Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Dear Amazon...

Dear Amazon,
I love you. I always have done. You provided me with a chance to have my dream career. You provide great customer service and an easy to use platform. But with the introduction of new rules around Kindle Unlimited, you are failing authors and readers alike. I believe you're an innovative company. I think you want to break new ground and have done a great job of it. But now you are trampling on those who have made you a great deal of money.

I've made you a lot of money over my career. I'm not a huge name but I've done very well for myself and even better for you. I've rolled with the occasional punch you've thrown (your inability to remove troll reviewers and come up with a decent refund system that means immoral readers don't steal from me with ridiculous ease) and I've learned to play your game. I was one satisfied customer and author.

Authors have often suffered. Pirated books and complaints of 0.99c is too much to pay (yes, seriously) are just some of the things we have to deal with. There are few other careers where you can spend years on something and then have complaints that a price higher than a cup of coffee is too much. But that's not your fault, Amazon, and we take these things on the chin. At the end of the day, publishers and authors have been able to charge what they want for a book--what they believe it's worth.

Until now. Now you want to pay those in Kindle Unlimited per page read. The figures you gave are incomprehensible to even the smartest of minds and totally unpredictable seeing as your 'fund' changes each month. So now if we put a book into this system, we take a gamble. For years worth of work, we might only earn pennies. Before, we generally had a very solid idea of how much a borrow could earn. How is it ok for an author to earn for only 3 pages read when you borrow a film at a flat rate? When you don't pay per second listened to on a song?


You listened to, I suspect, a few big names who were terrified when Kindle Unlimited came in. They don't like change and a lot of big names were extremely happy with their high earnings and didn't want that to change. I didn't want that to change either. I believe they worked hard to get there. But then so did all the mid-listers like myself. KU gave me the opportunity to reach new readers. With its help I reached spots I never thought I would reach and earned you a ton more money. Like thousands of others mid-listers, we adapted to your new borrowing scheme and together made it a success. Avid readers enjoyed the scheme and the ability to meet new authors, while those who weren't interested simply continued as usual.


Now you are expecting us to roll with the punches again and tolerate this treatment. I'm a single mum and this is my sole wage. I know I'm not alone in this and I'm aware I'm lucky to be able to support my family with writing but believe me it is not without blood, sweat and tears from all of my family that I am able to do so. These changes are unpredictable enough for me to lose my trust in Amazon. I no longer believe they want the best for their authors or that they understand we are at the centre of their success.


So what happens next, Amazon? When authors pull out (yes, it's happening already) of KU and readers can no longer find such a great variety? What happens when readers can no longer find novellas on KU because they won't earn enough by borrows? Speak to my readers and you will find these claims that 'everyone wants longer books' are not true. A 'real book' isn't based on length, genre, price or anything like that. Readers want variety. What appeals to one, won't appeal to others. My novellas, interestingly, always sell better, but am I going to be forced to take them away from people who have paid for a 6 month or year long subscription to KU? This, Amazon, is where you will be failing your customers.


I hope you will listen to this. I don't want readers to stop using Amazon. I actually feel more failed by other platforms who have failed to make a usable, author and reader-friendly service and who don't seem to have a full grasp of how to push forward. But, Amazon, for once, you are not pushing forward. This is a huge step backward. I have a vague hope you might pay attention to this smaller voice but perhaps not. I'll still have your back but you won't have my trust anymore.


Yours not-so-faithfully anymore,

Samantha

Monday, 27 April 2015

First Chapter Sneak Peek: Sinful Deeds

Coming May 5th


Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The Cynfell Brothers are the very embodiment of a sinful existence. But could the right woman change that?
                   
