Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What People Think of Denford

One of the enjoyable things about writing a series is seeing characters develop over two or three books until they are ready for their own story.  Julian, Duke of Denford, has been a favorite of mine right from the start. My other heroes and heroines don't always share my enthusiasm! There are mixed feeling, to say the least.

Julian's book, The Duke of Dark Desires, will be released two weeks from today.  Meanwhile you can enter my Goodreads drawing for two printed copies.  And here's a reminder of how some of Julian's friends and non-friends saw him in previous books.








Monday, December 1, 2014

A Tour of St James's

When I was in London last month, I met a college friend for breakfast at the Wolseley in Piccadilly (pricey but worth it) then I took a walk around the area known as St. James's, site of so many places beloved of Regency romance.  I'm a fairly rubbish photographer but I posted my iPhone snaps on Facebook over the next couple of weeks. Now I've gathered those brief posts in one place.
Almack's now
If you read Regency era romances, you almost certainly know about Almack's, the exclusive Marriage Mart, home of warm lemonade and haughty patronesses. The building in King Street, St. James's, London is long gone but the name lives on in a rather boring modern office building on the site. And here's a historical view of an Almack's assembly.
Almack's then


Paxton & Whitfield, cheesemonger, has been in Jermyn Street since 1797. The aroma is divine. (I like the -monger suffix. Why aren't there bookmongers?)
Floris, the perfumer, has always been one of my favorite shops. The lily of the valley soap is sublime and a man cannot smell better than Floris No. 89. (James Bond wore Floris products FYI). Mary Shelley & Byron are both on record as favoring Floris scents but the shop is even older, having been in Jermyn Street since 1730.


Berry Bros. & Rudd as been at No. 3 St. James's Street since 1698! One of the world's oldest wine merchants, it started out also selling groceries. The famous 18th century scale, used by Byron and other notables, originally measured tea and coffee (the latter presumably in quantities to feed even my habit!). Years ago, when I worked around the corner on King Street, I used to sometimes buy their house wine which is called Good Ordinary Claret 
Byron's bum rested on this sitting scale!
Berry Bros. beautiful premises in St. James's Street

Lock's Hatters
Lock's, at No. 6 St.James's St. is the oldest hat shop in the world, dating back to 1676. It is still a family owned business. The hatter's website has a detailed and fascinating history of a business that has supplied hats to many notables, including Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill.
Hatchard's Book Shop
Hatchard's. No Regency heroine would dream of missing a trip to the Piccadilly book shop (founded in 1797) to feed her secret bluestocking habit. And quite often she runs into an attractive rogue there. I cannot say that's ever happened to me in the multi-floored old building, packed with a marvelous selection of books of all kinds. During a visit earlier this month I found Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James in the historical fiction section. No Miranda Neville, but that's something to aspire to!

Truefitt & Hill
Truefitt & Hill is the oldest barbershop in the world, established in 1805 by William Francis Truefitt. Truefitt styled himself as hairdresser to the British Royal Court. Sorry about the picture - I had to shoot it across St. James's St. and cars & taxis kept getting in the way. How dare they? Wouldn't a nice carriage have improved the picture?

The bow window of White's
There's no sign outside White's, London's oldest and most exclusive club - if you're a member you know where it is. It's easily identified by the famous bow window, whence Brummell and other Regency dandies disdainfully watched the world go by. (St. James's Street pretty much was the world for these guys). I have no idea what it's like inside because I've never been in: no ladies allowed, ever.


Brooks's Club was founded in 1764 as Almack's Club (not to be confused with the assembly rooms) by a group of Whigs who had been kicked out of Tory White's. The moved to these new premises in St. James's St. in 1777 and was renamed Brooks's. The club was famous for politics and gambling. Here's a photo taken lately and a 19th century view of the "Gaming Room." I have been inside. The reception rooms are let out for functions, including weddings, so women are allowed in!
A Regency era view of the Gaming Room at Brooks's
Brooks's today
Finally, no trip to St. James's is complete without popping into Fortnum & Mason, one of the most famous groceries (if one can use such a mundane word to describe it) in the world. In early November Fortnum's was Christmased up and stocked to the gills with holidays goodies. I cruised the aisle, fingering my credit card (it's not cheap) and considering the size of my suitcase. 

Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly front

Inside, Fortnum's was ready for the Christmas rush
When something caught my eye, I emailed my fellow authors of the Christmas in the Duke's Arms anthology and they said "buy it!!!!"  If you'd like to win a hamper full of Fortnum's goodies, courtesy of the four of us, hurry over to Carolyn Jewel's website before December 18th.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Coming Soon!

I have a busy Fall coming up, in the publication department.

First of all, around October 15th, Christmas in the Duke's Arms, a Regency holiday anthology, will be available. I am incredibly excited to join up with Graces Burrowes, Carolyn Jewel, and Shana Galen for this project. Here's the cover which is, I think, as charming and Christmasy as the stories.



I've joined up with my old posse, The Lady Authors, who brought you At the Duke's Wedding, for another anthology: At the Billionaire's Wedding. And guess what? It's set in 2014! That's right, Maya, Katharine, Caroline, and I have gone contemporary. Don't worry - none of us is abandoning historical romance. We thought it would be fun to do something different and it is!



