Read the First Chapter of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance!

My next book, the historical romance Lady Griffith’s Second Chance, releases in less than three weeks! Lady

I’m offering up the first few chapters for everyone’s perusal, and this week brings us Chapter One. So read ahead for a glimpse into Regan and Thomas’s story…

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Chapter One

Regan stood beside her son’s bed, the light from the candle casting flickers of gold and shadow across his face. 

He slept like his father: sprawled across the bed, bare feet sticking out from beneath the edge of the blankets, his head nearly dangling over the side of the mattress while his pillow already lay in a rumpled lump on the floor. She set the candle on the nightstand, returned all of his gangling limbs to their proper positions, and swept his dark hair back from his brow before slipping the pillow back beneath his head.

She bent down to kiss his cheek, and still he didn’t stir. Just like Edmund, she thought, before crossing to the other side of the room.

There, Maria slept in her bed, her small figure a contrast to her brother’s while in repose. Not only did Maria’s dark head still rest in the center of her pillow, but she had tucked her hands beneath her cheek, her pink lips forming a soft pout as she slumbered.

Regan gave Maria’s blankets a perfunctory tug before leaning over to kiss her forehead. She was about to stand up and turn away when she paused to sweep an errant curl, a ribbon of hair as black as ink, from her daughter’s cheek. 

All of her children possessed their father’s coloring, the same curling dark hair and bright blue eyes. When they had been younger, she recalled her disappointment at their lack of her hazel-colored eyes or the auburn cast of her own hair. But then Edmund had gone and left her as a widow, making her forever grateful that in each of the children she had something by which to better remember him. 

Continue reading “Read the First Chapter of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance!”

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.”

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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!

***355px-Glaspalast_München_1891_111b

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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Halloween is Coming

It’s still August. I know. But the giant, inflatable pumpkin displays are already up at the grocery store, surrounded by troughs of candy corn and bags of mini-Snickers and there is NO WAY any of that would last more than a day in this house if I bought it to put away until the end of October. (Which is most likely their dastardly plan: Buy candy now! Give in to temptation and eat it all! Come back to buy more!)Halloween 026

But a step outside shows the leaves on the trees acquiring that late-summer tinge of brown (I’d say that the grass is dry and crinkling, as it usually is this time of year, but it’s incredibly wet so I’ll just scratch that one off the list) and the days are, whether I want to admit or not, growing shorter. Which can mean only one thing:

Halloween is on the horizon.

It’s one of my kids’ favorite holidays! Dress up and go begging for free candy? MAGIC, I SAY. But there’s another thing happening this year that is a first for me: I’ll be taking part in an anthology with several other authors.

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN!

Wait. No. I’ve done that bit before. Hang on…

It’s a horror anthology!

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN! (See? Better, yes.)

To tell the truth, I’m the biggest scaredy cat there is. I cannot watch or read horror and expect to live a normal and productive life for at least 72 hours after consuming such frightening product. So all of those Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead and blood and limbs and masks and teenagers being chased by a madman who likes to wear other people’s skin for a hat? Yeah, nope. Nope, nope, nope. Not gonna happen. I’ll stick with my Jane Austen and Narnia and comforting things like that.

And yet I wrote a short story for a horror anthology. I’m funky like that.

The story is actually a stand-alone prequel to The Half Killed, so it involves seances and possession and spirits that may or may not be what they seem. Because I’ll be honest again and admit that little does more to scare me than things like demonic possession/oppression and all of that Exorcist/ouija board kind of stuff. *shivers*

So why not write a story about it!

The anthology comes out in October (I’ll have more details soon, release date, cover, etc.) and just as a teaser, I’m posting the first couple of paragraphs (I won’t give out more than that, since it’s a short story.)

And with that, here are the first few lines of “With My Own Eyes,” a prequel to “The Half Killed.”

***

My hand trembles, and so I press it into my skirts, grasping at the fabric there until I fool myself with the belief that I can manage my own limbs again. It’s this moment I wait for above all others, the final drawing in of the curtain as a mangled prayer tumbles from my lips.

