(I would like to take a moment to thank All The Days Of for hosting me on my blog tour today; it's a pleasure to be here!)
My Pleasure, Danelle! I am so happy you are here :)
Way back in the mid 1990s, I was a single woman in my early 30s, living in a small upstairs apartment in an old Victorian house outside of Worcester, Massachusetts with my dreams, my books, and my rambunctious German Shorthaired Pointer, "Roscoe," for company. One day, while poking around on the internet — then, still, in its relative infancy — and procrastinating (something I am very good at) while working on a book, I came across an international pen pal list. Aha! Another way to waste time as I waited for whatever difficult section of The Book to come to me. There were lots of names on that list. Even better. More time wasted. Being an Anglophile, I sent off friendly hellos to several people on that list, and imagine my surprise when, a day or so later, one of the replies was from a young gentleman in Oxfordshire. Well, long story short, we became pen-pals … long distance friends … then the exchange of phone calls began, and I flew over to meet him during a long weekend. We hit it off famously; he came to visit me two months later, proposed marriage, and by November of that year, Roscoe and I were both headed to England. We were married in a 500-year-old hall in our little town of Abingdon-on-Thames in March of 1995, and here I sit, pondering this blog, seventeen years later: still happily married to this wonderful man. Chris and I, and our 'tween daughter, Emma, live in Massachusetts now, as my terror of flying made it awfully hard for me to live in England when I wanted to come home to see my family (I lasted for just over two years), and though Roscoe is long gone, our menagerie has increased. My city-guy husband, who grew up near Wimbledon, outside London, had a cat when he was young. That's it. A cat.
Now he has not just one, but four German Shorthaired Pointers, a horse, a flock of chickens, and assorted other small creatures — frogs, fish in both bowls and a tank. Oh, and a chain saw. He's come a long way from the cute blond kid who grew up a stone's throw from, arguably, the greatest city in the world.
It was while living in England that I came up with the idea for my de Montforte Brothers series, and it was there that I began writing it. As anyone who's been there will attest, England is fertile ground for a romance novelist, and that was no exception for this one. In our little town of Abingdon-on-Thames alone, we had the ruins of a medieval house where, in 1644, Charles I parted company from his Queen, never to see her again, or so the story goes; today the forgotten ruins are enclosed by a small spiked-iron fence and housing developments, but the footpath I used to walk on my way to the town center to do grocery shopping took me right past them. It was a spooky place at night, and probably still is. Across town, we had the footprint of a massive medieval abbey, the archeological remains of which are buried a few feet under the soil; the abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII in 1539 during one of his rampages, but history says it was a massive structure. We had stately homes and the River Thames and beautiful fields where I would walk Roscoe every day. Sometimes he would flush a pheasant and remember that he was a bird dog, though I don't hunt, and he didn't either. Sometimes he would jump into the Thames and have a swim. It was a bucolic place, our little town, and a wonderful "center point" from which to take a day trip to other areas of the country.
One of my favorite spots in England was Lambourn, renowned now as a capital of the horse racing industry. It is the equivalent of our Lexington, Kentucky or Ocala, Florida … miles of rolling hills and downs, horses, sun-washed fields and high clouds and good clean air from soaring vantage points. I still remember exactly where we were sitting, Chris and I, and probably Roscoe, on a trip to Lambourn, when Blackheath Castle came to me. We were on the slope of a hill, high above the world, it seemed, with the breeze moving through the tall grasses, butterflies flitting about and rabbits bounding nearby, and the white wheel-ruts of a little road cutting through the baked chalk-mud as it led up through a copse of copper birch trees. It was high summer, and the air was sweet and clean. We were high up on that down, and from that soaring vantage point, it felt as if all of England was spread before us; I knew, then, that this was where Lucien de Montforte, the Duke of Blackheath, would have his ancestral seat.
