Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Melisande – Blitz


Châteaux and Shadows, Book 5

Historical Romance
Date Published: July 19, 2017

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Lucas de Granville—pious, respectable, impoverished, lonely—will do nearly anything for the godfather who raised him, even though his godfather doesn’t seem to want to do anything for him.
Melisande—mundane, illegitimate, dirt poor, lonely—will do nearly anything to make sure her mother and brother have shelter and food, even though they are critical of her lack of magical talent.
When Melisande’s father, a pious comte, sends his godson Lucas to bring her to Versailles and help him train her to be a fine, staunchly religious lady, their attraction is immediate, but so is their distrust.
Her eagerness to get as much money as she can as quickly as possible gradually changes into a wish for something higher, better, and holier. Something that Lucas can help her achieve: love.


Other Books by Philippa Lodge:

The Indispensable Wife
Châteaux and Shadows, Book One
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Published: October 2015

Aurore was delighted when a marriage was arranged with the boy she loved, her older brother’s friend Dominique, Comte de Bures. But in a few years the first rush of joy has worn off, and their promising life seems ruined by loss, betrayal, and misunderstanding. One terrifying morning mercenaries overrun their château and usurpers take Aurore hostage. Miles away at Versailles, where he is required to dance attendance on Louis XIV, Dominique is nearly killed by a crossbow bolt. Escaping, Aurore travels with a troupe of itinerant musicians, hiding in the open while discovering hidden resources within herself. Dom sets out to find his wife. He needs his old life back. He needs revenge. But his lands, his title, and his honor mean nothing unless he can win back the love of his indispensable wife.

The Honorable Officer
Châteaux and Shadows, Book Two
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Published: April 2016
France, 1668

Hélène de Bonnefoi’s spirit has been squashed by the ever-critical aunt and uncle who raised her. Serving as nanny and stand-in mother to her cousin’s child has saved her from the convent, especially after her cousin’s death. When suspicious accidents threaten the toddler, Hélène overcomes her near-blindness to seek the help of the child's father, a colonel in Louis XIV’s army.
Jean-Louis, Colonel de Cantière, has spent his life proving his worth, integrity, and honor, first to his family and now in the army. When his daughter’s caretaker appears in his camp during a siege, claiming someone is trying to kill the girl, his loyalties are sorely tested.
Hélène must convince Jean-Louis the threat is real. But the true danger is to the heart of a shy young woman who has always loved her cousin’s husband from afar and to the colonel’s desire to resist complicated emotions.

The Chevalier
Châteaux and Shadows, Book Three
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Published: September 2016

Emmanuel, Chevalier de Cantière, youngest son of a baron, is happiest raising horses far from his complicated family. When news comes his mother is deathly ill, he races to her side only to find she has apparently recovered and moved on, leaving behind her companion, Catherine.
Catherine de Fouet blends into the background, saving up so she’ll never have to wait on waspish, scheming old ladies like the baronesse again. She has no interest in a resentful gentleman, estranged from his mother, no matter how broad his shoulders or intriguing the wounded soul behind his handsome face. She just needs someone to escort her back to Versailles.
But Catherine is suspected of poisoning the baronesse. She rebuffs a pushy courtier who tries to use blackmail to make her his mistress, and her reputation hangs by a thread.
The chevalier wants more than anything to protect this woman whose prickly exterior hides sweetness and passion. They need his family to help him through court intrigues—almost as much as they need each other.

Henri et Marcel
Châteaux and Shadows, Book 4
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Published: January 2017

Henri de Cantière has been surly since he returned from visiting his family at Versailles, but he doesn’t want to burden Marcel Fourbier, his longtime lover, with his problems. He can’t sleep and hurts all over at exactly the time when everything else seems to be falling apart.
Marcel can barely keep up with his usual duties of running their household and creating beautiful furniture in the de Cantière factory when more burdens fall on his shoulders. His estranged Huguenot family condemns him to hell but wants his help, a stranger attacks him in a dark street, an arsonist tries to destroy the factory, and Henri’s beloved sister-in-law, who has been like a sister to Marcel, is weakening after being in labor for several days.
Most of all, Marcel wants to find a cure for Henri, the man who holds his heart.


Excerpt
Chapter One


Once upon a time, a long, long time ago in France, there was a witch with no magic.

“Mélisande!”

