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Thursday, February 25, 2016

#New Release. 'Amice and the Mercenary' - Sequel to 'Mistress Angel' by Lindsay Townsend. #Giveaway!

Amice is a mistress of sugar and spices but is she always mistress of her heart?

England in the summer of 1357 is a nervous, triumphant place. The English king holds the King of France hostage—but there are plots afoot to see this French monarch assassinated. Duke Henry begs beautiful Amice, the spice seller, for her help to counter and reveal such plots. Amice is an expert in the secrets of spices and poisons. She agrees to help for her own personal reason—revenge. 

But Amice must work in the glittering, dangerous world of the royal court, snubbed and mocked for her own dark-skinned beauty, until she is rescued by the notorious mercenary, Harry Swynford—charming, charismatic, and lethal.

In the shifting alliances of the court, which side is Harry Swynford on? In this world of poison among the feasts, can Amice stop an assassin in time? Harry has his own games to play, and although she is powerfully attracted to him, Amice is wary. Lives—including her own—are at stake.

Can their happiness last, or will their enemies tear them apart? What price revenge against true love?.

Prairie Rose Publications.


Chapter 1

Summer, Kent, 1357

 “I need your help,” Duke Henry said. “I need your help to guard the king of France.”
Amice said nothing. She and the duke sat together at her best friend’s wedding, drinking French wine and watching the other guests dance. Throughout the simple country marriage feast, Duke Henry had spoken of the great golden beauty of the bride Isabella, of the good fortune of Stephen, the bridegroom, and of the mild summer weather—all safe, conventional subjects. His leaning toward her now and speaking of the guardianship of kings was unexpected. She raised her dark eyebrows.
Duke Henry lowered his voice still further. “I need someone with a knowledge of plants, medicines and spices, like yourself, a woman with a knowledge of sugar. The reward for such an undertaking will be generous, very generous.”
Listening, Amice was in no haste to commit herself. To a less powerful man than the duke she might have said, “What is the captured French king to me? Why should I care to watch over him against an assassin?” Instead, she asked, “You fear an attack against this mighty hostage? You fear he might sicken or even die and you will be blamed because he is in your charge?”
“I do,” the duke answered, frowning over his wine. “This is an angry time, a time of war and trouble.”
And knights and nobles live for such times. Again, Amice remained silent.
After a sigh, the duke continued. “There are many who might wish to strike against my royal captive. Perhaps an angry Englishman, who believes all Frenchmen are the spawn of the devil.”
“Or Charles of Navarre,” Amice remarked. “He does not lack ambition.”
“True, ‘tis true,” the duke grunted. “It may even be one of the French King’s subjects, one who does not wish to pay his ransom.”
“And you believe I can help. Why? I am no warrior.”
“But you know poisons,” the duke countered.
“As do your food tasters,” Amice answered. “Or you could have the king drink from a cup made from the horn of a unicorn to neutralize the poison.”
“I will do both,” Duke Henry agreed. “But I need still more.”
“I do not blend in,” Amice said, interested to see how Duke Henry responded to that truth. Her parents had been Londoners like herself, but her grandparents were African. She was as dark as Saint Maurice. Even at home, people stared at her in the street.
“That is all to the good,” the duke said quickly. “Tall and handsome, striking as you are, you will attract notice.” He smiled, a look of surprising sweetness. “They will see your beauty and naught else. You will be stationed close to the serving tables, if it please you.”
“To watch for a poisoner? That will be a large undertaking.”
Duke Henry sighed. “I know it will be difficult, Amice, but if you are willing to pretend to work there, you would be another pair of eyes. You have expertise my servants do not have. King Jean—King John in the English way—has a particular liking for almond dragees and anise in confit at the end of every meal.”
Sweets, spiced and difficult to create. Their taste would mask much, including poison. “I can make those.” And watch perhaps as other sweets are made.
“Stephen told me that was likely. That you are a superb cook of sweets. Is it true that your mother trained in Italy and learned all the secrets of sugar?”
“She lived there for a time, yes.” Amice replied. Isabella has been bragging on my behalf to Stephen. And what else has Isabella’s new husband told the duke? “Does the French king not have his own people watching him? His own food-tasters?”
“Of course. King John has many tasters. But still it would be embarrassing if they detected poison, especially in a dish or a confit made solely for the king.”
“I see.” How strange. This king is his captive yet the duke still wishes to be regarded as a perfect host.
Duke Henry glanced away to the dancers again. “I trust my own tasters, of course, but not all of them have your skill and knowledge, especially with spices and sugar.”
Very prettily put, but Amice realized then that the duke did not entirely trust all those within his household. She decided to be blunt. “I will not work in the main kitchen.”
Duke Henry flushed to the roots of his fair hair and looked horrified at the idea. “A young woman such as yourself amidst those raging fires and sweating, half-naked scullions? Indeed, I would not ask that of you. No women work in my kitchens. Women do not work in kitchens. You will be in the still room, with my wife Isabel and her ladies.”
Amice wondered why he felt it needful to stress this. In great houses, castles and palaces, the cooks were all men. If I venture anywhere where food is prepared I shall stand out. But then I do already. “Your wife agrees to this?”
Now Duke Henry looked surprised. “Of course.”
“Shall I wear your livery?”
Duke Henry shook his head. “You are elegant enough already.”
Amice inclined her head at the compliment, glad to hide her eyes as she thought furiously. If I agree to this and I am mostly in the still room , does it mean he suspects a woman? Has there already been trouble? “And for other kinds of assassins?” she prompted.
“King John has Sir Gilles in his household, a most capable warrior, and Harry Swynford, Gilles’s captain.” Duke Henry sniffed. “Swynford is your true mercenary. He is English, but he fights for any side that pays him. Sir Gilles rates him highly.”
Amice was glad that her coloring did not betray her feelings, although she felt as if an arrow had pierced her. “Sir Gilles of Picardy?” She spoke with seeming unconcern. “I had heard he was dead, cut down in a skirmish in Normandy.” Her beloved older brother Nigel had told her this on his death-bed and she had believed him. Why should I not, when Sir Gilles was the one who gave Nigel his death-blow?
But now Duke Henry shook his head. “Sir Gilles is very much alive.”
“What kind of man is he? Tall, dark, fair?”
“The report is that he is a good man to have your back in a fight….” came back the frustrating answer.
“Truly?” I know that to be wrong, thought Amice grimly, recalling what her brother had said.
“….The fellow has a massive bushy beard, very black. Once seen, never forgotten. Do you know him?”
“Not at all,” Amice replied at once. “The man is a stranger to me.” And beards, however big and bushy can be shaved off, so I still have no real notion of what Sir Gilles looks like. That however, could wait for the moment. “When do you wish me to start?”
“Soon,” Duke Henry said, with another heavy sigh. “As soon as you can.”
“I will see my Isabella and her Stephen on their honeymoon, and then I will come,” Amice promised, her heart beating furiously. Nigel had been so certain that the Frenchman had not survived, that he had seen the man cut down. To cross the path of this Sir Gilles now, she would close up her London spice shop and live at the duke’s palace of the Savoy for as long as it took. This English mercenary, this Harry Swynford, he will not stop me in my quest. For all he has done, Sir Gilles deserves to die. He will do so at my hand. The French king I will watch, too, but only for the chance of revenging myself on that French knight. Let my golden Isabella be settled and happy and then I shall begin.

