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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

For Life or Until: Read the 1st Chapter Here

        Fifteen years ago, I put pen to paper on the first words of the novel that would become For Life or Until. The story opens in Roman Britain a few decades after Queen Boadicea's legendary revolt where she led the Iceni tribe in a doomed fight against the Roman Empire. Now Domitian rules the Empire, but in the little Catuvellauni village where Ness lives the world of Rome feels very far away. Until it doesn't.
       Inspired by a childhood of reading Rosemary Sutcliff, here is the first chapter of For Life or Until.

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A Catuvellauni village in the province of Britannia, the Roman Empire,
Summer 85 A.D.

     Setting her water jar down, Ness gripped the hawthorn gate post to the smithy. The shadow of the wattle and daub shop fell across the dusty yard. Inside the door, sparks from the smithy’s fire rose high as he labored over metal.
     Under the eaves stood another man. Cedric. Sun reflected off his bare chest, the tang of his sweat just scenting the air. He lounged back against the thatched wood. Ness’ soul soared.
     “Ness.” Cedric grinned at her. The leaves overhead made patterns on his body. “You break an ax too?”
     “My brother did.” She felt her ears redden at just the sight of Cedric. She’d now seen eighteen summers. Surely this summer he’d ask her to marry him.
      Cedric flicked her hair, his long fingers sliding through the golden strands. “Why the frown?”
    “Just turning the future over in my mind. Fiona’s father is selling two ewes this week. I’m thinking of buying them.” Heart pounding, Ness watched Cedric’s eyes. Did he love her? She’d loved him since before she knew what love meant.
      “Still planning that sheep farm?” Cedric moved his gaze to the smoke rising from the smithy roof.
      “Yes, only I need pastureland first.”
      Cedric swatted away a humming insect. The mark of briars scraped across his hard stomach and the burn of the sun reddened the tops of his shoulders. “Doesn’t your father have an extra field?”
      She stood straighter, the blue wool of her dress swishing in the breeze. “One extra field, yes. I plan on building my herd to a hundred sheep.” Behind Cedric’s father’s fields lay a vast plot of unclaimed land. If she felled the trees, she could use that land.
      “What are you going to do with all those sheep?” Cedric raised one arm and leaned more heavily on the smithy shop. His big shadow fell across her as he turned his gray-green eyes toward her. A tawny cockroach moved its disgusting body up the wattle and daub structure.
      “Shear them.” Ness ran the tip of her tongue across her lower lip. Her heart thumped against her ribcage as she dug her toe against a lone blade of grass. “Weave clothes for my children.” The entire village had paired their names together for three summers now. He must feel something for her. If only she dared bring up the topic.
      “A hundred sheep. How many children do you plan on having?” He grinned at her.
      She crossed her arms. “I’ll weave rugs and blankets and sell them in town. Bring in a good profit.”
      “You can’t weave.” Cedric rolled his eyes, a mocking light in those mystical globes.
      “I can weave.” She brought her eyebrows down, though she couldn’t help but smile at him.
      Cedric caught her hand at the wrist and held it up. “See, dirt on your skin.” His eyes laughed as he ran his finger across a line in her palm. “Women who weave for profit have the whitest of hands and sit inside all day.”
      Heat flushed through her veins and Cedric showed no signs of releasing her fingers. She had tangled the last blanket she’d attempted so badly that her foster sister Enni had taken pity on her and finished the thing. Perhaps she should work on her weaving skills before starting this business. She could scarcely breathe, but she flicked her gaze up to Cedric and smiled. “You prefer the weaving clothes for children plan then?”
      “Ha. You’ll only have boys and they’ll run wild in the fields while you’re chasing your sheep.” Standing straighter, he slid one arm behind her, his fingers just touching her shoulder.
      No, she wouldn’t. She’d have a beautiful golden-haired girl with Cedric’s piercing eyes.
      She felt the cool touch of skin against skin as he brushed his fingers beneath her hair. Something wriggly touched her neck.
      With a scream, she slammed her head back toward his chin. “Cedric!”
       He jumped away from her, the filthy cockroach still wriggling between his fingers.
      “I told you ten times ago to never put a creature down my dress again.” She jammed her hands against her hips and glared at him.
      “You started it last month.” Reaching forward, he took her hand again. He traced his thumb across the freckle on her wrist.
      “I used leaves not revolting insects. And drop that filthy cockroach immediately.” She jerked away from him.
      “Did you see my new horse?” Cedric nodded to the far side of the smithy.
      A magnificent brown-black stallion threw its head up, showcasing the beautiful arch of its neck. With every stomp of its hooves, the creature showcased the power in its frame. Riding that mount, one would outrace even the wind.
      A gasp passed through Ness’ lips. “Is that one yours? I want to ride him.”
      “Only if you ride with me.”
      “I’m a perfectly competent horsewoman.”
      “The smithy said another half hour before my ax’s done.” Cedric’s eyes flashed with mischief. “Ride with me now.” He extended his big hand.
