“What’s in a kiss?” on WIP Wednesday

What’s in a kiss? sings Gilbert O’Sullivan, and this week I’m looking for excerpts that answer that questions. The kiss itself, if you please, but also what it means to the hero or the heroine. One moment of bliss? A delicatessen supplying every need? Something less or something more?

My extract is from The Realm of Silence. Gil has absolutely no idea what Susan thinks of him.

Susan was washing her turnover down with a swallow of ale, shifting impatiently as her hands inched towards the knife and fork she had placed on her plate between mouthfuls, as proper table etiquette required. Her inclination to rush the meal and be on her way was clearly at war with her training in manners.

“Relax, Susan. A few minutes will make the world of difference to your digestion, and very little to our arrival time.”

What a valiant creature his goddess was. She managed a smile, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I know you are right, you annoying man. I will try not to worry and to be patient.

“You are thinking I have no notion what you are suffering, and you are right that I have never been a father, and have never had to wait and worry about a child of my flesh.” Gil almost left it at that, but then he took a deep breath and spoke the rest of his thought. “But I have been an officer with men I loved and who loved and trusted me, and I have had to send them into danger knowing that some of them will be killed and others wounded. That perhaps gives me a small inkling of your feelings, goddess.”

He winced as the last word slipped out. She hated when people called her that, but it was how he felt. He had worshipped her from the moment he met her as a boy; carried a candle before her image in his heart since that day; held her as a beacon of the best of English womanhood through a thousand engagements on four continents and any number of islands. She was his goddess.

She was oblivious to his preoccupation, considering what he had said. “I had not thought about it like that. Yes. I imagine you were a father, or at least an elder brother, to your men. My brothers are the same. It is like, Gil. So you know how hard it is.”

Susan called him Gil, he noticed, when she was moved, just as he slipped into calling her goddess. He did not call her attention to his mistake, but when he moved her chair back to help her rise, and she stepped to one side almost into his arms, he could not resist wrapping them around her.

He had intended a brief peck on her hair. She lifted her mouth as if she had been waiting for just such a move, and he was lost. She was all that existed. The elusive scent of her filled his nostrils, her yielding curves filled his arms, and her lips and mouth consumed all of his thoughts as he tenderly explored them.

How long the kiss lasted he had no idea, but when she stiffened and pulled away, he let her go immediately, sense rushing back into his brain and berating it for the most arrant stupidity. She didn’t comment — wouldn’t even meet his eyes — but led the way out of the garden, almost running in her hurry.

They had to wait in the stableyard while the groom assisted a man in a hurry; a rider who spurred his way out of the yard without leaving a gratuity, much to the groom’s disgust.

“Didn’t give me nothing day afore yesterday, neither,” he grumbled to Gil as Gil helped him with the horses for the phaeton. “Silly fool. What’s he want to go dashing up and down to Scotland for?”

Gil looked after the disappearing hooves of the horse. “He’s come down from Scotland? Did he say how the roads were?”

The groom shrugged. “Bit of a slip at Grantshouse, but he said he was ready for it, seeing as how he passed it on the way up yesteren. So what does he want to turn around and come back for, I says. He had business in Scotland, says he, and now he has business in Newcastle. Silly fool.”

Gil backed the horse in his charge into the traces. It seemed a steady sort, and moved without complaint or resistance.

The groom was doing the same with the other horse, but he suddenly stopped. “Hey, I just thought me. You was asking ’bout the man what was following the French lady? That was him there, what just rode out of this yard. Got as far as Dunbar then turned around and come back. Must be mad. What’s at Dunbar?”

Amy and Pat, perhaps. That news would take Susan’s mind off his impudent kiss. If that was their mysterious pursuer, then they might be closer than they thought. Gil pondered the implications while his hands went ahead with the familiar tasks of buckling and fastening. The man was heading back to Newcastle in haste. Had he finished the task that sent him north? And if so, what did that mean for Amy and Pat?