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Now read about Amice as a character in Mistress Angel.

Lindsay Townsend

Be sure to leave a comment for Lindsay to be entered in a drawing for a free ecopy of AMICE AND THE MERCENARY!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


                   Arguing with Yourself - Trusting Your Characters by Shayna Matthews

The Journey: what's around the next bend? Photograph by Shayna Matthews.
When the plot crumbles...aftermath of your character war.
      A writer is a unique specimen of being. We create characters, journeys and universes of our own accord. Occasionally, we get lucky. A person will unfold before our eyes, plucked seemingly out of the blue. The character breathes life into the story. He or she forms his/her own thoughts and opinions, and expresses them freely, running roughshod over your meticulous plotting. "This is not how it's gonna be," he might tell you.

     No matter what you try, the scene collapses much like an implosion of brick and mortar. A writer might fight the nagging little voice, after all, it is the author's tale to tell, is it not? Characters must do as they are bidden. (And if you believe that, I have a nice piece of ocean front property in Arizona for sale...interested?)
     Advice on fictional writing is easy to find in this modern world. A quick search will unearth an avalanche of rules. How to write a novel. How not to write a novel. Planning. Plotting. Flying by the seat of your 'pantsters'. Show, don't tell. Well, tell a little, that one's all about balance, right? Character heroes vs. villains. But I believe it all boils down to two things: knowledge and trust. We must know our characters as we know ourselves. Perhaps more so. Trust in them, in their voices, should they decide to speak to you. They know the story better than the writer, for they are living it.

   I've heard it said about historical fiction, that an in-tune author inadvertently summons past truths. The characters we flesh out on paper lean over our shoulders and whisper the story within the life they lived once upon a time. It is the author's job to listen. Once in a great while, a spirited character will do a little more than whisper. They "nudge" with the force of a twelve-pound hammer.

