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Falling in love in the Okavango Delta

My sister, Penny, and I are the 4th generation of Netteltons to have spent time living in the Okavango Delta (and the 3rd generation to have fallen in love there).

Great-grandpa Clement Nettelton was the trailblazer. In 1899, he left his home in Basutoland (now Lesotho) and arrived in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana), at the behest of Chief Khama III.

Chief Khama had requested Bechuanaland’s Colonial Administration to appoint as head of the embryonic Bechuanaland Police Force someone fluent in Sesotho. Sesotho is the national language of Lesotho and is similar to Sechuana, spoken in Botswana. It appears an outsider was preferred, and Clement—who lived in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, where he managed the Telegraph service which was an important means of communication between Southern Africa and London back then—was fluent in Sesotho.

The Boer War was in progress so travel was difficult. Clement took up his post in Gaberone—at the time, little more than a village—and my great-grandmother, Rose, followed, a few months later. With four children aged under ten, the three-day train journey from Lesotho to Botswana was arduous and dangerous. There was no dining car and several bridges had recently been blown up by Boer commandos.

Rose and Clement’s house was not yet ready so my great-grandparents took up residence with Colonel Ellenberger. (He later became Bechuanaland’s Resident Commissioner while his son, Vivian Ellenberger—a  future DC like his father and my grandfather—married one of their four children, my great-aunt Bimbi, whom I remember in her old age as a very formidable woman.)

My grandfather, Gerald Nettelton, was the third of Rose and Clement’s four children. He was only a toddler when he arrived in Botswana and he grew up speaking sechuana like a local which was hugely helpful for his court work when he was a District Commissioner as he didn’t need an interpreter.

As a young District Officer of barely twenty, grandpa went on many long and lonely treks of up to three months into the interior, mapping the tsetse fly belt, collecting hut tax and, on one occasion in 1917 while WWI was in progress, hunting suspected German rebels who were believed to have crossed from North West Africa (now Namibia) into Botswana.

Usually, Grandpa travelled with a dozen or so carriers and a Scotch Cart. Often, he rode his detested mule since horses were likely to die of sleeping sickness if bitten by the tsetse fly. (Mules, according to my grandfather, were immune.) Gerald travelled by night through tsetse fly country, as the flies were not active then, and slept during the day.

He shot for the pot, the game being a welcome supplement to the meat supplies of his carriers and the villagers along his route.

My grandfather kept a pictorial diary between 1916 and 1922. It’s a rambunctious account by a very young man pouring out his loneliness and frustration but also his jubilation at his hunting exploits. It’s this diary, which I discovered in my early 20s, that inspired me to make my first trip from my home in Australia to the country where grandpa spent his life and where my dad was born and brought up in the 1930s and 40s.

And it was in Botswana that I met my husband-to-be in the 1990s, while working at Mombo Safari Lodge, on the northern tip of Chief’s Island, in the beautiful Okavango.

Below are a couple of pictures from the memoirs my dad is writing about his Botswana memories, with another volume of adventures he’s collated of his father’s treks. These will be published before Christmas.

Meanwhile, my Okavango-set novella, Christmas Angel, will be up for pre-order in a couple of weeks. It’s set in Mombo (renamed—inspiringly—Momba in the story) about an Aussie girl who falls in love with a game ranger. I’ve based it on how I remember life helping to manage a luxury safari lodge in the early 1990s.

Grampa Gerald Nettelton is on the right. Shooting for the pot.

Grampa Gerald Nettelton is on the right. Shooting for the pot.

Grandpa's trusty Scotch cart loaded up for a few days or weeks in the bush.

Grandpa Gerald’s trusty Scotch cart loaded up for a few weeks or months in the bush.

Out in the mekoro. A great way to travel.

Out in the mekoro. A great way to travel.

A typical early Okavango scene.

A typical early Okavango scene.

Penny outside her reed hut in Xigera

My sister, Penny, outside her reed hut in Xigera, which was home for a couple of years.


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Scandalous – coming soon!

Scandalous Cover

My new updated cover

I’m about to conduct a little experiment with a rebranding exercise. Actually, I’m in the process of rewriting these three books, adding prologues and epilogues and bringing one of them under my Beverley Oakley name.

The new cover was a good start, I think. I just love it!

And now, here’s a bit about them. They’ll be going up, first on KU and then an all the other retailers, in the next couple of weeks. Originally they were three titles under the Daring Damels generic name but when I rename them – Scandalous – they’ll have the same ASIN and ISBN number so that no reader will inadvertently pay for them again if they’ve already bought the original.

