Thursday, 28 February 2013

Winner of Cover contest is TAKE ME NOW!

I'm ****extremely delighted**** that my cover (by Kim Mendoza) for TAKE ME NOW has won 1st place in the February Cover Contest at You Gotta Read Reviews.

Thank you to all my friends who voted for me and my thanks to all at You Gotta Read Reviews.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Very British Blog Tour

Author, Paula Martin, has invited me, and a group of British authors, to take part in ‘A Very British Blog Tourby visiting and supporting the websites of authors who are involved in the tour, and who are dedicated to turning out some of the finest books available in Britain today. Each author, named at the bottom of the page, has been asked the same questions, but their answers will obviously all be different. You merely click on the author’s link at the bottom of the page to see how they have answered the same questions.

So here are the questions from Paula, together with my answers:
Q. Where were you born and where do you live at the moment?
A. I was born in Glasgow, and I now live in a large village in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. 

Q. Have you always lived and worked in Britain or are you based elsewhere at the moment?
A. I have lived in Scotland most of my life, apart from about three years when I lived in Holland.
Q. Which is your favourite part of Britain?
A. I really like living in Aberdeenshire, having lived there almost twenty-five years, but there are so many beautiful places in Britain. I love visiting cities like York, Edinburgh and Oxford, to name only a few but there are lots of unspoiled places that have a different kind of beauty as well. I love the massive castles of Wales and the tinier ones in Scotland. I love the Scottish islands too; Aran for example is so green and different from Orkney. You can see I can name no one particular place. 

Q. Have you ‘highlighted’ or ‘showcased’ any particular part of Britain in your books? For example, a town or city; a county, a monument or some well-known place or event?
A. The short answer is, yes! But to explain is longer. My historical novel-The Beltane Choice- is set in Celtic/Roman Britain of AD 71 and takes place in the border country between Scotland and England. I have a time-travel Celtic/Roman historical written for early teens that’s based in the Aberdeenshire of AD 210. My debut novel-Monogamy Twist – an ancestral mystery romance is set in an old ‘mansion’ property in Yorkshire. My fun contemporary corporate mystery- Take Me Now- is based in a Scottish island castle with the two main characters flying down to Glasgow, and on to London and many places beyond. My second ancestral mystery – Topaz Eyes – visits many European and US Locations but I sneaked in Edinburgh as well, as the home of the heroine, Keira Drummond. So, although my contemporary characters fly around the globe, there is a part of each story set in the UK, as well.

Q. There is an illusion - or myth if you wish - about British people that I would like you to discuss. Many see the ‘Brits’ as ‘stiff upper lip’. Is that correct?
A. I think that might depend on the interpretation of 'stiff upper lip'! I believe a notion still survives among many who have been brought up with the practice that emotions are private, and not for airing in public- though I’d tend to categorise them as largely the older generations. Younger people are much more relaxed and more prone to ‘airing’ themselves. Social networking, like facebook and blogging, has given some people a ‘stepping stone’ or a ‘crutch’ in that respect. They post things publicly, but because it’s virtual it ‘seems’ easier to unbutton themselves. I'm personally from a family that was not demonstrative and know many people who are much the same. They find effusive hugging and kissing difficult to cope with and are sometimes suspicious of the genuiness of  'automatic' greeting gestures. Another fairly Scottish trait I have is to 'grin and bear it'! Something happens? I deal with it, but with no drama, and generally independently when possible. I'd say my daughters are much the same. That sort of 'stiff upper lip' prevails. 

Q. Do any of the characters in your books carry the ‘stiff upper lip’? Or are they all ‘British Bulldog’ and unique in their own way?
A. Tricky question. My male characters have a certain arrogance, and are definitely independent, but not really in what I'd call a 'stiff upper lip' fashion. I think of that as when someone carries on regardless of whether it's the correct hing to do, or perhaps even not thinking through the consequences properly.  In my contemporaries the men are rich but are not royalty, or of the upper classes. I like to think my characters have a ‘sense of self’ and yet can accept help and guidance when necessary.

