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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Exclusive Excerpt - The Bounce in the Captain's Boots

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Most certainly not.

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

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

            He swore under his breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            "It was the least I could do."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

TROUSERS ON SALE!

Get your copy of THE TROUBLE WITH HIS LORDSHIP'S TROUSERS now on sale for a limited time and catch up with the Ladies Most Unlikely before the final book in the series is released on the 13th!

BUY HIS LORDSHIP'S TROUSERS ON SALE HERE!

Don't be caught without your trousers!



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Character Showcase - Emma Chance


            Little Emma Chance is a shy bookworm, born a foundling and left, as a newly-weaned babe, in the questionable care of Mrs. Lightbody, the headmistress of a ladies academy in London. Her father is a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous and has never wanted anything to do with her, although he pays a fee for her to remain at the school - a fact she doesn't learn about until she's older.

 * * * *

(Excerpt below from The Bounce in the Captain's Boots)

             Often Emma was the last one to bed and the first to awake, for there were chores to be done and, as the headmistress frequently reminded her, who should do them other than the girl taken in out of charity? The foundling with no family to pay for her board. The bastard child abandoned to Mrs. Lightbody's care when she was a newly weaned babe.

            Her father, so she was told, desired to remain anonymous, never wanted to know her or be known to her.

            "Is it any wonder at that?" Mrs. Lightbody would exclaim. "Look at you. A sorry piece of flotsam with a face as cheerful as the third consecutive wet Wednesday in October!"

            Emma puzzled over how to have a more pleasing face. It seemed to her a matter of family likeness and the degree of happiness in one's life. Since she had no control over either it seemed to her quite unfair that she be blamed for the unsightly state of her features.

            Besides, she rather liked October, especially when it rained.

            But she kept that to herself. Her opinions were as welcomed in that school as unexpected parental visits.

            "I wouldn't want to know you either," the lady continued, "but alas somebody had to take you in and out of the generosity of my heart I gave you a bed under my roof. Now you repay my kindness and forbearance with scowls, snivelings and mutterings, always hovering about in corners like the grim reaper!"

            In truth, Emma was often found in the corner because she was too shy to stand in the light, too afraid of being examined and found, inevitably, wanting. She muttered under her breath because she disliked the sound of her own voice and knew that anything she said would only be criticized and ridiculed. She much preferred to keep her thoughts in the corner too, out of poking reach. And she scowled because on the few occasions she'd been caught smiling, Mrs. Lightbody had wanted to know why she thought she was so special and what could she possibly have to smile at? Or else she would assume the luckless girl to be laughing spitefully at her and then she'd put her heavy, vicious hands around Emma's throat and choke the laughter out of it.

            Frequently Emma considered how fortunate it was that her guardian did not see what truly went on in her mind— all the many colorful and spectacular ways that woman had been murdered by the hands of her wicked charity pupil in a dream universe. Over and over again.

            Well, a girl had to have some entertainment.

            But thankfully Mrs. Lightbody had no idea; she thought this shadowy wisp of a creature was quiet because she was cowed. Not because she plotted dramatic death scenes for her own pleasure.

            So, all things considered, "Chance" went through her life keeping her thoughts to herself and trying not to be noticed at all.

 * * * *

            So, our heroine, Emma Chance has grown up never quite feeling as if she belongs anywhere. Bullied and abused for most of her early life, she was finally befriended by two new pupils at the
school - Georgiana and Melinda - who instantly took her under their wings and to their hearts. Together the three young ladies came to be known by Mrs. Lightbody as "The Ladies Most Unlikely". She saw them only as troublemakers and ingrates, especially after she lost her post at the school and blamed them for the series of events that got her dismissed.

            Mrs. Lightbody means to get her vengeance on those young women and she'll begin with Emma, whom she thinks owes her everything. But the old headmistress has no idea that her charity pupil - once a meek, sickly girl -  has matured into a woman with great inner strength and determination, a woman who is no longer afraid to speak her mind and claim her own happiness in life.

            Emma takes on the world beginning Sept 13th, and you can pre-order The Bounce in the Captain's Boots from AMAZON now!

* * * *

            About the image used above - When looking for a portrait to represent Emma, I had a very hard time finding the right one. I can't help but think she must have been too shy to pose for an artist. And then I found this picture of three young ladies around a tree with a badminton racquet! Amazingly it seems as if my Ladies Most Unlikely were once immortalized by Mr. Charles Edward Perugini in his painting entitled "A Summer Shower". I like to imagine he painted them to commemorate those dreadful events at Lady Bramley's garden party where our series first began. That must be Melinda in the middle with the racquet, Georgiana on her left and, on her right - Emma.


Copyright Jayne Fresina 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

Character Showcase - Captain Guy Hathaway


            The hero in The Bounce in the Captain's Boots, is the eldest son of Mr. Frederick Hathaway- successful businessman, publisher and ambitious status climber. Guy does not share many of his father's views on life, however, and his ambitions have taken him in another direction to the one Mr. Hathaway would have chosen for him.

            At the age of fourteen, Guy left home to join His Majesty's Navy. His father did not approve. Since then it seems as if nothing he does can meet with his father's approval and he is always being compared to Edward, Mr. Hathaway's favorite son. In fact, Guy has long since given up trying to meet any expectations his father might have and has settled in to the post of "disappointing son". Brawls, duels and dangerous women litter his history. With a mischievous sense of humor, a hot temper and a reckless impulse to leap in with both feet, he sails along at a steady clip, determined never to be anchored too long in one place and never risking his heart.

