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Guest Blogger: Denise Agnew (Contest)
Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Gritty Historical Novels

by Denise A. Agnew

Romance novels have a happy ending, and that’s one of the reasons why I love them. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like a novel with grit. You know, the type of novel that really is heart-wrenching, makes you think something seriously bad is happening to the hero and heroine and that they will have to fight for their lives and their happiness.

While I love writing contemporary novels, I’ve found my true voice in historical romance. Here I feel like I can sink my teeth into everything dramatic, romantic.

Research isn’t something I shy from when I’m researching a historical novel. In fact, it’s one of the elements I find compelling. Not only do I discover what I need to accurately portray the people and times for that novel, I love learning about a new time period and place.

Historical novels are calling on me at all levels lately. In summer 2010, Samhain Publishing released a reprint of my Jack The Ripper novel (original title Midnight Rose) under the title Dark, Deadly Love. On January 4, 2011 Samhain released For A Roman’s Heart. Both novels have stunning covers! Thank you to the wonderful artist Kanaxa. In June of 2011 Samhain released Before The Dawn and it also has a beautiful cover. Each novel started with a kernel of an idea and blossomed into a story I loved writing.

And what about the future? I have six…count ‘em…six historical novels either in the works or in the idea stages. The six are broken into two separate trilogies but they all involve paranormal elements.

Here’s a tidbit of BEFORE THE DAWN to tantalize you.

A fallen woman must decide to stay down, or rise and fight…

Elijah McKinnon has been found innocent of a heinous murder, but it doesn’t erase the hellish years in prison he endured. He boards the train to Pittsburgh a changed man, certain he will never feel free until he’s wreaked revenge on the brother who ruined his life.

The passenger who catches his eye is intriguing, but he’s seen her kind before. The kind who puts on airs—and looks down on Irishmen. Still, he can’t seem to stop himself from stepping between her and a pack of ruthless cads.

Mary Jane Lawson is grateful for the handsome stranger’s help, but her journey has a higher purpose: to rise above her shattered reputation and declare her independence, come flood or famine. Propriety says she should refuse Elijah’s suggestion they pose as husband and wife—for her own protection, of course. Her practical side says it won’t hurt to pretend, just this once.

Come nightfall, though, their little charade must be carried all the way to shared sleeping quarters, where their vulnerabilities become painfully clear. And when danger past and present threatens, trusting each other becomes a matter of life and death.

Product Warnings: A hot Irish accent mixed with high adventure may cause combustion. Beware of falling for this hunk. The heroine says he’s hers.

She stumbled along in his wake, no energy to ask why they pushed onward into the woods where no one from the train could help them. Thinking that far ahead caused more trepidation, so she concentrated on planting one shoe in front of the other. After what seemed an endless time, a rocky outcropping and massive hill rose in front of them.

“Thank the saints.” He tugged her forward. “Here.” He released her hand long enough to shove aside shrubbery and reveal a tall opening. She saw his throat work as he swallowed hard. “Damnation. I don’t want to go in here, but we must. I’ll go first, you follow.”

His voice snapped like a general, and she flinched. His eyes went hard, unyielding.

The darkness beyond the crevice appeared to be a wide mouth without teeth. What horrors lay inside? Unreasoning fear stilled her courage. She sucked in a quick breath. If Elijah could conquer his apprehension, so could she.

He crawled in, headfirst. When he disappeared into the maw, all went quiet. Even the wind didn’t stir, and the rain stopped. Her entire body quaked. Nightmares of deep, unknown places from childhood tormented her from the edges. They beckoned, dared her to stay brave and to remain sane.

Elijah’s hand came out and then his head. “It’s larger than I thought. It’s a deep rock shelter.”

She clasped his hand and leaned down. He released her once she started inside. She crawled on hands and knees and discovered enough headroom to stand and several feet on both sides. Light penetrated from a large crack in the ceiling.

He inched around in front of her and made certain the hole stayed thoroughly covered by the foliage. Turning back, he stopped. He put one finger to his lips in a gesture of silence. He pulled his weapon from the inner waistcoat pocket and held it, prepared for use. They stayed that way for several minutes. Time stretched in front of her, an eternity of waiting, of anxiety ridden breaths and heart pounding apprehension. Safety still felt far removed. Now that they had stopped running, she heard her own breath rasping, her heart pounding in her ears as her body slowed. Reaction came without remorse. Tears flowed and fell to her cheeks. She regulated her breath by slow turns, and yet her body remained tense. After what seemed an eternity, he made his way past her and sat against one wall. He gestured for her to come closer.

