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Applauded for her unique ability to blend romance, history, and the wonders of the paranormal into unforgettable novels, Tracy Fobes has taken her flair for the otherworldly to the Scottish Highlands, where a mysterious beauty discovers her true identity.
The villagers think her one of the fairy-folk, for she was found wandering the Highlands at the age of four, able to communicate with the creatures of the moors. Now eighteen, Sarah quietly uses her gift to heal wounded animals. But when word of the lovely changeling spreads, her peaceful existence is shattered.
Convinced Sarah is his long-lost daughter, the powerful Duke of Argyll offers to bequeath her his estate if she will but take her place in society. Her first duty is to become a lady -- under the tutelage of the duke's erstwhile heir, the dangerously provocative Earl of Cawdor. Sarah savors the simmering passions the cynical earl arouses in her even as she suspects he is merely using seduction to secure his birthright. In this civilized world where desire and deception are one and the same, how can she ever trust in love?
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Tracy Fobes writes rich historical romances with a paranormal twist for Sonnet Books, published by Pocket Books. Before turning to a career in writing, she graduated from the University of Scranton with a B.S. in Computer Science and a minor in mathematics and for several years worked as a computer systems analyst for the Fortune-500 conglomerate Johnson & Johnson. Born and raised in Hillsborough, New Jersey, she has made Pennsylvania her home for the last ten years.
Here is her story...When we first learn to read, it's a chore. It's a matter of deciphering words and trying to understand their meaning given the context of the sentence. Reading is something you have to do, not want to do. Until, of course, you read that special book, the first one to really grab hold of you and make you fall in love.
It happened to me in the fourth grade. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series forever changed me. I solved mysteries along with Jupiter, Bob, and Pete, three boys who ran their detective agency out of a junkyard and spoke regularly to Alfred Hitchcock. Green ghosts, whispering mummies, moaning caves, screaming clocks-they haunted my nights as I hid under the covers with a flashlight and read well past the time I was supposed to be sleeping.
From there I graduated to just about every kind of book you could think of. I read Stephen King, Judy Blume, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Richard Matheson, Arthur Clarke...the list was endless. At some point I decided to try a Barbara Cartland, and once again, my life changed. As I put that finished book down, I knew romance was the genre for me. Laurie McBain's Moonstruck Madness was the first long historical romance I ever read and I'll never forget it. It spurred me on to other authors such as Kathleen Woodiwiss and Clare Darcy. Romance became the staple of my reading diet, occasionally supplemented by a Dean Koontz or Tom Clancy, and still is, to this day.
I've dabbled in writing from the earliest days of my childhood, always keeping a journal and making up these crazy stories to entertain my brothers and sisters. You'd think I would have made a career of journalism, but I didn't. I decided to try my hand at computer science until family obligations required me to quit my nine-to-five job. Although I left my career and steady income with a few tears, they were crocodile tears, because inside I was already gleefully planning that first novel. Several attempts later, I wrote Touch Not the Cat, a story that's been in my head for a long, long time.
For me, the inspiration for a new story comes from many places: art, music, old movies, books, newspapers. Occasionally, when I'm listening to a song or looking at a painting, I feel a intuitive jolt, an unexpected click. An idea about that painting or song sets my creative impulses to bubbling. I can always tell when I'm on the right track because excitement grabs hold of me and the skin at the back of my neck tightens. The ideas that give me some sort of visceral reaction are the ones that usually end up as my stories.
Stories about women and men who come together to love have always been my favorites. I must have been only 7 or 8 years old when I read my first romance, Sleeping Beauty, and I nearly wore that book out. I've been reading romance ever since. Particularly, I enjoy the happy endings inherent in romances...they leave me feeling uplifted at the end.
When I began to write seriously, I knew I had to write romance. I wanted to evoke the same kinds of emotions in a reader that romance had been evoking in me for many years.
I have a room in my home set aside as an office, and I've loaded it up with cheap furniture, metal filing cabinets, and bookcases overflowing with my all-time favorite novels and research books. For inspiration, I have a few candles scattered around, along with a genie's lamp (found in an antique store, but unfortunately not magical), golden bells on a silken cord, posters featuring Rob Roy: The Movie, plants, and CDs from various artists, which I occasionally play. The lighting is dim and the computer is rather slow and often cranky. It's very disorganized and completely mine, and this is where I write. Unless I'm in a rush to get something done, I write about six hours a day, in the morning and late at night.
I write historical romance with a paranormal twist, and I often set them in the 1800's, either Regency or Victorian time periods. Jane Austen's works have given me a particular appreciation for the language, social customs, clothing, and humor in the Regency era. I would enjoy living in Regency times, so why not write about them?
