Rainbow Awards Winner- S.a. Meade

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tournament of shadows

amazon.co.uk: amazon.comtotallybound.com

In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever. 

In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interests. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin to help and offer him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.

Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.

Can they set the past behind them and move on together?

Excerpt:

I had more important things to worry about than whether the man who trailed several miles behind me was a coincidental traveller or someone with a far more sinister purpose. My horse was hopping lame and I needed to find somewhere to rest. The prospect of dealing with potential trouble in a country ripe with dangerous possibilities did not appeal to me. I patted the animal’s warm neck and kept walking, trying my best to ignore the dust and discomfort of the desert.

A hopeful patch of green glimmered in the distance, distorted by the heat. It was promise enough. I urged the horse on. I cleared my mind of everything but becoming the travelling scholar once more. A harmless fool immersed in research for the sake of it, not a paid fool sent to rescue two other idiots. The May heat left me bad tempered. I just wanted to find a place to rest for a day or two, perhaps lie in wait for my unwanted travelling companion. I knew there was a caravanserai on the road ahead but I didn’t want the crowds, the braying camels, persistent hawkers. I just wanted peace and quiet.

I talked to myself in Uzbek. I talked to the horse. His ears twitched at the sound of my voice and he let loose a long, flubbering sigh as he hobbled along beside me. The oasis drew closer, rising out of the scorched earth in a cluster of trees and earthen buildings. The horse quickened his step and I hurried alongside him, desperate for cool, green shade and a place to rest, even if it was just a rug laid out beneath a tree. I needed all the rest I could get in preparation for the impossible task ahead.

 

* * * *

 

The furnace wind kicked up dust and dead leaves, hurling them across the road. I was glad to leave the desert behind and reach the refuge of the village. I searched for the closest thing they had to an inn—a small, mud-walled building beneath a canopy of trees. The proprietor, a wizened old man with skin like creased, oiled leather hobbled out into the courtyard and offered me a toothless smile. There were a few cots scattered beneath a wood-shingled awning. One or two were already occupied by weary, dusty travellers sleeping in the shade. I chose the bed at the far end, desiring as much peace and quiet as possible, not wanting to be bothered by conversation or company.

The horse came first. I led him to a stable.

“Your horse has a bad limp, sir.”

I bent down and examined the injured leg. “I think it’s his foot.”

The horse shuddered when I reached for his hoof. It was hot to the touch and a close study of the sole revealed a tell-tale black line, which told me that he had an abscess. “Can I have some warm water?”

“Yes, sir.” The innkeeper smiled, nodded then walked away.

I searched my saddle pack for the small bags of things I kept for medicinal purposes including Epsom salts, then pulled the knife from my belt. The innkeeper returned with a basin of water and stood watching when I dug my knife into the animal’s hoof. The horse groaned and snorted but remained still as pus streamed from his foot. I dropped Epsom salts into the water, then dunked an unrolled bandage into it. Once the cloth was soaked, I wrapped it carefully around the horse’s hoof, all under the watchful eye of my host.

“You are a clever man, sir.” His grin was brilliant in the seamed leather of his face.

I straightened my back and patted the horse’s warm neck. “No, just one who has learnt to care for his horse.” I didn’t much care for such close scrutiny and hoped the innkeeper wasn’t one of those talkative sorts who need to know the life story of each of his guests.

He stooped to retrieve the basin and flung the water onto the dirt. “I will leave you to rest. I will bring you some food later.”

“Thank you.” I salaamed, made sure the horse was settled then sought refuge on my bed.

It was cool enough in the shade to be comfortable. I lay down on my bedroll and fell asleep to the warbling of a bird in the dusty trees.

 

* * * *

 

The sun slipped beyond the walls of the inn. My host carried a tray across the yard and set it on a small table beside my bed. “It is but a simple meal, sir.”

I glanced at the bowl of aromatic stew, the cup of cloudy white rice, the pickles and slab of flatbread. “It is a feast after days of traveller’s fare. Thank you.”

He left me to eat in peace, which I did, until the bowl was empty, wiped clean by the last wedge of warm bread. I washed the repast down with the lukewarm tea he’d provided. It was more than enough to satisfy me. I returned the tray to the house then went to see to my horse.

The gelding dozed, resting his afflicted foot. I removed the bandage and poultice, pleased to note that the wound had finished draining. There was still some heat in the sole, which meant I faced a day or two of enforced rest.

