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Like most authors, I've been fascinated by books since an early age. Because my parents were working (yes, I had a very modern mummy, ...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Excerpt 2 from The Medici Diamonds

1720, Paris

“Hold the thief!”

The cry came from a little woman who sold apples. To Marguerite’s surprise two guardsmen showed up rather quickly and set in the pursuit of the pickpockets. People were brushed aside, stalls overturned, creating more hassle.

One of the thieves bumped into Marguerite. He was a boy, not older than ten. Without thinking, she got hold of his arm. “Keep still,” she warned him, “unless you want the guards to arrest you.”

A dirty face with dark and challenging eyes looked up to hers. Thick black hair curled over his ears and collar, the mouth was broad and ready to laugh. His bold stare told her something. She followed his gaze and noticed how she kept two fingers crossed – as an obvious sign the boy well understood.

A deep feeling of confusion took possession of her. What was she doing?  What did this mean?

She had no time to think further. An officer of the guard approached her. The man bowed politely, but his face stood grim. “Madame?”

Monsieur l’officier?” she responded with a friendly smile.

“I believe you are protecting a notorious thief and street robber,” he stated in a cold voice. “The boy next to you is well known to us, and it is my duty to arrest him.”

“I’m sure there is a mistake, Officer,” she corrected him swiftly. Her raised eyebrows indicated an air of mischief. “Jean,” she added, “the boy you see here, is the nephew of my valet. Henri can testify to that.”

The lawman frowned, especially when the servant replied.

“Indeed, I can vow to that,” Henri said. He knew where his loyalty lay.

“I’m helping my uncle to carry Madame’s purchases,” the boy peeped up, unasked. His feeling of self-confidence returned after a brief moment of panic. He grinned.

The officer sighed, seeming to admit to his defeat. This time he had to leave without prisoner. His opponent was a lady of quality, more precisely the wife of his highest chief, the Attorney General of Paris. Even though he knew she was lying, he could not question her.

“My apologies, Madame. I won’t bother you any further.”

“Don’t worry, Officer. I do admire the way in which you perform your task,” she answered. “I shall recommend you to my husband.”

As soon as the police officer moved out of sight, the boy tried the same. The game was over now. But before he could move, Henri’s hand came down on his shoulder, pinning him. “You will thank the baroness properly for saving your miserable hide,” he told him in a firm tone.

The boy wriggled but could not free himself. He looked around, hoping to see any of his mates. They were long gone. He would have to solve this problem alone.

“Thank you, Madame. And may I go now?”

“Why the hurry?”

“I have to catch up with my mates,” he said. “They must wonder where I am.”

“My guess is they’ve seen the officer right behind you, and now they think you’re his prisoner. Did they come back for you?”

“My uncle will come for me!” he tried to reassure himself, rather than her. However, his tone seemed not all too convinced.

Marguerite gazed at him more carefully. She realized he was only a child – a child who was feeling afraid and insecure. The brutality he showed was a pose, a necessity in these environs. Right there – influenced by something she could not explain – she took a decision which would change her life.

“Granted that your  uncle hasn’t given up on you, he’d better try and find out where you are, because I’m taking you home with me,” she said. “There’s always room for a little page in a household as large as ours.”

“Madame, you must be out of your wits!” Henri cried out, sooner than he knew. This was going too far; he felt it his duty to protest in his master’s name.

“I won’t tolerate such behavior, Henri,” she admonished him sharply.

“But Madame! Don’t you realize you’re taking an enormous risk? This brad will steal everything that is not too big or too heavy, and pass on information to all of his accomplices. One night they will come and cut our throats.”

Marguerite burst out into laughter. She did not often do that, Henri knew. Most of the time she looked somewhat forlorn, ever since the day she became his master’s wife.

“Don’t be so dramatic, Henri. None such thing will happen – I will personally see to that. The boy must promise me to be honest. If he should take something away, just like this…,” she held up a pocket-watch on a golden chain and dangled it before Henri’s nose, ‘…then I would feel obliged to notify the law!”

The astonished expression on both the valet’s and the boy’s faces was worth a lot. She kept on laughing, until it slowly dawned on her she just gave a masterful demonstration on how to pick a man’s pocket. Another thing that totally perplexed her. What did this mean?

The problem was, she had no recollections of the past. Her conscious life had only started nine years ago, when she woke up from a coma in a Burgundy convent. Everything before that was a total blank.

The little rogue put a hand in his pocket and found nothing but a dirty handkerchief. Now he really was at a loss. Who had ever heard of a noblewoman who mastered their own special skills?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Excerpt 1 from The Medici Diamonds

These are the very first lines of the novel. A couple of burglars discover a priceless diamons necklace in a deserted house... and something else.

1703 - Faubourg St.Germain, Paris

Late at night, in a deserted street. Animals and people deep asleep. Nothing moved – or almost nothing.

The mansion stood somewhat apart from the others and had a big, surrounding garden. The building looked deserted, which made it an ideal place for a break-in.

Jaquot dropped the piece of metal he used to pry open a lock. “Merde!” he hissed, because the metal made a clanging noise as it landed on the cobbles.

“Don’t get nervous, mon ami,” said Louison, his companion.

Jaquot picked up the metal and continued on the lock. This one soon opened, and the two men slid inside the hall of the house. They were members of a gang of thieves who operated out of the Quartier Saint-Denis. They had received a tip that this house was well worth their visit.

“Where to?” whispered Louison, as Jaquot was the one who took the decisions.

“Nothing down here,” answered Jaquot in equally hushed tones. “All the valuables are upstairs.” He lighted his lantern with its narrow beam.- just enough light to see where they were going.

The two men sneaked up the stairs and soon found themselves on the first floor. There they opened each door they passed. A few valuables, like an expensive clock and some silver candlesticks, disappeared in the leather bag they had brought along.

