Tea with Mist

The spy known as Mist made a perfectly appropriate entrance, on the arm of Eleanor Haverford’s colleague Tolliver, announced by the butler. Some of Eleanor’s acquaintances had also employed the young woman, and reported that she simply appeared in their rooms, coalescing like the mist she was named for, not there one minute and the next sitting sedately in a chair, ready to ask searching questions.

A most unaccountable young woman, they called her.

She did not play such games with the Duchess of Haverford, but then her history gave her cause to be nervous of the Haverford family. Not that her suspicions were justified, but the duchess could not reassure her without touching on matters that must remain unspoken between them until Mist raised them herself.

Tolliver broke the silence. “Well, Your Grace, we are here, as requested.”

“It is your colleague’s services I require, Tolly,” she told him. “But you may remain if you wish. Please. Be seated. May I offer you both tea?”

Mist accepted, politely. Tolly declined, also politely, but gestured to the brandy decanters Eleanor kept for her sons. “Indeed. Help yourself, my dear. Mist,” her name was Prudence Virtue, but Eleanor would not use it unless Miss Virtue herself invited her to do so, “I wish to commission you for a job. I have grave concerns about the safety and well-being of a godson of mine. He has been a faithful correspondent, and I have not had a reply to any of my letters for several months.”

Mist tipped her head to one side while she considered. “Has anything recently changed in his life to explain the absence of letters? A new school or a new friend? Travel?”

“The Earl of Penworth is twenty, and has been educated at home because he is blind. I write to him each month, and have done for the past twelve years, since he was old enough to read my letters and pen a response. Since his accident, he has dictated his replies, and he always responds promptly. So when I heard nothing, I asked Tolliver here to send to the Penworth estate. The Earl has been gone for months. His half-sister, the Countess of Wyvern, fetched him away and since then the estate steward has been taking his direction from her.”

Mist frowned. “Lady Wyvern has… something of a reputation, Your Grace.”

Eleanor acknowledged the point. “She is a ruthless and selfish woman. She does not like Rupert, and Rupert does not like her. Tolliver brought me some more news. The people at the estate were told that their earl has married, and is taking an extended honeymoon at Wyvern Castle. Which is not completely unlikely, since Lord Wyvern is Lord Penworth’s guardian. But I can find no one who  has heard from, seen, or spoken to Lord Wyvern for at least seven months.”

Mist nodded, then took a sip from her cup while she thought about what she had heard. “You wish me to go to Wyvern Castle and discover what I can.”

“Yes. Will you accept the commission?”

The story of the Earl of Penworth, and his imprisonment with the bride his sister forced him to marry, is told in The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, a novella in my permafree book Hand-Turned Tales. Click on the link for more details and buy links. In The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, you will meet Mist and her friend and colleague Shadow, hero and heroine of Revealed in Mist, the first scene of which takes place in Wyvern Castle between the last chapter of the novella and the epilogue. My stories are all stand-alone, but they link. I cannot deny that they link.


Tea with Rose

Rose checked her appearance in the mirror over the kitchen fire, for perhaps the tenth time in the past half hour. “I do not even know how to address a duchess, Thomas.”

No one on the Dunstan fields moved in such elevated circles. She had checked at the little circulating library, but they had no books covering the eventuality that a merchant’s wife from New Zealand’s gold fields would be summoned to take tea with an English duchess.

An English duchess, furthermore, who had invited Rose to join her sixty years in the past and on the other side of the world, and how that was to work, Rose had no idea. But she held the scented letter in her hand, and it had been delivered by a footman, all in livery, who stepped out of her own pantry and frightened her cook almost into hysterics.

Thomas doubted the whole thing, suggesting that they had dreamt the incident, though he could not explain the note, nor the fact that they’d clearly both had the same dream. Still, he had dressed in his best church-going suit; the one he wore when he needed to impress bankers or investors.

Even after five years of marriage, Rose was still humbled and thrilled that Thomas would always support her.  After her father’s neglect and her uncle’s abuse, she had never thought to find a man she could trust as she trusted Thomas.

“If the footman comes, you can ask him,” he said patiently.