She eased towards him on her hands and knees, her crinoline bunching up in the way. Frustrated, she frowned. She never hated fashion more than this moment.

“Take off the crinoline. We’re leaving it and the corset behind,” he said.

She hesitated and then realized the wisdom in his request. Mary Jane rose to her feet. “Help me. I have to remove the dress first.”

He nodded, his face etched with a harsh determination. She turned away from him. Methodically he unbuttoned the back of the dress while she pulled the hatpins out of her hat and hair. As his fingers moved, a fleeting thought raced by. Even in these desperate moments of flight, his fingers brushing with heat through dress, corset and chemise somehow made her incredibly aware of him as a man. Then the thought fled.

She tossed the pins in a corner and flung the hat aside. She was surprised the thing had not fallen off before now. Her dress stuck to her, sodden with rain and made the buttons more difficult to undo. She would have to dress in it again once she removed the corset and crinoline, but what choice did she have? Before she knew it the shoulders and the tight sleeves eased away from her skin. Eager, she pulled the garment off her arms until she peeled it all the way down and it fell around her waist. She wriggled to shove it off her hips. She stepped out of the dress and worked on the ties that held the crinoline in place. As they remained quiet, a sense of urgency filled the air. They must hurry in case his brother found them and they must fight. She shoved the horsehair padding downward, and he came around to the front and knelt in front of her.

“Here,” he whispered. “Lift your legs one at a time, and I’ll pull it off.”

She complied, and quicker than she expected, Elijah crumpled the nuisance and shoved it into a corner. Without speaking he returned to stand behind her and made short work of the corset laces. When it loosened around her ribs, she sucked in a breath. That felt so much better. Though she never worn her corset particularly tight, removing the garment was liberating. She took one deep breath after another. When he loosened it completely, he pulled it over her head. It, too, went into the corner.

Now that she stood in nothing but chemise, pantalets, stockings and boots, she trembled with cold. His hands rested on her shoulders for a second, and then he turned her around.

His eyes had lost their harshness, but they held no awareness of her as a woman. He had shut down for the fight, all efficiency in the face of danger. “I know the dress is cold and wet, but you have to put it back on. If they find us here…”

She put her fingers over his lips. For a few unguarded seconds, his eyes flared. She’d never imagined green eyes could burn this bright and hot with emotion. Quickly he shut it off, like a flame doused under a rush of water. He helped her back into the dress, which went much faster.

Once done, he sat, propped his back against the wall and stared at her. He drew up one leg and propped his forearm on his knee. With his disheveled hair, sweat beading on his forehead, and a harsh look in his eyes, he looked every inch the dastardly criminal. Part of her wanted to run from him too. After all, she was in this predicament because his brother had a vendetta with Elijah. His rumpled waistcoat hung open, dirt and something red smeared over one side. Worry speared her.

She sank to her knees in the damp earth in front of him. She grabbed the lapels of his waistcoat and parted them. “You are bleeding.”

“No. I’m not. That’s the blood of the man I killed.”

Her lips parted but nothing came out at first. She struggled with her words. “We both… I hit that man with a rock, Elijah. I killed him.”

“I know, darlin’.” His voice softened, the rough understanding lowering his husky voice. “I know.”

More tears came, and as they rained down, her face crumpled.

“Shhh…” He reached for her and pulled her into his lap.

He cuddled her close, his powerful arms providing shelter she desperately craved. She wept quietly, holding back the rage screaming fear. She shuddered and quaked. She saw a misery in his gaze, a genuine sorrow. She touched his face and felt the bristle of beard growing there. In those quiet moments, Mary Jane heard nothing more than gentle breaths, felt nothing more than his heat beneath her, cradling and comforting.

Understanding, like that she had witnessed before, warmed his eyes and softened his visage. His lips parted. She stared at that handsome mouth and wanted it on hers with undeniable desperation.

Closer, closer still, he tilted towards her until…his mouth touched hers with exquisite gentleness. When her lips parted under pressure, his tongue pushed inside. Retreated. Caressed. Owned her mouth with sweet, deep thrusts. She arched into that kiss, breath puffing into him, mouth moving in response, tongue tangling in carnal dance.

Elijah broke away with a gasp, eyes still blazing.

He leaned closer until he whispered in her ear. “If we were anywhere else and completely safe, you would be beneath me. Naked.”

Blunt as his words were, they excited Mary Jane and made her forget their harrowing flight.

“But we can’t.” His burning gaze lingered on her mouth, then recaptured her eyes. “I would put you in danger, and that’s the last thing I want. Promise me something.”

