Tea with the Rose of Frampton

And another excerpt post, this time from A Baron for Becky. My duchess has arrived at her nephew’s house to find her son in residence, and alone with a young woman; a rather scandalous young woman! Aldridge may be enamoured, but he will not disgrace his family. Will he?

After dinner, the ladies withdrew to the great parlour, leaving the two men to the port.

“I am travelling in the morning, so will go up to bed,” the duchess announced. “Mrs Darling, perhaps you would give me a few moments of your time?”

“Be nice, aunt,” warned Lady Chirbury, making Rose even more nervous. The duchess gave an enigmatic smile and led the way upstairs.

“Leave us, dear,” she said to the maid who was standing ready by the bed. “I shall ring when I want you.” She took a chair by the fire and waved Rose to the other.

“Do not look so nervous, Mrs Darling. I do not intend to bite you.”

Rose blushed scarlet. Aldridge had promised to bite her, and had explained exactly where. No. She must not think of that. She sat, as commanded.

“Mrs Darling, you were raised gentry, were you not?”

Rose nodded, cautiously. Where was the duchess going with this?

“The manners, the speech, the accomplishments—they can all be taught, of course. But one who has learned them from the cradle…” Her Grace waved a hand as if to flick away counterfeits.

“The usual story, I imagine? Seduction or rape? And no father to defend your honour?”

“My father…” Rose swallowed hard to remove the lump that closed her throat at the memories. “My father was a librarian. He took the part of his employer.”

“Ah.” Her Grace nodded. “And the employer was the cause of your downfall. Or his son, perhaps?”

“His son,” Rose confirmed. His sons, in fact, but she would not say that.

“And Sarah was the…?”

“No, Your Grace. Sarah… came later.”

“Mr. Darling?”

“There was no Mr. Darling,” Rose admitted.

The maid must have added a fresh log to the fire just before they arrived. The top was still uncharred, but flames licked up from the bed of hot embers. A twig that jutted from one side suddenly flared, turned black, and shrivelled. The bottom of the log began to glow red.

The duchess spoke again, startling Rose out of her flame-induced trance.

“What do you want for your daughter, Mrs Darling?”

“A better life,” Rose said immediately, suddenly fierce. “A chance to be respectable. A life that does not depend on the whims of a man.”

“The first two may be achievable,” the duchess said, dryly. “The third is highly unlikely for any woman of any station. You expect my son to help you to these goals, I take it.”

Rose was suddenly tired of polite circling. “I was saving so that I could leave this life, start again in another place under another name. But my last protector cheated me and stole from me.

“I do what I must, Your Grace. Should I have killed myself when I was disgraced? I had no skills anyone wanted to buy. I could play the piano, a little; sew, but others were faster and better; paint, but indifferently; parse a Latin sentence, but of what use was that in my circumstances? Should I have starved in the gutter where they threw me?

“Well, I was not given that choice. Those who took me from the gutter knew precisely what I had that others would pay for. As soon as I could, I began selling it for myself, and I. Will. Not. Be. Ashamed.”

Her vehemence did not ruffle the duchess’s calm. “We all do what we must, my dear. I am not judging you. Men have the power in this world, and women of the gentry are raised to depend on them for our survival. But you must know that Aldridge cannot offer marriage to a woman with your history.”

The mere thought startled a laugh out of Rose. Marriage had never crossed Aldridge’s mind. Of that she was certain. “His Lordship has offered me a two-year contract as his mistress,” she said, “with very favourable terms. If I accept, and if I save carefully, I will never need to take a protector again.”

“Two years!” The duchess arched a delicate eyebrow. “Aldridge seldom keeps a mistress beyond six months. He must be utterly besotted.”

“He has no thought of marriage,” Rose found herself reassuring the duchess. “And neither do I. I like him, but do not love him, and I think only love could make marriage tolerable.”

It was only partly true. She could easily fall in love with Aldridge… was, perhaps, beginning to do so already. That way, she knew, led to heartache, for the duchess was right. Aldridge would never offer her marriage, or even permanence.

The duchess nodded, decisively. “You are wise. I think you will be good for him, Mrs Darling—which is a ridiculous name. May I call you ‘Rose’?” Her Grace’s smile was a wonderful thing, another feature her son had inherited.

“Would you…” Rose had never imagined having such a conversation, but there was something about this woman. Nothing shocked her, and she listened. “Would you call me Becky? It is my real name.”

“Becky, then. Becky, as long as you remember that you will never be accepted as a fit mate for the future Duke of Haverford—which is a great shame, for you seem to be a fine young woman, but we must live in the world as it is—you and I shall be friends, and I shall support you and little Sarah to find the new life you seek when Aldridge is finished with you. He needs someone like you. He is not happy, poor boy.”

That squashed the nascent hope that the duchess’s sponsorship might mean she could avoid accepting Aldridge’s protection. Still, it was a good offer. Becky accepted the duchess’s outstretched hands. “Thank you, Your Grace. I will do my best to make him happy.”

