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Win US$25 to Celebrate Release Day for Lady Unveiled

The Grange, home of the Partingtons

I can’t believe what a strange feeling it was to finish Lady Unveiled and say farewell to my characters – for now – in my Daughter of Sin series. For five years Hetty and Araminta have been part of my life, squabbling amidst finding ways to help themselves, and other members of their family, find the happiness they deserve amidst an espionage plot in which one sister’s husband is embroiled.

Her Gilded Prison was the first book I wrote for Ellora’s Cave, followed by Dangerous Gentlemen, and then since June this year I’ve written the final three books, each of which pick up the stories of all the sisters – nobly born Hetty and Araminta, and illegitimate Lissa (a governess in The Mysterious Governess) and Kitty (an actress in Beyond Rubies).

Lady Unveiled - The Cuckold ConspiracyTo celebrate the release of the Lady Unveiled~The Cuckold Conspiracy, I’m doing a 2-week excerpt tour (dates and links, below) during which a random commenter will have the chance to win a US$25 Amazon voucher and the first three books in the series.

For a limited time Dangerous Gentlemen is free on all platforms here.

It’s a chance to see if this series full of mystery and intrigue is for you. And you might well, if you like intrigue and darker themes underpinning a story featuring a sweet heroine under siege. However it’s not for readers of romance who prefer everything to be perfectly happy and ordered by the end of the book. Though my lovely heroine gets her HEA there’s a scene near the end of Dangerous Gentlemen that sets in motion a plot that runs through the rest of the series and is the foundation for the next series (starting 18 years later) featuring a lost child.

Some reviewers don’t like that at all. And here’s another warning. There’s quite a bit of steam in this book. (It was written for Ellora’s Cave, after all, though I’ve toned it down a little for this iteration, as I have Her Gilded Prison.) The next three books aren’t as steamy but the intrigue and mystery and increasingly in evidence.

So that’s what you can expect. I’d much Dangerous Gentlemen wasn’t read by readers who might be offended by an explicit scene in which a dastardly scheme (that sets in motion the rest of the series) goes wrong for several of the characters before all working out several books later.

And now I’m back to work, doing a revision on Rake’s Honour to tone down the heat level of that book, also. After the tour dates for Lady Unveiled I’ve put up an extract of the first two pages.

Thanks so much for reading this far and I hope you enjoy it. 🙂TourBanner_LadyUnveiled

March 27: T’s Stuff
March 28: Straight From the Library
March 29: Fabulous and Brunette
March 30: Hearts and Scribbles
March 30: The Reading Addict
March 31: Reviews by Crystal
March 31: Notes From a Romantic’s Heart
April 3: A Writer’s Life
April 4: Up ‘Til Dawn Book Blog
April 5: Romance Author Hear Me Roar
April 5: Lorana Hoopes
April 6: Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews
April 7: The Avid Reader

Read an Extract

Chapter One

Lucinda’s angry, discordant note on the piano brought Lissa’s head up sharply. It seemed her disgruntled charge had finally—like Lissa—had enough of the muffled and completely inappropriate giggles of Lord Beecham’s ‘special friend’. For the last hour, Lissa had sat quietly sewing by the window, as well behaved as any good governess could be suffering such trials.

Meanwhile, seated on an elegant blue and silver silk-striped sofa opposite the piano, Lord Beecham seemed wholly occupied with his increasingly regular guest, Lady Julia and, until now, impervious to his ward’s attempt to regain his attention.

Lissa slanted a glance at Lucinda. When Lucinda was angry she was not a pretty girl. Her peaches and cream complexion became red and mottled, her rose-bud shaped mouth flattened into a harsh, thin line and her normally luminous blue eyes seemed almost black beneath beetling brows. This was how she looked now as she hunched on the piano stool, glowering at Lady Julia—or Lady Ledger, wife of Sir Archie Ledger if she were happy to be properly identified, which, judging by the surreptitious fondling she and Lord Beecham were engaged in today, she would not.

Lady Julia, supposedly an earl’s daughter fallen on hard times, was supposedly Lucinda’s very young godmother. She arrived at Lord Beecham’s London townhouse at regular intervals, heavily veiled, to instruct Miss Lucinda Martindale in the musical arts though she could not—as far as Lissa could tell—play a note. At least, Lissa had never heard her play a note, though she’d heard a lot of other noise emanating from Lady Julia during her visits to his lordship’s bedroom between music lessons.

Finally, it seemed, Lucinda had got what she’d been after: Lord Beecham’s undivided attention.

“What an infernal noise!” he exclaimed, the dewy adoration as he’d gazed at Lady Julia instantly replaced by a thunderous scowl as he jerked his head round to look at Lucinda. “I spend a fortune on your musical education! Surely I should expect better than that!”

Lucinda’s mobile face went through a gamut of emotions: devastation then outrage, however her mouth remained a thin, tight line. It was quite obvious the girl was desperately in love with her benefactor into whose care she’d been placed the previous year upon the death of her parents and younger brother during a scarlet fever outbreak in their village. But while Lucinda was obstinate and demanding of her governess, she had never, as far as Lissa knew, openly challenged Lord Beecham.

Nevertheless, there was an underlying challenge now in the girl’s demure: “Perhaps Lady Julia would care to demonstrate how Pachelbel’s Canon in D should really sound.”

Lady Julia, who had attempted to discreetly put at least several inches between her thigh and that of his Lordship’s on the settee, smiled sweetly. “My dear, I don’t want to show you up.” She patted her bright golden hair, then purred, “Please, play it again. With just a little more practice you will have mastered it, and Lord Beecham and I are quite happy for you to entertain us while I continue to outline to him my hopes on how your general carriage, demeanor and…might I add without offence…character itself, might be improved sufficiently to make your come-out without undue embarrassment to either yourself or his Lordship.”

