JACQ's WARLORD releases on April 26th at www.ellorascave.com
Meet the heroine from Jacq's Warlord, which will be released this Wednesday by Ellora's Cave!
Jacq puffed at a lock of hair that had escaped her ponytail and stuck to her sweaty forehead. Then she narrowed her eyes to glare at her opponent. “Prepare to die, Roman!” she bellowed.
“How ‘bout it, Jacq?” George said under his breath as he dodged her blow. His short leather skirt flared just high enough for a glimpse of his dirt-striped white Hanes. “One beer. Let me buy you one at the Hostler’s Inn when we’re through.”
Jacqueline Frazier aka Hargred the Warrior Woman, at least for the rest of the tourney, stomped her feet, grinding her heels into the mud. “Sorry, George,” she said, raising her broadsword over her shoulder like a baseball bat. “You’re not my type. I’m gonna kick your ass, so stop trying to distract me.”
George darted to the left and then lunged, his sword jabbing toward her midsection.
Jacq swung, intercepting his move with a bone-jarring clang of metal. “I could see that coming a mile, George.” She grinned. She’d never tell, but she enjoyed the banter they shared on the field. If only he offered more of a physical challenge. “You gotta do better than that.”
George grinned back, his smile a slash of white in his mud-splattered face. “What, are Centurions too tame for you?” he drawled, his voice pitched low enough for her to hear, but not reach the spectators in the stand. “I think you’re just playing hard to get.”
She quirked one eyebrow and waved him closer. “Then come and get me, George.”
He growled and flexed his massive chest and arm muscles—every bit as imposing as Rowdy Roddy Piper in a Wrestlemania face-off. The impressive display of manly vigor was spoiled when he leaned toward her and whispered, “How ‘bout letting me win just once? I’m tired of eating Georgia clay.” For the benefit of the crowd, he beat his breastplate with his sword.
Jacq snickered. “What would be the fun in that?” She drew a deep breath, puffing out her chest and scowling, and then trumped his performance with an ululating battle cry. She swung her sword in a wide arc, her body turning to follow the blade while her own pleated leather skirt slapped her thighs.
As she closed the distance between them, George’s eyes widened. “Shit!” When she was a sword’s length away, he feinted to the right, surprising Jacq with a sideways slice.
She jerked aside too late. His blunt sword slammed against the metal cones covering her breasts. Unable to pull her feet from the muck, she lost her balance and landed on her backside, splashing mud like Shamu at poolside.
George’s forward momentum carried him past her until he skidded to a halt.
The crowd roared, but Jacq ignored the hecklers’ calls for Hargred’s beheading. She pushed herself off the arena floor and reached to shove back the horned helmet from her forehead.
George whipped around to face her and grinned. “Ah Jacq, is it any wonder I’m half in love with you? You’ve got mud under your nose. It looks like a big brown booger.”
Jacq wiped her nose with the backside of a grimy hand. “And you can’t figure out why I’m not dying to go out with you?”
“That’s all right, sweetheart. There’s always next year. But right now—” He pointed at the arena floor. “I’m gonna take you down.”
Jacq cocked her head from left to right, cracking vertebrae before resuming her stance, sword poised over her shoulder. “You talk big, George, but remember who taught you your moves.”
“Oh, I’d be worried if I was facing your daddy.” George swung his sword like a mace and gave an admirable roar that the crowd joined.
Jacq caught the blow with her blade, grunting with pain. Though the metal of their swords was a lighter cast than the real McCoy, and blunted to prevent serious injury, they’d both have the bruises and aching muscles to show for their day’s work.
George slid in the mud, but righted himself quickly.
Jacq waited for him to face her. “Just remember. You train with him twice a year. He kicks my ass every day.”
When Jacq was sure she had his and the crowd’s full attention, she flipped her sword high into the air in a graceful arc, its metal surface reflecting glints of the early afternoon sun. On its downward arc she twirled away to deftly catch the sword behind her back.
