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.


Danger on WIP Wednesday

pexels-photo-110089I’ve been summarising the scenes in A Raging Madness so that I can map them against the internal and external journey of my hero and heroine, as I did with Revealed in Mist. I came across the excerpt below, and decided to share it with you. A moment of danger for my heroine; and this is only the first in a book of them.

Please share your excerpts showing your hero or heroine putting themselves at risk, whether physical risk, risk of rejection or scorn, or whatever you like. Here’s mine.

As soon as the key turned in the lock, Ella slid out of bed to find the chamber pot, and spit the remaining laudanum into it. She washed her mouth once, twice, three times. She had ingested a little—enough to further fog her brain, but not enough to douse the sharp flame of purpose. She had to get away. She had to escape. She had no idea why her brother and sister-in-law were keeping her alive, but she could not count on it continuing.

The room moved a little, wavering at the edges, and Ella wanted nothing more than to crawl back onto the bed and let the dreams come. Did it matter, after all? What good did it do to struggle?

No one in this village would help her, as she had found when they brought her out to display her before the squire and, on another occasion, the rector. She had been drugged both times, of course. She had been drugged these past four weeks. But when she told them, they patted her hand soothingly, looked at her jailers with sympathy, and went away shaking their heads.

But this evening, standing in the shadow of the curtain peering out to see the funeral goers returning to the house, she had seen him. Major Alexander Redepenning. Alex. Perhaps he was just a dream sent by the opium to torture her with hope, but if he were truly here, he would help her. She had to escape now. Tonight.

Alex was a stubborn, opinionated, arrogant fool—and what he had said to her last time they met still scalded her with shame and anger every time she thought of him. But he had known her since she was a child, and he would not abandon her to whatever the Braxtons planned.

She could not run away in her shift, but they had left her no clothes. A blanket? She could wrap a blanket around herself against the chill air.

If she could just open this window without making a noise… So. One obstacle overcome. She dropped the blanket to the ground below. Now she needed to climb from the second floor, dizzy and confused as she was, walk to the village, and find Alex. He would be staying at the inn, surely? He would not have gone on tonight?

She had heard he had been injured; seen the difficulty with which he had descended from his chaise, leaning heavily on his groom. He would not want to travel on tonight. He had to be there at the inn. He had to be willing to help her.


The villain’s sidekick

Ella's attacker The Maid George Lambert 1915Do you have a villain or villainess, out to wreak havoc in your protagonists’ lives? Or even just a slightly negative character who throws stumbling blocks in the way of their desires and intentions?

We’ve had villains before, so I thought today, I’d go down a step. Just as heroes and heroines have secondary characters to support them, so do most antagonists. Share an excerpt about one of the people who backs up your spoilsport, gossip, or outright villain.

Mine is from the first few pages of A Raging Madness. As you’ll see, Kerridge is dresser to Constance, Ella’s sister-in-law, and the wicked woman’s accomplice.

laudanum1Kerridge brought Ella’s evening dose of laudanum. Presumably Constance believed that Ella was still under the influence of the measure forced down her throat this morning, and would swallow Kerridge’s without offering a struggle.

Even though she’d managed to dribble at least part of what she secreted in her cheeks onto the pillow without Constance noticing, she was still mazed. Another dose would take her under, but Kerridge resented being forced to a task so beneath her dignity as a dresser, and would do no more than watch to see that Ella took the dose into her mouth. She would not insist on waiting until Ella swallowed, would not pinch her nose and hold her jaw shut.

Being too meek would be suspicious. Ella turned her head away from the spoon, her teeth clenched shut, but yelped at Kerridge’s sharp pinch and the dresser immediately forced the spoon into Ella’s mouth.

Glaring sullenly, she stopped struggling, and the dresser withdrew the spoon, stretching her thin lips into a smug smile.

Ella asleep“There, Lady Melville. This would go more easily for you if you would just do what you are told,” she said.

She turned to measure a second spoonful, and Ella let the first out of her mouth. The pillow reeked of the pernicious stuff, and still had damp patches though she dried it by the fire at every chance she had. She accepted the second mouthful without a struggle. Had she swallowed the first, she would be totally compliant by now, and Kerridge did not question her sudden obedience, but picked up the bottle and left the room.

As soon as the key turned in the lock, Ella slid out of bed to find the chamber pot, and spit the remaining laudanum into it. She washed her mouth once, twice, three times. She had ingested a little—enough to further fog her brain, but not enough to douse the sharp flame of purpose. She had to get away. She had to escape. She had no idea why her brother and sister-in-law were keeping her alive, but she could not count on it continuing.