Explanations in WIP Wednesday

What is a romance without misunderstandings? They met, fell in love, courted, married and lived happily until they died in old age, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren? It makes for a highly desirable life, but lacks interest as a story.

And if we have misunderstandings we have to have explanations, or the story would come to an early end.

So this week, I’m inviting you to post excerpts where one character explains a misunderstanding to another. Mine is from The Lost Wife, which is a short story in my forthcoming collection, Lost in the Tale.

“I am Imanol Mendina de la Vega. Welcome to my humble residence, and that of my hermana.”

Hermana. He had said something similar earlier. Long ago, David had learnt a little Spanish to please Teri’s Mama, stranded as she was as a widowed Spanish lady in the very English household of her brother-in-law. But he did not know that word.

He shifted his head on the pillow, the closest he could come to a bow. “David Markinson, Captain of His Majesty’s Royal Marines.”

Something fierce suddenly surfaced in Imanol’s dark intent eyes. “Markinson? Is that a common name in England?”

“Not particularly. It is more common in Scotland. My family are border people.”

“Border? Ah. Between two kingdoms. And what is the name of this border town you come from, Captain Markinson?”

“Blackwood,” David said. Once he had thought to spend all his days there; to take his articles with his employer, Mr Hemsworth, to raise a family of children with Teri and grow old in a cottage with roses around the door. After his dreams turned to dust, he had enlisted with the marines, and his mother’s death two years ago severed his last links to the place.

Imanol was scowling, his heavy brows nearly meeting above the bridge of his nose, but his voice, courteous and calm, showed none of the emotion written on his face. “And have you a wife back there in Blackwood, captain? Or a girl who loves you, perhaps?”

“No.” Not that it was any of this man’s business. “Not anymore. I have no-one.” I have a wife somewhere, his heart protested. Not back there in Blackwood, he answered his own objection.

Imanol opened his mouth to say something more, then turned to the door and fell silent.

David shifted his head on the pillow, but couldn’t turn it enough to see who stood there; who was asking a peremptory question in Spanish that was too fast for him to follow. A woman’s voice, and Imanol did not like what she said, for his answer was sharp. They argued for a few minutes more, and David tried still harder to see the woman. He could swear he knew the voice.

The altercation ended with Imanol saying to David, “Be careful, English. She says I must not gut you like a fish, but she does not rule here.” Another sentence or two in Spanish, and he left. David lay back, waiting, and sure enough the woman came into the room where he could see her. It was her. Older. In the clothes of a village woman rather than those of an English lady. But it was Teri. Maria Teresa Markinson, his runaway wife.

While he gaped, lost for words, she rested the back of her hand on his forehead, and picked up his wrist to feel for his pulse. “How is the head?” she asked. “Do you feel any pull from the stitches?”

David grabbed the hand before she could remove it. “Teri.” He struggled to order his thoughts, but they slithered out his grasp and he could only cling to her hand as if she anchored him to reality instead of driving him out of his mind.

“Take your hand off her.” Imanol’s cold voice gave David words.

“She is my wife!” he declared at the same moment that Teri said, “Go away, Imanol.”

“Your abandoned wife,” Imanol sneered.

“No! Is that what you thought, Teri? No. I did not leave you. Not by my choice.”

 

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Tea with a gossip columnist

Note from J. Swann, newspaper reporter, to H. Markham, editor: Eleanor Grenford, Duchess of Haverford, seldom consents to an interview. Though she lives, perforce, in the public eye—as wife to one of the most powerful men in England and mother to two of England’s most notable rakes—she carefully guards her private life.

She agreed to invite this columnist to tea and answer my questions only after being assured that I am from the future, not the fictional Georgian (later Victorian) world she inhabits.

Born Eleanor Creydon, eldest daughter of the Earl of Farnmouth, she is related by birth or marriage to most of the noble houses of England and many in the wider United Kingdom and Europe. She married the Duke of Haverford before she attained the 18th anniversary of her nativity, and has since become one of the ton’s leading hostesses.

  1. What are you most proud of about your life?

Aldridge

“My two sons,” says the duchess, without hesitation. “Aldridge—the Marquis of Aldridge, my elder son and Haverford’s heir—is responsible and caring. And Jonathan, too. They are, I cannot deny, a little careless. But they are not heartless, dear. I’ve always thought that being heartless is the defining feature of a true rake.

“They take responsibility for their by-blows, which is so important in a gentleman, do you not agree? And neither of them has ever turned a mistress off without providing for her, or at least not since they were very young.

Jonathan

“Sadly, the example set by His Grace their father was not positive in this respect. I flatter myself that I have been of some influence in helping them to understand that they have a duty to be kind to those less fortunate and less powerful than themselves.”

  1. What are you most ashamed of in your life?

The duchess does not answer immediately. She seems to be turning over several possibilities. “I neglected him, you know. I neglected Aldridge. When he was born, I left him to his servants. I thought that was normal, and Haverford… he was very angry when I suggested I should stay at the castle instead of going to London for the season.

“Why; even his name… Haverford insisted everyone call him by his title. But I could have called him ‘Anthony’ in private, could I not?

“Dear Aldridge had no-one but his staff. I was seldom at Margate, and when I was… His Grace thought it my duty to spend my time with him. I saw Aldridge once a day, brought to me clean and quiet of an evening before his bedtime.

“I had no idea what I had done until Jonathan was born. He timed his birth for the end of the season, and His Grace left for his usual round of house parties, so I could do as I wished. I wished to be in the nursery with my sons.

