Taste Test this great book!
A great deal for a terrifically funny book. So here it is! I have decided to post the first 25% of my latest story. It's a change from my usual genre. This one is a romantic comedy.
So enjoy, and if you click on the title All For A Good Cause, you'll be taken right to its Amazon site. And if you're on Amazon Prime you can borrow this, too.
Oh, and at the end of my story are the recipes featured in this zany tale.
JANET JEMSEG hauled out a thick row of Cinderella styled gowns from the back seat of her car. They sparkled in the bright summer sun, jewels encased in dry cleaners’ plastic.
"I have a bad feeling about all of this," she announced to the hot tarmac of her sister's driveway.
Her sister, Maggie-Ann, snatched the gowns just a bit too quickly. "Relax, you act as if you don’t trust me," she said.
Janet flicked the hems up and draped them over Maggie-Ann’s free arm. She’d had her suspicions, while traveling all the way down here, but her sister had asked her to come home for the summer and frankly, she needed to get away from Ottawa. Besides, there was no place like Eastern Canada if a person wanted to escape the heat of Ontario. "So what Shakespearean play did you say you were doing?"
"Twelfth Night," Maggie-Ann called over her shoulder as she whisked the gowns into her house.
Janet narrowed her eyes. "On the phone you said it was ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’."
Maggie-Ann flicked the side screen door open with her foot. "So what? They’re both comedies."
Janet remained on the hot driveway, suspicion gnawing at her again as she watched her sister disappear into the house. Sure Maggie-Ann’s third husband, Tom, was Assistant Professor of Classical Literature at the university here in Sackville, New Brunswick, but that didn’t include tackling Shakespearean plays in the summer, did it?
Against her better judgment, she pulled her small suitcase out of the trunk of her car. Since she couldn’t afford a real vacation, either here or in Ottawa, where she’d made her home for the last ten years, she may as well stay. It was just that she couldn’t shake this wary feeling she wouldn’t have the quiet little holiday she deserved.
"Hi, Auntie Janet!" A duo of squeaky voices called out. She turned, grinning. Her fraternal twin nephews, the only good thing Maggie-Ann’s second marriage had produced, as her first marriage had produced nothing but ill will, rode up the driveway on battered mountain bikes.
"Well, aren’t you two growing fast!" Janet planted a kiss on both their cheeks, not before giving them a quick scan to locate a clean spot. "What have you guys been into? Why do you have green stuff on your faces?"
Richie threw his bike onto the lawn and raced up to the house. "Dad gave us some money for ice cream. I had ‘Dinosaur Meteorites’," he yelled.
"And I had ‘Rainforest Rebellion’! It’s the last for the whole weekend!" Robbie answered, also dropping his bike.
She shook her head. "What happened to 'Heavenly Hash'?"
Stopping, Robbie gave her a blank stare. "Huh? Is that what Mom’s making for the weekend thing?"
She followed her nephew up the side door steps, just as Maggie-Ann returned to the back door. "Forget it," she said, turning to her sister. "What weekend thing?"
Robbie wiped his face with his shirt. "You know," he piped up, "the medieval fundraiser thing Mom’s volunteered us for."
Maggie-Ann pivoted quickly on the top step, but not quickly enough. Janet grabbed her younger sister by the waistband of her shorts. "What medieval fundraiser?"
Pressing away from Janet, Maggie-Ann cleared her throat. "Go into the gazebo, boys. Lunch is on the table."
Janet jerked her sister. "What medieval fundraiser?"
"Give me your suitcase. Is this all you brought?"
Janet swung it behind her back. "What play are you doing?"
"‘Much Ado About Nothing’," Maggie-Ann said.
"I thought it was ‘Twelfth Night’?" Janet asked.
"You’ve got me all mixed up. Let me call Tom."
Janet yanked her sister down onto the last step, glaring into her round face. "What are you up to?"
"Don’t growl, Janet. It’s just one weekend to help a boy from Prince Edward Island. He needs an operation..."
"Keep your voice down. It gets squeaky when you yell. The operation’s in Ontario-"
"So there’s no play and you wanted to wear my gowns to your Society for Creative Anarchy-"
"Anachronism," Maggie-Ann corrected smoothly. "You’ll look lovely as usual and a lot of people are counting on you and your gowns and all those titles you won..."
A strangled noise and the death grip on her sister's shorts were all Janet could manage.
"Let me go, Janet. You’re wrinkling my new shorts."
Trying to regain her control, she released her sister. "I’m not coming." How could Maggie-Ann do this?
Maggie-Ann tried to wrench the suitcase from her hand. "You have to! I put all those pic -- where are you going?"
Janet stomped down the driveway. "Back to Ottawa. Take the gowns, Maggie-Ann. Knock yourself out with them. I’ll be in Ottawa."
"Janet!" Maggie-Ann heaved her slightly chubby frame down the driveway, past her to drape herself dramatically over the open back door of Janet’s car. "What’s in Ottawa? Your fabric shop that’s on a street that’s being torn up? Do you think your customers will want to park blocks away and brave sewer smells just to buy a yard of cotton blend in last year’s prints?" She tried to spread herself out the full width of the doorway.
I’m surprised there is still room to get around you, Janet thought insensitively, you could stand to lose a few pounds. "I was Miss New Brunswick fourteen years ago! Fourteen long years ago."
Maggie-Ann smiled widely. "And you’re still gorgeous!"
"That’s one part of my life I’d rather forget," she said. More than forget, she added to herself.
"Why? Because it goes hand in hand with your politician friend, Hank, squiring you around from one campaign function to the next, telling everyone you were once Miss New Brunswick and runner up to Miss Canada?"
"You forgot Miss Salt Marshes of nineteen nine-"
"He was only raising political funds," Maggie-Ann scoffed. "We’re doing real charity work here!"
"You and that wacko society? Forget it!"
Maggie-Ann offered her a sad look. "Come on, Janet. Don’t you remember how we thought it would be romantic? Knights in shining armor, ladies of the court? We were going to get married in those gowns."
"You needed all of them, too, for the number of times you’ve married." She shoved Maggie-Ann out of her way. "Besides, you told me they were for a play!"
"I lied. Get over it."
How could she do this, Janet thought, still shoving. "Move."
Maggie-Ann held her ground. "No. What’s in Ottawa? Hank Milford?"
Janet stopped her shoving.
"Did you get back together with him?" Maggie-Ann leaned toward her ear.
Janet clenched her teeth. "Not in a million years."
"Smart girl. I divorced husband number one for fooling around with his assistant. It’s too bad you can’t get alimony."
"I wasn’t stupid enough to marry him."
"So why are you going back to Ottawa? You know all your mutual friends will be there." Maggie-Ann’s voice turned wheedling. "Alone at the Byward Market? Do you really want to explain why you’re not spending the summer recess in Calgary with your favorite Independent Member of Parliament, the Honorable Hank Milford?"
Janet glared at her. Maggie-Ann always knew where her tender spots were. Hank was independent, all right. Independent with his secretary, behind Janet’s back, until she walked in on them one day, while they were doing his ‘campaign platform’. Or were they doing it on his campaign platform? This was one of the reasons why she was here. She had no desire to spend the summer too timid to leave her apartment in case she met up with one of his friends. But she didn’t want to stay here in Sackville to be manipulated by Maggie-Ann, either.
"I hate you," she muttered to Maggie-Ann.
"That’s not very nice. As your younger sister, I could be scarred for life by your rejection."
"Get over it."
Maggie-Ann sidled out of the way and eased Janet’s suitcase out of her hand. "I’m only thinking of you. You’re just coming off of a bad break up and your fabric shop is inaccessible for two weeks. You may as well have some fun. Remember when we used to get dressed up for those Medieval Days? You have such beautiful dark hair, perfect for dressing up."