“You fight like a girl. Quit twirling your baton and fight me, dammit,” George said, his bravado unconvincing because it was accompanied by a groan.
The sounds of the other warriors fighting in the mêlée waned. Jacq decided it was time to end George’s dream of an upset victory. She raised her sword in front of her in a double-fisted grip. “Enough talk. Let’s dance.”
Thrusting, dodging and slicing, Jacq and George moved through their crudely choreographed sequences like WWF wrestlers. While their moves were practiced to prevent serious harm, the outcome wasn’t predetermined—whoever put their skills to the best use would win.
George altered the “script” and aimed another wicked slice toward Jacq’s shoulder.
This time she was ready, ducking below the stroke of his sword and coming up as momentum turned him sideways. She swung her own sword, whacking him in the ass with the flat of the blade. When he faltered, she kicked her leg against the back of his knees, sweeping him off his feet to land in an ignominious heap.
While he made mud angels trying to find a handhold in the muck, Jacq raised her sword high above her head, tip pointing down. She lifted her gaze to the spectators in the stadium seats and received a decisive number of thumbs-down votes.
“No wonder you don’t date.” George glared in disgust. “You’d never let the man be on top.”
“Maybe next year, sweetheart. Meantime, give them a good death.” With that said, she plunged her sword down into the space between his arm and ribs.
George played his part to the hilt, flopping like a dying fish until he gasped his last breath and lay still.
The audience whistled and pounded their feet on the wooden bleachers. Jacq raised her sword above her head in victory.
Noting the mêlée had ended, she stepped on George’s belly and walked toward the spectators’ stands to enjoy the applause for another job well done.
“Looks like the Fraziers cleaned up, again,” her dad said, as he joined her to bow to the crowd.
Jacq cast a glance at Thomas Frazier’s brown-spattered chain mail. “Cleaned up isn’t exactly the term I’d have used.” She noted the ruddy color of his cheeks. “No bad moments?”
He shook his head. “I’m healthy as a horse. Quit worrying.” He pushed up the faceguard of his Norman helm and grinned. “The mêlée was a good addition to the program.”
She lifted one eyebrow. “Despite a little cross-century genre-busting?”
“I’ll admit I had my doubts. But what the hell!” His grin stretched wide. “Purism is boring. I think I’ll do this again next year.”
Jacq shoved aside her worry. He did look back to his old self. “Yeah. There’s nothing quite like facing off with a dozen knights and Vikings.”
Her father cocked his head toward George. “Your Centurion seemed to give you a moment or two back there.”
She snorted. “In his dreams.”
“George is a good cub. Give you ten, he goes a whole five minutes with you next year.”
She slapped her palm against his. “You’re on!”
A crack of thunder overhead heralded the renewal of the rain that had reduced the Renaissance Faire’s arena to a morass earlier.
“Looks like that’s all the fun we’ll have today,” her father said, peering at the sky. “I’m heading home to the shower.”
Jacq fell in beside him as he walked toward the gates of the arena. “I won’t be far behind you. I just need to check with the events manager to see whether Maryann’s feeling any better.”
“It’ll be too bad if you have to miss the matches in the morning.”
“Yeah, it sucks. But if she can’t make it, I’ll probably be taking her place as the bard tomorrow. In a dress!” She shuddered. “Why me?”
He didn’t even try to hide his smirk. “Because they don’t want to see me in a dress?”
Jacq stared at his legs and pursed her lips.
“Not a word about the damn tights!”
“’Course not, Sir Tom,” she said with a slight bow. “Besides, I thought you told me they were chausses! Quite the thing a manly knight would wear.”
He quirked an eyebrow at her and drawled, “Still, it’s better than a dress.”
As she stomped toward the exit to the stadium, her father’s laughter followed. “I’ll have a pot of chili on the stove, so don’t bother picking up anything on your way home.”
Then her father left her, as was his custom, without a goodbye.