      Envy

Being the mistress of one of the most notorious rakes in London was never going to be easy, but Josephine believed she was strong enough. After all, she loved Dante Cynfell to distraction. He provided her with a comfortable home and all the art supplies she could ever need. After a short marriage that left her near destitute, the widow couldn’t help but fall into his arms...and his bed.
But after four years of tolerating his drunken behaviour and late night calls, Josephine has had enough. Her paintings have caught the eye of a great patron of the arts. With promises of fame and fortune ringing in her ears, she realises being a mistress simply will not satisfy her anymore. She wants true love, marriage, and respectability.
When Josephine ends their arrangement, Dante is shocked. She had a comfortable home, his adoration...hell, even his faithfulness. What more could a beautiful woman want?
Marriage? Well, that’s one thing Dante Cynfell doesn’t plan to offer any woman—not even Josephine. He’s witnessed too many miserable marriages. Why put the person you care about through such misery?
Positive he can win her back, he sets out to remind her how good they are together. One thing is for sure, Dante will not give her up easily—especially to another man. Josephine is about to learn that an envious Cynfell man is not to be trifled with.
Chapter One
Dante Cynfell had received many slaps across the face. Too many to count really. But none had stung quite as this one had. He put a hand to his cheek and felt the heat where her palm had connected with his skin. How did this tiny woman create such a sting? He stared at her and noted she looked just as shocked.
Josephine had never struck out at him. Ever. She turned her delicate hand over and looked at the palm. He knew she was thinking the same. If there was ever a gentler woman than Josephine, he’d never met her.
He drew in a breath and tried to clear the haze of alcohol from his head. It was well past midnight and he’d been drinking since early afternoon. What exactly had he done wrong? He hadn’t said anything foolish...at least he didn’t think so. Josephine had been asleep, dressed in some sensual slip of a gown when he had come in—practically an invitation to wake her and strip it from her. So that couldn’t have been it.
Her breasts rose and fell beneath that cherry red gown, and splotches of similar colour began to reveal themselves on her cheeks. He glanced at the candle sputtering in protest of having been lit so long and took a moment to light a few lamps. Maybe that would give her a chance to gather herself.
“Don’t turn your back on me, Dante Cynfell,” she commanded.
“We cannot very well argue in the dark, now can we?” he drawled.
He circulated the room and turned up the lamps until a decent glow revealed the true extent of the redness in her cheeks. His mistress was furious with him.
But why?
Dante came back to stand in front of her and folded his arms across his chest. “Now what exactly did I do to deserve that?”
Josephine curled the hand she had used to slap him. “I didn’t mean to do that,” she said softly, “but you startled me.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve snuck into your bed.” By a long reach.
For four years, he’d been slipping into the beautiful Josephine’s bed. She had caught his eye shortly after the death of her husband, and he’d wasted no time in wooing her. Josephine had come easily too, as women always did.
“I warned you about coming in late.” She put her hands to her hips. “I keep warning you.”
“I suppose you want me to come in at nine o’ clock and tuck you in? How exciting,” he said dryly.
“Is that all you think about? Excitement? Dante,” she released a long and heavy sigh, “I have never asked for much from you, but I had asked you to be here before it was too late. I’ve been waiting for you all evening. I had wanted to...to...”
Tears shimmered in her eyes, and tension coiled in his belly. He’d always counted himself lucky to have Josephine as a mistress. She was beautiful, kind, caring and clever. His friends and society liked her too. She never spoke of their arrangement and no one cared much about it thanks to her status as a widow. She behaved with perfect decorum making it very easy to keep her as a mistress.
And, of course, he had a warm, willing partner visit whenever he wanted. As far as he knew, she’d been quite happy with their arrangement. He provided her with warmth, food and shelter, and she gave him her body and her lovely company in return.
Never before had she cried in front of him.
He reached out and snapped his hand back when she shied away from him. She slumped onto the bed, her skirts spreading out across the decadent pale green bedding. Did she want more presents? More jewellery perhaps? Had he not made her feel treasured enough?
Dante glanced around the bedroom of her townhouse that he rented for her and scowled. She had everything. A room for her little hobby, more jewels than the queen, the latest furnishings. The whole house had been decorated to her tastes. While he wouldn’t have minded turning her bedroom into a room specifically for making love with touches of red and gold, she had gone for a pale green theme with cream painted furnishings and wallpaper with little birds on.
Birds did not equal sensuality to his mind. But never mind that. It was her choice, was his point. Everything about their arrangement had been decided by her. He simply turned up as and when he wanted her company. What more did she want from him?
“Jo-Jo, will you tell me exactly why my cheek is stinging like the devil and you look like a child who has just dropped her ice cream?”
“A child?”
She lifted her gaze to his. God, how those hazel eyes never failed to sear him to the core. Even now he wanted her.
“Are you saying I’m petulant?”
That was a trick. He wasn’t that daft. Anything he said would be wrong right now. Perhaps actions would be better than words. Sinking down on the bed beside her, he took her hand and lifted her fingers to his lips. He kissed one delicate finger, then the next, and the next. Her breaths quickened audibly, and he couldn’t help smile against her skin. It had always been like this between them. Even after four years, his desire for her had not run dry. As soon as he had spied her at one of the London balls, he’d needed her.
“Jo-Jo, what is wrong?” He eased closer and swept her long golden hair behind one shoulder so he could reach her neck. She smelled of roses—his favourite fragrance. He inhaled and laid his lips gently to her neck. “Jo-Jo, sweet Jo-Jo...” He kissed a trail up and down her neck before teasing her lobe. Dante couldn’t resist. Hand to her waist, he curved it around her and pulled her tight to him while hot desire burned through him.