Janet glanced down at her sister’s hand, now draped casually over her shoulder, as Maggie-Ann guided them up toward the house. She said, "The last time I got involved with The Society, I ended up in the hospital getting my stomach pumped and you stole my cigarettes."
"I didn’t ask you to eat all those quince tarts and you know you aren’t allowed to smoke at these festivals."
"I only smoke two cigarettes a day, and you put my name down for the ‘quince tart eating contest’."
Maggie-Ann brushed it all away. "You should quit those weeds. Besides, it was for charity. We raised over $700.00! It was our first foray into fundraising and a lot of money back then."
"But I spent the next week in bed!"
"What are you complaining about? You lost ten pounds!"
"And I’ve put on twenty since! I don’t think I’d even fit into those gowns, anymore!" she said, surprised that Maggie-Ann hadn’t said something about that, too.
Maggie-Ann opened the side door that led into the kitchen and guided her sister inside. "So just have salad for lunch. You’ll look great when you go back to all your nosy friends in Ottawa. They’ll never know how much you’ve suffered for Hank."
Janet snatched back her suitcase. "I haven’t suffered." She hated when Maggie-Ann was right. Returning to Ottawa would be awful, just like her life was now. All she’d wanted was to relax and do a little moping.
All right, do a lot of moping.
She could mope anywhere. In fact, she could mope very well in Ottawa. She just didn’t want to.
As an afterthought, she poked Maggie-Ann in the shoulder, denting in the soft blue tee shirt she was wearing. "You used me! For my gowns and my title!"
"What can I say? I look great in the green velvet gown and you’ll knock the stockings off the men when they see you in that dusty rose one!" She made a short, whistling noise as she shook out her fingers.
"This isn’t a fashion show, Maggie-Ann! Most people put their outfits together on a budget. The only reason we had a better wardrobe was because I worked in a fabric shop. That’s half the reason I got so far in that pageant circuit, anyway. I sewed my own gowns, so I was a cheap contestant!" Feeling Maggie-Ann tuning her out, she let out a huff. "That’s it, I’m leaving."
She stopped, hearing someone call out at the end of the driveway. Maggie-Ann leaned out the door to wave, but Janet didn’t bother. Whoever it was just better get out of her way. Let her sister explain to them why she was so cranky.
Picking up her pace again, she marched down the steps, skidding to halt when she focused on the visitors for the first time.
A boy of about eleven was wheeling himself up the driveway, a blonde woman guiding his chair from the back. He stopped directly behind her car, looking hopefully up at her, a smile widening on his drawn features. Oh, hell.
Maggie-Ann slipped past Janet. "Kyle! Wendy! You’re just in time."
Just in time for what? Janet threw Maggie-Ann a glare, which was completely ignored as her sister tousled the boy’s hair. Behind them, the twins called out their own greeting.
"Is this your sister?" the boy asked Maggie-Ann. "The one in the pictures?"
Janet glared pointedly at Maggie-Ann. "What pictures?"
"Yes, it is, sweetie. Janet posed for those shots years ago when she belonged to ‘The Society’, to help raise money for the extended care unit at the hospital. It was just after she won Miss New Brunswick."
"Oh, those pictures," she muttered.
"They look great on the posters," Kyle continued, staring up at her in earnest from his wheelchair. "Everyone around town is looking at them and the newspaper put one on the front page this week. I bet we raise all kinds of money!" He twisted awkwardly around to beam at the slim woman behind him. "It’ll be super if we get enough for you to stay with me the whole time I’m in the hospital, eh, Mom?"
Janet felt herself slump. Oh, crap.
His mom smiled down at him and then both of them watched Janet expectantly. Maggie-Ann raised her eyebrows.
Great. Not only was this eating at her conscience, but the willowy blonde stood there smiling like Miss Congeniality, who, if bad memories served her correctly, also happened to beat her out for Miss Canada. Good grief, hadn’t she let that go, yet?
"Janet’s just arrived," Maggie-Ann began to chatter. "We thought she should stay with us tonight, because we’re all going out the site tomorrow afternoon. Mom and Dad’s new place is too small for all of Janet’s gowns."
"They’re gorgeous," Wendy breathed over the head of her invalid son. "How can we thank you for all you’re doing?"
I hate you, Maggie-Ann. When did you get so crafty? Janet stared at the threesome in front of her, her heart sinking into a pit of regret. She couldn’t go back to Ottawa now. Even if she'd just spent the last three years playing the charitable beauty queen for the manipulative Hank Milford and was sick to death of power-abusing fundraisers.
Janet looked again at Maggie-Ann, over to Wendy and down at Kyle. The boy’s legs were short and twisted and he was wheezing from the exertion of pushing his wheelchair from wherever he came. Which was probably the other end of town, because they had no car, if she believed her guilt.
You are going to die, Maggie-Ann. "So, what brings you here?" she asked the two guests.
"Lunch. Maggie-Ann invited us," Wendy answered. "And Kyle wanted to meet the former Miss New Brunswick."
Kyle reddened. Janet planned her sister’s brutal murder. For immediately following this fundraiser weekend. It would be a slow, painful death. She'd force her into a hot, sticky gown and shove quinces down her throat...
"And this," Wendy continued, handing Maggie-Ann a sheet of paper. "It’s the food coordinator’s list of the extra groceries we need for Friday night."
"Wonderful!" Maggie-Ann said, shoving the grocery list at Janet’s chest, as she brushed past her to wheel Kyle up the driveway. "Janet’s just volunteered to drive Mom around to get it all. Come on, everything’s out in the gazebo, waiting for us. Just don’t eat all the salad. Janet’s on a diet."
"SO, JANET, dear, are you engaged, yet?" Marie Jemseg settled into the front passenger seat of Janet’s car and smiled at her.
Janet rolled her eyes. She’d forgotten about her mother’s desire to marry her off. In the back seat between her two small sons, Maggie-Ann laughed. "Got to love a mother who doesn’t mince words. Ever since we told her Tom can’t father children, she’s been ready to pounce on you with that question." Maggie-Ann flopped back and smacked down her voluminous gown. In the rear view mirror, Janet glared at her, but Maggie-Ann ignored the look, and once her gown was sufficiently suppressed, leaned forward again through the bucket seats. "Janet broke up with her Member of Parliament, Mom."
Janet shut her eyes. She could use a cigarette. Two weeks ago, she’d called Maggie-Ann to tell the whole depressing tale, getting for her woes the story of Maggie-Ann’s husband number one and his disgraceful behavior. Like she’d never heard it before. Now, stuck in the car with her mother, her sister and two kids, she had nowhere to hide from the fallout.
Marie’s jaw dropped at Maggie-Ann’s bombshell. "What happened? He was such a nice man!"
Richie shoved away his mother’s wide skirt as it billowed up over him. "He was screwin’ ‘round on her, Nanny!"
"Richie!" Janet squeaked.
"Well, that’s what Mom told Dad!"
At the other side, Robbie leaned over his mom to poke his brother. "Dad said not to say anything. Auntie Janet could kill herself if she doesn’t marry soon, you know."
Janet shut her eyes. "God help me," she muttered.
"I want a granddaughter," Marie announced, "And you know Maggie-Ann isn’t going to have any more."
"Well, she should have stayed married to husband number two."
"At least she does things."
"Like get married again."
Struggling to try to find the stick shift among the yards of her own dress, Janet rolled her eyes. Yeah, she got married. Again, and again, and again. "Mom, Maggie-Ann has given you three son-in-laws and two grandsons. You should be satisfied with that."
"I want a granddaughter and I much prefer Tom over the other son-in-laws. He’s raising those boys. He’s so kind."
"You mean he’s so long suffering." Janet slapped down a fold of dusty rose velvet. Good grief, it was hot in here.
"He’s a saint," her mother said.
"Only because he’s living with Maggie-Ann."
"Hey!" Maggie-Ann protested from the back seat. Janet couldn’t see her for another huge puff of green silk.
"I want another son-in-law like him," Marie persisted.