 
           Guy comes home rarely, knowing he's not missed. Since his mother died and his father remarried, moving the family to London in search of more opportunities and to raise their social status, Guy has noted the adverse affect on his father's temper and health. He has seen most of his family grow increasingly unhappy in London and he is glad to stay away. Having no interest in social advancement himself and yearning only for the simpler days of his youth on a Norfolk farm, Guy finds the distance between himself and his father growing ever wider.

            But one day, when on leave and at something of a loose end, Guy is enlisted by Mr. Hathaway for an important task. Guy's sister, Georgiana, has been invited to a ball, along with two of her school friends from the Particular Establishment for the Advantage of Respectable Ladies, and they need an escort. Not a great lover of balls, or giggling young girls, Guy grits his teeth and agrees to provide the service. It's rare for his father to grant him any great responsibility so he feels the pressure to behave himself and be charming on this occasion. Even if he has much on his mind and is far from being in the mood to entertain.

             * * * *

            Guy turned for the next piece of luggage. Thankfully this one was lighter, neater, and tied with a good lock.

            He looked around. "Where is she then?" he exclaimed somewhat impatiently to his sister. "The other one?"

            Again he thought he heard that kittenish squeak. He looked down at his boots, worried he might have stepped on a paw. Georgiana also appeared confused for a moment and then, with a small cry, stepped aside to reveal the faint tracing of a girl in a wilted bonnet. She must have sidled out of the house and lurked behind his sister on the steps.

            "Oh, here she is! This is Miss Emma Chance."

            Parts of her had apparently been lost in the shadows and hidden by his sister's more substantial form, wedged between that and the fence railings which seemed to be holding the lurker upright. It was lucky indeed that she had not fallen through the bars, down the servants' steps and into the coal bunker below.

            Guy had to look twice before she fully emerged into the light as a person of sorts. He bowed. "Miss Chance."

            In reply the girl opened her lips and whispered a very unhappy-sounding, "Lieutenant Hathaway."

            "Not Lieutenant any longer," his sister proudly corrected her friend. "He is now Captain Hathaway."

            Nothing this time. The girl leaned precariously to one side, her eyes downcast. She breathed rather heavily and her fingers wound so tightly around the embroidered purse in her hands that he could almost hear the bones cracking.

            "Is she...alright?" he muttered to his sister. The last thing he needed was one of his charges being ill on their journey. "She's not a swooner, is she? Or somebody who gets sickened by the motion of a carriage? She's white as a ghost."

            "Oh, she's alright, aren't you, Em?" Miss Goodheart cheerily bellowed from inside the carriage. "She just doesn't get out much. I don't suppose she's ever ridden in a private carriage. And she's dreadfully shy."

            In response to this assessment, the poor girl's cheeks flushed scarlet and her gaze remained on the pavement. A single strand of wispy, pale hair fluttered in dejected surrender against the brim of her bonnet.

            "Don't fret, Miss Chance," he said, as brightly as he could, considering his own apathy for the event ahead of them. "You're in safe hands with me." Guy had often been told that he had a talent for putting folk at their ease, a genial ability that buoyed his smile and the spirits of others, even on days when he felt himself sinking.

            But it seemed to have no good affect on this small, droopy creature. "Anyone might think you are on your way to the gallows, not a ball, Miss Chance," he added, teasing amiably. "Surely, all young ladies live for balls?"

            Silence met this remark as both his sister and Miss Goodheart, who now leaned out of the carriage, looked at their pale friend.

            Finally her lips parted and she exhaled a tortured sigh that stretched across the silence like a washing line, her words the limp but carefully spaced, wet shirts and stockings strung upon it. "It's a quarter past the hour of one, and we were meant to leave promptly at noon."

            Suddenly she lost that bony grip on her purse and it fell. Guy's instincts were swift enough to save it in mid-air, but when he held it out to her, she wouldn't take it. In fact, she moved a timid step backward, tripping over an uneven crack in the pavement, leaving his sister to snatch the purse and pass it to her friend.

            "It's my fault, Em," Georgiana explained. "My brother did try to drag me away, but I was in the midst of writing."

            The wisp of a girl now seemed preoccupied with the cracks by her feet, looking down at them as if they might suddenly expand and leave her nothing upon which to stand.

            "Well, let's advance, shall we?" Guy said, forcing another smile. "Since, as Miss Chance pointed out, we're already late."

            When he put out his hand to help the trembling girl up into the carriage, she finally moved forward, stepping carefully to avoid the cracks. Her touch was so light, her fingers resting so briefly against his knuckles that he barely felt the pressure and had to look twice to make certain she had not actually taken flight back inside the house. But no, there she was, as far from him as she could put herself, and seated on Miss Goodheart's left side. Apparently on the verge of tears, she squeezed her knees together, bowed her head, and held her shoulders in a rigid fashion, as if she feared taking up too  much room. The material of her spencer actually appeared to match the seat cover, making her disappear further into the upholstery.

            "I was about to suggest that you sit facing the horses, Miss Chance, and lessen the possibility of feeling nauseated. But I see you thought of that for yourself already." He smiled. "If you need air, open the — ah, I see you already opened the sash window too."