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Looming deadline means Procrastination

Lady Unveiled - The Cuckold Conspiracy

Lady Unveiled – The Cuckold Conspiracy

What do writers do when they have a deadline looming?

They procrastinate, of course!

That’s what I’m doing. With at least 10,000 words to write in the next 5 days in order to finish Lady Unveiled~The Cuckold Conspiracy, Book 5 in my Daughters of Sin series, I’ve just finished cleaning the laundry and now I’m writing a blog post.

 Because I don’t know how to finish my book!

So I’m going to try and talk my way through it. Yesterday I was teaching a creative writing class, locally, in the Macedon Ranges, Victoria, when I was asked what my series was about. Suddenly the ideal description came to me. I told my student: “Imagine the Borgias are long-term house guests at Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice.”

Yes, that should give one an idea of the scandalous, intrigue-filled world of the Borgias superimposed upon the refined surroundings of a Pride and Prejudice setting. Araminta, the beautiful daughter of Lord and Lady Partington would, of course, be Lucrezia.

I know it shouldn’t take five books to define what one’s series is about but I’m an organic writer. (Not that that is any kind of an explanation, I know. When I start to panic, I’m in the habit of casting around for reasons that have little to do with the question.) However, this is my process: When I sit down, my characters speak to me through the words that spill out of my fingers and onto the keyboard. At the end, I weave it all together so there’s a clear narrative from start to finish.

The series kicked off with Her Gilded Prison which was accepted by Ellora’s Cave after the editor liked my different take on the ‘older woman, younger man story with a twist’. It’s the tale of sweet Sybil, the lonely and unloved wife of Viscount Partington, and her unlikely love affair with the dashing heir to her husband’s estate, newly arrived from fighting the peninsular wars. I had no idea the story would morph into the multi-layered tale it has. The book ends with her two daughters getting ready for a hectic London season. (I’m not telling what happens to gorgeous Sybil and dashing Stephen.)

Book 2 – Dangerous Gentlemen – focuses on the sibling rivalry between earnest and “do-gooding” Hetty and her spoiled and vain older sister Araminta who’s been so beastly to her in the first book. Araminta tries to steal Hetty’s true love in book 1 and – can you believe it! – she tries it on again in Book 2! Dangerous Gentlemen also introduces the girls’ unacknowledged and illegitimate half-sister by their father, Lissa, who aids them in an espionage plot centering around Lord Debenham, the villain of the piece.

Lissa’s story then becomes the focus of Book 3, The Mysterious Governess, as she’s positioned in a household to try and apprehend the aforementioned dangerous gentlemen who, in the meantime, has become strangely and awkwardly allied to the Partington family. Rescued from an upturned carriage, she falls in love with darling Ralph, secretary to villainous Viscount Debenham.

In Book 4 – Beyond Rubies – bright and beautiful Kitty becomes London’s most celebrated actress but nearly comes a cropper due to the disappearance of a valuable diamond and ruby necklace which villainous Lord Debenham has gifted to Araminta who, for reasons I can’t tell you has had to use it as collateral if she’s to save her reputation.

All of which brings me to the current book I’m madly trying to finish, Lady Unveiled~ The Cuckold Conspiracy—hence this desperate attempt at procrastination when the words currently ricocheting off my keyboard should be tying up the loose ends of the “Spider Conspiracy” in Book 1, and the “Incriminating letter” in book 2, and the “treason plot” in Book 3 and the reasons behind the “Stolen necklace” in book 4. While Araminta is still doing what she can to save her reputation, awful Lord Debenham is trying to make Kitty his mistress (though at this stage Araminta doesn’t know that Kitty is her half-sister and I’m trying to decide when and how that information should be revealed – or if it should at all, since I’m going to start a second series with the action beginning five years hence.)

But I’m nearly there! Nine days is plenty of time to wrap it up and have it to the editor before it gets several rounds of copy-editing and proof reading before release day… Isn’t it?

If you want to know how it ends, you can pre-order here – bearing in mind that when you press that pre-order button, the author has no idea how it’s going to end – though hopefully not in tears, is all I can say!

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Release Day – Fool for Love

His Valentine's SecretToday is Release day for Fool for Love, a collection of three fabulous stories of Regency rakes and innocent misses, written by me, Heather Boyd and Donna Cummings.

Release day is always a day for celebrating and I’m rather excited to be doing so with a bottle of one my favourite South African wines, Meerlust, which my brother-in-law is bringing over for our BBQ this afternoon. (He’s been flying between Antarctica and Cape Town for five weeks and has just returned to Australia.)

So it’s going to be great hearing stories of his adventures before we charge our glasses and bring the conversation back to the fact that it’s release day for me! (And then, of course, I’ll let him have the floor once again.)

Here’s a bit about the anthology.

In His Valentine’s Secret, by me, Lady Athelton’s St Valentine’s Ball should have been a time for love, not vengeance, as the once carefree Lisette plots the demise of the man she once loved. Will she learn the truth in time?

In Truly, My Love, by Donna Cummings, Lord Benedict and Lady Sommerwood stage a faux romance in order to help him evade two besotted young misses at a Valentine party. But can an affair built on falsehoods possibly turn into true love?

And in A Husband for Mary, by Heather Boyd, Miss Mary Vine kissed a handsome stranger at the Fenwick Masquerade, never imagining the extraordinary attraction could be for the most disgraceful rake in London. A man she knew far too well…

I hope you enjoy the sound of them. Romance stories are a great antidote to life’s cares and troubles and I hope you get swept away. You can read an excerpt from His Valentine’s Secret, which is set in the aftermath of the French Revolution, here.

