An Unpracticed Heart: My Favorite Scene

So, I love my books. Even the parts of them that made me tear out my hair in frustration. And in each one, there is a scene, or a few scenes, that I love more than the rest. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was the easiest scene to write. In fact, it’s often the case that the most difficult scenes to create earn a higher place in my esteem.

This particular scene from An Unpracticed Heart takes place a little further into the story, and it is one that did make me tear my hair out (and consume a large amount of chocolate), and yet here it is, a few paragraphs that I think show the heart of this story.

Enjoy. comp_3

“This is pleasant,” Charlotte remarked, then bit her tongue at the banal words. There was so much she wished to say, so much she wasn’t certain she should risk saying, and she could not trust just how much her stepmother might be capable of overhearing. When Lord Cowden made no accompanying comment, she took to busying herself with the arrangement of her skirts as she crossed her ankles beneath her. She looked over at his right leg, close enough that she could simply extend her arm and place her hand on his thigh if she wished. She swallowed hard at the traitorous thought, and curled her hand into a fist before she could give in and dance her gloved fingers across his knee.

“You’re still a terrible liar, you know.” He didn’t look at her, instead keeping his gaze directed at some point beyond the railing. He cleared his throat as he adjusted his position, his shoulders at once slumping forward before pushing back again as if he could not find a way to be comfortable and practice decent posture at the same time. “Your stepmother does not want you here,” he continued to grouse. “And I tricked her into allowing you to come. Ballard is going to talk until her ears revolt and attempt escape from her head, and I have to sit here and pretend that I’m rather indifferent to your company, all so that she won’t suspect there is something between us.”

She turned to look at him. “Is there something between us?”

His lips parted as he drew in a deep breath, but a full minute passed before he ventured to speak again. “I don’t know what to do with you. One minute, and I think I want nothing more than for you to be in my bed, as my wife. And the next… I wonder if my most magnanimous act would be to leave you and never seek you out again.”

Charlotte twisted her hands in her skirt, careless of how wrinkled the silk would be by evening’s end. Her heart had thudded in her chest at his mention of marriage, a possibility she had discounted for herself years before. And there he sat, dangling the words before her like some kind of matrimonial carrot, and she wondered if she would take to buffeting him about the head with her reticule should he prove to be speaking in jest. “There is something you forget,” she said, the words spoken on a rush of air that hardly stirred her voice to life. “None of it is entirely your choice to make. You may say that you would not be a good husband, continue to cling to some absurd notion that I deserve better than what you can give me. But in the end, shouldn’t I have some say in the matter?”

He looked at her, a stricken expression on his face. She wanted to shake him, then. To grasp him by the shoulders and make him see that all was not lost, no matter that his darkest thoughts had taken to convincing him otherwise. Instead, she leaned forward slightly as the first performers appeared on the stage, as their voices carried upwards and filled her senses with a music unlike anything she had heard before.

Charlotte kept her attention on the stage. In front of her, Lady Alvord had begun to sneak surreptitious glances over her shoulder towards the two of them, or at Lord Cowden in particular. Mr. Ballard continued to chatter away, always snagging his companion’s interest before she could fully swivel around in her seat and attempt to inquire as to what they sat whispering about.

“You don’t understand,” Lord Cowden said several minutes later, his voice closer to her ear than she had anticipated. He had slid forward in his seat as well, most likely under the guise of wanting to see the singers as they paraded from one side of the stage to the other. “I would not be a good husband for you. I would bring you nothing but bitterness, and you would resent me for that.”

The song ended on a note that set her teeth on edge. The audience, however, broke into thunderous applause. Charlotte smiled and clapped along with everyone else, the explosion of sound loud enough that she could turn to Lord Cowden and speak without fear of being overheard. “Then I would have to be a good enough wife for the both of us.”

Pre-order An Unpracticed Heart on Amazon! 100% of pre-order royalties will be donated to the Perry County Food Bank in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania.

