Excerpts

From the first WRW collection: Letterbox Love Stories


CURATING LOVE
by Award Winning Author Cara Marsi

A letter inviting Chloe Decker to curate the art collection of the wealthy DiMarco family of Ravello, Italy, lets Chloe begin to picture a new life for herself after the death of her fiancé. But she’d never included her employer’s sexy grandson in that portrait. Matteo DiMarco, the playboy scion of the DiMarco family, will never again let a woman betray him. But sweet, earthy Chloe reawakens old dreams. Wary of losing her heart again, Chloe’s not ready for a relationship, even with a fine Italian masterpiece of a man like Matteo. Besides, her future is in Philadelphia, not Italy. Can Matteo convince her to stay and take a chance on him? Can she open her heart and paint a new picture that includes them both?

Excerpt:

“Are you afraid of me, Signorina Chloe Decker?”

She bristled. “Of course not.”

“Don’t worry, Signorina. Despite what you read about me in the tabloids, I can be a gentleman.”

Tempted to tell him she didn’t want him to be a gentleman, she said instead, “You seem to date some of the world’s most beautiful women.”

“Not every picture tells the true story,” he said softly. “You’re more intriguing than any of those women.”

“Me? Intriguing?”

“You’re a beautiful woman who’s not afraid to speak her mind. I don’t often come across a woman like you.”

“Maybe you’ve been looking in the wrong places.”

He laughed, the sound charming and seductive. “Maybe so.”

The gentle lap of the sea lulled her into relaxing. The night settled around them. Above, the stars spread like diamonds on a black velvet sky. Chloe snuck a peek at Matteo. Her old life seemed very far away.

She sighed.

“Chloe.” Matteo’s whispered word caressed her. 

She turned to find him staring at her, his eyes dark and mysterious in the moonlight.

He brushed his knuckles over her face, the gesture more sensual than any words. Grasping her shoulders, he pulled her gently to him.

When he bent to take her lips in a butterfly-soft kiss, she melted against him. She should resist. She didn’t want to. Since the moment she’d seen him at Duomo Square, she’d wanted to taste him, to feel his full lips, to touch his chiseled face.

His lips firmed over hers, coaxing and teasing, urging her to give more. When he cupped her jaw, heat, like lava from nearby Mt. Vesuvius, scorched her. With a low groan, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave herself over to the delicious feel of Matteo’s lips and hands.

The squawk of a night bird broke the magical spell that held her in its grip. She pushed away from Matteo. Embarrassment and anxiety punched her like twin jabs to her solar plexus. She stood. “I need to get back.” 

As she turned to walk away, he stood and touched her arm until she faced him. 

“I won’t apologize,” he said. “I’ve wanted to kiss you from the minute I laid eyes on you.”



ALL OR NOTHING
by Award-winning Author Denysé Bridger

Casino Coranthos is a playground for wealthy, bored people, but for some, it’s also a place where dreams and promises change lives forever. When a letter becomes part of an unexpected inheritance for Ryann Thomson, her aunt’s past brings her face to face with Ariston Katsaros, a man haunted by loss and driven by anger. As the attraction between them sizzles and grows, can Ryann convince him she isn’t looking to rob him or his father of anything, or will she become a casualty of Ari’s vengeance? In this dangerous game of all or nothing, her heart is at stake as well as her future happiness…


Excerpt:

…Quiet settled between them for long minutes.

“When he sent her the letter, inviting her to Coranthos, I was furious. He was disrespecting my mother’s memory all over again, wasn’t he?”

She knew it was rhetorical question and waited for him to find his words and continue.

“I read the journals on the flight over here,” he admitted. “I understand now. I should have been honest with my father years ago, it would have changed much between us.”

She ignored the fact he’d invaded her aunt’s privacy and his father’s, whatever he’d found in Mel’s words had given him peace and perspective.

“You need to tell him, Ari. Luke deserves to have his son back, and you, my love, need to have your father in your life in a very real way.”

“I want you to return to Greece with me.”

She backed away and shook her head, objecting with words and motion. “No. I don’t want to go back.”

Ari’s eyes gleamed and he smiled. “Come back with me, give father the journals, and I will tell him what happened to them. If you don’t…”

She gasped. “That’s blackmail.”

He nodded, totally without shame. “It is.”

“What if I say no?” Her heart had grown wings and was beating at her ribcage in a frenzied flutter.

Ari eyed her for a minute, and his mouth curved into a grin. “You won’t.”

“You’re far too arrogant.”

