I am so excited to announce that it's finally release day. The Long Way Home is out! For a full list of buy links (to be updated as they go live) and the Rafflecopter to win the 7" Kindle Fire I'm giving away this month, see below!
The Long Way Home took a lot of work to write and research, and I am proud to say that it's my favorite of the series so far. In this book, Alice Henshawe leaves Southwark and winds up becoming the inspiration for Charles Perrault's Cinderella (or Cendrillon) when she meets him at Versailles. How is such a thing possible?
I'm so glad you asked!
In want of a magic wand, Ysabeau, Chloe, and Marie-Clemence are forced to rely on surer methods to transform our humble barmaid into a legendary beauty: makeup and someone who knows how to put it on! In this new excerpt, we get a front-row seat to the intricacies of a 17th century makeover, egg whites and all.
***“You must relax or the crayon will leave creases and you’ll look like a madwoman.”
Alice clenched her teeth and attempted to relax as Laure, one of Chloë’s servants, applied the pearlescent peach crayon to her eyelids. She kept thinking about Chloë’s comment that a girl had been blinded by belladonna, and her eyes tried to glue themselves shut in protest.
She took a deep breath, willing herself to relax. The grit crayon was made of alabaster, ground to fine dust and bound with grease. Though it had, no doubt, been exorbitantly expensive, it was still made of rocks and Alice could feel the tiny specks of grit within it scraping her eyelids. She winced.
“Take care,” Ysabeau cautioned. “You mustn’t wrinkle your face.”
Alice let out a long, silent sigh. Right. Her face. Her face, neck, and chest had been covered in a thin white paste that had dried almost instantly in a flawless, ghostly mask. Ysabeau had assured her the substance was Venetian, as if that was supposed to mean something to her. As soon as it had dried, Laure took what looked like a pastry brush and covered every inch of it in a slimy yellowish film.
“Q’est-ce que c’est?” Alice asked her.
“Egg whites,” Laure had whispered, commiserating with a roll of her eyes. As a domestic servant, Laure was better situated than Alice had ever been, and likely came from a family of nobler birth. Not that it mattered to anyone else. To the ladies of the court, she and Alice were merely clay to shape in their image.
The egg whites dried quickly, tightening almost painfully around her skin. Her reflection had been so shiny that she looked shellacked. This was remedied by a generous dusting of white alabaster powder. Alice thought she must look like she had fallen into a sack of flour.
Now, her eyelids were pale pink. Laure withdrew yet another fluffy brush from a velvet-lined box and dipped it into a gold jar, coating the bristles with powder in a slightly different shade of pink. This she applied to Alice’s cheeks and under her chin. She followed the powder with a deep red crayon to Alice’s lips. It tasted of grease and chalk.
Alice had never worn anything on her lips before and found it an odd sensation. She peeked at the mirror past Laure’s shoulder only to be struck by Ysabeau’s fan.
“You mustn’t look until we have finished,” she purred. “The surprise will be that much more breathtaking.”
Alice felt her eyes widen. They weren’t done yet?
Once Laure had finished Alice’s face, she set to work on her hair, vigorously rubbing a thick, clove-scented paste into it. The motion made Alice think of making pie crust and she thought of Meg. No doubt Meg would enjoy every minute of this “pampering,” while Alice kept looking longingly at the door.
Laure liberally shook more powder into Alice’s hair and brushed the whole mess out until it felt like a voluminous cloud. She twisted it and pinned it efficiently, leaving a portion of it draped over Alice’s shoulder. This she curled with the tongs that had been left to heat in the fire. When they were applied to her hair, Alice smelled hot grease and burning hair, and again thought of the kitchens of the inn. Hiding in them, more often than not.
An image of Jack waiting at the bar came to mind and she smiled.
Ysabeau struck her with the fan. “No moving!”
Her smile faded. Alice closed her eyes, trying to find some enjoyment to having her hair curled for her. It was not likely to happen again. Truth be told, she would be relieved if it didn’t. She hoped they would tire of their little game quickly so she could scrape all of the rubbish off of her face. It itched terribly and the egg whites were beginning to smell.