Lastly, the Wild Quartet concludes with The Duke of Dark Desires, Julian, Duke of Denford's story. It's out December 30th, just in time for New Years. I've been excited about Julian's story every since he first appeared in The Importance of Being Wicked. And I believe I have found of heroine strong enough to tame him!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Designing Heroes

I've been reading the latest volume in Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers series and enjoying the clothes. The three Noiret sisters run a high-class dressmaking establishment in 1830s London and the gowns play an active role in the stories – beyond being removed by the heroes. Readers of The TwoNerdyHistoryGirls blog know how devoted Chase and her cohort Isabella Bradford are to costume history.
It got me thinking about dress designers as heroes: As a Project Runway aficionado I know there’s a token straight guy in every season. A quick google of “straight fashion designers” brought up Roberto Cavalli, Tommy Hilfinger, Ralph Lauren, Oscar De La Renta, and Christian Lacroix, to name a few. To get historical (as you do), Charles Worth, the father of haute couture, was married with children. 
The point of this exercise is not to make a point about stereotyping in the fashion industry, but rather to wonder why designer isn’t a suitable job for a romance hero. I could remember only one––a book by Mary Burchell I had read decades ago. An appeal to Twitter gave me the name of the Burchell––Under the Stars of Paris––and one other title, thanks to Fiona Marsden––the aptly named Designing Man by Rachel Lindsay. A quick trip to Amazon and a week later I had both volumes in hand for an all-too-brief orgy of reading.
I’m glad I read Designing Man first because it’s the lesser book. Originally published by Mills & Boon in 1964, it was reissued as a Harlequin Presents in 1979. I think some updating had taken place––I’m fairly sure people weren’t drinking margaritas in London in the early 60s­––but the heroine’s situation is quite advanced. Alix Smith runs her own public relations business and makes it very clear she enjoys her work and doesn’t long to be married. She has a would-be boyfriend, who is a successful architect, and a male assistant of whom she is very much the boss.
The title could just as well be Designing Men because Alix is hired by the fashion house of Duval whose founder, Henri Duval, is at loggerheads with his son Paul. Henri, who has failed to move with the times, creates lavish mother-of-the-bride type outfits for an aging clientele; Paul’s garments are innovative and modern. Alix gets her actress friend Dina to wear Duval clothes in her new play but of course she picks Paul’s designs. The rivalry between father and son is exacerbated when both appear to be pursuing Dina. Someone steals the new Duval collection at the last minute and private information about the family is sold to a gossip column. Paul, who didn’t want his father to hire her, seems to blame Alix for the problems.
Faun?
I appreciate that Paul is not a typical hero. Oddly, he is several times described as resembling a faun––I’m not altogether sure what this means. Here is his first appearance:
“Where Henri Duval was a powerful six-footer, his son was slight in build and only a few inches taller than herself; where the father was blond, with a florid complexion and firm voice, the son was pale and brown-haired, with a quiet voice and the faintest suggestion of a stammer.”
Paul is no pushover, however and I liked him a lot. I just wanted more of him. Things start to heat up when he makes Alix a gorgeous gown for a big party. (There’s a hint, girl! He likes you!) Then someone is killed and the story veers off into a whodunit.
Or faun?

I enjoyed the book for the characters, the setting, and quite a decent murder mystery, but the romance is a little thin. While I’m all for a bit of plot in my romances, I want to see the hero and heroine fall in love. They don’t spend enough time together for my taste, and once it is clear they are attracted to each other, the obstacles thrown in their way seem contrived.

