2d Place - 2002 PRISM Award
3d Place - 2002 Laurel Wreath Award
3d Place - 2002 ERA Awards
3rd Annual Orange Rose Finalist

SEVEN RINGS BINDING
by Catherine Snodgrass
Paranormal Historical Romance
April 2006
Amber Quill Press
ISBN: 1-59279-503-X (Electronic)
ISBN: 1-59279-743-1 (Paperback)

Nate Blackburn is determined to keep his mother's inheritance in the rightful hands of his mother, even if that means he has to marry the psychic he thinks is bilking her of her fortune. Libby Claiborne grasps at the chance for marriage and the opportunity to save her family from the hell her step-brother Clayton created. Together Nate and Libby discover they have much more in common than they realized -- a love that cannot be denied and a mystical ability that has the power to destroy them both. A power one embraces and the other refuses to accept.

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FIVE CUPS! Seven Rings Binding is impossible to put down. This book has many twists and surprises. It shows that trust must be earned. Nate and Libby’s love for each other grows into an explosive climax. In the end, Nate discovers a secret about Libby that will shock you. I was glued to this story until the final page. It is an amazing love story. ~Sherry, Coffee Time Romance

FIVE FLAGS! This is a wonderfully touching story. Ms. Snodgrass has a way of revealing the depths of her protagonist’s character and personality, without superficiality or belabouring her point. In addition, she has an excellent understanding of and sympathy for them, and this shines through her prose, which, by the way, is excellently written. I felt sympathetic to the heroine and hero from their first appearances. The “villain” is present but not overdone; in fact all the characters seem very true-to-life. I am reminded, in quite a favourable manner, of the romance novelists I loved to read as a child and adolescent, Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt. Ms. Snodgrass has the same capability for strong research endeavours melded into a fascinating story line, with believable, attractive characters whom the reader naturally wishes to cheer on to success. This is my first Catherine Snodgrass novel, but rest assured, from now on, I intend to read every book of hers I can find. Ms. Snodgrass also writes under the pen name of Caitlyn Willows. ~Annie, EuroReviews

FOUR HEARTS! This paranormal romance is surrounded by mystery... Not only are the main characters multifaceted and rich, but so are the many secondary characters... Each character has a story of their own interwoven into the big story that has SEVEN RINGS BINDING continually surprising readers long after you think you have it all figured out. And at the core of the story is magic. The kind that they have all lived with, fought against, and are forced to accept in order to find happiness and peace of mind. The many secrets and half truths that are slowly revealed as the story progresses will keep readers glued to the chair until the final magical moment when it all comes together in an explosive ending both paranormal and historical romance fans are sure to enjoy. ~Tammy, Love Romances

FOUR STARS!!!!This profoundly evocative story was a very quick and satisfying read. I couldn’t wait to see how this marvelous story would end. I look forward to reading more of Catherine Snodgrass’ stores. ~ Kathy Boswell, Romantic Times

In Seven Rings Binding, Catherine Snodgrass shows her talent for the paranormal. This engrossing historical romance with a twist is sure to please both historical romance and paranormal romance lovers. ~ Rickey R. Mallory, Simegen

Deceit, pain, deep love, and dark secrets are at the root of SEVEN RINGS BINDING. Libby's inability to think of herself, as well as the agony of her past, makes Nate's unabashed love difficult for her to comprehend. He totally relinquishes his heart to her, and those who love them both are in his corner. The reprehensible Clayton makes a dark villain. Nate's family and Libby's incredible grandmother and indomitable mother are only some of the great secondary players in this incredible story. SEVEN RINGS BINDING has a fresh plot that brims with excitement and romance, and more than a little mystery. Ms. Snodgrass has penned a well-written story with an unforgettable hero and heroine. For a tale that sizzles from the first page, I highly recommend SEVEN RINGS BINDING. ~ Jani Brooks, Romance Reviews Today

It will steal your heart -- Highly recommended. A delightfully rich romance. With a poetic voice the authore gracefully moves the reader through a narrative filled with vivid imagery and meaning. While the paranormal element heightens the tensions of the story, and provides fuel for the villain's motivation, it does not dominate the tale. SEVEN RINGS BINDING provides a delightful afternoon's read, coming highly recommended. ~ Wordweaving, Cindy Penn