I also find the Victorian era fascinating. It was a time of great scientific achievement, giving rise to many of the traditional horror stories which have always thrilled me: Bram Stoker's Dracula, Theophile Gautier's The Romance of the Mummy, H.G. Wells' The Isle of Dr. Moreau, among others. This period is perfect for all sorts of paranormal events.
The thing I like most about writing romance novels is the chance to write a happy ending, one that leaves a reader feeling good after she finishes the book.
One of my first letters came from a reader in California. She'd had a really bad stretch of luck, including several visits to the hospital. Finally diagnosed with breast cancer, she was in the middle of radiation and chemotherapy treatments when she wrote to tell me how much she'd enjoyed my book Touch Not the Cat. The story took her away from the pain for a while, and her letter was the best, most touching response I could have ever wished for as a writer.
Please visit my website, www.tracyfobes.com, to learn more about me, or write me at PO Box 534, Yardley, PA, 19067. I love to hear from my readers!
The Scottish Highlands, 1813
Wild, insistent knocking awoke Sarah Murphy from a sound sleep. Yawning, she pulled the shawl covering her legs off, struggled out of her rocking chair and walked to the door. A glance out the window revealed old Liam Porter on her porch, standing in the rain with his hat in his hand.
Dismay filled her. She'd had a tough day working with Mr. Whitney's sick cows and had nearly fallen asleep on her feet while dosing them with a draught of herbs. Even so, she swung the door open, allowing a bitter wind to sweep inside her small croft. Just as soon as Liam's feet touched the kitchen mat, she closed the door behind him. "Mr. Porter. What's wrong?"
"'Tis Mary," he gasped. "She's lambing and one of them is stuck."
Thunder pounded off in the distance, adding to the clamor of the first real summer storm since May had arrived. She looked doubtfully out the window. "Are ye certain the ewe's not just tired? Ye can give her a little help by tying a rope around the lamb's front legs and easing it out -- "
"I've tried everything. Nothing helps. Ye know she's my best Cheviot. I spent my savings on her."
Sarah frowned. The Porter family had gambled everything they owned on Mary, this sheep whose lambs would demand huge sums once they'd successfully entered the world. If she didn't help and Mary died, God forbid, they'd go under. She was going to have to brave the storm, and just after she'd managed to build a decent fire in her hearth, too.
Patting her pocket to make sure her panflute still nestled within, she hurried over to the hearth and poured just enough water on the fire to turn it to embers. "How long has the ewe been straining?"
"Bless you, Miss Sarah," Mr. Porter said, his eyes shining. "Mary's been at it for hours. These big mitts of mine can't squeeze in there tae bring the lamb out. I need yer lady's hands."
She glanced around her neat little home, with its homespun curtains and larder stocked with food, to make certain she'd left nothing burning, then yanked a shawl around her shoulders. She grabbed her satchel on her way out. Liam was already standing on the porch, waiting for her. She followed him into the driving rain and wind that seemed to want to turn her to ice.
When she saw his pony cart, she groaned. Apparently they would have no shelter on the entire ride to his farm. Still, she knew how important Mary was to his family, so she kept her silence. Mud sucked at her shoes and worked its way into her stockings as she crossed the yard and climbed into the cart.
Liam slapped the reins against the pony's rump and off they went, moving far too slowly for Sarah's comfort. The trip to Porter's farm, which was a tricky affair, required that they travel down into town and back up into the Highlands on the other side. Sarah held on to the sides of the box as they bounced and jolted their way along the lane, stopping several times for the fences and gates that intersected the moors.
"Are ye doing well, Miss Sarah?" he asked as they sped along. "Have ye all that ye need? We worry about ye, the missus and I."
"I'm fine, Mr. Porter. Please don't concern yourself over me."
And it was true. Her ability to tend sick animals and bring them back to health where others failed had brought her renown even beyond Beannach, the village where she lived. The farmers she assisted were infallibly generous, not only giving her coins for her help, but also insisting she accept bread, cheese, meat, and other household necessities. She had everything she could possibly need.
Nevertheless, they worried about her. They just couldn't accept the idea that a woman of one and twenty years would prefer to live alone, rather than find a husband to care for her. In fact, she'd dodged so many attempts at matchmaking that she'd become quite skilled at it.
But sometimes, in the darkest hours of the night, she found herself lying awake and feeling so terribly lonely. Years had passed since she'd moved into her own croft, and it had been longer since anyone had touched or hugged her. Once, she'd lain in bed for hours, with a pillow in her arms, and wondered if she were real. Lately, though, she'd been thinking a lot about what it would feel like to be kissed...by a man.
Bright morning light always banished such yearnings. She enjoyed her independence and, quite frankly, preferred animals to men. Animals didn't demand fine dinners and drink whiskey and throw stinking socks on the floor for others to wash. And animals couldn't get a woman with child. They hadn't an ounce of malice in their bodies, and were creatures of pure love.