Where’s the stupid stick shift? "Then you wouldn’t get any more grandchildren, would you, Mom?"
"You know what I mean. Now that you’ve broken up with that Senator-"
"He was-is a Member of Parliament, Mom, not a Senator. They’re completely different. Can we change the subject?"
"I still want a granddaughter. Are you still smoking?"
"Yes, but I don’t inhale."
"She sneaks them in the gazebo, Nanny."
Janet twisted around to her smiling sister, wincing as the stays of her bodice dug into her ribs. "Are you teaching those kids to spy on me?"
"You’re gonna die of cancer," Robbie warned.
Janet threw back her skirt. Finally! Her hand clamped down on the hard plastic knob and she rammed the thing into reverse and gunned her car down the driveway. She stared into the rear view mirror. A sea of emerald green silk swirled and churned as Maggie-Ann struggled with a hot breeze. "Have you got everything?" Janet barked at her.
Maggie-Ann parted the material and nodded. "Twelve pounds of cheddar cheese, ten pounds of lentils and fourteen loaves of whole grain bread. You packed it for me. You ought to know."
"That covered box had twelve pounds of-" She gaped at Maggie-Ann. "Ten pounds of lentils? We’re going to need a gallon of Mylanta after this meal!"
"It’s all for supper Friday night. Some local dignitaries are invited for an authentic meal. Only the ones who donated a lot of money, like the town council."
Janet froze. "Don’t tell me the mayor is-"
Maggie-Ann smiled, clearly enjoying herself. "Yep, Silas McVerey. You know he’s still the president of The Society. He’s playing a sheriff this weekend."
Janet swallowed. His salacious manner was enough to warrant his own gallon of Mylanta. She shuddered at the thought of the wiry little man drooling down her over-exposed cleavage. He was some kind of mutant with extra hands, it seemed. "Not the Sheriff of Roaminghands routine again."
"It’s the ‘Sheriff of Roaningham’, and speaking of names, you’re ‘Lady Gwynth de Blanchemane’ this weekend."
Still at the end of the driveway, Janet stared at her sister, her face slack. "Not that routine, again! Do I look like a Lady Gwynth de Blanchemane to you? Gwynth," she lisped out. She could picture the sprays of spit now.
"You look very nice in all those gowns, dear," her mother said, pushing down a mushrooming puff of pink velvet. "Just like when you won Miss Salt Marshes."
"My crown was shaped like a duck, Mom."
"Do make sure you change before every meal. Did you bring that purple silk gown?" Marie asked.
With a sigh, Janet turned the car out onto the road. "‘The Sheriff of Roaming Hands’, ten pounds of lentils and now ‘Lady Gwynth’. And you want me to wear the purple gown that’s the thirteenth century version of a Cher outfit? I’m going to need more than Mylanta."
"Not allowed," Maggie-Ann piped up from the back seat. "This is a very authentic weekend. We volunteers will be living exactly like medieval townsfolk. Living history for anyone willing to donate to the Kyle Rae Fund."
"It’s a good thing you brought your contacts, Janet, dear. No glasses." Marie tapped her own sturdy frames. "That’s why I can’t go."
"Darn. Me and my vanity. I should've offered to pay for laser eye surgery for you." She pulled all the extra widths of velvet together and shoved them between her legs. She had to do something to stop her thighs from sticking together. Then, noticing she was ready to burst out of the bodice, she shoved her sticky breasts back in where they belonged.
Finally, she jammed the shifter into first and drove away. She longed to let out a sigh, but since her breasts were only held in place by a strip of straining velvet, one good inhalation would blow the whole bodice apart like dynamite.
"So, what did Maggie-Ann rope you into doing, Mom?" Janet asked her mother as they drove out of town.
"She didn’t rope me into anything, dear. I volunteered. It’s for a good cause. Dear little Kyle needs that operation and he needs his mother."
"What exactly is wrong with him?"
Maggie-Ann, having found her way to the surface of her dress, at the expense of the child on either side of her, answered, "I’m not sure, apart from the obvious. I know he needs an operation on his spine and they want to begin to lengthen his legs. Poor thing, they want to break his legs and insert pins to make them longer. He’s brave. I don’t think I could do it."
I could break your legs, Maggie-Ann. "Is the Shriners’ Hospital doing the operation?"
They hit a pot hole and Janet glanced down to check on her cleavage. By some miracle, it remained secure.
"No, they can’t get him in until next year," Marie continued. "There’s a doctor in Ontario who said he can do it. But the boy will be laid up for nearly a year. He can’t go that long without his mom. Hence the fundraiser."
Janet shot her mother a look. "So what else are you doing? It’s not like Maggie-Ann to let you off so easily. You’re family."
"Hey!" Maggie-Ann protested from the back seat.
"Turn this way." Marie pointed to the left as they sped out of town. The road followed a slight rise after crossing a stretch of salt marsh and Janet could smell the bay through her open window. "The site’s out by Rockport. And to answer your question, your sister asked me to make Frangipane pies."
"It’s for charity."
"So I hear."
"I hope you’re not going to give that nice Silas McVerey the cold shoulder, Janet. You could do a lot worse," Marie said.
Janet accelerated up the hill, putting the town of Sackville, which was nestled in the far corner of the Bay of Fundy, behind her.
"She did do a lot worse, Mom, and she dumped him," Maggie-Ann quipped.
One of the twins belted down Maggie-Ann’s ever-expanding gown. The thing was like a super-nova or something. "Dad says he’s a no-good, bleeding heart liberal."
"Richie!" Maggie-Ann gasped.
Janet hit the gas. The sooner this weekend was over, the better. She’s got to get out of here. Someplace quiet for a cigarette. Maybe she should have stuck it out with Hank. It couldn’t be any worse than spending a summer vacation in a hot velvet gown two sizes too small, eating cheese and lentils.
Kyle’s face then came to mind. Crap, she’d be happy to do this, if only she’d been asked.
She was pretty sure she was going to kill Maggie-Ann.
Janet cruised down the dirt road towards the old settlement of Rockport. Why it hadn’t survived the depression was beyond her. It was a gorgeous place. The prettiest spot in New Brunswick. The deep, green hill rolled down to the upper reaches of the Bay of Fundy and beyond the terra-cotta water, she could see Nova Scotia.
Already there were several cars and trucks and one beat up camper parked above the site. Janet spied a row of white tents their peaks barely visible over the rise of green pasture. Someone had secured colorful pendants to the tops of the tents and they now fluttered gaily in the breeze.
She stopped the car. "What are all those tents for?"
"That’s where we’ll be sleeping, silly," Maggie-Ann said, struggling to get out of the back seat without twisting up her gown.
Janet jerked around. "Camping? You didn’t say anything about camping!"
"Did you think we’d build you the Tower of London? Now, close your mouth. You look foolish."
Marie leaned close to whisper, "She did say you would live just like medieval people at a fair. And according to Silas, they lived in tents. They spent a lot of time outdoors. Now, get out, we have work to do."
"I can’t. I’m so sweaty my dress has glued me to the seat and if I take the deep breath I need, I’ll pop right out of this bodice."
"We’ll help you, Auntie Janet!" Both boys heaved up on her arms and managed to pry her out. Her car was far too small, but far too valuable. She was thankful she had the forethought to offer to drive them. She might need it as her getaway car after she murdered Maggie-Ann. And if she couldn't use her car, she'd try one of the horses now grazing at the far end of the tents.
"Where’d they get all the tents, anyway?"
"From the armories. In fact, Mom’s going to get a lift back to town with the truck that brought them."
Maggie-Ann straightened her gown and handed Janet a small canvas bag. "Take the boys down to the tents and get them dressed. Ours is supposed to be the one on the far end. It should be marked."
Janet grabbed the bag and an upper arm of each of her nephews. She knew them only too well and if a chance arose that they could escape, they would.