For the last hour, a hundred pairs of eyes have been upon me, their owners’ myriad shiftings and muffled coughs serving to highlight my every reluctance to open my mouth and speak. But I had no choice, and the words tumbled forth. Marta kept to her place in the wings, her chin raised so that the limelight illuminated the smooth, white expanse of her throat. She doesn’t allow me to hesitate for longer than can be attributed to my own quirks of performance, a pause here and there as I allow the spirits to seek out their communion with me. But the voices are already there, always there, clamoring for the smallest window through which they can flood my every thought.

Guest Post: Interview with Eleanor Melville, from Jude Knight’s A Raging Madness

Today, I turn my blog over to historical romance author Jude Knight, who brings us an interview with her heroine. Readers, enjoy!

My heroine is Eleanor Melville, widow of cavalry officer and baronet Captain Sir Gervase Melville. Ella was living at her husband’s country estate, nursing his elderly mother, until the dowager Lady Melville died and Ella was forced to flee the ill intentions of Gervase’s half brother and his wife. Louise de GuÈhÈneuc, duchesse de Montebello (1782-1856)

  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I have lost everything I have achieved. I was proud of my successes as physician-surgeon to my husband’s regiment, unacknowledged though they were since I was a woman. But Gervase sent me home to England. I took over his neglected estate and made it thrive. Gervase grumbled, but did not interfere when he found his income increased. But then he died and left the property to his brother, who is slowly ruining it. And children; the wife of a baronet has one important role. I failed, and failed again, before at last I gave birth to my little Richard. But he died while still a baby.

  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?

In my dreams, I live in the country, with friends and family around me. Children, perhaps? The world is full of children who need a home and the love of a mother. If some fairy godmother wishes to bestow on me a small competence, I will buy a house in some country village, and fill it with children.

In my dreams, I have a husband. Not one like Gervase, but a man who supports and respects me. Foolishness, of course. If such a man exists, he would not be interested in a widow well past her first youth. Besides, I lost my heart long long ago, and the man who holds it is gentry-born; the grandson of an earl. No. I do not expect perfect happiness.

I am, however, seizing the happiness I can, travelling with that very same man. That is not as scandalous as it sounds. He has been all that is proper and is, besides, too ill for dalliance. But these past weeks together have been wonderful.

  • What is your current state of mind?

I am content. As I just said, I have the best of company. I am also being useful, keeping things clean and providing meals for the menfolk. I will not think of my uncertain future, or the danger if my in-laws pursue me. I am content.

  • What is your favorite occupation?

I enjoy all the work of running an estate. I love caring for people, helping them to recover their health. If I could find a position doing either kind of work, it would be wonderful. Alex has promised that his sister will help me, and she is a great lady, with many useful contacts. I used to enjoy schooling my colt. I hope he has survived; I fear what Edwin might have done to him.

Oh. You mean a single occupation that I do for pleasure? Reading, then. I read novels, though my sister-in-law Constance assures me it is a low occupation, and one that rots the morals.

  • What is your most treasured possession?

(Ella’s smile turns wistful, and she gazes into the distance.) I possess neither of them. I had to leave them behind when I fled. The colt Falcon’s Storm and the medical kit I had from my father. Storm is all I have left of my mare, Hawk of May, and my only inheritance from Gervase. His horse Lightning was Storm’s sire.

  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?

(In a whisper.) Alex. But he must never know how I feel, for I am sure he would be kind and his kindness would break my heart. He is such a kind man. When I travelled with the regiment, it was always Alex who protected me from danger and saw to my comfort, while Gervase thought only of himself. And when I turned to him for help after escaping Edwin and Constance, he put his own wellbeing at risk to save me.

  • What is your favorite journey?

The one I am on. Travelling the canals from Cheshire to London is both peaceful and fascinating. But the best part has been getting to know Alex again.

  • What is your most marked characteristic?

