The Ladies Most Unlikely - Book One

The Ladies Most Unlikely - Book One
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Deverells - Book one on sale!

For a limited time you can pick up your e-book copy of TRUE STORY for only 99 cents! If you haven't had a chance yet to start The Deverells series, this is the perfect time to dive in and meet the patriarch of this scandalous Victorian family.

Here's an excerpt -


Chapter One

The Offices of Chalke, Westcott & Chalke.
Three O'clock in the afternoon, Tuesday, March 12, 1832

 
            "Get out of my blasted way," the menacing, deeply disgruntled voice rumbled above her. "What are you doing, woman?"

            On her knees before him, head down, Olivia Westcott scrambled for the spilled papers that cascaded around his boots when the man bumped into her.

            "Some ruse to pick my pockets, eh?" he growled. "Where's your slick-fingered accomplice, or did you think to fleece me by yourself?"

            "Sir, I—"

            "Good God, must you wretched creatures lie in wait everywhere I turn?"

            It was fortunate for this stranger that while assisting in her father's office, Olivia had promised to be on her best behavior. She didn't want to be sent home to embroider yet another ugly fire screen or paint watery, depressing landscapes. So, rather than answer as she would in a Utopia of justice and equality, she bit her tongue, held her temper and said, "Sir, pardon me, but you're standing on the papers."

            Great Aunt Jane, always her most indomitable critic, would have been impressed.

            Still the towering monolith did not move. His contempt bore down upon her. "Bloody women! Always underfoot."

            With one knuckle she nudged her spectacles back up her nose and raised her improved gaze only as far as his knees, where the tip of a riding crop tapped smartly against his mud-splattered breeches. "I wouldn't be underfoot sir, if you hadn't bowled into me."

            "You shot out of nowhere. If I didn't have my wits about me, I could have trampled you into the floorboards."

            The last sheet was stuck under his heel. "Please move your foot, sir. No! The other one."    "I suppose you were wandering with your head in the clouds, daydreaming. Relying upon other folk to pay attention."

            "I can assure you I was not. Sir! Your foot!" Anyone would think he deliberately delayed getting off her paper.

            "Butter-fingers, is that not the expression?"

            "Better that than Butter-brained." It slipped out on a sly breath before she could restrain herself.

            "Tsk, tsk, you know what they say about women with sharp tongues."

            "No. Do tell. I am all agog to hear it." Oh dear, now more words came out that shouldn't, linked like scarves pulled from a conjurer's mouth. "And clearly you want to enlighten me."

            He replied coolly, "One day they find themselves surrounded by castrated men."

            "A tragedy, to be sure. For the men."

            At last she pulled the trampled paper free, although it was now decorated with a large, dirty shoe print. Before she could get up off her knees, the man lost his patience and, as if she was nothing more than a puddle in the street, he stepped over her.

            "Look where you're going in future, young woman."

            She recovered from the indignity just in time to witness his head contact briskly— and most satisfyingly— with the low lintel of the doorway.

            "Did the doorframe come out of nowhere too?" she inquired politely.

            He stopped with his back to her. "You think that was amusing."

            "Well, it does have a certain piquancy, sir." Mimicking his previous tone of condescension, she added, "You know what they say about men who live in glasshouses."

            "Yes. They pay a very high window tax." He half turned his head, but not far enough to reveal more than a little cheek and some dark side-whiskers above the tall collar of his greatcoat. No longer quite so terse and angry, his voice warmed with a hint of self-deprecating humor. "And, as I have found, they ought to keep their clothes on unless they have a fancy to exhibit for their neighbors."       

            He didn't turn to see her blush. In the next moment he was gone and the walls around her seemed to exhale a collective sigh of wanton languor.

            "Are you alright, my dear?" Her father had come to find his papers.

            "Was that a client of yours?" she asked with as much nonchalance as she could muster.

            "That was... a gentleman currently embroiled in a divorce being handled by Mr. Chalke," he replied gravely, taking the documents from her. "Best stay out of his path, Olivia."

            "Why?" Her heart was beating too fast, too hard.

            "Must you always question, my dear? Now where is the tea?"

            She had forgotten it. Vowing to remedy the oversight at once, Olivia waited with her hands meekly behind her back, until her father had retreated inside his office. Then she hurried to the window.

            There he was— Mr. Incivility—already down the stairs and emerging into the street. He put on his hat, nodded briskly to the boy who held his horse and tossed the lad some coins. Olivia willed him to look up, so she might see his face, but he didn't.

            Glancing at the clock on the mantle, she noted it was just after three. It was a habit of hers to mark the exact time at certain important moments in her life. She stored them all in her brain like ledgers on a dusty shelf. Her stepbrother thought that very odd and mocked her for it, as he did about most things.

            But what made this moment so important that it deserved commemoration?

            As soon as her father mentioned the man's purpose there she realized who he was. Divorce was rare, almost unheard of, and those few who attempted it became infamous. Anyone who read a newspaper knew his name. Consequently, Olivia also knew why her father advised her to stay out of his path. A properly raised young woman of good family should avoid the company of that gentleman. In fact, many people refused to call him a gentleman at all. No one seemed to know where he came from, although there was a general consensus as to where he'd end up.