And it was at that moment, the pantry door opened, not onto their shelves, comfortably stocked with all the provisions the growing family of a successful merchant might need. No. There before them was a stone-flagged terrace, looking out over extensive formal gardens filled with summer flowers.

Directly before them, not ten feet away, a table and chairs waited, and a woman elegantly dressed in the fashions of the time of the Prince Regent.

“Good Heavens.” Thomas had gone slightly pale.

“It is astounding, is it not,” said the woman. “Do come in Mr and Mrs O’Bryan. Or is it out? I am so pleased you were able to accept my invitation.”

Rose curtseyed, and led the way through the door, leaving her winter coat and shawl behind in the kitchen. And Thomas, dear Thomas, followed, as she knew he would.

“I am Eleanor Haverford, my dears. You are welcome to address me as ‘duchess’, or ‘ma’am’ is appropriate if you prefer. Please. Take a seat. We have a wonderful opportunity, and I wish to hear all about you.

Thomas and Rose are the hero and heroine of All that Glisters, a novelette in Hand-Turned Tales. Hand-Turned Tales contains two short stories, this novelette, and a novella, and is free to download from most eretailers. Read more about it on my book page, which also has download links.


Meet-cute on WIP Wednesday

passerbyThere’s a discussion going on over on Facebook about whether the hero and heroine should meet in the first few pages in a romance novel, and I’m having my usual reaction to the ‘should’ word. But at least I have my topic for work-in-progress Wednesday!

How did your hero and heroine meet? Give me a few lines from your work-in-progress, and I’ll give you mine from Hand-Turned Tales, which comes out next week. (First meet in your work-in-progress. It’s okay if they’ve met before.)

Hand-Turned Tales has four stories in it: three short and a novella, so here are my meetings.

First, The Raven’s Lady.

The lady Felix was supposedly here to consider as a wife was pretty enough, he supposed, if one liked milk-and-water misses who never looked up from their plates, and who answered every conversational sally with a monosyllable or a giggle.

She had, sadly, changed from the lively child he remembered. But that was long ago, almost another life. She had been nine, and he fourteen, the last time they parted.

The only interesting thing about her now, as far as he could see, was the raven she kept as a pet.

Then All That Glisters.

She stumbled and would have landed in the mud, if firm hands had not suddenly caught her. As it was, in putting her hands out to break the expected fall, she had dropped her burdens. The shopping basket fell sideways, tumbling fruit, vegetables, and the wrapped parcel of meat into a waiting puddle. The bundle from the haberdashers that she carried on her other arm, thankfully, stayed intact and landed on a relatively dry spot.

She took all this in at a glance, most of her attention on her rescuer. A craggy face bronzed by the sun, amused brown eyes under thick, level brows, a mouth that looked made for laughter. He was bundled against the cold wind in a greatcoat, muffler, and cloth cap.

Kidnapped to Freedom.

There! Someone was coming. He straightened in anticipation. Yes, it was her—twelve years older and a mature women, rather than the girl he remembered, but even in the moonlight, he couldn’t mistake her.

She wasn’t alone. He couldn’t take a herd of children with him! What was she thinking?

He stepped out from the sheltering trees. The mask would hide his face, and his voice had never been the same since the last time he had been close enough to Phoebe to speak, when Chan tried to strangle him for the presumption.

And finally, The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle

The earl held out his hand, and Madeline reached for it. Even through her gloves and his, she could feel the strength in his hand, and he made no allowance for the difference in their sizes, so that she had to lean back against the weight of him as he pulled himself up. He was tall, this new husband of hers who couldn’t wait to abandon her at the altar. Tall, lean, and handsome. But very young.

“Thank you, Miss, ah, Countess. What is your name again? I am sorry. I was not listening.”

Madeline had been listening. He was Rupert Frederick George Arthur John Fleming, 7th Earl of Penworth, and Viscount of Clearwater.

“Madeline,” said Graviton, helpfully. “The family calls her Mad.”

Graviton called her Mad. Her mother, who had been all the family to love her, called her Linnie, and she had been Miss Graviton to the rest of the world. No more. Mother was dead, and Miss Graviton was gone, too, wiped out by a few words and her signature on the marriage register.

Your turn.


