Uncertain love on WIP Wednesday

Unrequited love.

He loves me, he loves me not. It’s not just a rhyme to chant while picking petals off a daisy or counting cherry stones; it’s an essential tool of the romance writer’s arsenal. We love to give our hero or heroine a bit of uncertainty to raise the stakes, and if each doubts the feelings of the other, all the better.

Do you have an extract to share in the comments where your hero or heroine thinks about or expresses their uncertainty? Or perhaps another character loves the hero or the heroine, and is doomed to disappointment? My expert is from A Raging Madness.

He was very tempted to kiss her but feared to change their relationship. Change it more. They were friends again, as they hadn’t been since she was a young girl and he a cheeky subaltern missing his home and his family.

But she loved him. One should not treat those one loves. That’s what she’d said. Those one loves. Loved how, though? As a friend? As a—Heaven forfend—as a brother?

Even if her love included the large measure of lust that coloured his for her, she had never been available for dalliance. If he tried a kiss, he would be lucky to get away with a slapped face. At worst, she would assume he was courting her. How he wished he could! For the first time in his life, he was experiencing the joys of that happy state, all but the physical intimacies, and he wanted them to go on forever.

But he had no place asking Ella to wed him. All he could offer was a broken crock of a man, made ugly with scars, subject to nightmares, prone to shedding splinters and lumps of metal from his leg.

A bored and useless man, at that. He had been a career officer. What was he now? He had investigated the Chirbury estates as a favour to his cousin, removing the land agents in two of them and buttressing the third with an assistant. But for all it proved to be necessary, the task had started as make-work, and his pride would not let him accept more.

He had no idea what to do with himself, and he certainly would not inflict himself on someone he was fast coming to love.

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Announcing A Raging Madness

A Raging Madness is now on prerelease at some eretailers.

It’s the second in The Golden Redepennings series, and stars Alex who waltzed in a wheelchair in the first. He’s recovering from a crippling injury that nearly cost him a leg. Ella, the heroine, is escaping in-laws who have been keeping her drugged and imprisoned. Together, they search for answers and a future.

Follow the book link for buy links and the blurb, and I’ll keep adding links as they go up.

I’ve also started a virtual tour to promote the book. Check it out here. There will be prizes!

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Antisepsis pre-Lister

According to a quick Google search, antisepsis was invented by Joseph Lister. A number of study sites make this claim, so it must be right. True? No, false. Lister pioneered the widespread use of carbolic acid for surgical instruments and operation theatres. That’s true. But the history of antisepsis is older and much more interesting.

Antisepsis is the use of special cleaning practice for cleaning a sick, delivery, or operating room and any wound. Anti=against and sepsis=the presence of harmful bacteria and their toxins in human tissue (or, in other words, infection).

And human beings have been fighting infection by various means since the dawn of time.

A little of what you fancy

Observation gave our ancestors lots of information about what happened when a person had an open wound, how likely the patient was to sicken and die, and what the carers could use to improve the odds.

The Ancient Greeks, the Egyptians, the Chinese, and the doctors of the Muslim World all wrote about and practiced antiseptic techniques. They used various substances to clean rooms, clothes, equipment, and people. They covered wounds with dressings coated in other substances. And all long before Lister. Wine or vinegar or alcoholic spirits. Honey. Certain muds. Mouldy bread. Distillations of sulphur, silver, or mercury. Herbs and mushrooms. Green tea. Lime and iodine. Even fire, to cauterise a wound or burn away a corpse or a patient’s clothing and dressings.

Something in the air

They were disadvantaged by not knowing the enemy they fought.

From the time of the Ancient Greeks, western medicine believed that wound infection was caused by air; that wounds became inflamed and then full of pus and eventually gangrenous because they were exposed to air.

It made sense. A person with a simple fracture healed with no infection. A compound fracture that broke the skin frequently led to infection. Similarly the difference between an internal wound and an exterior one. A person might die of some internal ailment, but their chances of infection were hugely increased by surgery to fix it.

So what was it about the air? Our medical pioneers had a couple of theories.

One was that cold was the precipitating factor. The inside of the body is a nice warm place. If the person has an injury or surgery, cold air gets into the wrong place and makes the person sick. So get the wound covered as quickly as possible with something that will keep the air out.

