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.”


A problem to solve in WIP Wednesday

I like to give my hero and heroine something to do together, and in my novels, at least, the problem they have to solve tends to be as intractable as possible. In Farewell to Kindness, both hero and heroine have their own missions, and each has to choose between their goal and the feelings between them. In A Baron for Becky, the men need to put aside their own desires for Becky to succeed—and even then, she is so broken it may not work. In Revealed in Mist, the two protagonists are working for different clients to solve the same mystery. And in A Raging Madness, I’ve upped the stakes.

In the extract below, Alex and Ella have just met after three years. Ella has broken into Alex’s hotel room and is begging for his help.

As always, I’m inviting you to post your own extract in the comments.

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 mission, and 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.”

He 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.


Backstory on WIP Wednesday

One of the tricky tasks an author has to manage is to tell those crucial bits of history a reader needs to sympathise with the hero or heroine, or despise the villain. But what to do? Hint and let the reader guess? Have the character explain themselves to another? Do a flashback in memory? Jump between present and past entirely?

All can work, or can be disastrous.

This week, on WIP Wednesday, I’m inviting you to post excerpts that carry your backstory. Mine is from A Raging Madness. Ella is telling Alex about her first marriage, which he had observed as a fellow officer.

He had seen the signs and ignored them, told himself that he had no right to interfere between husband and wife, told himself that she had made her bed and could lie in it. Arrogant, conceited pup. Twenty-one years old and full of his own pain. He hated that long-ago version of himself nearly as much as he hated Melville. Long ago? He had been believing lies against her as recently as two months ago.
“I often thought of sending him into the thick of battle, like David did to Uriah the Hittite. I should have done it.”
Ella, her eyes soft, reached up and kissed his chin. “Was I your Bathsheba then? I am flattered.”
“Always, Ella. My guilt made me cruel to you. I cannot tell you how sorry I am.”
Her eyes rounded and she shook her head. “No, Alex. You were always kind and polite. Distant. Disapproving sometimes. But I knew I could rely on you. I do not think I could have survived after Dadda died if not for you.” Her eyes filled with tears, and he bit back the self-recriminations. He did not deserve her praise, but nor was he selfish enough to deny the comfort her memories gave her in order to seek his own absolution.


Unwilling attraction on WIP Wednesday

out of copyright; (c) Museum of London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

They met, they fell in love, their families were delighted, and they married. It would be a lovely life, but not a particularly exciting story. We authors like to torture our characters with all kinds of barriers along the way, and a favourite trope is the push-pull of unwilling attraction.

You know the sort of thing. Intellectual women with sharp tongues are not my type, but I can’t resist her. He is an unreliable rake, but his kindness is hugely appealing. We readers look forward to finding out how they get past their own preconceptions.

So share an excerpt, if you will, where your characters are feeling this dilemma, and I’ll give you one from the very start of A Raging Madness.

The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.

Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Captain Sir Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex was surprised not to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.

“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.

“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.

Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline, and had continued working with his successor after his death. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really so he could chase whores in peace, without her taking loud and potentially uncomfortable exception. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.

Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. The commander, conscious that Ella was the closest to a physician the company, found Ella innocent.

Perhaps it had all caught up with her. Perhaps a flaw in the mind was the reason why she tried to trap Alex and succeeded in trapping Melville into marriage, why she had not attended Melville’s deathbed, though Alex had sent a carriage for her.

“I had hoped to see her,” Alex said. It was not entirely a lie. He had hoped and feared in equal measure: hoped to find her old before her time and feared the same fierce pull between them he had been resisting since she was a girl too young for him to decently desire.

“I cannot think it wise,” Braxton said, shaking his head. “No, Major Redepenning. I cannot think it wise. What do you say, Rector? Would it not disturb the balance of my poor sister’s mind if she met Major Redepenning? His association with things better forgotten, you know.”

What was better forgotten? War? Or her poor excuse for a husband? Not that it mattered,  any more than it mattered that Braxton used the rank Alex no longer held. It was not Braxton’s fault Alex’s injury had forced him to sell out.

The Rector agreed that Lady Melville should not be disturbed, and Alex was off the hook. “Perhaps you will convey my deepest sympathies and my best wishes to her ladyship,” he said. “I hope you will excuse me if I take my leave. I have a long journey yet to make, and would seek my bed.”