Q. Tell us about one of your recent books?
 My most recent release is TOPAZ EYES.  

Here’s the blurb:
A peculiar invitation to Heidelberg embroils Keira Drummond in the search for a mysterious collection of extraordinary jewels once owned by a Mughal Emperor; a hoard that was last known to be in the possession of Amsterdam resident, Geertje Hoogeveen, in 1910.

Who among the progeny of Geertje – hitherto unfamiliar third cousins brought together for the quest – can Keira rely on? Distrust and suspicion among them is rife.

Which one is greedy, and determined enough, to hire thugs to tail her… and worse… as she travels to Vienna and Minnesota?  Can Keira even trust Teun Zeger - a Californian she is becoming very drawn to – as they pair up to unearth the jewellery?

As they follow a trail of clues, will they uncover the full collection before the hired gun kills them? Details remain furtive and undisclosed until danger and death forces their exposure. And who harbours the ultimate mystery item that is even more precious than the Mughal jewels?

Greed, suspicion and murder are balanced by growing family loyalty, trust, and love.

Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I’m mainly working on a sequel to my historical The Beltane Choice which takes on one of the characters into a story of his own. The Beltane Choice is set in Celtic/Roman Britain AD 71. The sequel is set from AD 71 through to AD 84 and moves the action from Brigantia (North England) into the lands of the Caledonian tribes (Scotland). I've also started a family saga set in Scotland, beginning in the 1850s. 

Q. How do you spend your leisure time?
A. I don’t find I have much of that. When not writing, or childminding my granddaughter 2 very full days a week, I’m generally to be found reading, watching BBC serials (historical), or gardening. I go to a Jazz club approx once a month. I love weekend get-togethers with the whole family, or a mini holiday away from home with them. We try to do that as often as we can. I don’t think getting on to my exercise bike every now and then, when I remember, would count as leisure? Of course, I spend far too much time on Facebook, so that probably should count as leisure!
Q. Do you write for a local audience or a global audience?
A. I’d like to hope global, but I think there's a 'Britishness' about my stories that might make them seem more 'local to the UK'. I had a couple of rejections before getting my historical novel published in the UK, and decided in the interim to write a contemporary romance to send to a US e-book publisher, to see if that had a better uptake. I wrote Monogamy Twist, sent it to The Wild Rose Press (New York State) and it was accepted immediately - but I’m not so sure it’s a global story. It’s what I call a history/ mystery – my version of a weird Dickensian style bequest of an old mansion house, the benefactress an unknown person at the beginning of the novel, and it is set in Yorkshire. My other two contemporary novels include some fantastic European cities and other places worlswide so they are much more global. My historical work is set in Britain, but I hope they all appeal to a global audience. 
Q. Can you provide links to your work?
Amazon UK author page for all novels author page for all novels
The novels are also available from: Barnes and Noble; Smashwords, The Wild Rose Press , Waterstones and Crooked Cat

The following British, not necessarily British-based, authors have been invited to join in the fun. Once they’ve agreed, and set up their own answers on their respective websites/blogs, then clicking on their name will take you there. Also, if you are a British author and would like to join in, please leave a comment below with your email address.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Sneak peek of Chapter One from 'The Love Programme' by Zanna Mackenzie

Today I'm welcoming Zanna Mackenzie who has an exciting new release to share with us. We've not only got the blurb and a beautiful cover to look at but she's also sharing a whole chapter. So... before you settle in to read, get comfy with a nice hot drink if you're in a cold place (like me), or a nice cool drink if it's the opposite! 

Whichever - enjoy. I did!

 The Love Programme-published by Astraea Press
Thanks to an embarrassing incident involving a wedding and her ex-boyfriend Marcus, Lucy has to leave her home town in a hurry and needs a place to escape to for a while.

Best friend Fiona is convinced now would be a good time for Lucy to get herself a new life with some potential for romance thrown in. Fate seems to agree when Lucy is given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in a TV show and be a contestant on The Love Programme - two weeks of luxury living on a grand Highland estate coupled with, she hopes, fun and romance in wildest Scotland.

