A few quick things...
YES, I do have a newsletter. The post below resulted in several inquiries from regular readers of this blog. You can sign up for it by signing the Guestbook on my website. Just click here.
Also, my son still has several copies of each of my out-of-print historicals for anyone who wants a signed copy. This is the last time I know of that Sweet Release or Carnal Gift will be available in print. Click here for links to the books on eBay. (Both are available as “author’s cuts” in ebook format on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and elsewhere, but not in print. There’s more on that in previous posts. Just search by topic.)
And now for news I wish I could change...
Defiant, the third book in the MacKinnon’s Rangers trilogy, won’t be out till next July. As I was trying to move heaven and earth to meet the mid-October deadline, I realized only one thing would be finished by then — me. My body let me know in a very no-nonsense fashion that coffee-fueled all-nighters and deadline stress were no longer permissable. I haven’t had coffee for a week — a real shock to my system — and I still have a long way to go to feel like myself again.
Hoping to survive my own career — and to write a book worth reading — I asked for an extension, and the deadline is now moved back to the end of December. I hope to beat that, which may mean the release date gets bumped forward a bit again.
If I didn’t work at the paper, you’d see a lot more books from me. When I was home recovering from surgery, I was able to write almost a chapter a day because I was so in touch with the story. There was no office drama, no special edition deadlines or other writing projects to distract me. But at this point, I still work at the paper, and working full time takes just enough out of me that every Friday I feel like I have to get reacquainted with my novel again. It’s really a drag.
My two main concerns are: taking care of myself and producing a book that’s worth the money you spend. And if that means you wait a bit longer, I hope you're okay with that. I’d rather have you ask me why this took so long than have you tell me that the book was a letdown.
I won’t be online much, and for that reason I also want to list those release dates again:
Surrender (reissued with new material) — Dec. 6
Untamed (reissued with 25 previously cut pages restored) — Jan. 3, 2012
To help take some of the sting out of this news, I’m here with the second (and final?) excerpt from Defiant. Enjoy!
From Chapter 2 of Defiant
Connor knew the war party had arrived and that she was with them. A murmur of anticipation passed through the village, excited voices penetrating the log walls of the council house, where Connor and Joseph sat, having just smoked the pipe with the village chief, an old woman called Grannie Clear Water.
Grannie had welcomed Joseph like a son, her manner toward Connor somewhat less cordial. Still, she’d fed them both at her fire, accepting tobacco and wampum as gifts from them. She’d listened patiently while Joseph had explained their reason for coming, then had insisted on the Pipe Ceremony. And yet beneath the acts of friendship, Connor sensed the old woman’s mistrust of him. She’d called him a brave warrior, but the word she’d used often meant “enemy,” as well. There was no doubt in Connor’s mind that she considered him to be the latter.
She had refused to speak a word on the matter of Wentworth’s niece yet. And there was no rushing her. To bring up the subject again would be rude. She would answer them in her own good time, for she had much to consider. If she yielded too easily to Joseph and Connor’s claim, she would anger her people, perhaps even lose headship of the village. Yet she could not ignore the threat of the British or the bonds between her people and Joseph’s.
“They have returned!” a boy called in excited Shawnee.
“Katakwa is back!” shouted another.
Connor willed himself to sit impassively, as did Joseph beside him, betraying no interest in the goings on outside the council house.
But Grannie Clear Water met their gazes, then nodded, clearly not fooled. She got to her feet with the help of one of her daughters. “Let us go see the cause for all this noise.”
Connor followed her outside, Joseph behind him. They walked to the southern edge of the village, where a crowd had gathered, elders, women, and children shouting at someone, while the warriors of the village stood back and watched in amusement. Connor knew they were yelling at Wentworth’s niece, pouring out the rage they felt about the war on her, putting the weight of their grief and hatred upon her shoulders.
