The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

A Spell in Provence

A Spell in Provence

Saturday, 22 December 2012

'Angel Heart' Holiday Teaser

Here are the first three pages of 'Angel Heart'. I will post three more on Monday!



 
Chapter One

The cutter was sailing too close to the cliffs, heading straight for the Devil's Tooth. Marie-Ange's cloak billowed in the blustery wind, the hood blew back and her hair swirled like a golden veil around her. From the cliff top, she watched the small French ship dancing wildly on the waves, its tricolour and white ensigns flapping at the top of the mast.  If it carried on its course the ship would be ripped open by the reef. A man stood alone at the prow, oblivious of the danger ahead. He was too far away and the roaring of the waves crashing onto the cliffs was so loud shouting a warning to him would be useless. She unfastened her cloak, pulled her black shawl from her shoulders, and waved it above her head in the direction of the Devil's Tooth.
A ray of sunshine tearing through the clouds bathed her black-clad silhouette in a bright golden light. For a few seconds the sun was in her eyes, blinding her before the wind pushed the dark clouds across the sky and the sun disappeared once more. When she looked toward the bay again, the ship was steering east, back to the high sea. She heaved a sigh of relief. The crew must have seen her signals and spotted the reef in time. They were safe.
She resumed her walk on the cliff path to St Nectan's chapel, a small granite building sailors’ wives visited to pray for the safe return of their men. Or rather, they came to the ancient wishing well at the back of the chapel. Today, like so many times before, Marie-Ange wanted to pray for Christopher.
"Six years already, my love," she whispered, blinking away the tears.
Six years since her husband had been lost at sea when his ship was sunk by French artillery off Corunna. She searched in her pocket for the piece of wedding ribbon she had cut earlier that morning.
"Please, come back to me." She repeated the words like an incantation and kissed the white satin bow before leaning forward to throw it into the ancient well. It whirled as it flew down, becoming smaller and fainter as it was swallowed by the shadows.  
Her dream last night still felt so real. Christopher held her in his arms while she touched his face and gazed into his grey eyes…Then he melted into the mist, leaving her cold and alone.
* * * *
Damn this ship. Damn this weather. And damn Malleval. Hugo Saintclair clapped his hands together a few times and blew on them to keep them warm. Around him, the crew shouted orders and heaved on ropes in order to switch sails and change course before they hit the rocks.  The Angel warned them, the sailors said, heaven was on their side. Shaking his head with impatience, he listened to their nonsensical chatter. Angels didn't exist, but the woman who waved at them from the cliff top had saved them from a certain death. The black, fierce looking rock in the middle of the bay would no doubt have torn the ship open.
It was sobering to think that having survived so many bloody battles in Europe he might have drowned in the grey, stormy waters of the English Channel while carrying out an assignment which had nothing to do with the army, and everything to do with his own foolishness. 
He pulled a flask from his coat pocket and drank a swallow of rum to fight the queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. A grimace twisted his lips as the cheap liquor burned his throat and brought tears to his eyes.  The sooner they reached the shore, the better. He was a cuirassier officer, damn it, not a sailor. He tightened his lips, squared his jaw. Some cuirassier officer he was! Not only was he stuck on a ship in the middle of a storm, but he was about to play bodyguard to a rich noblewoman who would no doubt turn out to be every bit as spoilt, haughty, and demanding as the other aristocrats he'd had the misfortune to encounter so far.
Gripping the side of the boat, he took a long gulp of air. He had nobody to blame but himself. He should have held his liquor better and stopped gambling before it was too late.
* * * *
It was raining when Marie-Ange finally set off on the path inland. Soon the outline of Norton Place appeared in the distance—the grey, forbidding manor house crouched in a clump of trees. She walked through the gate and sighed as she stepped over several broken slate roof tiles dislodged by the storm. There would be more holes in the roof, as if the old manor house wasn't plagued by enough leaks and draughts already…
  She entered the hall, gave her wet cloak to Rosie. The maid whisked away to dry the sodden garment. Shivering and eager to stand near the fire, she opened the door to the austere oak panelled drawing room. Her fingers were raw and stiff after her long walk and she rubbed them hard over the flames.
"There you are! Any sign of our French guest?" 
She turned at the sound of her brother-in-law's voice and smiled. Bewilderment hit her as he strode toward her. With his tall stature, unruly ash blond hair and grey eyes, Robert was more like Christopher with every passing day. She shook her head.
"Not yet. Monsieur Malleval wrote that Capitaine Saintclair would be with us mid-January. I wonder if…"
She recalled the cutter that sailed dangerously close to the reef earlier in the day. It flew a French flag—two French flags, in fact—the revolutionary tricolour and the white flag of the newly-restored Bourbon monarchy. Maybe Capitaine Saintclair was on board.