Richie protested first. "Why do we have to change?"
Janet propelled them down the hill. "Because if I have to wear a hot, sticky gown, you two are sure as heck going to wear something equally uncomfortable. I hope your mother packed a couple of hair shirts for you."
"I ain’t wearin’ no girls’ panty hose," Robbie warned.
"Any girl’s panty hose, and yes, you are."
"Lady Gwynth!" A scratchy, nearly feminine voice stopped the trio.
Janet looked up and froze. After hurrying up to her, Silas McVerey leaned forward, openly ogling her cleavage. He was dressed in period costume, no doubt already playing to the hilt an oily sheriff with his hand up every skirt at the fair. Well, let him try it on her.
Silas snatched her up her fingers and smeared wet lips across the knuckles. Janet glanced back up at Maggie-Ann, who was busy smoothing her skirt and pointedly ignoring her. The boys, having wriggled free, laughed and dashed off toward a pair of grazing horses.
"Get back here!" She yanked her hand back. "Silas, I have to go. It was nice to see you again."
Silas blocked her way. "Tut, tut, Lady Gwynth, only our medieval names. Sheriff of Roaningham, milady."
He whipped off his wide, velvet hat. The bright red feather hit her face as he swept it in front of his equally scarlet cloak. He must be horribly hot.
Taking advantage of the deep bow he offered her, she backed away. "This is going to be a great weekend," she muttered, stomping past the first few tents. Someone, probably Slimy Silas, had written names on placards in front of each tent. The words were scripted out in nearly indecipherable gothic print, in keeping, of course, with the flavor of the weekend. Even if she did find those little brats of Maggie-Ann’s, she’d never find which tent belonged to them.
Spying one of the boys as he disappeared between two tents, Janet picked up her skirt and yelled out, "Get back here, you little br-"
A guy rope hit her shin like a bullet. Janet felt her arms flail out in front of her and the ground race up to meet her face.
"Stupid–" she muttered, struggling under the weight of her gown to get back up on her feet. Richie peered around the corner, saw she was unhurt, and vanished again.
Muttering curses she knew were best left in the twentieth century, Janet stormed around the tent.
A man, tall and broad, wearing only a lightweight shirt and pants, both in a dun color, whirled around. He dropped the rope he was cutting and pointed his dagger at her.
"Who sneaks up behind me, friend or foe?"
How corny can you get? Janet smacked down his hand and growled, "Put that thing away before you hurt someone. Now, which way did those two boys go?"
The man shoved the dagger through his belt. Then, in a lightning quick motion, he hauled her into his arms.
For one infinitesimal moment, he just stared into her eyes. His were brown, the kind of brown that was limpid and clear, yet dark enough to belong in the bedroom. She blinked, feeling her jaw sag ever so slightly.
"I didn’t see any boys," he said. "I only have eyes for you."
And then he kissed her.
Janet went limp, shocked into silence for the first time in her life. The bag she was still carrying slipped from her fingers.
His lips were warm and smooth, moist and tasting of mint. His kiss deepened.
It was fortunate for Janet he was holding her tight. She'd gone weak with surprise. Somewhere in the background, she could hear the noises of the camp and two boys giggling. The man gently but thoroughly explored her mouth, flicking her teeth with his altogether too expert tongue. He coaxed out a response and Janet could feel one of his hands slide up to tunnel through her hair. His fingertips stroked the nape of her neck.
The sensation scrambled her emotions and for one crazy moment, she answered his passion with her own. His other hand crept down to her bottom.
Then, her sanity returned.
She shoved him back, hard and fast and he barely regained his balance against the back of the tent. He broke into a wide grin, showing clean, white teeth and two of the sweetest dimples known to women.
Ignoring them, she leaned forward and grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt and hauled his face close to hers.
"Do that again, knave, and I’ll use your dagger to make sure you never father children!"
"Ahh," he breathed. "The lady is a spicy wench!"
Janet threw him off and grabbed the bag. Men! Throwing a grunt of disgust at her amorous assailant, Janet purposely stomped like a lead-footed ballerina on his rope and disappeared around the corner.
"There you two are!" In a flash, she captured both the boys, as they both tried to whip by her. "Both of you -- in the tent, before I ground the pair of you!"
She’d had enough, she decided, and the boys were going to hear all about it. Enough of Maggie-Ann, enough of chasing nephews and of bodices that tempted fate. Enough of greasy sheriffs with nothing better to do than to ogle women.
And certainly enough of handsome devils, who kissed like saints.
WOW, DEVIN had to blink just to make sure his eyeballs were still in his head. She was fantastic!
He licked his lips, tasting again the woman’s strawberry flavored lipbalm. Automatically, he touched his mouth and glanced down at his fingers, rubbing the tips lightly to see if her lip color was real. It was.
He walked to the corner of the tent he was pitching and smiled. The gorgeous lady leaned over her two small charges. He had an ample view of her cleavage, now pressing upward above the square cut of her bodice that may have been just a tad too small. He tried to turn his head modestly away, but he was as mesmerized as those two little boys.
For the first time in his life, he wished he was six again. But at least at thirty-six, he had the experience needed to really capture her attention, without getting spanked first as she look like she was ready to do to those boys.
Humm. Too bad.
But judging by the furtive little glance she gave him just now, he’d had every bit of her attention.
She glanced again at him. That kiss had been a spur of the moment idea, something he figured was expected of him as ‘a macho, medieval man’, and yet he knew it still lingered between them. That lovely lady had responded rather positively to it, like she’d responded to his caresses. It seemed the nape of her neck was extra sensitive. He’d have to remember that.
"We want to pet the horses, Auntie Janet!" one of the boys wailed.
"Later. First, you get dressed."
Devin watched the taller of the two boys, whom he recognized as one of Maggie-Ann Hicks’ kids, and whose bottom lip was out about as far as it could go without someone stepping on it. Then he looked back to their aunt. Lovely Auntie Janet was heaving heavy sigh after heavy sigh, causing the snug bodice of her dress to inch slowly down, more and more, warning of an impending eruption.
Humm, if something wasn’t done soon to defuse this situation, Devin may be an unwilling witness to an explosion of proportions he’d only dreamed about.
All right, so he wasn't unwilling, but at least the part about the dreaming was true.
"I ain’t dressin’ up in no girl’s clothes!" one boy wailed.
"Yes, you are!" lovely Auntie Janet snapped back.
One of the boys struggled against her. "No! When I say no, I mean no!"
Devin smothered a laugh, straightening his shirt as he did. Gorgeous Auntie Janet needed help and if he could, he was going to make sure she needed his help all weekend long.
He stepped over the only guy rope he’d tightened so far. Volunteering had its own rewards, especially when the money was going to help his foster nephew, but the windfall here, this weekend, was this lady.
"Excuse me, milady," he spoke out in his most dignified voice. "Perhaps I could be of some assistance?"
JANET GLANCED up, twisting her head around and discovering that her neck was directly attached to her bosom, regardless of that old song said.
Him? What did he want now? Round two?
"I beg your pardon?" she answered coolly, yanking up on the narrow scrap of rosy velvet that called itself a bodice.
"May I help you handle these boys?" the man asked.
"Forget it. I have seen your type of help." she answered.
The man took another step and smiled down at the boys. "I think I helped your auntie very well, just now. What do you think, boys?"
She heard Richie giggle.
"Or do you think I just got her ticked off at all of us?" the man asked.
Robbie said, "Nope, she was already ticked off."
Janet tightened her lips as the man squatted down in front of the boys. She couldn’t help but notice his thigh muscles bulging through his lightweight pants. The straps of leather that crisscrossed up his calves strained a bit, as if controlling the muscles beneath was nearly impossible.
"What happened?" he asked, interested.
"Mom tricked her into coming here and she was just dumped by her boyfriend. I wouldn’t kiss her again, if I were you."
