Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rhymes, a Rebellious Heroine and a Rogue

Why do readers love to read about rogues and unscrupulous heroes in fiction? Is there something about an unprincipled cad that intrigues us? I say yes, but only if a rebellious heroine tames him through her undeniable beauty, wit and charm. If she comes with her own warts and flaws, all the better. Characters should not be the epitome of perfection. Moreover, this reader is not buying main characters who are faultless and absolute. Everyone wavers between good choices and bad, between darkness and light. We all have a perceived devil with horns that resides in our psyche, tempts us day in and day out to turn away from what we know in our hearts is the "right" path to take. Circumstances sway us, rationalization that one faux pas does not make us corrupt or godless. 

In Sojourn With a Stranger, our hero, Derek Stafford has one goal in life--to produce and heir so he can inherit land and title. He's cold and manipulative when the story begins, and not likeable to the reader.

Raine Brinsley, on the other hand, is stalwart, principled and innocent. But circumstances have changed her life and the tenets she's always lived by. (Ah-ha! That little man with horns tempts her to turn from those tenets). Penniless and alone now that her parents drowned at sea, she has to survive, right, and there's only one person in her life that matters now, her ailing, loveable grandfather in Maine. 

Derek finds her lovely, possessed of the physical traits he'd like to see in his child. His child. So he makes her an offer--bear my child and I'll give you an enormous sum of money. She wavers and thinks about what she could do with all that money. Return to Maine, seek proper medical attention for her grandfather . . . and wipe every memory of Derek from her mind. 

Life seldom turns out the way we'd like, and choices are not always for the greater good. Why? Because the good we see in others changes us, makes us question the choices we've made in our own lives. And because we are human--we fall in love, allow our hearts to overrule logic and the best-laid plans. 

Here's an excerpt from Sojourn With a Stranger, a romantic suspense with voodoo, ghosts, mystery and murder. And, oh, yes, darkness and light, good versus evil, and most of all redemption.

Setup: Derek's brother Lyman, visits a voodoo priestess and demands she read tea leaves for clues of his future. He must know what obstructs his path in producing an heir before his brother does. The results of the reading appear as a rhyme or riddle he must solve.

The room smelled of incense and of various pungent herbs boiling in a cauldron over the hearth. Clad in a black silk shift, cut into a deep V that called attention to her plump breasts, the effect against her pale skin summoned Lyman’s carnal appetite. Tall and slender, Zaira’s slightness belied an inner strength of self-reliance and savoir-faire. Her long hair was the color of a raven’s wing, her features small and well defined. An exotic aura defined her. Lyman imagined every man who had ever looked at her wanted her, including him.

"Get to the point, Zaira."

Her haughty air had always incited him. "I thought perhaps you threw the riddle away. I warn you, Lyman, the hour is upon you and the riddle must be solved."

"What on earth are you babbling about?"

She shuttered her eyes, reminding him of a cat. "Messages in the tea leaves, the symbols revealed during the readings."

"Tea leaves, indeed." He clenched his teeth. "Very well, appease me. What did the heathen ritual reveal?”

A smirk curled her erotic mouth.

"How does it work, Zaira? Educate me."

"Reading the leaves is a form of foretelling. My grandmother taught me to interpret the symbols and patterns."

“Ah, yes the wild gypsy who bore your insane mother out of wedlock.”

“Who are you to look down on my family? What about your brother’s wife, Lucinda? A woman fit for Bedlam.”

He dropped his voice and drew the words out. “Yes indeed, poor Cinda. There is a difference though. Derek’s wife was not of my blood.”

“Bastard,” she muttered.

With feigned disinterest he asked, "Do you want to spar all day or tell me how you interpret the leaves?”

"The leaves are dropped into a cup of hot water and I drink it." She licked her bottom lip, and his cock twitched.

"How methodically scientific," he said sarcastically.

"A small amount of liquid is left in the bottom of the cup with the leaves."

Lyman slid into a chair and drummed his fingers on the table. "I can barely contain my excitement over the lesson."

