Romance Weekly: Research


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Let’s get down to it, shall we? This week’s questions are courtesy of Dani Jace.

1. What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever done in the name of research for a book?

I’ve gone to a museum dedicated to Victorian-era prostitution in the Old West. Talk about a niche market, there. 

Actually, the museum was fascinating, though I will admit that some things shouldn’t be seen, and once seen, can’t be unseen, but whatever. It is only unfortunate that I was the only sober person in there (Hubs had the kids at the ice cream parlor). That was actually the awkward part.

2. Name a nonfiction book you’ve read for research that you wouldn’t have read otherwise.  Not including writing craft books.

I just finished Scotland: The Story of a Nation by Magnus Magnusson. It was pretty good. My non-fiction reading is usually reserved for the day job, so this was refreshing.

3. If you could travel anywhere to do research for a book, including back in time, where would you go?

I’d love to go back in time to Scotland. I mean, it probably smelled bad, and lord knows I wouldn’t be able to eat any of the food with my allergies (I’m a huge fan of Amazon Pantry, just because they have almost anything a girl could want. Somehow, I doubt 12th century Scotland carries gluten-free flour and other specialty products. It would be all, “Here. Have a steak, some eggs, and a piece of bread. Would you like a side of Death with that?”). With this in mind, I suspect 12th century Scotland would go something like this:

Me: Hey Scotland.

Scotland: Yo.

Me: What’s that smell?

Scotland: Hey, don’t hate. I haven’t a bath since last summer.

Me: Gross. Is that lice?

Scotland: Yes. Here, have a staph infection. Don’t forget, no antibiotics yet, so good  luck with that.

Me: Um, no thanks. I think I’m going home now.

And then I’d return to my century and spend all my time in the library, reading about centuries I can never visit because, well, I’ll die. Small things, right?

Also, I’m not sure why, in my head, Scotland sounds like a 20-year-old college boy, but it does. Some things are unexplainable.

Let’s go see what Mishka Jenkins had to say on the topic. I’m pretty certain her answers weren’t as ridiculous as mine. 🙂

Here’s another link, because I’m cool like that: https://awriterslifeformeblog.wordpress.com/

Welcome Collette Cameron to The Bodice


**Meggan’s note** This was supposed to post on April 2nd. This being as late as it is is almost certainly my error. I thought I’d set this up to post while I was on my little vacay. Apparently, it saved in a different folder, and when I was going through my files, I found it. Sitting there, all nice and pretty and ready to go. Also unposted.

Huge, massive fail on my part. End mea culpa**

Wendy Herrington pen name Collette Cameron

Collette Cameron is one of my new favorite historical authors. Her characters are real, they’re funny, and I have so enjoyed reading all of them, from Highlander’s Hope, her debut, to The Viscount’s Vow. I’m sure The Earl’s Enticement will be no different.

She’s also an all-around cool gal!

So, take it away, Collette!

Cover Reveal –The Earl’s Enticement

Coming May 28, 2014 from Soul Mate Publishing

A Regency-Scottish Historical

The Earl’s Enticement Blurb

She won’t be tamed.

A fiery, unconventional Scot, Adaira Ferguson wears breeches, swears, and has no more desire to marry than she does to follow society’s dictates of appropriate behavior. She trusts no man with the secret she desperately protects.

He can’t forget.

Haunted by his past, Roark, The Earl of Clarendon, rigidly adheres to propriety, holding himself and those around him to the highest standards, no matter the cost. Betrayed once, he’s guarded and leery of all women.

Mistaking Roark for a known spy, Adaira imprisons him. Infuriated, he vows vengeance. Realizing her error, she’s appalled and releases him, but he’s not satisfied with his freedom. Roark is determined to transform Adaira from an ill-mannered hoyden to a lady of refinement.

He succeeds only to discover, he preferred the free-spirited Scottish lass who first captured his heart.

A bit about Collette

Award winning, Amazon best-selling, and multi-published historical romance author, Collette Cameron, has a BS in Liberal Studies and a Master’s in Teaching.  A Pacific Northwest Native, Collette’s been married for thirty years, has three amazing adult children, and five dachshunds. Collette loves a good joke, inspirational quotes, flowers, the beach, trivia, birds, shabby chic, and Cadbury Chocolate. You’ll always find dogs, birds, quirky—sometimes naughty—humor, and a dash of inspiration in her novels. Her motto for life? You can’t have too much chocolate, too many hugs, or too many flowers. She’s thinking about adding shoes to that list.