And you can get your copy here:
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New Release in the Daughters of Sin Series

Lady Unveiled ~ The Cuckold Conspiracy (A Snippet)

I was really hoping to get this book up for pre-order before Christmas – and I have. At last, all of Lord Partington’s daughters get the happiness they deserve in Lady Unveiled ~ The Cuckold Conspiracy, Book 5 in my sizzling, intrigue-filled Regency romance laced with mystery and espionage.

It’s true that there is one sister who doesn’t deserve quite the same quantity of happiness as her worthy sisters but you can be the judge of whether Araminta gets her just desserts.

So here’s just a snippet of what’s in store. There’ll also be the reappearance of other characters who appeared in the first four books. Lady Julia from Book 1 turns up as the piano teacher to Lissa’s governessing charge. (Though, of course, we know Lady Julia is a devious sort and this is just a cover for the fact she’s Lord Beecham’s mistress.)

Naturally Araminta and Hetty’s darling babies play a vital role while Sybil and Stephen from Her Gilded Prison (Book 1) show how a much older woman can retain the love of her adoring young lover.

But it’s Christmas, and everyone has limited time so without further ado, here is the blurb for Lady Unveiled. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a lovely New Year. I’m about to start packing the car for a 9 hour drive to our property in South Australia’s beautiful Clare Valley. Actually, while there, I intend to do some short videos of me in my 1780s polonaise chatting to the alpacas by the macadamia trees which I’ll post on my website. My pilot husband has just bought a drone and my 12-year-old nephew is very cluey about iMovie, so we’ll see what we can come up with.

Lady Unveiled ~ The Cuckold Conspiracy Blurb

Kitty has the love of the man of her dreams but as London’s most acclaimed actress and a member of the demimondaine, she accepts she can never be kind and handsome Lord Silverton’s lawful wedded wife.

When Kitty comes to the aid of shy, accident-prone and kind-hearted Octavia Mandelton, her sense of justice causes her to make the most difficult decision of her life: Give up the man she loves. For Octavia is still betrothed to Lord Silverton who’d rescued Kitty in dramatic circumstances only weeks before.

Cast adrift, Kitty joins forces with her sister, Lissa, a talented artist posing as a governess in order to bring to justice a dangerous spy, villainous Lord Debenham. Complicating matters is the fact Debenham is married to their half-sister, vain and beautiful Araminta.

However, Araminta has a dark secret which only Kitty knows and which she realizes she is duty-bound to expose if she’s to achieve justice and win happiness for deserving Lissa and Lissa’s enterprising sweetheart, Ralph Tunley, long-suffering secretary to Lord Debenham.

All seems set for a happy ending when Kitty tumbles into mortal danger. A danger from which only a truly honorable man can save her. A man like Silverton who must now make the hardest choice of his life if he’s to live with his conscience.

Pre-order here.

Here’s an excerpt…

Chapter One

It was Lucinda’s angry, discordant note on the piano that brought Lissa’s head up from her sewing, not the muffled and completely inappropriate giggles of her employer’s special friend. Seated on an elegant blue and silver silk-striped settee by the window, Lord Beecham seemed wholly occupied with his increasingly regular guest, Lady Julia, and apparently impervious to his ward’s attempt to regain his attention.

Lissa was under no illusions that Lord Beecham and Lady Julia – or Lady Ledger, wife of Sir Archie Ledger if she were happy to be properly identified, which, judging by the surreptitious fondling the pair were engaged in today – she would not – were in the midst of a torrid affair.

The supposed earl’s daughter fallen on hard times was supposedly a family friend who arrived at Lord Beecham’s London townhouse at regular intervals, heavily veiled, to instruct Miss Lucinda Martindale in the musical arts. Lady Julia, however, could not – as far as Lissa could tell – play a note. At least, Lissa had never heard her play a note, though she’d heard a lot of other noise emanating from Lady Julia during her visits to his lordship’s bedroom between music lessons.

At a painful combination of bs, cs and ds, which Lissa knew should never be played together, Lucinda finally got Lord Beecham’s attention.

“What an infernal noise!” he exclaimed, the dewy adoration as he’d gazed at Lady Julia instantly replaced by a thunderous scowl as he jerked his head round to look at Lucinda. “I spend a fortune on your musical education! Surely I should expect better than that!”

Lucinda’s mobile face went through a gamut of emotions: devastation then outrage, however her mouth remained pursed. It was quite obvious the girl was desperately in love with her benefactor into whose care she’d been placed the year before upon the death of her parents and younger brother during a scarlet fever outbreak in their village. But while Lucinda was obstinate and demanding of her governess, she had never, as far as Lissa knew, openly challenged Lord Beecham.

Nevertheless, there was an underlying challenge now in the girl’s demure: “Perhaps Lady Julia would care to demonstrate how Paescelbel’s Canon in D should really sound.”

Lady Julia, who had attempted to discreetly put at least several inches between her thigh and that of his Lordship’s on the settee, smiled sweetly. “My dear, I don’t want to show you up.” She patted her bright golden hair, then purred, “Please, play it again. With just a little more practice you will have mastered it, and Lord Beecham and I are quite happy for you to entertain us with a little background music while I continue to outline to him how I believe your general carriage, demeanor and…might I add without offence…character itself, might be improved sufficiently to make your come-out without undue embarrassment to either yourself or his Lordship.”

Lissa was interested to see how Lucinda would take this. With her head still bowed over her embroidery frame, she sent a veiled look that took in the flashing eyes above the pretty, pert nose of her young charge and Lord Beacham’s wolfish, apparent approval of Lady Julia’s saccharine demeanor.

In the two months Lissa had spent in Lord Beecham’s employ, she had not warmed to her charge, for all she knew she ought to pity the girl. It was true that she’d established more control over Lucinda than Lucinda’s previous governess. Lucinda no longer tried to undermine her at every opportunity or threw tantrums and it appeared Lissa’s policy of being firm but distant appeared to have worked. But there was little affection between the pair.