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Tea with Becky

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The Duchess of Haverford rose and crossed the room to greet her visitor with a kiss to the cheek.

“Becky, my dear, thank you for making the time to see me.”

Lady Overton returned the embrace, real affection in her eyes as she smiled at the older woman. “It is kind of you to invite me, Your Grace.”

“Call me Aunt Eleanor, please, as you did when I stayed with you after little Isabelle’s birth. Is she well, my dear? Have you brought her and her sisters to London?”

Becky confirmed that she had, while taking the seat that the duchess indicated. For several minutes, they discussed the children, as Her Grace busied herself at the tea service that stood ready on its own ornate cart beside her preferred seat. Once she had presented Becky with a cup and a plate with a selection of finely crafted pastries, she poured her own tea and chose a single pastry.

“And Lord Overton,” she asked. “Is he fully recovered?”

Becky was not surprised the duchess knew of Overton’s accident. She sometimes thought that Her Grace knew everything, and certainly she had more reason than most to interest herself in anything that affected Becky’s youngest daughter. “He has headaches from time to time, Aunt Eleanor, but fewer than before. The doctor says he will have no long-term ill effects.”

Her Grace beamed, putting her cup into its saucer and back on the table before her. “Excellent. I was concerned when Aldridge mentioned Overton’s concerns about guardianship of the little girls, but he is just taking sensible precautions.”

Becky set down her own cup, her face carefully blank. “The marquis mentioned it to you, Ma’am?”

“Yes. And he has an idea that might just answer your husband’s need. But I have told him that I must speak with you before I give it my support. Will you hear me out, Becky?”

Becky nodded, cautiously. Another outrageous scheme by Aldridge? Whatever might it be, when he knew perfectly well that neither she nor Hugh would consider… But no, Her Grace would not be involved in anything of that sort.

“If we are to be fair, my dear Becky, we must agree that his last plot on your behalf was highly successful,” the duchess pointed out, which was perfectly true.

“Beyond expectations,” she agreed.

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She was a fallen woman; could they help her land on her feet?

A Baron for BeckyBecky is the envy of the courtesans of the demi-monde — the indulged mistress of the wealthy and charismatic Marquis of Aldridge. But she dreams of a normal life; one in which her daughter can have a future that does not depend on beauty, sex, and the whims of a man. Finding herself with child, she hesitates to tell Aldridge. Will he cast her off, send her away, or keep her and condemn another child to this uncertain shadow world?

The devil-may-care face Hugh shows to the world hides a desperate sorrow; a sorrow he tries to drown with drink and riotous living. His years at war haunt him, but even more, he doesn’t want to think about the illness that robbed him of the ability to father a son. When he dies, his barony will die with him. His title will fall into abeyance, and his estate will be scooped up by the Crown.

When Aldridge surprises them with a daring proposition, they do not expect love to be part of the bargain.

See more about A Baron for Becky, buy links, and links to the first chapters.

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The Duchess of Haverford has taken a hand in Rebecca Overton’s life a number of times, the most significant covered in A Baron for Becky. The following extract is about one of them:

While Aldridge visited his Mama to explain what they wanted, Hugh went cap, and purse, in hand to Doctor’s Commons to arrange a special licence.

It took longer than he’d hoped, and a lucky encounter with a friend from university, to be admitted to the Archbishop’s presence, but two days later, he had his licence. It was in his pocket, and Becky at his side, when they waited on Her Grace, summoned by a scented note delivered by the hand of a liveried footman.

Hugh had been in the heir’s wing many times, and at Haverford, the family seat, when he was a boy. He had never entered Haverford House by the main door. Designed to impress, the approach sat back from the road, admittance through a gatekeeper. They were paraded through the paved courtyard by another liveried servant to the stairs between pillars that stretched three stories to the pediment above.

Inside, the ducal glory continued; a marbled entrance chamber the height of the house that would make a ballroom in any lesser mansion, with majestic flights of stairs rising on either side and curving to meet, only to split again in a symphony of wood and stone. Grenford ancestors were everywhere, twice as large as life, painted on canvas and moulded from stone, cold eyes examining petitioners and finding them all unworthy.

Aldridge met them in the entrance chamber, and led them up the first flight of stairs and down a sumptuously carpeted hall that was elegantly papered above richly carved panels. Four men could have walked arm-in-arm down the middle, never touching the furniture and art lining both walls, between highly-polished doors.

Busts on marble pedestals alternated with delicate gilded tables and seats upholstered in the Haverford green, scarlet and gold, many embroidered with the unicorn and phoenix from the Haverford coat of arms. The art in gilded frames that hung both walls showed more Grenford ancestors, interspersed with favourite animals, scenes from the Bible, and retellings of Greek legends. The ornately painted ceiling boasted flowers, leaves, and decorative swirls, the many colours highlighted in gilding.

Here and there, an open door gave them a view into one large chamber after another, each room richer than the last. At intervals, curtained arches led to more halls, more stairs.