Josephine gave into him though she refused to touch him or even turn her head toward him. She let him kiss her neck, sank ever so slightly into him. Her body responded to him as it always did. He glanced down to see nipples tight against the silk fabric. He knew she wasn’t wearing a corset from the feel of her ribs contracting against his palm, but the sight of those hard nubs begging for his touch made him inhale a sharp breath. Tiny tremors ran through her form, and she released a faint moan. He nibbled her lobe and blew into it, feeling a strong shudder from her in response.
He moved his hand up and cupped a breast. “Jo-Jo, I need you,” he murmured. “So badly.”
“Oh, Dante...”
“I always need you. I’ll not be late again, I promise.”
She stiffened. Then her fingers curled around his wrist. He waited for her to direct his hand down but no...She thrust his hand away and tore herself from him.
Josephine stood, her luxurious cherry gown shimmering around her in falls of silk. He gritted his teeth and tried not to give into the impulse to tear the thing from her. She had never been one for games and he appreciated that about her. Was she trying to send him mad with want?
“No...” Her chin trembled. “No more lies. You always make that promise and still you are late. I spend hours in my finest clothes, waiting for you, only for you to come in and wake me up in the early hours. I cannot function like this anymore, Dante. I simply can’t do it.”
He shoved a hand through his hair. He knew she’d been cross with him the past few times he was late, but she knew well enough he was terrible at keeping track of time. And once one drink became another and another...Well, time became irrelevant.
“You never used to have a problem with it,” he said bitterly. Being scolded by his mistress didn’t much appeal right now, particularly now the warm haze of alcohol was being replaced by a pounding ache in his head and a dry tongue.
“You’re right.” She nodded and began to pace. Back and forth past him. Back and forth. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her so agitated. She paused and eyed him. “I love you, Dante. I really do. And...” A tiny sob spilled from her lips before she straightened her shoulders. “I cannot do this anymore. I don’t have the power to change you, nor the will. You are who you are, and I do love you.”
Love. Did she have to keep saying that? He knew Josephine loved him. She said it often enough. He even appreciated it but had never quite known how to respond. Usually it was with I adore you or You are the most divine creature on earth. None of those would work right now. In fact, he was thoroughly lost. Women seldom baffled him, particularly not the honest and sweet Josephine. He half-hoped he’d drunk something awful and this was all a nightmare.
“I don’t wish to be your mistress anymore.”
The words were so quiet, he had to stare at her for several moments to let them absorb. When they did, he swore she could have knocked him over with a feather. His Josephine...ending things with him? No, it wasn’t possible.
“No.”
“Yes,” she said just as softly. “I have had some wonderful times with you, but I don’t wish to be a mistress anymore. The late nights, the drunken behaviour...even the occasional spiteful remark from others.”
“What spiteful remarks? By God, if I find out...”
She waved a hand. “There will always be spiteful remarks. You are an eligible man, and I am in the way of many women hoping for a dalliance or more with you.”
He snorted. “They should be wise enough to realise that you’re not in the way. I’ll never marry.”
Josephine gave him a sad look. “I know you won’t.”
Thrusting both hands into his hair, he propped his elbows on his knees and stared at his lap. He needed a moment to absorb this. Josephine had always been there for him. He could drop by at a moment’s notice and be guaranteed a warm welcome. They talked, laughed, and made love. To him, things could not get any more perfect. In truth, he’d envisioned keeping her as his mistress forever.
And why not? Society couldn’t care two figs about what a widow got up to as long as she didn’t flash it about, and his allowance from his brother was enough to keep her in luxury. Once he had his father’s townhouse, he’d have everything a man could ever want. He certainly couldn’t imagine another woman taking her place.
So why was that not enough for her?
“Do you want more money? A bigger house?”
She pressed her lips together and shook her head.
“More presents?”
“No.”
“I’ll visit you more frequently then. I thought you liked the time to yourself to paint.”
“No, Dante.” Her tone held such a solemn note that his heart twisted.
“Then what? What do you want?”
“Everything you cannot give me.” She drew a handkerchief from the drawer of her dresser and dabbed under her eyes. “I want love, marriage...a man who won’t leave me waiting for hours on end in the vague hope he might want to see me. A man who wants more than my body.”
“More than your body? You know full well I don’t just want you for your body.”
She tilted her head. “Do I?”
“Of course you damn well do. Bloody hell, I’ve been faithful to you for four years. I’ve listened to your every word and helped you when you were sick. I thought we were friends, not just lovers.”
“Do not quote faithfulness as something to which I should owe you my thanks. I would not have agreed to this had I thought you’d be bedding other women. And yes, we are friends. I hope we can remain friends. But it’s not enough for me anymore. I-I’m unhappy.”
That word stabbed him like a knife to the gut. He’d always thought she was content with their arrangement. Josephine had always been like a light to him. Always happy, always smiling. No matter what his day had brought him, he could count on her to greet him with a smile.
“What will you do without me? You have no money.”
“I can manage.”
“I won’t see you begging on the streets.”
“I won’t have to.”
She took a step forwards and laid a hand across his arm. It was his turn to brush it away. How dare she throw everything they had away? Yes, it might not be marriage and declarations of undying love, but it was affection, devotion, and passion. How many other married couples could claim to have as much?
None, in his opinion.
He stood. This was merely some silly feminine outburst. Perhaps her courses were due and she was suffering from melancholy. He would leave her a week and return after. Then she’d be back to her usual sweet self.
“Clearly, I am not welcome tonight.” He snatched his hat from where he’d flung it aside and it had skidded across the little sewing table. After ramming it onto his head, he tore open her bedroom door and gave her one last look. “I shall return in a week and see you then.”
“No, you will not,” came her quiet response as he stormed down the stairs. A deep, angry hurt ripped at his guts like the claws of the devil. There was no way Josephine could live without him. No way.




Friday, 24 April 2015

Book Spotlight and Interview: Kirsten S. Blacketer

A simple country girl at the mercy of a cold-hearted thief with more secrets than scruples.
As a widow, Jessamine gained the freedom she’d always desired. Her late husband left her his sole possession, an inn on the north road to Scotland. When a trio of gentlemen appear at the doorstep of her isolated inn during a snowstorm, Jess can’t help the curiosity coursing through her veins. Eavesdropping on their conversation only entangles her in their web of deception.
To the petite innkeeper, Edmund is a wealthy thief. Allowing her to think what she will, he decides to use her to his advantage. That is until she hides the stolen jewels and refuses to reveal their location. Never cowed by a challenge, Edmund issues an ultimatum: return the jewels or repay the debt with her body.

AMAZONSMASHWORDS


Historical Quick Fire Questions

Favourite Historical Era:  Wow, this is actually a really hard one for me to choose. I have a fascination with history in general, which is why I write in all different time periods and can't focus on just one.  I do enjoy medieval, just prior to the renaissance. But I also love Victorian.

Mr Darcy or Mr Rochester:  I love Mr. Darcy, and I've loved him for a long time. But I've been obsessed with Mr. Rochester for about the same amount of time. So Rochester gets my vote on this one, sorry, Darcy. He's dark, brooding, dominant, and mysterious. All the things I love in a hero.

Castle or stately home: Both have their charms, but castles are notorious for being drafty. I don't like being cold. My husband can attest to that, he's constantly turning down the thermostat because I keep it so high in the winter. I'll have to go with stately home on this one. Although I would love to visit some castles soon.

Cravat or kilt: Another tricky question. I guess both isn't a good enough answer here, but I really do enjoy both on a man. Although, I will say after being in a stage production of Sherlock Holmes recently…the cravat holds a very high appeal for me. I say we bring it back into fashion. It's a fancy tie and perfect for grabbing hold of when the gentleman is too tall for me to reach his lips. *wink*

Best invention: Internet. I love that I can keep in touch with all my friends and family. Being a military family makes it difficult for me to keep relationships for long periods of time because we're constantly moving. The internet gives me the ability to keep in contact with everyone important in my life.