The other was to do with smells. Everyone could see for themselves that more people got sick in bad smelling places. And fewer of those who were sick survived. Moving a soldier out of the hospital where everything smelt awful and into a tent or barracks increased his chances of survival.

Hence the plethora of techniques to counter the smells of disease and corruption.

The techniques worked. Sort of. Some of the time

It was all very hit and miss, and how could it not be when germ theory had not yet been imagined, let alone proven? But mouldy bread, if it is the right kind of mould, will help to prevent infection in wounds, as will honey, and washing instruments in alcohol or boiling water or even simple soap will also help, as will thoroughly washing hands, changing bed sheets, and wearing clean clothes (rather than, for example, going straight to an operation from changing a dressing on a patient whose wound is infected).

The eighteenth century was a time of codification and discovery, laying the groundwork for the great advances of the nineteenth. The word ‘antisepsis’ appears in print for what was probably the first time in 1721, and both British and French doctors explored a variety of ways to prevent wounds from going bad.

My personal hero is Dr Alexander Gordon, a naval surgeon on half pay who became a general practitioner at Aberdeen Hospital, specialising in obstetrics. He wrote compellingly of the connection between contagion and puerperal fever 50 years before the pioneer Semnelweiss, and who even suggested parallels with the type of fever that appeared in wounds or after operations. His Treatise on the Epidemic Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen said:

By observation, I plainly perceived the channel by which it was propagated and I arrived at that certainty in the matter that I could venture to foretell what women would be affected with the disease, upon hearing by what midwife they were to be delivered, or by what nurse they were to be attended during their lying-in; and in almost every instance my prediction was verified.”

Touchingly, he admitted:

It is a disagreeable declaration for me to mention, that I myself was the means of carrying the infection to a great number of women …

What a guy. Clear headed, not so stuck on doing things by the book as to miss what was happening in front of his eyes, and ready to take responsibility when he realised that women only suffered from the illness if they were attended by nurses, midwives, or doctors who had attended a previous sufferer.

Not long after he published his theory, Gordon was called back to sea, where he contracted tuberculosis. He died in 1799.

Link with A Raging Madness

In A Raging Madness, my heroine was the daughter of an army doctor. As a girl and young woman, she had worked alongside her father, and she uses the skills she learned to operate on an abscess to save the hero.

She mentions her father’s agreement with Gordon’s theories to explain why she insists on cleanliness while operating. How did she and her father hear about them, since they were away overseas at the time? Ella’s father died in 1797, and the Treatise was not widely known.

Fortunately for me (but not for Aberdeen), the second of two epidemics of puerperal fever in Aberdeen was in 1792. I’m assuming that Gordon and Ella’s father were friends; perhaps they served together at the same hospital when they were training. And perhaps they corresponded after Gordon joined the navy and Ella’s father the army. It’s all possible, right?

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Tea with Alex

The best way to move Alex downstairs, his sister had decreed, was to press a chair into use and set a stout footman on each leg. Susan insisted he spend part of each day out of his room, and in truth he was going mad with only the same four walls, the same ceiling, to distract him from the pain and the craving for the oblivion of poppy juice. To which he would not surrender. He might be in agony, but at least he was in his right mind.

So here he was, dressed at least above the waist, ensconced on a sofa in the smaller of the two drawing rooms with a view out over the early Spring garden.

The blanket draped over his bandaged broken legs to hide them from sight and protect the modesty of the maids was the lightest Susan could find, most of its weight taken on cushions either side of the useless appendages. They would heal. Or so the doctors promised, though weeks ago they had proclaimed he was certain to die, so perhaps they were wrong again.

Susan had left him with a pile of books and a pack of cards, all within easy reach, and had promised him visitors to amuse him. Even so, he did not expect the butler’s announcement.

“Her Grace the Duchess of Haverford. The Marquis of Aldridge.”

Decades of conditioning had him attempting to rise—a poor effort that died in a white blaze of pain, and the gracious lady had seated herself and was holding his hand in a firm grip before he fought it back enough to be conscious of her again. And of her son, who was returning across the room from the brandy decanter, a glass in his hand.

