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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Love and the Shameless Lady by Barbara Monajem

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Disgraced lady Daisy Warren serves ale in a tumbledown inn, sings crude songs for the smugglers, and writes romantic novels in her spare time. Shunned by her own class, she’s resigned to her lowly life—until someone tries to kill her.

Gentleman spy Sir Julian Kerr noses out seditionists and traitors. When he visits the inn to investigate two suspicious Frenchmen, he meets the lovely but hostile Daisy. He doesn’t intend to get involved with her—but then he learns that someone is threatening her life.

He wants to find out more—it’s part of his investigation.
He wants to protect her—he’s a chivalrous man.
He just wants her.
But will Daisy’s bitter past allow her to risk love again?

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EXCERPT

Julian intended to find out whether the Frenchmen were spies. In the meantime, he played darts middling well and got mildly soused on ale.

“Daisy! Daisy!” One of the locals pounded the table with his empty tankard.

Another joined in. “Aye, play for us, Daisy!”

Julian raised his brows at Mr. Bennett, who returned the slightest shrug.

Daisy opened the kitchen door and scowled at them, arms akimbo. “I’m busy, you louts. Do you or don’t you want bread to eat?”

“Aw, leave the baking to Sally,” said the one who’d called her first. “Play for us, love.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. “I’m writing a recipe. I can’t play just now.” She rejected their pleas with a swing of the hips that would have done justice to any tavern slut.
Julian wondered if perhaps he’d drunk too much ale.

“Daisy! Daisy!” Soon they were all banging the tables with tankards and fists.
Appalled, Julian felt himself darkening with rage. He caught the amused gaze of Mr. Bennett, who shook his head. “Leave them be.”

Devil take him, he was as bad as the rest. Julian half stood, fists clenched. He would knock a few heads together, throw a few punches . . .

A pair of firm hands pushed him into his chair again. Behind him, his fingers gripping Julian’s shoulders, Mr. Bennett called out, “Come, Miss Daisy, kindly grace us with your presence.”

“Go,” Sally said from behind the kitchen door. “I’ll take care of the bloody bread.”

Daisy muttered something unintelligible.

“I’ll take it out when it’s done. I’ll write down how long it took.”

“But—” Daisy began.

“Coward,” Sally said in a stage whisper.

Julian shoved Mr. Bennett off and leapt to his feet.

“You’ll regret this, Sally.” Daisy stormed into the room.

***

Pure humiliation.

Daisy glowered at the drunken revelers. One would think she’d be accustomed by now, but no. She was used to playing for the smugglers. She even enjoyed it. Liked acting coy and mock-threatening Sally for teasing her. But to play and sing bawdy songs while Sir Julian Kerr watched . . . oh, the mortification was enough to make her ill.

Which was absurd, as she didn’t give a hedgehog’s arse what the man thought of her. She’d been nowhere near as mortified in front of that Frenchman, Bonaventure, who often came to stay for a few days. Perhaps this was because Sir Julian knew she was a lady, whilst the Frenchman didn’t. Damn Mr. Bennett for introducing her properly.

Sir Julian rose to his feet upon her entrance, a fearsome scowl on his handsome face.

Oh, God, he probably thought she’d been insulted. Well, to hell with him. She didn’t need defending. She would show him just how low she had become.
She sashayed over to the frightful old pianoforte. She had become quite accomplished at swaying her hips like a lightskirt. With a murmured apology for displacing it, she pushed the kitchen cat gently off the bench and sat down.

Whoops and cheers greeted her. She ran her fingers up and down the keys and played the opening bars of “Watkin’s Ale,” which was the least bawdy song they might enjoy. It even had a moral, one that didn’t quite apply to her, as she luckily hadn’t become pregnant when she’d given in to her lust for a smuggler.

She led them through all eight verses, glancing after three or four at Sir Julian. He was slouched in his chair, eyeing her with . . . what? Disbelief? Disgust?

She’d give him something to truly disgust him. She didn’t always take requests, but tonight, why not? Most of the men were smugglers, many of them sailors, so their taste in songs was horrid.

With a flourish, she played the final chords of “Watkin’s Ale.” “What next, boys? Tonight it’s your turn to choose.”

They roared with approval and shouted their requests.

