Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter Magic! An Excerpt from No One Mourns the Wicked

In honor of the wintry skies over Tulsa, I've decided to spend the days leading up to Christmas to post some wintry scenes from the second book in my League of Rogues Series.  No One Mourns the Wicked is the tale of Lucien Russell, the Marquess of Rochester, and Horatia Sheridan, the sister of Lucien's best friend, Cedric.  In this deliciously wicked tale, Lucien finds himself breaking one of the League's most important rules: never seduce another member's sister. 
The scene below is taken from an epic snowball fight during the winter holidays.


An hour later the vast gardens behind Russell Hall had been molded into a snowy battlefield ready for the snowball fight.  The ladies were assembled on the right side, admiring the fort the gentlemen had built for them.  It was a wall of waist height that arched around in a half circle shape that was about ten feet across.  It provided ample cover for the women now huddled behind it preparing snowballs.  Lady Cavendish was helping Lady Russell manufacture the slushy ammunition.  The younger ladies were in a tight circle, all wearing red fur-lined cloaks with heavy hoods pulled up.  Audrey had remarked that they must have looked like an ancient order of druid priestesses gathering together for a ritual, to which the others had laughed.  Horatia, Audrey, Lucinda and Lysandra discussed the various traps and places to avoid in the garden where one might become cornered and savaged by the snowballs of the men.
            “Should we try to lure them out from their fort?”  Lucinda suggested. 
Horatia changed a glance over her shoulder to the men’s fort which was fifty feet away.  The men were hunkered down out of sight save for the occasional surfacing head to glance warily about.  Her gaze met with Gregory Cavendish’s as he took his turn to peek out over their fort’s edge then duck back down.  They looked like a pack of ground squirrels, popping up and down like that.  Horatia grinned at the ludicrous image of such noble gentlemen including a peer of the realm, acting so out of character.
            “I think luring is not a bad idea,” Audrey declared.  “But we must go about it smartly.  Only when one of them is decently separated, should we set up a lure.  Otherwise they could easily overwhelm us.”
            “And someone ought to be carefully guarding the fort,” Lysandra reminded.  She broke from the group to come over to the fort’s edge and showed the other ladies something she’d covered in a brown cloth blanket.
            “This should help whoever is remaining at the fort.”  She lifted back the blanket to reveal a clever yet simply constructed wooden trebuchet approximately two feet long which was counterweighed by a heavy pouch of stones.
            “Is that a trebuchet?”  Horatia asked, in a mixture of appreciation and amusement.  Lysandra grinned wickedly, before glancing in the directions of her brothers.
            “I thought we might need a bit of extra help seeing how they outnumber us seven to six.  I built it last winter and tried it out in secret.  I had a devil of a time keeping Linus from finding out.  So, whoever is in charge of our fort here should man this trebuchet.”  Lysandra took a snowball from the ever growing pile her mother and Lady Cavendish were making and set in the cupped surface of the trebuchet’s long wooden catapult type structure as she pulled it back.  Then Lysandra prepared the pouch of stones and as all of the ladies watched, she aimed the trebuchet towards the men’s fort and then dropped the pouch.  The trebuchet immediately flung the snowball in a beautiful arch before the ball crashed into a tree a few feet behind the men’s fort.
            “Oi!  Who threw that?”  Linus’s head popped up, scowling in their directions as he hollered this.
            “Sorry Linus!  We’re just practicing.”  Lysandra waived a snowy gloved hand in his direction.
            “So, as you can see, we may need to pull the trebuchet back a few feet, but it’s a decent way of forcing them to keep their heads down if we need a distraction and grow tired of throwing the snowballs,” Lysandra said.
            “Excellent thinking!”  Lucinda beamed and the other ladies quite agreed.
            Sir John Cavendish called out from across the garden at that moment.  “I say, are you ladies ready to begin?”
            “We are!”  Lady Cavendish returned to her husband.
