Wow! Today is an exciting day. As you might have noticed, although I publish a pretty constant stream of history articles over at Dirty, Sexy History, I don't like to blog about myself all that often. It's something I should probably get better at, but I've never gotten past the idea that readers probably aren't interested in my private life unless I am a) one of my characters in real life (spoiler alert: I'm all of them) or b) announcing that I have finally finished another book (wait for it...). If there is anything you'd like to know, though, feel free to ask. I love you, I just don't want to irritate you.
Having said that, the down side to under-sharing is that when something exciting happens, it can feel like it's out of the blue. Take my latest project, for example:
That's right. The brilliant Belles in Blue have put together a massive box set of holiday novellas and it's available for pre-order today. As bluestockings, we are understandably in favor of education, so we will be donating 25% of the proceeds to the Malala Fund to support them in their mission to provide education for girls all over the world.
So what does this mean for fans of The Southwark Saga? Well, you're getting a present for the holidays.
While you are patiently waiting for me to get off Blogger and finish Book 4, you can have a little peek into the future of Nick and Sally's family. The whole box set takes place at a holiday party in 1812, so this is also my first story set during the Regency period. In 1812, Apollo Rothschild is the Earl of Somerton. He is a descendant of both Nick & Sally and Meg Henshawe (how? Stay tuned!). Heroine Charlotte Halfpenny is distantly related to Jack Sharpe, the hero from The Long Way Home. The novella is short for me, but is packed with tons of little hints about what happens to the families in The Southwark Saga between Tyburn in 1671 and Artemis in 1812.
I'm happy with the way it turned out, and I really hope you'll like it, too. It's a bit different (you'll see what I mean), but I think you'll agree it's still very much one of mine.
Heh heh heh.
Having said all of that, I am absolutely thrilled to announce that the latest Bluestocking Belles collection, Holly and Hopeful Hearts, is available for pre-order. Read all about the collection and the other outstanding stories in this set below. They are all fantastic, and I am honored that Artemis is included among them.
Read on for an exclusive long excerpt from my new novella, Artemis.
Holly and Hopeful Hearts
A Holiday Collection by The Bluestocking Belles
Regency romance, historical romance, holiday romance
Heat rating: G--PG13
Release date: November 8th, 2016
When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?
by Jessica Cale
Actress Charlotte Halfpenny is in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and out of a job, Charlotte faces eviction two weeks before Christmas. When the reclusive Earl of Somerton makes her an outrageous offer, she has no choice but to accept. Could he be the man of her dreams, or is the nightmare just beginning?
“There are two ways to look at everything.” Charlotte paused for dramatic effect, curling blue fingers over the side of the bridge. “All beginnings are endings in disguise. Place of arrival or means of escape; will I find my end at the bottom, or fall clear through the other side?”
The wind swallowed her famous voice and carried it away, taking the last thing she had of any value. It was the ice in the air that had caused her voice to shake, she reasoned. She was far too cold to feel the fear lurking in her heart, insulated as it was by dread and resignation. It was too dark to see anything but a great growling blackness over the side, but the smell assured her she had reached the right place.
“It’s only a river,” she reassured herself, though the observation brought her little comfort. Ravenous beast or churning waves, it would swallow her just the same. “Would it be better to drown or be devoured?”
She turned to face her audience, but they paid her no mind. Not ten paces away, they shuffled their wings, dark feathers gleaming in the moonlight like polished knives as they pecked at a murky spot beyond. The play had been over perhaps an hour, and now she couldn’t even command the attention of crows.
Her laugh brought a welcome puff of warmth to her lips as she turned toward the river once again. The night was worse than cold, it was merciless, and it carried with it a dampness that seeped into her every pore, chilling her to her bones and invading her weary heart. Perhaps she would freeze before she could drown.
The bridge was as famous as she was, a dubious honor. The fastest way between London and the poorest boroughs to the south, the city’s whores frequently threw themselves off of it as they returned home from long days servicing the wealthier streets in rented gowns and sagging feathers. It got them all, in the end. Perhaps it was not the easiest way to go, but it was there. Living the way they did, all that silver had to look tempting from time to time.
What was an actress but a whore? Her father, a playwright, loved his quill to distraction but had nothing but disdain for the painted players who brought his words to life. The last time she had spoken to him, he’d asked her that very question and Charlotte, in her wisdom, had asked him why he had married one.
“Prescient as ever, Father,” she addressed his memory, straddling the railing of the bridge, the only barrier between her sort and their inevitable end. She didn’t want to die, but what choice did she have? Cast out by her lover and sacked by her theater, she had no family, no income, no future. All she had was an expanding belly and a week to vacate her ex-lover’s rooms.
“A week until Christmas,” she muttered. “Prick.”
She didn’t kid herself she’d be able to get back onstage after the baby came. After ten good years of drawing crowds, she was already being replaced by younger, fresher women, actresses from the country who couldn’t enunciate if she took their jaws into her own hands and moved their lips herself, but didn’t London love a new face? She’d passed for twenty-two for years now, but it was only a matter of time until someone remembered she’d been nineteen ten years ago. Christ.
Before long, she’d be little more than a buttock broker’s bunter. If her child survived, it would be destined for the workhouse.
That was not something she could abide.