When Lucy meets Paul - the young, handsome owner of the Highland estate - she thinks she may have found the love of her life but who is the mysterious Hannah and what part does she play in his life? When she discovers that Marcus is planning to follow her to Scotland to win her back Lucy has some serious soul searching to do. Does she have a future with Paul, with Marcus or is she yet to find the man of her dreams?

There’s a sneak peak at chapter one below, and the book can be downloaded now on Amazon
Amazon UK

Chapter One

“I’m so glad he’s marrying someone else,” whispered Lucy, watching the groom shuffle nerv-ously from one foot to the other at the top of the aisle.

“It could have been you up there,” replied Fiona. “How many times did Marcus ask you to marry him?”

“Three,” Lucy replied, shifting position for the fourth time in as many minutes. Why did church pews have to be so uncomfortable? “The first time when we were five, then again at twenty and finally,” she paused, reliving the moment in her head, “eight months ago.”

“Well,” Fiona said, as the organ struck up, filling the cold but pretty church with overly loud mu-sic, “it looks as though you’re safe from any more proposals, because I think the bride has just arrived.”

Amelie Marchant made her way slowly down the aisle, blonde hair in an elegant chignon, de-signer dress looking a million dollars. Beneath her thin veil it was clear she was smiling, no doubt savouring each precious second of being the focus of everyone’s attention, yet keeping her own attention firmly fixed on Marcus, who was awaiting her arrival at the altar.

Fiona nodded in approval. “She looks gorgeous. Her dress is exquisite.” She nudged Lucy. “Doesn’t the little bridesmaid look sweet in deep pink?”

“Yes, she’s Amelie’s niece apparently.” Lucy let a small sigh of contentment slip from her lips as Amelie reached the altar and stood close to Marcus. Finally she, Lucy Stokes, was going to be free of Marcus Brandon. He was marrying someone else, hallelujah! She would, at long last, be able to live her life exactly the way she wanted to. The whole reason she was here today was to witness the ceremony for herself. To know it was for real.

Okay, so she and Marcus had been childhood sweethearts. They’d played at the whole boy-friend-girlfriend thing on and off, sometimes quite successfully, for well over fifteen years. When she’d reached her twenties Lucy had sensed they didn’t have a future together, and she’d been trying to get Marcus to realise the fact ever since.

When she’d broken it off with him for the last time, to say he hadn’t taken kindly to the idea they were no longer an item was a major understatement. Over time she’d grown used to his persistent phone calls, the fact he often just popped round to see her and casually suggested, if they were both at a loose end, they might go for a drink or to the pictures.

Even when she’d plucked up the courage to attempt to date other people, it had been a complete disaster. Friadon was a small town and Marcus seemed to know every detail of where she went, when and with whom. On more than one occasion he’d tried to talk her out of going on a date, and she suspected, but couldn’t prove, he’d persuaded at least one of her dates to stay well away from her, causing her to be stood up, all alone in the heavy rain, outside the local cinema.

Six months after they’d split up, in a completely misguided attempt to woo her back, he’d gotten down on one knee and proposed to her for the third time at the travel agency where she worked. Armed with a huge bouquet of red roses and a bottle of champagne he’d asked her to marry him one last time. It had been in front of several customers too; Lucy had been pink with embarrass-ment. When, riddled with guilt, she’d gently declined his offer yet again, he’d gone off and met Amelie. Eight months later here the two of them were standing at the altar about to become man and wife.

Realising the ceremony was already well under way and she’d missed the first bit through not paying attention, Lucy tried to focus on what was being said, forcing the memories of Marcus from her mind. Yes, they’d enjoyed some fun times over the years, and she had to admit there had been occasions when they’d been completely great together, but it was all in the past now. His future lay with Amelie.

Clearing his throat the vicar glanced nervously towards the congregation and asked, “Does any-one here object to the marriage of Amelie Marchant and Marcus Brandon? If so, speak now or forever hold...”

“I object.” The words were barely audible but Lucy heard them and fear shivered up her spine.