            “Good, good.  I’ve been informed that I must now state the rules,” Sir John said.  “Which are as follows:  Whoever captures the enemy fort is declared the winner.  Captives may be taken and lastly there are no other rules.  Begin!”  Sir John bellowed before ducking down below the shield of his fort.  The ladies all fell behind their snow wall as a massive volley of balls came their way.  Audrey shrieked as a slush of snow and ice landed on the top of her hooded head.  There was a chorus of masculine laughter at her shriek and Audrey stood up to shout at them but Lucinda gripped her dress and jerked her back down as another flurry of snowballs were unleashed.  The balls flew past the empty space of air where Audrey had been standing moments before.
            “Why those wretched devils!” Audrey hissed as she crawled over to the trebuchet.
            “Quick, someone distract them!”  Audrey begged.  Lady Russell peeked over the edge of the fort, her eyes dancing with delight. 
            “Tally ho!”  Lady Russell whooped most inelegantly and waved her arms as she acted as a body shield so Horatia and Lysandra could throw snowballs towards the men.  Unfortunately the fifty feet of distance between the two forts seemed to ensure that their throws would fall short.
            “That all you got?”  Linus taunted as he stood up brazenly to take his time in aiming at his mother.  Audrey meanwhile adjusted the aim of the trebuchet and with a curt nod at Lady Russell, Audrey dropped the bag of stones and let fly her snowy vengeance.  Lady Russell sunk down behind the snow wall and all the women watched in glee as Audrey’s snowball smacked Linus square in the chest.
            “What the deuce?” he cried out before Lucien tackled him to the ground out of sight.  The ladies all burst out laughing.
            On the other end of the garden the men were all gazing in shock at the soaked center of Linus’s black great coat.
            “Didn’t we pace it at fifty feet?  I thought Avery said they wouldn’t be able to throw anything that far?”  Lawrence muttered.  Sir John looked bemused at this revealing comment.
            “Do you mean to tell me that you lads have purposely put the ladies at a disadvantage both physically and numerically?”  Sir John asked.
            “Clearly you have never engaged our mother and sister in a snowball fight Sir John,” Lucien said with a low chuckle.  “They cheat and therefore any measures we take beforehand are merely precautions to protect ourselves.”  The other Russells nodded in agreement.
            “They are ruthless,” Avery said in all seriousness.
            “How should we go about getting them away from their fort?”  Gregory asked.  Cedric peeped over the edge of the snow wall as he constructed a plan.
            “We ought to send a scout, one who can see just how their ball count stacks up and how they are organizing themselves.  The rest of us can remain here and wait for the scout’s return.”
            “I’ll go,” Gregory volunteered immediately.
            “Head south and make a large sweep around back.  We don’t want them guessing what our game is,” Lucien advised.  Gregory gave his fellow men a salute and was halfway turned to go when Lucien’s thrust a few strips of red silk into his hands.
            “For captives, should the opportunity arise?  Show them no mercy.”  The marquess grinned as Gregory’s face flushed and he pocketed the silk strips.
            Gregory crawled away from the men’s snow fort, heading south and taking refuge behind snow covered hedges as he began to arch around towards the ladies’ forts.  After ten minutes he was able to get up and slink the rest of the way towards the enemy encampment.  He tread softly, taking slow steps as he heard the light hurried murmurs of the women a few bushes away.  Very carefully he craned his neck around the closest hedge and saw the back of the ladies’ fort.  Lady Russell and his mother were the chief producers of the balls, and they were damned good at it too.  Gregory hid a smile as he watched his mother’s face flush with excitement as she and Lady Russell passed snowballs to Horatia and Lucinda.  Avery’s calculation had been right, the ladies were at a clear disadvantage and it seemed they knew it too.  And then he saw it.  Gregory Cavendish’s jaw dropped as he saw Lysandra Russell and Audrey preparing a snowball on what looked like a very simply built trebuchet.  He clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh as Lysandra let the snowball fly.  He tracked its impressive progress where it thwacked the sleeve of Lawrence Russell who had jumped up to throw a ball at the ladies.
            “I’ll be damned,” Gregory whispered.  Who would have thought Lysandra Russell had it in her to be Attila the Hun?  As though she’d heard his thoughts, Lysandra turned around and Gregory only ducked behind a tree in time to avoid being seen.