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Strength and Weakness: Some Characters Are a Bit of Both

The heroine of my latest release, An Unpracticed Heart, is Charlotte Claridge. If I were to describe her in a few words (e.g. “smart, plucky woman who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” or “quiet, milquetoast kind of person who has a personality the same shade as the page”) I’m not sure I could pull it off adequately. Margaret_Dicksee_My_Jealousy_1889

Charlotte Claridge is a smart, plucky woman who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer… depending on who is doing the asking. Because for the most part, Charlotte is strong and able to stand up for herself. Unless she’s toe-to-toe with her stepmother, Lady Alvord. Then, her courage disintegrates as quickly as wet toilet paper.

Does this make Charlotte a weak character? I think it makes her a real character. In my own life, there are situations in which I feel like I can take control, say what needs to be said, not let anyone browbeat me into submission, and come out on top. And then, when faced with certain people, certain personalities, I simply wither.

In Charlotte’s case, she was not treated well by her stepmother. She was constantly criticized, told she was inadequate, and removed from polite society rather than given the round of parties and social events her father had wanted for her when she grew old enough to participate in them. That particular cloak of verbal abuse is not an easy one to shed, even if Charlotte is capable of standing on equal terms with other people (ones who have never treated her so poorly.)

She met Lady Alvord in the hall, near the bottom of the stairs. Charlotte had hoped her stepmother would have already retired to her bedroom, but there she stood, her bonnet still on her head, one glove dangling from her hand as she sorted through a stack of cards and letters left on the entryway table.

“Ah.” Her stepmother’s grey gaze appraised her as she approached. Nothing else about her expression altered, except for a slight lift of one light brown eyebrow as her gaze swept down to Charlotte’s hem and back up to her face. “I see you managed to arrive in one piece.” Her attention drifted back to the cards in her hand. “You’re later than I anticipated.”

Charlotte clasped her own hands in front of her and tried not to fall into the pose of a scolded child. It was too easy a thing, and a habit she thought she’d shaken during the last few years spent between her grandmother’s home in Shepherd’s Bush and Ellesferth. But less than a dozen words from Lady Alvord’s mouth and a part of herself already fought to pull inwards, to hide away as best she could, even in plain sight.

“No words of greeting for me then?” Her stepmother tossed the cards back into the tray on the table and finished the task of removing her gloves. “Well, I see your time away hasn’t made any improvement in your manners.” She strode forward, her bare fingers grasping Charlotte’s chin as she turned her face first one way and then another. “Hmm, and I see Scotland hasn’t done your complexion any favors, either. You look tired.”

Charlotte held her breath as her stepmother let go of her and turned her attention to removing the rest of her outer garments. She wondered if she could escape to her tiny bedroom off the nursery without being dismissed, if indeed she even still needed to be dismissed. Lady Alvord was less than a decade older than her, and yet her father’s choice of second wife still elected to treat her as a girl only just cut loose from her leading strings.

“I’ll be dining away from home tonight,” Lady Alvord continued, divested now of her bonnet and her spenser. “We do have several things to discuss, and there are preparations to be made before you’re collected for your journey to Wales.” She looked up again, the smile that curved her soft, pink lips never quite reaching her eyes. “I certainly can’t send you off dressed as you are. What on earth will they think of me should you turn up on their doorstep in those sorry rags?”

Years of that sort of treatment would have their effect on anyone, and a large part of Charlotte’s journey in An Unpracticed Heart is learning to overcome the damage her stepmother’s words inflicted.

***

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An Excerpt from An Unpracticed Heart

The week, the entire month is slipping away all too quickly. The release date for An Unpracticed Heart is only ten days away (*hyperventilates*) and here I am, twiddling my thumbs like a regular thumb-twiddler.

Today, I bring you an excerpt from the very first chapter, in fact the very first scene, introducing us to our heroine, Charlotte Claridge.

Read on and enjoy!