      Her heart flopped wildly as she reached for his fingers.
      “Soldiers!” A voice screeched from the wattle and daub hut across the grassy path. Mailmura, the medicine woman, pointed a knobby finger toward the village green where metal flashed in the sunlight.
      Cedric dropped her hand and scowled. “Does the chief know they’re here?”
      A sea of iron and red plumes spilled out of the eastern forest into the space. Scabbards clanked against armor and the harsh sound of Latin filled the air. At the clatter, finches skittered up from the stone well in the center of the clearing.
      With a sigh, Ness nodded. “My father spoke to them this morning.”
      “Why did the chief let those Roman pigs here?” Cedric glared at the men who swarmed the green, turning grass into mud with the tramp of their hobnailed sandals.
       “As if my father could say no to a tribune with a garrison?” Ness turned her back to the clamor. Though the soldiers would eat plenty of the village’s precious stores that needed to last until harvest, and likely not pay either, even Father could do nothing about it.
      “Bloody conquerors.”
      “They’re here to quench an uprising further north. You wouldn’t want marauding rebels burning our crops.” Ness ran her gaze over the foreigners. “Or sheep farm.” She smiled at Cedric.
      The hawthorn gate creaked. Cedric turned.
      “Cedric.” A girl with long black hair waved from the grassy path. Cedric moved toward her. The Pict girl smiled and Cedric laughed. The girl touched his chest and Cedric leaned closer. Village gossip had it that Cedric had spent more time with the Pict girl of late.
      Tears stung Ness’ eyes. She couldn’t watch this. Grabbing her clay jar, she headed toward the well.
      On the green, the din of soldiers’ jostling equipment mingled with the stench of dozens of unwashed bodies. Mud caked even the armor on their backs as they crowded around the village well.
      Taking a deep breath, Ness forged ahead. Her bare feet sank into the dew-soaked grass. The clank and glint of metal surrounded her, enough weapons to keep the village’s forge burning for years. She glanced back at the smithy shop, but red-crested plumes and iron breastplates encircled her now.
      Latin phrases flew back and forth: some orders from officers, some bickering as soldiers shoved for water, and a lot of coarse talk. An overconfident youth looked at her and said words about her that would have made his mother blush red.
      Ness puckered her face. Perhaps Cedric had it right about Romans.
      In front, the well’s circle parted. Ducking under ironclad limbs and soldiers’ canteens, she grabbed for the well’s rope. A stocky legionary snagged it away.
      A vulgar Latin phrase concerning her came from the man’s lips. His comrades laughed. The men thought she didn’t know the language?
      “Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris—If Caesar was alive, you’d be chained to an oar.” Ness reached for the rope.
      “You, chit.” The stocky legionary shoved her shoulder. Dozens of other soldiers crowded closer.
She could smell their breath and the stench of their tunics. Ness pressed back against the cold stone of the well.
      The man lay a hand on her arm, a brown hand with coarse black hair growing out of it. Digging his fingers into her skin, he jerked her against his chest.
      She rammed her fist against him. His breastplate absorbed the blow, his dark arms hard as iron.
The legionary pressed even closer, his greasy face a mere handbreadth from her now.
      Ness’ heart pounded in her throat. She twisted right and left. Javelins and breastplates hemmed her in on every side.
      The soldier grabbed her other arm. She hit at him with her elbow.
      On every side the men’s rough hands closed in around her. Her blood raced. She couldn’t breathe. “Cedric,” she screamed.
      “Let her draw water,” barked a male voice. Outside the ring of soldiers stood a Roman officer, a tribune. His helmet reflected the sunlight as he stood, feet spread confidently.
      Canteens crashed to earth as legionaries cleared posthaste and the stocky soldier disappeared into their midst.
      The breath she’d held escaped her lungs as she grabbed for her water jar.
      The tribune strode across the vacated space. “You can draw water,” he said in a poor attempt at Celtic.
      The tribune insignia blazed across the cuirass on his torso. Armor obscured his chest and a helmet covered his head, making him just another nameless officer. He fixed an inquisitive gaze on her.
      “My thanks.” Inclining her head, she attempted to affix the rope to the jar. Her hand trembled. The rope slid.
      “Are you well?” He touched her shoulder, his calluses scraping across the cloth.
      “Most well. Gratias.” She slid back and with a jerk got the jar fastened. Lifting the jar over the well’s boundary, she kept her gaze on the rough rope fibers.
      Without asking permission, the tribune closed his fingers on the rope and hauled up her full water jar.
      Someone jostled her shoulder. Cedric grabbed for her water jar. “Idiot Romans. Wish they’d all throw themselves into a bog.”
      “Cedric!” Ness swiveled toward him. “He’s a Roman officer. He could have any of us killed just for looking at him wrong.”
      Cedric snorted, the red of anger tinting his cheekbones. “You think the masters of the world deign to learn our language?”
      The tribune narrowed his eyes. “What did he say?”
      Ness’ heart stopped. The heat of the sun reflected off her water jar in dead silence. She dragged her nail against the clay lip. “He said thank you for your help.”
