Tea with Jonathan

Lord Jonathan Grenford, younger son of Her Grace the Duchess of Haverford, was doing his best to lounge with nonchalant ease, in imitation of his more sophisticated brother. But his interview with his progenitor had left him fizzing with frustration and anger.

Impossible to discharge such energies in the presence of the duke, who was the absolute ruler of his household. His Grace would respond to any perceived disrespect with a retribution whose ripples would touch everyone Gren cared for, from his mother and brother to the most insignificant tweeny and the merest acquaintances.

Impossible also in the dainty sitting room that was his mother’s retreat. He and Aldridge had long ago agreed that Mama had suffered enough from the insults, neglect and disrespect heaped on her by His Grace. Both would rather die than unleash their own helping of the Haverford temper in her presence.

But if he had to keep his tone calm and dispassionate, his body must express the energy of his wrath. As soon as the servant with the tea trolley exited the room and he was free to tell Mama his troubles, he leapt to his feet to pace and prowl, his arms shaping the emotions he was careful to keep from his voice.

She knew, none better, the attempts he had made at freedom, the counter measures taken by his family’s despot, the arguments he had presented in this last distressing interview. But he repeated them all, concluding: “He will never let me go, Mama. I shall be kept here in England, bored out of my mind, kept on a short leash with nothing worthwhile to occupy me until I am as old, as fat, and as dissolute as Prinny.”

The duchess, whose part so far had been to murmur occasional platitudes, lifted an elegant brow at that. “Not fat, my dear one, surely?” She smiled slightly at his reluctant huff of laughter, then turned serious again. “I will speak to him again, Jonathan. But I cannot promise anything. He may not listen.”

“He will not listen. He never listens.” He sat beside her, and kissed her cheek, taking her tea cup from her hands and enclosing them in his own. “Do not make trouble for yourself, Mama. Leave it alone.”

As always, sharing his troubles with the duchess had soothed them, and his natural optimism had surged once more to the fore. There must be a way to achieve his freedom; one that could not reflect on Mama or Aldridge.  All he had to do was find it.

Lord Jonathan Grenford, known to his friends as Gren, is a supporting character in Revealed in Mist, which stars his illegitimate half brother David Wakefield. Haverford’s heir, the Marquis of Aldridge, also has a supporting role in the book. More information and buy links if you click on the title.

 

Excerpt from Revealed in Mist

His next appointment arrived late, apologising as he approached the table, hand extended to shake. David ignored the open and guileless smile and focused on the eyes. Careful, considering, watching to see if the charm was having the desired effect.

“Lord Jonathan.” His own face would give the young man no clues about what David was thinking and feeling. He returned a firm press of the hand, and waved Lord Jonathan to a seat.

“Please. Call me Gren. Or Jon, if you prefer, as Aldridge does. After all, you’re my brother too.” Another friendly grin, of no more depth than the first.

A surprise attack might prompt a reaction David could use. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t tell Aldridge about your plan to get yourself exiled?”

Bare shock for a moment, quickly turning to calculation.

“Mrs. Worth is your informer. Of course. I thought her of too fine a quality to be a whore’s housekeeper.”

The boy was quick; David had to give him that.

The smile turned self-deprecating. “I’d rather you didn’t tell Aldridge. With luck, things have gone too far for him to fix, but I wouldn’t want to count on it. The magic ducal wand.”

“Aldridge wants to protect Her Grace,” David said. And he did, too, come to that.

“Aldridge wants to protect everyone. It’s been bred into him. Yes, and beaten into him, too.” Lord Jonathan—Gren—waved a casual hand, “His Grace is not a gentle father.”

He leaned forward, confidingly, the grin gone and his face suddenly open and sincere. “Aldridge doesn’t understand. I can’t live this life—this meaningless, idiotic life. He has work. I am allowed none. He has purpose. Mine is to simply exist until he marries and has children. After that, I’m redundant. Aldridge thinks I should be happy to drink and gamble and swive myself silly, then get up the next day and do it again. He can’t believe I’m not. But he wouldn’t like having nothing useful to do nearly as much as he thinks.”

