Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Saturday, November 25, 2017

It's all fun and games until somebody gets chopped up and put in the pies

In "The Mutinous Contemplations of Gemma Groot" the strong bond of sisterhood plays an important role. At the root of the story - and the mystery entailed within it - there are two sisters, Alonza and Venetia. One is destined to become a gruesome legend and the other will spend fourteen years trying live it down, before finally realizing that there is no such thing in life as "ordinary", that everybody has dark secrets, and that forcing a square peg into a round hole will only result in pieces being broken off.

The sisters' relationship and the love that ties them together, even when they would both occasionally like to be free of each other, is at the heart of events that soon become tangled as thickly and treacherously as the brambles overtaking the shrubbery that lies between their houses.

Children of Italian immigrants, but born in England, they grew up struggling to maintain their family's traditions and sense of pride, whilst also melding with the staid British way of life in a small market town (Withering Gibbet) where all their neighbors know -- or think they know-- each other's business. They are taught by their parents not to stand out, to be proper at all times, yet they are two girls with passionate tempers and very different ways of looking at life. While one sister would never think to disobey their parents, the other cannot seem to obey anybody at all.
Alonza, as the capable eldest daughter, is expected by her parents to always look after Venetia, who they consider "flighty". But neither girl really wants the roles into which they were put.

For Alonza, keeping up appearances is often the driving force that steers her through life. She likes to say that she is not romantic, but practical -- and that somebody has to be. As the first-born daughter, that burden fell to her. The need to seem "ordinary" is important to her peace of mind, but the harder she fights to achieve this, the further events often disintegrate into chaos. A tireless optimist with a terrifyingly strong will-- and called "The Queen of Desperate Measures" by her daughter -- Alonza tries to do her duty, but keeping Venetia safe and out of trouble proves to be something that even she, the parentally-appointed caretaker and fixer of  problems, cannot guarantee. She finds that the harder she tries to hold on, the more chance there is of everything melting away through her fingers. It doesn't stop her fighting, though, to get things done. Bruised and scratched by the tribulations of life, with her hair pins often adrift, she forges onward in her quest to assure everybody else that the Groots are just as normal as they are, even if they did have an axe murderess in the family.

As a child, and as a woman, Alonza has done everything that was expected of her -- even married the man her mother selected as suitable. Now if only other folk in her family would behave the same way...

Venetia, the younger sister, refuses to conform with those expectations. She does not fight out loud against them, however. Instead, leaving her noisier elder sister, gesticulating and screaming in frustration, Venetia calmly and simply goes her own way with a pleasant smile on her face. Much to Alonza's irritation, her sister appears to drift selfishly through life without any of the concerns and responsibilities that she has been forced to undertake. For many years Venetia, who talks to fairies in her garden, wears impractically pretty gowns and expensive face powder imported from Paris, and calls cauliflower "ogre's brains", gets away with being an independent spirit. Until she takes her rebellion just a step too far.

Oh yes, it's all fun and games until somebody gets chopped up and baked into the meat pies.

Both sisters, in the end, make great sacrifices for each other and for those they love. And, after a certain dramatic and bloody event in October of 1882, they finally begin to understand each other -- not only to be sisters, but friends too.

For much of their life together, Venetia pulls determinedly away from her sister's attempts to look after her. She pulls away just as ferociously as Alonza tries to hold her back. In her eyes this is her elder sister trying to manage her. Perhaps, only as the axe swings, does she realize that it was really all about love.

You can read more about Alonza Groot and Venetia Warboys in THE MUTINOUS CONTEMPLATIONS OF GEMMA GROOT. Find it HERE.

Thank you for reading!

(Images used here: photo of unknown Victorian sisters, and two paintings by Julius Cyrille Cave - Day Dreams (Alonza) and Plasirs des Champs (Venetia).)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Exclusive Excerpt

Today I'm sharing an excerpt from my next release THE MUTINOUS CONTEMPLATIONS OF GEMMA GROOT. Enjoy!

