Thank you for joining us as we celebrate
the Grand Finale for our author of the month
In our final post for this month, we'll reveal Ariel's favorite things, plus info about her historical series co-written with Nicki Bennett, and the upcoming Dance-Off, written with Nessa Warin. And, of course, one more chance to win an e-copy from Ariel's backlist!
First in the series, Checkmate
When sword for hire Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man.
As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated... or even killed.
Téodoro sat at a table in a shadowy corner of la taberna Galesa, nursing a tankard of ale and watching the tavern slowly fill with patrons as the evening wore on. He had arrived in Málaga around mid-day, and after a quick ride about the town to orient himself, he had spotted several señoritas of less than sterling virtue taking their ease under the shade of a portico on one of the less fashionable streets. A few minutes of conversation and light flirtation had rewarded him with the location of the inn he sought, the girls assuring him they had seen only one golden head in town in recent days. St. Denys’s gold had made it easy to procure an adequate room, and now he sat, eyes narrowed as he scrutinized each newcomer who entered the common room for one that matched his quarry’s description.
The patience learned on many a weary campaign during the wars was rewarded when, shortly before ten, two men who could only be those he sought entered the tavern. The larger of the two was tall, heavily muscled, with the unconsciously arrogant air of one who had every confidence in his own strength. But it was the younger of the two who caught Téodoro’s attention. St. Denys had described his quarry as a boy, but it was no stripling who accompanied the bravo into the common room. Though slender, the young man moved with a dancer’s easy grace, and the face surrounded by a halo of dark blond curls could have served Velázquez as the model of an angel. Téodoro sank deeper in the shadows as the pair found empty seats at a table a short distance away.
Christian Blackwood flagged down a passing barmaid and ordered ale for himself and his bodyguard. The tavern itself was no less stuffy than their room upstairs, but at least it was less confined, and the ale would provide some refreshment. He suspected Gerrard would not do more than sip at his, but Christian could finish it if Hawkins did not. “Relax,” he urged his friend. “There is nothing here to worry about, just the same familiar crowd. No one followed us and no one but my father knows we are here.”
"That is not a reason to be less careful," Hawkins growled. "Your father is paying me well to keep you safe, and I intend to reward his faith by doing just that."
Though the noise of the tavern made it impossible for Téodoro to overhear the pair’s conversation, enough carried to his ears to recognize that the two were not speaking the king’s Spanish. If he had needed any further confirmation that these were the men he sought, that affirmed it. Taking a sip from his tankard, he settled back to watch and wait. It would be much easier to separate the youth from his hulking companion after they had both had a few ales under their belts.
As Christian had predicted, Gerrard drank little, but that did not bother the younger man. He was relaxed and comfortable and drank enough for both of them. There was nothing else to do to pass the time, at least nothing that Gerrard would let him do. The bodyguard had proven remarkably resistant to Christian’s charms. “How much longer will we stay in Málaga?” he asked again, though the answer had been the same since they arrived.
“Until the end of the month, as you well know,” Gerrard replied. “Then we will find somewhere else to stay for another month. And we will keep doing this until the negotiations with Spain are finished and the threat to you is lifted.”
Christian sighed. He knew Gerrard was right, knew this was for his own protection, but he was ready to return home, to return to his familiar haunts where he could be himself, rather than this overwhelmingly conservative country that looked askance at everything and everyone.
It did not escape Téodoro’s notice that the larger man – Hawkins, St. Denys had called him – barely touched his drink, while Blackwood was imbibing enough for both of them. Though their heads were bent close to each other over the small table as they conversed, he saw nothing that hinted at the relationship his employer had indicated between the two. Perhaps they were simply being circumspect in public, though that pointed to more control than the younger of the two was currently demonstrating. As the night wore on along with the number of tankards he consumed, the young man’s expression became more animated, his gestures more sweeping, as if he were trying to convince his partner of something the older man was reluctant to undertake.
Giving up on convincing Gerrard to do anything more exciting than stare at the walls of the tavern, Christian rose from his seat. “I need some fresh air,” he told the other man. “I promise I won’t go any further than the alley outside the door, but the smoke in here is getting to me.”
Privately, Gerrard suspected the ale, not the smoke, was the culprit, but he dutifully rose as well. “I will walk outside with you,” he offered, not wanting to neglect his charge.
A tight smile curled the corners of the swordsman’s lips as the two finally rose from their table, Blackwood energetically, Hawkins with seeming reluctance. He waited until they had exited the common room before rising to follow them, tossing a coin on the table as he left. If all went well, he would not need to return.
Gerrard stood in the shadows of the alley, his hand grasping the hilt of his sword. He had not seen anything to make him suspicious, but his instincts were shouting at him that his charge was in danger. Christian had come to mean much to the big man. He thought of the boy as a younger brother and had every intention of seeing him safely back to his father.
