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Western Knight


by Julie G. Murphy

Western Knights by Julie G. Murphy

What happens when the goddess of death and rebirth plays matchmaker?

Her father always told her she’d meet her knight in shining armor. Maggie just didn’t think he’d be an actual fourteenth century knight. Resurrected from 1375 to 1875, Sir James MacArthur has to find a way to survive in a world he little understands while trying to save Maggie, the damsel-in-distress who has won his heart. Julie Murphy expertly blends history, romance, and humor in her new novel, Western Knight.

In 1875, in the woods near a horse farm in Kentucky, Magnolia, “Maggie,” Bathhurst meets the knight her deceased father had promised to her. Hell-bent and running from her stepfather, she trips over her cavalier’s bullet-riddled body that is floating in a shallow ditch.

At the same time in 1375, the son of an English traitor to the crown, Sir James MacArthur is trying to save his adopted sister from an arranged marriage to a man who beats women. In the escape, the Morrigan, the Gaelic goddess of battle, death and resurrection, rearranges “Mac’s” life.

All his days faithful to his knight’s pledge, the Morrigan decides that Mac’s life is worth redeeming, and so Mac is back, but in the dead body of the spoiled, rich, criminal son of the Pig King of Cincinnati. Maggie knows the body as the notorious Randolph, “Randy,” McMillian, con-man, thief, possible murderer, ladies’ man.

For Mac, this new body doesn’t have a mass of angry, burn scars for a groin. For the first time since the age of five, Mac discovers that he has a, “flagship,” that works. He wants to float it with Maggie.

 


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Release Date: October 20, 2020
Genre: Historical / Time Slip Romance

A White Satin Romance


Excerpt

Kentucky, 1875

 

Magnolia Bathurst, Maggie to those who knew and loved her, watched her mother die. Blood poisoning. All the endless, probable last day, her mother had been lingering. With the priest droning the prayers to the Last Rites into the room as an unwavering single note, Maggie moved to the window. She almost wished the end would come, except then she would be alone.

“So alone,” she whispered to the pane. Her breath misted the glass. She balled her hands into fists to stop the tears. She wouldn’t cry, not with Sir Guy, her stepfather, and William the Weak and Pandering, her stepbrother, in the room. He’s just nineteen, her mother used to say. Yes, nineteen unsuitable years of purposeless life, Maggie would retort. A lazy, pretty boy, blonde, white teeth. What consolation could two, practiced conmen bring her anyway? None. They had what they had come for, Garth Estates, in all but name and ancestry.

She looked up to the sky and thought, with my last breath, I will make sure that they don’t get my bloodline. She promised that to her father, a man long dead to everyone but her.

“They’re criminals. William is in Randolph McMillan’s gang,” Maggie had said countless times to her mother.

Even now Maggie could hear the reply in her mother’s Kentucky-accented voice. “I don’t believe it, darling. They’re just rough around the edges. They haven’t had the benefits in life you and I have had.”

Maggie stretched the aching muscles in her back. Her mother had never believed her. Soon, according to the will, Guy was going to become her guardian.

She needed to wring out another cool cloth for her mother’s forehead but didn’t have the energy. Her stepfather’s strong cologne irritated her. It reeked of false piety, and it was a reminder of her mother’s stupidity. How embarrassing to have a mother so infatuated with this man. How could she not see that Sir Guy Didsbury had married her for money? Damn him. She’d said that to her mother too.

“He does have other traits,” her mother had replied with a gleam in her eye.

If only she could live. If she just could live. A sob erupted from Maggie’s throat.

The doctor had given the patient a palliative two hours before, so her mother, at the moment, neither lived nor died, but seemed to float between heaven and earth. She’d be pain free long enough for the priest to finish. Long enough for Grace Bathurst to reach God. Saint Grace. Maggie had heard the title so often.

“I’m no saint,” Grace had said on a laugh. “I just always try to do the right thing, like anyone would do.”

“Then you’re foolish for letting a person of such repute into our house. Daddy would be shocked.”

“I’m shocked that you are talking to your mother that way. Guy is setting everything right. You just have a plank in your eye when it comes to him. He’s not as well-spoken as your Daddy was—”

“Well-spoken! No, he’s not as well-spoken or as near a gentleman. Guy’s a rogue, a bacteria that infects our lives.”

“You refuse to see the man as I do.”

Tears filled Maggie’s eyes now as they had then. She remembered running out of the room when her mother had told her to have more respect. More respect! For the devil? She heard Guy mumbling something about how he loved Grace, and Maggie thought of her mother’s always-expectant look when Guy walked into the room. The thought made her angry again. Maybe there was room in avarice for love or whatever Guy felt for her lovely and loving mother, but avarice was Guy’s first passion.

Oh God, will the priest never end? Daddy, I have become so hard.

It was all Guy’s fault.

It was dark out except for a large, full moon to give the evening ample light. The fireflies would soon come. I will miss them. 

Maggie’s mouth went dry thinking that soon she’d be out in the evening shadows. The plan had been to leave earlier, in the daylight, but her mother had lingered, and the priest had arrived late.