            "Self-made, indeed," she'd once heard Great Aunt Jane exclaim in a huff. "Gentlemen are not made. They are born."

            Olivia considered that a rather snobbish view, especially coming from a lady who was only a few steps away from debtor's prison for most of her adult life and relied upon the charity of relatives to keep a roof over her head.

            She thought back to a conversation several years ago when that same lady, having remarked upon Olivia's misfortune in losing her mother at such a young age— as if it was a tragedy somehow due to the little girl's own carelessness—went on to criticize her complexion, her lack of social graces and her posture.         

            "Straighten your spine, girl! You will develop a most unbecoming slouch if my nephew doesn't put you in a backboard immediately. Who will you ever find to marry, child, if you don't improve your posture, take up some feminine pursuits and learn to hold a sensible conversation?
What gentleman of any worth would look at such a sulky, sullen, willful creature with a fascination for wicked pranks? You won't be fit for polite society."

            This lecture came about because Olivia had sculpted a piece of parsnip to look like a finger, coated the end of it in raspberry jam, and then placed it on the pianoforte keys, to be discovered when the instrument was opened.

            "You are a horrid, unseemly child with a dark and devious imagination, Olivia Westcott. I cannot think what will become of you."

            To which she replied, "I shall marry Mr. True Deverell, shan't I? People say he's not fit for polite society either. But he's rich as Croesus and I hear he knows his way under a woman's petticoats."

            This bold declaration had shocked everyone present into silence. These things — and men—weren't meant for drawing room conversation in mixed company, and the adults were probably wondering where she'd even heard his name. But Olivia was not the sort of girl who listened quietly and contentedly to sweet fairy tales. "Once upon a time" made her want to spit nails. Once upon what time? When? What on earth did that even mean, for pity's sake? How could anyone take such a feeble, flimsy narrative seriously?

            No indeed, Olivia preferred darkly gothic yarns and bloodthirsty horror stories not meant for the ears of little girls. Should that mean eavesdropping at keyholes to get her entertainment, so be it. Even if she didn't fully understand what she heard.

            In any case, on that long-ago occasion, the mention of his name had got her sent up to bed immediately, saving her from a very dull evening. As she ascended the stairs, she overheard the adults discussing her.

            "One must make allowances for the poor child, growing up motherless."

            "Allowances? Where would we be if we made allowances for bad behavior? Another sliding of standards! No, no, that girl was impertinent long before she lost her mother, who was herself a stubborn creature with a distressingly romantic view of life and her head in the clouds. What my nephew saw in her I'll never know. A difficult woman."

            Was she? Olivia had known her living mother for eight years and, at the time of this conversation, been without her for two, yet already shards of memory were breaking away and leaving her, like pieces of a shattered mirror that glittered brightly as they spun into darkness. She tried holding on to the broken glass even when it hurt her small hands and made her cry, but tears were something she had to hide from her father, who never wept himself and had no patience for those who did. He was, of course, cut from the same cloth as Great Aunt Jane, who placed extreme importance on the immovability of one's upper lip, which should remain as constant as one's temper and the heat of one's blood. A passionate display of any kind was anathema in their family. Surrounded by these strong, rather formidable characters, Olivia struggled to follow their example and keep her real thoughts and feelings to herself. Especially those she secretly nurtured about dangerous men.

            By the age of eighteen she thought she had those feelings fairly well under control. Fairly.

            Peering down through the window again, she watched Mr. Incivility ride away down the busy thoroughfare. The brim of that tall hat still hid his face, but her gaze followed him until her breath clouded the view.

            So there he went. The notorious True Deverell. He who must not be mentioned.

            She really couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

            A storm in a teacup.
Want to read more about The Deverells? Find them here....
AMAZON US
Amazon UK

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Long Weekend (and how I won't be spending it.)