      The tribune ran his calculating gaze over Cedric’s angry face. The man looked at her again. “Do you lie as fluently in Celtic as in Latin?”
      Ness gulped. Air blew through the high oak tree overhead. Romans could have one killed on a whim. “Mea culpa. He didn’t mean anything by it.” She wiped a slick hand against the wool fibers of her dress. “It’s just hard with foreigners overtaking our green.”
      “Foreigners fighting your battles, bringing gold from across the empire for building projects in your province, providing peace. What’s so hard about that?” Standing there, the tribune looked as hard as the iron on his chest and his gaze still fixed on Cedric.
      “I’m sure you’re right. You won’t take offense against him, will you?” Ness grabbed for her water jar and glanced to the wattle and daub houses where the path of retreat lay. She gripped the clay between moist fingers.
      “Tell me honestly what the Cautevaullani see as the benefits and downsides of Roman rule and I’ll take no offense.”
      She jerked toward the soldier.
      “Truthful answers only.” The tribune rested his hand on his sword pommel as he dug his gaze into her.
      Ness swallowed. She looked to Cedric. Though he stood tall, hands looped on his belt, he moved his gaze back and forth between the tribune and her as they exchanged foreign words Cedric couldn’t understand. The tribune had the power to wreck vengeance on Cedric or her. If only she hadn’t gone for water. Perhaps she should add honey to the truth. This tribune had demanded honesty.
      Her voice felt small as she forced herself to meet the tribune’s gaze. “Legate Vocula raised taxes again. The former legate cared much more for justice.”
      The tribune tilted his head. His hard mouth parted, curiosity in his gaze. “What’s your solution?”
      “Increase trade. Vocula’s tariffs are so high no one can afford to trade with Gaul and Germania.” Which meant her wool profits would need to stay within the province.
      A decurion called from the woods. The tribune turned toward the man.
      Gesturing to Cedric, Ness hastened back the trail through the village.
      When she’d come within a pace of the shelter of wattle and daub houses, the tribune’s voice rose above the breeze. “What’s your name?”
      She turned back. The tribune looked at her, an intenseness in his gaze. She mounted her water jar higher on her hip. “That wasn’t part of our agreement.”
      Hastening her step, she disappeared into the village.
      Fading evening light spread its brilliance across treetops as Ness tread a well-worn path. Her family’s house faded in the distance as she continued down the hill past stately oaks and green fields. To her left, deep storage pits lined with timber pitted the landscape. Beyond those rose Cedric’s rolling fields.
      Life teemed around her, the wheat past waist high, the tree branches overrun with leaves. The jars yanked at Ness’ arms, but she hummed a Celtic song.
      The words told of a perfect first love that conquered all and never waned. Cedric and her could have that kind of love.
      Ahead, a waterfall skipped down moist rocks and bubbled into the brook below.  She plunked her water jars beneath the running flow. The waterfall crashed around her. Water droplets splashed on her face. Then she saw him. She froze.
      Cedric’s shoulders bent a little, a spade slung over his back. Sweat dripped from his forehead, and his shirt, wet with sweat, stuck to his chest.
      Stepping into the stream, Cedric splashed water up across his dirt-caked face. “You avoiding the Romans too?”
      She leaned back against a willow trunk as water tinkled against water and hers jar filled. “They’re not all bad. The Romans built the roads and brought learning from around the world to Britannia.”
      Cedric kicked a rock. It landed with a thud, splashing up water. “And brought greedy rulers and taxes.” He rolled up the sleeves of his wool shirt. He glared into the sunset as he splashed water across his dust-stained forearms.
      Slipping forward, she grabbed her smaller water jar. She raised the jar high and splashed it at him.
The water poured down Cedric’s shirt, dripping around his leather belt and down his trousers. He whipped around. “You just did that.”
      With a smile, she flaunted her shoulders.
      He caught her around the waist. His fingers spanned her hips as he pushed her toward the waterfall.
      The cold flow poured behind her, threatening a dunking, but his hands felt hotter than any chill could wash away. She tipped her chin up and swayed her hips. “You know you want to.” She rested her gaze on his lips as she dared him to kiss her.
      Cedric paused, hands still on her. “Have you ever even kissed a man?”
      The flame of a thousand hearths blushed up her cheek with a heat to turn the brook to steam. “No.”
      “Bet you wouldn’t even go through with it.” Cedric removed one hand from her waist and gestured up. “You’d blush and turn away.”
      “Would not.” She slapped her barefoot against the moss-covered rock.
      Water splashed across his left ankle, which the frayed plaid of his trouser hem revealed. Cedric moved his gaze from her eyes to her lips.
      She couldn’t breathe.
      He dropped his other hand from her. “Naw. Don’t need trouble with the chief.” He grinned at her. “Nessite.”
      “I told you not to call me that.”
      “It’s like the Hittites and the Amorites in those scrolls your father reads at first day service.” Cedric brushed against her as he stepped to the shore. “You’re just as dangerous.”
      “Am not.”
      Catching up the spade, Cedric walked back up the path to his father’s fields.
      She’d marry that man one day.
