My Victorian historical GABRIELLE will be available in ebook format on May 9th! Here is an excerpt and blurb for my upcoming title! This story is very dear to me and will also be available in print—release date to come on that.
From the windswept plains of India to the tropical beaches of The Seychelles, to the glittering ballrooms of London Society….
Gabrielle Jordan has survived a bloody uprising in India and not without a great deal of loss. The death of her family in the British Garrison in Cawnpore leaves her shaking and wondering where her place in life really is. In the space of a heartbeat all her hopes and dreams are radically changed. Will she be able to find her footing and allow herself to find a happy ending amongst the ashes of what was once her life?
Devlin Reese, Duke of Kendrick arrives in Cawnpore, India unsure what he would find but praying the family he loves as his own will be fine. When he finds Gabrielle, his best friends sister amongst the surreal ruins of a once proud garrison he realizes his world will never be the same again. The young girl he thought he knew so well has forever changed and he will do what he must to make sure she realizes that dreams can come true and the he will not give up on her or on them.
Cawnpore, India May 1857
Smoke and dust hung like a heavy veil in the humid air. The miasma of death assaulted the Duke of Kendrick as he rode into the center of the British army garrison.
No matter where he looked, total destruction met his gaze. Shredded garden flowers littered the earth like macabre pieces of colored confetti. A child’s rag doll lay on the ground, forgotten by the little owner. Overturned water buckets, parasols and bonnets were strewn about. The Union Jack that once proudly flew from the center of the garrison parade grounds, hung torn and burned, dragging the earth.
With narrowed eyes he took in his surroundings, a preternatural silence met his ears. He turned in the saddle praying he would find some sign of life. Where were the soldiers and families that called this place home?
He dismounted and drew his sword from its scabbard as he cautiously moved into one building after another, finding broken furniture, paintings shredded and scattered about. Damaged swords and abandoned firearms gave evidence of the brutal fight the garrison had endured. And lost.
Where was Gabrielle? Panic gripped his stomach with an iron fist when all he heard was the sound of his own footfalls, echoing against the wood floors in each building he searched.
A small house, isolated from the rest of the buildings drew Devlin. The outside façade showed little damage which he found disconcerting when he considered all he’d seen thus far. He pushed the door open, the creaking of the hinges sounding like gunfire in the thick silence. Immediately he noted the interior was not so fortunate. Stuffing had been pulled from the chairs, tables were overturned. A crystal decanter lay shattered, the pieces of glass, glinting in the sun, the fading scent of whisky drifted in the dusty air that came through the door. The ticking of a clock reverberated obscenely loud in the stillness. What should have been a calming sound, grated on Devlin’s raw nerves. Each swing of the pendulum a taunt, reminding him of the precious seconds slipping away. Seconds not spent looking for Gabrielle.
Devlin gripped his sword tightly, needing the connection to his weapon to ground him in the here and now. When his best friend, Andrew sent the letter to him, requesting help in evacuating his family from India, Devlin never thought for a moment the rumors of the uprising would lead to so much destruction. Or that war would be made on the innocent women and children of the garrison. It was unheard of. But evidence to the contrary was hard to ignore when forced to face the obliteration of the once strong British garrison.
He turned on his heel, taking in his surroundings. Shadows filled the corners and it took him a moment to realize this place smelled different. There was no spilt blood, no lingering gunpowder or sweat filling the space. Instead he noted something spicy in the air, maybe cinnamon, a total dichotomy to the destroyed rooms. How could it smell so inviting and yet be in the center of a mutiny?
A leather bound book lying amongst the debris caught his eye. Bending, he retrieved it and dusted the dirt off the cover and opened the small tome. With his heart in his throat, he read the first page.
The travel diary of Lady Gabrielle Jordan
Carefully he turned the pages, noting her elegant and neat penmanship from the numerous letters she had sent him in La Digue since he left England. One particular entry caught his eye.
September 21, 1856
I can’t help but realize I’m sailing in the very waters that lap at the shores of Devlin’s island. I’ve been thinking of him frequently of late. How has he changed? Does he still have his long dark hair? Does the water appear as blue to him as it does to me? Does he enjoy the beauty of the sunsets and spectacular grandeur of the sunrise?
So many questions without answers, yet I can’t help but wonder how he is doing. Is he happy on his island paradise?
I wish with my whole heart we could sail to La Digue, rather than Calcutta. Being so close, yet so far from him, is almost unbearable. How my heart aches for him. Perhaps my preoccupation is due to the fact I have excessive time on my hands. But, I think this is a poor excuse.
We will be docking in the Maldives tomorrow. Daphne tells me these are beautiful islands, and I will be hard pressed to find such clear, blue water anywhere. I wonder how they compare to the Seychelles. Again, my musings bring me back to Devlin. Will this ever end?
Devlin closed the journal and held it close to his chest. Fear seized his vitals with burning talons. The walls were closing in on him, the stagnate air making him nauseous. Devlin went outside in time to see his best friend, Army Major Andrew Jordan as he rode into the garrison yard.
“Have you found them?” he called from his mount.
“No.” He returned to his stallion and secreted the journal in his travel bag. When he looked up he noticed a man sitting against a tree across the garrison grounds.
He had not been there earlier when Devlin had arrived.
Devlin approached the man intent on getting some answers. “Excuse me. Could you please direct me to the garrison commander? I need to speak with him directly.”
The soldier stared vacantly at Devlin but didn’t answer.
“Did you hear me?” He resisted the urge to shake the man from his stupor.
“Wot you need him for?”
The question as much as the soldier’s tone took Devlin aback. “I’m here to find my friend’s family, man. They were here visiting an uncle. Now, direct me to the person in charge.”