As if she read her mind, Laure put the tongs back into the fire and pulled an exquisite glass bottle from the box. She pulled off the top and the smell of lavender filled the room.
Laure doused Alice in the perfume, the scent of the flowers sitting strangely against the tang of clove in her hair. Alice shifted uncomfortably. Was this meant to be appealing?
“Bon!” Ysabeau clapped. “I can see it already. The dress!”
Alice stood and they dressed her. A silver corset was laced over her shift, inches too long but tight enough to satisfy them. A sort of cage was tied around her waist and they lowered the skirt over it. It was as wide around the bottom as a wagon wheel. The dress came in several pieces of deep blue embroidered with silver thread and studded with sapphires and pearls. It was a far cry from the lovely mauve dress Jane had made for her. Alice tried to count the twinkling gemstones on her skirt, wondering how much such a thing would sell for in Southwark. If she sold the bodice alone, she could probably buy the inn outright and still have change left over for a new pair of shoes.
A pair of blue slippers were placed in front of her and she stepped into them, teetering on the tall heel. The sensation of standing off the ground was still so strange that for a moment she thought there was a rock stuck under the shoe. She was dismayed the heel did not budge as she rolled her foot. She was stuck with it.
The sleeves were pinned to her bodice, gloves were added, and a fan was thrust into her hand. She opened it tentatively to see it had been painted with an image of a triumphant golden god, echoing the sculptures she had seen in the gardens. At last, something she could hide behind.
An elaborate necklace of diamonds and pearls was draped around her neck and silver combs pushed firmly into her hair. Ysabeau studied her seriously, frowning. “Something is missing.”
Chloë and Marie-Clemence joined her inspection, their expressions mirrors of hers.
“A feather,” Chloë suggested.
“More diamonds,” mused Marie-Clemence.
Ysabeau’s eyes lit up. “A patch!”
The others tittered in agreement and Laure brought a little glass cask filled with what looked like black fabric. Ysabeau seized one between her fingers and applied a sticky substance to the back of it. She pressed it firmly to Alice’s cheekbone, just below her eye. “Oui, une passione. Parfaite!”
The others clapped happily and Laure set to packing the supplies back into the box. Before anyone had noticed, she had taken the box and slipped from the room.
Alice envied her. She used to be able to do that.
“Come,” Ysabeau ordered her. “Behold!”
Alice stifled a groan and stepped obediently to the mirror.
The face looking back at her was not her own. She looked startled, stiff, and very, very pale. The crayon enhanced her lips, making them look bitten, blurry, and oddly soft. She leaned forward to better inspect her reflection, noticing a couple of hairline cracks around her eyes from when she had smiled. The patch on her cheek was a little black heart.
Her hair was a cloud, twisted and pinned around her head and skyward, with loose curls hanging over her shoulder to her waist. With or without the powder, her hair was an indeterminate color. In spite of all the effort that had been put into it, she still did not think it particularly noteworthy.
The dress, on the other hand, contained a king’s ransom in jewels. Shining as it did, she was unlikely to draw more attention than the dress itself, and she found this thought comforting. With any luck, no one would look at her at all.
Ysabeau gave a long, contented sigh. “Voila! Cendrillon!”
Alice is right to be suspicious of the makeup. The ceruse she is wearing contains a great deal of white lead, and the Venetion ceruse Ysabeau is so fond of contains the highest level of all. It is most certainly poisonous and destroys the complexion quite thoroughly over time, necessitating the use of more ceruse to cover up the damage and poisoning you all the while. I don't know about you, but this makes me all the more grateful for my little compact of Cover Girl!