Connect with Collette:

Website     Blue Rose Romance Blog   Twitter   Facebook

You can connect with Collette on Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Google+  too. Go to her website for the links, her email address, and mailing address.

And here’s her super pretty cover!

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Thursday Threads Welcomes Cathy MacRae


The Highlander’s Reluctant Bride, Book 2 in The Highlander’s Bride series

Written by Cathy MacRae

Historical Romance set in the Highlands of Scotland, 1377

Heat Scale: Sensual

Cover blurb:
Determined to keep the Macrory clan’s holdings out of the clutches of the Lord of the Isles and marauding pirates, King Robert II sends his man, Lord Ranald Scott, to hold Scaurness Castle. There, Laird Macrory lays dying, awaiting word from his son who is missing on the battlefields of France. If the son is not found before the old laird dies, Ranald will take over as laird—and marry Laird Macrory’s headstrong daughter.

Lady Caitriona sees no reason she cannot rule the clan in her brother’s stead, and is bitterly disappointed with the king’s decision to send a man to oversee the castle and people. Not only is Ranald Scott only distantly related to the Macrory clan, but he was her childhood nemesis. She has little trust or like for him.

Her disappointment turns to panic when the king’s plan is completely revealed and she realizes she must wed Ranald. Pirates, treachery, and a 4-year-old girl stand between her and Ranald’s chance at happiness. What will it take for them to learn to trust each other and find the love they both deserve?

Excerpt:

“So, the king forced Eaden to wed,” Riona murmured. Her gaze caught Ranald’s. “What will he do to me?”

Ranald noted her sudden pallor, her grey eyes widening until they were naught but huge silver orbs glowing against her skin. Now was as good a time as any to tell her what King Robert intended for her, but he could not force the words.

“Ye are a laird’s daughter,” he reminded her. “And an heiress. Yer mother’s dower lands north of here are of great value to the king.”

“And I am of little worth, aye?” Riona flared.

“Nae. Ye are of great worth.”

“But a pawn to the king.”

Ranald sighed. This was not going as he planned. “We are all pawns in one way or another, Ree. The king willnae let ye stay on yer own. Ye are a ward of the crown, now.”

“So, he’ll marry me off to some rebellious laird he wants to drag over to his side, using me and my lands to hold him?”

“Nae. No’ so bad as all that.”

“Then, to a wealthy laird who’s all but doddering in his cups, hoping I’ll no’ breed an heir before he dies, giving title to the land to the king and my next husband?”

Ranald lifted an eyebrow. The lass was getting worked up over nothing.

“Marriage, yes. Doddering auld man, no.”

Riona snapped her head to one side, a glower on her face. “Then, who?”

Ranald swallowed and gave her a crooked smile.

“Me.”

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Romance Weekly: Take Away


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This week’s questions are from Julie Abdinoor. If you like romance, and want to know how writers think, follow the links and see how everyone else answered.

1. What are the ages of your characters?

In Highland Deception, Isobel is twenty-two, and Malcolm/Kenneth is almost thirty. Because it was set in 1725, it made more sense to have him be older than she.

2. What special things or places inspire you to write?

Music inspires me always. I do best when I’ve assigned a song to a character–that way, when I’m writing a scene, I can listen to a song and it helps me really get into the character’s head. It’s weird though, how music chooses to inspire me. For instance, for my latest WIP, Devil of Dunmoor, the song Counting Stars  by One Republic makes me think of my hero, Ethan. Which is so weird, because I really thought The Last of the Mohicans sound track would be my inspiration.

Places that inspire me? Well, I finished my first three or four books in Fort Bragg, California, in a little motel near the water. The place is rink-dink and as fantastic as a 1970s leisure suit–all the tile is cracked in the bathrooms, and the decor is… um… dated, but I love that place. The showers are hot (and I mean really hot) and it has a great little path down to a private beach, and that makes it totally worth it.

The last book, though? Not so much. We got a little trailer over the summer, and now, instead of our trip to Fort Bragg, we’re going to new and different places. I actually plotted Devil of Dunmoor in Valley of Fire State Park, in Southern Nevada. I still love the ocean, and I think it would be great inspiration for the Scottish moors (because there really is something about that place–especially if you go north toward Eureka–that reminds me of the Irish Sea. It’s more of a feeling I get when I’m there as opposed to actual physical similarities, though).

3. What is one message that you hope women will receive when they read your stories?

Well, I’ve already talked a little about how the one thing I want people to take away from my stories is a sense of hope. That there is hope that things will work out for the better, and that everyone will get their happy ending. That there is hope that we will all find the love and the happiness we deserve.

But more than that, I think what I want women in particular to take away from my books is that they deserve the fairy tale. We deserve a man who will love us with his dying breath, who would move heaven and earth for us. We deserve to feel loved, to be wanted, and to have great sex. We deserve our own heroes. They may be imperfect, they may have crummy days and be crabby, but at the end of the day, the men in our lives should be heroic.

I know mine is.

Follow the link to find out what SC MItchell has to say on the subject!

Vacation


I’ve already posted some of the pictures from my recent trip to the desert, but now that I’m back to civilization, I thought I’d post a few more (having cell service and wifi does help with that).

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This is from one of my dawn romps with the dogs. And we got up that early because there is something decidedly unsexy about a 90 pound German Shepherd panting in your ear at 5:15 in the morning.

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This photo was taken at dusk. There’s nothing spectacular about it, but I thought it was neat. So there you are.

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This picture is of our campground. Pretty cool, huh?

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And I discovered I really like arches…

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And petroglyphs (photo courtesy of my young son).

Belated Thursday Threads


My intermittent cell service prevented posting yesterday, but this book was so sweet, I knew I had to give it some love. So, without further ado, welcome Char Chaffin to The Bodice.

Title: Jesse’s Girl
Heat Rating: Sweetly Sensual
Genre: Nostalgia Romance
Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Jesses-Girl-Char-Chaffin-ebook/dp/B00JK0DUD0/

Blurb:

In 1965, Tim O’Malley returns to his home town of Skitter Lake, Ohio, to clear his name and get the girl: Dorothy Whitaker, the love of his life since eighth grade. Blamed for a destructive fire he didn’t set, only Tim and Dorothy know the truth; that Jesse Prescott, Tim’s best friend and Dorothy’s boyfriend, did the deed that changed an entire town. But Jesse died in that tragedy and seven years later, Skitter Lake still honors him as a hero, rather than Tim, the boy from the seedy side of town whose father was a drunk . . . and whose quick actions saved six people from perishing in that horrendous fire.

In trying to set the record straight and finally claim Dorothy as his own, Tim—and Dorothy, too—will discover that in some small towns the legend often outweighs the truth . . . and their family and friends will forever see Dorothy as “Jesse’s girl.”

Excerpt:

Dorothy Whitaker. Good Lord, almighty.

Tim had almost crashed his car when he saw her, sitting in the sun with her ice-cream cone. Of all the people in Skitter Lake he figured he’d see, she was at the top of his ‘hope to run into’ list. He’d had to pull over right on the side of the road and look his fill, before summoning enough courage to step out of his car and approach her.
She hadn’t changed a bit. Still the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, and that included all the California girls he’d met after he moved from Skitter Lake.
In grade school, they’d been inseparable. They’d played together during recess, spun on the merry-go-round, paired off on the seesaw. Dorothy was the first girl he’d held hands with, the first girl he’d ever taken to a Saturday matinee, back in seventh grade. They’d stuffed themselves on popcorn and thrilled to the adventures of Peter Pan. He’d walked her home, shyly brushed her mouth with the briefest touch of his lips. And trembled, needing more. He dreamed that night, how someday they’d be old enough and when they were, he’d kiss her the way a boy kisses his girlfriend.

But by eighth grade, Jesse had noticed Dorothy, and after that, Tim didn’t stand a chance.

Well, that was then, and Jesse no longer stood between them.

“You let your cone get away from you.” Was that his voice, hoarse and deep? He cleared his throat, offering the damp towel. Slowly, her hand reached out, and her fingers touched his. The spark between them seemed immediate and powerful, at least to him.

“Thanks.” She wadded the towel and wiped at the stain on her dress. Her downcast face couldn’t hide the flush that rode high on her cheeks. Dorothy had always been a blusher, her creamy skin revealing every emotion. A coil of loose, silky hair slipped over her shoulder as she worked at the smear of chocolate. If anything, the color had deepened over the years. ‘Strawberry blonde,’ he’d heard it called in California, but back in school she’d simply had the loveliest hair he’d ever seen.

Silence stretched between them as he waited for her to raise her head and she seemed hell-bent on fussing with her damp skirt. Finally, nothing remained for her to clean, and she had to look up. She laid the towel on the picnic table behind her, started to speak, hesitated, then her lips curved into a sweet smile. “It’s good to see you, Tim. When did you get to town?”

