March 20, 2018

Unbound Blog Tour: Excerpt + Giveaway

Unbound (The Men of West Palm Beach #2)
Author: Kimberly Derting
Release Date: February 10, 2018
Publisher: Kingsley Books 


Do opposites really attract?

Emerson Monroe McLean is a true Texan through and through. But she's never wanted to be like the other girls she grew up with, the ones who view debutante balls and sororities as stepping-stones to landing the perfect husband.

Yet everyone underestimates Em. When they look at the leggy blonde, all they see is a serial-dater who leaves a string of broken hearts in her wake. What people don’t realize is that keeping guys at arms length is more than just about having a good time; it’s a deep-rooted defense mechanism.

Lucas Harper is California born and bred. The product of his wealthy upbringing and an overbearing mother, Lucas has always been told where to be and when to be there. But after his older brother’s death, Lucas is tired of being a puppet.

Taking a break to figure out what he wants out of life, he moves to West Beach to spend the summer surfing. It’s there that he meets Emerson McLean, the free-spirited beauty who lures him into her bed. Refusing to be tied down, she’s unlike any girl he’s every known.

Can they find common ground...or will their differences tear them apart?

Their chemistry is undeniable. There’s only one hitch: Lucas already has a fiancĂ©e. And when she lands on his doorstep, Emerson realizes that for the first time in her life, she has genuine feelings for a guy.

With her heart on the line, Emerson discovers that, win or lose, she isn’t the kind of girl to play by the rules.  

Praise for UNDRESSED:

"Falling in love has never felt so good. With the warmth of the sun, and the sand between your toes, Derting takes you on the summer you always imagined with Undressed." ―Heidi McLaughlin, NY Times bestselling author of Forever My Girl (soon to be a major motion picture)


"A strong debut from a promising author." ―Publishers Weekly (The Body Finder)

"If you're in the mood for some psychological thrillers, evil masterminds, strong heroines and hot heroes, then I'd definitely pick up the Body Finder series." ―USA Today (The Body Finder)

" and engrossing." ―VOYA (The Pledge)

"As always, this author writes a gripping tale...With another sequel set up, this intriguing series continues to provide great entertainment for suspense fans." ―Kirkus Reviews (The Last Echo)

"...a refreshing take on paranormal romance..." ―Romantic Times (The Body Finder)

"More great suspense from a prolific new writer with a vibrant imagination." ―Kirkus Reviews (The Pledge)

You can purchase UNBOUND at the following Retailers:
I matched his predatory gaze, and raised it with a smug one of my own. I was more than happy to talk about my impromptu striptease. “You noticed.”

He hooked his arm through mine and my heels sank into the plush carpet as we made our way toward the sounds of the party below. “You made it impossible not to.”

I quirked my eyebrow. “That was the point. If I had to suffer, then so did you.”

My confession earned me a growl as he dragged me to a stop. Now I was the one pressed up against the silk wallpaper my mother had hand-selected from Italy. He leaned close to me, his lips at my ear even though the music below was so loud no one down there could possibly hear us. “Jesus, Emerson, you think I wasn’t suffering enough already? Now on top of everything else I’ll be stiff for a week thanks to your performance.”

Tipping my head up, I let my cheek graze his freshly shaven jaw. I inhaled his scent, musk and soap, and even this far from home, the Pacific. When my hand reached up to rest on his biceps, his muscles flexed beneath his starched shirt. “I won’t apologize for making you uncomfortable.”

Copyright © 2018 by Kimberly Derting
Kimberly Derting is the author of the award-winning THE BODY FINDER seriesTHE PLEDGE trilogyTHE TAKING trilogy, and UNDRESSED (her first book in The Men Of West Beach series). Her books have been translated into 15 languages, and both THE BODY FINDER and THE PLEDGE were YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selections. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where the gloomy weather is ideal for writing anything dark and creepy. Her three beautiful (and often mouthy) children serve as an endless source of inspiration and frequently find the things they say buried in the pages of their mother's books, or on Twitter for the world to see.

 (5) Winners will receive a Copy of UNBOUND by Kimberly Derting. 
(1) Winner will receive a $50.00 Amazon Gift Card.
Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter


Release Day Blitz + Giveaway: Dominion by Julie Hall

I am so excited that DOMINION by Julie Hall is available now and that I get to share the news!