            She merely looked puzzled by his attempts to make her comfortable. Two wide eyes, the color of faded ink, peered out from the shadow of her coal-scuttle bonnet.

            His sister poked him in the side. "Don't startle Miss Chance."

            How the devil could he be accused of that?

            "Stop staring at her," she whispered harshly.

            The subject of Georgiana's remark turned her limp head away and shrank another few inches into her corner.

            "I can assure you I am not staring at Miss Chance," he whispered, the words squeezed out between teeth still gritted in a smile. "There is nothing whatsoever to stare at." His sister stepped up into the carriage, and he followed, muttering. "Let's hope the journey is short."

* * * *

But Guy and Emma's adventure has only just begun and you can join the journey on September 13th with the release of The Bounce in the Captain's Boots - the third and final installment in the Ladies Most Unlikely series.

See you then!
 
copyright Jayne Fresina 2017
 
(image used above is a self-portrait by Leon Cogniet 1818)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Character Showcase - Mr. Frederick Hathaway


In The Bounce in the Captain's Boots, the hero's father is Frederick Hathaway, an ambitious gentleman you may remember from the first book in the series, where he was the father, on that occasion, to the heroine.

     
       Frederick is a restless man of many children, many worries and many desires for the future. In the words of Lady Bramley, he is "A parvenu. An ambitious grasper who thinks breeding may be bought."

            He would agree with her, no doubt. Few folk argue with Lady Bramley and he certainly would never dare.

            Mr. Hathaway brought his family from the Norfolk countryside to the busy metropolis of London some years ago, in hope of improving their social status, as well as expanding his fortune.
Although he started out as a gentleman farmer with a small printing business on the side, he now owns a large publishing business and a successful newspaper, "The Gentleman's Weekly". Where once he and his family lived in a small but cozy farmhouse with drafty rooms and smoking chimneys, where his children learned to work on the land and enjoyed running about barefoot, the Hathaways now live in a grand house on (fictional) Allerton Square - an upwardly striving part of London.

            On the surface it would seem as if everything is going to plan for Mr. Frederick Hathaway. But, unfortunately for him, his children have not quite followed the path he'd hoped. His eldest son, Guy, went into the navy as a boy of fourteen, which completely crushed his hopes for that child. His second son, Edward, became a curate and moved back to Norfolk, and his eldest, prettiest daughter, Maria - who, at one time had hoped to marry a viscount - has settled for an unprepossessing solicitor.

            To top it all off, his second daughter, Georgiana - whose story you may have read in the first book - married a naval hero who happens to be an eccentric recluse! With one son-in-law that he has no fancy to exhibit about town and another who refuses to be shown off, poor Mr. Hathaway is at the end of his tether.

            It will be a while yet before his younger sons are of an age to marry and the children by his second wife are all under the age of five. He begins to think he will never live long enough to see his grand plans to fruition. Will none of his children think of raising the family status when they marry?

            In a house crowded with children from two marriages, with a wife who can barely bring herself to get out of bed most days and harried servants forever resigning, Frederick feels his life turning out very differently to the way he'd envisaged.

            As for Guy, his eldest ingrate of a son, what is he doing home again on leave? Was he not home two years ago? He's come home now with a black eye - more scandal for the neighbors. Frederick can only hope Captain Guy Hathaway has not come home with another wife abruptly acquired during a drunken evening in a Spanish port. They were lucky to get the last one annulled before any further damage was done. But Guy seems drawn to dangerous women and precarious situations. There is no hope of him making a respectable marriage now.

 
* * * *

            When it came to his eldest son, Frederick Hathaway had always maintained the view that he was better off not knowing anything that went on. Consequently there remained between father and son a cautious distance. They might as well be two slight acquaintances that once met at a dinner party and, ever since, felt obliged to nod to each other when they crossed paths, even though names had been forgotten.

            "How long to you plan to stay in London?" his father muttered, returning to the brandy decanter, his tone dreary.

            Guy exhaled a sigh. "Oh, only a week or so. I must report to the ship in the new year and I'll be at sea by march. Don't worry. I shan't get in anybody's way or embarrass you. Too much."

            "Good. See that you don't. Pity you can't get yourself a half-way decent, respectable wife, but I suppose we might as well give up on that idea."

            And then, in that moment, as Guy watched his father turn away yet again, those slumped, weary shoulders bent over the decanter, he felt the sudden urge to light the fuse of a gunpowder barrel. He'd always been the mischievous son and on this day, with rain rattling the windows like battle drums and his father being so ambivalent to see him, he wanted to wake the whole house, the entire square, out of its pompous complacency. Give them all something new to talk about.
 

* * * *
copyright Jayne Fresina 2017
 
            Find out what Captain Guy Hathaway has up his sleeve on September 13th!

Follow my news on FACEBOOK Goodreads Bookbub or AMAZON
 

 (illustration above is "Portrait of a man and his dog" by William Owen 1815)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Character Showcase - Lady Bramley 2.0


            Several characters in the third and final installment of my regency series The Ladies Most Unlikely will already be familiar to readers of the first two books. Some of them you'll be pleased to see again - others not so much. But every story has to have its villain and every story has to have its voice of reason.