      “Fiona, Bretta.” Ness cut into the throng of noisy young women on the village green. Enni her foster sister followed her.
      Multiple bronze bracelets jangled on Fiona’s plump arms as she giggled. Underneath the oak tree to the right followers of the Way gathered for First Day worship.
      Sun trickled down between the branches overhead, making patterns on the girls’ colorful dresses.
      “Bretta admires someone.” Fiona jabbed Bretta with her elbow.
      The girl’s cheeks went scarlet. “Shh!”
      Ness swung her gaze to the blushing girl. “Who?”
      “The cobbler who came with the Romans. They say he might settle here.” A puff of wind blew Fiona’s hair up over her shoulders.
      “I heard the Romans won. They’re leaving this week.” Enni pressed closer to Ness, and shivered.
      “You mean Brenin the cobbler?” a thin girl asked.
      “I don’t care what his name is—he’s gorgeous.” Fiona’s voice sent several small woodland creatures running for the underbrush. Fiona tilted her head. “Not devastatingly handsome though, I wouldn’t say.”
      “What makes a man devastating?” Out of the corner of her eye, Ness searched for Cedric.
      “Devastatingly handsome,” Fiona dropped her voice, “that means he’s irresistible. He can set your heart on fire with a single glance.”
      “I could resist any man if I chose.” Ness kicked a stick.
      Fiona widened her saucy mouth. “Why would you choose?”
      “Tsk, tsk. There’s more to a man than a fine dressing.” Mailmura pushed herself into the girl’s circle and a beaver’s tail on her belt swished against Ness’ dress. “Choose carefully.” Mailmura pinched Fiona’s cheek.
      Jostling her bracelets, Fiona stuck her shoulders out very straight. “I’ll wed the one I want and if he doesn’t live up to his face, I’ll find myself a new one.” She looked at Bretta and made cobbling gestures.
      A nervous laugh trickled around the circle. Ness shook her head in wonder. She wanted to see the man Fiona wed.
      Across the green, villagers raised their voices in sacred song, but Mailmura kept on tsking. “Easy to say, Fiona, but there are only two reasons a Celtic woman leaves her man.”
      Turning her back on the pipes and lyres that signaled them to join the service, Fiona crossed plump arms. “What reasons?”
      Mailmura held up a wrinkled finger. “If he ever leaves a mark on your body, or,” she held up a second finger, “if he’s incapable of producing children.”
      Even Fiona almost blushed, but she held her dimpled chin high. “What if he’s unfaithful?”
      “You could divorce him for that, but I would advise poison.” Mailmura dug her bare heel into the earth.
      Behind them, the music came to a crashing halt. A collective gasp passed through the crowd at the oak tree. Ness swiveled.
      A Roman soldier stood at the front of the crowd. The man’s red-crested plume cut his path as the villagers rushed to make way.
      “Rome outlawed our religion,” Enni said. Fiona shivered.
      Ness ran her tongue over her lips. “I’ve never heard of Christians fed to lions in Britain.” Then again, everything had a first time.
      “Can you see his rank?” Enni asked, her dark frame walled in by tall Celts.
      Standing on tiptoe, Ness peered over Mailmura’s gray head. The officer from the well. Unbidden, Ness dropped her voice. “He’s a tribune.”
      Up front, the man spoke to a cluster of village elders now. An older man, hollow in the cheek, parted from the elders and walked toward her.
      The elder’s hands twitched. Sweat collected on his gray brow. “The Tribune, Aquilus Salvius Paterculi, has said that he merely wishes to worship. He asked for you to translate for him.”
      “I?” Ness glanced toward the tribune. He looked at her.
      “I could ask you, do you want to, but the truth is you don’t get a choice. And if you could hurry please before the tribune chooses to remember that our religion is illegal.” The village elder scrubbed his gnarled hand against his forehead as the veins on his temples stood out. “I’ll tell your father to cut the service as short as possible.”
      “Oh.” Parting from the girls, Ness walked toward the crowd. She fidgeted with her fingers as she approached the tribune.
      “Ness.” The word sounded strange in his foreign tongue.
      “How did you learn my name?” She ran her gaze over him. No adornment decorated his tunic and a signet ring of iron, not gold, circled his left-hand finger. Weren’t most tribunes noblemen?  Perhaps he’d earned his rank by merit.
      “I asked. Your villagers had much to say about you.” The tribune smiled at her as Father started the reading.
      Her face heated. “Such as?”
      “They said you were the chief’s daughter.” The tribune twisted one corner of his mouth up, laughter in his eyes. “And that you had a temper to match Poisedon.”
      “They did not say that.” Ness hooked her thumbs into her belt. “Poisedon is a Greek deity. If the villagers had said anything they would have compared me to Camulus.”
      “Camulus the Celtic god of war? What about Aine the fairie queen?”
      Aine, goddess of love who the pagans celebrated with erotic midsummer festivals. Ness slid her fingers out of her belt as her blush heated even her neck. She didn’t need a soldier comparing her to that deity. “Now my father is reading the story of Elijah and the kings.” She plunged into the translation.
      After far fewer verses than normal, Father announced the final prayer.
      She dutifully closed her eyes. Only a faint glow of sunlight penetrated her eyelids.
      The scriptures called prayer a sacred sacrament, a joining of one’s heart with God through Christ. Just now all she could think was, I want Cedric. I truly, exceedingly want Cedric. Please God.