* * * *

            Gemma took the tray of shaving things and hurried out. Her face felt unusually warm, and she could not get Raffendon's words out of her mind.
            We have something in common then after all, Miss G. Groot. It seems we're both in need of a little excitement.
            He wasn't in the least horrified to hear that the murderous Vengeful Venetia was her relative. The man didn't even blink, but let her continue running that sharp blade around his face.
            She took the tray through the kitchen and into the scullery. A little speck of Raffendon's blood remained on the razor's gleaming blade, and she lifted it to the lamp light.
            What would the gossips of Withering Gibbet— the vicar's wife included— have to say about Gemma Groot being asked to shave the face of a bachelor in her father's library? They would be shocked, of course, not only by the degree of questionable propriety, but by his bravery in letting her near him with a sharp blade.
            What a strange creature he was. But people thought that of her too, of course.
            There was a surreal air to the house this evening, she mused, and he'd brought it in with his laughter.
            Gemma placed the blade against her palm, took a deep breath, shut her eyes, and closed her hand around it. Oh, that she felt. She gasped, opened her hand and her eyes, and looked down at her own blood now mingled with his.
            Why had she done that? Who knew. Why did anybody ever do anything? Perhaps so that they could be sure they were alive. Sometimes pain was important. A reminder.
            Pain. She heard the scream of wood on stone, a long drawn out, shuddering howl. She saw flour flying through the air like snow. Blood, a bright red petal blossoming on a soft, gasping lip. Fat, red fingers squeezing around a slender wrist.
            Gemma dropped the razor and stared out through the small scullery window. The stars were out now, just visible, winking through the dusk. On this night, fourteen years ago, Venetia Warboys, a woman who could never bear the butchering of a pig, had calmly slaughtered her husband.
            Why did she think of the word "calmly"? She had no evidence of that. Must be thinking of the way her aunt had acted when she was arrested three days later— almost nonchalant, resigned to her fate. Even relieved. As if she were already dead, or dying, but she couldn't feel any pain.
            Of course, thought Gemma, they were all dying. From the moment they were born it was all downhill, heading inexorably for the grave. Well, that's a cheerful thought, she could hear her mother exclaim. But the daughter of an undertaker had more opportunity and cause to consider the brevity of life and certainty of death.
            Today new life had invaded their world, and for once it seemed to outweigh the other side of the scale. The balance had shifted.
            "I hear we've got a guest for dinner." It was Mrs. Cuttle, the cook, banging her pots around grumpily as usual. She came to the scullery door with a ladle in one hand, her face mottled pink from the heat of the fire, bristles of grey hair poking out of her white cap. "Another mouth to feed."
            "Yes, Mrs. Cuttle. Unless, of course, we eat him. He's nicely tenderized after his fall and should go well with some boiled potatoes." She couldn't help herself. These opportunities fell into her lap and it felt remiss of her not to make use of them. It was all the fault of that mischievous, dark sense of humor.
            Mrs. Cuttle, having eyed Gemma's bloody hand, went hastily back to her work.  The woman was, quite probably, the worst cook in Cambridgeshire, but they hired her because they had no other applicants for the post and Mrs. Groot liked to say, "We keep a cook". It made her feel slightly better than middle class, even if she could have cooked a more appealing meal herself.
            Gemma held the damp cloth to her cut palm and looked out at the evening's sky again.
            If she closed her eyes, she could hear Aunt Venetia whispering in her ear, as she did when they arrested her, "For these three, my most beloved."
            The words made no sense to her fourteen years ago. Even now she was at a loss, other than to realize that her aunt thought she deserved an explanation when nobody else did. Gemma had studied poetry, wondering if it was a quote that might lead her to a clue, but it was not. At least none from any book she'd yet read.
            For these three, my most beloved.      
            She remembered the flour on her aunt's gown. It stuck in Gemma's memory because it was unusual to see Venetia with any sort of mark or dirt about her person. She was always well dressed, not a hair out of place, and one never saw her without powder and rouge to cheer her complexion, despite her elder sister's disapproval of cosmetic artifice. But the first thought that came to young Gemma's mind, as she watched the police constable lead her aunt through the crowd at the county fair, was that Venetia must have made those pies in such a distracted hurry that she hadn't thought to put on the pinafore she usually wore when baking. Nor had she changed her frock before she carried her wares to the common on unsuspecting Bill Downing's cart.
            Later Gemma gleaned the full story from overheard snippets of gossip, and realized why her aunt had made that pastry in haste.
            The patches of flour clung to her blue skirt like frost, shimmering in the autumn sunlight as she passed.
            And then, seeing Gemma at the edge of the crowd, she had bent and whispered those words, "For these three, my most beloved."
             There was no sadness in her voice. It was breathlessly triumphant, as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. As if she'd done a good deed.
