Blog Tour: The Book of Thorns Excerpt

Hello, all!

One author who is so underrated is Hester Fox. I've read and loved all her books, so I'm always trying to get more people to pick her work up. That's why I'm so excited to be part of the blog tour for her latest release, The Book of Thorns. Big thanks to the publisher for having me!

Pub Date: 4-2-24
Adult - Historical Fantasy

This story takes place during the Napoleonic Wars and follows two sisters who are separated at birth yet are bound together by a secret language of flowers passed down to them by a mother they never knew. Cornelia leaves her cruel uncle's home to become a naturalist in Napoleon's army where her ability to heal any wound garners her praise from the higher-ups. Lijsbeth is an indentured servant, and the only respite she gets from life is flower arranging. When she falls in love with an English soldier, she must decide whether to flee the two armies at Waterloo or risk everything by staying. When the two sisters meet on the battlefield, they must work together to unravel the mystery of their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, all while trying to survive the war raging around them.

You can check out an excerpt below!

“Miss Cornelia,” he says, taking my hand and bowing over it, “a pleasure.”

“Mr. Reeves.” I withdraw my hand. “I hope my uncle is not boring you with land yields and livestock accounts.”

He shares a confidential look with my uncle. “On the contrary. Our conversation has been on the most enjoyable of topics.”

“He’s here to see you,” Uncle says, plowing straight into the heart of the matter as he always does. “Mr. Reeves comes as a suitor.”

Uncle makes the outcome of this meeting perfectly clear in the sharp downturn of his lips. His patience with the matter of my marital status is wearing thin.

Well, that makes two of us.

I don’t fancy marriage, but I certainly don’t fancy spending one more day than I have to under my uncle’s roof, either. My dreams of publishing a book remain foggy and out of reach, and the money from my illustrations published in a French newspaper under a nom de plume pays only a pittance. It is not enough to live on, and certainly not enough for a young woman who enjoys fine things and an easy life. A husband would solve at least two of my problems, but it would create a host more.

“I’ll leave you two alone to talk,” Uncle says, cutting me with a look that says there will be hell to pay if I emerge from this room without securing an engagement.

The air usually lightens, the room sighing a breath of relief, when Uncle leaves, but Mr. Reeves’s presence prickles me under my stays, makes me fidgety.

Betsy is posted outside the door, her needles softly clacking as she knits some horrid bonnet or muffler. Outside, a fine mist has rolled over the gentle Sussex hills. A smile spreads over Mr. Reeves’s sharp features. “Your uncle says you’re a spirited filly. That you need a strong hand to break you.”

Ah, so it is to go like that, then. I pour a cup of tea, ignoring my guest’s outstretched hand, instead lifting the cup to my lips. “That does sound like the sort of nonsense my uncle would say.”

Mr. Reeves regards me, his dark eyes calculating. “Your uncle was right, but I think he also underestimated you. I can see you possess some wits, so I’ll not mince words.” He crosses his long legs. “I am looking for a wife, and your uncle is looking to expand his landholdings to the south of the county.”

If the man who has sat down across from me was meek, pliable, then perhaps I would have more patience in hearing his suit; I don’t need someone who will get underfoot or try to handle me. Even some doddering old lord who might die quickly and leave me a widow would be acceptable. But Mr. Reeves is irritatingly young and looks to be in good health.

“My uncle was mistaken. I am not in need of a husband.” I offer him a cold smile, my mind already back on my flowers, my fingers itching to hold my pencil. The light has shifted with the gathering clouds, and I will have to rework my shading.

He pours himself a cup of tea. “Come, wouldn’t you like to have a fine house? Be mistress of a whole host of servants? I can see that you enjoy some degree of freedom, and I can give you that. You will have a mare and a generous allowance.”

“I should think it would be terribly lowering to have to lure a wife into one’s home with promises of horses and gowns. Shouldn’t you rather wish her to come of her own volition because she holds you in some esteem?”

“You are naive if you think that marriage is anything other than a business transaction. You are a young woman of beauty and some small means but a drain on your guardian. I am an enterprising man, with successful business dealings and a good bloodline looking for a wife who will elevate his status and ornament his home. I hold a commission in the army and anticipate traveling to the Continent shortly. It is a good deal for you, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better one, especially with your lack of polish and manners.”

“It’s a little late to be going over to the Continent, isn’t it? I believe we quite vanquished Napoleon.”

Irritation animates his dark eyes before he glances away, taking what I suspect is an intentionally long sip of his tea.

I study him over the rim of my cup, imagining the way I would draw the sharp angle of his chin, the aquiline nose, before finally placing where I’ve seen him. “You were married before, were you not?”

There is an almost imperceptible stiffening of his body. “Yes, I make no secret of the fact that I am a widower,” he says shortly.

“And how, exactly, did your first wife die?” The roses in the vase on the table beside me are vibrating, warning me. I pretend not to notice, pretend that I am a normal young woman who does not receive messages from flowers.

His lips thin. “An unfortunate fall.”

“Mm. She did not bear you any children, did she?”

“Barren.” He tugs at his cravat, irritated. “You would do well not to let your ear wander to every housemaid that has a piece of gossip to peddle,” he says coldly.

“In any case, I am not interested.” I move to put my cup down, but a hand closes around my wrist, hard. I look up to find that he has leaned in close, his breath hot on my neck.

“Perhaps you’ve also heard that I have certain…proclivities.”

The roses in the vase strain toward me, singing, setting my teeth on edge. My fingers begin to tremble, but I do not let him see it. “Why would you tell me that?”

“Because I think, dear girl, that you are under the impression that I would use you poorly.” He leans back, but only slightly, the air around him still charged and menacing. “I can be a very hard man when I’m tested, but I can take my pleasures elsewhere, so long as my wife is obedient.” 

His gaze is sharp, his grip painful, and I realize that here is a dangerous man, one who is not just a brute but also clever. He cannot be fobbed off with witty barbs or batting eyelashes.

“This conversation bores me,” I tell him, standing. “I will not be your wife. I’m sorry that you wasted your time in coming here.”

But he makes no move to stand, his cool gaze sliding over me in a way that leaves me feeling horribly exposed. “I’ve seen you often, Cornelia. In church, sitting so demurely with your hands folded in your lap. You may think to have everyone else fooled, but I see the spirit in your eyes. A woman like you can never be satisfied with the life of a spinster, put on a shelf here in Sussex. I can offer you fine things, take you to exciting places abroad with me.”

And I’ve seen you, I think. I’ve seen how cruelly you used your first wife, the bruises on her pretty face. The way she faded little by little every week in church, until she was just a ghost in a dress, her final service that of her funeral. That will not be me.


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