"And the Murphys, Miss Sarah? How are they?"
"Very well, thank you. They've just purchased a few longhorn cattle, and Mr. Murphy is trying to mate them with the cows he keeps in the high pasture..." Sarah rattled on about farm matters, her thoughts only half on what she was saying.
The Murphys had found her wandering the Highlands when she was just a child of four years, and given her their name, but little else. Her next fifteen years had passed in a blur of household chores, which included washing Mr. Murphy's horrible socks and shepherding his flock of ragtag sheep. She'd enjoyed tending the sheep the most, and her care for them had shown in their fine wool coats and lack of illnesses. Indeed, word of the fine Murphy flock had slowly spread through Beannach and, soon, Sarah had found herself consulting with other farmers on the condition of their flocks and ways to improve them.
Almost before she knew it, Sarah had become the most popular person in the village, entertaining visits from farmers with sick animals at all hours of the day and night. Mr. Murphy hadn't approved of her activities, though, declaring that they interrupted his sleep and invaded his privacy. Sarah suspected they'd also made him feel less of a man, after repeatedly watching his face fall when farmers came asking for her advice rather than his.
Whatever the case, when she turned eighteen, Mr. Murphy had asked Sarah to move into the abandoned croft across the Murphy farmyard, so he could sleep without interruption and not be bothered with constant visits from his neighbors. Sarah had quite happily complied with his wishes, eager to be away from that stifling household and Mr. Murphy's constant disapproval.
Now, she paid the Murphys a nominal fee each month to rent her croft, and shopped in the Beannach general store, and visited the Murphys at least once a week, out of both respect and a desire to pacify them. After all, she did live in their croft and entertained all sorts of woolly creatures in her parlor. Beyond that, though, she focused her time almost exclusively on her patients. And despite the farmers' wives who kept trying to marry her off, she liked it that way. In her experience, a "family" had nothing to do with love; it simply meant more work. Her animals were the only kind of family she ever wanted to know.
Drenched right to the skin, Sarah finally arrived at Mr. Porter's farm. He drove past the farmhouse, which looked invitingly warm and bright, and went straight to a crumbling, ancient byre that reminded Sarah of a stone cairn. Deep, incessant baaing echoed from behind the barn door, coupled with a lamb's high-pitched cry. They sounded in serious straits indeed, fellow sufferers in a stormy night that seemed determined to offer only discomfort.
Sarah jumped from the pony cart and, Liam following close behind, hurried into the byre.
"We'll need hot water, clean sheets, soap," she instructed, but Liam, who'd lambed more than his share, was already heading out the barn door, having confirmed that the ewe hadn't progressed on her own.
Sarah knelt by the ewe and assessed the situation. A newborn was bawling on the hay at her hooves, but the ewe took no notice of him. Head hanging low, she was shaking with strain. Sarah noticed two hooves slip outward, then slip back in as the ewe stopped straining. She wondered why the ewe, a healthy, wide-hipped animal, wasn't able to birth the other lamb on her own.
Sarah placed the panflute against her lips and blew several calming notes, her fingers dancing nimbly across the wood, from hole to hole. Frequencies, most beyond the range of normal human hearing, vibrated across the moors. She blended them with more familiar, audible musical notes to create a harmony that the sheep, specifically, would understand.
People who'd listened in on her music said it sounded like two flutes playing -- one normal and the other slightly guttural. They'd described the effect as strange, yet subtle. But to Sarah, it was a language far older than civilization, from a time when wild and tame had no meaning.
Taking no notice of Sarah's melody, the ewe rolled her eyes until the whites showed all around. Feeling more than her own share of anxiety, Sarah took off her shawl. Lambing was dirty, if rewarding, work. She was rolling up her sleeves when Liam arrived shortly afterward with a bucket of warm water and soap.
Quickly she soaped up her arms and, just as she pushed the ewe's tail aside to discover why the lamb refused to be born, Liam stuck his head next to hers for a look.
He shook his head at the ewe's bulging, abused posterior. "She's in terrible shape."
"She's not too bad," she insisted, listening to the ewe's low bleats and watching her footwork. The ewe was speaking to her as sure as Liam spoke, and many years in the company of sheep, along with a bit of magic, had taught her how to translate. "She's hungry, and any ewe that can think of food is a ewe with a lot of fight left in her."
"Are ye certain?"
She shrugged. "There's no doubt."
He let out a prolonged sigh. "Thank goodness ye've come tae help me, Sarah Murphy. Ye're a wonder."
"I won't be a wonder until I have a newborn lamb in my arms."
He opened his mouth to say something, closed it, and then opened it again. His cheeks grew red. "Aren't ye going tae play that flute of yours for her again?"
