First meetings on WIP Wednesday

The theme for this week is first meetings. Or at least first meetings of your hero and heroine in this particular book, since parted lovers or old enemies or childhood friends can be fun, too. Please put your excerpt into the comments, as always.

Mine puts together two people who have not met until the first chapter of my story. I’ve picked up a deleted scene from several years ago and begun turning it into a new novella for Christmas, with a brand new beginning and a heap of edits throughout. It’s going to be called Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, and I’m enjoying my reluctant earl who can barely wait until he offloads the last of his impoverished estate and gets back to building aqueducts, and my feisty Nabob’s heiress cast unwillingly upon the ton, who is counting the days until she turns twenty-five and has full control of her fortune.

The next room was dark, but the one after was lit, the door partly open, though not enough to see into the room. Women’s voices indicated the room was in use, and he paused to listen. He would not intrude on a private conversation.

“Really, Miss Finchurch, I cannot imagine what Lady Carngrove is thinking, bringing you here to mingle with your betters.”

Another voice; a vicious purr somehow familiar to Philip. “Perhaps she imagines that the perfume of Miss Finchurch’s wealth will overcome the stench of her origins?”

This was definitely not the card room. Harpies of this stamp would not attack so openly in front of an audience, and Uncle Henry would not stand by while they did. Philip should do something. While he hesitated, those inside continued to talk.

“I do not believe so, girls. Lady Carngrove intends all that lovely money for her darling Ceddie. As if he would even consider such a thing! Why, Miss Finchurch is quite old!”

The next voice was crisp, but with a bubble of a laugh running through it. “My goodness, I must really worry you, for you to descend to such a puerile level of nursery bullying.”

Philip grinned. The victim was not entirely helpless then.

Before the babble of rejoinders sorted themselves out, he pushed the door open. “Miss Finchurch? Ah, there you are.” It was a small reading room, lined with bookshelves and with comfortable chairs grouped around low tables, just the right height for a drink and a book.

The target of the others’ spite was clearly the one at bay, seated by the fire with an open book on her lap. She turned her face to him an instant before the others. Old? True, she was not a girl fresh from the schoolroom, but rather a lady in her mid-twenties, unlined face a perfect oval, with large brown eyes under arched brows, a tilt-tipped nose, and a quantity of light brown hair pulled up into a confection of hair atop her head, a few strands pulled loose to frame the delightful whole.

She met his smile with a quizzical tip of the head, and he ignored the five ladies standing over her. “Our dance is in a few minutes, Miss Finchurch, so I came to find you. Would you care to take a short stroll while we wait?”

Would she take the rescue, he wondered, glancing from her to the others. Three were strangers. One, he vaguely recognised. But the remaining woman… He nodded a polite but cold acknowledgement Lady Markhurst, who had pretended to accept his courtship when he was last in Society four years ago, after recovering from the injuries that ended his army career and brought him home to England.

Lady Markhurst had soon made it clear his only attraction was his unwed cousins, one an earl and one the heir to an earl. Philip wasn’t close to either, and had not seen her since she discovered that fact. He assumed her pursuit was unsuccessful; certainly, she had wed before the end of that season, to a lowly and rather elderly baron who proved to be not as wealthy as rumour had painted.

Clearly, Philip’s attractiveness had increased, since Lady Markhurst fluttered her fan and her eyelashes, and fingered the diamond drop that dangled from her ornate necklace into the valley between her breasts. “Why, Lord Calne. Surely you cannot intend to dance with a merchant’s daughter. Your inheritance cannot be in such a dire state as that. Let me save you from such a fate by offering myself as a partner instead.” The throaty note in her last sentence made it a naughty innuendo.

He ignored Lady Markhurst and her outstretched hand, offering Miss Finchurch his bad arm, which functioned well enough as a prop for a lady. Lady Markhurst’s face flushed and then whitened. She had not learned to control her temper, then.

Miss Finchurch made up her mind, set her book to one side, and stood to slip her hand into his elbow, and he turned to the door, but Lady Markhurst launched another attack before they reached it.

“Do be warned, Miss Finchurch. The Calne title comes with a bankrupt estate and a crippled earl.”

Miss Finchurch gripped his arm, making him wince, and she sensed it, too, the fires she was about to turn on Lady Markhurst doused by her concern for him. He took another step towards the door.

“Ignore Lady Markhurst, Miss Finchurch. I would say her disappointment in her ambitions has made her bitter, but she was always a scold.”

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Tea with Ottilie

Ottilie Smith smoothed the skirt of her best dress and once again checked the wording of the invitation that appeared mysteriously on the desk that filled one corner of the dining room of the little cottage she shared with her husband and child in the booming New Zealand town of Christchurch.

The Duchess of Haverford requests the pleasure of the company of Mrs Thaddeus Smith for afternoon tea.

She and Tad had giggled over it, sure it was a joke. A duchess sending an invitation to the wife of a bookshop keeper? And the address given was on the far side of the world, in far away England: a castle in Kent. One of Tad’s friends was playing a trick on them, certainly. But she had returned from her women’s suffrage meeting, picking up the invitation from the hall table as she passed through into her sitting room, and found herself here, on a sunny terrace in what could only be England, with the grey stone walls of a castle looming behind her.

“Ah! Mrs Smith. I am so glad you could come.”

The lady, elegantly dressed in the fashions of nearly a century ago, was walking towards her from the french doors that let into the house, her hands held out in greeting.

Lottie stood and curtsied. “Your Grace.” Tad had joked about her knowing the proper forms of address, and she was glad he had, for dream or not, she would not wish to be discourteous.

“Please, Mrs Smith. Do take a seat. May I pour you a tea? Or would you prefer coffee or chocolate?” For a few minutes, the duchess fussed over the pot and the plates of delicate pastries and cakes that a silent maid passed at her command.

But when Lottie was served and the maid waved away, the duchess said, “Now. I understand you survived a volcanic eruption, though you were buried in the ash. Tell me about it, if you please. What happened?”

Forged in Fire is my story in the Never Too Late collection. Every Monday for the next little while, one of my fellow Bluestocking Belles will bring their hero or their heroine along to meet the Duchess of Haverford. I hope you’ll join us to learn more about them and their stories.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find preorder links while they are being added. (It’s 99c while in preorder, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Spotlight on Christmas Babies on Main Street

The box set for which I wrote A Family Christmas has its preorder up, and you don’t have long to wait. Christmas Babies on Mainstreet goes live on 12 October. Nine contemporary novellas of between 20,000 and 40,000 words each for only 99c.

Nine individual stories from the bestselling Authors of Main Street – New for the 2017 Christmas Season!

This year, The Authors of Main Street have combined their talent to bring you stories about love, the holidays, and babies from around the world. From the small hamlet of Eastport in Canada, to the gorgeous landscapes of New Zealand, to Main Street, USA… you’ll find the Christmas spirit and warm love stories on every page. And not all of our babies have pudgy little fingers and adorable toes… one of them has hooves and a mane!

Inside this year’s box set, you’ll find Christmas novellas from Kristy Tate, Carol DeVaney, Jill James, E. Ayers, Lizzi Tremayne, Jude Knight, Stephanie Queen, Susan R. Hughes, and Leigh Morgan.

Snuggle up with your favorite blanket, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and let the Authors of Main Street help you celebrate the holiday season.

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Fool’s gold

In this, the last of my series on fraud in history, we’re looking at the gold-brick scam. Of course, it needn’t be an actual brick or even gold. The essence of the trick is that the victim is shown a sample of whatever the fraudster is selling. The sample is genuine, but after the fraudster is long gone, the rest of the purchase proves to be fake.

The trick is supposedly named after a famous case in the United States in 1879.

What happened was that Mr N D Clark, the president of the First National Bank of Ravenna, Ohio, was visiting a mine he owned at Leadville in Colorado. He was approached by five miners, who asked him to advance money on a 52-pound gold brick, which for some reason they weren’t able to ship at the time. The owner told a hard-luck story about having lost all his property and urgently needing money.

Mr Clark had the brick taken to a blacksmith, who cut off one corner. An assayer pronounced the gold to be genuine and Mr Clark advanced the miner $10,000 on condition the brick, and the miner, accompanied him to Chicago to get the balance. The miner, of course, vanished off the train on the way… The corners were gold right enough but the body of the brick was worthless… (Michael Quinion from World Wide Words)

The item might be precious coins or jewelry or even artwork. The trick is often a long game, relying on building trust over time. Let’s say you are in England in the early 19th century during the craze for antiquities and you want to offload a cargo of forged works. (Art and antiquities forgery goes back at least two millenia.)

First, you need some credibility with collectors. Perhaps you invite a few of them for a private showing of the works you claim to have brought home in your personal luggage (all genuine, of course).

They are all excited. You’ll quickly figure out who will insist on waiting to see the rest of the shipment, and who can be convinced to purchase it sight unseen.

It is simple, really. “My dear sir, I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have found myself in unfortunate circumstances and must sell immediately. The rest is in my warehouse in Bristol, but I have no time. I am willing to sell it for half its real price, but I must have the money now.”

If you’re lucky, you’ll have two marks who can be convinced to bid one another up, but half of a fortune is still nothing to be sneezed at.

A simpler and shorter version of the same con requires two fraudsters. As with most scams, the fraudsters rely on the greed of the victim to suck them into the fraudsters’ trap.

The first fraudster offers something for sale, but for some reason then goes out of earshot, leaving behind the object or animal. The second, pretending to be a passerby, rushes up and recognises the object or animal as something rare and expensive. “Why, that’s a rare Tibetan Mountain Horse. Did you know that any cold bred from that horse is guaranteed to win races.” Or whatever will work.

The second fraudster makes himself scarce, and when the first returns, the victim buys the object or animal for what he thinks is an excellent price, hugging the secret of its rarity to himself.

And the two fraudsters laugh their way home.

As the old saying goes, the more things change the more they remain the same. In fact, when I was looking for stories for this post, I even found a Fraud Museum. If you’re in Austin, Texas, call by and see some of the great scamsters of history.

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Secrets on WIP Wednesday

You can’t possibly tell all that you know, and certainly your protagonists can’t. The story would be over almost before it started.

So what secrets are they hiding from one another or from the wider world? Their feelings? Something shameful in their past? A secret they’re keeping for someone else? Big or trivial, secrets help us to keep up the tension. What’s yours? Share an excerpt in the comments.

This week, I’m sharing from The Realm of Silence, which I still haven’t made a book page for. I can at least show you the cover, and link to The Golden Redepenning page. (Note to self: write a book blurb and set up a book page.)

They made their next change in Durham, since the stage that followed included a long steep pull out of the valley. At first, the fresh horses required all of Gil’s attention, but they soon settled to their work and Susan broke the long silence.

“We have talked for two days about my family, Rutledge. What of yours? How are your sisters?”

The horses startled, and tried to sidle sideways, and Gil realised he’d tightened his grip. He relaxed his hands, calling, “Steady, there. Steady,” and they settled back into the swift walk suitable for the gentler terrain on this plateau.

Susan waited until he had the horses back under control before she said, “If your family is off limits, Gil, I will respect that. But I am a safe pair of ears if you need someone to listen. I knew your brother, remember. Your sister-in-law, too, though not well. And Lena and Clem were friends of mine once.”

He had almost forgotten. He was accustomed to thinking of the Redepenning boys as school friends, but it began before that, when he and his mother and sisters had moved to West Gloucestershire, just under the Cotswold Edge, after his grandfather took an apoplexy and died at the news of the death of Gil’s father. Rupert, the new Lord Rutledge, had ordered his mother and much younger siblings to his new estate, but had not bothered to bestir himself from London and its myriad entertainments.

And the three Rutledge children had fallen instantly in love with the family on the neighbouring estate of Longford Court, where Lord and Lady Henry were raising their own five children and one of their nephews.

Gil had gone gaily off to school with the boys, and returned only for holidays until he bought his colours.