Next they entered a bedroom. In it their noses picked up a whiff of perfume, as if the room had been occupied not long before.

“Thought no-one lived here,” said Louison.

Jaquot’s light wandered through the room. All of a sudden, the beam reflected on something. Lousion advanced to have a better look and soon held up a diamond necklace, which even in this dark room sparkled. “Our boss will be pleased,” he said to his mate. At the exact moment he turned to inspect other parts of the room, he stumbled.

“You’re getting older, mon ami,” chuckled Jaquot. “Your eyes are not sharp anymore.”

Louison did not answer – which was unusual for him. He kept staring at the ground.

Growing a bit worried, Jaquot hastened to his side. “What’s the matter?”

His mate did not answer, only pointed to what was lying before him – the stiffened body of a young woman.

In life, this woman had been a beauty. The silk nightgown she wore did little to conceal the luscious curves of her body. But right now the face was distorted in pain and the open eyes reflected some of the agony the woman had suffered before death released her.

Jaquot moved the beam of his lantern a little. Next to the woman’s outstretched arm lay a broken wineglass. He kneeled down and held his nose to the remainder of the liquid it had held. “Poison!” was his verdict. “Come on, mon ami, we’re out of here!”

“Do you know who she is?” whispered Louison.

“No, and I don’t care. I just know we have to be gone – I don’t want anything to do with filthy murder!”

The two thieves hastened down the stairs, without further notice to the other valuables in the house. Soon they disappeared in the blackness of the night.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Medici Diamonds

If someone would ask me, I'd always answer this is - in my opinion - the best book I've written yet.

I developed the plot to this novel in a period of time when I found myself unemployed. That was way back in the 1980s. To spent my time I wrote for hours at an end. In those days I began with two plots: one for what is now the Diamond story and the other for The Gold Crucifix.

I must admit I was inspired by Alexandre Dumas for my story about the infamous diamonds. It is a novel full of high adventure, swash-buckling swordplay, romance and betrayal, even murder.

The key thread is the string of diamonds known as The Medici Diamonds. Apparently they belonged to Eleanor of Acquitaine, then changed hands as a randsom for Richard The Lionheart, got into the possession of the Medici family and ended up as a wedding gift to one of Henry the Fourth's mistresses.

The ownership of these diamonds is a dangerous one, for it is said the owner will face bad luck throughout his or her life.

This is certainly the case for Marguerite. This young woman ran off to Paris, to escape marriage to a much older man. Without money, she is forced to live on the streets of Paris. There she meet Dominique, a young pickpocket. Dominique - whose streetname is Cartouche - gives her a diamond necklace for her seventeenth birthday...

From then on, her life changes drastically. On the party given for her birthday, a man known as The Chevalier notices her wearing the necklace, and decides on her faith. She is to help him find the murdered of his late wife - with or without her conscent. What he doesn't count in is the fact he falls in love with the impetuous girl.

But things are about to take another change when Marguerite's brother happens to find out where she lives now and wants to take her back home....

Ten years later, Marguerite is married to her older husband. She is happy enough, only she doesn't have any recollection of the past. And then strange things begin to happen.

You can buy this story from the publisher, Rogue Phoenix Press, and of course also from online book sellers. There is a paperback version and an e-book version.

When I find the time (and the inspiration) I intend to write at least one sequel to this novel, and perhaps two.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Excerpt 8 from Face in the Mirror

The last two stories of this collection bear the same title: The Black Coach. Here's how the story begins:

            As the tale goes, anything could happen on a Friday night in Hickering, North Yorkshire. On such nights, all the doors were closed and the shutters drawn to ward off evil.
            Old people tell about frightful events which happened many years ago in the old times, when the village was made unsafe by a black coach. Four sturdy black horses to pull it, it stormed through the village at an ungodly speed. The curtains were closed solidly so nobody could see who or what was inside.
            Little children were told it was the Devil himself riding the coach, and when they heard the sound of the thudding hooves, they hid under the table in fright. But as it always goes, there was one brazen young girl who was not afraid of the devil or anyone else.
            One Friday night, she went into the village and waited in the Black Swan tavern until she heard the sound of the approaching carriage. Then she stepped outside and signalled the coach to stop.
            The front horse staggered but the vehicle came to a stop. The door was opened, a white hand reached outside, and the girl took it and disappeared inside.
            That was the last time she was seen alive. Days later her broken body was found in a crevice. Had she fallen? Was she pushed? No-one knew, and nobody wanted to find out. From then on, no other person dared to stop the passing coach.

* * *

            Times they are changing, and in 2008 Hickering did not resemble the seventeenth century village anymore. Modernization had brought many changes to the village which grew increasingly popular after a world-famous pop star came to live in a villa there. From then on, the village was raided by young people who wanted to catch a glimpse of the pop star, and also by the paparazzi who wanted to shoot that one picture which would make them rich and famous.
            Cindy Phelps had agreed to meet some friends at the Black Swan that Friday night in February. They would all meet up there then go to the concert given by Everdale, Jim Doyle’s band. Once in a year the pop star did this concert for the local village and all those who wanted to attend. It was given in a big tent that was raised on his property.
            Tom was already waiting and was quick to order her a pint. They had drunk three pints before Jasmine arrived and two more when Douglas entered. Well loaded, they left the pub and entered the cold night. It was freezing mildly and the pavement was slippery because of the rain the day before.
            The group of friends were singing loudly as they walked up to Tom’s car. Cindy suddenly lost her balance and fell to the ground. She knew at once that it was bad. Her left foot hurt like hell and she thought she had either broken it or had a bad sprain.
            Douglas tried to lift her but to no avail. He was too drunk himself to be of any help. Not even with Tom’s help did they manage to get Cindy to her feet.
            “Jeez, Cindy! What are we going to do now?” Jasmine demanded. “I want to see that concert!”