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a complete signed paperback set (4 books), a $10 Amazon GC, and Life After Swag, US Only, courtesy of Julie and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

DOMINION (Life After #3)
Author: Julie Hall
Release Date: March 20, 2018
Publisher: Julie Hall
Formats: eBook
Pages: 365

Find it:  Goodreads, Amazon


After defeating the red dragon’s legion of bloodthirsty demons, Audrey can finally settle into the afterlife with the knowledge her family is safe. But her quest for a perfect existence shatters the moment Logan is kidnapped in an attempt to bend her to Satan’s will.

Audrey must now travel to the one place no hunter has ever ventured to save the man she loves... Hell.

Savage demons, desiccated corpses, life sucking zombie trees, and a land of death and rot await Audrey and her friends as they battle through the fiery realm.

But Logan’s freedom comes with a price... the destruction of Audrey’s happily ever after.

As Satan schemes for dominion over all the realms, Audrey learns that some acts may be beyond redemption.

HUNTRESS (Life After #1)
Author: Julie Hall
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Julie Hall
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 351

Find it:  Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, TBD


No one’s afterlife is as dispiriting as Audrey’s―at least that’s what she believes after waking up dead without her memories and being promptly assigned to hunt demons for the rest of eternity. She’s convinced God’s made a cosmic mistake; after all, she’d rather discuss the color of her nails than break them on angelic weapons.

It doesn’t help that her trainer, Logan, is as infuriating as he is attractive. And just when Audrey and Logan appear close to developing an amicable relationship, a decision made under duress pushes their hearts in a direction neither of them saw coming.

Despite her sub-par fighting abilities, an ancient weapon of unparalleled power chooses Audrey as its wielder, attracting the cautious gazes of her fellow hunters and the attention of Satan himself. With Satan’s eyes now fixed on Audrey, a battle for the safety of the living looms in the shadows.

WARFARE (Life After #2)
Author: Julie Hall
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Julie Hall
Formats: eBook
Pages: 273

Find it:  Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, TBD


The battle is far from over.

When the lives of her loved ones are put in peril, who will Audrey turn to for help? On the surface, Audrey's existence in the afterlife is coming together. Her quirky new mentor guides her on the path to becoming the demon hunter she always hoped. She has great friends and even a kinda-sorta-maybe new boyfriend. But if things are so wonderful, why is Logan never far from her thoughts?

After learning that her family is the target of an unprecedented demonic siege Audrey puts all she’s gained in jeopardy by defying heavenly authorities and returning to Earth. Stranded at the place she once called home with the one person she's been desperate to forget, she'll face vicious monsters, betrayers, and a legion of demons with an insidious weapon that even her celestial sword can't defeat.

Will Audrey’s mistakes in the afterlife be what destroys the lives of the ones she loves the most?

LOGAN (Life After #2.5)
Author: Julie Hall
Release Date: December 26, 2017
Publisher: Julie Hall
Formats: eBook
Pages: 143

Find it:  Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, TBD


Every warrior has his weakness.
Logan has it all—friends, popularity, girls—but his perfect life isn’t all he imagined.

When one mistake leads to his untimely arrival in the afterlife, he becomes a weapon against the evil that lurks on Earth.

When a mission goes awry he emerges with a secret superpower, but is broken in mind and body. He cleverly hides his scars, until the day he’s assigned to train an unlikely new demon hunter. Even though Audrey is as fiery as she is alluring, this beauty may be the one to tame his inner beast.

Now the only thing he’s sure of is that his existence will never be the same.

Fans of The Mortal Instruments, Supernatural, and This Present Darkness, won’t want to miss experiencing the beginnings of this epic love story.

LOGAN is a companion novella to the bestselling and multiple award-winning LIFE AFTER series. It can be read as a standalone, or as Book 2.5 in the series.
Exclusive Excerpt

We sat on his bed, tucked up against the headboard, Logan sitting with one knee bent and an outstretched leg, and me curled into a ball against his chest, practically cuddled on his lap.

When my tears were spent, I let out a shaky breath of air. 

“Audrey, I can’t—” Logan’s voice caught on something. His head rested on top of mine. When he continued, his voice dropped an octave, thickened with emotion. “I can’t imagine what you went through down there. I’m so very sorry. I should never have bonded with you.”

I savored the warm thud of his heartbeat on my cheek for several seconds before what he’d said sunk in. The leakage from my eyes along with a bad case of the feels must have dulled my reactions.

I jerked to a sitting position to stare at him in disbelief—and anger. My face was crusted with the salt of dried tears. There was no doubt I was a hot mess and a half. But that was nothing compared to the mess he’d just spewed.

He reached for me again, but I put a hand up to ward off his movements and curled my upper lip.

Where to even start?

