Coming December

Coming December

Friday, October 30, 2015

Trick or Treat?

Treat, of course!
For all my readers, here is the promised excerpt from "A Private Collection", which was re-released in one volume this week. In fact, I decided to give you a full chapter, introducing you to the three Blackwood brothers and their father's mysterious house. In this chapter, the brothers have come home to attend eccentric Randolph Blackwood's funeral and they are about to learn that his last will and testament is not quite what they expect.

Well, maybe they should have expected it!

Happy Halloween!

Adam’s carriage, having raced at lethal speed through the village of East Lofton, slowed abruptly and lurched down a narrow, winding drive. Sunlight dappled the carriage interior, fluttering between the yew trees that were once trimmed into fat cones, but now prickled with straggling branches and strayed rebelliously out of their neat forms. Under the crunching wheels, the gravel also showed neglect. Speckled with pert dandelions and angry thistles, it no longer led the way with surety and grandeur, but seemed only to suggest their meandering course as if it really mattered little whether anyone found their way or not. Through the trees, he sighted fields of knee-high grasses that were once rolling lawns. He’d heard that his father, in a peevish fit, had dismissed all the ground staff except for his gamekeeper. An under-gardener, apparently, had inadvertently cut down his favorite old tree, or some such nonsense, and he took out his wrath on the entire staff.

As the carriage trundled down the long lane, Adam looked out with hard, resentful eyes. He hadn’t been to The Grange in a little over five years and it was a surprise to find the house still standing. There it was, coming into view now around the bend, sooty chimneys spoiling the innocent swathe of cornflower blue sky. The walls were now almost completely coated with ivy, but mellow gold stone showed through in places, catching the sun’s rays, absorbing them so the house glowed like pirate’s treasure trapped in a sprawling green net of seaweed.

With the knowledgeable, discerning eye of an architect, he could appreciate the fine, noble lines of the building, even under all the decay, and he sadly recognized the years of abuse it had suffered through neglect and carelessness. Beautiful houses sometimes fell into the wrong hands, he thought glumly, just as people often did.

Adam slouched back against the leather padding of his rocking seat. After a two day journey from London he was stiff and sore, his mood decidedly sour. His father’s sudden death had caused him to leave behind the company of Miss Matilda Hawkesworth, an impeccable young lady he’d finally, after careful consideration of all the pros and cons, selected to be his bride. He knew her family disapproved the match, but fortunately Matilda was headstrong and already, at just twenty-one, in control of the fortune left to her by her father. With his engagement newly forged and on tentative ground, he hated to leave London and, with it, young Matilda under the daily haranguing of her aunt. He couldn’t risk the marriage falling through. Therefore, the sooner he got this wretchedly inconvenient funeral out of the way the better. And why the devil their father’s solicitor insisted on meeting all the sons here at the house he couldn’t imagine. Surely all the finances were straightforward. The house would be sold, the contents auctioned off. There was nothing he wanted to keep in memoriam of his childhood in that house, or of his father’s reprobate life. Turning a new leaf himself, he’d sooner forget all that.

            At last the wheels rolled up before the uneven stone steps, narrowly missing a broken urn laid on its side, a bunch of dry, crumbling, brown flowers spilled across the gravel.

            Not waiting for the step to be lowered, Adam swung open the carriage door and leapt down, a long, disheartened sigh oozing between his tight lips. On the inhale, he swallowed the musty dampness of old earth and rotting leaves. A familiar, thick scent here in this place, no matter what the season. Except in the deepest snow of winter, he thought, reconsidering, remembering the last time he was there, Christmas 1882. The air had been crisp and clear, the ground coated in a fluffy blanket of several inches. The snow was always prettiest in the country. He’d walked in it that Christmas Eve, coming home from the church, insisting his brothers went on ahead in the carriage without him. Of course, he’d had an ulterior motive to walk in the snow and freeze his toes off. He’d wanted to see Lina and try one last time. Fool. See what he did for her? And she was never grateful.

            He swore softly under his breath. Don’t start thinking about her.

            Better get inside the house and get it over with. There would be memories, of course. He was prepared. He could deal with them. Shoulders straightened, fists curled, he took the stone steps three at a time, his impatient stride quickly crossing the threshold, passing through the wide open door and into the cool, dark house.

            Almost at once he heard the echo of voices. His brothers were already there and they’d started without him. As the youngest, he was always insignificant in their eyes. They were probably dividing the spoils between them, not that he wanted anything. It was the principle. Cursing, he blamed his lateness on the damned carriage getting lost and taking a round-about route through the village. He would have been here half an hour sooner, if not for that mistake.

Following the sound of voices, he hurried along the narrow passage with its damp-stained, flaking walls and chipped tiles. Memories crowded in of walking along this passage in trepidation, sent for by his father who, having caught him in some misbehavior, waited to give him a few stripes with the cane. He remembered, too, playing skittles there when rain kept him indoors, the rolling rattle of the ball, the clacking of the wooden skittles as they bounced against the floor and the walls.  

At his father’s library door he paused. A woman laughed softly. It didn’t sound like his father’s housekeeper, Mrs. Murray. In fact, he’d never heard Mrs. Murray laugh. Thrusting open the door, he strode in, ready to confront whichever young trollop his father had lately taken up with. She needn’t expect to get anything out of the old man’s will, no matter what she did for him. It would be just like Randolph to take up with some filly at the eleventh hour and indulgently write her into his will.

            The angry words died on his tongue. The library was empty.

            The drapes were pulled back, the windows open. The black hearth stared out blindly, all the cinders swept away, the coal scuttle standing empty. His father’s chair was moved against the wall, the rug rolled up so the floor could be cleaned. The tart scent of vinegar still lingered. On the mantle, his father’s old skeleton clock kept time. The polished glass dome reflected Adam’s tall shadow as he passed walking to the window.

He wondered if the voices he heard had drifted in from outside, but there was no one in view, just a bird perched in the ivy watching him with a curious black eye.

Flimsy sunlight touched his face, but not enough to shake off the chill of the room. He heard the laugh again, as if she tried to stifle it. Was that violets he smelled? He closed his eyes. He had no choice. Her hands were around him, her cool fingers covering his sight as she played this foolish game. His first instinct was to turn and confront her, but he banked it when he felt her move closer and the fullness of her breasts brushed teasingly against the back of his jacket. There was a slither of silk, a soft rustle of lace. The damned woman was half-undressed, teasing him with her body, pressing against him while she kept her hands over his eyes. And it was a sumptuous body, all tantalizing curves and intriguing crevices.

Guess who?” she whispered.

His throat was dry, his tongue too thick. Lina. He couldn’t say it, but he knew it was her. He’d just never known her playful like this.