“After that, I found ways to bring them to London with me, and to spend time with them at play as often as several times a week! Even so, I did not dare go against the duke’s orders, and I call my son by his title to this day. Everyone does. Poor dear boy.”

  1. What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

“People don’t see me, my dear. They see the Duchess of Haverford. I cannot blame them, of course. I am at pains to project the image of ‘duchess’. I have cultivated it my entire adult life. Why! If people truly saw me, they would be very surprised, I think.”

  1. Do you think you have turned out the way your parents expected?

“My parents expected me to marry well and to present my husband with heirs. Had I married beneath their expectations, I daresay I would never have seen them again. I cannot say, dear, that such an outcome would have been entirely a bad thing.”

  1. What is the worst thing that has happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

James, Duke of Winshire, once Kagan of a mountain kingdom north of Persia, and before that a suitor beloved by Eleanor and rejected by her father.

“I could say losing James, or I could say marrying Haverford, but it is all of a piece. I cannot tell you where the one ends and the other starts. I gave my heart to James, but he was a second son. My father gave my hand to Haverford.

“And by ‘hand’ I mean the rest of me, dear. Imagine a sheltered seventeen-year-old, innocent but for a stolen kiss with the man she hoped to wed. And instead of that man, I spent my wedding night in the hands of a hardened roué with no patience… He is two decades my senior, dear. Thirteen years older than James.

“I believe my sons are known for their skills. (I speak of bed sports, dear, and do not blush for it, for at our age we should scorn to be coy, and this article will be published, you have assured me, some two hundred years in my future.) If Haverford has such skills, and the rumour is not just flattery aimed at money to be made from his patronage, he did not feel inclined to waste it on a mere wife.”

  1. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

“I am fortunate. I live in luxury. I have my sons (or, at least, I have Aldridge close by and regular letters from Jonathan, who is on the Tour, dear). I have the little girls, too—Haverford’s by-blows, but I love them dearly. I can give them an education, respectability, a little dowry… I do these things, too, for my poorer godchildren, and I love nothing better than to present one of my goddaughters for her Season.

“I enjoy entertaining—balls, musical evenings, garden parties and picnics in London, and house parties at our other estates. My entertainments are famous. I have promised to be honest with you, so I will say ‘not without reason’.” The duchess laughs, her eyes for a moment showing glints of the self-deprecating humour that is part of her elder son’s attraction.

“And, dear, I have come to an accommodation with Haverford. He leaves me to live my own life, while he carries on with his. Between you and me, my dear, my life is pleasanter without him in it.”

  1. What have you always wanted to do but have not done? Why?

“I have always wondered what my life might have been like had I defied my father and eloped with James. He came to me, you know, after the duel; after his own father exiled him. I turned him away. And then, six months later we heard he was dead. I didn’t care what happened to me after that, so I gave in to my father’s demands and married Haverford.

“It wasn’t true, as it turned out. He arrived back in London not long ago, with a great band of wild children. I could have been their mother, had I been brave enough to go with him.

“But there. Had I married James, I would not have Aldridge and Jonathan. Perhaps all is as it should be.

“You asked what I have always wanted to do? I want to see James again; to talk to him, just the two of us. Haverford… he and James do not speak. We Grenfords do not acknowledge the Winderfields and they do not acknowledge us. If people are inviting James or his offspring to their social gathering, they do not invite us. If us, then not him. We do not meet.

“But Society is surprisingly small. One day… one day…”

Note from Jude

Her Grace appears in all my novels and many of my novellas and short stories, often smoothing the path of a romance. She is also the hostess of the house party that is at the centre of the 2016 Belle’s box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.

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Cover reveal Lost in the Tale

I’m nearly ready to release my 2017 collection of made-to-order stories. I have the stories and the cover, and I’m just waiting for the proofread files and a bit of time to set up the pre-release. No date yet, but it looks like it’ll be early September.

The short stories in the collection have only been available as print books, on Wattpad, or to party goers and newsletter subscribers as ebooks. The novella has so far been seen only by the giveaway winner who gave me the ingredients.

Like Hand-Turned Tales, Lost in the Tale will be free at all eretailers as soon as I can persuade Amazon to drop from 99c.

The Lost Wife: Teri’s refuge had been invaded: by the French, who were trying to conquer their land, and by wounded soldiers from the English forces sent to fight Napoleon’s armies. The latest injured man carried to her for nursing would be a bigger challenge than all the rest: he had once broken her heart. (short story)

The Heart of a Wolf: Ten years ago, Isadora lied to save her best friend, and lost her home and the man she loved when he would not listen to her. Ten years ago, Bastian caught his betrothed in the arms of another man, and her guilt was confirmed when she fled. Ten years on, both still burn with anger, but the lives of innocent children and the future of their werewolf kind demand that they work together. (short story)

My Lost Highland Love: Interfering relatives, misunderstandings, and mistranslations across a language barrier keep two lovers from finding one another again. The Earl of Chestlewick’s daughter comes to London from her beloved Highlands to please her father, planning to avoid the Englishman who married her and abandoned her. The Earl of Medford comes face-to-face with a ghost; a Society lady who bears the face of the Highland lass who saved his life and holds his heart. (short story)

Magnus and the Christmas Angel: Scarred by years in captivity, Magnus has fought English Society to be accepted as the true Earl of Fenchurch. Now he faces the hardest battle of all: to win the love of his wife. A night trapped in the snow with an orphaned kitten, gives Callie a Christmas gift: the chance to rediscover first love with the tattooed stranger she married. (short story)

The Lost Treasure of Lorne: For nearly 300 years, the Normingtons and the Lorimers have feuded, since a love affair ended in a curse that doomed dead Lorimers to haunt their home, the Castle of Lorne.