“What I went through? Are you insane?” His gaze jumped around my face as if he couldn’t decide on a safe place to land. “Logan, I actually felt an echo of what you went through. I even experienced some of it in a dream or a weird out of body experience where I was you. What I went through was nothing.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but I slashed a hand through the air to stop him. “Nothing compared to what had been done to you. You were torn to shreds. Literally, in some spots.”

His face paled. I shouldn’t have gone there and instantly regretted bringing it up—but I couldn’t handle his concern for me when he had been tortured. We’d get to the “should never have bonded with you” comment next.

“You experienced some of...of what I went through?” he asked.

Shoot, I gave him another reason to beat himself up. Rookie mistake. “Never mind about that. And what’s this business about regretting bonding with me? Frankly, that’s kind of—hey!”

He grabbed my upper arms and held me still as I tried to push away even farther. His blue eyes flashed, and his face was hard as stone. “If bonding with you caused you to feel even a second of what I endured in that place, then yes, it’s something I deeply regret and would do anything to take back.”

Buried under the caveman response was something sweet, but I wasn’t feeling it.

“Argh. You...” I pointed a finger at his face. “You just...”

As I sputtered to find the right words, the corners of Logan’s lips just barely tipped up. I stopped talking when I spotted his involuntary reaction. Of course I’d find a guy who thought it was cute when I got mad. Actually, that was probably pretty lucky considering I did tend to have a short fuse.

I pressed my lips together and narrowed my eyelids before performing another visual sweep of his body.

Yep, he looked to be relatively healthy.

I launched myself at him and grabbed the sides of his face, and then I planted my lips right over his. 

Just like the first time I’d surprised him with a kiss, he was momentarily stunned.

I gently but firmly bit down on his full bottom lip in a silent demand for him to get with the program. Then I pulled back a fraction, just far enough that my lips grazed his when I spoke.

“Less talking, more kissing,” I ordered.

I’d gone to Hell and back for this guy. I wanted to collect my reward...with interest.
Julie Hall is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of young adult fantasy fiction. 

Before writing her first novel Julie worked as a film publicist and rubbed elbows with the rich and in she would gently nudge them to let them know their meal had arrived during press interviews.

She now spends most of her "office hours" with her two furry writing buddies, Bear and Coco. Her daughter thinks that mommy's superpower is “sleeping all day,” but that’s because she’s often awake until the wee hours of the morning weaving tales of adventure in worlds of her own creation. When asked in an interview what she wanted to be when she grew up, she’s quoted to have answered, “to never have to grow up.”

She currently lives in Portland, Oregon with her four favorite people--her husband, daughter, and two fur babies (because dogs are people too).  

Connect with Julie here, or on social media.

Giveaway Details:
(1) winner will receive a a complete signed paperback set (4 books), a $10 Amazon GC, and Life After Swag - US Only!

March 19, 2018

Cover Reveal: Kiss of the Royal by Lindsey Duga

Let us know what you think of the cover for Kiss of the Royal by Lindsey Duga, which releases July 3, 2018!

This cover reveal is brought to you by Entangled Teen.

About Kiss of the Royal:

In the war against the Forces of Darkness, the Royals are losing. Princess Ivy is determined to end this centuries-long conflict once and for all, so her new battle partner must succeed where the others failed. Prince Zach’s unparalleled skill with a sword, enhanced by Ivy’s magic Kiss, should make them an unstoppable pair—but try convincing Zach of that. Prince Zach has spent his life preparing for battle, but he would rather be branded a heretic than use his lips as nothing more than a way to transfer magic. A kiss is a symbol of love, and love is the most powerful weapon they have—but try convincing Ivy of that. With the fate of their world on the line, the battlefield has become a testing ground, and only one of them can be right. Falling for each other wasn’t part of the plan—but try convincing their hearts of that.

Want to read more? Pre-order your copy of Kiss of the Royal by Lindsey Duga today!


Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled Publishing

Lindsey Duga is a middle grade and young adult writer with a passion for fantasy, science fiction, and basically any genre that takes you away from the real world. She wrote her first novel in college while she was getting her bachelor’s in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University. Other than writing and cuddling with her morkie puppy, Delphi, Lindsey loves catching up on the latest superhero TV show and practicing yoga. 

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Entangled Publishing

Tiger's Dream Blog Tour: Review, Tens List + Giveaway

Tiger's Dream (The Tiger's Curse Saga #5)
Author: Colleen Houck
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: March 20, 2018
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 


A tiger left behind.

A goddess in need of an ally.

Stranded in a time and place he never wished for, Kishan Rajaram must carry out his destiny of assisting the beautiful yet extremely irritable goddess Durga. This daunting task is not made easy by the fact that he must also face the truth about the girl he loves and the brother who stole her away.