And if they’re so inclined, they can read Daring Damsels now and then in a couple of weeks read the Scandalous version – and hopefully like the later version, better!

What are they about?

A spoiled heiress masquerading as a shipwrecked governess, a widow with a tarnished reputation seeking her lost son, and a debutante pretending to be married… These very different Regency heroines dare everything for love!

LADY SARAH’S REDEMPTION

A spoiled heiress who assumes the identity of a shipwrecked governess falls in love with her employer who has dark secrets of his own.

 

LADY FARQUHAR’S BUTTERFLY

A beautiful widow whose reputation has been wrongly tarnished embarks upon a dangerous charade to reclaim her child, burdened by a terrible secret that threatens the future of the man with whom she accidentally falls in love.

 

A LITTLE DECEPTION

A determined miss who pretends to be married in order to save the family plantation is framed by a jealous adversary for a series of diamond thefts. Now she must convince the handsome rake who believes she tricked him into marriage that she is innocent.

 


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When I was Locked Up in French Guiana…

I’ve had an adventurous life as the ‘trailing spouse’ of a pilot, following the handsome Norwegian bush pilot I met in Botswana around the world for the past 20 years and doing some odd jobs along the way.

Often, I’m asked when I’m going to write my memoirs, so, when one of our labour MPs, Mr Khalil Eideh, made the news recently for being denied entry to the US while on government business, it brought back memories of when I faced deportation from French Guiana, prompting me to write up one of my own interesting anecdotes.

Beverley in Nuuk, Greenland, with globe

This is me in Nuuk, Greenland, just before heading off to French Guiana and wearing the sweater I’d just knitted in the back of a Cessna 404.while surveying the ice cap.

Like this particular MP, I was also on government busines and working as an airborne geophysical survey operator for a Candian company in the mid 90s. I’d just finished a survey contract in Greenland, spent ten days at our apartment in Ottawa and had travelled on my own via Miama to the French Guianese capital, Cayenne, to join the rest of the Geoterrex (Fugro) Airborne Survey crew who were waiting for me.

Now it was midnight, the airport had emptied from the last flight that would enter or depart for twenty-four hours, and apparently there was a ‘problem’ with my paperwork, the junior official indicated. At the time I was not particularly worried. I knew my government working papers were in order so there must have been a mistake. The junior official, however, wasn’t so sanguine as he let me know, in French, that the head honcho Immigration Inspector was on his way to the airport to give his ruling.

This, it soon turned out, involved a lot of shouting in French as he spoke no English, and a lot of stabbing his finger at my chest and then at a document I refused to sign since it was written in French and I couldn’t understand a word of it.

Here's me beside my 'office'.

Here’s me beside my ‘office’.

Apparently, I was unlucky enough to get caught in the middle of political ructions caused by the then-recent French nuclear testing in the Pacific. In protest, the Australian government had introduced tourist visa requirements for the French, and the French had reciprocated. My employer, Fugro, had organized government working visas for the crew and, understandably, had overlooked the need for a tourist visa for me, their only Australian employee.

So, now, here I was in a French colony nestled between Suriname and Brazil, at midnight on a steamy hot night with no tourist visa, being confronted by a very agitated French Immigration official smelling strongly of sweat and garlic.

Our project manager, a French Canadian, arrived at the airport to plead my case and when that failed, to try and persuade the Immigration Inspector to simply confiscate my passport and let me sleep the night at the hotel in town before presenting myself for the next day’s flight out of the country.

The inspector was adamant. With more shouting and finger pointing he ordered me to sleep in a room in the deserted airport, ‘overseen’ by a 6’4” French Guyanese soldier shouldering an AK-47.

Fortunately, my husband’s best friend, and my fellow crew member, Jorn, intervened.

Concerned for my virtue at the hands of this lone French Guyanese guard, Jorn chivalrously offered to subject himself to the discomfort of also spending the night on a wooden bench in a deserted airport until my imminent deportation the next day.

The Inspector gave his permission and Jorn and I spent the night listening to the scratching and rustles of clawed nocturnal creatures while telling stories. I also must have done a great job talking up my sister Penny’s charms, too, since Jorn and Penny were married several years later. 😉 )

The Fugro crew at our hotel in Cayenne. I’m easy to spot as I’m the only woman. But here they all are – and such great guys to work with! – Serge, Leo, Daniel, Enrique, Jorn, Ed and Skubie.

