Adversaries on WIP Wednesday

This will be my last WIP extract from A Raging Madness. By next Wednesday, it will be a published book. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a bit about one of my villains. I’d love to see an extract from you about one of your adversaries; not necessarily a villain, but someone that the hero or heroine is in conflict with.

The adversaries in my extract are utterly villainess. My heroine overhears them  plotting to confine her in an asylum for the insane.

“No, Mrs Braxton. Eleanor will not convince them she is sane. I have chosen with care, I tell you. I visited six asylums before this one, and this is perfect for our purposes. The doctor in charge has promised to keep her dosed, and even if he does not, the place itself will drive her insane. If you saw it, heard the noise… Yes, my dear, I can assure you, our plans are sound.”

Constance answered, the whine in her voice grating against Ella’s eardrums. “But what if you are wrong, Edwin? If she convinces someone in authority that she is sane, prison will be the least…”

“No, my dove. Not at all. No one at the asylum will listen to her ravings, and if they did, what of it? Who will they tell? Even in the worst case, all we need do is say her mind was turned after Mother’s death and how glad we are that she is well again.”

“I do not know.” The frown was heavy in Constance’s voice. “But we cannot keep her here. I trust Kerridge, but the other servants may start to murmur. Any one of them might have spoken to that lawyer!”

“The lawyer is gone, my love. He was no harder to send away this time than last.”

“It will drive her insane, you say?” Constance asked.

“It will. I guarantee it. I hesitate to mention it, Mrs Braxton, it not being a topic for a lady’s delicate ears…”

“Spit it out, Edwin. What?”

“My own treasure, I am given to understand that the attendants avail themselves of the, er, charms of the patients and even do a– er– trade with the nearby town. Not, of course, with the approval of the medical staff. No, of course. That would be most unprofessional. But it is most enterprising of them and serves our purposes rather well, dear sister being a comely woman.”

Ella puzzled this out. Surely Edwin did not mean that the attendants forced the women and prostituted them?

“Ah. Very good,” Constance said. “The woman is horribly resilient. Any decent gentlewoman would have succumbed to madness long since with all your brother put her through and what has happened since. But surely even she is not coarse enough to withstand multiple rapes.”

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Shopping on WIP Wednesday

Crowe, Eyre; Johnson (1709-1784), Doing Penance in the Market Place 

Do your characters shop? Go to the modiste, the tailor, or the milliner? Buy a horse or a carriage at Tattersalls? Buy flowers from a girl on the corner?

This week, I’m looking for shopping excerpts. Mine is from A Raging Madness, which is coming out on 9 May. (I hope to be adding buy links within the week.) In this scene, my hero and heroine have been forced into travelling disguised as husband and wife, which is causing some discomfort. The market is in the town of Stowe-on-Trent.

They wandered the market, stopping first to buy some meat turnovers, rich in gravy and with crisp, flaky pastry that clung to their fingers so that Alex stopped at another clothing stall to buy a rag for them to wipe their hands. They shared a jug of small beer, and Alex purchased a pear each to crunch on while they continued around the stalls.

Pat returned, and trailed them at a distance, keeping them in sight but leaving them to one another’s company. They bought some supplies to put into the housekeeping on the boat: leaf tea, a ham bone with plenty of meat still on it, some vegetables, a loaf of bread. Alex bought her a bunch of Michaelmas daisies from a flower girl, which she held in the hand not tucked comfortably into the crook of his elbow, warm against his body.

The proximity heightened the thrum of awareness that had been plaguing her for days. Years. For years, she had kept the gorgeous Major Redepenning at a distance with a cool reserve, ruthlessly suppressing any outward signs of her unfortunate reaction to his physical presence.

Under the circumstances, her defences were in ruins. He had rescued her, believed in her, put himself at risk to help her. The least she could do was to respond to his conversational overtures, laugh at his jokes, enter into his plans for the rest of the day. Besides, for at least the rest of the canal trip—weeks though it may be—they had to play the part of newlyweds, whatever that cost her in uncomfortable dreams, asleep and awake.

No other man had ever affected her so. Perhaps if she had lusted for Gervase the way she yearned for Alex, they might have made something of their marriage? But no. Gervase would still have been a bully and a cheat. And besides, by the time she met him, it was too late. She was, sadly, a one-man woman. And Alex—though he would never know—Alex was the man.

A stall selling herbs and elixirs attracted her like a bee to nectar, and she was soon in deep discussion with the stall owner over the bundles and packages and bottles, while Alex leaned against the side of the stall and looked on with a smile.

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White Knights on WIP Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And Constance’s dresser.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shook her head.

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

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

“Please, Alex.”