“About two hours ago. I’ve just been driving around.” He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He had to shove his hands in the pockets of his pants to keep from touching her. “I wasn’t sure I’d see you. Guess I thought you’d have left by now, moved somewhere else.”

She shrugged. “No, I decided to stay. After my dad died, Mom’s health problems got worse. And I work at the bank now. It’s pretty good money.”
Yeah, and it doesn’t hurt that Bob Prescott owns the bank and still thinks of you as his honorary daughter-in-law. The thought tasted bitter to Tim, even after seven years and moving a dozen states away.

As if she could read his mind, Dorothy’s face flamed brighter and she looked away, out over the lake. He didn’t know what the hell to say to her, which infuriated him. Once, a lifetime ago, words flowed between them so easily. Even after Jesse had claimed her, Tim still had these incredible conversations with Dorothy about music, movies, books, dreams. He could tell her about how boxed-in he felt, living on the rougher edge of the blue-collar side of town with a father who thought the world owed him a living, and a mother who silently endured her unhappy marriage.
In turn, she confided the difficulties of life as the daughter of Preacher Whitaker, professional Bible-thumper. Tim knew she’d loved her father fiercely. He also knew her childhood had been knotted up in Christian duty, an often heavy burden for a kid.

Now, Dorothy released a quiet sigh and picked up the soiled bar towel. “Well, I should be going, I suppose—”

“Stay.” He laid his palm on her shoulder, fought a losing battle with the need to caress her baby-soft skin, and ran careful fingers along her slender forearm. When she didn’t move away, he took at as a good sign, and murmured, “It’s been seven long years, Dorothy. We were friends once.”
He watched the emotion flicker over her face. “I missed you, a lot.”

She released a broken little sigh. “I missed you, too. But I wasn’t the one who moved away, Tim. I wasn’t the one who left.”

“I didn’t have a choice, you know that.” He bit back the familiar frustration, a feeling he’d thought had finally left him after years away from this town. “I paid the price for leaving. Everyone still blames me. Don’t they?” He caught her fingers, which trembled in his grip. “I paid, and it wasn’t my fault.”

Tears formed in her pretty hazel eyes, and even his instant remorse at hurting her yet again couldn’t keep him silent a second longer. “It wasn’t my fault,” he repeated. “You know it. Hell, Bob Prescott knows it, too.”

“What’re you talking about? What are you saying?” Now her hand pressed against his, holding him steady when he would have turned from her. “What’s Mr. Prescott got to do with anything?”

“Ask him, Dorothy.” Tim gently disengaged her hand and gave it a quick squeeze before he let her go. “I’m in town for a while.” He paused, his gaze roaming over her with a yearning he didn’t attempt to hide. “I’m staying at the boardinghouse. I’d really like to see you.”

She released a broken little sigh. “I missed you, too. But I wasn’t the one who moved away, Tim. I wasn’t the one who left.”

“I didn’t have a choice, you know that.” He bit back the familiar frustration, a feeling he’d thought had finally left him after years away from this town. “I paid the price for leaving. Everyone still blames me. Don’t they?” He caught her fingers, which trembled in his grip.

He could feel her eyes on him as he headed to his car.

Deserted


This week, the family and I visited the desert. Surprisingly, both kids seem to love this place. The cacti are in bloom, bright magenta against dull green, and desert paintbrush blossoms along the road, fiery red against the landscape. The terra cotta-colored sandstone melts into white, as if it’s been dipped in paint.

It’s lovely. And warm. But not too hot (yet).

The desert in spring is the place to be.

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What to Write?


By my very nature, I’m a genre jumper.

I read everything, from Highlanders to Regency to westerns. I like sweet contemporaries, dark paranormal, and literary fiction. I like science fiction and epic fantasy. It’s all good.

So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m a genre jumper in my writing, too.

My first three books, The Marker, Wandering Heart and Jessie’s War, were all westerns. And I know it seems weird, but when I wrote my latest, it was a prequel to Wandering Heart. And a sequel, too.

In any case, Wandering Heart came first. Then came Highland Deception.

It was an experience for me. I was used to writing 1870s Nevada/California. Writing 1725 Scotland involved loads of research, changing the dialect I was used to writing, heavily debating how much dialect was needed, putting in more, taking some out, and throwing my hands up in frustration. It involved looking up words–oh, so many words–in my etymology dictionary to make sure they were in use in the time period.

And now I’m changing it up again. Or considering it, anyway. I’m writing the same period as Highland Deception, but it’s England. The story I’m writing is Ethan Standish’s, who is the Duke of Dunmoore and Isobel’s cousin.

