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ISBN-10: 1-55404-769-2
Genre: Romance/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 148 Pages
Published: March 2013

From inside the flap

The year is 1143, the setting the beautiful Isle of Skye in medieval Scotland. Rhys MacAulaed is a handsome, powerful Gaelic warlord who often travels the countryside disguised as a commoner. During one of his excursions, he meets and falls in love with Gwen, a beautiful peasant maiden. Rhys decides to make Gwen his wife and lady, but he is coerced into entering a politically expedient union. With deep regret, Rhys marries Mahrea – a cold and distant Icelandic princess who, unbeknown to Rhys, has a dark and evil soul.

Gwen is reunited with Rhys when she becomes a nursemaid to his newborn daughter, and their passionate romance is rekindled. Mahrea, well versed in the dark arts, becomes aware of her husband’s relationship with the nursemaid through supernatural channels. She becomes intent on revenge. Her malice takes an unnatural and terrifying form.

Rhys must ultimately face his destiny as he fights the greatest physical and emotional battle of his life, at the summit of his castle’s soaring tower. Based loosely on an old Skye legend, Mistress combines the excitement of an engrossing adventure with a sizzling romance.

Mistress (Excerpt)

Isle of Skye, Scotland
A.D. 1143
* * * *

The night air was like a frigid hand that stroked his cheek with the cold and bitter touch of a jilted lover.

The biting sting on his face was not an unwelcome sensation. Mahrea's exceedingly long and arduous labor left him feeling powerless, disoriented, and numb as he kept a frustrating twelve-hour vigil outside her bedroom door. The midwife dismissed him some time ago, and although he was accustomed to giving orders rather than submitting to them, he gladly acquiesced to her suggestion to take a brief respite from his husbandly post.

He stood on the balcony of the highest castle tower. The frost-suffused breeze, shocking yet invigorating, rapidly aroused him from a weary and troubled fatigue. Paradoxically, the jolt of winter's icy breath on his face produced unexpected warmth which radiated through his core like a blazing and vigorous hearth-fire heating a dry and brittle ice-encased log ignited by the kindling spark of February's metaphorical match. In fact, he felt oddly revitalized. The warm excitement rushed through his yet youthful veins. A boiling cascade surged from the steaming reservoir of a hot spring instantly to thaw and supplant the frigid ennui gripping his heart since his ill-omened engagement to the frosty and remote Viking princess.

After Mahrea's collapse at mid-day, Rhys was extremely concerned for the well-being of his child in her belly. Although his servants did their best to make him comfortable as he waited in the small antechamber outside her bedroom, he understandably felt plagued with apprehension and foreboding.

"Ne'er ye worry, Thane," the midwife Bridie reassured him. "M'lady simply broke her water and she is ready for the birthing, 'tis all. Sit ye down here and wait and before the night is o'er, a new Da' ye will be. This I promise!"

He waited for hours in a large chair by the fire, his body comfortable enough, but his mind unnerved and emotionally distressed by the uncertainty of the night's eventual conclusion. The platter on the adjacent table overflowed with fruit, cheese, and bread, but concern for his child's welfare outweighed his need for food or rest. His nerves frayed and his wife's muted cries, although barely audible where he sat by the warm and crackling fire, enlisted a profound uneasiness in their nervous listener.

Like an insidious vapor, the sounds of her difficult labor wafted through the air, searching meticulously for a crack or crevice in the thick stone walls through which to pass. The obstinate sound waves groped the impervious granite as the tenacious hands of a blind man, finally discovering a painstakingly sought after egress, not through the impenetrable stone, but instead around the edges of the sturdy wooden door that separated the bedroom from the sitting room. No stranger to physical battle, Rhys faced a greater challenger in this intangible, invisible auditory enemy which threw him off-kilter. The intensity of her vocal labor stabbed him with a thousand vengeful daggers, cast from the very depths of the Underworld by Hades himself. With the bravado of an exhausted swordsman, he attempted to deflect each of Mahrea's moans and shouts, but appallingly unable to deflect the unrelenting parry of her periodic outbursts.

When Bridie's spindly arms pushed the heavy door open, he felt an immediate sense of relief. Good news or bad, it matters not, he thought. Until now, he engaged blindly in a figurative hand-to-hand combat with a ghostly and elusive enemy. As a soldier and a warlord, he much rather face a tangible opponent where the uncertainty of this psychological battle materializes into a concrete and more manageable adversary.

The midwife reminded him of an industrious and pragmatic spider with her bony arms and legs: fragile, nimble attachments to her box-like and diminutive torso. Her bulging eyes, ringed with dark circles of fatigue, gazed furtively at Rhys underneath pencil-thin eyebrows. In the flickering firelight, they resembled the compound eyes of a diligent and conscientious arthropod. Half-human, half-insect, he thought to himself. Perhaps she was transformed into this hideous yet amusing chimera by some evil witch's enchantment? he laughingly thought to himself as he allowed this ludicrous and entertaining mental image to materialize in his slightly delirious imagination.

The creature spoke. "It will be soon now, my Laird," she declared. "The child's crown is at m'Lady's entrance and her pains are now more frequent."

She paused and met not his eye. She studied the carpet in a poorly concealed and contrived effort to delay the necessary continuation of their conversation. She is fearful for some reason, but not because she has bad news to convey, he hurriedly concluded. Her nervous demeanor seemed awkward, which kept more with a servant faced with the delicate and uncomfortable task of delivering an unsavory message to her Lord.

"Go on, Bridie," he urged with kindness in his voice. "You are only the messenger, so say what you intend freely and without fear of reprisal."

She took in a long breath. "She asks for you to take your leave, Master, so the sounds of her final efforts are made with some degree of modesty and privacy."

Bridie was visibly startled by his laughter. "'Tis all, Midwife?" he asked with a smile. "I will gladly honor my wife's request, Bridie. Go tend to her, please and assure her I will not hear."