YFM was part of my early learning curve but a really good experience with my editors and the wonderful staff at MuseItUp. It will always be a special story to me.
I've learned a thing or two since this one came out (well I hope I have) and with some time (ha what's that?) it will be even better. I'd like to make some changes to the story and re-release it. My ultimate goal for You Found Me is to turn it into an entire series. And to do that, it needs some tweaking and a little tightening up.
When I do a series, I like to write the entire thing before I submit it for consideration. Why, you ask? For one I don't like to work under the pressure of a deadline. I'm certain the minute I committed to one, writer's block would rear its ugly head and a lot of good people would be waiting on me to get my sh*t together. See what an optimist I am? And two, in completed form, I then know I've tied up all the loose ends and all the subplots. No one will be left asking, but what about blah blah blah, she mentioned in book two. Or worse yet, what if, with several books published, as I'm writing say... book four, inspiration hits, and this fantastic new idea would take the series in a better direction, but I can't do anything about it. Writing Always Cambridge taught me that even when you think you've reached
THE END the story isn't finished, until the characters say it is. Thank you, Victor Mayhue for this timely lesson. If he wasn't so damn sexy I might have knocked him off too. The power of the pen... er...the keyboard, as it were. Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it.
In other words, it might be a while before I see this through. Years in fact, since I'm still procrastinating when it comes to the sequel to The Devil Take You. But I've promised myself (and several Fans of TDTY) that I would get to that, This Year! Hear that you naughty muse, you've been served. And maybe while I'm on the historical track, I'll feel like tackling the new and improved, You Found Me, too. Now there's some much needed optimism.
Well, if you've braved my ramblings all the way to this point, thank you. My rights revert back to me in April, so if you'd like to read You Found Me in this carnation, before it goes away, you still can, for a limited time.
Here's the blurb You Found Me ...
|Cover Art by Charlotte Volnek|
Marcus Sunderland, reared in England, groomed from birth to be the Duke of Carlton, is everything a proper English gentleman should be. Unwaveringly loyal to his liege and childhood playmate Queen Elnor, devoted to his people and his country.
Laird Niall Lummisden of Clan Logan in Lomond, Scotland, is everything a roguish Scottish Laird should be. Dedicated to his clan. Friendly, easygoing, born with confident swagger, he is the complete antithesis to his English half-brother Marcus.
As the brothers travel to a royal engagement they discover a woman left for dead in the road, beaten beyond recognition. It is decreed by his Queen that Marcus must take the stranger back to his estate to recover from her injuries. The unidentified woman not only survives the vicious attack but, as she begins to heal and communicate, struggling to recall her life before they found her, both men are intrigued and attracted to her.
The Duke and the Laird have survived a lifetime of cultural and political differences, but can the brothers survive her?
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Here is the entire first chapter for your enjoyment....
They found her face down in the dirt of the road, battered and unconscious, her face bloodied and swollen beyond recognition.
“Is she alive?” Niall asked, dismounting from his horse. He approached his half-brother, who was already kneeling beside the body.
“For now,” Marcus replied ominously.
Niall felt for a pulse at the base of her neck. It was thready and faint.
“Wha’ will we do wit’ her, Marcus?”
Marcus tried to brush the long hair away from her face. The dried blood and caked dirt stuck the strands to her face. He sighed heavily. Niall passed him a cloth wet from his canteen. Marcus worked to free the matted hair from the wounds.
“Ah, she’s a mess,” he exclaimed as he worked. “What kind of monster could have done this?”
“Do ya think she’s been…” Niall swallowed hard, not finishing the thought, as his brother’s startled eyes met his.
Realistically, it was very possible she had been violated. The violence of the attack pointed that way. Her face was badly swollen. Both eyes were swollen closed, the crooked angle of the nose told him it was broken and maybe even a cheekbone. Her split lips were dry and slightly parted, clotted blood covering the livid bruising. Revulsion rippled the flesh on his forearms. What kind of man could do such a thing?
“Wha’ will we do wit’ her?” Niall repeated.
“We’ll have to take her with.”
“What alternative have we?” Marcus picked her up in one fluid motion.
“But we canna take her to the palace.” Niall followed his brother as he strode purposefully toward his horse.
“Mmm, so we’ll just leave her to die in the road, shall we?” Marcus said sarcastically, turning to pin his brother with a hard stare. He moved to pass his burden to Niall, but the Scot backed away, shaking his head in refusal.