His story–his backstory anyway–has been floating around in my head since I wrote Highland Deception. I loved Ethan. Now I think it’s time for him to get his own, as yet untitled, love story.

Hey, maybe I’ll let you guys pick. If you’ve read Highland Deception, what do you think I should call Ethan’s? And what should I name the heroine?

I’ve got two names I’m toying with for her: Elizabeth and Catherine (“Cat” for short). I’ll take other suggestions, though. Think stubborn, resourceful, and enough of a match for Ethan to force him from his estate.

🙂

>

Thursday Threads Welcomes…Me!


Title: Highland Deception
Heat Rating: Sensual
Genre: Historical Romance
Buy Links: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J3D2JS6/

Blurb:

When Kenneth Mackay, long-banished rogue and thief, returns to the Mackay holding at the request of his brother, he has no idea what he might find. He certainly doesn’t expect to be confronted with his twin’s imminent death, or with the plan his brother has concocted.

Ten years before, Malcolm made a tragic mistake, and, to preserve the family name—and his own skin—he allowed Kenneth to take the fall. Now that he is dying without an heir, Malcolm plans to atone for his mistake: by giving Kenneth his life back. All Kenneth has to do is assume his brother’s identity. But complicating matters is the unexpected return of Lady Isobel Mackay, the daughter of an English marquess and the wife Malcolm didn’t want.

Isobel barely knows the husband who abandoned her even before their marriage, and she’d long since given up hope on having a real marriage with him. Yet when she returns to the Mackay holding far earlier than expected, she finds her husband a changed man. Despite the hurt between them, Isobel’s heart responds to this man who cares for his entire clan as if there were family. Who, for the first time, cares about her as if she is, too.

Falling in love with her husband had never been part of Isobel’s plan. But when their future is suddenly in peril, Isobel must find a way to save him—from himself and from the deception threatening to tear them apart.

Excerpt
She ignored Grant’s angry protests behind her and ran for her husband’s bedchamber. Slamming open theTitle: Highland Deception
Heat Rating: Sensual
Genre: Historical Romance
Buy Links: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J3D2JS6/

Blurb:

When Kenneth Mackay, long-banished rogue and thief, returns to the Mackay holding at the request of his brother, he has no idea what he might find. He certainly doesn’t expect to be confronted with his twin’s imminent death, or with the plan his brother has concocted.
Ten years before, Malcolm made a tragic mistake, and, to preserve the family name—and his own skin—he allowed Kenneth to take the fall. Now that he is dying without an heir, Malcolm plans to atone for his mistake: by giving Kenneth his life back. All Kenneth has to do is assume his brother’s identity. But complicating matters is the unexpected return of Lady Isobel Mackay, the daughter of an English marquess and the wife Malcolm didn’t want.
Isobel barely knows the husband who abandoned her even before their marriage, and she’d long since given up hope on having a real marriage with him. Yet when she returns to the Mackay holding far earlier than expected, she finds her husband a changed man. Despite the hurt between them, Isobel’s heart responds to this man who cares for his entire clan as if there were family. Who, for the first time, cares about her as if she is, too.
Falling in love with her husband had never been part of Isobel’s plan. But when their future is suddenly in peril, Isobel must find a way to save him—from himself and from the deception threatening to tear them apart.

Excerpt

She ignored Grant’s angry protests behind her and ran for her husband’s bedchamber. Slamming open the door, she stumbled inside.

Malcolm lay in the great bed. Alone.
Alone. She tried not to speculate about what meant.

His breathing was shallow, as if he’d been running. As the door bounced back and closed, his sky-bright eyes shot up and met hers.

No, not sky-bright. Darker, the color of the forget-me-nots that bloomed in the gardens in spring. The color of the night sky as it lightened with the first rays of dawn.

“Milord.” She gasped for breath.

Malcolm had never looked at her like he did now. This time, when he studied her, it was as if he didn’t dislike what he saw.

Being honest with herself, Malcolm had never disliked her. After all, the term dislike implied a depth of feeling he almost certainly lacked.

“Wife.”

Isobel flinched.

Grant was suddenly at her back. “Sir, I apologize. She’s faster than you’d think.” He laid a hand on her shoulder, as if to steer her from the room.

She shook him off.

“Indeed.” Malcolm smiled, and a charming dent in his cheek appeared.
How had she not noticed that before?

“We will leave at once.” Grant took her by the arm.

She wrenched out of his grasp. “I’m not going anywhere. Not until I have my audience.” She glanced around the room and saw no sign of Malcolm’s mistress.