Again he nodded in agreement. “Very true.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Ariston stood again and pulled her to her feet. He kissed her softly…



THE MINSTREL BOY 
by Jenny Twist


In 1936 a band of students went off to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Only one came home . . . and he was haunted by the girl he left behind.

Excerpt:

There was a sharp rata-tat-tat and Nick had rolled onto the floor and under the bed before he was properly awake. For a few moments he lay staring up at the bedsprings and feeling monumentally stupid as he waited for the hammering of his heart to slow down. It was not a machine gun that had woken him but the rattle of the letterbox. He was safe in his London house; the war two years in the past.

After a few moments he crawled out from under the bed, brushed the dust off his pyjamas and put on his dressing gown and slippers. At least I know my reactions are still sharp, he thought as he made his way downstairs to see what the postman had brought.

There was a single letter lying on the mat. The address was hand-written in a careful, rounded, familiar script. His heart stumbled in his chest. It couldn’t be, surely? Not after all this time. His fingers trembling slightly, he tore open the envelope and began to read….

Querido Nick, soy Rosa. ¿Me recuerdas…?

Of course he remembered Rosa. She was his first thought in the morning when he woke and his last at night before he slept. His memories were a series of mental snapshots; Rosa in her rough workman’s shirt and trousers, her hair tied back in a bandanna, silhouetted against a harsh Spanish sky, one arm outstretched to throw the grenade; Rosa in the firelight, singing to his mandolin, Rosa lying with her wild black hair spread over the pillow, looking up at him with luminous dark eyes. Oh yes, he remembered Rosa. Rosa haunted him.



PLAIN HARRY
by Lindsay Townsend

Recovering from a brutal marriage, Esther is living quietly as a widow when a letter from her brother Sir Stephen destroys her contented life. Stephen orders her to marry Sir Henry—but who is this “Plain Harry” and how will he treat her?

Set in medieval England in a time when women had few rights, this story shows how love can flourish in the unlikeliest of places and between the unlikeliest of people.

Chapter One: Northern England, Spring 1363

Esther knelt on the floor of her still room, the one place she would be undisturbed, and forced her fingers to uncurl. The scrap of parchment in her hand dropped to the tiles she had so proudly swept that morning. She did not need to read the letter again, since its terms were already seared into her mind.

Sister,
I offered Sir Bertrand D’Acre an insult for which he challenged me. As I have still a broken arm from a previous duel, my place was taken by Sir Henry Leafton, who fought as proxy as my champion and won. Sir Henry asks to be remembered to you. He met you at court last midsummer with your then husband Sir Edmund. As you are now a widow, Henry wishes to court you. I have agreed to the match.

The day after you receive this letter from my herald, Sir Henry will call on you. You will know him. You will be obedient to him. Be ready. We owe him a great debt.
Sir Stephen Armstrong.                       

The parchment scraped along the edge of the table where she made her cordials. Stephen had not written the note—he could scarcely sign his name—but it was his way of speaking, no kind of greeting or salutation, bluff and brutal and always to the point.

 “I am to marry again,” she whispered, through frozen lips. The line, Henry wishes to court you, was nothing more than a pretty fiction, as Stephen had already offered her to the champion who had saved his life. Her forthcoming nuptials were as good as settled.

Esther’s racing heart felt as if it flipped over in her chest as her skin chilled. Memories of bellowing Sir Edmund, of their vile wedding night, of their horrible, short marriage, battered through her afresh and she closed her eyes, willing her slight, trembling body to be still. As a widow she had been independent, looking after her small estate, making her cordials and ales, taking care of her two old retainers, few estate workers and page, beholden to no one.

And now, with a few foolish words, my younger brother ties me back into wedlock. I know Stephen and how his tongue runs away with his wits. Because he could not resist making a cruel remark, he lands himself in trouble, and yet he is not the one who pays. In what way do I owe this stranger, this Sir Henry, a great debt? He did not save my skin.

Esther snatched up the hectoring note—and how typically selfish of Stephen not even to give her the illusion of a choice, not even to have his herald wait for her reply—and crushed it beneath her heel.

“He never asks, he demands! Because he is the son and heir, and the law and the church all say that men have governance over women. Because he would not back down or apologize and had another fight for him, I must now be obedient? How is this fair?”

Her voice rang in the small chamber but no one answered. Through a gap in the window shutters a bee droned into the room and out again. Esther felt that it had taken the spring-time with it.

“It is worse,” she continued aloud, hauling herself upright by the table leg, wondering what cordial she had been preparing when Stephen’s herald had smashed into her life. “What am I to say to Walter?”

Handsome, blond, curly-headed Walter, her own age of nineteen, a good man, a squire and, more frequently of late, a messenger and herald. He served neighbors of hers, Sir Richard and Lady Constance, and always lingered a little when he delivered messages from them. He praised her cordials and teased her in a gallant, sweet way, calling her “Mistress Bright Eyes” and “his nimble-fingered physic”. He gossiped like a magpie and was less than kind in his quips about her old retainers, but she liked him.

Walter respects me. My brother would say he is a landless squire, ready to flirt with any woman with a little riches, but Walter has never demanded anything of me. At night in her narrow bed, Esther sometimes imagined running away to the crusades with Walter, of their making a life together in the mysterious east, or the Mongol court.

That pleasant day-dream must be over. I have to marry Sir Henry.

Esther resumed grinding coriander, ginger and cardamom to make her compost, the chutney that Agnes and Adam liked and that Walter said went well with all meats. Bent over the mortar, the swirl of sweet spices no longer making her smile, she tried to recall every Henry she had ever met. Harder than it seems, since Henry is a popular name.

A dark face tumbled like a leaf in a breeze through her memory. Esther crushed another batch of coriander seeds and let the ghost flit back to her again.

A time at court last spring, when the cuckoo had just begun to call, as now. The great hall at Winchester, fragrant with fresh strewing herbs and colorful with the king’s wall tapestries. She had been hurting, because Sir Edmund had beaten her the previous evening, blaming her for his impotence and for not gifting him an heir. Colliding with the edge of a trestle, she had been unable to disguise a wince when a cloaked and hooded stranger had clasped her hand and softly drew her aside, shielding her from her stomping husband.

“Be well, my lady,” the stranger wished in a low voice. Tempted and reassured by such rare kindness Esther had peeped up into his hood—and seen the face of a demon, pox-scarred and livid. He had cold blue eyes and haggard features, pale where they were not ridged with black pits and broken veins.

Clearly aware of her shock, expecting it, the man’s thin mouth jerked into a crooked smile and he gave a brief bow. “Sir Henry of Leafton, at your service. I will take my leave now.”

Lanky and gray as a heron, he melted away into the crowds of knights and stewards before she could apologize. When Sir Edmund jabbed her bruised side and hissed at her to attend him, Esther had tried to forget her ill manners, although Sir Henry’s ruined, burnt-looking features had haunted her dreams for several nights after.

“Plain Harry,” he was known, throughout the court. She had spotted him the following day, a head taller than most and always courteous, ignoring gasps and rude finger-pointing and striding gracefully through the press of courtiers with that crooked smile and keen eyes that missed little. Including herself, it now seemed.

I remember him. And clearly he still remembers me. The pestle dropped from her nerveless fingers and Esther wrapped her arms about her middle, trying to rock for comfort. What can he want with me, except revenge? But revenge for what? For what my brother did or for some unknown insult I gave him? What?

* * * *

Plain Harry knew he did not suit his nick-name. He had been plain before the pox had scarred him at eight years old, but now he was ugly. Gangling, too, and it did not seem to matter that he moved smoothly, stealthily if need be, or that his hair was blacker than a midwinter night and curled whenever it was damp.


MORE THAN WISHES
by Rose Anderson (writing as Madeline Archer)

Raised on a sailor’s tales of adventure and eager for her own, Stella Cunningham answers an advertisement for a traveling companion to the Orient. There she purchases an ancient bronze lamp with a secret. In the land of flying carpets and genies, Stella is about to have the adventure of a lifetime.

Excerpt:

Constantinople, Turkey (1889)

While the brothers Pratt saw to their warehouse, Mrs. Pratt took Stella to the Kapali Carsi. Attended by a half-dozen porters and two very intimidating interpreters, they navigated the sea of humanity in the Grand Bazaar in search of goods for English connoisseurs.

Despite the fact her companions had described it all in detail on more than one occasion, and regardless of the fact that she had been to this bustling marketplace thirteen times in two weeks, Stella found the city’s cosmopolitanism a surprise. The land and its people were at once lavish and meager. Turkey was a literal conflux of ideas, cultures, and beliefs, and all were found in the open marketplace. She found it dazzling to the imagination and redolent with all manner of exotic aromas from unwashed camel driver to jasmine.