Years in combat had taught him not to fret overlong about what he couldn’t know and couldn’t change. He thanked the groom and gave him a tip a dozen times the size of the despised measly offering for the pursuer.

“If that fellow comes through again, delay him, will you?”

Soon, they were rolling north again, and Gil told Amy what he’d learned, and what he had concluded.

“Will we find them at Dunbar?” she asked

“We will be there by late afternoon. We will find out then.”

She was silent again, probably worrying about her daughter, though Gil was finding it near impossible to think about anything but that devastatingly beautiful kiss. It was dawning on him that the goddess had kissed him back. What was he to take from that? He could reasonably conclude that she wanted to be kissed. Wanted to be kissed by him? She was a chaste and respectable lady; one, furthermore, who had managed her own affairs and those of her household and her husband for more than twenty years. She kissed him back, and he couldn’t believe that she gave her kisses lightly.

It was probably the situation. She was worried about her daughter and needed comfort. He dare not read more into it than that.

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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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First lines on WIP Wednesday

Just for fun, let’s post the first paragraph of several chapters from our current work-in-progress. You pick the number of excerpts and which chapters. Mine are from The Realm of Silence, book 3 in The Golden Redepennings.

Chapter Two:

Four years since he had last crossed verbal swords with Susan Cunningham, and she looked no older. Did the infernal woman have the secret of an elixir of youth? She had been widowed long enough to be out of her blacks, and back into the blues she favoured: some concoction that was probably the height of fashion and that both hid and enhanced her not insubstantial charms.

Chapter Four:

The goddess fought him every inch of the way right through dinner, and went up to her room still determined to do without his support. Gil’s blood ran cold at the thought of her facing the perils of the road with none but her elderly groom to defend her safety and her honour. Especially a groom who would take bribes, as the man Lyons did when Gil found his room above the stables. Gil paid the old man to warn him when the goddess ordered her carriage, and set his own man to watching the groom.

Chapter Seven:

180 miles north, in Newcastle
“No dawdling,” Mam’selle Cornilac commanded, setting a rapid pace through the busy market. For the first time on their travels, they had stopped for the day in the mid afternoon, and Mam’selle had taken full advantage of several used-clothing vendors, determined to reclothe her two unwelcome companions.

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Backstory in WIP Wednesday

One of the most challenging skills in the writer’s arsenal involves the backstory. We need readers to know what led to the circumstances of the plot; what made the characters the way they are; what secrets they hide, perhaps even from themselves. But, by definition, the backstory is the events that happened before the story we’re telling. How much do we tell? How much ‘telling’ is going to disturb the flow? How can we weave backstory into our writing so that it illuminates rather than drowns?

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is for excerpts with backstory. I’ll show you mine, and you show me yours in the comments. I have two bits from The Realm of Silence, showing Gil’s and Susan’s relationship from each POV.

First, Gil:

The traffic thinned as they left the town, crossing the bridge into the country. Gil held his horse to the rear of the phaeton, giving silent thanks for the rain in the night that had laid the dust. He had little hope that staying out of Susan’s sight would lessen her ire. Any man would understand that he could not let a female relative of his oldest friends wander the roads of England on her own.

A female would not understand the duty a man had to his friends. And the goddess—her appeal in no way dimmed today by the carriage coat covering her curves—was very much a female. He would not revisit his reasons for insisting on escorting her. He’d spent long enough in the night cross-examining himself. Duty was reason enough, and the rest was irrelevant.

It was true that, for twenty-seven years, since she was a child of ten and he a mere two years older, he’d been prepared to move heaven and earth to be near her. It was also true that his heart lightened as he rode further from his responsibilities in the southwest. Not relevant. He was her brothers’ friend and her cousin’s, and therefore he would keep her from harm and help rescue her daughter.

And then Susan’s, several pages later.

“If you ride with me in the phaeton, we can discuss our strategy.” It would be a tight fit. The phaeton was not designed for three. Still, Lyons could go up behind. But Gil was shaking his head.

“No room. And your man won’t last half an hour on the footman’s perch. He should be retired, goddess.

