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.”


Attraction on WIP Wednesday

If the course of our love stories ran smooth, we wouldn’t have much of a story. We need disagreement, misunderstanding, opposition, even disaster. The forces pulling our lovers apart need to be strong and real enough to sustain our readers’ interest, but the forces pulling them together need to be stronger.

This week, I’m posting an extract about attraction. In A Raging Madness, the couple have history, and the attraction is unwilling. I’d love to see an extract from your work in progress, where your hero or heroine expresses their attraction in their thoughts, words, or actions.

Ella was grateful that Jonno had arrived, reminding her that Mr and Mrs Sedgewick were a fiction, and Alex’s loving touches and knee-melting glances merely stage dressing.

She had been, she found, unjustifiably proud of being a faithful wife, a chaste widow. Other women allowed passion to lure them into ignoring moral behaviour, breaking their marriage vows, and risking their reputation and their health. Not Ella. She had too much self respect; too much common sense. She had seen the results of careless coupling, both in social consequences and in patients she had treated: soldiers and their camp followers.

But now she suspected she had no right to her pride. She had never fallen because she had never been tempted. How easy it would be to remove the rolled blanket. Alex would not refuse her; she was certain of that. And who would know? Big Dan and Pat? They believe ‘Mr and Mrs Sedgewick’ to be husband and wife, and on their marriage tour. Big Dan undoubtedly assumed that they were exercising their marital privileges every night.

She had not much enjoyed that side of marriage, though it could be pleasant enough when Gervase was minded to take his time. Instinct told her that the act would be different with Alex; that at long last she might learn for herself the ecstasy other women spoke over cooking pots, or laundry, or on long treks in the wake of the army.

Each day, piety and self-respect seemed colder and colder bedfellows. Each day, the thought of what she might discover in Alex’s arms tempted her more.

Yes. Jonno had arrived just in time.


Animals on WIP Wednesday

All sorts of animalsThose of you who subscribe to my newsletter will know that I put a short story in each issue: one I write specifically for my newsletter. In February, I asked the newsletter readers to tell me what they’d like to see in the April newsletter, and the story I drew from the replies was one about a rescued dog and the love and bond that is formed between him and the rescuer.

That story is percolating at the back of my brain, but it got me thinking about the times I’ve used pets and other animals for my characters to relate to; a creature with whom they can be themselves.

How about you? Do you have animals in your stories? How do you use them? Please share an excerpt from a current work-in-progress in the comments.

Mine is from A Raging Madness, which is back from beta readers, requires a restructure in the last third and is currently burning a hole in the corner of my otherwise occupied brain.

The carriage way turned onto the village road. She kept to the side, ready to hide in the ditch if anyone came. Alone, in her shift, and still dazed from the drug? Being returned to the Braxtons would be the best she could expect from a casual passer by, and the worst… She shuddered. She had travelled with the army, worked as her father’s assistant, been Gervase Melville’s wife. She knew the worst that could happen to a woman at the mercy of the merciless.

A soft whicker caught her attention. Falcon’s Storm. He was a lighter shape above the hedgerow, stretching his neck to reach his mistress.

“Storm, my sweet, my champion.” She stopped to fuss over him for a minute that stretched into a timeless pause, crooning nonsense about having no treats in her pocket for she lacked a pocket. He lipped at her shoulder and her hair, but showed no offence at being denied the expected lump of carrot or apple.

“I missed you, too,” she assured him. “If only you were old enough, dearest, you would carry me away, would you not?”

He was solidly built for a two-year old, but so was she, for a woman. He could not take her, and she could not take him. She walked away with a deep sigh. He was the one thing in the world that was solidly, legally, beyond a doubt hers; her only legacy from the swine she had married, born of her mare, Hawk of May, and Gervase’s charger.

But if she took him, how would she feed him? And if they were hunting for a woman and a colt… No, she could not take him with her, and for the same reason, she could not open the gate and set him loose. He would follow her, for sure.

She could only pray that the Braxtons would leave him to the care of old Jake, the groom, or sell him to someone who appreciated him for the future champion he was.

Storm followed her to the corner of his field, and called after her until she was out of sight.


White Knights on WIP Wednesday

Or slightly tarnished, or even possibly close to black. Needed or not needed. Hero, heroine, or supporting role. This week, I’m looking for a character charging to the rescue.

My excerpt is from A Raging Madness, which has been out with beta readers and is in my sights for a weekend edit, all going well. It comes from near the beginning. An old acquaintance has turned up at the hero’s inn, in her shift, dishevelled and dirty, and clearly under the influence of drugs. He hides her from her pursuers, who claim she is a lunatic. Now he is listening to her story.

