Our guest today is historical romance author Gina Conkle and she is giving away a copy of her book Norse Jewel. Check out this interesting interview and the excerpt from Norse Jewel. Then leave a comment along with contact information for your chance to win!
Alexis: What made you chose your title?
Gina: The characters, Hakan and Helena, share a common connection around a red stone. It’s also a play on the heroine, Helena, being an unexpected jewel in Hakan’s life.
Alexis: Where did you get the idea for this story?
Gina: The seed for Norse Jewel came from two things. First, I read the historical account of Swedish King Olof Skotkonung, who tried to end the “9 Year Blot” in AD 1022. That’s a custom of sacrifice to Norse gods in Uppsala.
Second, I love the movie “Gladiator.” I began to wonder what if King Olof had a Norse chieftain who wanted to lay down his sword and just be a farmer? What if the king and that warrior had a very close father-son type relationship?
That oozed conflict to me. Then, throw in a Frankish slave (thrall in Norse), and make her part of the stakes. That’s how Norse Jewel was born.
Alexis: Why did you choose this sub-genre of romance?
Gina: I love Vikings. I’ve been fascinated with that era and people group for over a decade. I’ve read a lot of history books (very nerdy, but fun) and stories, lots of stories, grew from that.
Alexis: What are you working on now?
Gina: I’m working on two things. Norse Fire: a saucy slave woman and rough-souled warrior hunt for a Viking hoard that could save the kingdom. They must work together, and fast, with the enemy on their heels. They traded barbs in the past. Now, sparks fly of a different nature on the trail to recover treasure.
I also recently sold a 3 book Georgian series to Sourcebooks. The first book, tentatively titled “Meet the Earl at Midnight,” is done, but now we’re doing the periphery work, plus the other two need to be written. I wrote “Meet the Earl…” to balance out the Norse hammers in my head! This story’s about a brilliant, reclusive earl whose private world collides with an on-the-shelf commoner. Both have their own plans which don’t include love.
Alexis: What do you think everyone should know about your husband?
Gina: Everyone should know how supportive and amazing Brian is. In 2012, he quit his job and started his own company. We were doing ok, but I saw the need to work again full time. We were at a cross roads.
Spring of 2012, I asked him if I should go back to teaching or biotech (the two jobs I had in the past), and yes, I laughingly suggested writing since I felt like something was going to happen. He said, “You’re a writer. You’re really good. I think this is going to happen for you.”
At the time, I didn’t have an agent, wasn’t assertive in my submissions, nor was I even buckling down and treating writing as a job (as opposed to a hobby).
I was blown away by his support…still am. Now, I work at writing full time.
Alexis: Got to love a supportive husband! Thank you so much for visiting with us and telling us a bit about your book. For those interested in winning a copy of Norse Jewel, don’t for get to leave a comment. And be sure to check out the great excerpt!
A lover of history, books and romance makes the perfect recipe for historical romance writer. Gina’s passion for castles and old places (the older and moldier the better!) means interesting family vacations. Good thing her husband and two sons share similar passions, except for romance…that’s where she gets the eye roll. When not visiting fascinating places, she can be found in southern California delving into the latest adventures of organic gardening and serving as chief taxi driver.
For more information about Gina visit her at:
her website www.ginaconkle.com
on Twitter @ginaconkle
on Facebook http://on.fb.me/180kL1y
on Pinterest http://bit.ly/180l9gu
EXCERPT from Norse Jewel
Chapter OneLand of the Franks AD 1022
Smoke and mist parted, luring gawkers and traders alike.
“Come, see the goods,” a voice beckoned from the crowd.
Canny merchants in billowing robes examined exotic wares: fragrant spices, cloth spilling rivers of color, and barrels of rich Frankish wine. Morning air filled with foreign words and the clink of foreign coins. Bretons. Castilians. Saxons. All mixed with the Danes, those giant men who fingered giant hammers with relish. A gaggle of freewomen gossiped while gutting slippery fish. Scores of seagulls squawked, diving at fish heads the chattering women tossed aside. Helena watched these curious sights, so different from her humble village. All would be well except she was a stolen woman, taken in a raid on her village. Human chattel to the Danes.
She scanned the heavens and curled her fists.
I will return home.
A cool, mocking laugh intruded. “Praying again?”
Sestra, a buxom, flame-haired woman swigged water from the drinking pouch they shared. Like Helena, her wrists were tethered by long leather bindings to a stake in the ground.
“Good morning.” Helena reached for the proffered pouch.
“We’ll see soon enough,” Sestra groused. “Prayers don’t work, you know. Find a good protector. Work will be light then.” She finger combed her tangled hair for maximum effect and purred, “Find the right protector and you won’t have to lift a finger.”