            The police constable marched her onward and as she turned her face away, her feet tripping over a tussock of grass, her straw hat fell. A stray curl of dark hair escaped its knot, possibly for the first time ever, and caught on the end of her smile.
            An inappropriate smile that made her guilt unquestionable in the eyes of most, even before she confessed.
            But Gemma wondered who decided exactly how somebody should act when they had just been accused of chopping up the pieces of their husband.  
            That was the last memory she had of Venetia: the dusting of flour on her smart, pale blue gown, and then, as she bent to whisper, the sunlight basting the side of her face to reveal a slight discoloration— a bruise— on her cheekbone, under her eye and not quite hidden by the 'Poudre de Riz' she always wore. Of course, there was nowhere in Withering Gibbet that sold fancy cosmetics, so she sent away for hers by post. A needless extravagance, according to her sister. The box said it came from Paris, by way of Marshall and Snelgrove on Oxford Street in London.
            And as the constable led her away and she bent to whisper, Venetia's aniseed breath blew soft against her niece's cheek, mingling with the remnants of cider and Cold Cream of Roses.
            Fourteen years had passed since then. Sometimes it felt longer; other times it could have been yesterday.
            Now, here came this man. Raffendon. Another puzzle. It seemed significant that he should fall out of the sky on the anniversary of Venetia's rampage.
            She glanced back over her shoulder, almost expecting to find him standing there, watching her. His eyes had a peculiar ability to make her feel as if they left her marked, the progress of their steady gaze caressing her with the strength and solidity of a warm, bold hand.
            But no, he was in the library still— a room he had requisitioned as his own domain this evening. Wretched, interfering, inconvenient man. Her father must be annoyed too, but he would say nothing about it, of course. After a good squeeze upon the ends of his moustache, Casper Groot would go on as if nothing different had happened and there was no handsome stranger billeted in his library.
            But something had happened. Something terrible and yet wonderful. The air was charged,
stirred and sizzling. As if a storm was on its way and he, Raffendon, brought it with him.
            "These apples are all maggoty," Mrs. Cuttle shouted suddenly from the kitchen. "How am I supposed to make a pie with these sorry things?"
            Gemma smiled at her reflection in the scullery window. "Find something else to put in it then. As my aunt used to say, the good thing about a pie is that anything can be put in it. Anything at all. She would know, I suppose."
            After a sharp intake of breath, the cook resumed grumbling under her breath about having to stretch the budget for another dinner guest without due notice, but she didn't dare complain out loud again.
            Gemma's mother would tell her to watch her tongue. "You're a wretched, gruesome young lady. It's no surprise you cannot get a husband."
            But really what was the point of having an infamous murderess in the family if she couldn't make the most of it?
            Just then her mother appeared in the kitchen, hands wringing, head twitching. "Do get upstairs and change your frock, Gemma."
            "What for? I didn't get any blood on it."
            Her mother's eyes widened as she sucked on her lips, before exclaiming impatiently, "Change into something livelier for dinner, for pity's sake."
            "For the nine hundredth time, I like black."
            "It's ghoulish! And that's another thing, young lady! Why would you tell our guest that she was your aunt? Had to blurt that out, didn't you?" 
            "Mother," she replied wearily, "he would find out sooner or later anyway." Gemma was certain that old nag, the vicar's wife, must be restless and whinnying in her stall waiting to be let out.
            Her mother took her by the arm and pulled her out of Mrs. Cuttle's hearing. "You always do this!" she hissed. "That's why none of Mrs. Fletchley's bachelors have stayed long."
            "It is only fair to them. Don't you think they have a right to know the truth?"
            "No, I do not. The truth never did anybody any good." Her mother looked flustered and felt for her cameo brooch. "Not that sort of truth. Not about that. And the less a man knows about anything the better. Venetia would agree with me on that score."
            "She never cared what anybody thought of her."
            "Of course she cared. Why do you think she kept that cottage so tidy? And dressed herself up with powder and rouge every time she went out, even if it was only to post a letter? Why do you think she had to win every competition with her jam and marmalade?"
            "But she always did what she wanted, no matter what other folk thought. Yes, she liked things to be pretty and in their place, and I suppose she liked to win, but that was for her own satisfaction, not the approval of others."
            "It seems you forget that she was my sister and I know how she really thought. Oh yes, I know...we knew each other better than anybody. Better than ourselves at times. Furthermore, she would want you well married and settled. She would never want that incident to spoil your future. It is the very last thing she wanted, you foolish girl. You think you know it all, but you don't. You don't understand why."
            The sentence ended, yet not in a natural way. The "why" was left hanging there as if something should come after...
            * * * *
Would you like to read more? Get your copy on Amazon US , Amazon UK , Twisted E-Publishing or any other online store!
Happy Reading!
Images: Top - "Girl with Straw Hat" by Renoir 1884. Middle - detail from "Autumn Leaves" by Millais 1855. Bottom - photo of two unknown Victorian sisters.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coming November 15th!