“It’s all right, my friend,” I murmured into his ear. “A day or two isn’t going to make much of a difference.

I wasn’t sure I believed my own words but I needed a sound horse more than I needed the firearm hidden in my saddlebag. The gelding nudged me, then rubbed his head against my shoulder, seeking relief from some hidden itch. I obliged by scratching his cheek and offering up prayers to every god I could think of to speed his recovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

S.A. Meade: Tournament of Shadows

Congratulations, S.A. Meade, Tournament of Shadows has received an Honorable Mention from the Rainbow Awards.

Confessions of a Speshul Snowflake.

I’ve always vowed not to be one of those authors who get precious about their books. Honestly, it’s true. I’m always telling others that, once a book is written and published, that’s it. It’s out of the author’s hands. It’s out there for readers. Finito. Goodbye. But I have a confession, I have a favourite book.

It’s Tournament of Shadows.

The setting fascinates me, the sad, tragic tale of Stoddart and Connelly stuck in my head long after I first heard it. For years I’d been struggling to come up with a story to set in Central Asia at the height of the Great Game. Tournament is that story. It has everything—two strong characters, an exotic backdrop, all set during a game that is still being played today, albeit with less glamorous characters and with more sophisticated weaponry. If you’d like an historical romance which is just a little bit different, give it a try.

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Buylinks: Totally Bound: Amazon.com: Amazon.co.uk

Blurb

In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever. 

In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interests. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin to help and offer him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.

Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.

Can they set the past behind them and move on together?

Excerpt

I had more important things to worry about than whether the man who trailed several miles behind me was a coincidental traveller or someone with a far more sinister purpose. My horse was hopping lame and I needed to find somewhere to rest. The prospect of dealing with potential trouble in a country ripe with dangerous possibilities did not appeal to me. I patted the animal’s warm neck and kept walking, trying my best to ignore the dust and discomfort of the desert.

A hopeful patch of green glimmered in the distance, distorted by the heat. It was promise enough. I urged the horse on. I cleared my mind of everything but becoming the travelling scholar once more. A harmless fool immersed in research for the sake of it, not a paid fool sent to rescue two other idiots. The May heat left me bad tempered. I just wanted to find a place to rest for a day or two, perhaps lie in wait for my unwanted travelling companion. I knew there was a caravanserai on the road ahead but I didn’t want the crowds, the braying camels, persistent hawkers. I just wanted peace and quiet.

I talked to myself in Uzbek. I talked to the horse. His ears twitched at the sound of my voice and he let loose a long, flubbering sigh as he hobbled along beside me. The oasis drew closer, rising out of the scorched earth in a cluster of trees and earthen buildings. The horse quickened his step and I hurried alongside him, desperate for cool, green shade and a place to rest, even if it was just a rug laid out beneath a tree. I needed all the rest I could get in preparation for the impossible task ahead.

* * * *

The furnace wind kicked up dust and dead leaves, hurling them across the road. I was glad to leave the desert behind and reach the refuge of the village. I searched for the closest thing they had to an inn—a small, mud-walled building beneath a canopy of trees. The proprietor, a wizened old man with skin like creased, oiled leather hobbled out into the courtyard and offered me a toothless smile. There were a few cots scattered beneath a wood-shingled awning. One or two were already occupied by weary, dusty travellers sleeping in the shade. I chose the bed at the far end, desiring as much peace and quiet as possible, not wanting to be bothered by conversation or company.

The horse came first. I led him to a stable.

“Your horse has a bad limp, sir.”

I bent down and examined the injured leg. “I think it’s his foot.”

The horse shuddered when I reached for his hoof. It was hot to the touch and a close study of the sole revealed a tell-tale black line, which told me that he had an abscess. “Can I have some warm water?”

“Yes, sir.” The innkeeper smiled, nodded then walked away.

I searched my saddle pack for the small bags of things I kept for medicinal purposes including Epsom salts, then pulled the knife from my belt. The innkeeper returned with a basin of water and stood watching when I dug my knife into the animal’s hoof. The horse groaned and snorted but remained still as pus streamed from his foot. I dropped Epsom salts into the water, then dunked an unrolled bandage into it. Once the cloth was soaked, I wrapped it carefully around the horse’s hoof, all under the watchful eye of my host.

“You are a clever man, sir.” His grin was brilliant in the seamed leather of his face.