But Susan’s words filled his head with images of three little girls at the Longford Whitsunday Fair and the Harvest Festival and numerous festivities during the twelve days of Christmas: Clementine and Susan, just a year apart in age and arm in arm, watching over Madelena, who was four years younger. 

He bit hard on his upper lip and blinked rapidly to chase away liquid that clouded his eyes. “I had forgotten. They were happy then, weren’t they? My sisters? Before?” Before he embraced school life, throwing himself into the friendships he forged there, and forgot his responsibility to protect his family.

“We all were. I loved having neighbours of my own age just a short ride away.” Susan gave a soft snort of amusement. “Even if my mother did hold them up as models of decorum every time I slipped out of the house to run away with you boys.”

Gil hadn’t known her mother disapproved. He had thought Susan perfect, just as she was. “I used to wish they were more like you. But they never would step outside of my father’s rules. My father had firm views about how ladies behaved”

“I never met your father. Did he not die before you moved to Thornbury Hall?”

“Yes. Killed in a drunken race that he lost to my brother Rupert. But his memory still controlled my mother and sisters.”

He’d said more than he intended, but he trusted Susan; perhaps even more than he trusted her brothers and cousin. Not that he could tell her the whole. He would go to the grave keeping his sisters’ secret. He could, perhaps, share a little, though. She was a wise woman, was Susan. No one could absolve Gil, but talking to her might ease the burden a little. “If you knew Rupert, you know what he was like.”

“He was a dissolute, vicious monster,” Susan said, decidedly.

“He was the image of our father,” Gil admitted.

“I did not know your father, but your mother and sisters were terrified of Rupert, and I know what he did to Clem, and why she ran away with William Byrne.”

This time, the horses stopped, responding to a signal he was unaware of giving as he turned to look at Susan, his mouth gaping. “She told you?”

“Of course not. I was only fifteen then, and still in the schoolroom. I knew she became withdrawn and unhappy when your brother returned to Thornbury for the summer, and then she disappeared. I never even knew that she had eloped with Byrne until I heard the servants talking about how Byrne had ruined your sister and your brother was going to kill him.”

“Walk on,” Gil said to the horses. He had to control himself better. He was confusing the beasts. “Then…” He didn’t know how to ask what she thought she knew without disclosing the scandal at the heart of his family’s misery. Perhaps she had heard of the beatings; the cruel punishments. But not the other.

“Papa told me all when your brother thought to court me. He had it from Will when Will asked for his help to get Clem away.”

Gil didn’t know what question to ask first. When had Rupert courted Susan? Did Lord Henry help the fleeing couple, and was it him Gil had to thank for getting them away so secretly that Rupert never found a trace of them? And what, exactly, did Lord Henry tell his daughter?

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Tea with Lord Henry

Today’s guest is an old friend. Eleanor Haverford has known Brigadier General Lord Henry Redepenning since he was a mere captain and she a girl barely graduated from the nursery to the schoolroom.

They met at the baptism of their mutual niece Emily, daughter of Eleanor’s sister and Lord Henry’s brother, and met again six years later when the Reverend Lord Stephen Redepenning and Lady Stephen proudly presented their second child and only son to God and  the fashionable world. Eleanor was thirteen then, and Lord and Lady Henry had two children and a third on the way.

The friendship had been forged in the nursery that week. Lady Stephen had a wet nurse and little interest in her children beyond their dynastic purpose, so Eleanor and Lord and Lady Henry found the nursery a safe place to escape the lady’s loudly expressed disappointment over the recent marriage of her husband’s elder brother, the Earl of Chirbury, and his new wife’s obvious fecundity, which showed Chirbury’s clear intention to depose Lord Stephen as heir presumptive with a brand new heir apparent.

That had been forty years ago, and the friendship between the duchess, as she became within six years, and the Brigadier General and his wife had survived the test of time, and even been strengthened by the death of Lady Henry twenty years ago.

Today, Lord Henry had come seeking a favour, which was his without question, though Eleanor burned with curiosity about his reasons.

“Thank you for taking the children,” Lord Henry said.

