him to her, who knew what they told him about her, the crazy woman who talked to herself and dabbled in magical herbs. She’d never stand a chance at getting to know him. Pshaw!
She set the dog down on the ground inside his pen, promptly turned around, and grabbed hold of the stranger’s arm to steer him around to the front of the house. She didn’t want to tease Dawg by standing around with his newfound playmate, and chance him getting out of his enclosure again.
Once the man left, she’d booby-trap the fence and hope that kept the dog contained. She planned to bring him in the house if no one showed up to claim him in a month, and turn him into her pet. Only one more week to go and she’d have her first pet.
“What are you doing?” The man yanked his arm out of her grasp and stared at her in confusion.
“Sh!” She held up her hand and cocked her head. The barking came to a stop, and she smiled up at the man. “Okay, I think Dawg will stay in his pen now.”
“Good. Look, lady, I’m trying to find a woman named Chantel. Do you happen to know if she lives here or if I have the wrong place?” The man stood up straighter. “I don’t have much time to play games, and it’s important to me to find this woman.”
“You’ve got the right place. I’m Chantel,” she said.
The man’s face relaxed, and he blew out his breath. The lines on his forehead disappeared, and his eyes widened enough she received a glimpse of startling green. Oh. My. God.
Her lips curved into a pleased smile, and she stepped closer to him. Those magnetic eyes peeked out from thick, dark lashes—lashes any women might kill for—brought out a surge of succulent rays of lust that traveled straight to her nipples and brought them to attention.
Her gaze wandered over the rest of him, and her tongue came out to run the length of her bottom lip. His dark-chocolate-colored hair lay long and rumpled. She imagined he ran his hands through it at the first sign of frustration.
His wrinkled clothes carried bits of grass clippings, thanks to Dawg’s friendly attack. Despite the frazzled appearance, he presented a package she’d love to unwrap.
“You don’t know how glad I am to meet you.” He grabbed her hand and pumped it up and down.
At his touch, her stomach clenched and her ears rang. His lips moved, but her brain filtered the words. What is he doing to me?
“And that is why I came to you. I thought, maybe, if I explained what is happening to me, you’d fix it.” He gazed at her with his eyebrows raised.
“Fix it?” She swept her bangs behind her ear. What the heck is wrong with me? I act like a cat in heat! I can’t even follow the conversation.
The man reached out and used the pad of his thumb to scrub at her forehead. She glanced down at her hands covered in dried dirt. Great. The best-looking man comes to my house to see me, and I have dirt from head to toe.
“Yeah, I need to find my memories. I don’t know what is happening to me. One moment, I’m here, and the next, I float off to”—he threw up his arms—“heaven or hell. I don’t know, really. Somewhere I lose myself. I don’t even know I am there. I’m zilch.
“And you want to hear the crazy thing? No one knows me here, and I don’t know my own name or if I own a home around here. Nothing looks familiar. I don’t even recognize myself. God, this is insane.” He clutched the top of his head with both hands and tugged his hair. “I heard the women at the store talking about you giving them something to help their husbands. Something inside me knew I should find you and ask for your help.”
He grabbed both of her hands and kneaded them. She pulled away and wrapped her arms around her middle. Did he create that buzz? She wanted nothing more than to push him back down on the ground and imitate Dawg’s acts of licking him all over.
“I…I don’t understand. What women?” She shook her head. Snap out of it! Pay attention to what he is saying.
“I don’t know who they are. It doesn’t matter.” He shrugged and paced a few steps. “I just need to fix whatever is wrong with me. I don’t want to disappear tonight. You are some kind of witch aren’t you?” he asked. “That’s the impression I got from the women. You helped one of them. Maybe you can help me?”
Chantel studied the man. Out of breath, confused, and belligerent, he appeared on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her heart went out to him.
“Here, come sit over on the porch and rest. I’ll get you a glass of water.” She guided him over to the house.
“Let me go in the house and get you a glass of my special lemonade. I’m sure that will help you feel better. After you take a rest and get your breath back, we can talk.” She stepped up on the step where he sat, and he grabbed her hand.
“Please, no!” He let go of her, placed his elbows on his knees, and sank his head down on his hands. “I’m sorry. I no longer eat or drink.”
She stepped back down off the steps and sat beside him. Her hands clasped on her legs, she stared at her visitor who appeared to fall apart right in front of her. The desire to hold on to him and have hot, sweaty sex with him took her breath away and left her confused. I must be confusing lust with compassion.
This whole morning turned into one confusing dream. Her brain unable to grasp why she found herself so attracted to his stranger. A simple touch of his hand, and her body responded as if she’d received fifteen minutes of foreplay, and she wanted to jump right into sex with someone she believed didn’t have all the marbles in his head.
How did today go spiraling out of control? Eve pestered her all morning to play Didja, and Dawg developed a freak spurt of energy that she’d never witnessed the whole time she’s taken care of him. The most confusing was her sex drive shifting into full throttle at the sight of this green-eyed man. It didn’t make a lick of sense why they’d all act so strange.
“What do you mean? How long have you gone without eating?” She kept her voice low. Half-afraid he’d hear the excitement coursing through her body if she spoke normally.
He lifted his head but gazed straight ahead. “I can’t be positive, but I think about a week.”
“A week! You must be starving. I can fix—”
“No, you can’t. I told you I can’t eat or drink. My throat closes up and I choke. I’m never thirsty or hungry anymore, but I know that is what I am supposed to do. I remember that.” He shook his head. “Maybe I don’t, and it is just something everyone knows.”
“I’m confused. You really don’t know who you are? Did you suffer a head injury? An accident?”
He shook his head and snorted. “I don’t think so, but how am I suppose to know?”
Eve showed up in front of her with a knowing smile. She frowned at her friend. She tilted her head and darted her eyes to the side for her to go away, but Eve crossed her arms and ignored her. Oh shit, what is she going to do now?
The man beside her inhaled through his nose, and his whole upper body expanded. Her gaze swept the width of his shoulders, and she bit down on her lip. I’m acting craziest of all of them. What is with this man that I find myself so attracted to him?
“Do you smell that?” He sniffed the air. “Roses. I smell goddamn roses. Now how in the hell do I remember a scent, but can’t remember where I live? Can you tell me that?” He slapped his fist against his knee. “This is so frustrating.”
“I don’t know.” She bit her lip and stared at Eve. She knew exactly where the smell came from. Eve always smelled of the love flower, but she didn’t remember anyone ever picking up the scent, besides her. “I have lots of flowers in the yard.”
He nodded. She nibbled on her lip. She hoped that he wouldn’t ask her to explain exactly where the rose scent came from or notice that all of her roses planted in the flowerbed were not even close to blooming.
“I heard a couple women talking about you at the store. You sell concoctions or potions, right?” He turned toward her on the step. “Are you some kind of witch? Can you cast a spell and send me back where I belong?”
“I…I own an herbal medicine shop.” She scooted away from him. “Look, I don’t really understand anything that’s happened today. Maybe you should go back home, take a nap—” Go away, so I can get control of myself.
“You don’t get it! I don’t have a home. Every night, I seem to vanish, no matter how much I fight against it. Zap! I’m gone!” He snapped his fingers. “The next morning, I’m back in the park on the edge of town.”
He glanced away. His eyes squinted as he looked toward the yard. She turned her head to follow his gaze, her eyes widened in alarm.
Jumping off the step, she stood between him and Eve. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure he still remained behind her, and stepped farther out onto the grass, forcing Eve to back up farther, away from the man.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she whispered. “He can smell you. Can he see you too?”
Eve stood in the yard, her hands clasped together under her chin. Chantel rubbed her temples. By the position of Eve’s mouth and the way she held her ground, she knew this confrontation took all of Eve’s strength.
“I need to talk with you. We’ve got to play Didja.” Eve waved her hand in the air. “I should have explained…” She glanced away. “Oh dear! I should have—”
Chantel groaned. Just great! Now Eve spoke too much and disappeared.
Chantel walked back to Frank, who sat staring at his hands, lost in his troubles, and thanked the lucky stars he had his own problems to deal with that he didn’t pay any attention to her odd behavior.
“Maybe you should come back tomorrow. Let me think about everything you’ve shared with me. I’m confused about what is going on, and maybe tomorrow things will make more sense and I can help you.” She tugged at a strand of her hair.
He nodded his head. “Yeah, I’ll leave. I’m embarrassed about unloading all of this on you. I just don’t have anywhere else to go. I have no clue whom to talk this over with, without coming out looking like a total flake. I thought…never mind.”
The lines on his forehead grew in numbers, his shoulders sagged even more, and his mouth clamped shut. She raised her brows to encourage him to speak his mind, but he closed his jaw and shook his head.
“Is there anything you need until tomorrow?” She laid her hand on his arm but didn’t linger. It would be best not to push temptation, or she’d end up exploring more of his gorgeous body. The skin under her fingers vibrated, and she turned her hand over to check the skin. The sensation of a mild electrical current evaporated quickly, and she wondered what caused it and if he felt it too.