Sarah observed him with a touch of amusement. Like all of the farmers, he suspected her flute lay at the heart of her ability to heal, and would badger her mercilessly to play it. And he was right, though not in the way he thought. While he assumed her music somehow drove the illness out, in truth, she used the flute to talk to animals and diagnose their illnesses.
The flute was part of her earliest memories. When the Murphys found her wandering the moors all of those years ago, it had been her only possession. Its trilling warble had delighted her and she'd taken to playing it for animals almost from the start. The flute had allowed her to communicate with her only friends, the creatures of the moors, and she'd talked to them endlessly, learning more from their replies than any school could teach her.
At first, she'd thought everyone could talk to animals in this way. On trips to the general store in Beannach, she'd occasionally told the villagers what their sheep thought of them or where a pet dog had buried his master's shoe. Often she told Mrs. Murphy that her cats wouldn't mind a scrap or two of beef, earning a chuckle from her. But then, rumors about her strangeness had developed, and Mr. Murphy had begun cuffing her on the side of the head every time she mentioned what an animal had said. She quickly learned to keep her mouth shut tight on the subject. As she grew, she discovered that not everyone had her skill, and even as she wondered at it, she understood that things would go more easily for her if she just pretended to be like everyone else.
Still, once she'd started healing the villagers' animals, which were often the lifeblood of a farm and whose loss could bring total devastation, opinions on her skills had changed -- for the better.
"I already played for the ewe," Sarah reminded Liam.
"Maybe ye ought tae give her one more song," the farmer coaxed.
Knowing better than to argue with him, Sarah sighed and took her panflute out. She reassured the ewe again, who baaed loudly in response, then began to strain.
Sarah shoved the panflute back into her pocket. Two hooves slipped out about an inch or so. She forgot Liam as she maneuvered her hand into the ewe and felt around for the lamb's head. A single set of legs and arms greeted her fingers, and a hard little lump that didn't feel at all like a head --
Because the lump is a rump, she realized triumphantly.
"Mr. Porter," she breathed, buried elbow deep inside the ewe. "We have one more lamb tae go, and I'm afraid we've a breech presentation on our hands."
"Ye mean arse first?"
"That's a fine piece of news," he grumbled.
The ewe tightened her muscles around Sarah's arm in an agonizing grip. Sarah took quick little breaths as her arm slowly went numb, and fumbled around until she managed to find the lamb's head. The lamb gave a quick jerk when she touched its mouth -- at least it was still alive. In any event, she could see why Mr. Porter had suffered so much difficulty. While the ewe was wide hipped, the lamb was unusually big, not leaving much room in the passage for both it and his large hands.
"We have tae turn it around," she gasped, and began to maneuver the lamb's small body into a better position. It trembled within the ewe, and she could imagine how terrible it must have felt, being pushed back in after an eternity of being pushed out.
Nearly an hour had passed before she had the lamb positioned head and front feet first, enduring each of the ewe's bone-cracking contractions with grimaces that become more unguarded as time went on. She felt Liam's gaze on her, but she didn't care what he saw. Birthing was an exhausting business, and she was feeling every moment of it. When at last the lamb began its journey down the passage again, and its hooves peeped out of the ewe, she grabbed them almost joyfully and pulled its small body into the world.
The lamb plopped into her skirt. Mist rose off its body. It didn't seem to be breathing. She held him upside down until he had coughed up a good deal of fluid and then settled him back into her lap, rejoicing in the way he took a few snuffling breaths before breathing easily. He began to wriggle in her arms, practically knock-kneed in his need to get to the ewe, and she laughed softly as she rubbed him down with the sheet.
"He's a fine lamb." She gave Liam a brilliant smile. "A real beauty. And sprightly, too. Ye'll have yer hands full with him."
"Ah, lassie, ye are a wonder." Liam nodded in contentment, then pulled a pipe from his waistcoat and lit up.
Sarah regarded him with something between dumb wonder and weariness. Here she lay, battered and bruised, covered in muck and filth, and he was going to smoke a pipe? Then again, such was the way with Highland farmers. A nasty piece of work like this was a part of daily life. Not much fazed them.
"Mr. Porter, I should be going now. Will ye take me home?"
"Oh, I almost forgot, lass. I saw Mr. Murphy in town just before I came tae get ye. He's been looking for ye. They've got visitors up at the farm who want tae meet ye."
Sarah sat up straighter. "Do ye mean that while I've been laboring away on yer ewe, Mr. Murphy and his guests have been waiting for me?"
"Aye, lass. Don't ye think the ewe was more important?"
"I suppose she was." She climbed to her feet and used a handful of hay to wipe herself off. "Ye'd better take me over to the Murphy farm right now. Ye know what kind of temper Mr. Murphy has, especially when he's been intae the whiskey."
"Aye, I do."
Together, they left the ewe, w...
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