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First Page: Stand Apart – Fantasy, Romance

First Page: Stand Apart – Fantasy, Romance

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The child was burning up with fever and as the night grew older her condition worsened. Mauren once more wiped a wet cloth across her daughter’s brow. It made no difference. The prayers hadn’t worked either. The head priest, Brother Eamonn himself, had come by earlier and given her the sacred ointments and holy sand. He’d stayed and prayed with them for hours. Mauren had been full of hope and faith; she’d seen such prayers work before. But the hours she and her husband had spent on their knees meant nothing.

Eventually Brother Eamonn had stood. She had always been a little overawed by him. Rumour said he was especially beloved of both the God and the earthly rulers. Now Brother Eamonn smiled at her, sympathetically, and it was more frightening than any of his stern sermons. She knew it meant that the Blessed One wanted her baby, her little girl. She tried to prepare herself for that, to accept it with the grace, the thankfulness, such an honour deserved. But after the priest left she stayed on her knees by Senda’s bedside while her husband continued to pray at the little altar upstairs.

But God wasn’t listening and her little Senda was still caught in this deadly fever.

The house shook with the wind and in the distance there was the wild roar of the sea. A log shifted in the grate, sending up star-blue sparks. It needed tending, but Mauren couldn’t pull herself away from the bedside, couldn’t stop herself from counting each and every rasping breath of her daughter. It was nearly midnight and Mauren caught herself in a superstitious shudder. The hour of changing. Sen was growing ever quieter now. Earlier she’d twisted and fought, shouting nonsense in confusion and fear. Mauren found the stillness worse.

She watched her daughter, dry-eyed. This was a pain beyond tears. If only the Temple had not banned the healers from their craft. It was a blasphemous thought and once she would have felt guilty for it, but once too she could have taken Sen to the hospital and gotten medicine and aid with which to fight this sickness. The healers were wrong, of course they were, to practice arts that sullied the body and taunted the wisdom of the Blessed One. But only a few years ago she would not have had to rely on prayers alone, prayers that no one answered. Except her sister had said there was another way, in whispers, away from the knowing eyes of the priest. She had even offered… but Mauren had refused and it was too late now.

Except suddenly there was a soft tap against the window. She glanced up but saw only her own candlelit reflection in the glass. There was another tap. She stood and hurried to the window, throwing it open. The curtains and the edge of the rug stirred in the sudden breeze. In the flowerbed beneath the window stood two men, one plump and white-skinned, the other slim and black-skinned. Both wore kindly expressions and gentlemanly cravats.

“Good evening,” the plump one said with a bow. “We were told you might be in need of some assistance.”

“I – ” Mauren almost agreed but cut herself off just in time. This could be a trap. There were harsh penalties for those who engaged the services of a healer. “Who are you?” She demanded instead. “What are you doing loitering here? It’s after curfew, you know.”

The two men glanced at each.

The slim one cleared his throat. “My dear lady,” he said. “We mean no harm. We heard from someone close to you that you needed help.”

“We prefer not to give our names,” the fat one interjected. “But your daughter is ill, is she not?”

Mauren nodded, heart in her throat.

“Then we can help,” he said softly. “If you’ll let us.”

First Page: Lord Sebastian’s Honor  – Historical Romance

First Page: Lord Sebastian’s Honor – Historical Romance

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

Travellers Club
London, May 1851

“It’s a sure sign that I had too much to drink,” Sebastian said, “when I start imagining beautiful women coming into my bedroom and taking their clothes off.” The young woman did not reply. She merely let her chemise fall to the floor and stepped out of it.

Sebastian de Mornay had the feeling that he’d missed something. It was the same sensation he got when he been reading a book and skipped a page by mistake. Or, more accurately, as if he had been going down a staircase in the dark and missed a step.  The feeling of being caught off guard and coming to ground with a thump. Surely, he thought, he’d have remembered if he’d propositioned a woman tonight?

It wasn’t as if there had been many women in his life lately. He’d only arrived in England on the Marie Therese last week, eager to find his way back out of the country as soon as he could get another expedition funded. Which is what had brought him to the Travelers Club tonight in the first place.

He remembered a banquet room: brandy fumes, cigar smoke, and the sound of self-important men trying to out–bombast each other with their endless speeches. But not one beautiful woman, not even a single doe-eyed houri. You’d think that there would have been at least one, he mused, considering this was a club devoted to exploring the remote and exotic.

And this woman certainly qualified. Her dark eyes were as beautiful and mysterious as the nubile denizen of a sultan’s harem. She removed the last pin from her coiffure and her hair tumbled down around her. He had forgotten how beautiful a woman’s hair could look when it was unbound. Dark hair parted around a pale oval face and flowed down over bare white shoulders, a dark waterfall that provided entrancing glimpses of smooth white skin… It had been a long five months on that ship. If he looked at those curves much longer, he was going to forget the fundamental absurdity of this situation.

One moment he was sitting in bed reading, getting ready to go to sleep, and the next thing he knew the door handle had turned and a woman had walked into his room without a word of explanation. Perhaps it was the brandy that fogged his memory. He couldn’t recall ever seeing her before. She hadn’t been dressed as a servant; she had looked like a perfectly respectable young lady. At least, she had looked like a lady until she started taking off her clothes.

He should have paid more attention. Sebastian knew that now, as he watched her remove the last scrap of clothing and stand before him, cloaked like Lady Godiva only in her long hair.
She came closer. As she moved, the dark concealing waterfall of hair shifted, revealing the pale curve of a hip here, the stray glimpse of a breast there… Sebastian dragged his eyes away from her body as she drew back the bed covers. His hand shot out and grasped her wrist, stopping her. She regarded him without moving an inch. Her dark eyes were watchful. There was a kind of quiet dignity about her, which was more than Sebastian could say for himself.

“I don’t know quite how to put this,” he said, “but — have we met?”