“Oh, young Master Adam! You did make me jump, sir.”

He spun around on his heel and found the scarlet-faced housekeeper standing in the open doorway holding a bucket in one hand, mop in the other.

“I didn’t know you were in here, sir. I didn’t hear you come in. Gave me an awful shock.”

His own heartbeat was still strangely scattered. “The front door was open, Mrs. Murray, so I didn’t ring the bell.”

“Well, I was just finishing off the floor, if you don’t mind, sir.”

After a beat, he realized she was waiting for him to leave the room. “Ah yes. Of course. Are my brothers here yet?”

“Not yet, Master Adam, but we expect them shortly. If you go through to the morning room, you’ll find a fire in there, and I’ll put a pot of tea on as soon as I’m done here.”

Tea? He needed a damn brandy now. Exiting his father’s library, he grabbed the half-full decanter and a glass from the tray on the sideboard. Liquor was one thing the old man always had plenty of. The walls could fall around his ears, but the wine cellars and crystal decanters were always well stocked.

“Oh, young Master Adam,” the housekeeper exclaimed as he was leaving.

“Yes, Mrs. Murray?” He propped one shoulder against the doorframe.

“My condolences, sir.”

“Hmm.” He turned up his lip and swung away, pacing back down the passage. Lifting the crystal stopper with his mouth, he poured the brandy as he went, too impatient to wait until he reached the morning room.

Lina. He could still feel her whispers as if they were caught in his ears. Like those old spiders webs clinging to the plaster acanthus scrolls above the front door. Her honeyed lips were all over him, leaving sticky marks in some very wicked places. Miss Matilda Hawkesworth would not like that at all. She would probably faint at the mere thought of venturing near those particular places. If she knew they even existed.

He’d expected memories, prepared himself for them, but this was not a memory. It was a fantasy, and it was enough to make him reach for the brandy after six months of sober living to impress Miss Hawkesworth and her family.

Guess who? Who else? Lina. No other woman had ever affected him the way she did. Sometimes he thought it was simply because she’d rejected him and he couldn’t bear it. No other woman since he turned sixteen had ever turned him down. If he wanted a woman, he had her, no messing about, no poetry, roses, declarations of love and all that nonsense. No, it was always quickly had, quickly forgotten, never regretted. But the fantasy of Evangeline was so strong even after five years he could taste her scent in the back of his throat. And he’d never even kissed the woman.

He found the morning room, nudged open the door with his elbow, and crossed the worn carpet to a saggy, faded, chintz armchair. As he settled into the old, battered cushions a cloying, fusty odor rose up to assault his nostrils. He wondered when anyone last sat in the chair. It was once, apparently, his mother’s favorite room. He wouldn’t know, of course, since she upped and left when he was little more than a baby. She did him a favor, he reasoned darkly. His mother taught him early on never to trust a woman. They were flighty, unreasonable witches. Old Randolph was right about that.

Raising a glass to his departed parents, he ceremoniously tossed back the brandy. It scorched the back of his throat and made the bridge of his nose hurt.  Miss Hawkesworth would definitely not approve, but what the eye didn’t see…

Besides, although he’d sworn to turn over a new leaf, it was very difficult to be on one’s best behavior at all times and he had, after all, just lost his father. Ought to make allowances. Grief and all that…and Miss Hawkesworth was safely out of the way in London.

He poured another brandy and watched the fiery colors dance in his glass.

Just like her eyes.

Not Miss Hawkesworth’s eyes, which were…he couldn’t think suddenly, couldn’t remember what color eyes she had. Green? Blue? Brown? No idea.

But these other eyes, the ones that gleamed like brandy through cut crystal, belonged to Lina.

Damn her. For the past five years he’d tried not to think about her and, away in London with his busy life, he managed quite well. Now those dangerous hankerings returned, as did the painful, humiliating smart from her stinging rebuke. The wound was still green.

For heaven’s sake, you’re just a boy. Go away and grow up. Find someone your own age to play with. It’ll be a cold day in hell, Adam Blackwood, before I let you into my bed.”

Did she still live nearby? With her husband? She couldn’t possibly love that great stupid oaf. The village doctor was not on her level in so many ways, yet Lina married him to be safe from men like Adam Blackwood. Five years ago he hadn’t understood why she would marry a man like that. Now he was older and wiser about many things. People married for countless reasons of convenience and duty, seldom for passion.

A lot had changed for Adam in the years between. He discovered, however, that his turbulent need for her remained the same. If anything, despite recent attempts to curb his more troubling appetites for Miss Hawkesworth’s dainty sake, thoughts of Evangeline and what it would be like to have her were far worse than before.

His brothers used to tease him saying it was a case of Adam wanting every woman he saw until he’d had her. But he knew this was different. She wasn’t like every other woman.

He morosely contemplated his glass, chin sunk to his chest. Lina. The first moment he saw her, he wanted her. It was a new discovery for a young man of twenty-three accustomed to getting things when he wanted them. Walking across the common, a tall woman with perfect symmetry and regal bearing, she reminded him of an angel on an Italian fresco. He always had an eye for a fine structure be it made of marble, stone, or flesh and blood, and Lina was pure art, a moving statue of the Madonna. Shimmering rays had caught on a brooch at her throat and reflected up over her sad face. She was unearthly beautiful. He’d never seen a woman so striking, apparently careless of it. She’d looked out of place, making everything around her seem bland and dreary in comparison.

And then Alf White threw the punch that felled him.

He didn’t put on the gloves anymore. Miss Hawkesworth wouldn’t approve. She’d ventured a few, delicate inquiries about his broken nose, but he never told her the truth of how he got it, never told her about the first time he saw Lina, or how she’d haunted him ever since.

He drank another glass of brandy, hoping to somehow erase thoughts of her. But sprawling in and out of the chair, he suddenly felt her presence again, kneeling between his legs, her fingers skillfully working over the fastenings of his trousers. He was shocked. What was she…?

It was another fantasy, of course. He’d had them before, but never quite so….real.

He spat out a low curse, fueled by a lethal combination of brandy and pent-up desire. Resistance seemed futile. No one was watching. Miss Hawkesworth was two days away in London, he reminded himself. And Adam Blackwood was a stranger to guilt. It was one thing he had in common with his father, not that he’d ever admit it.

In any case, it was only a fantasy. No harm in that. So he moved his knees further apart, a slow-burning heat gathering in his loins. Oh, she was good, her hands incredibly soft and yet firm, knowing their way around. Now here came her mouth, hot silk tantalizing until he wanted to squeeze his legs together and thrust. But he couldn’t because she was there between them, her shoulders holding his thighs apart.

He reached one hand down for her hair and felt thick, heavy, satiny locks fall through his fingers and caress his thighs. He didn’t have to look down at her to know her hair was dark, almost raven. Not like the fair-headed Miss Hawkesworth. Not at all.