***

Julian stared, both aroused and appalled. She was behaving like a common whore.

No, perhaps not a common one. Most whores couldn’t play the pianoforte so very well. She had a pleasant singing voice, too, although after leading them through “Watkin’s Ale,” she merely played the accompaniment.

Rightly so. Any decent woman, and many an indecent one, would balk at some of those lyrics. More than bawdy, they were downright vile, which was hardly surprising considering how many of the men were sailors. Good God, someone had even put a lewd poem by the Earl of Rochester to music.

He watched Daisy’s face for some sign of mortification. None. She was extremely competent on the keyboard, hardly glancing at it as she moved from one key to another, one song to the next. The instrument was out of tune, but that didn’t seem to matter. She smirked and winked at the men, jested at their requests, glowered at Mr. Bennett, and avoided Julian’s eyes entirely.

Did that mean she was embarrassed by his presence? Perhaps. Or perhaps because he was so strongly attracted to her, he was seeking redeeming qualities where there were none.

In any event, it was his mission to fit in, so he clapped and cheered with the rest, even joining in when he knew the lyrics.

At last, when they were all uproariously drunk on songs and ale, she played “Hush-a-Bye Baby.” They all laughed. Evidently a lullaby meant she was done. She ignored the few desultory pleas for more, curtsied lavishly, and was gone.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winner of the Holt Medallion, Maggie, Daphne du Maurier, Reviewer’s Choice and Epic awards, Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young, then moved on to paranormal mysteries and Regency romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa).

Barbara loves to cook, especially soups. There are only two items on her bucket list: to make asparagus pudding (because it’s too weird to resist) and succeed at knitting socks. She may manage the first but doubts she’ll ever accomplish the second. This is not a bid for immortality but merely the dismal truth. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.

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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Rake’s Irish Lady (Scandalous Kisses Book 2) by Barbara Monajem

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ONE WILD NIGHT . . .
Widowed and lonely, Bridget O’Shaughnessy Black indulges herself in a night of pleasure. After all, she’s in disguise. And the baby girl? An unexpected blessing…until an old flame claims the child as his own to force Bridget to marry him.

ONE DETERMINED LADY. . .
Many women pursued Colin Warren, but only one climbed in his bedchamber window. When Bridget does it for the second time, she needs his help. Colin knows he’s unfit to be a parent, yet he has no choice but to acknowledge the little girl.

RISKING EVERYTHING FOR LOVE
Together they must solve the mystery of the old flame’s intentions—but can they reconcile their divided loyalties—Irish and English—through the power of love?

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EXCERPT

Bridget was a fool to want Colin, but she couldn’t help it. What had come over her? Suddenly, stupidly, she was willing to risk another illegitimate child by him.

They were almost at the inn. She dreaded another restless night. She needed something to distract her. “Where are those apples? The horses deserve a treat.”

Colin passed her the basket. She took four of the wrinkled apples. They pulled up in front of a battered old building with weathered timbers and dormers peeking from under a thatched roof. No eager servant came rushing out of the inn to greet them.

“House!” Colin bellowed, opening the coach door. Without bothering to let down the steps, he took Bridget by the waist and lifted her down into the rain. His hands didn’t linger. “Hurry up and give them the damned apples. Let’s get out of this bloody rain.”

“Would you stop fussing?” she cried. “We’ll catch up to Martin eventually.”

“That’s not what I’m fussing about,” he snapped, heading for the rear of the coach. Bridget offered apples to the wheeler and leader on one side and then stalked around to treat the others.

A spare, grizzled man limped out of the inn. “Come in, come in,” he said, but his eyes widened at the sight of Colin, in his wet but obviously costly clothing, unearthing two valises from the boot. “I’m that sorry, sir, but I don’t have accommodation for the likes of you.”

“Does your roof leak?” Colin demanded. “Do the fireplaces smoke?”

“No sir, but—”

“Will the horses be warm and dry too?” Bridget piped up, and suddenly she began to shiver.

“Aye, the stables is fine,” the landlord said.

“Then we’ll do fine, too.” Colin dropped the valises on the doorstep. “Warm and dry is all we ask, and I’ll pay handsomely for it.”

A stout lady in an old-fashioned mobcap appeared in the doorway. “What are you waiting for, Stan? I’ll light a fire in the guest chamber. Let the gentleman and his missus in before they catch their deaths.”