Helena bristled at the suggestion. “I will have my freedom again.” She winced at the sight of loud warriors sharpening their axes around a smoky fire. “First, I need to get away from here.”
“Give it up. Accept your lot in life. We are captives. Slaves. Thralls. The language doesn’t matter, the master you serve does.” Sestra scanned the horizon, assessing a Flemish merchant fussing with his robes.
Both women were Frankish and of similar age but worlds apart in experience. Helena wanted to argue her point, but Sestra held up bound hands.
“Let me give you some advice…advice that’s saved my hide. Forget about home, and don’t fight. Those who fight don’t live long.” Sestra tapped her own smooth cheek and gave Helena a knowing look. “Look at what happened to you.”
Helena tested her cheek, touching skin scabbed and smooth. Outer wounds heal, but wounds to the soul cut deeper and lingered long. Aye, some things were worth a fight. Her hands slid to the leather pouch that hung from her neck. ‘Twas tucked between her breasts inside her dress, the contents safe—for now.
“The wound stopped the Danes. What’s done is done. . .” She squeezed her eyes shut, banishing images of that day. “. . .but I will not accept this as my lot in life.”
A stench of fish assaulted Helena. When she opened her eyes, the freewoman who brought their provisions approached and her gap-toothed smile held no cheer.
“Won’t have that for long,” the hag sneered, pointing at the lump under Helena’s bodice. “Should’ve let him take yer puny purse.”
The old woman dropped bread to the ground and planted work-rough hands at her hips as she loomed over them. Chills swept Helena’s limbs, owing nothing to the morning’s dampness. She folded her legs tight to her body. Her bindings chafed tender flesh. The brutal Gudrud’s attack broke like sharp-tipped fragments in her mind as the grizzled woman cackled.
“He returns. Soon,” she crooned. “Dung for brains has he. Felled by a Frankish maid in front of the other men. Yer kick hurt more than his man parts. Ye damaged mannish pride.” She waggled a finger at Helena and sang a gleeful warning. “Get sold today or sleep with one eye open. Night’s when he’ll get revenge.”
“Leave her be,” Sestra hissed. “Isn’t it enough you torment us daily?”
“I can forget to bring food for the likes of ye,” the old woman jeered.
“Be gone. We don’t need you.”
Two pairs of stunned eyes turned to Helena, who sat tall with her chin tipped high.
“Want me gone, do ye? I can forget yer food. See how those haughty words taste when yer belly aches from hunger.” The fishwife’s rheumy eyes narrowed on the small bulge under Helena’s bodice. “Hope whatevers ye got was worth it.”
The freewoman sauntered away, jibing about less thralls to feed. Helena clenched the pouch; the stone within was hard to her fingers. After she had been wounded, the other Danes had belittled Gudrud for losing a tussle with a mere woman. Magnuson, their leader, had let her keep the well-worn pouch, deeming it worthless upon quick inspection.
“Well, she did serve a purpose. I, for one, like to eat,” Sestra said, eyeing the bread.
“I couldn’t abide her taunts anymore.” Helena’s shoulders slumped as she dusted off the loaf and tore it in two. She passed the larger portion to Sestra. “And now my outburst cost us both. Who knows when she’ll bring food again.”
Sestra inspected the bread’s soft innards and scooped a handful. “Forget it. Eating is the least of your worries. The hag had one thing right. Gudrud will return and you cannot be here.”
Helena tucked her bread portion into her lap. “I could try running away.”
Sestra choked on her bread. “Remember the Basque woman?”
Helena hugged her legs still folded tightly to her body as visions of that day spilled. A twilight trip to answer nature’s call at the forest’s edge, and she saw the black-haired Basque woman slipped from sight. The fishwife screeched an alarm. Men yelled. Hooves thundered. Tree bark had bitten into Helena’s skin as she sunk into it to avoid the blur of men atop horses. Then, somewhere in the dense forest, the Basque woman’s blood-curdling screams carried through the air. None heard or saw her again.
Helena eyed that dark tree line. “A bad plan.”
Sestra snapped her fingers twice. “Look. Buyers come. Heed the old woman,” she chided. “Hide your wound. And smile. Men like a woman who smiles…a friendly woman.”
Aye, survival first.
Her breath quickened as she whispered a short prayer, but heaven stayed silent. Gulls squawked and dove in the salty sea air, like her, seeking survival. Helena tugged at her braid, covering her wounded cheek with loose strands and prepared for the loathsome ordeal—one human selling another. Beside her, Sestra’s voice touched a seductive note.
“For these men I can smile very nicely.”
“You say that about every man.”
Sestra snorted and nodded at the horizon. “Judge for yourself.”
