Danger on WIP Wednesday

Nothing like a nice fictional piece of disaster to get our heart racing. The heroine or the hero has to survive to the end of the book, which is comforting to know, but meanwhile we authors can put them through all kinds of trials.

This week, I’m looking for excerpts about danger — physical, emotional, moral, societal: you decide. Mine is physical, and is from the subsriber-only newsletter short story I’m writing at the moment, with the plan of getting a newsletter out this week.

One more race, and Rhi would be free. No horse in all of England could catch Atlanta. By the terms of her agreement with her father, she had merely to win next week, and he would sign the new will and rip up the old one.

Her resentment rose, all the more fierce because she understood that Father acted out of love. He wanted to see her married to protect her, he said. She was too young, too inexperienced, too female to own and run the finest racehorse stud in Great Britain. And Father was dying, fading a little more with each day, which she resented more than all the rest.

Atlanta tossed her head and whickered, sensitive to Rhi’s mood. She took a deep breath, and another, letting the anger drain from her with the air she exhaled, emptying herself of everything but the joy of the horse’s movement, the freedom of the gallop, the love of the wild heath across which they raced for the sheer glory of the speed.

***

Cen watched from the shelter of a copse of trees. The mare lived up to all he’d read about her, and the rider too. He had known Rhiannon Enright would be good, but she had more than lived up to the promise she had shown as a child. Back then, she rode astride — and the gossip in London that had sent him here said she did so still, in the races held once a month for the past four months. Today, she was properly and sedately side-saddle, but the way she raced had nothing proper or sedate about it.

She flowed with the horse, the two moving as one beast, all grace, power, and beauty. The horse was magnificent, but Bucephalus was better.

As if on cue, Bucephalus whickered. Cen had tethered him upwind of the mare, and out of sight, but that meant his stallion was downwind, and would be picking up messages on the breeze. Unlikely that Rhi would hear, but better to play it safe. He’d come to find out if Atlanta was as good as they said; if the heiress was as appealing. Not that he had doubted the latter. She had won his heart when she was a baby just old enough to toddle to the stables and he perhaps a year older, if they’d guessed his age right when they found him. She had been just thirteen and his affection beginning to turn carnal when her father exiled him.

No point in dwelling in the past. The army had given him a new name, new skills, friends and a future, and now he had come full circle to the place where he began, able at last to reach out for the prize he had once believed beyond his reach. He had made up his mind, as if there had been any doubt. He would enter the race, and win her for his bride. Yes, and the stables where once he had been the lowliest of stablehands.

But as Cen stood, taking care to stay behind the undergrowth and to move smoothly and slowly, something caught his eye on the valley floor.

There. Beyond the racing mare. Movement in a hollow screened by bushes. He frowned even as he squinted to refine his focus. Horses; two, no three. And men preparing to mount.

And there! Caught in his peripheral vision, two more horses on a hillock like his own, but on the opposite side of the valley. One of the riders raised his hand in a signal to the men in the hollow, and they mounted, keeping low over their horses’ backs.

A threat to Rhi? Cen made up his mind, whistling the signal that told Bucephalus to pull at the tether and come to him. In the time it took for the horse to trot up the hill, and for Cen to adjust the tack and mount, all five of the stranger riders were ahorse and heading on an interception course for the lone female rider. What was she doing out without a groom?

Rhi had noticed her pursuers, and Atlanta was lengthening her stride, aiming for the gap between the two groups. She had the speed, if she was fresh. But Rhi and Atlanta had been racing the heath for an hour. The other horses were gaining.

Cen and Bucephalus, coming from a different vantage, might be able to put themselves between the chasing men and the woman, if they were fast enough, if she kept on the same tack. At the very least, the rogues might hesitate if they knew he was watching, though men who would assault a woman would not hesitate to dispose of such an inconvenient witness.

Atlanta faltered. Ah. Rhi had seen him. He pointed to the other riders and gestured her to keep coming, and after a moment, she nudged her horse on. But the hesitation had the nearest of her pursuers right on her heels.

