Introducing Her Grace, Mary Jo Putney

Today I am so pleased to welcome honorary Duchess Mary Jo Putney.

New York Times bestselling author, Mary Jo Putney was born in Upstate New York with a reading addiction, a condition with no known cure.  Her entire writing career is an accidental byproduct of buying a computer for other purposes.  Most of her books contain history, romance, and cats.  Her current releases are No Longer a Gentlemanfourth in her Lost Lords series.  April also saw the reissue of The Rakeher classic, RITA winning story of alcoholism and recovery.  Her third young adult paranormal historical written as M. J. Putney, Dark Destiny,will be released in July.

To read Mary Jo’s interview, please join me over at the Dashing Duchesses today, or click here:

SW:  Thank you so much for joining us today, Mary Jo. We’re honored to have you and since I have the same reading addiction you suffer  from, I can’t wait to hear more about your newest releases.

MJP:  I have two books in that category!  No Longer a Gentleman is fourth in my Lost Lords historical romance series.  The hero, Grey Sommers, Lord Wyndham, never met a predicament he couldn’t charm his way out of until recklessness condemns him to a decade in a dungeon.

He’s rescued by the British spy Cassie Fox. Half English and half French, Cassie lost everything in the chaos of the French revolution, she’s dedicated her life to destroying Napoleon’s empire, and assumes she’ll die trying. Rescuing Grey is merely one more mission, but his desperate courage and vulnerability touch her frozen heart.  They connect in unexpected ways—but a spy and a lord are divided by an impassable gulf even if they survive one last, terrifying rescue mission…

In other words, he’s seriously tortured and she’s had more than her share of challenges, but together they work it out. <G>  Fun! NLAG was out in May.

The other book is my third young adult historical fantasy, Dark Destiny.  The premise of the series is teen mages in a Regency England where the aristocracy despises magic.  Lady Victoria Mansfield—Tory—is the chief character, and twice she and her friends have traveled through a time portal to help England in World War II.

In Dark Destinythe tables are turned with Napoleon Bonaparte preparing to invade England.  The friends they made in 1940 come back to help, and Britain’s future rests in the hands of one inexperienced twentieth century mageling who travels to the past to pay her debt to those who saved her family.  History, magic, and romance!  I love writing this series.  Dark Destiny will be out July 3rd.

SW: I can’t wait to read No Longer a Gentleman, but my daughter loves your YA books and can’t wait until next week to get it. How many genres do you write in?

MJP: Only two—Regency historical romance for Kensington and YA historical fantasy for St. Martin’s Press Griffin.  But in the past, I’ve done contemporary romance and genre fantasy as well.  History and romance are the recurring themes, because I love both.

SW: Do you have a favorite genre?

MJP:  That’s harder to answer than one might think!  Because I spend so much time writing romance, my escape genre is fantasy and science fiction.  But my favorite authors are usually women who write strong romance in their stories.  A lot comes down to the writing.  If I love an author’s writing, I’ll follow her anywhere.

SW:  What is on your TBR pile?

MJP:  I just finished a very funny urban fantasy by Seanan Macguire called Discount Armageddon.  Since that’s the only book in a new series, I’ve now scarfed her Rosemary and Rue, first in her October Daye series.  I also have Amanda Quick’s Crystal Gardens waiting (Jayne Ann Krentz doing history, mystery, and psychic powers).

Another on the pile is John Scalzi’s Redshirts, a novel written from the point of view of the minor characters on a show like Star Trek, where junior officers are always dying on away missions just to prove that the dangers are real.  Not a lot of fun for them! Plus, I just received a couple of ARCs of Mischief and Mistletoe, a holiday anthology of eight novelettes written by the eight members of the Word Wench blog I’m part of.  I’ve been itching to read everyone else’s stories!

Of course, those books are just the tip of a very large iceberg!  

SW:  And now my summer reading list is much, much longer! What is your next project?

MJP: I’m currently working on Lost Lords #5, Sometimes a Rogue.  When that goes in, I’ll spend some time e-booking the last three of my backlist novels that I haven’t yet put online.