Now the last Marquis of Lorne, the last of the Lorimers, is one of those ghosts, and the Duke of Kendal, head of the House of Normington, holds the castle.

Kendal doesn’t care about the feud or the ghosts. He wants only to find the evidence that will legitimate the son his Lorimer bride bore him before her death, and to convince his stubborn housekeeper to marry him.

But the time allotted to the curse is running out, and his happiness depends on finding the Lost Treasure of Lorne before the 300 years draws to a close. (novella)

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The inspiration for Harry

In the following post, Mari Anne Christie tells us about a giant of American journalism who is little known today.

My great-great uncle, (Percy to friends and family, P.H. to readers) was rather a giant of a man in the world of letters, and was the inspiration for Harry Wentworth, protagonist of Blind Tribute. The writing of the book began with me envisioning him sitting at his desk, writing something. (I will defend to the death my contention that he placed himself at the start of the Civil War, most likely to be allowed to write the epistolary editorials and letters that were, more than any other part of the book, all but automatic writing at first draft stage.)

P.H. Whaley’s name, and his conjoined contribution to journalism and the business world, have been muted by history, but in his time, he was an internationally known journalist—before journalists were known internationally—recognized worldwide for the contributions of the Whaley-Eaton Business Service (W-E), an international newsgathering organization based in Washington, D.C, an entrepreneurial venture started with partner Henry M. Eaton.

My “Uncle Percy,” whom I never met, but who is—not incidentally—the caricature on the cover of Blind Tribute, is the man from whom Harry inherited his profession, his Charleston ancestry, his barrier-island plantation, his beloved (but not enslaved) black nursemaid, and his writing career (to say nothing of his monogram). My favorite story about him is the origin of Harry’s initials and “the delivery [Harry] used to roar across newsrooms and offices.” In his later years, beset with emphysema, Uncle Percy was known to bellow/growl at the telephone operator when calling Washington D.C. from the first (then, the only) telephone on Edisto Island, South Carolina, in the public post office: “P as in Peter, H as in Hell, Whaley!”

Educated at Hobart and Kenyon, he was admitted to the Louisiana Bar in 1905 and the Washington DC Bar in 1922, and received an honorary doctorate from Hobart in 1932. He served as an editorial writer for the Charleston News and Courier beginning in 1909, a reporter for the Philadelphia Public Ledger from 1913 to 1914, the first Executive Editor of the Philadelphia Evening Ledger from 1914 to 1918, and Founding Publisher of W-E from 1918 to 1957. He died in 1964 at Prospect Hill Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina, on land owned by our family since the 1700s.

Analogous to Wentworth and Hoyt Business Service in Blind Tribute—although almost 60 years after Harry’s venture— W-E was an international wire service headquartered at the Munsey Trust Building in Washington, DC. Over the years, W-E also had offices, at various times, in London, Paris, and Tokyo. As well as private economic and market research on behalf of business clients, and multiple periodicals through the years, W-E published bimonthly Whaley-Eaton Pamphlets on matters of interest to businessmen, and the Whaley-Eaton American Letter and Foreign Letter, the first widely circulated investment newsletters in the United States. These weekly publications were precursors to, and friendly competitors with, The Kiplinger Letter, still in circulation, often wrongly cited as the “first business newsletter” in America. (Some sources claim The Kiplinger Letter has never reached the same print circulation as the Whaley-Eaton American Letter, but this is disputable, and somewhat irrelevant in the age of the internet, which has broadened Kiplinger’s reach exponentially.)

A description of Whaley-Eaton from the Papers and Proceedings of the Forty-Third Annual Meeting of The American Library Association, June 20-25, 1921, from which I extracted excerpts as descriptions of Wentworth and Hoyt, would have been a point of particular pride for both Percy Whaley and Harry Wentworth, and might describe either of their business ventures.

“Mr. Whaley states: ‘Our object is to perform a distinctly personal service for our patrons in the form of a comprehensive study of tendencies and movements as they relate to the formulation of policies.’ [Whaley-Eaton] representatives are in close touch with people of importance and thus ascertain the pulse of sentiment. They decline in every way to perform the functions of lobbyists, confining themselves entirely to information. They keep in touch with European affairs, maintain a principal office in Paris and correspondents in all of the important European capitals. They publish a series of letters describing points of interest at Washington, administrative policies and congressional activities. They also furnish their clients with a series of foreign letters based upon information supplied by their London and Continental bureaus. Much of the data contained therein is of great commercial value. The information concerning European politics is well expressed and informative. The Whaley-Eaton Service is an unusual form of news gathering which is based upon confidence and the highest type of intelligent journalism.”

Eventually, in the 1980s, as Whaley-Eaton’s readership declined, the Kiplingers bought out the last vestiges of the company and its subscriber list. According to Knight Kiplinger, current CEO of Kiplinger, Inc., his grandfather made the decision to purchase the ailing company because “he didn’t want to see the name exploited by people who would discount Whaley-Eaton’s contributions to journalism.”