At the window, leaning her forehead against the pane, she used its coolness to bring sanity back. She couldn’t wait much longer. She needed her wits about her. The shadow-lit lawn gave her some hope of success. Gazing at it, she remembered visions of herself playing on the grass, croquet with her father. He used to put his arms around her, hold her hands curved over the mallet, and then would give the ball a great wallop, which had felt like a shot of vital strength traveling up her arms. Her father had promised her a knight. Seems like her mother had gotten one instead. Her dream, her promise had been upended.

Maggie wrapped her arms across her chest. The night was hushed, no wind, as if waiting for something, for Grace. Where would she find the energy to leave everything dear to her? She wouldn’t think about it. It would be just a stroll to the stable, and then an evening ride.

Damn the will that would be read within the next few weeks.

She had to leave—now. She would never marry William. She would ride away. Surprise was her only ally. Keep ahead of Sir Guy and his plans.

She jumped as something scratched against the window. Ah, a breeze coming up. The branches of the magnolia tree—whose leaves died and fell throughout the long year, stiff, downed leaves that passed through rigor mortis before being raked and burned—swayed in the wind. She’d been named after that weed of a tree. Her mother’s favorite, and Maggie hated it. You and I, Mother, have never seen life in the same way.

She turned. Father O’Grady prayed, sounding like he was the one dying. It was all taking too long. Months of preparing, soon all down to the final minutes, would he not finish! She wanted to put her hands over her ears as he continued to pray Latin into the shadows of the room lit by a single gas lamp by Grace’s bed.

Crystal drops hanging from the lampshade reflected spots of radiance that danced on the priest’s black coat as he anointed his patient’s yellowed forehead. The crystal glint sprinkled over the dying woman and on her soft green spread—stilled brilliance.

Quiet yourself, Maggie thought, or Guy will read you like a book. She walked to the bedside, picked up a wet rag and squeezed it. Water fell through her fingers, chiming droplets as they cascaded back into the bowl. She pressed the cloth to her mother’s cheeks and then took Grace’s hot hand. Time seemed to have stopped. She breathed with her mother, in and out, in and out. No, the priest was doing it right for Grace. She must be grateful.

Father O’Grady closed his prayer book. The blessed vials of holy water and oils clanged together as he replaced them into a black leather case. Oh God, the time had come. She didn’t want to go. How could she go and leave her mother dying on the bed, leave her home? She tried to swallow the catch in her throat.

“She is a good woman.” Father kissed the stole around his neck and then folded it and put it on top of the glass bottles.

“That was very nice. Mother would be pleased. Will you have a cup of tea?” The time to go had been hours earlier, but to put out the priest without ceremony would seem inhospitable. It was getting so late, though. She would have to slip out while the priest was still here.

It was a four-hour ride to Cincinnati and a hotel room already booked there. She’d already sent her luggage ahead. She knew the road well. It had seemed a stroll in the park weeks ago when she had first started planning. Mitchell, the family lawyer, hadn’t liked the idea of her riding out by herself. He had spent the entire two weeks plotting alternative scenarios, but she knew Guy would never guess her plans if she were alone.

Now at eight o’clock, the shuttering of the day, her courage, an echo of her confidence with Mitchell, was finding excuses—like tea with the priest.

“I’m going,” William announced. “I can’t stand this anymore.”

How awful he is. But hadn’t she said that until she was blue in the face? Even a single night in this house without Grace was unthinkable. She let go of her mother’s cool, waxy hand. She’d settle the priest and then she’d be gone. Guy watched her with a long look that lasted until the door. She knew as she hustled Father O’Grady out that she was making a mistake. It was too fast, but her courage might fail.

As the door closed behind her, she heard William say, “No, I won’t stay. I’m late already, and I’ve done enough. I’ve had enough of this death.” She imagined Will’s truculent study of the floor, his lip curled in a pout under his spotty mustache. He could never look Guy in the face, meet his eyes; his growth hadn’t stretched to his father’s height.

Guy was stuck. Good, she had been counting on it. Lady Luck was shifting to her side. She moved the priest faster. What a boon, William was helping her. He’d leave; he had that much strength, and then with the priest in the house—and a front to maintain, Guy would have to stay at the bedside. Consider it a fee, Guy, for all you are about to control. So damn hard to leave Garth, daddy’s study, the swing we sat on together hour upon hour, but until I am married, Guy is going to be my legal guardian. I’ll be married to William by the end of a year. God, no, no, no. He wants my Garth blood to legitimize his presence here. I have to leave now, but I will be back.

She settled the priest into the drawing room in a floral chair by the window. Her father’s portrait used to hang here, the last gentleman on earth. All she had ever wanted was what her father had promised: a knight who would love her as no other man could.

“I’ll go out to the kitchen myself to ask for the tea. Everyone there will be waiting for some news. Please make yourself comfortable.”

Maggie arrived to the adjacent building that housed the kitchen.

“How is she?” Millie the cook asked. The large black woman wiped her wet hands on a towel and then wiped her forehead.

