I’m still way too excited about Medallion Press working on my cover.Â In celebration of that fact, let me give you an (unedited) excerpt of the scene they’re thinking of basing the cover on.
Jenny has been Kier’s prisoner in a lonely Scottish longhouse for several days.Â She makes a break for freedom through the pine plantation surrounding them…
Run Among Thorns – Excerpt
Jenny clutched at the rough bark of a young sitka spruce, and tried not to make too much noise breathing.
The silence of the forest was oppressive.Â It seemed to catch sounds and swallow them, so that even the ragged sound of her breathing was pressed down on, and subdued.
Still, she tried to regulate it, because the hammering of her heart in her ears was deafening her, and she couldnâ€™t hear if she was being pursued.
Feeling sticky resin against her palm, she lifted her hand and absently rubbed it down her leg.Â It was much darker here under the dark shroud of sweeping boughs, and Jenny waited for her eyes to adjust.Â With a sinking feeling, she realised she could see very little, only a sense of deeper and shallower shadows.
She took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders.Â Her heart quieting, she could hear nothing else but the light whisper of a breeze among the tops of the trees, and her own breathing.Â Not a sound of someone charging after her, on the ground littered with dry, sharp twigs.
The sharp pine scent, mellowed by the smell of damp earth was all around her, and she welcomed it, because it was so different from the last few days.Â It was true, incontrovertible evidence she was out and away.Â In the dark.Â Alone.
She tightened her hands into fists, fingernails digging painfully into her flesh.Â Dear Lord, what has he done to me?Â She used to be capable, unflappable, unafraid.Â Alone in a dark forest at night used to be an adventure, not an ordeal.
Her fear was out there, though, stalking her like a living thing moving among the trees.Â Intangible, incorporeal.Â There was also a man out there, probably, hunting her down as well.Â But the man didnâ€™t scare her half as much as the faceless spectre of her own emotional self, conspiring against the mind God gave her, to bring her down, body and soul.Â Jenny closed her eyes to it, closed her mind to it, and concentrated.
She knew the trees were planted in rigid rows, and that she stood facing in the direction the rows ran.Â She put her hand out again to the sticky tree, and stepped away from it, until only her fingertips grazed the bark.Â Her feet dipped down into the shallow ditch between rows, springy with years of slow-rotting pine needles.Â Here, looking straight ahead, the darkness was more silvered with moonlight, percolating through the branches overhead.Â Jenny could see the trees as shadowed sentinels either side of a gap about six feet wide, unobstructed but for a few stray low boughs reaching tentatively across the void.Â Glancing once over her shoulder, she tried to pierce the darkness behind her and see her enemy.Â There was no-one there.
She started to run.
Slowly, at first, then gaining more momentum as she found her footing more easily.Â The soft ground muffled her footfalls, but she tried her best to miss the tell-tale little firecracker twigs that would snap loud, and ricochet like a rifle shot around the woods.Â They were just visible as an interruption of the texture of the carpet of needles, like the protuberant roots that were waiting to trip her.
Her breath, after her first initial rush to the trees, was steadying, coming easier.Â Muscles, for days in forced idleness, stretched and flexed, waking to work as if nothing unruly had happened in the interim.Â The heady mixture of adrenalin and exercise fizzed in her blood, and her spirits rose.
Sheâ€™d not been running long when she came to an open ride.Â It slashed through the forest, straight as a die, a silvered, grassy track, lying across her path like a wide river.Â Pushing through the bushes at the edge of the ride, Jenny paused, still in shadow, listening for sounds of pursuit.Â Heaving air into her protesting lungs.
There were none, and she turned, straining her eyes, searching through the tree trunks that barred her vision.Â Still no sign.Â Starting to relax, she was turning back when she saw something out the corner of her eye.Â It was only a shimmer of movement, a distant shadow slipping between the dark trees, a momentâ€™s blurring of the forests stark lines.Â It could have been anything.Â But it sent her hurtling out and across the ride, bursting through into the trees on the other side as if the hounds of hell were after her.
She picked another clear row and ran on, every sense alive, reaching for any hint of pursuit.Â When it came, it stopped her dead in her tracks.
A loud crack of dry wood, cutting through the silence of the forest as viciously as a chainsaw.Â The sound echoed round the trees, divorced from a direction.Â For a moment Jenny hesitated, trying to sense which way to run.Â Pinned in a secondâ€™s indecision, panicking, she guessed he must be coming straight from the cottage, from her left.Â Wheeling, she picked a clear row on her right, that sloped away downhill, and set off again.