Once I have given my loyalty, I stay true. At least in my actions, though my thoughts may rebel. But my thoughts are my own.

  • When and where were you the happiest?

Now, this canal journey, is the happiest I have ever been. After Richard was born, I was filled with a joy such as I’ve never known. But I was very ill, and my mother-in-law was confined to bed with her first attack of apoplexy. Edwin and Constance arrived with news of Gervase’s death and every criticism under the sun. My joy in my child was a glorious bright light, but it shone in the darkness. This happiness pales by comparison, but my fears and worries are small and not worth dwelling on.

  • What is it that you most dislike?

Two-faced liars. People who pretend to piety and charity, but who tear other people’s characters to shreds behind their backs and who will do a bad turn if they can without consequence.

  • What is your greatest fear?

I fear being forced to go back to Edwin and Constance. What they have planned for me… (she trails off and shudders).

  • What is your greatest extravagance?

Books. When I was mistress of the income from the estate, I used to have the latest novels sent from London. Even now, when my only money comes from Alex’s pocket, I cannot resist picking over the second-hand book stalls at every market we visit. Alex is worse than I, mind you, loading up young Pat like a pack-mule.

  • Which living person do you most despise?

Beyond a doubt, Constance Braxton. She is married to my husband’s half-brother, Edwin Braxton, and I had the misfortune to live with them both. He is a mean bully, and she is worse. Part of the reason I stayed after my husband died, instead of seeking a position as a companion somewhere, is that I would not leave my mother-in-law to Constance’s nagging, neglect, and nasty remarks. She was a sweet gentle lady, and did not deserve her sons, let alone the witch that Edwin married.

  • What is your greatest regret?

If only I had kept Richard with me. I tell myself it would not have mattered. He was born early, and he was frail. But he had been better. He was feeding well. He was putting on weight. The doctor said I should let him sleep in another room so I could regain my own strength, and Miller and Constance promised they would take turns to sit with him. Miller went to sleep, and when she woke, he was gone. If only he had been with me, I might have heard him. I might have been able to do something.

  • Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to draw and paint. Alex can, and I watch with awe as the scenery we pass comes to life under his hands.  

  • Where would you like to live?

As I said before, I’d like to live in the country. I have been in London, and in Liverpool. Large, noisy, and smelly. I don’t mind where, but a cottage with a garden where I could grow herbs for the kitchen and for medicines, and flowers to heal the soul.

  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Losing someone I love, and feeling that I could have done more to save them. I never want to feel that way again.

A Raging Madness a raging madness new style small

Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he has married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return.

Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. Perhaps she will learn to bear him. 

In their masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they expected. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.

***

Jude KnightJude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place, where they can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, delight in a happy ending, and return from their virtual holiday refreshed and ready for anything.

She writes historical novels, novellas, and short stories, mostly set in the early 19th Century. She writes strong determined heroines, heroes who can appreciate a clever capable woman, villains you’ll love to loathe, and all with a leavening of humour.

Website and blog: http://judeknightauthor.com/

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Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Jude-Knight/e/B00RG3SG7I

Email: jude@judeknightauthor.com

Buy Links: 

Jude Knight’s book page: http://judeknightauthor.com/books/a-raging-madness/

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iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/nz/book/a-raging-madness/

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Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07111TCLR

Read on for an excerpt from A Raging Madness!

The operation would be performed in the outdoors, where the light was better. They were only a few yards from where the Maggie Belle was moored, and all going well, they would return there after the operation. Big Dan had agreed that they could travel on with the narrowboat if Ella was prepared to guarantee Alex was on the mend.

“I don’t wish to disoblige, Mrs Sedgewick, especially when you and himself have been so good to my Pat, but I don’t want a gentleman dying on my boat, and that’s a fact.”

The canal was the gentlest way to transport Alex to London, and Ella trusted Big Dan and didn’t want to start again with another boat. She paid his costs to stable Bess for another day, and a bit over for his trouble. If she was able to save Alex’s leg, they would be ready to travel on tomorrow. Not saving Alex was an intolerable thought, and she would not entertain it for a moment.

