Saturday, October 03, 2015

Season of Mists

I love autumn, so much so that I have just republished one of my early Melinda Hammond books, Autumn Bride, with a fresh new cover!  This book is set on the tidal estuary of the Bristol Channel and a big part of the story is the high tides that accompany the turning of the year, which is why the cover features a turbulent sea.

However, I now live many miles from South West of England, high on the Pennines. Here we get such lovely autumn days that I wanted to share some of them with you. Clear skies bring the mist. Overnight it fills the valleys below us and leaves the  hills in glorious sunshine. However, some days we wake to a mysterious world where everything is shrouded in a thin, silvery mist and the sun glints through the trees.

This year there has been a good crop of blackberries in the hedgerows, and it reminded me of a scene from my latest Sarah Mallory novel – The Chaperon's Seduction. My heroine, Phyllida, goes blackberrying and finds herself paired up with the rakish Richard Arrandale, the man she is trying to avoid! I wrote this story last year, soon after I had made my own foray into the lanes to pick blackberries. I came back with fingers stained from the juice and with more than a few scratches. I was thankful for my strong waxed jacket to protect me from the sharp brambles – how much more careful would Phyllida and her friends have to be, dressed in their fine cottons and muslins.
Here is a short extract:-
A thorn had penetrated the soft kid of her glove and pierced her finger.
‘Keep still.’
Richard was at her side immediately and she found it impossible to remain silent.
‘I fear I have no choice but to obey,’ she told him. ‘The thorns have caught at my sleeve.’
He stepped closer and she was painfully aware of the hard wall of his chest against her back. Her mouth dried, he filled her senses. She breathed in the masculine smell of him, the mix of soap and leather and an indefinable hint of musky spices. Surely she was imagining the thud of his heart against her shoulders, but she could feel his breath on her cheek and she trembled.
‘Steady now.’
One hand rested on her shoulder while the other reached past her to lift away the offending thorny tentacle.
‘There, you are free.’
Free? How could she be free when her whole body was in thrall to him? When he was so close that she could feel the heat of him on her back? Phyllida shook off the thought and carefully withdrew her arm from the briars. When Richard removed his hand from her shoulder she felt it immediately, a yearning chill and an emptiness that was almost a physical pain. She stepped back and turned, only to find that he was close behind her, less than a hand’s width away, his broad chest and powerful shoulders filling her view, like a cliff face. She was distracted by detail, the fine stitching of his exquisitely tailored blue coat, the double row of buttons on his pale waistcoat, the snowy folds of linen at his neck. The hammering of her heartbeat thrummed in her ears. Surely he must hear it, see how shaken she was? She tried to speak lightly to divert his attention.
‘Thank you, sir. I fear I could not have extricated myself without ruining this gown.’
She stretched her cheeks into a smile and looked up, confident she could ask him calmly to let her pass, but her gaze locked on to his mouth and the words died in her throat as she studied the firm sculpted lips. She was distracted by imagining how they would feel on her skin. She swallowed, forced her gaze upwards but that proved even more dangerous, for his blue eyes held her transfixed. She was lost, unable to move. She could no longer hear the skylark’s distant trill, nor the laughing voices of those picking berries further along the hedgerow. The world had shrunk to just the two of them. Anticipation trembled through her when he ran his hands lightly up her arms and the skin beneath the thin sleeves burned with his touch. His fingers came to rest upon her shoulders, gently pulling her towards him as he lowered his head to kiss her. She made no effort to resist. Instead her chin tilted up and her lips parted instinctively as his mouth came closer.
It was the lightest contact, a slight, tantalising brush of the lips, but Phyllida felt as if a lightning bolt had struck her, shocking her, driving through her body and anchoring her to the spot. She kept her hands at her sides, clenched into fists to prevent them clinging to him like a desperate, drowning creature. She found herself straining upwards, trying to prolong the contact but it was over almost as soon as it had begun and as he raised his head Phyllida felt strangely bereft. The kiss had been the work of a moment, but it had shaken her to the core and she struggled to find a suitable response.
‘You, you should not have done that.’
There was a faint crease at one side of his mouth, the merest hint of a smile.
‘No one saw us.’
That was not what she meant at all, but it brought her back to reality. The thorny brambles were at her back so she sidestepped, breaking those invisible threads that had held her to him, even though it was like tearing her own flesh to move away from him. Distance gave her the strength to think properly again.
‘I did not mean that and you know it. Your behaviour was ungentlemanly, sir.’
‘You could have said no. You could have resisted.’
She scooped up the little basket and began to walk away.
‘I should not have had to do so.’
He laughed softly as he fell in beside her.
‘I believe I deserved some reward for rescuing a damsel in distress.’
She stopped, saying angrily, ‘What you deserve, sir—’
He was smiling down at her, sending her thoughts once more into disorder. Alarms clamoured in her head, it was as much as she could do not to throw herself at him and the glint in his blue eyes told her he knew it. With a hiss of exasperation she walked on.
‘You deserve to be shamed publicly for your behaviour.’
‘Ah, but the Arrandales have no shame, did you not know that?’
He spoke lightly, but there was something in his tone, a faint hint of bitterness that undermined her indignation. It could have been a ploy, a trick to gain her sympathy, but somehow she did not think so. With a sudden flash of insight she thought he was like a child, behaving badly because it was expected of him.
‘Oh, how despicable you are!’ she exclaimed. ‘I should be scolding you for your outrageous behaviour and instead—’ She broke off.
‘Yes?’ he prompted her gently.
I want to take you in my arms and kiss away your pain.
Phyllida was appalled. She had come very close to saying the words aloud. With a tiny shake of her head she almost ran the last few yards to where Mrs Desborough and Lady Wakefield were sitting under a large parasol.

The Chaperon's Seduction - Sarah Mallory. Harlequin June 2015


As a writer I often find myself writing "out of season" and I keep a list of the English sunrise and sunset times on hand, so that I can check up on the daylight hours. I also use pictures like the ones I have included here remind me of our changeable climate.  Sometimes writing about the heat of a summer's day can take quite a bit of imagination when the snow is falling outside!
The cool autumn weather makes it much nicer to stay indoors writing, and the longer nights are perfect for curling up in front of the fire with a good book.  So what do you like to read during the chilly winter evenings? Books about the summer, perhaps, or even hot, exotic locations.  Or maybe, like me, your thoughts are turning towards the winter, with holly berries, icicles and snow… do tell me!

Sarah Mallory/Melinda Hammond


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Wow! I never thought that the humble occupation of blackberrying could be so exciting!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! I was obviously a bit bored while I was collecting the berries and my mind went wandering to "what if......"

Christina Courtenay said...

Sadly nothing as exciting ever happened to me while picking blackberries! :-) A Lovely post and a great extract.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Thanks Christina - no my experience has been pretty ordinary, but a girl can dream! I thinks that's why we write romances.