      “Gratias for translating.”
      She blinked her eyes open at the tribune’s deep voice. He fixed his brown-eyed gaze on her.
      The man looked quite young, despite the dense day’s stubble on his cheekbones. His short sword clanked against the metal of his armor as he moved.
      Around her people milled, homespuns and plaids flapping in the wind as parents chased children and young men maneuvered toward the throng of girls. All gave the Roman a wide berth. Cedric stood by the oak tree, his hand resting on his steed as he spoke to another man about the stallion. She still needed to ride that horse.
      “Are you familiar with the Latin literature as well as the Latin tongue?” The tribune asked.
      He would be used to instant attention when that voice spoke. What would he do if she turned her back on him and walked toward Cedric’s horse? Probably not the best experiment to attempt. She swung her gaze to the tribune. “Vergil’s Georgics are my favorite. ‘Ye husbandmen; in winter’s dust the crops/Exceedingly rejoice, the field hath joy.”
      He moved his dark eyebrows up, surprise and admiration in his gaze. “Though he glorifies the farming life, the main troubles encountered in Book 1 of Georgics are because of the death of Julius Caesar. Without politics, farmers cannot work in safety.”
      “Cicero said ‘if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Not that she read much of Cicero. His convoluted writing style twisted the mind into knots.
      “Yet, have you read Cato the elder’s quote on that subject?” The man gestured forward, showcasing his broad palm that lead down to the sinews of his arm.
      “Of course he disagrees. All the wretched man writes of is politics.”
      Mirth danced in the tribune’s dark eyes. “What of Zeno, heard of him?”
      Ness shook her head. Close enough to touch, the tribune’s short sword clanked against his thighs. The pommel bore an eagle and a raven.
      “He was the Greek philosopher who invented Stoicism.”
      She cocked her head. “Stoicism? Isn’t that the Spartan philosophy to wear out your body with work and never smile?”
      The tribune’s eyes lighted up like dry wood in a bonfire. “I see you have a high opinion of the Greeks. But truthfully, Stoicism has many parallels with the Way. Not the heavenly things, like Christus and salvation. But Stoics teach one to strengthen the mind and body, live by right reason, and deny the passions. Is that not what the Christian should do?”
      A puff of wind flapped her skirt around her legs as she shook her head and disagreed with a Roman tribune, yet he seemed to like honesty. She pointed to the rising hills beyond the village. “Christianity is when you stand there at the mountain’s peak. The wind whips through your hair, the sun shines on your face, and eagles swoop about. You can’t put a name to it, but you feel the power.”
      The tribune smiled, eyes contradicting. He looked better with a smile, not so severe, less chiseled.
      Now villagers clustered around the spits and kettles that held the love feast, leaving her uncomfortably alone with this foreigner. She glanced at the bandage on the armhole of his tunic. “Does it pain you?”
      “Nothing a cup of your village mead won’t right.” The tribune gestured to where Mailmura stirred a bubbling pot and other villagers passed chunks of steaming meat from hand to hand.
      “You know what they say about Celtic medicine women?” Ness arched one eyebrow up. “Their gardens brim over with hemlock.”
      A fleeting smirk turned up the corners of his mouth. “And you. Would you poison me?”
      “I don’t know.” She met his gaze and moved one shoulder up as saucily as Fiona. “Perhaps a stoic would enjoy the pain.”
      “Only if you pledged to mop my fevered brow.” The edge of his hand just brushed hers, dark skin touching light.
      An accident? She felt her cheeks heating. “So the revolt’s over?”
      His dark eyes lost their laughing light. “Fifteen of my men died.”
      Shifting her feet, she tried to think of metal-clad legionaries as human men who could evoke such emotion.
      The tribune shoved his eyebrows down. “This wouldn’t have happened if Legate Vocula addressed tribes’ grievances.”
      Ness eyed him.
      “You somehow managed to hit the mark about Vocula and tariffs.” The tribune kicked his sandal against a protruding grass clump. “I’ve discussed it with him before to no avail.”
      She rested her hands on her hips. “You sound surprised to find me right.”
      “Should I not be?” He looked at her, a shade of amusement in his eyes.
      “No. I find myself right very often.” She smiled at him.
      He laughed, his entire face lighting with the expression. “I don’t imagine you’ve ever seen the temple of Hermes in Rome. In the myths, he had a demeanor much like yours.”
      “Of course not.” She’d never traveled more than a day’s journey from her village.
      “You’d like it. If only I could show it to you.” He cut his words off and looked away.
      She took a sharp step back. “What do you mean?” She’d never leave Britain for Rome and she didn’t like where this conversation headed. Roman soldiers had notoriously low morals and all too much power.
      “Nothing.” The tribune scowled.
      “Salve.” Turning her back on him, she moved into the crowd and the circle of bodies closed around her.
      Father stepped out of a knot of village elders. He laid his hand on her shoulder and glared in the tribune’s direction. “Stay away from him. I don’t like that he asked for you to translate.”
      “I will, Father.” Ness scanned the milling villagers, looking for Cedric and his horse.