Lucinda was the first to drop her eyes from Lady Julia’s scrutiny. Her shoulders slumped and she turned back to her music which she started to play once again, this time softly and with no discordant notes. Lucinda was rather good at most things, if she put her mind to it.

Meanwhile Lissa strained to hear what Lady Julia and Lord Beecham were discussing. It was one of the reasons she’d been placed in this position by her ‘real’ employer, Sir William Deane, late of the Foreign Office. The fact that Lissa could apparently appear as nondescript as the wallpaper was to her advantage for she’d already gleaned several tidbits which had been well-received as points of interest by Sir William.

Her ears pricked up at a reference to Lord Silverton, not a name she’d expected to hear in this drawing room but a name that induced mixed feelings since she’d learned her younger sister, Kitty, now a celebrated actress, had become his mistress.

For months Lissa had been desperate to make contact with Kitty however she feared Kitty’s unbridled love of chatter and her reputation for indiscretions might compromise Lissa’s dangerous work in espionage. She’d therefore refrained from directly seeking her out, though she kept as much of a sisterly eye upon her as she could, from afar.

[End of Extract]

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Publishing ups and downs post-Ellora’s Cave

In 2013 I attended my first Romantic Times Convention in Kansas City. I’d been invited by my UK publisher at the time, Choc Lit, to participate in a panel on The Making of a Hero, and I was eager to meet some of my fellow writers – as well as my publisher – having recently won Choc Lit’s ‘Search for An Australian Star’ with my romantic espionage novel set during the Napoleonic Wars, The Reluctant Bride.

These were exciting times as Choc Lit had also bought a second novel of mine (The Maid of Milan which came out six months later) while my Beverley Oakley pseudonym seemed to suddenly be going places.

Yes, Ellora’s Cave (EC), an established player in the field, known for cementing the reputations of many authors in the genre, had bought the first two books in my Daughters of Sin series  –  Her Gilded Prison and Dangerous Gentlemen.

At RT Kansas City, EC hosted a luncheon for their authors during which we all received gorgeous handbags in a selection of colours, A handbag from my publisher and a free lunch! It seemed my star was in the ascendant.

So 2013 was a highlight year because of what was happening with my two writing names in traditional publishing. It was also the year I started self publishing which, unbeknown to me at the time, would be the start of my generating a real and worthwhile income through writing.

I’d not intended self publishing. I’m not technical and I’d had no marketing experience. I also know I’m not very good at self promotion. Also, the copy writing skills needed for promotion are completely different from those needed to write a book and although I can, on occasion, be quite humorous with those I’m comfortable with,  you only have to look at my Facebook page to see I’m woeful at projecting a particularly clever or lighthearted online presence. So the promotion and marketing side would be (and is) definitely a steep learning curve.

Why did I start Self Publishing?

The timing was right. Following the rights reversion of the first three books I’d had published, in hard cover, by Robert Hale, I suddenly had ownership of three professionally edited files at around the time it was becoming easier from a technical point of view to self publish. Self-publishing, or Indie publishing, was also becoming more acceptable and readers were making less distinction between the two.

I’d also not intended taking a pseudonym, however when Robert Hale rejected what became Rake’s Honour – on the grounds that it was too sensual – I shopped it to Totally Bound who bought it.

The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena was sweeping the world and my heroine, a daring, dashing, social climbing debutante fashioned on Thackeray’s Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair, was a Regency belle whose antics made her well suited to the hotter historical appetite.

When editing began, I was asked by my editor to up the ante quite considerably and, I have to admit, more than made me feel comfortable in the early days – hence the pseudonym. Two more books went to Totally Bound where I was quite happy, and then a successful author friend excitedly introduced me to her editor at Ellora’s Cave who bought my risqué older woman, younger man romance with a twist in the tale ending called Her Gilded Prison.

As I mentioned, Ellora’s Cave was a highly desirable publishing house. Many authors had cemented their success there and I expected my books to sell well, based on previous experience and the anecdotal – at least – talk of Ellora’s Cave being great at marketing.

It was on the basis of these supposedly wonderful sales that I decided to agree to the terms of their contract which, essentially, gave them copyright for life.

Unfortunately, the reality didn’t live up to the hype. In two years, I never had a royalty cheque that was more than $30 a month, even in a release month. Most were less than a third of that.

It was therefore with  surprise and relief I regained my rights to my two EC books, without a fight, and set about self publishing them earlier this year.

They’d barely made a ripple when EC marketed them but I was astonished when sales soared. In fact, for a number of months in the middle of this year the revenue from these two books alone far outstripped earnings from my full-time day job. Thrilled, I quickly wrote the third book in the series, The Mysterious Governess, which was edited by the same wonderful Ellora’s Cave editor, Kelli Collins, who’d now left the company and was freelancing.

The fourth book in the series – Beyond Rubies – quickly followed and I’m now half way through writing the fifth and final in the series – Lady Unveiled, the Cuckold’s Conspiracy.

A great three months – with ups and downs

It’s been a fascinating journey and incredible to see my two books which had languished for so long while under EC’s stewardship suddenly soar into the stratosphere after I Indie-published. They both made #1 on Amazon in both the UK and the US due, I think to a good dose of luck in the back-to-back promotions I chose. This resulted in sustained organic growth which saw them remain in the top #20 for many weeks and which benefitted the next book in the series – The Mysterious Governess.

And then everything fell off a cliff.

I’d stopped putting effort into being strategic about how I was promoting the books, imagining – naively, I suppose – that those same amazing sales would continue while instead I concentrated much more on writing the next book in the series. This seemed to be the conventional wisdom. “Just write the next book.”

I don’t think so any more. Not in my case, anyway. I think I should have spent much more time keeping that balloon in the air, so to speak, and less time writing.