The stranger’s shout echoed inside the damp walls of the tiny house she shared with her mother and her younger brother. If it were the house’s owner, who didn’t know they were squatting there, he wouldn’t have known her name. It didn’t mean the voice wasn’t trouble.

Her gut whispered unease. Well, who wouldn’t have a whisper of unease about a strange man shouting one’s name? In one’s home? After being the target of more than one lecherous oaf in the streets? And the target of religious people?

She leaned her scrubby straw broom in the corner and peeked up the hall, glad to be shrouded in darkness, grateful for the first time that there was no window except for the tiny, grimy one looking onto the narrow, dark street.

The front door stood open, letting in cold wind, the reek of filth, and weak evening light which left the man as nothing but a silhouette. Even so, Mélisande had another frisson of what her mother would have called premonition but was probably just fear. She was trapped in her house by a large, faceless man with a booming voice. What was not to frisson about?

She drew back into the room, hoping he hadn’t seen her. The front door scraped and thumped shut, leaving her in complete darkness. She waited, pressed against the wall much like the plaster: crumbling away from the inside. She held her breath and listened.

Maybe he’d left.

A footstep. Of course he hadn’t left; that would be too simple. This was more than her everyday fear: fear the other witches would discover she wasn’t one of them, fear they would starve, fear they would be arrested, fear a man would pull her into a dark room and rape her. Everything could go wrong in a heartbeat.

Footsteps in the front room, where her mother read palms and sold the potions her uncle —her half-brother’s uncle—made. She hoped the yelling man hadn’t tracked anything foul in, as she had just scrubbed those rotting floorboards. A pause as the man listened. At least there was only one man and Mélisande had a sharp pair of scissors, which rattled against the tabletop as she picked them up.

“Mélisande?”

The voice was softer now. Kinder. Lilting. Tempting. The man was going to try to lure her from her hiding place. She hoped he meant her no harm.

A scuff and heavier step as the man tripped on the uneven floor. He halted at the head of the hall, only a few feet from her.

“Ecoutez.” He cleared his throat, waiting for her to say she was listening.

Oh, she was listening, but she was hoping he would leave.

He cleared his throat again. She should offer him a tisane of ginger and honey. She shook her head at her rambling thoughts, swishing her hair against the wall.

“Right. I was told you were here. Your mother said you would welcome my news. I’m sorry, but… Well, my shouting is unforgiveable. Your brother and mother angered me on purpose, I believe. They said I wouldn’t find you unless you wanted to be found. I suppose it’s true, what with witchcraft…”

He paused, listening. Probably expecting her to blast him with a curse. Too bad the worst curse she had ever doled out was when she was ten and made her brother’s nose bleed. Of course, she’d hurled a cup at him at the same time.

“Your father wishes to claim you. I’m to take you to Versailles.”

****

Once upon a time, there was a French nobleman who didn’t belong anywhere: a younger son with no portion, fostered with his godfather.

Someone gasped softly in the dark room to Lucas de Granville’s left. She really was there. Or someone was, anyway. Some woman.

If it was the right woman, the bastard witch daughter of the Comte d’Yquelon, and she came with him, the count had promised Luc a reward. He needed new breeches and a new hat for Easter and was counting on the supplement to his tiny allowance to buy the fabric.

Of course, the girl would get a larger reward, eventually. If she could be trained and refined and her soul purged of evil, d’Yquelon would give her a large dowry. Luc smiled sourly, sure the woman would be a hag and thoroughly wrapped in satanic rituals. Her mother had been positively deranged and her brother snide and crude.

Three feet from him, a girl slipped out of dark gloom into the slightly lighter gloom, her footsteps silent and her pale bodice picking up just enough light so she appeared to float like a ghost, her face a skull in the shadow. Only by the way she raised her arm did he notice she was holding something – a knife? He staggered back, flinging out his hands to hold her off.

He really hadn’t meant to die in a dirty, smelly back alley of Paris while running an errand for his godfather. He stumbled over the uneven floor again, catching himself on the wall beside the door. She stepped into the feeble light from the oilcloth-covered window and he caught his breath.

She was pretty. Beautiful. Regal. From death’s head to beauty? Magic. He crossed himself.

He had seen her in a dream the night before as he tossed and turned and dozed intermittently in the rundown inn on the edge of this slum. Dark hair, pale skin, and irises so light they appeared almost white. In his dream, he had been fascinated and frightened. He shook his head to clear his mind.