“Take her for a moment while I mount. Then pass her up to me,” Marcus commanded.
Niall obeyed, reluctantly stepping forward and holding out his arms.
As gently as possible, Marcus placed the woman in his care. Niall cringed and closed his eyes for the moment; he had no wish to hurt the poor creature any more than she already was. He opened them when the creak of leather signalled his brother had swung into the saddle. Marcus nodded and held out his arms. Gingerly, Niall passed the woman up to him. Marcus controlled his mount with his knees while he attempted to settle the limp woman across the saddle.
Niall tucked the woman’s voluminous skirts down. She moaned. Both men froze.
“My arm…” She garbled through stiff, swollen lips. “Please,” she sobbed, her mouth moving grotesquely.
Marcus glanced down at the arm resting against his chest but could see nothing.
“Niall, her right arm?”
Niall walked to the front of the horse. “Oh, God! Her arm is pinned beneath her, under her own weight.”
The shoulder jutted awkwardly upward. Niall moaned in empathy as he tried to pull her arm out. “Ye’ll ’ave tae lift the lass a bit, Marcus.”
Putting one hand under her knees while the other supported her back, Marcus lifted.
Niall tried to thread her limp limb out from under her. “’Tis caught aroond the pommel.” Releasing a breath, he eased the arm out, laying it softly on her stomach as Marcus settled her back into his lap. Niall looked up at his brother. “It be broke.”
Marcus nodded. “She’s fainted,” he said, then added quietly, “Thank God. Mount, brother. Be quick. She needs attention now!”
Niall protected his brother’s back while they rode swiftly toward the palace. He brought his mount even with Marcus and motioned him to slow the pace so he could speak with him.
“Think you we should leave her there,” Niall said, indicating the village outside the palace with a thrust of his chin. “Mayhap the village is where she hails from and someone will recognize her.”
Looking down pointedly at the battered face, Marcus shook his head. Niall met his brother’s gaze as the man raised his head. The Scot lifted a shoulder in silent agreement, it was unlikely the girl could be identified by anything other than her tattered garment.
As they neared the village the breeze carried music and the smell of food—the festival had already begun. Villagers turned to look as the brothers rode in.
“We need a healer,” Niall bellowed, and people ran on ahead.
* * * *
Marcus scanned the crowd looking for Elnor. Finally he spotted her, her blond mane, adorned with a crown of flowers and ribbons. This was the one day he knew she would be in the village, for it was the annual Queen’s Festival when she came right down into the village to eat, dance, and frolic with the commoners to celebrate her birthday. As if she felt his eyes, she turned. Her eyes lit and she smiled at him. He did not return her greeting. Her gaze fell to the woman in his arms, and she lifted her skirts and ran toward him.
“Hang on, Love. We’ve reached help,” he murmured to his patient, even though he doubted she could hear his reassurances. A tear slipped from the corner of her eye and traced a path through the dried blood and dirt covering the mottled black-and-blue skin. Perhaps she had heard him after all.
Elnor reached him, breathless. “What’s happened, Carlton?” she asked using his title.
“I know naught, Your Majesty. We found the poor thing in the road like this.”
Niall drew rein and dismounted beside him. Reluctantly he presented his arms to relieve Marcus of his burden so he could dismount, as well.
“Watch her arm,” Marcus commanded.
Elnor knelt by the woman as Niall gently lowered her to the ground. “Oh, dear God.” Her breath hitched in her throat and she turned to one of the women. “Send for Crank, the healer.”
“S’already been done, Majesty.”
“Please, I would get her inside,” Elnor commanded Niall.
Marcus caught Niall’s silent plea for help, his face twisted with the knowledge that moving the girl inflicted more pain.
“Niall…” The queen commanded again.
Marcus stepped in and laid a sympathetic hand on Niall’s chest. “I would take her, Majesty,” he said and prevented any debate by kneeling to pick up the woman. As he heaved her up into his arms a harsh cry was wrung from her battered body. A collective gasp echoed through the crowd.
“This way,” someone said, and Marcus followed into the nearest croft. He laid her on a cot and backed away as women converged on her with water and strips of linen.
“Carlton,” Elnor called from the doorway. “Your brother is a barbarian, and I will not tolerate…”
Marcus stepped quickly and took her hands. “Nor,” he soothed, using the pet name from their childhood.