“Not in any pain. Guy is there. Would you take him a large whiskey and take the bottle with you and leave it? I’ll take the priest tea.” Maggie watched Millie put on the kettle. A comforting, familiar gesture associated with better times. Tears flowed into her eyes. She turned to lay a tray.

“You look like you’ve been shot at and hit. Put that tray down and go up and rest yourself.”

“But Father O’Grady?”

“I’ll take care of him. I doubt it’s a cup of tea he wants.”

Millie reached for a bottle of tonic. She poured out a large measure. “Take this, no, no arguments. Nothing worse than grief and being sick in one body.”

Maggie drank and then coughed and blew air up her windpipe to dispel the heat in her throat. “My God, what is that?”

“It settles the nerves. Another spoonful... no, take it... just one more. Now go rest for a little while. Don’t worry. If you sleep, I’ll wake you.” She hugged Maggie, picked up both trays and said as she left, “I’ll bring you a chocolate in a half hour.”

As the warmth of the second spoonful spread through her, Maggie watched the cook leave, the woman’s broad hips skimming the door jam on either side. Millie always said a kitchen was the center of any house—even if it was next door—and then she’d laugh. Food was the great healer. Maggie inhaled the herbal scent of the room. She exhaled. There was no rattling in her head now, no mental pain, just softness.

Maggie lifted heavy legs that seemed like someone else’s. Her hand didn’t shake, wasn’t hers, as she opened the door to the courtyard.

What’s in that tonic? Oh my Lord, it’s good.

Her mind felt soft as she walked into the darkness without emotion. She stumbled at a snap of lightning and straightened with the subsequent thunder. It was her only misstep as she reached the threshold of the stable.

Good luck vindicated her. Confident fingertips reached up to a rail for parlor matches. She lifted the glass shade of a lantern, and then with a strong percussion of thunder, she dropped it— butterfingers. She struck a match; the wick caught. Next, bridle, and blanket, and saddle. They won’t be looking for you just yet. Be calm.

The next clap of thunder rattled the wooden structure and disturbed the dust. Wind flung open the open and it smacked a wall. Maggie dropped the bridle on her foot. Her light gutted.

Her fingers seemed thicker as she struck another parlor match. At the same time that the match took, a lightning bolt struck just behind the stable. She dropped the burning end into a bed of hay. “Damn, damn, damn.” She stamped on the flames like a devil’s dance.

Oh my God, it’s out. Thank God it’s out.

Still, smoke thickened the air. The lightning was coming in quicker now, bolt after bolt. She leaned on a wall and rubbed at her temples. “Get the bridle...put it on Lady Fair.” There was another close sizzle and a crack, like a hard slap to the face. The horses snorted and began pawing at their stalls. “Whoa,” she called over and over as two animals tried to climb over their rails.

She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers into the pain in her forehead. It was all unraveling. Illumination from the bolts highlighted the windows. What was she to do? Her mind wouldn’t cooperate.

Think, girl, think before someone comes out.

A horse kicked through his door. Its eyes were white with fear. Her precious horses, she cooed and talked. Another sizzle of lightning, but farther away.

The storm is moving.

Through the open stable door, she peered at the sky. A bolt lit the courtyard, the stable, and her body at the open door. In the light, she noted Guy, at Grace’s bedroom window—and he stared at her. Maggie’s red blood cooled blue. The storm had him at the window, and now with the next bolt, he was not at the window.

He was coming for her.

She ran, across the long lawn and into the woods. Any brightness through the trees was periodic. Honeysuckle bushes ripped her skirt and bodice and scratched her arms and legs. Her feet seemed to trip over every root and rock. She picked herself up but was beginning to feel that it was easier to stay down. A picture of Guy in a tearing rage, bursting onto the courtyard, was the only clear thing in her mind. Her back itched with the thought of him.

Panting, she reached the western edge of the forest near an old logging road that cut through Garth land. She leaned against a tree to ease the pain in her side, and to breathe.

If only I could catch my breath.

“You bitch!” She heard him yell. He was so close she could hear branches break as he fell. “Ouch...Jesus-H-Christ-son-of-a-bitch.”

Maggie pushed off the trunk. He was so close he might see her move. She raced forward again, running without direction, like a panicked deer. She burst into the clearing, ran toward a road, and then fell headlong into the shallow ditch meant to drain it. Something soft broke her fall. Her arm hurt. Her hands stung.

“I hate you, Guy.”

The storm had found a home above her head. She was sobbing as she pushed up. She had to keep going. She had to get to Cincinnati. Everything was ready there. It had all been so well planned.

The storm increased intensity. The air sang like the voice of a steel foil. A length of lightning stabbed through the thickening air, hitting the earth—slicing it. Decibels of sound exploded. The air smelled seared. It was then, in tucking her head, in trying to become smaller as the lightning struck earth around her, she saw the face. In the brightness of another lightning bolt, she saw the eyes, the dead, glazed eyes of the man under her in the ditch.

She back-clawed from the deceased body and the blank, sightless eyes that stared at nothing. A fraction of a moment later, the ground shook. The eyes animated and a vital, blue clarity saturated them.

When they looked at her, Maggie screamed.

 

 

 

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