“Don’t call me that!” He had made her childhood a misery with that nickname. One long summer of it, anyway. She had still worn the ridiculous name her parents had bestowed on her. Not just Athene, though that would have been bad enough. Joan Athene Boaducea. Jab, her brothers called her. But when Gil and two other boys had come home from school with Susan’s cousin Rede, Gil dubbed her ‘the goddess’. It had become Jab the Goddess, and she had been forced to take stern measures to win back the space to be herself.

She glared at him. To be fair, he had not been part of the tormenting; had even tried to stop it. But she could not forget that it was his mocking remark that set it off.

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Quarrels on WIP Wednesday

This week is about quarrels. Or fights, or arguments, or any kind of disagreement. It might be serious or trivial, between secondary characters or protagonists. But quarrels are a frequent element of storytelling, a way to display character, disclose unexpected plot points, and ratchet up the tension. 

As always, I’m inviting you to share your excerpt in the comments.

My piece is from The Realm of Silence, the next book in the Golden Redepennings. 

Once they had asked every question they could think of in several ways each, they let the boy go. Gil had requisitioned a private parlour for their interview, but of course Susan could not remain here alone with him. Nor could she follow her burning urge to leave immediately for the answers that must surely lie in Stamford; not on a moonless night. She would thank Gil for his help and go up to her room.

As if he heard her thoughts, Gil turned from a low-voiced conversation with the inn-keeper’s stout daughter and said, “I’ve ordered us a dinner. No point in us leaving until the morning.”

The urge to stay surprised Susan with its strength and made her refusal less graceful than it might have been. “I cannot have dinner alone with you, Lord Rutledge.”

A flicker of uncertainty before the granite face settled again. “Do you want to send for your maid? To protect your name?” His voice was as calm and emotionless as ever, and it was unfair of her to read a sneer into that last remark.

“I do not have a maid with me. Just my groom. He has a room above the stables.” She had sent her other carriages on ahead when she chose to detour to Cambridge, figuring she and Amy could have lunch together before Susan followed her younger children and her servants to London.

Gil regarded her gravely, and Susan waited for him to berate her for foolishness, impetuosity, or arrogance in thinking she could run her own life as she pleased, and without the interference of a man. But he merely nodded once. “And my man is entirely trustworthy. So if you sit down and eat, no one but you and I will know. And you need to eat. Have you eaten today?”

Susan was about to disclaim appetite when her stomach made her liar by rumbling with considerable enthusiasm. Was that a twinkle in Lord Rock Ledge’s eye? Surely not.

She surrendered, at least this battle, returning to the seat she had just vacated. “Very well. But I shall pay for my own meal.”

Gil made no reply. Just took his place in the chair on the other side of the hearth, as two maids carried in laden trays and began transferring their contents to the room’s table.

While the servants set the dishes out, and laid a place for each of them, Susan made some commonplace remarks about the weather during her journey from Wessex, and Gil said nothing. Was he even listening? She seemed to have his attention; certainly he did not move his gaze from her; barely blinked. But what thoughts seethed under that still surface? Even as a boy, he had been grave and silent, speaking seldom but always to good purpose.

As he did now, as soon as the maids left the room, closing the door behind them.

“So by now your other children are safely at home in London with their nurse. I will go after Miss Cunningham and Miss Foster, of course, but you had better come with me.”

“Come with you? I am going alone, with my groom. I am not your problem to solve, Lord Rutledge. My daughter is not your problem to solve.” He might look like a stone carving, all hewn planes and angles, but he had never been a fool. Surely he must realise how impossible it was for the two of them to travel together.

Gil stood. “We should eat.” He suited action to words by pulling out a chair at the table, standing with one hand on the back, waiting for Susan to take her place. It would be childish and counter productive to refuse to sit, purely because he expected her to do so. She quelled but did not extinguish the spirit of opposition that consumed her whenever one of the men in her life tried to organise her. She would eat with him, but he would not be coming north with her.

 

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