|juliaross.net Flowers under Ice|
Flowers under Ice
(Originally published by Berkley ISBN: 0-425-17036-5 )
Winner: Colorado Book Award
Winner: Romantic Times Best Historical Romance of the Year
Romantic Times "Top Pick" Gold Medal
The most notorious rake in Regency London
A passionate young woman from the Scottish Highlands
Each hiding a secret, they agree to explore the seven deadly sins, one for each day of a reckless journey—a very dangerous game!
"One of the most powerful voices in historical romance. Beautifully written and richly evocative of the Scottish Highlands."
- Mary Jo Putney
"A passionate love story rivetingly well told in language to take the breath away. Don't miss it." - Jo Beverley
"Darkly passionate ... Dominic is a complex hero, a handsome, dissolute libertine who is beset by demons ... proud and defiant, Catriona proves his match ... will surprise readers with its intelligent plot and complex themes." - "Starred" review - Publishers Weekly
"Sexy as sin ... " - Five Stars - Affaire de Coeur
"Exceptionally well-written." - Library Journal
"Smashing ... In a master stroke of characterization, brilliantly brings to life a spectacular hero who meets adversity with a laugh and never, absolutely never, gives up. Richly intricate, exquisitely crafted, this jewel of a love story will move you to your soul." 4½ Stars - GOLD MEDAL - "Top Pick" - Romantic Times
"One of the best romances I've read so far this year and I foresee it staying at number one for the remainder. Thank you for a great hero! Dominic is smart, sexy and with a great sense of humor, loved reading his story. I look forward to your future historical books!"
"Congratulations on writing a wonderful, passionate, intense story. This is just my kind of book. I thought it would be hard for you to equal the job you did on your last book, but this really does."
"I absolutely loved it—Dominic is superb! As a Scot, I loved your description of Scotland and the language/expressions as well as the fierceness of the women."
"Your prose and/or language is superb, bar none—wow, what a gift you have!"
"Thanks for the terrific books ... Laura Kinsale probably creates my favorite heroes, but you really are a contender ... more, please!"
"This is the first time I have ever written a fan letter, but your book kept me up until the wee hours—I just could not put it down! The best thing about your books is that I can pick them up tomorrow, or five years from now, and they'll still be just as good! They hold a place of honor on my bookshelf."
"How did I not know about you for so long? All I can say is I'm SO glad I finally found you ... I feel as if I've been walking along, kicking up dust only to find my last step revealed jewels in the path. After many, many barely acceptable books that I've been slogging through ... Thank you! A completely devoted fan as of NOW."
The most notorious rake in Regency London
Golden-haired, bitter-tongued Dominic Wyndham seems to be only a handsome, dissolute libertine. Since returning to London after years spent spying against Napoleon, his one purpose is to win back his estranged wife, Harriet.
A passionate young woman from the Scottish Highlands
Dominic has just climbed a church spire for a wager—and for a secret purpose of his own—when Catriona, a passionate young woman from the Scottish Highlands, arrives with devastating news: Harriet has just died in Edinburgh. Now Catriona demands he return with her to Scotland to rescue a child she claims is Harriet's bastard son.
A headlong plunge into passion and danger!
Shattered and furious, Dominic makes one outrageous condition and one outrageous threat. In return for his help, they will explore the seven deadly sins, one for each day of their journey, with Catriona's virtue and heart as the prize. But dangerous enemies await, turning a tryst with seduction into a headlong adventure in the troubled Highlands of 1816. While these two passionate antagonists try to rescue a child and save a clan, can they also find the treacherous path from lust to love?
London. Early June, 1816
He hung suspended in emptiness, caught neatly between heaven and hell.
Major the Honorable Dominic Wyndham, brother and heir to the Earl of Windrush, was reputed to be a man of very wicked tastes. He had never yet refused a challenge. But this was a little excessive, even for him.
Dominic clung to the iron spike at the top of the church spire, leaned his forehead against cold, hard metal, and laughed.