“It is no trouble, Henry. It is nice for Frances to have Anna’s company, and the older girls are in a fair way to making a pet of your little Michael. But how do you come to have charge of your daughter’s two little ones? Susan always keeps them close.”

Lord Henry frowned, staring into his cup as if for inspiration. “It is worrying, Eleanor. In fact, that is why I asked you to take Anna and Michael. Because I mean to go north and see what I can do to help.”

Eleanor leant forward a little, her head tipped to one side. She would assist her dear friend without an explanation, but she devoutly hoped he intended to give her one.

And yes, he responded to her silence as she had hoped. “I should explain. Susan has been in Scotland with the younger two children. She insists on Michael visiting his estate several times a year, young as he is, so that the tenants and local gentry come to know him. I expected her back in London some time this week, but Anna and Michael arrived with her servants, and a note saying she had detoured to visit her daughter Amy at school, and would be following within a day. That was a week ago.”

Now Eleanor’s frown mirrored Henry’s. “A whole week? Is Susan ill? Has there been an accident?”

Lord Henry shook his head. “It seems that Amy was missing when Susan arrived, and Susan has gone after her. She sent me a note, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Something about spies and a French music mistress. Then I had another note from Stafford, where Susan left her groom because he was ill.”

Eleanor put her cup down, spilling her tea in her agitation. “So she is on her own? Henry!”

“No. Not as bad as that. Or worse, perhaps. She is travelling with Gil Rutledge, who is an old friend of my children, Eleanor, as you know. He is a good man, is Rutledge.”

“Oh dear. I mean, I am pleased, of course, that Susan has support, and I trust Rutledge to help Susan find Amy quickly, but I do hope no-one sees the two of them travelling together.”

“On the busiest road in the kingdom? For Amy is heading north up the Great North Road, and Susan and Gil after her.” Lord Henry gave a heavy sigh. “At least Rutledge is unwed, and Susan is a widow, so they can salvage their reputations with a wedding.”

“That is the least of our concerns, dear Henry,” Eleanor corrected him, sternly. “What has become of dear Amy?”

“You are right, Eleanor. And that is why I have ventured to burden you with my grandchildren. I must go north and see what I can do. I would have sent one of Susan’s brothers, but with three of them overseas and Alex’s wife due to deliver a baby any day… No, I must do this myself.”

“You can count on me to care for Anna and Michael, my dear friend. Yes, and for anything else you might need.”

 

Lord Henry’s daughter is the heroine of my current work-in-progress, The Realm of Silence, which is the third novel in The Golden Redepennings. I am working on it, honest! I was trying for December, but February might be more realistic.

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Sunday Spotlight on Never Too Late

Yesterday, the Bluestocking Belles announced the name of our 2017 box set, out in time for holiday reading on November 1. You’ve heard me talking about my story for the set: Forged in Fire. Here’s the description of the book as a whole, and of each story in it.

Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t.

Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday Anthology.

It’s Never Too Late to find love.

25% of proceeds benefit the Malala Fund.

(Read on below the buy links for individual story blurbs.)

Preorder Links (will add other eretailers as the links go live):

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075VDCLCB
AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B075VDCLCB
BR: https://www.amazon.com.br/dp/B075VDCLCB
CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B075VDCLCB
DE: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B075VDCLCB
ES: https://www.amazon.es/dp/B075VDCLCB
FR: https://www.amazon.fr/dp/B075VDCLCB
IN: https://www.amazon.in/dp/B075VDCLCB
IT: https://www.amazon.it/dp/B075VDCLCB
JP: https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B075VDCLCB
MX: https://www.amazon.com.mx/dp/B075VDCLCB
NL: https://www.amazon.nl/dp/B075VDCLCB
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B075VDCLCB

The Piper’s Lady

By Sherry Ewing

True love binds them. Deceit divides them. Will they choose love?
Coira does not regret traveling with her grandfather until she is too old to wed. But perhaps it is not too late? At Berwyck Castle, a dashing knight runs to her rescue. How can she resist?

Garrick can hold his own with the trained Knights of Berwyck, but they think of him as a piper, not a fighter. When his heart sings for the new resident of the castle, he dares to wish he is something he is not. Will failure to clear her misunderstanding doom their love before it begins?