However, it’s a lesson learned and with the final book nearly finished I feel that with a five-book completed series I have a more valuable commodity to work with than I did when I had just the first two books.

And there have been other interesting ventures which have taken me in different unexpected and very positive directions, such as being invited to participate with five other authors in an all-new collection – A Very Wicked Christmas anthology – on the back of a box set of six of our first-in-series, Rakes and Rogues.

I do have another combination of promotions planned for my ex-EC books in my Daughters of Sin series. This will take place in the first week of December and I’ll be interested to see how that goes, since it’s replicating – to an extent – what I did with such success in the middle of this year.

After December rolls around, I shall report back with the specifics on those paid promotions and FB advertising combined with non paid promotion. Were my fabulous sales the result of discoverability due to pure luck or can I make the same combination for success work twice in a row?

Regardless of the outcome, though, I couldn’t stop writing if I wanted to. The joy is in the words, the characters, the devious plots and the happy endings. I’m also keen to return to my Africa-set romantic mysteries and suspenses (two nearly finished) under my Beverley Eikli name.

I once thought the generated income was the most important benchmark and a barometer of the success of the writing itself but this new world of marketing and promotion has made me regard the job of being a writer in an entirely different light. I’m an entrepreneur and small business owner as much as a creator, a writer. And to be successful in this brave new world of publishing means being a master of all three.

I’m getting there.


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A Wuthering Heights Birthday Bash

Recently, I flew to South Australia’s beautiful wine and tourist area, the Clare Valley,  to attend my sister’s 50th birthday masquerade ball. For an historical romance author this was a pretty great theme and I had the costume all ready – my 1780s polonaise and corset (which I’d made from a Janet Arnold genuine historical pattern).

The challenge was going to be getting there as it was a long weekend in Victoria and my youngest sister and I were going staff travel. Fortunately all went well. We got the last two seats.

The party was a huge success with live music until midnight while we partied on until 3am – very late for me.

Here are some pictures taken after the two hour car journey from Adelaide Adelaide airport to Wuthering Heights, our Clare Valley B&B.

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Above: I woke up in the bed I’d carved with my mother, beneath the coverlet I’d stitched at Bronte Manor, the largest of the three cottages we built over five years using thousands of mud bricks the family had made with the help of friends. In the background is the Zulu throne.

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Above: Here’s my gorgeous dad, who’s soon to turn 84. We’re having a joint launch early in the new year. He’s just written his memoirs on his years growing up in Botswana in the 30s and 40s, then Cambridge University and a career in the Colonial Service in Lesotho in the 50s and 60s, before his life in Australia, spending the remaining years of his working life in Aboriginal Affairs. My release will be my book, Diamond Mountain, set in Lesotho in 1960 with a pilot hero unwittingly embroiled in illegal diamond buying as he tries to salvage the reputation of the district commissioner’s daughter he loves but who has rejected him.

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The band stepped out of the Medieval era and played until midnight in the courtyard.

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Two lovely Tudor ladies hung out by the food (there was more to come).

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In the front, the birthday girl embraced the next morning.

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And here she, with two courtiers paying court as she dines on figs and pears.

Our family is addicted to costume parties. We’re thinking the next theme might be the Wild West.


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Excerpt from The Glittering Prize

A Very Wicked ChristmasAs my readers know, I love a good mystery at the heart of my historical romances. Below is the set-up for The Glittering Prize, one of six Christmas-themed novellas and novels (for mine morphed from novella-length into something a bit longer) in our soon-t0-be released Anthology, A Very Wicked Christmas.

The Glittering Prize starts on Christmas Eve with a terrible tragedy and ends exactly one year later with a wonderful resolution. In those intervening twelve months, however, my earnest, blue-stocking heroine, Jemima, has had to come  to terms with a very different existence thrust upon her – one she must make the best of if she’s to elude the brutal murderer who killed her father and now is seeking Jemima.

The story begins with Jemima contentedly in her own quiet world, living in a country cottage, working diligently as her father’s research assistant, trying to decipher three elusive hieroglyphics. Untold fortune is the potential reward. Then drama erupts and Jemima is thrust into the glittering whirl of London’s social scene where she is, initially, like a fish out of water before she must adapt.

The unlikely hero is a man she’d never have hooked up with in ordinary circumstances, even if they’d met at a country Assembly. Digby, the new Viscount Ruthcot, is everything Jemima would have found deplorable. He’s a hard-gambling, careless rake.

But when their paths cross, Jemima is not the girl she once was – and Digby is trying to turn himself in a very different man, for reasons I won’t reveal here.

So here are the ingredients which underpin the first meeting between the hero and heroine of my Tuesday October 18 release The Glittering Prize.

A valuable treasure, a lost maiden pursued by a murderer, and a remorse-filled rake who’s failed to discharge his brother’s final wish…

 

Here’s an excerpt:

Chapter Three

In a dimly-lit, low-ceilinged salon above a row of shops in Soho, a great celebration was in full swing.

“Mistress Kate has some rather fetching interlopers tonight.”

Digby, the new Viscount Ruthcot, looked up from the rather uninspiring plaice and cold vegetables on his plate and followed the direction of his companion’s stubby pointing finger. Of course, one didn’t come here for the food. A dozen gentlemen and their escorts sat around Kate’s oval table eating dinner, while others, the real enticement, lounged elegantly on chairs around the room, or were dancing in an area by the fire which was cleared of furniture. These were the opera dancers; actresses who’d finished their performances for the night and had come looking for a different audience—potential wealthy patrons who might be dazzled by their beauty and choose to squire them home, or set them up in some neat little establishment if they were really lucky.