FOUR STARS!!! This one will keep you reading to the very last page. ~Ann Beardsley, ScribesWorld Reviews

FIVE ANGELS!!! Catherine Snodgrass has done it again in this remarkable story of two people with powers that are in need of one another. Snodgrass has created two wonderful characters that are truly livable to read about in this enchanting historical romance. The plot and the interaction they go through just to lead a normal life is astounding and breathtaking in this new story. Not only are Libby and Nate great to read about but also the secondary characters, like the orphans, grandmother Rose and her mother. Together with all these people, they make a family like no other with a little touch of love that will mend all hearts. ~Melinda, Fallen Angels Reviews

EXCERPT

1875 New York City

Libby Claiborne paused, her cup of tea poised halfway to her lips. Odd, this feeling that persisted. She had spent the day trying to shake it, yet it came back in full force the minute Clayton left her alone. She felt as if she were on the brink of some great event and that each step she took brought her closer and closer to it. She had no idea whether that something was rainbows or a giant chasm.

She slipped her cup onto its saucer with nary a sound and folded her hands beneath the linen napkin on her lap. Where was Clayton? He had excused himself ten minutes before after spotting what he called a business acquaintance, then darted away, leaving her alone in the crowded restaurant.

Every fiber of Libby's being told her he lied, of course, even though her heart begged it not to be so. Yet, she had known her stepbrother all her life. When had she ever been wrong about him? Tonight, no matter how cleverly disguised, the signs were all there, even if she tried to deny them. Clayton was plotting.

Perhaps that was the reason for the strange feelings. It made sense when she dared consider it. Clayton knew how much she detested these displays. Yet, nothing she said seemed to make a difference to him.

She should have seen it coming. He had been far too complacent these last few months, far too willing to let her do things her way. It was she who had been lulled into complacency—so much so she didn't hesitate to accept his invitation. Over dinner his charm was impeccable. She should have known it was a ruse. Why was she so blind to that which she could easily spot in others?

At one time, she had adored him. Then Libby would have done anything he asked. She did do anything he asked. That was before she discovered his true nature. No more. Clayton could plan to his heart's content. She would have no part in it no matter what threats he hurled her way.

Libby tossed her napkin on the table and snatched up her reticule. Enough was enough. They had been under his thumb too long. She was a woman now and it was time she took an open stand against him, time to stop being afraid, time to free her mother, grandmother, and herself from his prison.

A waiter rushed over to pull out her chair when he saw she meant to depart. She spared a hastily uttered word of thanks, then jumped up...and crashed into the most solid bodied male she had ever encountered. Fingers of steel grasped her upper arms to keep her from teetering into the dumbstruck waiter. Libby thought for a moment his concern was for her until she watched the waiter's widened gaze drift over her to the man who held her.

"Mr. Blackburn, sir. Please forgive..."

A voice rich with humor replied as he brushed the waiter's apologies away. "My fault entirely. If I hadn't been so preoccupied with my own thoughts, I never would have run into this lovely young lady."

Libby dared a glance upward, slowly, her breath suspended with her heart as she did so. Her gaze drifted over the cream-colored silk shirt to the Adam's apple perched above a diamond-studded cravat. His lips twitched with the effort to keep laughter at bay. And finally, her gaze locked onto olive green eyes, earthy eyes which sparkled with the same humor that laced his words.

Their gazes locked in silent communion and in that moment, Libby felt a recognition she could not explain—two ancient souls greeting each other after a long absence. She forced herself to focus outward on the man, not inward, and in doing so, the feeling faded. The mischievous glint she first saw was gone now—replaced by that odd look most people gave when they first met her.

Her eyes, a vivid shade of violet never failed to enthrall male and female alike. Had she been of a more flirtatious nature, she could have left a string of broken hearts and jealous enemies in her wake. Instead, Libby viewed her physical oddity with disdain for the awkwardness it created. She braced herself against the invariable comments he would make.

His hold on her loosened as his smile returned. "I seem to have made a tumbled mess of you."

He motioned to her hat, and for the first time Libby realized it had been knocked askew, along with her hair. One tendril of her black curls drooped over her eye while her emerald colored hat pulled the rest of it to the opposite side.