Her Wounded Heart

By Nicole Zoltak

An injured knight trespassing on Mary Bennett’s land is a threat to the widow’s
already frail refuge. Even so, she cannot turn away a man in need and tells him he has her husband’s leave to stay until Christmas.

Doran Ward wishes only to survive for one more day. However, as he begins to
heal and to pay for his lodgings by fixing the rundown manor, the wounds to Mistress Bennett’s heart intrigue him.

Can two desperate souls find hope in time for Christmas?

A Year Without Christmas

By Jessica Cale

London, 1645
Edward Rothschild returns home from war defeated in more ways than one. His friends killed and his property seized, he is an earl in name only. His family and his servants have all deserted him– all except his housekeeper, Lillian Virtue.

Lillian feels like home in a way that nothing else does, but as his servant and a recent widow, it would be impossible for them to be together. Then again, Christmas has been banned and the social order fractured; can one more impossible thing happen this year?

The Night of the Feast

By Elizabeth Ellen Carter

As a spy deep in the heart of Revolutionary France, Michael St. John hopes to make amends for a wasted life his by helping the citizens of the Vendée stage a counter-revolution.

Jacqueline Archambeau, tavern owner and cook, accepts that life and love have passed her by. She never dreamed she would fight her own countrymen for the right to keep her customs and traditions.

When they plot together to steal plans at a regimental dinner will they risk their lives—and their hearts?

The Umbrella Chronicles

George & Dorothea’s Story

By Amy Quinton

Lord George St. Vincent doesn’t realize it, but his days as a bachelor in good standing are numbered.

He has a fortnight, to be precise—the duration of the Marquess of Dansbury’s house party.

For I, Lady Harriett Ross, have committed to parting with several items of sentimental worth should I fail to orchestrate his downfall—er, betrothal—to Miss Dorothea Wythe, who is delightful, brilliant, and interested (or will be).

If I have anything to say about matters, and I always have something to say about matters, they’re both doomed.

Did I say doomed? I mean, destined—for a life filled with love.

I’m just an old woman with opinions. On everything.

A Malicious Rumor

By Susana Ellis

Vauxhall gardener Alice Crocker has had to defend herself from encroaching males all her life, but the new violinist is a different sort. So when she discovers that he is the victim of a malicious rumor, she naturally wants to help.

Peter de Luca greatly admires the lady gardener, but this is his problem to resolve.

What will it take to prove to this pair that they would be stronger together as a harmonious duo than two lonely solos?

Forged in Fire

By Jude Knight

Burned in their youth, neither Tad nor Lottie expected to feel the fires of love. The years have soothed the pain, and each has built a comfortable, if not fully satisfying, life, on paths that intersect and then diverge again.

But then the inferno of a volcanic eruption sears away the lies of the past and frees them to forge a future together.

Roses in Picardy

By Caroline Warfield

After two years at war, Harry is out of metaphors for death, synonyms for brown, and images for darkness. Color among the floating islands of Amiens and life in the form of a widow and her little son surprise him with hope.

Rosemarie Legrand’s husband died, leaving her a tiny son, no money, and a savaged reputation. She struggles to simply feed the boy and has little to offer a lonely soldier.

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More Fool Me

Blackmail is a form of extortion, and becomes fraud when either the incriminating circumstances have been set up for the express purpose of getting money out of the victim, or the victim has done nothing, but can’t prove it.

Both are variants of the badger game, possibly so called because of the nasty sport of badger baiting, where the poor innocent badger is attacked by a ruthless pack of dogs for the entertainment of the crowd and the enrichment of the animal’s owners and canny gamblers on the outcome.

The classic badger game

The essence of the trick is to lure the victim into behaviour of which they are ashamed, or that will get them into hot water with family or employers.

The classic ploy involves two fraudsters. One sets the trap, and the other springs it.

A Good Samaritan meets a badger

I was reading a case in point in the Old Bailey records. In the mid-nineteenth century, an immigrant from Germany sought financial help from a well known member of the German expatriate community in London. Poor woman. Her husband needed money in order to travel to join her.

