Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Romance and suspense in Victorian Beauty

Sometimes taking a risk is worth it....and sometimes there's no other choice
Victorian Beauty

Blurb: A historical romance set in northern England in 1864-5. Melanie Grey has to face the future alone, scarred and penniless after an accident has destroyed her previous life.


The duke’s face swooped toward her. Knowing what was to come, Melanie cowered from him. Grinning, showing his worn, stained teeth, he reached for her, hooked his fingers in the white bodice of her nightgown and jerked. The fabric ripped with a screech that drowned her whimper of fear. Scrabbling backwards, she saw the hectic flush of crimson on his cheekbones and knew he had been drinking heavily. He edged toward her across the bed, his movements clumsy, and clutched fiercely at her wrist.
‘No, please, not tonight,’ she begged, wincing at his punishing grip.
He shook his head. ‘You will do as I wish,’ he said. ‘All night long, if it pleases me.’

As always when the dreams struck, Melanie woke muddled and exhausted. The bitter taste of them often upset her for hours afterwards, but she must be ready to face the interview with Lord Jarrow. She scrambled out of bed and rushed through her toilette, determined to shake off the remnants of the dream and give a good account of herself. Seclusion would be ideal, she thought with wry cynicism, if only she could be allowed to enjoy it.
Standing outside the Master’s study with her references clutched tight in her hand shortly after nine o’clock, she took a deep breath in an attempt to stop her heart skittering around in her chest.

Mrs Dawkins, plump and encouraging, patted her arm. ‘In ye go,’ she whispered. ‘Just remember he’s got a heart of gold. It might not look that way at first, and I’d not tell everyone, ye understand, but ye…I don’t know why, pet, I’m sure, but ye seem to fit Gavington.’

She waddled away towards the kitchen at the back of the house.
Melanie watched her go, and then looked at the imposing door with its bright gilt furniture. She lifted her hand to knock and hesitated once more. Her stomach rolled unpleasantly, and for a brief moment, Melanie wished herself anywhere but outside Lord Jarrow’s study door. Tucking her chin into her high starched collar, she patted the curving loop of hair to ensure it masked her disfigured cheek. Then there was nothing else to do but take a deep, calming breath, and knock at the door.
A low grunt answered her. She took it to be an invitation to enter.
Victorian Beauty is available on Amazon Kindle: Here

Jen Black, author of Far After Gold and Fair Border Bride.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Gone West now in paperback

by Carola Dunn

GONE WEST (a BritSpeak idiom meaning died or disappeared) is the 20th mystery in my Daisy Dalrymple series, set in England in the 1920s. It came out in hardcover in the US (and paperback in the UK) a year ago and the US paperback edition is just out. It's also available for Kindle, Nook, and other ebook formats, and in large print.

This is an excerpt from the first chapter. You can read a bit from later in the book here:

Lucy had chosen a table next to the ornamental brass rail, banked with flowers, that separated the green and gold balcony from the oval opening to the main dining room below. Though a professional photographer, Lucy was also a member of fashionable society, from sleek dark Eton crop to scarlet-painted fingertips to barely knee-length hemline. It was typical of her to want a good view of the other patrons of the establishment.

That was not the reason she gave for her choice. "Darling, I thought we'd better hide up here. I have a frightful feeling that Sybil has probably turned into the sort of dowd one doesn't care to be seen with."

"How unkind! Why?"

"You said she wrote from a farm, in Derbyshire of all places."

"What's wrong with Derbyshire? Ever heard of Chatsworth?"

"Of course, but the country seat of the Duke of Devonshire can hardly be compared to a farm-house!"

"Hush, I think this must be Sybil coming up the stairs now. She looks vaguely familiar. And quite smart enough to associate with me, if not at your exalted level. You're always telling me I have no notion of fashion."

The young woman ascending the staircase wore a heather-mixture tweed costume. Daisy was no expert, but the skirt and jacket looked to her to be quite nicely cut, though well-worn, making the best of a figure somewhat on the sturdy side. The lavender cloche hat, adorned with a small spray of speckled feathers, matched the silk blouse. A string of pearls, silk stockings and good leather shoes, low-heeled, completed the picture of a well-to-do if not fashion-conscious country dweller visiting the capital.