SW: What is your favorite type of hero? (dark, bad boy, vampire, etc)

MJP: I like what has been called “the warrior poet.”  This is a hero who is brave and protective, vulnerable and kind.  He’s been wounded by life, but not broken.  He has honor and intelligence, and he wants those quality in his mate.

SW:  I love those types of heroes as well. Do you get much writing done during the summer?

MJP: When I have deadlines, do I have a choice? <G>

SW:  Who does your website (it’s beautiful!)

MJP:  Thank you!  My web mistress is Eileen Buckholtz, a former category romance writer and high level computer goddess. Here’s her website:
http://www.technologyconcepts.biz/

 SW: And for our lucky readers, Mary Jo has offered excerpt from BOTH of her new releases.

Excerpt of No Longer a Gentleman

 Cassie Fox, half-English and half French, has dedicated her life to battling Napoleon’s empire through her work as a British spy.  Her current assignment is to discover if Lord Wyndham, missing and presumed dead in France for ten years, might still be alive.  Cassie investigates the castle where Wyndham might be imprisoned, and is presented with an opportunity to enter the dungeon and perhaps rescue the long lost lord.

After releasing the hold, Cassie efficiently bound the guard’s wrists and ankles and gagged him.  Another moment to stow him behind the desk so he wouldn’t be immediately visible if anyone entered, then she snatched up the key ring.  If Gaspard was going to be back soon, she needed to move fast.

It took a few moments to find the right key.  The door swung open, and she was almost flattened by the stench in the passage on the other side.  Dear God, what was it like to go ten years without a bath?

Hoping she’d quickly become inured to the thick scent of unwashed bodies, she headed down the ill-lit passage.  Her nose confirmed that the occupied cells were on the left at the end.  Which one held the man she sought?

As she paused, she heard the sound of a male voice behind the last door.  She blinked.  He was singing!  He had a fine baritone.

She listened to the words, and smiled involuntarily when she realized that he was singing a French song so scurrilous that even she didn’t know all the obscenities.  Probably not the priest, then.

Now to find out if it was Wyndham.  Hoping to God he hadn’t been driven mad, she found a likely key and attempted to open the cell on the far end.  It took three attempts to find the right key.  She opened the door, and found herself face to face with a monster from nightmare with filthy hair and beard falling over ragged garments.

They both froze in shock, staring at each other.  Was this Kirkland’s golden boy?  The prisoner was broad shouldered and gaunt as a staving wolf.  Hard to tell what color his hair was under the filth.  Not really dark, but certainly not blond.  His only distinctive feature was startlingly intense dark-ringed gray eyes.

The moment of surprise ended—and he launched himself at her with murder in his crazed gray eyes.

* * *

 In a world of endless monotony, even small changes were instantly noticeable.  Grey was running in place when a key in the lock brought him instantly alert.  The door hadn’t been opened since the time he’d come close to killing Durand.  Even since, Durand had spoken through the window when he came to taunt Grey with stories of great French victories and predictions of the imminent defeat of the British.

But if Durand or Gaspard were visiting, they would know what key to use.  A guard?  No one else was allowed down here.  Grey approached the door, every muscle in his body taut.  If there was even the remotest chance he could escape, he’d attack.

The door swung open to reveal a woman.  The shock temporarily paralyzed him.  Dear God, a woman, the first he’d seen in ten years!  She was old and drab and forgettable, but unquestionably female.  The sheer wonder of that held him immobile.

He recovered from his surprise when he realized this was his chance to escape this damnable cell.  She’d never be able to stop him, especially since she didn’t even hold a weapon.  He charged at her, planning to snatch the keys and knock her aside.

He was grabbing for the keys when she tripped him, caught his outstretched arm, and used his own speed to sling him to the floor with his arm twisted behind his back to a point just short of excruciating pain.  He lay on his belly, stunned.  Years of exercise and an old woman could lay him out?

“Are you Lord Wyndham?” she asked in a swift, low voice.  “I come from Kirkland to help you.”

She spoke in English.  It was so long since he’s heard the language that it took him several moments to interpret the words.

