I'm not a big fan of medieval romance. Too much violence, the position of women was not good, and the plumbing was seriously grim. But when I was working out my "subversion of the captivity fantasy" novel, I chose a medieval setting for Uncommon Vows because in a more civilized era, my hero would be considered psychotic. <G> In the 12th century, he was instead a powerful man who behaved within the parameters of his age.
A lot of research was involved because I didn't know much about medieval living. I decided that I wanted to catch some of the flavor of an age of faith, where the Roman Catholic Church informed every aspect of society. Europe was bound together with a unity of belief that ended with the Reformation.
Hence, both Adrian and Meriel first appear as novices in religious communities who intend to take final vows. Adrian is there because he believes that life in the cloister will control his potential for violence. He leaves when his family is killed in a brutal raid by a rival lord and he is the sole remaining heir. Meriel became a novice because she was a youngest child and there wasn't much money for a dowry, so a convent was the logical place for her. She leaves before taking final vows because she cannot bear to spend the rest of her life enclosed within the convent's stone walls.
I had a lot of fun researching falcons and falconry! Did you know that a peregrine falcon is the fastest creature in the animal kingdom? When it stoops (dives for its prey), the speed has been measured at over 200 miles per hour. Impressive! (Wikipedia photo taken by Dennis Jarvis of Halifax.)
Wrenched from a monastery before taking final vows, Adrian de Lancey's fighting skill wins him an earldom. Fierce discipline masters his darker nature–until he finds a winsome slip of a girl lost in his forest, an illegal falcon on her wrist.
Encountering the ice-blond warrior Earl of Shropshire, Meriel de Vere knows his dangerous reputation–and hides her identity to protect her brother's estate from the enemy earl. She does not expect to be arrested. Still less does she expect such a great lord to want her as his mistress.
Her passionate need for freedom clashes disastrously with his obsession with his enchanting captive. Given a second chance to properly woo Meriel, can Adrian learn tenderness? Will the two of them claim lasting happiness — or will they lose all to a brutal sworn enemy?
Of course you know the answer to the final questions: this is a romance, they'll work it out. But NOT easily! In a romance, the destination is a foregone conclusion. The fun is in the journey. <G>
It's rather embarrassing to admit how long it's taken me to prepare Uncommon Vows for ebook release. Being a hybrid author who writes frontlist for Kensington as well as publishing and audiobooking backlist titles means I'm busier than ever, so a standalone title was at the bottom of my priority list. But I love Adrian and Meriel, and I'm delighted to finally make the story available for all those people who have been wistfully asking for an e-book version.
The original cover for Uncommon Vows featured a surfer dude in a carefully slashed sweatshirt and a buxom babe whose unprotected arm should be streaming blood from the falcon's claws. I could tell he was wearing a sweatshirt because it had raglan sleeve seams showing. <G> They were painted out when I howled, but still. Later the book was re-issued with a blue "object" cover. Neutral but okay.
When I first started thinking about e-booking UV, I had Kim Killion do a cover for me. That was over two years ago. <blush> I had a terrible time finding an appropriate image–blond men are rare, and in medieval costume, even rarer. I settled for an image of a hooded man with a sword being watched by a cloaked woman.
I did like the cover for itself, but it was dark and seemed too Gothic, or too sword and sorcery fantasy-ish for a straightforward medieval. As the time approached to actually publish the ebook, I decide to have Kim do another cover since there are a lot more images available than there were two years ago.
And bingo! I found a blond guy with the kind of muscles needed to fight with sword and chain mail. There he was with a wary but charming young lady. His hair is pretty short, but Norman knights did wear short hair under the helms.
Meriel's bad day is about to get much worse!
As he spoke, she slipped the hood from Chanson's head, then hurled the falcon skyward with all her strength, not casting into the wind like a hunter, but down the wind, the traditional way of returning a hawk to the wild. "You'll not have her!" Meriel cried. "If she is not mine, she will belong to none but herself!"
For an instant, Chanson seemed startled by the suddenness of her mistress's action. Then, freed of the jesses she had worn for a year, the falcon soared heavenward with all the speed and strength of her kind, her four-foot wingspan casting a broad shadow across the clearing and drawing the mesmerized gazes of the watching men.
"God's blood!" Sir Richard gasped. "The wench has whistled a falcon down the wind!"
Meriel blinked tears from her eyes as she watched Chanson spiral upward, but she had no regrets, save that she could not fly away as well. Swallowing against the tightness in her throat, she lowered her gaze to the earl.
Of all the men in the clearing, he alone watched her rather than the diminishing form of the falcon. "You should not have done that," he said, his voice low and intimate, as if they were alone in the clearing.
"She was mine to do with as I chose, my lord."
Though her voice was soft, there was nothing humble in the tilt of the girl's chin or in the eyes that met Adrian's without flinching. Yet she was not defiant. Defiance implied anger, but he saw no anger in her. The night-blue depths of her eyes were free and pure, and he knew intuitively that she was as untamed as the falcon she had released to the wind.
As he regarded the girl's slim figure and tangled raven-wing hair, Adrian felt something dark and dangerous shift deep within him. He wanted her with the same savage intensity that he felt when fighting for his life.
In a distant part of his mind he knew that this madness would wane, for a man could not live at such a peak without being consumed. But for the moment, he had only the most fragile of control over his actions.
Adrian knew that he should send the girl on her way with a simple warning to be more careful where she hunted, but he would not—could not—let her go. His voice strange in his own ears, he said brusquely, "And as a poacher, mistress, you are now mine to do with as I choose."
(Yes, the point of view shifts. We used to do that sort of thing regularly and no one fainted. <G>)
I said Uncommon Vows is a standalone novel, and it is, though I've always wanted to write a story about Adrian's half-brother Richard. Maybe a novella some day.
But there is one slender thread of connection to my later book, The Wild Child. The heroine of TWC is also named Meriel, and she is a direct descendant of the protagonists of UV. She has the first Meriel's fey beauty and Adrian's silver blond hair. Also, Adrian's formidable stone fortress, Warfield Castle, is in romantic crumbled ruins in TWC. As the direct descendant, Warfield is the second Meriel's inheritance, and much drama happens there. <G>
Since it's easier to give print than pixels, I'll give away a print copy of Uncommon Vows to one person who leave a comment between now and Saturday midnight.
Do you like medieval historicals? Why or why not?
Mary Jo, who will next tackle her last un-ebooked backlist title: Lady of Fortune. Eventually. <G>