In Mary Burchell’s enormously entertaining book, our heroine Anthea Marlowe, stranded in Paris with only 50 francs to her name, falls into a job at Florian’s couture house. Anthea is renamed Gabrielle for modeling purposes and she closes the show in the wedding dress, designed by Monsieur Florian for a girl of her type who broke her leg.
Anthea is suffering from pride: her father has remarried a woman called Millicent––“the type of good-looking, sophisticated, slightly malicious person who always amused him”––and her fiancé Michael has ditched her for another woman. She isn’t in danger of starvation but neither does she wish to go home to London looking pathetic. The job at Florian saves her and she finds she loves the work and the place: the excitement of showing the Collection, the vendeuses, the sewing women, the other models (except the bitchy Héloïse).
Dior gown, 1954, just because
And then there’s Florian, the creative genius behind the operation. Like Paul, he does not at first appear typical hero material: “a slight, fair-haired man with beautiful hands, thinning hair and the air of an exhausted and impatient schoolboy.” He is also 38 to Anthea’s 21, a fairly typical age difference in books of that era. Make no mistake, Florian is a raging alpha. He is dictatorial, ruthless, and not always very nice; the pages fairly crackle whenever he appears. He treats Anthea well, protecting her from some of the salon politics, but initially his kindness is almost whimsical. Anthea admires and respects her boss, but she’s still getting over Michael and she has a new admirer in British diplomat Roger (“solid, dependable, a darling––the stuff of which good husbands were made.” In other words, a romance dead end.)
Anthea is a wonderful heroine, a little bit naïve but never stupid or spineless. She prefers to think the best of people and accepts Florian’s careless generosity at face value, until he uses her in a malicious plot against his opera singer ex-mistress. This involves her wearing a white mink cloak to a performance of Tosca. (Can you tell how much I love this book?) When Anthea catches on to Florian’s attempt to upstage the diva, she ruins the plot and tears a strip off him for his poor behavior.
After that, of course, Florian is a goner. It takes Anthea a bit longer to realize her feelings: “In all the world there was no other dress house where Florian would come in––worn and impatient, smiling and indulgent, sardonic and amusing, arrogant and brilliant.”
But Florian, besides thinking he’s too old and cynical for her, believes her in love with Roger. We don’t get his point of view, but Burchell manages to convey the progress of his feelings to the reader while concealing them from the despairing heroine:
Odette had once declared that he could be a monster. She had also spoken of his occasional quick cruelty. But Anthea felt she could have forgiven all those theoretical faults, if only he had not been so coolly, monumentally indifferent.
Another 1954 Dior. Green!
The declaration is beautiful. Florian thinks she wants to go back to England with Roger; she thinks he wants her to go. Terribly hurt, she asks why he wants to get rid of her and forces him to admit his feelings. Finally, kisses.
I absolutely loved Under the Stars of Paris. Loved, loved, loved. Originally published by M&B in 1954 (Harlequin 1978), the fashions gave me delicious New Look vibes. I cannot tell you how much I want the “dress of stiffened lace in an indescribably beautiful shade of iridescent green” that plays a dramatic role in the plot. (Bitchy Héloïse misleads Anthea into borrowing the gown for a party. Florian sees her in the illicitly borrowed dress and someone spills red wine on it. Florian spirits her upstairs where he rips away the stained lace, removes a panel from the skirt, and drapes a new bodice on the gown in about five minutes. Now there’s a useful man.)
Burchell is a delightful writer with a nicely acerbic turn of phrase that keeps me smiling throughout. Her secondary character are well drawn and nuanced. Florian addresses Anthea as “petite” and “mon enfant” which I usually dislike but, given the age difference and the fact that she is his employee, I didn’t mind it here. I believe in their HEA and know that Anthea will be no doormat. In the last scene, when a senior employee disturbs the declared lovers, we get a sharp Burchell observation. “In her bright, knowing, already respectful glance, Anthea suddenly saw herself reflected, not as Gabrielle, but as Madame Florian.”

I am a definite convert to designing heroes. I am told that Rose Lerner's historical A Lily Among Thorns has a tailor hero; I look forward to the book's re-release in September.  If you know of any other titles, please let me know.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Join my Postcard Mailing List

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Do you read digitally? I still buy printed books but these days I read most fiction on my Kindle. It means I don't see either the covers or the book descriptions, except when I buy the book. My postcards will be of full color cover images so you don't need to miss out.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Libraries & Librarians: An Appreciation

My editor asked me to write a post for Avon Loves Librarian’s Week because I used to be a librarian. Well, sort-of-not-really. I spent several years writing catalogs of rare books and manuscripts for major auction houses in London and New York. My love for the rare book business made its way into my historical romance series, The Burgundy Club, featuring a group of Regency era book collectors. Later I worked in Special Collections at the Dartmouth College Library in Hanover, NH, cataloguing a collection of plays, playbills and other items relating to the theater. I’ve used some of what I learned and saw in my books. (Writers are champions of mental recycling.)

The Radcliffe Camera,
Oxford.
My earliest library memory is of the mobile library van that toured our part of rural England. It stopped about half a mile from our house and my mother would walk us there to stock up on enough books to last two weeks. (I always ran out.) Since then, I’ve used all kinds of libraries, from the local library in my small Vermont town to the greatest of all, like the British Library, the New York Public Library, and Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale. No matter how large or small, there’s magic in entering a room full of books, a feeling of endless potential. You never know what treasure of knowledge or entertainment awaits you.

At Oxford University, the library I used most was the Radcliffe Camera, the great domed building that housed the history and English collections of the Bodleian Library. Later I used another famous circular library, the Reading Room of the British Museum, where luminaries like Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, and Bram Stoker worked. The British Library has now moved to new premises and I love it for it’s breathtaking efficiency. In the old reading room it could take hours, days even, to get a book and quite often the item you requested had been lost. But the staff were always wonderfully helpful. I remember once needing to look up one section of a work that came in dozens of volumes and I didn’t have the proper citation. Against the rules, a librarian snuck me into the stacks to find what I needed.
The old round Reading Room at the British Museum

The old British Museum stacks.
I've been there!
In New York, I got to know the legendary Lola Szladits, curator of the NY Public Library’s Berg Collection of English and American Literature. Her motto was “what Lola wants, Lola gets.” The tales of how she bribed and cajoled the archives of numerous writers into her hands were fascinating. Lola is an example of how a great librarian can make a collection.

Lola tried to persuade me to go to library school and become a librarian myself but I never wanted to be on that side of the library desk. I enjoyed the two years at Dartmouth but it was enough. Working as a library cataloguer did make me appreciate a side of librarians that most patrons don’t see: the painstaking and frequently tedious work of cataloging and shelving. Because if a book is wrongly described, or shelved in the wrong place, it is basically lost and useless, unless discovered by serendipity.

The main reading room at the New York Public Library
This weekend my local library holds its annual summer festival and fundraiser. It is with great pride that I see my name listed as sponsor and local writer. None of us, readers or writers, would be where we are without libraries and the dedicated people who run them.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Was Your First Romance?