“Now, Lady Melville. What trouble are you in, and how can we help?” And would he be able to believe a word she said? She did not act like a lunatic, apart from appearing half-naked in his room in the middle of the night. Apart from the panicked response to her brother-in-law.

That she had taken opium in some form was beyond a doubt. The contracted pupils, the loss of appetite, the shaky hand, the restless shifting in her seat, all spoke to that. Thanks to his injury, Alex had far too close and personal an experience of the symptoms to mistake them.  The bruises on her jaw made him wonder how voluntary her drug taking was, but perhaps her keepers needed to drug her to keep her calm.

Sane or not, Alex hoped he would not need to hand her back to Braxton. Her fear might be irrational, but when she had stood at bay, begging for his help, he had been thrown back ten years. Not that she begged him then. But he left camp on a short trip for supplies, and returned to find Ella married and much changed, her fire banked; her joy extinguished. That time, he had ignored her plight, hardened his heart and left her to the fate she had engineered. And had suffered with her as the consequences quenched her vitality and sucked away the last of her childhood. Suffered, and been powerless to help.

“I have been drugged,” Ella said baldly. “Twice a day. For weeks now. They won’t tell me why. If I refuse, they force me.”

“‘They’ being Braxton and his wife?” Alex prompted.

“And Constance’s dresser.”

“Go on.” He was careful to show no disbelief, no surprise.

“I have been kept in my room. They locked the door. They took all my clothes, my shoes. I saw you out the window and so I came. Will you help me, Alex?”

“I can take you to the rector.” Even as he said it he remembered the plump little man greasing at Braxton’s elbow. Ella would find no help there.

“No!” Her rejection was instant and panicked. “He will give me back and they will send me to that place. No, Alex. You do not know what they plan for me.” She was weeping. Alex had seen her calm under cannon fire, dry-eyed at her father’s funeral, efficient and unemotional in the midst of the carnage of a hospital tent after a battle. He had never seen her weep.

He captured her hands, and kept his voice low and soothing. “I do not, Ella. Tell me.”

“I heard them last night. Edwin has found an asylum that will—Constance says I must be driven insane in truth. They rape the women there, Edwin says, and Constance says I am horribly resilient but even my sanity will not withstand multiple rapes.” The last word was whispered around a sob.

Alex kept his hands still with an effort. They wanted to punch and rend. No wonder she was panicked, but it could not be true, could it? Braxton was not a man Alex could like, but such wickedness? To his own sister-in-law?

“And you do not know why, Ella?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“The rector and the squire… They both believed Edwin and Constance. They came to see me, and I begged for their help, and they would not, Alex. They believed me insane. You do not believe me insane, do you, Alex?”

He did not know. That was the truth of it. His gut told him to destroy her persecutors and carry her off somewhere safe. His gut had never been reliable where Ella was concerned.

“Please, Alex.”

Alex made up his mind. “Ella, you will be safe here. Jonno and I will go and see what we can find out. Jonno, tell the innkeeper we are taking the room for another day. Then have my chaise brought round.”

“I will tell them not to do out the room,” Jonno declared. “I’ll say my gentleman won’t have anyone but me handling his stuff. You’ll be safe here, my lady.”

Alex had not taken his eyes from Ella’s. She was calmer now, the tears drying on her cheeks. “You will not betray me? No, of course not. I trust you, Alex. I know we have not always agreed, but you will not betray me.”

“I will not betray you.” Though how he would keep his word if she was, in truth, insane, he did not know. Certainly, her story sounded crazy. But she had bruises on her jaw, and the rector had been lied to. And Alex did not like Braxton or his wife.


Opportunity knocks on WIP Wednesday

This week, I’m thinking about opportunities lost and opportunities seized. Do your characters steal a kiss or catch a ship or turn left instead of right, and that made all the difference? Or do they miss their chance, and the story unfolds from their regrets?

Share an excerpt of the opportunity or the aftermath. Mine is from The Realm of Silence. My hero and heroine are travelling alone, posing as husband and wife, but sleeping in separate bedrooms. I’m being economical and squeezing two opportunities into one segment. One recent, and one long past.

Susan managed not to break into a run, but only because five paces took her to her door. Once it was safely shut behind her, she sagged against it, tipping her head back, eyes closed, heart racing.

She heard Gil’s door slam. Perhaps the wind caught it, though she preferred to think he had been shaken out of his imperturbable calm. Serves him right.