He groaned, pressing his head back as she took him fully into her mouth and the damp silk tightened around him, her tongue wrapping around his crest.

He held her head with both hands, fingers entwined in her hair.

This was wrong. He should stop this, stop her.

She didn’t want him, gave him his leave without the slightest tenderness. She was a heartless creature.

But he couldn’t forget her, couldn’t give up the fantasy.

“There you are! I see nothing changes, little brother. Still can’t find a willing female, eh?” His eldest brother stood before him, laughing uproariously at his own joke.

Adam sat up, hands going immediately back to the brandy decanter. “Harry, I was relaxing.” The sooner he got out of here and back to London and civilization the better. He looked down at his trembling hand. Was he coming down with something? He’d only been inside this house twenty minutes and look what happened.

“Relaxing? You don’t look very relaxed, little brother.” Harry crossed over to the fireplace with an easy swagger, still chuckling. Mud splattered his riding boots and fresh, spring air clung to his clothes as he passed Adam’s moldy chair. “Where’s Luke?”

“How should I know? Probably buried his nose in a book somewhere and forgot the time.”

“Don’t swig all the brandy. I’d wager my horse it’s the first thing he’ll ask for.”

Adam threw his brother a bleak scowl. “We shouldn’t encourage his over-indulgence.”

“What about your over-indulgence, little brother?” Harry eyed the decanter.

“I know my limits.” He raised his glass. “This is my first in six months.”

Eyes rolling, Harry turned his back to the fire and warmed his seat.

“You rode all the way here on horseback, Harry?”

“No, I’m staying at the Carbury Hotel. Came down yesterday.”


A sparrow chirped through the window and Adam’s fingers tapped against his glass. The brothers hadn’t seen one another in a few years and should have had a great many other subjects to discuss, but as usual they floundered in a mire of trivia.

Riding crop idly tapping his boots, Harry ventured, “Pleasant weather.”

“Yes.” Not that they could feel it in this house, which seemed to have its own climate.

“Journey from London all right?”

Adam splayed his fingers around the rim of the glass. “All well and good until we got to the crossroads. Blasted coachman decided to take a ‘shortcut’ through East Lofton. Set us back a good half hour.”

Harry chuckled wryly. “Didn’t go and make a pest of yourself with that doctor’s wife again, did you? Isn’t that where she lived, the one you were besotted with?”

“I wouldn’t know. I don’t remember.”

“I do. You cost me plenty when you took a fall in that fight, too busy looking at her to defend yourself. I’d never seen a man go down so straight and hard, like a damned tree.” Harry strolled back and forth before the fire, hands rubbing his seat. “Well, just make sure you don’t get any ideas in your head about her again, little brother. I heard her husband came here to complain to father about you. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s loading a shotgun right now, if he knows you’re back.”

“For your information I’m getting married soon.” Adam pushed himself a little more upright in the sagging chair. “Unlike you, I stick to one woman at a time.”

Harry laughed genially. “Always seemed like a terrible waste to me. A man is only young once.”

“Still spending time with those twins, Harry?” Adam couldn’t recall their name, didn’t really matter.

Not even to Harry. “Good Lord no. Kept calling ‘em by the wrong name in bed and they upped and left. Took offense, it seems.”

“One might imagine they were accustomed to the confusion, being twins.”

“Yes,” Harry gave a rueful grin, one hand scratching his dark curls, “but I called them by other girls’ names, not theirs. Never mind. More trouble than they were worth. Think I might give the two-legged fillies up for a while. Take a bit of a holiday.”

Dubious about that, Adam smirked at the toes of his boots. “How’s the cotton mill, Harry? Business doing well?”  

“Well enough. Always room for improvement though. You should come up and visit.”

“Hmmm.” He sank his lips into the brandy, thoughts of a gloomy, northern, industrial town giving him further chills. Adam preferred the mellow country of the south. It surprised him that his eldest brother should take fondly to the north with its soot belching chimneys, low grey skies, and craggy, unwelcoming land.

“I hear you’ve done well for yourself, Adam. Aren’t they calling you the boy wonder since that last place you designed in London? What was it, a museum or art gallery or something?”

“I’m not a boy,” he murmured darkly, glowering at the carpet.

“It’s just a figure of speech.”

A figure of speech he didn’t care for.  

Harry knew him well enough to change the subject. “Saw your coach horses in the stables, Adam. Handsome beasts. Must have set you back a pretty packet.” Women and horses were on an equal plain in Harry’s mind, just as appreciated and just as collectable.

A sudden ruckus in the hall announced the arrival of their brother. When they heard him curse wildly, falling over something and crashing heavily into the wainscoting, they knew it couldn’t be anyone but Luke. A few moments later he barged into the quiet morning room, rubbing his shoulder and limping.

“So the old bugger’s finally gone, eh? I thought this was just another trick of his.” He rubbed his tousled sandy curls and staggered for the brandy decanter. “I need a drink. And then we can get this over with.”

Copyright Jayne Fresina 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Private Collection

Next week - October 28th, Twisted E-Publishing is re-releasing my Victorian trilogy "A Private Collection." This time the three stories, originally published as separate e-novellas (Engraved, Entangled and Enraptured), will be available in one volume, as both e-book and print.

If you like Victorian romance with a touch of naughty, you may want to take a peep.

I'll have an excerpt to share with you on release day next week. Until then, here is the back blurb.

Happy Reading!

When the estranged sons of wealthy eccentric Randolph Blackwood return home for his funeral and discover he has left them a private collection of three amateur oil paintings, they have no idea how this simple bequest will change their lives.  The notorious Blackwood brothers are not known for their appreciation of fine art, but they are familiar with their father's love of elaborate pranks. Yes, the old man is still laughing at them from beyond the grave. For in order to collect their share of Randolph's fortune, they must return— in person— the three scandalous, nude portraits to the women who once posed for him. And that turns out to be a little more complicated than a simple delivery.

Once they were Randolph Blackwood's muses; now they've moved on with their lives. Lina is widowed and trying to lead a quiet, harmless life, while hiding a dark secret about her true desires; Daisy struggles to manage a respectable hotel against family opposition and overwhelming debt, and Claudine runs the 'Whitechapel Improvement Committee', a mysteriously busy charity home for handsome young men, funded by some of the most elegant and unhappily married ladies of Victorian London.

As the three Blackwood brothers set out to complete their task, they only have business on their minds and no intention of being distracted. But their father knew them better than anybody and he chose these three ladies for a very special reason. The true inheritance this mischief-maker leaves to his sons is neither the paintings nor his fortune. It is something far more valuable.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Things that go bump...

