Friday, July 31, 2009
I'm going on a blog tour in August, so come along and join in the fun! The tour kicks off on August 2nd over at the Risky Regency blog and ends on 31st August at Love, Romance and Passion, going to a lot of great blogs in between. So here are the dates:
3rd August Bitten By Books
5th August Romance B(u)y the Book
7th August Savvy Verse & Wit
10th August Debbie's World Interview
11th August Undeath blog
12th August Yankee Romance Reviewers
14th August Peeking Between the Pages
16th August Risky Regencies
17th August Bloody Bad Book Blog
19th August Café of Dreams
21st August Sia McKye's Thoughts… Over Coffee
24th August The Review from Here
31st August Love Romance Passion
Meanwhile, check out Sia McKye's fab review of Mr Darcy, Vampyre over at her blog here
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
It's adapated by Sandy Welch, who also adapted Jane Eyre and North And South, and it stars Romola Garai as Emma in a four-part adaptation.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Helene eyed the chimney sweep wrathfully, one hand on the shoulder of the small boy at her side. Her eyes just now were the colour of wet slate, her normally generous mouth pulled tight in an expression of disgust.
‘You will go and you will leave Ned with me,’ she said, her voice strong and fearless despite the knots tying themselves in her stomach as she faced the great brute of a man she had caught beating his climbing boy. ‘You are lucky that I do not call the magistrate and have you arrested for cruelty. This child is too ill to do his work.’
‘Lazy ingrate that’s what he be,’ the sweep muttered. His hands were ingrained with soot, his face streaked with it. He had a fearful scar on one cheek and he squinted with his left eye. He was scowling so fiercely that Helene’s courage might have deserted her had she not seen the scars on a previous climbing boy’s back. Jeb had died of his injuries. She was determined that it would not happen to Ned. ‘I bought the brat from the workhouse. He belongs to me – and that’s the law. You can’t take him from me, miss.’
‘What did you pay for him?’ Helene was haughty as she faced her much larger opponent across the kitchen of her uncle’s home. She knew that the sweep could fell her with a blow of his huge fist, but she refused to feel afraid. ‘Tell me and you shall be paid…’
‘I paid ten gold guineas for him,’ the sweep growled.
Helene knew that he was lying. No one paid so much for a boy from the workhouse. However, she understood that she must pay the price if she wished to take the child from him.
‘Very well, you shall be paid,’ she promised. ‘You may go. I will send the money to your wife tomorrow.’
The sweep scowled at her, anger flashing in his eyes. ‘If you don’t send the money – all of it! – I shall come and take him back,’ he muttered and went off, stomping out of the kitchen in a temper.
‘You’ve landed yourself in a pickle again, miss.’ Bessie stared at her. ‘Where will you find ten guineas to pay him? And what are we to do with him now we have him?’
Helene felt the lad tremble beneath her hand. ‘Don’t send me back to Mister Beazor, miss,’ he said, sniffed and wiped the back of his hand across his nose and then on his disreputable breeches, smearing more soot on his face in the process. ‘He’ll kill me sure as hell is full of the devil.’
‘You watch your language,’ Bessie warned him sharply. ‘Speak respectful to Miss Henderson. She just saved you from a terrible beating.’
‘Please do not scold him, Bessie,’ Helene said and smiled at the maid she thought of as her best friend. Bessie was her mama’s only servant and had helped Helene out of scrapes many times when she was a girl. ‘I think he needs a bath and something to eat.’
‘He could certainly do with a bath,’ Bessie agreed. ‘He doesn’t smell too sweet.’
‘What’s a bath?’ Ned eyed them suspiciously. ‘Does it hurt?’
‘Lord bless him!’ Bessie laughed. ‘We’re going to put you in a tub of hot water and wash all the soot and grime off you, lad.’
‘Nah…don’t fancy that…’ Ned backed away from them nervously.
‘I promise you it won’t hurt,’ Helene told him. ‘Afterwards, I shall put some ointment on your back and then you can eat your meal.’
‘What’s to eat?’ Ned looked round hopefully, a sign of interest in his eyes now.
‘You shall have a hot meat pie and some cake,’ Bessie said, seeing the gleam and smiling inwardly. ‘But you’ve got to be clean. I can’t have dirty boys in my kitchen.’
‘Are you certain it don’t hurt?’ Ned’s nose twitched as the smell of pies baking reached his nostrils.
‘I promise,’ Helene said and turned as one of the other servants entered the kitchen. ‘Jethro, will you fetch the tub from the scullery please? We are going to give this lad a bath.’
Jethro nodded. ‘I saw Beazor looking like thunder. He’s a bad man, miss. He’s already done for two workhouse lads. He’s been warned that if it happens again he won’t get another.’