            Well, Lady Bramley would like to think she's the latter. She's certainly not the former, but she can be a bit of a trial at times for the young people she attempts to guard and guide through life. Lady Bramley is the sort of woman who knows everything - specifically the "proper way" to get anything done. As she likes to say, "Of course, I'm right. I always am."

She can sometimes be stuck in her ways, but she loves a good challenge and is beginning to see that change is not necessarily a bad thing. By the end of this third book, I like to think she is a showing her softer side more often, but she is still intrinsically that same Lady Bramley of whom there can be no other and no equal.

I cannot imagine the busy lady being willing to sit still long enough for a portrait and I think she would consider it a foolish vanity at her age, so the portrait I chose to represent her here is of a younger woman. I can see her, in her youth, obliging her beloved husband by curbing that restlessness just long enough to pose for a painting. From the look in her eye and the set of her lips she's at the end of her patience, don't you think?

            When Lady Bramley encountered our "Ladies Most Unlikely" in the first book, her ladyship had been a widow for some years, was often ignored by her two sons, frustrated by an anti-social nephew, and had turned her energies into gardening. Lady Bramley is an expert grower of vegetables, gourds and melons. And there is not a person left in London who is ignorant of the fact. She's made certain of it.

 
* * * *

            "I grow prize-winning marrows, Captain Hathaway. Did your sister not tell you?"

            "I'm afraid Georgiana neglected to mention it, madam. I cannot think why for she knows how fond I am of marrow."

            Lady Bramley waved her lorgnette. "My glasshouse produces the biggest gourds and best fruit in Mayfair. My marrows are notorious, although I must say my melons are also magnificent this year."

            Emma felt it incumbent upon her to interject, "Melons are not of the gourd family, of course, but botanically of the berry genus." And then she blushed hotly again as all eyes turned to observe her.

            The lady continued as if Emma had never spoken. "Everybody remarks upon the size of my melons whenever they are exhibited. My melons have, in fact, received a mention in The Gentleman's Weekly."

            "I see," the Captain muttered, looking down and pressing his lips hard together as if he had a pain somewhere. "You must have your hands full, madam."

            "Indeed. Lady Fortescue-Rumputney is lime green with envy over my success. She, of course, leaves the tending of her melons to the hands of her gardener, which is, in my opinion, a mistake."

 
* * * *

             But after Georgiana Hathaway, Melinda Goodheart and Emma Chance ruined her garden party and murdered one of her prize-winning marrows, she decided to take them under her wing and give them the polish they so clearly lacked. In one way it was a sort-of punishment for the young ladies she took on, but mostly Lady Bramley just wanted to meddle, mould and nurture them in ways her own sons and nephew would not allow. It gave her a new purpose, a new challenge, a new zest for life.

            And for Georgiana, Melinda and Emma, it all turns out very well.

            By the end of The Bounce in the Captain's Boots, that decision to play Ovid's "Pygmalion" with these three young ladies has not only been a good deed. It has also given Lady Bramley the nearest thing she has to daughters. She might even love them more than her gourds and melons.

In her words, "They are, like most young girls, despicably riotous and needlessly excitable on occasion, but they have promise. I like to find pearls in my oysters and to see pretty things grow to their full potential."

In the final book of the series, Lady Bramley gets to see her fledglings take flight into the world and you will get to find out what happens to all the characters you've come to know.
 
The Bounce in the Captain's Boots will be available on September 13th.

Happy reading!


Portrait above is of Mrs. Davies Davenport 1782-1784, by George Romney.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Coming September 13th...

The third and final installment of The Ladies Most Unlikely - The Bounce in the Captain's Boots - brings you Emma Chance's story at last.

If you haven't caught up with the series yet, you might want to gobble up the first books before we say goodbye to our favorite miscreants from The Particular Establishment for the Advantage of Respectable Ladies.

Emma and her story will be here on September 13th. I'll  have a teaser excerpt for you next week and some character showcases. Happy reading!

* * * *
When Emma Chance met her best friend's elder brother, she knew instantly that he needed somebody to put the bounce back in his boots.
            But it couldn't be her, of course. She wouldn't know where to start.

            Against the odds, Emma Chance survived a childhood of cruelty and neglect. She's never had time for fairytales or Prince Charming and, as a young woman with a logical mind, her preference is for tidy facts over messy feelings. But with one glance from his dark eyes, Captain Guy Hathaway causes poor Emma a bundle of the latter and turns her cautious world on its head.

            To him she is nothing more than his little sister's shy, awkward friend, and she wouldn't know what to do with herself, in any case, if he ever looked at her as anything more than that.      
 
But there's something about Captain Hathaway...

 * * * *

            The charismatic captain has a reputation for trouble. Brawls, duels and dangerous women litter his past. With a mischievous sense of humor, a hot temper and a reckless impulse to leap in with both feet, he has always sailed along at a steady clip, determined never to be anchored too long in one place and never risking his heart. But lately he's felt a strange emptiness, a yearning for something he cannot identify. It began a few years ago, about the time he escorted his younger sister and two of her friends to a ball. Did he lose something there, or did he find it?

            Until he gets to the bottom of this mystery, he knows he won't be whole again.

            In the meantime, while he seeks out the source of this discontent, he can make himself useful, initiate some changes in his life and do a few good deeds for once. Why not? For instance— timid, plain little Miss Chance, his sister's droopy best friend, could surely benefit from a helping hand.