One of my favourite times of the year --Halloween-- is almost upon us. I love watching classic old horror movies and I've always wanted to write a really scary story. Maybe one day I will, but the closest I've come to it so far is SOULS DRYFT, which is a ghost story of sorts, complete with a haunted house and  things that go bump in the night. But at its heart its a romance -- actually two romances set in two different time periods. It's about second chances and fate and...well, a lot of things I suppose. I like to think that every reader will find something new in the story -- something special for them, so I'll leave it up to you to decide what it's really about.
Since it's that time of year for ghosts, ghouls and goblins, I thought I'd share an excerpt from SOULS DRYFT. Hope it will get you in the mood!

            The taxi bounced slowly down the rutted lane, the driver’s face grim as he contemplated the high grassy tufts, tall angry thistles and deep gullies. He kept asking if I was sure this was the right road. I sat forward, gripping his headrest, searching for landmarks. It was much more overgrown than the last time I visited, but finally I saw the flint and pebble wall, where Marian and I had practiced handstands, and the elaborate, rusty iron gates that seemed too grand and ornate for the house.

            "There it is!"

            The driver pulled over, peering doubtfully through his windscreen. "You sure you don’t want me to wait?"

            I told him I’d be fine. I could always walk to the village from here. It was no more than a ten minute stroll as far as I remembered. Marian and I used to walk there on fine days to buy sweets and comics. When he drove away, I did suffer a twinge of second-thought, but it passed when I pushed on the gate. The warbling shudder of the old hinges, the deceptively complacent sound, perfectly mimicked the call of a wood pigeon. Whenever I heard the five-note coo of those birds on a lazy summer afternoon, I thought of Souls Dryft.

            The blossom was in full glory; the air was sickly sweet, blown around the side of the house from the old orchard. I took a great breath of it, drinking it down greedily, and then I opened my eyes.

            The house was always falling down. Not toppling over, but sinking slowly into the earth. It was a bulky, unprepossessing creature, lurking there in the grass like a toad, waiting for unsuspecting insects to pass within striking distance of its sly, quick tongue. My mother, who didn’t have much time for the picturesque, thought the best thing to be done with Uncle Bob’s house was to level it and start again. But when Marian and I spent those idyllic summer weeks there, the precarious, leaning walls, creaky stairs and uneven floors all added to the charm and adventure. Surrounding the yard, there were several buildings. The smallest one, Aunt Rose had referred to as, "the necessary". We loved going outside to use it, preferring the novelty of an ice-cold toilet seat and wind whipping under the door, to that fancy indoor plumbing we could use any day of the week at home.

            I still remembered Aunt Rose’s voice— soft and creamy, all the vowels melting slowly off her tongue. She laughed a great deal and was never angry, even when Uncle Bob played tricks on her; like the time he told her that her budgie had laid an egg and, for weeks, she watched over the smooth, white, pebble-shaped object, telling everyone about it, marveling over the miracle about to hatch. Finally she took it to the vet in the village, where she was informed that her budgie’s egg was, in fact, an Imperial Mint.

            I smiled sadly at my reflection in the window, thinking of Uncle Bob sitting there alone all those years, with only the voices in his head for company. The window was left ajar and when I pushed it with my fingers, it swung open all the way. Caught up in the adventure, I crawled over the stone ledge and into the house, scraping my knee in the process. I hadn’t felt this much excitement since I was twelve and Marian fell out of a rowboat.

            The ground floor was converted, some time ago, from one large room into three, with a small pantry and an added on bathroom beyond that. Uncle Bob rarely used the other rooms, preferring this one that looked out toward the gate. After Aunt Rose died he said he was looking for her to come back, as if she’d just nipped out to the shop in the village for a packet of custard creams. Today the windows were filthy. I didn’t remember them being that bad before, but at home our mother had kept everything so spotless, it was a relief to go to Aunt Rose’s house and wallow in a little dirt. These days a woman called Mrs. Tuke came up from the village three times a week to "see to" Uncle Bob, which meant she gave the place a rough going over with a broom and did his laundry. Apparently, Mrs. Tuke didn’t do windows. As I studied the small, crooked glass panes, I realized the marks I’d mistaken for random fingerprints in the grime were letters written on the outside.

            emoc sah ynneG

            I stared at the window. Above me the wooden beams creaked and stretched in the warm air. Or were they footsteps passing up and down in the rooms above?

            At the foot of the staircase, there was a door meant to keep out those drafts that still found their way in, even with all the windows and chimneys closed. It was warped and rotted, the paintwork chipped, a large portion of wood missing from the bottom, as if an extremely hungry dog once had a go at it. The door still creaked, just the way I remembered, and the whisper of a breeze tumbled down the tilting stairs, disturbing the fragile remnants of a cobweb above my head. Out of respect for the house’s unseen residents, I tiptoed upstairs and onto the narrow, musty landing. Each bedroom door had a rusty, iron latch with a loop that hung down. It was once a favorite game of ours to run along the hall, setting all the latches rocking.

            Then, one day, the latches stopped, all at the same time – some midswing – before they suddenly began rocking back the other way, even faster. After that, Marian, being a wimp, would never go upstairs alone again.

            Our old bedroom door required several shoulder thumps to open, and the cloud of stagnant air was so thick I could bite it. Clearly no one had been inside for some time; yet, when I went to open the window, there was an apple core on the ledge and it was still white, as if someone just took their last bite before setting it down.

            I sat on the bed, resting my hand on the pillow. Of course, it must have been the sun that made it so warm, as if another soul just rose from it.

            "You took your time coming to me."

            Waves of sun moved in a gentle ebb and flow around the room, just like the voices. It lifted me, held my spirit and warmed it.

            "I came when I could, I do have other things to do with my day."

            "For Pity’s Sake, ‘tis only a little wound."


            "Like recognizes like."


            The sunlight dimmed. Someone shouted up from below, "Hello! Is anyone there?"

            I jumped. Whoever entered the house, uninvited, they weren’t shy about trespassing on our property. I called down from the landing, "This is my great uncle’s house. What are you doing here?"

            He appeared at the foot of the stairs. "Grace?"

            So this is where he was heading on that train. "How did you get in?" I demanded, stomping down the stairs.

            Looking over his shoulder toward the door and then back to me, my torn jeans and scraped knee, he said, "It wasn’t locked. I suppose you didn’t try it first."

            "How did you get here and…what…what are you doing here, Downing?"

            "I got here from Norwich in a hired car and as for the second part of your question – I think I should ask you the same. This is private property."

            Immediately, my hackles were raised. "I beg your pardon?"

            "This house belongs to my family," he replied, faintly bemused.

            "This is our house. Souls Dryft belongs to us."

            "You mean, Saul’s Drift."

