Jeopardy on WIP Wednesday

I’ve said it before. Our job as writers is to figure out what could possibly go wrong then make it happen. Maybe it’s a light-hearted comedy where the possibility of loss arises from a misunderstanding that is hilarious to the readers if not our characters. Or perhaps we’re writing a suspense novel with gothic horror elements and our characters stand to lose one another, their lives, and their very souls.

But without danger, we have no story. So this week, please share an excerpt from your novel where things go (or look as if they might go) pear-shaped. Mine is from A Raging Madness, my next novel. It’s with the proofreader and I’m planning a release in May.

She made it down the ivy without falling, but once she had picked up the blanket and wrapped it around herself, but lacked the will to move further. Leaning back against the side of the house, she let the lassitude win, and slowly relaxed down the wall until she was sitting on the ground, her head resting against the edge of a window frame.

Inside, a very long way away on the other side of the gentle fog that embraced her, two people were talking. Constance and Edwin. It did not matter. They were silly people. Gervase had not admired his older half-brother; a matter in which he and Ella were in rare accord. The two men shared a mother, but little of that kind, gentle woman showed in either son: the baronet’s son a bullying, often violent rake; the merchant’s a sanctimonious Puritan—but another bully for all that. Not as much so as his wife.

The bully was bullied. Ella suppressed her giggle. Sssshhh. Mustn’t make a sound. She was running away. Soon. First, she would have a little sleep.

But as she closed her eyes, her own name caught her attention. Constance and Edwin were talking about her? She forced herself to concentrate, to listen.

“No, Mrs Braxton. Eleanor will not convince them she is sane. I have chosen with care, I tell you. I visited six asylums before this one, and this is perfect for our purposes. The doctor in charge has promised to keep her dosed, and even if he does not, the place itself will drive her insane. If you saw it, heard the noise… Yes, my dear, I can assure you, our plans are sound.”

Constance answered, the whine in her voice grating against Ella’s eardrums. “But what if you are wrong, Edwin? If she convinces someone in authority that she is sane, prison will be the least…”

“No, my dove. Not at all. No one at the asylum will listen to her ravings, and if they did, what of it? Who will they tell? Even in the worst case, all we need do is say her mind was turned after Mother’s death, and how glad we are that she is well again.”

“I do not know.” The frown was heavy in Constance’s voice. “But we cannot keep her here. I trust Kerridge, but the other servants may start to murmur. Any one of them might have spoken to that lawyer!”

“The lawyer is gone, my love. He was no harder to send away this time than last.”

“It will drive her insane, you say?” Constance asked.

“It will. I guarantee it. I hesitate to mention it, Mrs Braxton, it not being a topic for a lady’s delicate ears…”

“Spit it out, Edwin. What?”

“My own treasure, I am given to understand that the attendants avail themselves of the, er, charms of the patients, and even do a, er, trade with the nearby town. Not, of course, with the approval of the medical staff. No, of course. That would be most unprofessional. But it is most enterprising of them, and serves our purposes rather well, dear sister being a comely woman.”

Ella puzzled this out. Surely Edwin did not mean that the attendants forced the women, and prostituted them?

“Ah. Very good,” Constance said. “The woman is horribly resilient. Any decent gentlewoman would have succumbed to madness long since with all your brother put her through, and what has happened since. But surely even she is not coarse enough to withstand multiple rapes.”

“The doctor will be here tomorrow,” Edwin said, with enormous satisfaction. “And she will be safely tucked away where she can do no harm.”

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2 thoughts on “Jeopardy on WIP Wednesday

  1. In The Reluctant Wife Clare has gone to India solely to get her brother’s signature on a document that will give her control over her own bequest from their Great Aunt. The old woman made sale of the property contingent on his approval. Clare’s entire future is in the balance, and her brother, well, you can see what sort of man he is:

    “Sign the papers. Let’s end this,” she sighed.
    “If I don’t?”
    Clare’s downcast eyes focused on her hands which were clasped tightly in her lap while she repeated the conditions of the will with as little rancor as she could muster. “As you can see from the letters from your man of business, the will can’t be broken, and the house is mine. If I choose to reject it, it reverts to her nephew. If I sell without your permission, it reverts to her nephew. What the papers don’t say is that the roof leaks, the bedrooms suffer from damp, and mice have colonized the east wing to the point that it is uninhabitable. Its twelve bedrooms are ridiculous for a woman alone with no servants. The money she left me will not cover repairs, much less servants to keep it.”
    “If I refuse permission, you’ll have to live with it,” he spat.
    Damn Aunt Florentia. Damn, damn, damn whatever ill-conceived reason you think I need a man’s permission to sell my own property. Clare had been left with no choice.
    She pulled in the ragged edges of her fading self-control to say sweetly, “I could stay here.”
    She knew the last thing her brother wanted was his managing sister under foot. “You wouldn’t turn out your only sister, would you? I could see to your household, assist in your management of village affairs—you are responsible for local affairs, are you not?” She looked pointedly around his office. “I could see to it this office is—”
    He blanched. “You should marry,” he said. “Then some other man will have the ordering of your affairs.”
    Some anger runs hot. Clare’s feelings about marriage lay so deep that icy cold drove out any other sensation. “I will never marry.” She articulated each word sharply.
    “Oh? You sniffed around Wheatly’s household as soon as that woman died,” Philip sneered. “Your weakness for a handsome face in a uniform is well known, if not particularly discerning.”
    “If I did marry—and let me repeat, I will not—it would never be to a care-for-nothing lout in a uniform. Dennis Landry taught me the stupidity of that. I won’t make the same mistake again. I won’t give a man that kind of power.”
    “You weren’t clever enough to get Landry to the altar on your own, in any case. Perhaps you still can’t attract a husband.”
    “Yes, I have you to thank for forcing him, drunk and unwilling, in front of the curate,” she responded, bile on her tongue.
    “Damn good thing I did, or that kid of yours would have been a bastard.”
    Clare sagged in the chair. The bitter words never changed. “Sign the papers, Philip, and take Uncle Norbert’s ring.” She gestured at the inlaid emerald and gold ring, the small consolation prize Aunt Florentia had left him.
    Her brother shoved the ring on his finger and glared at her. “I have one condition.”
    Clare’s body tensed, every sense alert. Philip’s eyes held hers, and sour words poured out. “I will not have your behavior reflect badly on me. When you return to Calcutta, you will stay with Colonel Davis. His wife holds me in esteem. She will order your behavior as long as you are around the Company. And she will find you a suitable companion. No more racketing around the world alone. When you return to England, I wash my hands of you.”
    “Just sign the papers, Philip.”

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