She said in French, “So you’re not Wyndham.  No matter, if you want to get out of here, I’ll help you if you promise not to attack me again.”

He replied in the same language, “I am Wyndham, but I’ve not spoken English in years.  I wasn’t attacking you, just trying to escape.  Will you let me up?”

She released his arm.  He scrambled to his feet, feasting his eyes on the sight of another human being.  Better yet, a clean, normal woman.  He impulsively crushed her into an embrace, his heart pounding.

She gasped and started to push him away.  “Please,” he said, his voice shaking.  “I’ve been so hungry for touch.  Only a moment.  Please!”

She relaxed and let him hold her.  Dear God, she felt good!  A warm, breathing woman with a sweet old lady scent of lavender that made him think of his grandmother.  He never wanted to let her go.

After too short a time, she stepped away.  “Enough,” she said, her voice compassionate.  “We must leave.  Almost everyone in the castle is ill with influenza, so I think we can walk right out if we’re careful.  I have a pony cart where you can hide till we’re away.  Do you have anything to take with you?”

He gave a bitter laugh.  “Not a single damned thing, except for Père Laurent in the next cell.”  He took the keys from her and began fumbling through them.

“Try this.”  She touched a key.  “It’s similar to the one that opened your cell.  Can the priest move quickly?”

“He’s been ill.  I don’t know how much longer he’ll last in this beastly place.”

The woman frowned.  “That could jeopardize our escape.”

“I’m not leaving without him,” Grey said flatly as he slid the key into the lock.

“Very well, then.”

The woman might be old and drab, but she knew when not to waste time arguing.  Grey’s hands were shaking as he tried to unlock the door.  Such a simple action, yet deeply unreal after ten years when he had done nothing so simple and normal.  But the cold iron key was solid in his hand, and that throw to the floor had been very real.

“Who are you?” he asked as he jiggled the key in the stiff lock.

She shrugged.  “I have had many names.  Call me Cassie or Reynard.”

Cassie the Fox.  Given that she’d managed to enter the castle and release him, it was a good name for her.

The door swung open and Grey finally met the man who knew him better than anyone else in the world.  Laurent was lying on his pallet.  On the stone above his head there was a brown, irregular cross that must have been drawn on the wall in blood.  The priest’s personal shrine.

Père Laurent pushed himself up on one arm as the door opened.  He was thin, white-haired, and almost as ragged as Grey, but Grey would have known him anywhere by the calm wisdom in his face.

“Grey.”  The priest smiled luminously as he stretched out a hand.  “At last we meet in person.”

“Meet and escape, courtesy of this lady here.”  Grey took his friend’s hand and pulled him to his feet.  “We must move quickly.  Can you manage?”

The priest swayed and would have fallen without Grey’s support.  He exhaled raggedly.  “I fear not.  You must go without me.  Better you escape than all of us be captured.”

“No!”  Grey slid his arm around Laurent’s waist.  The older man was just skin and bones, seeming so fragile that he might break, but once again, human touch was a pleasure deeper than words could describe.  “I leave with you or not at all.”

Cassie frowned.  “Père Laurent is right.  We must escape from the castle, avoid pursuit across France, and travel back to England.  The good father doesn’t look as if he can climb the stairs.”

“I’ll carry him!”  Grey spat out.

“He is very stubborn,” the priest said mildly to Cassie.  “But if we can get away from the castle, I can be left safely with a niece while you two run for your lives.”

“Very well.”  Her eyes were worried.  “But we must move quickly.  Sergeant Gaspard could return at any moment.”

As Père Laurent reached out and touched the blood cross in a gesture of farewell, Grey hissed under his breath, “I hope the devil does return!”

Luckily Cassie the Fox didn’t hear him.

Excerpt of Dark Destiny

Chapter 1

Lackland, England, Autumn 1940

A fighter plane roared menacingly over the farmhouse just as Tory bent to blow out the candles on her birthday cake.  She froze—she would never get used to destructive flying machines!

But she could pretend to be brave.  She drew a deep breath and blew.  The seventeen candles for her years were easily extinguished, but the one added for luck flickered persistently before guttering out.  She hoped that wasn’t an omen.