“Redepenning,” he said, in greeting, handing over the drink. Alex let it burn down his throat, not waiting for it to warm. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. And again.

“Don’t try to talk until you are ready, Major Redepenning,” Her Grace cautioned. “The sick bed is no place for conventional manners. Besides, Aldridge and I have come to entertain you, not make you feel worse.”

Even a serving officer (at least one from his family) knew the Duchess of Haverford entertained visitors At Home on a Monday, and surely today was a Monday?

But Her Grace answered the unasked question. “I have been anxiously waiting to see for myself how you are, and today is the first that Mrs Cunningham allowed you to have visitors. So here I am, though it is a Monday, and Aldridge swears that the world shall wobble in its orbit at my departure from practice.”

“But one would not wish to be predictable, Mama,” Aldridge teased.

Alex cracked open an eyelid and then another. The room was no longer spinning, and the brandy had helped settle his nausea. He had been wrestling with his pain for long enough that the servants had brought in a tea trolley.

“Thank you for your good wishes,” he said, his voice calm, if a little strained.

The duchess gave his hand another squeeze and released it so that she could prepare herself a cup of tea. Aldridge, Alex noted, had helped himself to the brandy.

“I can see you are in pain, and look half-starved, my dear,” Her Grace said, “so I will need to take your sister’s word that your condition has improved, and forgive her for being so protective. Now. We shall not remain long, so what do you wish from us on this first visit? Shall Aldridge give you the news? Or shall I show you what we have brought to amuse you?”

“I have war, government, and court news,” Aldridge offered, “and Mama knows more than me about what is newsworthy in Society. If you want to hear about less disreputable matters,” he slid a glance sideways at his Mama, “we will ask Her Grace to step into the next room.”

The world was carrying on without him, and Alex could not summon the energy to care. “Presents, Your Grace? You are too kind.”

“My dear Major, you were raised almost a brother to my dear nephew, you are my good friend’s son, and I have known you from the cradle. I can spoil you if I wish. Besides…” She lowered her voice, “Her Majesty has told me something of the circumstances of your injury, and I am grateful on her behalf.”

Alex grimaced. All the gratitude in the world wouldn’t give him back the use of his legs.

But the duchess intended him to make the most of sitting in one place. In the ten minutes that was all she allowed herself, she loaded him with gifts, some purchased and others made specifically for him.

First, she had Aldridge and a footman bring in a table made with two legs so that it would fit across the sofa, and informed him that one with higher legs had been delivered to his bedroom.

“Now that you can sit up, Major Redepenning, you will find this surface more stable than a tray for taking meals, keeping up with your correspondence, playing cards, or whatever pleases you.”

A long procession of packages followed: books, a games board marked for backgammon on one side and chess on the other, the pieces in a matching box, several packs of cards, note paper, an inkwell that Aldridge assured him was non-spill.

So many, each showing the giver’s awareness of his interests and his limited abilities, but when Alex roused himself to express his gratitude, the duchess claimed that Aldridge had been her deputy in choosing what to bring, and Aldridge brushed off his thanks with a challenge to a game of backgammon “In a day or too, when you are more the thing.”

By the time Susan returned from whatever errand had taken her out, Alex had slept for a restless half hour and was laying out a solitaire game of patience on his new table. He greeted her with a smile, and she exclaimed with delight, “You are feeling better, Alex. I hoped you would.”

And he was, he discovered. The pain was no less, the legs no more co-operative, but the visit had done him good, reminding him that he had friends who loved him, and that the wide world still waited on the other side of this long stretch in the sickroom. He would get better. He vowed it. He owed it, after all, to the doctors, having confounded their expectations once.

This scene takes place some time in March 1807. Readers of Farewell to Kindness will see Alex, a secondary character in that book, still recovering but able to get around on crutches and in an invalid chair. My forthcoming novel, A Raging Madness (published 9 May 2017), begins in October of that same year, as does A Baron for Becky. Alex is the hero of A Raging Madness, and Aldridge could have been the hero of A Baron for Becky, but chose to please his family rather than follow his heart. Poor Aldridge.