“Wesley Thomas Cheltenham Sneed,” she seethed, searching her overdeveloped imagination for a curse befitting the man who had abandoned her, noble by birth if not character.
She let out a long sigh. There was no point to it.
She had met his betrothed. He deserved precisely what he was getting.
The sound of wheels popping over the stones startled her and she gripped the edge, struggling to keep her balance. Oddly enough, she didn’t much care for the idea of falling in.
She clung to her perch as the coach passed, hoping the darkness would shield her from prying eyes. What would it matter if they saw her, really? She was just another Drury Lane Vestal succumbing to the inevitable, after all.
Her jaw clenched in protest at her morose line of thought. She didn’t really believe that, did she?
The wheels stopped.
Charlotte turned as she heard her name.
The coach was old and cumbersome but meticulously maintained, set high above the street on wheels the size of card tables. Unadorned but for a coat of lacquer, it was dark as the team of blacks that idled before it. The door stood open and a man leaned out, his youthful appearance illuminated by the glass-encased lantern swinging from a hook on the side.
He regarded her with an expression caught somewhere between confusion and terror. “Might I be of assistance?”
Clean shaven and slight of form, she might have mistaken him for a boy, albeit a remarkably pretty one. His hair was short and neat, dark as his horses. His jaw was angular and his mouth more serious than generous, but his eyes were bright and pale. She never forgot a face. She tried to place his.
“Somerton.” She smiled as the name came to her. She was face to face with the reclusive Earl of Somerton.
He alighted from the coach and approached her as though she were a frightened animal. “Please, will you come down from there?”
His voice was mellow, sweet, and very expensive. It sounded like tea with the Queen. He held out his hand.
She took it with only a moment’s hesitation and he visibly relaxed as she climbed down. He was taller than she would have guessed and elegant as a dancer, not a thread out of place on his immaculate suit. Even his cravat looked as though he’d just tied it.
There was something odd about him, but she couldn’t quite place it. He was unlike any man she had ever been near, too composed, too perfect. “You’re freezing,” he observed, the vapor of his breath the only cloud in the night. “May I escort you home?”
She shivered, remembering her unfortunate circumstances. “I don’t have a home anymore.”
His eyebrows drew together in concern, or perhaps distaste. “Then I suppose you shall have to come to mine.”
Charlotte blinked, taken aback. “With all due respect, Lord Somerton, if you’re looking for a poke, you can piss off. You’re a handsome bloke, but I’ve had quite a day.”
The only hint that he had heard her was the slight widening of his eyes.
They were silver, just like the river.
He cleared his throat. “I meant no disrespect, Miss Halfpenny, only it is very cold and I hate to think of you out here on your own. Would you consent to joining me for supper? I give you my word as a gentleman that I will not touch you.”
She looked him over, seeking signs of good character in the shine of his boots and the fit of his coat. His character may be questionable, but his tailor was a damned genius. He was leaner than most and held himself with a grace that was both authoritative and arresting in its beauty. It was his eyes that drew her gaze once again. She saw no ill-intent there, but a sort of quiet desperation that mirrored her own.
He was lonely.
Her heart began to thaw even as her mind warned her against accompanying strange noblemen back their homes in the night. A man of Somerton’s standing could drown her himself in sight of the King and half of Parliament and never get done for it.
She shrugged off her foreboding. There’s no harm in it. You were about to drown yourself, remember?
“You wouldn’t mind? Your wife isn’t likely to welcome an actress to her table.”
“I’m not married, and you’re most welcome. Indeed, I would be honored to have you as my guest. I am a great admirer of your work.”
Charlotte blushed at the compliment. Somerton had seen her? “I do not have the most spotless of reputations. I would not wish to cause you dishonor.”
He raised a dark brow playfully. “My household is very good at keeping secrets.”
Something about the way he said this made her want learn them all.
“I would be delighted to join you, Lord Somerton.”
His smile was a mystery, a shadow on the face of the moon.
Holly and Hopeful Hearts also contains:
A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight
As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Surely she can find a suitable husband amongst the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party. Above stairs or possibly below.
Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis
Facing a dim future as a spinster under her mother’s thumb, Vanessa Sedgely makes a practical decision to attach an amiable gentleman who will not try to rule her life.
A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing
Young widow Grace, Lady de Courtenay, has no idea how a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would make her yearn for love again. Can she learn to forgive Lord Nicholas Lacey and set aside their differences to let love into her heart?
The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight
James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.
Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack
Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke who chases after every skirt he sees. Anna truly thinks the dashing duke cares for her, but her mother has her doubts.
An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield
Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people, but she wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?
Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett
Headstrong bluestocking, Miss Kate Woodville, never thought her Christmas would be spent racing across England with a viscount hell-bent on vengeance. She certainly never expected to find love...
Pre-order now for only $2.99:
About the Bluestocking Belles
The Bluestocking Belles, the “BellesInBlue”, are seven very different writers united by a love of history and a history of writing about love. From sweet to steamy, from light-hearted fun to dark tortured tales full of angst, from London ballrooms to country cottages to the sultan’s seraglio, one or more of us will have a tale to suit your tastes and mood. Come visit us at http://bluestockingbelles.net and kick up your bluestockinged heels!
The Bluestocking Belles proudly support The Malala Fund charity.