Lord Jonathan shook his head thoughtfully. “Do you know how many younger sons die in pointless, stupid accidents, doing something crazy because they’re bored? Now, that would certainly upset Mama!”

David wasn’t sympathetic. “Then do something productive. Join the army. Take up employment.”

“I tried to join the army. His Grace refused his permission. So I joined under a false name. His Grace had me hunted down, bought me out, and confined me until I gave my word not to do it again.

“I went to work for an architect. His Grace had the man beaten. I changed my name again, and found work as a factory clerk. He threatened to ruin the man if I wasn’t fired. He told me that if I tried it again, he’d throw my old nanny out of the cottage she has retired to.”

Despite himself, David could feel for the lad.

“He wants me dependent. Which is partly your fault, by the way.”

The reproach was unexpected. “How do you draw that conclusion?”

Lord Jonathan shrugged. “You’ve made your own way. Refused all help, or so I’ve heard. His Grace doesn’t control you. With everyone else, he says jump, and they ask for instructions on how high and far, and for permission to come down. You just ignore him.”

“Not exactly,” David said. “I stay out of his way, that’s all.”

 

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Revealed in Mist is nearly here

Revealed in Mist is released on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords on 13 December. It’ll be coming on Amazon at around the same time — I’m putting the file up this evening or tomorrow evening New Zealand time, so it will be published as soon as it goes through their approval process. And it has been up on Amazon as a print book for over a week, since I wanted to order some books to come to New Zealand in time for an event in February, and the cheapest form of delivery takes a couple of months. I’ve even sold two print books! Woohoo!

Apart from sharing the memes I’ve made (see them below), I’m not making a big splash, but look in the New Year for a blog tour and some other activities. In particular, I’m planning a detective game, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of my hero and heroine.

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Opening and ending hooks on WIP Wednesday

eavesdroppingI tend to write drafts in scenes, then decide later where the chapter breaks go. This means that at edit stage I need to find page-turning line to end a chapter on, and an enticing line to begin the next. Or I need to write one.

We call these hooks. They catch on the readers’ mind, and then we reel them in.

This week, I’m looking for your hooks. Give me an excerpt that makes me want more. Here’s one of mine, from Revealed in Mist.

She transferred the contents of the tray to a table beside Miss Diamond’s chair: the pot, a cup, a plate of neatly sliced ham, cheese, pickles, and bread, and a plate of tiny iced cakes. Madame watched and Miss Diamond sat compulsively eating one marzipan shape after another. “That will be all,” Miss Diamond said. “Dupont will serve me.”

Dupont followed Prue across the room and closed the door firmly behind her.

Would there be time to get into the book room while they were occupied? She could at least find out whether she could easily pick the lock with the tools she had been carrying in her apron pocket all afternoon.

She had just taken them from her pocket and bent to examine the lock when a loud scream from below sent her jerking upright then plunging back downstairs.

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Tea with Prue

monday-for-tea

Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford, feels a strong sense of obligation to today’s caller. Not that she will say so. Her Grace has engineered a dozen meetings in the past five years, and not once has Miss Virtue raised the connection between them. Perhaps she is unaware of it? No, surely not. But if she wishes to ignore it, then the duchess will comply. The young lady is entitled to her privacy.

The butler escorts Miss Virtue into the conservatory, where Her Grace and her guest can enjoy the autumn sun and the splendid views of the gardens without suffering the chilly breeze. The duchess rises in greeting.

“Miss Virtue. How kind of you to come.”

Her caller curtseys gracefully, without comment, and seats herself when the duchess invites her to do so. For a few minutes they discuss courteous nothings: the weather, the number of people in Town, the War on the Continent, how Miss Virtue would prefer her tea.