Her friends around the table applauded.  Those who’d come from 1804 with Tory were enjoying the twentieth century birthday customs.  The five of them would return to their own time in the morning.  She was glad to be heading home, but she’d miss her twentieth century friends.

“Did you make a wish?” Polly asked.  The youngest Rainford, she belonged to this house and this time.  Though she was still weak from a bout with blood poisoning that had almost killed her, her mischievous smile had returned.

“Indeed I did,” Tory replied.  “And it was hard to decide what to wish for!”

Her life had changed so much since she turned sixteen a year ago.  Then she had been the well brought up Lady Victoria Mansfield, youngest child of the Earl of Mansfield.  Most of her thoughts had been turned toward her upcoming presentation to society where she would look for the best possible husband.

In the year since, she’d become a mageling, an exile, and one of Merlin’s Irregulars, sworn to use her magic to protect Britain.  Not to mention being a traveler through time and an unsung heroine of Britain.

Best of all, she had fallen in love.  Her gaze drifted to the young man who sat at her right, looking impossibly handsome.  Justin Falkirk, Marquess of Allarde and her beloved.  He gave her a smile full of the warmth and intimacy that had grown between them in the last months.

“Time to cut the cake!”  Lady Cynthia Stanton, who was Tory’s roommate back at the Lackland Academy, was eyeing the dessert hungrily.  “Mrs. R., if I come back for my birthday, will you make me a cake like this?”

“I will,” their hostess said cheerfully.  “But give me some warning, please.  This cake required almost a month’s worth of our sugar rations.  I’ll need to save more coupons to create another cake this size.”

“You won’t want to take another beastly trip through the mirror just for a cake, Cynthia.”  Tory got to her feet so she could cut properly.  “But you can have the first piece of this one.”

The round cake had a thin layer of white icing and “Happy birthday, Tory!” was spelled out in rather uneven red letters.  The same red icing had been used to draw little red rockets exploding around the edges.

Tory could have done without the explosions, but Polly had been pleased with herself for coming up with the idea.  After all, war had drawn together this group of magelings from two different eras, and had forged lasting friendships.

Mrs. Rainford was sitting on Tory’s left, and she held out a small plate to receive the first slice.  “Here you are, Cynthia,” Tory said as she set the wedge of dark fruitcake on the plate.  Mrs. Rainford handed it across the table.

“I’m going to have trouble waiting until everyone is served!” Cynthia exclaimed.  “I still haven’t recovered from burning so much magic in France.”

“As the birthday girl, I give you permission to eat now rather than wait for the rest of us,” Tory said grandly.  “We all need to eat to build up our strength for the return journey through the mirror.”

Cynthia didn’t hesitate to dig in her fork.  After the first bite, she smiled blissfully.  “This is wonderful, Mrs. R.  If I didn’t hate traveling through the mirror so much, I really would come back for my birthday.  I’d even bring sugar so you could make the cake without using up your rations.”

“That’s not a bad idea!” Nick Rainford exclaimed.  “Sending sugar, I mean.  How hard would it be for you to throw sugar through the mirror?”

“We could do that,” Elspeth replied.  “Our sugar comes in big loaves that have to be broken into smaller pieces, but they’d throw very nicely.”

“Tea and butter and bacon and all kinds of other things are also rationed,” Nick said thoughtfully.  “If you can send them through the mirror, we could….”

“I will not have a black market operation run from my house,” Mrs.  Rainford said firmly.  She handed another plate of cake to Rebecca Weiss, who was staying with the Rainfords to study magic.  “But some sugar now and then would be nice.”

“We can arrange that,” Allarde said as he clasped Tory’s hand under the table.  She could feel his amusement.

She bit her lip, thinking how much she would miss this freedom to be together when they returned to Lackland Abbey.  Male and female students were strictly separated in the abbey.  Only in the Labyrinth, the maze of tunnels below the abbey buildings, could they work together as they secretly studied magic.  And only there could she and Allarde have the privacy they craved.

“What is a black market?” Tory asked as she cut more slices.