            Angry pride coursed through me. "I know what it’s called, because it belongs to my family."


            He thought I was joking again. I was sickened by the idea of that lovely old place falling into his mercenary, pirate hands. "My great uncle’s wife was given this house as a wedding gift from a relative when they married."

            His eyes narrowed, protecting that plush cobalt from the melting heat of my wrath. "The house belongs to me, and I have the documents to prove it. The people who lived here were only tenants."

            My fingers curled around the banister. What did he know about anything? He was only a figment of my imagination.

            "I’ll probably have it torn down," he added. "We could fit four or five homes on the land." Then he said, "Your mouth’s hanging open."

            My ribs pressed on my heart. "This house belongs to my family."

            He shook his head. "I assure you, it’s mine."

            "Uncle Bob said…"

            "You mean the old guy that lived here? Aren’t they sending him to the nuthouse?"

            I froze.

            "Off his proverbial rocker," he added.

            "And you’re qualified to diagnose that because…?"

            His lips tightened, while he considered whether the sticky-faced child before him was old enough to be told. "He was found sitting in the lane, in a pair of underpants."

            "At least he had something on."

            "Pity they weren’t his underpants."


            "They belonged to the woman who comes in to clean for him three times a week. They were her underpants."

            No one told me that, of course, yet pompous Richard knew. And he meant to take that house away – the house poor Uncle Bob loved and entrusted to me. To me.

            I took a deep breath. "For your information, Uncle Bob died last night."

            He winced, inhaling sharply. "I’m… sorry. That explains why you’re so emotional."

            I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation with a construct of my own imagination. Of course, he took things that didn’t truly belong to him. Dress it up all you like with fancy names like ‘property developer’, but he was a pirate and that was what pirates did.

            "Where are you going?" he asked, as I pushed by, storming out into the yard. My gaze was fixed on the way ahead, to the castle ruins at the end of the lane. I couldn’t get this straight in my overcrowded head, and I needed time alone, to think.

(Copyright Jayne Fresina )

SOULS DRYFT available here:
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Excerpt from STORM (The Deverells - book two)

Hi everyone! Tomorrow is release day for STORM, the second installment in a Victorian family saga which began earlier this year with TRUE STORY. I hope you'll take the opportunity to catch up on the story, if you haven't already. Here is a little teaser from STORM to whet your appetite!

* * * *

            It was evident that Storm Deverell lived alone. Several old newspapers— some yellowed with age and edged with a scalloped pattern of mice teeth— sat folded up on the arm of a tattered and patched chair, which was the only cushioned seat in the house. Every shirt drying on that wooden rack had seen better days. Clearly, he had no one to sew new ones or repair those he had. And he cooked for himself with a skilled, casual ease that proved he did it often.

            "I had a housekeeper once," he told her, perhaps noticing her critical gaze taking in the shambles. "But she had to split her time between me and my father, and he's always been more demanding than me. Now he's getting married again and she'll be needed there more often, so I asked Reverend Coles to find me a handy woman."

            She wondered why he had no wife of his own to take care of the house for him. He looked... healthy enough to manage a wife. Of course, it was hardly a question she could ask. One of them at least ought to have manners.
            He kept a clean shirt in his hand and disappeared into the scullery. She heard water splashing from a pump.
            "What made you come so far from London?" he shouted.
            "It was Reverend Coles' idea." She sighed, looking around at the mess again. "He made the west country sound so appealing in his letters."
            "You've experience as a housekeeper?"
            She could lie, of course. The state of his house suggested this man wouldn't know a good housekeeper if he met one. But she decided to be honest. After all, this was a new beginning, a new life.
            "I have not," she said, anxiously gripping her teacup.
            "What about references? You must have some."
            "I'm afraid not."
            "None at all?" Deverell exclaimed, emerging from the other room, still in the process of tugging the clean shirt over his shoulders and exposing a tanned slab of naked torso at the same time. "But you can cook?"
            She averted her gaze at once, her heartbeat suddenly leaping up into her throat, making it very difficult to swallow. "Yes. No." Oh, what was she saying? "I'm an abysmal cook... but not for want of trying."
            "I see. What about sewing?"
            "Not a stitch."
            "What about laundry?"
            "I'm sure I can learn."
             "Lighting fires? Cleaning windows?"
            Still avoiding his gaze, she tucked that persistent stray curl back under her bonnet brim again. "How hard can it be?" How did she explain that when one lived a nocturnal life, clean windows were unimportant? And fires were for the wealthy who could afford coal— unless they scrambled for it in the Thames where it sometimes fell from barges.
            There followed another short silence and then he said, "At least you've got a pretty face. We seldom see the like of you in these parts."
            She gripped her cup of tea in both hands and took a hearty gulp.
            Don't look up. Don't look...Oh, has he got the damnable shirt on yet?
            Then he added, "Those lips alone might be worth the twenty-five pounds a year salary I promised."
            Alas, she had to look. What else was a woman supposed to do when a man said such a thing to her? And in front of her son too. Had he no propriety?
            Not that Flynn was listening. A quick glance reassured her that the boy was too busy eating bacon and playing with the man's dog.
            Her new employer tipped his head to one side, hands paused in the motion of tucking the shirt into his well-worn riding breeches. "Did I speak amiss? You look all...peevish."
            "Sir, it is not the sort of comment one should make to one's housekeeper."
            He shrugged, only drawing her attention to his wide shoulders again. "You'll have to forgive me, if I'm too straightforward. I'm a country fellow, Duchess. I don't complicate matters. I tend to say what I think, as soon as the thought comes to me."
            "I'm sure that causes you many trials and tribulations then."
            "Once in a while," he admitted frankly, with a quick grin. "Mostly I manage to avoid trouble."
            "Yes. Men generally do. After they've caused it."
            He laughed. "Back to that again, are we?"
            "I beg your pardon?"
            "The inadequacies of men and how we are to blame for all the world's problems. And all because I was honest and said you were bonny, when I might have kept it to myself?"
            "I wish you had kept it to yourself," she muttered.
            "Can't you take a compliment, Mrs. Kelly?"
            "We have scarce been introduced, sir." He had better not think she was that sort of woman. "I wonder what you could mean by it." Kate had been told she was fair of face before, but no good ever came from it, and the men who tried to flatter her had only one intent. If anything, her face was a disadvantage when she sought to make an honest living.
            "I meant no harm by speaking the thought aloud, but don't fret." He held up his hands in mock surrender. "I shan't worry you with another, now that I know you're not of a mind to receive any graciously." He said all this in a calm voice, more amused than angry. His eyes narrowed, crinkling at the corners, which explained the thin white lines in his sun-browned face. He must puzzle over a lot of riddles, she thought. "But 'tis a pity if you can't appreciate your own good looks," he added. "I know my face is as scratched up as a pair of old boots, but I value it all the same. It's well lived in and still has its uses. At least it has the required number of features and mostly in the expected order."
            Old boots, indeed! Her gaze drifted from his damp, ruffled hair to his thick arms, firm chest and the fluttering tail of his shirt as he continued tucking it sloppily into his breeches. She closed her lips tightly, gritting her teeth.
            Now she knew how Eve felt in Eden, with only one man as far as the eye could see. And oh, what the eye could see!

