First lines on WIP Wednesday

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

Chapter Two:

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

Chapter Four:

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

Chapter Seven:

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

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Scandal on WIP Wednesday

After: William Hogarth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transport on WIP Wednesday

Boat, carriage, horse, train, rocketship or shanks pony, our characters need to get around. In today’s WIP Wednesday, I’d love to see your excerpts about travel. Mine is from Forged in Fire, my Bluestocking Belles’ box set story for 2017. My characters are tourists in New Zealand’s Rotorua in 1886.

Lottie was pleased to be on the road again. The morning had been a trial with Myrtle determined to exact vengeance for Lottie’s avoidance of her trap. She might calm down a bit now they were once more with the rest of the party, since Mr. Farthingale was avoiding Lottie’s gaze and speaking to her as seldom as politeness allowed, though a gleam in Mr. Farthingale’s eye suggested she should be careful not to let him catch her alone.

The Pritchard family normally took one carriage, while Mr. Farthingale joined Myrtle’s party in the other. How could Lottie avoid the horrid man? Fortunately, her interests and Myrtle’s aligned, and when Myrtle suggested that the two Misses Pritchard might like to join her carriage to discuss London fashions ‘to while away another boring bush trip’, Lottie eagerly seconded her, but lowered her lids to veil her eyes when Mr. Berry climbed up to take the seat opposite her. If Myrtle caught a hint of how Mr. Berry affected her, Lottie would never hear the end of it.

The road wound around the shores of the lake, and then struck up into the hills. They would spend two nights at Te Wairoa, since the trip to the famed terraces of Rotomohana would consume the day in between.

Mr. Berry was distant today, too, but he smiled when he caught her looking at him, so she acquitted him of prejudice and just wondered what had him out of sorts. No. Sad. Something had happened to distress him, though he hid it well.

She left him to his brooding and Myrtle and the young ladies to their discussion, all but pressing her nose to the window. Boring? By no means. Lottie could not see enough of the ever-changing textures and the unending variety of greens in the passing scenery.

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Relatives on WIP Wednesday

This week’s post is about relatives. All of our protagonists have them, even the orphans. And, dead and alive, they contribute to our hero’s and heroine’s situation, if only by helping to form their character.

As always, I invite you to put an excerpt in the comments where a relative of your hero or heroine is mentioned or appears. Mine is from Forged in Fire, my story for the Bluestocking Belles 2017 boxed set.

Bother. Botheration. Not for the first time since Cousin Myrtle had offered her a refuge from her disgrace, Lottie wished she had dared a few of the choice epithets she’d heard her brother use. He always apologised for offending her delicate sensibilities, and at the time, she had been shocked, as her upbringing demanded. But oh how she wished he was still alive to shock her again.

She tucked her guilt and her grief back where they belonged, deep below the surface. This evening would be trial enough. Mr Berry was waiting for an answer, his eyes fixed on hers.

“Thank you, but I suspect that will just make things worse. Mr Berry, I should warn you that my cousin is very likely at this moment impugning your reputation to the other guests. I am very sorry. I should not have come, or at least, I should have asked for a maid to accompany me.”

The brows dived inwards as he frowned. He really was remarkably good looking; the contrast between his workman’s muscular build and sun-darkened skin, and his gentleman’s speech and good manners, only adding to his appeal. “My reputation? And yours? But we have not been alone, Miss Thompson.” He waved to the group of natives who were chatting just outside the door, Mr Berry’s partner, Mr Te Paora, among them. A magnificent young woman with a tattooed chin waved back.

“I did not realise that the old harridan was your cousin,” Mr Berry continued. “My commiserations. Why would she spread malicious gossip about her own relative?”

To keep Lottie under her thumb, of course. Myrtle had been a bully from the first, but when Lottie recovered enough from her grief to rebel, she found herself trapped. Without money of her own, she needed a paid position or a husband, and in the circumstances of her disgrace, Myrtle had the perfect weapon to keep her from either. It was old news now, more than a decade gone. But Myrtle had added to it over the years with supposition and outright lies. And circumstances like this, which were not what they seemed.

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Attraction on WIP Wednesday

At some point in our stories, if they include a romance, those involved must each become aware of an attraction to the other. In this week’s WIP Wednesday, I’m inviting excerpts about that moment, from one or the other.

It might be just the stirrings of desire. It might be seeing something in the other that prompts a deep sense of recognition. It might be falling in love, as I did during a long evening at the Outward Bound Old Boys Ball in Auckland in August 1969.