‘Is that all they can think of to threaten him with?’ Helene’s eyes flashed. ‘In my opinion a beating is the least he deserves. He has killed boys and no one does anything to stop him.’
‘Yes, miss, a few of us were thinking the same,’ Jethro said, his expression grim. ‘I’ll fetch the tub and give you a hand with him, Bessie. Your uncle was looking for you, Miss Henderson.’
‘Yes, I know he wished to speak with me,’ Helene said. ‘I shall have to ask him what we should do with Ned…’
‘You can leave him to me, miss,’ Jethro said. ‘I need a lad to help out in the yard. He’ll do with me. No need to bother Mr Barnes.’
‘No, I would rather not…’ Helene thanked him, told Ned to be good and hurried away to keep her appointment with her uncle. Edgar Barnes was a fair-minded man. He had taken his sister and her child in when Helene’s father died from a fever after a fall from his horse. However, he was not a wealthy man. He had promised to do something for her, and she knew that he had summoned her to his library to talk about her dowry that morning. She had been offered a season in town by a good friend of her mother’s. Her uncle had already given her fifty pounds towards her spending money in town but the dowry would need to be a more substantial sum if she were to stand a chance of making a good match. Especially in view of what some might see as her unfortunate background.
Helene could ill afford to give Beazor the ten guineas she had promised him, but she must do it. Her mother had spoken of Miss Royston being very generous, but Helene was not perfectly sure what that meant, though she knew they were to be guests at Miss Amelia Roystons’s town house. Neither her uncle nor her mother could have afforded to give her a London season and she felt very grateful to the lady she remembered only vaguely. It was very kind of Miss Royston to send such an invitation.
Helene hesitated outside her uncle’s door, then took a deep breath, knocked and opened the door. He was writing at his desk but looked up as she entered and smiled.
‘Ah, Helene, my dear. I am pleased to see you. Come in, niece, and sit down. I want to talk to you about your visit to town.’
‘Yes, uncle. I am sorry I am a little late, sir.’
‘No matter…’ He waved his hand in a dismissive manner. ‘I am sure you understand your great good fortune and the opportunity this visit affords you?’
‘Yes, uncle. I am very grateful to Miss Royston for inviting us.’
‘You must make the most of it,’ Uncle Edgar told her, his fingers touching as he placed his hands in the steeple position and looked serious. ‘I have two sons to see through college and I must do something to secure the future of my younger boy. Matthew wants a set of colours and that is an expense I can scarce bear. I had thought I might give you fifty pounds a year, but some of my investments have failed miserably and I am no longer able to make the commitment…’
‘I am sorry for your loss, sir,’ Helene told him, her heart sinking. Without a dowry she would stand little chance of making an advantageous match. The fact of her maternal grandfather having been in trade was a disadvantage in itself, though Helene herself was proud of being Matthew Barnes’s granddaughter. He had fought his way up from lowly beginnings to become a man of some fortune, which accorded well with her notions of equality. Unfortunately, a quarrel between Helene’s mama and her father had meant that Mrs Henderson had been left a mere competence. Helene had nothing at all for she had not been born when Matthew Barnes died. ‘Then I have no dowry at all?’
‘I can give you a hundred pounds extra now and that is all,’ Uncle Edgar said with a sigh of regret. ‘I am sorry, Helene. It is fortunate that your mother has a good friend in Miss Royston.’
‘Yes, the visit will be pleasant, though I think I may not be able to oblige Mama by making a good marriage…’
‘Miss Royston understands the situation and she is giving you five thousand pounds as a dowry….’ Helene gasped at the news and her uncle smiled. ‘Yes, it is a very large sum, Helene. It should help you to make a good match. All the more reason why you should make sure you please your benefactress. You must strive to be on your best behaviour and to make the most of your chances. You must not be too particular, Helene. Do not expect a great match, my dear. He should be a decent man, of course – and you must not go against the wishes of Miss Royston. However, I know you to be a sensible girl…most of the time. But I shall say nothing of your little lapses, which I know come from your heart. You care about others and that is not a bad thing, but sometimes you are led into the wrong paths by impulse.’
Helene wondered if he had heard anything of the scene in his kitchen earlier, but she did not ask. Her uncle would not want to be involved in the quarrel for he always took the line of least resistance if he could, and he would probably say that Ned should be returned to his master. He certainly would not approve of paying ten guineas to the sweep!
‘I do try to be sensible, uncle,’ Helene told him. ‘It is just that I cannot stand cruelty in any form.’
‘I do not like it myself, but sometimes one has to turn the other cheek, Helene.’
‘Yes, uncle. I shall try to remember.’