            “Can you handle it from here Audrey?”  Lysandra asked.  Audrey replied in the affirmative and Lysandra tightened her gloves and started coming this way. 
Gregory slipped back out of sight and hid behind a thick trunked tree as Lysandra passed by.  It seemed she was to act as the ladies’ scout.  Gregory decided that it was in the best interest of his team to capture Lysandra.
            Gregory stalked behind Lysandra, letting her get out of shouting distance of the other ladies before he acted.  He knelt down and gathered up snow, mashing it into his gloved hands until it was a nice sized ball and then he threw it.  The ball struck Lysandra’s back and she yelped and spun around, hazel eyes blazing.
            “You!” she cried as he broke out into a run towards her.  He was ten feet away when she abandoned any method of retaliation and turned to flee.  She was far quicker than he expected, her light booted steps carrying her at a rapid pace, her red cloak billowing out in a crimson wave over the pure snow.  He pursued her into a wooded patch of ground that was a good ways away from the site of the snowball battle.  Gregory felt his blood heat and pump through his veins as he realized he enjoyed this, the chasing of his prey.  He’d always been one to deny his baser urges in favor of being the English gentleman his father and mother had raised.  But there was something entirely primitive about his reaction to Lysandra.  He had the strangest urge to throw her over his shoulder and march to the nearest cave and dominate her senseless with the rising passion in his body.
            “She’s Avery’s little sister,” he muttered to himself, but it did no good.  He felt rather like a lusty wolf prowling after his red hooded little lady.  Lysandra, gasping for breath, spun around and put a large thatch of a prickly looking bush between them.
            “Truce, truce!” she pleaded hopefully. 
Gregory shook his head, grinning wolfishly.  “Surrender Miss Russell,” he offered casually taking a few steps to the left of the bush.  Lysandra darted right to balance the ground she’d lost.
            “Never!”
            “Stubborn little creature aren’t you,” he chuckled at the look of pure indignation his words created on her lovely face.  Her deeply red hair melded with her hood and she narrowed her hazel eyes at him before she turned and ran again.  But Gregory had the advantage, he was not as tired and his legs were longer.  He reached her in a matter of seconds and caught her upper arms, turning her to face him.  She struggled and he backed her up against the nearest tree hoping to still her wriggling.  As she wrestled in his grasp, her hood fell back, revealing red hair loosely tied back at the nape of her neck with an emerald ribbon.  How young and delicious she looked, Gregory thought.  He could easily devour her given half the chance.
            “Yield to me,” he demanded hoarsely, unsure of why it was suddenly important that she surrender.
            “No!”  She kicked his shin and he released her with a low uttered curse so he could rub his leg.  But Gregory didn’t let her get far.  He caught her around the waist and they both toppled to the ground.  The powdery snow burst up around them in a cloud from the impact and for a brief second he worried that he might have harmed her.  But when he saw her face she looked anything but injured.  She was trembling beneath him, with rage if the light in her eyes could be properly read.
            “Why you…” she started to shout but Gregory did the only logical thing he could do to silence her. 
His mouth covered hers, savage and primal and relentless as he asserted every ounce of his power over her lush body.  Somehow it seemed imperative that she understand that she was his at least for a few stolen moments.  Lysandra bit him, the sting shockingly erotic as he started digging up her skirts beneath him.  The brush of cold air against her partially bared legs made Lysandra shiver and shift beneath him as he tried to find a way inside her lacy underpinnings.  His momentary distraction by the mess of lace was halted when Lysandra nibbled his throat and he let out a helpless moan.  The scrape of her teeth across the line of his jaw had him squirming like an untried youth with a voracious milk maid. 
God knows what might have become of them in the minute that followed if a distant shout hadn’t penetrated his senses.  He might very well have tupped Lysandra on the snowy ground of his best friend’s estate.  It wasn’t like him, to be so out of control and unhinged with a woman.  Another distant shout had him struggling to pull out the red silk Lucien had given him. In a confused daze beneath him, Lysandra didn’t realize what he was about until her wrists were bound tightly and she was scooped up protesting in his arms.