What was the first romance you remember reading? Mine was Powder and Patch. I was about eleven or twelve and I'd pretty much exhausted Jean Plaidy's historical fiction. My mother and elder sister came back from shopping and handed me this paperback. "We think you'd like Georgette Heyer." They were right. I quickly went through all her books and I have continued to reread them ever since. Here's the Pan edition that my mother gave me, along with the Bantam one that currently resides on my nightstand. I love the cover of the first, because it shows a scene from the book and bears the subtitle "A gay romance of the 18th century."


Hanging out on Twitter last night, I asked the same question and got a lot of answers. I was interested to see how many romance readers and writers started with the older historicals. If you'd like to add your "first," I'd love to hear. You can tell me in the comments here, on Twitter (@Miranda_Neville) or on Facebook

 @julieinduvall - Susan Elizabeth Phillips' FANCY PANTS. ;-)
 @GrowlyCub - Heyer's Arabella
@AmandaMarie309 - Toss up: Candice Proctor's Night in Eden or Katherine Woodiwiss' The Wolf and the Dove.
@MaireClaremont - Its a toss up. Wild Swan by Celeste DeBlasis. She didn't call it romance but family Saga. Or Catherine Coulter's The Heir!
@buriedbybooks
Nora Roberts's MacGregors. But Barbara Michaels was a gateway author for me.
@IsobelCarr - Fires of Winter by Lindsey. Turned me off the genre for a decade.
@dizzheart - If we're not counting Sayers, Austen or Eloise Jarvis McGraw, then it was one of those early Ace Heyer pbs
@evangelineh - Valentine Legacy by Catherine Coulter. It's still funny.
@PirateQueenKate - Amanda Quick's Mistress
@sunita_p - Heyer's April Lady. I may have read a Stewart and/or Holt before that but AL felt like a real romance.
@dougalgodfrey - The Wolf and the Dove. Then my mum gave me Seton's Katherine. Not strictly rom but still.
@badass_romance - Read both Jane Eyre and GWTW summer I turned 13 and became avid Holt/Heyer/Seton reader. Also dozens of Cartlands ensued.
@e_bookpushers - either The Bride by Julie Garwood or A Rose in Winter by Kathleen Woodiwiss
@LisaHendrix - The Wolf and the Dove.
@YasmineGalenorn - For me, I consider it Anna and the King of Siam. (I consider that a romance)
@karinacooper - Mine was Johanna Lindsay’s Defy Not the Heart. :D
@miss_batesreads I was assisting directing Wizard of Oz in gr. 6 & reading Woodiwiss Flame&Flower. (I was in gr. 6 too.)
@juliabroadbooks - Barbara Cartland. I don't remember which I read first but I promptly read about a hundred more. Am afraid to re-read.
@Laforesta1 - Nora's MacGregor Brides. And that was it-from then on, I was totally hooked. Loved the premise of the matchmaking grandpa!
@mharvey816 - Kathleen Woodiwiss "Ashes in the Wind" It was like Gone with the Wind with a HEA, but slightly more rapey. 
@balletbookworm - The Wedding by [a first name I don't remember] Beverly; Ok contemporary with a side character with a cat named Chaucer
@alisonkent - The Flame and the Flower
@FionaMMarsden - My first pure romance was either The Beads of Nemesis by Elizabeth Hunter or Crown of Willow Elizabeth Ashton
@Meljean - ONLY LOVER by Carole Mortimer, Harlequin Presents #502.
@JenniferRNN - I dont' remember my first. I do know that Diana Palmer was the first author I fell in love with
@writerlexiryan - Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux.  I was in middle school. :)
@MarniBates - Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann
@essayareayaitch - It was a Harlequin American Romance from the late 80s/early 90s … okay Google is my friend. Book was from 1983/84, Twice in a Lifetime. Apparently I knew the number, just not the title.
@VivianArend - Anne MacCaffrey Dragondrums. Side <3 and="" menolly="" omg="" p="" sebell.="" sexual="" story="" tension.="" the="" with="">
@lillie_80 - The Bride by Garwood
@BookishK - The Wolf and the Dove in the mid-70's when I was about 12 years old. I'd never read anything like it before.
@lizcook - Dark of the Moon, by Karen Robards, purchased in the Washington DC Hilton gift shop on a HS class trip… My friends & I hid in under the table and read it loud at a youth in govt awards banquet. And then Warren Berger spoke. 2/2
@KatiD - Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts (adult), Fifteen by Beverly Cleary (ya)
@jennellens - Whitney, My Love. Hooked me.  Read D Steele as teen but don't consider those true romances.
@runemima - Whitney's Spindrift
@Limecello - first HP I *remember* reading I was in elementary school - the Honey is Bitter by Violet Winspear. These Happy Golden Years
@chloeneill - Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey. :)
@TheresaRomain - This was one of the first R-rated romances I read. I sneaked it from my older sister's bookshelf.The Viking's Woman by Heather Graham
@dizzyandbookish - I don't think it was first per se. But it was one of them. It was "One Tough Cookie" by Carole Dean.
@VoireyLinger - I *think* title was Outlaw's Caress. Author was Mary Martin. I was in 8th grade & it was the filthiest thing I'd ever seen.
@AuthorEmmaBarry - Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels, about 3.5 years ago.
@natalincay - the Thorn Birds, given to me by 6th grade school librarian (what was she thinking?)
@EricaJMonroe - Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
@MuseofIre - Green Darkness by Anya Seton
@elisabethjlane - Mm. I first found Julie Garwood. I wouldn't read anything without a man in a kilt.
@Sara_Ramsey - BRAVE THE WILD WINDS by Johanna Lindsey. I was 12. They had sex on a horse. It was both magical and traumatizing.
@NobleRorick - tracked it down a year ago thanks to a HaBO.  Called Charity's Gambit.
@WW2HistoryGal - Cut my teeth on Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jude Deveraux.
@Cecilia_Grant - Does Phyllis Whitney count? If so, Hunter's Green. Don't remember a thing abt it except that the heroine had a green coat.
@emilyjanehubb - HERE COMES THE SUN by Emilie Loring.
@cass_oleary - Can't remember the titles but excerts from steamy romances in Cosmo sealed section, age about 15.
@BellRomance - The first one I remember was Desire by Amanda Quick, at 13. I promised my mom I'd skip the racey parts, but I didn't.
@ros_clarke - Heyer for me and many others, obvs.
@RoseLerner - I started with Regency trads: "A Lord for Miss Larkin" by Carola Dunn, when I was 12.
@susannafraser -  First I remember was Amanda from the Sunfire series. YA historical romance with gloriously 80's covers!
@ScribblingSandy -  The first romance I read as a romance was Stephanie Laurens's A Rake's Vow.
@CatsBooksRom -  I really remember 15 by Beverly Clearly. Still a great love story.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays: A Scandalous Rumor on Christmas Eve