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Reprobates on WIP Wednesday

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G-Cruikshank-Inconveniences-Crowded-Drawing-Room-1818.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G-Cruikshank-Inconveniences-Crowded-Drawing-Room-1818.jpg

The world seems to love a scoundrel. Me, I tend to make villains out of them, but fiction is full of rogues as both protagonists and antagonists. Readers like those with wounded hearts waiting for circumstances or the right influences to make them whole. So this week, I’m inviting you to show me an excerpt with the retrobate from your work in progress. Mine is a right evil so and so, from A Raging Madness, caught in the act of compromising my heroine.

An instant before the drug in the drink hit her, she saw the flare of triumph in Mrs Fullerton’s eyes, and knew she had made a mistake. She opened her mouth to shout for Alex, but suddenly the footman had a hand over her mouth and another under her elbow, and was hustling, half carrying her through the door Mrs Fullerton held open.

“I will give you a few minutes to make it look good,” she said, and whipped out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Ella was struggling against the footman and the fog trying to close in on her mind, the dizziness that wanted to consume her. She stamped at his foot, kicked back at his chin, but her soft indoor slippers made no impression. She squirmed, trying to jab her free arm as low as possible, and he twisted away with an oath, pushing her from him so that she fell face forward onto a sofa.

In an instant he was on her, tugging her head back by the hair, straddling her torso. “This will do well enough,” he commented, lifting himself enough that he could push up her skirt and petticoats.

Ella fought to retain consciousness, the pain of her pulled hair helping to keep her from sinking into the fog. “Scream,” she instructed herself, as her assailant’s free hand fumbled at her buttocks, and she shrieked as loud as she could.

Doors burst open: the one onto the hall and a double set into the drawing room next door, and the room filled with people.

It was her worst nightmare come again: the indrawn breaths of shock, the buzz of excited comments, the avid staring eyes. The last thing Ella heard before she sank into oblivion was the amused drawl of the man on her back. “Oh dear, Lady Melville. It seems we have been caught.”

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Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected

drugs-mrs-winslows-soothing-syrupI’ve been researching drugs and poisons for A Raging Madness. The book opens with my heroine forcibly addicted to laudanum, which was a mix of opium and alcohol. And then things get worse.

I needed a potion or a poison, or a variety of them, that the heroine could be fed without her knowing, and one that was available in England in the early 19th century. I found that I had a wealth to choose from.

Opium was out. She knew the effects, had fought her way out of addiction, and would have known immediately if it happened again. In describing both the addiction and the withdrawal, I drew (among other sources) on a first-person account from Victorian times.

I’m just mad at myself for having given in to such a fearful habit as opium-eating. None but those who have as completely succumbed to it as I did, could guess the mischief it would do. Even you, with an experience which must be extremely varied, being as you are, in such a good place for studying people’s brains (or rather their want of them), cannot know the amount of harm it did to me morally, though I must say you did seem to have a pretty fair idea of it. It got me into such a state of indifference that I no longer took the least interest in anything, and did nothing all day but loll on the sofa reading novels, falling asleep every now and then, and drinking tea. Occasionally I would take a walk or drive, but not often. Even my music I no longer took much interest in, and would play only when the mood seized me, but felt it too much of a bother to practice. I would get up about ten in the morning, and make a pretence of sewing; a pretty pretence, it took me four months to knit a stocking!

Worse than all, I got so deceitful, that no one could tell when I was speaking the truth. It was only this last year it was discovered; those living in the house with you are not so apt to notice things, and it was my married sisters who first began to wonder what had come over me. They said I always seemed to be in a half-dazed state, and not to know what I was doing. However they all put it down to music. Mother had let me go to all the Orchestral Concerts in the winter, and they thought it had been too much for me. By that time it was a matter of supreme indifference to me what they thought, and even when it was found out, I had become so callous that I didn’t feel the least shame. Even mother’s grief did not affect me, I only felt irritated at her; this is an awful confession to have to make, but it is better to tell the whole truth when you once begin, and it might be some guide to you in dealing with others. If you know of anyone indulging in such a habit, especially girls, just tell them what they will come to.

Of course its effects differ according to one’s nature, and it’s to be hoped few get so morally degraded as I did. This much is certain, few would have the constitution to stand it as I did, and even I was beginning to be the worse for it. For one thing, my memory was getting dreadful; often, in talking to people I knew intimately, I would forget their names and make other absurd mistakes of a similar kind. As my elder sister was away from home, I took a turn at being housekeeper. Mother thinks every girl should know how to manage a house, and she lets each of us do it in our own way, without interfering. Her patience was sorely tried with my way of doing it, as you may imagine; I was constantly losing the keys, or forgetting where I had left them. I forgot to put sugar in puddings, left things to burn, and a hundred other things of the same kind. [Letter in the British Journal of Medical Sciences, 1889: Confessions of a Young Lady Laudanum Drinker]

Laudanum, as the young writer says, was readily available and often prescribed for things as diverse as “Laudanum, the most popular form in which opium was taken (dissolved in alcohol) was recommended in cases of fever, sleeplessness, a tickly cough, bilious colic, inflammation of the bladder, cholera morbus, diarrhoea, headache, wind, and piles, and many other illnesses” [See more at: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/representations-of-drugs-in-19th-century-literature#sthash.v6f0LIBt.dpuf].

drugs-vin-marianiAnother common tincture — too late for my story — was Vin Mariani: coca leaves ground into Bordeaux wine. Red wine and cocaine. It debuted in 1863, and took the polite world by storm.