The look of mingled panic and determination on Rhi’s face as she approached removed any lingering thought that the scenario might have an innocent explanation. Cen pulled the cudgel he kept in a holster hanging from his saddle, holding it aloft as Rhi passed him, and swinging it down on the shoulder of the man immediately following.

The man behind swung wide as the first rider fell, and kept after Atlanta, but Cen faced two more, and beyond them another, muffled in a greatcoat and scarf, shouting, “It’s only one man. Get rid of him.”

Cen grinned. Only one man and his horse. More than enough, though they were coming at him with guns. At his cue, Bucephalus spun around and caprioled, his hind hooves connecting solidly with one of the attacking horses as Cen ducked a bullet and threw the knife from his sleeve at the rider of the other.

A shout from the direction Rhi had fled caught his attention. A party on horseback, and known to Rhi, apparently, for she continued her wild gallop towards them. And the would-be assailant who had followed her had pulled up, and was looking back for directions.

In moments, the attack was over, the fallen men collected by their companions and the group fleeing back the way they had come. Cen let them go. A sting in his arm hinted that he hadn’t entirely evaded the bullet, but it was no more than a scratch.

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Danger on WIP Wednesday

This week, I’m inviting your excerpts about moments when danger brings your couple closer or drives them apart. I tend to write romantic suspense, at least in my novels, so my heroes and heroines often face physical danger. But I’d be delighted to see excerpts about other types of risk: scandal, embarrassment, parental disapproval, misunderstanding.

Mine is from The Realm of Silence, and was written yesterday. I hope to have the first draft finished by mid-December, but am not yet predicting a release date in case my plans turn to custard.

Susan startled awake at the sound of a crash, followed by more crashes and bangs. The sound of a fight? She would swear it was within the house, and not far away. She lit a candle, steadying her hand so it didn’t shake in her hurry, and dragged a robe over her night dress. The sound of a shot had her racing to the door. Another crash, definitely just the other side of the wall she faced, the one between the rooms of the house and Hamish’s apartment.

Candles approached her from the servants’ stairs, McMurdo with the housekeeper, Mrs Anderson, behind him, and further up the stair two of the footmen.

“Mrs Anderson, fetch me the key to Mr Cunningham’s apartment. The shot came from there,” Susan commanded, and the housekeeper hurried back up the stairs to her room.

The locked door was a little further down the hall. Before Mrs Anderson could return, it opened, and Hamish put his head out into the hall, blinking a little at the sight of Susan and the three men hurrying towards him.

“Send someone to fetch a doctor, Cousin. Lord Rutledge has been shot.”

For a moment, Susan felt a rushing in her head and the world swam, but she took a deep breath. No time for nonsense. “He is not…?”

Hamish looked surprised at the half-question. “A glancing shot. He is not badly hurt, he says.” He disappeared back into the apartment, leaving the door open behind him.

He says. So he is not dead. She gave the order for the doctor and hurried after Hamish.

Gil was sitting on the edge of his bed, being helped into a pair of trousers. Susan hastily averted her eyes and turned her back, but not before seeing a pair of long muscular legs marred on the left by a ropy scar. The man had clearly been naked when he was shot. Did he sleep that way? The brief glimpse she’d had of his masculine equipment was etched into her brain.

“Susan, you should not be here,” Hamish fussed.

Susan ignored him. “Where are you hurt, Gil?”

“You can look if you wish, now that I have my trousers on.” She would also ignore the infernal man’s amusement at her embarrassment, especially when he went on to assure her, “It’s just a scrape. It knocked me backwards for a moment, or I would have had him.”

“Let me look.” The wound was clear, even in the candle light and from across the room. The bullet had struck the fleshy part of his upper arm, which seeped a trail of blood down towards Gil’s elbow.

Gil stood as she approached, and Hamish stepped in her way.

“We should wait for the doctor, cousin Susan,” he insisted. “And it is most inappropriate for you to be in a gentleman’s bed chamber.”