I saw the moment that he fell, on the same evening.We were waltzing, having spent the whole evening dancing, talking, enjoying good food and wine. And I looked up and saw his eyes change, the suddenly intense warmth hinting at a depth of feeling that belied our so far casual association. It lured me, drew me in, and by the time we set off for home, I was head over heels in love. We finished the evening kissing and conversing in his father’s car outside my mother’s house, and by the time we parted we had chosen the name of our first son. Next month marks our 48th year together since that moment.

For this excerpt from my Christmas novella for the Bluestocking Belles, I’ve picked an earlier point in the process:

Miss Thompson was entranced by the concert party, and even Mrs Bletherow was interested enough to forget her usual pointless errands and pointed remarks. Tad had taken a seat close by, ready to offer his escort if Miss Thompson was sent on another wild goose chase, and was surprised by his own disappointment when it didn’t happen.

She was nothing to him. He was sorry for her, that was all. As he’d be sorry for anyone stuck in her predicament. She’d be better off staying in New Zealand, where Mrs Bletherow’s malice couldn’t reach her. There was work in Auckland, in shops and factories. Not that a proper English lady would consider such a thing.

She could do it, though. She wasn’t as meek as she pretended. He’d seen the steel in her, the fire in those pretty hazel eyes.

The word ‘pretty’ put a check in his stride, but it was true. She had lovely eyes. Not a pretty face, precisely. Her cheeks were too thin, her jaw too square, her nose too straight for merely ‘pretty’. But in her own way, she was magnificent. She was not as comfortably curved or as young as the females he used to chase when he was a wild youth, the sort he always thought he preferred. Not as gaudy as them, with their bright dresses and their brighter face paint. But considerably less drab than he had thought at first sight. She was a little brown hen that showed to disadvantage beside the showier feathers of the parrot, but whose feathers were a subtle symphony of shades and patterns. Parrots, in his experience, were selfish, demanding creatures.

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Secondary characters on WIP Wednesday

I tend to write books with a sizable cast, though my short stories focus in on the two main characters. Even in those, though, the secondary characters are important to the story, and have their own histories and characteristics. Only the background characters are shadowy, there simply to carry a tray into the drawing room or hold a horse or run a message.

Today, I’m sharing a piece that focuses on a secondary character from The Realm of Silence. I’d love to see a secondary character from your WIP, in the comments. In my excerpt, the heroine’s daughter and her best friend share their doubts about their music mistress, and their pleasure in a new dress.

180 miles north, in Newcastle

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

“Which is further evidence that she is up to no good, Amy,” Pat insisted as they hung back as much as they dared. “She thinks we are being followed and wants to disguise us.” They had been sharing a coach with Mam’selle during the day, and a bedchamber at night, limiting their opportunities for conversation.

“I’m sure you’re right, but I will be pleased to have something other than school uniform to wear.” Amy shot a glance at her friend. Pat made a pretty boy: tall, even lanky in schoolboy pantaloons, and the hair left after she’d sacrificed her heavy mop for the mission had sprung into a thousand curls. “Don’t you want to wear a dress again?”

Mam’selle had reached the inn where she’d taken a bedchamber, and was waiting for them on the step.

Pat was shaking her head. “Not really. You have no idea how much easier it is to walk, and people treat you differently, as if you have at least half a brain. I may still be a child, but I’m a boy child, or so they think. I am to be encouraged, not stuffed into a box and tamped down, with all the bits that don’t fit to be worried at till they drop off.”

They had caught up with Mam’selle. “Come.” She led the way up the stairs from the main hall and along the labyrinth of halls and passages to the little room they’d been assigned. She spoke to a maid they passed on the way, and not long after they’d spread their purchases out on the shared bed that took up most of the room, hot water arrived.

Mam’selle clapped her hands. “First, we shall turn Master Pat into Miss Patrice again, n’est ce pas?”

Mam’selle had an eye, no doubt about it. The lilac figured-cotton dress was of a grown-up length, with only the tips of Pat’s sensible boots showing. With her lanky calves hidden, she suddenly looked willowy rather than coltish, the ribbon under her breasts hinting at a womanly shape that the straight lines of the school uniform had obscured. Mam’selle took to the butchered hair with scissors and several lengths of ribbon whose colour matched the flowers on the dress, and in a few moments the curls framed Pat’s face.