Devotees of the drink included Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, Presidents William McKinley and Ulysses S. Grant, and countless monarchs including Queen Victoria of England. In addition, actress Sarah Bernhardt and Pope Leo XIII (who gave him a Gold Medal!) were among the many who actually appeared in advertisements. [http://vinepair.com/wine-blog/vin-mariani-bordeaux-wine-coca/]

Mercury, arsenic, and cyanide were all used in medicines, their effects often more dire than the illnesses they were intended to treat.

I wondered about marijuana, which was readily available and eaten in cakes. I thought maybe it could be stirred into a drink, but I was assured by a friend that the taste would be a clear giveaway.

I’ve finished up with nutmeg, salvia divinorum, and morning glory.

drug-nutmegNutmeg contains myristicin, a naturally occuring drug with effects similar to LCD when consumed in high enough doses. Doses high enough to cause the effect are also really hard on the heart, so it wouldn’t be my drug of choice, since the villain wants her alive. I haven’t yet figured out how high the dose needs to be, and whether it could be slipped past the victim without her knowing. If I’m arrested, it’ll be for this research.

drugs-salvia_mainachtSalvia was used as a drug by shamans in Mezo-America, and is another hallucinogenic. The leaves are bitter though, so as a tea or an addition to a salad, it seems unlikely. Perhaps a tea sweetened with honey? Or an extract made into a tincture with alcohol, and introduced into an otherwise harmless drink.

And the same with morning glory. A heightened sense of awareness and a diminished sense of reality, my sources say. Poor Ella.

(The heading is a quote from Hamlet.)

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Seduction on WIP Wednesday

No heroine she, but I rather liked the expression on Joseph's face as he tries to reject Potiphar's wife.

No heroine she, but I rather liked the expression on Joseph’s face as he tries to reject Potiphar’s wife.

Well, maybe not seduction, precisely, because some of us write heroes and heroines who are far too well behaved to get up to that kind of mischief, at least on our pages.

But this week, I’m looking for excerpts that show one character being aware of their physical attraction to the other, especially if they act on it.

Mine is from A Raging Madness. My heroine has not just been compromised, but assaulted, and only the quick thinking of Alex’s father has saved her. Marriage to Alex is the best way to keep her safe, but her previous marriage has left her with bad memories. Never a woman to back away from her fears, she goes to see Alex in his room.

“Is something wrong, Ella? Can I help?”

She wore an ankle-length nightrail, and as she passed in front of the fire, he could see her legs outlined through the fine material. She dropped the shawl she wore and his mouth instantly dried.

“Show me I am not cold, Alex.”

His brain had emptied, too. Surely she could not mean…? Suddenly, he realised that he was naked, and the sheets were down by his hips. He shifted to pull them up and stopped. Too late. She had seen his scarred torso and had not run screaming from the room. That was good, surely?

She was flushing; shifting from one foot to another. “You do not have to if you do not wish to, Alex.”

She thought he was rejecting her? Without stopping to think about it, he threw back the sheets, disclosing his very male reaction to her suggestion, and her eyes riveted on it.

“Someone salutes the idea,” she said, with an entirely feminine smirk. Then her uncertainty returned. “If we do this, I want you to know… If it doesn’t work, if I cannot… I will go away, Alex. I will not burden you with a wife who cannot please you.”

That raised the stakes to a whole new level.

“You will please me, Ella. You please me very much. I thought to wait out of respect to the woman who will be my wife.” He gave her his best roguish grin. “But it occurs to me that bedding you might be the best way to make sure you don’t wriggle out of this, Ella. You really are the most elusive woman! Come here.” He held out his hand, and she took one hesitant step towards him, then another until her hand was in his and he could draw her to the side of the bed. Her colour had deepened as she walked, but he could not keep his eyes on her face with her dark aureole showing through the thin fabric of the nightrail.

Almost without volition, his other hand came up to shape one breast, to linger lovingly over a nipple that tightened and peaked as he touched it.

She trembled and sucked a breath sharply through her mouth, and he looked up into her wary eyes.

“Come here,” he said again, shifting sideways in the bed to make room for her.