Danger threatens on WIP Wednesday

Tntallon castleA story is not complete without a threat of some kind, whether physical, emotional, or financial; whether to our hero, our heroine, or someone they love; whether the danger is current and real, or remembered, or we readers simply fear it is possible.

This is certainly true of each of my Hand-Turned Tales stories. In The Raven’s Lady, my protagonists face smugglers. In Kidnapped to Freedom, the heroine comes from a life of constant threat, and has no idea what the future holds in store for her—or the identity of the man who has carried her off. In All that Glisters, the heroine’s bullying uncle beats her if she does not comply with his wishes, and he wishes her to marry his bullying friend. And in The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, my hero and heroine face a stark future. In the passage that follows, they realise why her brother and his sister have forced them to marry.

“She is your sister. Surely she does not mean you harm?”

Rupert’s laugh was bitter. “Half-sister. And she has hated me all my life. She would harm me if it were to her advantage, but while I live—and with Lord Wyvern absent—she has the whole earldom at her command.”

The thought that flashed into Madeline’s mind was so gothic, she hesitated to give voice to it, but Rupert’s mind had clearly gone in the same direction. “While I live…” he repeated.

“If we have a child…”

“If he is a son…”

Madeline turned into him, stretching her arm across his chest to hug herself into his side, as if she could shield him from the malice of their relatives. “Then we must avoid making a child.”

He returned the hug, kissing her hair. “It will not answer, Madeline. Perhaps Graviton might hesitate to carry out his threat; his own sister, after all. But the Ice Dragon will not care who fathers my heir, as long as someone does. We cannot trust your brother to protect you.”

She shivered. “Half-brother. And he has hated me all his life.”

As always, post your own excerpt in the comments, and don’t forget to share so that others may enjoy your work in progress.


Misunderstandings on WIP Wednesday

Lady_BlackwoodMisunderstandings are another stock-in-hand strategy by which we make sure our stories don’t end a page or two after they start. And boy, can they be true to life! How often do we make assumptions about what someone else means, or thinks, or has done—and then act on that assumption without bothering to check the facts.

Post a piece from your work-in-progress that shows a misunderstanding (either in progress or ending). Somewhere around nine lines (mine is longer this week). And please share so that other people can enjoy your extract and those of other guests.

My characters tend to talk to each other when any reasonable person would, so if a misunderstanding is to continue, I need the characters to have evidence that they don’t believe they need to check, or I need outside circumstances to prevent them from asking the question that would clear everything up. Or I clear the misunderstanding immediately and use it to bring my characters closer.

The piece I’m posting comes from the end of Kidnapped to Freedom, which will appear next month in Hand-Turned Tales. My heroine has just realised that the privateer captain who rescued her is the boy she loved thirteen years ago.

As she crossed back to the rail, adding up all the little clues she’d noticed this past week without being aware of them, he came from below and made a straight line for her.

“Good evening, Mrs Morien.” The slight husk in his voice had been turning her knees to water all week. Quickly, before her fears choked the words in her throat, she said, “Finn, when are you going to take off the mask?”

The captain went completely still. Then, slowly, he raised his hands to the back of his head, fumbled with the strings of the mask, and let it fall into one hand.

A man changes a great deal between seventeen and twenty-nine. She knew him though. She should have known him a week ago, by his eyes alone. She clamped firmly down on the hurt that he’d felt the need to hide from her. He owed her nothing. She owed him everything. He had saved her brother and sister. He was in the process of saving her and her children. He clearly wanted not to acknowledge her, and he had every right.

“You do not need to wear the mask,” she told him. “I understand. I have no claim on you and I will not be a nuisance.” She made to pass him, but he put out a hand to stop her.

“No, Mrs Moriel… Phoebe. No, that isn’t it at all. I was… The Blakes have done so much wrong to you, to your family. You must hate us all, especially me. I don’t blame you. I left you in that place. I knew what Chan was like, and I walked away. I wore the mask to make you more comfortable. No. That isn’t true. I just didn’t want to see your eyes when you rejected me. You stay here. Enjoy the fine evening for a while longer. I’ll go.”

She was so stunned that he was halfway to the hatch before she found her voice. “I don’t hate you, Finn. I don’t blame you.”

“I blame myself.”