Libby dusted her fingers over the hat, afraid to touch it for fear her hair would come tumbling down. The gentleman reached out to help, then pulled back. His bewildered expression brought a giggle to her throat.

"You look as if I've been trampled and dragged through the mud. Is it all that bad?"

"No, not at all," he was quick to reply. "It's just that I want to help, but..." With palms up, he shrugged.

"If there is a ladies sitting room, I can make a few quick repairs, Mr.—"

"Blackburn. Nathaniel Blackburn. And you are?"

"Libby Claiborne."

His smile broadened. "This way, Miss Claiborne."

He reached to cup her elbow, then pulled back and motioned her forward with a sweeping gesture of his arm.

Anxious to keep the favor of both patrons, the waiter scurried ahead, leading them through the dining area at the back of the hotel where the private meeting rooms were located. The attention made Libby feel princess-like—the loyal servant clearing the path before her, the handsome prince faithfully escorting her. It was only after she settled her skirts enough to sit comfortably on the padded bench in the ladies sitting room that she realized—Mr. Blackburn had not uttered a word about her eyes.

Another plus in his favor.

"Goodness gracious. What happened to you?"

Libby glanced in the mirror to the small blonde woman seated on the padded stool next to her. An attendant smoothed the woman's hair while she studied Libby.

Remembering her purpose in being here, Libby focused on her image in the mirror. She did look a sight, but it was not as bad as she feared.

"I had a minor collision with a gentleman." She pulled the remaining pins from her hat.

The woman waved the attendant away. "Do quit fussing and help her. She needs it more than I."

"I can manage...thank you." But her quivering fingers belied those words.

"Must have been quite a gentleman," the woman replied.

He was quite something, that much was certain. Why else would she feel her skin prickle with heat then awash with chill bumps? At that thought, the sensation overtook her once more. She brushed away goose flesh and gave herself over to the determined attention of the attendant.

It was ridiculous, of course. The man was a stranger. It was his looks that mesmerized her—nothing more. What healthy young woman would not be affected?

Still, those olive colored eyes of his held a mystery she could not fathom. It intrigued her more than his handsome features. If she let her mind fold in upon itself, she could return to that instant where gaze met gaze. At that second, she gained entry to the portal of his soul and he hers.

"There you are, miss." The attendant slid the last hatpin into place and stepped back. "All put to rights."

Still transfixed by her reverie, Libby muttered her thanks while she fumbled in her reticule for a coin.

The blonde woman laughed. "Go. I'll tip her. If you hurry, you might just run into your gentleman again."

Well, naturally, he would wait to check on her welfare—manners decreed it. Libby glanced at the woman. What business was it of hers? Her fine-boned structure was enhanced by the stylish cut of the yards of royal blue silk embracing her. A smile, which had not faded since Libby's arrival, bore no animosity, yet her overt friendliness warned Libby something was not as it seemed.

She curled her fingers around her coin.

"Thank you, but I have it." She pressed the money into the young girl's hand, tilted a parting nod to the other patron, and left.

Even though she knew to expect Nathaniel, Libby was quite unprepared for the sight of him lounging against the wall opposite the sitting room. He smiled when she appeared, bringing a tingling feeling of anticipation that started at the tips of her toes and shimmered upward until her entire body was encompassed.

He pushed away from the wall, a motion so fluid Libby likened it to a bird in flight.

"Ah, none the worse for my clumsiness, I'm relieved to see."

"It was I who was at fault," she said. "I was in such a hurry I simply failed to watch where I was going."

"We should not call fault or blame, but instead bless fate which placed each of us in the other's path." He caught her hand in a gentle hold and drew her knuckles to his lips.

Libby held her breath with the kiss he bestowed while the heat from that brand seared her heart.

"Libby...what the devil?"

She started at her brother's sudden arrival and slowly extricated her hand from under Nathaniel's lips. A glower clouded Clayton's dark eyes, but the bluster seemed to have little effect on Nathaniel. He righted himself with no urgency and, in fact, matched the smaller man with a sour look of his own.

"There is no cause for alarm. Miss Claiborne and I collided in the dining room. I was merely apologizing."

"You are unhurt?" Clayton asked.

"Of course."

Suspicion still hovered in his eyes, and for a moment Libby feared he would make a scene.