The vicar, looking as though his worse fears were being realised, glanced around anxiously, un-sure what to do or say next.

“I object!”

This time the voice was louder. The vicar grew red-faced and flustered.

“I’m sorry, sir, did you say you object?”

The bridegroom nodded solemnly. “Yes, I’m afraid I did.”

Those in the first few rows of the church heard the faintest of whimpers escape from beneath the bride’s veil and her knees appeared to buckle just a little.

Fixing a stern gaze upon the unwilling groom the vicar muttered, “Why exactly do you object, Mr. Brandon?”

Marcus addressed the packed congregation, his eyes scanning the rows, seeming to search for someone. Then in a loud, clear voice he announced, “I object because I’m still in love with an-other woman!” Raising his right hand he pointed to an area, three pews back on the right, just in front of a stone pillar. “Lucy, my love, will you ever take me back?”

There was collective gasp from the congregation; the bride fainted on the spot, sinking to the floor to be quickly swallowed up in a cloud of ivory silk and lace. Lucy, covered in embarrass-ment from head to foot, used her generously proportioned purple feather hat to try to hide her face, clasped her matching purple purse to her chest and ran from the church as fast as her kitten heels would carry her.
“Poor woman. Imagine being left at the altar.” Fiona licked her lips and placed her fork back on the now empty plate, having demolished a generous portion of blueberry cheesecake. “It’s the kind of thing you never recover from, surely.”

“I know, I know, and I’m mortified everybody thinks I was in some way to blame.” Lucy sighed and searched in her handbag for a tissue. “I tried to call Amelie afterwards to explain there was nothing going on between me and Marcus, but her mum slammed the phone down on me. Eve-ryone hates me and I haven’t even done anything wrong.”

“So, where is Marcus now then?”

“He flew out to Portugal yesterday after the wedding to stay with his sister and her family. He rang me from the airport and asked if I’d fly out to join him, can you believe it?” Lucy shook her head in despair. “What do I have to do for him to get the message?”

“Well, he’s obviously still crazy about you.” Fiona sighed and then pinched the uneaten biscotti from the side of Lucy’s cup and saucer. “In some ways it’s rather romantic.”

“Fi! It’s not and you know it!  You’ve known me since school, and you know how he’s been driving me crazy for years! You, of all people, should understand!” Lucy replied, trying to re-trieve the stolen biscotti from Fiona. “I want some freedom from him. I want a life. I want to be able to try to find my Mr. Perfect.”

Fiona shook her head despairingly. “Not Mr. Perfect again. Don’t tell me — the man of your dreams needs to be,” she started to count on her fingers, “One, he needs to be fabulously wealthy. Two, he needs to be drop dead gorgeous. Three, kind and loving, attentive and thought-ful. Four, intelligent and successful. Five…”

Lucy held her hand up in protest. “Well, a girl needs to aim high.”

“I understand about you and Marcus. He’s not the man for you, but I’m afraid you’re not being realistic in the male wish list department. Firstly, you swap and change your mind about things all the while, and secondly, you know Mr. Perfect doesn’t even exist,” Fiona said, with a regretful smile. “I’m sure we all wish he did, but he doesn’t. Never has.”

Looking like a child who’d just been told Santa Claus wasn’t real, Lucy replied, “Okay for you to say. You’ve found your soulmate and are heading for the Friadon wedding of the year in a couple of weeks.”

“Yes, this is true.” Fiona nodded, a blissful smile appearing on her face. “But don’t forget I was realistic. I know Luke’s the one for me. I accept he’s not Mr. Perfect. He doesn’t shower me with roses or gifts, he goes down to the pub with his mates to watch the football far too often, and he’s not made of money. Oh, and he hates shopping!”

Lucy shook her head, pretending to disapprove. “And yet you still love him!”

“Yes, I do.” Fiona snapped the biscotti in half and handed one piece to Lucy. “Didn’t you ever love Marcus?”