Once she received the first handout, she needed another. She couldn’t live on air until her husband arrived, after all. Then she discovered that she was with child. Then she was ill. Then the child was ill. And all the time, her husband was delayed and the philanthropist continued to provide funds. Until the day that she threw herself into his arms to express her undying gratitude. Just as her husband burst into the room and declared himself wronged.

The philanthropist then faced a demand for even more money. Far more money. A thousand pounds would soothe the wounded feelings of the devastated husband.

Unfortunately for the fraudsters, the philanthropist was made of stouter stuff than they expected. He laid an information with the police, and the couple were arrested, tried, and convicted.

Of course, he must have been confident about his reputation, and the record does not show whether he had a loyal and trusting wife, was a single gentleman, or slept on the couch for the next year.

A single trick with countless variations

You can imagine the many variations on the ploy, especially in the straight-laced moral environment that was the public face of the Victorian era. Embarrassment, marital disharmony, and social ostracism were all weapons in the hands of the fraudster.

Nothing was off-the table apparently as a potential con:  inappropriate sexual advances, child pornography, bizarre fetishes, sexual or otherwise, sexual harassment in the workplace, or professional misconduct (those are but a few).  One that gained national attention via the August 25, 1930 edition of Time magazine involved a “sick” woman visiting a doctor, who after describing symptoms that would require her to disrobe, would claim misconduct.  Sometimes an “outraged husband” would burst into the room and threaten the doctor with criminal charges or a lawsuit. (Sharon Hall on Felonious Females)

And there was worse. When acting on same-sex attraction was punishable by death, playing the badger game could be a very lucrative activity for the fraudulent lover and that lover’s partner. Acquire a set of incriminating letters, and the victim had no choices beyond paying up, killing the fraudsters, or fleeing the country.

And the badger game still worked if the victim was poor but had wealthy relatives who cared about their family reputation. “Your grandson has compromised my daughter and the problem will go away for ten thousand pounds.”

Or perhaps the victim was innocent but couldn’t prove it. To save his reputation, he might well pay up anyway. “This is your baby and I am going to tell your wife.”

Today, badger games have moved to social media. Which you might want to keep in mind next time you’re tempted to share a revealing photograph with an intimate friend.

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Descriptions in WIP Wednesday

One of my beta readers on my contemporary novella pointed out that I described two secondary characters, but not the hero and heroine. Which was true. In fact, sometimes I barely describe my characters at all, though I almost always work from photographs and paintings so that I can see the person in my mind’s eye as I watch them act the dramas I document.

How about you? Do you see your characters? Do you describe them, and if so, is it eye of God or in another character’s viewpoint or the old ‘in a mirror’ trick?

This week, please share a description of someone in your work in progress. My excerpt describes, Ottilie, the heroine of Forged in Fire, which will appear in the box set for the Bluestocking Belles. We announce the title and reveal the cover this coming weekend.

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. Besides, parrots, in his experience, were selfish, demanding creatures.

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Time, a tavern, and a marmalade cat

The Final Draft Tavern was, said the Marquis of Aldridge, a considerably more reputable place than it had been just before the turn of the century, when he came down from Oxford during his holidays and caroused there with his student friends.

Nonetheless, he insisted that his mother wait in the carriage while he and Jonathan, shadowed by two of the larger Haverford footmen, checked that the tavern held no dangers and nothing unsavoury.

Foolish boys, but the duchess would allow them their precautions as long as she had her way in the end.

She was here in Paternoster Row to meet the Marchand family, proprietors of a tavern of some kind since shortly after their ancestors crossed the English Channel in the army of William the Conqueror. As did her own, though they sat, Eleanor thought, considerably further up the would-be-king’s table, on the noble side of the salt.

Still, heritage was heritage, and there was something to be said for a family property that stayed with the same line for eight hundred years, even if it was a tavern.

The tavern and the Marchands were not the attraction, however. But Aldridge had warned that the tavern cat might not be present. A cat, after all, cannot be commanded, and this cat, more than most, was an uncanny beast.