            “You guys just help me lean against that wall,” Cindy answered, the drink making her care less. “I’ll be fine. You go to the concert and once I get this foot fixed, I’ll join you, ok?”

Cindy has her foot treated and is waiting for a taxi. But instead, she is picked up by a limo - belonging to Jim Doyle himself! Jim offers her a room at his property... Now this tale has two different endings. Here's the first:

             Two days later, Cindy’s foot was nearly healed and she agreed to come to the studio to listen to Jim’s new songs. She quite liked them. Somehow, they were different from the repertoire the group brought, and much more appealing. After he played the tape for her, he asked her if she wanted to join him into the garden. They walked to a spot where they had a clear view of the sea and the beach from the high cliff above.
            “So, how did you like the songs?” he then asked.
            “They’re special,” she announced, and Jim looked well-pleased.
            “You think so?’
            “Yes. There’s more feeling in them, more yearning.”
            “Actually, you’re the first to hear these," he said. “Not even Nick has heard them. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.”
            It was the first time she ever heard the manager’s name mentioned. Actually, that was quite strange, but she did not give it a further thought.
            “Then why didn’t you?” she wanted to know instead.
            Jim shrugged.
            “We’re a group. I’m the singer-songwriter, but I’m not the only one to decide on what’s being launched. And of course, Bob needs to have his say-so, and so will the record company.”
            “And the others don’t like this style of music?”
            He gave her a sheepish grin, which immediately took effect on her. Gone were her feelings of unease. She started to feel more and more for this young man, who would openly show his vulnerability.
            “I’m glad you like it," he said. And then he kissed her.
            It was a kiss that told her all she needed to know. It was passion, urgency, tenderness, beauty. Before she knew what pressed her, she whispered:
            “I think I love you!”
            Jim let out a sigh of frustration.
            “Again! Why must you say that? Now I’m obliged to kill you!”

But not everybody likes such an ending, so here's an alternative one:

             As soon as Cindy felt Jim’s hands, she pushed him back and stepped aside.
            “Hey, what are you trying to do? This is not funny!”         
            “I must kill you,” Jim insisted. “Please don’t struggle; it’ll make it harder on you.”
            Cindy gave him an incredulous stare.
            “You’re out of your mind, mate! Why is heaven’s name should you have to kill me?”
            “Heaven has nothing to do with it,” he replied. “I’m cursed. For ages, I’ve been living under this spell, and Nick himself is here to see that I do what’s expected of me.”
            “You don’t actually believe that,” Cindy called out. “Man, we’re in the twenty-first century. There are no ghosts, no devils, and no curses.”
            “There sure are,” Jim answered in dead-earnest. “And Nick is really the devil. This curse is my punishment for sending a girl to her death, ages back.”
            “You condemned a girl to death?”
            “Well, not actually. I had a raw with her, on one cold winter night. She made me so mad that I threw her out of the coach. She had to walk all the way back to her cottage, and lost her footing in the dark. Her body was found in the crevice next to the road.”
            “But then you are not to blame,” Cindy argued. “It’s easy to loose your footing. See what happened to me. That’s not murder.”
            “I was a bad person altogether,” he went on. “I played with women and never treated them rightly. I was hard on my farmers. Nobody liked me, then.”
            “They do now,” she said.
            “Ah yes, one learns in the course of ages. Nick and I realized that it would be more difficult to lure away girls if we didn’t put up an effort.”
            All the while, he did not make an attempt to touch her once more. Cindy began to feel that she could talk her way out of this. And next to that she really felt for Jim. Even if he only believed what that nasty guy told him, it was a very bad case and being the sensitive guy that he was, he would suffer strongly.
            “And what do you think about this so-called curse?” she asked him. “Do you wish you were a normal guy?”
            “Of course I do!” Jim cried out. “But Nick is so powerful – he wouldn’t let me!”
            “Ha!” Cindy laughed. “Then he doesn’t know me.”
            Jim shook his head.
            “What do you mean?”
            “I mean that I’m a young woman who’s down to earth and who doesn’t believe in gods or devils. Don’t you see? There is a way out of your problem. You just get rid of that Nick fellow.”
            “I could not kill him,” he murmured. “That is not within my power.”
            “Perhaps you can’t, but I don’t see a reason why I can’t.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Excerpt 7 from Face in the Mirror

The next story in this collection is the sweet and romantic Candle in the Night. Here's a sample of how the story goes:

            Although Anna grew to be much more reliant on herself and was not afraid of the dark anymore, she still put a candle on her window-sill during the long nights.
            One night, she was sleeping soundly when suddenly something woke her up. She sat upright and listened carefully. There it came again. A soft screeching. What could it be? Surely no burglar! Chadwick was a safe place where people even let their backdoor open all day.
            She got out of bed, put a wrap around her shoulders against the cold, and went downstairs. There she heard the sound more clearly. Surely there was someone there! Would she dare to open up the door?
            She thought hard for a moment, and then remembered what Freda would have done. With a quick move, she unlocked the back door.
            Somebody was lying before it. She kneeled down to have a better look, and found that it was a young man, obviously wounded and now unconscious. It took all her strength to pull him inside, and she had to use a rug to get the job done.
            Once she had the man on her sofa, she took a better look. He had a big gash to his forehead which was bleeding profusely, and more bleeding scrapes on his arms and hands. She took off his coat and shirt to check for more wounds but apparently that was all. The wound at the forehead seemed worst, and she tackled that one first. She managed to stop the trickling of blood by applying one of Freda’s old recipes for a bleeding wound, and then dressed it properly. She cleaned away the blood from his arms and hands and put some band-aids over the gashes that were too big to leave open.
            At last, the young man was taken care off. She carefully put a cushion under his head and fetched a warm blanket from the closet. She knew sleep would be the best medicine for now, and so she could return to bed without any qualms.
            When she got up the next morning, her unexpected guest was still asleep on the sofa. She set to preparing breakfast as quietly as she could manage, but when she was brewing coffee he opened his eyes.
            “Where… where am I?” he breathed, in a raw but attractive voice.
            “You are in my home,” Anna answered. “I found you wounded on my doorstep and took you in.”
            “Ah, now I remember! It was raining hard, and I could not see the road properly. I drove into something and smashed into the windscreen. I lost consciousness for a while and then get out of the car. My phone was dead, and so I had to wander around to find help. I saw the light in your window…”
            “And you came here,” Anna went on. “You are welcome. Can I offer you some breakfast?”
            “That would be very kind of you, Miss…?””
            “Carstairs. Anna Carstairs.”
            Obviously, he had not heard that name before. So far for stardom, Anna grimaced to herself. Not that it mattered a lot. She liked her anonymity and actually enjoyed it. One novel did not make you world-famous.
            “I’m Adam.”
            He offered no last name, and she did not ask for it either. She poured him a cup of coffee and offered him toast and jam.
            “Would you like some eggs?” she asked.
            “Only if you are having them as well.”
            Some time later, they had both satisfied their appetites and were enjoying a final cup of coffee.
            “I assume you’ll want to retrieve your car,” Anna said. “Do I need to call Mr. Effington, who owns the local garage?”
            “No need,” answered Adam. “Nothing I can’t fix myself with daylight. But thanks anyway.”
            “Your phone is dead, you said? If you want to make some calls, you can use mine.”
            Adam laughed.
            “That won’t be necessary. I’ll fix the car and be on my way. Nothing bad happened.”
            “ So you don’t need the police to make a statement?”
            “Oh no, no police!”
            Did she catch some uneasiness in his voice? She was not sure, but thought it somewhat strange that he did not need to call anyone.
            “If I could just use your bathroom to freshen up a bit?”

            Of course she allowed it. Half an hour later, Adam took his leave. He walked down the lane, and soon he was gone for good – or so Anna thought.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Excerpt 6 from Face in the Mirror

Here's another sample of my collection of ghost stories. Falling Leaves is about a man, whose wife has left him. She loved to work in the garden, but Collin doesn't...

“I’ll need a gardener,” Collin thought. He finally had accepted that Cheryl wanted a divorce. Some time had passed since she had gone away.
            He had his business to keep himself occupied, thank God. He had not yet made a decision about the house, but he realized he had to keep it in good shape if he wanted it to fetch a good price.
            Cleaning up the house was not a problem. Mrs. Hopkins, who had come twice a week while Cheryl was still there, had agreed to come three times now. She said she could use the extra money.
            Finding a gardener was something different. There was a guy in the neighborhood, but he declined.
            “Too much work for a man alone,” he had told Collin.
            At long last, he found a college student prepared to help out. Tim Hasting’s parents were on the dole and they could not offer their son anything. Therefore the boy had to work to pay for his courses. He already had a week job in London, but he was prepared to work the weekends for Collin. Farrington offered him good money for it, in fact more than he would normally pay, but he felt sorry for the lad.
            The first weeks everything went well. Collin began to spend more and more time in London again and only returned to the house in the weekends. Since last week, a ‘For Sale’ sign was erected in the garden.
            Then autumn came. The leaves of the trees changed their color from green to brown, red and yellow and then began to fall.
            Collin hated falling leaves. Last year, Cheryl had disposed of them. Right now they seemed to be everywhere.
            He asked Tim to rake them into heaps and dispose of them that Saturday. He had to go and see a friend about some computer business and only returned by 5 p.m. It was getting shady, but not quite dark enough not to see the many leaves that covered the grass beneath his feet. He immediately dialled Tim’s number on his cell phone.
            “Tim? Collin Farrington here. Haven’t you forgotten about the leaves?”
            “Of course not, Mr. Farrington. I’ve been busy at it all afternoon. I’m sure I got most of them!”
            “They’re everywhere again. Can you come tomorrow?”
            “No problem.”
            Tim was as good as his word. The following afternoon he went all around the garden, rake in hand. He worked all afternoon and Collin could witness that most of the leaves had vanished.
            Yet, when the boy had returned home – Collin had offered to take him – and he parked his car in the driveway, he could not see the tiles anymore because of the fallen leaves.
            “Damn it!” Collin cursed. “Damned trees!”

            A leave fell on his head and he shook if off violently.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Excerpt 5 from Face in the Mirror

As I told before, Face in the Mirror and Other Stories is a mix between magical, romantic stories and those who are not so sweet.

Here is the beginning of the fifth story in the collection, named The Witch of Hawestone Moor.