She sighed and lowered her hand slightly to reveal a pair of pointed scissors.

Then her chin came up, and she was beautiful in spite of pallor and gauntness. It didn’t stop him being wary of her, though the fear was dissipating.

“I am Mélisande.” Her voice was low and soothing. Another witch’s trick, probably, to lull him. “I don’t approve of intruders in my home.” She raised her eyebrows imperiously, and he couldn’t stop himself from smiling at this bit of bravado. “And yet, if my mother invited you here, I suppose you are meant to be a guest.”

He was afraid his curled lip betrayed his disgust at the pitiful room and stench of semi-frozen rot and sewage seeping in from the street. At least he hoped the rot and sewage weren’t inside the hovel. He shuddered.

She scowled. “What, exactly, did my mother say to you?”

Luc shuddered again. He had cornered her mother in a different dark room off an alley, off a small street that led to a dirty little market. “She laughed at me and told me about a premonition she had about the Comte d’Yquelon. She said I should pick my friends more carefully.”

He hadn’t picked the comte so much as been abandoned in the comte’s household at the age of three. His parents’ money had run out and all the boys except the heir had been dropped off with their various godparents.

Mélisande’s lips pursed as if she were trying not to laugh at him. “What brought about this desire to seek me out?”

“His son died.” Even after six months, Lucas felt the weight of Charles’ death. 

“Oh.” Her face fell. “I am sorry to hear it. I wish I had known him.”

Was she mourning her half-brother?

When Charles died suddenly from a fever, the count raged about witchcraft and curses. Six months later, the comte recalled Luc from Normandy and told him where to find this bastard daughter, child of the witch who had cursed his son. None of those words had made any sense at all to Lucas, who had known the comte only as a fierce, strictly pious gentleman.

I’ve never seen her. Her mother was a beauty. I told the comtesse she used a spell or potion on me, but, of course, it was just normal lust.

Just normal lust certainly described the feeling growing inside Luc. This girl might be using a spell on him, but he was fairly sure she was tempting enough without it.

“He had no other children?” She sounded wistful. Not at all lusty.

“Just me.” He grimaced. “I’m not related by blood.”

Her eyebrows went up.

“He’s my godfather. He raised me. I’m the seventh son of a duke’s seventh son, and there were far too many mouths to feed.”

Her face lit up with her smile. “Seventh son of a seventh son? And you’re not a warlock?”

Luc jerked back and crossed himself to ward off the evil eye.

“Sorry.” She dropped her head. “It’s a rather coveted place in a family of witches, you know. Though I guess if you’re strictly religious...”

Luc cleared his throat. He had to bring Mélisande back. He needed the reward the comte promised, if just to have something to tide him over as he looked for employment.

“You wish to take me to my father?”

She looked around the room, presenting her profile, and he caught his breath at the sight of the huge knot of dark hair, braided, pinned, and tied at her nape. There was probably enough there to hang past her waist when she let it down. If it were styled properly, she could wear it on top of her head in a rich swirl. Her nose was a touch too large. In fact, it was much like the beak the late Charles had inherited from his father. Luc had still to see her in better light to know if her eyes were her father’s pale, icy blue, but he was sure he had the right woman.

“It’s the task I was assigned, yes.”

“You do not wish to accomplish the task? I suppose he’s paying you well.” She sounded like she was laughing.

Luc stiffened. “I wish to please my godfather, the man who was a father to me, whose son was like my brother.”

“Yet you don’t particularly wish to take me.” It was a statement, not a question. Her lips quirked up wryly.

No, he thought it was a fool’s mission for his godfather to try to civilize her. Luc let his eyes travel around the room, taking in the single, rickety table with two stools; the chimney with a few chunks of charred wood; the damp, crumbling plaster; the uneven, rotting floorboards. He wanted to take Mélisande away from here. He would want to take anyone away from here.

He shrugged. “I will be rewarded, but not as much as you. I won’t kidnap you. I won’t drag you bodily to Versailles. You will need to say goodbye to your family. When the comte gives you gold and fine clothing, you will have to decide if you wish to share with your mother or keep it to yourself.”

She sighed, her narrowed eyes never leaving his, her face wary. “I wish I knew what to do.”

The door flew open beside him, and Luc spun to face the threat. As the man moved away from the backlit doorway, Luc saw it was Mélisande’s brother, who had needled and taunted him in the marketplace before leading him to their mother.