“No. Well, maybe I thought I did when I was younger. We were great together for a while.” She sighed, stirring her coffee absentmindedly. “I suppose I’ve never had much chance to date other guys, to experience life. That’s part of the problem. Marcus always wanted us to go absolutely everywhere together when we were dating.”

“I don’t know how you’ve managed. To reach the ripe old age of twenty three, and you can probably count the number of boyfriends you’ve had on three fingers.”

Lucy buried her head in her hands, a curtain of straight blonde hair falling forward to hide her face. “I know. It’s crazy. And now I’m hated by pretty much every female within a ten mile ra-dius because they think I’m a trollop and I’ve been carrying on with Marcus whilst he’s been en-gaged. I’m completely innocent in all of this, yet I’m the one getting bad-mouthed.”

“They’ll get over it.” Pausing for dramatic effect, Fiona added, “It’ll just probably take a long while. In the meantime you’ll have to get used to being thought of as a wanton woman.” Patting her hand reassuringly, she said, “Anyway, I’m still your friend.”

“Great, thanks,” muttered Lucy, head still in her hands. “Sometimes I just feel this overwhelming desire to move away from here, to get myself a new life.”

“Well, do it then. For goodness sake you’ve been whinging on about it enough for the last few years.” Fiona popped the biscotti into her mouth. “Think about it. What’s stopping you from leaving Friadon anyway? Well, apart from my impending wedding of course.”

Warming to her topic she said, “It would do you good to get away from this small town mentali-ty. You should have done it years ago. Go off and explore, find out what you want from your life. You’ve never had a chance to date properly without Marcus peering over your shoulder. It must have been awkward.”

“It was.” Lucy shrugged, staring at a large crumb of biscotti on the table. As she had a good idea how infrequently the table tops were cleaned in this cafĂ©, she resisted the strong urge to scoop the crumb up and lick it from her finger. “Anyway, at my age, shouldn’t I have my life all mapped out by now? You know, what I want from men, work, the whole caboodle.”

Shaking her head Fiona reached for the last of her coffee. “Nah, it’s just a popular myth. Gener-ally things just happen, and they’re probably not what you were planning but they usually kind of work out for the best in the end.”

Looking at Lucy, she said, “Remember how you used to complain about how boring Marcus was? Saying how you’d never been in a relationship where you’d been totally swept off your feet, how you wanted to find a man you could be completely crazy about for the rest of your life? Always going on about how you wanted to find your Mr. Perfect, the love of your life?”

Lucy pushed a lock of hair behind her right ear, frowning. “And your point is?”

“Go find the man for you, have your adventure, enjoy yourself,” Fiona added encouragingly. “All of the hearts and roses stuff, the handsome looks and pots of money business we all, at some point, crave. Doesn’t matter. They’re not the real recipe for happiness in a relationship.” As Lucy’s face took on a not-this-lecture-again look, Fiona said, “You’ll see, I know you will. You just need to find the right man first.”
Business had been slower than usual at the Price Right Travel Agency where Lucy worked. “Isn’t it boring when nobody comes into the agency?” She sighed as she deftly slid a pair of scis-sors through some plastic wrapping on a pile of holiday brochures proclaiming Turkey to be ‘paradise in the sun’.

Her boss Melanie glanced up from her computer with an irritated expression on her pixie-like face. “I imagine we’re being boycotted thanks to your little shenanigans with Marcus.”

Trying to wedge some brochures with a picture of a gorgeous sun-drenched Turkish beach on the front onto the shelving, Lucy said, “For the tenth time, Mel, I didn’t do anything. What do I have to say for people to believe me?”

Mel shook her head. “I’m not here to judge your love life but when it starts to affect my busi-ness…” she paused, choosing her words carefully. “For starters Marcus was one of our best cus-tomers. He even booked his honeymoon here. Goodness knows what will happen there. Nobody has asked about the chance of a refund yet. What with Marcus paying for it and then jetting off to Portugal straight after the non-wedding, he hasn’t had a chance. I expect he’ll be in to try to sort it all out when he gets back.”