Why did she kiss him? She did not even like him. And why on earth did he kiss her back, taking over the embrace and setting her on fire. Annoying, arrogant, overbearing.

She crossed to peer into the mirror, tracing her lips with one finger. They tingled, tender from his passionate assault. Or from hers, since it had begun gently enough. Her body hummed; demanding that she march across the hall and finish what she started.

Her breath huffed; a laugh that caught like a sob. She had come full circle. Long ago, on the other side of her entire adult life, she had been kissed by Gilbert Rutledge, had kissed him back, had waited with all the confidence of her seventeen years for him to speak to her father. Until she learned from gossiping matrons that he had been posted overseas.

She had read into the kiss more than he intended. She would be a fool to repeat the error.




Surprises on WIP Wednesday

My friend Caroline Warfield shared the following story about a conversation between the Hollywood screenwriter Charles MacArthur and Charlie Chaplin.

“How, for example, could I make a fat lady, walking down Fifth Avenue, slip on a banana peel and still get a laugh? It’s been done a million times,” said MacArthur. “What’s the best way to get the laugh? Do I show first the banana peel, then the fat lady approaching, then she slips? Or do I show the fat lady first, then the banana peel, and then she slips?”

“Neither,” said Chaplin without a moment’s hesitation. “You show the fat lady approaching; then you show the banana peel; then you show the fat lady and the banana peel together; then she steps over the banana peel and disappears down a manhole.”

This is a wonderful hint for plotting, so this week I’ve been thinking about those manhole moments. Do you have any? Where you’d set up a certain expectation for your readers and then you do something else? Please share an excerpt in the comments.

My excerpt is from The Lost Treasure of Lorne, a made-to-order story I’m writing as a party prize. The curse comes to fruition at midnight. Or does it?

The three of them met in Michael’s private sitting room to wait for midnight, and in ones and twos the ghosts seeped through the walls to join them.

“Do you suppose the servants are mistaken about the date?” John asked as the clock chimed eleven times.

“Or about the consequence,” Michael suggested. “The ghosts will stay in the castle, and not all be forfeit to the devil.”

“If the curse is true and the date is true…” Caitlin said, as the ghosts crowded around her nodding, “then we have less than an hour to find the answer.” The ghosts seemed to lose interest, wandering off again to their corners.

“I can’t think of anywhere we have not looked,” Michael grieved. “Fiona.” He stood in front of the ghost of his young wife, so that she had to look up at him. “Fiona, I want to help. Can’t you tell us how to find the treasure? And the casket with the marriage lines? Please, Fiona.”

But Fiona slid her eyes away from him and circled around him to join the others in the corner.

They watched the hands of the clock shift with glacial speed towards midnight, and still the ghosts remained, even after 31 August became 1 September. Caitlin had no idea what she expected. Anything from a silent disappearance to Satan himself arriving in clouds of fire and sweeping her relatives into the maw of hell. For nothing to happen at all was almost a let down, relieved though she was.

“Is the clock slow, perhaps?” John suggested, and they waited another interminable half hour.

“We might as well go to bed,” Caitlin said at last. “Either the legend is wrong or the date is.”

“The date!” Michael stopped short, halfway across the room to the door. “It isn’t 31 August.”

“No,” John agreed. “It is after midnight.”

“That’s not what I mean. The Calendar Act. The Calendar Act, Caitlin.”


Acts of caring in WIP Wednesday

In a lot of books, one main protagonist cares for the other during an illness or after an injury. It is a way for a hero or heroine to show that they care, an opportunity for each of them to see the kinder, gentler side of the other. Particularly in the mannered world of the Regency, this helps move the relationship along.

This week, I’m inviting you to post a passage about one of your characters caring for the other. Interpret that how you will.

My piece comes from A Raging Madness, where they pretty much take it in turns to be injured or ill, and to look after one another.

Light was filtering through the curtains when Ella woke. Her head felt stuffed with rags, and her thoughts skittered away from any kind of coherence. She had dreamed her nightmare, the old nightmare of the moment her girlhood ended. But this time, her assailant was not Gervase, and Alex was in the crowd, and did not turn away in disgust and horror.

She pulled herself up to sitting, and leant back against the pillows to give her head time to stop spinning. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of something that should not be in her bed chamber.

Was that Alex? Sleeping in her chair, with his head back and his mouth open? She shook her head and looked again. He had not faded like her other dreams, and besides, she had never dreamed him here, in her bed chamber in the Redepenning townhouse. And in a chair at that, not tucked beside her in the large comfortable bed.