Through the course of my research for Blind Tribute, I found myself in touch with Mr. Kiplinger, who put me in touch with John Eaton, a noted jazz pianist and grandson of Henry Eaton. (One of the oddities of writing books is that small coincidental things crop up that the author never intended, but have much larger significance. I did not realize until very recently—after the July 2017 publication of the book—that Henry Eaton was called Harry. To be clear, this was not the genesis of Harry Wentworth’s name. Wentworth was so named because his middle name was Harrold, and to mirror Uncle Percy’s initials.)

It has become clear through my discussions with Mr. Eaton, that we are both interested in finding a way to dust off the W-E name and place our illustrious forebears in their proper context in the history of journalism. As such, although I had thought Blind Tribute was the vehicle by which I would honor the man who passed me the writer’s genetics, we will now be seeking out an academic library to open a special collection of the extremely rare W-E catalog. I am determined that the next person to do research on my great-great uncle will not find it so difficult to ferret out his legacy.

For further posts on Blind Tribute, including blurb and buy links, see:

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First lines on WIP Wednesday

Just for fun, let’s post the first paragraph of several chapters from our current work-in-progress. You pick the number of excerpts and which chapters. Mine are from The Realm of Silence, book 3 in The Golden Redepennings.

Chapter Two:

Four years since he had last crossed verbal swords with Susan Cunningham, and she looked no older. Did the infernal woman have the secret of an elixir of youth? She had been widowed long enough to be out of her blacks, and back into the blues she favoured: some concoction that was probably the height of fashion and that both hid and enhanced her not insubstantial charms.

Chapter Four:

The goddess fought him every inch of the way right through dinner, and went up to her room still determined to do without his support. Gil’s blood ran cold at the thought of her facing the perils of the road with none but her elderly groom to defend her safety and her honour. Especially a groom who would take bribes, as the man Lyons did when Gil found his room above the stables. Gil paid the old man to warn him when the goddess ordered her carriage, and set his own man to watching the groom.

Chapter Seven:

180 miles north, in Newcastle
“No dawdling,” Mam’selle Cornilac commanded, setting a rapid pace through the busy market. For the first time on their travels, they had stopped for the day in the mid afternoon, and Mam’selle had taken full advantage of several used-clothing vendors, determined to reclothe her two unwelcome companions.

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Tea with Toad

In this excerpt from Never Kiss a Toad, Eleanor Haverford has travelled to Paris shortly after her granddaughter has been compromised and her honorary great-nephew, Toad, has been sent away in disgrace.

Never Kiss a Toad is a Victorian novel I’m co-writing with Mariana Garbrielle and publishing one episode a week on Wattpad.

Toad felt the heat rising in his cheeks. At eighty, Aunt Eleanor had an old woman’s tendency to truth-telling, which made her one of his favourites among Sally’s relations, but could be deuced uncomfortable.

“It is always good to see you, of course, Aunt Eleanor, but I am confused. How long have you been in Paris? Have we an appointment I have forgotten?”

“My, my, Abersham. Demanding an appointment of a duchess four times your age? Winshire and I realized we had similar problems to be addressed in France and popped over for a few days.” Eleanor took a sip of her tea. “As for my problem, I am dissatisfied with the information I have gathered about the liberties you took with my granddaughter.”

He stared at her with his mouth flapping, unsure what to say. “Haverford told you?” He flushed and stood to pace before the fire, running his hand through his hair in a gesture he shared with his father. “You? I cannot believe he would…” He stopped and stared at her in horror. “It hasn’t become generally known, has it? She’s not been ruined?”

“No, it has not, praise heaven. Most of my information comes from Sally herself. Haverford told me only what I could glean from monosyllables; Wellbridge still less, but at volume. Cherry and Bella were somewhat more forthcoming, but they naturally do not wish to make themselves or their husbands appear culpable, and they may well be. So, yours is the last viewpoint I must consider.”

Toad looked around and took his pacing to the fire, where he added a shovel of coal.

“How do you fare here in Paris, my boy? Are you well and happy?”

Toad opened his mouth to answer, then closed it, then opened it again, but still did not speak. He finally said, “I am well, Aunt Eleanor. You?”

She sighed. “A little tired, dear.” She patted his hand to reassure him. “Sally made her debut last week, and I find I do not recover from late nights as quickly as I once did.” At Sally’s name, his hand jerked as if burned, and she withdrew hers, watching him closely.

He stiffened and looked away. “I am sure it was… lovely.”

“It was and she was, which is what you most and least wish to hear, I expect.” He ran a hand through his hair as she said, in an annoyingly blithe tone, “I have launched debutantes before, of course, but few as fetching. These modern fashions suit her very well. In white, of course, which is a very hard colour to wear well, but Sally has the hair and complexion for it. She wore the Haverford pearl-and diamond parure, of course, and her gloves, fan, and shawl were all silver. She was a fairy princess, Abersham, all moonbeams and stardust.”

He smiled and swallowed hard, caught up in envisioning his beloved in a wedding gown. “I love to see her in white.”

Aunt Eleanor snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Abersham. Abersham! Are you addled, boy? I said… I wish to hear from you.”

“What do you wish me to say?”

Her exasperated look was tinged with affection. “Silly boy. The truth, of course, as you see it, about your unfortunate plans for the ravishment and elopement of my granddaughter.”

She had timed it to the sip of his brandy. She must have, so skilfully did she make him choke. Once finished coughing, he started, “I am surprised she spoke of it. Is she…”

He was so close to the information he sought that his heart beat faster. “Can you tell me; is she well? Does she think of me fondly, or have I hurt her irreparably? I cannot tell a thing from the letters she writes under Haverford’s eye.”