“He’ll lose his money. I’m pretty sure walking out on your wedding isn’t covered under his in-surance,” said Lucy with a grimace, feeling guilty about how Marcus and Amelie wouldn’t get to enjoy the five star hotel he’d chosen on a gorgeous stretch of beach on Cyprus. If she remem-bered rightly the place had three restaurants, five swimming pools, a spa and a gym. Everything you could wish for. She’d helped him to choose the place. Now she was the reason he wouldn’t be going there.

“Perhaps it would be best if you took a bit of a sabbatical. Have you thought about it at all?” Mel asked with more than a hint of encouragement in her voice.

“Sabbatical?” Lucy queried, the brochures in her hand slipping to the floor. “Not a polite way of saying I’m fired is it?”

“Of course not. I’ll hold your job open for you. Just consider it an opportunity to take a few weeks off to go and have yourself a bit of fun. Hopefully by the time you return, all the gossips will have moved on to someone else and the next Friadon scandal.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?” Lucy asked, sitting down on several bundles of as-yet unopened brochures.

“Definitely. I have this friend who works for a small TV production company. They’re doing some sort of programme about love and one of the girls has had to pull out at the last moment for family reasons. They need a replacement right away and the filming is supposed to start in two days. Craig, my friend, doesn’t want to have to go through all the audition info again to choose someone else. I bet you’d be ideal.”

Sceptically Lucy asked, “What sort of love programme? It’s not something tacky is it?”

“No, no,” Mel answered, tapping away at her computer keyboard. “I think the idea is for three girls and one boy to spend two weeks together at some glam location. It’s properly organised and supervised. Each of you would get to go on your dream type of dates. It’s all about the psycholo-gy of finding the love of your life.”

Lucy got to her feet, then swayed unsteadily as her sandals slipped across several of the glossy holiday brochures scattered about the floor where she’d dropped them minutes earlier. Stooping to gather up the brochures before a customer (should one of them ever appear) broke their ankle on them and sued the agency, Lucy contemplated Mel’s suggestion. “So it would all be quite tasteful then?”

“I should imagine so. I think they’ll be having a psychologist on hand too, so after each date you can talk about how you think things went. There’s a complete relationship analysis service avail-able so you can learn about yourself, men, and your attitude towards dating. Sounds ideal for you.”

Realising she’d been holding her breath for a few seconds, Lucy let it out in a long sigh. “Okay, I might be interested. Shall I call this Craig or will you?”

Thank you for sharing this with us, Zanna. Best wishes with the launch of The Love Programme


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Topaz Eyes 5* reviews!

I'm delighted to have just received two fantastic 5* reviews for Topaz Eyes. 

Posted on amazon UK

5* By Jane l Bwye

“This is a stunning read, which absorbed my attention from the beginning. The characters of Keira and Teun are drawn with great intensity of feeling as they pursue clues in the hunt for the Tiru Salana jewels.
Their quest takes them from Heidelburg to the USA, then back to Vienna, Amsterdam and finally to Edinburgh. The ambience of each is portrayed in loving detail, so you feel as if you are actually there.
They are stalked by hired gunmen and wonder if their own relatives are traitors. And their love blossoms into pleasurable maturity.
Even the plot is skilfully contrived without being too arduous to follow. I could not put it down, and cannot fault it.” 

Thank you so much JLBwye for taking time to write such a nice review. 

5* By Sandra Queen 

Loved this book. Had enough intrigue to capture the reader's imagination.
Was loath to put it down when interrupted. Great read!

Thank you, too, Sandra Queen. I'm delighted you enjoyed it. 

Reviews can be seen here:

Friday, 1 February 2013

The Dragon Ring by Maggie Secara

My impressions of The Dragon Ring by Maggie Secara.

The Dragon Ring by Maggie Secara- 4 stars

This was a ride to a faerie land that I’ve never visited before. There’s superb description that gave me a vivid picture, lots of action, and a fair bit of guessing in terms of what the tasks set for Ben Harper were all about. I’d love to meet the King and Queen of Faerie, though not if Titania is in one of her bad moods. There’s humour in The Dragon Ring that softens some of the darker aspects of the novel; music for the expert and those like me who just like to listen; and a great blend of language - modern and ancient - as the protagonists travel back though time. My favourite character of all has to be Raven, a great friend to help you through a bad day! If you're looking for a time-travel novel to lands of old, manipulated by good and less-good faeries, then you'll love The Dragon Ring.