From her grandfather’s tales, Stella knew a good deal about the ports of the world and was aware of Constantinople’s long and thriving spice trade. As a destination on the famed Silk Road, Constantinople had been a caravan crossroads between the East and the West for more than two thousand years. Now, the Pratts were eager to add spices to their inventory.

A commotion in a market stall drew Stella’s attention. There, a portly turbaned man shouted and gestured angrily at a filthy peddler. Stella didn’t understand a bit of what was said between them, but supposed the merchant wanted nothing the peddler was selling. This proved to be the case when the merchant grabbed the sack from the peddler and tossed it into the street. The peddler ran after it, then dismissing the merchant with a wave of his hand, hoisted it over his shoulder and walked away.

Finding Stella and her companion standing there, the round merchant adjusted his turban and chuckled nervously. He told Mrs. Pratt, “That is nothing, hanimefendileri. I assure you. I try never to do business with beggars. I tell them: What can you possibly find in your dung heaps to tempt me, eh?” Gapped teeth flashing brightly against his thick dark beard, he rushed to unroll a thick, plush carpet. “Allow me to show my carpets, madam. All very nice. And this one, this is the finest carpet in all the marketplace.”

Clearly interested in the man’s wares, Mrs. Pratt set her negotiator on him. Her attention now elsewhere, she pulled Stella along to look at a beautiful assortment of Meerschaum pipes and hookahs in the next stall.

Left with lingering curiosity, Stella asked her companion, “Aren’t you the least curious as to what that peddler might have found?”

Mrs. Pratt, said, “The beggar? He likely has nothing of value, dear.” She quickly amended that statement, adding, “Though grandfather did once purchase a gold armband from a beggar. It was Minoan in style, I believe. Very old. I suppose the lesson is one never really knows unless they see for themselves.” She tipped back her parasol and scanned the row of stalls. “He’s over there, dear. See the melon cart? Just beyond. Take Mehmed with you.”

On her very first day in the marketplace, Mrs. Pratt warned that a young woman was as tradable as anything else here and one must always be wary. She cautioned her to go nowhere unescorted, and to punctuate her point, told of European women taken for the many harems in the Orient. Once captured, the women were never heard from again. Heeding her advice, Stella asked the imposing interpreter to join her.

The ragged man was an affront to the nose, but friendly overall and eager for her coin. With Mehmed translating, Stella learned the goods came from an ancient city long ago lost to time. Mehmed raised an eyebrow, his skepticism spurring the peddler to shout that it was all true. Going to his knees, the man thrust his hand into his sack purposefully.

After much clanging and rummaging, he pulled forth what Stella assumed were his best goods and laid them on the ground. Among them, she spied an old lamp so badly tarnished the bronze appeared black. Seeing her interest, he promptly handed it over. She’d seen many lamps — of all shapes and sizes — in the past several days, but she hadn’t seen another like this one. It was hard to tell, as black and grimy as it was, but the lamp’s ornate lid appeared to be set in an intricate mosaic of colored glass. She just had to have it. It would be the first of many mementoes of her travels.

The haggling began in earnest and both parties walked away happy.



SEALED WITH A KISS
(Time Travel Bureau Book 1)
by Lynn Crain

In 2084, time travelling detective, Tandi Reynolds, tipped off by a letter, needs to stop an assassin before he kills a newly elected leader. When she finds him in 1874, Vienna, it’s clear a cold blooded killer is only one of her problems. Time is fleeting, so falling in love with her contact, the charismatic  Count Leopold Radetzky von Radetz, is a bad idea, but keeping her feelings in check is not easy when she relies on him for her every need.

Excerpt:

She couldn’t believe she was here, nor when here was. True time travel had always been theoretically possible, but…she stretched her neck, trying not to think about it…she had a job to do, then hopefully return to her well-ordered life.

Hell, who was she kidding? Once she got back, her life would be anything but well-ordered as she’d be unique, being someone who had successfully time-travelled. Unfortunately, that would all be kept within the confines of the Time Travel Bureau as the world could never know how they were kept safe from the Desmond Draeggers of the world. They’d even made her sign a non-disclosure document before MI6 would let her step inside their damn time travel device.

Let’s face it, the only reason she was sent back here was that the letter had come to her and it was a direct threat on the man who would lead the European Union. She tried to get her bearings as she looked around her. It took a moment before she could see the lush grounds attached to a Viennese Palace. The gentle noise from the running water calmed her nerves as she moved, a little unsteadily, toward it.

She soon found herself at the edge of a magnificent fountain, complete with cherubs and horses and…what were those things? She leaned over, cupped her hands and pulled the cool water over her face. It did little to dissipate the nausea she felt welling up. She now realized she should not have eaten the huge pastrami sandwich the night before she left and heaved the contents of her stomach into the fountain.