She had a screaming thirst on her, as if she had been drugged again… And with the thought came disjointed memories from the previous night. Nothing in sequence or in detail, but enough that she whimpered, and Alex was awake in an instant.

“Ella, I have you safe. We will sort it out.”

Those words were among the memories; repeated over and over again in Alex’s dearly beloved voice. Something was very wrong that he felt the need for such reassurance.

She tried to speak, but her mouth was too dry and it came out as a croak. Alex filled a glass from the jug on the side table and brought it to her.

“What happened?” she asked, when she could speak. “What is wrong, Alex?”

“What do you remember?” He pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat beside her, possessing himself of one of her hands, and she clung to him as she tried to sort her fragments into a coherent picture.


Beginnings in WIP Wednesday

I typed THE END twice yesterday: once on the novel A Raging Madness and once on the short story for my February newsletter. I hope today to finish the slightly longer short story I’m writing as a party prize, but meanwhile, I’ve edited the short story and written an entirely new beginning.

Novels show a journey: the beginning and the end might mirror one another, but they show the distance travelled. In short stories, we see a mere glimpse of the journey, and the focus is on one transformative moment for the main character. Since I mostly write romance, the focus is usually on making the relationship, and therefore the love, believable. So my beginning needs to kick us into the story quickly, and my end needs to tie the last knot neatly, preferably linking back to the beginning.

And the original beginning of ‘A souvenir from Scotland‘ just didn’t work.

This week, I’m inviting you to share a few paragraphs of beginning from your work in progress (novel, novella, or short story). The beginning of the work, if you will, or the beginning of a chapter if you prefer.

Here’s mine. (If you’d like to know what happens next, the full story will be a gift in my February newsletter):

York, 23 December 1815

Her brother was home. Megan Walsh almost rushed straight out into the evening air when her husband told her he had passed Ned’s place and seen lights on the floor that Ned rented, but Thomas persuaded her to wait for morning, and she managed it, just, though she read the cryptic note Ned had sent another twenty times before at last it was a sufficiently civilised hour to go calling.

Yes, the landlady agreed, Mr Broderick was home, and Mrs Walsh would never guess…

But Megan hadn’t waited, hurrying up the stairs to knock on Ned’s door. He opened it himself, and she threw herself on him.

“Ned! I was so worried when you were a fortnight overdue and then I got your note. What a note, Ned. ‘On my way home. I have a surprise for you; something I found in Scotland. You told me I needed one, and you were right.’ I have racked my brains, Ned, and I cannot think what you mean.”

Ned took her arm, and led her through into the sitting room, and Thomas trailed behind. But they both stopped short when they found it was already occupied.

A small dark-haired woman, neatly dressed in a slightly old-fashioned gown, sat sipping tea by the fire, and she stood when they entered, looking wary.

“Ariadne, may I present my dear sister and her husband, Mr and Mrs Thomas Walsh? Megan, Thomas, please meet Mrs Broderick. Megan, I took your advice and got myself a wife.”

Ned looked so proud, and the woman so nervous, that Megan swallowed the sharply worded comment that came first to her tongue and instead just said, “How?”



Surprises on WIP Wednesday

I’m on the home straight with A Raging Madness. Ten more scenes, I think, and the mystery will unravel, but not before Alex and Ella have to decide what matters to them most.

They have several more surprises in store;  the book has been a series of them, mostly nasty. They’re almost due a nice one. Almost. Meanwhile, one of the latest incidents has provided today’s excerpt.

As always, I invite you to post an excerpt on the day’s theme in the comments. Surprises. Of any kind: exciting, unpleasant, spoken or in action. Mine is snakes.