Helene’s thoughts were very different to her words. She and Bessie had done what they could to save the climbing boy who had been beaten so badly that he died. The sigh of his emaciated body, the bruises and the way he had just turned his face to the wall and died had lived in her mind, because she had known that his spirit was broken. If she’d had a little money of her own she would have set up a school for poor boys and alleviated the worst of their suffering. However, even then she could help only a few, and she had often thought the answer lay with men like her uncle. Edgar Barnes was not wealthy but he had standing in the community. He and others far more powerful should put a stop to the barbaric laws that allowed children to be bought for a few shillings, half starved and forced to work for their bread.
However, she knew better than to voice her opinion on the matter. Most gentlemen believed ladies should be seen and admired, treated with utmost gentleness, but their opinions seldom counted for anything other than in the matter of the household they ran. Such attitudes might have made Helene angry had she not understood it was simply the way of things. Because she might otherwise have said too much, Helene had fallen into the habit of saying little in the company of her uncle’s friends. They were all older men, gallant, charming and entrenched in their traditions. To challenge their long held beliefs would have been rude. As a result she was deemed to be a quiet girl, pretty enough but perhaps a little shy?
Leaving her uncle’s study, Helene’s thoughts returned to the problem of the sweep. She decided that she would consult Jethro in the matter of payment. She would give him the money and trust him to pay what was necessary. Anything he saved could be spent on some decent clothes for Ned. She could hardly expect him to support the boy entirely from his own pocket.
As she went upstairs to her bedchamber, Helene mentally reviewed the gowns she was taking with her to London. She had four new evening dresses one morning gown and one for the afternoon; all the others had been worn several times before she went into mourning for her father. Would they be enough to see her through the season? If her uncle gave her the hundred pounds he had promised, perhaps she might purchase a few extra gowns for she was certain they would be needed if they were invited to some modest affairs. It was hardly likely that she would attend the most prestigious balls taking place in the houses of the aristocracy, for although her father had been a gentleman, he had never possessed a vast fortune or a title.
Helene decided that she would wait until she got to London before purchasing more gowns. It would not be long now and she might not actually need them. The money would be better saved for more important things…
Monday, July 20, 2009
I'm getting very excited about the release of Mr Darcy, Vampyre, scheduled for August 11th in the US (cover at right) and September 1st in the UK (cover at left).
I'm running a competition on the Mr Darcy, Vampyre blog, so if you want a chance of winning a signed copy then hop on over there and enter the competition, closing date August 1st. Meanwhile, the first chapter has just been tweeted on Twitter
And, breaking news, Mr Darcy, Vampyre has just been in USA Today! Check out the article here
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Maude has fallen for the most unsuitable of men - theatre manager Eden Hurst. He doesn’t believe in love and he is completely ineligible but Maude is determined and sets out to get her man behind the scenes at Eden’s Unicorn Theatre.
All the old London theatres have been burned down (often several times) or remodelled out of existence, so it was hard to find one to soak up the atmosphere. The oldest theatre building in London is the Theatre Royal Haymarket designed by John Nash which reopened in July 1821 and this view of it down the newly extended King Charles II Street is from Ackermann’s Repository of the following year.
For an authentic late Georgian theatre interior I went to the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds where the 1819 interior has been carefully restored along with the boxes where servants were sent to keep the places for their masters during the “boring” early parts of the performance.
Here is the opening from The Notorious Mr Hurst set at the end of just such a performance -
I also had some luck finding original theatre programmes which give the flavour of the type of theatre Eden was running - without a “patent” from the Lord Chamberlain they were forbidden to perform straight dramas so music, dancers and farce were all staged, much to the appreciation of the audience.
‘And so, my false love – I die!’ The maiden sank to the ground, a dagger in her bosom, her white arm outflung.
The audience went wild. They applauded, whistled, stamped and, those members of it who were not weeping into their handkerchiefs, leapt to their feet with cries of ‘More! More!’
The dark-haired lady in the expensive box close to the stage gripped the velvet upholstered rim and held her breath. For the audience who had flocked to see the final performance of The Sicilian Seducer, or Innocence Betrayed, the tension was over and they could relax into their appreciation of the melodrama. For Lady Maude Templeton the climax of the evening was about to occur and, she was determined, it would change her life for ever.
‘You would never guess it, but she must be forty if she’s a day,’ Lady Standon remarked, lowering her opera glass from a careful study of the corpse who was just being helped to her feet by her leading man.
‘One is given to understand that La Belle Marguerite never mentions anything so sordid as age, Jessica.’ Her husband turned from making an observation to Lord Pangbourne.
‘Fine figure of a woman,’ the earl grunted. He was still applauding enthusiastically. ‘Not surprising that she was such a sensation on the Continent.’
‘And so much of that figure on display,’ Jessica murmured to Maude who broke her concentration on the shadowy wings long enough to smile at her friend’s sly remark. The loss of focus lasted only a moment. Tonight was the night, she knew it. With the excitement that surrounded a last night at the Unicorn she had her best opportunity to slip backstage. And once she was there, to make what she could of the situation.
