"The Lily Brand is a powerful and sensual tale of retribution and redemption.
Sandra Schwab casts a thrilling spell with her provocative, passionate story.
The Lily Brand may be deliciously dark, but I predict a bright future for this talented new author!"
~ Teresa Medeiros, New York Times bestselling author
Troy Sacheverell, fifth earl of Ravenhurst, was captured in France. He'd gone to fight Napoleon, but what he found was much more sinister. Dragged from prison to an old French manor on the outskirts of civilization, he was purchased by a rich and twisted beauty. And more dangerous still was the stepdaughter who claimed him.
Lillian had not chosen to live with Camille, her stepmother, but none escaped the Black Widow's web. And on her nineteenth birthday, Lillian became Camille's heir. Her gift was a plaything: a man to end her naiveté, whose face and body were made for the boudoir. Yet even as Lillian did as she was told, marked that beautiful flesh and branded it with the flower of her name, all she desired was escape. In another place, in another world, she'd desired love. Now, looking into burning blue eyes, there was no place to run. No matter should she flee, no matter where she might go, she and this man were prisoners of passion, inextricably linked by the Lily Brand
So while her heart remains locked in ice, his burns with hate. Will they ever find true happiness?
A Knight in Shining Silver (K.I.S.S.)
When The Lily Brand first came out, Romantic Times Magazine listed Troy as one of the K.I.S.S.(es) for July 05.
The book was also nominated for a National Reviewers' Choice Award.
The Lily Brand
around the World
In Kaneohe, Hawaii -
thank you, Kellie!
In Boston -
thank you, Heiko & Christine!
At RWA National 05 in Reno -
big thanks to my lunch buddy Vicki for insisting that the on-site bookshop ought to carry some copies of my book! :)
Praise for The Lily Brand
"This sensual novel does a wonderful job of pushing the edge of historical romance."
~ Morgan Chilson, Fresh Fiction
"... an excellent debut book ... Ms. Schwab gave such detailed descriptions of the estates, gardens and people that I felt as if I knew them myself."
~ Robyn Roberts, Once Upon A Romance
"Darkly sensual, intense, yet with a searing passion, this is a tale for those yearning for the alpha-male hero and the heated desire that springs up on the edge between love and hate. Schwab knows how to play into erotic romance lore and pulls all the right strings to stir readers' imaginations. She is a welcome new voice in the genre."
~ Kathe Robin, Romantic Times
"Strange and touching, beautiful and horrific at the same time, THE LILY BRAND is a book unlike any other... [It]'s also one of the best stories I feel thankful to have read."
~ Shannon Johnson, Romance Reader at Heart (Top Pick)
"Lovers of dark and emotional romance, take note: there is a new author to check out! ... the characters and their plight drew me in from the beginning and I found The Lily Brand to be a rather addictive read."
~ Lynn Spencer, All About Romance
France, Autumn 1815
The rattling of the doors was what alerted him first. In this stinking, dim-lit hell where he was imprisoned, this sound meant food at best and the step of the hangman at worst. But then, most of the men had been here for so long that they welcomed even that.
The shuffling of bodies around him told him that his fellow inmates were getting up, for either food or henchman was better met standing -- to rob the prison guards of the glee to haul one to one's feet. Warily, Troy stood, ignoring the pain in his left leg. The pain had been a constant comrade ever since his last battle, when a shot had peppered his thigh, taking him down, rendering him helpless when he was taken prisoner. Bringing him here.
Absent-mindedly, he scratched his matted beard, dark with dirt. A flea's shell cracked under the pressure of two grimy fingers, nails broken, and was flicked away, discarded without conscious thought. Too long, it had been too long since he had been brought here. He had lost track of the days and weeks and months; they had blurred together and eventually formed eternity. Eternal damnation.
There had been a rumor that the war was over, that Bonaparte had been overcome. Wasn't it the custom to release the prisoners of war in case of a defeat? If he had been an officer, they would have probably ransomed him even before that. He had been an officer, he seemed to remember, but he hadn't been wearing his uniform in that last battle. And so he had been treated like a common soldier, had been dragged into an available prison nearby, thrown into the company of thieves and cutthroats -- and had been forgotten along with them.
A small prison at the end of the world, at the edge of the sea -- or was it? He could not trust his memories on that, could not be sure whether the roaring in his ears during that drive on the back of the coarse wagon had been the sound of the waves or just his own blood.
As the rattling grew louder, his neighbor dug his elbow into Troy's ribs, causing the chains which tied them to the wall to rattle in counterpoint. "Ey, rouquin," the man mumbled in coarse French, "what do you think it'll be today?"
The other licked his gray lips. "A flogging? Has been some time since we had one of those. Gratien will be impatient by now. Lusting after our blood." A strange light entered his eyes. Troy had seen the likes of it too often to be shocked by it. If it was to be a flogging they would be all crowded into the small court to watch the spectacle.