“No thank you, Miller. I have had sufficient to drink. Indeed, you can put the rest of this into the slop bucket.” Ella handed her cup to Miller.
“But you must have your chocolate, my lady. I made it especially for you.”
Ella looked at the cup, and almost picked it up. Whether it was her irritation with the maid’s insistence or her revulsion at the thought of any more liquid, she decided against it.
“No, Miller. I thank you for making it, but I will not drink it this afternoon. In fact, please do not make it unless I ask for it.”
For a moment, she thought the maid would argue some more, but Miller pressed her lips together and turned away to take the remains of the tea into the bedroom.
“Amy, I will have my wash now, darling. And you should find your room and freshen up from your journey.”
Ella was about to follow Miller when the maid screamed.
“Your Hounslow has won my admiration, Susan,” Alex told his sister over dinner after the fuss was all over. Hounslow had joined Jonno and Alex in recapturing the snakes Miller had released when she knocked the slop bucket over in her shock at its contents.
He was now directing an inch by inch search of the room to make sure they’d not missed any of the creatures, and proposed to spread the search to the whole house to prevent further nasty surprises. After he finished supervising the dinner service to his new employers and their guests.
Adders! They were shy creatures, on the whole, slithering away from an encounter with human beings. But, as Miller discovered, they would bite if they saw no alternative, such as if they were woken from hibernation as these were, disturbed with no way out except through a person.
The maid had been put to bed, her bite washed and Miller herself dosed with elderberry wine. Apart from some pain and swelling, she had not yet evinced symptoms of severe poisoning, but adder venom was not to be trivialised. Ella had set another maid to watch Miller, with a list of symptoms of which to beware.
The whole household was on alert to regard all receptacles with caution. Hounslow, however, had taken firm charge of incipient hysteria amongst the maids, and had fostered a competition in bravery amongst the footmen, grooms, and carpenters by suggesting the maids could depend on their protection.
“But how could the snakes have got there, Uncle Alex?” Amy asked.
Alex had just finished a frustrating and unproductive hour questioning servants and carpenters about who had been into the room, or seen carry the bucket or a bag that could have contained snakes. “I don’t yet know, Amy, but I intend to find out. Meanwhile, Jonno has gone into the village to see if he can find anyone who has recently uncovered a nest of the pests, and to borrow a couple of dogs to help search the house.”


Weddings on WIP Wednesday

Weddings are a given in what I write. Sooner or later. Sometimes after the story ends, and sometimes before it begins, but weddings. So today I’m looking for you to post me an excerpt about a wedding. It doesn’t have to show the actual wedding of your hero and heroine, though it could. It could be weddings remembered, weddings planned for, weddings attended.

My two come from A Raging Madness. The first is Ella remembering her first wedding, what brought it about, and what her marriage was like.

“I don’t really remember the first time. Just disjointed bits. I was still fogged by the drug the second time, in the morning, when Dadda came. I remember him shouting, and Gervase laughing, and then lots of people. Faces. Eyes. Jeering.”

Like the other night. Alex would kill that bitch Patrice, and Farnham, and the Blaxtons. And then he would go to Cheshire and dig Melville up and bury him again in a pigpen. No. A midden. No, both. Every midden and pigpen in the county, till even Judgement Day couldn’t find all the pieces to put him back together again.

Ella snuggled into him again, putting a comforting hand on the side of his face. “It is alright, Alex. It was a long time ago. Dadda had a bad seizure right there in the tent, and I think the Colonel wanted to make sure I was protected, for he told Gervase he had a choice between wedding me or being shot. And he sent for the chaplain to perform the ceremony there and then.

It was not so bad. Dadda recovered, and he and the Colonel made Gervase look after me.”

Except for the constant sneering, the neglect, the disdain. Physical abuse, too, mostly where it did not show, but Alex had heard Ella explain away more than one bruise as a trip or a bump, darting a cautious glance at Melville all the while. And nightly rapes. And a camp full of men who should have been honoured to protect her and who instead abandoned her to her abuser.

The second is her wedding day to Alex. People have been told that the pair have been married for weeks, but those in the know have organised a celebration for when the couple return from the church.

When they entered the house, the nursery and schoolroom party were waiting to bombard them with ribbons and rice, and streamers cut from paper, and to escort them to the large parlour, where the adults waited under a big decorated sign with somewhat tipsy capitals that read, ‘Lord and Lady Renshaw’. Tea trolleys laden with sandwiches, pastries, cakes, and other tasty treats jaded it a party lunch, and they were the guests of honour.

“I told Anne you had not had a proper wedding celebration, dear Ella,” Susan said, “since you married under such hurried circumstances, so today is a party for you and Alex.”

“You must have wondered at it,” the countess commented, “that I sent you on such an errand when this is your first day in our home, but Susan and I plotted this last night, and it was her part to keep you out of the way till we were ready. We are so happy for you and Alex.”

The women carried Ella off to one side of the room, and the menfolk surrounded Alex and pressed a glass of wine into his hand.

“Your wife will be fine,” Alex’s brother Rick reassured him. “Our women just want to know her. They have heard fine praise from Susan.

“You’ve spoiled our fun a little,” Rede complained, “having the party eight weeks after the wedding. Now would be our chance to tell you everything that might go wrong on the wedding night.”