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There was little preamble to the coach’s departure. A loud oath from the old driver’s mouth, the brief, sharp rattle of harness, and then nothing but the wet slap of horses’ hooves and wheels slipping on the damp ground before the vehicle trundled off and disappeared around a bend in the road.

Charlotte stood still, the mud sucking at her boots as she gazed into the distance. Two miles, the driver had said. Two more miles to Ellesferth Castle. She glanced over her shoulder at the darkening horizon. Two miles, without light, on an unfamiliar highway that threatened to pull her into the mire with every step. She took a deep breath, the chill in the air making her nose run and her eyes water. If she moved, she knew she would at least keep some of the cold at bay.

She stayed on the matted line of grass and weeds at the edge of the road, her bag gripped tightly in her hands. There had been no time to pack all of her belongings. Indeed, there had been no time even to mourn her grandmother, barely cold in her grave before the message had arrived that she was to leave Shepherd’s Bush and go to her great aunt in Scotland.

Charlotte reminded herself to be grateful that even this much care had been taken for her future. She had expected less attention from her stepmother, but the attraction of a greater distance between them may have won out over any desire her father’s second wife possessed to simply forget his only daughter had ever existed in the first place.

Twilight faded faster than Charlotte had anticipated. She slowed her steps, doing her best to avoid stumbling over any rocks or impediments that might lie in her path. No moon lit her way, and not even the glint of a few stars came out to reassure her. Only clouds, and mist, and a darkness so thick she thought it would soon prevent her from seeing her own hand in front of her face.

A few more minutes passed before she saw a light, seeming to wink at her from a distance. She didn’t blink, afraid that to do so would risk its vanishing. Her pace quickened again, mud splattering from her heels as she moved towards the glow and the great black mass that loomed up behind it.

She paused at the gate, two stone columns that rose out of the ground like the trunks of ancient trees. Ahead of her, the ground changed from a road pockmarked with dirt and sharp stones to a neat path strewn with a pale shade of gravel. She followed the path for several yards before stepping off it once she realized it would lead her away from the beckoning light. A few more steps and she found herself in front of a shabby wooden door. She searched for a knocker or bell of some sort, but found nothing. With no other recourse before her, she raised her bare fist and gave the door three hard raps.

She heard a shuffling from the other side, before the door was opened wide to her. A grey-haired, wiry woman filled only a small portion of the doorway, but the intensity of the woman’s gaze caused Charlotte to take a wary step backwards into the night.

“What d’you want?”

Charlotte had prepared herself for a heavy Scottish brogue, but the old woman’s accent was more Cheshire than anything.

“Mrs. Faraday?”

The woman tilted her head to one side, but gave no indication that she might be the Mrs. Faraday in question.

Charlotte cleared her throat and began again. “I’m looking for a Mrs. Harriet Faraday. My name is Charlotte Claridge. I am your… Well, her niece.”

The woman drew in a breath and held onto it as she took in every detail of Charlotte’s appearance from head to toe. “Wipe your boots,” she said, and stepped aside to let Charlotte enter.

***

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Friday Fights: An excerpt from An Unpracticed Heart

In my next release An Unpracticed Heart, Lord Cowden’s story begins with a fight… A fight in which he accidentally kills a man. This event speeds up an already downward spiral in his existence, and takes him up to Scotland where he’ll meet up with our lovely heroine and…

Well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In today’s excerpt, I bring you a fight. A boxing match, actually. Told from Hartley’s (Lord Cowden) perspective. Be aware, he is not a man who minces words or passes up an opportunity for one good punch.

***

“Hartley!”ecd9737865e879eed70a2c4e23d3f239--the-georgian-regency-era

The sound of his name made him wince.

“Damn you, Hartley! Get up!”

He raised a hand to his face and touched something warm on his cheek. Blood? Possibly. His own? More than likely. An experimental movement of his jaw brought out a groan from deep within his chest. He wondered if he still possessed all of his teeth, but his tongue felt too thick and heavy in his mouth to aid in his finding out.

