Here’s a taste of the newest Ballads of the Roses novel, The Trouble With Roses:
Somewhere ahead, a deep rumbling grew to a roar. There must be, or mayhap had once been a village nearby, for the dog halted at the edge of a steep ravine traversed by a narrow bridge. Evarette thanked the heavens for daylight, for had she approached in the night, ‘twas likely she would have pitched over the edge. The bridge’s span was broken and naught but the ends of it were left, buried deep in the rocky banks.
The dog licked her hand and leapt the expanse.
“Dog, you might manage that jump, but I cannot.”
She crept on shaky legs to peer into the depths. The ravine was neither very deep nor wide, but its vine-smothered rock walls were nigh vertical. Tendrils of mist rose from within. At its bottom coursed a stream, running high from the storm, the source of the rumbling. Its leaping, rushing waters, filled with debris, thundered eastward, out of her sight.
She could not cross this way.
The dog watched her from the other side, waiting. She shook her head. “I cannot jump so far.”
The beast uttered a deep-throated ‘woof’.
“What? I have said I cannot jump the chasm.”
What now? She could not go back, nor leap across, and her chilled, weary body screamed in protest at thought of scrambling up the incline. ’Twould be much easier to follow the ravine downhill. Mayhap, ‘twould narrow enough to jump, or another way to cross would present itself. She started down.
The dog raced along the other side, barking.
She ignored it. The poor, dumb beast could not understand. It suddenly turned and tore into the trees opposite her path.
Immediately, she missed it.
’Twas not so simple as she hoped to follow the ravine. The trees thickened again and grew close to the span. Rocks large and small littered the brink. Worst were the thick, heavy vines that fringed the rim, creating a snare for unwary feet. If she took not care, the creepers would trip her up and plunge her straight into the chasm.
A little further, she happened upon a fallen tree trunk spanning the gulf. ‘Twas very large, its girth wide. It looked solid, more than able to hold her weight. At both ends, several arm lengths of the trunk stretched away from the ravine sides and seemed firmly entrenched in the dirt and rock beneath.
Kicking the end of the tree, she stepped upon it to jump a little, searching for weakness. She even tried, unsuccessfully, to move it. It budged not. Mayhap, ‘twould be safe.
She started across, prepared to leap back to safety at the least sign of instability. Ignoring the way her stomach churned in time with the water so close below, she focused on the safe ground on the far side.
There came a moment, almost half the way across, when her courage nigh deserted her. She had to make a choice. ‘Twas either go on, or go back. Her heart pounded so loudly it all but drowned the sound of the flood.
“I am no coward,” she whispered. “’Tis only a few steps more to the other side. All I must do is take them.”
’Twas the most difficult thing she ever did. Inhaling, she stepped forward. Another step, and another. She went just too far to be able to retreat when the tree quaked. She froze, afraid even to breathe. The rim that looked so close only moments before now seemed leagues away. The trunk cracked with a sound like a slashing whip and began to vibrate.
She hissed a curse her mother would faint to hear. The tree she believed was a solid bridge across the ravine must have rotted beneath the bark on the far end. ‘Twas collapsing under her weight. With a loud snap, it gave way. There was no time to do aught but pitch forward to grope blindly for anything to stop her fall. Her fingers scrabbled for a hold and then fisted in the thick vines covering the ravine walls. Pain slammed into her body as she collided with the rock. She felt a little sick at the sound of the tree being mangled in the floodwaters, but she held on, her grip slipping at first from the moisture, but finally catching. The vines gave a little, but they, too, held.
With her boots, she sought a toehold¾a small ledge, a crack, an outthrust rock, a tree root¾anything to put her feet upon to rest her straining arms, to aid in pulling herself up, but to no avail. The rock walls were wet, slick from mist and spray, and too smooth for her feet to find purchase. The toes of her boots rubbed against tiny ridges, but naught wide enough to hold her weight for more than moment or two. Her damp skirts were heavy, adding to the weight that wrenched at her arm sockets. The rim of the ravine was barely more than an arm’s length above her. So close! Surely, she could reach it.
She gathered what was left of her strength and pulled herself up, hand over hand, but even as elation soared and she thought she would make it, the vines began to tear away from the rock.
Terror whipped her thoughts into a spin, vying with the escalating ache in her arms and shoulders.
She hung against the wall, face buried against her arms. She was going to die, and there was naught she could do to stop it. Worse, her father’s men would likely never find her body, making her family’s grief greater.
She tried to grasp a more secure hold, but the vines only yielded their grip a bit more.
She closed her eyes and screamed as the vines loosened further. They gave way even as her stiff, scratched fingers scrambled for a new hold.