Night air chilled his naked back. Far beneath him, the chimneys of Mayfair jutted in the glow of the gaslights. The Canal in St. James's Park reflected the moon and the huge wheeling arc of stars above his head. Away to the east, the Tower bulked against the gleaming ribbon of the Thames, a fire of some kind burning near it. The rest of London slept beneath rooftops faintly silvered with moonlight, ignorant of the mayhem far above their heads.
How many of those roofs sheltered women he knew? Mirth bubbled in him in crazy defiance. Too damned many!
"I can't do it," gasped a voice somewhere in the blackness below him. "For God's sake! I shall fall!"
Dominic lifted his head and peered down. The steep roof plunged away far too precipitously for comfort. With a kind of frantic desperation, he controlled the errant laughter.
"You can, sir," he said. "I shall help you. Here, hold on to this!"
He had earlier pulled off his cravat and shirt, and with the help of the small knife attached to his pocket pistol cut them into strips, now braided together into a short rope. He tied one end to the spike and dropped the other away into the void. The linen shone white against the dark slope of the roof.
"Now do it, Stansted!" It was the tone he might use for a reluctant horse, combining reassurance with authority. "Tie the rope to your wrist, grasp the fretwork, and don't look down."
The disembodied voice floated up to him. "I'm going to be sick."
Dominic hooked his elbow around the iron spike. His bare feet were wedged firmly into carved loops of stone—secure enough, had the stone not been rotten with age. He allowed nothing of this judgment into his voice.
"My dear sir, it's only the drink. Put one foot after the other and come up. The view is wonderful."
A weight pulled the rope taut. Lord Stansted's white face emerged from the gloom, his red hair darkened to umber in the moonlight. He had the linen wrapped around one hand.
"It's not the drink, believe me. Claret would never upset my innards."
"No, I suppose not," Dominic replied. "When wine refuses to settle in your belly like a gentle old dame dropping into her armchair is when we shall see wonders. But if you're not too foxed, sir, you have no excuse. Come on! This is the easy part." He reached down a hand. "You're almost there."
Gloved fingers reached up and the men's hands locked together.
As Dominic took his weight Stansted lurched, his feet slipping with a dreadful clatter. A broken piece of stone careened away into the darkness. Losing the rope, Stansted's other hand slid across the slates.
"By God! Dominic!"
Strain burned across his shoulders and back as Dominic braced against the iron spike. Pray God it wasn't rotten, too!
"You would have been advised, sir," he said, allowing himself the ghost of a smile, "to have left off your damned boots."
The spike held. Dominic pulled steadily. Lord Stansted arrived at the top of the steeple.
"By God, I almost went to meet my Maker that time." His voice shook. "How the devil do we get back down?"
Dominic ignored him. He pulled Stansted's handkerchief from its pocket and tied it to the spike. It was a deliciously precarious moment, to take both hands from their grip and balance on his toes, his knees braced against the roof, while he tied the knots. An odd, breathless irony scintillated about the moment—to be this close to death now, for God's sake, after surviving so much—when he could have been safely entertaining some eager lady in her bed. There were unquestionably easier ways for a half-pay officer to support himself, besides risking his worthless life in absurd wagers.
But he was not quite ready to die.
Though Stansted had no idea of it, this gamble was a stone dropped in a pool. While the shock waves filled his empty purse and the splash might bring Stansted his heart's desire—the small ripples embodied the one reason Dominic had to live.
With wry gratitude, he returned one hand to the iron spike. "Do you know, I don't believe I was ever in a more peaceful spot. It soothes my troubled soul to be so close to the heavens—like a medieval anchorite finding a place of repose in the chaos of the times." He looked up and studied the stars. "Do you think I am destined for heaven? A matter for some debate, perhaps?"
Stansted clung to him, shaking his head. "Don't make me laugh. By God, you're the very devil, Wyndham! Get me down to the street in one piece, or they'll swing you at Newgate for murdering a duke's only son."
Dominic grinned at him as he untied the linen cord. "'If he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable.' Here, use the rope. Keep one end tied to the fretwork and the other about your wrist. Go down in stages. I'll come behind to release and retie it for you each time."
Stansted's white face wavered as a cloud drifted in front of the moon. "What about you?"