            The first time he met her she was a bundle of nerves, covered in a red rash and itching as if riddled with fleas. But he can't help feeling there is more to the strange creature than meets the eye.

            Yes, indeed, there is something about Emma Chance...

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Character Showcase - Kitty Waddenhoe

In THE PECULIAR FOLLY OF LONG LEGGED MEG our heroine is befriended by a colorful - and sometimes criminal - character who calls herself "Lady" Kitty Waddenhoe. Kitty lives her life on the road, traveling from town to town, charming gentlemen out of their breeches and their silver snuff-boxes whenever possible. She has tried her devious hands at many skills, but likes to call herself an actress. On the Georgian stage she has "whittled herself a profitable career with very little actual talent, a great deal of enthusiasm, a fine bosom, and an ability to spot a lonely gentleman with plump pockets from fifty paces. "

Kitty teaches Meg some valuable survival skills, as well as some useful tips for feminine grooming in the late 18th century.
"Pleasantly scented breath, Meg, is more valuable to a woman than a gold ring on her finger. A woman needs her smile and her bite, so take care of your teeth."
But despite her practical advice, Kitty has a sadly romantic soul, which means she must constantly be falling in love. It is her one weakness. As soon as one man loses his fresh appeal - which always happens before too long - she is anxious to be rid of him, and this often requires the speedy wielding of a chamber pot to the back of his head. Kitty has never learned the art of letting a man down gently.

There are few problems Kitty has never been unable to flirt her way out of and the wisdom she imparts to young Meg will stay with our heroine for years to come. With Kitty's encouragement she learns to walk with pride and purpose, to take up room without apologizing for it. Most of all, Kitty teaches Meg to hold onto her secrets, because, if she sets her mind to it, she can be whatever she wants to become.

"There are some things a lady should never tell, Meg. Her true age, what she will spend for a fine pair of shoes, what she is truly thinking, and where the bodies are buried."

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copyright Jayne Fresina 2017
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(image above "The Love Letter" by Jean Honere Fragonard)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Character Showcase - Lady Flora Hartnell and Lord Francis Chelmsworth

In The Peculiar Folly of Long Legged Meg the heroine has a number of good friends with whom she keeps merry society at the dower house. Among them is her very best friend for eight years, Lady Flora Hartnell - now also widowed, like Persey - and Lord Francis Chelmsworth, Flora's younger brother.

Francis is one of the young men in whom Persey hopes her stepdaughter might take a romantic interest. She believes Francis is highly suitable marriage material for Honoria, as he is the right age, handsome, good fun, chivalrous, kind and well set in life. Unfortunately, Lady Honoria is not in the mood to look at him currently, because she has her eye on an utterly unsuitable gardener hired by her brother to "improve" the grounds of his estate.

And Francis thinks he's in love with Persey, who does her best not to notice so she doesn't have to hurt his feelings.

Lady Flora and Persey have much in common. They are both the young widows of older men and they both enjoy life's little luxuries - good champagne, a boat ride on the lake, soft pillows and marzipan comfits for example. They can also both appreciate a well-made man, although only Flora is likely to confess it aloud. She is boldly unapologetic in her pursuit of fun and frolics and, like Persey, she cannot abide affected manners and pomposity. Flora has suffered her great-aunt's nagging for some years, because she adamantly refuses to stop running about the countryside enjoying her freedom and resists all efforts to get her respectably married again.

EXCERPT BELOW

            For the first time in several days, Persey was not hidden behind a hedge with her old opera glasses to see what the gardener was up to; she had decided, instead, to save her skirts from thorny branches and enjoy the company of Francis, Lord Chelmsworth and his widowed elder sister, Lady Flora Hartnell, her dearest friend for the last eight years. Together the two ladies had shared misadventures that had made her former husband laugh— and caused poor Albert to roll his eyes. The current marchioness made no secret of her disdain for Lady Flora, but this, naturally, did not curtail the friendship at all and such a visit could always be counted upon to bring Persey out of a glum mood, taking her mind off the latest battle with her daughter-in-law.

            "We heard about Minty's plans for the estate," Flora had exclaimed, dashing into her parlor that afternoon and embracing her as if they came to rescue their friend from imprisonment in the Tower of London. "I immediately knew you'd be in distress and I said to Francis, we must go to her at once!"

            "That was very good of you, Flora."

            But her brother had interrupted. "Don't believe a word from my sister's lips. She only wants to purloin a glimpse of the infamous Radcliffe."

            Although Flora fiercely denied this, as soon as they were on the lake and her brother pointed out the distant figure at work in the reeds, she craned her head about desperately to get a better look and finally insisted he turn the boat around before they could drift too far away. "That's him, isn't it? Is it? Is it Radcliffe? Oh, it must be for there, beside him, I see Lady Honoria. I heard he takes the job into his own hands and wields his own tools, but I hadn't realized he was so very... capable. Nor his tools quite so large."

            Persey groaned. "Why is it that everybody has heard of this wretched man but me?"

            "Because you do not follow fashion and keep to your own little society. You ought to get out more. Now you are no longer in mourning, there is no excuse."

            "I don't agree," Francis exclaimed. "I believe Persey's little society is the best there is and she needs nobody else. Particularly since her small, exclusive circle includes us. Obviously she is a woman of discerning tastes." He smiled at her, as he pulled back on the oars and the unaccustomed exercise caused a gleam of perspiration across his brow. "Why should she follow fashion when she can lead instead?"