(copyright Jayne Fresina 2015)

* * * *

Hope you are intrigued enough to read on ;)

Storm (The Deverells - Book Two) - available from all good online book sellers on September 30th, 2015.
UK Amazon
US Amazon


Friday, August 28, 2015

A STORM is coming on September 30th!

Storm - The Deverells Book two will hit the internet on September 30th (print version available a few weeks later). Don't forget to catch up on the first installment True Story if you haven't already!

About the hero, Storm Deverell -

He's nice.
            He's the eldest son of Victorian England's most notorious rogue, but Storm Deverell just wants to keep life simple. Unlike the other members of his wild tribe, he steers clear of scandal and leads an honest, hard-working existence on a Cornish farm.
            Of course, it hasn't always been that way. In the days of youthful rebellion, that hot Deverell temper earned Storm a bad reputation. But now he keeps his anger tamed so well nobody would ever know it's still there.
            All things considered, Storm has everything he wants, whenever he wants it, in his uncomplicated world. And even if life is a little quiet sometimes, at least it's predictable.
            Until a strange woman arrives to shatter his unchallenged bachelor tranquility.
            Stubborn, proudly independent and apparently immune to his infamous charm, Katherine Kelly is a disruption, a sharp-tongued, haughty madam, and the last thing he needs moving in as his neighbor.
            One touch of her smooth hands tells him she knows nothing about managing a farm. One glance at her rose-embroidered stockings warns him she'll cause a commotion.
            Good thing he's not looking for trouble these days.
And the heroine, Katherine Kelly -
She's naughty.
            Escaping a seedy, gas-lit world of deception and villainy with a spinet full of stolen banknotes and snuff boxes, Kate is seeking a new beginning and a better future for her son. She's come a long way to find sanctuary and fresh air, so that frustratingly calm, self-satisfied, straight-talking farmer in the next valley will not spoil it for her. Clearly he's ruled the roost around here far too long, a local legend in his own mind. So what if Deverell believes a woman can't survive without a man? Surviving is something this single mother knows how to do.  
            One touch of his rough hands tells her he's dangerous. One glance into his blue eyes warns her he'll be a distraction.
            Good thing she's not looking for trouble these days.
            But these two headstrong, accidental neighbors will soon learn that trouble can find them without being sought. Because what's "nice" can also be naughty, and what's naughty.... is usually a Deverell.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

May I introduce Mrs. Olivia Monday?

TRUE STORY Character Profile

Name: Olivia Westcott Ollerenshaw Pemberton Monday

Age: Eight and Twenty

Marital status: Thrice Widowed (although it's none of your business)

Place of Birth: Chiswick

Olivia is the only daughter of a stern, practical, hard-working solicitor. At the age of eight she lost her mother to consumption, but this has not induced much sympathy from her remaining relatives. Her maternal grandmother — a wealthy lady of property and consequence—wants nothing to do with her. Her father does not show his emotions and her Great Aunt Jane Westcott is more interested in the maintenance of good posture and polite manners, than she is in expressing one's feelings...

            "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."

            So Olivia grew up trying to hide her naughty, dark imagination and that wicked streak of mischief. She's also tried to forget that fascination for True Deverell, a man of notoriety and scandal.

            "A man like that uses women for only one thing," her stepbrother had exclaimed once, when he looked over her shoulder to catch her reading a lascivious piece about Deverell in the newspaper. "But the scoundrel would never look twice at you, Livy, so you are quite safe."

          And that, she mused, was precisely where men like True Deverell went wrong, because they didn't see her coming and then they tripped over her.

             One day, sure enough, the "mutton-head" fellow is headed in her direction and he's not looking where he's going.

            He needs a secretary to help write his memoirs and so he puts the word out for a one who is plain and has a neat hand.

            He may get more than he bargains for.

 Copyright Jayne Fresina 2015

 TRUE STORY (The Deverells-- Book One) is now available from TE Publishing at all good online stores. Print version soon to be available. 




Friday, April 24, 2015

Exclusive Excerpt - from TRUE STORY (The Deverells - Book One)

April 29th is the release date for the first book in my new series, a saga that follows several generations of a scandalous and very unusual family through the eras of Georgian, Regency and Victorian England. And the progress won't always be in a straight line!

As a voracious reader and lover of family sagas myself, I wanted to write a series that would take readers on the kind of journey I've always enjoyed -- one that winds around a cast of quirky characters with faults and fallibilities, who sometimes make you shake your head, sometimes cause a little smoke from the ears, even occasionally a groan of despair. But then they make you laugh a lot, and ultimately they are forgiven and loved because you're on their side and you can't help yourself. Sort of like any real family.

In any case, that's my plan. ;)


Olivia Monday, an impoverished widow, has taken a position as "secretary" to an eccentric, scandalous rake - a divorced man with a brood of eight children and at least two gun-shot wounds. For six months, against the advice of her remaining family members, she agrees to live in his remote Cornish castle and put pen to paper on his behalf.

Despite everything she's heard about him, she's unafraid. Olivia welcomes the distraction this unusual post will provide— as well as the large fee— because the alternative of relying on relatives to put a roof over her head is intolerable.

True Deverell has decided it's time to set the record straight. He means to dictate his memoirs to this little widow who, according to the instructions he sent to his solicitor, should merely be plain and have a neat hand. Those are his only requirements. He doesn't want any distractions, has endured his fill of scandal and intends now to leave the "True Story" on paper so that perhaps, one day, people will forgive his mistakes.

But when Mrs. Olivia Monday arrives on his doorstep in her leaky boots and crumpled bonnet, True realizes that perhaps his story isn't over yet.