“No, I need nothing. I’m sorry I bothered you this way.” He stood up. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to come back tomorrow. I know that I come across insane, but I really don’t think I am…normally.”
“You’re welcome to come back. I can’t promise you any answers to your questions, though. I’ve never had a customer with this kind of confusion before.” She sobered. “Besides, people misunderstand me all the time; the least I can do is try to help you.”
Don’t miss this great story… I’ve read it, and it’s awesome!
Buy it here: http://www.loose-id.com/Didja-Know.aspx
Or leave a comment and you’re registered to win a copy free!
And Abby can be found here:
Thanks, Abby! Come back and play soon!
And thanks to Kelly, who sent me the winning entry on last weeks “Help! I Need a Contest” contest, I have a great release day giveaway! Winner will win a free copy of The Highwayman!
The game is called, “One of These Things Belongs to the Author.” You remember the old game on Sesame Street, right? Where you pick the thing that doesn’t belong? It’s like that, only different. There are four things, and only one belongs to me. Pick the item that’s actually mine and leave me a comment with your guess. If more than one guesser is correct, I’ll pull a name from a hat. 🙂
So don’t be shy, leave a comment with your choice, A., B., C., or D. ! And of course, I’m dying to hear why you think so!
Winner announced Monday at noon, PST!
A new erotic historical novella coming soon!
Want a quick peek inside?
It grew darker as we rode into the forest. Sunlight pierced down in shafts through the canopy of leaves. The quiet grew until the sound of the iron-banded wheels on the dirt road and the clopping of the horse hooves seemed to thunder and reverberate back from the rows of trees. Once, as I stared out into the gloom, I caught a glimpse of a stag near a moss-covered, fallen tree. It leaped away into the undergrowth, its powerful muscles flexing.
The carriage halted in a swirl of dust along a shadowy stretch of road, where the arching tree branches overhead made things dim on the forest floor. I waited, frowning, hoping it was nothing more than a tree that had fallen across our path.
“Step out of the carriage!” a voice shouted.
I snatched up the pistol and hurried to the other side of the carriage. A whip cracked. The air was rent with the shriek of a horse and the thunder of hooves. The carriage jerked forward and sent me careening into the opposite bench. The impact knocked the pistol from my hand.
More shouting. Harlan, I thought, but then the carriage lurched to a halt again, sending me crashing back into the bench I had started on. I scrambled to snatch up the pistol, feeling like a child’s ball being battered back and forth.
There was a thud and a grunt and someone fell to the carpet of leaves along the side of the road. It was Harlan. He didn’t move, and I prayed he wasn’t seriously hurt. I sat frozen, the smooth curve of the pistol heavy in my hand. If only it were loaded.
It was silent for a long moment, save for the snorting and stamping of the horses.
“Stand and deliver!” that voice shouted once again.
My heart punched hard and fast in my chest—the heart of a hare beneath the shadow of the hawk. I clutched the pistol tighter, my back against the carriage wall, trying to look between both sets of windows to see where he would appear first. I had no idea what I’d do then, with only an unloaded pistol between me and a bandit who was most certainly armed.
“Come out of the carriage! I shall not ask again!”
“I am only a woman alone,” I shouted back, cocking the flintlock on the pistol as quietly as I could. I hadn’t loaded it because I was deathly afraid of it going off accidentally, but now I could only curse myself for my caution. “You frighten me!”
Would he fall for the ego game? I kept glancing back and forth between the windows, straining to hear something. Then, the creak of saddle leather and the thump of boots on the ground. I heard his footsteps slowly approaching the carriage. An idea exploded in my head like a cannon shot. I sat down on the floor facing the carriage door, the pistol in one hand, and drew back my legs, silently cursing the spill of skirt and petticoats that only seemed to get in the way.
His large shape filled the window over the door, and I kicked out savagely with both feet. The door flew open, crashing into the highwayman and sending him flying back into the dust. I stood as quickly as I could to see my handiwork, still cursing my skirts like the devil.
The highwayman clambered to his feet. The door had knocked loose his pistol, and it lay in a drift of leaves. He made a lunge for it.
“I wouldn’t move, if I were you,” I said, aiming the empty pistol at his head.
He froze and then slowly turned toward me, his rapier still in one hand. His eyes widened a bit when he saw me, though at the pistol or the fact that I was half hanging out of my bodice from all the bouncing around in the carriage I couldn’t tell.