The Mutinous Contemplations of Gemma Groot.

            Venetia Warboys, by most accounts, a mild-mannered, generous, church-going woman, had reached her thirty-fifth year with little out of the ordinary happening in her life. Until she decided, one evening, to rise from her neatly-laid dinner table, fetch an axe from the woodshed, chop her husband into pieces and bake his gristle into some pies.

            "That's the last time he'll criticize my pastry," she said calmly when apprehended in the act of selling her grisly wares.

            Although her husband had been an infamous philanderer— or as much of one as an oily, simpering blob of a man could be in a small, rural market town—nobody knew what had really happened, on that last day, to cause a deadly fissure in his wife's sanity. I was the only soul to whom she gave any clue, but the six words she once whispered into my ear left me, a girl of twelve at the time, with more questions than answers.

            Suffice to say, after Venetia's axe swinging rampage in the autumn of 1882, the men of Withering Gibbet took greater care of what they said and did to their wives. We had all learned some important lessons: everybody harbors dark truths; there is no such  thing as "ordinary", and never buy a savory pie at the county fair, especially when the contents are described as "revelation meat".

            For many years Venetia was our town's sole claim to infamy.

            And then there was me.

 * * * *

            So begins a story of silence and noise, secrets and lies, sisters and lovers, murder and redemption. Gemma Groot grows up in the long shadow cast by an old sin, but she is about to step out of the dark and shine the light on a few startling truths about her family. With the help of a man who falls out of the sky, she will finally discover the strength she needs to revisit the past and unleash the spirit of a wronged woman. 

            But will she find that some skeletons are better off left buried?
Find out on November 15th!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Halloween Sale!

From today, Friday October 13th to Halloween, you can pick up the e-book of PUMPYMUCKLES for only 99cents at all online retailers!

* * * *

Ever Greene was just six years-old when she vanished into thin air from the end of Cromer Pier.

Four months later, she reappeared, safe and sound, on the doorstep of her parents' house, more than eighty miles away. The child had no recollection of where she had been or with whom she had spent the time, but in her hand she clasped a silver and enamel brooch intricately fashioned in the image of a seahorse...