"With the cup in my left hand, I swirl the contents around three times clockwise, making sure the leaves are moved toward the rim."

He rolled his eyes. "Very well, continue."

"I place the cup upside down on the saucer and hold it until the fluids drain, then the cup is placed right side up again with the handle facing me."

"Good heavens, are we ever going to get to the reading, the symbols you spoke of?"

"Then I read or interpret the images, the symbols."

"That's it? Really, Zaira," he sighed and held the riddle before her. “You can’t expect one to believe their entire future hangs in the balance over symbols in a cup."

A throaty snicker left her lips. "The leaves are never wrong."

"All right, placate me. You did a reading, thus this note."

She nodded.

"What symbols appeared?"


His head jerked up. "Whose?"


"Those initials could belong to any number of people."

"How many people do you know with those initials?" She smiled again. "If you connect them with the symbols, surely they're your brother's."

Lyman rose from the table, walked toward her and stood inches from her face. "I grow weary of these riddles and games."

Demurring to him, she lowered her head. "If you wish me to stop"

"On the contrary," he said, taking a step back. "We've gone this far, proceed."

"After the initials, a leaf appeared."

"A leaf?" A short laugh left his lips. "And the meaning is?"

"New life."

Lyman crossed his arms over his chest. "What appeared next?"

"The picture of a cup." The tap of his foot against her creaky floorboards echoed in the small cottage.

"I'm waiting, Zaira."

"If a cup appears it means bloodlines."

"This is absurd!" Finding it hard to grasp air in stuffy room, he launched into a brisk pace. Breathe in; breathe out. "What else?"

"I saw a moon surrounded by dots and a fan."

"Dots and a fan." His emotions vacillated between disbelief and terror. He didn’t want to know the meaning of the moon with dots and a fan, yet he had to know. "And the meaning?"

"A moon with dots surrounding it symbolizes an agreement for money, the fan . . . ." Her eyeballs rolled in the sockets, left to right. "An indiscretion."

He tugged at his shirt collar. Damnation. Heat suddenly emanated from every corner of the room. Had he entered a Roman bathhouse? "Let me see if I have this straight." He stopped walking long enough to look at her. "My brother Derek has made an agreement for money to engage in an indiscretion that will result in the birth of an heir?"

Zaira nodded.

"Did the voodoo magic speak to the gender of the child?"

"Not at that reading."

Elation flooded him when she shrank beneath his fierce glare. Zaira wasn’t easily intimidated, but apparently she took the readings to heart , believed he should too. "I should throttle you!" He advanced on the table. "Who asked you to perform a reading?"

"Two readings. I only meant to help, prepare you for what lies ahead.”

“You lie, Zaira. You did it for money, admit it.”

“I-I need the money, yes, but I thought you’d want to know.”

He choked on the words. "Know what? My future? All right, what does lie in my future?"

"The second reading revealed an hourglass, an oar and numbers."

"Oh, this is too much. I can’t believe I’m standing here, listening to a mad voodoo priestess peddle this manure. "The entire theory is utterly ridiculous."

"An hourglass means time is running out. The oar means success after many failures, and the number speaks for itself."

Looming over her, he spat the words. "What numbers appeared?"

"Only one, the number nine, I interpret that to mean nine months."

"You are spawned from the devil!" His hands reached for her throat. "I should kill you here and now and none would be the wiser."

She flew from the chair and backed away from him. "Wait! If you kill me, I won't be able to help you."

Lyman stopped in mid-flight.

Zaira rushed to the cupboard and pulled a piece of paper from a shelf. "Here's my interpretation from the second reading."

He grabbed it from her outstretched hand. "Another riddle?" he asked in low humor.

The hour is upon us, the day is fading fast.

The maiden's made her choices, his seeds will soon be cast.

A male comes to the manor, with eyes of emerald green.

Raise the goblets; wave the banners, the Stafford heir undoes the scheme. 

I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! Thanks so much for dropping in. 


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