But once she has a fine bone china cup in her hands, Miss Virtue cuts directly to the point in the way the duchess has come to expect and admire. “But I do not wish to take up too much of your valuable time, Your Grace. How may I be of service to you.”

Her Grace suppresses a sigh—will the child never trust her? “I have a commission for you, Miss Virtue, if you are free to undertake it. My godson, the Earl of Penworth, appears to have gone missing…”

castle-silhouette-vector-954843-small

Prue Virtue is a spy for the Crown, but occasionally undertakes freelance commissions. The following excerpt is from The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, a novella in my free book Hand-Turned Tales (click here for buy links). Prue, disguised as the nurse Miss Tyler, is here on the duchess’s errand, looking for the Earl of Penworth. She finds that he has acquired not only a prison but also a wife.

Prue is also the heroine of Revealed in Mist, coming in December 2016.

prisoners-of-wyvern-smallSeveral minutes passed, and all remained quiet. This might actually work! First, she needed to find a boat small enough for her to handle. Hugging the walls, keeping to the shadows, she began to circle the courtyard toward the deeper darkness that signalled the passageway through the walls. Beyond, the road led down to the docks.

She was nearly there when a woman’s voice spoke behind her. “Do not be alarmed, Lady Penworth.”

Madeline spun around, one hand to her chest to hold her pounding heart in place.

“Who is it?” She could see a vague shape in the darkness, but no details.

“A friend.”

It was not Lady Wyvern, nor—from the accent, which was aristocratic—one of the servants. As she froze, trying to decide whether to run or speak, she heard footsteps and voices approaching from the other end of the passage.

“Quick. This way.” The woman took her hand and pulled her through a doorway, into the room beyond. Just in time. Pressed against the wall inside the door, she could hear them clearly: several men arguing in hushed voices.

“It was the White Lady, I tell you.”

“Rubbish.”

“She was coming out that window. I saw her with my own eyes. It was like a long coil of smoke, twisting in the wind.”

“A long coil of smoke. Listen to him. Next, you’ll be telling us she’s off to join her husband in the dungeon.”

A chorus of guffaws.

“You’ve heard what the islanders say, same as me,” the first voice insisted.

“Yes, and right fools they are, too.”  The speaker pitched his voice in a falsetto. “Ooooh! Moaning in the dungeon. It must be the ghost!” Then, reverting to his own low rumble. “Silly tossers. A good thing Her Ladyship sent the whole lot of them packing.”

The first voice began, “If you ask me…”

Another man interrupted. “You can stand around talking about ghosts all night if you want. I’m for the kitchen and a tot of something hot and strong. Securing those boats was cold work.”

She could make out no more. They were across the courtyard and… yes, they had gone down the steps into the servants’ area Rupert had pointed out from their window.

“Come,” her companion said. “Lord Wyvern is awake and wishes to speak with you.”

“Let me go,” Madeline pleaded. “Now, while the courtyard is clear.”

“I will help you, my lady. That is why I am here. But first, we need to share information. Come with me and see Lord Wyvern.”

“Who are you?” Madeline asked, but the woman gave her no answer, just moved away, surefooted in the dark.

After a moment, Madeline followed her. They climbed the stair until they reached the room where Lord Wyvern lay, propped up on pillows, looking—by the light of the lamp at his bedside—more alert than he had earlier in the day.

The light allowed Madeline to recognise her companion. “You are the nurse. Miss Tyler. You work for Lady Wyvern.”

“I work for Lord Wyvern,” Miss Tyler corrected. “I am here to rescue him, and you and the earl.”

“Lady Wyvern took the earl away. I don’t know where.”

“Dun… jin,” Lord Wyvern said, and Miss Tyler nodded. “They were keeping Lord Wyvern in the dungeon when I was brought here to care for him. I expect that is where they have your husband and the other two men.”

Lord Wyvern was a frail shadow of the hearty man Rupert had described, and pale enough to have been in a dungeon these six months. Madeline didn’t understand how his own servants could have allowed such a thing.