"Robbie!" Janet could feel the heat rise in her face. How did he become so precocious? Hadn’t Maggie-Ann said she wanted to hire a tutor for him because he wasn’t keeping up with his brother in kindergarten?
The man in front of her turned his head to notice her cheeks redden. The corner of his mouth tilted up and a dimple reappeared. And with one eyebrow quirking up, he bore a devilish look. Good grief, she had to stop this conversation!
He locked gazes with her and suddenly her bodice tightened. "Really?" he asked. "Why did her boyfriend dump her? Didn’t she let him kiss her enough?"
"Mom says he was screwin’ ‘round on her."
Janet gasped and forgetting all else, she shoved the man out of the way to snatch the boys.
Unperturbed, the man straightened. "What’s that mean?"
Richie shrugged. Robbie answered, "I dunno, but it’s bad, though."
Janet propelled the boys forward, thankful at least they had no idea what they were repeating. But as soon as she cornered Maggie-Ann, she was going to let her have it about talking in front of her kids. "You’re getting dressed, boys. And that’s final."
"No!" they wailed. "It’s not fair!"
Richie pulled free of Janet and glared at her. She was about to grab him back when that man, still near and certainly not working hard enough, stooped in front of him.
"Listen up, boys, those clothes aren’t sissy. Long gowns and fancy hats are." He leaned forward, whispering, "Like that sheriff over there." Janet watched him as he jerked his head towards Silas, who must have been searching for her, because he turned and began to stride towards her.
"Now, look at me," the man continued, shoving up his sleeve and flexing a bicep. Janet tore her gaze from the encroaching sheriff and stared at it. With arms like that, no wonder he hadn’t any trouble holding her up while he kissed the breath out of her.
"Do I look sissy to you?"
Holy cow, no. Both boys shook their heads, wide-eyed and captivated by the handsome man who had dared to kiss their Auntie Janet.
"Right. And did you know, we’ve brought some kid-sized armor with us, but you can’t wear it unless you’re a medieval kid."
"Real armor?" Richie breathed in, awestruck.
"Yep. For the sword fights."
"Sword fights?" the other twin asked.
"Yup. Real sword fights. No sissy light sabers, either. These are the real deal."
Janet rolled her eyes. "And I suppose you have a couple of dragons to slay, too."
The man winked at his little fans. "Only her."
"Hah!" she scoffed, latching on to the boys while they were entranced. "I didn’t hear you saying that when you were kissing me."
"I never kiss and talk at the same time. I like to stay focused." If his dark, sensual eyes were any judge, he was very focused on her.
Oh, this was crazy.
"Wait, Auntie Janet!" Richie said. "I want to hear about the sword fights."
The man held up his hand. "Nope. Only for fourteenth century boys. So, how’s about it? Who’s game for a good fight? No sissy twentieth century wimps allowed."
Richie glanced hopefully at Robbie, who, after a thoughtful moment, nodded.
"And another bonus, you can eat with your fingers and wipe them off on your shirts. That’s what they use to do."
Robbie threw Janet a cautious glance. "Can we?"
"Get dressed, yes. Use your clothes for napkins, no."
The man smiled secretively, not at her nephews, but at her. She felt a charge of electricity skittered down her spine. His gaze was riveting, and yet those warm, brown eyes were...soft. "Do it anyway, boys," he said, still staring at her.
Shaking off the sudden captivity, Janet pushed the boys toward the front of the tent. Wiping their hands on their shirts, hah!
Ahead, thankfully, Silas’ attention had been deflected by her mother and Maggie-Ann, who were probably concocting another evil scheme for her and her Miss New Brunswick title.
She turned to the man still behind her, who’d straightened abruptly and who seemed taller and broader all of sudden. "You’re lucky I’m not their mother, or you’d be doing their laundry."
"Woman’s work." He grinned wickedly at her. "But I have saved your day, milady." He took her hand and bowed over it, tilting his head up slightly to watch her expression. Janet hoped he couldn’t feel her heart pounding through her fingers. "You can thank me later," he said.
Janet tugged on her hand. Did he think she was stupid? Those years in Ottawa had taught her a thing or two about men, especially men with the gift of a silver tongue. Like Hank, the good ol’ boy from Calgary. His western drawl and sun faded jeans had attracted her once. Not anymore.
And this man looming over her was just the same. Except he appeared as comfortable in leggings and leather as Hank had in jeans and a sports jacket. Janet cleared her throat. Just the same? That kiss hadn’t been the same, not by a long shot.
"Come on, Auntie Janet," Robbie called out.
She tore herself away, glad for the distraction. "I’m coming, but remember, first one to act up is not allowed in the sword fight."
She couldn’t believe she'd just said that. ‘If you misbehave, I won’t let you slice anyone in two.’ That made a lot of sense. With the boys’ bag in hand, Janet followed them, all the while peering at the nearly unreadable placard, hoping this was their tent. "Did you hear me?" she asked the boys when they didn’t answer.
"Yes, Auntie Janet."
"Yes, Auntie Janet."
"Yes, Auntie Janet."
She whirled around, finding her medieval misfit still tagging along. Didn’t he have a tent to pitch?
Ignoring his wide grin, Janet shooed the boys into the tent and chucked the small bag in after them.
The man leaned forward slightly, and Janet recalled the fresh, minty taste of his mouth. He whispered, "You are so mean to those boys."
"They deserve it."
"Don't let me catch you spanking them!" His dimples reappeared.
Janet shoved her knuckles onto her hips. "I would never do that!"
"Would you spank me if I misbehave?" A waggle of eyebrows followed.
Janet stepped back, finding him altogether too close to her. She snapped, "Certainly not. You’d enjoy it too much."
"Then will you marry me instead?"All For A Good Cause
"I BEG your pardon?"
"Marry me," he said, his voice dropping down to an intimate whisper. "Friar Tuck over there is willing to marry any couple for the weekend. It’ll be fun."
Janet stiffened as he stepped closer to her. The taste of his kiss remained on her lips and she was surprised by how much it had affected her. She twisted away, suddenly facing the little group that was forming about fifteen feet away. Two ladies she didn’t recognize had also arrived. Mom and Maggie-Ann were chatting with Silas, conspiring, no doubt, against her. But now a heavyset man in a long, wool robe had joined them. No wonder the kissing bandit beside her had called him Friar Tuck. He looked just like him.
Janet pivoted back to the handsome stranger. "Did my mother put you up to this?"
"Who’s your mother?"
"That one, over there," Janet pointed to the crowd that was now smiling at her. "The only one out of place." Her mom, dressed in her trademark plaid skirt and pale blouse, waved affably.
"Nope, came up with this idea all by myself," he said.
Janet narrowed her eyes and he grinned at her. His own dark brown ones twinkled brightly, like a kid up to no-good. Intelligent eyes, they were. Too intelligent to be playing a medieval Tom Sawyer.
His dimples deepened. "What do you say? I know I’d enjoy it."
"I don’t even know your name!"
"Devin." He stuck out his hand and when she glanced down at it. Shake his hand? Not in a million years. The last time they touched, he kissed her. This time, who knows, she could get pregnant.
A rush of heat torched her insides. She glanced away and then back, finding his smile gone, but his stare was still riveted on her. Was another kiss coming?
Wait a minute, she can’t actually be considering one? Good grief, if her mother ever got hold of this.... "No!"
Devin ignored her answer, stepping up to face the crowd. Her heart faltered a minute. "Good townsfolk!" he called out. When he had their attention, he said, "I have begged for the honor of this good woman’s hand in marriage-"
"I wouldn’t call that begging," she muttered.
"-yet, alas, this fine maiden -- I shall assume she is still a maiden-"
"Cheeky knave, you’ll never prove your assumption one way or the other!"
"-this maid says I must take my request to her family."
What! No! Janet watched in horror as her mother’s eyes lit up like searchlights. Maggie-Ann’s face nearly split in two with her wide grin.