Scones or crumpets: Ummm…I'm American. I don't think I've ever had an actual crumpet. So I'm going with scone because I've had one before. But muffins are better if I can add my two cents. Maybe I've just never tasted a proper scone. Must visit the UK and test this theory. 

Brandy or ale: Neither. If I do indulge, I prefer rum. I believe I must have pirate blood in my lineage.

Carriage or horseback: Carriage driving is delightful for a spring day. I've actually driven carriages and find the ride quite lovely. However, I'm also a horsewoman. There's nothing that compares to racing your horse full gallop across an open field. So horseback is my mode of choice.

Person from history you’d most like to meet: I'd love to meet Nikola Tesla or Shakespeare. Both of them were masters of their crafts and men before their times. Meeting them would be an honor and a privilege.
  

Connect with Kirsten



Thursday, 16 April 2015

FREE new release





Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The Cynfell brothers are the very embodiment of a sinful existence. But could the right woman change that? 

Wrath 

Locked behind the walls of Lockwood Manor, Julian Cynfell, the Marquess of Lockwood whiles away his days writing angry letters, drinking and sleeping. He never expects his solitude to be interrupted by a brazen American heiress.

An American heiress who is expecting a wedding.

Viola Thompson can’t believe her luck when the English lord she has been corresponding with for the better part of a year asks her to visit him. This has to mean an offer of marriage surely? Finally, Viola will prove to her family and friends that she is more than a ruined woman with no prospects. Not to mention she knows they will be a love match. No one could write such beautiful letters without being the perfect man.

But when she arrives in cold, dreary England to be faced by a foul-tempered, grizzled—albeit in a handsome way—marquess, her dreams of marriage are quickly dashed. Can she draw the lord out of his melancholy ways? And does she even want to remain in England while rumours of three dead wives circulate around Lockwood?

One thing is for certain, this American heiress has never been one to back down from a challenge—especially when not even the Atlantic Ocean could dampen the patent desire running between them.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Why You Shouldn't Read

  1. Reading is boring. Why travel the world in your mind when you can watch it all on TV?
  2. Reading is bad for your health. You might get back ache or something from sitting down so long. Nothing relaxing about that, is there?
  3. Reading makes you boring. How can you learn anything from reading words? Yawn.
  4. Reading is expensive. Wouldn't you rather buy a coffee or something?
  5. Books give you unrealistic expectations. It's much better to suck it up and face reality.
  6. Reading is unsociable. I mean, what are you going to talk about once you've finished the book?
  7. Reading doesn't make you attractive AT ALL.
  8. Nobody likes a smartass. Who needs long, fancy words anyway?
  9. Who needs an improved imagination anyway?
  10. Reading makes you smarter? Pffft, I'll believe that when I see it. I can't think of any smart people who read... 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

First Chapter Teaser: Sinful Confessions

Coming April

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The Lords of Lockwood are the very embodiment of a sinful existence. But could the right woman change that?
                                                
Wrath

Locked behind the walls of Lockwood Manor, Julian Cynfell, the Marquess of Lockwood whiles away his days writing angry letters, drinking and sleeping. He never expects his solitude to be interrupted by a brazen American heiress.
An American heiress who is expecting a wedding.
Viola Thompson can’t believe her luck when the English lord she had been corresponding with for the better part of a year asks her to visit him. This had to mean an offer of marriage surely? Finally, Viola would prove to her family and friends that she is more than a ruined woman with no prospects. Not to mention she knows they will be a love match. No one could write such beautiful letters without being the perfect man.
But when she arrives in cold, dreary England to be faced by a foul-tempered, grizzled—albeit in a handsome way—marquess, her dreams of marriage are quickly dashed. Can she draw the lord out of his melancholy ways? And does she even want to remain in England while rumours of three dead wives circulate around Lockwood?
One thing is for certain, this American heiress has never been one to back down from a challenge—especially when not even the Atlantic Ocean could dampen the patent desire running between them.

