Hidden attraction on WIP Wednesday

Most of my stories have a romance in them. Even those that don’t are likely to have some sexual tension. I make no apology for that. For one thing, the kind of love I celebrate in my books is as real as it gets. It’s not for nothing that the Bible uses the language of romantic and physical love to describe the way God loves creation. When two people fall in love and become intimate, they expose deeper layers of themselves more quickly than in any other situation that doesn’t involve near and present risk of death.

And then they have deal with what the most frightening or embarrassing things they’ve exposed, by accepting, by changing or by drawing back. I find it fascinating.

Of course, other relationships can be intense and intimate too. The love between a parent and child, between siblings or long associates, between friends who are kindred spirits: these are all worth exploring. But add the element of physical intimacy, and you both complicate things and provide a mechanism (all those hormones) for becoming close really quickly.

Today, on WIP Wednesday, I want to see excerpts from your work-in-progress where one of your protagonists does something, says something, or thinks something to show that they are physically attracted to the other but doesn’t feel they can act on it. Please keep it clean. This blog doesn’t have an adults-only filter.

My excerpt is from The Lost Treasure of Lorne, which will appear in Lost in the Tale. (Due for release 6 September)

His Grace the Duke of Kendal was digging in the moat again. The unusually dry summer had presented an opportunity he could not resist. With the moat almost empty, even the deepest pools came barely to the hem of his kilt, which, apart from the boots that were out of sight under the murky water, was all he wore.

At not quite forty years of age, the duke was still a fine figure of a man, broad of shoulder, slim of waist, and well-muscled. Even Caitlin Morgan, that stern moralist his housekeeper, paused at the windows of the long gallery to admire the view before she scolded the maids who were doing the same and sent them scurrying back to their tasks. Caitlin stopped for one more glance before resolutely turning away and closing herself in the housekeeper’s pantry with her accounts.

The columns of figures were unlikely to drive the sight of a half-naked duke from her mind, but one could try.

Normally, she would do her accounts at night, after the servants—the other servants—had departed for the village. No one but the duke and Caitlin herself would remain in Castle Lorne after dusk. And His Grace’s son, John Normington, when he was home from university. Even the duke’s valet and butler retreated at nightfall, though only as far as a cottage in the grounds.

The ghosts were a bother, with their moaning and their chatter, but Caitlin paid them no mind. She had, after all, spent more than a decade in charge of a rambunctious boy in a nursery, and knew that a little noise never hurt anyone. Besides, for some reason, the ghosts listened to her, and would be quiet if she insisted.

And if she were as much a coward as the rest of them, who would fetch John his supper or keep His Grace company when the male ghosts drove him out of his bedchamber with their carousing?

Not that the duke knew she kept him company. She sat on the secret staircase on one side of the panel that opened into the library while on the other he read a book next to the fire. She frowned down any ghost that thought to disturb him, and in time he would drift off to sleep.

After that one glorious night seven years ago, she did not dare be alone with him. She trusted Kendal, of course. It was herself she did not trust.

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Tea with Callie

Her Grace has heard about the wedding, and sent her carriage and her companion to the hotel Magnus chose as a refuge for the rescued bride. Caroline Thrushnet was carried off to Haverford House to be cossetted, cherished, and prepared for a second wedding, to Magnus and not Lewis, in a few days time.

Now she has followed the footman assigned to wait in the corridor outside her bed chamber, and is being ushered into a small private sitting room, clearly the domain of the duchess, who waits for her behind a large tea tray.

“Miss Thrushnet, come and sit down, my dear. Tea?”

“It would be welcome, Your Grace. I hardly know whether I am on my head or my heels.”

“Indeed. You have sustained several shocks in quick succession.”

That was putting it mildly. First being forced to marry Lewis, who had cruelly closed all other avenues when he threatened Nanny, the only person Callie had left to love. Then being rescued moments before the vows by a man she thought long since dead. And now contemplating marriage to that man, who swore that marriage to him was her only safety.

The duchess asked how Callie took her tea, and busied herself preparing a cup. “Fenchurch is my godson, Miss Thrushnet. He was a fine boy, but his sufferings have changed him. If you wish to marry him, you may do so from Haverford House. If not, then you may remain here with me.”