Sybil Sutherby certainly didn't look like a typical farmer's wife. Though, like Daisy, her only make-up was a dab of powder on her nose and a touch of lipstick, her face was not noticeably weathered. In fact, she was rather pale, accentuating a dismayed expression that Daisy put down to Lucy's unexpected presence.

"Hello, Sybil. How nice to see you after all these years," said Daisy, stretching the truth somewhat.

"Daisy, you haven't changed a bit." They shook hands.

The waiter seated Sybil, handed menus all round, and departed.

"You remember Lucy? Fotheringay as was."

"Lucy. Of course." She hesitated. "It's Lady Gerald, isn't it?"

"So you keep up with the news, Mrs. Sutherby," Lucy drawled. "How do you do?"

"For pity's sake," Daisy said, annoyed, "we were all spotty schoolgirls together. Let's not stand on our dignities. I'm going to decide what I want for lunch, and then I'd like to hear what you're up to these days, Sybil."

Discussing the choices on the √† la carte menu thawed the ice between Lucy and Sybil a bit, to Daisy's relief. 

The waiter returned and took their order.

After a moment of slightly uncomfortable silence, Sybil said abruptly, "I've read some of your articles, Daisy. You write very well."

Lucy gave Daisy a knowing look. "What about you, Sybil?" she asked with a hint of a sarcastic inflection. "Have you settled into a life of cosy domesticity?"

Sybil flushed. "Far from it. My husband was killed in the War. I was lucky enough to find a job quite quickly, secretary to an author. A live-in job, where I can have my little girl with me." Her hand went to her necklace. "I didn't even have to sell Mother's pearls. And I've been there ever since."

Daisy decided it was a bit late to start expressing condolences which would inevitably lead to further, endless condolences. Everyone had lost someone in the War including her own brother and her fiancé, or in the influenza pandemic, which had killed her father, the late Viscount Dalrymple. She seized on a less emotionally fraught topic. "Is your author someone I might have read?"

"I doubt it. A rather...specialised field. But I did hope to have a word with you, Daisy..." She glanced sideways at Lucy.

"About your work? Go ahead. Lucy won't mind. Underneath the frivolous exterior, she's a working woman too."

"I don't think..."

"You haven't got yourself involved in the production of 'blue' books, have you?" Lucy's question was blunt, but for once her tone was discreetly lowered.

"Certainly not!"

"Sorry. It's just that the way you said 'a rather specialised field' tends to leave one to jump to conclusions."

Daisy laughed. "I'm prepared to swear that's not the conclusion I jumped to. What's the matter, Sybil?"

"I'd prefer to talk to you later."

"No can do. Lucy and I have an appointment with our joint editor immediately after lunch. But Lucy knows all my secrets—well, almost all. She's not going to blurt out your troubles to all and sundry."

"Silent as the grave," said Lucy. "Cross my heart and hope to die. My lips are sealed."

"Be serious," Daisy admonished her severely, "or why should Sybil trust you?"

"It's not so much—" Sybil began, but the waiter interrupted, arriving with their soup.

By the time he went away again, she had made up her mind.

"All right, if you say so, Daisy. I wasn't sure whether... I know you married a detective, and I heard that you've helped him to investigate several crimes."

"Lucy, have you been telling tales, after I've been crying up your discretion?"

"Darling, I'm not the only one aware of your criminous activities. What about your Indian friend?"

"I hardly think Sakari would have any opportunity to spill the beans to Sybil!"

"But there have been at least a couple of other old school pals you've saved from the hangman. Word gets around."

"It's nothing like that!" Sybil exclaimed. "Not murder, I mean. Just a mystery of sorts. There's probably nothing in it."

"In what?" Daisy asked.

"It's an uncomfortable, troubled atmosphere, really. I feel as if something's going on, but I can't pin it down. That's why I want your help."

"If you can't be precise," said Lucy impatiently, "how do you expect her to advise you?"

"I was hoping you'd come and stay for a few days, Daisy. I'm hoping you'll tell me it's all in my imagination."