Hugh was openly gawping, and Becky drew closer to him, as if for protection.

“A bit over the top, don’t you think?” he whispered to her, and was rewarded with a quick, nervous, smile.

The duchess received them in a sitting room that, if rich and elegant, was at least more human in scale.

She offered a cheek to Aldridge for a kiss, and a hand to Hugh. Becky held back.

“Come, my dear,” she coaxed. “Mrs Winstanley, is it not? Soon to be Baroness Overton. You shall kiss me, my dear, and I shall be godmother to your child, since I cannot claim the closer title.”

Hugh relaxed, then. Her Grace would champion them for her grandchild’s sake. He took the offered chair, and Aldridge leant against the mantelpiece. The duchess ignored them both to focus on Becky.

She insisted on Becky sitting beside her.

“Are you keeping well, my dear? Are you eating?”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Becky’s voice was so quiet Hugh had to lean forward to hear.

“You must eat several times a day, dear. More as the baby takes up more room…” she trailed off as Becky blushed scarlet. “And when do you expect the little one to arrive?”

“At Yuletide, Ma’am. Or perhaps early January.”

“What of sleep, Mrs Winstanley? Are you able to rest in the afternoons?” She turned to Hugh. “An afternoon rest is most efficacious for women who are increasing, Lord Overton. I will expect you to keep her in bed in the afternoon.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Hugh replied, blushing in his turn.

The duchess silenced her sniggering son with a raised eyebrow.

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Win a Kindle and 50 great books

regencyromance-giveaway-knight-jude

Have you read my novel A Baron for Becky? Today you can enter to win the book plus more than 50 fantastic regency romance novels from an amazing collection of authors, PLUS a Kindle Fire!

Enter the contest by clicking here: http://bit.ly/fall-regency

And when you’re done, leave a comment to let me know you’ve entered! Contest closes midnight Sunday EDT.

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A Toad is Born

The Duke of Wellbridge

The Duke of Wellbridge

Early in 2015, I was at the same FaceBook party as Mari Christie (who writes romance as Mariana Gabrielle). The author whose book launch it was asked us to show pictures of our virtual outfit for the party, and our virtual escort, and Mari and I both decided to bring a roguish rake from one of our books.

And that’s how it began.

There they both were, my Marquis of Aldridge from a book as yet unwritten, and Mari’s Nick Northope, Duke of Wellbridge, from Royal Regard, the lynch pin book in her Sailing Home series. Unregenerate rascals, they soon made two things clear to their authors. One: these rakes were old friends, with many escapades and scandals in their joint history. Two: we had better take our shenanigans out of our friend’s party before we spoiled it for her.

We were working up to the launch of the Bluestockings Belles, so we moved our characters into a month-long FaceBook party at a fictional coaching inn, along with the characters of our Belle friends and other people who wanted to play. Wellbridge, with his bride the lovely Bella, hosted the party. Aldridge spent most of it drunk. Mari and I discovered that we enjoyed impromptu co-writing.

The Marquis of Aldridge

The Marquis of Aldridge, heir to the Duke of Haverford

When the inn party ended, the Belles founded the Bluestockings Belles Bookshop on Facebook, and ever since we’ve been making up stories on line in real time with readers and anyone else who cares to join in.

What happens when two or more creative people co-tell a story comment by comment on a FaceBook thread is raw—often painfully raw. But since those first wild moments, we’ve learned to let the characters have their heads, and worry about editing later.

We’ve written a number of vignettes and even short stories and scenes for longer books this way. Someone posts an introduction and usually an image, and then the other participants bring their characters in, with the action and the thread growing as each person takes the tale another step along its tortuous journey.

That’s just the start. The next step is to capture the thread and decide point of view. The author of the point of view character rewrites the piece, layering in detail, correcting ambiguities and inconsistencies, and resolving lost plot points. Then the partner writers take a look and make their suggestions, and the first draft is done. The story still needs the usual rounds of editing and proofreading, but from this point on, the process is much the same as for any other book.

Over the last eighteen months, Wellbridge has grown into his ducal magnificence in front of the readers of the Bookshop and its predecessor the inn. Still a rogue in many ways, he is a devoted husband and father. For Aldridge, marriage is still in his future. The inn party gave me the story that was the kernel around which I built A Baron for Becky, but Aldridge did not (in that book) end up with the girl. He won’t find himself a wife until at least 2017 in real world time, and 1815 in his own.

Lady Sarah Grenford

Lady Sarah Grenford, daughter of the Duke of Haverford

But when he does, what will happen? A casual comment about what reformed rakes might be like as fathers led us to decide their approach to daughters might be very different to their approach to sons! And thus was born the idea for a vignette. Or perhaps a short story.

What if Aldridge, now the Duke of Haverford, has a daughter he adores? And what if he and his best friend would dearly love to see their children make a match of it? And what if Wellbridge’s son is a rake after the pattern of his father, and the pride of the two older retrobates’ he… Perhaps the word I am looking for is ‘loins’ rather than ‘hearts’.