"You must forgive my brother," she told Nathaniel. "He has a tendency toward over-protectiveness." A mild word to describe Clayton, but she could hardly go into details.

"As any brother should," Nathaniel replied.

Clayton's scowl deepened. Libby laughed nervously, praying this would not turn into a physical altercation.

"Oh, do stop, Clayton. You look positively simian."

The light-hearted insult brought him around as she knew it would. Much as she disliked him, she linked her arm through his and gave it a gentle tug.

"Come. It's time we went home."

"That's what I was coming to tell you, Libby."

He covered her hand with his, holding her in place. Dread seeped into her stomach, nauseating her.

"I've arranged a séance for tonight. A private room on the second floor."

"No." Had Nathaniel not been there she might had screamed the word, despite the possible consequences. Clayton knew how she hated these gatherings. They were false, not what she was about, not who she was, and certainly nothing she liked participating in. Yet, he continued to persist, despite her protests. Her earlier suspicions were correct.

The door to the sitting room swung open. "Did I hear someone mention a séance?"

Nathaniel gave a slight bow to the nosy blonde from the ladies sitting room. "Lady Raventree...a pleasure to see you again. Your ears are as sharp as ever." He motioned to Libby and Clayton. "This gentleman has arranged it."

Lady Raventree clapped her hands. "How delightful. I should love to join you. May I?"

Libby jerked free of Clayton's hold. "Why not? The more, the merrier."

"Splendid. I'll fetch my husband and be right back."

In the wake of her rustling skirts, Libby sliced a glare her brother's way. "For whom am I contacting the spirit world tonight?"

"Mrs. Jimson."

"Clayton, no. I've already explained to her—"

"Tut, tut." He wagged a finger at her as if she were nothing more than a naughty child. "The lady insists on it. Come along now. Time's wasting."

He stepped away expecting her to follow. Libby held her ground. She had spent a month with the woman, trying to ease her through her grief. There was nothing more she could do. It was wrong. All of this was wrong.

Clayton spun around to face her, eyes blazing with anger that she should defy him. Libby felt her resolve crumbling. Too much was at stake—the welfare, the very existence of those she loved. Resigned, beaten by a pattern she had known too long, she took a step toward him.

Strong fingers curled around her arm, holding her back. She looked up into Nathaniel's olive green eyes. Was that a hint of compassion she saw in those solemn depths?

"Mind if I go along?"

Strangely enough, she did not. She needed strength to get through the next few hours—something she instinctively knew she would receive from Nathaniel. His would be a calming presence in the turmoil to come.

"I would like that," she replied. "You will sit at my right."

Clayton stomped forward. "That's my place."

"Then sit at my left."

"I've promised that place to Mrs. Jimson."

"Then sit to her left or don't sit at all. You fidget too much as it is. If you don't like it, you can cancel the entire thing as far as I'm concerned."

Libby had him cornered. Either way she would win.

Clayton sliced the another hateful glare to the man beside her. "He's Nedra Jimson's son."

She searched Nathaniel's face for confirmation or denial. His expression was unreadable, an indication by itself.

"Of course," she said with a smile. "Nathaniel... Nate...from her first marriage. You have a younger sister as well."

Nate answered her smile with one of his own. "Amanda."

"Newly wed and off on a wedding trip," she murmured. "Your mother speaks of you both with such pride."

"Then she of all people would not mind my presence."

"And it's fitting you should be there." She turned back to Clayton. "Let's get this over with."

His face tightened with the effort to keep quiet, an odd reaction considering how he normally loved to pack as many people as possible into these ridiculous séances. She glanced from him to Nate, whose gaze had not faltered from that of the other man. Animosity crackled in the atmosphere between them. Had they been a lower species Libby had no doubt they'd be circling one another.

A challenge was issued and accepted, unspoken yet nonetheless there. Given, each man drew in a breath simultaneously, nostrils flaring as they did so. Then, each shifted their gaze to her.

"Everything's ready," Clayton said. "We shouldn't keep the others waiting."

Nate cupped her elbow to offer escort. Clayton yanked her away.

"Keep your hands off my sister."

With calm, deadly precision Nate measured off his reply. "They are my hands and it is her body. Only the lady has the right to say where I put them."