            The young man stared in surprise, one hand on the door handle. He bore some resemblance to his father, but his face was softer, more spoiled, as yet unmarked by life and experience.
            "Sir!" he exclaimed, "There's a stray, odd-looking female skulking about in the hall."
            She hastily gathered her wits. "I was not skulking." Scrambling for an explanation, she added, "I was looking for...anybody." Since there had been no other sign of life when she came downstairs, Olivia went searching and followed the sound of raised male voices to this door.
            Her new employer suddenly appeared beside the younger man, leaping into view— with considerable vitality for that hour of the morning. His eyes raked over her and then flared brightly, as if they were matches and she a piece of flint. "Ah, Mrs. Monday. Finally you rise. May I introduce my son. Damon, this is Mrs. Olivia Monday, a parson's widow from Chiswick, and my new secretary."
            The young man scowled. "What on earth do you want with a female secretary?" His tone oozed suspicion as he looked Olivia up and down again.
            "I'm dictating my memoirs, dear boy."
            "What else would I want her for? Look at that pinched face, ready to disapprove. Hardly ornamental, is she? Not to be confused with a chorus girl from the Drury Lane Theatre."
            "Your memoirs," his son repeated yet again.
             "Quite so. I am writing my life story so that when I am dead I shall leave behind me the True gospel, by which you may lead your life. After all, when I am swept up by the Grim Reaper, who will there be left to guide you with wisdom? Even I —fine male specimen that I am—cannot live forever."
            Damon gave his father another skeptical glance and then swept by Olivia with a low grunt, "Something to look forward to then."
            The boy strode away down the hall with no further word to his father, who now left the door open, suggesting he expected her to enter. If she waited for a polite invitation, Olivia supposed her limbs might grow cobwebs, so she followed him into the room.
            "I feel your gaze burning holes in my back," he muttered. "Your faun-like eyes hold a particularly intense quality, Mrs. Monday. You have questions to ask?"
            "No, sir. None." She would watch her tongue today. However he behaved this morning, she would not comment on it. Who did she think she was— Great Aunt Jane? It was none of her business what he did or said or thought. As long as he paid her.
            He swung around and propped the seat of his riding breeches against the front of his desk, arms and ankles crossed. "Your lips, madam, are so tightly stitched together, I fear they have something to withhold, but I would rather you keep nothing inside. A woman's thoughts, when not allowed air, are like thorns buried in the skin. They become infected if they are not plucked out the moment they stick there. So we shall be honest and straightforward with each other, Mrs. Monday, if you please."
            "Shall we?" Ha! After the way he deceived her last night? She held her tongue, but only just.
            "You will never get anything from me but the truth, however unpalatable. But then, I am a man. I don't have the deceitful tendencies common in the female sex."
            She remained silent, knowing full well he wanted to prod her into an argument again. He reminded her of one of those very large dogs with too much energy— the sort that left muddy paw prints on a lady's gown and occasionally knocked her down with his cheeky enthusiasm. A dog whose undisciplined behavior was usually dismissed airily by its owner as "high spirits".
            "What did you think of my son, Mrs. Monday? Too handsome for his own good, eh?"
            Her answer was a tight, "Yes." For anyone's good, she suspected.
            "You saw the family resemblance. People do say he takes after me the most of all my cubs."
            "I'm afraid so." Oh, dear, she couldn't stop herself. Under no circumstances should she let this friction between their personalities become one of those sparks he'd warned her about, but there she was again, being scornful, when a simple "Yes" would have been sufficient.
            "We have not impressed the parson's widow with our Deverell charm, I see. You disapprove of us."
            Olivia's fingers began to hurt in their tense knot.
            "Hmph. I suppose I should be glad of that," he added. "Wouldn't want you trying to seduce me, panting after me with your tongue hanging out."
            "I didn't think that was one of the requirements of my position here." Why the devil couldn't she stay silent?
            He laughed lazily. "So what do you think of me? Go on, Mrs. Monday, describe me— as I seem through your large eyes —in three words."
            "I'd rather not." She'd said enough already, more than she'd meant to.
            "Can't you think of any?" he challenged. "Don't disappoint me today by suddenly being shy with your opinions."
            Olivia struggled for a moment, searching for words that were honest but wouldn't get her into trouble. "Large...loud... lively."
            "Restless." The word that came to mind was 'potent', but that could mean too many other things and he would define it in some way to embarrass her, no doubt.
            "Why was your plain little face so shocked just now?" he demanded. "No doubt you think my son disrespectful and you wonder why I would allow it."
            Had her expression been so obvious? "If you knew that, why ask me?"
            He walked around his desk to his chair. "Damon is sixteen. I don't waste my breath on correcting the inevitable." Pausing a moment, he gave her an odd look for which she had no apt description. Then he added, "Of course, you're not long out of that age yourself."
            She almost laughed. "I am eight and twenty, Mr. Deverell."
            "Really? I would never have guessed. I suppose it's because you're so small and nondescript."
            "And I certainly never spoke in such a tone to my father, at any age."
            He stared at her for a moment, then cleared his throat and ran fingers through his hair. "So I am a bad parent." She caught a slight smirk play over his lips as he dropped into his chair and swung his booted feet up on the desk. "I thought I'd get that particular criticism out of those terse lips eventually."
            Olivia hastily replied, "I know nothing of being a parent. I am here only to write for you."
            She'd never seen a man sit with his boots up on a desk before.
            Such a pose was something one might expect from a naughty child but not a grown man.  When he used his riding crop to scratch down inside one boot, Olivia didn't know where to look. The casual impropriety of the gesture seemed quite unconscious on his part, as if no one had ever troubled him with what was, or was not, the "done thing".
            "I've seen you before somewhere, woman," he muttered suddenly.
            "Where on earth would I have seen you? I don't usually forget a face."
            "Well, it was a long time ago. And to be frank, I don't believe you saw my face. I didn't see yours either."
            At once his gaze re-established that playful twinkle. "Now, I am intrigued. What parts of me did you see?"
            She felt the urge to laugh, but held it strictly down. "Mostly your big feet. When I was eighteen, I often assisted at my father's office. You tripped over me there one day when you had an appointment with Mr. Chalke."
            "I did?"
            "You trampled some important papers, stepped over me, and never apologized."
            "Ah. How much do you want?" He reached into his desk as if to hand over some bank notes or gold sovereigns there and then.
            "What can you mean, sir?"
            "I know how women hold bloody grudges. I suppose you've let that fester away for years and now you came here to make me pay. So how much does a lady charge for the inconvenience of being stepped over?"     
            She couldn't tell whether he was serious, or merely teasing her again.
            "I don't do well with apologies," he added. "So I'd take the money, if I was you."
            "Sir, I had entirely forgotten the incident until now."
            Just after three o'clock in the afternoon, Tuesday, March 12th, in the year 1832.
            He wore a long, midnight blue coat, beautifully made; buff colored gloves, grimy at the finger tips; and top boots of very rich looking leather. He had smelled of tobacco, brandy and spice. Of adventure, and daring, and everything forbidden. For those few moments her heart, like an over-wound pocket watch, had stopped...