It was a cool day in late autumn, but fine and still. Alex was carried from the boat across the bridle path to the field where they had set up trestles on a borrowed door they had pressed into service to act as stretcher and operating table.

Barlow and Whitlock had returned to watch, and Mrs Manning had bullied them into washing so they could help hold Alex during the operation. Mrs Manning’s husband had also been an advocate of Alexander Gordon’s theories that contagion was minimised by cleanliness, something Ella’s father had taught her. She had seen the benefit many times when his patients and hers survived in greater numbers than those of other doctors.

With that in mind, she had boiled the lancets and probes Mrs Manning provided. The cloths they would use, too, had been freshly laundered in boiling water, and the door had been scoured with strong soap and then draped with a clean sheet.

They strapped Alex to the door to stop him moving, gave him a wooden block to bite on, washed his naked thigh and draped cloths around it to catch the fluids that would spill.

“I will be as quick as I can, Alex,” Ella said, and Alex smiled and told her, “I trust you, Ella.”

She could not think of that: could not consider she was about to cut into her nemesis, her saviour, her dear friend; could not remember the consequences if she failed. She said a quick prayer, and then, as her father had taught her, she took a deep breath and let it go, releasing with it all consciousness of the small crowd of watchers, of the still smaller crowd of helpers, of Alex as a person.

Before her was a leg. A thing of meat and bone and blood, and within it the enemy, the death-bringer. Finding the abscess, releasing the poison, that was her entire focus. The muscle of the thigh was simply something to be damaged as little as possible as she sliced into it to reach the poison beneath.

She had chosen the sharpest and most slender of the lancets, and with it she cut quickly and deeply. On another plane, someone gave a smothered, strangled scream and the thigh twitched, but not enough to deflect her blade from its path. There. Pus, a thick yellowy cream springing up the channel she had made mixed with the blood that tried to drown her view.

Of a sudden, her detachment deserted her, and she braced herself against the table, tightening her suddenly weak knees so she didn’t fall. Rotting flesh had an odour all its own; once smelled never forgotten. This was infection, but not rot. She was in time.

And time was of the essence. No indulging in vapours.

The Firstborn – The First Chapter

We’re down to… *looks at calendar*… three days until The Firstborn is released. I’ve teased you with excerpts. I’ve given you a cover. Today? I’m just going to give you the entire first chapter. Now excuse me, I have a quiche in the oven and I don’t want it to burn.

The Firstborn base_illustration_day_final_big

Chapter One

There were too many letters. An inordinate amount of them, spilling out of crevices and sliding out of their well-organized stacks. Most were invitations, a fact that irritated Finnian to no end. Invitations to balls, to routs, to garden parties and afternoon teas, where he would be expected to deal with the attentions of no small number of simpering females. And all of them with their eyelashes fluttering while a mere turn and snap of their fans spoke a language he would never care to decipher.

This morning’s stack of cards sat on his desk, the light shining through the window and sending a solitary beam across the topmost letter. A glance at the direction told him more than he needed to know. The lettering was too fine and flowery—a woman’s hand—and a noticeable aroma emanated from the paper, as if glazed with rose water before being sent round to his townhouse.

He understood their interest in him, and his position in polite society. He was a man. A gentleman. A titled gentleman with a rather large fortune. And, most bothersome of all, a titled gentleman, possessed of a large fortune, who—according to that polite society which insisted on tossing flowery cards and invitations at him as if they were tossing bread crumbs to a duck in a pond—had decided to remain stubbornly ensconced in his current life as a bachelor.

He gave the corner of his newspaper a shake and reached out for his cup of tea. From another part of the house, he heard a knock on the front door, followed by the measured step of Gleeson showing no haste in his effort to answer it. Finnian waited, his eyes gazing at a vague point beyond the edge of the newspaper as the butler’s steps made their way towards his study. Another knock, this one on his own door, and a grey, tonsured head bowed itself into the room.