"You don't have to travel to France alone with him, you know." Robert looked at her hopefully. "I'd be more than willing to come with you. Indeed, I believe that, as the man of the family, I should come with you."
Marie-Ange smiled. She had trouble considering Robert anything other than a younger brother. Yet at eighteen, he was almost a man, and she would do well to remember it. He would probably get married soon and leave her alone in this draughty old house on the edge of the moors.
"No, Robert. We talked about it before. Monsieur Malleval is unable to come for me because of his old battle wound but he wrote that Capitaine Saintclair would be a most reliable escort."
"Still, we don't know anything about him," Robert protested.
"We know he is a distinguished officer from the Second Cuirassier Regiment," Marie-Ange said, patting Robert's forearm. "And as much as I would like you to come with me, you must stay here and look after the estate. I won't need more than a few weeks to settle my inheritance at Beauregard."
Robert looked at his boots and frowned. "But…"
"You know what this bequest means for Norton Place and for you. I will be able to get the roof fixed at last and you will join the Naval Academy."
Robert pulled a face. His dream was to follow in his brother's footsteps and buy a commission in the Royal Navy but there had been no money for him to do so. Until now.
Two cocker spaniel puppies burst into the drawing room and jumped at her skirt.
"Rusty! Splinter! Calm down!" She laughed and knelt down to stroke the dogs' shiny coats. "Besides, who would look after my two darlings here?"
Robert still looked disgruntled.
"Cheer up." She grinned. "I heard there was jelly for pudding tonight."
This time there was something akin to anger in his eyes.
"I wish you would stop treating me like a child," he growled before storming out.
Her breath caught in her throat. What was wrong with him? Robert was the only family she had left. They had never argued before today.
"Come on, boys, let's go out," she called to them, hoping that taking the puppies out would cheer her up.
 She headed toward the cliffs once again. Her boots were soon covered with mud, the hem of her dress drenched, but she didn't notice the rain, the puddles, or the coarse tufts of grass. This time she followed the steep path down onto the pebbly beach, where the sea spray on her face and the roar of waves crashing onto the reef made her heart beat faster. She licked the salt from her lips and took a deep breath. How she would miss these walks along the coast during her time in France…Still, it would be worth it. Even though he didn't quote an exact figure in his letter, Uxeloup Malleval had promised a substantial legacy from her mother's family estate in the Beaujolais.
The sky was darkening by the time she made her way back. Her heart skipped a beat when she came in view of Norton Place and she quickened her pace. A carriage was stationed by the front steps. They had a visitor. Perhaps it was Saintclair?
She let herself in, slipped the cloak off her shoulders, and checked her reflection in the hall mirror. Lord, she looked wild. The wind had made her pale blue eyes sparkle and given her complexion a deep rosy blush. She combed her curly blond hair with her fingers, twisting it into a rough plait. It was far from perfect but it would have to do. She couldn't keep her visitor waiting any longer.
She pushed open the door to the drawing room and hurried inside. Splinter and Rusty ran under her feet, tripping her. Her cry of alarm died on her lips as two strong arms caught her. Surprised, she tilted her head up to look at the tall, dark-haired man holding her against his hard, wide chest. His intense blue eyes held her gaze and sent a shiver down her spine. One side of his weather-beaten face was barred by a long, ragged scar. The thin line of the mouth and the tightness in his jaw gave an impression of controlled anger. For a moment fear gathered in her chest. Then he smiled, a slow, confident smile, and he was transformed into the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on.
The dogs barked at them furiously. Marie-Ange parted her lips to order them to stop but before she could speak Robert took a few steps forward, an angry scowl twisting his face, his fists clenched by his sides.
"Let her go at once, sir," he warned, "or I…"
"Or what?" The man arched his eyebrows, a mocking smile at the corner of his mouth, as if he dared Robert to come any closer. He shook his head and released her.
 "I will ask you to restrain your puppies, Madame. The three of them," he said as he looked down at her.
"How dare you call me a puppy?" Robert's face flushed a deep red, and he took another step forward.
Marie-Ange found her voice at last.
"Rusty. Splinter. Lie down at once." She pointed to the rug in front of the fireplace. The dogs whimpered but obeyed. "Robert. That's enough. Monsieur was just helping me."
Robert muttered an apology and crouched beside the dogs to stroke their wet, muddy coats.
"You must be Capitaine Saintclair," she said, tilting her chin up to look at him again.
 The papers had been full of sketches and reports about the famous French cuirassiers and she had no difficulty imagining Saintclair in a dark blue uniform, his chest covered with shiny metal plates and his helmet topped by a black horse mane, charging onto the battlefield. His current attire of black breeches and tall leather riding boots topped by a short brown coat did nothing to dispel the heroic image conjured in her mind.
He clicked his heels together and bowed his head.
"At your service, Madame."


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