* * * *

Ever Greene's childhood was haunted by nightmares and plagued by mysterious events. Now, as a grown woman, she hopes to put all that behind her and lead a purposeful life. She answers an advertisement for the post of governess— a perfectly respectable position for the dignified Edwardian lady.

This attempt to lead an ordinary life seems destined for chaos, however, when she finds herself working for an extraordinary bachelor. Gabriel Hart wants her, not to teach those sweet-faced children she'd envisioned as her pupils, but to transform him into a proper gentleman. A task of no little undertaking and far from what she'd anticipated.

And then Ever’s troubled life takes an infinitely more disturbing turn when the monster she called Pumpymuckles, who once chased her through those childhood nightmares, now stalks her waking hours instead.

But Ever Greene isn't that little girl afraid of the dark anymore.

Indeed, the darkness should be afraid of her.


Happy Halloween!

(photo image above of Edwardian actress and singer Lily Elsie)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Favourite Season

Autumn happens to be my favourite time of year. I love the leaves changing, and crisp, misty mornings with the scent of wood fires in the air. The heat of summer is usually too oppressive for me, so I look forward to the cooling off, rainy mornings, apple donuts and cozy blankets. I know I'll soon be complaining of too much snow and being cold to the bone, but for now I can enjoy the transition as I rake up leaves and start thinking about Christmas plans.

Halloween is also something I look forward to. When I grew up in England, we didn't dress up and troll the streets for candy. November the 5th -- Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night -- was a bigger event for us, because we had fireworks and jacket potatoes on the horizon. (Funny how jacket potatoes with butter were considered such a treat back then). But now living in the US I get out my Halloween decorations, stock up on "Trick or Treat" candy and get into the spirit of things. Halloween, for me, has become a sort of combination Guy Fawkes and All-Hallow's Eve, since I don't get to enjoy November 5th anymore.

This is the time of year, of course, for scary stories.

When I first started writing, when I was very young, my first genre was horror. Not sure how I got to romance from there! Anyway, horror was my first love, but not the "slasher" type of horror. I like the slow-building, menacing type that gets inside your brain and leaves chills. Something that makes you think. And wonder.

I love the spooky movies on TV -- especially the old ones with Vincent Price. Few things can beat curling up on the couch with hot chocolate to watch "The Pit and the Pendulum" or "House of Usher" (the original 1960 version). I know they're a bit hokie now, but I still enjoy them far more than most new stuff. I have to say the more recent "horror" movies leave me less than impressed. I don't think anything has really scared me since Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining". These days -- and now I sound old -- there seems to be too much reliance on CGI and loud bangs. That actually takes all the suspense out for me. I prefer being unsettled in a more subtle, thoughtful way.

Maybe I have a bit of a morbid streak -- I definitely have a dark sense of humor -- because I particularly love the work of Edward Gorey. That's the quiet sort of menace that suits me.

All these things, I suppose, somehow get mixed together and ferment inside me like a big pot of witches brew. Once in a while, a bubble of inspiration rises to the top and I have another story to write, one with a slightly darker edge. That's what happened with SOULS DRYFT and PUMPYMUCKLES. It also happened with the next book on its way THE MUTINOUS CONTEMPLATIONS Of GEMMA GROOT.

Once in a while, I like to write something a bit different to light-hearted romances. I think it's refreshing for me - a palate cleanser, perhaps? And it feels good to stretch myself in another direction for a while, just to stop my mind from getting stuck in a rut.

I hope you enjoy all my stories, the merry romances AND the slightly darker sort.

To celebrate the season of Halloween, Guy Fawkes, toffee apples and things that go bump in the night, I'm giving away two signed paperback copies of PUMPYMUCKLES.

If you'd like to enter your name to win, please go to my FACEBOOK page and let me know your favourite thing about autumn.

Thanks for reading!


