They have lived for centuries. An ancient, secretive race of were-panthers faced with near extinction. To assure their survival they must conceal their identities and abilities, while protecting mankind from an unimaginable, primordial evil.
As an Abcynian Elder, Garrick Forrester has survived wars, plagues, and arranged marriages. Nothing he’s experienced prepares him for the discovery of his mate living in his demesne, or for her resistance.
While aiding a child, Aisley Reeves is rescued by the Earl of Danford, whom a village healer should never dare approach without being summoned. At first, she is fascinated with the dark, mesmerizing lord who tempts her in a way no man has ever done. After he claims she’s to become his betrothed, she balks.
Already fearful her work and red hair might cause some to brand her as a witch, she believes it is best to keep her distance. When Aisley suffers a near mortal injury at the hands of his enemies, Garrick must gain her trust so that he can protect her. But can she trust her life to a man who is far more than…human?
This series starts in 1453 and moves through the centuries. The jumps are of course because of the extremely long lives of the Abcynian’s and so we meet everyone necessary for peace to finally reign.
Garrick Forrester, Earl of Danford has finally returned home after years away, he’s surprised as he reaches his senses out over his lands to sense the presence of a female who could possibly be his mate. He’s deep in thought when he’s startled by the voice of his friend Lucien Montgomery, Lord Raybourne. Lucien has brought his son Valient to be trained as a knight.
Now this woman who could be his mate is also the healer Aisley. Her parents been Abcynian guards and so knew of the abilities of the Earl. What motivates Garrick to make a move is when she puts herself in danger to save a child from a shyster.
This is a favorite scene.
The villagers relayed their wishes and Aisley stepped back. She could not deny them a few moments pleasure. More coins hit the ground as Sedgewick demanded. Apparently pleased with the villagers, the visitor bowed once again in acceptance.
“Ah, at last my performers will grant your due,” Haywood pronounced. Proudly, he moved to the side.
Both the minstrel and the jester beckoned to the crowd and the curtain before them. Whispers filled the air, but they could not mask the eerie sawing drawing ever closer to the village. Did no one else hear the beast? It sounded as if he boomed from a mountaintop.
“Is someone cutting branches in the forest?” she asked.
“I hear nothing of the sort, Aisley,” Howard said.
Cease, little one, only you can hear me. I am close. Do not provoke the strangers, I will protect you and my tenants, someone said, a man, with a deep, gruff voice spoken so close to her ear, she swore his breath brushed her ear.
Unbidden, the scent of cinnamon tickled her nose, the memory it triggered bittersweet. Her father had always favored it in his porridge, a rarity to be certain, as it’d been a gift from Lord Danford in return for his physician’s fealty.
You like cinnamon, I shall procure some from the kitchens for you by the morrow. Ease your worry, it will be all right. Again, that voice, so compelling, so distinct and male, reached her.
“Who spoke to me of cinnamon?” Aisley demanded, glancing about. The villagers stared back as though she’d gone mad.
“Your attention, healer,” Haywood insisted. “To one and all, I give you living proof of werewolves in England!”
“Werewolves…are you mad, Haywood?” Andrew asked.
“Nay, I tell you true, feast your eyes on a werewolf’s babe.” Sedgewick swept his right hand toward the jester, who sliced a rope and the curtain shushed to the ground.
“Dastard!” Aisley cried as the villagers gasped. A little girl with large, rounded blue eyes stared at them and wept, pleading for love.
“What did you call me, woman?” Haywood questioned, his tone turning menacing.
“It matters not! How dare you cage a child?” she accused, her heart lurching painfully at the site of the girl’s dirt-strewn hair and face. Her eyes were different than most English children, though the fear within them reflected unspeakable cruelty.
“It is for yours and the villagers’ safety, dear lady.”
“Nay, this is an atrocity the likes of which none of us have seen.”
“All should know by now there’s no such thing as werewolves,” Howard said. “You show us an unfortunate child.”
“Can you not see her deformity? She is eight, practically mute with the mind of a babe,” Haywood insisted. “This occurs in the offspring of a werewolf.”
“You speak of what is evil!” Andrew White shouted.
“There is no evil here,” Aisley warned. Talk of evil could spread quickly amongst the villagers. “This little girl is an angel from God, not some mythical creature.”
“Mayhap the healer feels herself capable of speaking for God,” Sedgewick hedged, rounding on Aisley and marching toward her.
“There is nothing wrong in speaking of God.”
“Yet, you are certain you can dispel the existence of evil.”
“Evil is a man who can cage a child!” Aisley accused.
“How dare you speak to me with such disrespect! I see standing before me a woman of flame red hair, freckles, and a dark patch of skin right beneath her chin, one who shouldn’t be so outspoken.” Sedgewick looked at the villagers. “Your healer bears the marks of a witch.”