For Life or Until is the first book in the Love & Warfare series.
Look for all the titles.
1. For Life or Until
2. When Gambling
3. To Deceive an Empire
4. Without Love

You can pre-order the ebook here:

 Or buy the paperback here:

Random historical note: Most likely the Celtic goddess Aine did not earn the title "fairie queen" until many years later, but I wanted modern readers to know who I was talking about so included the title.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Author Interview with Emily Hendrickson: ENTER TO WIN

  Today I'm excited to welcome a fellow author from Hartline Literary with an exciting inspirational romance hot off the presses. Read more below. Oh and check out the pictures with quotes from her novel below. Truly beautiful. 
    Enter to WIN a copy of her book by commenting below.

My name: Emily Hendrickson

My pen nameEmily C. Reynolds
Why did I have to go with a pen name? I’m glad you asked. You can read the story behind it on my blog under the post called “My Identity Crisis.”

Tell us a little about yourself!
I grew up in a small town in southern Maine, about an hour north of Boston, and had a childhood that was wonderful in all the ways that matter. My parents are in full-time Christian ministry, so even though we didn’t have a lot of “extras” growing up, we valued what we had and saw firsthand what it means to invest in things of eternal significance. I’m so grateful that God gave me humble, loving, self-sacrificing parents who taught us to love God and put Him first, above all else.

I graduated from Gordon College in Massachusetts with degrees in English Language & Literature as well as Biblical Studies. I’ve earned my living as a professional wedding photographer, high school English teacher, newspaper copy editor, piano teacher, and women’s self-defense instructor. And now I can officially add author to that list! My first book, Picture Perfect, released March 2 from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. A dream come true!

The best thing that ever happened to me was walking into a coffee shop one morning and walking out, leaving my heart with the fine-looking barista working behind the counter. My husband Jason is the inspiration for my storybook heroes and my biggest cheerleader on this journey toward publication. We are blessed with a teenage son, two cats, and a dog named Boomer.

Can you share with us the storyline of Picture Perfect?

In Picture Perfect, a photographer and a martial artist partnered for swing dance lessons also become unknowingly pitted against each other in a real estate tug-of-war. As romance heats up, secrets from the past close in. Agendas collide, and when the truth comes out, one wrong move could trip them up for good. 

Here’s a little of the story setup of Picture Perfect:
Extending the right hand of fellowship to church visitors probably doesn’t include sucker-punching the cute guy from pew seventeen. But when Lily recovers from being startled by him late at night, she realizes who he is. And wishes she’d hit harder. It’s clear Micah doesn’t remember her—or breaking her heart ten years ago.
Avoiding him becomes her best option. Besides, she has more important things to worry about—namely renovating her newly leased storefront so she can quit her job and take her photography full-time.
Micah is back in his hometown with plans to open a martial arts school and make a fresh start. But the past haunts him, and the present isn’t looking much better. The one girl he’s interested in hates his guts and he has no idea why.
When they get thrown together for swing dance lessons, romance heats up on—and off—the dance floor. As Lily gets to know Micah, she wants to believe he’s changed. But forgiveness isn’t easy, especially when she discovers they’ve both set their sights on the same piece of real estate. And a dark secret from Micah’s past is quickly catching up . . .

Any sneak peaks you can give us behind the scenes in the creation of Picture Perfect?

So many people give writers the advice “write what you know,” and I think it’s natural for our passions to flow into our stories in some form or another. Tidbits of my own life and interests are woven into the storyline of Picture Perfect.

A perfect example is the scenes relating to martial arts. Micah, the hero in the story, practices jujitsu. Lily, the heroine, studies boxing. One of the underlying currents of the story is the concept of self-defense and safety.

Having grown up in a Christian “bubble,” I was anxious about heading off to college. It didn’t help that the first college I attended was on the outskirts of New York City. The summer before my freshman year, I asked a family friend (a police detective) if he would teach me self-defense. We got together and he showed me a few tactics, but I remember at the end of the evening feeling more worried, because as he showed me scenarios, my mind started to run. I began to realize just how little I knew, and how many different ways a person could attack another person. (To be clear, it wasn’t his fault at all. He taught me some simple techniques to use in an emergency. In retrospect what I wanted was training and that’s not something that happens in one night!)

In college, I took an 8-week course that was an intro to martial arts. Again, nothing wrong with the instructor or the class. But it was about precision of strikes, blocks, and kicks, and step-by-step attack/defense sequences. It was not “down and dirty” self-defense. (Of course it wasn’t designed to be! But in my ignorance, I equated “martial arts” with “women’s self-defense” and walked away feeling more vulnerable than when I started.)

Fast forward a few years. Not long after meeting my husband, I learned he studied jujitsu. He asked if I wanted to learn. I said no. I wasn’t interested in jujitsu. I wanted to learn self-defense. So he invited me to meet his instructor, who was excited to teach me techniques geared for women. I started coming early, before jujitsu class, to learn. I learned about women’s areas of strength, about awareness and alertness, and the physics of the human body. I practiced palm strikes and knees to the groin until I developed muscle memory and instinct and earned the nickname “Lethal Knees.”

Then my session would end, and jujitsu class would begin. It didn’t take long before I was joining them on the mat.

Over the years, I’ve loved teaching women’s self-defense because I've seen wonderful things happen when a woman learns she really can protect herself physically. I think every woman should realize she has a vested interest in her physical and sexual safety and not leave it up to chance or assume it's someone else's responsibility.