I straightened my back and patted the horse’s warm neck. “No, just one who has learnt to care for his horse.” I didn’t much care for such close scrutiny and hoped the innkeeper wasn’t one of those talkative sorts who need to know the life story of each of his guests.

He stooped to retrieve the basin and flung the water onto the dirt. “I will leave you to rest. I will bring you some food later.”

“Thank you.” I salaamed, made sure the horse was settled then sought refuge on my bed.

It was cool enough in the shade to be comfortable. I lay down on my bedroll and fell asleep to the warbling of a bird in the dusty trees.

* * * *

The sun slipped beyond the walls of the inn. My host carried a tray across the yard and set it on a small table beside my bed. “It is but a simple meal, sir.”

I glanced at the bowl of aromatic stew, the cup of cloudy white rice, the pickles and slab of flatbread. “It is a feast after days of traveller’s fare. Thank you.”

He left me to eat in peace, which I did, until the bowl was empty, wiped clean by the last wedge of warm bread. I washed the repast down with the lukewarm tea he’d provided. It was more than enough to satisfy me. I returned the tray to the house then went to see to my horse.

The gelding dozed, resting his afflicted foot. I removed the bandage and poultice, pleased to note that the wound had finished draining. There was still some heat in the sole, which meant I faced a day or two of enforced rest.

“It’s all right, my friend,” I murmured into his ear. “A day or two isn’t going to make much of a difference.

I wasn’t sure I believed my own words but I needed a sound horse more than I needed the firearm hidden in my saddlebag. The gelding nudged me, then rubbed his head against my shoulder, seeking relief from some hidden itch. I obliged by scratching his cheek and offering up prayers to every god I could think of to speed his recovery.

S.A. Meade Day: Book of the Day – Lord of Endersley

lordofendersley_800

Lord of Endersley

Totally Bound: Amazon.com: Amazon.co.uk

This is book one in the The Endersley Papers series, see the full series listing here

Will the passion ignited during a violent uprising survive the rigid confines of Victorian society?

Jacob Endersley is glad to escape the confines of his family home for the exotic and dangerous beauty of India during the glory days of the Raj.

Marcus Billington, an Army officer, is tired of the stifling social mores of life in a British enclave. When the Sepoy Uprising o 1857 leads to chaos and bloodshed, the two men seek the safety of Agra and find refuge in each other.

Once the rebellion is quashed, Jacob returns to England while Marcus remains in India. They have no hope of a future together until Jacob learns that Marcus has returned to England. When they meet again, Marcus makes it clear there can be nothing between them and Jacob returns to Endersley resigned to a solitary life until Marcus arrives out of the blue and then everything changes.

Excerpt:

Balls were meant to be held in the cooler months, in candlelit rooms in ancient mansions. We men weren’t meant to be standing and perspiring in our finery, desperately seeking the faintest of breezes. I stared into my empty punch glass and wondered how soon I could decently leave. My cousin Harold had disappeared into another room in pursuit of a card game, leaving me with the cheerful suggestion to ‘eye up the young ladies’.

As a visitor to this remote, godforsaken corner of India, it was more a case of the young ladies casting hopeful glances in my direction. New men were a talking point among the cantonment’s matrons, anxious to marry their daughters off before the withering heat reduced them to wilted echoes of English roses. There was one now, Amelia-or-Emily Winthrop, giving me the glad eye over the frantic fluttering of an ivory fan. I envied her the fan.

I hated to be rude. I glanced past her, caught by the glint of candlelight on gold. The women were fine enough in their silks and satins, but the soldiers were peacocks to their peahens, resplendent in their dress uniforms, trying not to look miserable in the stifling heat.

“Hellishly hot, isn’t it?”

I turned at the sound of a familiar voice. “Ah, good evening, Cooper, yes it bloody is.”

Septimus Cooper propped himself up against the wall, dabbing his scarlet face with a handkerchief. “Where’s Fanning?”

“Cards.”

“Stupid question really.” Cooper studied his empty glass. “Left you to your own devices, did he?”

“He advised me to consider the ladies of the station.”

He laughed. “Ever the attentive host.”

“My cousin can be very attentive, but he can’t resist the lure of the gaming tables. I’m grateful that he’s been kind enough to look after a cousin he’s never met before. He keeps a decent table and doesn’t demand much in return, except for a bit of conversation. Once he realised I hadn’t come here with the intention of seeking involvement in his business he was very accommodating indeed.”