“Lord Haughton? It’s Mr. Winston. Shall I…?”

He nodded in reply. Gleeson disappeared, the steps receded, and Finnian folded his newspaper into a stiff rectangle that landed with an audible smack on top of the pile of invitations.

“Finn?”

He glanced up at the door as another man, this one dressed in a coat and trousers of a dull, forgettable colour, entered the sunlit room.

“Winston.” Finnian sat up in his own chair and indicated the one opposite him with a wave of his hand. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”

Winston strolled forward, his hands clasped around both hat and gloves, neither of which had managed to be relinquished to the butler upon his arrival. He let out a sigh as he lowered himself into his seat, scratched his chin, and ran a bare hand over his neatly-trimmed brown hair.

“Have you breakfasted?” Finnian asked, his eyes taking in the obvious wear on the man’s suit and the scuffs on his boots.

“Yes, early.” Those two words revealed an accent that held no connection to any town or borough within fifty miles of London. Finnian had never inquired after Winston’s origins, and Winston had never made any move to volunteer the information.

“So.” Finnian cleared his throat. “Since you’re not here to dine with me, I take it you’ve…”

“I’ve found her.”

Continue reading “The Firstborn – The First Chapter”

The Perils of Travel in Historical Fiction: A Guest Post by Caroline Warfield

18009085_10155113596020833_1125127663_nTravel presents a challenge to any writer of historical fiction. I once asked my brother, a navy veteran, how long it would take to sail from Ostia to Genoa and he said, “That would depend on the ship, the tides, the winds, and the weather.” Not much help! Luckily there are sources that can give approximate times for frequently used routes. 

In writing The Reluctant Wife I discovered that a typical trip home to England from Calcutta took six months by sail. SIX MONTHS?! What on earth was I going to do with characters shipboard for that long, and/or how could I handle a big time gap? I discovered another option. In 1835 the India Mail instituted steamship and overland service from Bombay. Steamers would travel up the Red Sea to Suez. Passengers then disembarked and went overland to Cairo, sail up the Nile and then across on the Mahmoudiyah Canal to Alexandria. From there they embarked on a second steamer to England. It took four months off the journey.

That left me with two teeny-weeny problems. #1 The steamer and overland service from Calcutta didn’t begin until 1841 and #2 My story was set in 1835. There is a reason why they call it fiction. I took the liberty of moving Calcutta service forward six years and apologized afterward. My characters were much happier, particularly a small girl who was dee-lighted to go the way that involved camels. 

 

 18009198_10155113595015833_1116346867_nThe Reluctant Wife

Children of Empire, Book 2

Genre: Pre Victorian, Historical Romance Heat rating: 3 of 5 (two brief -mild- sexual encounters)

ISBN: 978-1-61935-349-9 ASIN: B06Y4BGMX1 Page count: 275 pages

Pub date: April 26, 2017

When all else fails, love succeeds…

Captain Fred Wheatly’s comfortable life on the fringes of Bengal comes crashing down around him when his mistress dies, leaving him with two children he never expected to have to raise. When he chooses justice over army regulations, he’s forced to resign his position, leaving him with no way to support his unexpected family. He’s already had enough failures in his life. The last thing he needs is an attractive, interfering woman bedeviling his steps, reminding him of his duties.

All widowed Clare Armbruster needs is her brother’s signature on a legal document to be free of her past. After a failed marriage, and still mourning the loss of a child, she’s had it up to her ears with the assumptions she doesn’t know how to take care of herself, that what she needs is a husband. She certainly doesn’t need a great lout of a captain who can’t figure out what to do with his daughters. If only the frightened little girls didn’t need her help so badly.

Clare has made mistakes in the past. Can she trust Fred now? Can she trust herself? Captain Wheatly isn’t ashamed of his aristocratic heritage, but he doesn’t need his family and they’ve certainly never needed him. But with no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B06Y4BGMX1/

About Caroline Warfield

18009773_10155113597720833_1894483266_n

Traveler, poet, librarian, technology manager—Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

Caroline is a RONE award winner with five star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, Night Owl Reviews, and InD’Tale and an Amazon best-seller. She is also a member of the writers’ co-operative, the Bluestocking Belles. With partners she manages and regularly writes for both The Teatime Tattler and History Imagined.