Aldridge reported the all clear, and Eleanor entered the tavern on his arm, her younger son alert at her heels and a phalanx of stout footmen before and behind.

“It has always been a place that welcomes dissenters and independent thinkers, Mama,” Aldridge murmured, “as long as their coin was good. But the meeting rooms and private parlours are empty this early in the day.”

The public bar was fast emptying, too, the early drinkers sliding out the door as unobtrusively as possible so as not to catch the eye of the ducal party. Eleanor must be sure to leave a suitable purse to recompense the owners for any loss.

Aldridge led his mother to the young woman waiting by the fire place. She was pretty in a buxom kind of a way: brown hair neatly tucked into a cap trimmed with a discrete edge of lace, a gown in green worsted, long-sleeved and buttoning to the neck, and a crisp white apron she was twisting in nervous hands that belied her calm face.

“Your Grace,” Aldridge said, “may I present Mistress Marchand?” Mistress Marchand sank into a deep curtsey. A wife? Or a daughter of the house? Aldridge continued before she could ask. “Mistress Marchand is the eldest daughter of the proprietor, duchess, married to a third cousin and mother of a lovely little girl. She is also the designated– er– carer of the cat.”

“Please rise, my dear,” Eleanor suggested. “Shall we sit down?” The chairs by the fire place looked a little scruffy, but clean enough. Eleanor sat, and the young woman, after a hesitant glance at Aldridge, followed suit. “It is the cat I wished to see, Mistress Marchand. Is he within the premises at present?”

“Whiskey comes and goes as he wishes, my l– Ma’am. I went looking for him when Lord Aldridge said you wanted to meet him, but he wasn’t in any of his usual places, and he didn’t come when I called.”

Eleanor must have looked disappointed, because Mistress Marchand added, “I am sorry, Ma’am.”

“Is it true that a cat called Whiskey has always lived in the Final Draft tavern?” Eleanor asked. “A marmalade cat?”

“So family legends say, Ma’am.”

“I have heard that the legends go further, and say it has been the same cat, for eight hundred years,” Eleanor added.

Mistress Marchand looked reproachfully at Aldridge, who said, “I didn’t tell her that, Molly.”

Eleanor looking between the two, wondered just how old Molly had been when Aldridge came here as a student. He had said the attraction was the beer and the egalitarian conversations with a street’s worth of printers and the like, but there was something between the two of them that spoke of more than mere acquaintance.

The tension was broken when a large ginger cat strolled nonchalantly out from under a table. “Where did he come from,” Jonathan exclaimed. “I looked there!”

“Whiskey, come and meet the duchess,” said Molly. The cat sat in its tracks and bent to lick its own stomach, then, with an air of conferring a great favour, sauntered to the chair where Eleanor sat, and sniffed at the hand she offered.

“Hello, Master Whiskey,” she said, and made an attempt to pat the animal, but it ducked so that her hand did not connect, and slid out from under, moving several feet away before turning back to regard her with a lordly disdain.

“You have been found wanting, Mama,” Lord Jonathan said, and tried to scoop the cat up, but it evaded his clutch, and when Aldridge joined the chase, it disappeared back under the table.

Both men, and several of the footmen, bent to look. But the cat was gone.

“I am that sorry, Your Grace.” Molly was blushing. “Whiskey is… Well, I don’t know what to say.”

“You warned me, Mistress Marchand,” Eleanor pointed out. “Whiskey comes and goes as he pleases. Shall we have a cup of tea and wait to see if he will grace us with his presence once again?”

****

The Final Draft Tavern, formerly the Final Draught Tavern until Paternoster Row was given over to booksellers whose proprietors and patrons rebaptised it, features in the novellas of the holiday box set that the Speakeasy Scribes are producing for this holiday season.

Watch for stories set at different times, in different moods, in both London and (after the Marchands move to the New World) Boston, and linked in some cases to the other work of the author responsible. Mine is a stand-alone, though; a post-apocalypse story called A Midwinter’s Tale. My heroine is almost the last of the Marchands, though she might also be an ancestress of the charming Molly.

Cover, title, and pre-order links to come.

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