“He does look after his guests well…when he’s not at the tables.”

“There’s not much else to keep a man entertained out here. I’ll be glad to get back to England.” I thought of Endersley in April, the cool wind blowing across the Downs, the slowly greening hedgerows and meadows alive with newborn lambs. Two more weeks and I would be on my way back there, in time for late summer, for long days and soft, cooling rain.

“I don’t blame you, man. Things are getting devilishly uncomfortable here and I don’t just mean the weather.”

I watched Amelia-or-Emily Winthrop take to the dance floor in the arms of an officer. He caught the eye more than she did with the gold braid of his dress uniform.

“Poor Billington.” Cooper shook his head. “Nabbed by the predatory Miss Winthrop. I reckon you owe the good Captain a drink, Endersley. He’s saved you from having to dance with her.”

“He has indeed.” I watched Billington, his back rigid as he led Amelia-or-Emily in the waltz. She smiled at him, fluttering her eyelashes at the same frantic speed that she’d fluttered her fan. Her dance card dangled from her wrist, no doubt waiting for my scribble. Billington never smiled, though a muscle twitched in his jaw. It shamed me that I found him more pleasing on the eye.

The waltz trailed to an end of jumbled notes and the rustle of skirts as couples parted or departed the dance floor. Amelia-or-Emily retreated to her mother and Billington headed in the opposite direction, towards us.

“Good evening, gentlemen.” Billington wore the expression of a man who’d escaped a terrible fate.

“Captain.”

Cooper glanced across the room. “Oh dear, the wife beckons. I’d better go and see what’s irked her now.” With a nod to us, he disappeared into the melee on the floor.

I spied Mrs Cooper, her lips pressed together, dark eyes glittering with disapproval, and felt more than a little sympathy for her husband.

“So, Endersley, I should think you’ll be glad to be away from all of this.” Billington leaned against the wall. The muscle still twitched in his cheek.

“I will. I was just thinking how much I’m looking forward to a rainy English summer.”

Billington sighed. “I’ve been out here that bloody long I can’t remember what summer rain feels like.” His voice trailed away, and his eyes looked beyond the stifling confines of the large room.

We fell silent, me thinking of green grass and a sky full of familiar stars, Billington thinking of God knows what. I stole a glance at him and didn’t envy him his uniform. Even his proximity to the window and the hidden punkahwallah’s efforts couldn’t erase the sheen of perspiration from his face.

“You’ll do well to get out of here as soon as you can,” he murmured, without prompting.

“I beg your pardon?”

“If you think it’s hot now, in a few weeks’ time it’ll be unbearable. There’s this hot wind that blows dust into every bloody crevice. It’s miserable. You can’t do anything much between sunrise and late afternoon.”

“So I’ve heard. I’d planned on visiting Simla before heading down to Bombay.”

“That’s a very sensible notion.” He glanced towards the veranda. “As is escaping this room before I suffocate. Are you coming?”

Author Bio:

S.A. Meade has recently returned to England after 8 years in Arizona, where she learned to love air conditioners and realised that rain wasn’t such a bad thing after all. She lives with her husband, son and two cats in one of the most beautiful villages in Wiltshire and is partial to gin and tonic with loads of ice and lemon.

S.A. Meade Day: Blogs of Interest – Autism: It’s No One’s Fault

Autism Fact: Autism is not caused by a person’s upbringing and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.

S.A. Meade has written a blog for RJ Scott’s Autism Blog Hop

When you have a baby, no one presents with you with an instruction manual. Once you leave the maternity ward, you’re on your own. You are faced with the frightening responsibility of caring for a helpless infant. You soon learn that babies become slippery little buggers when you put them in a bath, that little boys will do a pretty decent impression of the Trevi Fountain when you take their nappies (diapers) off , that they often prefer home-made baby food to the goo that comes in jars.

 

The rest of the blog can be found here.

S.A. Meade Day: Giveaway of Tournament of Shadows

It’s S.A. Meade’s day on ukgayromance. Those of you who know will know my all-time favourite book is Stolen Summer but I have to say Tournament of Shadows runs a close second. I am not often privileged to read a story before it is published but I got a chance to read Tournament of Shadows as it was written.  

S.A Meade has kindly offered a copy as a giveaway today. Leave a comment below to enter the draw with your email. The giveaway closes Tuesday 8th April at midday BST.

tournamentofshadows_800 (1)

Tournament of Shadows by S.A. Meade

Totally BoundAmazon.comAmazon.co.uk

In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever. 