Behind her, she heard the boys throw open the tent flaps, no doubt to watch the fun.
Abruptly, the small group was joined by Maggie-Ann’s husband, Tom, and the boy, Kyle. Wendy had shoved his chair through the longish grass. Maggie-Ann glanced at them, then shot her sister a knowing look.
Kyle watched her with animated interest and Janet felt her stomach drop.
Leave. That’s what I could do. Find my cigarettes and leave. Who would stop her? Well, maybe Robin Hood here, but it’s not like he’d throw her over his shoulder and drag her kicking and screaming to Friar Tuck over there, the one with the very animated look on his face.
Would he? No, this is a civilized fundraiser, despite this crazy society’s love of realism. And besides, she knew men. They tended to give up after a few hours and look for greener pastures.
"Forget it, Robin Hood," she muttered to Devin’s back. "I’m not your Maid Marion. Besides, I just volunteered to..." she trailed off, thinking fast, "clean the toilets."
DEVIN TURNED, putting a mock frown on his face. "Toilets?" He winked at the crowd that was closing in on them. "We’re getting toilets? I thought we were only using the latrine down by the old settlement?"
He watched her expression fall. He was correct in assuming this lovely Janet hadn’t been prepared for that. In fact, he’d bet she wasn’t prepared for anything this weekend.
As for his idea of matrimony, even he’d been surprised by his ingenuity. What a boost a wedding would be for the weekend.
Maggie-Ann had told him of Janet’s pageant fame. A former Miss New Brunswick in attendance was great for publicity, but a wedding of one of Canada’s celebrity virgins would really rake in the crowds.
Kyle and Wendy had just arrived, and the ever intelligent child was watching Janet closely. But she’d not likely agree without proper motivation. "It’s all for a good cause," he hedged.
"Forget it," she snapped.
She didn’t want him? Okay. He grinned again. Actually, this was perfect. Not only would this add some interest to the weekend, but it would keep those other ladies at bay. He didn’t really want any commitment, either, especially right now, and Janet here, glaring at him, was just the person to help him convince those ladies that he was off-limits.
He pivoted back to the increasing crowd. "Who here can give me permission to marry this maid?"
Maggie-Ann Hicks shoved her husband out in front. "Go on, Tom, you give him permission."
Devin stepped up to him. "Good sir, are you this maid’s kin?"
Tom Hicks glanced over to his wife. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"Will you give me permission to marry this maid?" Devin asked loudly.
Tom hesitated. Maggie-Ann poked his back and he winced. "Sure. And you can have my wife, too." Maggie-Ann poked him again.
Janet brushed past Devin to face the crowd. "Forget it! I’d rather join a convent!"
"There’s no convent here, milady," Devin whispered to her back, taking the opportunity to inhale her delicious scent. "Just me."
She glared over her shoulder at him, her delightful lips pursed tightly and those gorgeous green eyes glaring hotly at him. He dared a glance down at her heaving bodice and got an even steamier glare for his impertinence.
Maggie-Ann trotted past her husband. "What a great idea!" she told the crowd. "I mean, ‘tis kind of you, Sir Devin, to offer to marry my older sister. Not one man has ever dared -- I mean, wished to do so." She curtsied coyly.
"Thanks a lot, Maggie-Ann," Janet growled.
Devin acknowledged the curtsey. "I may have to heave her over my shoulder and cart her off to the church, though." This was priceless. The crowd around them was murmuring and he even spotted the reporter from the local newspaper busily scribbling on a notepad. He must think this is all part of the act. It couldn’t be any better if it were.
If it got around town that there was to be a shotgun wedding, or in this case, a reenactment of the ‘Taming of the Shrew’, it could really draw in the crowds. With an admission price of only a few dollars on Saturday, people would be getting even more fun for their money.
"No way!" Janet announced, her hands on her very shapely hips. "I will not be carted off to the altar by this oversexed Robin Hood! Besides," she snapped, "there are bans to publish and you have to pay the bride price."
She looked triumphantly smug. Apparently she’d done her homework here. She knew a bit more than he expected about Creative Anachronism. This was his first society function -- he didn’t know much about this -- but his father always said he could talk a dog off a meat wagon.
He scooped up her hand and touched his lips to it. With his most charming smile to the crowd watching with interest, he answered, "Alas, you be wrong, milady. ‘Tis you who must provide the dowry to me."
She slapped his hand away. "Well, I guess it’s over, then. I’m broke."
"We’ll pay the dowry," Maggie-Ann piped up, elbowing Tom, "Will you take a check, good sir?"
Devin stole a glance at the mortified Janet. Any more heaves of outrage and her bodice would fly apart. He’d better be merciful and end this quickly. "Certainly, milady. Make it payable to the Kyle Rae Fund."
STARING AT the nodding, excited crowd, Janet made a short noise of disgust. Just what she needed. She finally has the marriage proposal that her mother had long prayed for, but it’s only for a charity weekend. Mom would probably jump at it, regardless, considering the way she was sizing up Devin.
What was it about this man? He seemed to have the knack of attracting attention and getting everyone around him to agree. He must be a politician.
She felt herself stiffen. Yeah, just like Hank. Silver tongued, charmingly handsome and so charitable. Hah! Hank’s charity went only as far as making election promises solely to his love-starved secretary while his constituents fawned over his common sense policies and the former beauty queen who was helping him raise campaign dollars.
Janet shut her eyes. That’s what she was, right now, right here. Charity. She’d been that to Hank and now she was charity to this Sir Devin.
With one last glare at Devin, she marched into the tent, yanking the flap closed as she went.
UNRUFFLED, DEVIN turned to the crowd. "Humm, more of a challenge than I thought."
The crowd chuckled as he waved the check in his hand, and said, "Not to worry. My betrothed will see the light. Now, we have much more work to do."
Once everyone had wandered off, Devin turned back to the tent. So that lovely lady was Janet Jemseg, Maggie-Ann’s older sister, the former beauty queen who lived in Ottawa and owned all the fancy gowns.
Did she fit those gowns as well back then, as she did now? Did she wear them walking down the pageant runway? Devin didn’t have a clue about the pageant circuits, except to recognize the opportunity they presented. Janet’s presence here had already been boasted and if he could convince her to marry him, it would be, well, the whole event’s ‘piece de resistance’.
If he could convince her to marry him, that is. Well, at least pursuing her gave his weekend a little fun with its purpose.
He shoved the check Tom Hicks had given him into the small pouch on his belt. At the very least, it kept him from getting hooked up with one of the ladies who, like him, were over from the Island to help out, but whose priorities did not lie with charitable events.
And at the very most, he had another donation to the cause that was most important in his life.
JANET STRUGGLED to get Richie into his outfit. The tent was dark and hot and even though the better behaved Robbie was already dressed, he fidgeted beside Maggie-Ann at the entrance. "Why did that man want to marry you, Auntie Janet?"
"Because he’s nuts, that’s why," she said.
"Oh, Janet -- I mean, Lady Gwynth," Maggie-Ann cut in, "I wish you’d just marry him and get it over with. Good grief, it’s hot in here." She threw back the flap and hung out her tongue at the heat. Trickles of sweat were already running down Janet’s back, but no way was she going to open that flap and risk that ‘Sir Devin’ starting on one of his tirades again.
"I can’t believe you’re trying to rook me into marrying a total stranger," she complained.
Her sister picked up a small pair of discarded pants. "It’s for charity. Have some fun with it. He’s a knight of the realm and you’re a lady for the weekend."
"I was one before, if I remember correctly. But I wouldn’t be after, if that guy has his way."
Maggie-Ann waved her complaints away. "Sir Devin’s a knight. Trust him. You have to win a couple of jousts to earn the ‘sir’ part. You know the rules."
"And I know they’re broken all the time," Janet retorted. Though The Society was an independent organization, they stuck to pretty much the same rules as all the other societies for creative anachronism around the continent. The men and women were supposed to earn their knighthoods. But here, that rule was bent when, years ago, they added fundraising to their agenda.