“She is certainly better than she was when I arrived back in London, but still not back to her old self. Of course, she is proud; she will put on a good show.”

Before Toad could respond, a knock at the door revealed Blakeley. “My lord, as you requested earlier, dinner will be ready in three-quarters of an hour, if it pleases you.”

He looked over at Aunt Eleanor with one cocked brow. “Will you stay for dinner?”

“Thank you, Abersham. I am not dressed to dine, but if you will not regard it, nor will I.”

Once Blakeley had gone and shut the door behind him, Aunt Eleanor began again. “I would have your side of the story, dear lad, before I am too old to comprehend it.”

He laughed a bit harshly. “I set out to make Sally my wife and was thwarted and exiled. What more is there to say?”

She finished her tea, put her cup back on the saucer, then examined him carefully. “That was why you met her, was it? You compromised her to force a marriage?”

He flushed and turned his eyes away. “No! I did not mean to compromise her. Nor to marry… not yet, anyway… not from the first… but… soon after.”

Eleanor held out both hands to Toad and when he took them, said, “Collect yourself, Abersham.”

He took a breath and pulled his hands back. “She sent a note and said she needed my help. I thought she was planning a prank, or escaping her governess for an afternoon, and of course, I would help her with anything of the sort she asked.”

Her lips twitched. “Of course you would. And instead of coaxing you into a lark, she was curious about kissing.”

He gave a short nod, turning away from her incisive stare.

“And you agreed… Why?”

He stammered and rose to pace again. “She is… I had never thought she would… I mean…” He finally stopped and looked her in the eye. “She is everything to me, Your Grace, and has been since we were ten—before that, probably—and I hadn’t any idea she felt the same. I always thought she looked at me as… a friend… a brother. I thought we would marry. Our parents have talked of nothing else for years. But I wouldn’t think of seducing her. I just assumed she would… I assumed the love of a man and wife would grow from friendship… after we wed. After I could… show her my devotion without causing her dishonour.” He blushed and stammered the next words. “I agreed to kiss her because I could not resist the chance to kiss the woman I have loved since childhood.”

“Hmm.” The duchess looked at him thoughtfully. “If that is so, it seems odd you have always bedded any willing woman who came near enough.” She held up a hand to his incipient objection. “No, I believe you believe you love her. You told her you did not know how to love a wife, Abersham. How has that changed?”

What had changed between declaring himself a free man and declaring himself to Sally, was not a question he had stopped to ask.

“I had not thought myself ready to love a wife, no. But I cannot lose her, Aunt Eleanor.” He worked to keep the pleading out of his voice, but not successfully. “And I do love her. If she is my wife, I will love her the same way I do now, as I always have, but we will be allowed to… er… we will no longer live apart.

“That you can please a wife in bed, I have no doubt, given Wellbridge and Haverford. Can you be a good husband in every other sphere of your lives? What say you to the rumours you have not slept alone, or with the same girl twice, since you came to Paris?”

His hand shook as he poured. “I say they are much overblown.”

She lifted a dainty eyebrow. “Untrue? Or exaggerated?”

He downed the rest of his brandy in one gulp. After not having had a drink in several days, out of necessity as he studied for examinations, and now far too many in quick succession, it went to his head rather faster than he was accustomed to.

“Most likely both, as gossip always is. I will be faithful to Sal, if that is your concern. I have no interest in any other women if I have her. I cannot…” he blushed to the roots of his hair. “I have no interest. Must we speak of such things? You are practically my grandmother. It is not natural to discuss… marital relations with you.”

He took a gulp of his brandy, not waiting for it to warm.

To follow the adventures of our star-crossed lovers, see my page on Wattpad or Mari’s.

https://www.wattpad.com/user/marianagabrielle

https://www.wattpad.com/user/JudeKnight

 

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Spotlight on The Bride Price

I first read The Bride Price on Wattpad, following each episode and waiting impatiently for the next. Quenby has updated and polished , and I’m looking forward to reading it again now that it is published. It is a tale of ruination and recovery, of a fall from grace that opens the way to joy, of long hidden love finally rewarded. I loved it.

The Bride Price

To save her family from scandal, Emily Collicott must marry.

Ruined in her first season in London, she is given no choice but to wed her father’s pick for a husband, or be cast out from her home. Emily agrees to marry William Hazlitt, a man she hardly knows. But William remembers her. Growing up as a tenant on her father’s estate, he admired her from afar, their lives kept separate first by class, and then by loss.

Emily seeks to begin a new life with this quiet man to whom she finds herself wedded. But the scandal she escaped in London soon finds her again, the very man who destroyed her reputation threatening to tear down the happiness she’s found with her new husband. To keep from losing everything, she must either make a deal with a devil… or learn how to defeat one.

Amazon ♦ Amazon (UK) ♦ Amazon (Canada)

Excerpt

It did not take long for Emily to learn of her lowered status among the members of London society, many of whom had welcomed her into their homes only days before. Josephine relayed the gossip, much of which had to be amended throughout the day as another round of afternoon teas were concluded or a new report passed through the lower quarters of the house.

“Scandal is like a living, breathing thing,” Josephine informed her near the end of her second day in seclusion. “It grows and it changes, acquiring new features and discarding old ones as quickly as one changes a hat. Today, you might be viewed by some as nothing more than a naive young girl who was set loose on London without proper tutelage or guidance. By tomorrow, you could be the Whore of Babylon, come to destroy us all.”

By the beginning of the third day, Emily was made aware of the prevailing opinion currently soaring through every drawing room and traded over every breakfast table.

“A fortune hunter,” Josephine had told her, getting directly to the point without a hint of delay. “Come to London with the sole intention of trapping a wealthy husband, by any means necessary.”

Emily nodded. If she had been in another person’s place, hearing such salacious gossip from every corner, this would most likely be the easiest theory to believe. “So everyone thinks—”

“—that you sought out Marbley, hoping to be caught in a situation, of sorts.”

“Which I was,” Emily pointed out.

“And thus forcing him to make an offer for you. Except—”

“—he didn’t make an offer,” Emily finished for her. “Instead, he left me to bear the brunt of their condemnation.”

“While he is applauded and celebrated for having made an apparent escape.” Josephine twisted her mouth into an expression of displeasure. “If I were a man, I would call him out. A bullet in his shoulder would serve him very well, I believe.”

“Only his shoulder?” Emily looked up with some surprise.

“Oh, I wouldn’t wish to make a martyr out of him,” she replied, and pulled at a thread that had escaped from the edge of her sleeve. “But a nice, lingering wound would do. Perhaps something disfiguring.”

“The tip of his nose,” Emily chimed in, buoyed along by the sparkle of humor in her friend’s voice.

“Or maybe a chunk of ear,” Josephine said, all mock seriousness. “Only superficial injuries, of course.”

But the levity of that moment had faded too quickly, and Emily once again receded into a depression. Not from any sorrow at her own predicament or because of the opinions of those members of society with whom she was hardly acquainted, but rather from the feeling of absolute helplessness that threatened to overwhelm her.

She was a gentlewoman, and so raised to expect a life devoid of struggle and exertion. She’d been given no training for anything beyond embroidery, music, a vague smattering of French, and composing lengthy letters that covered such fascinating topics as the weather and inquiries about one’s health. And now. . .

Now she was a pariah. Her chances of making a fortunate match had been reduced to nothing. And so she was trapped, a prisoner to her own gentility and the infuriating fact that she’d been born a female.

Meet Quenby Olson

Quenby Olson lives in Central Pennsylvania where she writes, homeschools, glares at baskets of unfolded laundry, and chases the cat off the kitchen counters. After training to be a ballet dancer, she turned towards her love of fiction, penning everything from romance to fantasy, historical to mystery. She spends her days with her husband and children, who do nothing to dampen her love of the outdoors, immersing herself in historical minutiae, and staying up late to watch old episodes of Doctor Who.

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I love research

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love research. I even love research when I have a perfectly delightful plot that falls apart when research proves it couldn’t have happened. Working out what might be historically probable instead, or at least plausible, has allowed me to drop down many an exciting rabbit hole into research wonderland.

For example, in  A Raging Madness, my hero Alex has a leg full of shrapnel, and is currently helping my heroine to escape from relatives who are determined to lock her up in an asylum for the mentally unwell.

Shrapnel? What kind of shrapnel? What munitions carried shrapnel at that time? What battles were they used in? How were shrapnel wounds treated? What was the long term prognosis? How about complications? And did they even call it shrapnel?

It took me a while to find a suitable battle, but eventually I put Alex the right place to be on the business end of a canister shell, a cannon ball with a weak outer shell filled with scrap metal. When the cannon fired, the shell burst apart, and a broad fan of metal caused devastation among the enemy troops. And, in my case, on the body of the assigned escort of a British diplomat who was observing the battle.

Ella, my heroine, was the daughter of an army doctor, and I figured she’d solve all of Alex’s problems by removing the shrapnel (and no, they didn’t call it that). But not so. Then, even more than now, removing shrapnel or even bullets (unless they are lead) was a very bad idea.

Even today, going in after a splinter of metal might cause more harm than good, and the world is full of people walking around with bomb fragments buried inside. Back then, with no antibiotics and no anaesthetics, the treatment of choice was to leave the mess alone.

Over time, one of three things would happen. The body and the shrapnel would adjust to one another. The body would reject the shrapnel, moving it piece by piece slowly out to the surface. An abscess would form, and the poisons from the infection would kill the patient unless someone acted to drain the abscess.

Hurrah! I had my intervention. Poor Alex developed an abscess.

But escape? Alex can barely walk, let alone ride. Ella is recovering from addiction to the laudanum that her relatives have been force-feeding her. (Another rabbit-hole: what does laudanum withdrawal look like? Feel like?)

I needed a plausible way for two such invalids to escape.

I chose a canal narrowboat for a number of reasons.

One: I loved the idea of the villains haring all over the countryside looking for them while they ran away by the slowest form of non-pedestrian transport ever invented.

Two: I’ve always wanted to go on a canal cruise, and this way I got to watch YouTube clips and call it working.

Three: By 1807, when my story is set, the canal network stretched from the Mersey (with access to Manchester and Liverpool) all the way to London. Travelling by narrowboat was feasible. Canals were a supremely profitable way to move goods in the early 19th century, and had been for a number of years. At a steady walking speed, a horse could move fifty times as much weight on a boat as it could on a road. The canals provided still water and tow paths to ease the travel, and locks, tunnels, and viaducts to overcome obstacles. Later, canal boats were mechanised, and later still the railways put the canals out of business. But in 1807, Alex and Ella hitched a lift with a charming Liverpool Irishman called Big Dan.

Four: I could put my hero and my heroine in close confines, calling themselves married, for five to six weeks. Not only did they have heaps of time to talk and even to succumb (or nearly succumb) to their mutual attraction, they were also in deep trouble (or Ella was) if anyone found out. They used false names. They stayed away from fashionable places. But even so, their novelist made sure that someone with no love for Alex saw enough to cause trouble.

Five: The time frame let Alex develop an abscess and recover from the operation, all before he needed to be on hand to save Ella when rumours spread about the two of them and their canal interlude.

And down the rabbit hole I went.

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Scandal on WIP Wednesday

After: William Hogarth

Scandal, or the threat of it, is a useful tool in historical romance—and in many other types of fiction. Indeed, much of history revolves around what happens when people try to avoid scandal, or when a scandal breaks.

Today, I’m looking for an excerpt to do with scandal: past, present, possible, imagined, or actual.

Mine is from A Midwinter’s Tale, my box set story for the Speakeasy Scribes. It’s the scandal that wasn’t, because they managed to keep their secret.

Tee would have loved to have sisters, or at least known the ones her mother told Uncle Will about. Two older sisters, and a brother who was her twin, and who escaped with her mother. If the escape was real, and not just a kind story Uncle Will made up to comfort a grieving toddler.

After all, it could not be true. Her mother could not have walked out of the twentieth century into a tavern in nineteenth century Boston and then skipped two hundred years to frozen Jogenheim. That was Uncle Will’s story—his pregnant great grandmother had made a double time jump, first to the past and then to her future, where she gave birth to twins. Tee and her brother.

When the PED tried to scoop her up to add to the breeding pool, Tee’s mother and brother stepped through the tavern door into history, leaving Tee to be raised by Will, who was her great nephew and also sixty years older than her.

Tee snorted. More likely, her mother escaped the breeding pool long enough to have Tee, was then locked up, and would arrive once more on their doorstep when her breeding days were over. Breeders who coupled with unlicensed males or hid their babies lost their freedom of movement. Everyone knew that.

If they caught Tee, they would lock her up, too.

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Tea with Aldridge

This week’s Monday for Tea post is a little bit of backstory to A Baron for Becky. The Duchess of Haverford interferes in the love life of her son, whose life as a rake has been interrupted by his devotion to his mistress.

“Mama?”

At the sound of Aldridge’s voice, Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford composed her face, smoothing the slight frown that creased her forehead and forcing a smile as she greeted this beloved guest.

“My love,” she said, as he crossed to press a kiss on the hand she raised for him, and then on one cheek. The boy looked well. He had a spring to his step that had long been missing, his eyes were clear and bright, and his cheerful grin had lost the cynical twist so pronounced a bare few months ago—to her eye, at least.

Eleanor hoped what she had to say would not cast him back into melancholy.

Aldridge had been raised with the finest manners money could buy. He took the seat he was offered, complimented her on the success of her most recent entertainment, asked about the book her companion was reading, discussed the likelihood of rain on Tuesday next, and generally kept up his end of the conversation without once showing impatience or asking why she had sent for him.

He must be wondering, though. “Cousin Judith,” Eleanor said to her companion, “I would like a few minutes of private conversation with my son. Would you leave us, please? I will send when I want you.”

“What do you plan for that one, Mama?” Aldridge asked. Haverford had an army of indigent relatives, with nothing to do but hang on the ducal coat tails. Eleanor had long since formed the habit of taking the women one by one as companions, finding their talents and interests, and helping them into positions that suited their skills.

“Not, I think, a marriage, my dear. A library perhaps. She is happiest with her head in a book. Or, I begin to think, perhaps she might be persuaded to try her hand at a memoir or a Gothick. She writes the most delightful letters. I can see her living with Cousin Harriet in a comfortable little house, writing spine-chilling stories and having a most wonderful time.”

Aldridge chuckled. “Cousin Harriet, is it? The one that breeds dogs and hates men? Mama, you are a complete hand.”

“I collect that is a cant expression, Aldridge darling,” she said attempting to be disapproving, but twinkling back at him. He really was a sweet boy.

“You must be wondering why I sent for you,” she began.

He leaned over to kiss her cheek again. “Because you missed me?” he suggested. “I have neglected you shamefully, Mama, these past weeks.”

An opening. Eleanor took it. “These past six months, Aldridge. Since you took Mrs Winstanley into your keeping. You have been much engrossed, I take it.”

Aldridge sat back, his eyes suddenly wary. “I am sure discussing one’s mistress with one’s mother is not de rigueur,” he complained.

“Introducing one’s mistress to one’s Mama opens one to such comments, dear,” Eleanor teased, ignoring the subtle withdrawal evidenced in the suddenly bland voice, the stiffness of his posture.

As she’d hoped, Aldridge relaxed, a fleeting grin lifting one corner of his mouth.

But the matter was serious enough. “One hears remarks, my dear. Hostesses who lack the Merry Marquis at their affairs; gentlemen who must play their cheerful japes without their boon companion; even His Grace your father has commented you have abandoned your usual pursuits.”

“His Grace has no reason to complain. I do my work.”

“Yes, my love. You are an excellent manager. But, Aldridge, I am concerned.”

“You have nothing to be concerned about, Mama.” It would be an exaggeration to say her tall elegant son flung himself to his feet, but he certainly rose more quickly and less smoothly than usual, and then stalked with controlled deliberation to the brandy decanter she kept for him on the sideboard. “May I…?”