In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interests. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin to help and offer him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.

Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.

Can they set the past behind them and move on together?

Excerpt

I had more important things to worry about than whether the man who trailed several miles behind me was a coincidental traveller or someone with a far more sinister purpose. My horse was hopping lame and I needed to find somewhere to rest. The prospect of dealing with potential trouble in a country ripe with dangerous possibilities did not appeal to me. I patted the animal’s warm neck and kept walking, trying my best to ignore the dust and discomfort of the desert.

A hopeful patch of green glimmered in the distance, distorted by the heat. It was promise enough. I urged the horse on. I cleared my mind of everything but becoming the travelling scholar once more. A harmless fool immersed in research for the sake of it, not a paid fool sent to rescue two other idiots. The May heat left me bad tempered. I just wanted to find a place to rest for a day or two, perhaps lie in wait for my unwanted travelling companion. I knew there was a caravanserai on the road ahead but I didn’t want the crowds, the braying camels, persistent hawkers. I just wanted peace and quiet.

I talked to myself in Uzbek. I talked to the horse. His ears twitched at the sound of my voice and he let loose a long, flubbering sigh as he hobbled along beside me. The oasis drew closer, rising out of the scorched earth in a cluster of trees and earthen buildings. The horse quickened his step and I hurried alongside him, desperate for cool, green shade and a place to rest, even if it was just a rug laid out beneath a tree. I needed all the rest I could get in preparation for the impossible task ahead.

 

* * * *

 

The furnace wind kicked up dust and dead leaves, hurling them across the road. I was glad to leave the desert behind and reach the refuge of the village. I searched for the closest thing they had to an inn—a small, mud-walled building beneath a canopy of trees. The proprietor, a wizened old man with skin like creased, oiled leather hobbled out into the courtyard and offered me a toothless smile. There were a few cots scattered beneath a wood-shingled awning. One or two were already occupied by weary, dusty travellers sleeping in the shade. I chose the bed at the far end, desiring as much peace and quiet as possible, not wanting to be bothered by conversation or company.

The horse came first. I led him to a stable.

“Your horse has a bad limp, sir.”

I bent down and examined the injured leg. “I think it’s his foot.”

The horse shuddered when I reached for his hoof. It was hot to the touch and a close study of the sole revealed a tell-tale black line, which told me that he had an abscess. “Can I have some warm water?”

“Yes, sir.” The innkeeper smiled, nodded then walked away.

I searched my saddle pack for the small bags of things I kept for medicinal purposes including Epsom salts, then pulled the knife from my belt. The innkeeper returned with a basin of water and stood watching when I dug my knife into the animal’s hoof. The horse groaned and snorted but remained still as pus streamed from his foot. I dropped Epsom salts into the water, then dunked an unrolled bandage into it. Once the cloth was soaked, I wrapped it carefully around the horse’s hoof, all under the watchful eye of my host.

“You are a clever man, sir.” His grin was brilliant in the seamed leather of his face.

I straightened my back and patted the horse’s warm neck. “No, just one who has learnt to care for his horse.” I didn’t much care for such close scrutiny and hoped the innkeeper wasn’t one of those talkative sorts who need to know the life story of each of his guests.

He stooped to retrieve the basin and flung the water onto the dirt. “I will leave you to rest. I will bring you some food later.”

“Thank you.” I salaamed, made sure the horse was settled then sought refuge on my bed.

It was cool enough in the shade to be comfortable. I lay down on my bedroll and fell asleep to the warbling of a bird in the dusty trees.

* * * *

The sun slipped beyond the walls of the inn. My host carried a tray across the yard and set it on a small table beside my bed. “It is but a simple meal, sir.”

I glanced at the bowl of aromatic stew, the cup of cloudy white rice, the pickles and slab of flatbread. “It is a feast after days of traveller’s fare. Thank you.”

He left me to eat in peace, which I did, until the bowl was empty, wiped clean by the last wedge of warm bread. I washed the repast down with the lukewarm tea he’d provided. It was more than enough to satisfy me. I returned the tray to the house then went to see to my horse.

The gelding dozed, resting his afflicted foot. I removed the bandage and poultice, pleased to note that the wound had finished draining. There was still some heat in the sole, which meant I faced a day or two of enforced rest.

