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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Character Showcase - Prospero "Smokey" Piper

Prospero "Smokey" Piper is a self-made man who rose from poverty by way of a bourbon distillery and he is now a very wealthy businessman, a widower with three grown daughters to manage. His main hope for them is that they will make good marriages and provide him with grandchildren of whom he can be proud. He also wants them to be happy in life and has raised them to have confidence in themselves - to know that Pipers never give up.

As he tells Epiphany, his middle daughter, "There's always another way to conquer the mountain, girl. If someone gets in our way, we go around them and over them, and we don't pay them no more mind. We're adventurers and speculators by nature."

He fears - rightly so, as it turns out - that he might have been a little lax in his daughters' upbringing after their mother died. This is never more evident than when Epiphany ("Pip") causes a scandal that rocks Boston society and makes it necessary to pack her and her sisters off into exile abroad until the furor blows over. Not knowing what else to do, he hands the girls over to his sister Queenie to chaperone in England, then sits back and hopes for the best. Perhaps they'll find titled husbands to help raise his own status in America and stop certain "high and mighty types" from looking down their noses at him.

But like all the best laid plans this one will soon run into problems.

His eldest daughter is soon engaged to the son of a viscount and Prospero is so delighted and relieved that he proceeds with the arrangements immediately, on the urging of his sister and his daughter. He's not a man who knows much about etiquette and has a warm trust in his sister's ability to spot an opportunity. As Queenie often says, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

When a series of unfortunate events (no spoilers here!) leave his daughters stranded and unchaperoned in England, Pip, his wayward middle daughter, suddenly finds herself having to step up and assume the responsibilities she always thought she wanted and could manage. Meanwhile, many thousands of miles away Prospero realizes that this plan to launch his daughters into London society was, perhaps, not his wisest idea ever. But it's not the first time he's made an error or missed his aim. He has lost and won back a fortune several times over and life is, as he knows only too well, nothing if not unpredictable. Without taking a little risk once in a while, a man may as well be dead. Without rolling the dice, no game would ever be won.

Now, with all fingers crossed, he must hope that his daughter stays strong under pressure. Fortunately , he knows she's no fading lily and can protect herself.

"Mr. Prospero "Smokey" Piper, of Louisiana and various other parts unknown and best unmentioned— a man who believed that when one ran out of opportunities one simply made more— was the first ambitious and wealthy American businessman to think of this idea, not that any history book or self-professed "expert" will tell you that, because...well, just like that first attempt at building a still behind his family's outhouse as a young boy, this plan didn't exactly turn out the way he expected either.

And although explosions were inevitable, it was not his grandmother's drawers in danger this time."

Copyright Jayne Fresina 2017

Want to read more? Get DAMON UNDONE here!

Happy Reading!

 (Picture of Washington's Still)


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An excerpt from Damon Undone