It was a common enough custom — this harrying of newcomers and captives. Connor and Joseph had faced it themselves when they’d arrived this afternoon, though not to such an extreme, for they had entered the village as free men and warriors. When their names had been recognized — the name MacKinnon, it seemed, was well known to them — every man, woman, and child had fallen silent. But Wentworth’s niece was a captive, and as such she would bear far worse, no matter that she was young and a woman.
“If this doesna humble her, I cannae say what will.” But even as he made light of her predicament, Connor didn’t like what he saw. He’d been raised to show women gentleness, not to stand idly by while they were treated ill, even if they were haughty and spoiled.
Then the crowd shifted, and he saw her.
So young and fragile she seemed, and yet also defiant. She walked with her head high, neither shrinking from the blows and jabs that were heaped upon her, nor weeping. But he could see she was sore afraid, her eyes wide, her gaze darting here and there, her breathing rapid and shallow. The violence she’d endured was written on her pretty face, a fresh bruise on her cheek, dark circles beneath her eyes, her skin pale. Her honey-colored hair hung in tangled waves almost to her waist, her cloak and gown tattered and dirty.
“So that’s Wentworth’s spoiled princess,” Joseph said.
But Connor didn’t hear him. He forgot the lassie was kin to Wentworth. He forgot he was a guest in this village, bound by custom not to interfere. He forgot everything except the fact that he’d come for her — and she needed his help.
He took a step in her direction, Joseph’s muttered warning calling him back to himself. “If you want to help her, stay where you are and hold your tongue.”
Connor swore under his breath, forcing himself to do nothing but watch while a tall warrior, his face painted in black and red, led her through the throng, his control over her assured by a leather cord he’d bound tightly around her wrists. He gave a tug, jerking her forward as if she were an animal.
Connor wanted to kill him.
Then the warriors of the village began to form two opposing rows, clubs in hand, a sea of onlookers gathering around them.
They were going to make the lass run the gauntlet.
Connor started forward, rage drumming in his chest, only to be stopped by Joseph’s iron grip on his arm.
“You know they will not seriously hurt her.” Joseph’s voice was a whisper. “Do not forget, brother, that we are outnumbered.”
The man who held her bonds — the one they called Katakwa — made her stand at one end of the two opposing rows, then removed the leather cords and left her there alone, dark bruises around her wrists where she’d been bound.
She seemed to realize what they meant to do, her panicked gaze darting among the warriors, taking in the grim looks on their faces and the weapons in their hands, her breathing erratic, her fingers clenched in her skirts.
Be strong, lass.
Apparently impatient, Katakwa gave her a shove, knocking her to her knees between the first two men, who struck her repeatedly on the back with their clubs, hitting her hard enough to cause her pain, but not hard enough to wound her. She struggled to stand, only to be struck by the next two men the moment she reached her feet, their war whoops and the shouts of the crowd all but drowning out her frightened cries.
Connor gritted his teeth. It took every bit of will he possessed to stand there and do nothing. His father had taught him that God had given men strength so that they could protect women and children, not so they could harm them. To watch while grown men beat a defenseless woman…
The bastard sons of whores!
She stumbled forward, holding her arms up to her head to ward off their blows, buffeted back and forth as the men struck her. But it was clear she understood now that her suffering would end once she reached the end of the line. Her gaze fixed on that spot, and she tried to run, struggling to stay on her feet as she was struck again and again, until at last she pitched forward and broke free, landing on her hands and knees in the mud.
It was over.
Connor let out a breath, willing himself to stand rooted where he was.
Breathing hard, her body trembling, she slowly lifted her gaze, looking about as if to see what lay in store for her next, fear, shock, and pain mingled on her face, tears sliding down her cheeks. It was then she saw him, her gaze locking with his. And the plea in her eyes was as clear as is she’d cried the words aloud.
Her back and arms still stinging from the sharp blows, Sarah stared up at the man, her gaze taking in the sight of him all at once. Though his skin was brown from the sun, his features were clearly European. His eyes were a deep shade of blue, his hair long and dark, braids at each temple. Unlike the Indian men who had no beards, his jaw was dark with stubble. He wore leather leggings and moccasins like an Indian, but his shirt was of blue-checked homespun, the cloth of it all but concealed beneath a shaggy bearskin coat.
