2002 National Readers Choice Finalist
2001-2001 Golden Quill Finalist
2002 EPPIE Finalist
2001 SimeGen Reviewers Choice Finalist

THE QUEST FOR GILLIAN'S HEART
by Catherine Snodgrass
Historical Romance
May 2006
Amber Quill Press
ISBN: 1-59279-530-7 (Electronic)
ISBN: 1-59279-732-6 (Paperback)

Andor never believes any woman could grab his heart much less enflame it, until an Irish lass named Gillian comes into his life. Gillian will do all she can to save the child she carries from harm even if that means marrying the leader of the Northmen who ransacked her village and took her captive. Little does she realize that her heart will soon be captive. But happily ever after seems never to be when cultures and religions clash, and others want the bride and groom for themselves. Those who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals...not even murder.

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Passion, romance and suspense are in every page of this book keeping the reader captured as if Andorís men had taken them aboard the ship. The character of Gillian has a strong presence throughout the story readers will be drawn to her immediately. Ms. Snodgrass is an excellent author and have enjoyed many of her works and this is up there with the others; a wonderful story that shows the bonds on the heart will always bring true love together in any time frame whether it be in the past centuries or present day. Louise Riveiro-Mitchell, The Road to Romance

FIVE STARS!!!!: THE QUEST FOR GILLIAN'S HEART is an entertaining historical romance filled with lusty characters, adventuresome Viking's and lots of action. Writer Snodgrass handles the blending of two cultures complete with varying customs and beliefs between her main characters with ease. The intense emotion and developing romance between Gillian and Andor are suggestive of the tale wrought by Diana Garcia in STARDUST. Snodgrass has crafted an entertaining, fast paced work filled with plausible well-developed characters, believable circumstances and a rich tapestry of feelings. This page-turner grips the reader from the outset and holds tight as Gillian and Andor begin a life neither of them anticipated. Gillian's mistrust of Andor and his people is something we can identify with, Andor's suspicions are as predictable. The mounting tension between the pair is palpable and creditable. Writer Snodgrass has produced a fine historical romance well worth the read. ~ Molly Martin, Scribes World and Word Weaving

FIVE CUPS! This book is by far one of the best historical romances I have ever had the pleasure to read. Gillian and Andor immediately sweep you into their love story as they face challenge after challenge. I just could not stop reading and the story kept enthralling me with their triumphs and heartbreaks. Catherine Snodgrass really has a fluent and emotive writing style that lends itself perfectly to romance. A fabulous read. ~Wendy, Coffee Time Romance

4 BLUE RIBBONS! ...poignant and oftentimes tragic, but it made me feel the charactersí emotions. Totally immersed in the story, I was unable to put this book down. I look forward to searching for and reading more novels from Catherine Snodgrass. ~Natasha Smith, Romance Junkies

FOUR STARS !!! Catherine Snodgrass writes a lusty, adventurous Viking tale in The Quest for Gillian's Heart. Andor and Gillian...make a lovely and devout couple when anyone threatens their union. ~ Rickey R. Mallory, Affaire de Coeur

The Quest for Gillianís Heart is the stuff of romantic dreams. With powerful characters and a faraway setting, those who enjoy reading to "escape" will find a treat in this book. The exploration of the two different cultures as they merge is fascinating, and the action and intrigue is exciting. The emotions revealed in this book are intense and involving. Watching the romance develop between Andor and Gillian touched my heart, and I found myself truly hating the villains who tried to tear them apart. I became a part of the story as I read it, and I almost hated to come to the end. Ms. Snodgrass has written a glorious book in The Quest for Gillianís Heart, and Iím happy to recommend it!~ Sally Laturi, Ivy Quill Reviews

FOUR STARS!!! This is a great story, and the pages turnquickly beneath a reader's fingers....it is a satisfying read. ~ April Redmon, Romantic Times