Two long-limbed, thickly muscled warriors walked through the morning mist. Hard Danes and wiry merchants alike paused mid-conversation to dip their heads in greeting to these two. One was dark and amiable, yet large as a bear. The other, wary like a wolf, was fierce and blonde. He wore his sword strapped across his back and listened quietly to his friend, but his ice-blue eyes measured the camp. Sestra, ever the fount of knowledge, tipped her head toward the blonde man.
“See that? His leather belt,” she said with calculating awe. “A sign of authority. Kings served. Battles won. Many battles. A Norse chieftain by the look.”
Bronze and copper squares were stamped into his wide belt. Each token bore a unique design that caught the eye. But, he did not need the belt to command respect. The air around him crackled with authority. He moved like one belonging to an honored warrior class. Helena suddenly realized that her home village of Aubergon, her whole life, was sheltered and small.
Beside her, Sestra poked her arm. “You speak Norse. What are they saying?”
“I understand some.” But, her gaze wandered to the sinister horizon where the Basque woman had disappeared.
Her heart beat faster; a copper tinge filled her mouth at the sight of the dense forest, dark even in the morn. Aye, get sold this day—a far better fate than risking escape or facing the cruel Gudrud when he returned.
Sestra prodded her again. “Helena. Aren’t you listening? What is he—”
“Shhh,” Helena set a finger to her lips and canted her head to listen.
“…a farmer?” The bear man spoke the word as if he tasted brine. “I don’t see it. Hakan the Tall, a chieftain of Svea becomes Hakan…the farmer.” His booming voice flattened. “Why?”
“I tire of this life.”
“Do we not gain gold aplenty from fat foreign kings?” The bear man jingled a bag at his waist and grinned.
“This isn’t about gold.”
Yet, the wolf-eyed chieftain loosed a bulging bag from his belt. ‘Twas obvious he didn’t waste coin on fine attire: his scuffed leather jerkin and faded blue trousers, tucked into fur boots, had seen much wear. No sweeping capes or brash torque hung about his neck such as usually graced the necks of high ranking Norsemen. What manner of chieftain would dress so simply?
“What are they saying?” Sestra whispered.
“That you need to be quiet so I can eavesdrop better.”
Sestra paused midst cleaning her teeth with her sleeve. “Oh, very funny.”
Helena smiled and turned her attention to the men, but their voices were too low, all the better to sate her curiosity for the one called Hakan. He crossed his arms and stood like a warrior-king, but of course that was harebrained. What did she know of kings? Whatever his rank, he lured her. She couldn’t help but follow the knit of the Norseman’s muscles under burnished skin. What would it feel like to touch him there?
Amidst her fascination, Magnuson, leader of the Danes approached. At the sight of him, an ugly shiver traced her back.
“Hakan.” The Dane clapped a heavy hand on the chieftain’s shoulder. “I hear you seek a woman to teach you Frankish words.”
“An old Frankish woman. To keep my farm, help with my wine trade.”
“Old? Young? What does it matter?” Magnuson grunted and splayed his fingers her way. “Frankish women here. Three of them. The rest…Sarmatians, Flemish, many from Eyre.”
“And not one of them long in years.”
Hakan rubbed his jaw as his gaze swept the row of women. Wide silver bands etched with intricate swirls wrapped around his strong arms. Helena frowned as Sestra brazenly thrust her curves at the men. Is that what it took to escape this place?
The bear man laughed and pointed at the blatant display. “This one could teach you much.”
The chieftain scowled. “And cause trouble.”
Sestra’s come-hither smile melted to a sulk under his harsh glower. Her disappointment didn’t last long, more men ambled on the horizon. The Frankish maid’s face lit up when she spied a lavishly dressed merchant drawing near.
Magnuson rubbed his hairy cheeks. “Old women give fewer years of service.”
Helena wrapped her skirt close about her legs. Listening to their rapid Norse took all her concentration.
“What happened to that one?” The one called Hakan asked about her.
A flush of warmth poured through Helena, alert to his attention. She stiffened and couldn’t look higher than the chieftain’s silver armbands where a blood-eyed beast carved in silver winked at her, a trick of daylight’s reflection.
“An unfortunate mishap.” Magnuson shrugged a massive shoulder under his bearskin pelt. “One of my men…she fought him, his knife slipped, caught her jaw … The Dane slid his finger from jaw to ear, mimicking her wound. “…but, if its old you want, come this way.”
Copyright © 2013 by Gina Conkle. Entangled Publishing, LLC
Alexis: For a chance to win Norse Jewel, answer Gina’s question: What do you like to see in alpha male characters?
Be sure to leave contact information. Winner drawn Wednesday :-)