Welcome to another First Kiss Friday. Today’s guest is my friend Virginia Heath who as an excerpt from Redeeming the Reclusive Earl. Take it away Virginia!
I love a quirky pairing and Max and Effie in REDEEMING THE RECLUSIVE EARL are certainly that. Scarred from a fire, Max is trying to hide from the world at his newly inherited estate but those plans are scuppered by the tenacious Effie who flatly refuses to abandon her archaeological dig on his land. Effie is, for want of a better word, a genius with a photographic mind who terrifies most men with her intelligence. Despite his initial anger at her trespassing, the pair form an unlikely friendship as Max finds himself recruited as her reluctant assistant…
Did she intimidate him?
What sort of a blasted question was that to ask hot on the heels after he had only just discovered there had been multiple idiots who had apparently kissed her in the past. Idiots who were too stupid not to want to do it again! Because to his way of thinking, asking if she intimidated him was merely a polite way of asking if she emasculated him, which would be laughable if everything about Effie didn’t remind him hourly exactly how masculine he truly was.
The most masculine part of him was still reeling at the sight of her all flustered and damp in that worn shirt and those damned form-fitting breeches. And she had a smear of mud on her cheek, which he’d had the devil of a job not brushing away the second he had seen it. The only way he could stop himself was to pretend he did not want to hold her muddy hand when he had stupidly offered to help her out of the trench, because in that precise moment, had he hauled her up, he would have hauled her into his arms and likely scared the hell out of her.
What baffled him, what he still couldn’t wrap his head around, was how those idiotic men had found the strength not to kiss her because he was severely struggling with it.
Every day it got harder and, to make it worse, the urge wasn’t only fired by her pretty face and mouth-watering figure, but by her mind. The more he got to know her, the more he wanted to know her in every sense of the word. His unwelcome infestation of visitors aside, the past three days had been interminable because he had missed her. He’d even ridden twice in the pouring rain in the pathetic hope he would still find her here, tenaciously digging despite the foul weather. The linen shirt plastered to her skin and rendered translucent…
And those thoughts were not helping his discomfort at all. What had possessed him to work in the same trench as her? Mere inches away, but still too many miles apart for his liking.
Clearly he had a masochistic streak to have chosen this, rather than the other fifteen trenches he had dug, just to be close to her?
Annoyed, he thrust the trowel into the soft mud wall in front of him and felt the tip of it strike something solid. Even though he knew it was probably a rock, he still took the time to remove the soil carefully from the surface exactly as Effie had taught him.
The edge of whatever it was seemed large and curved like a wheel and, because he did not possess her patience or want to alert her to the fact he might have found something and then have to suffer her leaning over him while he worked, he discarded the trowel and began to tug away the earth with his fingers. Then he hit peat and that happily crumbled with the merest touch.
Little by little, the object quickly revealed itself until Max had uncovered a foot-wide crescent. But unlike a wheel, it wasn’t hollow, nor did it have spokes. He swiped his hands over it to clean away the mud and then stared in disbelief at the tiny spot of ornately tooled metal he had clumsily uncovered.
His tone must have alerted her to his discovery, because like a shot she as at his side and staring in disbelief. ‘Good heavens…’
Suddenly crouched next to him, her fingers joined his as they frantically removed the dirt. A task made easier by the moisture left in the ground from days of rain , the removal of years of compacted earth with the pickaxe only days before and the fresh drops which decided to fall from the sky to soften the peat it sat in. In no time and oblivious of the rainfall soaking them through, they had unveiled a perfect circle, obviously an ancient shield, the centre decorated with a proud riveted disc around which swirling patterns had been pressed into the metal.
Max stepped back to allow her smaller, more nimble, gentle fingers to prise the embedded edges from the earth, then watched transfixed as it was suddenly and miraculously free with hardly any effort and she lifted it.
‘I cannot believe it is completely intact.’ She laid it reverently on the grass on the top of the trench and ran her palm over the pattern as the rain that had started again hammered down on it. ‘Unless the peat somehow preserves things better than normal soil?’ She tugged free the hem of her shirt and used it to clean away as much muck as she could and then just stood and stared at it in wonder. ‘It is beautiful… Truly beautiful… Obviously bronze by the patina and lack of rust… The workmanship exquisite.’
‘So much for the Celts being savages, then? The man who used this had excellent taste and knew one hell of a blacksmith.’
She slowly turned to him, half-smiling, half-agog. ‘You are right… The man who owned this was someone special, Max. This shield is a statement. Purely ceremonial, I’ll wager, and a mark of his status, exactly like the gold bracelet. Both are incredibly special objects and it is too coincidental to find two such treasures in one small space.’
‘Do you think it plausible this wooden hut belonged to a king?’ If the Celts even had kings.
‘Perhaps… Which would make this dwelling…’ Awe turned to excitement as she beamed, then launched at him, wrapping her arms around him in an exuberant hug while jumping up and down. ‘Oh, Max! This is wonderful! Wonderful! You’ve found something wonderful! He’s someone important! Someone hugely important! That explains why his house is so big!’
‘Do you think?’
‘It has to be! He is an eminent chieftain or a king!’
‘Or a queen like that Boudicca you and my sister are so fond of. That bracelet is too small for a man’s wrist. And then there is that comb you found. Big, hairy, blue men wouldn’t bother with a comb…’
‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was a woman’s house? A different sort of woman than society understands today, of course.’ Much like Effie herself. ‘But one who mattered once. Someone important…’ Her hands clutched at his waistcoat as she beamed and bounced on the spot. ‘You’ve found something amazing, Max!’ Caught up in her excitement he looped his arm around her waist and laughed, picking her up and spinning her around in the confined space as best he could until they were both giddy. ‘You’ve found something amazing!’
‘We found something amazing, Effie.’
He liked the sound of that on his lips. Liked the feel of her arms locked around his neck. The feel of her lush body in damp fabric plastered against him. The sight of her bedraggled hair and the way it dripped rainwater on to his face. The way that rainwater spiked her long lashes and dewed her lips.
He felt his heart beating against her ribs.
Felt his chest rise and fall in time with hers.
Lost himself in the depths of her beautiful, expressive eyes.
Then forgot all the reasons why he shouldn’t kiss her and simply did, sighing against her mouth as he gathered her close. She tasted like the outdoors. The sea air. The vast horizons he had sailed towards, filled with promise and wonder. Smelled of lilacs and roses and rainwater. Felt like utter perfection in his arms.
As if she had been made for him. That was his last rational thought before he lost himself.
Until the sound of rapidly approaching hoofbeats broke the spell and the pair of them jumped apart and blinked at each other, stunned.
REDEEMING THE RECLUSIVE EARL
By Virginia Heath
His heart is a fortress.
And she’s trespassing!
After losing all he holds dear in a horrific fire, Max Aldersley, Earl of Rivenhall, shuns the world—until he catches Effie Nithercott digging holes on his estate! He banishes the intrepid archaeologist and the unsettled feelings she rouses within him. But she returns even more determined and infuriatingly desirable than before! He wonders just how deep she’s prepared to dig—so far she’ll reach the man beneath his scars?
Giveaway question: For a chance to win 1 of 3 eBook copies of REDEEMING THE RECLUSIVE EARL simply answer the following question:
I love a tortured hero and there aren’t many more tortured than poor Max- who is you favourite fictional tortured hero?
Buy link: mybook.to/reclusiveearl
Virginia Heath bio:
When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. Eighteen books later, it still takes her forever to fall asleep.