Immensely satisfying. Gillian is every bit a true heroine, strong but vulnerable, compassionate but a bit impatient. Andor is the stuff heroes are made of --a born leader, sensitive, loyal, caring and strong. The clash of cultures between the two is a fascinating ingredient in the relationship -- it certainly adds spice to the chemistry between them and gives the reader some understanding of the times. With excellent plot lines and setting development as well, THE QUEST FOR GILLIAN'S HEART is a richly absorbing romance guaranteed to please all romance lovers. ~ Romance Reviews Today

GREAT PICK!!! Andor and Gillian are two courageous, strong, and outspoken people. The differences in their cultures and customs cause serious misunderstandings to occur between them. The story of how they come to know and love each other is complex and entertaining. It will cause you to laugh, and to cry. The cultural richness of this book kept me enthralled. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know and love Andor and Gillian. I hope all romance readers will delight in this book as much as I did. ~ Marilyn Peters, Belles and Beaux of Romance

EXCERPT

The Journey, Late Winter, 890 a.d.

Andor brushed his hand across the overlapping planks of riveted pine. Every so often he caught a whiff of the tarred animal hair he and his men had used to seal the ship. His ship. A year in the making. Fifteen years of dreams. No other ship was finer--not even those of Olaf or Leif which sat nearby waiting to follow him on this journey.

His gaze wandered to the prow. Astrid's carved likeness smiled down at him. It was a fitting homage to his woman, his wife, the mother of his unborn child.

A sudden night breeze swirled his hair about his bearded face. Andor pulled a small strip of leather from his kirtle to tie the blond strands in place. Then he wrapped his fingers around the amulet of Thor's hammer which hung from his neck.

"May Aegir bless this journey with these winds."

It seemed the gods had been watching over him since his first trip at the age of twelve. He felt as much anticipation now as he had then. Years of seafaring, trading, and raiding with his uncle had taught him much and made him wealthy. Now the gods decreed it was time to move on to other pursuits. Time to settle with a family and till the soil. The thrill of a new adventure in pristine land surged in his blood. The weight of responsibility stilled the rush.

He mentally checked preparations made. All was packed for the trip across the sea. The walrus ivory, ropes from the hides of seals and walruses, skins, and furs for trading. The seeds, tools, household goods, and stores for settling. Cattle, sheep, goats, and horses would be loaded at sunrise. There was also a large box of sand on each vessel for the women's cooking fires. Nothing had been overlooked for a successful journey.

He admired the handiwork on the ship once more. It was a large, sturdy vessel almost eighty feet from prow to stern with each end curving gracefully toward the sky. At its widest portion it was eighteen feet. It was here he placed the hold to secure the animals and goods. Loose pine floorboards on the deck allowed storage underneath and easy access to bail out bilge water. A woolen sailcloth waited to be unfurled. If the winds were not with them, sixteen sets of oars lay ready to be put to use. Fully laden with all the possessions they owned, the ship would still ride high in the water, masterfully carrying them to farmland Andor had claimed as his the year before in Iceland.

Iceland.

A country of lush green valleys and soothing hot springs was hidden behind that foreboding name. The instant Andor had seen it, he knew he had found home. His cousin, Leif, and Olaf, husband to Andor's sister, had felt the same. Together they returned to the land of Andor's birth to plan their future. And there Andor took the bride arranged for him during his absence.

It was an adequate match. Even if she was a bit frail, even if she was nine years his junior, even if there was no fire in the veins of his shy, young bride...well, that was also part of settling down. His days of fiery women were over. His hope of a love match gone with them. With adulthood came new responsibilities--those which made a wife a necessity.

Andor felt a slight tug on his hair. Only one person would dare taunt him so. With a smile teasing his lips, he looked down at his sister, Freyda. Her head reached his shoulder. The moonlight caught the golden sparkle in her forest green eyes, so much like his own. Two years younger, married with a young son of her own, she was still his greatest confidante.

"What brings you out this night?"

"The same that brings you," she replied. "Thoughts of the journey weigh heavy on me. I saw you from the door."

"You are frightened." It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yes. 'Tis so very far. So very long." She hugged herself as if suddenly chilled.

"You traveled with Olaf many times since you wed."

"To trade, never to leave Northland forever. I shall miss Mother and Father. Björn and his family. And Hildy, of course."

Andor chuckled at the mention of their youngest sister. "Of course."