Lucy looked at her as if she was mad. Daisy was intrigued. She had indeed been caught up in the investigation of a number of unpleasant occurrences, but they had all been concrete acts of a violent nature. A mysterious atmosphere would make a change and might prove interesting. What was more, with no crime in the offing, Alec could hardly object to her going to stay with an old friend.

Large print

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Guest blog: Anita Seymour - 'Royalist Rebel'

Intelligent, witty and beautiful, Elizabeth Murray wasn’t born noble; her family’s fortunes came from her Scottish father’s boyhood friendship with King Charles. As the heir to Ham House, their mansion on the Thames near Richmond, Elizabeth was always destined for greater things.

Royalist Rebel is the story of Elizabeth’s youth during the English Civil War, of a determined and passionate young woman dedicated to Ham House, the Royalist cause and the three men in her life; her father William Murray, son of a minister who rose to become King Charles’ friend and confidant, the rich baronet Lionel Tollemache, her husband of twenty years who adored her and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, Charles II’s favourite.

With William Murray at King Charles’ exiled court in Oxford, the five Murray women have to cope alone. Crippled by fines for their Royalist sympathies, and besieged by the Surrey Sequestration Committee, Elizabeth must find a wealthy, non-political husband to save herself, her sisters, and their inheritance.

Royalist Rebel is released on 17th January 2013 from Claymore Books.