When the wily shaman Phet appears and tells Kishan that Kelsey needs him, he jumps at the chance to see her again. In his efforts to save her, Kishan discovers that the curse he thought was over is just beginning. As time unravels around him, Kishan realizes that the fates of all those he holds dear lie in hands.

The goddess’s power hangs in the balance. Kishan has no choice but to sacrifice the unthinkable to fight the dark forces swirling around the woman he’s charged to protect. As he does, he discovers that love and loyalty create their own magic and accepts that he must decide his destiny once and for all.

Tiger’s Dream is the conclusion to the epic Tiger’s Curse fantasy romance series that left you breathless.  

Praise for TIGER'S CURSE:

“…a sweet romance and heart-pounding adventure. I found myself cheering, squealing and biting my nails-all within a few pages. In short, Tiger's Curse is magical!” ―Becca Fitzpatrick, New York Times bestselling author of Hush, Hush

"High adventure ensues. As in Tiger's Curse and Tiger's Quest, this story is part action-adventure and part romance…The novel will satisfy the saga's fans, who will be delighted by the prospect of a fourth volume.” ―Booklist

“Houck cranks the love-o-stat up another notch…Hypersteamy romance...'hot, melty, smoldering' (but still chaste) make-out sessions…” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Forget vampires and werewolves, tigers are the new hottest thing…a guaranteed page turner with a huge twist at the end that will leave you breathless.” ―RT Book Reviews 

You can purchase Tiger's Dream at the following Retailers:

Top 10 Best Writing Advice

1) Set a daily word goal

2) Don’t read reviews on Goodreads

3) Do interact with readers on social media

4) Do attend book conferences to network with other authors
5) Read as much as possible

6) Do something new every year like skydiving or snorkeling

7) Take a vacation somewhere you’ve never been

8) Keep a list of ideas

9) Always have a bunch of sticky notes

10) Never give up
Tiger's Dream is the fifth and final book in the highly popular Tiger's Curse Saga. When I initially read the first book, I was really impressed with the originality of the plot and the various aspects that went into the book. There is a lot of rich Indian mythology and folklore in the series, which I have always found really interesting. The concept of the quest and all the trials that the characters must face made this book a fast paced adventure that was hard to put down. The story's background was well written and fit in well with the current plot of the book and series. Since this is the fifth book, I highly recommend reading the previous books beforehand. There are a lot of things that happen throughout the series and readers who don't know about them wouldn't be able to understand or appreciate some of the circumstances or references in this book.

Even after all the other books, I continued to really enjoy the characters and their unique personalities. The romance in the book is sweet and had my stomach fluttering, but it was a good blend of steamy and syrupy. This is one of those bittersweet books. I'm sad because the series is ending and I don't want it to, but the novel itself was wonderful and brought a great ending to overall story. This book (and series) brings a new voice and fresh ideas to the young adult genre - this is not your typical fantasy, mythology, or shapeshifter story. It's so much more than that! I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read something that's not cookie-cutter and that stretches the imagination.
New York Times Bestselling author Colleen Houck is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, paranormal, science fiction, and romance. When she’s not busy writing, she likes to spend time chatting on the phone with one of her six siblings, watching plays, and shopping online. Colleen has lived in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, and North Carolina and is now permanently settled in Salem, Oregon with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.


 (5) Winners will receive the Ultimate Tiger’s Dream Swag (Physical Copy, Necklace and Book Plate) by Colleen Houck.  
(5) Winners will receive an E-Copy of TIGER'S DREAM by Colleen Houck.
Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter


March 18, 2018

Death of an Unsung Hero Blog Tour: Excerpt

Death of an Unsung Hero (Lady Montfort Mystery #4)
Author: Tessa Arlen
Genre: Historical Mystery
Release Date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Minotaur Books


Lady Montfort and her pragmatic housekeeper Mrs. Jackson investigate a murder of a WWI officer with amnesia in the 20th-century English countryside.

Building on the success of her last three mysteries in the same series, Tessa Arlen returns us to the same universe in Death of an Unsung Hero with more secrets, intrigue, and charming descriptions of the English countryside.

In 1916, the world is at war and the energetic Lady Montfort has persuaded her husband to offer the dower house to the War Office as an auxiliary hospital for officers recovering from shell-shock with their redoubtable housekeeper Mrs. Jackson contributing to the war effort as the hospital’s quartermaster.