“Of course she’ll share with us,” the young man announced, strolling in, bringing the odor of muck from the street with him.

Lucas coughed, trying to force the stench from his nose and mouth. He wished he had adopted the affectation of carrying a perfumed handkerchief as so many nobles did.

“We’ve supported her all these years, and she’s not good for much more than carrying messages and cleaning. Since she refuses to marry or take a rich lover, we’ll look to her father to make our fortune.”

Luc clenched his jaw at the mention of a lover, relieved she was not a prostitute. Or her brother said she wasn’t a prostitute, which could be a lie. At least she had one fewer sin than he expected. He immediately wondered why she wasn’t good for more than carrying messages.

As if answering his thoughts, Mélisande’s mother swept into the hovel, leaving the door wide open.

“Well, Mélisande! Your father has finally sought you out. He certainly sent a handsome enough little lord to do it. Are you sure you don’t want me to read your palm, little lord?”

Luc pulled himself up straight and stuck his chin out. “My godfather frowns on any of the witch’s arts. Palm reading reeks of the devil.”

The old witch cackled, just as he thought witches should. Her hair was as thick as her daughter’s, though light brown threaded with gray instead of dark. Their faces were the same shape, with full lips. She would have been seductive twenty years before. “Oh, you pious prigs are so easy to tease.”

“Maman, would you please…” Mélisande looked embarrassed.

“That wasn’t always the Comte d’Yquelon’s attitude, you know. How do you think he got me with child? He was quite adventurous when he was younger. I heard he turned prudish and preachy.” The older witch strode across the room and dropped a cloth bag on a box in the corner. “Well, at least you have nothing to worry about from Mélisande. We’ve kept it secret around here, but she has no special powers. Weak premonitions, sometimes, but those don’t count for much. Healing skill, but not healing power.”

Mélisande looked down at her hands, her cheeks pink.

“And like Thomas said, she doesn’t want to be a whore. She does deliveries, cleaning, and cooking. She’d make some merchant a good wife, if we knew any merchants who wanted a bastard witch. Bunch of prudes they are, too, probably worse than you nobles.”

Her brother shoved Mélisande’s shoulder. “Go get your things. The sooner you get your inheritance, the sooner we can live someplace nice.”

“If you go, daughter”—the witch spread her arms—“don’t bother to come back without enough for all of us to live on. Better yet, just send us some gold.”

Mélisande’s mouth fell open in shock. “Maman…”

“You won’t wish to come back, and you’re no use to us here.” Her mother turned away.

No, Mélisande wouldn’t want to come back once she had a taste of a better life, but Lucas felt a pang of sympathy anyway. He didn’t remember his parents leaving him behind when he was three, but he had grown up separated from his family and without much contact with children his age. “The comte will make sure you have all you need. He will find you a husband. You’re his only surviving child.”

The witch looked him over. “The heir died? I foresaw it years ago. D’Yquelon thought I was cursing him, which would have been different magic, of a type I don’t approve of. What was your name, again, little lord?”

“Lucas de Gran—”

“Lucas, I foresaw the heir would die. I told your count he should recognize the child he would leave me with and raise her alongside his doomed son.”

Mélisande slipped from the room into the stygian hallway.

“He laughed at me. He didn’t believe I was pregnant. I knew, of course. When I had my Mélisande, I sent him word, but he replied I should leave him alone. He’s going to tell you I cursed him and his family. It was only later, when we realized Méli was hopeless in magic that I thought I should have cursed him when I had a chance. I still thought Méli would be worth something. And now maybe she will be.”

Luc pursed his lips. He wondered if the woman’s mercenary attitude toward the worth of her daughter was any worse than nobles paying a dowry to buy an influential husband.

The brother grunted. “Well, she’s a good sister, I have to say. It’s been hard to cover up her mundaneness, but she’s a good draw at fairs and such, as long as no one expects her to do any magic. Her sweet smile gets the gentlemen’s attention and the ladies trust her. They rush in to consult with me and Maman because she looks so wholesome.”

The sound of Mélisande stumbling made Luc turn. She had a kerchief in her hand, something rattling inside it. Probably those wicked scissors. For some reason, the thought reassured him. She was going to need protection in the coming weeks.

“Are you ready, Mademoiselle?”

She kissed her mother and brother goodbye. They responded perfunctorily and waved her off.

