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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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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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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Chapter hooks on WIP Wednesday

McRae’s hotel after the eruption my hero and heroine are hiding from in the following scene.

I’ve evolved the tactic of not putting in chapter breaks in first draft. I just tell the story, and then I use the initial edit to reshape it, putting in breaks, baiting hooks at the end of chapters, and setting hooks at the beginning of the next.

I’ve spent a couple of hours today doing just that with a novella, so I thought chapter hooks might be quite fun. Please give me an excerpt from the start or end of a chapter, in which you intrigue your readers and pull them in. Mine is from Forged in Fire, my story for the Belle’s 2017 box set.

And the uncle and aunt abandoned her, ruined by their daughter’s lies and a conscienceless scoundrel, bereaved, poverty stricken. “I have been content, on the whole.” Tad was moved beyond words, her gracious acceptance casting sharp relief on his anger at the players in his own tragedy. And his break with his family had given him freedom, not enslavement to the whims of a cantankerous widow.

He rubbed his cheek gently on the soft hair that tickled his chin. She was wrong about her appeal. She might not have the kind of spectacular beauty that attracted fawning courtiers, but she was pretty. If she was his, he would dress her in colours that better became her. Green, perhaps, to bring out the green flecks in her eyes.

But she could not be his. So foolish to even think of it, when he was leaving New Zealand, heading back to the very Society that had wronged her fifteen years ago. He had no right to be holding her tenderly, caressing her, thinking about kissing her and more. He was no wild boy to act on this inconvenient attraction, this protective tenderness. But he didn’t let her go.

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Transport on WIP Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Relatives on WIP Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Attraction on WIP Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The sleeping giant

In the early morning of 10 June 1886, a 17 kilometre rift opened in the mountains on the far side of this lake, spewing out steam, fire, and finely pulverised rock.

 

It sleeps on the far side of the lake with the same name. Tarawera. The translation is something like the peaks (or cliffs) that burn. And on 10 June 1886, it did, indeed, burn, and more than a dozen villages around the shores of the lake ceased to exist in a cataclysmic six hours.

Until that day, Lake Tarawera had been part of the journey to the famous Pink and White Terraces, silica deposits cascading down the hillsides of Lake Rotomahana in a series of delicately coloured terraces, studded with hot pools.  Tourists came from Europe to see this scenic wonder of the world, making the long trip by ship and then by coach and finally by whale boat or canoe.

In the early hours of the morning of 10 June, the tourist trade died, along with over 150 people.

It began with a series of violent earthquakes that woke people in the village of Te Wairoa, starting point for the Lake Tarawera crossing. When the mountain began erupting around 2am, tourists left the hotels to climb a nearby slope to see the fireworks, retreating as the great clouds of ash, lava and lightening began to rain debris down on their heads.

The view from the road down to Lake Tarawera. The mountain is in the distance. Te Wairoa was tucked behind the ridge to the right.

It was the beginning of a bombardment that would last six hours and leave the village buried in metres of mud and ash. At that, the village got off lightly. Te Wairoa was protected in a valley and sufficiently distant for most residents and visitors to survive. Those closer to the mountain were not so fortunate, their settlements completely destroyed and buried.

The Pink and White Terraces vanished, leaving a 100 metre crater that later filled with water. Ash choked the skies, so that the day was turned to night. Refugees from the disaster began to trail towards Rotorua, meeting rescue parties as they trudged.

The story of that night is told in diaries written by the tourists and European residents of the area, in the oral tales handed down through the local people, and excavated from the material thrown up by the volcano.

My novella for the Belles’ 2017 holiday box set takes place against the background of the eruption. 

 

 

 

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Bullies, blaggards and other nasties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, ma’am,” Miss Thompson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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