“I’ve got ten guineas on this fight, and if you don’t get up off your ass…”

He managed to open his left eye at that. A mistake, as the face of his cousin swam before him in a most nauseating fashion.

“Only ten, Ballard?” Hartley swallowed quickly as the taste of bile rose in the back of his throat. “I would’ve thought you had more faith in me than that.”

Edward Ballard gripped his cousin under his arms and hoisted him up until he had almost returned to something that resembled an upright position. “I didn’t say I’d wagered it on you,” he shouted in Hartley’s ear, before one firm push sent him hurtling back towards his opponent.

Hartley wiped at his face a second time. A glance at his fingers showed him the crimson streak of blood that had trickled from his nose. His opponent—an ox of a man whose name he’d promptly forgotten once the first hit had sounded against his jaw—stood near the edge of the makeshift ring, no wounds or obvious injuries on his person. Only the faintest sheen of perspiration on the man’s forehead showed the slight amount of effort expended in what was shaping up to be a clear victory for him.

Hartley gave his head a shake and tried to clear his vision. He’d toppled larger men than this, but that had been half a dozen years ago and while sober. He’d arrived here this morning still struggling to digest the enormous supper—not to mention the bottle of wine—he’d demolished the night before.

Unfortunately, those were the only details of the night he could remember. So it had been more than a shock to find himself forcibly dragged from the comfort of his bed this morning and bundled off to some hovel in Wapping for a fight. A fight in which he was apparently the main attraction.

He recognized a few of the men on the outskirts of the circle. There was Lord Chadwick, Marquess of Beningfield. And just to his right was that damned Baron Oaksley. Hartley would’ve suspected his involvement above all others if he’d had a spare minute to think. But at that moment, he had no more spare minutes.

The man—the ox—came lunging towards him; not light on his feet or darting with any sort of strategy, but simply using his sheer mass as an advantage, ready to tear down whatever object might lie in his path. Hartley, still dazed from the last punch, moved back a step. And then another. The ring of onlookers that surrounded them gave him little room to maneuver. The shouts and curses of their audience rang through his head, distracting him, confusing him.

And the worst part? He couldn’t even recall why he was here. What foolish boast on his part had brought about this fight? And who was this man stalking towards him, one massive slab of a fist already raised and ready to break Hartley’s skull?

He ducked as quickly as his dizziness allowed—not quite quick enough as rough knuckles grazed his ear. That brought on more ringing in his head, but he recovered with some speed, stepping back until the jeers of the crowd overwhelmed him and he was once again pushed forward from behind.

“Enough.” The word came out under his breath, a breath that burned its way out of his lungs. He would have to end this, or else allow every tooth to be battered loose from his jaw.

He never took his eyes off his opponent. The other man was huge, his massive size his greatest asset. But it made him clumsy. Hartley noticed how every time the man moved forward, arm lifted to swing, he left his face—his entire upper torso, in fact—open and unprotected. And this was where Hartley would put his speed and agility to good use. Well, what speed and agility were left to him since the first collision of the other man’s fist against his skull.

The shouts from the circle of spectators grew to a fevered pitch. They must have noticed the change in Hartley’s behavior, the way he began to dart forward, testing his balance as he teased his opponent into making more brazen and thoughtless attacks, the other man depending on nothing but his breadth and width to save him.

And before he knew it, there it was. The opening Hartley needed. It was the briefest of windows. A single glance to either side and he would’ve missed it. He heard nothing from the crowd around him, felt nothing but the point of contact between his fist and the underside of the other man’s jaw.

The pain came a second. His hand, his arm, his entire shoulder reverberated from the shock as if recoiling from a pistol shot. No doubt he’d broken something, possibly something important. Better your hand than your head, he reminded himself and took a step back just as the large man’s frame—all twenty stone of it—dropped to the floor.

Someone in the crowd—probably Ballard, though he couldn’t be sure—tossed a clean, white handkerchief to him. Hartley wasted no time wiping the effluence of blood and perspiration from his face. More blood trickled down the back of his throat. A ragged cough scraped it clean before he spat out the foul substance onto the floor beside him.