Were I to go back to England (sadly unlikely, since I can't envision ever getting on an airplane again), I'd be hard pressed to find this very special spot where Chris and I ate a picnic lunch that day, and the magnificent ancestral home that was the setting of so much of the de Montforte Brothers books came to me. But I can see that very spot in my mind's eye as if it were yesterday. Easier to locate, though, is Swanthorpe, the estate of Lord Gareth de Montforte of THE WILD ONE, the first book in the de Montforte Brothers series. I could lead you there with no trouble at all, as it's right there in Abingdon, where we lived and had a home, in the fields of burdock and wild poppies and thick grasses where Roscoe and I took our daily Thames-side walks. You won't see Lord Gareth's manor house, of course, unless your imagination allows you to, as mine did. But you will see other prominent landmarks that contributed to the setting of THE WILD ONE … the County Hall where Lord Gareth faced "the Butcher," now a place where flea markets and small concerts and other gatherings are held … Bridge and Stert Streets, the River Thames, the ancient St. Nicholas Church and its Gateway, and so much more.
A part of my heart will forever reside in England, and specifically, Abingdon. Maybe I'll never find the courage to get back on a plane and make the relatively short hop across the pond to see this country where I still have a drivers' license and numerous dear friends, to revisit the places that hold so many memories for me.
But I hope I do. Because you never know where there might be yet another book waiting, somewhere on some high, sun-swept, windblown hill on a forgotten down.
Danelle Harmon is the author of ten books, previously published by Avon and now being brought out, with light revisions, for the e-reader market. Her critically acclaimed de Montforte Brothers Series (THE WILD ONE, THE BELOVED ONE, THE DEFIANT ONE, and THE WICKED ONE) are still high on the Amazon.com bestseller lists for nearly the third consecutive month, and Danelle's just-released WICKED AT HEART is also drawing critical acclaim. Danelle loves to hear from her readers (email at Danelle@danelleharmon.com ), or you can find her through any of the following means:
Danelle Harmon on the web: Danelleharmon.com
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Danelle Harmon's blog: http://danelleharmon.wordpress.com/
The de Montforte Brothers series
by Danelle Harmon
BLURB: (I just love these covers – they are gorgeous! I am including them all!)
"The bluest of blood, the boldest of hearts; the de Montforte brothers will take your breath away."
England, 1776: Lord Gareth de Montforte is known as an irresponsible rake with a heart of gold. When he takes a bullet for boldly thwarting a stagecoach robbery, he is stunned to discover that the beautiful young woman he has heroically rescued, Juliet Paige, is his deceased brother’s American fiancée, accompanied by her infant daughter. Despite his brother the duke's refusal to acknowledge Juliet, Gareth is determined to do right by the courageous woman who crossed an ocean to give her baby her rightful name. But Juliet is wary of marrying this black sheep aristocrat, even while she is hopelessly charmed by the dashing devil. Never has she met anyone who embraces life so thoroughly, who makes her laugh, who loves her so well. And, even when it seems the odds are against them, Juliet has absolute faith that Gareth will go beyond the call of duty, risking his life itself to give her and her daughter a home — and a love that will last a lifetime.
Newman House, 18 April, 1775
My dear brother, Lucien,
It has just gone dark and as I pen these words to you, an air of rising tension hangs above this troubled town. Tonight, several regiments — including mine, the King's Own — have been ordered by General Gage, commander in chief of our forces here in Boston, out to Concord to seize and destroy a significant store of arms and munitions that the rebels have secreted there. Due to the clandestine nature of this assignment, I have ordered my batman, Billingshurst, to withhold the posting of this letter until the morrow, when the mission will have been completed and secrecy will no longer be of concern.
Although it is my most ardent hope that no blood will be shed on either side during this endeavour, I find that my heart, in these final moments before I must leave, is restless and uneasy. It is not for myself that I am afraid, but another. As you know from my previous letters home, I have met a young woman here with whom I have become attached in a warm friendship. I suspect you do not approve of my becoming so enamoured of a storekeeper's daughter, but things are different in this place, and when a fellow is three thousand miles away from home, love makes a far more desirable companion than loneliness. My dear Miss Paige has made me happy, Lucien, and earlier tonight, she accepted my plea for her hand in marriage; I beg you to understand, and forgive, for I know that someday when you meet her, you will love her as I do.