"Still, you can’t be a knight unless you’ve won your share of battles." Maggie-Ann scooped up more of her sons' street clothes. "Remember the rulebook, 'A knight has achieved great skill at arms, and is a model of prowess.'"
Janet gave her sister a deadpan stare. "Great, you want me to marry a bully."
"Auntie Janet’s heart is broke," Richie told his brother, wisely. "That’s why she won’t marry anyone."
Robbie spoke up. "Maybe Devin can fix it. He said he can do anything."
Janet turned to Robbie. "When did he say that?"
"Before you came, when Mom told him you weren’t gonna like being tricked."
Janet shoved down hard on Richie’s shirt, her stare focused on her sister. "When was he at the house? Like yesterday, perhaps?"
"He stopped by for a few minutes, Janet. While you were getting the groceries with Mom. What difference does it make?"
Janet tightened Richie’s belt. What difference did it make? Only that Maggie-Ann knew the man who’d kissed her little leather slippers off and Janet didn’t trust her one iota. For all Janet knew, she was behind this proposal.
That made a difference. Was she so hard up for a good honest man that her baby sister had to find someone suitable for her, even if it was just for fun?
It had started that way with Hank. A bit of fun meeting people who’d like to talk to a former Miss New Brunswick. But eventually she learned she was more than a sash across her ample bosom. Hank, however, like Silas, did not look any higher than her cleavage.
Forget it. All men were the same.
"Come on, Lady Gwynth, I do believe a light supper is planned and the Sheriff is going to read out what duties we have for tomorrow and Saturday," Maggie-Ann said, "because they will be the busiest."
Janet lifted the hem of her gown and sighed when the breeze that had drifted into the tent cooled her hot legs.
She was warm, but it wasn’t because of all this talk about Devin, the man whose steamy kiss was capable of heating her blood. It was just the tent.
"Let’s unpack first," Janet suggested. "When’s Tom bringing the cots?"
"No cots, hon," Maggie-Ann said, pushing back the flap further for her boys and reminding them not to leave the site. "We have some wool blankets and some feather pillows coming. And some pallets, too."
Janet gaped at her sister. "Pallets?"
"Not the wooden ones, just those thin mattresses. You know, ticks, the nice ones, not the little bugs. I believe one of the ladies with the Historical Society made them. She used only the best salt marsh hay in them."
"So appropriate for me. Now, where did I leave my duck crown?" Janet answered dryly.
Ignoring her sarcasm, Maggie-Ann said, "They’re authentic."
"So will my wringing your neck be authentic."
Maggie-Ann smiled condescendingly at her. "It’s just that the visitors might want to see where we sleep. It’s no big deal. Good heavens, you make a big fuss about everything. Would you relax and enjoy yourself for once?"
It hadn't been hard to live like this when they first joined The Society. But back then, the gowns fit her and no man dared to walk up to her and kiss her breath away. "I have to live like a barbarian for three days and you want me to relax?"
"I didn’t realize you were such a wimp. What has Ottawa done to you? You won’t even let Devin have a bit of fun," Maggie-Ann said.
Janet blew down her cleavage and said, "Devin’s already had his fun, trust me."
Maggie-Ann peered at her face. "Doing what?"
Janet straightened her bodice. Could it get any hotter in here? "Never mind, let’s go to supper."
Maggie-Ann stepped in front of her, a smirk spreading across her features as she peered at Janet. "He kissed you, didn’t he? I can see it on your face. Ooh, this is priceless. You’ll have to get married now. Your reputation’s ruined."
"He didn’t kiss me."
"Yes, he did."
"No, he didn’t."
"Methinks thou doth protest too much," Maggie-Ann sang.
"Methinks thou doth look for a smack!"
"He did kiss you!"
"You sound like he impregnated me. And my reputation has not been ruined anymore than you've already ruined it with that history you wrote on me." Janet tried to brush past her.
"You know how these medieval townsfolk love to gossip. They’ll spread lies and accusations-"
"Honestly! Who will?"
"I will," Maggie-Ann said, gleefully. "Let’s go find him, before he changes his mind."
Janet managed to snatch a hold of Maggie-Ann’s skirt.
"I’m Lady Berengar. Let me go."
"Not a word to him, understand?"
"What! This is too good to keep quiet!"
"You'd better, or I’ll raise such a stink, everyone will know this isn’t play acting," Janet hissed in her sister’s ear. "Especially that reporter out there."
Maggie-Ann sagged. "You used to love doing this kind of thing. Don’t you remember? We raised money and enjoyed life?" She eased out of her sister's grip and shook her head. "All right, Janet, if you don’t want me to say anything, I won’t. It’s just a shame you’ve turned into such a spoil sport."
Janet went limp as she watched her sister walk away. As usual, Maggie-Ann managed to heap guilt on top of guilt with just a few select words.
It was funny how their relationship had turned around in these past few years. Maggie-Ann seemed like the older sister now, whereas a few years ago, she was bawling on Janet’s shoulder about the failure of marriage number two. Then a few weeks later, she discovered that she was carrying twins. That was when their relationship turned around and Maggie-Ann decided she had far more experience and wisdom than her.
Janet watched her sister trot down to the wide, sideless tent that served as the dining hall. She spied rolls and fruit and big bowls of something steaming. A gentle, afternoon breeze carried up the rich, persuasive scents, making Janet's stomach growl and her mouth water.
Experience, yes, after three marriages and two kids. But wisdom? That was pushing it.
SLIPPING INTO the shade of the dining tent, Janet glanced warily around. Most of the people seemed familiar, as they had at one time or another been involved with some of the fundraising efforts of The Society. Some of the others, Maggie-Ann had told her, were from a similar group on the Island. Two ladies in particular stood out. Janet had noticed them before, watching with candid interest that nut Devin offer to marry her. Why didn’t he ask one of them?
Since The Society didn’t specify an actual time frame for clothing, Janet instantly recognized various eras of style. Whatever the people wanted to put together. An older lady setting out a tray of cheeses was dressed in typical Saxon garb from about the eleventh century, both her inner and outer tunics a lightweight material. She had a white scarf secured on her head with a diadem that matched her belt. Janet should have brought a few scarves with her, but she’d forgotten. That left her to pile her long, heavy hair up on her head and hope she didn’t get sunstroke.
The breeze coming up from the bay, however, was fresh and the tables were set up so everyone could enjoy the view.
She should have also brought some of the Saxon tunics she had at home. They looked infinitely cooler than the tighter, fifteenth century gown she was wearing. It rubbed against her waist and Janet surreptitiously scratched her ribs.
"As your husband, I’d be allowed to scratch that itch, you know," someone whispered in her ear.
Janet leapt away from the chair she’d been hiding behind. Devin leapt back also, throwing a wild glance around to see what had caused her edginess.
"I’m not itchy, thank you. Just a little warm."
"So I can see. You’re losing about a pound of water per hour in that thing. Come on, let’s get ourselves some fruit juice." He added slyly, "I’ll let you sit with me."
"Ooh, how can I resist that?" she asked. Then her face lit up. "Oh, wait, I can resist it. I’m much stronger than I thought." She did, however, head for the pitchers of juice. A drink sounded heavenly right now.
"Allow me," Devin offered, having followed her, taking the tumbler out of her hand and pouring some dark juice into it. His fingers stayed wrapped around the cool cup even after she took it back. Janet’s gaze rose to his face. He was smiling slightly at her, his features dark against the bright light outside the tent. He couldn't be hot, she mused. He wore only a lightweight shirt and comfortable leggings.
She glanced at his mouth, as it parted into a widened smile. She recalled his kiss with vivid, heart-stopping accuracy.
Someone reached between them for the pitcher and she shifted away, clearing her throat. Supper had already started.
"Cool, yet?" Devin asked, his attention still focused on her.