Still too dazed to revel in his victory over the giant, Hartley bent over, bracing his forearms on his knees. Already, various twinges in his muscles foretold the agony he would experience later, when he began to relax. Copious amounts of alcohol would be needed to dull the oncoming pain. He cursed the rapid deterioration of his physical state for preventing him from participating in the raucous joy currently spreading through the gathered crowd. Or at least the minority of them who had seen their pockets lined by his victory.

He glanced over at his opponent, sprawled across the floor, his head thrown back and one arm pinned beneath his side. A flurry of movement surrounded the man, and then a harsh shout went up, quickly echoed by a half dozen others.

“Hartley.” Ballard’s hand gripped his arm, to restrain him or urge him forward, he couldn’t tell.

“What…?” Hartley couldn’t keep his voice strong enough to finish the question. The cries he’d heard were for a doctor, but it was an unheeded request. He had only to look at his former opponent’s face, his eyes wide open, his unseeing gaze evidence enough of a life that had been so suddenly snuffed out.

“Come along.” Ballard tugged at him.

“But I didn’t…” Before he could protest further, Ballard’s grip on his arm tightened as he was pulled towards the back of the room.

“An accident, old man,” he heard Ballard say. “No one’s fault. You must have struck him in just the right spot. Or the worst spot, as it were. Simply one of those things.”

Hartley was pushed into a chair, a silver flask pressed into his hand. He held onto it, his knuckles changing color from red to white, but he didn’t take a drink.

“Just stay here.” Ballard’s tone was unlike anything Hartley had ever heard before. “Stay here and I’ll—”

“Ballard.” He caught the edge of his cousin’s coat between fingers that didn’t want to work. “What happened?”

Ballard opened his mouth and closed it again.

“He’s dead?”

Ballard nodded once, his expression stricken.

“I killed him.”

“Yes.” Ballard breathed out the word on a sigh. “Yes, old man. I’m afraid you did.”

***

 

comp_3Charlotte Claridge lives a life dictated by her stepmother’s whims. Sent to live with one family member and then another, she finally arrives in Scotland, on the doorstep of a crumbling estate abandoned by its owner. With her aunt, she spends her days mending curtains and peeling potatoes, a quiet existence that changes with the appearance of a carriage bearing a coat of arms.

From out of the carriage falls Hartley, Lord Cowden. Drunk, unconscious, and bleeding, Charlotte and her aunt carry him into his ancestral home. As he recovers in Charlotte’s care, Hartley confesses to a crime that nearly sent him spiralling towards his grave. But can she entrust him with her own secrets while coaxing him back from the dead?

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An Unpracticed Heart Cover Reveal

I haven’t nattered much about An Unpracticed Heart lately, mostly because there wasn’t much too natter about, unless you want to hear the trials and travails of editing and formatting and – Yes, yes. I’ll stop now. I know, it’s all so exciting you can hardly control yourself.

But with less than three weeks until it’s release on October 22nd(!) I now have the official, final cover to reveal to you all!

Yes, yes. Again, simmer down. Too  many thrilling things for this quiet little blog on a Tuesday morning.

And so here, by way of my amazingly talented cover artist (who has done all of my covers), I bring you the cover to An Unpracticed Heart.

 

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Charlotte Claridge lives a life dictated by her stepmother’s whims. Sent to live with one family member and then another, she finally arrives in Scotland, on the doorstep of a crumbling estate abandoned by its owner. With her aunt, she spends her days mending curtains and peeling potatoes, a quiet existence that changes with the appearance of a carriage bearing a coat of arms.

From out of the carriage falls Hartley Cowden, Baron Aldburgh. Drunk, unconscious, and bleeding, Charlotte and her aunt carry him into his ancestral home. As he recovers in Charlotte’s care, Hartley confesses to a crime that nearly sent him spiralling towards his grave. But can she entrust him with her own secrets while coaxing him back from the dead?