Despite the hospital’s success, the farming community of Haversham, led by the Monfort’s neighbor Sir Winchell Meacham, does not approve of a country-house hospital for men they consider to be cowards. When Sir Evelyn Bray, one of the patients, is found lying face down in the garden with his head bashed in, both Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson have every reason to fear that the War Office will close their hospital. Once again the two women unite their diverse talents to discover who would have reason to murder a war hero suffering from amnesia.
Chapter One

“How very nice, Mrs. Jackson.” Iyntwood’s elderly butler settled into his chair by the window. “Why, it’s almost like old times again.” George Hollyoak’s glance took in the claustrophobic and overfurnished room: shabby velvet chairs jostled with a heavy mahogany desk, taking up far too much space in front of the windows, both of which were swathed in heavy curtains in a dusty but strident red plaid.
The dowager Countess of Montfort had died two years ago and her character, or that of the late Queen Victoria, whom she had revered, was still heavily imprinted on the dower house furnished as a faithful replica of the old queen’s beloved Balmoral Castle. Bright and, to Mrs. Jackson’s flinching eye, brash tartans dominated most of the reception rooms on the ground floor of Haversham Hall.
Mrs. Jackson was encouraged to see George Hollyoak sitting in her new office. It had taken weeks to coax him to visit her and now after all sorts of silly excuses here he was. Though even with her old friend and mentor sitting at his leisure with a cup of afternoon tea in his hand it wasn’t really like old times, no matter how much they all wished it were. The war had changed everything. Her face must have reflected her thoughts as she followed his gaze around the oppressively furnished room. “Perhaps not quite like old times.” Her guest smiled as he observed a shaft of dust motes dancing thickly in the late summer sunlight. “I must say you are looking well, Mrs. Jackson, and so very smart in your uniform: Voluntary Aid Detachment or Red Cross?” This was the first time he had acknowledged that Iyntwood’s dower house had been transformed into an auxiliary hospital.
“The hospital comes under the jurisdiction of the Red Cross, but I trained with the VAD. I am not an assisting nurse, so I am spared the traditional starched apron and the rather claustrophobic cap,” she answered. Long aprons and linen caps, in her experience, were worn by cooks, and although Mrs. Jackson was not a snob, she was conscious of little things like rank and station.
In acknowledging Haversham Hall’s new status the old man evidently felt he might ask his next question. He leaned forward, curiosity bright in his eyes. “And how are you finding life in your new abode?”
Mrs. Jackson hesitated before she answered. She had never liked Haversham Hall; it was as overbearing as the Victorian age it had been built in and an ugly building in comparison to the Elizabethan elegance of Iyntwood. But she had made the adjustment from being a senior servant to Ralph Cuthbert Talbot, the Earl of Montfort, at his principal country-seat, to the rank of quartermaster at Lady Montfort’s new hospital far more easily than she had anticipated. The real challenge had come when their first patients had arrived, but this was something she was not prepared to share with Mr. Hollyoak—not just yet.
“It is not as different as I thought it would be. Haversham Hall is not Iyntwood, but it is a building I am familiar with, and my duties here are similar to those of my position as housekeeper at Iyntwood.” That’s not strictly true, she thought, but it will do for now.
Her new job was not at all like her old one, any more than this hospital was like many of the others that had sprung up all over the country in the many private houses of the rich and titled, speedily converted to cope with an unceasing flow of wounded men from France. At Haversham Hall Hospital there were no wards lined with rows of beds, no operating theaters with trays of steel surgical instruments, or hastily installed sluices and sterilizers. Certainly there was an occasionally used sick bay and a first aid room in what was known as the medical wing, but they were merely a token adjunct. And it was these diferences that were the cause for Mr. Hollyoak’s initial reluctance to visit her and for his searching question, “How are you finding life in your new abode?” because Haversham Hall Hospital was not a conventional Red Cross hospital, not by a long stretch of the imagination.
She raised her teacup to her lips and took a sip. If she was to help a man whose conventions were deeply mired in the nineteenth century to understand the value of the hospital’s purpose, she must proceed with cautious tact. She decided to start with a prosaic description of the practicalities.