            Marie Scott looked through the windshield of her car and sighed. The rain kept coming down. That would mean she would be late – again! Her office job already kept her busy until 6 pm and in the best of circumstances she could be home by 6.45 pm. Now it would be at least seven o’clock!
            Marie lived in a cottage in the hills; a place she had found some years ago, during a bike tour. The little house had charmed her a lot, and when she had spotted the ‘For Hire’ sign, she had not hesitated to call the agency. She was fed up with the flat in town anyway. The neighbors were loud and noisy, and it did not help if she complained about it.
            Her shy nature made her keep away from people.  That was why she was happy with the job she had: filing articles for the local newspaper, The Tribune. Her office was situated in the cellars of the office building and she only saw the occasional journalist – most of the time they just sent her an email requesting information.
She knew she did not have a lot of social skills. She rarely made friends and blamed it on her shyness and her plain looks. She surely was no beauty; no man would give her a second glance.
A shape popped up before her on the road. All of a sudden she realized she was daydreaming. She quickly applied the brakes and the car skidded to a stop. Yes, there was someone there; a huddled figure carrying two heavy bags. How strange! She drove this road twice a day and never ever had she seen anyone on this deserted stretch over Hawestone Moor. Nobody lived here, did they?
She looked again. The figure – she could not decide whether it was a man or a woman – kept moving on steadily. For just one second Marie considered her options. If she would offer help, she would make it home even later than seven o’clock. But almost immediately her conscience forced her to open up her window and call out:
“Hello there? Need a ride?”
The figure stopped and turned around. She saw that it was a woman and an old one for goodness sake. What was this granny doing out in this shit weather?”
“Thank you, dear. I’d like that.”
As the old lady seemed to be struggling with the bags, Marie hopped out of the car and hurried to take them over. She quickly opened the boot and placed them inside. Then she opened the passenger door and helped the woman get in.
“Where do you live?” she asked.
“Not so far away,” the old woman responded, “but it was nice of you to offer me a ride. What’s your name, dear? Mine is Madge – Madge Hawestone.”
“I am Marie Scott,” she said. “Hawestone? Like the moor?”
“My family has lived her for ages,” Madge reacted. “Who knows what’s named after what?”
“Yes, indeed. Will you tell me where to drive?”
Following Madge’s directions they crossed the moor until they reached the home of the old woman. It was a nice, big house which stood somewhat hidden by a copse of trees. That way it could not easily be spotted from the road.
The rain had even doubled in intensity as the car came to a standstill.
“Wait a moment, I’ll take my umbrella,” Marie told Madge.
Once she had it opened, she escorted the old lady to the front door. Madge put a key into the lock and went inside.
“I’ll get your bags,” the young woman offered.
“That’s very kind of you, dear.”
Marie put one bag inside and then went for the second. When she put that one down as well, Madge invited her in.
“Have a cup of tea to warm you up, dear. You’re not in a hurry, are you?”
Marie smiled. She had forgotten she wanted to be home so urgently.
“Heck no. There’s no-one waiting for me!”
“Well, come along then. Get out of that wet coat. It’s nice and cosy in the kitchen. I always keep a fire going there.”
An Aga took the place of honor in the spacious kitchen, hinting to hidden wealth. Marie sat down at the oak table and was handed a china cup and saucer.
“Tea will be ready in a second,” Madge announced. “And don’t you want something to eat, lass? It’s no trouble to me, and I’ll enjoy the company.”
“Why, you are so kind, Mrs. Hawestone. Yes, I’d like to get something between my teeth, and I enjoy the company too.”
Some time later, after having enjoyed a meal of mutton stew and bread, the two women relaxed with a glass of mulberry wine Madge claimed to have made herself.
“Only one glass,” Marie reacted. “I still have to drive home.”
“Have you looked outside, dear? There’s a storm brewing and I would not advise anyone to become victim of the elements. Better stay here and spend the night in one of the guestrooms.”
“I don’t have anything with me,” Marie answered.
“Oh, I can provide you with a nightgown, no problem. I keep some stuff around, just in case… And you’ll find towels and toiletries in the bathroom en suite.”
“This is such a lovely house, Mrs. Hawestone. You must like it here a lot!”
“I sure do, dear. And please call me Madge. Want another glass?
Marie accepted it without further discussion.
“So tell me more about yourself. Where do you live?”
The young woman found that it was very easy to talk to Madge. Without restrictions, she told her everything she wanted to know, and often more. She even talked about her shyness.
“Why should you be afraid of people, Marie? You’re such a sweet person. Surely others will notice that, too!”
Marie smiled.
 “Do you think so? No man has ever asked me out, so far.”
“You must show more confidence in yourself, that’s the key to success.”
“If you say so…”
“You know I’m right! And now off to bed, young lady! I can see you’re pretty tired and need a rest.”

Madge showed her into a cosy bedroom. The wallpaper had tiny flowers and the curtains were in a warm red. The room seemed to welcome her, and after she had taken a shower and dressed in the fresh smelling nightgown, she got into bed and instantly fell asleep.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Excerpt 4 from Face in the Mirror

The following short excerpt is part of the fourth story in the collection, TheItalian Garden. Not so nice a story...

Mark's feeling of peace returned as soon as he was in the garden. He went straight to the statue of the woman – whom he had baptised Venus – and started talking to her.
            “How could you be cursed?” he sighed. “You look so lovely and innocent!”
            He came even closer and put a hand on the cold marble. Did he imagine it, or did the stone warm under his touch? It almost felt like he was touching a real woman’s skin.
            His touches became more daring, and more and more Venus seemed to respond. He could feel the silken quality of her skin, the pulsating of her blood, the shivers that ran down her spine… His mouth sought hers. He felt her eager tongue meeting his, in a kiss that became almost unbearable passionate.
            ‘Venus, my love,” he whispered into her stone ear.
            “Mi amore,” she whispered back.