The sharp intake of breath behind her, made her turn and sink to the ground with a slight moan. The handsome man with dark hair and blue eyes was talking to her but Tandi couldn’t understand a word he said even though she knew it was German. Any other time and she’d be drooling over how attractive the man was. Through her sickness haze, she reached up and pushed the small button behind her ear. To most, it would look like a mole but to her it would be a lifesaver as it would prompt her understanding of a language she wasn’t proficient in. And the tone of the man couldn’t be more clear.

“Tell me you didn’t just puke in my fountain?” He gave a disgusted click of his tongue and frowned at her before moving to her side. His hand went to her head. “You’re clammy. Guess time travel is rough going, huh?” He questioned, switching to English. Hauling her to her feet, he then swept her up in his arms when her knees buckled. “I guess you’re the great Tandi Reynolds, the woman sent to save the world.”


ABANDONED TREASURES
by Gemma Juliana

What do a reality TV star and a Sardinian billionaire have in common? While buying the contents of an abandoned storage unit, Sophie Hayes acquires a piece of furniture that hides a long lost secret. When the famous Rico di Carlo pays an outrageous price for the rare antique desk and sends Sophie an invitation to deliver it in person, she sees it as a golden getaway after dumping her fiancé. What better way to spend what would have been her honeymoon than with a handsome stranger at his exotic island estate? The reclusive widower has secrets of his own—when he lures Sophie into his world he only has one week to convince her to stay forever.

Excerpt:

“Guess where I’m going in two days?” Sophie said.

Maybe the glee bubbling in her words caught Mona’s attention. She stopped dead and looked up.

“You tell me,” she shot back, sweeping dark hair out of her smoky brown eyes. “One place I know you’re not going is to the altar, thanks to good-for-nothing Cheating Paul. I’m sorry it’s been in those trash-talking tabloids and on the gossip show circuit, hon, but at least something’s pulled you out of the dour humor you’ve been in.”

“I guess my pinch of fame qualifies me for the rag-mags as some people call them.” Sophie rose from her chair on wobbly legs and rounded her desk. Even mention of her rotten ex-fiancé and a humiliating tabloid exposé about their break-up last month didn’t dampen her mood.

“You sure don’t look as put out about it as I expected,” Mona observed, a manicured finger tapping her scarlet lips.

“That’s because he did me a favor.” Leaning against the desk with arms crossed over her chest, Sophie beamed. “Wouldn’t you agree that the best way to spend what would have been my honeymoon week is to hop on a private jet and be the guest of an eligible billionaire on an island in the Mediterranean Sea?”

“You’re kidding, right?” Mona’s mouth hung open. “What did I miss?”

“The courier, ten minutes ago.” Sophie grinned mischievously. “Life can change in the blink of an eye.”


COME DATE ME IN PARIS
by Helena Fairfax

When a letter arrives telling Alice she's won a place on a TV blind date show, she should be excited - only trouble is, the show involves cooking for your date...and in the country of haute cuisine, Alice is the only person who can't even boil an egg. Forced to throw herself on the mercy of her chef neighbour, Edmond, Alice asks him for lessons. But will she be cooking up a romance...or cooking up disaster?

Excerpt:

Alice’s mouth salivated at the sight of the colourful fruit and vegetables piled high on all sides. There were bunches of bananas dangling from great iron hooks; fluffy white cauliflowers nestling in pale green leaves; oranges of dazzling colour; sweet, crisp radishes, and great piles of salad herbs such as chives, sorrel, and basil. Further on they came to a row of cheese stalls - waxy red Dutch cheeses, and triangles of Brie, as well as round, oozing Camembert. The pungent, earthy smell of the cheeses filled the air, until they rounded a corner, and here were all the fish stalls, and the smell of cheese was overtaken by the salty, tangy smell of the sea.

Alice was familiar with the fillets of salmon, with their shiny pink hue, but alongside them were round, mottled fish with great spikes such as she’d never seen before, and fierce-looking specimens with glassy eyes that seemed to follow her as they passed. There were enormous mounds of crayfish, massive brown crabs, and rose pink langoustine, shiny white squid, and glistening black mussels.

Edmond came to a halt in front of a bucket of lobsters, whose claws waved threateningly as he approached.

“Ah,” he said, with a sidelong look at Alice. “Now this is just the thing to impress your TV date.”