Cousin Henderson stands by the open door, her face devoid of colour, and a hand pressed to her breast. She catches sight of me and her lips open, then close, but she appears unable to form any words.
‘Cousin,’ I snap, alerted to the sound of bits jangling and male shouts from outside. ‘What is happening? You look as if the entrance to Hell lies on the other side of that door.’ I attempt a half-hearted laugh. Surely nothing worse could happen after the news of yesterday? My boots click on stone as I hurry forward, my intent to demand she either close the door or explain herself.
The sight that greets me sends my stomach plunging and my breath hitches. What looks like an entire regiment of Parliamentarian soldiers line up on the other side of the gates. Two officers on horseback ride hard up and down beside the river, shouting orders, their mounts scuffing the turf with their hooves, scattering the sheep.
I release a low groan at the sight of Captain Fitton, who dismounts a massive horse that must be one of the few animals alive able to carry his substantial weight. Despite the hard times visited on the rest of us, the man looks to have increased his girth considerably. He approaches the gates with slow, deliberate strides, his sour grin firmly in place.
‘May God have mercy on us,’ Cousin Henderson whispers and grips my arm so hard, I wince.
‘I’d pray to Lord Fairfax if I were you, Cousin.’ I disengage her fingers and stride forward. ‘He is more use to us now.’
I reach the gates before the captain, and without the thought fully formed in my head, I slide the bolt into place, narrowly missing my thumb.
‘Now, Mistress Murray.’ The captain’s sing-song voice echoes across the courtyard, followed by an insulting guffaw, its echo taken up by the men behind him. ‘No slip of a girl shall disobey Sir
Richard Onslow’s orders.’
‘And what orders would those be, sir?’ I ask, playing for time.
What do they want? Is their appearance due to what has happened to Father? Are we all to be put under close arrest? I think of Mother, ill in bed, and hope one of the servants warns her.
I have no idea why or how I will achieve it, but it comes to me that if I can delay whatever they have in mind, even for a short while, a solution will present itself.
Captain Fitton plants his shovel-sized hands on his hips, and breathes onion fumes harsh enough to melt the wrought iron bars. ‘This property is to be put to the use of my men here.’ He waves
a hand at the assembled soldiers. ‘You should be grateful, Mistress. Our presence will offer protection to your family.’
‘We don’t require protection, Captain.’ My voice is steady but my knees shake. ‘Until the army came to Kingston, we were perfectly safe. We are law-abiding people.’
‘Hah! Not our law. Not Parliament’s law.’ He looks to his officers for approval which comes in nods and murmurs of assent before turning back to me. ‘Besides, the matter is not open for discussion.’ His ingratiating voice turns to a growl. ‘Now, stand aside and allow us through.’ He waves the troopers on before turning aside to talk to a man on horseback.
‘You say you have orders, Captain,’ I shout above the sound of booted feet scrambling into formation ready to begin their approach. ‘May I see them?’ Panic lifts my voice an octave higher,
but I hold my ground. Despite his coarse manners, surely Captain Fitton would not revert to force? I am half his size and to drag me bodily away from the gates is bound to diminish him in the eyes of
his men. Yet a doubt lingers. If only I had a stout padlock for this gate!
Fitton narrows his eyes. ‘You’ve a brave mouth on you, Mistress Murray for someone whose father is in the Tower as a spy.’ A gleam of malice appears in his eyes and I have to resist the urge to spit in his face.
‘My father will be released soon. He has powerful friends who-’
‘Friends who could not keep him out of gaol in the first place. Put not your trust in them, lady.’ His heavy features harden with angry contempt. ‘Now, get this gate open.’
The lines of foot soldiers halt, murmuring in mild confusion. A voice says something I do not catch, followed by a shout of coarse laughter that sends warmth into my face.
Fury keeps me defiant, though I doubt my feet would move even if I wanted them to. ‘I will not prevent you, Captain, if that is what Sir Richard decrees. However, I insist you show me your orders so I may see how many are to be quartered here, and what is required of us.’ I am gabbling, unsure of my ground, but determined not to give in without a fight.
He lifts his arms and lets them fall again. ‘I don’t have the documents with me. You will have to take my word they exist. Now if you would stand aside.’
‘No! I demand to see the papers first.’
His eyes widen, then dull with anger. He utters several incoherent sounds, most probably curses, and lurches at the gate. His fingers resemble fat sausages as he grips the bars on either side of his scowling face. The sight so ridiculous, it is all I can do not to laugh.
‘Would you defy the Parliament army?’ he bellows, ‘I order you to allow my men to pass!’
I lick my lips, fearing my voice is about to desert me altogether. ‘I defy no one. I merely ask that you allow me to see your written orders.’
My quiet tone seems to anger him more, and his lips curl cruelly upward.
A soldier sidles to the captain’s shoulder, glances briefly at me, then whispers something to the captain.
Captain Fitton’s skin turns a dull red and he cocks his chin at me in contempt. ‘You tell her!’ He throws me a contemptuous snarl, and then stomps away to join his group of officers, all of whom
regard me with similar disdain.
The man before me is young and athletic-looking. He removes his lobster-tail helmet, gives a polite bow and regards me with intelligent eyes.
Immediately I relax, knowing I can reason with this man. Then I wonder what makes someone like him join the New Model Army. His coat is well made and fits him without a wrinkle. His boots are
new and highly polished, and his short sword is obviously the work of a master craftsman.
‘I apologise for this unexpected intrusion, Mistress Murray,’ he says, his voice smooth and courtier-like. ‘Captain Fitton appears oblivious of the fact that your household may not be prepared for the invasion of forty extra-er guests.’ He indicates the captain, who glowers at me from a distance.
‘Forty?’ I stare at the young man, open-mouthed. ‘How are we expected to accommodate so many?’ I envisage eighty booted feet scuffing our floors and wiping dirty hands on the bed hangings.
My ears start to buzz and I swallow noisily.
He shrugs and offers a deprecating smile. ‘Our requirements are quite basic. I am sure we shall manage.’ He fixes me with a direct gaze. ‘Besides, Mistress. You have no choice.’
‘I do not mean to thwart you, or Captain Fitton.’ I hesitate, ‘I’m sorry, I do not know your name.’
‘It is Carter, Mistress. Sergeant Robin Carter.’
‘Well, Sergeant Carter. Are we to be given no opportunity to prepare? Apart from the servants, we are five women alone. Surely you would allow us time to organise our accommodation to allow
for the presence of so many men?’
‘If you would wait but a moment, Mistress.’ He blows air through pursed lips, his gaze on the knot of officers. Then he turns and strides to where Captain Fitton stands.
I clench my fists at my side as they hold an earnest conversation, which Fitton punctuates with jerky arm movements and a permanent scowl.
What am I doing? They will occupy the house whether I fight every officer in the troop or not. I will have to let them in eventually, so why humiliate myself? I cast a look behind me and have to suppress a laugh. The horrified faces of my cousin and my sisters line up behind the upper front windows. The lower ones display Master Ball, the housekeeper, and that of several nervous-looking maids and footmen.
A gentle tap on the gate brings my attention back to Sergeant Carter. ‘Um-Captain Fitton has agreed to return at this time tomorrow with the documents you requested, Mistress Murray.’ I am about to
thank him when his smile dissolves. ‘We concede you triumphed today, however, he will be less accommodating on the morrow.’
His voice drops to a whisper. ‘Whatever you feel you gained by this action, I hope it is worth it.’
So do I.