             They were so wrapped up in making love that the sudden noise escaped them. So it came as a big shock to Mark to be kicked in the side. The blow was so violent he fell to the ground. Before he could see who had attacked him, another blow landed. He could feel his arm break. The bone was literally trashed and blood oozed from the wound. Mark rolled aside in agony and tried to get to his feet. He did not make it. The third blow hit his head and rendered him unconscious. Therefore he did not see the stone man who stood stooped over him and used his heavy fists to smash life out of him.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Excerpt 3 from Face In The Mirror

Here's the beginning of the third story in the collection, The White Horses of Ponto Corvo:

Lynda tried to duck away as Paul’s fist shot out. Once again she had said the wrong thing over breakfast. Her husband could not control his temper and needed to prove he was right by beating her up.
            She was not so fortunate. He hit her full in the face and she lost her balance. She smacked against the kitchen cupboard and felt the bruise on her temple. Despite knowing better, she tried to persuade him not to go on.
            “Paul, please,” she begged.
            He did not hear her – or did not want to. He was only satisfied when he had kicked her around some more and the begging finally stopped. Lynda had lost consciousness.
            She woke up a couple of hours later, bruised and battered. Experience told her that no bones were broken and she need not go into the A&E room to hear awkward questions. At least she would be on her own for the rest of the day, as Paul only returned from work at 7 p.m. She tried to clean herself up to the best of her abilities and put a band-aid over the bruises.
            She could not concentrate on her housework. At long last she sat down on the sofa and tried to figure out what she should do now. Her best friend, Sylvie, had told her over and over that she should leave Paul and file for a divorce. Then perhaps she could be happy once more.
            Lynda laughed bitterly. Happy! When had she ever felt happy?
            She tried to recall a time when she had had no worries, when she had been free to enjoy the simple things that make life enjoyable – and suddenly, the memory popped up.

            She had been seven years old and her family had been on holiday in Portugal. Her parents were constantly fighting, she remembered. One day it had become too much to bear any longer and she had taken off into the foothills. She had run and run until she found herself in a lush green valley. There she has sunk down on a boulder and allowed the tears to run freely.
            Suddenly, she heard a thundering noise. And there they were – the most beautiful white horses she had ever seen! One of them neared her and bowed its head to nudge her shoulder. It was as if it wanted to say: ‘Come and play with me!’ It allowed her to crawl onto its back and then they were off once more.
            It was the most wonderful experience. Lynda felt like she was flying through the air, with no worry on her mind. That was happiness!

            She made up her mind. That was what she wanted to do. Go to Portugal and find the horses.
            Now that she had reached a decision, she was quick to act upon it. She took out some suitcases and filled them up with her possessions. The last thing she did before closing the door behind her and her marriage to Paul was write him a note. It read: “I’m leaving. Don’t try to find me. You’ll hear from my solicitor.”
            Sylvie was glad to see her and took her in without questions. Of course Lynda confided in her and told her that she had finally left Paul.
            “And I’ve been to the bank and withdrew the ten thousand pounds in our savings account,” she concluded. “The clerk didn’t want to give it to me at first, but I said it was an emergency and got away with it, without Paul’s signature!”
            “Clever girl,” Sylvie praised her. “What do you intend to do with it?”
            “I don’t know yet,” she confessed. “But I do know that I want a holiday. I haven’t had one in years. There’s a place in Portugal that I remember…”

            The following day the two women went into the town’s center. One of the first things they did, was enter a travel agency. Lynda explained that she wanted to go to the Portuguese coast.
            “You can fly to Lisbon,” the clerk told her. “And rent a car there. Do you have a driver’s licence?”
            “I have,” acknowledged Lynda. “When is the first available flight?”
            “You can leave at 5.10 p.m.,“ the clerk said, after consulting her pc, “If you want to, I can make reservations in a Lisbon hotel for you as well. I suppose that will be more convenient. You can head for the coast the following day, after a night’s rest.”
            “That’s fine with me. Just make the reservations.”
            The less time she had to think, the better. Sylvie agreed to that. Before they returned to Sylvie’s flat, they did some express shopping for Lynda’s trip.
            The moment they entered the flat, they heard the phone ringing.
            “That’ll be Paul!” Lynda said in panic.
            “Don’t worry,” said Sylvie, “I won’t tell him where you are.”
            She picked up the receiver.
            “Sylvie Prescott speaking.”
            “No, she isn’t. And I haven’t seen her in while, to be honest.”
            “Sure, I’ll do that. But I must go now, I’m late as it is!”
            She put the horn down and turned to Lynda.
            “I’m afraid he doesn’t believe me,” she told her. “What should we do now?”
            “He’ll be round to check things out. I think it’s best that you take me to Heathrow. That way he’ll see you return on your own. You can even let him in, to make sure I’m not here.”
            “It’ll be a long wait for you there.”
            “Don’t worry about that. I’ll buy some paperbacks and do some reading. I love doing that, but I never seem to find the time for it!”
            “You’re sure of it?”
            “Of course!” Lynda gave Sylvie a quick hug. “Thanks for everything!”
            They did not waste any more time. Sylvie got her car out and then they were off.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Excerpt 2 from Face In The Mirror

To continue, this is a piece from the second story in the novel, Rivers of Mist:

That night, she was woken up by – something. She could not tell what or how. She got out of bed and looked around. Nothing. The house was quiet as before. When she looked out of a window, she noticed it was very foggy outside. Must be this nearness to the sea, she thought. She returned to bed and slept on, undisturbed.
She continued cutting away the ivy during the next morning and then took the car to drive into town. Although she hated to admit, she did need things she could not find in the village, like a big strong torch and batteries to feed it. It would come in handy when there would be more fog, she thought. Last night she could not even see the shed anymore!
That evening, the fog drifted in gradually, but by the time she went to bed, it was thickening. Although it was only September, Marion felt a chill in the air. Winter must be coming soon, she predicted. Must remember to find some wood to burn into the fire-place.
The evening the Holts came over the mist was gone. But as she mentioned it, Martha gave her a strange look.
“Mist? We did not see any mist the last evenings. Did you, Harry?”
“No, but we’re farther away from the coast. Can be very local, you know.” For just one moment, Marion thought this was strange, but in the course of the conversation she let it go. It proved to be a very agreeable evening, and she had to admit she liked the Holts more and more. The question of the firewood naturally came up and Harry promised to have his gardener bring over some kindling for the hearth.
“We have too much already, so you have to accept it,” he told Marion.
            “Well, thanks.”
            By eleven o’clock the Holts left. Marion cleaned up and went to bed. That night she had to go to the bathroom-probably all that drink!  And she noticed that the mist had returned. The temperature had dropped considerably as well. She put the heating on, but it did not seem to be working. Have to call Mr. Benson tomorrow, she thought, before returning to bed and putting on an extra blanket.
            She made the call first thing the next morning.
            “Benson real estate. Jim speaking,” she heard.
            “Oh hello, Jimmy. Marion Lacey here. Is Mr. Benson around?”
            “No, he isn’t, but can I help you?”
            “Well, it appears the heating system is not working properly. I wanted to turn it on yesterday, but to no avail.”
            “Right. I’ll contact our man. Would this afternoon be ok for you?”
            “That’s fine with me. I’ll be expecting him.”
            Jim was as good as his word. Around three p.m. a man walked up the path to the cottage, carrying a toolkit.
            “I’m from the real estate agency,” he announced. “You have a problem with the heating system?”
            “That’s right,” Marion answered. “I’ll show you where.”
            “No problem, I know my way around here,” the guy said. He walked straight to the cabinet with its built-in heater and started to check everything. After a while, he told her:
            “There seems to be nothing wrong with it, Miss. Can you switch on the thermostat for me?”
            She did, and indeed, after a while, the radiators became warm.
            “Probably a bad contact,” the man concluded. “Should work fine now.”
            When evening fell, she set the thermostat on 70 degrees. After an hour the room still was not warm. She rose from the sofa and laid her hands on the radiators. They felt warm, but why then could she not feel their effect?

            The following days repeated the same pattern. Thick fog in the evenings and cold in the house. Marion had armed herself against it. She had made another trip to the city and bought an electric blanket to use in the bedroom and thick plaids to cover her up when relaxing on the sofa. That way, the cold did not bother her. She soon found out that the strange symptoms only happened at night and not in the presence of others. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Excerpt 1 from Face In The Mirror

To let you have a taste of what the mix of gothic romance & horror stories is like, here's an excerpt from the first story in the collection, Face in the Mirror. This is how the story begins:

            Rickie was running. Her breath came in painful gasps as she tried to stay ahead of the police car. One foot before the other. Keep it up, girl! She hurried through the streets of London where night was falling. The siren screamed. Was it really closing in on her?
            She did not look back. It would only slow her down. She dove into a narrow alley and ran as hard as possible. Then she saw the house. She had seen it before. It always looked deserted and neglected, surrounded by its tangled garden full of thistles. She had often wondered about it. A property of this size – it must have been built in Victoria’s age – was worth a fortune nowadays. So why were there no people living in it?
            In a fraction of a second she decided. Damn! Those wretched shrubs would not budge. And now she saw the blue light of the police car. She was not going to make it! They would spot her any second.
            “Shit!” she sobbed. “Let me through. Please!”
            All of a sudden unseen fingers grabbed her by the arm. Before she knew it she was pulled through the hedge. The branches that had formed a secure barrier before now gave way and even seemed to push her forward. She found herself in the safety of the garden when the police car shot by.
            She looked around, puzzled. She could not see a thing. Yet she sensed the nearness of – something.
            “Hello?” she whispered. “Anyone there?”
            Rickie heard nothing. She kept waiting until she sensed the being was no longer there. Her breathing returned to normal. Her imagination was probably playing in overtime, she grinned. Ghosts did not exist. She must have found a place where the hedge was not so dense. In her panic she had not seen it before.
            Now what? She needed a place to hide out. The police would be looking for her. Would she dare to try the house? Now that she was feeling brave again, she decided it would do no harm. She circled the property a couple of times while trying to figure out how to enter the house. Breaking a window was no option because of the noise. She could try to pick a lock with her pocket knife. The moment she put her hand against the front door it opened. She almost stumbled in. That was weird! Who would leave such a house unlocked?
            Then, she sensed a nearness again. She got the feeling that someone – something – was watching her. The front door fell into its lock. She looked around, not yet sure as how to proceed.
            “Who’s there?” she repeated. The air around her did not move. All she could perceive was the utter silence of the house. She waited five more minutes until she felt certain she was alone once more. She shrugged. If someone tried to scare her, they would have to do better. She did not scare that easily. Not after what had already happened to her. She would stay the night, and nobody would drive her out.
            The hall was broad and lofty as far as she could judge by the dim light of the street lamps. She lowered her backpack and rumbled in it to find her torchlight. She always made sure she had batteries to feed it. Torch in hand, she wandered through the house, making certain no-one was hiding in the shadows.
            The hall led to various rooms downstairs. There was a kitchen and pantry, a big dining room annex, living room, a toilet, and even a library. The furniture still seemed to be in place although covered up in dust sheets. When she climbed the stairs, she found four bedrooms, two with a bathroom en suite, and two smaller ones without. These had to use a separate bathroom further away down the corridor.
            She chose the nicest bedroom for herself. It had a four-poster bed and windows that overlooked the garden. But what attracted her most was the splendid mirror above the dressing table. It was oval-shaped and quite big. She could tell it was worth thousands of pounds.
            She dropped her backpack on one of the thick carpets, lay down her torch on the dressing table, and walked over to the bed. She grabbed a tip of the dust sheet and tore it off. To her surprise the bed was made up with fresh linen and had a duvet coverlet. She let go of a low whistle.
            Who did live in this house? Why did they keep out of sight? Different questions popped up in her mind, but she was simply too tired to worry anymore. She kicked off her shoes, removed her upper clothing, and rolled into the bed. Within seconds she was asleep.
            She did not wake up when light suddenly gulfed out of the mirror and set the room in an eerie light.