So here we are on the crest of a lovely long, spring weekend. In the US, it's Memorial Day weekend, and in England it's a Bank Holiday weekend. No matter how you take your tea, and whether you eat biscuits or cookies with it, that means you get an extra day to relax, put your feet up and -- theoretically - do nothing.
Of course, there are always strings attached, right?
Because, as humans, we are obliged to spend that bonus free time interacting with other humans (chaos waiting to happen, if you ask me!), and we are equally obliged to "have fun" or else! The feeling that we need to get out and do something (anything) with our extra time off is so deeply ingrained that we tend to feel like failures if we don't fill every moment of these three days with every conceivable "fun" there is to be had.
When I was first married, it seemed particularly urgent that we not be seen to do nothing with our time off. Oh, the pressure! Surely other young couples were surfing on the Nile, eating pasta by a Roman fountain, or cavorting through a flower-strung meadow in slow motion. So, even if we were tired and wanted to spend our precious free time alone together, sitting in our newly purchased house and watching TV with our feet up was simply not acceptable.
On one such Memorial Day weekend, this attempt to be doing "something",  included going camping with another couple. Sounds innocent enough, I hear you say. Well, forget it. Perhaps I should state, here and now, that I'm not much of an outdoorsy person. Oh, I love nature - don't get me wrong. I love scenery, animals and the countryside. I just don't need to sleep in a tent and watch fish being arbitrarily murdered to get to know it all. So, anyway, I'm not sure whose bright idea it was to go, but we had to borrow a tent . Yes, folks, that's how little we knew about camping as adults -- we didn't have that most basic of equipment to call our own. It was so cold at night that I slept in fifty layers, on the hard ground, with a torch pointed at the tent peak to watch for spiders -- those hairy-legged sort that seek the heat of human breath at night. (Well, that's my theory).
 And as I lay there, stiff as a board, my nose glowing like Rudolph's, I thought the entire time, about how I was "sleeping" on that cold ground while paying a mortgage on a house I wasn't using for three nights. Not to mention taxes to the damn government. Then, on top of that, they wanted us to pay again to sleep in the "State" park. Plus, when an axe murderer came out of the woods and finished off at least one of our party before he was apprehended, we'd have to pay to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Oh, yes, every grievance came to the fore as I aimed my slowly dying torch at a crouched spider, waiting for it to spring directly into the wide open mouth of my snoring husband beside me.
Being so ill-prepared for the camping experience, that borrowed tent was just about all we'd brought with us, while the other couple had every single item you can buy from LL Bean, or wherever else it is you can buy outdoor lanterns, fish hooks and foldable chairs. I felt very small and rather stupid as I huddled over their little stove and realized I was about to spend a hungry three days in the wilderness because I was a vegetarian and that bag of marshmallows wasn't going to last.
That was the first and only time I went camping as an adult, but, hey, at least I can say I went out and did "something" that holiday weekend. At least I was saved the humiliation of going back to work on Tuesday, being asked what I did with my time off and replying "laundry".
The need to fit in with everybody else's idea of fun, is something that I have battled against for years, and I believe its something a lot of writers go through. We're anti-social for the most part. I'm told that I'm a stubborn wench, but really I just like peace and quiet on my terms.
I'm older now, of course, and wiser. If I don't have the proper equipment, I stay home. But whenever a long weekend approaches with all its grandeur (yikes, a WHOLE extra day off!)and I hear people discussing how they plan to machete every precious moment into oblivion as if its a competition, I always think of how happy I'll be typing away at my computer. Doing the same thing I do every day. And I shan't feel even a tiny bit bad about it. Now that is my idea of fun.
Yesterday I went for a run in the early evening, and whenever I take this particular route I pass a house where there is always an argument going on. Or it seems that way -- maybe they just have naturally loud, angry voices. Usually its the man and wife outside yelling across the yard at each other about something one of them has done or neglected to do. Yesterday it was father and son who seemed to be preparing a family RV in readiness, I assume, for their Memorial day shenanigans. Already they were stressed, red-faced, veins popping, sweat-stains spreading under their armpits, shouting bloody-murder at each other. I smiled quietly and sympathetically as I jogged by, because all I could think was, those poor souls are in for a truly "long" weekend, crammed into an RV together. They probably feel as if they have to do "something".

I hope, whether you're doing something or nothing this weekend, that you get to enjoy it. But don't feel obliged to. It's your time off so do whatever you want -- however much or however little you really feel like doing.

That's exactly what I'll be doing.

Jayne

Monday, May 9, 2016

Dad


I lost my dad today. After 89 years and a few months, he finally decided it was time for him to sail across to Valhalla (Yes, he was a fan of the old movie with Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas— among many old movies). It is a sad day, but I feel so lucky and privileged to have known him for more than half his life, that I really can't complain at losing him. I know he will live on for my family in the memories he gave us, the wonderful stories he told, and the countless tricks he took mischievous delight in playing on us. Frequently.
 
From my father I inherited my imagination, my love of a good old-fashioned story, my sense of humor and —so I am told— my nose. But by his example, and probably quite unintentionally, he taught me many other things: how to be strong when times are tough, how to appreciate the simple things, how sometimes a good laugh is the best medicine, to always be ready to learn something new, and how nothing is ever so bad that you can't make it better.
 
Other important things I learned: never brew homemade beer in an airing cupboard full of clean bed sheets and towels; builders sand is not the same as sand for a children's play pit, and don't try to fart a full chorus of 'God Save the Queen' unless you're close to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, I never did learn his party-trick for dramatically pulling a tablecloth off the table and leaving all the plates, dishes and glasses intact. Maybe I'll try that next Christmas, in his honour.
 














My father did not have the benefit of much formal education. He was a country boy who left school at fourteen to become a blacksmith's apprentice and then a fireman. But he never lost an eager curiosity for learning, right up to the later years of his life when he mastered the computer to write his memoirs— and play a great many bloodthirsty war games. When we were younger, and came home from school with scabby knees and tattered books in our satchels, he always wanted to know what we'd learned that day. He was a voracious reader and a "sponge" when it came to learning new things. I often wonder how far he might have gone, what else he might have done with his life, if he had access to more education. I think he would have been a writer. He certainly had a lot of stories to tell and he told them well, as only he could.
 

So today I lost my dad. But he hasn't gone far. I'm sure he's watching me write this and tomorrow, when I wake up to another new day, he'll be looking over my shoulder again to see what I come up with next.
 
I hope he approves, because without him and the encouragement he always gave me, I wouldn't be here. See, dad? It's all your fault!

Love you xxx

 

 

Friday, April 22, 2016

ON SALE! For a limited time....

Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal can be in your sweaty, grubby little hands (or over-heated reading device) for a bargain price, and less than a good cup of coffee, from all e-book retailers for a short time.

It's not the first book in the Sydney Dovedale series, but it can be a good introduction to all the characters that you will meet in the other books. And Lady Mercy happens to be one of my favourite characters. She's bossy, abrasive and likes to take control of everything in her life -- and everybody else's. She cannot pass a shelf without straightening everything on it, fancies herself a matchmaker and she has a very great deal of self-confidence, which leads her to think she can do anything for anybody and set the world to rights.

But underneath all that she has a good heart and worries deeply about the folk who mean so much to her - her brother, her best friend...and the young man to whom she was once, in a rare moment of madness, married for three entire hours.

Rafael (Rafe) Hartley.

She might think of Rafe Hartley as one of the very few mistakes in her life, and he might think of her as "bossy-drawers" and the girl who once betrayed him, but that doesn't mean she can't still help the stubborn fellow find happiness, does it?

Lady Mercy's has remained unmarried since that disastrous attempt, but it doesn't stop her from thinking she knows all about men.

Some of Lady Mercy's best quotes:

“One can hardly expect you to understand, because you’re a man. Naturally, you have no sense of style.”

“You need tolerate your husband’s intimate company only once a month for precisely three and one-half minutes. It is hardly The Harlot’s Progress.”

 "Sometimes, after all, a woman’s touch is best. Especially when the touch is that of a flat palm wielded with speed and force against a saucy cheek.”

 
But what will happen when she tries to step in and use her matchmaking skills on Rafe's behalf? Well, he has no intention of letting this haughty madam tell him what to do. She ran away from him once before and it won't happen again.

* * * *

(Excerpt from LADY MERCY DANFORTHE FLIRTS WITH SCANDAL)

          “I’m afraid there will be a scandal.” Since several days had passed with no one making mention of her dawn exit from Rafe’s farmhouse, she’d happily and somewhat foolishly concluded it was forgotten. Or else people believed the story of her falling ill.
          He shrugged easily, expression unchanged, eyes on the road ahead.
          “Do you not care?” she demanded as she wondered if the fool even heard what she said.
          “What worries you most? That she’ll spread the story of you spending the night with me, or that she’ll get the color of your dress wrong?”
          “I did not spend the night with you. Kindly refrain from describing the incident as such.”
          “Yes, you did,” he replied smoothly. “You were in my house, weren’t you? With me? All night. Don’t expect me to lie for you. That would be perjury, and I’m an honest soul.”
          She gripped the edge of her seat as the lane evened out again and Rafe’s horses picked up speed. The verges whipped by, and her head began to spin.
          “Worst comes to the worst,” he shouted above the clip of hooves and rumble of wheels, “you’ll just have to marry me, won’t you? Again.”
          This was impossible, she thought irritably. Typical Rafe. Thank goodness for men like Viscount Grey. She knew where she was with him. There were no surprises, no puzzles. Life with him would be smooth, predictable, neat, and tidy.
They bumped over a hard rut, and Mercy almost slid out of her seat. His cart was far less comfortable and safe than any vehicle she’d ever ridden in before. “Slow down, knave!”
          He slowed the horses to a walk, much to her relief and a measure of surprise. But before too long they had halted completely.
      He dropped the reins, shifted closer on the wooden seat, and clasped her face between his large, warm palms. “First, I’ll take my fee for giving you a ride.”
      Mercy grabbed his thick wrists and tried to pull his hands away, but he was too strong and determined. His lips found hers, forced them apart. She weakened. It horrified her to find this softened center beneath her cultivated barriers, but there it was. He knew it was there and teased it out of her, remorseless, ruthless. His tongue swept hers, curled around it, drank her startled moan. Thank God no one was in the lane at that moment, she thought. It might not matter to him if she was painted a scarlet hussy, but it did to her. As soon as his lips set hers free, she demanded that he remove his hands from her person.
      “Are you intent on scandal?”
      “If there’s to be rumor in any case, may as well make it worth our while.”
      “Rafe Hartley, that is the wickedest thing you’ve ever said.” It was also not far removed from what she’d thought the morning after their escapade, when seated at her mirror and still suffering the fluttering ache of want.
      “So you just used me when you had a fancy for a bit o’ rumpy-pumpy that night, my lady.” His voice was getting louder.
          “I must ask you to stop compromising me at every opportunity. I am not here to be your plaything.” Mercy climbed down from the cart. “I can walk the rest of the way. Thank you, Mr. Hartley. Good day.” Lifting her petticoats out of the mud, she marched onward, heading for the farmhouse gates. It was suddenly very difficult to catch her breath, but she would not stop and look back at him. She could not.
          By the time she reached the gate, his horses were following her.
          She lifted the rusty latch, and the gate squealed open. Finally she felt composed enough to face him again. “Was I not clear enough?”
          His expression was faintly amused. “Clear as crystal.”
          “Then I would thank you not to trail after me.”
          “I come to visit my aunt and uncle, ma’am, not to trail after you.”
          “Oh.” She swallowed. “Very well.” She could hardly stop him from paying a visit to his family, could she? “As long as you don’t get any more of your silly ideas,” she added as she held the gate open to let him through.
          He rode by at a brisk clip and laughed down at her. “Best make haste and find me a bride, woman, or I might take matters into my own hands, eh? Get her for myself. Might decide to take the wife I want by any means, whatever she has to say about it.” He leapt down from his cart.
 