            "Oh, do be quiet, Francis," his sister replied. "Persey and I are far more interested in the delightfully capable Radcliffe than we are in your opinions."

            "I can assure you I have no interest in that man, Flora. Why should I?"

            "Because you're not dead."

            "But I am old enough to have perfect control over my sensibilities. And he is more years my junior than I care to think about."

            But Flora, deaf to this protest, nudged Persey's arm, "Is it true that he works outdoors sometimes in a state of undress? I hear the Bainbridge maids swooned with clockwork regularity, while he was there, and the housekeeper could get nothing done because they were all creeping off to watch him work every day. Hiding behind hedges and such."

            Persey felt her cheeks glowing and ducked her chin, tucking her face further out of sight under the frayed, moth-bitten brim of her bonnet. "I really wouldn't know about that."

            "Do you pretend that you're not in the least curious?" Flora persisted.

            "Exactly so. Why should I be?"

            "Why should you not? What's the matter with you? You're not succumbing to a fever, are you?"

             Leaning away from her friend's questing hand as it reached for her forehead, Persey laughed. "I am not sixteen, Flora, and neither are you. Men are no mystery to me, and they all have the same parts, dressed or undressed."

            Francis muttered apologetically from the other end of the boat, "Of course you are much wiser, Persey, and would not have your head turned by every handsome scoundrel, as my sister does."

            "Nonsense, brother! Our dear friend Persey merely pretends she is above appreciating such a man's attributes, and you hold her in such high esteem that she can do no wrong in your eyes. To you, Persey is an angel, unsullied by the sin of lust. But I know her better. For one thing, I'm a woman and I know how devious our minds can be. Oh, don't blush, brother, you know I say these things to you, because I am your sister and entitled."

            Soon after this, Francis's efforts became even more of a struggle when, in a flustered temper, he broke an oar. It snapped in two as he attempted to free it from some stubborn weeds, and the little rowboat was reduced to turning in circles, the second oar gradually weighed down with thick green weeds in much the same way as the first. The two women did their best to advise him, but their attempts to help row with bonnets and hands only made the situation worse. When the second oar escaped his grip and sank somewhere amid the weeds, Persey could do nothing but laugh at Francis's aghast expression, and his sister joined in.

            "Glad I am you find this amusing," poor Chelmsworth exclaimed, looking down at his drenched thighs. "Now we're stuck. Ha ha! Yes, isn't it delightful? Jolly good fun." He tore off his gloves to show what he insisted were the beginnings of two blisters on his palms.

            But the angle of his sad, perplexed eyebrows only made Persey laugh harder. There was something about dear Francis's eyebrows that sent her into peals of tender laughter. Of course, she always had a soft spot for a gentleman in need. She only wished Honoria would take note of Lord Chelmsworth's fine features and feel a desire to look after him, but despite Persey's subtle attempts to recommend the fellow to her stepdaughter, so far the girl had shown no particular interest.

            When Francis reminded the two ladies that their predicament would not be quite so funny once they had run out of champagne— a tragedy likely soon to befall— Flora began shouting for help at once, waving to the people on the lake side.

Copyright Jayne Fresina 2017
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(illustration used above is from a painting of Lady Emma Hamilton by George Romney c. 1782)
 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Character Showcase - Albert, Marquess of Holbrooke, and his wife Araminta, the Marchioness

In The Peculiar Folly of Long-Legged Meg, the heroine is twice widowed Persephone (Persey), Dowager Marchioness of Holbrooke. She lives in the dower house of her former husband's estate and likes to think she has a purpose there, taking care of the grounds and looking after her stepchildren, Lady Honoria Foyle and Albert, the current Marquess.

Unfortunately Albert has married  a lady whose personality chafes constantly with that of the easy-going, fun-loving Persey. The new marchioness, trying to exert her own influence over Albert and the estate, finds her mother-in-law to be an irritating obstacle. While Persey finds Araminta to be a thorn in her side and suspects her daughter-in-law would be happiest if she was removed from the estate entirely. Their quarrels often put Albert in the middle, although he does his best to ignore them both - at least, for as long as he can.
Albert, despite being Persey's stepson, is a year older than she. He is somber, dutiful and still utterly mystified by the young woman his father took for a second wife eight years ago. Holbrooke is his life and he believes firmly that everything he does is for the good of the estate. And for his peace of mind.

For Albert it would be best if the dowager simply kept herself busy with her charity missions - the county hospital and the local village school she founded - but she insists on meddling in what he sees as "matters of the estate." These include the future marriage prospects of his little sister Honoria. The latest bone of contention between himself and Persey is how to find a husband for Honoria. Albert, in his usual organized fashion, has chosen two suitable, thoroughly-vetted prospects and expects his sister to select one of them. Persey thinks her stepdaughter should be able to choose her own husband from a wider pool than only two, hand-picked by Albert. After all, as she points out, Albert's matrimonial choices are not necessarily wise.

Araminta, Lady Holbrooke, has been married to Albert for three years. For two of those years she has been the Marchioness of Holbrooke, but to her intense frustration everybody - even her own husband at times - seems to prefer the "old" Lady Holbrooke. A few of the household servants have left the great house to serve Persey at the "lodge" instead, and to Araminta this is a betrayal. To make it worse, Lady Honoria Foyle clearly prefers the dowager's company and listens to her advice above that of anybody else. Especially Araminta's.