It was uncalled for and much too familiar, yet the image evoked sent a chorus of shivers trembling through her. While the two challenged each other once more, Libby closed her eyes to ease sensations that overwhelmed her. Images leaped to mind—his fingers curled with hers, lips pressed to hers, their bodies twined together. She opened her eyes and gasped, finding the men staring at her.

Embarrassment flooded her cheeks. Had she said something while her mind wandered in sinful pursuit of pleasure?

A glance at Nate renewed the feeling. Her heart beat in breathless anticipation. Who was this man to her? An ancient friend from long ago? A future love? How she hated not knowing for herself what she so easily discerned for others.

One thing was certain—her attraction to this handsome stranger was overwhelming. She could succumb to his charm in less time than it took to think about it. Once spellbound, she could deny him nothing. His hands would be free to roam her body wherever and however he chose.

Libby fanned herself in an effort to cool her flushed face. "For goodness sake, can we get on with it? The two of you are giving me a pounding headache."

They reached for her at the same time. To avoid another confrontation, she took a step back, pivoted on the ball of her foot, and headed for the staircase. Footsteps padded on the carpet runner behind her. At least the men had the sense to keep a respectful distance.

A footman bowed as they approached the bottom of the stairs. The black marble steps swept upward like the wings of a giant raven. Libby shivered, but any attempts to analyze her impressions were squelched by Lady Raventree's return with a gentleman introduced as her husband.

Libby longed to brand the woman a liar, so intent was her impression of subterfuge. That, coupled with a fact that the resemblance between the couple was striking enough to call them siblings left no doubt in her mind that they were frauds.

She paused with her foot on the bottom stair. Where did that place Nate, since he was acquainted with them? A glance his way did nothing but jumble her thoughts.

"Libby?" There was more warning against hesitancy than concern in Clayton's voice, but then there always had been.

"I'm all right, Clayton. Lead the way." She lifted her skirts, preparing to continue.

Behind her, Lord Raventree snickered. "If she's a psychic, you'd think she would know the way."

Libby whirled around. It was bad enough that Clayton had coerced her into this—now she was dealing with detractors before she started.

She shot her arm forward, nailing the couple with one point of her index finger. "You are no longer welcome."

Raventree's jaw worked, yet words escaped him. His shock was feigned. He no more wished to participate than Libby did. It made her decree even more satisfying. Libby gathered her skirts once more and continued her ascent.

"Oh, please," Lady Raventree called out. "Do reconsider. My husband's views are not mine. I'm a believer. Had I known who you were in the lounge, I would have begged a private audience."

It was all too much—the swirl of emotions, the veil of lies. Libby balled her skirts beneath tight fists. From the top of the staircase, she watched Clayton soothe Lady Raventree while the woman's husband smirked off to the side. At this distance their mannerisms appeared genuine—the lady desperate for communication from the other side, the gentleman wanting no part of it. Yet, Libby knew differently. The aura of their deceit surrounded her whenever she was near them.

Nate stood beside her, surveying the scene below. She turned to him when she heard him sigh, a slow inhale and exhale which bespoke a heavy burden upon his wide shoulders.

"And what about you, Mr. Blackburn? Are you a non-believer as well?"

"Yes, I am a non-believer, but," he turned on a bright smile, "I am willing to be convinced."

She cocked her head to one side. "A challenge, Mr. Blackburn?"

He gave her a slight bow. "My mother is not the only one who grieves. She values your gift. I value her opinion. You'll find me open-minded enough to view your work objectively. As for my friends, I must apologize. They have been at odds since losing a child in birth."

The pain of loss pierced Libby's breastbone, washing away all other sensation. Her attention drawn again to the trio below, she studied Lady Raventree's expressions for validation. Desperation accentuated every move. But how could Libby offer reassurance in the forum tonight? Why breed false hope?

"I'll see you tomorrow...alone," she called down.

Lady Raventree’s crystal blue eyes focused upon her, the gratitude and relief there saying what she could not. Clayton pressed a calling card into Lady Raventree's shaking hands, then trotted up the stairs. The image of her fingering the raised lettering followed Libby down the hallway to the room arranged for tonight's showing.

