Let us find solace in the quiet…”
Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real and maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all.
A handsome stranger–wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past–appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse impris-oning him in an ancient book. But when growing threats to her safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, Emmy must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page?
Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.
A cold breeze creeps at my neck as I slip into St Martin’s Lane. I yank the cords of my cape tighter around my throat, but a trickle of fear sweeps down my spine as I try to rid myself of the unsolicited feeling the action conjures. Would I be for the Hangman’s noose or beheaded if caught? Peering through the soft settling fog, my eyes tighten. Are the shadows around the base of the cathedral moving? I should have brought a torch, but the flames would attract attention.
Looking skyward, I can just make out the silhouette of the incomplete South Tower; black against the inky sky like the heart of a witch. Horses hooves on cobbles clip-clop into the distance and the thick stench of ale and piss assault my senses. I take one last glance back down the alley and duck through the door of The Ship Inn, hopeful Lady Catherine has undertaken as much heed getting here as myself. To say her summons surprised me, is an understatement, and I remain unconvinced she will attend, and that this is not a hoax – or worse, a trap.
I shuffle through sawdust and goodness knows what other debris littering the floor to make the bar, stooping as is my custom. The beamed ceiling is low, and I have been caught out before. Most buildings are not built for giants of six feet. It is perhaps why I am happiest outdoors, where I can be free to stand up straight and tall without fear of concussion, or my own home, Powderham Manor, with its high ceilings and airy, capacious rooms.
Laughter now fills this room. A circle of men is grouped around a large wooden table in the centre of the inn. Cards are strewn across the table, and sovereigns and medallions glint like gold teeth inside a decayed mouth in the candlelight. The faces of Exeter’s rich and powerful in varied states of intoxication leap out at me. They are accompanied by several young ladies who are not their wives. My eyes widen a fraction in greeting. It is out of a mutual, unspoken treaty that we do not disclose each others’ nighttime proclivities. There is danger, yes, but the tales that could slip from my mouth are as equally – if not more – dangerous for these men should they ever think to unmask me.
I order a flagon and signal to Tom, the innkeeper. He nods, and I make my way to the back of the room, careful no one pays me heed. The shouts and guffaws from the crowd grow ever bawdier as the game progresses, and a fiddler in one gloomy corner struggles to make his melody heard above the din. I sip at my beer, watching the foamy scum on top dance and wobble as I place the tankard down on the rough table. The taste of hops is strong on my tongue, recalling the last time I was here, six months ago, when Lady Catherine, wife of The Marquess of Somerset, told me our affair was over. I gulp the rest of my ale and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, hungry to taste hops on her lips once more.
It is almost midnight when Tom nods again and I smile, standing too fast, banging my head on a beam. Thankfully, the bar is all but empty now. Exeter’s great and not-so good have dispersed like wraiths in the night with their entertainment for the evening, many a good deal poorer than when they first arrived. No-one but Tom notices as I wince and rub at my forehead.
“Every time, without fail. I shall have to put up a sign for you.” His voice dances with amusement but his eyes are deadly serious. He is no fool. He understands the gravity of our actions. “She’s ’ere, but I don’t know how long for. She seems troubled.”
He sets down the tankard he is drying with an old rag onto the bar top, and kicks over a heavy looking wooden barrel with ease. The stone steps beneath it are revealed, curving in a downward spiral out of sight. With a smile of thanks, I hurry to them. My footsteps echo into the encroaching silence as I descend.
Lady Catherine is waiting for me in the cellar below. Her beautiful countenance is flushed, eyes fevered, but whether from fear or desire I cannot discern. Shadows wax and wane across her face and bosom in the candlelight. The room is simply furnished with a small wooden table and two chairs. She has already poured the wine that Tom has left for us. I take it as a good omen.
“I did not think you would come,” she says with a whisper quite unlike her usual direct manner.
“I thought I was strong enough to do this alone. The plan has changed.”
My fingers ache to touch her. I hesitate, shocked by my own reaction. To think that after all this time she could still…
Thank you, Jeanna Louise Skinner and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
Jeanna Louise Skinner writes romance with a sprinkling of magic. The Book Boyfriend is her debut novel and she is currently working on a prequel. She has ADHD and CRPS, a rare neuro-inflammatory disorder, and she is passionate about writing about people underrepre-sented in Romance, especially those with disabilities and chronic health conditions. She’s also the co-creator of UKRomChat, a much-lauded, Romance-centric live Twitter chat. She lives in Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat.
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09DGGDKCY
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09DGGDKCY