"I shan't fail you. Now, are you ready?"
The duke's son smiled wanly at Dominic for a moment, then the men inched their way down the spire, leaving Lord Stansted's handkerchief flying high above the city like a flag.
The crowd waiting at the church steps burst into applause. Hands thumped heavily on Stansted's back and grasped at Dominic, trying to shake him by the hand or buffet his shoulder. Mirth ran freely as wine passed from hand to hand. Dominic began to laugh with the rest. It was done. Hope—however vain—was renewed. And besides, the pavement felt so charmingly solid beneath his feet. Gold clinked into a hat. Some men scrawled promissory notes.
The fellow passing the hat made an exaggerated grimace. "Devil take it if I thought you could win, Wyndham! We'll all be washed up, sir! How the hell did you get him to do it?"
"We supported each other." Dominic leaned back against the church door and pulled on his stockings and boots, catching his breath between gasps of laughter. "Like two fishwives carrying a basket: first one hauls, then the other, and the entire enterprise stinks."
Amid the renewed burst of merriment he looked up and the laughter died in his throat. A carriage had pulled up at the curb. He recognized the horses, the coachman, and his family's crest on the panel. Shadowed by a black bonnet, a woman's face gazed from the open coach window.
It was as if reality shifted on its moorings and time became transparent. As if the intemperate crowd were not there. As if there were sudden silence instead of bedlam. As if a clear wind blew into these raucous streets from some unknown wild place. Dominic knew in his soul something had happened to shatter his life.
Yet he had never seen the woman before.
The coach rocked as his brother stepped down, the Windrush crest bobbing with the movement.
Dominic shook himself. He must be damnably foxed.
"Alas, we have company," he said. "Our little wager is about to be witnessed by my brother, the puissant Earl of Windrush. Sadly, Jack has a severely deficient sense of humor. We little fish are about to be roasted, gentlemen—stripped of our scales, basted with butter, wrapped in pastry, and roasted."
Jack thrust through the crowd. He elbowed aside a dandy in a pink cutaway coat, rapping him sharply in the ribs with his cane, and pushed past an indignant viscount.
The woman remained in the carriage—a vision of disapproval, lips pressed together, brows drawn into a frown. Not a pretty face. Yet there was something remarkable in the very turn of her head, a grace like a roe deer. As their eyes met he felt the force of her gaze like a sudden drench of water, the candor in it piercing to the bone.
Ignoring her, ignoring the persistent warning in the back of his mind, he waited quietly until Jack stopped in front of him.
Dominic spoke first. "Good evening, my lord. We were talking of fish. Come for a bite?"
The earl frowned. "What the hell tomfoolery is this? You are half naked."
"A steeplechase." Dominic shrugged into his coat, the lining cool against his skin. He was damned if he'd tell Jack his real purpose. "My shirt has been sacrificed, alas, to the cause. After all, when life has no meaning, it must offer amusement. Pray stand aside. Lord Stansted is unwell. The piscine scent of the trouble you bring with you, perhaps?"
As Dominic spoke the duke's son made a face, then stumbled away from the dandies to dispose of his supper in a corner.
His brother's frown intensified. "By God, what the devil do you mean: a steeplechase?"
The viscount who had been so ungraciously thrust aside gazed at the earl through his quizzing glass. "We wagered, Lord Windrush, that your brother couldn't get Stansted's handkerchief tied to the top of the steeple, but damme if he didn't do it."
Dominic leaned back against the church door and folded his arms across his chest. "A new-sprung form of a favorite sport, vertical instead of horizontal for a little added spice, and without the horses. The evidence of success now flies above London, and I am the richer by some two thousand guineas."
The earl's brow contracted into yet deeper furrows. He had begun to resemble one of the choicer gargoyles Dominic had passed on his climb up the steeple. "You mean these gentlemen wagered there was any daredevil thing you would not do?"
"Not at all! No one would bet against my idiocy, of course. The wager was that I could not get Stansted up there with me."
Dominic's voice had become cool. His brother often had that effect on him. Jack was nine years older and three stone heavier. No question at all where power lay in the Wyndham family.