We decided to write a scenario about the two fathers finding their offspring in a compromising situation, and we did. We wrote the scenario. Then we wrote what came next. Then we wrote a bit of backstory. We gave our hero a title and a nickname, and wrote a scene set in his infancy when he was a baby, and earned both from the king.

David 'Toad' Northope, Marquess of Abersham and heir to the Duke of Wellbridge

David ‘Toad’ Northope, Marquess of Abersham and heir to the Duke of Wellbridge

It wasn’t long before we decided we had a novella, and a novella in the romance genre means a happy ever after ending. So our heroine needed to grow out of being a spoiled brat who always wanted her own way, and our hero needed to find out that being a rake hurts people (including the girl he loves) as well as that only one woman would do for him.

We couldn’t do that in a novella, as it turned out. Never Kiss a Toad, by Jude Knight and Mariana Gabrielle is a novel, more than three quarters written (though much of it is still in FaceBook thread mode), and currently 110,000 words plus. We have just started publishing it on Wattpad, a thousand or so words at a time.

Long before we’ve completed the book on Wattpad, it’ll be available as a novel at our usual retailers, but probably not until next year. So why not join us on Wattpad, find out the fate of Toad and Sal, and have your say as the story grows?

Find Never Kiss a Toad on Jude Knight’s Wattpad

Find Never Kiss a Toad on Mariana Gabrielle’s Wattpad

(We’ll be taking it in turns to post, so follow us both to get a part per week.)

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She was a fallen woman. Could they help her land on her feet?

A Baron for Becky is up for reader voting in the RONE Awards

A Baron for Becky has been nominated for a RONE Award in the Historical Post-Medieval category, but it needs reader votes to get to the final round. Please go to http://www.indtale.com/2016-rone-awards-week-six to vote. If you’re not a subscriber, you’ll need to sign up to vote, but it’s free, and you’ll get a monthly ezine packed full of articles and reviews.

The book has a 4.47 star average rating on Goodreads; 4.5 on Amazon

InD’Tale review said: “A Baron for Becky” is a fascinating look at ownership of all kinds. It does not seek to rewrite history when it comes to women owning anything. Titles and entailed ownership could indeed be held by women, but only at great cost, a vote, and Royal decree… All the characters are delightful, real, and three-dimensional, and the story is a scandalous romp into the past!

Sale ENDS this week

If you don’t yet have it, I’ve reduced the price to 99c until the end of voting, so buy now.

EXCERPTS

NAKED AND ASLEEP IN A GARDEN

Jacques-Dumont-le-Romain--007 Naked man sleeping

Aldridge never did find out how he came to be naked, alone, and sleeping in the small summerhouse in the garden of a country cottage. His last memory of the night before had him twenty miles away, and—although not dressed—in a comfortable bed, and in company.

The first time he woke, he had no idea how far he’d come, but the moonlight was bright enough to show him half-trellised window openings, and an archway leading down a short flight of steps into a garden. A house loomed a few hundred feet distant, a dark shape against the star-bright sky. But getting up was too much trouble, particularly with a headache that hung inches above him, threatening to split his head if he moved. The cushioned bench on which he lay invited him to shut his eyes and go back to sleep. Time enough to find out where he was in the morning.

WHAT’S IN A KISS?

The Kiss

She thought she knew kisses.  Rough and clumsy connections, rude invasions of her mouth, as the man who had purchased the right violently mauled her breasts and buttocks. Those weren’t kisses.

This; this was a kiss. A firm, but gentle, invitation to a duet, patiently coaxing a response and then turning to a dance, a partnership of giving and taking that spun music through every vein in her body. Becky forgot where she was, almost who she was, as she melted against him, lost in a world of sensation.

WHO’S THAT SLEEPING IN MY BED?

jules-batien-lepage-jeune-femme-endormie-1880-1351968264_orgAt one hour to the minute, he returned up the stairs. The suite was silent and dark. He lit a candle from one in the hall sconce, and let himself into the bedchamber he’d reserved for them. “Becky, I am here,” he said.

No reply. She must be tired, after spending the day keeping little Sarah amused. He put the candle down on the bedside table and stripped naked, muttering to himself as his fingers fumbled over buttons and laces.

He’d wake her with kisses, then… his mind full of images of what came next, he had one knee on the bed and one hand already reaching for the blanket when a tousled dark head emerged, confused cornflower blue eyes blinking at him. “What are you doing in my Mama’s bed?” asked little Sarah.

WHAT WILL HE DO WHEN HE HEARS HER SECRET?

Flirtation *oil on canvas *65 x 85.7 cm *signed ab.r.: F. Soulacroix

She enjoyed his company, and missed him when he was off on duchy business, or out making mayhem in the ton. She’d learned more about sex in three years with Aldridge, than in three years in a brothel and six with other men. But he was also good company out of bed, an entertaining conversationalist, happiest when his mistress had opinions and made him work hard to defend his.

The deep melancholy he kept so well disguised called to the mother in her, and she would trust him with most things in her life. Though not with a sister, if she had one, and not with her daughter, if Sarah were a few years older.