Oh, dear.

The landlord still seemed uneasy. “I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve only the one small guest room, and not even a private parlor.”

“We’ll do fine,” Bridget and Colin said simultaneously. Their hands touched and twined together. Clung together, as if one or the other of them—or both—was afraid the other would let go. Or as if they were about to plunge off a cliff and holding on for dear life.

Bridget’s heart began to pound. She slid her gaze surreptitiously toward Colin. He wasn’t looking at her but rather straight ahead. A drop of water rolled from his wet hair, over his brow, and down to his upper lip. His tongue flicked out and licked it up.

Desire roared through her. She shuddered. His right dimple appeared, but so briefly she almost didn’t see it.

The landlady bustled away, and the landlord grabbed the valises. “Just you follow me, then. I’m Stan Butterworth, and that’s my rib, Martha.” He led them through the taproom. “You’ll want to change out of them wet clothes first of all, and then we’ll see to your supper.” He preceded them up a narrow flight of stairs. “My Martha’s a right good cook, and we had mutton stew to our dinner, but it won’t be what you’re accustomed to.”

“I’m sure it will be delicious,” Bridget managed. Could food possibly have been farther from her mind?

“It can get right rowdy in here on a fair evening,” Mr. Butterworth said, “but we won’t have much custom tonight, what with the storm and all. You’ll have a peaceful sleep.”

Colin made a sound between a snort and a laugh, but he didn’t let go of her hand.

Mrs. Butterworth bustled past them in the passage above, carrying a lit taper. “I’d just lit the fire in our chamber to ward off the damp,” she said. “It will take no time to get yours going as well. And the sheets is fresh today.”

They followed the landlord into a bedchamber under the thatched roof. The small dormer window let in little light—just enough to see the small bed which would fit them both, but only if they slept very close together.

Bridget said nothing. Nor did Colin. The landlord set down the bags, and Bridget shivered.

“You poor young lady,” Mrs. Butterworth said. “Better get out of them wet clothes. Take care of the fire, Stan. I’ll fetch some towels.”

Colin let go of Bridget’s hand and helped remove her pelisse, which clung to her wet sleeves. He set it over a chair, shucked off his own coat, unknotted his cravat, and tossed it to the floor. The landlady bustled in with an armful of towels. Colin grabbed one and passed it to Bridget, then toweled his own hair. It stood up every which way.

Bridget couldn’t help but smile, but he didn’t return it, so perhaps she had read him wrong. Perhaps he intended to sleep on the floor or something equally stupid. She took refuge in toweling her own hair, which doubtless looked almost as ridiculous as his.

The kindling caught hold, and the landlord plied the bellows. Flames licked around the logs.

“There, that’s good enough,” Colin said. “I’ll take care of the fire from here on.”

“Aye, Stan, leave the lady and gent to take off them soggy clothes and warm up,” Mrs. Butterworth said, driving her husband through the door. “Unless you need me to help with your laces, ma’am?”

“No need,” Colin said, at the same instant as Bridget said desperately, “No, thank you.” She tried to stifle a breath of relief.

The landlady smiled indulgently. “Such a fine young couple you are. I’ll have a good hot supper for you in the taproom whenever you’re ready.” She went out and shut the door.

GIVEAWAY

ENTER TO WIN AN eCOPY OF TO KISS A RAKE (SCANDALOUS KISSES BOOK 1). THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winner of the Holt Medallion, Maggie, Daphne du Maurier, Reviewer’s Choice and Epic awards, Barbara Monajem wrotBarbaraMonajem small pice her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young, then moved on to paranormal mysteries and Regency romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa).

Barbara loves to cook, especially soups. There are only two items on her bucket list: to make asparagus pudding (because it’s too weird to resist) and succeed at knitting socks. She’ll manage the first but doubts she’ll ever accomplish the second. This is not a bid for immortality but merely the dismal truth. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.

You can connect with Barbara at: www.barbaramonajem.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Under a Christmas Spell by Barbara Monajem

Under a Christmas Spell

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Dissolute aristocrat Lord Valiant Oakenhurst hides a sexy, supernatural secret—as a powerful incubus, he is able to influence others through erotic dreams. At an exclusive Christmas house party, his latest mission is compromised by the beautiful but deadly succubus Lucille Beaulieu. Though still drawn to his former lover, Val cannot forget her betrayal….