“But Lewis, Mr Colbrooke…” Lewis had threatened to tell the whole world that she was his whore, and she could not deny that she had lived in his house, though he had done no more than tell her in salacious detail what he would do when they were wed.

The duchess patted her hand. “I cannot deny that marriage to the Earl of Fenchurch is the best answer to his cousin’s lies, my dear. But I am not without my own resources. If you do not wish to marry Fenchurch, we shall contrive.”

Callie is the heroine of Magnus and the Christmas Angel, a story in my forthcoming collection Lost in the Tale. Magnus and the Christmas Angel is set six months after Magnus and Callie marry, and tells how they became reconciled. The excerpt that follows is from a start I made to turn the short story into a full novel or novella.

He was always correct and pleasant in front of others, and she made certain to stay in company as much as she could, but if he caught her alone she could expect to be stroked, fondled, squeezed, even pinched. And at any time she could expect him to sidle up beside her, and bend to whisper in her ear.

Such disgusting things: what he planned to do to her, what he would teach her to do to him. ‘Train’ her, he said, as if she were a dog to be brought to heel or a filly to be taught manners with a curb rein.

One of his delights was to speculate about whether he should wait until after their wedding to introduce her to her marital duties, and each night she propped a chair under the handle to prevent his entrance. Not that such a measure did more than postpone the inevitable, but at least she did not have to fear him entering to rape her while she slept. Nanny had insisted on sleeping in the dressing room, but her presence would not dissuade Lewis if he had not chosen to stay away for his own purposes.

Nor did he do more than frighten and dismay her during her waking hours. No mercy, that. He wanted to give her fear time to build, and it had worked. Now, as each turn of the carriage wheels carried her closer to the church and the vows that would imprison her for life, she fantasised about hurling herself screaming from the carriage and throwing herself at the knees of the kindest looking passer-by to beg refuge. Only the knowledge that the alternative might be even worse—for Nanny, if not for her—kept her in her seat. That, and the watchful presence of Lewis’s guard dogs.

The ride was interminable and over too soon. She climbed the steps of St George’s, flanked by the footmen, and entered at the back of the huge church; walked the great empty length of the nave towards the small crowd of Lewis’s hangers-on, sycophants, and cronies.

They watched her approach, avid-eyed, spectators at her execution. They believed her to be Lewis’s mistress already; had she not lived in his house these past six weeks? For some reason of his own, he had taken her to a hotel when they came up to London yesterday, but her reputation could now only be restored by this marriage.

She kept her back straight, her face calm; stilled the trembling of her hands by sheer force of will. No one would know she was afraid. No one but Lewis, who knew and was pleased.

When she was close enough, Lewis grabbed her hand and squeezed hard enough to leave bruises, digging in his fingers. She hid her wince, but the minister noticed and frowned, and frowned still further when Lewis instructed him to begin.

“She’s here. Get on with it man. Splice me to the damn chit. I have other engagements this afternoon, and a wife’s maidenhead to breach before I can get to them.”

“Sir!” The minister was horrified. “Your rudeness is not to be tolerated in this sacred place, and in the presence of a lady. Miss Thrushnet, such lack of respect does not bode well. It does not indeed. I urge you to consider carefully before you proceed.”

Callie shook her head. “I have no choice. Do it quickly, please.”

The minister  shook his head, but he began the words of the service. Callie barely listened, until he reached the point that he spoke to the congregation, almost, it seemed, begged the congregation. “If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it.”

He fell silent and waited. If only someone would speak up! They would not, of course, but even so Callie turned to look at those witnessing this travesty of a wedding, ignoring Lewis’s foul words as the minister ignored his commands to proceed.

The door to the church crashed back, and a large angry man shouldered his way past Lewis’s footmen, beating them off with his walking stick and shouting, “Stop the wedding!”

His face. Callie knew that face. This was a man, and not a stripling boy, and barbaric black whorls and dots disfigured all of one side—forehead, cheek, chin, and half the nose. But she would have known him had the tattoos covered all, by his resemblance to his father and by the leap of her heart as he fought his way furiously up the nave of the church.

Magnus. It was Magnus returned from the dead to save her.

Her head felt light, and then the world spun around her and went black.

The minister caught Callie as she fell, fainting at the horror his face had become. He would have to explain. The men on the ship that rescued him grew used to his tattoos during the long voyage home. Could Callie?