Excerpt from The Dragon Ring

Kingdom of Wessex, Yule, 876 AD
Wikimedia Commons

     They rode out of Faerie through a riot of bluebells and hawthorn blossom that gradually gave way to an autumnal shower of golden leaves and a sky loud with migrating geese. Finally with some meandering they emerged on a hilltop at the edge of a frozen winter woodland stitched with barren trees, piled and layered and silent with snow. Nothing but foraging animals and a pair of red-eyed wolves would ever realize that their hoof prints had come out of nowhere.
     Where the hill broke to a shallow cliff, the wood thinned and broadened out under layers of leaden sky into the tree-studded down lands of ninth century Wiltshire, at least Ben thought it was Wiltshire, where a light snow was falling. There they halted, surveying the land spread out below.
     “Wow!" His voice shook with the sudden cold and the plain wonder of what he had done, and where he was. “Just, wow!”
     “Well done, sir,” Raven said, drawing up beside him. “I’ve never come through the gates quite like that before.”
     “You want to lead?”
     They were a thousand years—a thousand years!—in the past, and he, Ben Harper, had brought them here! He couldn’t stop grinning. They were also, Ben guessed, another frozen hour’s ride from their goal—plenty of time to arrive as weary travelers in some plausible way at the fortified house or whatever it was. No, not a house exactly. A hunting lodge, or what his pioneer forbears might have called a fort. He had a sense of wooden palisades, but nothing more detailed. He only knew that somewhere down there in the densely wooded valley of the Avon, one fragment of the dragon ring had landed.
     Clad now in the tunics and gartered hose of royal servants, armed for the road, both Ben and Raven were bundled in double layers of furs, woolen cloaks, hoods, and scarves appropriate to the age and the weather. Even their sturdy ponies had grown a shaggy winter coat, and their breath steamed under coarse blankets.
     Ben puffed frosty breath and settled the reins in his gloved hands.
     “Cold?” the raven boy asked.
     “Kind of warm, actually,” said Ben, finally noticing the costume change. The history buff buried under the efficiency expert beamed with pleasure. “But good! Great, even! Good thing I’m not allergic to wool.”
     “You have your skills, I have mine.”
     Ben couldn’t stop staring around, though the pony was getting restive. The countryside lay so still and unreal, if it hadn’t been for the piercing cold, Ben would have thought they stood in a film set, or in a painting. He listened, really listened to the silence, and awe swept over him again. Except for the hiss of their breathing, and his own heartbeat drumming in his ears, nothing stirred, nothing at all. Nowhere in his own time was the mark of the modern world ever utterly absent—this absent. No underlying electronic hum, no distant highway rumble, not in the whole world. And when the winter night fell, it would be utterly dark under the overcast, lacking even starlight or moonshine or urban glow.
     He sat back in the saddle with a dopey grin stretching his face in awe, touched with a little fear.
     Raven noticed, and cuffed his shoulder lightly. “No gawking, sir, if you please,” he said. “Y’know, you might have brought us in a little closer to the mark, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
     “Are you kidding? And miss this?” Ben pounded the saddle horn with sheer glee. “I mean, seriously! Wow!”
     “The ponies are getting cold, sir.”
     “Oh, right.”
     As they turned to pick a path down from the cliff edge, Raven added. “You do have some idea where we are, then?”
     The shout of Ben’s laughter rang in the frosty air. “The Middle Ages?”
     “It is, yes,” said the boy, patiently. “And we are in England. I believe that will be Chippenham.” He waved a hand in the general direction of a smudge away over the horizon, a smoky patch of sky, as always, indicating a living community. “If we can get down from here without breaking our necks, we’ll be somewhere on the Roman road from Bath—the A4, more or less. And it’s just about...” He drew a deep breath as if tasting the air. “Yes, Christmas Eve.”
     Ben just kept grinning, though the snow was swirling and the temperature dropping, and Raven sighed. “Are we there yet?”