Anita Seymour
Born in London, Anita has always been fascinated with the history of that city. She began writing historical family sagas, then experimented with Victorian Gothic romance, though now she feels she has found her niche with 17th Century historical biographical novels with her latest book, 'Royalist Rebel' released by Claymore Books in January 2013. She also reviews for the Historical Novel Review Blog

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Emer can't believe she's for sale....

Blurb: Emer thinks there's nothing worse than a Viking slave camp...until a buyer appears and pays silver for her.

Far After Gold


The overseer’s cane caught Emer’s shoulder. She cried out at the bruising sting of it, flinched away from him and tripped over someone’s feet.

‘One more word out of you,’ he bellowed, ‘and I’ll see you on the next ship for Africa!’

Against such a threat, the pain seemed insignificant. Scrambling to get out of his way, she reached the back wall of the slave compound, sank to her haunches in the dust and hugged her knee as she used to do when a child. Trembling with fright and anger, she bit her lip to hold back tears.
A hundred paces away, the huge wooden doors of the stockade creaked open. Around her, male slaves stood straighter, but the women, fearing the worst, clutched their children. Men thought buyers offered an opportunity to get out of the slave market, but the women feared separation from their children. Emer, one of the few very young women in the compound, squeezed her eyes shut, and then decided she had to see what was happening and opened them again.

The buyers marched across the compound. The older man held himself well though his face was seamed with years and his beard streaked with grey. Strength and confidence shimmered in the air around his much younger companion, and sunlight bounced off his silver-gilt hair. Emer swallowed against a sudden rush of fear. They looked like Norsemen, and everyone knew the stories of how they treated their slaves.

The overseer cracked his whip in the air. Male slaves moved forward and the women and children stayed where they were. Emer stood at the back of the group. Her heart still beat faster than usual, and she bit her lip as she watched the strangers. Though she’d only been in the stockade a few days, the foul, stinking compound and crude shelters seemed a better option than being dragged away to some other miserable future.

The buyers walked among the male slaves, and chose young men who would no doubt work in their fields and barns. Emer hung her head and breathed a silent prayer of thanks that she had been spared.

Alerted by the shuffling of feet in the dust around her, Emer looked up and stiffened. The buyers had spoken to the overseer, who barked out a command. The women shuffled away from Emer when the guard strode forward and seized her arm. Yanking her out of the line, he dragged her to the front of the group.

Emer found it hard to breathe. Frantic prayers ran through her head. Not me! Dear Lord, don’t let him take me! She tried to free her arm, would have run if she could, but the guard’s rough grasp tightened, making her yelp in pain.

Title: Far Aftr Gold

Author: Jen Black

Genre: Historical romantic suspense

Price: $1.57 and £0.98 will take you to the Review/Buy page and will take you to Jen's blog.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Anthem for Doomed Youth II

by Carola Dunn,
 author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, the Cornish Mysteries, and over 30 Regencies. 

I'm revisiting Anthem for Doomed Youth because it's been chosen as part of a Barnes and Noble promotion for Downton Abbey. There seem to be some problems with the promo--many stores apparently haven't even heard of it, and though my newly reprinted book is in the stores, I've so far had no reports of it being sighted in those displays that have been put up!

My previous excerpts from Anthem are here:
along with more information about the book.

