Published by Dragonblade Publishing on September 15th 2017
A man without a past…
Abandoned at a monastery as a young child, Alexander serves two masters—God and the fading memories of his past life—the one he never got to live. As he nears the day to take his vows, he’s sent on a last sojourn into the real world, but what begins as a test of faith becomes a journey to manhood.
And a woman who doesn’t know her own heart…
Born from the line of two kings, Lady Sibylla Mac William is abandoned by her sire as a child and then ruled illegitimate. Though she lives a happy life under her uncle’s protection, Sibylla craves something more, but never could she imagine losing her heart to the would-be monk who unexpectedly arrives to tutor her brother.
Together, they will forge the future of a kingdom…
When dark secrets from the past come to light, Alex and Sibylla’s fates become inextricably entwined. Will Alex choose the safe and secure path he knows, or will he reject holy orders to embrace his true destiny… and the woman he loves?
Carefully navigating the narrow, stone stairs in the darkness, Alex seated himself on a parapet and watched the slow progress of flickering lights bound for Cnoc Croit na Maoile. Although he couldn’t approve of their celebration, deep down, he understood their need to hold to old Highland traditions. Much had been taken from the people of Kilmuir. Over the past weeks, he’d developed a kinship to this place and these people that he was reluctant to let go of. Could there ever be a permanent place for him here?
The chapel had no priest.
He’d told Sibylla that marriage was impossible but, in fact, only the Catholic Church forbade the marriage of priests. Many clergy in the Highlands ignored that particular restriction, believing ‘twas better to wed than to burn with passion—and his passion for Sibylla burned as hotly as the distant banefire. Was this God’s will or the devil’s temptation? He knew not.
But he had no doubt that he loved her.
He would lay down his life for her without a second thought. Her stricken expression made him heartsick, and her harsh parting words in the great hall had nearly rent him in twain.
He’d convinced himself he could not make her a promise that he had no assurance that he could keep. Yet, he could have asked her to wait—at least a short while. Nevertheless, he’d told Sibylla that a future together was impossible while the truth was that he didn’t dare to torture himself with the hope of what might never be.
A strange noise caught his attention. A muffled cry followed by a deep throated grunt. The devil was surely doing his work this night! Keeping his gaze averted from the amorous pair, Alex crept stealthily along the ramparts toward the stairs, but paused as the moonlight shone down upon them. There was something disconcertingly familiar about the two forms joined in a lover’s kiss. His breath seized in the moment of recognition. Ranald and Sibylla?
Was it a lover’s tryst? What was she doing? How could Sibylla profess love to him and then throw herself into another man’s arms? Feelings of betrayal and confusion struck him simultaneously. Had she only played with Alex or had she done this just to punish him? His pulse roared in his ears as he tried to make sense of what his eyes had revealed. Whether by deceit or by design, she was here with Ranald.
Jealous rage had his pulse roaring in his ears.
Fearing what he might do if he stayed, Alex spun to leave. He was on the top stair when a frantic whimper called him back. Once more, he froze. Was Sibylla unwilling?
There was only one way to find out.
Alex was on them in three strides. Taking his sgian-dubh in one hand, he grabbed her assailant’s ballocks with the other. “Release her, or I’ll slice them off. Nod if ye understand me.”
Ranald’s head bobbed vigorously. He let her go so abruptly that Sibylla collapsed against the wall. “Ye interfere where ye have no business,” Ranald hissed.
“I would say ye have no business with this lady,” Alex replied. “Sibylla, would ye care to do the honors? Or would ye have me take care of it?” It was all he could do to refrain from emasculating her would-be rapist on the spot. Given the word, he would not hesitate, nor would he grieve his actions.
“Just let him go,” Sibylla responded in a choked voice. “’Tis all a grave misunderstanding.”
“Let him go?” Alex repeated. Was he mistaken? Had he read it all wrong? He’d acted to protect her, but had he really just made a great ass of himself? In confusion, he stepped back, but certainty of reprisal from Ranald kept his weapon hand at the ready.
Eying Alex with disdain, Ranald jerked up his trews. “I am taking Sibylla to wife.”
“To wife?” Alex repeated dumbly. Was it true? His throat constricted as his gaze darted between them. Sibylla appeared ashen and her body shook with tremors. Though he had little experience with women, he did know Sibylla. To his eyes, she had not the look of a willing woman. “Is it so, Sibylla?” he asked softly. “Do ye intend to take this man as yer husband?”
“Nae,” she whispered. “I would nae have such a man were he king of the world.”