One peek at its interior washed all other thought away. Depression pulled her into a pit as dark as the room itself. She crossed the threshold from all the hope the cream and gold corridor presented to a place which echoed her mood.

This was no spur of the moment gathering. Clayton had planned this—from the yards of black muslin draping every inch of the walls to the black cloth covering the small round table in the center of the room, and black rug stretched across the floor. Black to absorb all light and sound. Black to call the spirits. Black as Clayton's miserable heart.

It had probably been an easy task for him to bring his stage earlier in the day. His worry would have been how to convince Libby without creating a scene in the restaurant. She should have realized, should have listened to her own heart as she told others to do. Instead, she failed herself once more, shoving aside the instincts she freely used to help others.

"Libby, dear."

Libby jerked herself from her thoughts to accept the outstretched hands of Nedra Jimson.

She passed a glance over her son. "This is a surprise."

"I simply wanted to see what this was all about, Mother."

"I was referring to the fact that you managed to tear yourself from your busy work schedule long enough to be here."

The undercurrent between them set Libby's nerves on edge. More tension—the last thing she needed. With a forced smile, she squeezed the woman's hands.

"Nedra, what's this about? I thought we discussed this."

She leaned closer, her light blue eyes alive with excitement. "Dear, you need not be so humble. Your brother explained the full extent of your abilities. How could I pass up this?"

She waved a slender hand toward the table and tugged Libby to it. "Come...let's do get started."

A woman of Nedra Jimson's bearing should use her elegance and personality in far better pursuits than trying to reconnect with a dead husband. A fact Libby had tried to impress upon her since their meeting a month before. She thought she had finally succeeded, yet here they were back to the beginning.

Libby paid scant attention as Clayton introduced her to the other four parties in the room. If pressed to close her eyes and name their gender, she could not do so. Her thoughts were turned inside herself.

She slipped into the seat at the head of the table. Each motion felt weighted as if she existed in a dream and those around her were part of the misty periphery of that unreality.

Palms up on the table, she offered her hands to Nate and his mother. And as everyone took their places, she steeled herself for the impact of that first physical contact.

Libby knew Nedra's heart, her pain, her hope. But Nate? True there was the earlier instance, but then she was not aware, not as intuned as now.

She stared into the dancing flame of the lamp perched in the center of the table. Only motion told her Nate had pulled out the chair beside her, for the black drapings surrounding them sucked in all other sound just as it did the light. Her heartbeat quickened, then he slid his palm smoothly into hers.

Warmth, comfort, reassurance. He did not press her knuckles into the wooden surface, but cradled her hand in his. Protective.

Clayton turned the wick down until it was the barest of flickers. "We will begin. Everyone close your eyes."

Libby did so. The image of Nate drawing her hand to his lips drifted through her head. If she concentrated hard enough she could feel again the heat of that touch drifting up her arm.

"Silence, everyone," Clayton said. "Libby needs silence to reach from this world to the next."

Ridiculous, Libby told herself. Any impressions she received were from those living, not those departed. Why did people need the farce of a séance for her to tell them what they wanted to know, when she could easily do so without it? She released a long sigh in the hope of easing her tension. With the following intake of breath came another more horrifying feeling.

Knife-like pain stabbed deep into the pit of her stomach. Libby jerked free of Nate's and Nedra's hands. Nate sucked in a breath. Her fingernails had gouged his palm. An apology lodged in her throat. She curled her fists into her midsection.

Too late. It was too late. Panic squeezed an ugly grip around her heart, making each quickening beat a thump against her breastbone.

"No...dear God, no," she whispered through gasps of air.

She was vaguely conscious of Nate's presence by her side, of Clayton's cranking up the lamp, of the fear paling the guests' faces.

"I...I have to go." She stood so fast she toppled the chair. The door. Where was the door? All around was black.

"I need out now!"

"Libby, stop it!

She ducked Clayton's reach and butted against Nate's hard body. At the touch of his gentle hands upon her shoulders, she spun around.

"Help me. I need to leave now. Before it's too late."

If he hesitated, it was so brief she could not notice. With her tucked protectively under his arm, he strode to the far wall and yanked open the door behind the black sheeting. A cool rush of air washed over her, yet the call that etched deep into her soul grew stronger. Stifling a muffled cry, she broke free of Nate and ran for the hotel exit.

 

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