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Shopping on WIP Wednesday

Crowe, Eyre; Johnson (1709-1784), Doing Penance in the Market Place 

Do your characters shop? Go to the modiste, the tailor, or the milliner? Buy a horse or a carriage at Tattersalls? Buy flowers from a girl on the corner?

This week, I’m looking for shopping excerpts. Mine is from A Raging Madness, which is coming out on 9 May. (I hope to be adding buy links within the week.) In this scene, my hero and heroine have been forced into travelling disguised as husband and wife, which is causing some discomfort. The market is in the town of Stowe-on-Trent.

They wandered the market, stopping first to buy some meat turnovers, rich in gravy and with crisp, flaky pastry that clung to their fingers so that Alex stopped at another clothing stall to buy a rag for them to wipe their hands. They shared a jug of small beer, and Alex purchased a pear each to crunch on while they continued around the stalls.

Pat returned, and trailed them at a distance, keeping them in sight but leaving them to one another’s company. They bought some supplies to put into the housekeeping on the boat: leaf tea, a ham bone with plenty of meat still on it, some vegetables, a loaf of bread. Alex bought her a bunch of Michaelmas daisies from a flower girl, which she held in the hand not tucked comfortably into the crook of his elbow, warm against his body.

The proximity heightened the thrum of awareness that had been plaguing her for days. Years. For years, she had kept the gorgeous Major Redepenning at a distance with a cool reserve, ruthlessly suppressing any outward signs of her unfortunate reaction to his physical presence.

Under the circumstances, her defences were in ruins. He had rescued her, believed in her, put himself at risk to help her. The least she could do was to respond to his conversational overtures, laugh at his jokes, enter into his plans for the rest of the day. Besides, for at least the rest of the canal trip—weeks though it may be—they had to play the part of newlyweds, whatever that cost her in uncomfortable dreams, asleep and awake.

No other man had ever affected her so. Perhaps if she had lusted for Gervase the way she yearned for Alex, they might have made something of their marriage? But no. Gervase would still have been a bully and a cheat. And besides, by the time she met him, it was too late. She was, sadly, a one-man woman. And Alex—though he would never know—Alex was the man.

A stall selling herbs and elixirs attracted her like a bee to nectar, and she was soon in deep discussion with the stall owner over the bundles and packages and bottles, while Alex leaned against the side of the stall and looked on with a smile.

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Tea with Ruth

Ruth Henwood had taken tea with the Duchess of Haverford several times, and each time had felt out of place; a pit pony in a herd of thoroughbreds; no, a metal kitchen mug somehow displaced in among the exquisite oriental tea cups.

Today was a thousand times worse. On every previous occasion, she had trailed along as companion to Lady Chirbury or one of her sisters, to be included in the conversation not because she belonged, but because the ladies she worked for loved her and because the duchess was kind. Today, she was alone, and here by personal invitation.

She had reread the perfumed note several times; checked that the inscribed name was indeed her own; traced the signature with one mystified finger. Eleanor Haverford. What did Her Grace want?

Had she somehow discovered Ruth’s less than stellar origins? She had been born into the lower reaches of gentry as her improvident father and foolish mother made the final fall into poverty, orphaned before she was twelve, and educated only through the mercy of a charity school and a sponsor with a kindness for her mother. At her very first job as a governess, she had failed to protect herself or her charges. Somehow, years later, she found herself treated as an extra sister by the ladies of an earl. Surely they would stand up for her if the duchess was inclined to expose her to Society as the fraud she was?

She shifted uncomfortably then stilled her limbs. A lady did not fidget. A lady sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and her face composed and calm, not matter how much turmoil disturbed her mind and her heart.

“Miss Henwood? Her Grace will see you now.” Ruth rose and followed the maid from the little room where she had been deposited to await the duchess’s pleasure. No. That was a sour thought. She had arrived early, and had waited not above ten minutes, for all it felt like hours.

The duchess was waiting an elegant room Ruth had seen before, but it seemed somehow larger and richer with only the two of them present, for the maid simply opened the door for Ruth and withdrew.

At the duchess’s invitation to take a seat, Ruth realised she had been frozen just inside the room. Only years of practice at hiding her thoughts allowed her to cross to the indicated chair; to keep up her side of a harmless conversation about the weather and Ruth’s beverage preferences.