The supper rooms presided over by London’s arguably most notorious hostess of the demimonde was a regular bolt-hole for Digby following his nights of hard gambling. He’d been indulging in this louche existence since he’d been introduced to London revels as a callow youth and, at thirty, assumed this somewhat meaningless, but nevertheless, life of few responsibilities, paid for through a sizeable inheritance from a doting aunt, would continue.

The unexpected death of his elder brother just three months before, coming so soon after their father’s, had brought him up short.

Inheriting a title and a host of unwanted responsibilities, Digby had tried hard to moderate his behavior, and made the excuse that Mistress Kate’s was a much-needed panacea for a week moldering in the country and attending to his duties as the new Viscount Ruthcot.

Harry Harding, beside him, made an appreciative noise. “That one over there’s a beauty. See—eating beside the ginger-head. Now, he’s hardly a swell of the first stare. Not that I believe he is a gentleman. No; not Kate’s usual clientele at all. As for the young lady, never seen her here before, and I’d know if I had. What a beauty. She certainly don’t look like the usual bachelor fare.”

Digby glanced from the gimlet eye of Harry’s half-eaten plaice to his friend, now staring down the table trying to place the newcomers. Harry was shaking his head, muttering, “No, can’t say I admire the cut of his coat. Swimming in the River Tick by the looks of it. Wonder what the story is.”

Turning to his neighbor on the right-hand side, Harding apparently sought to learn details, while Digby stole another glance at the female. She was indeed a beauty.

She happened to glance up to find him looking at her and blushed hotly.

Digby inclined his head, aware that his smile was rich with innuendo as she looked away. The young woman stood out as much for her magnificent crown of lightly-rippling golden hair, delicate-featured oval face, and finely-arched brows above serious eyes—he wished he could ascertain the color—as she did for the out-of-place modesty of her clothing.

Harding leaned back from his confabulation and patted his stomach with a sigh. “Seems the young fellow is a hopeful trading on some obscure association with Kate. A callow youth, as anyone can see. Not Quality, that’s for sure. No idea who his light o’ love is though she’s the loveliest bit o’ muslin I’ve seen in a while. Doubt he’ll keep her for long. Might have a crack at her myself.” His mouth split into a grin. “Finished, have you? Mind if I polish off the rest? What did I say? Oh yes, you can dance with her first while I finish your food. Maybe she’ll take your mind of your little obsession.”

Little obsession was not what Digby would have called the woman at the center of his greatest mystery; disappointment, bungle—it was all those things and more—but Digby realized he’d grievously failed more than just his brother when he’d not made the apparently desperately important appointment at St Paul’s churchyard with which his brother had charged him. Not that it was entirely his fault that he hadn’t.

As Henry sequestered his half-eaten plaice and limp cabbage, his old friend asked, “Any news on the lost maiden? Guess you’ve not found the gel, else you’d have said, eh wot?”

Digby shook his head, tormented as ever by the reflection that his brother’s final request was one of the few occasions Richard or any other member of the family had entrusted him with some important responsibility. Not that Digby had known at the time it was his brother’s last request. The letter scratched in haste by his brother from his carriage and given to John, his batman, to post had caught up with Digby on his return from the Continent. John had remained in the area to help with the investigation into his death—though nothing had come of it—and had supplied Digby with the terrible details much later.

Details that had given Digby sleepless nights ever since for Richard had died as a result of trying to save this young woman. The young woman he’d exhorted Digby to meet and protect.

Harding tapped the table to get Digby’s attention. “Ain’t no use torturing yourself over your brother’s fantasy.

“She was not a fantasy; she was real,” Digby murmured, quoting Richard’s written description which he’d engraved upon his heart: “A young lady of unsurpassed purity and virtue, plunged into desperation and who, blameless, though heroic, is very much in need of urgent protection.”

“Yes, and ain’t that a pretty way to put it? Would turn me into a warrior if I had to seek her out. But does she exist? She wasn’t where she was supposed to be.”

I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” Digby growled. “In case you don’t recall it, that was your fault.”

Harding’s faraway look obviously took another direction. “Oh yes, I was in quite a state after that cockfight, which now I think about, is where I remember seeing that jackanapes.” He hooked a thumb in the direction of the whey-faced gentleman seated beside the goddess dressed like a nun. “He must be more full of juice than he looks if he could afford to lose as much as he did that afternoon. Anyway, to return to the subject at hand. Good man for being on hand when I was casting up my accounts after getting into that ungentlemanly scuffle. Not like me at all, and sorry it turned out so ill for the lass. Truly, I am. No doubt Richard’s maiden got herself safely to where she needed to go. No respectable young woman can be completely alone in the world.”

It was this with which Digby had to comfort himself.

[End of Excerpt]

Below you can read the back-cover blurbs or tag-lines for each story in the Anthology, (making the pre-release price of 99c excellent value).

 

A Very Wicked Christmas

Releases October 18. Only 99c pre-order

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Edwardian Letter-Writing

Before telephones, letter-writing was a major form of communication with the old adage “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” as relevant then as it is today.

For example, there’s a real art to conveying one’s displeasure in concise and cutting terms – such as over an engagement of which one disapproves – just as there is in formulating a poetic and persuasive epistle asking for a lady’s hand in marriage, or her forgiveness.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have found a wealth of inspiration within the pages of the 1908 Complete Letter Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen. This little compendium offers anxious lovers, irate parents and social aspirants how to put forward the most elegant and artful of arguments.

I think it’s a gold-mine and just running my fingers over the yellowed paper of this 108-year-old book my great-grandmother once consulted is exciting. As is dipping into the pages and exploring the anxious tone of a young lady trying to explain a “misunderstanding” to her lover, reassuring him that gossip over her apparently “flirting” at a party were baseless. All of these snippets of life’s concerns conjures up a wealth of story ideas.