But no time for that now, with Lewis shaking his fist in Magnus’s face and demanding he be removed, not that anyone seemed anxious to oblige him. Lewis’s lackeys were unconscious on the ground at the back of the church; the onlookers eyed Magnus’s stick warily, and his grin with even more caution.

Magnus looked Lewis up and down and his grin broadened. The monster who had made his youth a torment was now six inches shorter than him, and showing signs of dissipation in his broadening girth, his soft jowls. While he indulged every vice in London, Magnus had survived shipwreck, fought to earn his entrance into the elite of a warrior culture, and worked his way home from the other side of the world on a naval vessel.

Lewis turned his shoulder, ostentatiously. “Get on with it,” he told the minister. “This madman has nothing to do with us,”

The minister had lowered Callie to the ground and now stood protectively over her. His words were addressed to Magnus. “Who are you, sir? And what cause or impediment do you bring?”

Lewis argued. “He is mad, I tell you. Will no one rid us of this violent lunatic?”

Magnus ignored his cousin, but raised his voice for the benefit of the onlookers. “I am Magnus Colbrooke, Earl of Fenchurch, and this lady is my betrothed.”

Amid exclamations and questions from the onlookers, and shouted imprecations and denials from Lewis, the minister and Magnus locked gazes for a long moment. Then the minister nodded, and turned his attention to Callie, who was stirring.

Magnus had to attend to Lewis and one of the footmen, who had recovered from the blow that knocked him out and was gamely approaching again. He backed off when Magnus shook the stick at him, more frightened of another blow than of his master, who was red faced and hissing like a steam kettle.

“This is not my cousin,” Lewis shouted. “My cousin is dead. I am the Earl of Fenchurch.”

Magnus would have known Callie’s voice anywhere, though maturity had given it a depth and richness. “My dear Fenchurch,” she said, and the church hushed as everyone turned to listen. She was shaking off the minister’s supporting hand, crossing to Magnus with her hands outstretched in welcome. “You are very welcome. Sir,” she glanced back at the minister, ignoring the avid audience, “this is indeed Magnus Colbrooke, Earl of Fenchurch, and my betrothed.”

Another surge of comment from the rabble, which Magnus did not bother to untangle, instead enjoying the sensation of Calllie’s soft hand in his, and keeping a watchful eye on Lewis and his henchman.

Lewis was shaking his head. “No. I don’t know where you found him, Caroline, but this masquerade won’t work, and you will pay for it in the end.”

“You will be receiving notice from my lawyer, Lewis. I am returned, and I will be taking back my own.” Magnus gave Callie’s hand a comforting squeeze. “Starting with my betrothed, but also my houses, my estates,” he looked pointedly at Lewis’s hand, “my signet ring.”

“I deny it. I deny it.” Lewis shook his fist at the minister, who was smiling. “Do you hear me? I deny it.” He threw a threatening look at Callie. “You came here to marry me. I demand that you marry me. You promised.”

Magnus took a step towards the cur, but Callie pulled on his hand and spoke her own defiance. “I came here to marry the Earl of Fenchurch, to whom I was betrothed before he left for the ends of the earth. I stand ready to do so.” She looked up at the unscarred side of Magnus’s face and smiled. “For here he is.”

“Now?” Magnus asked. “I am willing.”

The minister, though, was shaking his head. “Miss Thrushnet, I cannot wed you to any man today. The impediment to your marriage to Mr Colbrooke is clear, and the name on the licence must be changed if you are to marry another man.”

Lewis blustered some more, but Callie ignored him, thanking the minister politely.

“I am staying at Grillions, Fenchurch,” she said. “Shall we return there so that we can talk in private?”

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Explanations in WIP Wednesday

What is a romance without misunderstandings? They met, fell in love, courted, married and lived happily until they died in old age, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren? It makes for a highly desirable life, but lacks interest as a story.

And if we have misunderstandings we have to have explanations, or the story would come to an early end.

So this week, I’m inviting you to post excerpts where one character explains a misunderstanding to another. Mine is from The Lost Wife, which is a short story in my forthcoming collection, Lost in the Tale.

“I am Imanol Mendina de la Vega. Welcome to my humble residence, and that of my hermana.”