Unbidden, tiny bumps pricked Aisley’s skin as Sedgewick spoke of witchcraft. Because of her father’s teachings, Danford’s villagers and tenants did not believe a birthmark was the sign of evil. But such talk could sway minds, causing hysteria.
“My father and mother were good, decent Christians, as am I,” she said.
“She speaks the truth,” Andrew added in her defense.
The jester and the minstrel pulled long, sharp daggers from their scabbards. Andrew and others stepped forward to protect the women. Aisley turned away, rushing to the cage.
Realizing she shouldn’t have been so outspoken, she tried reason. “Please, free this child, let me take care of her,” she urged and reached for the door.
“Step away anon,” he sneered. “She was sold to me by a mother who’d have let her starve and has been in my charge for nigh unto three years. She is all but an animal that can only cry and bite if you venture too close. Would you care to see the teeth marks she’s left?”
“Mayhap she cries of hunger and defends herself out of fear. I am a healer. I can take care of her.”
Aisley faced the little girl, attempting to smile, to soothe as best she could from the slight distance. She would love to trace her wispy brown hair back behind her ears and wash away the dirt streaked across her sweet, plump face. Or, provide a warm meal and a safe place to sleep.
“You will be all right, angel,” she said, speaking gently so as not to frighten her further. “I promise to do right by you.” Paying no mind to the rush of voices warning her to stop, she rushed to the cage, seeking a key or a means to open it.
“Healer, take your hand from that door or I will smite you where you stand,” Sedgewick threatened, slamming her from behind into the cold, hard cage.
The sing of a sword echoed in her ear, still she showed no fear even as the stranger grasped her hair and jerked it so hard, her neck nearly snapped. From the corner of her eye, she saw the stranger raise his arm, the gleam of a blade frightening as she waited to die for the girl’s freedom.
“Touch what’s mine, knave, you will face a wrath unlike anything you could comprehend!” A man’s unexpected voice rumbled behind them, a haunting growl emanating all around her, within her.
Released at once, she looked about, discovering a man of considerable height and size for an Englishman hefted Haywood with a big hand wrapped about his throat. The stranger’s feet dangled from the ground, his eyes bulging.
Something within Aisley shifted, awakened, as if sensing her entire world would one day center upon her rescuer. Though she knew it was wrong to look right at a man whose finery marked him as a man of considerable rank, she couldn’t avert her gaze.
There was enough gray light left in the day to reveal his green eyes. Long straight hair fell between broad shoulders in a sleek black curtain. His face, free of beard growth, allowed her to see the sharp arch of his cheekbones, prominent nose, and strong squared chin.
Finding herself staring at his full, masculine lips, she felt an odd flutter low in her belly. There was no doubt that the man was strong, powerful, his bearing so proud she thought he was capable of standing just as he was for hours, mayhap days.
His long, muscular legs were encased in black braies and thigh-high boots. The expanse of his chest was apparent in a silver and blue cote-hardie. Though he’d not given in to gluttony, it amazed her to think such a big man could come upon the villagers without being heard.
As she stared, soldiers on horseback closed in on the common, joining their lord, swords drawn. Aisley knew who’d come to her aid.
The Earl of Danford maintained a lethal hold upon Sedgewick’s throat, and the rumbling growl continued, freezing her to the spot.
Stockton, Frances. Persuasion (The Abcynians). Kindle Locations (167-235). Kindle Edition.
This encounter not only saves the child, but also confirms that Aisley is Garrick’s mate. Although she is not exactly sure she can just accept that.
It also is the beginning of something far more nefarious. Sedgewick teams up with something far more dangerous than he could possibly imagine.
Aisley leads Garrick on a merry chase as he tries to keep her out of danger and eliminate an unimaginable evil.
Plenty of action, romance and sizzle in this book I couldn’t put down.
5 Contented Purrs for Frances!
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My love for storytelling began when I created my first fictional characters in kindergarten, convincing my family and friends that Red Henry and Green Henry were identical twin brothers in my school. They were mischievous, rarely did their homework, and even had girlfriends! Years later, I started to write, completing my first manuscript in middle school. I confess the heroine was a cross between a contemporary Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nancy Drew, who’d been dating one of the Hardy Boys, but when I wrote “the end” I’d known I had more stories to tell. Of course, life intervened, but whether I was in high school, working as a Veterinary Technician, earning a degree in history and secondary education, or teaching, I was always writing and reading romances.
Finally, I met and married my hero and moved to New England. Shortly after, I joined RWA and the New England Chapter and have been writing faithfully ever since. I invite you to come and meet the Panthera.