So many women see themselves as "weak." I was once one of them. Learning self-defense helps develop confidence, and that's something that has far-reaching effects--many women discover inner strengths they never knew they had and become "stronger" on different playing fields of life, whether it be work, relationships, communication, setting boundaries, the list goes on.

How emotionally invested do you get in your characters?
At times a little too much. LOL. As my characters developed, they become very real to me. While I was writing Picture Perfect, one of the funniest things occurred one morning during my devotions. I use index cards to list prayer requests, friends’ names, or praises. Flipping through cards helps me stay focused when I’m praying, because my mind often wanders.

Well, I’d been working the night before on some scenes where Lily was feeling defensive and bitter toward Micah. The next morning as I pulled out my prayer cards and settled in, I started with couples on my prayer list, saying their names and praying for specific needs. “Lord, please be with Sarah and Shawn and their financial need… Please be with Mary and Aaron that they’d grow closer to you, that their marriage would be strong… And, Lord, please help Lily forgive Micah for the grudge she’s harboring, and help Micah as—”

And I burst out laughing.

I’d just prayed for my imaginary characters.

Any advice for writers?

Surround yourself with people who support you. I am blessed to have a fantastic critique group that helps me hone my stories, and a few brainstorming buddies who encourage me and help strengthen my plots.

Join writing groups. One of the best things I did for my professional development was joining American Christian Fiction Writers. I got connected to other writers, critique groups, and a storehouse of publishing information that I soaked up, realizing how little I really knew. I also attended ACFW conferences, which allowed me to network with other professionals and learn more about the writing craft.

Be kind to yourself! Remember that everyone’s first draft is downright awful, so don’t let the ugly stop you. Keep going. Put the words down anyway, even if they make you cringe. As people say, you can’t edit what’s not there.

Accept who you are as a writer. I’m not a particularly fast writer. The story doesn’t unfold in a straightforward manner for me. I’m much more “seat of the pants” than plotter. So I have to constantly remind myself that it’s okay that the course is not charted; that’s part of the fun for me (I get to be surprised when a character says or does something). Only it’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s downright stressful. It means the story doesn’t journey in a straight line from start to finish. There will be detours and dead ends and “wasted” time. But that’s just how it works for me. I can choose to get frustrated and think I’m less of a “real writer” because of it, or I can choose to accept that it’s just one of the weird ways I work.

Thanks for letting me share a little about my writing journey! I hope you enjoy a few giggles and sigh moments reading Picture Perfect.  

Enter to WIN a copy of Picture Perfect by commenting below and telling me what you look for in a fictional love story.

I love to connect with readers! Find me on Facebook under Emily C Reynolds or at my web site

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hot Lead & Cold Apple Pie: The Long Awaited Prequel to Plum Pudding Bride

     Did Plum Pudding Bride leave you wanting to spend more time in the adventure-filled, crazy, laughable, often-times judgmental, never dull town of Gilman, Colorado? Were you curious about that time Peter Foote said he rode in a posse? Did you wonder if Mrs. Clinton, leader of the temperance league extraordinaire, has always been that insufferable? Were your thinking 2017 could use a little less stress and a lot more laughs?
     You're in luck. Hot Lead & Cold Apple Pie, the full-length prequel to the Christmas novella Plum Pudding Bride is coming soon to a bookstore near you. Below is the cover reveal and a sneak peek into the never before released first pages. :)


      Jenny Thompson takes great pleasure in her job as secretary to the elderly sheriff.  The sheriff consults her on cases and she’s convinced she single-handedly protects the town. Then, college-educated lawman Cal Westwood arrives to combat notorious outlaw “Bloody Joe” and his gang.
Determined to run Cal out on a rail before he can take over her sheriff office, Jenny will stop short of nothing.
Initially, Cal’s attracted to Jenny’s elusive green eyes, but that’s before she convinces the town flirt and the entire temperance league to aim their ire at him.
He has a gang to catch, his fallen comrade to avenge, and he’s not going to let one interfering woman ruin it for him, by Jove. But he might have underestimated Jenny. Will hot lead and quick trigger fingers ignite not just shootouts but love, or will their feuding give “Bloody Joe” the opportunity he needs to kill them all?