Then her breath caught in her throat and her heart beat harder, just as it always did when she glimpsed him. Eden Hurst, proprietor of the Unicorn theatre, strode onto the stage and held up both hands for silence. And by some miracle - or sheer charisma - he got it, the tumult subsiding enough that his powerful voice could be heard.
‘My lords, ladies, gentlemen. We thank you. On behalf of Madame Marguerite and the Company of the Unicorn, I thank you. Tonight was the last performance of The Sicilian Seducer for this, our first full Season.’ He paused while exaggerated groans and shouts of Shame! resounded through the stalls and up into the gods. ‘But we are already looking forward to Her Precious Honour to open in six weeks’ time and I can assure her many admirers that Madame Marguerite will take the leading role in this dramatic tale of love triumphant over adversity. Goodnight to you all and I hope to welcome you next week for our revival of that old favourite, How to Tease and How To Please, with the celebrated Mrs Furlow in the leading role.’
‘Damn good comedy that,’ Lord Pangbourne pronounced, getting to his feet. ‘I recall it when it first came out. In ’09 was it? Or the year after?’
Maude did not hear her father. Down below in the glare of the new gas lights stood the man she desired, the man she knew she could love, the man she had wanted ever since she had first seen him a year before.
Since then she had existed on the glimpses she caught of him. In his theatre she sat imprisoned, in a box so close she could have almost reached down and touched him. On the rare occasions he had attended a social function where she had been present he been frustratingly aloof from the unmarried ladies, disappearing into the card rooms to talk to male acquaintances or flirting with the fast young widows and matrons. And even she, bold as she was, could not hunt down a man to whom she had not been introduced and accost him. Not in the midst of a society ball and not a man of shady origins who had arrived in England trailing a tantalising reputation for ruthless business dealing and shocking amours.
And last Season he had closed the Unicorn for renovations and returned to the Continent for a tour with his leading lady only months after they had arrived in England.
Standing there he dominated the stage by sheer presence. Tall, broad-shouldered, with an intense masculine elegance in his dark coat and tight pantaloons, yet somehow flamboyant and dramatic. Maude caught the sharp glitter of diamonds at his throat and from the heavy ring on his left hand and recognised that his clothes had been cut with an edge of exaggeration that would be out of place in a polite drawing room. He was a showman, demanding and receiving attention just as much as the most histrionic actor.
‘Maude,’ Jessica nudged her. ‘One of these evenings your papa is going to notice that you dream through the performances and only wake up when Mr Hurst is on stage.’
‘I don’t dream,’ she contradicted, finally getting to her feet as Eden Hurst walked off stage to loud applause. ‘I am watching and I am listening. I have to learn how this place works.’
Friday, July 17, 2009
Yesterday was my Dad's 94th birthday. Rain coming down in stair-rods meant the planned patio party had to be moved into his sitting room. But with twenty people invited there wouldn't have been room for them all to stand, let alone sit down. As it was we had to move the dining table out. A quick phone call to half the guests asking them to come an hour later solved the problem and the party was held in shifts. It was a roaring success. Food and wine disappeared like snow in sunshine. The noise-level would have out-decibeled a jumbo jet, as all these elderly, hard-of-hearing people yelled to make themselves heard above the others yelling for the same reason. Then there was the lady with the screaming - and I'm not exaggerating - laugh. Had the glasses been crystal they would have shattered. I learned about local family histories going back to the mid 1800s, village life when meat and milk were delivered by horse and cart, about the local lads waiting on the bridge to throw into the river any boys from neighbouring villages who had the temerity to come courting local girls, the gossip at the village pump before the water was condemned as unfit for human consumption causing an outcry and bitter complaints that the new mains water coming from a tap beside the pump didn't have the same taste. Well, it wouldn't be, lacking as it did the tang of horse dung and tarmac. Some of the guests weren't speaking to others for reasons lost in the mists of time. So there were small factions darting veiled looks with whispered asides. When - four hours later - the hardiest finally left, my head was ringing. There wasn't a crumb left and the collection of empty wine bottles will raise a few eyebrows when the recycling lorry comes round. Dad declared himself well satisfied and is already planning his 95th. For stamina and social history you can't beat a party for the over-eighties. They are awesome.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Here's the opening of His Silken Seduction
Lyons, France — March 1815
Ben closed his unbandaged eye and relaxed into the feather pillows to enjoy the sensation of Suzanne’s hands on his body. As always, she was precise and careful in removing the dressings from his wounds. With his eyes shut, the touch of her fingers on his naked torso was utterly delightful, as if she had laid one of her sumptuous silken velvets on his chest and swept it slowly across his skin. He floated, half awake, half dreaming.