Secrets on WIP Wednesday

New Zealand television currently has an advert for a car that says ‘when they write the story of your life, will anyone want to read it?’ To which my response as an author is ‘I hope not’. Boring fictional stories are happy life stories.

To keep our fictional stories compelling, we authors look for plot twists and surprises. Where would we be without secrets? If all the characters and all the readers knew everything we know, the plot twists would disappear and the way to the ending would be obvious. No story.

This week, I’m inviting you to give me an excerpt about a secret. Finding it out. Becoming aware of it. Deciding to keep it. Hearing a hint at it. Whatever you wish.

Mine is from The Lost Treasure of Lorne, a made-to-order story I’m currently writing.

Caitlin spent a restless night ignoring the ghosts, which was becoming more and more difficult. She was in the kitchen and had already stoked the fire to toast a slice of bread when the cook arrived from the village, trailed by several kitchen maids.

“A bad night, was it?” Mrs McTavish asked.

Caitlin nodded, threading a slice of bread onto her toasting fork.

Mrs McTavish shook her head. “I can’t say I blame them. Just a week till the young master’s birthday and the end of the three hundred years. Sad, that. I can’t say but that the villagers will be pleased to see the castle free of its haunting, but it seems tough on the poor ghosties. If only there was someone to help young Master John fulfill the prophecy. Have a care, Mrs Moffatt. You’ll have the toast in the fire.”

Caitlin jerked her head back to the toasting fork, and returned it to the proper distance from the flame. “Just a week?” she repeated.

“Why, yes. 1485 it was that the Fourth Marquis of Lorne killed his daughter and her lover, and his father and mother for good measure. On the last day of August, so the old stories say, Lady Normington prayed to God for vengeance, and paid with her blood for the justice she sought.”

So Mrs McTavish was of the school that held the Normington woman was a prophesying saint, rather than a cursing witch. And no wonder the ghosts were growing so agitated. But wait. “Master John is a Normington, Mrs McTavish,” she pointed out.

“Half Lorimer and living in Castle Lorne. That’s been enough to doom someone to be a ghost afore now. He is Lorimer enough to find the treasure. But it is too late. Two, the lady said, and he the last Lorimer of Lorne.

This time, the toast caught alight before she noticed. It was not just what Mrs McTavish had said that distracted her, but the reaction of the ghosts. Crowding into the kitchen, row on row, even standing in the fireplace itself, they were cheering and clapping.

Two Lorimers. She had known that two were required, but — like the cook — she had believed it was too late. The King’s heralds had hunted down all branches of the Lorimer family tree and so had the Duke of Kendal, looking for one surviving twig, and coming up empty. They were wrong.


Dear brother, on WIP Wednesday

A romance novel, by definition, is about the developing love between the two main protagonists. But the story is often given strength and substance through relationships with other characters: family members, friends, even enemies. In particular, we grow to know our main characters through their actions towards those they love but with whom they are in conflict: and that’s the theme of this week’s work-in-progress Wednesday: conflict between the main character and family members or friends.

Mine comes from Concealed in Shadow, which is in the very early stages of writing. At this point, I have a few paragraphs of beginning, a general idea of the overall shape of the plot, and random scenes, most of them still in my head. This one happens early on, after David comes eagerly to London to meet and marry Prue, and finds her missing. His half-brothers were the last to be seen with her, and only one of them is still in London.

(Concealed in Shadow is the sequel to Revealed in Mist, which is on presale and will be released next week. See the link for purchase information.)

The early morning sun was just filtering through the fog when David’s quarry let himself into his bed chamber. He had already discarded his hat and gloves somewhere between the outside door and this upper floor, but he was shrugging out of his overcoat as he entered the room.

The overcoat flew to drape over the arm of a couch, and the muffler beneath followed. David watched from the shadowed corner behind the draped head of the bed as the man stripped to his shirt and breeches, with swift economical movements. The coat, richly embroidered waistcoat and cravat followed the rest, and the man crossed to a fireside chair to pour himself a brandy from the decanter that stood ready and slip out of his dancing shoes.

He had clearly been somewhere that required formal evening dress, though David was certain a ballroom had not been his last stop of the night, or David would have found him four hours ago. The man sat relaxed in his own private domain, a little tired — though his energy was legendary — beyond a doubt sated, resting a blond head back against the chair and shutting his hazel eyes as he cupped the glass in his hands to warm the brandy.

When David spoke, it was not much above a whisper, but shockingly noisy in the silent room. “Where is she, Aldridge. What have you and Gren done with her.”