“I am responsible for the running of the hospital’s housekeeping and for ordering all supplies, which means I spend most of my time sitting at my desk filling in requisition forms; the bureaucracy of wartime, her ladyship calls it. But we have plenty of nice young women from the Voluntary Aid Detachment to help with the housekeeping as well as some of our nursing duties. And I certainly need to be well placed here on the ground floor of the house to supervise them.” She did not add “every step of the way” because that way of thinking made her resent how difficult it was to work with inexpert help. To go with her cheerful tone she exhibited her most optimistic smile. VAD girls from nice middle-class families were a nightmare to train in comparison to sensible, sturdy village women who were ready to roll up their sleeves and had no roman- tic illusions about their part in the war effort.
Having given her visitor the briefest outline of her duties, she decided that she would wait for him to display genuine interest— enthusiasm would be too much to hope for—in what they were accomplishing here before she continued. She ofered Mr. Hollyoak a plate of sandwiches: delicate triangles of egg with cress. She had prepared them herself, mashing the hard-boiled egg finely with a narrow-tined fork and adding just the right amount of salt, pepper, and cress to spread on lightly buttered crustless bread. He took a sandwich and closed his eyes as he chewed and swallowed the first bite.
“Perfect,” he said and smiled his appreciation, “quite perfect. I need not say how much you are missed at Iyntwood.” He took another bite of sandwich and then slowly shook his head. “The house simply isn’t the same without you.”
She detected real regret in his voice that she was no longer his second-in-command in a servants’ hall now staffed entirely with women. She knew how hard it had been for him to adapt to her temporary employment by the Red Cross, if it was indeed the Red Cross that paid her generous salary and not, as she suspected, the Earl of Montfort. Perhaps this is why I am reluctant to talk about the hospital, because I find my new life so stimulating, and how­ ever inefficient they are, I enjoy working with young and lively women whose backgrounds are as varied as our duties. However terrible this war was, it had certainly opened up a new perspective to those from other walks of life and in particular the staid and confined life of an upper servant to the aristocracy. All of this would be difficult to explain to a man whose retinue of perfectly trained footmen was serving in the trenches of northern France.
“I know it’s wrong of me to say so, Mrs. Jackson, but Iyntwood seems so quiet, so empty now that we are not formally entertaining the way we used to. We all work, just as hard, perhaps even more so, to maintain standards but only because we have to make do with far less staff. I am sometimes hard put to remember our gracious lives before that terrible day in 1914.” Mr. Hollyoak looked down into his empty teacup before he put it on the table between them and she poured him a second cup.
“I am quite sure that none of us will ever forget that day, Mr. Hollyoak.” She nodded her head in commiseration of the old man’s many losses. Others might remember the fourth of August, when Britain rallied to the flag, as one of the loveliest days of a perfect summer, the sort of day that Englishmen wrote poems about when they were far from home. But what fixed it in her memory was that it was a morning on which her ladyship had triumphed in a particularly tricky inquiry at neighboring Bishop’s Hever and a murder of such audacious cunning that just remembering it still raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Tea poured, she offered her guest the sugar bowl and silently counted the three sugar lumps he extravagantly stirred into his tea. Mr. Hollyoak had always had a sweet tooth and sugar was in short supply these days.
“No word from Dick Wilson, I’m afraid, Mrs. Jackson. It’s been nearly a month now, and Dick was always like clockwork with his letters before—we would have heard by now if there was bad news, wouldn’t we?”
So it wasn’t just curiosity that brought you here, then. More than likely the old man had come to see her out of loneliness, perhaps for solace. Iyntwood’s hall boy at age eighteen had been one of the first to join the British Expeditionary Force to France in 1914. She took a sip of tea. “Sometimes the post is a bit erratic, Mr. Hollyoak. Do you remember when we didn’t hear from John for nearly two months? And then dozens of letters came, all in one go, each
and every one of them asking us to send socks?”
He nodded, willing to hope that all was well with the youngest member of his servants’ hall. “I certainly do.” A faint smile as he remembered their fastidious second footman’s complaints after a winter of rain-filled trenches. “That boy has enough socks for a battalion now.”