My brother, I have but one thing to ask of you, and knowing that you will see to my wishes is the only thing that calms my troubled soul during these last few moments before we depart. If anything should happen to me — tonight, tomorrow, or at any time whilst I am here in Boston — I beg of you to find it in your heart to show charity and kindness to my angel, my Juliet, for she means the world to me. I know you will take care of her if ever I cannot. Do this for me and I shall be happy, Lucien.
Sometime during the last hour, it had begun to grow dark.
Lucien de Montforte turned the letter over in his hands, his gaze shuttered, his mind far away as he stared out the window over the downs that stood like sentinels against the fading twilight. A breath of pink still glowed in the western sky, but it would soon be gone. He hated this time of night, this still and lonely hour just after sunset when old ghosts were near, and distant memories welled up in the heart with the poignant nearness of yesterday, close enough to see yet always too elusive to touch.
But the letter was real. Too real.
He ran a thumb over the heavy vellum, the bold, elegant script that had been so distinctive of Charles's style — both on paper, in thought, and on the field — still looking as fresh as if it had been written yesterday, not last April. His own name was there on the front: To His Grace the Duke of Blackheath, Blackheath Castle, nr. Ravenscombe, Berkshire, England.
They were probably the last words Charles had ever written.
Carefully, he folded the letter along creases that had become fragile and well-worn. The blob of red wax with which his brother had sealed the letter came together at the edges like a wound that had never healed, and try as he might to avoid seeing them, his gaze caught the words that someone, probably Billingshurst, had written on the back....
Found on the desk of Captain Lord Charles Adair de Montforte on the 19th of April 1775, the day on which his lordship was killed in the fighting at Concord. Please deliver to addressee.
A pang went through him. Dead, gone, and all but forgotten, just like that.
The duke of Blackheath carefully laid the letter inside the drawer, which he shut and locked. He gazed once more out the window, lord of all he surveyed but unable to master his own bitter emptiness. A mile away, at the foot of the downs, he could just see the twinkling lights of Ravenscombe village, could envision its ancient church with its Norman tower and tombs of de Montforte dead. And there, inside, high on the stone wall of the chancel, was the simple bronze plaque that was all they had to tell posterity that his brother had ever even lived.
Charles, the second son.
God help them all if anything happened to him, Lucien, and the dukedom passed to the third.
No. God would not be so cruel.
Berkshire, England, 1776
The Flying White was bound for Oxford, and it was running late. Now, trying to make up time lost to a broken axle, the driver had whipped up the team, and the coach careered through the night in a cacophony of shouts, thundering hooves, and cries from the passengers who were clinging for their lives on the roof above.
Strong lanterns cut through the rainy darkness, picking out ditches, trees, and hedgerows as the vehicle hurtled through the Lambourn Downs at a pace that had Juliet Paige's heart in her throat. Because of Charlotte, her six-month-old daughter, Juliet had been lucky enough to get a seat inside the coach, but even so, her head banged against the leather squabs on the right, her shoulder against an elderly gent on her left, and her neck ached with the constant side to side movement. On the seat across from her, another young mother clung to her two frightened children, one huddled under each arm. It had been a dreadful run up from Southampton indeed, and Juliet was feeling almost as ill as she had during the long sea voyage over from Boston.
The coach hit a bump, became airborne for a split second, and landed hard, snapping her neck, throwing her violently against the man on her left, and causing the passengers clinging to the roof above to cry out in terror. Someone's trunk went flying off the coach, but the driver never slowed the galloping team.
"God help us!" murmured the young mother across from Juliet as her children cringed fearfully against her.
Juliet grasped the strap and hung her head, fighting nausea as she hugged her own child. Her lips touched the baby's downy gold curls. "Almost there," she whispered, for Charlotte's ears alone. "Almost there — to your papa's home."