She softened. “I only tolerate him because of you, Marcus.”
“Let us not worry about him, when the young lass needs our attention.”
“Faith, you sound ever like him now,” she said in disgust.
Ignoring her, Marcus turned to those assembled. “Does anyone know her?”
“Lor, she be such a mess, my lord, I couldna tell ya if I know her or not.” The rest of the onlookers shook their heads in denial.
“Come, Marcus,” Elnor urged. “We will wait out here while the healer is with her.”
He hesitated, uncertain why he was so reluctant to leave the woman. She was no longer his concern. He raked his hand through his sun-bleached hair, trying to shrug off his anxiety.
“Refreshments for our guests,” Elnor called. People rushed to do her bidding.
“I thought you would bring me a gift, Carlton. But this?” she quipped.
“I attending your party, is your gift,” he said arrogantly.
“Oh, you’ll have to do better than that, considering you brought him!” She jerked a thumb toward Niall.
Marcus sighed. “It gets old, Nor. Other than the fact Niall was raised a Scot, you’ve no real reason to hate him,” he told her matter-of-factly. Marcus spoke with no regard for her exalted position or the fact she could order his head severed from his shoulders if it was her wish. “Besides, we have other things to worry about.”
Marcus accepted a tankard of ale offered to him by a young maid. He lifted the refreshment to his lips just as one of the women came to the door of the hut.
“Majesty, You must see this!” the woman summoned the queen.
The pair rushed back inside, the woman pausing at the door to demand, “Everyone out.” Marcus recognized her as one of Nor’s ladies-in-waiting. Ignoring the command, he followed Nor into the hut.
Nor looked at the healer, Crank, and waited to hear his report.
“She be in bad shape, my queen. She has a broken arm and nose. Multiple cuts, scrapes. Swelling and bruising that be evident and more that is not yet.”
“Has she been…” Marcus swallowed. He tried again. “Has she been…” He couldn’t seem to make himself say it and finished weakly, “Has she been hurt?”
The healer looked at him as if he were a complete idiot, but he seemed to understand what had been asked. “I cannot say for sure, she is so bruised and bloodied from head to toe. And by the look of her, it is not the first time she’s been injured. She has several old scars.”
“Will she live?” Marcus asked.
“She might not want to, but yea, I think she will, as long as she stays still.”
“I’ll bind her arm, Crank. Thank you,” Nor’s lady offered, ushering the healer to the door.
Nor looked at her strangely. The woman, in turn, gave Nor a stern glower of warning not to contradict her. Marcus observed the exchange, a feeling of unease stirring in his gut. Nor waved the healer toward the door.
“As you wish, my liege.” Crank said as he left.
“What are you thinking, Janess? What do you know of setting a broken limb?” Nor hissed through tight lips.
“Her arm be the least of our worries, Elnor.” Janess picked up the hand of the unconscious girl and pointed. “Look.”
Elnor eased closer and peered down. She gasped.
Marcus stepped nearer. On the inside of the battered left wrist was a brand, some kind of marking or symbol. A cross with a circle through it, and letters that were indiscernible. Marcus had seen one eerily similar before. Only once before.
He lifted Nor’s left hand and ran his thumb over the mark on her wrist. His brows furrowed as he looked at her questioningly. How had he not noticed this earlier when he lifted the woman onto his horse?
Nor shook him off and dropped to her knees beside the prone woman. “Crank?” Nor demanded from Janess, a silent question.
“No, I think I was able to keep him from noticing.”
Nor’s face ran the gamut of emotions at once. She surged to her feet, turning to him and grabbing his arms with surprising strength. Her eyes darted wildly from side to side. “Carlton, you must…” She swallowed quickly and nodded her head.
“You must take her. Get her away from here. Tonight. This night. Take her away from here,” she repeated.
He struggled to gather her against him to comfort her, but she pushed at him. “Do not!”
“Nor, calm down. Tell me why this woman bears the same mark as you, and we’ll figure this out. She cannot be moved this night. She would not survive the travel. Be she kin?”
“Do not question me, Carlton. Do as I ask. Take her home with you. Take her to Tranmere. Keep her there until I can figure this out.” She swiped at her brow. “Prepare her to travel as best you can, Janess, and hurry.”
“Right away, Highness.” Janess went to the door and requested help from the other women.