She cut him a piece of Victoria sponge cake. “Ah, Mrs. Jackson, you spoil me.” He sighed with contentment. “No time for a good sponge cake belowstairs at Iyntwood now that Mrs. Thwaite’s kitchen maids have all left to become munitionettes at the Ban- bury factory.” Her face betrayed no irritation but she inwardly bristled at the term “munitionette,” as the suffix made the dangerous job sound diminutive—dainty, even. Is that what they are calling them now—what’s wrong with “munition workers”? They are prob­ably required to wear ridiculous little caps with frills, like waitresses at a Lyons Corner House, when they pack those shells with their bare hands. She shrugged of her annoyance and presented a passive face as she listened to Mr. Hollyoak’s gentle grumbling about lowered standards. “Lord and Lady Montfort are most careful not to overburden the staff these days, but Cook is so run of her feet without her kitchen maids that she is threatening to go and join them in Banbury. She says at least she would know what was expected of her.” He shook his head that someone of Mrs. Thwaite’s age and status would even consider factory work.
The image of the cook’s angry red face flashed into Mrs. Jackson’s mind. “She’s the last person in the world to be in charge of explosives I would have thought,” she said before she could stop herself.

Mr. Hollyoak chuckled. “Always a bit heavy-handed with the pots and pans is our Mrs. Thwaite, but the lightest touch when it comes to pastry and puddings. But, never mind all of that... how is life finding you these days... I mean, how do you...” he groped for the right phrase. “I mean what do you make of all this?” He waved the last bite of Victoria sponge around her office, clearly indicating that he was now ready to hear more about the hospital. Mr. Hollyoak was well aware, as everyone was in the village and the county, that Haversham Hall Hospital had been one of Lady Montfort’s bright ideas right from the start, which was probably why he was picking his words so carefully. Mrs. Jackson set down her cup and saucer. She had no difficulty in recalling how grim her ladyship’s mood had been when she had returned from visiting an old family friend in Scotland. It had been a bitterly cold evening in early December last year. She was certainly a woman on a mission, if there ever was one, when she came back from vis­iting that terrible place.
“I have never seen such tragic young men,” Lady Montfort had announced to her housekeeper as she stood in middle of her sitting room, still wearing her hat and gloves and with her fur huddled closely around her neck. “It was heartbreaking to see them, sitting so meekly in their corners, seemingly quite unaware of where they were.”
“How is Mr. Barclay faring, m’lady?” Everyone belowstairs at Iyntwood was fond of Oscar Barclay, a particular friend of the Talbots’ only son, Lord Haversham, who had alerted his mother to Mr. Barclay’s plight: a casualty of the Battle of Loos, in France, and now a patient at Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland.
“He is suffering from what the army refers to in their ignorance as shell-shock and what the doctors call neurasthenia, Jackson. I hardly know how to describe what has happened to that wholly decent and kind young man; you simply wouldn’t recognize him. So pitifully thin... he shakes at any loud or sudden sound. When he tries to speak—he hardly uttered a word the whole time I was there—he stammers so, his mouth trembles, and he...” Lady Montfort’s eyes filled with tears and she stared fiercely of into a corner of the room until she had regained her composure. “The hospital was generous enough to put me up in the staff wing while I was there. It is a dreadful old building: run-down, drafty, and cold. All night I could hear those poor young men crying out like souls in torment...” She had tailed of and Mrs. Jackson had almost reached out to take her hand, that was how distressed her ladyship had been. “They say nothing about their suffering, nothing at all.” She had managed to continue in the flat monotone people of her class used when they were embarrassed about displaying emotion. “They politely lock down into stammering or silence. There is no release for them it seems—even when they manage to sleep they wake screaming from their nightmares as they relive over and over the horrors of battle.” Lady Montfort had gazed down at the carpet for a moment to bring herself back under complete control. “One of the doctors at Craiglockhart, his name is Brock, believes that the act of functioning—of doing simple and useful tasks that engage the mind and body in healthy activities—is often successful in helping these men to mend, or at least recover something of their lives. All the way home on the train I kept thinking about them and what the doctor told me they were doing for them. It made me think that we might be of use.”
However distressed she was, the Countess of Montfort was a resilient woman. High-strung? Certainly, and Mrs. Jackson was the first to acknowledge her ladyship’s little ways, but her mistress was not without an inner strength and vitality that never left her, even during these terrible days of war. She had rallied from the horrors of her trip to Scotland, and after several long walks in the frosty woodlands on the estate with her husband had persuaded Lord Montfort not only to offer up Haversham Hall to the War Office as a hospital for those young men who were on the road to recovery from neurasthenia, but to make a substantial donation to its running and upkeep.
Mrs. Jackson had no intention of trying to explain the innovative new treatments used at the hospital to her doubting friend sitting across from her. It had taken her a while to overcome her natural skepticism in the first weeks of her employment, especially to this new “talking cure” that the doctors had come up with. It had barely made any sense to her at first and it was the last thing in the world she would repeat to the old butler.