For the past couple of years I've written Christmas short stories for blogger Dani's holiday celebration. This year my designated theme (I like do like an assignment!) was A SCANDALOUS RUMOR ON CHRISTMAS EVE.  You can still read it (and other wonderful stories) on Ramblings From This Chick, and enter many wonderful drawings. The story of Alice and Amville finds a more permanent home here.


A SCANDALOUS RUMOR ON CHRISTMAS EVE

Monday
“My dear,” Lady Chatterby said to her Aunt Maria who was growing a little deaf. “Did you hear that the younger Kilpatrick girl is increasing?”
“Alice?”
“No, the married one. Annabel.”
Tuesday
“Alice Kilpatrick is with child.”
“Don’t you mean Annabel?”
“No, the elder girl.”
Wednesday
Miss Lawson was taking tea with her best friend Lady Susan. “Miss Kilpatrick …” Then she lowered her voice because one could not speak of such shocking things aloud.
Thursday
At Boodle’s Club young Lord Helmsley and his three boon companions were into their fifth bottle. “M’sister Susan tells me that Alice Kilpatrick has raised her petticoats and dropped her drawers with the predictable result.”
Friday, at White’s
“Alice Kilpatrick is a slut.”
***
Saturday, Christmas Eve
Although Mrs. Kilpatrick had been confined all week with a cold, she heroically arose from her bed of pain to chaperone her daughter to the Countess of Porton’s Christmas Eve ball. No trifle like a sniffle would keep her from her triumph: Sir James Banfield, a Buckinghamshire baronet, had asked permission to pay his addresses to her elder daughter. And Alice, the choosiest daughter to ever afflict a mother, had finally agreed to accept a proposal.
Tonight, at the ripe age of four-and-twenty, Alice would achieve that summit of every girl’s ambitions: a good match. There was nothing wrong with Sir James and everything right: the right age (thirty), the right income (twenty thousand a year), the right county (his estate was less than thirty miles from that of her sister Annabel’s husband). Even the right looks. For a young unmarried man of good fortune he was a veritable Adonis. Most of them looked like toads.
Alice was a lucky girl to have attracted his attention. Everyone agreed, including Sir James. Especially Sir James. He might propose to her on bended knee, but Alice had a feeling she was the one who should be in the supplicant position. Along with everyone in London, he thought she was getting the best of the bargain.
The Porton ball was a sad crush. Alice and her mother–her father had been delayed by government business–were stuck at the foot of the handsome staircase, waiting for the throng of guests to greet the hosts on the landing and disperse, like chicks released from the coop, into the rooms beyond. Sir James was ahead of them, almost at the top. He offered an admirable view of well-shaped shoulders, in a neat but conservative coat of dark blue superfine, and perfectly cropped hair. Even his ears were tidy. When he turned to answer a remark from an acquaintance he exhibited a classical profile and an air of self-consequence.
“Such a handsome man,” Mrs. Kilpatrick said.
“Indeed.” Alice wished she felt more enthusiastic about the betrothal that would be concluded and announced tonight. She needed to be married. Her younger sister was expecting her second child. Very soon the dreaded word spinster would be attached to her and she might even, perish the thought, be expected to wear a cap. If only Sir James made her heart dance, her skin tingle, and her belly glow.
Lost in dispiriting reflection on the stolid nature of her emotions, she had failed to notice the whispering that, from years of experience at London assemblies, told her there was scandal afoot. A certain quality in the ambient sound always meant trouble for someone. It wasn’t hard to guess the subject of tonight’s gossip. The Marquess of Amville had been grist to the scandal mill for as long as Alice had been out, and longer. He was accepted in the ton, barely, because of his rank, wealth and connections, but not everyone received him.
Her mother did not approve.
“Tsk tsk,” Mrs. Kilpatrick said. “I believe Lady Porton is his godmother so he had to be invited. I wish people wouldn’t bother.”
Amville leaned against the bannister at the very top of the staircase. He stood out from the fashionable company by wearing his coat unbuttoned, his neckcloth askew, and his smile devilish. A lock of gold-streaked hair tumbled over his brow. As always, Alice couldn’t stop looking at him.
She’d danced with Amville in her second season. She’d never before or since had a partner for the waltz that whirled her around the floor with such exuberance, or made her laugh so much. Then an affair with the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had him dropped from government guest lists and they met only occasionally. Somehow they always managed to exchange a few words. Five minutes in his company made everyone else seem flat and colorless. With him the most banal topic seemed new, and she also felt they’d known each other forever. His presence now brightened the prospects for a dull evening.
Dull? What was she thinking? This was the evening in which she was supposed to celebrate her engagement.
“Stop staring at him,” her mother hissed. “I do believe he came out this evening without shaving.”
It was true. The shadow on his chin made him even more raffish, also more alluring. He turned and noticed her for the first time. A meeting of the eyes, a shared smile, and the yards of air in between them seemed to crackle.
Her heart danced, her skin tingled, and her belly glowed.
***
Alice Kilpatrick was the only reason Amville attended these affairs. Nothing in life, jaded by endless debaucheries, gave him greater pleasure than their brief, innocent encounters. She was lovely tonight, a deep green silk setting off her dark hair and bright complexion. She always glowed with life and joy. For the hundredth, no thousandth, time he tormented himself with thoughts of what might have been. If only after that first waltz he’d set out to court her as she deserved. If only he hadn’t already been involved with the Chancellor’s wife. If only they had not been discovered in virtual flagrante delicto at the Prime Minister’s garden party. If only Mr. Kilpatrick were not a respected member of the government. If only….
Yet what was the use? He’d been doomed long before, steeped in inevitable infamy and vice through his upbringing in the household of his uncle, a man of reputation so deservedly foul that even Lady Porton wouldn’t have him in the house. When he’d died of a seizure in a low brothel no one had mourned him, least of all his nephew.
Yet Amville had to live with his uncle’s legacy, making it impossible for him to aspire to the hand of London’s brightest jewel, the daughter of the incorruptible Kilpatrick. Word was she’d accepted Banfield, a dry stick of a man who’d never permit his wife to maintain the slightest acquaintance with a dissolute marquess. Tonight might be the last in which he would enjoy those precious five or ten minutes with Alice, dizzied by her voice and scent, yearning to possess what he could never even touch.
He gazed down at her with an ache in the area of his heart. Yet that organ could not be so affected for it had long since been atrophied by the senselessness of life. 
He took his time before he approached her, endured the dreary assembly for an hour, enjoying the anticipation of a few minutes’ happiness. Passing through Lady Porton’s suite of reception rooms, he was aware of voices rising in surprise and falling in pretended horror, the shocked intake of breath and the deliciously appalled laughter. In short, the familiar sound of scandal.
There was something different tonight. Instead of falling silent at his approach, the outrage reached him, like surf washing up on a beach. Tonight he was not the object of the gossip.
When he heard what was being said he was incredulous and then, for the first time in his life, scandalized. How could they believe such things of Alice? Not that he would judge her–he always eschewed hypocrisy–but couldn’t these blind idiots see that she would never betray her betrothed? And poker-backed James Banfield would never anticipate his vows. Amville would wager his very considerable fortune that Alice Kilpatrick was neither impure nor pregnant.
He happened to see her just as she learned what was being said. Her eyes widened, a hand covered her mouth. Two ladies turned their backs on her and she looked as though she had received a mortal blow.
No one must be allowed to distress his Alice.
Protective hackles rose and he charged to the rescue, but Banfield reached her first. Amville stopped abruptly. It was her fiancé’s right to defend her against calumny.
“Miss Kilpatrick!” Banfield was bristling with indignation. “I am horrified at what I have heard.” Alice opened her mouth, but the baronet’s ire was not to be contained. “I demand to know if it is true.”
Distress turned to astonishment. “Of course it is not. I don’t know how such a rumor can have started.”
“I wonder too.” Banfield, who had been a priggish arse since Amville knew him at Harrow, folded his arms and looked down his nose. “You must have done something to give rise to such a report.”
“You believe it?”
“As they always say, there’s no smoke without fire.”
Her fists clenched and she appeared about to throw an unladylike punch and terminate her engagement, a move Amville would have applauded. But of course she did not. She would deny the charge, reason would prevail and her betrothal and eventual marriage would progress as planned.

Then he had an idea. A wicked idea. He shouldn’t, but resisting temptation had never been his strong suit. He took a deep breath and committed the most dishonorable act of a life filled with iniquity.
“My dear Alice,” he drawled, stepping up beside her and placing her hand on his arm. “Are you having trouble?”
She stared at the use of her Christian name, her pink mouth forming a kissable oval. He wouldn’t let her pull away. Her hand felt perfect there and he intended to keep it.
Sir James recovered his wits, or at least his voice. “Amville! You are Miss Kilpatrick’s debaucher and the father of her child.”
“Sir James!” she squeaked, still trying to escape.
“Whatever do you mean? I don’t believe for a minute that Alice is with child.” A small huff of breath told him she appreciated his defense. She stopped struggling and relaxed. Prematurely. He smiled nastily. “You see, Banfield, a wise man knows how to take precaution against accidents.”
Banfield sputtered, Alice gasped. Amville had made it impossible for the rumor to be put to rest. There wasn’t a soul in England who’d ever believe he hadn’t seduced her. Now for the coup de grace.
“I will, of course, be asking for Miss Kilpatrick’s hand in marriage.” He brushed a kiss over her knuckles. “Better luck next time, Banfield.”
***
Alice was ruined. Yet a bubble of joy, hardly bigger than a mustard seed, formed in her heart. Did Amville mean his bizarre proposal? He wasn’t the marrying kind; if he were, she’d never have contemplated wedding Sir James. It came to her in a blaze of enlightenment that she’d turned down half a dozen perfectly eligible suitors because of one miraculous waltz in her second season.
Sir James stalked off in high dudgeon while other guests hovered, fascinated spectators of the drama. Amville was ghostly pale without a hint of his devil-may-care bravado and he held her so tightly her hand hurt.
“Come,” was all he said, and dragged her through the staring crowd. Her heart beat a tattoo as she tripped after him, brushing past friends, acquaintances and her horrified mother, into a small sitting room. Amville slammed the door and wedged a chair under the doorknob.
Breathing as though he’d run a mile, he put his hand on her shoulders, regarding her with anxious eyes. Mesmerized, she stroked the shadowed jaw. His dawning, devastating smile put her fears to rest. Her heart danced, her skin tingled, and she wanted to laugh out loud with joy.
Especially when he kissed her. This was no polite caress but the devouring possession she’d waited for all her life. He kissed her until her brain turned to wool and held her fast against him, body to hard body. Her belly didn’t merely glow; it burned.
All too soon he let her go. And, as expected that evening, a man got down on his knees before her. “Please marry me, Alice.” He looked humble, uncertain, supplicating. “By any standard I should make a wretched husband but you won’t find one who loves you more. I swear by whatever shreds of honor I possess to spend the rest of my life making you happy.”
“Why have you never said anything?”
He shrugged. “My reputation, your father. But tonight I seized my chance. I believe even Mr. Kilpatrick will say you have no alternative. I’m sorry.”
“Are you really?”
“Only if you are.”
She swept the disorderly lock of hair from his forehead, with a delicious shiver that she was now permitted to touch him. “I’m glad.”
“You’ll have me then?”
“As long as you never go near the wife of any cabinet minister again.”
“To be on the safe side you’d better not leave me alone in the vicinity of Downing Street.” Humility had vanished and Lord Amville was back, and she didn’t care how wicked he was as long as he was only hers.
“And how shall we celebrate Christmas?” she asked

“If I have my way, we’ll spend the rest of the winter in bed, with the curtains closed.”

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Photo from the Old Country

I'm in England, visiting family, fighting jet lag, and finishing a book. This afternoon, after a trip to Tesco (a large grocery chain) I stopped by Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, a narrow steep street built along the ramparts of the ruined Shaftesbury Abbey.  This highly picturesque street has been much photographed - I've seen jigsaw puzzles of it in U.S. stores. It was featured in the 1967 film Far From the Madding Crowd.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Gorgeous Shawl

Natalie Garbett is an English costume expert with a smashing blog. Here she demonstrates the actual size of a Regency era shawl. Those ladies in white muslin needed something to keep them warm in the cold, damp climate.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Short Story: Three Dukes & A Baby

I wrote this short story for Rita and Dani's Historical Christmas Eve Celebration in which they invite authors for short pieces on assigned themes. I took a somewhat loose definition of the word duke!