Amy loved Pat, but had always rather pitied her for her long face, square jaw, and decided nose. Suddenly, with the new hair style, all of these features fell into new proportions, and Pat looked almost pretty.

“There.” Mam’selle’s satisfied smile grew broader at Pat’s reaction when she looked at herself in the music teacher’s small hand mirror, then stood and twisted to try to take in her new finery.

“You look lovely, Pat,” Amy told her, looking forward to her own turn in Mam’selle’s magical hands.

The dress Mam’selle had chosen for her to wear today was a light green with narrow cream stripes. “It is a little long, Miss Amelia,” Mam’selle acknowledged, “but we three shall repair that fault, and meanwhile pins shall do for this evening, oui?” She deftly plaited and twisted Amy’s hair, pinning it high on her head and fastening it with some of Mam’selle’s own pins.

“So pretty,” Pat declared, and from what she could see in the mirror, Amy had to agree. “Thank you, Mam’selle.”

Mam’selle waved her away. “Now be seated, if you will, while I repair my own toilette. I have commanded a private parlour for le diner“.

“We could await you downstairs, Mam’selle,” Amy suggested, unsurprised when Mam’selle refused with uplifted brows and a sardonic curl of the lips. Amy and Pat had sought help York, insisting that they were being kidnapped by a French spy, but the officer they had approached had laughed, and taken them back to Mam’selle, sympathising with her for the imaginations of her charges.

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Backstory in WIP Wednesday

One of the most challenging skills in the writer’s arsenal involves the backstory. We need readers to know what led to the circumstances of the plot; what made the characters the way they are; what secrets they hide, perhaps even from themselves. But, by definition, the backstory is the events that happened before the story we’re telling. How much do we tell? How much ‘telling’ is going to disturb the flow? How can we weave backstory into our writing so that it illuminates rather than drowns?

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is for excerpts with backstory. I’ll show you mine, and you show me yours in the comments. I have two bits from The Realm of Silence, showing Gil’s and Susan’s relationship from each POV.

First, Gil:

The traffic thinned as they left the town, crossing the bridge into the country. Gil held his horse to the rear of the phaeton, giving silent thanks for the rain in the night that had laid the dust. He had little hope that staying out of Susan’s sight would lessen her ire. Any man would understand that he could not let a female relative of his oldest friends wander the roads of England on her own.

A female would not understand the duty a man had to his friends. And the goddess—her appeal in no way dimmed today by the carriage coat covering her curves—was very much a female. He would not revisit his reasons for insisting on escorting her. He’d spent long enough in the night cross-examining himself. Duty was reason enough, and the rest was irrelevant.

It was true that, for twenty-seven years, since she was a child of ten and he a mere two years older, he’d been prepared to move heaven and earth to be near her. It was also true that his heart lightened as he rode further from his responsibilities in the southwest. Not relevant. He was her brothers’ friend and her cousin’s, and therefore he would keep her from harm and help rescue her daughter.

And then Susan’s, several pages later.

“If you ride with me in the phaeton, we can discuss our strategy.” It would be a tight fit. The phaeton was not designed for three. Still, Lyons could go up behind. But Gil was shaking his head.

“No room. And your man won’t last half an hour on the footman’s perch. He should be retired, goddess.

“Don’t call me that!” He had made her childhood a misery with that nickname. One long summer of it, anyway. She had still worn the ridiculous name her parents had bestowed on her. Not just Athene, though that would have been bad enough. Joan Athene Boaducea. Jab, her brothers called her. But when Gil and two other boys had come home from school with Susan’s cousin Rede, Gil dubbed her ‘the goddess’. It had become Jab the Goddess, and she had been forced to take stern measures to win back the space to be herself.

She glared at him. To be fair, he had not been part of the tormenting; had even tried to stop it. But she could not forget that it was his mocking remark that set it off.

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Intervals on WIP Wednesday

Our plots hurtle on, one adventure after another, disaster and excitement at every turn, but even fictional characters occasionally need a pleasant stroll along the straight before the next twist in the tale. A change of pace lets our readers take a breath and allows us to show character and reveal backstory in a quieter setting.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the moment of light relief, the domestic interlude, the interval in the midst of mayhem. As always, I invite you to post yours in the comments.

Mine is from The Realm of Silence. My two schoolgirl runaways have been shopping with their quarry turned kidnapper.

180 miles north, in Newcastle

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

“Which is further evidence that she is up to no good, Amy,” Pat insisted as they hung back as much as they dared. “She thinks we are being followed and wants to disguise us.” They had been sharing a coach with Mam’selle during the day, and a bedchamber at night, limiting their opportunities for conversation.