Chapter One

Bang, bang, bang.
Somebody was setting off fireworks inside of Julian Cynfell’s skull. He winced, cracked open an eye and peered around. The curtains were drawn and a blanket of gloom dominated the large drawing room.
“What in the devil...?”
He eased up from the chaise longue and groaned. There it was again. No fireworks though. The flashes of bright light bursting through his skull had merely been a product of the headache plaguing him.
Julian scrubbed a hand across his face and sat fully upright. He cradled his delicate head for a few moments and closed his eyes. Apparently some mischievous elves had taken up residence in his skull and were taking tiny hammers to it. Each movement felt as though they were renewing their efforts in protest of being jostled about.
Bang, bang.
The front door. That was where the noise was coming from. Well, that made more sense than fireworks in the main drawing room of Lockwood Manor he supposed. Cursing the little creatures inside his head, he stood and squinted into the darkness. A tiny slit of light slipped through each of the three sets of curtains, spilling onto the highly polished walnut furnishings, picking out the gilded highlights of the soft furnishings and emphasising the strong patterns on the carpet. Julian curled his lip in distaste. Far too much for one’s delicate eyes to see after a night of heavy indulgence.
Whoever was at the door clearly had no intention of leaving. Where was the damned butler? Or the maids? Yes, he didn’t have many of those left but he could spare one member of his household to open a damned door, surely?
Feeling as though he had aged a hundred years overnight, he dragged himself to the hallway door and flung it open. Bright light greeted him and he groaned. At the smell of fresh flowers and a hallway that had certainly already been aired out, he hated himself anew. Even he could smell the fog of alcohol surrounding him. He needed a bath, a teeth clean and a swirl of mint tea.
Then he needed some strong coffee to help him sober up.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he muttered to the persistent visitor as the door knocker vibrated through the house again.
Julian took a moment to steady himself against the marbled banister of the staircase before heading to the large double doors that signalled the entrance to his house. Tall pillars in matching cream marble reached high up to support the ceiling and he had to stare at them for some time to realise they were not wavering from side to side. It was, in fact, he who could not stay still.
Damn. No more drinking.
Oh who was he kidding? Besides it wasn’t as if he was a slave to the drink. He’d only indulged—what?—twice this week. Admittedly, he did like to indulge until darkness swallowed him and he could forget everything, but it didn’t normally matter. Normally he didn’t have visitors and he could sleep off any ill effects. Everyone was wise enough to stay away.
But not this person, damn them to hell. Didn’t they know who he was? Hadn’t they heard tell of his infamous reputation?
On wobbly legs, he edged over to the door and drew it open, readying himself to say something cutting before slamming it shut.
“What in the—?”
Instead of ramming the door closed as planned, he found himself opening it farther. The feathers caught his eye first. The white plumes drooped under the weight of raindrops. Though his front door stood under the shelter of several columns and a jutting pediment, this woman had clearly been a victim of quite the soaking.
He peered past her and saw that it was indeed a miserable day. Grey clouds weighed down the sky like lead and water filled the dips in the road leading to the house.
Julian turned his attention back to the soaked woman on his doorstep. The white feathered hat matched a long, white gown, shielded from the weather by only a pale blue jacket. She looked dressed for fine summer weather and certainly not spring showers.
When the woman lifted her head and took a long perusal of him, he stiffened. A shard of sensation twisted through him, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Underneath the huge brim of her hat sat bold blue eyes, a narrow but plump set of lips and a face that made his heart stutter.
Still drunk, he reminded himself. She could have been a hideous beast but the fog of alcohol made even the plainest of women beautiful.
He peered at her again. The strong nose wasn’t beautiful. However, when he stopped looking at it and took her face in as a whole, she was back to being spectacular.
He really ought to give up the drink. His mind was playing tricks on him.
The stranger lifted an auburn eyebrow. Several strands of hair that would likely be the same colour when dry clung to her cheeks. Those pouty lips parted.
“Yes?” he asked abruptly, aware he’d been staring at her for too long. His alcohol-soaked brain seemed to be working at a snail’s pace.
Her wet lashes darted over her cheeks several times before she spoke. “Oh, hello. Um. Is the master home?”