Anyway, I wasn’t deported. Through good fortune, the manager of the hotel where the crew was stationed happened to be a friend of the Minister for Immigration who’d been drinking at the bar with Jorn and the rest of the crew a few nights before. Fortuitously, he’d dropped his card on the counter, hardly expecting to get a phone call to ask for his help in a delicate diplomatic/deportation issue, I’m sure.

But that’s what he got and the next morning I was met by my now smiling nemesis, the Immigration head honcho from my previous night’s encounter who said the matter had been sorted out (no apology, mind you) and I was free to go. (Later, I got a personal apology from the French Guyanese Minister for Immigration.)

Thus began the most gruelling two-and-a-half months’ contract in all my four years of survey work, operating the computer in the back of a Cessna 404 over the jungle for 8 hours every day. We couldn’t use the air conditioning which interfered with the data acquisition equipment, and the 40 degree heat and high humidity caused perpetual turbulence so that I had to time my throwing-up very carefully for the few seconds between closing off and setting up new survey lines for the pilot to fly.

Bevie working in the back of the Cessna - hi res

Working in the back of the Cessna.

When my husband Eivind joined me seven weeks later, having finished the Greenland contract, he called me a walking skeleton for I’d lost 10kg. (Actually, he didn’t use those words because Eivind never says uncomplimentary things; but he was shocked at how much weight I had lost.)

Anyway, it was one of those incidents in life that you never forget but you’re always glad you’ve had as you become subsumed under life’s normalness because it’s nice to start a story with: “When I was locked up in French Guyana…”


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The Perils of Servant Life

A 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 often the arbiter of a servant’s future.
Many of my romances follow the lives of the young ladies in high society but in my latest story, The Duchess and the Highwayman, my heroine, Phoebe, pretends to be a servant after she’s wrongfully accused of murder. As a duchess, in satin and lace, with an educated voice and bearing, she’d be recognised instantly. However, in order to exist below the radar of the local magistrate whose advances she’s recently rejected, she believes her chances of survival are greater by disappearing into the great unwashed – a servant below notice.
For a long time she succeeds, but only through luck and the kindness of the ‘highwayman’ who rescues her from her vengeance-filled lover who’s just framed her for her husband’s murder.
Luck certainly had a role in the happiness of a servant’s life. For most servants, survival depended on their obedience and almost complete subjugation to the wishes of their employers in return for a roof over their heads, food and small wages.

Why was ‘a character’ so important?

Their ‘character’ or reputation was crucial to securing work and many a girl cast out from a secure job without a ‘character’ ended up on the streets, unable to secure more work because their previous employer refused to vouch for her.
Recently, I came upon a gem of a book discovered in a pile once belonging tomy grandmother who was born in 1903. Titled The Complete Letter Writer forLadies and Gentlemen, the book, published in 1908, offers a raft of lettersdesigned to be used as templates for prospective employers, lovers writing toupbraid a flirtatious fiancée or to break off an engagement.
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.

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 MaryJones, who has applied to Mrs. A for the situation of housemaid. Mrs. A. will beglad to know if Mary Jones is honest and respectable; clean in her work andperson, and likely to suit. Is she good-tempered and obliging and tidy in herwork?
If Mrs. B. will kindly answer these questions and reply fully in confidence Mrs. Awill feel greatly indebted to her.
LAUREL VILLA, ESSEX ROAD, N.,

Bad ‘character’

But woe betide 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, beunfavourable. I was upon the point of dismissing her when your note arrived, asI consider her quite an unfit person to be left alone in the house. She isexcessively indolent and very fond of a class of company that a girl ought not tosee.
Believe me, Madam.
Yours Sincerely,
BARBARA ALDWIN
The book is a real glimpse into the past and filled with gems.
*This blog was first published at Beyond Romance.

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Next release – Devil’s Run

Devil's Run

Scandalous Miss Brightwell #3

Next month my new release, Devil’s Run, will hit the e-readers of those who’ve pre-ordered. With school holidays starting today, I’ll have to avoid distractions to make sure I meet my August 7 deadline but in the meantime, here are the first few pages.

Devil’s Run can be read as a stand-alone but it follows the story of Eliza Montrose, the young woman who was knocked down by the carriage of my heroine, Thea, in Rogue’s Kiss. At the beginning of Rogue’s Kiss, we briefly meet Eliza who has just been ordered to put her illegitimate child into the basket in front of the foundling home. In a vain effort to run away with her child, she’d been hit by Thea’s carriage before her governess had dragged her away. That was the last we heard of Eliza, though there was more about the child in Rogue’s Kiss. Now, in Devil’s Run, we find Eliza, five years later, engaged to the odious George Bramley, nemesis of all the Brightwells, including Thea – and now Eliza. But how can Eliza go through with such a detestable marriage, even if she believes it’s the only way to be reunited with her child?