Below, I’ve randomly selected a few of the book’s nearly 200 templates for letters of invitation, congratulation or condolence, how to deal with a tradesman whose bill you dispute, or how to berate a suitor who has openly flirted with another woman.

These templates are examples of skillful word usage that also offer a fascinating insight into the world of manners and elegance about which I love to write.

I hope you enjoy them.

The first is from A Young Lady Remonstrating with her Fiancé for Flirting at a Party.

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And finally, on a more mundane but no less important note, the customer who disputes a tradesman’s bill. I think the hapless tradesman might have had greater trouble getting his money from his creditor than might be the case, nowadays.

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The Perils of Servant Life during the Regency

img_2531A servant working in a Georgian, Regency or Victorian household – the time periods in which my books are set – was very much at the mercy of her employer. These were the days before unions, Occupational Health and Safety, or income protection insurance mitigated against the ill fortune of being injured, or taken advantage of by a harsh mistress, or a young man with a roving eye.

The mistress of the household was the arbiter of many a servant’s future.

While most of my romances follow the lives of the young ladies in high society, I often include in my stories a servant who plays an integral role in the plot. If you’ve read my Regency-set romantic intrigue Daughters of Sin series, you’ll know that the servants, Jane and Dorcas, are very differently placed.

Daughters of Sin follows the intertwined stories of four sisters – two nobly born and two illegitimate – as they compete for love during several Regency seasons.

While Jane is a lady’s maid and beholden to vain and selfish Araminta, Lady Debenham, she does at least have some power since she has the insurance of knowing of all her mistress’s pecadilloes and misdemeanors.

Dorcas, by contrast, is fortunate to become more of an ally than a servant to her mistress, Kitty, Araminta’s secret half-sister and now a celebrated actress. Poor Dorcas suffered a fate not uncommon to unworldly country girls arriving in London to find work. She thought her luck was on the up when a friendly woman on the stagecoach offered to find her a place with a good mistress. Instead, the woman indentured her to the madam of a high class brothel, and Dorcas, too frightened and naïve to understand her “contract” with the evil Maggie Montgomery was not legally binding, became a prisoner. Due to the nature of her work, she also lost her ‘character’, so vital to any future that wasn’t on a downward spiral.

Had it not been for Kitty coming to the rescue, Dorcas would no doubt have died an early death, perhaps as a streetwalker in the Haymarket.

But that’s not the stuff of romance, is it?

And that’s why Dorcas’s life was turned around by Kitty in book 4, Beyond Rubies.

As I enjoy the factual underpinnings that inform my fanciful stories with their intrigue-filled plots, I’ve included, below, several letters regarding the employment of servants. These appear in The Complete Letter Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen, a gem of a book I discovered in a pile once belonging to my grandmother who was born in 1903. Although the book was published in 1908, these letters could have been offered as a template for prospective employers a hundred years earlier.

Below are two examples of suggested wording offered by this indispensible companion to any mistress of a household eager to ensure that her little “below stairs” dominion was augmented by a girl of good character.

Here’s the ‘character’ a servant would hope her prospective employer would receive with all her questions answered in the affirmative.

Mrs. A will feel much obliged if Mrs. B. will kindly give her the character of Mary Jones, who has applied to Mrs. A for the situation of housemaid. Mrs. A. will be glad to know if Mary Jones is honest and respectable; clean in her work and person, and likely to suit. Is she good-tempered and obliging and tidy in her work?

If Mrs. B. will kindly answer these questions and reply fully in confidence Mrs. A will feel greatly indebted to her.

LAUREL VILLA, ESSEX ROAD, N.,

But Woe betide the fate of the poor, high-spirited girl referred to in the following letter:

Dear Madam,

My answer to your note as to Mary Gray must, I am sorry to have to say it, be unfavourable. I was upon the point of dismissing her when your note arrived, as I consider her quite an unfit person to be left alone in the house. She is excessively indolent and very fond of a class of company that a girl ought not to see.

Believe me, Madam.

Yours Sincerely,

BARBARA ALDWIN

The book is a real glimpse into the past and filled with gems.

Next week, due to the commonness of such scenarios, I’ll outline the template The Complete Letter Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen offers for a response ‘From a Lady to a Gentleman (almost a stranger) who has proposed by letter.’

This is the scenario faced by plain Miss Mandelton in Book 5 of Daughters of Sin, (Love and Honour). Hers is a lonely, loveless future as a confirmed spinster until she receives an unexpected letter – a marriage proposal by a wonderful man…whose heart is unfortunately engaged by the lovely actress, Kitty La Bijou, whose profession and breeding preclude her from being a candidate for the wife he needs.

For a limited time, Her Gilded Prison, Book One in the Daughters of Sin series, has been reduced to only 99c. You can buy your copy here:

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Book 1

Book 1

She was determined to secure the succession, he was in it for the pleasure. Falling in love was not part of the arrangement.

When dashing twenty-five-year-old Stephen Cranbourne arrives at the estate he will one day inherit, it’s expected he will make a match with his beautiful second cousin, Araminta.

But while proud, fiery Araminta and her shy, plain sister, Hetty, parade their very different charms before him, it’s their mother, Sybil, a lonely and discarded wife, who evokes first his sympathy and then stokes his lustful fires.

As Stephen introduces Sybil to every pleasure she’s been deprived of, duty and passion become a deep and mutual love. But with the unexpected arrival of a contender to the estate, Sybil realises that what she’s set in motion to save the family might have tragic consequences.

Daughters of Sin Boxed Set

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Alternatively you can save 25% off the usual price if you buy the first three full-length novels in a boxed set, here:

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The Duchess and the Highwayman – new release

Sometimes a disaster has a good outcome – and I think this was the case with my next release, The Duchess and the Highwayman, which is not related to any of my existing series as it’s definitely more of a romantic suspense.