“Drop your sword, sir,” I said, and he did so. He seemed to collect himself, and swept off his hat with its long black plume in a courtly bow.
“My lady, forgive the intrusion.”
“What did you do to Harlan?” I could see the coachman from here, but he was still unmoving.
“He’s only stunned,” the highwayman said. “A blow to the head with the butt of my pistol. I didn’t want to shoot him.”
“That’s uncommonly kind of you.” I had the chance to look the Highwayman over. Broad shoulders in a well-cut dark coat. Tall. Blond hair tending toward long, perhaps he hadn’t seen a barber in a while. Rugged facial features, handsome indeed, but with a hardness and an edge that Edgar had never possessed. But his eyes were kind. Strange to say about a man who had just clouted my coachman and had been set on stealing my jewels, but there it was. There was no malice in his gaze, and the smile on his face was more than a little chagrined at finding himself disarmed by a lady. Kindness and more than a little bit of desire in his eyes, and danger or no, that made me want to stand and be admired.
I liked him, God help me. Only a moment ago I’d been in fear for my life, but now, seeing those eyes, and with the pistol firmly in my hands and his hands empty, I liked him. Strange how reversing a situation could instantly change one’s perceptions.
I stepped down from the carriage, keeping well away from the Highwayman all the same. I edged over to Harlan and knelt down next to him.
“Give me your word that you won’t try anything while I attend him,” I demanded.
His face grew solemn, and I thought I saw something new in his eyes. I thought it was respect, but I was far from certain. “I swear it,” he said.
That was the best I could hope for. Harlan was indeed only stunned. He’d have a nasty bruise, but his breathing was slow and steady. I stood again and raised the pistol.
“You may mount your horse and leave,” I said. “Leave your weapons behind. They will be here when we set off again.”
“I’m sorry, my lady, but I cannot.”
“I don’t make idle suggestions, sir.”
“And I don’t idly refuse the suggestion of a beautiful woman,” he said. “But alas, I must.”
We stared at one another for a long moment. He really was quite handsome. In another place, at another time….
“You will not go then?” I asked. “You would force me to shoot you?”
“I cannot leave a lady unprotected on such a dangerous road.”
My laugh was sharp, cynical. “You, sir, are the chief danger on this road.”
He took a step toward me, his smile wider than ever. “An insignificant detail.”
I backed up a step. “I prefer you to stay where you are.”
He took another step forward. “And I would prefer to kiss your hand in greeting.”
“And snatch the pistol away as well? Do you think me a fool?”
“I think you anything but a fool,” he said. “However, I give you my word that when the pistol leaves your fair hands, it will be you who sets it aside.”
I said nothing. The world would think me a fool to trust the word of a rogue and a bandit, but those eyes….
He began to walk toward me slowly, his hands raised, his eyes locked on mine. I backed up until I bumped the baseboard of the carriage, and then I turned and hurried up the steps, wildly thinking that I could hide in there and he might just go away and leave me alone.
He came to the carriage door, set his hands on the posts, and paused, staring in at me with blue eyes brimming with lust. Those eyes smoldered down my neck to the tops of my breasts, lingered there for so long that were I a blushing maid, I’d have certainly been blushing. I was half-amused, half-aroused by the desire I could see shimmering there. Possibilities began to blossom in my mind. Wicked, delightful possibilities. Denying them only seemed to make them stronger.
“I shall not hurt you,” he said softly. “You have my word.”
“The word of a Highwayman?”
“The word of a former officer and a gentleman fallen on hard times. But let’s not speak of me.” He leaned toward me. “I prefer to speak of you.”
“I—” but then he kissed me softly upon the lips. I was seated upon the velvet seat and still held the pistol pointed between us, but thought of the pistol, and every other thought and fear, fluttered out of my mind like a flock of birds taking sudden flight. His lips were warm, like sunlight on my skin.
I found myself kissing him back. Harder, more insistently. We drew the kiss out, and I was aware that I wanted him. Wanted him as strongly as I had ever wanted a man, and the devil with the consequences. Edgar flashed into my mind and right back out again, chased by an image of him in the pantry with that girl. He could not begrudge me the dalliance.
If I dared… if I dared.
I broke the kiss first, breathless, my mind swimming from the heady pleasure of the contact. He leaned back on his boot heels, crouched before me in the carriage. If anything, the desire in his eyes had grown hotter than ever. He set a hand upon my knee, and even through the layers of my skirts, my skin jumped with shock and delight. So I did what any respectable woman would’ve done. I raised the pistol into his face.