 [Daisy has been playing with her toddler twins in the nursery when the parlourmaid comes to say Scotland Yard is on the phone.]
She hurried downstairs, filled with foreboding. When Alec rang up in the middle of the day, it invariably meant a disruption of their plans. Not that plans were ever anything but tentative when one's husband was a Detective Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard, liable to be called to the outer reaches of the kingdom at a moment's notice.
She picked up the "daffodil" stand, sat down on the chair by the hall table, and put the receiver to her ear. "Tom?"
"Afternoon, Mrs Fletcher. How's my godson?"
"Screaming for Dada. Healthy lungs! But I assume he won't be seeing him for a while?"
"The Chief'll have to tell you about that. Can you hold on half a mo, please, he's on another telephone."
"Of course. How is Mrs Tring?"
"Blooming." DS Tring adored his wife, a large woman though not as large as Tom. That didn't stop his having a wonderful way with female servants when he needed to extract information. "And Miss Miranda?"
"Likewise. Her vocabulary grows by leaps and bounds. Not quite up to yours yet."
"I'll have to look to my laurels."
Daisy pictured his luxuriant moustache twitching as he grinned. "Belinda's pretty good too. It's her school sports day on Saturday. Oh no, don't tell me—"
"There's no way of knowing, Mrs Fletcher. Here's the Chief."
"Alec? Darling, you're not going to miss Bel's sports day, are you?"
"I hope not. If we haven't made an arrest by then, I might be able to sneak away for the afternoon. Epping can't be more than forty miles from Saffron Walden."
"You're only going to Epping? I was afraid it might be Northumberland."
"You always are, love. I can't think why."
"Because it's so far away. But Epping— You'll come home for the night, then?"
"Yes, but don't wait dinner for me."
"Don't half the murderers in London bury bodies in Epping Forest?"
"It's often been considered a convenient spot." Alec sounded amused.
"If that's where you're going, don't forget to take Wellington boots. It's still belting down."
"The forecast's for a clearing trend tonight. Let's hope they're right for once."
Daisy jumped to the obvious conclusion. "So you are going to dig up a body in Epping Forest?"
"Three of them. For a start. I'm only telling you because there's no conceivable way you can get yourself mixed up in this case."
"Of course not! But do be careful, darling. I'd hate for the fourth body to be you."
"No fear of that, love. I must run."
"Should I tell Mrs Dobson to leave something out for you?"
"No, I'll pick up a bite to eat somewhere. Coming, Tom!" He said good-bye and rang off.
Daisy hung up. Three bodies! Assuming they had all been killed by the same person—a madman? Or perhaps a member of an East End gang?—there would be a lot of pressure on the police to arrest someone before another murder followed. Not that Alec didn't always clear up his cases as quickly as possible.
Still, today was Wednesday. It didn't seem likely that he would be finished by Saturday, or even free to take an afternoon off. Poor Belinda! Though happy at school, she was so looking forward to seeing them. She would have to make do with her stepmother. Luckily she was used to Daddy disappearing at unpredictable intervals. She had been a detective's daughter much longer than Daisy had been a detective's wife. 

So Daisy goes off to visit her stepdaughter (at the school I went to much later on!), and inevitable gets mixed up in a murder--which may be connected with Alec's case--or maybe not. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Mapping it out

When writing a historical novel, research is naturally a vital instrument in making the story rich in detail and as authentic as possible to the reader, sweeping them up and transporting them back in time to a place that is as true to the real thing as we, the writer, can make it, then allowing the reader's imagination to take them the rest of the way.
Part of my research that I find very important and enjoyable is studying maps of the areas I set my books. I have spent hours pouring over the smallest details on printed maps that I've managed to find drawn from the eras I write. By having maps of those eras at hand, I am able to send my characters down the correct roads, across the right rivers, and climb the named moors and mountains of the area. To my characters, who have lived in that area they need to know the places, roads and rivers as well as if they actually lived there, as do I.
A good map will always be of valuable use to a writer, and in turn, that information will be of great benefit to the story and hopefully make it more enjoyable and real for the reader.

For example, in my book The House of Women, which is set in Leeds, West Yorkshire, I have found maps of 1870 to help me get a feel of the area my characters would travel.

