on March 21st 2017
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Theodore Lockwood, Earl of Ashbrooke, has been in love with his best friend, Lady Claire Deering, for as long as he can remember. Claire too harbors a secret desire for him—but a witch cursed her family with madness, and she’s terrified she’ll only hurt him if they act on their feelings. When a will reading at a mysterious castle in Cornwall brings them both together, they’ll work to break her family’s curse…and find true love. ------- This Halloween novella was previously released in Mystified: the Haunting of Castle Keyvnor collection.
In this excerpt from The Mad Countess, the new Earl of Ashbrooke, Teddy Lockwood, is trying to face his fear of heights by climbing the parapet walk at Castle Keyvnor. He hopes that by conquering his fears, he’ll be courageous enough to finally tell his best friend, Lady Claire Deering, how much he loves her.
He nudged one foot forward, and then the other, until he was at the parapet. Hands out in front of him, he held onto the lower portion of the stone. Embrasure. Being able to put a name to the lesser segment of the alternating portions of the battlements gave him some sort of solace. If he could understand it, see it with his own two eyes, he could face it.
Notching his chin higher, he surveyed the landscape beneath him. The village of Bocka Morrow, so peaceful—and so bloody small. Each tiny cottage looked like a doll’s abode. And if he looked directly down, which he did only for a few moments because his stomach roiled fiercely and bile rose in his mouth, he saw the gatehouse and the front gardens.
The old Teddy would never have asked a servant how he could get to the allure. The old Teddy would have stayed with his friends, instead of striking out on his own.
But the new Teddy, the one people addressed as Ashbrooke, and not Lockwood, had climbed this whole bloody tower and faced his fear.
Even if he currently wanted to double over and retch on these stones.
What was it Claire had once said, when they were younger? “The bravest thing one can do is act in spite of fear.” Granted, at the time she was eight years old and trying to convince him to filch biscuits from the pantry, but the philosophy held. He retreated to the wall, leaning his head against the cool stone and sucking in a deep breath. His heartbeat gradually slowed, no longer galloping toward an imaginary finish line like a racehorse.
That was enough for one day. Maybe tomorrow he’d work on his crippling fear of spiders, take a hike outdoors, or finally eat black pudding. His stomach gave an unwelcome leap at the mere thought.
Or maybe he’d just focus on convincing Claire she wasn’t cursed.
He nodded swiftly. That was clearly a better plan, and it didn’t involve him eating blood sausage. He turned away from the wall, pointedly avoiding looking down as he made his way to the stairwell. He’d already proved he could do it—no need to be excessive.
His descent was much faster, as he practically sprinted down the steps in his urge to get to solid ground. By the time he reached the last step, he’d started an all-out run toward the door at the end of the landing, leading to the interior of the castle. He flung open the door and surged through.
And he smacked straight into another body. A warm, petite body with voluptuous curves that had haunted his dreams more times than he could count.
He grabbed hold of her, his hands clutching her arms seconds before she fell. He helped right her, not releasing her until she’d caught her breath.
Even then, he did not want to let her go. She was here—his Claire, with her crystal blue eyes and red lips. That pert little nose that wrinkled whenever she was amused. Her blond brows that arched just so whenever he said she was good and true and never, ever would she become something so dark and malignant as she believed.
“Steady now,” he told her, as she regarded him wide-eyed, surprise splashing pink across her high cheekbones.
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We really want to know what you would do if you were magically cursed… Or, rather, what you would WANT to be cursed with?