Susan had no time for such nonsense. “Gil, sit down before you fall down. This is no time to fuss about propriety, Hamish.”

She moved her cousin to one side, and examined the arm Gil presented for her inspection. “Hmm. Yes. It seems to have missed anything vital, but the bullet is still in the wound and will need to be removed. What happened?”

“I could do with a brandy. And some more clothes,” Gil prevaricated.

Hamish clearly sympathised, since he gave the order to the manservant. “Pass Lord Rutledge his robe, Mendles, and then fetch him some brandy.” The manservant obeyed, fetching a brightly coloured banyan from where it lay on a chair.

Susan capitulated, reflecting that Gil’s naked chest a few inches from her face was not conducive to focus.

“Oh very well.” She stopped Mendles before he could hurry out of the room. “I’ll need a clean cloth to cover the wound before that robe goes over his shoulder.” She turned back to Gil. “My sister-in-law Ella swears keeping wounds clean reduces the risk of infection. It is fortunate you were unclothed when he shot you, Rutledge. No dirty pieces of cloth in the wound.”

Gil managed a facsimile of a smile. “My manservant would be offended to hear you imply my clothing is unclean, Susan.”

Mendles passed her a pad made from clean handkerchiefs and then several strips of linen to bind it in place, and Susan bent to the work.

“There,” she said, after several moments. “That should be comfortable enough until the doctor arrives. Do you feel well enough to tell us what happened?”

Gill shrugged. “Not much to tell. I woke to find someone searching through my satchel. I called out, and he turned a gun on me. He wanted the note from the girls; the one they left at Newcastle. I told him I had thrown it away, but he didn’t believe me. He said he’d shoot me if I didn’t hand it over.”

Susan made her displeasure heard on a huff of air, which Gil correctly interpreted.

“I didn’t tell him you had it, Susan, and I’m glad he was the sort of idiot that thinks men can’t trust women, because if he’d tried your room first…”

Susan was having none of such typical wrong-headed male gallantry. “I would have given him the note and would be perfectly well. I suppose you tried to assail him, you foolish man. And him with a gun.”

“A weedy idiot with a big voice, so frightened that his hand shook.” Gil’s voice was laden with scorn. “Of course, I lunged for him. I was as like to get shot by mistake, the way he was trembling. But he pulled the trigger and had better aim than I’d calculated.”

Susan blinked back tears, and could not resist taking Gil’s hand. “Foolishness,” she told him, her voice soft.

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Wickedness on WIP Wednesdays

9ba02bf02563af86012883795a80af1cIn our fictional worlds, virtue triumphs—it is probably just as well, therefore, that the villains don’t know they’re fictional, so they lay their mischievous, selfish, or downright wicked plans, sure that they will win the day.

Today’s work-in-progress Wednesday is dedicated to the ways they act. I’m looking for an excerpt—I say eight to ten lines, but whatever you need to give us a feeling for what’s going on—that shows your villain (male or female, an irritation or an evil danger) doing something that displays their real character.

My current work-in-progress is the story of David Wakefield, best friend of Rede, the hero of Farewell to Kindness. David and his heroine are private detectives back when the name for such people was thief taker, and Embracing Prudence (set earlier in the same year as Farewell to Kindness) includes one of the villains who so complicated life for Rede and Anne.

Here is the Earl of Selby. He has just blackmailed the courtesan into giving him a night in her bed.

“Tiv won’t be happy,” the Earl gloated.

“You will be, my Lord. I guarantee it,” Miss Diamond replied, her voice a husky purr.

The Earl caught up his hat and walking stick, and in one fluid movement, backed the courtesan against the wall, trapping her with his stick held across her neck.

“I’ll collect on that guarantee,” he said, his own purr sounding of threat rather than promise.

Miss Diamond did not react, standing impassively within the cage he’d formed of his body. He leaned the last few inches and slowly, deliberately, licked the side of her face, from her jaw up to her eyebrow, then grimaced.

In another supple twist, he was off her and heading for the door.

“Don’t wear powder tomorrow night,” he instructed, as he left.

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