Alice took one glance at the live lobsters and recoiled, horrified. “You can’t expect me to cook one of those! And what if it got out of its bag and started crawling round my apartment?”

The hairs on the back of her neck literally lifted at the thought. Edmond burst out laughing.

“Oh.” Alice thumped his arm in relief. “You’re teasing me.”

His eyes crinkled with mirth. “I can just imagine it. The cameraman, the pan of boiling water, the lobster making a bid for freedom live on TV.”

He lifted his arms and began making clawing motions with his fingers.

Alice couldn’t help giggling, but at the thought of the live TV her laughter dried. In a short while she’d be in front of millions of people, making a complete idiot of herself. Then she remembered the show wasn’t actually live, but that didn’t help. The producers would probably edit it to make her look as big a fool as possible.

Seeing her downcast expression, Edmond brought his hands to his sides.

“Hey,” he said. “Don’t look so worried. I’ll show you how to make something simple, yet delicious. Something that will amaze everyone.”

He put his arm around her and gave her a brief hug. It was a friendly gesture, nothing more, but Alice was surprised at how breathless it made her feel. Edmond turned away straight afterwards to examine the array of shellfish in front of them. With his tanned features and dark, lively eyes, he cut a handsome figure in the crowded market. Then one of the stall-holders began to flirt with him, and Edmond responded with the same charming smile he’d given Alice.

Alice gave a mental shrug before swooping down to pick up Sweetie, whose nose was getting just a little too close to the lobsters’ claws for comfort.

“Watch out, Sweetie,” she warned. She eyed Edmond again, who was still laughing with the young woman serving him, and wondered if it was a warning she should be heeding herself.



SONS OF THE WIND
by Marie Laval

Provence 1826. Ten years after her brother disappeared in the marshes of the Camargue, Venetia Rigby receives a letter suggesting he is still alive. Will Philippe Dantès, half-gipsy master of Terres Mortes, help her find him when he has his own demons to fight?

Excerpt:

The marshes were exactly as Venetia remembered - exactly like in her nightmares. Stretching all the way to the grey ribbon of the sea, their monotony was broken only by tufts of white and purple flowers, and rushes that moved and swished in the breeze.

She remembered the scents, too. Salt, rotting vegetation, and death. Gripping her bag more tightly, she hurried on the path. It was deserted on that hot, humid afternoon, but the fisherman who had taken her up in his horse and cart in Arles had been adamant that it led to Les Saintes Maries. Ten years had passed since she’d last been there, but this desolate place had never left her. Even now, despair and guilt churned inside her, almost choking the faint glimmer of hope brought by Capitaine Lepic’s letter.

Yet there was hope. She had to believe.

She stopped to catch her breath and wipe the sweat pearling on her forehead. Her skirt and jacket were far too hot for summer in the South of France, but she had been in such a rush to leave London that she’d only packed a few things before sneaking out of the school. She hadn’t bothered asking Miss Hadley for leave. Her headmistress would only have shaken her head in refusal. By now she probably had given her things to a charity and hired another impoverished young lady to take her place.

Thunder rumbled overhead and Venetia glanced anxiously at the black clouds crowding the sky. Scanning her surroundings she saw a small building with white-washed walls in the distance. If she walked fast she might reach it before the storm.

A sudden gust of wind whipped sand and grit into her face and ripped her hat from her chignon. She dropped her bag to the ground and tried to catch it but she wasn’t fast enough. It swirled in the wind and landed in a nearby pond.

“Drat!” It was her only hat.

A bolt of lightning whizzed across the sky, followed by a clap of thunder so loud the earth shook, and the heavens opened. Big fat rain drops bounced off the path and pitted the surface of the pond. Her clothes and hair were soaked through in seconds.

That was just what she needed. Now she would look like a tramp when she arrived at the village. Letting out a cry of frustration, she brushed a strand of wet hair from her face and trudged on through the pouring rain.

The pounding of hooves resounded on the path. Something huge and black was galloping straight at her - a horse and its black-clad rider. A few more seconds and he would knock her over. As she skipped to one side, her foot caught on a rock and she lost her balance. The back of her head hit something hard and the world exploded in a myriad of dazzling lights.

The last thing she saw before passing out was the rider’s brandy-coloured eyes glaring at her from under the rim of his black gardian hat, and the grim set of his mouth as he struggled to control his mount. The last thing she heard after yet another crashing of thunder was the man’s voice. “Diable. Du calme, mon brave.”

Diable. The devil. How appropriate, in this god-forsaken place.