She wasn’t at all sure she could trust him with the news she was going to have to tell him soon.

A COURTESAN’S LOVE FOR HER CHILD

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The child’s calm self-possession fractured in the face of the doll and her wardrobe.

“Oh, I love her! Look, Mama! Look how beautiful she is. Look at all her clothes!”

Hugh looked. The mother, bending over her daughter, exclaiming over the doll’s articulated arms and legs, and its wardrobe. And the child, her mother in miniature. Identical heart-shaped faces; identical dark hair, tied back but with tiny curls left loose around their foreheads; identical porcelain skin and cornflower blue eyes fringed with dark lashes.

So beautiful.

So intent, eyes full of love for her daughter, like statues of the Madonna he had seen in Catholic Italy, before he sold out.

God, he needed a drink.

THIS MARRIAGE COULD NEVER WORK. COULD IT?

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She took a turn around the room. This would be much easier if he had remained the disdainful, half-drunk, leering buffoon of a few weeks ago. Sober and respectful, he was temptation personified. But it would never work. “I would expect fidelity, my lord. And sobriety.”

“So would I,” he responded.

Fair enough. Most of the barques of frailty she knew lightened the gloom of their lives with drink or opium. Or laudanum, which combined the two. She had started down that track in the brothel; had nearly died of an overdose. She still shuddered at the memories of the withdrawal, and the cravings she fought afterward. “I do not drink, my lord, and I keep my promises. If ever I marry, I will be true to my vows.” She could not resist emphasising the final ‘I’.

“So will I,” said the baron.

GRIEF LURKS BEYOND THE FOG

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There was a fog. No. Heavier than a fog. A bank of clouds. A blanket, almost, covering everything. Sometimes, she could see through it a little, or hear a few words, or feel a touch. Sarah came to visit. She was sure of that. Her belly hurt. Was it the baby? No. The baby was gone. There was a grief there, somewhere just out of reach, waiting to consume her, but she wouldn’t think of it. She was so hot. No, she was cold. So cold, she was sweating.

Voices. Hands washing her, changing her. Hands touching her intimately. No! She wasn’t going back there!

“Hush, Becky. Hush. Don’t struggle, my love.” Hugh’s voice. She must be dreaming, then. Hugh didn’t love her. She leant into the arms that restrained her anyway.

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A Baron for Becky long-listed for a RONE Award

RONE Award smallI’ve been missing in action with work and family commitments, but normal service will resume tomorrow with a WIP Wednesday.

I’m popping in today to tell you my exciting news. A Baron for Becky is on the long list for a RONE Award. The RONES are run by the In’D’Tale Magazine, who reviewed A Baron for Becky last year.

I was thrilled with the four-star rating they gave the book at the time; the magazine’s reviewers are parsimonious with their fours and fives. But I did not realise that a four or five star rating put you on the list for the RONES. So A Baron for Becky is one of thirty-five books, out of the hundreds of historical romances they reviewed, to go through to the next round of judging.

Next step is reader voting. In the week 23 May to 29 May, readers will be asked to vote for their favourites. I’m up against tough competition, including Mariana Gabrielle’s La Deésse Noire: The Black Goddess and Caroline Warfield’s Dangerous Weakness (she smugly notes that nearly 10% of the long list are by Bluestocking Belles—as was one of last year’s finalists).

The top rating books from that round go to the final judges, and they will decide the category winner, to be announced at the In’D’Tale Conference in October.

So it is all very exciting.

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The fate of a fallen woman

oyster-rooms_0001Life in the real Regency wasn’t all Almack’s, balls, and house parties. Even in the households of the rich and titled, a woman’s comfort and happiness depended very much on the character of whatever man headed her household—father, brother, husband. And a highly structured society where women were expected to be chaste and modest, and men to have broad experience, meant an ever-present potential for disaster.

In the lesser ranks of society, a woman might be valued for her skills, her personality, her knowledge, or whatever underpinned the economic contribution she could make to her family. A slip from chastity could be forgiven. Even a child out of wedlock was not necessarily an irretrievable disaster. An extra pair of hands was, after all, an extra pair of hands.

A proper lady

For ladies of the gentry, any smudge on the character threatened the wellbeing of the family. Ladies were decorative rather than useful; educated for little beyond amusing themselves and running a household. Their economic value lay in the family connections created through their marriage, in the children, or more particularly the sons, they would bring into the world.

English landowners practiced primogeniture, a form of inheritance designed to keep an estate unified. Primogeniture meant that lands, titles, and rights were passed intact to the deceased lord’s eldest son. If the right to rule will be passed from father to son, then a family has a great deal invested in making sure that a wife sleeps with no one but, and certainly no one before, her husband. Virginity became a necessary precondition for a good marriage.