Alex held his gaze on Ranald. He never would have believed himself capable of taking a life, but he suddenly understood the meaning of bloodlust. He shook with it. Alex’s heart pounded in anticipation of a fight. Knowing he was not Ranald’s equal in size, strength, or experience, didn’t matter. He would defend Sibylla with his life.
“He is drunk and kens nae what he does.”
“’Tis no excuse,” Alex replied. “The man must be held accountable for his actions.”
“Nae, Alexander.” She laid her hand on his arm. “There is no harm done. I would let this matter go. Please,” she begged.
Alexander turned back to Ranald. “Ye will depart Kilmuir at sunup or MacAedh will be informed how eagerly ye wooed his niece.”
“Her brother and I have an understanding,” Ranald replied.
“My brother had nae right to speak for me,” Sibylla said. “But if ye feel ill-used, ye can always appeal to my uncle.”
Knowing himself in the wrong, Ranald must have recognized no good could come of it. Ranald’s behavior would be deemed not just an insult to Sibylla, but an act of utter disrespect for the Thane of Kilmuir. MacAedh would have no choice but to answer the insult with his sword.
“Ye are far too much trouble,” Ranald tossed over his shoulder with a glare. “I willna take ye to wife.”
Once he’d skulked off into the shadows, Sibylla collapsed against Alex.
“Thank ye, Alexander,” Sibylla whispered, her body quivering with aftershocks as he held her tightly against his chest. “I begin to think ye my guardian angel. ‘Tis the third time ye saved me.”
He took her face in his hands and titled her chin upward. “Because ye canna be trusted to take care of yerself. I begin to think ye need looking after.”
“Aye? But who is there to do it?” she asked. “Ye’ve broken my heart, Alexander.”
She reached down for his hand and placed it on her left breast. “It aches here since ye said ye were leaving.”
“Aye?” Mirroring her actions, he reached for her other hand, and placed it over his own heart. “And mine began aching almost the moment I laid eyes on ye.”
It only took a moment for Alex to realize their hearts were beating in synchrony.
Her widened gaze said she felt it, too.
“Do ye believe in fate, Alexander?” she asked breathlessly.
“I believe in Providence,” he replied. “I believe in the Divine will of God. And I believe He sent me here for a purpose. But ‘twas nae for yer brother that I came. He sent me to ye.”
I love history and have written stories set in the 10th century Brittany, 12th century Scotland, Georgian England, Regency England and 1920’s Algeria (The Sheik Retold).
What is your favorite historical era? And WHY?
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~~Reviewed by Monique~~
Alexander was sent in great haste to Portmahomack monastery when he was a small child. And in 1151, MacAeth, thane of Kilmuir, came to the monastery needing a tutor for his son Domnall. Alexander is the chosen one, as Father Gregor thinks it a good idea for Alexander to see the world before taking his vows. At Castle Kilmuir, Lady Sybilla and her cousin Ailis notice visitors approaching: it’s Alexander, whom Sybilla thinks quite handsome. Alexander has barely seen anything beyond the walls of the monastery and is shaken to his core by Sybilla’s existence; he starts to question whether becoming a man of the cloth is really what he should become, even before he learns of secrets that had been hidden from him, and could alter his destiny.
Victoria Vane paints a delightful portrait of medieval Scotland, the characters are crisply drawn, and plenty of relevant historical details are provided, and Ms. Vane’s writing is even more gorgeous than ever. Sybilla and Alexander, as well as some other characters, have extremely complex backstories. I loved that Alexander had planned to become an illuminator and a scribe, which demonstrates the seriousness of the author in establishing an accurate historical context. Ms. Vane’s prose is marvellous, so fluid and elegant, although I had an issue with the dialogues. I will not take this into account in my rating because it’s personal and quite a few authors also do it: when most characters are Scottish, I fail to see the necessity of conveying the accent, such as: “Nae, ye dinna ken”. Especially in this case, I felt it broke the marvellous flow of the narrative, to me it felt like hiccups, and I somewhat lost my concentration.
Victoria Vane entirely captures the atmosphere of medieval Scotland, whether in the descriptions of the building, the clothes, the politically charged atmosphere, and the conflicts between Church and State, England and Scotland, and local clan disputes. The romance is lovely, and Sybilla and Alexander have unusual and difficult hurdles to conquer, which were not those I had predicted; their romance is pure and true. My favourite characters were strangely enough not the leads, but Malcolm, Sybilla’s father, and Domnall, who is so complex and unpredictable, I have no idea what will happen to him, what he will do.
VIRTUE owes as much to historical fiction as to historical romance, although the romance plays a pivotal part in the story. VIRTUE is a book that should appeal to fans of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, not because of similar storylines, far from it, but because of the authenticity of the story.
I voluntarily reviewed an advanced reader copy of this book.