19 March 2009

Excerpt Thursday: Jen Black

Jen Black's novel DARK POOL is available now, and her current release is FAR AFTER GOLD, which we'll be featuring later this spring.

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Finlay of Alba is not in the best of tempers when he walks into Lord Sitric's stronghold of Dublin to demand the return of Eba of Bundalloch. Stolen by Dublin Vikings, Eba faces a forced marriage or the slave market. Can Finlay find her before it is too late? Or will Eba spend her life as a Viking's bed-mate? Follow the adventures of this spirited young girl in an exciting tale of war-torn Dublin.
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Escaping from one tight spot, Eba promptly falls straight into another when Aralt, one of Sitric Silkenbeard's Viking warriors finds her trying to get back to Dublin . He takes her to the men's longhouse with every intention of making her his bed fellow. Exhausted and weak with hunger, Eba faints on arrival. When she wakes, she is in Aralt's bed, naked.

Eba stirred in a brief, incoherent way and then woke with a jerk. She was naked beneath the wool blanket and a man she did not know stood within the cubicle; thankfully his back was to her, but he was so close she could have touched him. Beyond him, a crowd of men laughed and talked round the long hearth out in the open hall.

Her wet clothes hung from a peg in the wall, well out of her reach. The man ran a wad of straw gently up and down the blade of his sword, stripping it of dried mud, and took no notice of her. With her gaze fixed on his broad back, Eba gripped the edge of the blanket, pulled it tight around her and shuffled cautiously across the bed platform until she got her back against the wall. The straw mattress squeaked and rustled beneath her, but his own work masked the sound and he did not turn.

Eba curled her knees in close to her belly and looked at the man. He was tall and broad across the shoulders. A memory of his rain drenched, mud splattered face filled her mind, and she remembered he had dragged her to a ruined shed of some kind. He would have raped her if she had not fainted. Her heart leapt in her chest, and the air vanished from her lungs as the thought struck her that he would probably do it now.

He hung the sword belt on a convenient wall peg, jerked a rough leather curtain across the front of the cubicle and laughed softly when the simple act provoked a roar of outrage from men deprived of their entertainment. The sickening realization struck Eba that most likely they had already had a fine view of her when he had removed her clothes.

She watched him hitch his sodden linen tunic up and over his head and toss it onto a small wooden chest. He toweled his hair, face and throat, and Eba's gaze flicked nervously over the shadowed ridges of his chest and stomach. He half turned, noticed she was awake and smiled. He tossed the rough cloth to her.

Eba ignored it, and huddled so far back into the corner of the bed space that the wattle wall pressed into her back. Fear rose through her in spiralling waves. Torquil had captured her, but he had commanded his crew and kept them away from her. He had kept her safe until she met Kimi. Even then, Annikki and Conn had kept a careful eye on her. Now there was no one at all. She was alone in a hall filled with rough men.

Fear magnified her senses. She registered the rumble of conversation outside in the big hall, and the mixed and jumbled smells of pine, wet wool and smoke in the air around her head. She thought she might be sick. The curtain twitched to one side and admitted a pair of large and dirty hands offering two steaming wooden bowls between curtain and wall.

"You wanted to feed the lassie, Aralt. Here's broth for you."

Light gleamed on Aralt's shoulders as he took the bowls with a word of thanks, nudged his tunic off the chest and set the bowls down in its place. "Dry your hair," he said. "I want to see what color it is."

Eba's stomach rolled so violently at the rich smell of food she was surprised he did not hear it. He got up and Eba's gaze flickered from the bowls to Aralt and back again. He sat on the bed and by the time he had tugged off both boots, she still had not moved.

"Well, if you won't, I'll have to." He put one knee on the bed and leaned forward, the towel in both hands. Eba lurched sideways. A warm, musky aroma clouded the air about her and two large palms clapped the towel to her head and began to rub. A memory of her mother drying her hair in the same fashion flashed across her mind, though her mother's gentle hands could never have achieved this roughness. Thought was impossible; her brains were being churned like butter and her ears would be ripped off. Terror turned to indignation. Eba lifted clenched fists and swung at anything of him she could reach.

"Stop it!" she howled. "Stop! Stop!"

Aralt sat back, the damp towel suspended between his hands.

Eba gulped and stared at him. She had struck him! Jesu, but he might take off her head with that sword! She bit down on her lip and tried to hide her terror. Lewd suggestions in raucous male voices hurtled in from every side. Aralt cocked his head, listened and a grin spread across his lean face. Eba heard them, too, and she flushed with color from throat to brow. She ducked her head and clutched the blanket to her chin.

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