“Why did your people let it happen?” she asked him, but it was Miss Tyler who answered.

“His Lordship had an apoplexy. Lady Wyvern saw her moment and removed anyone who might object to her regency while he was ill. Then, when he began to recover… well, she made sure to keep him bedridden. And she hid him, so those loyal to him would not know what she was doing.”

“How could the Ice Dragon hope to get away with it?”

Goodness. She was so used to Rupert’s name for his sister that she said it without thinking. But Lord Wyvern was laughing silently, and even the nurse was smiling.

“A good name for her,” Miss Tyler said. “She is an arrogant woman, Your Ladyship. She makes her plans and assumes the rest of the world will fall into line. She must have been horrified when the King sent Lord Morpeth to see what was happening here, but she and Sir James decided to bully their way through.

“They sent most of the islanders away, to keep complaints and rumours from reaching Lord Morpeth’s ears. That may yet work to her disadvantage, since they are now on the mainland and will be talking to all their friends and relatives. Word will reach the ears of the gentry sooner or later, and people with authority will start asking questions.”

“I cannot wait for that,” Madeline said. “I need to rescue the earl now.”

“Plan?” Lord Wyvern asked.

“Yes, my lady. What was your plan? Do you have a helper? Somewhere to go?”

Madeline shook her head. She and Rupert had no one to help them. But they had a plan, of sorts, and she intended to carry it out.

Miss Tyler saw her hesitation. “Lady Penworth, you are wise to be cautious, but you can trust us. Lord Wyvern, as you know, is as much a victim of the conspirators as you and your husband. And I have been sent by the earl’s godmother to find out what is happening and help if I can.”

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Kill those crutch words

crutch-wordsI’m on the home stretch with Revealed in Mist, and will be announcing the release date this coming week. I’ve finished the rewrite following the developmental edit (and the workshop that so inspired me at the RWNZ conference), and received feedback from two of the three people I sent it to for a final read. It still needs a proofread, but first, now that I’m comfortable with the story, I’m going on a crutch word hunt.

I use ‘so’ far too much. And ‘many’. And many of my characters start sentences with ‘Well’. And I have a habit of starting sentences with ‘And’ (or ‘But’). I’ll do a search for these and for ‘that’, asking myself a few useful questions. “Does it add to the meaning?” “Have I used this word five times on this page already?” “Can the word be removed? Or replaced with a better one?”

What are your crutch words?

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You can’t choose your relatives on WIP Wednesday

au_bistro_at_the_bistroI’m deep in edit mode for Revealed in Mist, and I think I’m improving it. Sibling relationships are a big part of the story—Prue’s with her sisters, and David’s with his half-brothers. As the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.

I’ve just edited chapter two, where David meets the Marquis of Aldridge for the first time in years, so I figured I’d make relatives the focus of this week’s post. Here’s a short excerpt. Feel free to post one of your own in the comments.

He frowned at the fire in the small hearth. The private parlour he had hired was small and shabby, but at least its size made it easy to heat. And it was neutral ground, which mattered. David hadn’t had a prolonged conversation with his expected guest in a decade and a half.

He must have been seventeen or eighteen on the last occasion, staying at Haverford Castle in Kent between the end of the school term and his first term at university. The Duke of Haverford’s son and heir, the Marquis of Aldridge, would have been 12. The day had begun happily enough with the boy tagging along while David went out after small game with a gun. It had ended with David beaten and driven from the property.

Aldridge had tripped and knocked himself out, and Haverford, finding David leaning over his unconscious heir, had not waited for explanations.

Once the young marquis left school and entered Society, they met from time to time, usually when the Duchess of Haverford insisted on David coming to one of her entertainments. Her husband, the duke, was almost always engaged elsewhere, but her sons often attended. They paid their mother the courtesy of not being rude to her protégé, and he responded with the same polite reserve.