Although the court setting of this book is exciting and very different for me, I think the best part of the book is the love story. You might remember Alice's crush on Jack from Tyburn and Virtue's Lady. Well, six years have passed since Virtue's Lady ended and Alice and Jack have grown up apart. Alice still doesn't talk if she can help it, but she has learned to speak French with Sally and Jane as a secret language her sisters don't understand. Meanwhile, Jack has become a spy on the Dutch side of the Franco Dutch War. They meet again as intelligent, frighteningly competent adults, but when they see each other, it's like they're kids again, and it's a little awkward, to say the least. Things only become more awkward when they become "accidentally" married.
Oh, and that crush? Still there. Big time.
In the midst of the Affair of the Poisons and all the resulting drama and intrigue, there's quite a sweet love story unfolding between two of my favorite characters. And by "sweet", I do not mean PG.
This book has a spicy rating for a reason, but there's plenty of plot, historical details, and adorably awkward love to go along with it. I hope you enjoy it.
The Long Way Home
(The Southwark Saga, Book 3)
By Jessica Cale
Release Date: February 29th, 2016
Genre: Historical Romance, Adult Fairytale, Romantic Comedy, Action/Adventure
A paranoid king, a poison plot, and hideous shoes…it’s not easy being Cinderella.
After saving the life of the glamorous Marquise de Harfleur, painfully shy barmaid Alice Henshawe is employed as the lady’s companion and whisked away to Versailles. There, she catches King Louis’ eye and quickly becomes a court favorite as the muse for Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. The palace appears to be heaven itself, but there is danger hidden beneath the façade and Alice soon finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, and Satanism at the heart of the French court.
Having left his apprenticeship to serve King Charles as a spy, Jack Sharpe is given a mission that may just kill him. In the midst of the Franco-Dutch war, he is to investigate rumors of a poison plot by posing as a courtier, but he has a mission of his own. His childhood friend Alice Henshawe is missing and he will stop at nothing to see her safe. When he finds her in the company of the very people he is meant to be investigating, Jack begins to wonder if the sweet girl he grew up with has a dark side.
When a careless lie finds them accidentally married, Alice and Jack must rely on one another to survive the intrigues of the court. As old affection gives way to new passion, suspicion lingers. Can they trust each other, or is the real danger closer than they suspect?
“Really brilliant writing that's so engaging with such endearing characters! I especially love the way Jack and Alice are both so devoted to each other! I was totally absorbed in this exciting and fascinating world Jessica Cale created from the very first paragraph to the last! I read this all in one sitting, staying awake late to finish, just had to!” – Romazing Reader
"It was so hard to put this book down. The author has a way of drawing the reader into the action and story line. It’s an exciting story that constantly delivers the thrill that one gets from reading a good book. All else fades in the background and I was transported through time. It felt like I was Alice, experiencing everything first hand. The attention to detail like the smells, dresses, feelings, all felt real. For example, when Alice finds herself in King Louis court amongst the courtiers all dressed up with their over the top outfits and malodorous perfumes, I could actually smell what she was smelling. I fell in love with this book and with Alice. It was her inner monologue that made me laugh out loud." - Lampshade Reader
"Equal parts historical fiction and historical romance, The Long Way Home offered me a fascinating glimpse into the life, intrigue, and scandal that could be found in the court of King Louis XIV in 1677 France. Jessica Cale expertly wove historical facts and customs into the narrative without detracting from the plot... and all of it was fascinating. No skimming paragraphs in this novel! As for the romance... this was one of those slow burning, gentle rain romances that make one sigh in the end. I adored how Jessica Cale managed to make both main characters innocent, but not in the slightest bit weak and every bit intelligent and capable of saving themselves." - Amy Quinton
"Oh my... Jessica Cale has done it again, another delicious period romance with suspense, gorgeous descriptions of historical places and events and, of course LOVE. I ADORED the pairing of Alice and Jack, two lost souls who find themselves reunited after five painful years separation in Versailles of all places. I loved Jack, he's a charming male lead who is adorably still a virgin like Alice. Not enough romance novels take this tact and I was so into how eager and inexperienced they both were. I couldn't recommend this book more." - Eve Dangerfield
You can find it here: