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Sir Baron Lacey lives a life of prominence and position, until he’s falsely accused of his fiancée’s murder. Unable to claim his title and family estate, he follows a killer’s trail from one end of England to another.
Lady Ella Baxter always does what is expected of her, except where Baron Lacey is concerned. When she finds the man she loves shot and close to death, her loyalties will be challenged more than ever before.
Tracking a killer was difficult enough for Baron but when Ella becomes the murderer’s next target, he must decide what is more at risk, Ella’s life or his rebellious heart.
Baron lifted his chin in the direction of the satisfied customer. “Is that the one?” he asked the proprietor.
The tavern owner glanced over his shoulder and then continued to wipe the table where Baron sat. “Um-hmm. His name’s Payne Crumley,” he answered. He paused and looked Baron straight in the eyes. His bloodshot glare indicated the intensity in which he spoke.
“I don’t want any trouble in here. Whatever business you have with him, you take it outside.” His voice was gruff when he spoke.
Baron didn’t want any trouble either, from the tavern keeper or the man’s patron. But sometimes, in order to acquire what was needed, he couldn’t always guarantee the safety of the surrounding area. “I’ll see what I can do,” Baron said.
Ignoring the man’s harsh glare, he grabbed hold of the whiskey bottle and headed toward the door. He didn’t need to be told how to conduct his business. For years, he’d made good on damage he’d been responsible for. It hadn’t been his preference to remodel one establishment after another, but his generosity had established a bond with a variety of people who provided him with sensitive information.
He staggered from side to side and shuffled his feet as he walked. He’d not had anything to drink, but the man leaving the whore didn’t need to know that. Footsteps neared Baron. He’d timed his departure well, and his body now blocked the exit. Baron stopped moving and stared down at the floor. He leaned against the doorframe and jiggled one leg.
“Damn. And good whiskey, too.” he said, his words slurred. He turned to the man behind him, and lifted his knee toward the stranger. “Milksop, does this smell like booze or piss?”
“What? Move out of my way, drunk,” the man said. He stepped to his left, and tried to side-step Baron.
Baron spread his arms from his side, keeping the man in front of him. “There’s no need to call names. I just asked a question.”
The man snarled his lip, and shoved his hand against Baron.
This was the reaction Baron had hoped for. Without hesitating, he grabbed his attacker’s upper arm, and slammed him into the wall. His opponent’s face crushed against the wood, and the man gasped. Not giving him time to squirm, Baron shoved his shoulder into the center of the man’s back, pressing his weight hard into him.
Baron waved off the barkeep and positioned his mouth next to the pinned man’s ear. “If you don’t like my question, how about a statement? Another woman is dead, and you’re involved, Payne Crumley.”
The man’s eyes bulged, and his skin paled. “How do you know my name?”
“Just know that I found you once, and I can do it again.”
Squirming against the wall, the man looked as though he struggled to keep control of his bodily functions. “I didn’t kill anyone,” the man sneered. He pushed backward against Baron’s fist.
Baron wrenched the man’s arm behind his back and yanked his hand up to his hairline. “No? But you know where I can find the man who did. Where is he?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think you do, and I’ll ask again. Where is Lacey Macey?” Baron cringed at the use of the name. He’d never get used to connecting his name with that of the killer.
Baron had been warned he wasn’t likely to get any cooperation from the man. But this was his only lead, and he couldn’t risk another woman being attacked. He yanked his dagger into the open with his free hand, and held the blade near the wall.
“I have a theory. Would you like to hear it, Crumley?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “If the murderer can escape the hangman, he might stop killing innocent women.”
“You don’t know that. Maybe he’ll see himself as invincible and kill even more. He is mad, after all.”
“Yes, he is,” Baron agreed. The thought of freeing a murderer was the last thing on his mind, and he had no intention of letting a madman run loose. His theory was only a means to loosen Crumley’s tongue.
No one needed to remind him of the mental state of a murderer. Baron had witnessed the carnage first hand. What had prevented him from reporting what he knew to the authorities was the madman’s identity. The king would do anything to protect his son. Baron turned his dagger in his hand. Light played along the sharp edge of the blade, sliding from hilt to tip.
“You’ve been in the same town as every woman who’s been murdered. It should be fairly easy to convince a judge you’re a murderer.”
Crumley’s eyes widened further. “That means nothing. I didn’t kill anyone. Didn’t you hear me?”
Baron leaned in close to the man’s face. In his mind, he played his final card in a winner take all poker game. Everything both men owned lay on the table in full view. A game of this magnitude took skill and courage. Baron may not have a winning hand, but at least he had his wits to rely on.
“You have to remember,” Baron said, his voice heavy. “Your arrest will stop future murders.”
Baron didn’t believe the logic to his words anymore now then when he’d come up with the idea. Still, he was certain that Payne Crumley knew more than he was willing to share. He’d most likely be unwilling to tell Baron what he knew, but Baron’s aggression might be the motivation the man needed to expose the killer. If Crumley knew where the murderer was, chances were, he would warn Macey about Baron. And if Crumley, like Baron, meant to bring Macey to justice, he might tell Baron what he knew in a means to escape being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Either way, Payne Crumley wasn’t leaving without Baron gaining an advantage over Macey.
“I told you to take your business outside. I’ll not have my place busted up,” the tavern keeper shouted from the upstairs balcony.
The business owner’s shout was all the distraction Crumley needed. Shoving his chest away from the wall, he knocked Baron to the ground, and then raced out the door. Baron fell backward, landing hard on the floor. He cursed under his breath, but shot to his feet. He’d bluffed about going to the magistrate, but he couldn’t let this man get away now. His source of information had been adamant that Payne Crumley knew where to find the murderer.
Bursting through the door, both men raced into the back alleys and onto the main street. A white shirt billowed in front of Baron as Crumley weaved his way past several street merchants. A small boy ran in front of them, breaking the fugitive’s stride. Baron closed the distance between them and reached for the fleeing man’s shirt collar. Crumley rounded the corner, and instead of grabbing cloth, air filled Baron’s grasp. He’d almost had hold of him, and a change of direction had prevented him from capturing his best chance of bringing a murderer to justice.
The sound of boxes falling to the ground brought both men up short, and Baron skidded to a stop. He bent forward, his lungs burning. He could hardly confront the man in front of witnesses. Besides, from the sound of the commotion, Crumley had crashed into someone who’d had their hands full. Baron doubted someone would let Crumley race off without restacking what he’d destroyed.
“What did you call me?” a feminine voice asked.
Baron’s body clenched, and he jerked his head in the direction of her question.
“Lady Ella,” a man said. Crumley panted as hard as Baron.
Baron inched toward the edge of the building. He thought he recognized the voice of the woman who’d spoken, but it was impossible that Ella Baxter was here. She lived in Longton and never ventured from her home any further than the distance it took to travel to nearby neighbors. He’d even nicknamed her Mouse because of her meek demeanor. Pressing himself against the wall, he peered around the corner and looked in the woman’s direction.
Dressed in a tan colored, silk gown with brown lace trim, a brightly faced woman confronted the man Baron had been chasing. An assortment of boxes littered the ground around their feet. Baron could stare at her for hours, but he pulled back to keep from being seen. From what he could tell, this young woman was Ella, but he could only guess as to what she was doing here.
“I prefer to be addressed as Lady Eleanor,” she said.
She spoke with an assertiveness he’d never heard her use before. She’d told Crumley to call her Lady Eleanor. Baron smiled. He’d always called her Ella, and she’d never objected to his use of the nickname.
Crumley helped Ella into her coach and then loaded her packages, one item at a time, in with her. The boxes were small and could easily be stacked in one pile. Why did he take such care to lift them individually? Once the last parcel was inside the coach, Crumley took an extraordinarily long time to take his leave. After a long minute, he closed the door and disappeared down the street.
Baron waited, debating if he should follow after him or say hello to Ella. She and Crumley had tried to appear as though they were strangers. Passersby had not seemed to question the meeting. But for someone whose life depended on adequately interpreting other people’s actions, not to mention, who also knew Ella, there was more to this unexpected meeting than one might think. With his decision made, Baron walked up to the coach and pulled the closed door open.
“We have nothing left to discuss. I’ll meet you on Saturday,” Ella said.
“And where shall we meet?” Baron asked.
Clutching her hands to her chest, Ella jumped in her seat. Blood drained from her face, and her mouth fell open. He could hear her heart pounding from where she sat.
“Baron! You recov…Why are you…how did you…” she said, her eyes darted nervously past him to the street.
“It’s good to see you, too, Ella,” he said. Without waiting for an invitation, he climbed into the coach with her.
Again, her gaze swept the street. “What are you doing? You can’t be here…alone…with me. We have no chaperone.”
She had always been proper and conservative in her manner, but there was something different about her today. The dreamy-eyed stare he was used to seeing was missing. Instead of hanging onto his every word as he’d known her to do, she looked appalled to see him. Did she expect Crumley to return, or did she indeed look for a chaperone?
“You need to leave, Sir Lacey. My aunt will be here momentarily.”
Five years her elder, Baron had never thought much of how interested she was in him, but he disliked being dismissed like an unwanted houseguest.
“Have I done something to offend you, Lady Ella?” he asked, deliberately using his nickname for her.
Her lip twitched and her cheeks reddened, but she didn’t correct him about the use of her name. “As I said, my aunt—”
“Eleanor, dear, please open the door. My hands are full,” an older woman said from outside the coach.
Ella rolled her eyes and blew out her breath. Well, that was a new expression he’d not seen her use before. He wasn’t sure if he liked her childish behavior or not, but one thing was certain, he wouldn’t be easily dismissed. Baron smirked, and couldn’t help but chuckle. Without speaking, he opened the door and stepped onto the street.
“Good afternoon, ma’am.” Baron nodded his head to the woman. Mischief lit her eyes, and Baron welcomed the unlikely ally. “Your niece and I are neighbors in Longton. If you will allow me to introduce myself, my name is Sir Baron Lacey. Ella had dropped her packages while entering the carriage. Being as she is a friend of the family, I thought it only proper to keep her company until you were able to join her. I hope you don’t object to my being so forward.”
Baron didn’t know which woman was more overwhelmed by what he’d said. Ella’s aunt remained silent, but her appreciation of him or his gallantry was evident in her eyes. Her niece shifted behind him, most likely, trying to draw her aunt’s attention. Having no intention of allowing Ella the chance to influence the older woman’s first impression of him, he moved to block her view.
“I’m very grateful you were nearby, Sir Lacey,” the older woman said. “I’m Eleanor’s Aunt Frances. It’s very nice to meet you. Are you staying in the area or are you passing through.”
“He’s passing through, Auntie,” Ella said in a rush from behind Baron.
Baron quirked a brow, intrigued by Ella’s insistence that he not dally. “My plans are currently undecided,” he said, both in answer to her aunt’s question, and as a warning to Ella. He didn’t know why the sudden change in her demeanor toward him, but he liked the idea of interrupting her game with Payne Crumley.
Aunt Frances smiled over at him, and then ducked her head and took a seat next to Ella.
“Since you have no firm plans, you must accompany us to the dance on Saturday? My cousin has invited a few people to his home as a means to welcome Ella to Windermere.”
The coach shifted beside Baron. “No, Auntie, he can’t,” Ella quickly added. Her voice squeaked as she spoke.
Both Baron and Frances looked at her with duplicate, confused expressions.