      I know an author--let's call her Lynn--who has a regular habit of picking up on those not so subtle signs from her "fictional" characters, so to speak. She was in the realm of a chapter fight with a secondary character, an unruly cowboy, who refused to stay in the background. Character and writer could not see eye to eye, and the plot began to unravel at the seams.
      Lynn went to one of her favorite stomping grounds, a western boutique filled with the leather-scented dreams most cowgirls lust over. In the shop, she gravitated toward a handmade pendant. It was a large brass portrait medallion. The image was clearly one printed from who-knows-where, a cheap repro of the original portrait of a smug cowpoke. The original was, no doubt, just that--the real thing. The unnamed puncher donned in threadbare britches, a whitish shirt and a broad-brimmed hat might not have had many worldly goods in his life at the time the photograph was taken, but he had pride--scads of it.                                                  
     Lynn walked through the store for nearly two hours, but kept returning to that pendant. She could not shake the image, for the man was everything she imagined her own stubborn character to be...crude, boyish, charming and completely unforgettable. She bought it and brought it home. The very next day, she scanned Pinterest boards, looking for nothing in particular. The moment she brought up those pictorial boards, an image seared through her heart: it was a photograph of the old west cowboy, the very same image she had bought the day before, marked simply: C. 1890 Cowboy.                                                     
     Upon letting the pounding of her heart settle back in its place, a frantic yet thorough search for the cowboy revealed...nothing. His image is there, he crops up from time to time to haunt her, and yet, his story remains a mystery. At least, for now. For you see, now that Lynn has learned to listen, that prideful cowboy is whispering the true tales of his stories in her ear. She writes them down as fast as she can. When she strays too far from the truth of her characters, she flounders. Then she must pause, reflecting on the past, and search for what went wrong. Often she has to bite down, swallowing her pride for the good of the story, and trust a little deeper in the whispers of the characters she is writing with. You see, for Lynn, they are more than characters. They are the people who lived the tale, the co-authors of their own tales, and the teachers who guide her down the adventurous journey of history, of authorship, and of self-discovery.

Written by Shayna Lynn Matthews

Thursday, February 18, 2016

#NewRelease — ENTHRALLED by Keena Kincaid — #Giveaway!

William of Ravenglas wants only one woman—his foster sister, Ami—but she is promised to another, a fate sealed by his father’s recklessness. Resolved to her forfeiture, he forges a dangerous path to bring stability to the house of Ravenglas, balancing the secret demands of the queen against loyalty to the king. 

Ami, true sister to Aedan ap Owen the minstrel, refuses her fate. She wants William. But when his kiss awakens her dormant magic, it triggers cascading events that sweep her into the queen’s fiendish web and threaten William's life. 


“We are in public, my queen.”

In the quiet flutter of a nearby torch, her cheeks flushed pink even as her eyes darkened with desire. “Henry hardly cares. Why would anyone else?” She rose on her toes, brushing her lips across his in a familiar invitation that brought an equally familiar tug to his groin.

“You are not among friends.”

She laughed, but eased away from him. “I never am. I will send for you later. Be ready. And sober.”
William held his smile as she glided over the castle walk toward the great hall. God’s bones, he’d wanted sweet and joyous. He’d wanted Ami.

He’d gotten a viper instead.

Be sure and leave a comment for Keena to be entered in a drawing for a free ecopy of ENTHRALLED!

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Monday, February 15, 2016

California and the Civil War


My latest release is a novelette titled He Is a Good Man which is part of Prairie Rose Publication's 2016 Valentine anthology, Lariats, Letters, and Lace.

A letter delivered from the grave changes everything for two young people.

In the opening chapter, two soldiers from California meet after the 1864 Battle of Fort Stevens where Hal finds his messmate and best friend, Joshua, shot in the leg and waiting his turn with the surgeon. Having been convinced for months that he would not survive the war, Joshua reminds Hal of his promise made earlier to deliver a special letter to Joshua's sweetheart when Hal returns to California.

Wait...What? California was involved in the Civil War? 

Gen. John White Geary, first mayor of San Francisco

When the Civil War started, one of the first things President Abraham Lincoln did was to query the states and territories regarding their loyalties. He was concerned about many issues. First, because of distance, communication and transportation between the Capitol and the West was slow. Although gold was not as easy to find as it had been in the 1849 gold rush days, there was still plenty being mined. Lincoln needed it to finance the war and did not want it to fall into Confederate hands. In addition, Lincoln put out a call to arms asking for one regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry to guard the overland mail route from Carson City to Salt Lake City. Three Weeks later four more regiments of infantry and a regiment of cavalry were requested. All of these were volunteer units recruited and organized in the northern counties of the state, especially around the San Francisco Bay region and the mining camps in the foothill counties of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These volunteers replaced the regular troops transferred to the east before the end of 1861. 
Company of soldiers recruited in Hayward, California
California was in a precarious state when it came to the loyalties of its citizens. The northern part of the states including the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento areas were settled primarily by people who came from the northern and mid-western states east of the Mississippi River and were mostly in favor of preserving the existing federal government. However, there was a large populaton in the southern part of the state--particularly around Los Angeles, El Monte and San Bernardino--that had come to California from the South. Their loyalties were solidly for the Confederacy. In addition, the Californios, the earlier residents of California from before the time when the Mexican-American War brought California into the United States as a territory in 1848 and as a state in 1850, were dissatisfied with the inequitable taxes and land laws imposed by the pro-Union state government. Many Californios also favored the Confederacy.