            Olivia bit her lip, turned away and stared out of the nearest window. A pointless exercise since there was nothing to see but that colorless cloud of fog. And, of course, his reflection. She was unable to escape the man. Again, Olivia thought of last night in the kitchen, when he let her mistake him for the handyman Jameson, and she had been struck by the overwhelming strength of his presence. Like the first time they collided with each other, she felt a connection, which was quite ridiculous in light of who he was.
            She wished it had been possible to forget their first encounter, but now fate had brought them together a second time. It was a jolly good thing Great Aunt Jane was no longer alive.
            "You are a girl with a dark and devious imagination, Olivia Westcott. I cannot think what will become of you."
            "I shall marry Mr. True Deverell, shan't I? People say he's not fit for polite society either..."
            "I see something through my window amuses you, Mrs. Monday."
            She straightened her lips. "Your son returns to school today, sir?" she asked, changing the subject.
            "Yes." He sighed gustily. "The brat could do very well there if he only applied himself more to his studies. But he thinks he can do without school. Arrogant chit."
            "He seems very...confident. I'm sure you and your wife are proud."
            Behind her, Deverell exhaled a taut huff. "He's not one of my wife's litter. Damon is the younger of my two sons by a mistress, Emma Gibson. When she died I brought both boys to live with me."
            "Oh." Only a man with Deverell's excessive wealth and audacity would launch his illegitimate children into the world without even trying to mask the truth, without shame or apology for not marrying their mother.
            She turned away from the window and faced him boldly. "It is a curious name— Damon. I do not think I ever heard it before."
            "Greek. Loyal friend to Pythias, for whom he was ready to sacrifice himself."
            "You are a student of Greek mythology, Mr. Deverell?"
            He smiled at her, head tipped back against the leather chair. "I am a student of life, Mrs. Monday."
            "Stories. I love people's stories. Don't you?"
            His smile was pleasantly crooked. Olivia could see how some might find it alluring. Even infectious. "I never really considered—"
            "For instance, yours, Mrs. Monday." His eyes simmered, like cool winter sunlight on ripples of icy water. "I would wager it's most interesting."
            "A young, sensible woman like you, abandoning respectability to put yourself under my roof. What could have driven you here to me? What secrets lurk behind those big, round eyes of yours?"
            "Oh, my story is very dull." She touched the back of her neck where a small curl of hair had begun to tickle. Her skin seemed more awake than usual, feeling and reacting to every tiny draft, any little contact.
            "Well, let's see...Olivia," he muttered thoughtfully. "I like unusual names. I made sure to give all my children names that were uncommon, unexpected." He paused. "The name Olivia was first coined by Shakespeare, you know. Your parents must have enjoyed the playwright's work."
            She walked away from the window and stood before Deverell's desk, trying not to see his boots and long, firm thighs stretched out. He smelled of leather, hay, sea water and wet sand. Had he been out riding already? She waited for him to invite her to sit, but no such offer was forthcoming. He continued to stare at her in a quietly amused way, now tapping the riding crop on the outside of his boot.
            Before he could ask her another question, she said brightly, "Damon is your youngest child?"
            "No. Rush is fourteen and the last of Lady Charlotte's litter." To her relief, he finally swung his feet down to the carpet where they should be. "There is also Bryn, my adopted son who also just turned fourteen. They are both at school together in Exeter. I thought it best not to send all my boys to the same schools, but those two are inseparable. You will meet them in the term holidays." He paused. "Should you stay, of course."
            Olivia refused to reassure him, yet again, that she honored her commitments. Instead she said, "And there is only one daughter?"
            "Yes." He looked away, staring at the bookcase. "Bloody women."
            She took a breath and plowed bravely forward. "Shall we get started, Mr. Deverell? My term of employment has begun already, and we haven't written a word."
            His gaze snapped back to her. "We can't begin work until we know each other, Mrs. Monday."
            "Know each other?"
            "We need to...sniff one another out."
            She did not. Like. The sound. Of that.
            "Would you agree to embark on a long, intimate journey with someone about whom you knew nothing?" he added, making his face solemn in an utterly unconvincing way.
            "I'm not sure what sort of intimate journey you—"
            "The journey of my life story, Mrs. Monday. I will be confessing all my deepest, darkest sins to you, commending my secrets to your hands. But how do I know I can trust you, since you keep hiding your fingers from me?"
            She gasped. "I do not."
            He pointed with the riding crop to where she kept her hands tightly clasped in a knot before her. "Show me."
            Olivia slowly unwound her fingers and slyly wiped her palms on her skirt before she turned them for his examination. He leaned forward, his gaze sternly perusing her hands.
            "I am adept at the art of palmistry, you know," he warned.
            "I do not believe in that nonsense."
            "Then you needn't be worried. Keep your hands still, woman, and let me study the lines."
            "They are still."
            "You're waving them about all over the place." He used this as an excuse to grab her left hand, and Olivia felt her pulse quicken. His grip was very strong, crushing her fingers.
            She tried— she really tried. But it was no good. Unable to bear his scrutiny, she pulled her fingers away from his grip and put both hands behind her back.
            "Mrs. Monday, you are being truculent again."
            "I am not, sir," she exclaimed breathlessly. "I gave you long enough to study them. They are quite innocent and capable."
            "Hmm. The former, I have yet to ascertain. The latter I will agree with, although what exactly they are capable of remains to be seen." He grinned in that lopsided way. "I confess I can't wait to discover it for myself."
            He was testing her, she sensed. Trying his boundaries.
            "You had better behave, sir, or you just might find out."
            She knew she should never have said it, but there it was. He drew out the worst in her, it seemed.
            Rather than be put off by this remark, his eyes gleamed polished silver. "Shall I be spanked and sent to a corner?"
            "If that's necessary, sir."
            "You'd have to catch me first. I'm very fast."
            Olivia arched an eyebrow. Perhaps, despite his love of tales, he'd never heard the fable of the tortoise and the hare.
            "But only when I don't want to be caught," he added slyly.
            "I'll bear that in mind then, sir."
            He fell back into his chair, making it creak loudly. "Shakespeare's Olivia, if I recall correctly, declares herself in mourning for seven years— until she falls stupidly in love with Cesario, simply because he has a habit of saying exactly what he thinks, not coating his words with honey for the lady."
            "But it turns out that Cesario is a woman living in disguise as a man. So there is a lesson for you, Mrs. Monday."
            "Never to fall in love with a woman dressed as a man?"
            He laughed. "Or...first impressions can be misleading. People are not always what they appear to be, or... what they want you to believe."
            Olivia suddenly felt as if he had somehow stripped her naked with the sharp edge of his steel-grey gaze.
            It was, by no means, as unpleasant a sensation as it should be, but every pore on her body felt the wicked caress of that blade, whispering over the surface of her skin.

TRUE STORY - coming on April 29th, 2015.
Copyright Jayne Fresina 2015