"They will never see Erik grow. They will never see your child," Freyda said with a sigh.

"We have little choice. There is no room here for us." Andor looked toward the fjord which would take them to the open sea.

"You will love Iceland, Freyda. The rivers are so clear you might see the bottom. You could even build your home over a tiny stream and have water without going outside. And the land--as green as those beautiful eyes of yours. 'Twould take a day's walk to get from the center of my land to the center of yours. 'Tis a wonderful place to rear a child."

Freyda smiled. "You make it sound like the land of the gods."

Andor chuckled again. "'Tis the closest we mortals will come to Asgard."

"Then if we hope to get a good start in the morning, we should try to sleep...before Astrid awakens and finds you gone. She does need her rest."

Andor nodded and fell in step beside her. Astrid did not carry the child well. Weariness and sickness plagued her, yet she refused to remain idle. The voyage would not be easy on her, yet to delay would cause them to miss the spring planting time. With luck and strong winds, they would arrive before the time and still have a wait for the babe's birth. It was good to leave now while Astrid was still light with child.

"Sleep well, brother." Freyda ducked into her bed closet.

"Sleep well."

Andor was careful not to disturb Astrid as he crept into the small room in which they slept. He slipped off his soft leather boots and pulled his kirtle over his head. He paused at the tapered trousers. It would only embarrass Astrid if she were to discover he chose to sleep in the nude.

Andor drew a deep breath, released it slowly, then crawled beneath the warmth of the furs. He longed to caress the slightly rounded bulge of her belly. Again Astrid's embarrassment prevented it.

He curled his body around his wife's. In her sleep she groaned a protest. Andor reluctantly pulled away, turning his back to hers as he waited for sleep to close his eyes.

* * *

Dawn's gray hours found the settlement stirring with activity. Astrid and the other women bustled about with last minute preparations. Smells of breakfast filled the longhouse, but anxiety refused to allow Andor to eat. He strapped his sword to his belt then tossed his red cloak around him, pinning it with a penannular brooch at his right shoulder. He reached for his helmet and shield, then recalled both were already on the ship.

"Do not be long, wife." Andor dropped a kiss on Astrid's upturned cheek then watched in amazement as a flush followed. Perhaps childbirth would make her less restrained.

"Only one or two things left to do," she replied. "The barrels of fresh water are being loaded now, and we must not forget our bed furs."

Andor gathered the mound of furs then turned to find Astrid close behind him. He smiled, kissed her fully, then laughed at her red cheeks.

As usual she not be pulled into play and instead avoided his gaze. "Thora moves stiffly this morning."

Andor sighed and shook his head. Leif had beaten his wife again. It was all too common these days. "'Tis really not my place to interfere with a man and his wife."

"But the child she carries could well be hurt," Astrid said.

That much was true, but he doubted Leif cared. "I will speak to him."

As Andor stepped into the morning, his eyes scanned the bustle of people for Leif's black head. Instead, he found Thora, struggling under a load of furs.

She had been a beauty in her youth with brown hair that gleamed with gold when the sun touched it. Andor had once thought to make her his wife, but in his long absences other arrangements had been made. That was unfortunate for Thora. Life with her husband had taken its toll. Now, no luster sparked her eyes. At times she looked older than Andor's mother instead of the young girl Andor's heart had sought. She was as long with child as Astrid yet looked twice as large, giving Andor cause to wonder if the tales of Thora's infidelity were true.

"He beat her again."

Andor turned to the scowling visage of his red-headed brother by marriage. Olaf's blue eyes looked past the woman to the man responsible.

"If he cannot tolerate her, then he should set her free to find happiness as another man's wife. Rollo's perhaps," he said with a jerk of his head.

Andor looked back as Rollo hurried forward to help Thora. The towering young blacksmith was powerfully built yet gentle with all smaller than him. His desire to help Thora was nothing he would not do for others, but one person took offense. With a face as dark as a thundercloud, Leif strode to them.

Andor dropped his furs and raced forward to intercept Leif. Leif yanked a leather strap from his belt and raised it high. Thora whimpered and cowered to the ground, expecting to be beaten.