What was the duchess up to? Even if Ruth dared put that question to the exalted lady, she would not receive an answer until Her Grace was good and ready. The duchess was known both for her near omnipotent knowledge about those who were broadly called Society, and her ability to keep her own council. She would speak if and when she was ready, and not before.

Ruth finished her tea and accepted a second cup, ate one of the dainty savoury tarts, discussed the dangers and benefits of the new gas lighting, and agreed that the fashion for square necklines would be very flattering to Kitty, Lady Chirbury’s sister.

Indeed, several of the gowns ordered for Kitty’s coming Season had that neckline. Ruth managed not to frown; the duchess herself was sponsoring Kitty at the Queen’s first Drawing Room in the new year, with her debutante ball to follow right here at Haverford House. The social whirl Kitty had so eagerly anticipated for several years was almost upon them, but last summer’s experiences had sucked the joy from her.

“Yes; I am very pleased with our purchases so far,” the duchess commented. “I am not so pleased, however, with what I observe of our dear Kitty.” She held up a hand as if to stop Ruth from commenting. “She jumps at shadows, and I see shadows in her eyes, Miss Henwood. Something has happened. She manages to hide it very well, especially when her sister is watching, but she has consented to this Season to please Lady Chirbury and not because she wishes for it.”

That was true. Kitty had even cited Anne’s desire to give her a Season when Ruth had suggested they could postpone if Kitty felt unready.

“You must see that I need to know, so that I can protect and support her, Miss Henwood. I cannot ask Kitty herself; not when all I have is guesses and rumours. Nor will I ask Lady Chirbury, given her condition. So I depend on you. What happened to my protegée? And what did Lord Selby have to do with it?”

Ruth is a secondary character in Farewell to Kindness, and a witness to at least one of the experiences that changed Kitty from a carefree and confident young woman to one who is papering over the cracks in her composure by sheer force of will. Kitty will have her turn as heroine later in The Golden Redepenning series, in The Flavour of Our Deeds.

Also see Tea with Anne, Tea with Kitty, and Tea with Rede.

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Confidantes and Confederates on WIP Wednesday

Who do your main characters confide in? Their confidantes and confederates hear their plans, their worries, and perhaps even the secrets of their hearts. Some give excellent advice. Some slouch off to grumble to their fellows. But we couldn’t do without them.

This week, I’m opening the comment stream to extracts about those secondary characters. My bit is from Farewell to Kindness, published two years ago this coming Saturday. My hero is receiving advice from his enquiry agent, who has been his friend since school. Oh, and yes, that is David Wakefield. This scene comes between the end of Revealed in Mist and the beginning of its sequel, Concealed in Shadow.

As Will left, John appeared with a tray—hot coffee and some bread rolls stuffed with meat and pickle. “Get your mouth around that lot, then. Expect it’ll be a while till we eat again.”

“Rede, I can’t come to Longford with you.” David was back on the balls of his feet again, and leaning slightly towards the door.

“Care to tell me what’s going on, David? Perhaps I can help.”

David paused, then asked, “Was that a special licence you gave Will, by any chance?”

Rede accepted the change of subject, and nodded.

“You love Anne.”

Again he nodded.

“So much you’re willing to give up the revenge you’ve worked three years for.”

“I still think they need to be stopped. Not for revenge, but what they’re doing is evil, David. Anne’s safety comes first, though. Once I know she’s safe, I’ll figure out how to stop the Wades, Spencer and their backer in a way that doesn’t put her at risk.”

“Prue… Mist, I mean—she’s gone, Rede, and I didn’t tell her how I feel.”

“Surely she knows…”

David shook his head. “How? Men make love to women they don’t love every day of the week. How is a woman to know we love them if we don’t say? I need to find her. I need to tell her, and I need to make sure she’s not in danger. I’m sorry, I can’t come with you.”

“No. Don’t be sorry.” Rede clasped David’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “Go well, and look after your lady. I wish you every success.”

“And I you, old friend.” He hesitated again, his heart and body still straining towards the door. “If I think of anything else, I’ll write.”

“Go. Find your lady.”