Elnor bent quickly and rubbed dirt onto the wrist of the mystery woman. She grabbed Marcus by the arm and guided him from the hut.
“Who is she, Nor?”
“I do not know. This could all be a plot. Just get her away from here. I do not need any more scandal around me right now. For now, just do as I say. I will reward you greatly when this is over.” She walked away from him swiftly.
Puzzled, his gaze followed Nor’s retreating figure. Never had he seen her act this way in all the long years he had known her.
Niall approached him, apparently mistaking the look on his brother’s face.
“Has she gone?” He frowned trying to look over his brother’s shoulder into the darkened hut.
“No, no.” Shaking his head in denial, Marcus clapped a comforting hand on Niall’s shoulder.
“Nor wants me to take her to Tranmere. Now!”
“Now?” Niall’s voice rose incredulously. “She’ll die fer sure! She canna be moved again!”
“I know this, but I cannot disobey my queen.” He faced his brother, hands turned palms up, shaking his head as if asking for another solution.
Niall walked quickly toward the castle, chuntering in Gaelic. Marcus was not fluent in his brother’s tongue, but he did recognize the phrase “not my queen” in his limited understanding of the language. Marcus had to sprint to catch up to him. He grabbed his brother’s shoulder, spinning him back around.
Niall turned, ready to fight. “Your queen,” he sneered, “is no’ always, righ’!”
“Oh, so if you stormin’ up there gets you beheaded, me thrown in the dungeon, then that poor girl,” he pointed, “still gets no help. Is that what you want?”
All the bluster went out of Niall. “I’ll go find our horses. I’m sure we’re gonna need ’em to attend a burial this eve.” He stomped past Marcus back toward the village.
Marcus paced, as he tended to do when he needed to think. He lost track of time as he pondered the possibilities. He did not know how much time had passed when he heard horsemen approaching. He looked up to see one of the queen’s coaches and fifty or so soldiers appear on the road before him.
“Your Grace,” the captain nodded formally from atop his horse. “We are to escort you to Tranmere.”
Marcus nodded, then followed on foot as a multitude of questions tumbled through his mind. What was Nor keeping from him? What sort of plot might be afoot surrounding this girl that warranted fifty soldiers as escort? ’Twas overkill, in his opinion. More a mission in futility. The woman would surely succumb to her injuries as they travelled. Marcus scrubbed his chin absentmindedly as he contemplated the symbols on their wrists. From what he’d observed, the markings were indeed similar; only the lettering differed, and the mystery girl’s appeared more crude, perhaps disfigured in her attempt to fend off her attackers. What danger was Nor so afraid of that she felt she could not share her thoughts with him?
Marcus and Nor had spent most of their childhood together, their parents close. He had thought he knew everything about her and her family, descendents of kings. Damn it!
He should storm the castle himself and demand she answer his questions, given that it was he who was putting himself and his brother into the path of who-knew-what by taking the girl with them, along with a royal guard in tow. He would not be able to get near Nor now, she’d made her decision. Given him his orders. Sent her guards. ’Twas done.
By the time Marcus had cleaned up and sufficiently filled his belly enough to ride again, his burden was already loaded into the royal coach.
Niall was mounted and joking with the English knights, none of his contempt for their queen evident. Marcus went to mount his horse as well, but Niall’s voice stopped him.
“Are ya no’ ridin’ with the lass?”
“No. I am no nursemaid, nor do I wish to ride with a corpse.”
Niall vaulted off his horse and threw his reins at Marcus, all in one fluid motion.
“Then I will. She’ll no’ die alone this nigh’!” He yanked open the door of the coach and climbed inside. Marcus watched as Niall gingerly situated himself, then re-positioned the girl so her head was cushioned against his chest. He wrapped his large arms around her. The space cramped now with Niall’s big body. He reached in and covered the pair with a blanket and wondered why he was ever surprised by his brother’s behaviour. Niall grumbled with revulsion something about riding inside the English queen's coach. Marcus began to chuckle at his brother's discomfiture when the young woman mumbled a pathetic sounding “Thank you,” against Niall's chest.
“Ah, Sweet,” Niall breathed, in apparent empathy.
Marcus closed the door with the knowledge that if the poor thing were conscious then she had just witnessed them predict her demise.
Tune in next week and I'll pop up Chapter Two.