“What I mean is,” Ella started, and then stopped to clear her throat. “We can’t impose our plans on Sir Lacey. He is most likely in Windermere on business.”
“For two beautiful women, I will change my plans.” Baron had never known how intriguing it could be to irritate someone he didn’t plan to extort information from. Yet, something in the back of his mind niggled at him. He had the odd sense, that extorting information from Ella Baxter was exactly what he intended to do.
Ella’s mouth dropped open, and she stared at Baron incredulously. She rolled her eyes, leaned back in her seat, and crossed her arms roughly over her chest. Her bottom lip protruded, and Baron’s smile widened. He didn’t realize how much enjoyment could be found with Ella.
Aunt Frances looked from Ella to Baron, and a slow smile sneaked across her lips. Seemingly pleased with her niece’s discomfort, she clasped her hands together. “Then it’s settled. We will see you on Saturday, Sir Lacey.”
Baron chuckled throatily. “You will, indeed,” he agreed.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I recently moved to the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina. I have been drawn to this part of the country for years and love sitting outside on my deck enjoying the spectacular view of Tennessee and Virginia. Hiking through the High Country is breathtaking and a great way to stay in shape. Whenever I need to clear my head for inspiration, I grab my walking stick and head outside. Many ideas have taken shape while wandering along a secluded trail.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
His Rebellious Heart is the second book in The Rebels, Rake, and Rogues Series. While telling Beck’s story in Her Scottish Rogue, Baron, Beck’s half brother, kept stealing the scenes. He was so interesting and mysterious, I knew I had to spend more time with him.
Although Baron’s father thinks his son is a wastrel, we know better. Right, ladies? This animosity does set the stage for a good adventure. Beck may try to protect the ones he loves by pushing them away, but Ella Baxter, Baron’s neighbor and childhood friend, doesn’t let his rough exterior keep her from following after him. If he’s determined to find a killer, she’d going to help him do it. Of course, at the time she made this decision, she didn’t realize the depths Baron would sink to bring a murderer to justice.
How do you create your characters?
The main characters come about as the idea for the story develops. Beck came about because I needed a father/son rift that seemed impossible to mend. How better to separate them then to have them live in countries that have an ingrained hatred for each other? And how better to have them form a camaraderie with each other than by a woman they both love, Beck’s mother.
Baron… * smile * He happened to be in the right place at the right time. Well, Wren, Beck’s wife, might disagree with me on that detail. Baron did appear intoxicated when the two of them first met, not to mention his suggestion that she join him upstairs for a little entertainment didn’t bode well for their initial meeting. Did I mention, the man does have a way of endearing himself to women?!
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
I can attribute my writing career to my children. Maybe it would be more accurate to say, my writing career surfaced due to the age of my children. I had been a stay-at-home mom to two wonderful children. And life, as it always does, continued marching forward, regardless of my thoughts on the matter. One day, my daughter earned her driver’s license and it became painfully obvious to me that I wasn’t needed as much as I once was. So, I said goodbye to my car keys and grabbed my laptop. I quickly found an online writer’s group. One of the hosts conducted a writer’s class. The assignment was to write a short, descriptive scene. My daughter read what I had written and encouraged me to continue. That was twelve years and fourteen books ago.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I write anywhere I can. I have written in the passenger seat of a car while driving across country, in bed, on the couch, at my desk, or on the front deck. As long as it is relatively quiet, I can get words on the page.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Ideas, for me, are hard to come by. Many times, I will let me mind wander and think, what would happen if this one thing was different. How would the outcome of a situation affect this town, this person? Hopefully, from there, a story starts to develop.
What do you like to read?
I love time travel books. Give me a good romance with characters that are great complements to each other, and you have my attention.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
I’m sure this has been said many times, but write what you would want to read. If nothing else, you will have a story and characters you enjoy spending time with.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Spend some time with Beck and Baron in The Rebels, Rakes, and Rogues Series. You won’t be sorry you did!