“Lady Mackay,” Grant began.

Malcolm held up his hand. “‘Tis fine, Grant. I can always make time for my lady wife.”

Isobel barked a hollow laugh, alleviating the ache, just a little.

“Are you certain?” Grant’s eyes shifted from Isobel to Malcolm and back again. A wrinkle formed between his brows, and the muscle in his cheek worked as he ground his teeth together.

He’d only ever done that when he was agitated or anxious.

But there was no reason for that, as Malcolm had never truly cared enough to keep secrets from her in an attempt to spare her feelings. Nor had he ever forced others to do the same.

Malcolm’s eyes met Grant’s, and something passed between the two men. Her husband gave Grant a clipped nod. “If you’ll excuse us, Grant.”

Grant released his breath slowly. His eyes narrowed first at Malcolm, then at Isobel. Scowling, he bowed his head. “Mackay,” he said stiffly. He turned to Isobel. “Lady Mackay. ”

Isobel watched him go then waited until the door had closed behind him. “So, where is she?”

Malcolm arched a dark brow. “Where is who?”

“You know. Her.”

He lifted a single shoulder, as if she didn’t have a right to know. “I doona ken.”

The silence that fell between them was deafening, damning.

Finally he said, “Your arrival was unexpected.”

She breathed a mirthless laugh. “I have no doubt.” She expected him to look ashamed, but his expression didn’t hold even the slightest hint of remorse. She swallowed against the betrayal rising in the back of her throat and tried again. “Why are you abed?

“I’ve been ailing. Naught to fash yourself over.”

She approached his great bed tentatively. “Ailing how? Has your cough worsened?”

He glanced down at his coverlet and then brought his gaze back to her face. “For a time, aye. I believe I’m on the mend now.”

Isobel pressed her hand to his forehead, then his cheek. His skin felt cool beneath her palm, if a little damp.
His breath hitched, then he cleared his throat. “Satisfied? As you can see, I am on the mend.”

“Perhaps,” she whispered. She ran her hand around to the back of his neck, then descended to his back.

He wore a thin linen shirt, unsuitable for the cool nights of the Highlands in late fall. She placed her hands between his shoulder blades. He was thinner than she remembered, but there was no mistaking Malcolm’s unique strength.

“Breathe,” she said, and then reminded herself to do the same.
Malcolm.

“I hardly think—”

“If you want me to leave you be, you will appease my curiosity. Breathe.”

Malcolm tilted his head up and studied her.

She fought the desire to look at him for as long as she could before meeting his gaze. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw something in his eyes she hadn’t seen before.

Curiosity.

“Breathe, milord.” Heat spread up her neck to her face, and, to keep her free hand from shaking, she clenched a fist. The warmth of his body seeped through his nightshirt, scalding her hand not with fever but with something else.

The corners of his lips tilted upward before he smoothed his features. He paused for a moment too long, then held her gaze as he took an extended, deliberate breath.

She shoved the raging emotions aside and forced herself to view him as a person who needed her help.

She felt no hint of the cough that had been nagging him before she’d left.

Swallowing hard, she slid her hand between the linen and his skin, against his chest.

His heart rate kicked up.

“Breathe.” She struggled to force the word out.

I feel nothing. Nothing. He needs my help.

She closed her eyes and listened to his breathing, feeling the rise and fall of his chest beneath her hands, the steady beating of his heart. His skin scorched hers.

Her mouth dried, her tongue thick and heavy. She removed her hand. “You seem to have mended nicely.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded strangled.

His gaze searched her face. “Aye.”

Isobel cradled her hand against her chest and stepped back from the bed, nearly tripping over her own feet. “I will leave you now, sir.”

Malcolm gave her a clipped nod. “Very well, my lady wife.”

“I—I will be in my chambers should you require me.”

He didn’t laugh, as he normally would have. “Then I shall find you there if I do. Or I will send for you.”

She backed up a few paces, bumped into a trunk, and immediately turned her attention to her skirt, trying to smooth wrinkles undoubtedly permanent from long days of travel. It was better than looking at Malcolm.

“By your leave.” Her eyes locked on the floor as she dipped into a hasty curtsy and fled.

The moment the door closed behind her, she put her back against the cold, stone wall, cradling the hand that had touched him as if she had injured it.

She’d touched his skin, felt the heat of his body, and the responding heat of hers.

He hadn’t forced her hands away. He hadn’t mocked her.

Instead, for the first time since their marriage, he’d called her wife.
.

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