"Quite cool, thank you." Give me that drink. Janet swallowed down half of the juice before she recognized the tangy flavor of fresh black currants. When she finished, she offered the cup and once again, Devin covered her hand with his own as he refilled the tumbler.
"Cool as a cucumber, I bet." He paused. "Did they have cucumbers in the Middle Ages?"
Her hand caught by his, Janet looked up at his face. He didn’t seem to be teasing her. "I don’t think so. Aren’t all squashes from South America?"
"So what did they call someone like you, back then, if not 'cool as a cucumber'?"
Was he getting closer? Or was it all those people crowding around them, reaching through them for something cool to drink, themselves. She could see him better, now, in the dimness. The dimples were returning and the smooth, angular jaw line tempted her to stroke it. Good grief, he was handsome.
"Or perhaps, they just called you Lady Gwynth," he said. "But I don't think any of the maids in the Middle Ages were cool and chaste. I think they were willing to throw themselves at the first handsome knight that happened along."
She shook her head slightly, still watching his jaw. "No, they weren't. You haven’t read the same historical romances I have."
"Sorry to say, I haven’t. But glad to see you have. It’ll make this weekend more interesting, if you know what to do."
With a grin, he turned away, scooping up a plate as he headed to the back of the short line forming by the food. Janet stood there holding her full tumbler of juice, gawking at him like an idiot. What did he mean by that remark?
She pivoted in the soft meadow grass, already cut several times over the summer to accommodate them. Maggie-Ann would know what he meant. She was probably the mastermind behind this, whatever this was.
Maggie-Ann and Tom were already seated at the far end, both of them making sure the twins didn’t eat like savages. Though, the tables set up for everyone to enjoy the expansive view of the bay beyond, her sister had plunked the boys down with the backs to the water, probably so they didn't get any ideas. Maggie-Ann waved and Janet, her thirst sated, hurried over.
"Sit down, I’ve already filled a plate for you."
Janet took the chair she offered and looked down at the plate of fruit, cheese, roll and cold meat. It looked delicious. But after what had just happened over the juice, she wasn’t sure she could eat.
Oh, who was she kidding? She wasn't the kind of lady who only nibbled sparrow sized portions, and since that rabbit food lunch, she'd hardly eaten at all. The only thing stopping her was the iron girdle she was wearing.
Placing her cup on the table, Janet glanced around to locate Devin. Would he sit beside her? Or was his teasing just now only that and nothing more, as he set his sights on some other lady?
"What’s wrong?" Maggie-Ann asked.
Janet turned to her. "Nothing. Just Devin said-"
"Good townsfolk," Silas was calling out at the head table, "‘Tis fine food we share today and we ask the Friar to offer grace first."
The heavyset friar rose and Janet got a glimpse of Devin sitting beside him. He leaned forward around the friar’s solid girth and grinned directly at her. Then he glanced up at the man before lowering his head reverently. Janet grasped the opportunity to figure out what he was up to in the short time she was able to watch him so candidly.
Then, to her horror, Devin raised his head, his dimples deepening. Their gazes locked. The friar above him prayed on, but Janet didn’t hear his words. Devin was leaning casually forward, his arms relaxed and fingertips touching. Something flipped inside of her. How it could find the room with all of her organs crushed by the stays of her bodice, she had no idea, but whatever it was, it flipped again.
Devin continued to watch her and Janet’s insides tightened. Finally, his eyelids lowered ever so much, as his focus moved from her face.
She slipped her hand up to the moist skin above her bodice. Devin glanced up at her face. His smile was gone.
Mesmerized, she watched him mouth a word and a second later, she registered it as ‘amen’. Grace was over and she hadn’t heard a word of it.
Guiltily, she dropped her gaze to her food and thought out a hasty word of gratitude.
Throughout the meal, Silas droned on and on, about all he'd done to prepare for this weekend and something about the duty lists. Janet didn’t listen to a word of it. All she thought about was Devin and halfway through her buttered roll, it dawned on her.
That was it. She’d spurned his offer of marriage and he was merely getting even, like when he'd embarrassed her in front of that crowd. And now teasing her with his hot, riveting eyes, and reminding her of all she'd turned down.
"Are you listening?"
Janet turned to Maggie-Ann, her mouth stuffed with bread and her eyebrows lifted.
"Silas, I mean, the Sheriff, assigned us to supper duty tomorrow night," Maggie-Ann said.
Janet swallowed. "Friday night? I can’t cook for all these people. Didn’t you say some special guests were coming?"
"Relax." Maggie-Ann waved a chicken drumstick in front of her face. "It’s all written down for us. Everything’s been organized by Lady Auborna. She runs a catering service. We’ll be fine. Richie, don’t wipe your greasy hands on your shirt, honey. Who said you could do that?"
"The man who kissed Auntie Janet," Richie said, wiping his hands on his leggings, instead. "Can I take these leotards off, Mom? They itch."
"No." Maggie-Ann twisted slowly in her seat, so everyone nearby could fully appreciate her smug expression. "I knew he'd kissed you!"
Maggie-Ann laid a hand against her neckline. "Didn’t I promise that? Oh, look, the man who nearly impregnated you is going to speak. Shhh!"
Janet tried to turn, feeling the stays of her dress dig into her ribs and the bodice shifting dangerously in an opposite direction. Her gaze met directly with Devin’s, who had risen to address the crowd. Her automatic inhalation was rewarded with a knife jab of imitation whalebone that brought stinging tears to her eyes.
Unable to stand the pain, Janet unceremoniously straightened her bosom, sighing with relief as the stay slipped away from her ribs and back into the gown where it belonged.
All Of Devin’s thoughts dissolved. Good grief, what was Janet doing?
No wonder she was so thirsty, in that hot, sticky dress. Even down the stretch of tables, he could see how she struggled with the heavy material, trying for some reason to torment him by rearranging her corset thing just when he was about to speak. Didn’t women have any idea of what manhandling their breasts did to a guy?
Devin could picture quite vividly how the soft velvet would feel. Even after he was prodded by the friar, he couldn’t help but stare at her.
-peeling the velvet off her creamy shoulder, as she stood below his air conditioner, throwing her head back-
"Eyes back in your head, Romeo. You’re suppose to thank everyone for coming," the friar growled at his side.
Oh, yeah, right, thank everyone. Devin cleared his throat, finding it far too dry to speak.
He reached forward and took a swallow of his juice, as the crowd waited patiently for him to say his few words.
So what were they?
Oh, yeah, thank them for coming. He’d only have their attention for a few minutes, so it better be good.
"My good friends. Thank you all for coming, this fine summer day, to help our Kyle. Together we’ve raised..."
Janet straightened, throwing her shoulders back as she inhaled deeply and lifted the hair off her neck. Sweating all of a sudden, Devin purposely looked away.
He couldn’t think. How much was it? The only thing that went through his mind was Janet peeling away her clothes. He could see her blowing a breath out of her pursed, moist lips to cool her cleavage.
-letting the velvet drop to her feet and offering a look of pure relief in front of his air conditioner as it cooled her down-
"Sixteen hundred dollars, you moron," the friar hissed. "Now, get your mind out of her cleavage."
Right. Dollars, yes. Cleavage, no.
"Sixteen hundred dollars, so far, and might I add, much more, as soon as the lovely Lady Gwynth agrees to marry me."
He saw Janet’s eyes flare up, hot and bright. She straightened and pulled back her shoulders even more, a sight he was glad he caused.
Devin placed his hand on his heart and pulled his most mournful face to the rapt crowd. "I cannot bear to be parted from her and yet she has spurned me. So, alas, I must prove my undying devotion to this gentle maid. I shall sleep outside her tent until she promises to be my wife."
Thank you for reading this excerpt. If you like, pop over to All For A Good Cause for more details.
Thank you for reading this excerpt. If you like, pop over to All For A Good Cause for more details.