Suddenly without warning, there were shouts, a horse's frightened whinny, and violent curses from the driver. Someone on the roof screamed. The coach careened madly, the inhabitants both inside and out shrieking in terror as the vehicle hurtled along on two wheels for another forty or fifty feet before finally crashing heavily down on its axles with another neck-snapping jolt, shattering a window with the impact and spilling the elderly gent to the floor. Outside, someone was sobbing in fear and pain.
And inside, the atmosphere of the coach went as still as death.
"We're being robbed!" cried the old man, getting to his knees to peer out the rain-spattered window.
Shots rang out. There was a heavy thud from above, then movement just beyond the ominous black pane. And then suddenly, without warning it imploded, showering the inside passengers in a hail of glass.
Gasping, they looked up to see a heavy pistol — and a masked face just beyond it.
"Yer money or yer life. Now!"
It was the very devil of a night. No moon, no stars, and a light rain stinging his face as Lord Gareth Francis de Montforte sent his horse, Crusader, flying down the Wantage road at a speed approaching suicide. Stands of beech and oak shot past, there then gone. Pounding hooves splashed through puddles and echoed against the hedgerows that bracketed the road. Gareth glanced over his shoulder, saw nothing but a long empty stretch of road behind him, and shouted with glee. Another race won — Perry, Chilcot, and the rest of the Den of Debauchery would never catch him now!
Laughing, he patted Crusader's neck as the hunter pounded through the night. "Well done, good fellow! Well done —"
And pulled him up sharply at he passed Wether Down.
It took him only a moment to assess the situation.
Highwaymen. And by the looks of it, they were helping themselves to the pickings — and passengers — of the Flying White from Southampton.
The Flying White? The young gentleman reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out his watch, squinting to see its face in the darkness. Damned late for the Flying White...
He dropped the timepiece back into his pocket, steadied Crusader, and considered what to do. No gentlemen of the road, this lot, but a trio of desperate, hardened killers. The driver and guard lay on the ground beside the coach, both presumably dead. Somewhere a child was crying, and now one of the bandits, with a face that made a hatchet look kind, smashed in the windows of the coach with the butt end of his gun. Gareth reached for his pistol. The thought of quietly turning around and going back the way he'd come never occurred to him. The thought of waiting for his friends, probably a mile behind thanks to Crusader's blistering speed, didn't occur to him, either. Especially when he saw one of the bandits yank open the door of the coach and haul out a struggling young woman.
He had just the briefest glimpse of her face — scared, pale, beautiful — before one of the highwaymen shot out the lanterns of the coach and darkness fell over the entire scene. Someone screamed. Another shot rang out, silencing the frightened cry abruptly.
His face grim, the young gentleman knotted his horse's reins and removed his gloves, pulling each one carefully off by the fingertips. With a watchful eye on the highwaymen, he slipped his feet from the irons and vaulted lightly down from the thoroughbred's tall back, his glossy top boots of Spanish leather landing in chalk mud up to his ankles. The horse never moved. He doffed his fine new surtout and laid it over the saddle along with his tricorn and gloves. He tucked the lace at his wrist safely inside his sleeve to protect it from any soot or sparks his pistol might emit. Then he crept through the knee-high weeds and nettles that grew thick at the side of the road, priming and loading the pistol as he moved stealthily toward the stricken coach. He would have time to squeeze off only one shot before they were upon him, and that one shot had to count…
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Multi-award winning and critically acclaimed author Danelle Harmon is the author of ten books, previously published in print and distributed in many languages throughout the world. A Massachusetts native, she married her English husband while living in the United Kingdom, and both now make their home in Massachusetts with their daughter Emma and numerous animals including four dogs, an Egyptian Arabian horse, and a flock of pet chickens.
Danelle welcomes email from her readers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , on the web at http://www.danelleharmon.com, or through her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DanelleHarmon
Danelle will be awarding a digital copy of book two, "The Beloved One" to one randomly drawn commenter at every stop and a $25 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour. So go ahead and leave a message for Danelle!