            Pleasanter, less aggravated faces could be found before feeding time at the zoological gardens in Regent's Park, she mused. He reminded her at once of Master Grumbles, an Irish wolfhound her father once owned. That gentle giant of a dog had followed her everywhere with a misleadingly depressed expression, as if the onerous responsibility of looking after her was almost more than it could bear, despite the fact that they always had a great deal of fun together and nobody had ever told the dog it must be her companion.
            "Sir, your foot." Pointing the end of her fan downward, she gestured to the item that kept her prisoner. "If you don't mind."
            "My foot?" he snapped impatiently, his mind clearly on other matters he deemed more important. Perhaps he was thinking of a bone he'd buried and trying to remember where. "What? What about it?"
            "It's on my shawl."
            His irritable gaze finally shifted to the marble steps as he swiveled partially around. "For pity's sake! Why the devil do women need all these blessed... attachments?" he growled at the lace shawl, holding it up to peruse the large, dirty hole he'd rendered there. "Something this flimsy has no practical service whatsoever and merely gets in the way."
           As she too assessed the damage, her heart sank. Merrythought had only lent her the shawl because it was the general consensus, as they exited the carriage, that Pip's gown showed a grievous amount of shoulder and bosom— something nobody had noticed before they left the house because she was late coming down, dragging her feet. Pip seldom studied herself in a mirror, so little interested in what she wore that she was most likely reading a book, writing a letter, or playing solitaire while being hoisted, laced and primped into her clothes by her aunt's dutiful, but not terribly sensible maid.
            The wolfhound growled onward under his breath, "Too many frills and furbelows dangling off you. As if all the hoops and petticoats aren't enough to keep us at bay. I believe the soldiers at Agincourt wore less armor."
            Before he got any more dirt upon her sister's shawl, she snatched it from his over-sized paw and draped it over her arm. "I quite agree. I'd be more content in my drawers alone, but I suspect this society would be outraged by the sight. Believe me, I've considered it more than once, even if it was only to liven up the proceedings."
            About to dismiss her by turning away again, instead he pivoted fully around, his gaze sharpened, those cool, gun-metal grey eyes inspecting her thoroughly. She stood before him, pinned to the spot, feeling as if invisible, commanding fingers gripped her face and held it to the light. "What's wrong with you?" he demanded.
            Where does one start, she thought wryly. But, of course, she must keep up appearances, for her sisters' sake. "I cannot imagine what you mean," she replied with all necessary hauteur. "There's nothing wrong with me. At least I'm in marginally appropriate dress for a ball." He, on the other hand, was not. Surrounded by gentlemen in crisply groomed evening attire, he stood out in his top boots, riding breeches and tweed coat.
            His thick hair was damp and tousled enough to suggest a very recent ride through the rain, in great haste and hatless. The state of his boots and breeches— for he wore no spatterdashes— also revealed the muddiness of the streets through which he had traveled. Apparently he cared little for the impression he made in the grand entrance hall of Lord Courtenay's town house and had as much concern for his appearance as Pip had for her own. The mud specks across his face— which she first mistook for freckles— told her that he, unlike most gentlemen on the staircase, had not consulted any of the mirrored panels on the wall. The skewed sideways knot of his neck cloth, smudged with the same grimy prints as the fingers of his gloves, hinted at the frequent tugging of an angry, frustrated hand. Everything about him suggested disdain for convention and so much impatient haste that it seemed as if he moved at speed, even while he stood still before her. And she must be moving with him, for her heart raced and all the other people on the staircase became mere blurs of color.
            Most young men she met struck her immediately as uninteresting, their minds sluggish and as little predisposed to anything beyond their own uncomplicated, immediate pleasure as plump cats on a sunny veranda. But this man's face was guarded and clever, his eyes lit with the restless, hungry, throbbing gleam of a hungry, bustling internal life. It drew her in; made her curious and challenged at first sight. Made her want to wipe away the remaining mud spatters for him, even at the risk of being bitten.
            He squinted hard at her. "There is something wrong with you." Moving up to join her on the same step, the man persisted, "You speak... strangely."
            "Do I?"
            "Yes, there is something the matter with you."
            "I can't think what you mean."
             And then his eyes flared, "You're a bloody American."
            She drew a quick breath, standing as tall as she could— which, in her mind, was six foot at least, and in reality was a little over five feet and two scant inches. Allegedly. She was certain the measuring stick lied. "Yes," she said proudly, "I am American."
            "Why didn't you say so then?"
            Eyebrows raised, she replied, "I beg your pardon. I didn't think that was what you meant by there being something the matter with me. Something wrong with me."
            He huffed, apparently amused in an arrogant way. "Didn't you indeed?" Shaking his head, he added, "Americans at the Courtenay's spring ball. Whatever is the world coming to? Still, I suppose it's a comic novelty for the luridly curious. Last year I heard they had acrobats and a fortune teller. Lady Courtenay once rode in on a unicorn, so they say." He flicked a finger across his nose, disposing of several dried mud flecks, as he exhaled a curt sigh. "It must be exhausting coming up with a diversion nobody has yet thought of. But Americans? I didn't realize old Courtenay had such a riotous sense of humor."
            Pip smiled brightly in a manner that would have fooled nobody who knew her. "Just you wait. In a year or two we'll be all the fashion and everyone will want one. Even you."
            "I wouldn't make a wager of it." His eyes narrowed, fingers paused in the process of fidgeting with the knot of his neck cloth again. "What are you doing here in any case?"
            Now that was an odd question, she mused. "Why does one usually attend a ball?" But when answered by his silence and another thorough perusal that could only be described as darkly suspicious and slightly indecent, she added, "I'm a spy, of course. Why else would I be here amongst you miserable people? Certainly not likely to have any fun, am I? Somehow your countrymen manage to take the pleasure out of everything with all your stifling, petty rules of etiquette. You wouldn't know a good party if it ran up and slapped you. I have already been warned that I must not, under any circumstances, laugh out loud in this society."
            "A spy?" he muttered. "I might have guessed."
            "Our government sent me to understand the workings of that." With her fan she pointed up at his mouth, almost touching it, "English Stiff Upper Lip."
            He did not flinch away from her fan, but looked at it and then at her again. "And what have you discovered?"
            "That it keeps you all in a state of pompous and frigid inflexibility, so confined by your traditions, unwelcoming to foreigners and outraged by anything different or new, that you dare not move forward."
            "I can see you have your advantages as a spy, being so... short of stature. Indeed I barely knew you were there." With airy nonchalance, hands behind his back, he added, "Until you began to make noise."
            She laughed. "Oh, I may be short, but I have ways of bringing men down to my size. I wouldn't underestimate me, if I were you, sir."
            Once again he had begun to turn away, but then stopped. "And how, precisely, do you imagine you'd bring me to my knees?"
(copyright Jayne Fresina 2017)

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Find out how Miss Epiphany "Pip" Piper brings Damon Deverell to his knees in DAMON UNDONE - out now!