     “Then I suggest you invest in a stout pair of manacles and a scold’s bridle if you hope to keep her.”
      “I was thinking that very thing. Should have had them for my first wife,” he said.
      “Be still my heart. That medieval view of romance certainly aligns with your thick-headed male chest-thumping.”
      “Romance? I’ve no time for that.”
      “Evidently.”
      He scratched his head. “I need a woman to feed me, clothe me—”
      “Why don’t you appeal for a housekeeper?”
      “—and provide comfort on long, cold winter nights.”
      “I would advise a woolen nightshift and a bed warmer.”
      He grinned. “A bed warmer. Just what I had in mind.”
      Rolling her eyes, she skirted him quickly to walk on into the house. “Do excuse me. I must get away from your irritating presence. I have surely put up with it long enough today.” And she felt the danger of it all too deeply. His mischievous company had certain addictive qualities.
      Suddenly he caught her fingers. “Let’s call a truce.”
      “A truce?”
      “If you don’t plan to be here long, let’s not be at war the whole time."
      Wary, she studied his countenance, and for once she could not immediately read his intentions. “I’ve played enough games of chess with my brother to know that men give up only when they know they can’t win. Calling a draw is one way to save face.”
          “But who’d want to save this one?” He laughed easily, pretending he didn’t know how handsome he was. “I promise not to try kissing you again. I’ll be sensible from now on. Friends?”
          Mercy looked at his hand and thought of it on her waist earlier, gently guiding her up into his cart, rescuing her from Mrs. Flick.
          “Very well then,” she muttered. “A truce.” No doubt she’d discover, soon enough, what he was up to.
          “Now we are friends, we needn’t die alone and miserable,” he chirped. “I’ll visit you and make you laugh. We’ll have tea and scones together.”
          Amused by the picture, she chuckled softly. “If we have teeth left with which to eat scones.”
          He considered it, head on one side. “I’ll make you some wooden ones.”
          “Lovely. And I’ll knit you some hair, because I daresay you will have lost all yours.”
          “Splendid. See, we can be friends.” He gave her his arm, and after a brief hesitation, she took it.

Want to read more??

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Thank you for reading!

copyright Jayne Fresina 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Sydney Dovedale Story

In my Sydney Dovedale series, four couples find love in, and around, a fictional English village in the Norfolk countryside. (Actually, there are more than just the four main couples who find love, but I'll let you discover the others yourself, if you haven't already!).

The series begins in 1810, when young, impulsive Sophie Valentine takes a foolish leap into the dark from a balcony, and it currently draws to a close in 1835, when Molly Robbins Danforthe takes a wedding day carriage ride under a canopy of autumnal leaves on her way out of the village. Over the course of the twenty five years between those two events there are a great many adventures that take place in Sydney Dovedale. And more than a few misadventures.

This quiet village is, at first glance, a sleepy, quaint, typically-English place, but there is, of course, much more going on beneath the surface of those calmly-balanced tea cups. There is gossip, intrigue, passion, scandal -- and more than a few secrets. In Sydney Dovedale there are people who will make you laugh, people who will make you roll your eyes, people you would cross the lane to avoid, and people, hopefully, that you will come to know well, root for and love. Some of the folk you will meet in these pages are impoverished gentry, some are wealthy aristocrats, some are humble, hard-working servants, and others - well, who knows where they came from and how they got there? They're certainly not going to tell anybody.
 

When Lazarus Kane arrives in the village he is one of those folk who came to escape his past and make a fresh start. Below is an excerpt from THE MOST IMPROPER MISS SOPHIE VALENTINE, when Lazarus has his first sight of the village.

* * * *


He stopped at the peak of a slight hill and ran a hand along the rugged bark of a primeval oak—rumored to be the oldest in England—and gazed out over the cluster of thatched cottages nestled around a Norman church in the distance. The village was surrounded by timbered hills, and what were once open fields and meadows were now seamed with hedgerows and low stone walls. Thin trails of smoke left the rooftops, adding a little twist of coal ash to the pottage of fragrance.   


          Suddenly a tribe of young women in white frocks tumbled down the sloping lane, chattering and laughing, bonnets nodding like a row of droopy daisies. When he tried stepping out of their way, they giggled. The sound rose and fell in a frenzied cacophony as they surrounded him on all sides like a gaggle of excited geese. Then they were ahead of him, running away. He watched as they took turns climbing a stile. When they joined hands to run across the breeze-dimpled meadow, he realized where they were headed. In the distance, a tall maypole waited, bedecked in ribbons.

          He smiled and followed the path of his merry daisies, the box of belongings still perched on his shoulder. Several villagers now observed his approach. Sydney Dovedale was not the sort of place to which people came unless they passed through on the way to some­where grander, and the sight of a stranger would, no doubt, be cause for concern. So he kept his face merry, his stride confident. Let them see he came in peace.

          Just as long as no one gave him any trouble.