I hope you enjoy it.

Devil’s Run

A rigged horse race and a marriage offer riding on the outcome. When Miss Eliza Montrose unexpectedly becomes legal owner of the horse tipped to win the East Anglia Cup, her future is finally in her hands – but at what cost?

 ***

George Bramley, nephew to the Earl of Quamby, will wager anything. Even his future bride.

Miss Eliza Montrose will accept any wager to be reunited with the child she was forced to relinquish after an indiscretion — even if it means marrying a man she does not love.

But with her heart suddenly engaged by handsome, charming Rufus Patmore who has just bought a horse from her betrothed, George Bramley, in whose household her son lives as a pauper, the outcome of the wager is suddenly fraught with peril.

**This is book 3 in the Scandalous Miss Brightwells series, though it can be read as a stand-alone.

Book 1: Rake’s Honour

Book 2: Rogue’s Kiss

Book 3: Devil’s Run

Read an Extract:

Chapter One

“And there’s nothing else you’d like, my dear? No?” Straightening after receiving a polite rebuff, George Bramley found it an effort to keep the syrup in his tone. His bride-to-be had not even looked at him as she’d declined the piece of marchpane he’d been certain would win him at least a smile.

Hovering at her side, he weighed up the advantages of a gentle rebuke, then decided against it. Until yesterday he’d thought her quiet demeanour suggested a charmingly pliant nature. Now he was not so sure. In fact, suddenly, he was not sure of anything.

“A glass of lemonade, perhaps, my angel? Or a gentle stroll?”

“I would prefer to be left alone.” Miss Montrose waved a languid hand in his general direction while she continued to gaze at the still lake beside which their picnic party had situated itself.

The languid arm-wave had not even been accompanied by a demure thank you as subtle acknowledgement of her gratitude that not only had Mr Bramley, heir to a viscountcy, stepped in to rescue Miss Eliza Montrose from impoverishment, he was prepared to treat her publicly as if she were as fine a catch as he could have made.

A soft titter brought his head round sharply but the ladies behind him, bent over the latest Ackerman’s Repository, appeared occupied with their own gossip as they lounged on cushions beneath the canopy that had been erected to protect them from the sun.

Awkwardly he looked for occupation as he continued to eye his intended with a mixture of irritation and desire – both lustful desire and the desire to put her in her place.

The idea of the latter made him harden. She was beautiful, this quiet, apparently retiring young woman who said so little but whose eyes spoke such volumes. The afternoon sun glinted on her honey-gold hair and imbued her porcelain skin with a warm glow. The skin that he could see, at any rate.

He pushed back his shoulders. On their wedding night in six weeks, when he’d at last take possession of her, he’d rip that modesty to shreds. The skin she was so at pains to hide would be his, not only to see, but to caress and taste. When she was his wife the beautiful, distant Miss Eliza Montrose would no longer get away with paying George Bramley so little attention. No, he’d have her screaming and writhing at his command. He would make her like the things he did to her; or at least, show him she did if she enjoyed harmony as much as she appeared to. None of this languid reclining like a half-drugged princess in his presence. He’d keep her on her toes, ready to leap to his bidding at the sound of his footstep. She’d learn to be grateful.

Feeling ignored and superfluous, he turned to his uncle’s detestable wife, Lady Quamby, and said with a smile, “Perhaps you and Miss Montrose would like to accompany me to the turret. Since you appear to have enjoyed this new novel Northanger Abbey so much, you might be interested to know there is an excellent view of the ruined monastery not far from here.”

He was just priding himself on being so attuned to the feminine inclination for pleasure when Lady Quamby half turned and sent him a desultory smile. “Oh, I think Miss Eliza looks perfectly comfortable and Fanny and I are having such a lovely little coze.” As if imitating Miss Montrose, she waved a languid hand in his general direction. “Why don’t you take Mr Patmore off to see it? The two of you can tell us all about it when you return.”

The fact that Miss Montrose didn’t deign to even speak for herself much less glance in his direction sent the blood surging to Bramley’s brain. By God, when he was married to Eliza Montrose the limpid look of love so lacking now would be pasted onto her face every time he crossed her line of vision. He’d make sure of it.

He inclined his head, hiding his fury, and was on the point of leaving when Lady Quamby’s sister, Fanny —for he’d be damned if he’d accord the little strumpet the title of Lady Fenton—leapt up from her chair. She’d been poring over the latest fashions but now she smiled brightly up at him.