Hermana. He had said something similar earlier. Long ago, David had learnt a little Spanish to please Teri’s Mama, stranded as she was as a widowed Spanish lady in the very English household of her brother-in-law. But he did not know that word.

He shifted his head on the pillow, the closest he could come to a bow. “David Markinson, Captain of His Majesty’s Royal Marines.”

Something fierce suddenly surfaced in Imanol’s dark intent eyes. “Markinson? Is that a common name in England?”

“Not particularly. It is more common in Scotland. My family are border people.”

“Border? Ah. Between two kingdoms. And what is the name of this border town you come from, Captain Markinson?”

“Blackwood,” David said. Once he had thought to spend all his days there; to take his articles with his employer, Mr Hemsworth, to raise a family of children with Teri and grow old in a cottage with roses around the door. After his dreams turned to dust, he had enlisted with the marines, and his mother’s death two years ago severed his last links to the place.

Imanol was scowling, his heavy brows nearly meeting above the bridge of his nose, but his voice, courteous and calm, showed none of the emotion written on his face. “And have you a wife back there in Blackwood, captain? Or a girl who loves you, perhaps?”

“No.” Not that it was any of this man’s business. “Not anymore. I have no-one.” I have a wife somewhere, his heart protested. Not back there in Blackwood, he answered his own objection.

Imanol opened his mouth to say something more, then turned to the door and fell silent.

David shifted his head on the pillow, but couldn’t turn it enough to see who stood there; who was asking a peremptory question in Spanish that was too fast for him to follow. A woman’s voice, and Imanol did not like what she said, for his answer was sharp. They argued for a few minutes more, and David tried still harder to see the woman. He could swear he knew the voice.

The altercation ended with Imanol saying to David, “Be careful, English. She says I must not gut you like a fish, but she does not rule here.” Another sentence or two in Spanish, and he left. David lay back, waiting, and sure enough the woman came into the room where he could see her. It was her. Older. In the clothes of a village woman rather than those of an English lady. But it was Teri. Maria Teresa Markinson, his runaway wife.

While he gaped, lost for words, she rested the back of her hand on his forehead, and picked up his wrist to feel for his pulse. “How is the head?” she asked. “Do you feel any pull from the stitches?”

David grabbed the hand before she could remove it. “Teri.” He struggled to order his thoughts, but they slithered out his grasp and he could only cling to her hand as if she anchored him to reality instead of driving him out of his mind.

“Take your hand off her.” Imanol’s cold voice gave David words.

“She is my wife!” he declared at the same moment that Teri said, “Go away, Imanol.”

“Your abandoned wife,” Imanol sneered.

“No! Is that what you thought, Teri? No. I did not leave you. Not by my choice.”

 

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Cover reveal Lost in the Tale

I’m nearly ready to release my 2017 collection of made-to-order stories. I have the stories and the cover, and I’m just waiting for the proofread files and a bit of time to set up the pre-release. No date yet, but it looks like it’ll be early September.

The short stories in the collection have only been available as print books, on Wattpad, or to party goers and newsletter subscribers as ebooks. The novella has so far been seen only by the giveaway winner who gave me the ingredients.

Like Hand-Turned Tales, Lost in the Tale will be free at all eretailers as soon as I can persuade Amazon to drop from 99c.

The Lost Wife: Teri’s refuge had been invaded: by the French, who were trying to conquer their land, and by wounded soldiers from the English forces sent to fight Napoleon’s armies. The latest injured man carried to her for nursing would be a bigger challenge than all the rest: he had once broken her heart. (short story)

The Heart of a Wolf: Ten years ago, Isadora lied to save her best friend, and lost her home and the man she loved when he would not listen to her. Ten years ago, Bastian caught his betrothed in the arms of another man, and her guilt was confirmed when she fled. Ten years on, both still burn with anger, but the lives of innocent children and the future of their werewolf kind demand that they work together. (short story)

My Lost Highland Love: Interfering relatives, misunderstandings, and mistranslations across a language barrier keep two lovers from finding one another again. The Earl of Chestlewick’s daughter comes to London from her beloved Highlands to please her father, planning to avoid the Englishman who married her and abandoned her. The Earl of Medford comes face-to-face with a ghost; a Society lady who bears the face of the Highland lass who saved his life and holds his heart. (short story)

Magnus and the Christmas Angel: Scarred by years in captivity, Magnus has fought English Society to be accepted as the true Earl of Fenchurch. Now he faces the hardest battle of all: to win the love of his wife. A night trapped in the snow with an orphaned kitten, gives Callie a Christmas gift: the chance to rediscover first love with the tattooed stranger she married. (short story)

The Lost Treasure of Lorne: For nearly 300 years, the Normingtons and the Lorimers have feuded, since a love affair ended in a curse that doomed dead Lorimers to haunt their home, the Castle of Lorne.