 * * * *
 
When creating the village of Sydney Dovedale I gave it a full history, which I hoped would add a touch of authenticity to the proceedings. In LADY MERCY DANFORTHE FLIRTS WITH SCANDAL, a character speaks of the flint stone ruin that overlooks the village and which was once the fortress home belonging to one of William the Conqueror's warriors - given to him as a reward for services in war. This warrior, having hailed from Saint-Denis in France, took on that name as his own. Over time that became "Sydney" and as the village was built up around the castle tower it took on the same name. Even further back, I decided that the stone with which his fortress was built had been ferried from the mouth of the river Yare, where it was once used in a Roman lookout tower. So the village has a foundation in history, even though it is not a real place (hush, don't tell my characters that!), and that past, I think, helps the story come to life.
 
In many ways the village is another character in the series, and an important one. It is where the stories start and end. It is the link that connects all the people as they come and go. It is the heart of their world. 
 
I hope, one day, to return there to Sydney Dovedale and continue on a journey through time with the children -  and maybe even the grandchildren - of Sophie, Ellie, Mercy and Molly. I am often tempted to go back there and stroll along that lane under the cherry blossoms that hang over Farmer Osborne's wall. I'd love to take shelter again under that ancient oak at the crossroads, enjoy a glass of scrumpy cider at Merryweather's Tavern, or even bang my head (for old time's sake) on the low ceilings of the tiny cottage where Ellie Vyne once spent her childhood summers with her aunt.
 
There are still many stories to tell about Sydney Dovedale. And my characters are itching to cause more mischief.
 
* * * *
 
 
 
          ...No one was there waiting for her, because no one knew she was coming. Two little boys, knocking acorns from the oak with long sticks, stopped what they were doing to inspect the arrival, and then, finding nothing of interest to them, resumed their assault on the old tree. Only a handful of others were there to meet the coach, and they, it seemed, did not recognize her in her new clothes.
          Except for Mrs. Flick, the village busybody, who was possibly as ancient as that noble oak under which she took shelter, but whose eyesight was remarkably sharp.
          The black-garbed old woman took one look at Molly and tripped, stumbling over her own walking cane, in such haste to hobble away and be the first to spread tidings, before anyone else saw the unexpected arrival in the village.
          Molly let her go, even gave her time to get there ahead of her. Ambling down the leafy lane, she was in no particular hurry to face the questions that would undoubtedly greet her return. She breathed in the familiar, misty autumn air and tasted the bitterness of bonfires in the fields, the muskiness of damp, dead and rotting leaves. Two gray carthorses looked up from their grazing as she passed. Did they recognize her, she wondered? Looking ahead, she saw a soft mist settled over the jumble of cottages down in the valley. She stopped a moment, setting her luggage down in the lane to catch her breath and straighten her bonnet.
          Well, there was her old childhood home. She had thought she could never go back there.  She was about to find out if it was true.....
Thanks for reading!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Follow the Sydney Dovedale story in four books currently available.
1.)The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine
2.)The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne (Portuguese translation - Madrugadas De Desejo).
3.)Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal
4.) Miss Molly Robbins Designs a Seduction
 
(The images on this post are - at the top: a scene from the wonderful TV series "Cranford", middle: author's own photograph of Sheriff Hutton Castle ruins near York, bottom: "A Village Scene" painting by Robert Gallon)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



Monday, April 11, 2016

Exclusive Excerpt

In my newest release, THE TROUBLE WITH HIS LORDSHIP'S TROUSERS, Georgiana Hathaway finds herself taken under the wing of Lady Bramley - a well-meaning, but rather bossy lady who is forever in need of a project to keep her busy. In this scene Georgiana and Lady Bramley have just arrived for a visit to Woodbyne Abbey, the home of Commander Sir Henry Thrasher (Lady Bramley's war-hero nephew and another of her "projects".)

* * * *

            He stood with his back to the fire, assuming a pose of authority in readiness to deal with these guests.  Best to let them know right away that he was in charge. Unfortunately tonight, because of his wounded wrist and the sling, he couldn't stand with both hands behind his back, only one, but he made the best of it, head up and feet shoulder-width apart so that he might rock on his heels as required. Yes, that was better. Normal, was it not? As "normal" as he could be.

            It had been his intention to let Parkes handle the matter of his unwanted guests, but she was nowhere to be found tonight, of course— practicing that typical feminine skill of vanishing at the most inopportune moment.

           So he was left alone to handle his aunt when she swept into his study with her voice already raised to soprano pitch. "Well, Henry, I have arrived, no thanks to the state of the roads around here."

            The damp and drooping Miss Hathaway followed close behind her. Harry drew a deep breath and was about to speak when Lady Bramley exclaimed, "Henry, what are you wearing? For goodness sake, put some clothes on."

            But he had clothes on, didn't he? Yes. He looked down to be sure. Breeches, shirt. Not as tidy as it should be, however—

            "You will remember my companion, perhaps," she added, too impatient to wait for Harry to adjust his garments. "This is Miss Georgiana Hathaway of the Particular Establishment for the Advantage of Respectable Ladies."          

            "How could I fail to remember?" he muttered, looking again at the young woman beside his aunt. She was, in fact, impossible to forget, although he had suffered a momentary confusion at seeing her suddenly appear outside his window. "The Wickedest Chit that ever breathed air."