Assuring a potential husband of the virginity of a particular maiden meant—as we who read historical romances set in those times know—setting all kinds of restrictions around young ladies. It wasn’t enough to be a virgin; a marriageable girl of gentry class must never be in circumstances that allowed gossips to speculate about what she might, or might not, have done. Reputation was everything. The loss of reputation was the end of a girl’s (and her family’s) hope of a ‘good’ marriage.

Fallen from grace

Our romances offer many paths to those who fall from grace. Her family might rally round to prove our heroine’s innocence. An angry father or brother might force a marriage which becomes a love affair, or the other party to the offence might volunteer.  Exile to the country might lead to her true virtue being discovered by a neighbour, or she might be pursued by her seducer who has finally realised that he truly loves her.

In some books, the heroine becomes one of the tens of thousands of women earning her living from the sex trade in Georgian London. Generally a mistress of a man or a succession of men. More rarely, a prostitute in a brothel or in the streets.

That’s the premise for my character, Becky. In the novel, we meet her nine or ten years after her father threw her out. Just think of it. A gently-born girl, raised with few skills beyond flower arranging and embroidery, always treated with courtesy and respect, taught nothing about her own sexuality, suddenly cast into the streets to make her own way. What must that have been like?

In historical romance, our heroines survive the horror and the abuse (or, in some books, manage to bypass it all together) to eventually find the mandatory happy-ever-after. In real life, few were so fortunate. An early death was more likely: from sexually transmitted diseases, complications of pregnancy or abortion, drink and drugs taken to dull the senses, or all of these together.

A Baron for Becky has a happy ending, though not (I hope) an entirely predictable one.  In the end, I found myself writing about marriage rather than prostitution. Becky has had a hard life, and it has left scars. Her happy ending does not come easily. But then, that’s life.

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Once upon a time I invented a rake

WALLACE COLLECTION - THEATRES OF LIFE   Eug ne Lami, A supper during the Regency or The Prodigal Son or The orgy, 1853 Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)   The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.  Photographer: Mike Fear  127.1995_c_2.jpg

I joke that my creative process relies on the plot elves. I sit down to do my 500 words, or 1000 words, or 2000 words, or whatever the target for the day is, and the characters start acting out the scene disclosing all sorts of things the plot elves have been working on in the background.

The truth is that my creative process is a mystery to me. The invention of my Marquis of Aldridge is a case in point.

Here’s his very first appearance on a page, in my work-in-progress, Embracing Prudence. David Wakefield, base-born son of the Duke of Haverford, is investigating a case of blackmail.

A knock on the door heralded Aldridge’s arrival. A maid showed him into the private parlour. He’d clearly been treating her to a display of his facile charm; she was dimpling, blushing, and preening.

David examined him as he gave the girl a coin “and a kiss for your trouble, my darling.” The beautiful child had grown into a handsome man. David had heard him described as ‘well-put together, and all over, if you know what I mean.’ The white-blonde hair of childhood had darkened to a light brown, and he had golden-brown eyes under a thick arch of brow he and David had both inherited from their father.

Aldridge navigated the shoals of the marriage market with practiced ease, holding the mothers and their daughters off while not offending them, and carrying out a gentleman’s role in the ballroom with every evidence of enjoyment.

But his real success, by all accounts, was with bored widows and wives, where he performed a role in the bedroom with equal enjoyment. Society was littered with former lovers of the Merry Marquess, though he had the enviable ability to end an affair and retain their friendship.

He ushered the laughing maid out of the room and closed the door behind her, acknowledging David’s appraisal with a wry nod.

“Wakefield. You summoned me. I am here.”

David ignored the thread of irritation in the young aristocrat’s voice.

“I have some questions I wish to ask about the story your brother tells.”

Uninvited, Aldridge grabbed a chair and straddled it, resting his chin on his forearms. “Our brother,” he said, flatly.

I should, perhaps, explain that I’ve been creating an entire fictional world these last five years, peopled with enough characters for at least the forty books for which I have plot lines. Many of the characters are just names in my database and spreadsheet, but if I need a mother, or a cousin, or villain, or an old school friend, I look there first before I invent someone new. So when David needed a case to investigate, I involved his patroness, the Duchess of Haverford, and her son Aldridge came with the territory.

I knew Aldridge existed, and I knew he was a rake. There’s a crusading social zealot growing up in my world who will one day need a hero who is as much a challenge to her as she is to him. But I hadn’t given him much more thought than that, till I inserted him into David and Prue’s story. I generally start a book with tidy character descriptions (eight pages for protagonists and major antagonists, and one page for anyone else with more than a walk-on part), a plot outline, and maps. After I start, though, the plot elves take over and anything might happen. And so it was with Aldridge.

Very soon, he proved to be a larger part of Prue’s past than David knows. He is also deeply concerned about his younger brother Jonathan, who becomes David’s assistant in the investigation. What with one thing and another, by the time Prue, Jonathan, and David disappear from England, Aldridge has enough guilt riding him to dive into a bottle and hide there for months, as explained in this deleted scene from A Baron for Becky.

“Cousin, I don’t believe you’ve been sober since June—this business with Jonathan is not your fault, you know.”