Hoping to atone for her past, Lucie uses her seductive powers to help couples find happiness. But she is distracted from her task by her own delicious dreams of the dark and dangerous Val.

As the riotous festivities begin, their passion is reinvoked, but can a little Christmas magic restore their lost trust?

Excerpt

Lord Valiant Oakenhurst has just shot himself in the arm as a ruse to get into the home of Lord Westerly, who would refuse him otherwise.

By the time Lord Valiant reached Westerly House, he didn’t have to feign feeling a trifle under the weather. Strange how the lack of any real danger robbed one of the usual grim control.

He urged his horse up the drive to where a gentleman and two ladies hovered outside a coach while footmen unloaded trunks and bandboxes. It seemed an ideal moment for a dramatic arrival until he glimpsed a familiar pair of wide violet eyes. He blinked, so astonished and overwhelmed by memory that he swayed in the saddle.

He stared. It was truly Lucie. What was she doing at Westerly House? Damn and blast the Master of the British Incubi for sending him here. A surge of rage sent him into wartime mode. This wasn’t what it seemed.

Back into the game.

As he slid off the horse, people hurried around the coach. “Highwaymen,” he croaked, grasping his injured arm and stumbling to one knee, sensing without seeing the contempt in Lucie’s gaze. She had seen this ruse before. “Winged me.”

“Heavens, how dreadful!” The other lady rushed forward—an ordinary-looking Englishwoman, not a conniving succubus. “Lord Westerly, send a man for the doctor,” she ordered. “James, Charles, help this poor man into the house.”

“Lord Valiant Oakenhurst?” said Lord Westerly as two footmen set down the trunk they carried and hurried around to help. “What the deuce are you doing in Hampshire?”

“Getting shot,” Valiant mumbled. “It’s only a scratch.” He squeezed his eyes shut as if in agonizing pain—actually, the throbbing in his arm was nothing compared to seeing Lucie again—and reopened them. “I could ask the same of you.”

“I live here,” Lord Westerly said.

“The devil you say.” Val infused surprise tinged with distaste into his voice, slung his good arm across the shoulders of one of the footmen, and made the most of staggering into the house.

* * * * * * * * * * *

What in the name of God and all the saints was Val doing here?

Lucille watched aghast as one footman helped her former lover into the house, while the other ran to the stables to send a groom for the doctor. She’d always wondered about his background, which could have been anything judging by the many roles he had played. Now she knew, and a cold trickle of fear invaded her gut. Oakenhurst was the family name of the Marquis of Staves. Val was not only a spy and assassin, but a man of power and influence in England.

Whereas she was a traitor to both France, the country of her birth, and England, which had given her sanctuary, and Valiant Oakenhurst was the only one who knew. What an unusual name Valiant was, but appropriate. She’d known him by several names, but during their intimacy he’d been simply Val.

But why would a man of high birth use a desperate ploy to gain entrance to Westerly House? The last time he’d shot himself in the arm, he had nearly bled to death. Lucille knew because she had been the one to save his life.

She’d caught that flicker of rage in his eyes. He still hated her, even though the war was over and France had gone down to bitter defeat. He had followed her for months after the betrayal and had had her watched during Napoleon’s first exile. She had lived in daily expectation of violent death. After Waterloo, she’d hoped it was all over. Lately, she had almost begun to believe she was safe.

Evidently not. None of it should matter anymore, but he would never understand, brutal, uncomplicated Englishman that he was. He had surely come here because of her, but how had he known she would be here? And what did he intend to do?

A ghastly question yawned chasm-like before her. Was she prepared to take his life to save her own?

TO WIN AN EBOOK COPY OF UNDER A CHRISTMAS SPELL, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER AND ANSWER THIS QUESTION IN THE COMMENTS:

In Under a Christmas Spell, there is some magical matchmaking going on. Have you ever tried matchmaking? Has it ever been tried on you? Did it succeed?

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About the Author

Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. After dabbling in neighborhood musicals BarbaraMonajem300x400 and teen melodrama, she published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young. Now her kids are adults, and she’s writing historical and paranormal romance and mystery for grownups. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.