“Mmm.” The sigh of pleasure escaped before he was aware of it. His body might be weak as water, but every square inch of it trembled at the mere prospect of Suzanne’s touch. He sank deeper into the pillows. His bones were melting.
“Ouch!” The dressing had caught. A stab of pain shattered the fragile fantasy that had been cradling him.
“Oh, forgive me, Herr Benn,” Suzanne gasped. Her fingers stilled for a moment, but it was too late. His shoulder wound had begun to bleed again.
She had been nursing him for a week now, and had even learned that he was an English spy, but she had never asked to know his real name. She seemed content to keep using his nom de guerre, Herr Christian Benn. It was probably for the best. If she were to discover that he was actually an English aristocrat, their comfortable understanding might cease. That would hurt unbearably.
Ben slid his good hand over hers and held it. She did not try to pull away. Ben absorbed the heat of her body through his fingers, like a reptile basking in the sun.
Was that a tiny shiver?
She was refusing to look at him.
In the blink of an eye, the sun-filled warmth evaporated. His fingers felt as if they had been doused with icy water, as if his flesh were shrinking away from hers, even though neither of them had moved.
What on earth was he about? He was behaving towards this amazingly courageous girl as if she were some kind of loose woman. She was his nurse and his rescuer. She deserved better than to be turned into an object of his lust.
He lifted his hand away. “Your pardon, Suzanne,” he began in a low voice. “I did not intend to alarm you.”
Her glance flickered to his face and away again. Her cheek was flushed. The delicate rose became her much too well, reminding him yet again of why his body’s desires were threatening to overcome his sense of honour.
It must not happen. They had become close by force of circumstances as she dressed and redressed his wounds: the shoulder where the bullet had been so roughly dug out, and the head wound he had inflicted on himself, by staggering from his bed and collapsing on the floor. No matter what he felt for Suzanne—and he was ashamed to admit it was lust—he must not allow her to feel anything for him.
She was a gentle, shy and hardworking girl, with little experience of men. She might too easily come to feel more for Ben than she should. And then what would happen? As soon as he was well enough, he would have to abandon her to continue with his mission. That was his duty. He must make sure she was able to forget him. That was his duty, too.
It was different back home in England. The girls he met there were of his own class. If they chose to flirt, or to swoon over his cursed good looks and the viscount’s title he would one day inherit, that was their choice. They knew the rules of the game.
But Suzanne did not know those rules. She was no aristocrat, merely a French silk-weaver’s daughter. The game she played was a game of life and death, for she was a royalist in a country cheering the return of its beloved Emperor Napoleon. Worse, she was hiding and nursing an English spy. She must not be allowed to develop tender feelings for such a dangerous guest.
Soon they would part for good, and Ben must leave her with a whole heart. His honour demanded nothing less.
I hope you enjoy Ben and Suzanne's silken seduction. The title suggests it's Ben's doing, but I'm honestly not too sure which of them is to blame. Perhaps those who have read it will let me know? Happy reading.
Monday, July 13, 2009
This weekend, I attended the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) Conference in Penrith, in the beautiful Lake District. Saturday night is the Gala Dinner, so suitably attired, I left my room to head for the restaurant.
Only to go back again. I wore a beautiful pair of lavender coloured shoes, with flowers on the toe strap, decorated with pearls. I’d fallen in love with them in the shop, and bought them on the spot. But by the time I’d managed 50 yards, I hated them and I knew that by the end of the evening, I wouldn’t care about anything but how much my feet hurt.
Now I know that Shoes of the Devil have a habit of hanging around. I’d reason that maybe another time they wouldn’t feel so bad, that it was just a bad night. Then I’d put them on again and it would be the same. So I left them in my room, in the hope that someone would find them. The cleaning staff found them, and in front of the whole conference, Katie Fforde, our illustrious Pres, flourished them. So I had to own up. And yes, my Shoes of the Devil found another owner. Well, in a room full of shoe lovers, they were bound to. I just hope they are Shoes From Heaven for their new owner.
And it started me thinking. I think women have adored shoes since the first cavewoman wrapped a few jungle leaves around her feet and then stood up and decided that they might look better with a twig between the toes.
In the Georgian period, women could have shoes to die for. My books are mostly set in the 1750’s, and the shoes they wore then were mouthwatering. Gorgeous diamond-encrusted buckles decorated shoes with two or three inch heels made of brocade, silk, or even the softest leather. They had boots, too, to wear with their riding habits. Even the practical, everyday wear, leather buckled shoes are extremely pretty.
And the men weren’t far behind. Masculine versions, with a fashion for red heels in the 1750’s and 1760’s, the leather shoes set off the flamboyant, peacock fashions with a vengeance.
Later, in the Regency period, the ladies wore low-heeled shoes in what we would consider ballet-style. Comfortable and pretty.