Aldridge shook his head. He didn’t agree. Jonathan was his younger brother, and he’d promised to keep him safe. He’d promised Mama.

“Do you remember the frogs in your tutor’s bed?” Rede asked.

Aldridge was not fooled by the seeming change of subject. He’d taken the blame for that, though the prank had been Jonathan’s. “The tutor was a vicious fool, and would have beaten Jonathan until his arm fell off. And His Grace would have done nothing; Jonathan was only the spare. Disciplining me was reserved to His Grace, and the tutor would not disturb him for such a minor infringement.”

It was Rede’s turn for the dismissive shake. “Jonathan’s not nine any more, Aldridge. The scandal was of his own making; quite deliberately from what I heard. ”

Aldridge grinned. He was worried, and he felt guilty, but he still admired his brother’s strategy. “He wanted to travel and His Grace said ‘no’. So Jonathan arranged to be exiled. Pudding-brain. Doesn’t he know there’s a war on? I hope David finds him.”

Rede slid the brandy decanter towards him. “David? David went after his… after a lady that he loves.”

Aldridge busied himself pouring another glass and exerted every ounce of control not to tip it straight down his throat. There was the crux of it—not Jonathan’s defection, though Aldridge still believed he should have been able to prevent it. But Aldridge’s contribution to the loss of his other brother, his father’s bastard; Aldridge’s treatment of the woman David loved.

“Did you not know? She went with Jonathan. And I don’t think David will ever forgive me, Rede.”

I had just realised what a crucial part Aldridge played in Prudence’s backstory and the major misunderstanding between David and Prue when my group of Historical writers, the Bluestocking Belles, embarked on a three week marathon of interactive story telling on Facebook.  We invented a magical inn that allowed our fictional worlds to collide, and brought along our characters for an impromptu party.

I contributed one drunk and depressed Aldridge to the fun, and it was fun! Poor Aldridge. He had a frustrating time, with his advances to one lady after another being rejected, sometimes violently.

Then along came Mrs A. Mrs Angel is the invention of Catherine Curzon, and she is a wonderful character, mistress to princes, owner of brothels, and a rollicking good-time girl. Aldridge’s pursuit of Mrs A. jumped from thread to thread and took days, with one accident after another keeping him from his goal.

I decided to write it up as a light-hearted romp; the story of Aldridge and the golden-hearted harlot who saved him. But I soon realised that Aldridge needed quite a different kind of experience at this point in his life. Becky began to take shape in my mind – a broken bird, rescued by Aldridge but carrying scars from her past experiences. The book became Becky’s story, and the elderly baron Catherine and I had first envisaged became Hugh, Aldridge’s best friend, a man with his own scars.

And so, in the end, Becky and Hugh took over what began as Aldridge’s story, and A Baron for Becky is a far better book than I originally intended.

Where to from here? I have a vague idea, but quite a distance to travel first. In the main stream of my novel writing, I have yet to finish 1807. Aldridge will be a bit player in several more books before 1814, when his own story begins with a social reforming spinster bursting into his bedroom demanding that he come save his bastard son from a molly brothel. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Secret Realm New Year’s blog hop

BookcoverCCC2The contest is over, but Hand-Turned Tales is still free. Read on to find out more.

Welcome to my blog.

Whether you are hopping through the blogs or are a regular visitor to these pages, today you can enter to win here, and click on through the blogs to enter for more great prizes. Or go to the event page, here.

Happy New Year. In 2016, I’m planning to publish at least three novels, plus at least two novellas and other shorter stories and vignettes. First up is a surprise with the Bluestocking Belles in March, to be announced in February (so watch for it. In May, I’m releasing Embracing Prudence, which tells the story of Prue and her colleague and lover David the thief taker—sorry: David prefers the term enquiry agent.

farewell to kindness RGB2I hope you’ll join me often in 2016 to talk about books, and writing, and historical research.

Would you like to win Candle’s Christmas Chair, Farewell to Kindness, or A Baron for Becky? I’m giving away twelve ebooks through a Rafflecopter. To enter, all you have to do is read the excerpt below and answer the question. You’ll get a bonus entry for subscribing to my newsletter, and another for following me on Amazon. When Rafflecopter chooses the 12 winners, I’ll send them a message asking which books they want.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the excerpt, from A Baron for Becky.

A Baron for BeckyBecky and Sarah were waiting when Lord Overton arrived at two o’clock, just as he had promised. Becky paused on the doorstep. He had borrowed a curricle from Aldridge; she recognised the horses. It would be a tight fit for the three of them.

Sarah had no such qualms, and was already down in the street, renewing her acquaintance with Prince and Brown Beauty, chattering away to the groom Lord Overton had also borrowed, another old acquaintance.

“We’ll tuck Sarah between us where she will be warm, and out of the wind,” Lord Overton said, correctly interpreting her concern. “Neither of you are large. We will fit.”

It was a tight fit, and at first Sarah shrunk away from Lord Overton. Soon, though, she was telling him everything she knew about the horses, as they made their way through the streets to the park, the groom up behind.