“It’s all right, my friend,” I murmured into his ear. “A day or two isn’t going to make much of a difference.

I wasn’t sure I believed my own words but I needed a sound horse more than I needed the firearm hidden in my saddlebag. The gelding nudged me, then rubbed his head against my shoulder, seeking relief from some hidden itch. I obliged by scratching his cheek and offering up prayers to every god I could think of to speed his recovery.

Author Bio:

S.A. Meade has recently returned to England after 8 years in Arizona, where she learned to love air conditioners and realised that rain wasn’t such a bad thing after all. She lives with her husband, son and two cats in one of the most beautiful villages in Wiltshire and is partial to gin and tonic with loads of ice and lemon.

 

 

Book of the Day: Tournament of Shadows by S.A. Meade

tournamentofshadows_800 (1)

Tournament of Shadows by S.A. Meade

Totally Bound: Amazon.com: Amazon.co.uk

In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever. 

In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interests. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin to help and offer him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.

Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.

Can they set the past behind them and move on together?

Excerpt

I had more important things to worry about than whether the man who trailed several miles behind me was a coincidental traveller or someone with a far more sinister purpose. My horse was hopping lame and I needed to find somewhere to rest. The prospect of dealing with potential trouble in a country ripe with dangerous possibilities did not appeal to me. I patted the animal’s warm neck and kept walking, trying my best to ignore the dust and discomfort of the desert.

A hopeful patch of green glimmered in the distance, distorted by the heat. It was promise enough. I urged the horse on. I cleared my mind of everything but becoming the travelling scholar once more. A harmless fool immersed in research for the sake of it, not a paid fool sent to rescue two other idiots. The May heat left me bad tempered. I just wanted to find a place to rest for a day or two, perhaps lie in wait for my unwanted travelling companion. I knew there was a caravanserai on the road ahead but I didn’t want the crowds, the braying camels, persistent hawkers. I just wanted peace and quiet.

I talked to myself in Uzbek. I talked to the horse. His ears twitched at the sound of my voice and he let loose a long, flubbering sigh as he hobbled along beside me. The oasis drew closer, rising out of the scorched earth in a cluster of trees and earthen buildings. The horse quickened his step and I hurried alongside him, desperate for cool, green shade and a place to rest, even if it was just a rug laid out beneath a tree. I needed all the rest I could get in preparation for the impossible task ahead.

 

* * * *

 

The furnace wind kicked up dust and dead leaves, hurling them across the road. I was glad to leave the desert behind and reach the refuge of the village. I searched for the closest thing they had to an inn—a small, mud-walled building beneath a canopy of trees. The proprietor, a wizened old man with skin like creased, oiled leather hobbled out into the courtyard and offered me a toothless smile. There were a few cots scattered beneath a wood-shingled awning. One or two were already occupied by weary, dusty travellers sleeping in the shade. I chose the bed at the far end, desiring as much peace and quiet as possible, not wanting to be bothered by conversation or company.

The horse came first. I led him to a stable.

“Your horse has a bad limp, sir.”

I bent down and examined the injured leg. “I think it’s his foot.”

The horse shuddered when I reached for his hoof. It was hot to the touch and a close study of the sole revealed a tell-tale black line, which told me that he had an abscess. “Can I have some warm water?”

“Yes, sir.” The innkeeper smiled, nodded then walked away.

I searched my saddle pack for the small bags of things I kept for medicinal purposes including Epsom salts, then pulled the knife from my belt. The innkeeper returned with a basin of water and stood watching when I dug my knife into the animal’s hoof. The horse groaned and snorted but remained still as pus streamed from his foot. I dropped Epsom salts into the water, then dunked an unrolled bandage into it. Once the cloth was soaked, I wrapped it carefully around the horse’s hoof, all under the watchful eye of my host.

“You are a clever man, sir.” His grin was brilliant in the seamed leather of his face.

I straightened my back and patted the horse’s warm neck. “No, just one who has learnt to care for his horse.” I didn’t much care for such close scrutiny and hoped the innkeeper wasn’t one of those talkative sorts who need to know the life story of each of his guests.

He stooped to retrieve the basin and flung the water onto the dirt. “I will leave you to rest. I will bring you some food later.”

“Thank you.” I salaamed, made sure the horse was settled then sought refuge on my bed.

It was cool enough in the shade to be comfortable. I lay down on my bedroll and fell asleep to the warbling of a bird in the dusty trees.