“Illegally selling rationed goods, and Nick would dive right in if I let him.” Mrs. Rainford said with a laugh.

She laid her hand on Tory’s, but before she could continue, magic blazed from Mrs. Rainford through Tory to Allarde, kindling another blaze of magic from him.  Allarde’s hand clamped hard on Tory’s and he exclaimed, “No!”

“Justin?” Tory said dizzily, shaking as she channeled power and shock between Allarde and her hostess.  “What…what just happened?”

His gaze was unfocused.  “I…I saw Napoleon invade England.  Barges landing, soldiers pouring off.   French soldiers marching past Westminster Abbey.”

The Irregulars gasped with horror.  The threat of invasion had been hanging over their heads for months as Napoleon Bonaparte assembled an army just across the English Channel from Lackland Abbey.  Jack asked, “What makes you say that?”

Tory felt Allarde’s effort to collect himself.  “Mrs. Rainford and I both have foreteller talent, and Tory’s ability to enhance magic seems to have triggered a vision of the future when the three of us were touching.”  He glanced at their hostess.  “Did you see images of invasion?”

“I…I saw Napoleon in Westminster Abbey,” Mrs. Rainford said unevenly. “But that was fear, not foretelling!  We know from history that Napoleon never invaded.”

Allarde shook his head.  He was still gripping Tory’s hand with bruising force.  “I don’t know about your history books.  What I saw was an event that may well happen if we don’t act.  We need to return home immediately.  If and when the invasion takes place, Lackland will be a major landing site.”  He swallowed again.  “I saw French barges landing in Lackland harbor and soldiers pouring off.  The village was burning.”

Jack Rainford rose from his chair.  “My family!”

“The French are not going to invade!” Mrs. Rainford repeated.  “I’ll get a history book and show you.”  She left the room, her steps quick.

Tory took a swallow of tea for her dry throat.  Mrs. Rainford was a schoolteacher and well educated, but Allarde’s magic was powerful.  “Foretelling is what might happen, not necessarily what will happen, isn’t it?”

Allarde eased his grip, though he still held her hand.  “This felt very, very likely.”

Mrs. Rainford returned with a textbook.  As she thumbed through the pages, she said, “There’s a chapter about how close Napoleon came to invading, but he didn’t.”  She found the chapter she was looking for and caught her breath, her face turning white.

Tory peered at the book and saw that the letters on the page were twisting and flickering like live things.  The words couldn’t be read.

Mrs. Rainford said in a choked voice, “I remember what this chapter said, but…it doesn’t say that anymore.”

“The text being in flux here suggests that the history isn’t set,” Allarde said grimly.  “Perhaps Napoleon just made the decision to launch and that’s why we had the visions.  If the Irregulars can do something to prevent the invasion, that might be why history records that it didn’t happen.”

“If the past has changed, wouldn’t the present also be different?” Rebecca, raised by two scientists, frowned as she tried to puzzle it out.

“Time travel is a mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand how it works,” Jack said, as grim as Allarde.  “But there is danger at home and to my family.  I can feel it like a gathering storm.”

Elspeth rose.  “We need to leave right away.  We haven’t much to pack.”

Ever practical, not to mention hungry, Cynthia said, “We should take the rest of the cake.  It will help us recover from the mirror passage.”

Knowing that was true, Tory tried to eat her slice, but it tasted like straw.  She and the other Irregulars had faced the dangers of war here in 1940, but her own time, her home and family, had not been threatened.  Not until now.

“I’ll pack the cake and some cheese,” Polly said briskly.

As the party dissolved, Nick caught Tory’s gaze and said with deadly seriousness, “You’ve done so much for England in my time.  If there is anything, anything, that I can do to help, send a message through the mirror and I’ll come instantly.”

“You saved my whole family,” Rebecca said in her soft French accent.  “I have only just discovered that I have magic, and I don’t know how to use it.  But I pledge everything within my power to your service.”

Tory thanked them, but she realized with cold foreboding that even if all the Irregulars and their 1940 friends worked together, they were few and the French were many.  The Irregulars might not be able to save England.

SW: Thank you so much for spending the day with us, Mary Jo.

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