(Illustrations by Edward Gorey)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Little Exercise for the Imagination

            So, just for fun today - I was at a "loose end" and trying not to eat an entire box of chocolate covered cashews sitting in my kitchen -  I started thinking about what would happen if my regency-era, romantic comedy series Ladies Most Unlikely was ever made into a TV series or a movie.

            Yes, I like to amuse myself with these lovely imaginings from time to time. I don't think I ever quite grew up. And who wants to, anyway? I expect a lot of writers do the same thing.

            Out comes my shabby notebook.

            First, of course, I have to cast all the major roles. Not that I would have that opportunity, even if, by some miracle, the stories ever found their way onto a screen, but let's pretend, shall we? Indulge me in my silliness.

            So here then is my imaginary dream cast for the series.


            Lady Bramley - Jennifer Saunders (Nobody else will do. The production may as well not go ahead without her!)

            Emma Chance - Eloise Smyth

            Georgiana Hathaway - Emma Watson

            Melinda Goodheart - Rachel Hurd-Wood

            Capt. Guy Hathaway - Luke Pasqualino

            Commander Sir Henry Thrasher - Theo James

            Heath Caulfield - Kit Harrington

            Mrs. Julia Lightbody - Emily Watson

            Viscount Fairbanks - Benedict Cumberbatch


            What do you think of my selections? Who would you choose?





Saturday, September 9, 2017

Exclusive Excerpt - The Bounce in the Captain's Boots

Today I'm sharing with you an excerpt from The Bounce in the Captain's Boots. Enjoy!

            The male animal, from all that she had read, was mainly drawn to bright colors and pretty, shiny things— military uniforms would not be so decorative the higher a man climbed in rank otherwise. They liked handsome, fast horses, well-trained dogs and two kinds of women— the unquestioning, unchallenging, undemanding sort with a good dowry, or the lively, daring, adventurous type. Mrs. Lightbody used to say that men married the former and kept the latter for mistresses.

            Since Emma did not fit either category, she was best suited to spinsterhood and a governess post. Lady Bramley, so it seemed, was of the same opinion.

            But Captain Hathaway had danced with her and chattered amiably out of kindness, to put her at her ease, and she would always remember that service with warm gratitude. What she felt was nothing more than that, she reassured herself with a stern sniff and a deep, steadying breath.

            She looked down at the solitary pink pearl she'd managed to capture when the necklace broke. It nestled now in her white-gloved palm, a sad, lost little thing without its many sisters. A quarter of an hour ago, this pearl had been dancing with her, feeling the warmth of her skin and the rapid rhythm of the pulse in her neck. Perhaps the memory still clung to it and would be held forever within that smooth orb.

            "Miss Chance, you ran away from me! How could you abandon me?"

            Jolted out of her reverie, she spun around to find Captain Hathaway striding toward her in a purposeful fashion. She backed up to the table.

            In one gloved hand he held her string of pearls. Mended. He had sought every last one that fell and then strung them back together and fixed the clasp.

            "Had a devil of a time to find 'em all," he said proudly. "Even found a few in the punch. Good thing nobody swallowed any, eh? Turn around then."        

            Emma stared. Behind her back, she closed her fist tightly, hiding the one pearl she had saved. He was so pleased with himself that she didn't want to point out that he hadn't found them all. "I didn't run away from you, Captain. I was taken away."

            "Ah." He gestured, holding up a finger and making a little spinning motion with it. "I'll put it back for you. Where it belongs, eh?"

            Was it proper? What would Lady Bramley say? Would she approve?

            Most certainly not.

            But Emma Chance was not a child any longer. She ought to be allowed to use her own judgment occasionally, for surely that was all part of finding maturity.

            Turning her back to him, she held her breath while he returned the pearls to her throat. She felt his fingertips struggling with the clasp at her nape. Head bowed, her eyes closed, she drank in every precious, forbidden moment until she had quite forgotten there was anybody else in the kitchen. Or the world.

            He swore under his breath.

            "It's no good. The clasp is too dainty. I cannot manage it with these damned gloves."