Was he French? He must be. Who else would live among Indians hostile to the Crown?
She met his gaze, saw an emotion in his eyes she could not read. “Aidez-moi, monsieur! S’il vous plaît aidez-moi!” Help me, sir! Please help me!
Whether he’d understood her, she couldn’t tell, for in that moment her view of him was blocked by beaded skirts and leggings. Gentle hands drew her to her feet, and two gray-haired women guided her away from the crowd, one at each arm, speaking to her softly, like a mother speaking to a frightened child, their words foreign.
When Sarah looked over her shoulder, the man was gone.
As the women led her though the village, it seemed to Sarah that she had passed into another world. Small, round lodges clustered together looking much like a village of large gray beehives. Men and women went about their work, the men dressed much like Katakwa, the women wearing shirts with leggings and beaded skirts, their hair braided. A butchered deer hung from a wooden frame, its head sitting on a bed of dried reeds. Children ran through the maze of lodges, shouting and laughing, dogs nosing for scraps in the mud.
But, although people stared at her as she passed, there were no more shouts, and no one hit her, pinched her, or pulled her hair. Had the beating she’d just endured been some kind of initiation rite? If so, perhaps the worst of it was over.
She prayed with all her heart it was.
They came to a small lodge, its walls made like the others — great mats of tree bark held in place by twined ropes and rocks. The women pushed aside a door cover of woven grasses and went inside, motioning for Sarah to follow. She ducked down and entered, the door falling into place behind her.
The lodge was dimly lit but warm, a fire burning it its center, smoke curling out through a small flap in the roof that was propped open by a long stick. Mats of woven grasses covered the earthen floor and adorned the walls like tapestries, designs painted on them in shades of red, yellow and blue. Dried herbs, antlers, feathers, and what looked like a the talons of a large bird of prey hung from the poles that made up the lodge’s frame, empty wooden bowls stacked along the wall beside woven baskets filled with acorns, seeds, strips of dried meat. Raised platforms stood against the other walls. Covered with furs and blankets, they must have been beds.
Two other women sat inside tending a kettle on the fire. Both were older than Sarah, one heavy with child, her big belly protruding above her skirt, her breasts bare. And though Sarah knew she should avert her gaze, she’d never before seen the bare belly of a woman who was increasing, nor had she ever seen another woman’s naked breasts. She could not help but notice how full and dark the woman’s nipples were compared to her own.
The women who’d brought her here sat on mats and motioned for her to do the same. Feeling sorely unnerved to be near a woman who was all but naked, she settled her skirts around her and was made to listen, while each of them took turns speaking to her with foreign words, smiles on their faces. Unable to understand them, and keen to avoid seeing things she should not see, she focused instead on their faces.
Like Katakwa, they had lines and dots etched into their skin, but none of them were pierced through the nose. Strings of beads and polished shell were tied around their braids and hung through loops in their earlobes, bands of purple and white shell at their throats. One reached out, tenderly touching the bruise on Sarah’s cheek, another stroking her hair, as if they regretted her suffering.
And her hope rekindled.
“Parlez-vous français?” Sarah asked, eager to understand them—and to make herself understood. Perhaps they might be persuaded to let her go. “Do you speak English? Loquerisne linguam latinam?”
But they looked at her with blank faces, clearly not comprehending what she’d said.
They stood as one and drew her to her feet. Then the one who was with child took up a small knife Sarah had not noticed before and moved toward her.
Sarah’s heart gave a hard thud. She jumped to her feet and backed away. “N-no! Don’t!”
But the other women rose to their feet and held her.
“No! Please!” She squeezed her eyes shut as the blade arced through the air toward her chest, the strength all but leaving her legs as she whispered what she thought would be her last words. “Lord have mercy upon—”
Then she felt a tug and heard a tearing sound.
