In the Lion's Mouth
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by Jean Harrington
Category: Historical Fiction/Romance
Description: Stalked by a lecherous tyrant, Owen and Grace flee their beloved Ireland in pursuit of freedom and happiness. With no ship departures until spring, Owen obtains work with a traveling blacksmith and leaves Grace in Liverpool. While there, she is accosted by their nemesis, Lord Rushmount, and barely escapes with her life. As Grace and Owen continue to cross paths with Rushmount, she is challenged with hiding her experience in Liverpool. For once Owen discovers the truth, will their love remain strong? Or will the truth destroy their shining future?
eBook Publisher: Highland Press/Eire, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: August 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [422 KB]
Reading time: 267-374 min.
"What Jean Harrington does so well is provide a fully-textured sense of place. In the Lion's Mouth (from Highland Press) is set in Ireland, England, and the colony of Rhode Island in the late 1660s. As we follow Harrington's colorful characters, we encounter the details of clothing, diet and food preparation, rural and urban dwelling places, weaponry, and sailing vessels. We can't be sure that Harrington is accurate, but she does create verisimilitude. The abundance of consistent detail makes the world she builds credible. Her characters inhabit it plausibly, and as we believe in them, we believe in their experiences and vicariously share the sensory dimensions of their lives. On these grounds alone, In the Lion's Mouth is worthy of commendation. However, much else is accomplished. Harrington dazzles us with the lure of the New World--its vast expanse, its promises of freedom, self-reliance, and opportunity. She also gives us the historical realities of European encroachment on the lands of others, pettiness and greed, and the long arm of English rule. In blending research, imagination, and a nuanced yet highly accessible style, Jean Harrington has fashioned a compelling, earthy, and exciting romance that never flags. In the Lion's Mouth brings us vigorous, passionate characters leading their lives against the perfectly realized backdrop of a changing world."--Jason, Fort Myers Magazine
At first, in her haste, Grace didn't hear the horse coming up behind her until the sound of hooves striking the cobbles caught her alarmed attention. She glanced back over her shoulder. A black stallion was bearing down, racing along as swift as if the alley were a highway.
Where to go? No doorway ahead, no niche, no depression in a wall. She'd be crushed under those powerful legs. Could the rider not see her?
She pressed against a soot-smeared wall, the basket swaying on her arm. If the horse caught at the basket in passing, she'd be pulled into harm's way, but before she could stoop to place it at her feet, the stallion was upon her, so close that even in the dim light, she could see the whites of its eyes and the flecks of sweat beading its coat. She could die under those hooves! But of a sudden, the horse careened to a halt, the savage hand of the rider sending its forelegs flailing the air before it skidded to a stop.
Grace raised terrified eyes. "Rushmount!"
In his aristocrat's formal wig and clothing, he sat his saddle with ease, on his face the look of a sleek cat that had cornered its mouse.
She dropped the basket and began to run. In an instant, the stallion blocked the alley. Ross Rushmount leaned down, and with a single arm, pulled her up onto the saddle in front of him where he held her like a carving in a vise. "Don't struggle. You're not going anywhere without me."
She pulled in a deep breath, ready to expel it in a scream. His arm hardened. "If you cry out, I'll kill you."
"Kill me, then."
He laughed. "You don't want to die, Grace."
Holding her tight enough to crush her ribs, he switched the reins to his left hand. With his right, he reached into his high boot top and grasped the handle of a dirk. He pressed it to her throat. "One scream and I cut. I won't be thwarted this time."
Frantic in his grip, she struggled to break free.
"Stop it, you little fool." The tip of the dagger pricked her earlobe. "You want me to go deeper?"
Was she ready to prove his bluff? To die? To be sliced in the ribs and tossed to the ground while he rode away before anyone knew what he'd done? To all of the hasty, barely formed questions, the answer was the same. No.
They had reached the end of the alley. He cantered out into the quayside sending passersby scurrying away as the horse took the center of the road. Reining the stallion to the right, he moved away from the bustling dock with its moored trading vessels, inns, pubs and bawdy houses, into an area Grace had not traversed on foot.
With every clop of the stallion's hooves, they rode farther away from the sights she knew. Despite the knife's steely presence against her side, she had to free herself. She had to. But how? Then an idea struck her, causing her heartbeat to quicken. If she pretended to faint, he might loosen his grip, and she could wrench free before he could stop her. It was worth a try.
She slumped back against him, closed her eyes, and let her hands flutter down, limp to her sides.
"Ah, that's much better," he said. "Why fight when you've no hope of winning?"
He cradled her to his chest, wrapping both arms about her, holding the reins and the accursed knife in front of him in plain sight. She could have sworn he dropped a kiss on her hair. Holy Mother, the man thought she was giving in to him. Either he had never attended a fainting woman before or her play acting wasn't convincing. Whatever the reason, her ruse had failed. From beneath lowered lids, she glanced over the horse's bobbing mane. A procession of stately houses stretched ahead, their stone faces broad and high with fan lit doorways looking out to sea. As long as she could see water to the left, she'd find her way back, no matter how far they traveled. But dear God, what if Owen came home this very night and found her missing? Believing that in her anger, she had deserted him? The thought was not to be borne. Aye, she had to get away, and soon.
Rushmount slowed their pace and loosened his grip on her. Had he dropped his guard? She could only hope. Breathing deep and full, she concentrated on strength for one powerful sudden lunge. She would yank herself forward in the saddle then leap to the ground the instant his arms slackened their hold. She might escape yet. But as her muscles tensed for flight, his grasp tightened, and the knife again found her throat.
"I knew you hadn't fainted," he hissed in her ear. "Not you. Now sit still or you'll come to harm. We're almost there."
She fell back against him, overcome for a moment. She was his prisoner. Nothing could save her, only her own wits.
At the next curve in the road, he reined to a stop in front of a grand row house with a glossy door sheltered under an arched portico. Tucking the knife back into his boot, he slid from the saddle taking her with him, his iron hand clutching her upper arm. She glanced frantically about but saw no passersby, no men on horseback, only one carriage off in the distance. It was now or never, but no one, she realized, with a sinking heart, would hear a cry for help.
"Don't bother to scream," Rushmount said, as if divining her thoughts. "There's no one to hear."