            Her eyes, he noted today, were fringed with such a preponderance of ebony lashes that they looked heavy. Centipedinous eye lashes, he mused, inventing the word on the spot, as was his tendency when nothing in existence suited.

            "Henry."

            Who? What?

            "Henry!"

            His gaze swept left and slightly downward to take in the sight of his aunt's round face. "Madam?"

            "Henry, tuck your shirt in and put on a jacket. We're going to eat dinner."

            "Not hungry." He looked around the room again, wishing Parkes might reappear and manage the situation in her usual way. Where the devil was she? "You can't stay," he blurted.          Deliberately not looking at the woman with all the eyelashes again, he finally remembered to rock on his heels as previously planned. Ah, that was better. He regained command over his own vessel, no matter how distracting this stowaway's eyelashes. "There's been a mistake, you see. I haven't anywhere suitable to put you. The house isn't equipped for females, we're infested with mice and the roof leaks like a colander. Sorry, but there it is."

            Parkes abruptly whispered in his ear, "Surely your aunt can take your mother's old bedchamber— which is the least drafty and most comfortable for her health— and her companion can make use of your father's room in the east wing, until something else might be arranged. A fire can be lit in there now that Brown took that old nest out of the chimney. And it's got a pleasant view across the park. I daresay the young lady would like the sunrise when she wakes in the morning."

            Suddenly Parkes wanted to be helpful? She certainly picked her moments. He glared over his shoulder. "Don't you have other duties to tend?"

            She was all smiles. A very rare occurrence and indicative of mischief afoot. "Oh, it won't take long to air the beds and knock down a few cobwebs."

            "Henry!" His aunt's voice drew his attention back to her again. "What's the matter with you? What are you looking at? Where are your manners?"

            Did he ever have any manners? He couldn't remember.

            But as he turned back to his guests, he noticed that a few drops of rainwater had fallen off Miss Hathaway and landed in fat splotches on his drawings, which were spread out across the floor. She was smudging the charcoal, he thought anxiously. Ten minutes after her arrival and his work was endangered already.

            "Are you quite all right, Commander?" the young menace inquired.

            "All right?" he sputtered. "Of course, I'm all right. Not that it's any of your damned business."

            "Henry!"

            "I won't get in your way, sir. I am eager to learn under your aunt's tutelage and to make recompense for all the destruction I caused at her garden party. To make amends for anything I did to you also, of course, sir."

            Anything she did to him? What had she done to him now? Harry ran a quick mental assessment of all his body parts and was relieved to find them intact. Stirring, in fact, with vigor.

            "Your aunt intends to make me into a lady," she added, a slightly mischievous spark under her lashes. "I am not to slide down banisters anymore."

            "Excellent," he muttered. "That should be a relief to gentlemen everywhere. The fewer flying backsides there are about the place the better."

            "Henry, be polite," his aunt exclaimed. "We're here now, and we're staying for a month. Perhaps longer. Now that I see the state of the house, I have a better idea of all the work to be done. I shall send for some staff tomorrow. I suggest you acclimate yourself to the idea of ladies in the house. I know you haven't had one about for many years. But it's time, Henry."

            He looked down at the wet footprints left by Miss Hathaway's walking boots. Then his perusal ascended slowly over her muslin frock, only to be delayed in its progress by her softly rounded bosom— never to be mentioned, of course— until his gaze fumbled its way upward to that dimple in her cheek. He found her lips pursed up like a tight rosebud. Her eyes squinted hard under those abundant lashes. Trying to puzzle him out, perhaps. He wished her luck with that.

            She would not be the first to try and fail.

            A drop of rainwater had fallen from her chin to her bosom and dampened the lace chemisette, making it stick to her skin, enticingly transparent. There was a tiny mole at the base of her throat, visible beneath the ivory lace. In the old days, folk used to call them witches marks, he thought darkly. Could that be why freckles were now considered an unforgiveable flaw?

            Reaching for the mantle behind him with his left hand, he missed, knocking a small china figurine to the hearth rug. He ignored it and his fingers, fumbling blind, finally found the ledge they sought.

            "Do as you wish then," he said tersely, back in control. "But you stay at your own risk and don't assume I'll change the way I do things just for the two of you."

            Miss Hathaway still watched him quizzically, her eyes a warm chestnut shade with just a twinkle of bronze. Her broom-like lashes looked wet. Perhaps that was why he was drawn to staring at them. It was as if they'd been dusted with tiny crystals and each time she blinked the firelight was caught there, reflected in miniature prisms of rainwater.

            Harry had begun to suffer the tickling of sweat under his clothes. It felt as if he was back on that tropical island, under the midday heat of a bright sun. Hooking a finger around his neck-cloth, which was already partly undone, he tugged it looser still.

            "You are ill," his aunt declared. "You look hot, Henry." She stepped forward and tried to reach his forehead, but he slipped smartly aside and, having a good two feet on her in height, he escaped her questing hand. "You're breathing very hard."

            "Breathing? How dare I breathe. I shall stop at once."

            "And perspiring in a most uncivilized manner."

            "I am perfectly well. I have an excellent constitution. I wouldn't be alive now if I didn't, would I? Breathing helps with that, perhaps you have not noticed."

            Parkes coughed, once again interrupting. "We'll see to the rooms then, shall we?"

            "If we must," he grunted.