But she gets her vengeance in any way that she can, desperate to make a place for herself and let everybody know that she is now the mistress of the estate. In her eyes, her mother-in-law is an interfering busybody of whom Albert is far too tolerant. Well, she'll put a stop to that. Albert's stepmother can call her "Minty" as often as she likes - knowing how Araminta despises the sobriquet - but the new Marchioness of Holbrooke has finally found a way to really get under the skin of her nemesis. She's persuaded Albert to hire a talented, highly-fashionable young garden designer to improve the estate grounds and dig up the rose gardens that her mother-in-law loves so much.

As she gleefully tells Persey "Out with the old, in with the new."

Excerpt below from THE PECULIAR FOLLY OF LONG LEGGED MEG.

Grim-faced, the target of her entreaty sat like a tall, stout, silent tree trunk at the end of that long table, his eyes two round, dark, gloomy hollows, exposing a slowly decaying heartwood within the bark. Apparently he could not enjoy his boiled egg with any relish until she stopped talking, so his spoon remained poised in mid-air, the first crack yet to be administered with his usual firm swing. And she, suspecting he might agree with her reasoning, merely to be rid of her and get on with his egg, made the most of this chance.

            "Before he died," she continued, "your father said to me: Persephone, I ask of you only one thing. To guard and guide Honoria in any way that you can. And I swore, there and then, while that dear man lay upon his deathbed, that I would uphold his wishes."

            Albert lowered his arm slowly to the table, the spoon's purpose postponed further.

            "I took this vow to mean in matters of the heart, as well as any other," she added. "I, after all, have some experience of these torments, having lost two husbands I adored."

            The only response to this impassioned plea was a frigid sigh, little more than a breath one might exhale upon pinching one's finger in a well-sprung gate hinge. But Persephone waited patiently, familiar with her stepson's lack of animation and the slow, unenthused tempo with which he digested anything she ever said. As if he might have some reason to be suspicious of her motives and think her a woman of wicked cunning. Which she most certainly was not. Three quarters of the time.

            He studied the spoon in his hand, and then the boiled egg nestled in its little silver cup. One by one, the items on the table before him received a thoughtful scrutiny, while the dowager marchioness waited, somehow restraining herself from beating him about the head with her leather gardening gauntlets, trying desperately to remember her place. She might be his father's widow, and thus entitled to a degree of respect from the very proper marquess, but she was, in fact a year younger than he, and that always caused a certain friction in their debates.

            When he finally struck the shell of his boiled egg, it was with just a little too much force, and the yolk spurted out onto the cuff of his coat. Much to his stepmother's amusement, a change was finally wrought to Albert's physiognomy, as he gazed at the new, brilliant gold trimming to his coat sleeve.

            It was quite beyond her to resist a jaunty, "Oops. That's sure to stain."

            At this point, Albert's wife decided to assert herself shrilly into the conversation without having listened to most of it. With her plate filled from the chafing dishes on the sideboard, she lowered herself grandly to a chair across the table and exclaimed, "Of course my husband wants the best for Lady Honoria. That is without question. So is the fact that, as her elder brother, it is his place to decide what constitutes a good match."

            "That's what I am afraid of," Persephone muttered into her coffee cup.

            The younger woman bristled. "And what, pray tell, is that supposed to mean?" 

            "Like most things I say, it is nothing of any import to you, I'm sure, Minty dear."

            "I have asked you before, many times, not to call me by that dreadful sobriquet! My name is Araminta. It is disrespectful to shorten it in such a fashion. Minty, indeed! Albert, I wish you would tell her."

            The dowager marchioness set down her cup and looked innocently at her daughter-in-law. "But we are family, my dear." She stirred more sugar into her coffee. "Folk call me Persey all the time. It is a term of affection and if it puts people at their ease in my presence I do not object to it."

            "But Persey does not have the connotation of a humbug!"

            Persephone quickly looked down at her lap, clutching a napkin to her lips, for fear of exploding with laughter.

            "My stepmama," Albert finally intoned with grave formality, "has a distressingly informal manner, applied to everything she does. It amused my father greatly and so it was never discouraged, but rather the opposite."

            "And now we reap the consequences by having so much grievous laxity about the place," his wife exclaimed, adding smugly, "But that will change now."

            Albert inclined his head a half inch. "Since I inherited the marquessate I have done what I can to steer the place with a firmer hand— something that my lord father relinquished in his latterly years, when self-indulgent pleasures often overcame his duty to efficiency and responsibility."

            "As one of those decadent pleasures, I suppose you'd be rid of me if you could, Albert dear," his stepmother remarked, not entirely in jest. "Pension me off somewhere, even farther away than the lodge. Erase all sign of my short reign at your father's side altogether."

            He gave a pained sigh. "My lord father found good in you, Persephone, and I know you are a woman of mostly decent intentions." Here his wife exhaled a skeptical snort of great dimension, but he did not look at her and continued addressing his stepmother. "Your efforts on behalf of the parish sick are much to be commended. And I must admit that, despite the difference in your ages and my own doubts when he first brought you here, you made my lord father's last six years enjoyable. I make no argument with that. I simply wish you would now take your new place as his widow, satisfy your need to meddle with those worthy missions you have taken on about the village, and leave me to manage my sister and other matters of the estate."