The alley in back of the tavern stank of stale beer, rotting trash, and urine – pretty much like any other alley in back of every other tavern Téodoro had ever seen. He paused in the shadow of the doorframe, quick to notice the big man’s hand resting on his sword hilt. The mercenary revised his estimation of the guard dog – for so he had come to think of the larger of the two – upward. He would not be able to depend upon surprise. No matter, he had another trick or two that would work as well.
“Christian, we should go back inside,” Gerrard insisted, nerves jangling for no reason he could name. Maybe it was the heat combined with the putrid smells. Maybe it was the boredom mixed with constant vigilance. Either way or something else entirely, Gerrard wanted his charge safe behind locked doors again.
“Just a few more minutes,” Christian wheedled, dreading being locked in yet again. He understood why it was necessary, but that did not mean he had to like it.
Tossing the light cloak he had donned to conceal his weapons behind him, Téodoro exited loudly and clumsily from the back door of the tavern, staggering over the filthy cobblestones and managing a convincing belch as he neared his quarry. “Hoy, amigos!” he slurred, managing another few calculated, weaving steps before stumbling. His hand flashed out to grab the big man’s sword arm, as if for balance, while his other hand drew the dagger he had tucked in the back of his belt.
Gerrard’s annoyance flared when the drunkard grabbed his sword arm. That turned into anger when he saw the knife in the man’s other hand. Shaking off the confining touch, he drew his own sword with a hiss of steel. “Turn and walk the other way,” he warned in a soft but authoritative voice, the Spanish words heavily accented but perfectly comprehensible. “I do not want to hurt you.”
Behind him, he could hear Christian sinking into the shadows as Gerrard had ordered should a situation like this ever arise. Content that his friend was following orders, he focused entirely on the Spaniard facing him.
Téodoro knew he ought to have struck as soon as he drew his knife. That would have been the prudent move, but it was not an honourable one, and he found himself strangely unwilling to descend to that level before these two. The feint had not been wasted, in any case – he had a good idea now of the big man’s reaction time, as well as his strength. Drawing his own sword with a quiet flourish, he inclined his head toward his adversary. “And I do not want to hurt you, but it seems unlikely both of us will get our wish.”
When the other man drew his sword, Gerrard tensed even more. Clearly, this was not merely some drunkard, but rather a man with a purpose. “What do you want?” he asked, hoping it was something simple like gold rather than a far more complicated answer involving the young man behind him.
“I want many things,” Téodoro responded, “but I imagine the only one you are concerned about is the young man hiding in the shadows over there.” He gestured with his sword, watching for the opportune moment. “I don’t suppose you will be reasonable about this and let him go, will you?”
“Not in this lifetime,” Gerrard replied hotly, following the other man’s movements with the tip of his sword. “I don’t know who sent you, but you can tell him to go to hell.”
Pleased at his opponent’s impassioned response – for a hot-headed swordsman was often a careless one – Téodoro decided to fan the flames. “Is it not enough that you have seduced this young man away from his studies, but you must insult those who are justly concerned for his welfare?” he taunted.
So that was the lie the old man was selling, Gerrard realized. It was a dangerous game, one that could have Christian dead if he whispered it in the wrong ear. “You insult me by suggesting such a thing,” he replied, consciously tamping down his temper. “En garde!”
Téodoro spared a quick glance at the young man who stood motionless in the shadows before making a quick lunge at his opponent. The larger man would have the advantage of strength over him – he would have to counter with speed, and cleverness. His blade slid along his opponent’s steel, opening a slice across the back of the big man’s hand from knuckles to wrist.
Cursing as pain danced up his arm, Gerrard drew back and parried the Spaniard’s thrust, using brute strength to push the other man away, giving himself a chance to regroup before attacking again. Their blades crossed, and Gerrard met implacable dark eyes through the gap. “I will not let you take him.”
“Selfish, are you?” Téodoro sneered, freeing his blade and countering with a dancing thrust of his own. “Looking at him, I cannot say I blame you.”
There it was again, the implication that made Gerrard see red. He knew Christian’s preferences and did not hold them against the younger man, but they were preferences he did not share. “’Tis self-interest, not selfishness,” he retorted, his blade catching the Spaniard on the arm, enough to nick the cloth and, Gerrard hoped, the skin beneath.
“Self-interest?” Téodoro hissed, though the other man’s blade had barely scratched his skin. He riposted fiercely, following through with a series of quick strokes that drove Hawkins backward over the slimy cobbles. “I have no doubt it is only yourself and your own – needs – that interest you.”
Gerrard met the Spaniard’s steel each time, but he could feel his breath quickening. His opponent was no simple blade. If he could not turn the tide quickly, he would lose this battle. “Christian,” he called over his shoulder, using his strength to press his attack, hoping to give Blackwood a clear path to the tavern door. “Get inside.”