            Emma opened her eyes and saw the offending articles tossed to the table. In the next moment his bare thumbs brushed her skin. She caught her breath and her sight became foggy so she closed her eyes again. They were lost once more, just the two of them, in a London Particular. This time it had followed them all the way to Surrey.

            An almost unbearable happiness lifted her heart and quickened the beat, as if there were little wings inside it, fluttering frantically to raise the organ up out of her body and take her spirit with it. But was it happiness or something else? She'd never known the like of it.

            Captain Hathaway was clumsy with that tiny clasp. It took him several minutes to secure it, fumbling and cursing softly under his breath— apologizing each time he did so— and then, even when the task was done, his thumbs did not immediately leave her body. Their caress lingered lightly, but daringly, just an inch or so from the top of her spine, tracing it downward and then back to the necklace. His fingers rested shyly on her shoulders. It was no more than the passing shiver of a breeze and yet her entire body was awakened by it, her eyes wide opened again— an involuntary response to his touch. As if she was afraid of missing something in what little time they had left.

            He cleared his throat quite fiercely, as if annoyed with himself. "Well, there we are. All better, Miss Chance?"

            She turned to face him again, the fingers of her left hand checking the pearls and finding them all in order. All but one, of course. "Yes, sir, much better."

            When he swept a fallen curl back from his brow it stood upright in a draft of warm air, like a question mark.

            "Thank you, Captain." She put both hands behind her back again. "It was very good of you to go to such trouble." He was the first man she'd ever seen, who ought to be untidy, she thought with a sudden, unusual burst of passionately illogical contemplation. Guy Hathaway ought to be rumpled and creased and wet with kisses— oh, she'd better stop herself. The drumbeat of her heart was too hard and lusty. She might die here and now from these violent palpitations. Her crumpled corpse would be most embarrassing for Lady Bramley.

            "It was the least I could do."

            Suddenly he raised his hand again, his naked thumb and forefinger gently touching her chin. Lifting it a half inch.

            "Miss Chance, there is something I must do. Hold very still."

            Still? Impossible. She was all a-quiver inside. Could he not see and feel it? It hurt to breathe and yet, at the same time, she trembled with exhilaration. Her heart's beat thumped harder and faster in her ears, a galloping horse obscuring all other sound, racing wildly with no idea of its destination. Simply running joyously and free for as long as it would be allowed. The ground shook under her feet.

            "With your permission," he said. "There is a stray eyelash fallen to your cheek. Might I be trusted to deliver you of the nuisance?"

            "Oh?" Eyelash? Cheek? What things were these? How strange those words sounded suddenly. Foreign and incomprehensible.

            Apparently he took that small sound for permission. He dampened his naked fingertip with a lick of the tongue and then, slowly and carefully, he removed the tiny thing that had troubled him so.

            "There. Now it won't bother you," he murmured, his voice slightly husky.

            She felt her body tipping forward. Tumbling, rather. To right herself she briefly brought her hands, still clenched into fists, to his chest.

            He cupped her elbows to steady her balance, and she heard a little gasp from one of the kitchen maids. Or was it her own?

            "Captain Hathaway, what are you about with Miss Chance? I thought you were looking for your sister?" Alas, Lady Bramley had returned while Emma was lost in his power, unaware of anybody or anything else in the kitchen. Coming to check upon the stain's removal, the lady had found instead another displeasing sight.

            "Well, young man? Did you not mean to search for your sister?" she demanded, coming to stand between the guilty parties.

            "I did, madam, but your nephew said he—"

            "Then kindly leave Miss Chance to me and anything else. Shoo, young man." She took his gloves from the table and thrust them at him. "You are not needed here."

            He gave a terse bow, spun around and walked out. But at the door he stopped and looked back. Lady Bramley, by then, was bent over Emma's stained frock again, trying to frighten it into behaving itself.

            Over that well-meaning lady's head, Emma caught Captain Hathaway's sly wink and a smile that went right through her flesh to carve itself on her bones.


Want to read more? You can pre-order your copy now here.