Col.Albert Sidney Johnston, Commander of Dept. of Pacific
Col. (Brevet Brigadier General) Sidney Johnston was the top military commander of the Department of the Pacific when the war broke out. Although he regretted seeing it come to war, he was from the south and resigned his commission. He and other top military commanders who had also resigned from the Union army managed to sneak across southern California, Arizona and New Mexico to join with the Confederate Army.

As part of the back story of He Is a Good Man, in 1862, both Joshua Penrose and Henry "Hal" Avery sign up to join the California Cavalry Battalion, a group of volunteers who agreed to travel back east and become part of the five companies of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. They left San Francisco by sea for service in the east. The California Battalion consisted of Companies A, C, F, L, and M. They participated in 51 battles, campaigns, and skirmishes.
Third Infantry California Volunteers Band in 1861

The story also includes the fate of Malinda's father, Charles Forsythe, who died while serving in the "California Column." The California Column ended up with a total strength of 2,350 men.

Col. James H. Carleton led California Column
The original mission of the California Column was to drive Confederate troops out of New Mexico, which they had occupied the previous year. During their advance the California Column engaged the Confederates in two small skirmishes, but the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico fought between the New Mexico/Colorado militias and the Confederates drove the Confederate troops back to Texas. Much of the Column's service during the war was garrison duty to prevent the Confederates from re-entering New Mexico. They also fought against the Apaches. To learn more about the California Column, read this post from the Civil War Trust which you can reach by clicking HERE.

In addition, there were a host of local home guard units formed throughout the state to prevent those with Southern sympathies from sending men or financial support to the Confederacy.

Other California units that fought in the Civil War may be found on this Wikipedia site which you can find by clicking HERE.

"Union Boy" cannon, in Sacramento Plaza during Civil War

Now, a little more about He Is a Good Man.  
Here is an excerpt:

      “I’m trying to finish the letter I was writing to Mali last night. I told her I got shot, but it’s getting hard to write. You finish it for me, Hal. Tell her I love her. Tell her to think of me fondly as a childhood friend, but…go on with her life and be happy.”
     Hal reached over and pried the paper out of Joshua’s fist. He rooted around on the ground until his fingers closed around the pencil Joshua had been using. He smoothed the crumpled sheet reasonably flat on his knee before he read the last few barely legible sentences in order to know where Joshua had left off and where he should start.
     “Josh, what do you mean by telling her you’ve done all you can for her future? That doesn’t make much sense.”
     “That’s between Mali and me. She’ll know…when the time comes.”
     Hal shrugged and began to write, being careful to not poke the pencil through the paper weakened by the creases resulting from Joshua clutching it while fighting off his pain. He had almost finished writing the words Joshua had requested when his friend, with a voice noticeably weaker, spoke to him once more.
     “Hal, you still got that other letter I asked you to take to Mali when I die?”
     “You’re not going to die, Josh. But, yeah, I still have it.”
     “And your word’s still good, isn’t it? You won’t mail it to her, but you’ll take it to her in person. You can mail the one you’re writing on now, and the one for my folks that’s in my coat pocket…but the one I gave to you before…you swear you’ll take it to her yourself in person? And you’ll do those other two things you promised to do, too?”
     “My word’s good, Josh. I meant every word I promised.” Hal fought down the surge of annoyance that his messmate would question his honor. He turned to stare in the unfocused eyes of his closest friend. “As long as I live to return home, I’ll do what I swore to do. I doubt she’ll appreciate me doing the one, but I’ll give her the option.”
     “Thanks, Hal. I’ll die in peace knowing you’ll do that.”
     “Just hush up about dying, Josh. What did you write in that letter, anyway?”
     “Between…me and Mali,” Joshua barely mumbled his words loud enough to be heard as shock and the loss of blood took its toll. “You…just take it to her.”

About Zina Abbott:

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications. He Is a Good Man was published in the Lariats, Letters and Lace anthology.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

Contact Zina Abbott:

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Purchase Lariats, Letters and Lace here:

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A letter from the grave changes everything HE IS A GOOD MAN @Zina Abbott in LARIATS, LETTERS & LACE #PrairieRosePub