The watchdog’s words, even more than his sudden attack, drove the swordsman to return thrust for thrust with equal ferocity. He could not afford to let the youth out of his sight and risk losing him.
Christian watched, body tensed and ready to run if the opportunity presented itself, but Gerrard did not succeed in pushing their attacker toward the head of the alley. The Spaniard fought like a demon, and if Christian had not been so afraid of what would happen if Gerrard lost, he would have admired the lean lines of the older man’s form.
It was apparent his adversary was tiring, but Téodoro could feel his own muscles beginning to weary as well, and knew he had to make an end of this. Feinting to the left, his arm darted back quickly, avoiding the other’s blade and sinking the tip of his sword into the big man’s shoulder. At the same time, he stabbed with his other hand, the dagger he had concealed sliding between two lower ribs.
The dual bolts of pain drove Gerrard to his knees, hands clutching at his shoulder and his side. Looking back over his shoulder and meeting Christian’s eyes, he gave one last desperate order. “Run!”
Christian hesitated, not wanting to abandon his friend and defender, but the look on Gerrard’s face was implacable. Turning on his heel, he ran as though his life depended on it.
It grated at his honour to leave so worthy an opponent simply lying in a growing pool of blood, but Téodoro could not spare a moment if he was to catch the fleeing youth. Hoping the next drinker who needed to relieve himself would find the wounded man, he hastily sheathed his sword and raced after his prize down the dark alley.
Christian heard the pounding footsteps behind him, cursing under his breath as he swerved unsteadily. Fear had driven away a healthy portion of the alcohol he had consumed that evening, but not all of it, leaving him less fleet than usual. Added to that, he kept seeing Gerrard go down. His bodyguard had drilled him over and over on what to do if they were attacked, and Christian had done it, though he had always promised himself he would not leave Gerrard if a fight went ill. The constant lectures had apparently done their job, because curse himself for a coward, Christian had run when ordered to do so. He veered around a corner, losing his footing and stumbling, his ankle giving out beneath him as his head hit the cobblestones with a resounding thud.
Téodoro was so focused on closing the gap between himself and the fleeing youth that when the Englishman fell suddenly, he nearly ran into the crumpled body. Dropping to his knees, he lifted the boy’s head from the stones, running his free hand over the motionless form to check for injuries. Finding no obvious breaks, he drew a deep breath into his heaving lungs and rose, holding the limp body in his arms.
As he slipped through the back streets to his rooms, Téodoro pondered the evening’s turn of events. He had learned over the years to trust his instincts, and the young man in his arms set every one of them on alert.
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Second in the series, All For One
Aristide, Landre, and Perrin pledge only three loyalties in life: their King, their captain, and their passion for each other. So when the musketeers discover a plan to accuse M. de Trville of treason, the initial impulse to kill the messenger, Benot, is tempered by their need to unmask the plotter. But their first two suspects, the English ambassador and Cardinal Richelieu, prove to be innocent, forcing the musketeers to delve deeper into the inner machinations of the French court. Meanwhile, Aristide finds himself falling in love with the ill-fated messenger, a blacksmith without a home who rouses all of his protective, possessive instincts. Benot, however, has no interest in any man. Torn between desire and duty, Aristide must find a way to protect the King and clear his captain's name-all while heeding the demands of his heart.
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And in the works, All For Love!!
Ariel's latest book, published March 20, 2015 is Dance Off, a collaboration with Nessa Warin
On the reality show Dance Off, pro rugby player Olivier Gautier and Olympic swimmer JC Webster each have one goal in mind: to stay on the show as long as possible to earn his charity of choice maximum exposure and a larger donation. As the competition heats up, their goals expand to catching each other's interest, but Olivier is firmly in the closet and plans to stay there. JC is willing to be discreet, but not to hide forever.
Starting a romance with another man is challenge enough for any celebrity, but doing it under the microscope of reality TV—and one majorly intolerant costar—is even harder. Add in meddling dance pros, JC’s overbearing family, and the need to play up chemistry with dance partners to win America’s hearts, and JC and Olivier’s time together is looking more and more like a recipe for disaster.
As the pressure to stay in the competition mounts, JC and Olivier must face their inevitable separation at the end of the show as well as decide whether a relationship as complicated as theirs can survive in the real world, outside the bubble of the set and practice studios.
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Ariel's favorite things:
1. My children’s laughter.
2. Anything and everything purple.
3. Indian food
4. Speaking French with anyone and everyone who has any hope of understanding and answering me
More about Ariel:
Ariel Tachna lives outside of Houston with her husband, her daughter and son, and their cat. Before moving there, she traveled all over the world, having fallen in love with both France, where she found her husband, and India, where she dreams of retiring some day. She’s bilingual with snippets of four other languages to her credit, and is as in love with languages as she is with writing.
Thanks for celebrating with us this month. We hope you enjoyed our celebrations, and perhaps even found a few new books to love!
Until next time, happy reading!