"No!" Andor shouted.

Leif froze, shocked that he should be interfered with.

"I asked Rollo to take the furs so that Thora might help Astrid. You know how sickly she has been." Andor prayed the gods would forgive his lie.

Leif lowered his hand. "Go."

The woman waddled away before her husband could change his mind.

Andor took a deep breath. He had gone this far, what more could hurt? "I wanted to speak to you of Astrid. This long voyage will be hard on her. There are few women on my ship. You have many on yours. I would like Thora to travel with us to help Astrid."

Leif considered it for a few moments. "Done." He stooped to pick up half the furs. "The rest are hers." He turned on his heel and walked away.

Rollo picked up the remaining furs. "I will carry these and yours to your ship. You may tell Thora of the change."

"I will."

For the first time Andor realized that Freyda and young Erik were standing behind them. She lifted the hem of her shift and ran to share the news with the other two women. The spinning tools which hung from the brooches at each of her shoulders clattered in her rush.

"'Tis only a short reprieve for Thora," Andor said with a sigh. "Come, Olaf, we have a ship to set to water. Enough time has been wasted this dawn."

There was a tug on his trousers and Andor looked down at Erik. Born five years ago this month, the boy boasted a shock of red hair. He was Olaf's image born again.

"May I help launch your ship, uncle?"

Andor ruffled his hair. "A strong hand is always needed...Come."

Andor's walk to the vessel was a signal for others. They hastened to join him for the task. Several ran ahead to remove the wedges which held the roller logs in place. By the time Andor reached the ship, forty men stood ready to help him.

The ship moved slowly over the logs. As one roller was uncovered it was carried forward. When only the stern remained ashore, a rousing cheer burst from the men.

Now came the painful ordeal of saying farewell. Andor embraced his remaining family then stood aside while Astrid and Freyda did the same. He shook his head as the women began to cry. Always so sentimental. It was true he would miss his family, but not enough to cry like an infant.

Realizing the dawn was fading, the ladies hurried to their respective ships. The ramp was hauled in and, with a final shove, Andor's vessel bobbed upon the water. With Andor as helmsman, the men set their oars in the water. They glided down the fjord while Olaf and Leif followed in their ships.

Andor memorized the steep, green cliffs as they edged toward the sea. Home was now Iceland. The mouth of the fjord widened. The ocean beckoned.

"Rollo, take over," Andor said. "Raise the mast and hoist the sail."

The men set the long pole in a block to hold it in place. Once it was secure, they tugged the yard arm to the top of the mast. The great scarlet and gold sail, a gift made for Andor by his mother, filled with wind and pulled them into the sea.

"'Tis beautiful," Astrid said from beside him. In an uncharacteristic display of affection, she wrapped her arms around his waist. "Thank you for helping Thora."

He covered her with his arms. "'Twill not last. You know that."

"'Tis enough for now." She stretched on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "On to Iceland."

Andor smiled. "Yes, to Iceland."

The trip down the coast was swift without event--a boring time for those onboard. To speed their journey, they rarely spent the night on shore. When they did so, Astrid made a good show of needing help so that Leif would not take Thora back. So far it was a plan that worked, but Andor worried what Thora's fate would be when they reached their destination.

The men and women passed their time working on crafts or listening to Astrid play her harp. Rollo carved combs from reindeer antlers while other men fished or fashioned jewelry out of old coins and glass beads. Their passage was peaceful. Even a three-day stay to trade at the Shetlands went well.

The ships were nearing the Faroes when rough seas tossed them from their sleeping skins that morning. Wind slammed against them, listing the vessel to one side.

"Haul in the sail!" Andor shouted. "Rollo, man the tiller! Keep us from those rocks!"

Andor fought the sail with twenty other men, battling the wind for possession. At the stern, Rollo and two of the strongest men steered the ship clear of jagged rocks. Even with the wind battering his ears, Andor could hear the sound of wood scrapping stone. He prayed it was only his imagination. He jerked his head in that direction and saw a terrifying sight--Thora leaning over the edge.

"No!" Wind swallowed his voice.