She allowed him to help her up on the bed, sitting beside him, upright and tense.

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Running away very very slowly

xa6t0jrcjgosmeiapcjbThis is a rerun of a post I wrote for Caroline Warfield’s Highlighting Historical Research blog, several months ago.

I love research. I even love research when I have a perfectly delightful plot that falls apart when research proves it couldn’t have happened. Working out what might be historically probable instead, or at least plausible, has allowed me to drop down many an exciting rabbit hole into research wonderland.

For example, in my current work-in-progress, A Raging Madness, my hero Alex has a leg full of shrapnel, and is currently helping my heroine to escape from relatives who are determined to lock her up in an asylum for the mentally unwell.

Shrapnel? What kind of shrapnel? What munitions carried shrapnel at that time? What battles were they used in? How were shrapnel wounds treated? What was the long term prognosis? How about complications?

It took me a while to find a suitable battle, but eventually I put Alex the right place to be on the business end of a canister shell, a cannon ball with a weak outer shell filled with scrap metal. When the cannon fired, the shell burst apart, and a broad fan of metal caused devastation among the enemy troops. And, in my case, on the body of the assigned escort of a British diplomat who was observing the battle. (And, no, it was not called shrapnel at the time.)

Ella, my heroine, was the daughter of an army doctor, and I figured she’d solve all of Alex’s problems by removing the shrapnel. But not so. Then, even more than now, removing shrapnel or even bullets (unless they are lead) was a very bad idea.

Even today, going in after a splinter of metal might cause more harm than good, and the world is full of people walking around with bomb fragments buried inside. Back then, with no antibiotics and no anaesthetics, the treatment of choice was to leave the mess alone.

Over time, one of three things would happen. The body and the shrapnel would adjust to one another. The body would reject the shrapnel, moving it piece by piece slowly out to the surface. An abscess would form, and the poisons from the infection would kill the patient unless someone acted to drain the abscess.

Hurrah! I had my intervention. Poor Alex developed an abscess.

But escape? Alex can barely walk, let alone ride. Ella is recovering from addiction to the laudanum that her relatives have been force-feeding her. (Another rabbit-hole: what does laudanum withdrawal look like? Feel like?)

I needed a plausible way for two such invalids to escape.

I chose a canal narrowboat for a number of reasons.

The narrowboats were designed at the maximum size to fit in the smallest locks. An inch too big, and they couldn’t go wherever they needed to for the operator to earn his living. The early designers decided on a boat around seven foot wide, up to ten times as long as wide, and drawing about three feet of water when fully loaded.

The narrowboats were designed at the maximum size to fit in the smallest locks. An inch too big, and they couldn’t go wherever they needed to for the operator to earn his living. The early designers decided on a boat around seven foot wide, up to ten times as long as wide, and drawing about three feet of water when fully loaded.

One: I loved the idea of the villains haring all over the countryside looking for them while they ran away by the slowest form of non-pedestrian transport ever invented.

Two: I’ve always wanted to go on a canal cruise, and this way I got to watch YouTube clips and call it working.

Most of the boat was given over to cargo, covered by canvas. In the cabin at the rear, everything did double service, with fold down beds and tables. Some boats also had a small cabin at the bow.

Most of the boat was given over to cargo, covered by canvas. In the cabin at the rear, everything did double service, with fold down beds and tables. Some boats also had a small cabin at the bow.

Three: By 1807, when my story is set, the canal network stretched from the Mersey (with access to Manchester and Liverpool) all the way to London. Travelling by narrowboat was feasible. Canals were a supremely profitable way to move goods in the early 19th century, and had been for a number of years. At a steady walking speed, a horse could move fifty times as much weight on a boat as it could on a road. The canals provided still water and tow paths to ease the travel, and locks, tunnels, and viaducts to overcome obstacles. Later, canal boats were mechanised, and later still the railways put the canals out of business. But in 1807, Alex and Ella hitched a lift with a charming Liverpool Irishman called Big Dan.

Four: I could put my hero and my heroine in close confines, calling themselves married, for five to six weeks. Not only did they have heaps of time to talk and even to succumb (or nearly succumb) to their

A healthy strong horse was vital. Each horse needed a stall in a stable each night, and copious quantities of high energy food.

A healthy strong horse was vital. Each horse needed a stall in a stable each night, and copious quantities of high energy food.

mutual attraction, they were also in deep trouble (or Ella was) if anyone found out. They used false names. They stayed away from fashionable places. But even so, their novelist made sure that someone with no love for Alex saw enough to cause trouble.

Five: The time frame let Alex develop an abscess and recover from the operation, all before he needed to be on hand to save Ella when rumours spread about the two of them and their canal interlude.

And down the rabbit hole I went.

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