“I’m sure you’re right, but I will be pleased to have something other than school uniform to wear.” Amy shot a glance at her friend. Pat made a pretty boy: tall, even lanky in schoolboy pantaloons, and the hair left after she’d sacrificed her heavy mop for the mission had sprung into a thousand curls. “Don’t you want to wear a dress again?”

Mam’selle had reached the inn where she’d taken a bedchamber, and was waiting for them on the step.

Pat was shaking her head. “Not really. You have no idea how much easier it is to walk, and people treat you differently, as if you have half a brain. I may still be a child, but I’m a boy child, or so they think. I am to be encouraged, not stuffed into a box and tamped down, with all the bits that don’t fit to be worried at till they drop off.”

They had caught up with Mam’selle. “Come.” She led the way up the stairs from the main hall and along the labyrinth of halls and passages to the little room they’d been assigned. She spoke to a maid they passed on the way, and not long after they’d spread their purchases out on the shared bed that took up most of the room, hot water arrived.

Mam’selle clapped her hands. “First, we shall turn Master Pat into Miss Patrice again, n’est ce pas?”

Mam’selle had an eye, no doubt about it. The lilac figured-cotton dress was of a grown-up length, with only the tips of Pat’s sensible boots showing. With her lanky calves hidden, she suddenly looked willowy rather than coltish, the ribbon under her breasts hinting at a womanly shape that the straight lines of the school uniform had obscured. Mam’selle took to the butchered hair with scissors and several lengths of ribbon whose colour matched the flowers on the dress, and in a few moments the curls framed Pat’s face.

Amy loved Pat, but had always rather pitied her for her long face, square jaw, and decided nose. Suddenly, with the new hair style, all of these features fell into new proportions, and Pat looked almost pretty.

“There.” Mam’selle’s satisfied smile grew broader at Pat’s reaction when she looked at herself in the music teacher’s small hand mirror, then stood and twisted to try to take in her new finery.

“You look lovely, Pat,” Amy told her, looking forward to her own turn in Mam’selle’s magical hands.

The dress Mam’selle had chosen for her to wear today was a light green with narrow cream stripes. “It is a little long, Miss Amelia,” Mam’selle acknowledged, “but we three shall repair that fault, and meanwhile pins shall do for this evening, oui?” She deftly plaited and twisted Amy’s hair, pinning it high on her head and pinning it with some of Mam’selle’s own pins.

“So pretty,” Pat declared, and from what she could see in the mirror, Amy had to agree. “Thank you, Mam’selle.”

Mam’selle waved her away. “Now be seated, if you will, while I repair my own toilette. I have commanded a private parlour for le diner“.

“We could await you downstairs, Mam’selle,” Amy suggested, unsurprised when Mam’selle refused with uplifted brows and a sardonic curl of the lips. Amy and Pat had sought help York, insisting that they were being kidnapped by a French spy, but the officer they had approached had laughed, and taken them back to Mam’selle, sympathising with her for the imaginations of her charges.

Before long, Mam’selle had also changed. At Doncaster on the night of their journey, she had abandoned the severe, plain, dark dresses that Mrs Fellowes mandated for her teachers. In a light floral print with her hair caught up into a simple knot of cascading curls rather than a tight bun under a white cap, she looked not much older than Amy and Pat, and certainly nothing at all like a teacher.

 

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Starting on WIP Wednesday

Where is the beginning? Lewis Carroll had his king advise “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you get to the end, then stop.” As a storyteller, Carroll knew what hard advice that is to follow, for a story, a chapter, or even a letter.

Where to begin? I’ve heard advice to start anywhere, and find the beginning later. I’ve even started, I thought, way too early and written my way to the beginning. But for the most part, I can’t really get going on a story till the start feels right. 

Show me the start of your story or one of your chapters. I’m showing you the beginning of a story I’m writing for my newsletter subscribers. It’ll go out with the newsletter in July.

Dickon watched his wife clambering around the rigging, torn between demanding that she descend to the safety of the deck, and continuing to enjoy the sight from the shadows of the accessway.

It weighted the scales that, if she knew he was aboard, he’d lose the advantage of surprise and possible also his wife.  He needed to keep his identity secret until they were far enough from land that she couldn’t run again.

If he was to save his marriage—and, after talking to the enquiry agent, he half thought it might be desirable—he must first talk to his runaway bride.