The Rocky Mountains, Gilman, CO 1891

         “Next we should make a law mandating that all women wear bloomers to the Fourth of July picnic.” Jenny Thompson flourished her pen across the last t of the sheriff memo and plopped the writing utensil on the desk.
          List of stolen items in the recent robbery complete, she pushed the paper toward Uncle Zak. The intensity of the Colorado afternoon sun hit the sawn lumber of the pine floor.
          Uncle Zak leaned heavily on the desk. His large, gray eyes fixed on her as he slowly shook his head back, then forth, ruffling his red neckerchief. “It’s just not done.”
          “Doesn’t mean we can’t start.” She’d seen a lovely bloomers pattern in the Butterick Home Catalog.
          Uncle Zak’s shoulders slumped along with his suspenders. “The Temperance League would have convulsions.”
          She smiled as she imagined Mrs. Clinton, the Temperance League leader, in bloomers.
         “Besides, the laws are to advance the public good, not force agenda.” Uncle Zak stood. He closed his fingers on the robbery report.
          “Freeing women from artificial constraints is a public good.”
Uncle Zak’s sigh lasted twice as long. “Some constraints are aimed to serve not restrain. Like how only men are sheriffs.”
          “About that, I’d make an excellent sheriff.” She was perfectly capable of doing the job. Actually, she’d planned on it ever since she started target practice under Uncle Zak’s tutelage at the tender age of six.
          Uncle Zak froze, hand suspended in the air.
          For the first time since she’d been in pigtails, she had flabbergasted him. Even his eyes popped.
         He didn’t need to look so shocked. Sure, there’d never been a female sheriff in Colorado, but someone had to be first. George Washington was the first president. Wyoming had just entered the Union as the first state allowing women’s suffrage.
          “You’re not as strong as a man.” Uncle Zak’s voice quavered, his knees too. He rested a steadying hand on the pine boards of the wall separating the main room from the office and jail cell within.
          True, but she had a Colt .45. What did people say? God created man, but Colt made them equal. “I could do the job. It’s 1890 after all.”
          The muffled sound of gulping came from Uncle Zak’s throat.
          She did pity him. Out of the kindness of his heart, he, a bachelor, took her in when her parents died. She certainly hadn’t been the easiest child. But Uncle Zak bore the blame for her desire to be sheriff. Maybe if she’d been raised by a mother who excelled in needlework, musical abilities, and other womanly virtues, then she’d want to be a proper lady.
         “When you buy that ranch you’ve been wanting and retire, I could take over.” She smoothed a wisp of hair behind her ear.
         “You’d never win the Gilman sheriff election.” Uncle Zak rested his desperate gaze on her as if praying such would be the case.
         “Because women can’t vote. When even a backwoods territory like Wyoming had the sense twenty years ago to give women the vote, you know there’s a problem.” Jenny righted her chair with a clatter and grabbed her basket from under the desk. Scooping the apple pie, which emitted a delicious hint of cinnamon, out of her basket, she set it on her desk. Women might not have the vote, but the temperance league held quite the sway here in Gilman. She needed to win them over.
           “And he’s coming on the noon train,” Uncle Zak finished.
           She blinked. “Who’s coming?”
          “Cal Westwood. He’s a great shot, lawyer-educated lawman from Houston.”
          “Why?” She reached for the pie spatula.
          “My leg’s been troubling me more than ever. Mr. Westwood’s agreed to come on as assistant sheriff and see how he likes the town.”
          Spatula half-immersed in apple pie, she stiffened. “I help you, Uncle Zak!” Her voice went shrill.
         Uncle Zak’s chest heaved. “You’re a pretty young thing of nineteen. Don’t you want to get married and have babies instead of sitting at some old man’s jail all day?”
         Sit! Sit was scarcely the word! Beyond her official duties as secretary, she solved crimes. The only thing she didn’t have was a gold star, and she intended on getting one of those as soon as possible. “I already explained my ambitions to you, Uncle Zak.”
        “Don’t you want to get married?” Uncle Zak barely disguised the eagerness in his voice.
        She was his only kin and he’d hinted at grandnieces and nephews ever since she’d turned sixteen. Uncle Zak needn’t worry. She had every intention of marrying. Peter Foote was her man. Peter Foote owned the general store in town, and he was handsome and personable in a quiet sort of way. They’d get married in the schoolhouse, and their children would have Peter’s velvety-brown eyes and would play among the store aisles…all while she kept this town safe.
        She inched her fingers up to span her waist. How horrified would the Temperance League be if she took to wearing a gun belt over the calico?
        Uncle Zak dug his fork into the apple pie. “You better hurry up, honey. Westwood’s train should arrive in a quarter hour, and I don’t want him having to ask directions to the sheriff’s office like a common stranger.”
        A scowl iced over her lips. Cal Westwood was a common stranger. With distaste, she scooped up her parasol. Just because she ran this town didn’t mean she needed her nose getting burnt.
       “Make sure to tell the townsfolk there ain’t no trouble in town. Cal’s just coming for my job.”
       Jenny flinched. She’d identified the ringleader in the hooligan uprising last year as well as put a stop to that silver mine strike ten miles north by improving the men’s rations. She should be sheriff. “How old is he, Uncle Zak?”
       “Young whipper-snapper. Just twenty-three.”
       Twenty-three! He’d never die off. The town would vote for him and then he’d be sheriff for ages and she’d never get her chance. Tears gathered behind her eyelids. This Cal Westwood wouldn’t do half the job she did.
       Her fist constricted. Know what? She wouldn’t stand by and let this happen. She’d ride Mr. City-Educated Westwood out on a rail first.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ending 2016 in Pictures

We wish you a Merry Christmas,
Almost got everyone to smile at the same time.

           We wish you a Merry Christmas,
Swords, necessary for all of life according to Joe-Joe. #armingbabybrother

             We wish you a Merry Christmas,

Pretend ax. Shudder to think what Joe-Joe might think up for Dolphy-Dolph to do with a real one.

                    and a Happy New Year.

My boys
       Here's wishing you all the best for a wonderful 2017.