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Tea with Kitty

Her Grace paused for a moment in the doorway of the private sitting room where today’s guest was waiting. Kitty’s attention was currently caught by something outside the window, so Eleanor could examine her without embarrassing the young woman. Her popularity on the social rounds was not unexpected. She had wealth, youth, good looks, intelligence and excellent manners. Her beautiful voice charmed all who heard her sing. And the value of Eleanor’s sponsorship could not be discounted.

But something was wrong. She was too thin. Her eyes, when she thought herself unobserved, hinted at shadowed horrors. Eleanor’s servants reported that she kept a lamp burning in her room all night, and was besieged by nightmares even so. She flinched when touched unexpectedly, had to steel herself to accept the arm of gentlemen to whom she had just been introduced, and refused any but the most decorous of round and line dance.

Eleanor was determined to get to the bottom of it, for she could not help if she didn’t understand. So today she had sent Ruth, Kitty’s constant companion,  on an errand to allow her to see the girl alone.

Eleanor knew something of what had happened in June when her nephew, the Earl of Chirbury, had brought down a criminal gang run by people with the highest connections. The whole matter had been kept very quiet, though the death of two peers made complete secrecy impossible. Eleanor did not know why it affected Kitty, or how, but her knowledge of the younger of the two malefactors meant she could make an educated guess

Best, perhaps, just to ask.

“My dear Kitty,” she said, sweeping into the room. “Come and sit beside me. You shall make the tea, my dear, and tell me what you are most enjoying about London.”

A servant had already set out the tea makings, and a selection of savouries and sweet cakes. Eleanor kept the conversation light. Kitty’s pleasures, it seemed, were solitary or with a friend: visits to the bookshops, museums, and art displays; trips to the theatre; shopping for presents to send to her sisters and her niece.

“So tell me, Kitty,” Eleanor said, once they both had a cup of fragrant oolong, “what did the Earl of Selby do to you?”

Kitty is the younger sister of Anne, the heroine in Farewell to Kindness. The story discloses her relationship with the wicked Earl of Selby and the reason for her distress. Farewell to Kindness was published in 2015 and is the first book in the Golden Redepenning series. I’m publishing the second, A Raging Madness, in May this year, and am working on the third, The Realm of Silence. Kitty’s turn comes fifth in the series, in The Flavour of Our Deeds.

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Six more weeks until a new book baby

I’m preparing to publish the novel A Raging Madness, which is set in Regency England, mostly on canal boats or in a tumble-down manor house in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

The book is currently with the proofreader, and will be released on 9 May.

So what does that mean ‘preparing to publish’? For me, it means a four-tab spreadsheet to help me keep track of my planning, lots of emails and messages as I beg people for guest spots on their blogs and set up a couple of Facebook parties, a print book cover and advertising images to design, a short story to write for my April newsletter, which will go out as soon as I have buy links, and a bit of soul-searching as I try to figure out how to second-guess the juggernaut that is Amazon and the shifting mass of chaos that is the bazillion-book market.

I’m off on holiday next Friday. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. No day job, but family to spend time with and places to go. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, here’s the book blurb. Below are the covers I’m redesigning for the rest of the series plus the blurb, such as it currently is, for Book 3. Click to the link above if you’d like to read the first chapter of the new book.

Their marriage is a fiction. Their enemies are all too real.

Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he has married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return.

Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. Perhaps she will learn to bear him.

In their masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they expected. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.

The Golden Redepennings started with Farewell to Kindness, and continues for seven books. Farewell has a new cover to match A Raging Madness.

The next in the series is The Realm of Silence.

When secrets are revealed, lives change forever

Susan Cunningham’s carefully managed life spirals out of control when her daughter Amy disappears from a select ladies’ academy in Cambridge. Susan will do anything to find the missing fifteen year old, even accept help from Gil Rutledge, who once made her childhood miserable and who stirs her as her deceased husband never did.

Gil seizes the chance to pursue the runaway up the Great North Road. It’s a holiday from responsibilities he never wanted; a temporary escape from his mother and sisters, his dead brother’s bankrupt estate, a life he is not trained for and didn’t expect. And the chance to spend time with the one woman he has ever loved.

Catching up with Amy is only the start. To save her, they must stand together against French spies and prisoners of war, English radicals, the British army and navy, and their own families. And even risk their hearts.

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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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