The House of Woman, example:
The rumble of the carriage wheels sounded loudly in the slum quarters of the town. A half moon shone in the star-littered black sky, etching the town in long shadows. They passed revellers and private parties where the light and noise spilt onto the street, but the chill of the cloudless night kept most indoors. Too many of the town’s inhabitants, New Year’s Eve was an ordinary night and tomorrow’s start of another year gave them no cause for celebration. Nothing was going to alter their circumstances, no matter what the year date proclaimed.
A tomcat’s cry rang out through the narrow lane as Doyle assisted Grace from the carriage. Back-to-back hovels lined either side of the lane. She lifted her skirts from the sludge-covered stone flags.
‘This way.’ The messenger showed them towards an archway between the houses. No glow of light filtered from windows to help them to find their way through the cut. Its limited width forced them to walk single file. The short passage opened onto a square yard bordered by rundown houses that seemed to lean against each other for support. Even in the shadowed gloom, the filth and waste was visible. A lingering stench assaulted their noses, making breathing unpleasant.
‘Your aunt lives here?’ Grace was alarmed to think of the dapper Mrs Bates living amongst such conditions.
‘No, she lives a few streets away, she covers the whole area,’ the man replied, opening a door. He waited until they were beside him in the dark stairwell. ‘This is a place where people go who’ve a penny to spare for a bed.’
‘A penny for a bed.’ Grace shook her head as they followed him up the rickety stairs to the next landing. There, he paused, before opening another door and stepping back to allow Grace and Doyle to enter on their own.
‘Oh my…’ Grace breathed. She stared at the bunks of beds lining the walls and grouped in the middle of the room. Women and children lay huddled together; some coughed the phlegm cough of the dreaded tuberculosis. Few spoke in low voices, but most slept letting their weary bodies get what rest they could. As Grace passed the beds, those awake clutched at their meagre belongings thinking they might be stolen.
‘Put your handkerchief to your nose, Grace.’ Doyle muttered. ‘I hate the thought of you within the confines of this hideous house.’
A single lantern, suspended from a beam, issued a weak light. Grace walked on. Her eyes, now accustomed to the dimness, picked out Mrs Bates at the end of the long room. She hurried to her side, only to stop short upon seeing the figure on the bed. Stifling a cry, Grace bent low to stare at the woman on the bottom bunk. Mrs Bates is wrong. This cannot be Letitia.

The House of Women can be purchased in paperback or in ebook formats from various places such as Amazon USA and Amazon UK.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Peter Alan Orchard: 'A Pig in the Roses' - new excerpt

A Pig in the Roses
Smashwords 2010

Buy links and more excerpts:

Here's a new paragraph or two, a bit lighter than usual, from my ancient Greece whodunit. After a little formal business relating to a charge of murder, posh cavalry commander Aristarkhos goes back to his party:


As Aristarkhos wandered back into the men’s dining room, the sound of laughter replaced gloomy formality as the guests arrived. Two friends of Perikles sailed into the room first, wearing smiles fit to polish the silver with. Behind them came, unknown to his father, a slight boy with a red face and no beard yet worth the name, the King-Arkhon’s son Polystratos.
Draped around Polystratos, chattering to him breathlessly in a confidential tone which explained the redness of his face, was Aristarkhos' favourite courtesan.
Aristarkhos held out both arms. 'Melitta, my dear girl, stop teasing the poor boy and sit with me. I've just had serious unexpected business and you must relax me.' Being able to wear a full-length  dress, at least three layers of patterned fabric swathed around the shoulders and arms, numerous decorative belts and chains and still seem naked was one of Melitta’s gifts, and Aristarkhos was grateful for it.
Melitta flowed from the young man’s hot grasp to a reclining position next to Aristarkhos. Ensuring that at least one sleek leg was visible from thigh to ankle-bracelet to painted toenails, she opened her eyes wide and ran both jewelled hands across her tumble of blonde hair. 'Business, Aristarkhos? What a rude person to interrupt you in the evening. What was it about, or can't you tell?'
'A denunciation, I'm afraid.'
'Oh, wonderful! A robbery was it, or something better? Let me guess. It was a fisherman who sank someone else's boat with his own, and it was full of sardines, and -'
Aristarkhos gave her a look that stopped her like a stone wall. 'It was a murder.'
Embarrassed, Melitta squirmed slightly on the couch. 'Anyone I know?'
'Not your class, my girl, and far too old. If he has any sense he’ll flee the city and Tellias won’t have to send him for trial.'
‘Is that enough? For a murder?’
‘Maybe not in Samos, but in Athens, yes. If he is genuinely tainted by murder, the Solemn Ones will eventually hook their talons into his soul and tear him apart on behalf of his victim. Meanwhile the city is polluted by the disease of his presence, so if he stays in Athens we execute him. If he leaves, he is no longer a citizen, which for a proper Athenian, comes to much the same thing. Some people still think it’s worth trying some inferior life elsewhere.’ Aristarkhos looked around the room and remembered something. He went to the door. 'Boy!'
The sound of footsteps grew louder in the corridor.
'Olives!' Aristarkhos returned to his couch and looked around the room with a puzzled expression on his leather face. 'What happened to the flute-girls?'
The door opened again and two young Lydian girls sidled in, each with blonde hair and an expression of winsome nervousness.
'At last!' Aristarkhos lay back on the couch. Just out of Melitta’s line of vision, he gave each girl a look of pure lust. Then he turned to the final guest, who had appeared in the doorway behind the Lydians. 'Last again, Kleitias,' he said irritably. 'Why do you always have to keep us waiting?'   