She swung with confidence from rope to rope, her form masked but not obscured by the shapeless canvas trousers and smock she wore. Surely no one on the ship thought the Captain’s second mate was a man? 

She’d put on weight in the six months since he last saw her, and lost the haunted, harried look that had set his teeth on edge. Until he learned the reason for it on the night he tried to bed her, five days into their marriage. The night before she ran away.

 

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Bullies, blaggards and other nasties

Some books have real villains, with evil in their hearts and mayhem in their wake. In others, the trials our protagonists face come from circumstance, or perhaps from careless, overbearing, or self-centred relatives. I’m inviting you to put an excerpt in the comments when we see your hero or heroine having a bit of a hard time at someone else’s hands. An ex-mistress? An employee? A relative? Over to you.

This week, I’m sharing an excerpt from Forged in Fire, my 2017 Bluestocking Belles holiday box set novella. My Mrs Bletherow is not a villain, precisely. But she is certainly no sweetheart.

Mrs Bletherow was castigating her poor companion again, oblivious to her audience.

Every group was different, and most groups had someone who was troublesome. Tad Berry could cheerfully handle the drunkards, the would-be Casanovas, the know-it-alls. But he hated bullies. His muscles burned with the effort it took to keep from rescuing the Bletherow hag’s drab shadow. Not his place. She was a free adult woman, and if she chose to stay with an employer who treated her so poorly, it was nothing to do with him.

His partner nudged him. “She don’t run out of steam, that one, eh?”

“Miss Thompson should tell her to go soak her head, Atame. Old crow.”

Tad and Atame had met them in Auckland two days ago, eight tourists seeking to view what Rotorua billed as the eighth wonder of the world. Tomorrow, they’d make their way to Te Wairoa, and the day after the locals would convey them to the Pink and White Terraces, dimpled with hot pools and cascading down their respective hillsides to a peaceful lake.

All through the boat trip to Tauranga and the coach journey to this Rotorua guest house, Mrs Bletherow had found fault with everything Miss Thompson did or failed to do. She had brought her employer the wrong book, failed to block out the sun, been too slow in the queue for food, put too much milk in Mrs Bletherow’s tea. Tad wouldn’t have blamed Miss Thompson for adding arsenic.

The withered wiry maid was as sour as her mistress, and attracted none of the old harridan’s contempt. She stood now at Mrs Bletherow’s elbow, nodding along with the woman’s complaints. “You knew we would be dining properly this evening. You deliberately packed the green gown in the large trunk. You must go and find it this instant, do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Miss Thompson said.

“See that you are quick. Parrish shall attend me in my room, and I want my gown by the time I am washed.” Mrs Bletherow sailed up the stairs, Parrish scurrying along in her wake.

Tad unfolded himself from the wall as Miss Thompson approached, her rather fine hazel eyes downcast. She began apologising while she was still several paces away. “I am very sorry for the inconvenience, Mr Berry, but I need to ask you to offload another of Mrs Bletherow’s trunks.”

“Of course, Miss Thompson. If you tell me which one, I shall bring it up to her room.”

She looked up at that, her brows drawing slightly together. “I am not sure, Mr Berry. I know which one it should be in, but Parrish finished the packing. May I come with you?”

He nodded, though the stables were no place for a lady. And Miss Thompson was a lady, and of better birth than the Bletherow, unless he missed his guess. Which, come to think of it, might be part of the reason for her ill-treatment. Not that a bully needed a reason, beyond opportunity and a suitable victim.

They needed to unload half the luggage before uncovering the trunk Miss Thompson wanted, and then it proved to be the wrong one.

Tad brushed off Miss Thompson’s apologies. “No matter. We shall just try the others.” But the gown was not in the smaller trunk, any of the leather bags, or even the hat boxes. They had offloaded all Mrs Bletherow’s baggage and even the single trunk holding her own spare wardrobe and a second belonging to Parish, and Miss Thompson had unlocked and hunted through them all.

“If this is everything, Miss Thompson,” Tad said at last, “I fear the garment has been left behind at a previous stop.”

“Do you, Mr Berry?” Tad’s hands on the straps he was rebuckling stilled at the bitter undertones in the lady’s voice, and he looked up. They were working by lamplight, but he could see well enough. Blazing eyes, thinned lips, skin drained of colour but for two hectic spots of colour high on her cheeks. Miss Thompson was quietly furious. “Perhaps you are right. I apologise for putting you to all this trouble.”

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