He was expecting Aldridge now. Older brother to one of the courtesan’s lovers. David’s despised father’s oldest legitimate son. His half-brother.

A knock on the door heralded Aldridge’s arrival. A maid showed him into the private parlour. He’d clearly been treating her to a display of his facile charm; she was dimpling, blushing, and preening.

David examined him as he gave the girl a coin “and a kiss for your trouble, my darling.” The beautiful child had grown into a handsome man. David had heard him described as ‘well-put together, and all over, if you know what I mean.’ The white-blonde hair of childhood had darkened to a guinea gold, and he had his mother’s hazel eyes under a thick arch of brow he and David had both inherited from their father.

Aldridge navigated the shoals of the marriage market with practiced ease, holding the mothers and their daughters off, but still not offending them, and carrying out a gentleman’s role in the ballroom with every evidence of enjoyment.

But his real success, by all accounts, was with bored widows and wives, where he performed in the bedroom with equal charm, and perhaps more pleasure. Society was littered with former lovers of the Merry Marquis, though he had the enviable ability to end an affair and retain the friendship.

Aldridge ushered the laughing maid out of the room and closed the door behind her, acknowledging David’s appraisal with a wry nod.

“Wakefield. You summoned me. I am here.”

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Danger on WIP Wednesday

assaultI’ve finally found the right name for my novel about Prudence and David. Revealed in Mist, to be followed by Concealed in Shadow. The first one is sitting with the developmental editor, but I’ll announce a publication date as soon as I know one. Meanwhile, today I’m posting a piece from it: a moment when my heroine is in danger.

As always, I’m inviting you to post an excerpt from your WIP; any type of danger, and any level, from mild social embarrassment to death-threatening (or, as in this one, what has been called a fate worse than death).

Before she could react, he had ripped at her neckline, popping buttons, tearing the fabric, and exposing her corset and the curve of her breasts.

“Well, well,” he said. “You are a delicious little thing, aren’t you?”

Prue managed to keep her voice calm and level. “If you’ll wait downstairs with your friends, Sir, I will let Lord Jonathan know you are here.”

“Oh, let Annie wait. I’ve an appetite, and you’ll do to satisfy it.” He was pulling her skirts up as he spoke, and the hard shape pressing into her belly left no doubt about his intentions. “You’ll do very nicely.”

“No, thank you, Sir,” Prue said. “That is not part of my duties.”

“Don’t think about it as duty, little darling. Think about it as pleasure,” then, as she tried to twist sideways to escape him, “No, no, no. Naughty. Keep still or I’ll have to hurt you.”

“Let me go, Sir, or I’ll scream.”

“You think the whore will care? I’ve had her maids before. She growls a bit, but what’s she going to do? Serves her right for teasing us all and only dancing the kipples with Selby. And that bumptious squirt, Gren. Blame her, if you do not like it. Now keep still.”

Prue had been keeping her hands flat against the wall, not wanting him to immobilise them. Now she stilled her body as commanded, but let one hand creep carefully towards the cap that covered her hair.

She would need to be quick. He had her skirts bunched almost to the top of her thigh and was fumbling at the buttons of his fall with his other hand. If he noticed what she was doing… no, he was looking down, focused on the mounds he had exposed.

There. She found the long hat pin, a sharp pointed skewer made to her own specifications for occasions such as this. In one movement, she swept it out of her hair and in an arc, flipping it in her hand on the way, to jab it point first into the nearest buttock.

With an eldritch shriek, he let go of her, and she twisted under his arms and retreated up the next flight of stairs, facing him from that vantage point, the skewer at the ready.

“You bitch! You stabbed me!” he shouted.

The weapon he had intended to use on her, disclosed by the unbuttoned flap of his breeches, had not yet been discouraged by the sudden attack. She gestured at it with her hat pin.

“One step closer, and this goes into that.” The full length in the right place could kill, but a threat to his family jewels was more likely to get his attention than one to his life.

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