The soldier stood, shaking his head while he continued to stare at Devlin. “No one survived, mate. Not a single bloody person. If you had family here, they be dead.”
“Surely you’re wrong! There were women and children here. Where have they been moved?” Devlin asked.
“You don’t get it, mate. The bloody Indians killed ‘em all. The savages slaughtered the women and stuffed them down the well. Tossed the little ones down also. No one survived.”
The words stunned Devlin into action and his control slipped as he shook the man slightly. “No one makes war on women and children!”
“Say wot you will, that won’t change the facts. The bloody Indian’s slaughtered ‘em they did.”
“Where is the Bibighar, Private?” Andrew asked as he stopped beside Devlin.
Devlin turned noting his friends rather damning control. The cool and unemotional expression on Andrew’s face chilled Devlin to his core. Had this been his family missing, he would have been out of control, angry and perhaps even violent.
The soldier straightened and snapped a salute, noting for the first time the officer before him and pointed in the other direction. “It’s over by the well.”
Andrew turned to Devlin. “Did you manage to check out that building before I arrived?”
“No.” Devlin scanned the garrison grounds, still having a difficult time processing the entire scene before him.
“This is beyond what I thought possible.” Andrew removed his Calvary hat and ran a distracted hand through his hair.
Devlin agreed there was a systematic air about the destruction of the compound. “We need to hurry.”
“I agree. I’m going to speak with our guide. Tell him he can go,” Andrew said as he turned and left Devlin standing there alone.
The stench of death clung to his clothes and the heat from the sun beat down on him. Standing there, he vowed silently he would find Gabrielle before the sun set on this cursed day.
Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He watched as a small figure slipped into a building the soldier had called the Bibighar.
“Dev, come over here, I think you should hear this.” Andrew motioned to a small young woman with a serene face and sad dark eyes.
“In a moment.” He turned and strode toward the building.
* * * *
The heat and buzzing flies barely register as Gabrielle entered the Bibighar. She tasted the metallic, copper scent of spilt blood in the air and gagged. The fetid stink left her lightheaded. Gabrielle braced herself against one of the pillars, her heart pounding frantically as she attempted to process the sight before her.
The piano Elizabeth Ingram took such joy in playing lay in pieces. The marble floors and columns were now a sickly rust color. Her friends and family’s life blood.
Realizing the error she’d made by coming here, Gabrielle went to leave on shaking legs only to stop short. A small ragged scrap of gold fabric caught her eye. Walking over to the corner, Gabrielle bent to retrieve the piece of fabric and realized it was from her mother’s favorite dress. So many comments had been made about its unique color and style when they‘d first arrived in Cawnpore. The gown was a stunning new creation by Worth and her mama had been the envy of all the women who’d not had the chance to see the latest fashion plates.
Gabrielle sank to her knees, clutching the material close and began to sob. Her beautiful, loving mama and her handsome, strong papa were dead.
Wiping away the salty evidence of sorrow off her cheeks, she squared her shoulders. She was here for a purpose and would not let her sadness derail her from what she had to do.
Gabrielle lifted pieces of furniture, shards of vases and other glass ornaments that littered the floor. Mindless of the danger of injuring herself, she searched for the music box she had not taken into hiding with her.
The music box was the very last thing her parents had given her when she turned sixteen. Inside lay a strand of pearls her mother had given her. The treasured pearls had been passed down from mother to daughter for over a century.
Frantic, Gabrielle dug through the debris, looking for her mother’s trunk, knowing it would be safe inside, if only Gabrielle could locate it.
Tears streamed from her eyes, her nose was running and sobs burned her throat and still she tossed gowns and combs, mirrors and other feminine frippery out of her way, all in vain. Where was her precious music box?
Without warning, strong arms wrapped around her. She screamed as they picked her up and held her against a tight male body. Beating her fists on the man’s arms, Gabrielle tried to escape the unyielding hold this person had on her, ignoring the small voice in her heart resigning itself to the fate about to be dealt her. Deep down she knew she didn’t deserve to be alive while everyone else died. Knew that like her parents, like Elizabeth, her time would come. Part of her couldn’t wait to see her mama and papa again. Slowly it began to register that someone was murmuring in her ear and Gabrielle stopped struggling. Through her gasping breaths and the steady heartbeat throbbing in her ears, she heard the voice. A deep, velvety voice that for the past three years, she only heard in her dreams
“It’s all right, little one,” the voice said. “It’s going to be all right.”
Gabrielle froze, her heart stuttering in her chest. “Devlin?” she breathed. She shifted in his arms and they relaxed, allowing her to turn around. She reached out with a trembling hand and traced the beard-roughened face before her. A visage so very dear to her she knew it better than her own.
“Is it you? Is it really and truly you?”
Devlin wiped the tears from her face with a warm, solid thumb. “Yes, Gabrielle, I’m here.” Her hand shot up to her cheek, capturing his hand and gripping it tight. He was real. Her breath caught in her chest as she looked at him for the first time in three years. He still had his long dark hair, those same beautiful blue eyes.
Exhaling, she threw her arms around his neck, afraid when she opened her eyes he’d be gone, a cruel joke played on her by her own sad, broken heart.
But dreams did not stroke your hair, or murmur reassuring words in your ear. They didn’t place kisses on the top of your head and make you feel safe for the first time in a long time.
She pulled back, her lips quivering as she tried to form words she didn’t want to speak aloud. “They’re dead, Devlin, both of them. They’re gone.”
A heaving sob broke free. Devlin’s embrace tightened. Gabrielle clung to him like a limpet as the grief poured from her. She could no more stop the tears than she could stop the world from spinning. Burrowing close, she allowed herself to grieve knowing she was safe. Devlin was there.