Thursday, 16 June 2011

Briar Patch By Linda Sole

I just love this cover for my new book from Severn House. Published in hardback in August I think my readers will love it.

Here is a dramatic opening for you to enjoy.

‘Something is wrong with our Carrie.’ Ellen Blake shaded her eyes as she stood at the kitchen window. ‘I told you to keep an eye on her, Dick. You know she isn’t safe out on her own.’
‘I can’t watch her and do my work,’ Dick muttered. ‘Pa sent me down to the bottom field with the cows. Carrie followed. I sent her home but you know what she is – it’s not my fault if she wanders off in a daydream. The girl is soft in the head and it’s no use denying it, Ma.’
‘Our Carrie isn’t like other girls. I wish the Good Lord had made her ugly for then her foolishness wouldn’t matter so much – but she is beautiful and the lads stare at her. She hasn’t the sense to know what they’re after.’
‘You worry too much, Ma.’
Dick was at the deep stone sink pumping water to wash when his mother opened the back door.
‘Come away in, Carrie,’ she scolded; then, on a different note, ‘What’s wrong, love?’
‘He hurt me, Ma,’ Carrie’s sobs brought Dick’s head round sharply. He grumbled about having to watch out for her when he was at his work, but in his heart he loved her. She was vulnerable and a little lacking up top but her beauty and her sweetness of character made her a favourite with everyone. ‘I didn’t want to do it – but he forced me.’
‘Forced you to do what, Carrie?’ Dick saw the tear to her bodice and the mud on her long skirts. Moving swiftly towards his sister, he grabbed her wrist. ‘Who was the bastard that hurt you – and what did he do to you?’
Carrie yelped in fright. She was sixteen; a lovely girl with hair the colour of ripe corn in sunlight and wide, greenish blue eyes that always held an expression of wonder or bewilderment. She had no reason to be frightened of her eldest brother, though at seven and twenty he was tall, broad-shouldered and powerful.
‘The squire.’ Carrie’s face was streaked with dirt and tears but Dick could see the red mark on her cheek. ‘He was riding his horse through the wild meadow. I asked him why he was there, because that’s pa’s land. He dismounted and pushed me down on the grass and then he did it...’
‘What did he do?’
‘Ma...Don’t let our Dick hurt me. I didn’t mean to let him...’ Her eyes widened as she stared at her mother. ‘Will I have a baby, Ma? Da will kill me if I bring shame on him – he said so.’
‘The filthy bastard.’ Dick took Carrie by the shoulders, shaking her until she started sobbing. ‘What did he do to you, girl? Did he rape you? By God, I’ll kill him for what he’s done.’
‘You sound like your pa. Sit down and have your meal, Dick. Whatever is done is done. You can’t change it and who would take Carrie’s word against Squire Thornton?’
‘Everyone knows what he is. He gets away with it time and again. No one stands up to him – but this time he has gone too far.’
‘You don’t know what he did.’ Ellen caught hold of her son’s arm as he started for the door. ‘Where are you going? You can’t touch him, Dick. Squire is too powerful. He has men working for him who think they rule this county.’
Dick met her eyes defiantly. ‘I’m going to kill him, Ma – and damn the consequences.’
‘Violence never helped anyone. If you do this you’ll have to run and where does that leave me? You know what your pa is like and Tom can’t stand up to him the way you do.’
‘I’m going after him, Ma, and you can’t stop me – this time the bastard is going to pay.’
‘Dick, please think. Mebbe nothing happened. Carrie’s all right, just a bit frightened. Come back. Please don’t leave us alone with your pa.’
Dick wasn’t listening. The anger had been smouldering inside him for a long time; anger at his sister for being the way she was, anger at the world for the injustice he saw around him every day, and anger at himself for bowing his head to his pa.
In the yard outside, Dick saw the long handled axe he had earlier used for chopping wood and picked it up. His face was grim as he set off across the low-lying fields, which lay between Thornton’s land and his father’s farm. The squire coveted their land because of its access to the fast flowing stream that ran through it and bordered the wild meadow. It petered out to a thin trickle by the time it reached the Squire’s land, which meant that all the water for the stock and much of what was needed elsewhere had to be pumped from various wells Thornton had sunk. During the previous hot summer some of his wells had run dry. The stream on their land had kept flowing, even though it had been sluggish during the drought.
‘Sell to me, John Blake,’ Thornton had made a generous bid for the land. ‘You have barely enough acres to support your family, man. With the offer I’ve made, you could settle elsewhere – perhaps buy an inn or more land. Send your eldest boy to me and I’ll give him a cottage and a job in the stables.’
Dick’s frown deepened as he recalled his father’s reply. John Blake's curses had made even Dick blush and he was used to his father’s foul language. Since then they had heard nothing, but Thornton was not a man to take such insults lying down.
‘Damn him for a coward and a rogue!’
What kind of a man took his revenge on a defenceless girl? Everyone knew that Carrie was a little slow in her mind. The doctor said it was because she’d been too long in coming when Ma gave birth.
‘I’ll kill him. I'll kill the bastard if I swing for it.’
Dick’s anger festered as he strode through the fields, most of which were pasture for the squire’s herd of prime Herefords. He was trespassing but he didn’t care. What kind of a man would take advantage of a girl like Carrie?
Anger carried Dick swiftly towards the large sprawling manor house that had belonged to Squire Thornton’s family for more than three hundred years. Added to over the centuries, it was a hotchpotch of styles ranging from Jacobean to the Georgian fa├žade that the squire’s grandfather had built. As he saw the grey stone walls rising ahead of him, Dick hesitated and for a moment his mother’s words came back to his mind.
‘Don’t leave me alone with your pa.’
It would be hard for her but it couldn't be helped. He took a firmer grip on the handle of the axe and strode on. When he reached the front courtyard, Dick saw a group of gentlemen were standing outside. The squire was one of them. They were all laughing in the wintry sunshine – Thornton as carefree as the rest. The rogue hadn’t an ounce of conscience.
‘Damn your black soul to hell, Thornton!’
Dick raised the axe above his head and charged towards the men. At first they seemed unaware but then they turned to look at him. He saw their stunned expressions and the fear in their faces as they scattered. For the first time in his life he felt powerful. He had always been a labouring man, forced to bow his head and obey orders. These rich men rode by on their horses and splashed mud over him, hardly seeing him; he was nothing, dirt beneath their hooves - but they were seeing him now. Their fear amused him, making him laugh out loud.
He heard the screams and shouts but his mind was focused on only one thing. Thornton must die. The Squire had turned to look at him, incredulity in his eyes. He alone of them all stood his ground. Once, Dick would have admired that but the red mist in his brain shut everything out but the desire to kill.
‘What do you want, Blake?’
‘Revenge for my sister,’ Dick said and smashed the blade of the axe against his head. Thornton went down like a stone, blood spraying everywhere. Dick knew a moment of triumph before the shot made him crumple to his knees and then fall flat in the dirt beside the body of the man he had killed.

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