The men also wore shoes, pumps for evening wear and shoes for town. And boots. Daywear for the fashionable man about town included extravagantly decorated, highly polished boots of mid thigh or knee-length variety. But no boots in the ballroom, ever!
Thursday, July 09, 2009
On July 1st the large print version of The House Party by Thorpe and Lord Atherton's Ward, My Weekly Pocket Novel, for D. C. Thomson were released.
The House Party is my seventh large print for Thorpe and Lord Atherton's Ward is my fifth novella for My Weekly Pocket Novels. Thorpe appear to have changed the style of their covers as the last two have been very similar, a grey background with a drawing of a woman. Previously they have used photographs, I'm not sure which I prefer. My last book, A Debt of Honour, has two lovely Regency girls on the front. Although I like this one, I think the costume is from an earlier era than Regency.
The cover for my novella, as usual, has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book. The costume seems to be more Victorian than anything else and the girl's hair is out of keeping with either Regency or Victorian. However, I don't know about you, but I actually like it as an image. I hated the last one I had so this is a pleasant surprise.
I have a fourth large print coming out with Linford Romance next month, so far this line has produced superb covers. I can't wait to see what the new one will be like.
Since the publication of my Austenesque book, Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley I have received an excellent review on the Pemberley site, it has also been mentioned on several Jane Austen related blogs. I hope this translates into more sales. I'm still waiting for someone to put up a review on Amazon - I think having reviews helps with the sales.
I am now at the RNA conference in Penrith, I expect someone will post about it next week.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
One of Lizzie’s admirers, a young Army captain called John Jerrold, came over to carry her off for a cotillion, and Lowell arrived with two glasses of lemonade, one of which he handed his sister.
“I see I have missed my chance with Lady Elizabeth,” he said in his lazy country drawl, putting the second glass down on a ledge beside them, next to one of the carved marble busts of Grecian goddesses that adorned the alcoves in the ballroom. “Can’t drink this ghastly stuff myself and the Granby never serves beer on evenings like this.”
Alice smothered a snort to think of her brother bringing a tankard in from the taproom.
“I’d give a great deal to see you drinking beer in the ballroom in front of the Duchess of Cole,” she said, nodding towards Lydia’s mama who was holding court in the chaperons’ corner, surrounded by her cronies. Faye Cole had managed to ride out the scandal of her daughter’s pregnancy by virtue of being the first and loudest to condemn Lydia and she remained an arbiter of county society. Alice could not abide her. Neither could Mrs Lister, who quite rightly blamed the Duchess for being the architect of her social exclusion. Every so often the two of them would eye each other like prize fighters.
“The Duchess will be distraught that mama’s feathers are higher than hers tonight,” Lowell continued. “Could you not prevent her from buying such a monstrous headpiece, Allie? She looks like a cockatoo with such a high crest!”
Alice gave him a speaking look. “I would not dream of spoiling mama’s fun, Lowell. If she wishes to wear pearls and feathers and artificial roses, that is her choice.”
“She’s wearing them all together tonight,” Lowell said gloomily. “Looks like an accident in a flower cart.”
“I did not think you would care about it,” Alice said, slipping her hand through her brother’s arm. “You never bother about what people say.”
Lowell shrugged moodily. The morose expression sat oddly on his fair, open features. Normally he was the most equable of characters but Alice sensed there was something troubling him tonight.
“Lowell?” She prompted. “You do not really have a tendre for Lady Elizabeth, do you?”
Lowell’s grim expression was banished as he gave her his flashing smile. “Good God, no! Did you think I was sulking because she prefers some sprig of the nobility to me? Lady Elizabeth is far above my touch. Besides, we would not suit.”
“No,” Alice agreed. “She needs someone less tolerant than you are.”
“She needs to grow up,” Lowell said brutally. “She’s spoilt.”
“She’s been a good friend to me,” Alice said, whilst not exactly contradicting him.
“I appreciate that,” her brother said. He shot her a look. “You’re not happy though, are you, Allie?”
Alice was startled at his perspicacity. “What do you mean? Of course I am-”
“No you are not. Neither am I, and mama is the unhappiest of all. She hates to be slighted like this.” Lowell’s gesture encompassed the ballroom with its neat rows of dancers, their reflections repeated endlessly in the long series of mirrors that adorned the walls. “Strange, is it not, that when you are hungry and exhausted from working all the hours there are you think that to have money will cure all your woes?”
“It cures a great many of them,” Alice said feelingly.“But not the sense that somehow you have wandered into the wrong party,” Lowell said, his eyes still on the shifting patterns of the dance. “I am coming to detest the way in which we are patronised. This isn’t our world, is it, Allie? If it was you would be dancing rather than standing here like a wallflower.”
