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The Aurelian Guard #1
Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher
Releasing March 8th, 2016
This gorgeous, sweeping historical romance will enchant the readers of Deanna Raybourn, and introduces a wildly talented new voice.
Anna was born of Chevring, a territory renowned for its valorous war horses, in the kingdom of Aurelia. But peace reigns, and her family’s fortune has dwindled. Her father brokers an alliance with the wealthy Lord Roger of Stolweg. The price: his eldest daughter and the secrets to her family’s once great power. Soon after they are wed, Roger proves himself cruel and calculating, a harsh lord who sows the seeds of fear in his people.
He has an ambitious secret, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his new bride, nor his older brother, heir to all that he covets. But secrets have a way getting out, and the people of Stolweg quietly bide their time, coming to love Anna for her noble bravery in standing up to her scoundrel husband. She will prove the leader they need to rise up and bring their underground resistance to flourish.
But it is Larkin, a guard of Aurelia, whose presence brings Roger’s treachery to the forefront, igniting the spark of war. Larkin comes to Stolweg to investigate Roger for treason against the realm and ends up giving all of his attention to Anna. For she not only captures his heart, she may be the only person who can stop the battle that will tear the kingdom apart.
"Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher's debut novel Wild Lavender is engrossing right from the prologue." —B.B. Haywood, New York Times bestselling author
Anna sauntered to where Larkin waited with the quarterstaffs. He had chosen an ash stave for himself and offered Anna the hawthorn stave she had used earlier. They immediately engaged each other.
“Go easy on me, Lady Aubrianne,” he teased. “It’s been some time since I handled a staff in the presence of a lady.” His grin spread as he gracefully twirled his pole. Still warm from their earlier repartee, Anna felt her blush deepen.
She answered him with a deadly swing of her quarterstaff. He easily deflected it. They went back and forth, and Anna realized that he had yet to make an offensive move. She’d been doing all the work while he’d been saving his strength. She backed off, waiting for him to advance.
He flicked out with his staff, and she blocked the blow with nary an effort. But before she could parry with one of her own, his staff twirled and twisted her hawthorn rod from her grasp. Unbelievably, it went sailing through the air. He’d been right, she thought, sighing. She’d become complacent.
Lark stepped back and arched an eyebrow at her.
“I see your point,” she said for him. “I want a rematch.”
“I don’t know, Lady Aubrianne,” he drawled. “I don’t see the purpose.”
“Worried that it won’t be so easy the next time around?” she asked, trying to inveigle him.
“I’ve made my point, and you’ve learned your lesson,” he lectured.
“Mayhap you are fearful of losing to a woman,” she goaded him.
He ignored her gibe. “Truth be told, there’s nothing in it for me,” he admitted, as his gaze drifted to hers. “Now, if there were some incentive, a wager perhaps, I might reconsider.”
“Whatever you want,” she agreed. He might defeat her, she thought, but she would not twice lose her stave. She took a moment to analyze him, as any combatant would when facing an opponent. He was tall, but then so was she. And agile as a cat, but she presented a smaller target.
“Don’t you want to know the terms first?” Larkin asked with a smug expression.
She contemplated what prize he might ask and was surprised to discover that it didn’t matter. He was so cocky, so disarming. She would discover and use his weakness. And she would win. “Wager away.”
“Suit yourself. If I win, you owe me a kiss.”
“Then you’d best prepare yourself, Larkin.”
His smile widened. “You are that good at it, then?” he asked, twisting her words as he had twisted her staff.
Anna returned his smile in equal measure, rounding on him, advancing. “I meant that you should prepare yourself for a lonely night. Your lips will have no company this eve.”
She was actually flirting, she realized. She had never flirted before. No, that wasn’t true. She had flirted once, long ago with Roger, before their wedding night. She shuddered thinking about how often he’d used her words against her: Your request is my pleasure. Too bad for Larkin that she conjured Roger’s image in her mind. She would use her rage to his detriment.
They tested each other before combating in earnest. For a long time, they were equally matched. Larkin would show her a technique she hadn’t seen before. Anna would counter with one of her own long-forgotten moves. Around and around they went, their quarterstaffs whistling as wood cut through air, then cracking like thunder as they struck.
It dawned on her that he was still leading in this dance. Instead of waiting for his next advance, she improvised and moved swiftly against him. A slight upturn at the corner of his mouth was his only reaction. His counterblow was fluid.
He was forcing her to stretch her skills, and it felt good. When she smiled back, he showed, for the first time, a little surprise.
Around them, dusk crept in, and the azure sky darkened to the bruised-plum color that would herald the night. What would it be like to continue the bout forever? Advancing and blocking, she could see no end to it. And she wanted to win.
She thought of ways to gain the upper hand. It came to her that the one advantage she had over Larkin was not one of her strengths. Rather, her edge was his weakness: she was a woman, he was a man.
When next he advanced, she would be ready. Larkin brought the lower end of his staff up and forward. Anna purposely fumbled as she moved to block the blow.
“Oof,” she exhaled when his staff connected with her waist.
He dropped his guard and his staff. “Lady Aubrianne! Are you hurt?”
She thrust her quarterstaff between his calves and twisted the hawthorn stick sideways and up. With her stave behind one of his knees, she pushed against his other leg. Upsetting his balance was as easy as finding a fulcrum and lever. He landed with a thud. When he tried to raise his staff to block another strike, she stomped down on it and brought the end of her pole to rest under his chin.
For several seconds, they remained frozen, not speaking. And definitely not smiling. To win, she had had to resort to a ruse; her triumph tasted bittersweet. She whipped her quarterstaff away and held out her hand to help him to rise.
“You fought fairly, m’lady,” he stated, his words hitting the crux of her self-berating. “If attacked, you must use every weapon in your arsenal. Do not be ashamed; I’m not.”
She peered into the darkening forest to avoid his gaze.
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A graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and Arts, Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher studied French Literature and Language, Spanish and Mandarin while concurrently attending UofM’s Art School. She moved to France and attended the Université Catholique de l’Œest before relocating to Belgium to complete an internship at a fine arts and antiques auction house. During this time, she traveled throughout the countryside of Europe, immersing herself in its history, architecture, and art. Nicole lives in Northern Virginia with her two children, husband and Tully the Dog.