Now the last Marquis of Lorne, the last of the Lorimers, is one of those ghosts, and the Duke of Kendal, head of the House of Normington, holds the castle.

Kendal doesn’t care about the feud or the ghosts. He wants only to find the evidence that will legitimate the son his Lorimer bride bore him before her death, and to convince his stubborn housekeeper to marry him.

But the time allotted to the curse is running out, and his happiness depends on finding the Lost Treasure of Lorne before the 300 years draws to a close. (novella)

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Tea with Morag and Caitlinn

London, 1790

Eleanor Haverford welcomed her guests to her private sitting room. Thank goodness the duke was not in residence! He would never approve of such company for her.

In the three years since news of their marriages rocked the ton, the two women before her had made no attempt to join Society. Instead, they had remained on the the most northern of the Duke of Kendal’s holdings; a Scots estate, complete with castle, that had formerly belonged to the most ancient enemies of his family, the Lorimers of Lorne.

As had her guests. The remaining two women of the Lorimer family had married the last surviving men of their traditional foes.

Society had been beside itself when the news broke. Michael Normington, Duke of Kendal, had wed his housekeeper, disappointing dozens of marriage-minded mamas and their tedious offspring. Worse, the housekeeper was worthy of the position, even though she had been hiding her own lofty origins for twenty years. And if she had been concealed in the duke’s household, no one suggested for a moment she had been up to anything unseemly, unless it was with the duke himself. Marriage covered any such sins.

Worse, for those who wanted the ducal title for a grandchild, the duke had found evidence for his first marriage, elevating his base-born son to legitimacy and a courtesy earldom. Which would have been good news if Lord Farringhurst, the new earl, had not married his new step-mother’s cousin, the two couples plighting their troth in a dual ceremony weeks before the news made its way south to Town.

“Scots ways,” her husband had declared. “Barbarians the lot of them. Even Kendal, who is English born. No idea of the proper way to behave.”

But now the Kendals and Farringhursts were in London, and a chance meeting at an inn had led them to accept Eleanor’s hospitality when the roof on their own house proved to be leaky. How her rivals in Society would seethe to know she had stolen a march on them. And Eleanor would be happy to help smooth the way of these new friends if she could. She very much liked what she’d seen of them. Why, the duchess and countess fed their own babies at the breast, and spent every spare minute in the nursery!

Eleanor placed a hand on her abdomen as she swore silently that this child, if it lived, would have the same maternal care.

“We must thank you again, duchess,” said her grace of Kendall. “We will not long trouble you. Our husbands swear the repairs will be completed in a week.”

“Indeed, an inn would have been difficult for the children,” Lady Farringhurst agreed. “We cannot thank you enough.” Upstairs in the Haverford nursery, four Normington infants were being tended by a small army of servants, from both ducal households. Her own nursemaids were glad of something to do, her son, the Marquis of Aldridge having long since been released to the schoolroom.

“It is no trouble,” Eleanor assured them. “I am delighted to have the company.” She blushed. “I do not go much into Society at this time.” With a bare two months until her confinement, and four babies lost in the ten years since Aldridge was born, she would obey her doctor’s every directive.

“Then you must call me Caitlin, and my daughter-in-law is Morag, and we shall be comfortable together,” the duchess declared.

Eleanor smiled broadly. If these were Scots ways, then she much preferred them to the ways of the haut ton. “I am Eleanor,” she said.

Morag and Caitlin, and their husbands, are the lead characters in The Lost Treasure of Lorne, which will form part of my next collection of stories, Lost in the Tale. Lost in the Tale will also include The Lost Wife, My Lost Highland Lass, and possibly one or two others. If I get myself into gear, this will come out late next month or early in September.

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