Monday, July 06, 2009
Since I enjoy looking at things from a bit of a different perspective, I've teamed up two very different people: the prim and proper Miss Caroline Bingley, and Mr Darcy's enigmatic American cousin Robert Darcy, and I had the greatest fun (and I admit, more than a few chuckles) watching them interact.
It's very definitely a romance, so for those of you who don't care for the Jane Austen aspect of it, it's a stand alone novel.
You don't need to know Pride and Prejudice to enjoy it.
For a brief flavour of the novel, here's a short exerpt:
The Other Mr Darcy
Caroline Bingley sank to the floor, her silk crepe dress crumpling up beneath her. Tears spurted from her eyes and poured down her face and, to her absolute dismay, a snorting, choking kind of sound issued from her mouth.
“This is most improper,” she tried to mutter, but the sobs — since that was what they were — the sobs refused to stay down her throat where they were supposed to be.
She had never sobbed in her life, so she could not possibly be sobbing now. But the horrible sounds kept coming from her throat. And water — tears — persisted in squeezing past her eyes and down her face.
Then with a wrench, something tore in her bosom — her chest — and she finally understood the expression that everyone used but that she had always considered distinctly vulgar. Her heart was breaking. And it was true because what else could account for that feeling, inside her, just in the centre there, of sharp, stabbing pain?
And what could account for the fact that her arms and her lower limbs were so incredibly heavy that she could not stand up?
She was heartbroken. Her Mr Darcy had married that very morning. In church, in front of everyone, and she had been unable to prevent it.
He had preferred Elizabeth Bennet. He had actually married her, in spite of her inferior connections, and even though he had alienated his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose brother was an earl. Caroline simply could not comprehend it.
She had that tearing feeling again and she looked down, just to make sure that it was not her bodice that was being ripped apart. But the bodice, revealing exactly enough of her bosom as was appropriate for a lady, remained steadfastly solid. So the tearing must have come from somewhere inside her. It squeezed at her with pain hard enough to stop her breathing, and to force those appalling sobs out even when she tried her best to swallow them down.
She rested her face in her hands and surrendered to them. She had no choice in the matter. They were like child’s sobs, loud and noisy. More like bawling, in fact. Her mouth was stretched and wide open. And the noise kept coming out, on and on.
On the floor, in the midst of merriment and laughter, on the day of William Fitzwilliam Darcy’s wedding, with strains of music accompanying her, Miss Caroline Bingley sobbed for her lost love.
A long time later, someone tried to open the door. She came to awareness suddenly, realizing where she was. The person on the other side tried again, but she resisted, terrified that someone would come in and catch sight of her tear-stained face. No one, no one, she resolved, would ever know that she had cried because of Mr Darcy.
Whoever was on the other side gave the doorknob a last puzzled rattle, then walked slowly back down the corridor.
She rose, straightening out her dress, smoothing down her hair with hands that were steady only because she forced them to be.
She needed to repair the ravages her pathetic bawling had caused. At any moment, someone else could come in and discover her. She moved to look into a mirror that hung above the mantelpiece.
And recoiled in shock...
Monica Fairview, whose Other Mr Darcy has finally made its appearance.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Here's the outline:-
Right man, wrong century?
Feeling trapped between an attraction to her rich, handsome boss and loyalty to her penniless boyfriend Jez Skelton hopes a visit to her aunt's house will clear her head. Instead, a box of inherited letters raises the dust of the past – and clouds her present even more.
The eighteenth century letters resurrect the tragic love story of Sarah, a woman who was mysteriously erased from the family history. A woman whose love for a rich and powerful lord forms a disturbing parallel to Jez's life. Is it a warning not to succumb to her boss-or a risk suffering the same unhappy fate?
Piers Cordeaux knows his advances are forcing Jez into a corner but he can't seem to help himself. Something about her reaches deep inside him, awakening needs that all his money can't satisfy. He can't shake the conviction that they are meant for each other.
As Jez tries to ignore her growing attraction to Piers, she is drawn deeper into her ancestor’s desperate story. And she begins to wonder if her connection to Piers is an accident…or the work of a ghost whose determination to claim his lady reaches across two centuries of time.
MOONSHADOWS is my first attempt at mixinhg a modern day love story with a historical romance. I think it works very well, and would love to know what you think. Maybe, if you are going on holiday soon you might be looking for something a little different read beside the pool!
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
This is an abridged extract from the Prologue of THE LOVEDAY CONSPIRACY which foreshadows events to come that again engage Adam and Japhet Loveday in political intrigue. Amid such derring do there is not one but two strong romances woven through the story.