She got up and opened the window to let a little air into the slight stuffiness building in the room. “I have made the adjustment quite nicely, Mr. Hollyoak, I am glad to say. It was difficult at first. I was completely unprepared for how deeply distressed our first patients were when they came here.”
The old man cleared his throat. “If I may just say this, Mrs. Jackson, I am veteran of the Boer Wars and I am unfortunately familiar with the distress war wreaks on its soldiers. Conditions were indescribable at the Siege of Ladysmith when I was deployed there during the African wars. Our suffering was considerable, but none of us shrank from what we had to do. Why, most of us survived by eating rats and existing on a canteen cap of water a day. Typhoid carried of at least one-third of our number, maybe even more. But you see, Mrs. Jackson, real men do not hesitate to fight to the bitter end, no matter how hideous the conditions are. I am not saying there were no cowards in my day, of course there were and we gave them very short shrift.” Mrs. Jackson concealed a smile and respectfully nodded along as he remembered his war. How often had Mr. Hollyoak regaled the servants’ hall with graphic and bloody tales of the African wars? He had described getting over typhoid as if he had shaken of a chill caught on some sort of Boy Scouts camping trip. But what it boiled down to was that in Mr. Hollyoak’s opinion, real men didn’t complain, even under the worst of conditions, they merely got on with it; only a coward would hide out in a place like Haversham Hall Hospital and talk about the horrors of war with his doctor.
She summoned patience and tried again. “I understand, Mr. Hollyoak. Until I came to work here I thought of our patients as cowards too. Now I have to say I have had a complete change of mind. Every one of our officers say they want to return to the war as soon as they are able. Our job here, you see, is to help them function so they can lead their men in battle.” She saw Mr. Hollyoak’s look of disbelief and she stepped it up a notch. “They know they are thought of as cowards, they are painfully aware of it. What is the expression they use in the navy—swinging the lead?” Mr. Hollyoak acknowledged malingerers with a fervent nod. “We are low in numbers this week as thirteen of our twenty patients passed their Medical Board review and are now on their way back to the Western Front, to Mesopotamia, and Egypt. They went willingly and with brave hearts.” She caught his eye and tried to hold his gaze but he turned, reaching for his cup. When he had it in his hand she sought his eyes again. “Strangely enough, most of them here were decorated for bravery—before they became seriously ill.”
He raised his eyebrows and took a sip of tea. Yes, I thought that might surprise you. “There were six Distinguished Service Orders alone among our first fifteen officers, twelve of them mentioned in dispatches, and four Military Crosses in our second group. One of our officers was even recommended for the Victoria Cross. And it is quite remarkable that straightforward, useful work in the open air does so much to help restore our patients to normal life—we call it ‘cure through function.’ ” He smiled politely and gestured with his teacup to the comfortable country house they were seated in, as if to say, Who wouldn’t want to hide out the war here?
His eyes wandered to the little clock ticking away on the chimneypiece. She was losing him. She sought to change the subject. “Well, enough of my work. It must be wonderful to have Lord Haversham at home—is his arm healing well?” The old man brightened up at the mention of Lord and Lady Montfort’s son, who was home on medical leave from the Royal Naval Air Service with a fractured arm.
“Just plain ‘Captain Talbot’ is the title Lord Haversham prefers these days,” he said with paternalistic pride. “The highest scoring ace of his squadron and decorated three times, but of course he plays all that sort of thing down.”
“He was always a modest young man.” Mrs. Jackson did not want to precipitate another saga of heroic acts of derring-do from Mr. Hollyoak. Any man who fought in this war had her admiration, and Mr. Hollyoak did rather go on. “I am glad to hear that all is well at Iyntwood, Mr. Hollyoak. It certainly looks like Lady Althea is doing a lot for the county with her Women’s Land Army.” The war had curtailed the Talbots’ youngest daughter’s love of travel, and now that she was safely marooned on the family estate she had involved herself in representing the government’s volunteer force that provided local farmers with labor. “I can’t believe the jobs those young women are taking on, can you, Mr. Hollyoak?” She took a bite of cake. “Up at dawn and out in all weather. You have to take your hat of to them, don’t you? I simply don’t know what our farmers would have done without them, especially with this bumper harvest.”
The old butler sighed and pursed his lips. His handsome old head was imposingly leonine and when he slowly shook it from side to side, as he did now, it gave him all the appearance of an offended biblical elder—Moses when he returned from Mount Sinai to find the children of Israel had relapsed into drink and idolatry sprang to Mrs. Jackson’s mind and she bit the inside of her cheeks to stop herself from laughing outright. “They wear riding breeches.” Mr. Hollyoak put down his empty cup with some finality. “Most immodest and unattractive in the female form.”
TESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, was brought-up and educated in the beautiful Chiltern Hills of England, when she was not visiting her parents oversees in Asia, India and Europe. Her books are set in the pastoral beauty of her native England among its flint-stone villages, softly rolling hills, and airy beech woods.

Greatest influences on Tessa's writing are hands down Kenneth Grahame and Richard Adams for their wonderful descriptions of the beauties of the English countryside, and E.F. Benson and Nancy Mitford whose characters are so quintessentially eccentric and wickedly funny.