An unseen branch whipped her cheek, the stinging pain bringing tears to her eyes and forcing her to bite down on her lip, hard, to stop from crying out.Â She pressed on, her arm held up in front of her to ward off another blow.
Jenny knew she was nearing the end of her strength.Â Her legs hurt, her back ached from bending under the branches and her lungs were burning, a tight knot of pain in her chest.Â She wasnâ€™t thinking beyond the moment anymore, only concentrating on staying upright and keeping moving.Â Donâ€™t fall over, donâ€™t fall over.
She tried to jump a twisted root but misjudged it, tripping and sprawling on a tangle of old broken branches.Â Through the rising panic she was aware of sharp stabs of pain in her side and leg, but with a ragged, sobbing breath she threw herself to her feet again and kept on.Â Her knees were rubbery now, though, her vision starting to blur.
Through the thunder of her heart and blood, she was straining her ears for sounds of pursuit.Â All thought of keeping quiet had gone, she was just trying to get away, get away.Â Her feet pounded on the forest floor.
Something big leapt at her from out of the trees on the right, colliding with her side with bruising force and knocking her clean off her feet.Â She screamed, but the sound was broken off as they hit the trunk of a tree together, and ricocheted off it.Â In the same split-second, the sense of solid heat, frightening speed and looming power resolved itself into the recognisable form of McAllister.
She landed on top of him, feeling rather than hearing the breath go out of him in a whoosh.Â She bucked and jerked, trying to get free.Â But hands closed on her in a hard grip, and he rolled her beneath him, using his weight to press her into the ground and pin her down.
She struggled for breath, hemmed in and crushed and overwhelmed.Â What she had intended as a shout came out in a thin, pathetic thread of a voice, and she hated it.Â “Get off me!”
She dragged in another painful breath.Â “Get off me!” Â she screamed, and her voice echoed across the hillside, barely muffled by the trees.Â She swore at him, hysterical and desperate, but all he did was rear back off her, dragging her to her feet by his grip on her wrists.Â He swung her back out from under the tree, spun her round and took a grip of her jumper at the back of her neck.
“Move,” he said, using that hand to push her forward back the way sheâ€™d come.She didnâ€™t co-operate.
She pulled forward, jerking on the grip at her nape, threw herself backwards, using her weight to make him stumble, shouted and screamed at him with what breath she had.Â Once she snapped a dead branch off a tree and tried to hit him with it, but he jabbed at the back of her knees with his own, making them buckle, and calmly twisted the branch out of her hand.
When they broke free from the cover of the trees she was conscious of a sense of relief to be out in the open again.Â But then she saw the cottage, seeming so peaceful down by the beck, and threatening her with everything sheâ€™d tried to escape.
She gave way to the pain in her legs and sank to the ground, resisting his attempts to pull her up again.Â She was all out of everything.Â Hope, courage, sense.Â Her heart and soul were long gone, and had a terrifying feeling she knew whoâ€™s custody sheâ€™d given them into.
Swearing under his breath, McAllister bent and lifted her bodily, hoisting her over his shoulder.Â He shifted her once, to get balance, the solid breadth of his shoulder digging into her abdomen.Â He wrapped one arm like a hard band across the backs of her thighs and set off.
Jenny suddenly had an upended view of his long legs and jeans clad backside, moving as he walked.Â She closed her eyes.Â Heâ€™d flung her over the shoulder like a sack of grain.
Outraged and well beyond any self-imposed control, she reached down and bit him on the backside, hard as she could through denim.
He yelped and Jenny clutched at him for balance as he swung her down again.Â He shook her by the shoulders.Â “There is a time and a place for that sort of play, Jenny, and it is not now,” he ended on a shout.
“Get a grip, Jenny,”Â he said.Â “Youâ€™re losing it.”
It was the last straw.
“Isnâ€™t that what you want?” she gasped.Â “Isnâ€™t that what you want!”
He jerked back from her as she shrieked, hands dropping to his sides.Â Sobbing for breath through trembling fingers pressed to her mouth, Jenny looked up at him.
The moonlight caught his face.Â It was stark and breathtakingly beautiful.Â But it wasnâ€™t that which shocked her into silence, although it made her stomach turn clean over, it was the anguish imprinted in every harsh line.
Jenny cried, then, so far gone off the end of her tether, she didnâ€™t even know in what direction to reach for it.Â She covered her face with her hands and sobbed.Â Her knees buckled, and she would have fallen, but he caught her.Â This time the heat and strength of him was a comfort and a balm, something solid to hold onto.
He scooped her up in his arms again, cradling her like a child against his chest, and set off across the heather to the cottage.