            "If we must what?" his aunt demanded.

            "Good afternoon to you both. Please enjoy your dinner without me. As you see, I'm busy." He'd looked at Miss Hathaway and her dangerous eyelashes long enough, he decided. He wanted her out of his study, and himself out of this sticky shirt, as soon as possible. "Shoo."

            With his good hand he flung the door open and waited for the unwanted guests to leave him in peace again. A welcome draft of cooling air swept in from the passage, and he felt his pulse ease to a steadier trot.

            "Dear Henry." His aunt paused to pat his cheek on the way out. "Lovely to see you, as always. Now I am here and all will be well. I told you I'd bring my own entertainment, didn't I? But do let Brown give you a shave, won't you? There is something of the Norse pirate about your appearance and that will not do for a Thrasher. We're not rampaging, ravaging pagan raiders."

            "Perhaps not now," he muttered darkly.


Want to read on?
THE TROUBLE WITH HIS LORDSHIP'S TROUSERS out now from all e-book retailers and soon to be in print from Amazon!

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(Picture - Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Family Sagas, Authorly Shenanigans and Cocking a Lot of Snook

(Or - Why I Created The Deverells.)

When I was younger I LOVED the old fashioned family dramas I read or watched in weekly TV serials - great sweeping sagas like Penmarric by Susan Howatch, Flambards by K.M. Peyton, and The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Engrossed in these tales, living the stories alongside wonderful, vividly-drawn characters, I'd sit for hours with my nose in a book, or sprawled on the floor with chin in hand, staring up at the glowing screen. Waiting to see what would happen next in another chapter or the following week's episode, was unbearable suspense. I counted the hours until I could catch up with the story.

Naturally, I always longed  to create a similar family saga of my own, and now, with The Deverells, I have finally seen that wish come true.

People sometimes say to me that they don't know where I get all my ideas, but the thing is - I don't get them really. They get me. They sit in my head and lurk there, gathering bits and pieces, spinning around. I never know what will come out or even, occasionally, how it got there. It's rather like opening the dryer door and finding a load of clothes you don't remember putting in. There's often even a stray sock floating around in the pile. And a lint screen to clean off.

Hey, who said writing was glamorous?

I started scribbling down ideas for The Deverells some time ago, drawing out a family tree with True Deverell - the patriarch - firmly in the middle with a lot of twisty branches reaching out. I made the decision that he would be neither good, nor bad, that he would be a mysterious figure with a dark past and a strong presence. He is older than most romantic heroes, but then - as he would remind me - he is not a hero and if some folk mistake him for one that's their fault. (He can be most obstreperous, to put it mildly!) True Deverell is a man who enjoys "cocking a snook" at respectable society and does so frequently with a great deal of success.

I'm told I've always been a bit stubborn, disrespectful and rebellious myself. Maybe that's why I loved creating him so much.

So I pitched my family saga idea to a few publishers and agents who dismissed it before they'd even read beyond the first chapter. They didn't think family sagas would sell anymore. The story didn't fit their formula for romance and they prefer a "unified" look to their books. It was the wrong time period, because - as I was told then (two years ago) - Victorian doesn't sell. (Hmm, alrighty then...maybe they were just trying to turn me down in as nice a way as possible, without actually saying "this sucks".) One publisher suggested I turn True's story into a novella (a prequel) to introduce the series, because they didn't think he - a divorced man in his forties with a brood of children - would be popular enough with their readership to make his story a full-length novel. In short, the idea was too different to what they were publishing and out of their comfort zone.

But I didn't want to change True. To me he was a real person already and I couldn't remake him into something that fit a mould. In fact, I'm fairly sure he would protest the indignity in no uncertain terms. I couldn't put him in a kilt to run around the Scottish Highlands. Nor could I bring him to life fifty years earlier and make him a Duke.

Somebody has to take a chance, however, otherwise we'd all be reading the same book printed with a slightly different cover on it, right? That might make it easier for the publisher, but it's boring as heck for us - authors, readers and those of us who are both.

Well, thankfully, Twisted E-Publishing agreed to throw caution to the wind and take that chance on my Victorian series. And on True Deverell, despite his sprigs of grey hair, difficult attitude and unsavory past. Of course, I don't have a publicity department behind me and marketing is on a bare bones budget, but that is a sacrifice I had to make in order to tell the story I wanted to write. After all, if I'm not enjoying this, what's the point? I write what I would like to read, rather than chase a market trend and that means I have to give up some of the advantages that come with a bigger publisher.

In any case, I am having so much fun with the naughty Deverells and I don't see it stopping anytime soon. True's many sons and his daughter will continue the saga, of course, but his story is never quite finished, as you will see in the continuing episodes. What's in store for the Deverells? Surprises, scandals , scrumpy cider and torn stockings galore, I fear. Not to mention cocking a lot of snook.

What is snook anyway?? It seems I have a bad case of it.

Better stay tuned  for the next enthralling chapter....

The Deverells  begins with TRUE STORY and continues with STORM and CHASING RAVEN.
(coming soon - RANSOM REDEEMED and DAMON UNDONE).

Happy reading!

Jayne

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(photo above is a family picture of my father as a boy of eight with his little brother, his mother Grace, and his grandparents. Now that's another family saga... )