With his focus divided between Sarah and the horses, Becky was free to watch him, and to wonder what life would be like as his wife. If he continued to be kind and respectful, if he were not putting on an act, if this plan of Aldridge’s worked…

By the end of the drive, Sarah and Lord Overton were friends, and he cemented the friendship by producing sugar cubes for her to feed the horses. She went to her governess and the schoolroom in full charity with him.

Lord Overton stood in the hall, smiling, watching her skip up the stairs.

“Do you intend to charm me by charming my daughter, Lord Overton?” Becky challenged.

He turned, laughing. “Is it working, Mrs Winstanley?” Then, serious again, “But no, I wanted to charm her, as you call it, for her own sake. Is she always so quiet and good?”

“She does not take easily to strangers,” Becky said. Sarah had reason to be wary, and Becky would do well to remember it. Still, Lord Overton’s attempt to win Sarah’s favour was more to his credit than not.

He returned for dinner that night, and it became the pattern for their days: an outing in the afternoon, dinner in the evening, and afterwards, cards, chess, or reading together. And they talked. Lord Overton had read many of the same books she enjoyed. He agreed with her views on enclosure. She did not share his confidence in the military genius of General Wellesley, but acknowledged that his own background as an army officer gave him the edge in judging such a thing.

She asked about his estate, and about his daughters, who would be her daughters, too. Perhaps. If she dared…

And at night in her bed, she wondered whether his shoulders were as broad, his hips as slender, as they looked.

Hand-Turned Tales2I also have a free book for you. Hand-Turned Tales contains three short stories and a novella. Just click on the link to find some of the eretailers where you can download it. And I’ll give away a print copy of Hand-Turned Tales to a random commenter.

But the hop isn’t over. There are more great prizes today, and even more in the days to come.

So thank you for visiting, and good luck at Lauren Royal’s website, on the next stop.

Or link back to the event page, here.

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Writing realistic rakes in romantic fiction

This post was first published on Quenby Olsen Eisenacher’s blog as part of my blog tour for A Baron for Becky.

Casinova

In modern historical romantic fiction, the hero is often a rake who sees the error of his ways when he falls in love with the heroine, and—after undergoing various trials—becomes a faithful husband and devoted family man.

Most of those rakes, I suggest, are not rakes at all. They’re what we today would call womanisers or players, but they’re not rakes in the sense that the term was used in Georgian and Regency England. Our rake heroes sleep with multiple lovers (either sequentially or concurrently) or keep a series of mistresses, or both. But back then, the term signified a much more disreputable character. It needed to. Otherwise, most of the male half of Polite Society would have been defined as rakes. And a fair percentage of the female half.

We are talking of a time when one in five women in London earned their living from the sex trade, guide books to the charms, locations, and prices of various sex workers were best-selling publications, men vied for the attention of the reigning courtesans of the day and of leading actresses, and both men and women chose their spouses for pedigree and social advantage then sought love elsewhere.

In those days, a rakehell was defined as a person who was lewd, debauched, and womanising. Rakes gambled, partied and drank hard, and they pursued their pleasures with cold calculation. To earn the name of rake or rakehell meant doing something outrageous—seducing innocence, conducting orgies in public, waving a public flag of corrupt behaviour under the noses of the keepers of moral outrage. For example, two of those who defined the term simulated sex with one another while preaching naked to the crowd from an alehouse balcony.

Drunkenness certainly didn’t make a man a rake—the consumption of alcohol recorded in diaries of the time is staggering. Fornication and adultery weren’t enough either, at least when conducted with a modicum of discretion (which meant in private or, if in public, then with other people who were doing the same thing).

Lord Byron earned the name with many sexual escapades, including—so rumour had it—an affair with his sister. His drinking and gambling didn’t help, either. But none of these would have been particularly notable if they had not been carried out in public.

The Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova mixed in the highest circles, and did not become notorious until he wrote the story of his life.

On the other hand, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, lived with his wife and his mistress, who was his wife’s best friend. The three did not share the details of their relationship with the wider world, so there was gossip, but not condemnation. Devonshire is also rumoured to have been one of Lady Jersey’s lovers (the mother of the Lady Jersey of Almack fame).

I planned for my Marquis of Aldridge to be a real rake: a person whose behaviour, despite his social status as the heir to a duke, causes mothers to warn their daughters about him. On the other hand, I didn’t want him to be a totally unsympathetic character. After all, not only is he the only hero on the scene for the first half of the book; he’s also going to be the hero of his own book after he has been through a few more trials and tribulations.

He has had mixed reviews since A Baron for Becky was published. Most reviewers like the rogue, and are asking for his story, while still acknowledging that he is a libertine. One or two dislike him heartily, and one said:

Note to author: your main characters were very interesting but you hinted at some type of redemption for one particular character that I just cannot fathom. I challenge you to make me like him better because I disliked him throughout the story.

Now there’s a challenge I can’t refuse!

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