The men liked floggings. It meant an interruption of the gray time in their cells.
Gratien came into view, shuffling down the aisle between the cells. It might have been a peculiar joke of the Fates that a man whose name meant "pleasing" had grown into a short, red-faced specimen with faded yellow hair, his breath wheezing in his lungs. Yet when Gratien descended into the bulk of his prison, nobody dared to laugh as all the men feared his violent temper.
This time, however, he did not come alone.
When the men spotted who was walking behind him, tall and graceful as death itself, a murmur rippled through the masses as if a stone had been thrown into a dark, depthless lake.
"La Veuve Noire."
"Silence!" The handle of Gratien's whip banged against the bars, before he turned to bow low. "Here are more, madame." He had stopped in front of Troy's cell.
All around him, the men stepped back from the bars, in a fruitless attempt to melt into the walls of their cell. The Black Widow with her eyes like cold jewels was a woman to be feared. Every once in a while she came to the prison to collect ... a prize. The men were brought away, never to be heard of again. But there were rumors, strange rumors, strange enough for the prisoners not to seek to become a prize.
Now, the black silk of her dress rustled as she turned to look into the cell. "I see." She spoke with the polished accent of an aristocrat, yet her voice was cold enough to freeze the blood in the veins of a man. Against the black of her clothes, her face seemed ghostly white, the eyes painted in such a way that they appeared to be slanted like a cat's. A slight smile was curving her ruby-red lips as she snapped her gloved fingers. "Light!"
Two prison guards hurried forward, both holding torches that threw a flickering light on the inhabitants of the cell. She studied each man as if she were on the market and they the cattle she wished to purchase.
Troy straightened his back and stared back at her, refusing to lower his eyes when everybody else did. Once he had been a man to wield power. And even after all this time, there was enough pride left in him. He would not grovel in front of such a woman.
"Ah," she said in pleased tones. "Open the cell."
Gratien hurried to obey her command and waved the torchbearers to follow her inside.
The men shrank away, yet Troy did not notice. Unblinkingly, he continued to stare at the woman until his eyes began to water.
She halted in front of him, and the torchlight glittered on the golden net that held back the mass of her charcoal-black hair. "Oh yes." Her smile intensified. "Come here, chérie."
At first, Troy thought she had meant him, but when she looked back over her shoulder, he noticed the other woman standing in the aisle outside, shoulders slightly hunched upward. Her dress in muted gray made her appear like the sad shadow of the widow. Reluctantly, she stepped into the cell, her eyes darting to the filthy men in chains, to the bare stone floor, the few dirty rushes.
"Don't be so shy, chérie." La Veuve Noire extended her hand, fingers beckoning.
The other woman, he now saw, was hardly more than a girl. A girl, who tightly pressed her lips together. He watched as she laid her hand into the hand of the widow and was drawn to her side.
"What do you think of that?"
Looking down, the girl shuffled her foot in the rushes, refusing to acknowledge the question, refusing to meet his gaze.
"Great, great ..." Gratien hurried to the widow's side, closing his fingers around Troy's forearm. "A good one, that. Young. Madame wished for young, non? Good shape, very good shape ..."
Madame deigned to smile some more. "Everywhere?" she asked with arched eyebrows.
"Pardon? Oh ... well ..." Huffing and puffing, Gratien abruptly released Troy's arm. "I'm sure ... if madame would like to feel ..."
"Indeed." The widow let go of the girl's hand in order to strip off the glove of her own right hand. Long, white fingers came into view, crowned by long nails, in color matching her red lips.
Troy wanted to jerk out of reach, yet his back was already against the wall, and now Gratien was pressing the end of his whip into the soft spot under Troy's chin, forcing his head upwards and back so that he would not move. Troy swallowed convulsively, feeling the hard wood pressing against his windpipe, before the woman's fingers closed over the worn material of his breeches and around himself. He shuddered with revulsion as, chuckling, she roughly measured the width and length of him.
"Not bad," she murmured, "not bad. -- Chérie?" She reached back with her free hand and again brought the girl to her side. "Your glove."
From the corner of his eyes, Troy saw Gratien lick his lips. He was dimly aware of the soft clinking of his fellow inmates' chains as they watched this spectacle in uncomfortable silence.
Then the pressure of the widow's long fingers eased, only to be replaced by another, softer grip. All Troy could see was the girl's bent head, with the torchlight flickering over dark brown curls.
"Well," la Veuve Noire said. "What do you think, Lillian?"
The girl raised her head and, for the first time, looked at Troy. Her eyes, he saw, were very wide, and it appeared as if the pupil had swallowed up the iris. She was, he realized, not just embarrassed by this situation, but very much afraid.
"Stroke him some," the woman commanded. "After all, we want to know whether it is in good working order."