"What is this? Some desperate attempt to recapture the excitement of the war?"
It struck deep, but he couldn't concentrate on his brother. Everything in him was aware of the woman. No, not pretty exactly, but intense, striking, with a stunning purity of bone—not a face to forget. Her gaze didn't waver. Absurdly, it pressed on him. Damn her! Couldn't she look away?
His reply was biting. "The war? If you recall, I missed Waterloo because I was locked in a cellar in Paris. Excitement isn't exactly the word I would choose to describe the experience."
"Then it's boredom? Contempt? What, for God's sake?"
He forced his attention back to Jack and smiled. "There was a certain symmetry to the event which appealed to my sense of the ridiculous. After all, I was married in this church. And, like me, Stansted has a spouse who ran away to Scotland."
"By God, Dominic, you are mad!"
"Am I?" he replied innocently. "Why? I have just won a great deal of money."
His brother glared at him. "But you have just lost your wife. I'm sure you think it fair trade. Harriet died in Edinburgh last week, while you caroused away your days in St. James's."
It was a shock like a misfiring cannon—or like the loss of a limb on the battlefield—almost too absolute to be believed. Dominic looked away, fighting the need to react. He wasn't sure what he might do if he did. Laugh? Weep? Break something?
How could Harriet be dead? He had been going to win her back. There had been all the time in the world. How could it have collapsed into nonexistence? The pain was intense, as if his heart were flayed and held above flames, which was where absurdity reached its peak. In spite of what he had just achieved, Harriet would never have come back to him, would she? And now she was dead.
The crowd stood silent, shuffling with a vague embarrassment—a fear they might witness some indecorous emotion? Dominic willed himself to show nothing of the kind. He made himself smile. "Not my days, Jack. My nights. I carouse away my nights. Sin is better suited to the dark."
The earl's features seemed to melt. "Is that all you can say when you receive such news?"
"Of course not." He was almost blind with distress, but he was still burningly aware of the woman in the black bonnet. "I can remind you of your manners. Who is that doxy scowling at me from your carriage? Won't you introduce us?"
His brother glanced at her with indifference. "Miss Catriona Sinclair, Harriet's companion, who brought us the report from Edinburgh. If you are interested, she can tell you the details."
Catriona. The Scots Catherine. Ca-tree-ona, the emphasis on the second syllable. So his instinct had been right—this unknown woman had shattered his life. And now he knew where he had seen such a gaze before: on the face of Highland soldiers going into battle, roused by the tumult of the bagpipes, fixed on destiny. Even in the uncertain light, he knew her eyes were blue—a bright blue embroidered with gold, like bittersweet or forget-me-not—the eyes of the Far North, where flowers grow under ice.
"Oh, dear." He was dimly conscious of the faces of the crowd and most importantly, that of Lord Stansted, white-faced, hanging on his every word. The duke's son, whose wife had taken Harriet away to Scotland. Another poor soul who foolishly thought a rogue like Dominic Wyndham could teach him something about women. Stansted had no idea of that rogue's noble efforts on his behalf—now shattered and made meaningless.
Summoning the last ounce of his self-control, Dominic gave Catriona Sinclair a short bow, horribly aware it would seem merely callous and insulting, and let his voice show nothing but irony.
"Good evening, Miss Sinclair. You find me sadly bereft of both spouse and shirt. How very unfortunate."
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
There's a very personal element to this book, since the heroine, Catriona, is from the Scottish Highlands. When I was a little girl living in England, my father told me tales of his Highland homeland that made the Far North seem a magical country imbued with mystic beauty and longing.
As Catriona explains to Dominic: "It's the longing that's still with you, even though what you long for is in your hand. It's the longing for Tir-nan-Og, the mystical place beyond the setting sun ... It's that longing sweetly colored with melancholy, as if a drift of birdsong brought back a mother's lullaby half-heard by a drowsy child—a longing for the things that already are, but can never quite fulfill the heart."
Yet the real history of those glens and mountains involves great tragedy as well as beauty, and I knew that one day I would have to incorporate all of it in a romance. Flowers under Ice is that passionate story.