She nodded her permission, and he poured a drink while she decided how to approach her topic. It was harder than she expected. She yearned to tell him to do what pleased him, to stay in the fools’ paradise he was building with the lovely Becky.

But she could not ignore the duty owed to the young woman. Eleanor, who seldom allowed herself to feel such a plebeian and useless emotion as guilt, was aware she should have given Becky the means to escape when they met six months earlier. She had quite deliberately put Aldridge’s need for Becky’s brand of comfort ahead of Becky’s evident desire to abandon the life of a courtesan. She did not feel guilty. But she did acknowledge a debt.

“You are not the one for whom I am concerned, Aldridge,” she said.

He had been studying his brandy, but glanced up at that, a quick look from beneath level brows before he drew them into something of a frown.

“Who, then?”

“Mrs Winstanley, dear. I am concerned for Mrs Winstanley.”

Another quick movement, this one sending the brandy sloshing in the tumbler, but he steadied his hand before it spilled. “No need, Mama. Becky and I are very happy.”

“You spend all your time with her, Aldridge. If you are not at her townhouse, she is in the heir’s wing. If you travel, she travels with you. Last time you went to Margate, you stayed with her in the town rather than at Haverford Castle.”

“You are very well informed, my dear.” Eleanor knew that cold ducal tone, but from her husband’s lips, not her son’s. Almost, she stopped. But no; she would do her duty; she had always done her duty.

She matched his tone with her own. “You employ Haverford servants, Aldridge. They answer my questions, as they should.” But this was not to the point. Better to just spit it out.

“If you continue as you are, you will break Rebecca Winstanley’s heart, Aldridge. She deserves better from you.”

Whatever he expected, that wasn’t it. He was too controlled to openly gape, but the muscles of his jaw relaxed. He recovered himself and took a sip of his brandy, gaining time while he thought. It was a trick she used herself.

“What can you offer her, Aldridge? A year? Two? And then what? You cannot marry her, of course…” Was that a flare of longing she saw, quickly suppressed? Merciful heavens, had it gone so far, then?

“You cannot, Aldridge. Even if we could find a way to conceal her past—and with the interest your marriage will attract, every tiny detail of your wife’s history will be uncovered and inspected—she is lower gentry, if gentry at all.”

“Lower gentry,” he conceded, reluctantly. “But what does that matter, Mama? Peers have married beneath them before. What of Chandos? Or, if you want a more recent example, Marquis Wellesley? ”

Eleanor struggled to show no hint of her alarm, keeping her voice level as she said, “And their wives have suffered for it, Aldridge. Their estates, too. You would be doing Mrs Winstanley no favour, Aldridge, even if her past did not come to light. And it would.

“Besides, your duty to your name precludes such an action. You will be Haverford. Your wife will be mother of the next Haverford.

“And consider your little half-sisters, who will only be able to overcome the circumstances of their birth if Society continues to pretend they are my protégées and not your father’s base-born daughters.

“You cannot marry your mistress.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly the fight drained out of him, taking, it seemed, his ability to stay upright. He sank into a chair, all the joy gone from his face leaving it bleak and lonely.

“I know, Mama. Truly.”

He fell silent again, cradling his brandy in front of his chin and staring into nothing.

She had to ask. “Does she seek marriage, my son?”

Aldridge’s short laugh was unamused. “Becky? Of course not. She has no expectations at all. Not even of common courtesy or kindness, let alone of being treated like the lady she is. And I am a scoundrel for taking advantage of that. Were I the gentleman I pretend to be, I’d set her up as a widow somewhere and leave her alone. After the life she has had… I doubt she would marry me even if I asked. She is grateful to me, but gratitude only goes so far.”

He glared at his mother. “But I will not give her up, Mama. We have the rest of this contract term, and another after that if I can persuade her to a second term.”

“I am not asking you to surrender your domestic happiness, my dear. Just to reduce it a little for Mrs Winstanley’s sake.”

Aldridge cocked one eyebrow in question, but said nothing.

Should she tell Aldridge his mistress was in love with him? She had seen them in the park:  Becky, her little daughter, and Aldridge—by chance as she returned from an unusually early errand and then deliberately several more times. Her son was so absorbed in the woman and the little girl he never noticed the stopped carriage where she sat observing the three of them together.

No. She would say nothing. If he had already considered the logistics of marrying the woman… “You will have to let her go, Aldridge—at the end of the contract, or in any case when you find a suitable bride. The parting will be much harder, for both of you, if she fancies herself in love with you.”

“Spend a few nights a week away from her, my dear. Let her know you are seeing other women. Help her to armour her heart against you, if you love her.”

“Love, Mama? Can Grenfords love? I like her. I respect her. I enjoy being with her. She makes me happy, Mama. Is that so terrible? I’m not sure I know what love is, but I know I don’t want Becky to leave me, or—worse—to hate me and stay.”

“I have every faith in your charm, Aldridge. You will be kind. You will be gentle. And you will do your duty by your mistress as you always do your duty in all things.”

As Eleanor always did hers, she reflected after her son left, and duty could be a cold and thankless  master. Aldridge would not soon forget her role in this day’s work, and Becky would be ungrateful if she ever found out. But it was for the best. She had to believe it was for the best—not just for the Grenford family, but for Aldridge and Becky as well. She hoped it was for the best.

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