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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Kerrelyn Sparks' LESS THAN A GENTLEMAN (Excerpt)

Hello lovelies! Have you by chance seen the sequel and recent release to Kerrelyn Sparks historical romance, The Forbidden Lady? If not then you are in for a treat! We have information on the book, Less Than A Gentleman, and a sizable excerpt just below, check it out!


Less Than a GentlemanLess Than A Gentleman
by Kerrelyn Sparks
Avon Impulse | On Sale: 7/2/2013| eBook ISBN 9780062128799| $3.99
Goodreads | Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
“Fans of Sparks’s paranormal romances may be surprised by the lack of vampires, but will not be disappointed.” —Publishers Weekly on Less Than A Gentleman

About the Book
Matthias Murray Thomas is many things: a freedom fighter, the heir to a sprawling estate, a soldier and a rogue—but her is certainly less than a gentleman. Which is why when he finds the delectably sassy redhead, Caroline Munro, in his bed (posing as a his heretofore non-existent fiancé), he poses as the mysterious (and sometimes dead) butler, Haversham, determined to ferret out the truth. 
Caroline Munro is trying to hold together her war-torn family. But with a heavily pregnant sister, a feisty niece and nephew, and a brother, father, and brother-in-law who are currently M.I.A., her options are…unsavory, to say the least. So she poses as the wife to be of Matthias Murray Thomas—all the while endeavoring to spy on the redcoats who’ve taken residence in Loblolly Manor…with the help of the redoubtable “Thomas Haversham.” But as the threat level from the British escalates, so does the connection—and the heat level—between Caroline and Matthias. With war raging all around them and a serious case of mistaken identities, will their love be able to grow?




EXCERPT:

CHAPTER ONE
South Carolina
Friday, August 25, 1780



            Captain Matthias Murray Thomas tugged at the ropes that bound his hands behind his back. The gradual lightening of the night sky, visible through the open window, warned him he was running out of time. With the coming of dawn, he and his companions would be marched to their death.


            His movements caused a drop to trickle down his arm. Either blood from his shoulder wound or sweat, he could no longer tell, for the hot, humid air was thick with the scent of both. Mosquitoes hummed over them, enjoying the feast of defenseless men.


            The call of a wood warbler claimed his attention and brought back memories of his youth. His family would spend the summer months in Charles Town, then return to the plantation in the fall, where the song of the wood warbler would greet him. Every year the birds rested for the autumn months in the South Carolina marshlands before continuing their migration south.


            The warbler’s song pierced the air, jolting him back to the present. He and the other captured soldiers were being held in an abandoned house just north of Nelson’s Ferry on the Santee River. In August.


            The first rays of dawn crept through the open window giving shape and form to the huddled mass on the floor. His fellow prisoners lay sprawled around him, either snoring or moaning from untended wounds. As the ranking officer, he had stayed awake all night to watch over his doomed men.


            The youngster beside him whimpered in his sleep. Fourteen years old, the boy had said. Too young for a soldier and far too young to hang as a traitor.           


Matthias searched the blue uniforms to locate his cousin and winced at the sight of Richard’s blood-crusted face. Two English guards, equipped with bayonet-tipped muskets, stood at the door, their red coats easy to spot in the dim light.


            The boy beside him flinched. 


            Matthias nudged him with his boot. “Simon.”


            The boy awoke with a shout.


            The sound drew the attention of the guards. They frowned at Matthias, apparently holding him accountable for the sudden noise.


            “You’ll hold your tongue if you know what’s good for you,” the taller guard warned him.


            Matthias shrugged his uninjured shoulder. “It was a bad dream. I’m afraid of the dark.”


            The guard snorted. “Yankee cowards. I’ve seen how you turn tail and run.”


            A low rumble of curses grew as the prisoners sat up and responded to the insult.


            “Dammit, Greville, don’t get them riled up,” the second guard warned his companion.


            “Are you all right?” Matthias whispered, his voice masked by the grumbling of the prisoners.       


            Simon struggled to a sitting position. “I dreamed about the battle.”


            Matthias nodded. The battle at Camden had been one of the worst in his experience. “Was it your first?”


            Simon’s eyes filled with tears, and he blinked to keep them from falling. “I didn’t turn tail and run.”


            “No, you fought bravely.”


            “You saw me?”


            “Yes, I did,” Matthias lied. “You held your ground.”


            A hint of a smile crossed Simon’s face, then disappeared. “What will they do to us in Charles Town?”


            Either kill us slowly in prison or quickly by the gallows. “We’re not there yet.” Matthias planted his feet on the floor and bracing himself against the wall, he pushed to a standing position. He ambled toward the guards--the tall one named Greville and a shorter, freckle-faced one with carrot-colored hair.


            “Halt,” Greville ordered.


            Matthias motioned with his head to the chamber pot in the corner. “I need to relieve myself.”


            The freckle-faced guard shrugged. “Then do it.”


            “Regrettably, in my current condition, I find myself unable to unfasten my breeches or...handle the equipment. If you would care to assist me?” Matthias arched a brow at him. “Seeing that you’re English, you might enjoy it.”


            “The hell you say.” Freckle-face pointed his bayonet at Matthias. “Greville, tie his hands in front.”


            Matthias watched calmly as Greville eased a long, gleaming knife from his leather scabbard. “Hmm, an Englishman with ten inches. Do I dare turn my back?”


            “Shut your foul mouth, Yankee.” Greville jerked at his arm to spin him around.


            Matthias gritted his teeth as more blood oozed from his shoulder wound. He surveyed his fellow prisoners. Dried blood and dirt etched their weary expressions with shades of rust and brown, but the early sun caught the glimmer of hope in their eyes. They were counting on him. Better to die, providing their escape, than to march with them to the gallows like obedient sheep.


            Greville sawed through his ropes. “Turn.”


            He pivoted and stretched his hands forward so the guard could loop more rope around his wrists. Greville’s knife rested in its leather-tooled scabbard, so damned close Matthias’ fingers itched to grab it.


            Click. Freckle-face cocked his musket.


           Patience, Matthias reminded himself. Timing is everything.  He sauntered to the corner and relieved himself. After buttoning his breeches, he leaned over.


            “What the devil are you doing?” Greville demanded.


            Matthias turned slowly, clutching the edge of the chamber pot in his bound hands. Freckle-face had assumed a firing stance.


            “The thunder mug is full, and the men will need to use it. I thought I’d empty it out the window.” Matthias offered the malodorous pot to the guard. “Of course, if you prefer to do it--”


            “Dump it,” Greville ordered.


            “As you wish.” Matthias paced to the open window and peered outside. Only one soldier guarded the front of the house. Damned, arrogant redcoats.


            “What are you waiting for?” Greville muttered.


            “For the guard to pass,” Matthias said. “Or would you prefer that I douse him with eau de toilette? It could only improve his smell.”


            The prisoners hooted and pounded the floor with their booted feet.


            “Cease your noise!” Freckle-face aimed his musket at the prisoners.


            They grew quiet, but their sudden misbehavior had been heard by the guard outside. He sprinted toward the window, and Matthias showered him with the contents of the chamber pot.


            “Aagh!” The man jumped back. “Shit!”


            “Not exactly.” Matthias hurled the pot at the redheaded guard.


            Freckle-face raised his musket to deflect it, but not quickly enough. The flying pot smacked him in the face and he tumbled backward, firing into the ceiling. Flakes of plaster rained down, and the pot shattered on the floor.


            “Damn you!” Greville seized his musket and rushed toward Matthias, clearly planning to skewer him with the bayonet.


            Matthias leaped to the side, grasped the musket’s barrel, and wrenched the weapon from Greville’s hands. With the butt end, he smashed his attacker in the face. Greville collapsed, crying out as blood gushed from his nose.


            Matthias trapped the musket between his feet, bayonet pointed upwards, so he could slice through his ropes. “Richard, watch the window. The guard outside is a trifle pissed.”


            With a snort, his cousin scrambled to his feet.


            Just as Matthias finished freeing his hands, he noted Greville attempting to sit up. He knocked the guard out with another blow to the head, then yanked Greville’s knife from the scabbard. Possibly a family heirloom with its ornate handle inlaid with ivory, but still a weapon he couldn’t afford to leave with the enemy.


            “The other guard!” one of his men shouted.


            Pottery shards crunched as Freckle-face stumbled to his feet. His musket had discharged, but it still possessed the deadly bayonet. With an angry roar, he attacked.


            Matthias jumped aside as he threw his newly-acquired knife. It lodged with a hideous thunk in the redcoat’s chest.


           Freckle-face halted, his eyes wide with shock. He crumbled to his knees, still focused on Matthias’ face. The disbelief in his eyes glazed to a pained acceptance as if for a brief moment, he mourned his own passing.


Squashing any sort of emotional reaction, Matthias checked the musket he’d taken from Greville. He had to remain focused until his men were free.


            “Matt!” Richard lunged to the floor.


            The drenched guard stood outside, his musket aimed at the window opening.       


            Matthias dropped to the floor a second before the shot exploded. He rolled toward the window, jumped to his feet and pointed his musket at the guard’s face.


            With a loud gulp, the guard stepped back.    


            “You think this is frightening, you should see what’s behind you,” Matthias said.


            “Ha! You think I’ll fall for that old trick?” The guard glanced over his shoulder, then looked again as a group of armed Colonials charged toward him.       “Bloody hell!” He dropped his firearm and lifted his hands in surrender.


            Matthias removed the bayonet from his musket. “Stand up, Rich, and I’ll cut your ropes.”


            Richard glanced out the window a he scrambled to his feet. “Who are those men?”


            “Local militia, from the looks of their clothing.” Matthias cut through his cousin’s ropes, then handed him the bayonet. “Release the others.”


            Grins and shouts of victory spread among the soldiers.


Matthias exchanged a smile with young Simon before aiming his musket at Greville, who was regaining consciousness. “This one is still loaded.”


            Grimacing, Greville touched his broken nose. “You damned Yankee, you cannot hope to succeed.”


            “We already have.” Matthias heard the tramping of feet as the militia moved through the house. “I’m afraid we must decline your offer of hospitality in Charles Town.”


            Greville continued to curse as he sat up, but ceased abruptly when he spotted his comrade’s body. His face paled. “You killed him.”


Matthias winced inwardly. They were at war. It was self-defense. He’d had no choice. War was hell. There was a whole list of justifications that he repeated to himself every night so he could sleep. And be at peace. Sometimes he slept. He’d given up on peace months ago.


Greville touched his empty scabbard. “You used my knife. On my best friend.” He shifted his gaze to Matthias. “You bastard. I swear you will pay for this.”


            I probably will. Matthias turned as the door burst open and militiamen marched in. “Good morning, gentlemen. This room is secure.”


            A short, swarthy man in the colonial uniform of a lieutenant colonel shouldered his way into the room. “I heard a weapon discharge in this room. What happened?”


            Matthias motioned to Freckle-face. “He fired it, sir. I...handled the situation.”


            The lieutenant colonel glanced at the dead redcoat, then inspected Matthias. “And you’re the one who splattered the guard outside?”


            “Yes, sir.”


            “Do you think so highly of yourself, Captain, that you were prepared to take on twenty-five redcoats single-handedly?”


            “I knew you were outside, sir.”


            The lieutenant colonel narrowed his dark eyes. “How? The redcoats didn’t hear us. We took them by surprise.”


            “Apparently they’re not acquainted with the migratory habits of the wood warbler.”


            The officer’s mouth twisted with a wry smile. “I could use a man like you. I’m Francis Marion. And you, Captain?”       


“Matthias Murray Thomas, sir.”


            “You’re under my command now.” Marion turned to a man who had just entered the room. “Report.”    


            Dressed in the tattered and bloodstained uniform of a major, the man towered over the smaller lieutenant colonel. “We released over a hundred lads from the other rooms,” the major replied with a Scots accent. 


            Marion nodded. “And the British?”


            “Twenty-one prisoners.” The major hooked a lock of graying auburn hair behind his ear. “Five wounded, one dead.”


            “Make that two.” Marion gestured to the knifed redcoat.    


“He has a name, damn you.” Greville spat a glob of blood in their direction. He glowered at Matthias as a militiaman hauled him to his feet and tied his hands behind his back. “I heard your name, Matthias Murray Thomas. I won’t forget it.”


            The militiaman dragged Greville out the door.


            “Where are you taking the prisoners?” Matthias hoped it was far away.      


            “North Carolina,” answered Marion. “There’s no point in staying here. After Gates’ defeat at Camden, South Carolina is lost.”


            “But there’s still hope,” Matthias protested. “Colonel Sumter is doing well in the west. We should rendezvous with him.”


            Marion shook his head. “You haven’t heard. Sumter was defeated two days after Gates.”


            Matthias’ mouth dropped open. Gates and Sumter both defeated?


            Marion motioned to the Scotsman. “The major here was with Sumter. He escaped capture and met up with us.”


A chill stole over Matthias as his spirits plunged. His men were free, but South Carolina was indeed lost. “There’s no one left.”


            The Scotsman snorted. “And what are we, lad? A pack of ghosts?”


            Marion paced toward the window. “Unfortunately, we’ll have to disappear like ghosts. Once the British learn of our little escapade here, they’ll retaliate. And they’ll most likely wreak their vengeance on the known patriots in the area.”


            Matthias felt a twinge in his gut at the thought of his mother alone on the plantation. Unprotected. His stomach churned even more when the Scotsman leaned over Freckle-face and yanked the knife from his chest.


“Ready your men, Captain,” Marion ordered. “We march for North Carolina immediately.”


            Matthias cleared his throat. “With all due respect, sir, many of my men are wounded and would not survive the journey.”


            “Do you have an alternative?”


            “We could hide in the swamp. Some of the wounded live nearby. I could deliver them home at night. Then they can rejoin us once they’ve recovered.”


            Marion frowned as he considered. “Very well. We cannot fight the British with dead soldiers. Take care of your men.”


            “Thank you, sir.”        


            “I expect you to be more than a nursemaid, Captain,” Marion continued. “Your objective will be to sever the British lines of supply and communication between Charles Town and General Cornwallis in the west. Burn the bridges and the ferryboats. And lose your uniforms.”


            “Yes, sir.”


            “Use Snow’s Island as your base,” Marion referred to a river island in the midst of the nearby swamp. “I hope to return in a few weeks. Until I do, South Carolina is in your hands.”


            “I understand.” Matthias swallowed hard at the lump in his throat. He and his men would be the only resistance left in the area. And they were a sorry lot.


            “Good luck to you, Captain.” Marion bowed his head, then strode from the room.


            The Scotsman handed the knife to Matthias. “I believe ye dropped yer wee blade. I wiped it clean.”


            “Thank you.” Matthias wedged the knife under his belt. “Why did you come east? You had to know you were going further into enemy territory.”


            “I had my reasons.” The major examined Matt carefully. “I havena met many a man as strapping and fearless as you. I have two daughters. Ye may be just the man for them.”


            Matthias groaned. Hadn’t he endured enough matchmaking schemes from his mother? “I have no intention of marrying, sir.”


            The Scotsman snorted. “As if ye were good enough for either of them. My lassies are the reason I came this way. I need to know they’re safe. The last I heard they fled Charles Town and were living in a cabin off the Pee Dee River.”


            “You wish me to provide them with protection?”


            “Och, just try it, laddie. My daughters will roast you over an open fire. All I ask is that ye tell me they’re safe. Send a message to me, Jamie Munro.”


            “And your daughters?”


            “Virginia Stanton and Caroline Munro.”


            “I’ll take care of the matter, sir.”


            “Aye, I believe ye will.” With a smile, Major Munro strode from the room.


            Matthias shrugged his uninjured shoulder. He’d faced the enemy in battle for four years and survived. How difficult could a pair of females be?




            Blackened timbers lay strewn across the ground. The house had been small. Only the stone fireplace remained standing as the sole testament to a family’s former hopes and dreams.    


            Matthias tied his horse to the nearest surviving tree, then picked his way across the ruins.


            “There’s nothing left worth stealing.” A young man stepped from the woods, leveling a musket at Matthias.


            “I’m not a thief.” Matthias wiped the soot from his hands, leaving black streaks on his buff-colored breeches. In his new role as partisan leader, he now dressed to blend into the surroundings. “Is this your home?”                


            “Aye, what’s left of it.” The man lowered his weapon. His wife emerged from the woods with two young children clinging to her skirt.


            “I’ve been traveling down the Pee Dee,” Matthias explained. “This is the fourth burnt home I’ve found, but you’re the first people I’ve seen. What happened?”


            The man removed his tricorne to wipe sweat from his brow. “The British did it, those accursed devils.”


            “When?” After the rescue at Nelson’s Ferry, Matthias had remained in the swamp for a week, taking care of his men. Last night, he and his cousin had traveled to the upper Pee Dee to visit Richard’s parents. Then today, he had ventured downriver in search of the major’s daughters.


            “The redcoats were here yesterday,” the man answered. “They started on the coast in Georgetown and worked their way up the Pee Dee, burning everything in sight.”      


            Matthias grimaced. This place had to be nearly seventy miles from Georgetown. Seventy miles of burnt homes.


            The man sighed. “They said we deserved it for helping the partisans free some prisoners at Nelson’s Ferry, but I had no part in it.”


            Matthias flinched as if he’d been hit with the blunt end of an axe. It was his rescue that had caused this? His heart squeezed at the sight of the children, wide-eyed and silent, their faces smudged with soot. On their cheeks, little trails of cleaner skin had been left behind by their tears.


            He reached into his shoulder bag and removed the loaf of bread his aunt had given him. “’Tis not much, but it is all I have with me.”


            “Thank you, good sir.” The wife accepted the loaf.


            “No thanks are necessary, I assure you.” Matthias swallowed a knot of guilt. “If you travel upstream another twenty miles, you’ll reach my uncle, the Reverend Nathaniel Thomas. He’ll be able to assist you better than I.”


            The man nodded. “Thank you.”        


            “I’m searching for two women who live along this river. Perhaps you know them? Virginia Stanton and Caroline Munro?”


            “Aye.” The man accepted a piece of bread from his wife. “But we haven’t seen them since the redcoats came through.”


            The woman passed out pieces of bread to her children. “Poor Virginia is expecting in about a month. ’Twould be her third.”           


            They have children? Matthias loosened his neck cloth. The major had neglected to tell him that small detail. “Their father, Major Munro, asked me to locate them.”


            “They live about five miles south of here.” The woman’s eyes filled with tears. “That is, they did.” She turned away as if to escape the bleak possibility that remained unspoken.


            The two women and their children could be dead.





About the Author
Kerrelyn Sparks is the New York Times bestselling author of a series that mimics its sexy heroes by refusing to die. Now up to book thirteen, the Love at Stake series spreads laughter worldwide in thirteen different languages. In spite of a tendency to nibble on necks or howl at the moon, Kerrelyn’s vampire and shapeshifter heroes are still wonderfully romantic. 
Please visit www.kerrelynsparks.com where you can read excerpts, play vampire games, or join the forum. 


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