She opened her eyes to find her clothes being cut from her body, the knife slicing cleanly through her gown, her silk stays, her chemise. Fear became rage, and she fought to free herself. “Stop! Why are you doing this?”
But they were stronger than they seemed, their hold on her like iron.
Someone patted her on the arm, the women speaking in soothing tones as the blade cut through her petticoats and drawers, and her clothes fell to the floor, leaving her completely naked. The garments were tossed aside, and the women moved around in front of her, their gazes passing over her body as if they were examining a mare.
Sarah covered herself and looked away, her face burning. No one had seen her naked since she was a very little girl, not even her mother. To be exposed like this…
Then hands guided her nearer to the fire and the women sat on their heels, motioning once more for her to do the same. One arm across her breasts, the other covering her most private flesh, she sat, unable to meet the women’s gazes. She heard water being ladled from the kettle, heard something splash, and then felt the press of a warm wet cloth against tender bruises on her back as they began to bathe her.
Was this their intent? Did they simply mean to bathe her? What did they mean for her to wear afterward? Did they hope to dress her as they dressed?
Sarah had so many questions, but no one to answer them.
Gently, they washed her back, her face, her neck and throat, her shoulders and her arms, spreading some kind of soap across her skin, then rinsing it away, the warm water and the fine leather cloth soothing her sore muscles and bruised flesh. Wherever they washed her, they also applied a honey-scented oil, kneading it into her skin. And as they cared for her, their hands gentle, their voices calming, Sarah felt herself begin to quieten, some of her fear edging away.
Being attended in this manner was not altogether unfamiliar to her, though her lady’s maids never bathed her, nor did they see her naked. They brushed her hair and…
Sarah felt a stab of pain behind her breastbone, tears blurring her vision. Only yesterday morning Jane had helped her with her toilette, brushing and styling her hair, helping her with her petticoats and stays. And now sweet Jane was—
One of the Indian women began to wash Sarah’s breasts, the startling sensation drawing her back to the moment, making her gasp.
“No, please don’t!” She tried to push the woman’s hands away, but the other women restrained her, speaking soothingly to her. She was given no choice but to endure it — the rasp of the cloth across her nipples, the slickness of the soap, the heat of the water, the silky warmth of the oil. It felt so strange and unsettling, her face hot with shame.
If Mother could see this… If Mother should learn of this…
And Sarah feared she might be sick.
They washed and oiled her breasts, her belly, her hips, her legs and her feet, which they gave extra care, clucking and frowning over the blisters as if truly distressed to see that she’d been hurt. When this was done, they bent her over a deep bowl of heated water and washed her hair, then brushed away the tangles with a bundle of stiff grasses, smiling and speaking in approving tones about her hair. And as they brushed her hair with gentle strokes, the sensation familiar and pleasing, Sarah began to feel unbearably sleepy, exhaustion taking hold at last.
Then the one who was with child draped a fur around Sarah’s shoulders and motioned her toward the bed. Thinking they wanted her to sleep, she gratefully crossed the lodge and lay down, but when she made to draw up the blankets, they stopped her, one of the women approaching the foot of the bed with what looked like small clamshells in her hands.
With no warning, three of the women pinned Sarah to the bed, spreading her legs far apart and holding them there, pinning her with their weight.
“What are you doing? No! Stop!” She tried to twist away, but the three of them together were far stronger than she alone.
Then the one with the clamshells settled herself between Sarah’s thighs and, using the edge of the shells, began to pluck away the hair that covered Sarah in that place.
“Oh!” It was terrible and indecent, and it hurt more than Sarah expected.
But far worse than the physical pain — or the deep humiliation of knowing that they were looking at that most secret part of her — was the shock that came when she realized why they were doing this. They hadn’t simply bathed her so that she could feel clean again. They were preparing her body for a man’s use.
Sarah squeezed her eyes shut, turned her face away, and prayed.
(c) Copyright Pamela Clare 2011