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Victorian Beauty by Jen Black

An unputdownable new title from Jen Black to celebrate the New Year!
Damaged physically and sexually, Melanie the Dowager Duchess of Yaxley escapes from an abusive son in law to become a housekeeper in a remote Northumbrian village. The Master of the house, Jarrow, is a widower with a delightful daughter, but few funds. Jarrow has his scars, but he also has a secret life that unnerves Melanie when she discovers what it is that occupies his nights. This historical romance with its great sense of time and setting, leads the reader through the clash of the scarred personalities, troubles with excise men to a resolution which surprises them both. Slowly Melanie realizes that Jarrow might just be the man who can make her believe in second chances.
Product Details
‘Gavington House, Miss.’

The coachman, no doubt anxious to reach his journey’s end before dark, was briskly polite as he drew the coach to a halt on the road between Corbridge and Morpeth. Descending unaided and with some difficulty, given her hooped skirt, she saw he had deposited her bag beside the imposing stone pillars of an open gateway. He tipped his hat to her and sprang back up to his perch with a cry to his horses. She watched the coach roll along the lane, and waved away the cloud of dust and grit that flew up behind the large wheels.

Green hedgerows divided greener fields, and there was not a dwelling in sight. Looking around, Melanie shivered. The snarling griffins with claws dug into the top of the stone gateposts added to her feeling of unease. Stepping closer, she realised the griffins protected a date incised into the stone beneath them: 1524. Gavington House had stood here for three hundred and forty years.

A little unnerved by such a span of time, Melanie stooped, gripped the handles of her portmanteau and marched between the gate posts with a determined stride. The gates had been opened and then abandoned some time ago, for tall weeds grew on both sides of them. Odd, she thought, as she walked along the weedy gravel drive that led through a shadowy clump of pine trees. Though she had packed only the necessities and a fresh gown for tomorrow’s interview, her leather bag was heavy and the gravel drive did not make for easy walking. Full of shallow gradients and curves, it wound through the trees in a most annoying way. Now and then, through gaps in the foliage, she caught sight of what must be Gavington House.

Had she been in the comfort of a sprung carriage, she would have found the approach charming and no doubt been delighted with each pretty vista as it appeared. But after twenty minutes of energetic walking, Melanie hesitated. The drive was about to take one of its unnecessary bends away from the house, which was plainly visible two hundred yards away in the opposite direction.

With a frustrated sigh, Melanie gripped her bag firmly, brushed through the low hanging branches and strode out across the lawn. If she were shot for it, she would not follow that drive an instant longer. Hurrying across the open stretch of recently scythed grass, she glanced over her shoulder, half expecting an irate gardener or gamekeeper to chase her off the hallowed turf.
Published 26th December 2012 Available only on Amazon Kindle