An American. He tried not to sound like his mother but the voice in his head had sounded distinctly marchioness-like. A brash, coarse, unsophisticated American. That was his mother’s voice too. Julian hadn’t met many American women so he couldn’t really be a judge of how brash, coarse and unsophisticated they were.
She looked at him, awaiting a response. Brash indeed. Most women withered and looked away under his darkest stares. In fact, most ladies wouldn’t even approach him. Too scared of him. After all, the Marquess of Lockwood had the touch of death.
“The master is home,” he drawled.
A smile slipped across those lips and he followed the movement of them. They were certainly narrow but, bloody hell, the cupid bow shape of them did strange things to his insides. He couldn’t remember any of his wives’ lips making him feel as though his gut was twisting into knots.
“That is wonderful news.” She thrust out a gloved hand. “I’m Miss Viola Thompson. My friends call me Vee.”
Viola Thompson. Oh Christ, the woman he’d been writing to in New York. The woman he’d been... well that didn’t matter. What the blazes was she doing here? He contemplated her hand for several moments until her fingers curled and she tucked it back against her side.
“Could I speak with your master?” she tried again, her voice holding a little less strength this time.
“I have no master.” He leaned against the door frame and folded his arms. A little amusement first thing in the morning would do no harm.
“But I thought...” Colour seeped into her pale cheeks and confusion marred her brow.
“Julian Cynfell, Marquess of Lockwood, at your service, Miss Thompson.”
“But...” Her lips opened and closed several times while her gaze ran over him. “You cannot possibly be.”
He hadn’t considered what he looked like. If he looked down, he’d likely see his shirt was untucked, his feet were bare and he knew at least a month’s worth of bristle covered his jaw. What sort of servant she thought he was, he didn’t know.
“Forgive me if I disappoint.”
Viola clutched her travelling bag to her chest. “No, no, forgive me. I didn’t realise... Well, anyway,” she said brightly. “Here I am.”
Letting both brows rise, he ran his gaze from head to toe. What was he meant to do with her? “Yes, here you are.”
“Can I come in?”
Julian’s head pounded anew. All he wanted to do was have a coffee, eat something wholesome and go to bed—a proper bed. His back ached from having fallen asleep on the chaise. Instead, he had an admittedly stunning American woman on his doorstep, expecting him to do something with her.
He could think of several things he might like to do with her—it had been over a year after all—but he doubted those were the sort of somethings she expected. Viola Thompson was all of twenty-two and definitely innocent—that had been clear from her letters. Besides which, Julian didn’t do women anymore.
He scowled and leaned out of the door to search for a carriage or sign of a chaperone. No one. Nothing. Was Miss Thompson all alone?
“How did you get here?”
“The mail coach dropped me off at the end of the road.” She pointed in the direction of the end of the private road. It couldn’t be seen from the house as rows of large oak trees hid it from view.
“And you walked all the way up here in the rain?”
She nodded and a tiny shudder wracked her.
“You’re alone?” He did another scan of the area, wondering if someone was hiding behind the fountain or had decided to walk around the back of the house to explore the ornamental garden.
“Yes.”
“You’re American.” He didn’t ask, just stated. He needed to work his brain around several things and saying them aloud helped.
She squeezed her bag tightly to her chest. “Well, yes, but you knew that. We’ve been writing to each other for six months now.”
“No, it’s just... did you travel from America alone?”
“Yes.” She nodded again as though this was a perfectly normal thing to do.
Fingers to his temples, he levered himself away from the door frame.  For some reason, he had this woman he’d been writing to on his doorstep, alone, expecting something. And she’d crossed the ocean on her own. He opened and closed his eyes several times to make sure he wasn’t seeing things, but she remained, resolute and a little fragile-looking.
“You can’t come in.”
“What?” She almost dropped her bag and had to fumble to keep hold of it.
“You’re alone. You cannot possibly come in.”
“But... Julian...” Her eyes widened. “I mean, my lord, I am cold and wet and hungry. I haven’t slept since my ship docked in Southampton.”
“Miss Thompson,” he said slowly as though speaking to an imbecile, “there is no room at the inn. No place for you to say. No warm welcome here. May I suggest you find a hotel and find your warmth and rest there?”
A crease appeared between her brows and she studied him for long moments as though trying to work out a puzzle. “The nearest town is five miles away. I know that because that is where I caught the train to. Firstly, how do you expect me to get there? And secondly, I thought you were expecting me.”
Julian found himself taken aback by her sharp tone. Coarse, definitely coarse. Also slightly appealing. None of his wives had ever spoken to him so directly—not even the last one.