 Three Dukes and A Baby

Jonathan Bradshaw hated dukes. To be specific he hated one duke.
The day a duke ruined his life he’d ended up face down in a ditch on the Scottish side of the border, stunned and aching from the beating he’d suffered at the hands of His Grace’s lackeys. The smell of whisky cut through the mud clogging his swollen nose. That was the last straw. His pocket flask, fully charged against the chill of a northern journey in early spring, had cracked. If he managed to lug his bruised body out of the dirt, he wouldn’t be able to console his bruised soul and broken heart with the Scottish breath of life.
Waiting for his miserable existence to evaporate along with his last source of comfort, he became aware of a faint lapping sound close to his ear. Then a tiny snuffle and a wet little tongue licking his cheek. Something else was chewing on his boot. The ignominy of ending his life a meal for rats lifted him out of his torpid despair. Rolling onto his arse he found himself surrounded by a trio of puppies. Funny little things, they were, with snub noses and floppy ears and madly wagging tails. They must have been abandoned since their breeding was, to put it kindly, indeterminate. He felt a kinship with the mongrels. Had he not also been rejected by the Duke of Windlesham for his lack of the proper parentage?
The creatures yelped with joy, butting their little heads against his legs and nuzzling his hands with wet noses. One of them demanded to be picked up. When he obliged a wet warmth trickled through his fingers.
The little devil had wet himself.
•••
Jonathan averted his eyes from his housekeeper’s festive sprig of holly and checked that the decanter was full. It was Christmas Eve, an occasion he’d dreamed of celebrating in his elegant hundred-year-old house with his wife. If he had a wife. The Duke of Windlesham said not, when he dragged his daughter from the Gretna Green smithy where the smith had just declared Mr. Jonathan Bradshaw and the Lady Anthea Winslow man and wife. A Scottish marriage apparently didn’t count unless it was consummated. As it happened the consummation had taken place, but before the ceremony. In any case, the question was moot. All efforts to find his bride had proved futile. Anthea had vanished from society, from her father’s many mansions, and, as far as Jonathan could discover, from the face of the earth.
So he’d returned to the estate he’d purchased in a vain attempt to impress the duke, who’d declared he’d never give his daughter to the son of a tradesman, however rich. Jonathan wasn’t in the habit of indulging alone, but tonight he intended to get rip roaring drunk.
Something was missing. Or rather three somethings.
“Dukes!” he called into the garden where moonlight glittered on frosted trees. “Come in boys!”
In his loathing for all things ducal, he’d decided to insult the highest rank of nobility by bestowing the title on his brood of curs. Clarence, who had a penchant for spirits, was named for the duke who was unfortunately drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. Wellington was the boot chewer. And the dog who peed on him was honored with the title of Windlesham. But since he was fond of the little fellow, he usually just  called him Widdle. Except when he widdled.
“Clarence! Wellington! Widdle!” he shouted. Ill-bred yapping arose from the shrubbery. The dogs had either cornered a creature or found something vile-smelling to roll in. “Come, boys. If you stink it’s the stables for you, and not a bite of my supper.”
Jonathan’s amble across the lawn turned into a run when a new sound joined the cacophony of barks. Good Lord! A capacious basket wedged into the shelter of a rhododendron emitted the unmistakable howl of an angry baby.
In short order he carried the foundling inside. Without knowing much about infants, he was sure this one was very young. His ridiculously small and very red face was topped by a spindly mop of dark hair. With eyes screwed shut he emitted a level of noise astonishing for such a tiny body.
“Hey there,” he whispered, touched by such fragile helplessness. “What’s the matter?” Was he hungry, cold? Both? The only response was a continuing howl. “What do you want, little one?”
The child was tightly wrapped, a good idea outside, but his library had a good fire. He gently removed a blanket and loosened the swaddling. The perfection of the miniature hands tempted him to touch. Little fingers clutched at his giant one. The baby fell silent and regarded him with big, unfocused eyes.
The dukes sat around him, regarding him with adoring trust. He’d cared for them as orphaned babies and now it apparently fell to him to do the same for a human one. Reaching below the child’s bottom, he smiled. “Well, well,” he told the dogs. “We’ve acquired another widdler.”
His competent housekeeper, whom he’d previously dismissed for the night, responded to his rung. “Newborn, sir. I’ll take care of him and we can decide what to do tomorrow. The mother must be in a sad way to abandon her child at Christmas.”
“Bring him back here when you’ve made him comfortable.”
The infant had fallen under his protection and he’d care for it, as he would any one in need. But he felt more than casual charity for this waif. His company for Christmas was far more appealing than the bottle.
Her company, as the housekeeper informed him when she returned. “Ring again when she cries, sir. She’ll be hungry in the night. I’ve rigged up a bottle and teat for her but tomorrow she’ll need a wet nurse.”
“Show me what to do. I’ll see to her.”
For now the tiny girl slept peacefully while he watched. Dry napkins, a wet nurse, a foster mother. The needs of so helpless a creature were overwhelming. Perhaps he’d keep her. The notion surprised him. When he’d persuaded Anthea to elope with him to escape her arranged marriage, his mind had been possessed by love and earthy passion, the consequences of domesticity little regarded. He wondered if she had wed the middle-aged earl with his two dead wives and rakish reputation. Surely he would have heard.
Unmanly tears prickled his eyes yet his heart was lighter. Fortune had brought him someone to care for, besides his trio of dukes.
He didn’t know how long he kept vigil. It was the dukes who disturbed the silence first, starting up from their sleeping heap of fur on the hearth rug. Distantly he heard the front door knocker. A glance at the mantle clock told him it was after midnight.
Christmas Day.
He opened the door to a pathetic and wondrous sight. She was bedraggled and shivering but he’d recognize her in a full face mask in the dark. His one and only love.
“Anthea!” he cried and she collapsed into his arms.
“Joanna? Do you have her? I put her down because I couldn’t carry her another step. I was coming to the house but I fainted. When I awoke she was gone.”
“She is safe, my love. Come.”
He lifted her up and bore her trembling body into the library. Her care was all for her daughter but he could wait.
Their daughter. He was a father.
“What happened?” he asked, when he had his wife curled in his lap in a large armchair, their child in her arms.
“Father kept me locked at his hunting box until the birth. He was going to take her away from me and I couldn’t bear it. Finally I found a way to escape and come to you. I’m sorry it took so long, Jonathan. I love you and I’ve never loved another.”
“Nothing matters now. I love you, I love Joanna, and we’re together.”
“I was so afraid I’d never see you again.”
He stroked her smooth dark head and drank in the lovely face he’d feared lost forever. Her cheek was chilled beneath his palm, as were the lips he traced with his thumb. Then he kissed her and felt nothing but warmth and the promise of a blissful future.
A tug on his boot interrupted the tender interlude. There was a puddle on the carpet, and one pair of eyes gazed longingly at the untouched decanter.
“My darling,” he said. “I must introduce you to the dukes.”

For previous my previous Christmas reads see A Gift For A Princess and A Deranged Marriage

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