Andor dropped his sail line and struggled to reach her. Astrid edged toward her, her hand extended before her. She swiped air trying to grab Thora's cloak. The ship rocked. Thora lost her balance in favor of Astrid. Before she could return to her suicidal perch, Astrid caught a handful of her cloak.

Like a mother scolding a wayward child, Astrid pulled her charge further away. The ship rolled once more, throwing the occupants about while a massive wave crashed over them.

Watery tentacles threatened to pull Andor into its depths. He tangled his arm in the sail line and held on. When the water cleared, only one woman remained.

"Astrid!" Andor leaped over people to reach the spot where he'd last seen them. Thora lay curled like a babe, sobbing. He raced to the rail, shouting his wife's name into the stinging needles of icy rain.

"Andor, look!" a man called out.

He spun around, hoping for a sign of Astrid. Instead, through the gray haze, he saw Olaf's ship smash into the very rocks they had just avoided. The ship turned on its side, caught by the gray spires, while the sea tried to scoop out its contents.

Andor looked around the deck, trying to decide what to do next. Astrid was not the only one who was lost. At least ten others had been washed away. His every instinct screamed to find her yet he knew that was impossible. He was leader of this expedition. He had to save those he could. That was his responsibility. His heart had never felt more torn.

"What do we do?" Rollo shouted.

Andor scanned the area and saw Leif's vessel slip past him. Obviously, he had made a decision and, at that moment, so had Andor.

"Steer close to Olaf's ship, but not near the rocks. We will lash our ship to it and try to right it."

It was work that helped Andor keep his mind off Astrid's loss. He never asked himself what he would do if he discovered Freyda, Olaf, and Erik were also gone. As they neared the other vessel, he leaped aboard, a seal rope clutched tightly in his grip.

Five of his men followed. They lashed the ropes to the crossbeams at each ship's floor, and Andor waved Rollo to pull back. Slowly the ship was righted, and a gaping hole in her side revealed.

"Everyone onto my ship. Take everything with you." Andor jumped onto the hold to hand boxes up.

"Andor!" Freyda cried out, and tossed her arms around him.

He held her close, fighting desperately against the emotion which threatened to overwhelm him.

"Olaf is gone." She pointed to her husband's inert body. His neck was twisted at a strange angle.

"Erik?" Andor asked.

Freyda tossed back a pile of skins. The boy huddled beneath them, frightened and teary-eyed.

Andor caught them in his arms and carried them to the safety of his ship while the men salvaged all they could find, including the bodies of their fallen friends. Then Olaf's ship was released to let the sea claim what it was so determined to have.

"To shore, Rollo," Andor said. "We have our dead to care for."

* * *

It was as fitting a funeral as they could arrange so far from home--a simple grave for each person with all their possessions which remained to accompany them on their next journey. A few others had washed ashore with the evening tide, including Astrid whose lovely face was bloated in death. Andor was grateful he could give her a proper send off. As he placed her gently in her grave, he touched her rounded belly for the first and last time. At least mother and child would be together in the next life.

It was an emotional time for all, but Andor refused to allow himself to give in to tears. They had lost thirty people. It was time for decisions, not emotions. When the last grave was marked, he faced his people.

"We have lost much and come far, but I will gladly return those who wish to go home."

Leif took a stand beside him. "I have no desire to return just to start another journey next year, but I will give my ship and half my provisions for those of you who wish to leave. If that is all right with Andor."

Andor nodded. There was a murmur among the people and slowly each one made a decision. More than half chose home. Without question Leif's animals and half his stores were moved to Andor's ship. The thirty who remained waved their friends off.

"To Ireland?" Leif asked Andor.

Andor rubbed the weariness from his neck. "I have no desire for raiding."

"If not, we will not make it to Iceland," Leif said.

Andor sighed and looked over the horizon. "Then we shall go a-viking."

In his youth raiding had been an exciting experience. As he grew in years, his conscience did not agree with stealing from others. Still, Leif was right--they had to survive. When they reached Ireland, Andor would leave the raiding to Leif and remain onboard to await their return. Perhaps his guilt would then not be so great.

 

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