“Anything.” The word, so definitive and complete, left her throat without a pause.

“If they find us here and anything happens to me, you fight with everything in you. You fight to live. You understand?”

“No—I— you are not going to die.” Her voice broke. “That will not happen.”

“If there’s one thing I learned incarcerated in Eastern State, it was that bad things happen and you cannot always stop them. If that bad thing happens, and I cannot keep you safe…you do what you need in order to live.” His gaze was fierce and demanding. “You understand me?”

“Yes.” The excruciating thought twisted a hot knife in her breast. “Yes.”

* *
This evening I’ll pick one winner from the comments to receive a trade paperback from my backlist. Thanks so much for taking the time to say hello today! ~ Denise

16 comments to “Guest Blogger: Denise Agnew (Contest)”

  1. Virginia E
    Comment
    1
      · July 16th, 2011 at 7:35 am · Link

    Well, I’m going to have to raid the cushions for change so I can afford to buy this. I’ve like everything of your’s that I’ve read. Happy Sales, Denise!



  2. tammy ramey
    Comment
    2
      · July 16th, 2011 at 8:13 am · Link

    what a great excerpt! i can’t wait to read the rest of the book and see what happen before that and next. it sounds wonderful.



  3. Kelly Hensley
    Comment
    3
      · July 16th, 2011 at 8:55 am · Link

    Loved the excerpt! I adore books, but historical romance novels are the first I ever read and they hold a soft spot for me. Looking forward to reading this one!



  4. Donna B
    Comment
    4
      · July 16th, 2011 at 11:48 am · Link

    Hello Denise. What an enticing excerpt. Have Kindle on my PC and must download it there because I can’t wait to read the entire book.



  5. Jane
    Comment
    5
      · July 16th, 2011 at 1:12 pm · Link

    Congrats on the new release. I love historicals with paranormal elements.



  6. June M.
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    6
      · July 16th, 2011 at 2:05 pm · Link

    I think this could be the book to get me over being burnt out on historicals. It sounds like a great book. Is it part of a series or is it a stand alone book? Thank you so much for sharing it with us.



  7. Estella
    Comment
    7
      · July 16th, 2011 at 2:27 pm · Link

    I can’t wait to read the rest of this book!



  8. Mary A Pitzer
    Comment
    8
      · July 16th, 2011 at 2:45 pm · Link

    Just love historical romance and will look forward to reading yours! Really enjoyed this excerpt!



  9. Danielle Gorman
    Comment
    9
      · July 16th, 2011 at 4:28 pm · Link

    Wow, loved that excerpt. I am definitely going to have to pick up a copy of this one. Looks so good.



  10. elaing8
    Comment
    10
      · July 16th, 2011 at 7:18 pm · Link

    Before the Dawn sounds really good.I enjoyed the excerpt.Thanks for sharing it.



  11. Shadow
    Comment
    11
      · July 16th, 2011 at 8:14 pm · Link

    Wow! This sounds awesome! Congrats on your new release! How exciting for you! :) Great excerpt! I cant wait to find out what happens next! Thanks for sharing!



  12. Megan Grimm
    Comment
    12
      · July 16th, 2011 at 8:25 pm · Link

    Loved the excerpt. I am relatively new to historical romances. I have only been reading them for the last year or so but I love them. Its like visiting a world you will never get to see. I look forward to checking out your books.



  13. Jen B.
    Comment
    13
      · July 16th, 2011 at 9:54 pm · Link

    It’s getting late, so I will say Hello! Thanks for the giveaway. My brain is shutting down now.
    jepebATverizonDOTnet



  14. Fedora
    Comment
    14
      · July 17th, 2011 at 1:03 am · Link

    Denise, I love that cover! I think I missed adding this to my TBR–going to fix that ASAP! Thanks for sharing that terrific excerpt!



  15. savonna
    Comment
    15
      · July 17th, 2011 at 5:05 am · Link

    Love the excerpt!!



  16. Denise A. Agnew
    Comment
    16
      · July 26th, 2011 at 1:56 pm · Link

    Hey guys! I totally and completely apologize. :) I’m fessing up right now! I’m usually very good at responding to everyone’s notes when the post and Saturday got nuts, and then Sunday was busy and then Monday I completely and utterly forgot! :) :oops: Sorry about that. I want to thank you all so much for taking the time to stop by and post and for reading my excerpt.

    I’m picking Megan as the winner. Megan, I’m sending you a note as I speak.

    Thanks everyone!

    Denise A. Agnew