“I wasn’t expecting you.”
“But your letter...” She tried to reach for the purse hanging off her arm by a metal chain but her travelling bag slipped and dropped to the floor with a thud. He half expected the overly-stuffed fabric to split apart and for her belongings to explode all over him. Viola thrust her hands to her sides and let out a small huff sound. And there, in her eyes, was the undoing of him. The little shimmer of tears that never failed to scour his insides and turn him into an utter weakling.
“Come in for a moment.” He said the words as low as he could, half-hoping she wouldn’t hear and she would decide to run back to New York.
She brushed by him eagerly, not even waiting for him to step aside properly. Her arm breezed past his chest and a few feathers tickled his nose. Julian stepped back and shut the door. Viola removed her hat and lifted her gaze to the vaulted ceiling. Her mouth fell open.
“Goodness, what a place.”
Brash for certain. His mother would have delighted in meeting this woman and putting her in her place. He, however, couldn’t help but enjoy her open expression of pleasure. He supposed the house was impressive when you first saw it but he’d grown up in it. Lockwood Manor didn’t interest him. It was nice to see it appreciated though. The few visitors he received usually did their upmost to appear entirely unimpressed and at ease with his grand home.
“Come into the...” No, he couldn’t put her in the main drawing room. The place would smell of alcohol and he’d probably left a few empty decanters lying around. She already didn’t have the best impression of him. Best not to add to that.
Though why did he care?
“Come into the day room,” he said, motioning to the door on the other side of the hall.
Julian supposed it was a relief to have someone who didn’t already have a bad opinion of him in his house. The rumours and gossip were the very reason he never set foot outside his house anymore, so if there were any ladies left who didn’t know all about him, he had never met them. Miss Thompson knew him as nothing more than some words on paper—nice words too. Honest ones. Their correspondence had been one of the more enjoyable aspects of his life.
He also supposed he owed her a more pleasant welcome, even if he couldn’t fathom why she was here.
When he pressed open the door, she slipped past him—again caring little for his personal space. Or hers. In spite of travelling all night presumably, she smelled floral and fresh. She began to unbutton that tiny jacket and work it off her shoulders as she did a loop of the room. No predatory glint hung in her gaze.
Normally, when women visited his home, they were weighing up his valuables. Gauging how much the paintings were worth. Deciding how they’d decorate the pale green room. In some ways, the death of his last wife had at least saved him from any more visits from mothers and daughters. None would go near him now.
“This is a beautiful room.” She shrugged out of her jacket and glanced around for somewhere to put it. It ended up draped over a Louis XV chair along with her hat. “Very feminine.”
Feminine. Yes. There was a lot of feminine in this room right now. However, it wasn’t the curves of the gilded chairs that drew his attention. It was the curves under Miss Thompson’s high-necked shirt that captured his eye. She did another loop, as though parading especially for him. Her skirt clung tightly to her hips and as near as he could tell, no bustle enhanced her behind. Everything fit tight, perfectly. Julian had ample idea what her figure was like. Long, lithe, with high, pert breasts. Of course a corset could be responsible for those breasts but this was a fantasy after all and his fantasy woman had breasts that were high and round and succulent.
Mother wouldn’t approve of course, which made it all the more appealing. His mother had designed this room and he imagined her lips curled in distaste at the idea of an American scattering her clothes over the furniture. Thank the Lord she was in Brighton.
Julian, however, rather liked the idea of more clothes being scattered. A shirt perhaps. Then a corset. A skirt and some drawers. Maybe he’d leave any stockings on. He bet she would look radiant in silk stockings.
Miss Thompson paused by the fire and held out her hands. Apparently some of his staff was around as it had been lit on this dreary morning. He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. Afternoon. Not morning. He’d slept that away it seemed.
While his visitor fussed with her auburn hair, drawing back the wet strands that were stuck to her cheeks, he rang the bell for tea. He had a limited amount of staff—yes the house took a lot of work—but he hardly needed anyone to care for him. However, there had to be someone around.
He eyed the back of her for a while. What to do with her? He coughed. “Will you not... will you not have a seat?”
She smiled at him. Any hint of that rebellious woman demanding entrance to his house had vanished. A warm fire and a dry room had done wonders for her temperament.
Easily pleased then. Very unlike wife number three.