* * * *

The sun slipped beyond the walls of the inn. My host carried a tray across the yard and set it on a small table beside my bed. “It is but a simple meal, sir.”

I glanced at the bowl of aromatic stew, the cup of cloudy white rice, the pickles and slab of flatbread. “It is a feast after days of traveller’s fare. Thank you.”

He left me to eat in peace, which I did, until the bowl was empty, wiped clean by the last wedge of warm bread. I washed the repast down with the lukewarm tea he’d provided. It was more than enough to satisfy me. I returned the tray to the house then went to see to my horse.

The gelding dozed, resting his afflicted foot. I removed the bandage and poultice, pleased to note that the wound had finished draining. There was still some heat in the sole, which meant I faced a day or two of enforced rest.

“It’s all right, my friend,” I murmured into his ear. “A day or two isn’t going to make much of a difference.

I wasn’t sure I believed my own words but I needed a sound horse more than I needed the firearm hidden in my saddlebag. The gelding nudged me, then rubbed his head against my shoulder, seeking relief from some hidden itch. I obliged by scratching his cheek and offering up prayers to every god I could think of to speed his recovery.

Author Bio:

S.A. Meade has recently returned to England after 8 years in Arizona, where she learned to love air conditioners and realised that rain wasn’t such a bad thing after all. She lives with her husband, son and two cats in one of the most beautiful villages in Wiltshire and is partial to gin and tonic with loads of ice and lemon.

 

 

A Spot of Rain by S.A. Meade

I live in Wiltshire. It’s a pretty county with rolling downs, ancient woodland and sleepy villages. It’s home to Stonehenge and to a wealth of ancient earthworks. People have lived here for centuries.

Our village lies in a little valley. To walk anywhere out of the village pretty much involves an uphill climb. It’s sheltered from the worst of the winds that sweep across this island from time to time. Some say that it has its own micro-climate. I’m not sure about that. When this part of the world gets rain, so do we.

As anyone who watches the news will know, Britain has been hammered by a succession of angry little storms from the Atlantic. The snow that slammed into parts of the USA translated to rain as it crossed the ocean. As a result, parts of this country have been inundated. The Somerset Levels have been underwater since the beginning of January and now the Thames has risen and spilled into villages and towns along its banks.

Because of our location, we get a lot of water. All this rain has saturated the soil—the water has nowhere else to go. It’s made its presence known with overflowing wells, springs bursting up through the ground, manhole covers, drains and, worst of all, in houses. Our road is no exception. About a week ago, a spring burst up on the road, spilling a steady stream of water down the street, then as the rains continued, another smaller spring opened up in the grass verge. Combine with this, run off from the farmer’s fields up the road, water from houses being pumped out and endless bloody rain, and the street becomes a river.

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Yesterday’s rain was really the final straw. The river became a restless torrent, lapping at the pavement, carrying silt and twigs in the current. A neighbour waded across the stream and the water was up past her ankles. Not really what you want to see on the road. We’re lucky, most of the houses in this part of the village are set higher. Other places haven’t been so fortunate. Last night we had two fire crews and volunteers piling up sandbags in the village square. Members of the village’s emergency planning committee went from door to door checking on people, making sure they were all right.

Mercifully, there was no further substantial rain in the night and the water on the road is receding a little. Hopefully, they will continue to recede although the Environment Agency tells us that the water will be around for a while because it’ll take some time to work its way down into the sodden ground.

It’s been scary, but it’s also been quite a heartwarming experience. This village is a very friendly, welcoming place and the recent travails have brought out the best in everyone. We all look out for each other, we all have something to talk about when we go to the shop or sit in the pub. If you’re going to be flooded, this is the village to be living in.

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A Good Feeling by S.A Meade

Jamie has a good feeling when he meets and falls in love with Connor, an Army captain destined for Afghanistan. Will that good feeling survive Connor’s deployment?

Jamie never expects to meet the love of his life in a tea shop. He never expects his lover, Connor, to be an Army officer about to return to Afghanistan for one last deployment and he certainly never expects that, after three short months together, Connor would want to spend the rest of his life with Jamie. When Connor leaves for Afghanistan, Jamie can’t help but worry that his lover might not make it back alive. He also worries that Connor, who hasn’t told his men he’s gay, doesn’t want him to be waiting at the base when he returns. Will the good feelings he has about their future together survive their separation?