TWISTED E-Publishing
(Image above is a beautiful detail from "Portrait of a Young Woman with a Lace Shawl" by Adelaide Salles-Wagner c. 1850)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Character Showcase - Queenie Du Bois

In DAMON UNDONE, the heroine and her two sisters are sent to England by their wealthy father to escape scandal and, hopefully, gather a little elegant sophistication -- not to mention a few titled, landed husbands. The lady chosen to chaperone the sisters on this adventure is their aunt, a colorful, lively lady who has traveled extensively and, in the words of our heroine, is "well versed in the art of marriage and husbands, having disposed of several herself. Not all of them her own."

Queenie Du Bois likes to let everybody know that she is still grieving her last husband - a charming wastrel who died in debt - and she has no intention to marry again herself, but that doesn't stop her eagerly matchmaking for those three nieces in her charge. She takes this mission very seriously, but it's an uphill task, particularly when unsavory rumors manage to follow those young women across the Atlantic and into London drawing rooms.

Along with her brother Prospero she was born into poverty in Louisiana. Since those early days, they have both gained and lost fortunes several times over, but they possess a certain stubborn resiliency that soon helps them back on their feet and smiling after every defeat. They are never without resources for too long and will use whatever method they find at their fingertips to raise their status in life. 
For the past few years Queenie has lived a full and luxurious existence, restlessly skipping about Europe and, basically, relying on her wits. Occasionally - when necessary - she has accepted her brother's financial assistance, and now she wants to repay that debt by getting his daughters married into the aristocracy. For the time being Queenie has settled in England, where she considers herself an expert on Society  and manners, "even going so far as to speak, at times, with a frighteningly inept semblance of an English accent. Nobody had yet told her how bizarre it sounded."

Queenie is a determined lady, with a practical eye and a severe distrust of poets and lawyers. She is not averse to fighting dirty, as our hero discovers when he steps beyond his boundaries with one of her precious charges. But even he can't help admiring her fearlessness. Damon Deverell has squared off, undaunted, against some of the most vicious delinquents and cunning rogues from London's underbelly, but Queenie Du Bois could put them all in the shade.

As her niece likes to say, "One could take Queenie Du Bois out of Hog's Flank, Louisiana, dress her up and give her airs and graces, but one could not quite take the Hog's Flank out of Queenie."

DAMON UNDONE arrives Wednesday, April 26th, 2017. Happy Reading!


copyright Jayne Fresina 2017

(Painting: A Portrait of Francisca Carolina Gonzaga de Braganca by Franz Xavier Winterhalter c. 1850)

Friday, April 21, 2017

DAMON DEVERELL is about to be undone

Is it a battle of the sexes, a comedy of errors, or a chemical reaction? Perhaps a little bit of all three...

Coming on Wednesday April 26th, DAMON UNDONE (The Deverells Book Five).

            "We're not going to get along, you and I, are we?"

            "Good god, I hope not."

            Thus begins the acquaintance of Damon Deverell and a young woman he finds under his feet one evening, at a ball to which he isn't invited She reminds him instantly of someone he knew before, but that would be impossible, of course, because she — the girl from  his past—was entirely a construct of his own imagination. Wherever this disturbingly real woman came from, he's determined to maintain a cautious distance. But when he's hired to keep an eye on her, Damon's resolve to keep it "merely business" is soon threatened by some fresh-baked muffins, a pair of ankles he wishes he'd never seen, and a certain bold, independent American woman who boasts of a "very efficient right hook".

            Miss Epiphany "Pip" Piper has been sent into exile abroad, where her father hopes she'll learn to cool off her hot temper, acquire some elegant manners, and, hopefully, find a titled husband.  Mr. Prospero "Smokey" Piper, of Louisiana and various other parts unknown and best unmentioned, claims to be the first ambitious and wealthy American businessman to think of this idea, but just like his very first boyhood attempt at building a whiskey still behind the family outhouse, this plan doesn't exactly turn out the way he expects either.

            And although explosions are inevitable, it's not his grandmother's drawers in danger this time.

            When these two stubborn young people— Damon the "merciless shark" of a lawyer, who likes his world in order, and the utterly disorderly Miss Piper, a "despicable girl of whom nothing could be made"- find themselves thrown together by mischievous fate, it's not just a battle of the sexes or even a comedy of errors, it's a chemical reaction that will change both their worlds forever.