     “Soon, yes. Very soon.”
     When they found the road, they urged the ponies to a quicker step. He was humming the ancient tune that had brought them here, which wouldn’t be written for another 600 years, and was for a while completely, thoughtlessly happy.
     The world was not only silent, he noticed, but remarkably empty. They passed now and then the odd steading dug in against the freeze, its presence betrayed only by a thin stream of hearth smoke. Here and there rose other signs of human use, sometimes no more than a herdsman’s bothy, abandoned for the season, squatting like a dirty snowball in a hazel break. But no traffic, no people.
      Away south across the frozen river, clinging to the swell of a hillside, a monastery and its low, stone church huddled with its back to the road, keeping its stinks and its treasures to itself. A single iron bell clanged a few sorry times, breaking the air.
     Raven flinched a bit at the sound. “They’ll be ringing for Tierce,” he muttered. “And what else?” He didn’t look happy.
     “Is it true,” Ben asked, seeing the reaction. “That the fae can’t bear the sound of church bells?”
     “Only when they’re out of tune. Stop talking, will you?” All the wry humor had gone from him like pinching out a candle.
     “What? Why? I’m enjoying—”
     “Hark!” the boy snapped, and Ben stopped, attention focused. They waited, Raven with his head tilted, birdlike, listening.
     “What is it?” Ben whispered at last. “What do you hear?”
     “Breathing, and something else.”
     “I’m breathing.”
     “Please, sir! Dogs, maybe. No, wolves—two or three of them. And the queen’s magic out of tune.”
     “Quite.” The boy shook himself, took a long look back over his shoulder, humming a pattern of five or six notes breaking crisp in the crisp air.
     Ben watched him, noting how the youthful patina fell away as one by one Raven threw off all the useless scarves and pelts, and the glimmer of Faerie intensified around him. And when he turned to look ahead again, three massive black wolves, red-eyed and grinning, blocked their way. His giddy happiness vanished, and his mouth tasted of ashes.
     Sleek and well fed in spite of the bitter season, one paced the width of the road, whining, disturbed by the Romans’ iron road buried long beneath the snow. One hunkered down, as wolves do when stalking prey, one watching behind. The largest sat staring at Ben from the middle of the path, secure and quiet as a watch dog. Ben’s pony backed nervously.
     “Do you know how they used to hunt the wolf, Ben Harper?” said the raven boy, drawing the shining long sword at his side.
     “How’s that?”
     “With traps and snares, and dogs. Today, I am your dog. Draw your sword.”
     Fumbling briefly through the bundling layers, Ben felt the hilt come into his grasp with an ease he did not deserve. It had been too long since he’d last handled a sword, and never one like this. The blade gleamed as he brought it up into position, easier in the hand than he expected. Light spilled off its sharpened edges.
     “I don’t know if I remember how.”
     “I don’t expect you to use it.” The fae’s eyes never left those of the animal before them, though he had marked the other two to right and left. “But I want it in your hand. Your job is to find the artifact. Mine is to keep you alive to do it. So when I say ride, you ride, d’ye understand? You’ll hear things behind you, but do not look back. And whatever else you do, do not leave the iron road.”
     “What about you?” Ben’s voice, unlike his companion’s, trembled more than he liked.
     “I believe,” said Raven, thoughtfully, “I shall sing. Now, ride!”

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The Dragon Ring

Reality TV host Ben Harper has a problem: he owes the king of Faerie a favour. So now he has to track down the three parts of a Viking arm-ring, and return them to their place in time. This takes him through the wolf-haunted forests of Viking Age Wessex, the rowdy back streets of Shakespeare’s London, and a derelict Georgian country house. Partnered with caustic, shape-changing Raven and guided by a slightly wacky goblin diary, Ben must rediscover his own gifts while facing his doubts and the queen of Faerie’s minions, who will do anything to stop him.