            “Why you cad!  You distracted me!” she snapped angrily, kicking her booted feet uselessly as he trudged through the snow towards the men’s fort.  Lawrence and Avery were the first to spot them and they laughed at their sister’s enraged writhing in Gregory’s arms.
            “Got a captive on my way back from the enemy encampment,” he declared as he set Lysandra down behind a tree a few feet away from the shelter of the fort.
            “Well?  What’s the status of the opposing forces?”  Avery demanded excitedly.
            “Lady Russell and my mother are in charge of the production of ammunition.  Luce and Miss Horatia are the primary hurlers, but as we planned, even they cannot reach us.”
            “Then how the devil are they hitting us?”  Lucien asked, utterly baffled.
            Gregory shot a smug glance at the scowling Lysandra whose mouth was clamped firmly shut.
            “It seems the ladies have the use of a two foot trebuchet.   Miss Audrey has been loading it with snowballs and using a pouch of stones for a counterweight.  The balls reaching us have been fired from that particular contraption.”
            Linus flicked a calculated glance at Lysandra, as if somehow aware that it was she who had constructed the machine that was attacking the gentlemen.
            “That contraption has been pummeling us,” Sir John chuckled.
            Linus studied the other men crouching down behind their wall and then he dug out a white handkerchief from his coat pocket and leapt to his feet.
            “Where on earth are you going Linus?”  Lawrence asked suspiciously. 
            Linus jumped back a few steps and then with a wicked grin he bolted towards the ladies fort, waving the white handkerchief as a sign of surrender.
            “Have mercy ladies!  I seek asylum!”  Linus shouted as Horatia and Lucinda jumped up, ready to pound him with snowballs.
            “You bloody traitor!”  Lucien hollered across the garden.
            “Sorry chaps!  Got to follow the progress of technology.  Why fight with sticks when the other side has bronze weapons?”  He did a swan dive over the edge of the ladies’ fort just as a vicious barrage of snowballs from the enraged men followed him.
            “Always causing trouble aren’t you?”  Lucinda giggled as she and Linus covered their heads to keep snow from crashing down on them.
            “I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t,” he replied before he grabbed a snowball and then popped up to retaliate against the wrath of his brothers.
            “Take that you cheating curs!”  he hollered and all the ladies laughed.  They had their very own knight errant ready to lay siege to his former allies.
            And so the battle waged for nearly another twenty minutes until Horatia and Lucinda managed to sneak behind the men’s fort, free Lysandra, and take all of the men hostage while Linus, Lady Russell and Lady Cavendish acted as the main diversion.  Against all odds the ladies of Russell Hall triumphed on the snowy battlefield that day.  The gentlemen, rather than take their loss to heart, agreed that the ladies deserved the victory, given that they’d started out so disadvantaged.  The snowball battle had lasted close to two hours but now that the excitement had died down, the chills of the air and the damp cold of the snow had started to set in and it was agreed upon by all involved that the day’s activities should continue indoors.

9 comments:

  1. Haha! I loved it. Clever. I'll have to think baout using a trebuchet next time a snowball fight breaks out here, lol...

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  2. Nice excerpt. Good job on that and the blog! Makes me ready for some of that snow to come. LOL. I love winter, and the wintry look of your blog.

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  3. Good story. Makes me want to drink hot chocolate.

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  4. Great excerpt, Lauren, but I'm sad now. Have never played in the snow. Too hot for it where I live. LOL

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  5. Wonderful job, Lauren. Lovely excerpt, too.

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  6. I love snowball fights, especially when two people are falling in love. Great excerpt! I just love your characters!

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