Luc led her off to her future.

****

Mélisande stumbled through the muddy streets, gripping the handsome young nobleman’s arm as he strode far too quickly up and down the streets. The neighbors stared. She spied her uncle bent double with mirth. She ignored them all as best she could.

“Finally found a protector, chérie?” an elderly man cackled as she passed by.

She stood up straighter. “I’m going to meet my father.”

The warlock pursed his lips, suddenly sober. “I guess we won’t be seeing you again.”

His hunchbacked wife made a sign of blessing with her claw-like, arthritic hands, bringing Mélisande to tears again. “Go with the goddess.”

Monsieur—What was his name? de Grandeur?—pulled on her arm as Mélisande made the same sign back.

They wove through the dirty streets and doubled back several times until they were a short walk from her house. In her shock at her mother and brother’s hard hearts, she hadn’t thought to point out that they were parading up and down seemingly at random.

“Monsieur de Gran…?”

His frowned ferociously. “De Granville.”

“I hate to question you, but where, precisely, are we going?”

He looked around. “I met your mother just over there.” He nodded toward the alley where her mother met with clients.

Mélisande nodded silently.

“From here, I believe I can backtrack my way out of here.”

“Or you could tell me where we’re going, since I know the quartier.”

De Granville went still. Mélisande ducked her head, afraid she had injured his pride. Her uncle or brother would have slapped her.

His chest expanded against her arm as he sighed. “I’m not really sure which way I came along this street.”

She risked a glance at him as he wrinkled his nose and stared down the street. He smiled just slightly. He was pleasant to look at when he smiled. His jaw became less sharp and his dark eyes squinted with amusement.

He told her at which inn he had left his carriage. Not a rich one, and Mélisande knew she wasn’t welcome inside, but she knew where it was.

When she resisted at the door, de Granville said, “I just need to ask them to summon the carriage.”

She shuffled in, head down, trying to look as if she belonged.

The innkeeper’s memory was long. “Witch!”

“I’ll wait outside.”

She darted toward the door, but de Granville caught her hand.

“She’s with me.” He faced the innkeeper, looking cool and confident.

“I will not rent you a room for a few hours. This isn’t that sort of inn.”

De Granville scowled, his eyes dangerous slits. Mélisande looked down at her feet, her heart pounding, Run, run, run.

“I paid you for last night. I only wish to reclaim my carriage and be off. I am taking the girl to her father. But it is not any of your affair.”

“Is her father a witch, too? And you? You looked respectable, but maybe you aren’t. Maybe you’ve stolen the fine carriage. Maybe I should call the guard.”

“The carriage belongs to the lady’s father.”

“The lady? What lady? All I see is a whoring witch.”

She stood up straighter. I am not a whore. I’m not even a witch.

De Granville banged his fist on the rickety table serving as a counter. His actions were fire, but his voice was ice. “Bring the carriage. I will pay the rate agreed on for stabling it and feeding the coachman. I am more respectable than you could comprehend.”

Mélisande sidestepped away from him as the innkeeper went out back, grumbling. Her brother would have taken out his anger on her. She stood in silence, waiting for the blow to come, but de Granville did nothing but cross his arms and breathe.

Several minutes later, when a boy came in and called his name, de Granville, jaw still clenched, held out his arm gallantly and led her out front to a small, dark carriage, an elderly man on the driver’s seat.

“That’s her, then, Monsieur Lucas?” The driver glared, taking in her stained, patched dress, not approving.

De Granville helped her up. “It will be night in only a few hours, Grosporc. Let’s get out of Paris and try to get to the usual inn before dark. It will be clean there. Unlike here.”

The innkeeper shouted his outrage from the doorway of his inn.

Mélisande wondered if this Lucas de Granville was really who he said he was and if she weren’t instead being kidnapped to be used, sold, and discarded. Her mother had not been worried, but there was very little that bothered her mother. Of course, her mother usually claimed she knew what was going to happen before it did.

De Granville held out his hand and helped her up.



About the Author





Philippa Lodge has a hundred stories in her head and a social media addiction.


She writes historical romance set in Louis XIV’s France; New Adult romantic women’s fiction set in small-town, small-college America; and contemporary romance with nerdy beta heroes and cranky heroines whose pasts can be healed with the love of a good man.


She lives with one husband, two cats, and three kids in the inland valley of California.


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