Saturday, November 04, 2017

Nicole Locke - Her Christmas Knight

What can be said about an impossible love? About a man whose childhood consisted of no more than poverty with his drunken dishonoured father. Whose only longing was for the girl from the most privileged family in their town. What happens to that same man, who leaves and finds honour and wealth only to sacrifice it all to protect his friend. Who now, in the eyes of the king, has turned traitor.
What happens when that traitor is then confronted by a spy threatened by the king to capture him? What happens if that spy is the very woman he longed for all his life?
So begins the story of Her Christmas Knight.
Finally! Hugh’s story is being told. How could he possibly be book six, when he first appeared in The Knight’s Broken Promise, which is book one in the Lovers and Legends series? Well, I’m not writing these stories chronologically. In fact, as standalones, the books can be read in any order.
But that doesn’t explain why it took me this long, so I’ll tell you. Hugh’s past is so tormented, he was difficult to write.  Add in the fact that at the end of book one, he’s committing treason, and I wondered what heroine could possibly understand him?
That’s when I found Alice, who has been valiantly trying to save Hugh since she was six years old. The only problem? Alice has the King of England threatening her life….
For now, I’ll share an excerpt:
October 1296, London
She wasn’t going to make it.
Heat prickled down her back. Her hands, clutching a seal to her chest, grew damp. Alice stopped running, pressed her back against the stone wall and let out a steadying breath.
She was going to make it. She had to. She had come too far. It was the labyrinth of passageways that was making her anxious. She didn’t know where she was going.
It was the dark...which was more heavy and cold than the stone she rested against.
How long had she been running? She should never have agreed to the game—never agreed to visiting Court in the first place.
As if she’d had a choice. King Edward needed gold and her family—wealthy wool merchants—were being heavily taxed for it. To soften the blow, the King often invited her family to Court. Beyond delighted, her father had always taken the trips alone. This time round, however, the King had formally invited her. And one could not avoid a direct royal command.
But she could have avoided the seal-seeking game. Noting that the King wasn’t in residence, she had tried to avoid the game. But someone had put her name in the bowl and it had been pulled. Then she and the others had been shoved into various darkened hallways to find a seal and solve the riddle.
Which should have been easy. Even if she didn’t know and couldn’t see where she was going, she’d thought she could depend on her ears to hear the lapping of the Thames or the running of the other seal seekers. But her ears had failed her. All was dead silent.
She rolled the seal in her hands, hoping the unusual shape would distract her from her thoughts. The seal was neither round nor square, and it was much too large for her hands, but it had to be the correct seal. She was sure that she’d understood the riddle: Find the door that holds the light.
A door couldn’t hold a light unless there was a light behind that illuminated it, and yet she had opened so many doors and there had been only more darkness.
Her breathing hitched. She mustn’t think about her fear of darkness. She must consider only the light and where she hadn’t been. If she concentrated on the riddle maybe she could forget the dark. Maybe.
Laughter. High-pitched and suddenly snuffed out.
Where had it come from? It had burst out and disappeared too quickly for her to tell. Was it the other seal seekers or someone hiding in the shadows?
She pushed away from the wall and walked to the left. She might be going in circles, but she had to move. The riddle had hinted at additional seals. The others might be ahead of her.
Not daring to run any more, she quickened her steps. If the other seekers were close and she slipped and the seal fell she would never find it again. But she couldn’t be too cautious. If she was quick enough she’d have the prize—she’d be out of the dark.
Another step and another—until the floor dropped.
She swiped at the dark with her hands and feet until the corridor curved into a staircase. Keeping a hand on the stone wall, she shuffled her way down until she found her way to a heavily latched illuminated door.
There were more sounds, too—murmurs and whispers of a crowd trying to be quiet. This was the door! She brushed her free hand against the smooth wood until she found the latch.
Other noises were reaching her ears—more laughter, and footsteps
behind her. No time to waste. She placed the seal beside her feet, and used both hands to lift the latch. It held, as if someone on the other side was preventing it from opening. Did she dare call out?
No, the footsteps behind her were too close.
She jumped and used her body to press down on the handle. The latch broke free, but the clank echoed in the quiet corridor. The footsteps behind her changed direction.
No time to lose.
Grabbing the seal, she rushed into the too-bright room. Images of people and flames flickering in elaborate wall sconces distracted her. She collided with a wall wearing chainmail and started to fall backwards.
Thick arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her. Clutching the seal against her chest, she felt her feet leave the ground as she was pressed against the unmistakable curves of a trained warrior. Winded, and blinded by the sudden light, she felt his flat abdomen against her own, her breasts rubbing abrasively against interlocked steel, and still the warrior pulled her up...and up.
She was being held much too closely. She breathed in to catch her breath, to protest, and smelled leather and metal, and a scent that was this man’s alone. A scent that hovered on her memory...elusive, familiar. It filled her with such a sudden wanting that she clamped her mouth shut.
Images blazed in her mind. It couldn’t be him. It shouldn’t be him.
Another feeling assaulted her, more powerful than the embarrassment of being held too closely. It was even more deeply pitted in her stomach than her sudden inexplicable wanting.
She felt fear.
She blinked her eyes to focus and was caught by the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. No, not the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, because she’d seen these eyes before. Years ago. The fear went down her back all the way to her heels before it raced hot and fast to the top of her head.
She blinked again. No, these eyes were not the same—even though they were the crystal blue of a summer sky, so bright and too piercing to be real. These eyes had had that light taken from them. They were as clear and stunning a colour as to be almost impossible, but these eyes held something else—some darkness—as if an unseen storm was about to break.
Other features of this warrior were different, too. His blond hair did not wave around his shoulders, but was cut short, its curls tamed to just behind his ears. His skin was not pale from the clouds and mists of a small town, but was sun-baked. Underneath the torchlight his face was all hard, lean planes and too fierce for softness. There were lines, too, around his eyes—not from laughter, but from determination. His lips, which curved sensuously and were made for smiling, were instead turned down deeply.
None of this seeming harshness hid the sheer beauty of his features. No, this man’s perfection was marred by a nose that crooked a little to the left.
The seal slipped in her suddenly damp hands. She knew that nose. She had broken that nose. Reluctantly, against her will, she raised her eyes to his again. He was still studying her.
She felt permanently latched to him. She could not move even to let air into her lungs. Oh, she didn’t want to, but she knew those eyes. And they knew her. There was no confusion in their blue depths, there was only...waiting.
But he couldn’t be the man she knew. She hadn’t heard from him or seen him for more than six years. She’d thought him dead. She wanted him dead.
‘Hugh?’ The name escaped before she knew she still had a voice, and the corner of his lips lifted.
She knew that crooked smile. She knew that smile all too well.


dstoutholcomb said...

love the excerpt!


Nicole Locke said...

Thanks Denise! It was a fun story to write!