I was about to send it to a publisher who wanted to look at it when I did a last-minute ‘search and replace’ to change all the quotation marks from single (which is the standard format I use for my English and Australian publishers) to double, which is the American preference. Without realising the ramifications I made a number of other changes to the text and then discovered my entire manuscript was filled with: didn”t, Phoebe”s, won”t, can”t, etc… Only then did I realise how many contractions are used in a page – and I had no way of reversing what I’d done without going back over the entire story.

I therefore didn’t send it to the publisher, as I’d intended. Instead, I’ve been painstakingly going through the whole text again, to fix up all these errors.

The Duchess and the Highwayman is about a woman wrongfully accused of her husband’s murder, who assumes the identity of her lady’s maid to escape the real murderer. She’s accosted by a highwayman who is really a nobleman pursuing – for other reasons – the murderer who has framed my heroine, Phoebe.

Below is a snippet from the beginning of the book. The tone is fairly dark to begin with but lightens up considerably after my heroine falls for the man she believes is a villain, even though he treats her with none of the respect due to a lady of her high position. But poor Phoebe has been entirely isolated since her marriage and had no one to champion her – except for her unlikely Highwayman.

I hope you enjoy the beginning of the story. Before I put the book up for pre-release, I’m looking for a few readers willing to review it.

Chapter One

the-duchess-and-the-highwayman-imageIt was an evening like any other: dull with a hint of menace and tension so thick Phoebe imagined slicing a neat hole in it and disappearing magically into a new life.

Any would do.

The company had retired to the dim, close drawing room, gentlemen included, following a glutinous dinner. By the fireplace Phoebe worked at her embroidery, glad to be ignored though she knew that wouldn’t last for long.

The reprieve was even briefer than she’d anticipated. Brutus exhaled on a shuddering snore truncated by a yelp as he chased rabbits in his dreams; this caused James the footman, who was stooping over Ulrick in the act of offering his master a drink, to jump in fright and deposit a snifter of brandy upon her husband’s waistcoat. Not that it would concern Ulrick who was snoring more loudly than Brutus and whose waistcoat was already stained with drool.

The footman cast the mistress a sideways glance as he unwound his lordship’s stock and dabbed at the sticky mess but Phoebe held her tongue and made do with a dispassionate look. She’d never liked James. She was certain he’d conspired with Ulrick on more than a few occasions to put her on the back foot and to tarnish her name below stairs. Despite her obvious disdain, she was afraid of the power he wielded.

“That will be all, James.” She rose with a dismissive wave and the rustle of silken skirts. “I’ll attend to my husband. Please see Mr Barnaby and Sir Roderick out.”

Sir Roderick, that most unwelcome of neighbours, appeared before her, bony and wraithlike; malevolent as ever. “I believe your dog needs more attention than Lord Cavanaugh.” His thin mouth turned up in a parody of amusement as he wafted a fastidious hand about his nose, indicating Brutus’s greater guilt than his master’s snoring.

Phoebe offered Sir Roderick a cold smile. On the other side of the room Ulrick’s two other guests conversed in low voices by the window.

She inclined her head as she ignored his attempt at levity. “Good night, Sir Roderick.”

Nor did she turn away from his challenging gaze as he straightened his spare, weedy frame, which she saw trembled with supressed outrage at being so summarily dismissed by the lady of the house.

Sir Roderick, she knew, was another who couldn’t wait until the doors of Blinley Manor were closed against her the moment Ulrick breathed his last. She’d offended his honour, no doubt, having bitten his lip and kneed him in the groin six months before when he’d accosted her in a dimly lit corridor and suggested in lewd terms how he might assist in the creation of an heir for the already ailing Ulrick. An heir that would ensure Phoebe kept a roof over her head.

Ulrick stirred to wakefulness with a grunt but Phoebe ignored him.

“My husband is attempting, with the limited faculties yet available to him, to wave you farewell, Sir Roderick.” She struggled to keep the acid from her tone. Sir Roderick was a powerful neighbour. He was also the local magistrate and self-proclaimed arbiter on acceptable behaviour; not a man she’d have chosen to cross had she been given an alternative. She bowed her head. “His strength is exhausted and I need to see him to bed.”

Sir Roderick flicked a glance towards Wentworth and Mr Barnaby then pushed his skull-like head, which reminded Phoebe of an oddly shaped mushroom sprouting some form of fungus, into her face.

“You’ll be sorry—after your husband is gone—if you don’t take advantage of the kindness I’m still prepared to offer you, Lady Cavanaugh.” His thin fingers dug into her wrist as he all but dribbled down her cleavage and Phoebe, icily composed until now, whipped her head round in sudden panic and met the amusement in her husband’s dull, onyx eyes as he regarded the scene.

She breathed in despair and exhaled on resignation. Although Ulrick could barely communicate these days, he was still more cognisant of what was going on around him than most people believed. But he would never champion her. He never had and he’d not start now.

Phoebe hoped he didn’t hear the fear in her whisper. “I would rather copulate with an adder, Sir Roderick.” It was an unwise response though being blunt had to be better than a ladylike dismissal which might lead him to try a repeat of his predatory behaviour.

Sir Roderick glanced over her shoulder as if to ensure they remained out of earshot of the remaining two guests still conversing by the window. “You may discover, some day, Lady Cavanaugh, that my bite is far more dangerous.” His nostrils flared as he pinched her hand before releasing it. “Indeed, I’ll ensure you rue the day you threw my kindness back in my face.”

Kindness? “Good night, gentlemen.” With a rustle of her skirts that hinted at the outrage more eloquently than Phoebe could put into words, she turned her back on the company and swept over to Ulrick’s side. Her heart beat painfully as she rearranged his pillows, and the closing of the door on the last of their neighbours to leave offered only a small measure of relief. There was still Wentworth to deal with.


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