Over the reek of the prison cell that he had ceased to notice long ago, Troy suddenly became aware of another smell, fresh and sweet, of flowers, perhaps, whose names he had forgotten. He felt the girl's hand quiver, and her teeth came down to bite on her lower lip, hard. Yet she did as she had been told.
As the perfume wafted around him and the girl's fingers worked on him, stroking, stroking, arousing, he closed his eyes and remembered how long it had been since he had last lain with a woman. Soon, sweat beaded his forehead, while fire ran through his body, exploding in his loins. His hips jerked forward.
It was obscene.
Troy gritted his teeth.
"Very nice," the widow commented. "I think it will do."
Abruptly, the fingers were removed and the pressure against his windpipe disappeared. Troy staggered, the blood roaring in his ears. With something akin to surprise he realized that he was quivering like a cornered animal.
La Veuve Noire spoke up one last time. "We will take that one, then. Clean it and shave it -- we would not want any vermin to come with it. Then put it in the second carriage as usual. We will wait outside."
On the coarse road, washed out by recent rain, the carriage was rocking like a ship on high seas. Nevertheless, Lillian sat ramrod-straight, counterbalancing the motion of their vehicle with movements of her hips. Her stepmother lounged in the opposite corner, a thin smile on her blood-red lips. Like the cat who got the canary. But then, Camille had got a canary of some sorts -- even if it was not for herself.
The key on Lillian's golden necklace seemed to burn through cloth and skin, a visible promise of the things to come. She resisted the urge to tug her coat tighter around herself. Emotion, she had learned from an early age, was a weakness that one could not afford to show at Château du Marais.
Instead, she looked outside, where the mist rose from the ground to blur all shapes, to render the landscape a gray, ghostly place of hopelessness. Like the prison.
Involuntarily, her hands tightened into fists on her lap.
The prison, the manor house, and the mines -- they all were part of the land her stepmother owned, and they all formed a unity that fed on the people's despair, a well for Camille's pleasure. On these outskirts of civilization she had spun a tight, powerful web with herself holding all the threads. And those who got entangled in it were doomed one way or another.
From beneath her lashes, Lillian shot a look at her stepmother.
Camille's smile deepened. "You were quite shy today, chérie. Did Gratien's little institution overwhelm you so much?"
"It was my first time, maman." Lillian chose her words with care. It would endanger their plans to anger Camille even in the smallest way. Better to pretend submission, compliance. "But let me thank you for my present. It is ... lovely."
Her stepmother nodded amiably. "It is quite a nice specimen. And so much -- spirit." She licked her lips as if in anticipation. "It will be a pleasure to break it in. A challenge." She raised a brow at Lillian. "However, you will have to do it yourself."
Outside, the world seemed even bleaker than before.
When they arrived at Château du Marais, dinner had already been prepared for them, giving the servants time to prepare the man. Lillian did not taste any of the food that she forced down her throat. She could have eaten sand, and it would not have made any difference.
The candlelight gleamed off Antoine's bronzed chest, sparkled on the gold bands around his arms. He stood behind Camille's chair, serving his mistress in silence, his face expressionless, the mark on his forehead smooth.
Lillian tried very hard not to stare at the golden breeches that hugged his hips, blending in quite nicely with the cherrywood and golden furnishings of the dining room. Trust Camille to mind the details.
Finally, the door opened to admit Maurice, his short black curls spanning his head like a cap. He, too, was wearing golden breeches, yet his torso was covered in a white silk shirt and his forehead was flawless. The mark, Lillian knew, could be found on his right biceps.
He stepped at the table and bowed low. "Everything has been prepared, madame."
"Très bien." Camille clapped her hands together, delight shining on her face, when she turned towards her stepdaughter. "Shall we go upstairs, then, chérie, and admire the results?"
"Oui, maman." Lillian put her napkin on the table, praying for strength to get through the next half hour. Never had it been more difficult to force a smile on her lips than at that moment. Composure had been easier to gather even when her father's coffin had been lowered into his grave, leaving her alone with Camille.
But Lillian stood, straight and graceful, her face as blank as the servants'.
Her stepmother led them through the wide hall and up the marble staircase, stone horses rearing up at the end of the rail. It was not far, then, to Lillian's room, as she had moved rooms on her nineteenth birthday.
The door opened to reveal another selection of cherrywood furnishings in combination with white, diaphanous drapes on the windows and the four-poster bed. Even the bed linen shone like untouched snow.
Blood shows so well on white.
Across the room loomed one of Camille's constructions. Had it been unused and empty all these past weeks since Lillian's birthday, it now held the spread-eagled form of a man, the chains stretching his legs and arms so that movement had become impossible. Also made impossible was speech, as a gag filled his mouth, the leather strings coming around his shaven head, rendering him more helpless than at the prison.
"Ahhh," Camille breathed, "magnificent."