A flame snaked across the cracked flagstones and as it sizzled along the fuse to the top of the powder keg, the Captain and four of his crew covered their faces with their arms. Each gulped a lungful of air, their bodies braced. There was a blast of heat. Then orange flames momentarily lit the dungeon. The impact of the explosion flung the men back against the wall, scalding the breath from their bodies. A shower of debris and dust billowed around them, stinging their throats and nostrils. With hearts pounding louder than a blacksmith’s anvil, they waited, peering through the clearing smoke. The thick oak door hung crookedly on its hinges. Behind it in the black pit that was the prisoner’s cell cries of terror and coughing was silenced by a shout.
‘We are friends. You have been freed. There is little time to get away before the garrison will be called out. Follow us!’
Men with their features hidden beneath matted beards and sores staggered out. Most wore some degree of naval attire, which had been reduced to rags. Despite the cold all had been stripped of their jackets and boots, the officers as dishevelled as the deck hands. A few civilians also staggered out with their silk or fine cambric shirts in tatters around bruised and whip lashed bodies; the colour of their torn breeches indistinguishable after months of laying on filthy straw and rats’ droppings. They were a motley group weakened by dysentery and starvation rations.
‘There is no time to loose.’ The captain ordered. He was shocked at their condition. Some seemed barely able to walk. He could not tell if any were wounded or incapacitated by infirmity or age. There were more prisoners than he expected and it was his duty to save not only the English prisoners of war, but also any Frenchman who faced the guillotine because of his birth. From his hasty inspection some could barely stand and were unlikely to make the short dash through the port to the long boat.
‘God praise you!’ Voices greeted them.
‘Save your breath for what lies ahead.’ the captain warned, ‘The greatest danger is still to be faced before you are aboard my ship.’
The strongest had pushed their way to the front and these were given the spare daggers and cudgels the Captain’s men had been able to carry.
‘Help each the wounded where you can, but once the fighting starts it will be every man for himself.’ It was not a decision the Captain wanted to make but too much depended on them getting quickly away or he could lose his ship and many more lives would be in peril.
Two of his men helped support the wound. The Captain seeing the terrified face of a youth not much older than is eldest son, who was clinging to the wall for support, hooked the lad over his shoulder. With his sword raised, he stepped over the two bodies of the guards, each with their throats cut. Their greatest danger was the steps to the entrance of the lockup. If the sentries came hurtling down them both prisoners and rescuers would be trapped. They could all die.
The Captain breathed easier that no alarm had so far been raised, but the explosion would have alerted the guards on the city walls. They would have only a few minutes to escape unless his accomplice Monsieur Grande had created a diversion in the town.
Halfway up the steps he smelt the first taint of smoke in the air. As he flung open the door to the courtyard an orange glow lit the sky behind the quay. The thud of running men and shouts raised in panic were headed away from them. The fire that had been set was next to the grain store and if that burnt town, the citizens would endure a winter facing starvation.
‘Keep to the shadows!’ The captain warned the prisoners. He stood at the doorway urging those lagging behind to catch up with the others. He also glanced anxiously along the quay. Lord Grande must not be far behind them. There were only two long boats to row out to their brigantine and he could not afford to wait long for his accomplice to board. Yet without him the rescue would have failed.
‘Hurry my friend,’ he groaned as he sped after the prisoners.
The outcry and frenzy in the town had drawn many of the sailors from the quayside taverns, but there would still be some placed on watch on each vessel. In times of war every furtive move was regarded as suspicious.
‘Halt. Who goes there?’ A command was barked out in French. ‘Halt or I shoot!’
Up ahead there was the sound of a scuffle and of a shot being fired. The Captain could just make out the first of the prisoners climbing down the stone quay steps to a long boat. Others were fighting.
This could be disastrous. The Captain felt his blood freeze. From out of a tavern a dozen soldiers appeared, half of them carrying muskets. Their officer had raised his sword aloft and was rallying more to his side.
The Captain drew his own pistol and fired at the officer, who went down, shot through an eye socket.
‘At them men! For England and King George!’ The Captain shouted. He was now in the thick of the skirmish and laying about him with his sword. He was slowed by the weight of the youth who also hampered his movements.
A volley of musket fire brought down more prisoners but then it would take the soldiers over a minute to reload and some prisoners charged them wielding cudgels against muskets now used as clubs.
There was little moonlight but the glow from the fire not only lit up the sky it was reflected in the water of the harbour. Only fifty yards separated them from the long boat.
‘Give me the boy.’ A white-haired prisoner took the youth from the captain.
No longer restricted he was now able to defend the backs of the stragglers. The fight was frantic and those left on the quay were outnumbered. Desperation reignited their failing energy when the stamp of booted feet from the direction of the town meant reinforcements. But for which side? Had Lord Grande made it to the quay, or was it more French?…
…There was a deathly hush.
‘And did they escape?’ A young voice demanded.
‘Of course they did, numbskull,’ Nathan Loveday taunted. ‘Otherwise Papa would not be alive to tell the story.’
THE LOVEDAY CONSPIRACY is published in hardback by Headline and available now.