Website http://www.carolinewarfield.com/

Amazon Author http://www.amazon.com/Caroline-Warfield/e/B00N9PZZZS/

Good Reads http://bit.ly/1C5blTm

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/carolinewarfield7

Twitter @CaroWarfield

Email warfieldcaro@gmail.com

Children of Empire

Three cousins, torn apart by lies and deceit and driven to the far reaches of the empire, struggle to find their way home.

Giveaway

Caroline will give a kindle copy of The Renegade Wife, Book 1 in the series, to one person who comments. She is also sponsoring a grand prize in celebration of her release. You can enter it here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/2017blogtourpackage/

The prequel to this book, A Dangerous Nativity, is always **FREE**. You can get a copy here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/a-dangerous-nativity-1815/

Excerpt 18034863_10155113596610833_468827986_n

I want to take the steamship and camel,” Meghal interrupted.

Ah yes, the camel. Do you plan to ride north along the Silk Road to Istanbul, or merely cross the Punjab into the Kingdom of Kabul and beyond?” Fred asked, unwittingly echoing Clare’s reaction to the shipping agent.

Where is that?” Meghal demanded.

To the west,” he responded.

Meghal turned to Clare. “Is the Nile in the Kingdom of Kabul?”

No. Egypt. It is also west, but farther south”—Clare waved a hand back and forth—“but we’re not taking the steamer route.”

Tell me about this route you aren’t taking. The Nile?” The workings of his daughter’s mind mystified him; Clare’s fascinated him.

Clare briefly explained what she had learned about the inaugural run of a mail steamer to the Suez.

What is the advantage?” he asked.

It cuts four months off the time we would spend cooped up on a ship,” Clare answered.

Camels,” Meghal declared. Her eyes widened as a new idea struck. “And crocodiles.”

The disadvantage?” he asked, barely controlling his laughter.

Goodness, Fred. I would have to disembark with two children, travel overland to Cairo, travel by river barge down the Nile and the Mahmoudiyah Canal to Alexandria before embarking on yet another steamer for Falmouth or Southampton while managing luggage and keeping your daughter from wandering off with the first interesting band of Bedouins she encountered.”

But Papa can help with the luggage, and I promise not to follow any—what are Bead-oh-ans?”

Clare’s face registered the shock he felt. Neither one of them had mentioned his plans to his daughters. Clare raised a brow and shrugged, obviously unwilling to rescue him.

You’re on your own, Wheatly, he thought as he tried to put words together while Meghal smiled hopefully at him.

I thought you knew, Meghal. I’m not going with you. You will have to take care of Miss Armbruster for me.” She will like the idea of caring for everyone, he thought, pleased with himself for coming up with that.

His daughter’s instant response disabused him of that notion. “Why?” she demanded, the universal challenge of children everywhere. Before he could think, she stabbed him in the heart and twisted the knife. “Don’t you care for us?”

Of course, I do! Never think that.”

Where will we go? Who will take care of us? Do we have to live with Miss Armbruster?” Meghal colored and turned to Clare. “I’m sorry, Miss Armbruster. Ananya and I like you, but you aren’t family,” she said. “We need family.”

Fred seized on her words. “That’s just it. I’m sending you to family. Your Aunt Catherine and your cousins will be happy to have you come and stay with them while I”—he clenched his teeth—“while I find work so I can send her money for your care.”

Meghal sank back in the chair, outrage still rampant on her face.

Characters of The Firstborn: Sophia (Penrose) Brixton

In my next book, The Firstborn, I stumble into the lives of two sisters. The older of the two, Sophia, has had to pick up the slack of caring for her younger sibling, Lucy, after the death of their parents. They’ve now lost everything of their former life. Their home, income, and all while dealing with the grief of losing two family members.