“You’ve returned to me!” a voice whispered.  “I knew you would come!”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Face In The Mirror and Other Stories

A collection of short stories, a mix between romance and (light) horror. Face In The Mirror & Other Stories is just the right read for when the days get longer, mist drifts in and you can believe there is magic in the air.

The first in the collection is Face in the Mirror. This is the story of Rickie, a sixteen-year-old runaway who wants to esacpe violence by the hands of her stepfather. She runs off to London, lives wild for some time and finally finds shelter in an abandoned house. But is she really alone there? This s tory has of course a happy ending and has lots of romance with the requisite bit of magic woven into it.

The following story, Rivers of Mist, is darker and not so nice.

Then comes another story of romance, followed by a horror story. It continues this way until the end.

The two last stories are two versions of The Black Coach - a tale of a black coach driven by the devil himself. I've taken this tale to create a new novel, on which I am currently working.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Excerpt from The Haversham Legacy

This excerpt reveals a tip of the veil about what happened to baby Justine...

“Careful, Bess!”

Jack Cowles, alias Black Jack the Highwayman, guided his mare with a skilled hand through the tangle of shrubs and trees that formed the heart of Cheshunt Forest. He knew this woodland like the inside of his pocket and he realized at once something was out of place.

“Something happened…”  he said aloud, while looking around him.

Deep in his bones, he felt that evil was committed here – and by that he did not mean the kind of trouble he inflicted on guileless travelers. After all, how bad could it be to relieve a bugger from some of the riches he had accumulated by robbing the poor?  No, he meant the kind of evil that cowardly murdered innocent men and women. He considered the murder of the previous Marquis of Haversham as a foul deed and wished he knew who was to blame for it.

A few moments later he heard the snorting of a horse. Not long afterwards he saw the animal, obviously belonging to a team. It grazed peacefully and did not shy away when he jumped off Bess. 

“Ho, horse, ho,” he said while patting it on the shoulder. He secured it to a tree alongside Bess. Then he looked for the coach the horse had pulled. What he faced a couple of minutes later shocked even the man who had seen many horrible sights.

“My God!”

A fine coach lay on one side along the road. Two wheels slowly turned, set in motion by the light breeze that shuffled through the trees. Between the beams a dead horse lay stretched out, mouth open and the lips drawn up in pain. There was no sign of the other two horses belonging to the team. The body of the coachman was found a few steps away, his neck broken.

Jack lowered himself into the coach. There were bodies. The first was that of an older woman whose attire suggested she was some sort of personal maid. Then there was a younger girl, also in servant’s dress. What was intriguing though was that both women had not died from injuries caused by a road accident. They were killed by a single bullet through the heart.

While his stomach somersaulted, he reached for the third body. A woman too, richly dressed in velvets and fur. He recognized her at once.

“Heavens, it’s Lady Haversham!”

In a tender gesture he wiped away the long strands of hair and the smears of blood that caked on the otherwise lovely face of the marchioness, the widow of  the murdered marquis and now the wife of Lord George Templeton. 

“Bloody hell,” he whispered between his teeth. “What’s going on here?”

He looked around once more and a sparkle caught his eye. He took away the ruby ring from the lady’s finger and was about to climb out of the coach when a faint sound held him back. Cautiously, he sat down beside the body of the marchioness and carefully shifted it a little. 

Huddled against her stomach and covered by her arms,  he discovered an infant, bloodied over. As soon as he lifted it out of the protective embrace of the dead mother, he realized it was still alive.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review 1: The Haversham Legacy

January 2011:  Mindy MacKay
                       Rating: 4 out of 5

The Marquis of Haversham and his wife are murdered as part of a plot to seize his fortune and title, but there's a hole in the scheme: the Marquis's daughter and heiress, Justine, yet survives.

Adopted and raised by a highwayman, Justine has no idea about the nature of her true parentage. Her life spirals into one adventure after another, bringing her up against the rigid hierarchy, throwing her into maritime battles, and pushing her into the arms of a dashing sailor with a vendetta.

The Haversham Legacy is a beautiful blend of the lavish and the picaresque, combining courtly life with swashbuckling adventure. The plot moves fast and the settings are effortless to step into. Fleming's clever use of archetype creates a story that is easy to identify with. This book is like a novelization of all the joy and pathos one might find in a classic black-and-white movie. Despite a few romance scenes that range from tender to heated, I think this is a book is fun for the whole family. However, I do wish Justine was introduced much earlier in the story; she has such a big role and is sure to be an instant reader favorite. For fans of history, mystery, and intrigue, The Haversham Legacy is a must-read. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Haversham Legacy

Love and hate, honor and treason, courage and cowardice in 17th century England...

The sudden marriage of the Marquis of Haversham ignites a series of events. The marquis is murdered,his wife and daughter suffer an accident. The marchioness is dead, but where is baby Justine?

Young Nigel Denby is the only one who can name the culprit of these faul deeds. However, he has to flee the country on the accusation of high treason, masterminded by the one has threatens to expose. He swears revenge on the man who did this.

Years later, Denby is member of a crew of pirates, wreaking havoc in the Caribbean. When they capture an English merchant vessel, they meet a highwayman and his young son. Jack was on his way to America to escape the gallows and he is of use to the captain of the pirate ship.

Nigel soon finds out these men are from his parts in England and they also knew the Marquis of Haversham. He agrees with Jack on a plan to trick the murderer into confession.

Little does he know that his mysterious companions have secrets of their own...

This is really a story I loved to write! It has all a true adventure story needs: a lot of action, romance and a fitting end.

It was published by Rogue Phoenix Press in 2009, and is available from this publisher and from Amazon in print and e-book.