A NOTE ABOUT GAELIC:
Gaelic was the language of the Scottish Highlands into fairly recent times. My grandparents spoke it fluently, but I grew up in England, so I don't write or speak it myself and I found expert help in Scotland for the few Gaelic words and phases that Catriona uses. I always worked the meaning into the text, but written Gaelic looks pretty odd to English speakers and it's hard to guess how it might be pronounced. Many Gaelic sounds don't have exact English equivalents. For example, "ch" in "loch" isn't a hard "k" like the English "lock." It's much closer to the softer sound in the German "ach." The vowel sounds are especially hard for English speakers, but bearing those limitations in mind, here's an extremely rough guide to pronouncing some of the words and phrases: (All errors are mine, of course.)
Incidentally, because it was originally learned as a second language, Highland English was quite "pure," without a strong Scots accent, so Catriona and her friends never speak broad Scots.
Catriona (Catherine) - Ca-TRREE-ona
Iseabail (Isobel) - ISH-bel
Magaidh (Maggie) - Maggeh
Mairead (Margaret) - Mahr-et
Diabhal (Lucifer) - DJEE-ah-vol
Glen Reulach (Glen of stars) - Glen RAY-luch
Dunachan (fort in the field) - Dun-AH-chan
Achnadrochaid (the first MacNorrin township "field by the bridge") - AHCH-na-droch-it
A Dhia! (Oh, God!) - Ah YEE-uh
Och-òn (Alas) - Och-ohn
Obh, obh (Oh, dear!) - ohv, ohv
A Mhuire! (Oh, Mary, Mother of God!) - Ah VOOR-uh
sruthan (little stream) - SROO-an
claidheamh mór (broad sword, claymore) - clyiv mor
sgain dhu (small knife, dirk) - SKEE-an doo
uisge-beatha (whisky) ooshcu-bah
"Fhuair mi m' fheumalachd." ("I have what serves my purpose.") - hoo-ayr mee muEH ma-luch
"'Bheir mise suaimhneas dhuibh-'" ("'I will give you rest-'") - vair MEE-sha s'wuay-nish (ghu)ehb
"Mach as m' fhianais!" ("Get out of my sight!") - mahch as muee-anish
"Cha till mi tuilleadh." ("I shall return no more.") - hah keel mee tul-luch
"O, mo chràdhlot!" ("Oh, my pain!" A cry of distress) - oh, mo hchRAH-locht
"Nach ann aige a tha a' bhodhaig." ("What a handsome body he has!") - na-chan aych-uh ha boyuchg
"Mo léireadh!" (Mental torture) - mo LAIR-uh
"C' ainm a tha ort?" ("What's your name?") - CAIN-em ah orsht
"Leig leis falbh." ("Let him leave.") - layg leesh falluv
"Chreach thu mi." ("You have ruined me.") - hchree-ACH oo mee
"Dé tha cearr ort?" ("What is wrong with you?") - yay ah KAY-ahr orsht
"Is farsaing do rìoghachd 's gur fial-" ("Extensive is thy domain-") - ish farsa do REE-ach gur veeol
" 'S mise Daibhidh Friseal." ("I'm David Fraser.") - s' meesh DAI FREEshal
"Gonadh ort!" ("Pain on you!" A curse.) - gonn-ah orsht
"An fhearr leat so?" ("You like this better?") - an eeahr laht cho
"A bheil Calum an seo?" ("Is Calum here?") - ah veel Calum an sheaw
"An tusa a tha ann?" ("Is it you?") - an doosa ha-aun
" 'S mise Anndra." ("I'm Andrew.") - s' meesh ANNdra
"Ciamar a tha sibh?" ("How are you?") - kee-am-ar-ah HAH shee
"Seo Dominic Bàn!" ("It's Fair Dominic!") - sheeyo Dominic Bahn
"A Dhominic, tha m'anam a' snàmh an ceò!" ("Oh, Dominic, my soul swims in mist!") -ah Dhominic, hah Man-am snavh un kyoh