Sun_and_Moon_Flowers_1890

And then Lucy finds herself with child, without a husband, and with the eyes of their entire hometown glaring down at them through shades of scandal.

Sophia does what she thinks she must. She finds a new home for them, a home where they won’t be known. She takes on the guise of a widow, and raises her sister’s son as her own.

Simple enough, right?

Of course not. There wouldn’t be a story to tell if everything had tied itself up so neatly.

Lucy finds herself too young, still reeling from her parents’ deaths to care for her child, and so is too quick to leave her son to Sophia’s care. So when a certain Lord Haughton comes calling, claiming to be the child’s uncle and making demands left and right about the boy’s care, Sophia balks at the threatened loss of control over her own life… and the life of her nephew.

Even worse for her is the fear that her nephew will be taken away from her entirely. A woman in nineteenth century England had a frightening lack of rights, and a member of the peerage, and one with the funds to see things done, would’ve had no difficulty swooping in to take a little boy from a woman deemed unfit (i.e. poor) to raise him.

But Sophia is not the type to back down without a fight. And at the end of the day, more than anything, it is her love for her nephew that fuels her resolve to remain a part of his life.

“It does not make a whit of sense,” Sophia said, as she began to crumple the edge of the letter between her fingers. “Six weeks ago, he came here ready to settle a large sum of money on us in exchange for our silence, ensuring that no one would ever discover George’s connection to his great and illustrious family. And now he’s inviting us to his home, to mingle with his sister and make banal conversation about the weather over tea and light refreshments?” She shook her head. “I simply cannot fathom what has worked this supposed alteration in his behavior.”

Lady Rutledge slipped a bracelet from her wrist and held it out to George, who crawled quickly over to her side and babbled excitedly as she dropped the bauble into his grasp. “You suspect all is not as it seems?”

“Well, I certainly don’t believe he was visited by angels on the road to Damascus. I simply…” She exhaled heavily as her shoulders slumped forward in a most unladylike manner. “George has been in my care for his entire life. Even when Lucy was still here, she never… She always treated him as a burden. And I do understand how she could think such a thing. Children are not easy creatures to care for. They are maddening and exhausting and consume your entire life in a frightening amount of time. But even so…” She closed eyes that had suddenly become watery. “I don’t want to lose him.”

For a moment, there was nothing but the jangle of Lady Rutledge’s bracelet and the satisfied sounds of George as he attempted to shove the sapphire concoction—along with a great deal of his fist—into his mouth.

“And you believe Lord Haughton will take him from you?”

Sophia blinked several times and looked across at Lady Rutledge. “I don’t know. A part of me wants to think he’ll spirit George away forever as soon as I enter his home. But another part of me—a much smaller part, I must admit—hopes that he is truly penitent and wishes to…I don’t know, create some sort of compromise that will benefit George.”

“One in which you don’t lose access to him,” Lady Rutledge pointed out.

As George crawled his way towards her part of the drawing room, Sophia reached down and removed the bracelet from between his teeth. When he began to fuss, she merely tickled him under his arm until his cries turned to damp-cheeked giggles. “Or that involves him lording his control over me with a few coins,” she said, her fingers lightly teasing George’s plump chin.

“More than a few coins, if your description of his offer was accurate.”

“Quite accurate,” Sophia said, her eyebrows raised at the memory. “Perhaps it was foolish of me to turn him down, but I could not like the idea that I was somehow being purchased, like a horse or a bolt of silk.”

A moment of silence passed between them, apart from the steady thump of George’s knees and hands as he crawled across the floor.

And so Sophia finds herself dealing with someone very much like herself, someone who has been trying to keep tabs on the behavior of a younger sibling, trying to clean up the mess of their mistakes – and all while making a few mistakes of their own.

Sophia was thrill to write, a character I would very much love to meet in real life (and preferably have on my side during a fight).

The Firstborn will be available for purchase in paperback and ebook from several major retailers on May 9th, 2017.