Interfering relatives or friends in WIP Wednesday

presentsOne recurring trope in romance fiction is the relative or friend who puts a spoke in the wheel of the budding relationship. Sometimes, the person means well and sometimes they’re just plain mean. I’ve been thinking about my own novels and shorter fiction, and each one has at least one representative of the class: Daniel in Candle’s Christmas Chair, Alex in Farewell to Kindness, the Duchess of Haverford in A Baron for Becky, and both Enid and Bosville in Gingerbread Bride (my novella in Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem).

girl_with_a_green_shawl-largeThe stories in next month’s release are no exception, with two evil brothers, a wicked cousin, a diabolic sister, and a rather unpleasant aunt and uncle.

So for this week’s work-in-progress Wednesday, give me a few lines showing your secondary characters interferring in the developing love of your protagonists. Here are my aunt and uncle from All that Glisters, being their less than charming selves. Thomas has brought a present for Rose, my heroine, but has assumed her guardians will not let her receive it unless he has gifts for them. (All that Glisters is set in Victorian Dunedin, New Zealand.)

“Turned up again, have you?” Aunt Agnes said without enthusiasm.

Thomas pulled out the first of the presents with which he had armed himself. “Happy Christmas, Aunt Agnes.”

“We do not celebrate Christmas in this house, young man.” Campbell had been sitting unnoticed on a chair facing away from the door. His glower followed his voice as he rose to glare at Thomas.

“Happy new year then, Uncle,” Thomas said, peaceably, handing the old man a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and passing another to Aunt Agnes.

For a moment, the two hesitated, then curiosity and avarice overcame their distaste, and they both began to untie the string.


Animals on WIP Wednesday

raven-73179_640I’ve been plotting a made-to-order story about a cat named Angel. A reader won it for the Cat Day promotion I supported, and I’ll be writing it over the next week. This set me thinking about animals in stories. Do you like them? Some writers always have them, and in some they barely ever put in an appearance.

My first made-to-order historical romance was The Raven’s Lady, which I’m currently revising and preparing for release in Hand-Turned Tales, a book of short stories and novellas I’m bringing out as a free book just before Christmas. (I published the original tale as a series on this blog—the link above leads to episode one.)

So this week, please share around nine lines from a current work-in-progress where an animal has a part to play in your plot. Here’s mine:

She had sadly changed from the lively child he remembered. But that was long ago, almost another life. She was nine, and he was fourteen, the last time they parted.

The only interesting thing about her now, as far as he could see, was the raven she kept as a pet. He remembered the raven, too. He’d been the one to rescue the half-fledged bird from a cat, but Joselyn Bellingham was the one who tended it, fed it, and captured its affection.

He’d been startled when the raven flew in the library window that afternoon, fixed him with a knowing eye, then marched out the door and along the hall, to tap at the door of Miss Bellingham’s sitting room until she opened and let it in.

Now, though, at dinner, any sign of originality was absent.


First lines on WIP Wednesday

gothiccastleBecause I particularly like the first lines of the new story I started last week (tentatively called The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle — and yes, Carol Cork, this is your story), I’m inviting you all to share with me and the blog readers the first lines of any chapter of your work in progress. I usually say 7 to 10 lines, but I’ve overdone it today.

As soon as he said the last words of the blessing, the fat priest stepped towards them, a broad smile on his face. “May I be the first to congratulate your graces?”

But the man to whom Linnie had just been joined in the bonds of Holy Matrimony ignored the outstretched hands and whirled around to advance on Lady Wyvern, who stood behind them.

“Very well. I have done what you demanded. Where is she?”

“Penworth, your manners.” Lady Wyvern scolded, but the Duke of Penworth ignored her tone and spoke over the rest of her complaint.

“You promised to return her if I married Graceton’s sister. Well. We are wed. I want her back, Lady Wyvern, and I want her now.”

Lin was trying to make sense of it all. The duke had been forced to this marriage as well? By a threat? But to whom? Surely not… not his mistress?”

She stole a look at her half-brother, Baron Granville, who was openly amused. “Send the boy back to his rooms, Margaret, and my sister with him. His treasure is there, is it not? Oh do not fret, vicar. You will get your fee and your portion of the wedding breakfast.”