            "But that is just it, Albert. Honoria is not a matter of the estate! She is not an overgrown yew tree hedge, a crumbling wall, or a portrait in need of restoration. She is your sister, a young woman with a beating heart and deep feelings. She is desirous to marry for love."

            Unlike you, she might have added, but thought better of it. Her daughter-in-law watched and listened at that moment with the sharpened senses of one determined to find fault, and Minty had a habit of contriving sly, effective ways to get her vengeance if she thought herself slighted. "My sister knows she has a duty to marry well, and I'm sure she wishes to please me," Albert replied, pushing his disappointing egg aside. "There are two suitors I have deemed acceptable. I cannot see why she needs a greater choice than two. Indeed, she is fortunate to have the indulgence of a choice at all. When a young girl is given too much variety in life, the likelihood of making a dire mistake is increased."

            "But I'm afraid Honoria has considered both those gentlemen that you were so kind as to offer her— has considered them at length— and she cares for neither enough to marry."

            "And why, pray tell, does she not come to me herself with this news?"

            "Because she adores you, Albert, and does not want to let you down. She dreads your disapproval."

             He rolled his eyes toward her as if they were heavy in their sockets. "So she thought you would serve as a better, more agreeable messenger of this news?"

            Persey chuckled softly. "Your sister knows I am already dented and bruised. She bears me before her like a shield that has withstood too many blows. One more can hardly damage me."

            There was, very nearly, a smile from the marquess. Or perhaps it was simply another swallowed belch. Whatever it might have been, the expression was aborted in the next moment when Araminta scraped her fork tines across her plate and her voice across their nerves at the same pitch.

            "Your sister is an ungrateful chit who cannot be satisfied, Albert. She will never be content in life, because nothing pleases her. She is a sulky, selfish girl, unappreciative of our efforts on her behalf."

            Persey held her temper as tightly as she clutched a crumpled napkin in her hand. "I believe she appreciates everything her brother does for her, and very much so."

            "Humph!" Araminta stabbed her herring and then dropped her fork, as if the effort of eating was all too much for her after all.

            "Albert," Persey turned to implore her stepson again, "please try to understand that your sister's heart must be won before she can agree to marry. I know it sometimes happens that love comes after the wedding, growing gradually over the years and with tender familiarity. But often times it does not and in such cases there is only misery for both parties. Your sister does not want that risk for herself, or for her future husband. And since she need be in no haste, surely—"

            "The girl has never been sensible, and you fill her head with more romantic nonsense," the woman across the table muttered.

            "Think of passion, Albert," Persey persisted. "The inexplicable connection between a man and a woman that cannot be bought or arranged or negotiated. Think of the quickening pulse, of the shortened breath, the longing and gladness one feels in one's heart, the exquisite yearning heat that comes with — "

            He held up his hand for silence, his creaking trunk pressed slightly backwards as if by a stiff gale. "That's quite enough, Persephone. I do not care for that sort of talk in any guise, but especially not at breakfast. Particularly when discussing my virtuous, little sister. The less she feels of that the better for all." A quick, uncomfortable glance at his wife followed this remark, but Minty was busy admiring herself in the silver creamer, momentarily distracted again. He continued addressing his stepmother. "I believe you know my opinion on the dangers of getting oneself overheated, madam. I understand some folk have less capability of maintaining self-control, but only you appear to think such failure worthy of celebration rather than censure."

            "One cannot control one's heart, Albert. It is not an egg to be boiled and served on command."

            "That may be true for a weaker person with little else to consume their thoughts. One who thinks of mischief at all hours of the day and night. A person, for instance—" he turned his sad eyes to her "—who has a very comfortable existence and wants for nothing, might spend far too much time on the contemplation of romance, and when they are beyond it themselves, they might begin to assign their own passions and ideas to the minds of young girls who are easily bent to their will and lured from the path of duty. It is all too common for one who feels her own better days might be behind her, to seek a life vicariously through someone younger."

            Well, that was wholly unfair, she thought, tossing yet more lumps of sugar into her coffee. He was very fortunate that she happened to be fond of trees and couldn't hold the occasional snagged skirt or sleeve against them. The one thing she must always remember about Albert was that he rarely felt an insult himself and therefore was surprised when anybody else did.

            "But you want your sister to be happy, do you not?  Your father did not interfere in your match."

            "Of course my father did not interfere," he said crisply. "He knew that I would not make my choice with a head clouded by love and romance. None of that was imperative to me when I chose my future companion. I looked specifically for a woman who would not arouse those kind of disturbances as you describe in my pulse and my heart— an organ, incidentally, that must continue to function steadily, without interruption, in order to keep me alive and of use to this estate. I looked for a woman of everything plain."

            During this speech, his wife had put down the silver creamer and begun to listen again as Albert talked proudly of the lack of passion in his married life. Persey felt her daughter-in-law's eyes, like wasps, darting about, looking for somebody to sting. Oh, this would not be good for her at all.

 
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(copyright Jayne Fresina 2017)

Illustrations above: Painting of James Erskine, Lord Alva by Allan Ramsay (1713-1784) and portrait of Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland by George Romney 1782.