“I’ll come with you, Cousin George. We can see the children practise their rowing from the battlements. I told Nanny Brown she could take them in the two boats if they’d been good.”

Bramley stared down her liveliness. In fact, he was about to give up the idea of going up to the battlements altogether when his other guest, Rufus Patmore, suddenly rose and joined Fanny’s side with a late and unexpected show of enthusiasm.

“Capital idea!” declared Rufus.

George flashed them both a dispassionate look. He’d chosen to invite his betrothed, Miss Montrose—whose chaperone was currently tucked up in the green bed chamber nursing a head cold—to be his guest at his uncle’s estate, Quamby House, after receiving intelligence that Ladies Quamby and Fenton would be safely in London with their husbands and children. Instead the brazen Brightwell sisters (as they’d infamously been called when he’d first made their acquaintance), had altered their plans and were now in dogged attendance, reminding him as they always had, of some awful tenacious climbing plant determined to find a foothold wherever they could in order to rise in the world.

Rufus, a last-minute addition and acquaintance from his club, was here because he’d just purchased a horse from Bramley the night before. Now he was gazing at Lady Fenton with the same dewy-eyed fondness George was used to seeing reflected in the eye of his uncle, the Earl of Quamby who called the Brightwell sisters his precious rose-buds. To George they were common dandelions! And now they had overridden Quamby House, the rambling Queen Anne manor house and estate that would have passed to George the moment his uncle quitted this mortal coil were it not for the snotty-nosed infant Lady Quamby had borne far too early in her marriage to George’s uncle.

George shook his head. He’d changed his mind. Only, there was Rufus striding across the lawn, skirting the lake with Fanny at his side, and George didn’t want to be seen as petulant for having offered the suggestion in the first place. Or have his snubbed and ignored status so much on parade since the two remaining ladies—Miss Montrose and Lady Quamby—had their heads bent together in deep discussion with no apparent interest in seeking his company.

By God, he thought, clenching his fists as he set off after them at a brisk trot, they’d all rue the day they showed George Bramley so little respect.

[End of Extract]

Devil’s Run is available at all retailers here.


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Tribute to my Mum

Here’s a Mother’s Day tribute to my lovely mother, Gail Nettelton who was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1934, and who lived 10 exciting years in Lesotho – in Mokhotlong and Maseru, during which time I was born – before emigrating to Australia and living on Lord Howe Island after which she and dad made Adelaide their home.

Her love of adventure

Mum passed on her love of adventure to me. She ’emigrated’ to Canada when she was 21 (because it was cheaper to emigrate) and travelled and worked there for a year while the friends who originally were going to accompany her dropped out to get married.
She then travelled to the UK in the mid-50s and lived in the heart of London, working as a secretary in between trips through Europe in an old car having answered a newspaper ad posted by three Irish girls who were looking for a fourth to share costs.
After she returned to South Africa, aged 25, she worked in the British High Commission where she met dad whom she married a year later. Reluctantly she sold her Austin Healy Sprite sportscar she’d bought when she returned from the UK but had plenty of compensations living at 10,000 ft in mountainous Mokhotlong, also known as the British Empire’s remotest outpost.
She loved entertaining and did a lot of it, despite the fact the community consisted of about 5 people, but there were lots of visitors after the Pack Horse Inn burned down.
Mum used to joke that in Africa she had no children and three servants and in Australia she had three children and no servants.
Mum passed on her lack of house-cleaning abilities to me. My first boyfriend taught me how to fold laundry and where to scrub for dirt in a kitchen but my mother taught me how to look at life as one enormous adventure. She died 23 years ago, much too young, but having packed it with riches and filled it with love.
Here are some pictures of her. Pictures of Mum


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Gorgeous gowns and lavish ebook offer

Sophie in Elizabethan gownI’ve not tried making an Elizabethan gown before so was quite enthusiastic when my daughter requested one for her sixteenth birthday. Actually, she wanted the French hood which Anne Boleyn had made popular and it rather snowballed from there.

After poring over dozens of paintings and pictures we did a mockup of her French hood using cardboard, then pleated fine linen and sewed on pearls and came up with this headdress, here.In my fabric

For the gown, I had in my fabric stash the gold upholstery fabric and, with the help of a burgundy tablecloth from the op shop we came up with this. I’m sure the Elizabethans utilised whatever they could, too; for us, irrigation tubing held out the skirt instead of the more restrictive farthingale.

A rather special Free ebook promotion

On the subject of lavish gowns, here’s another display of beautiful attire – for men and women, though these are a couple of hundred years after the Elizabethan period.

Free eBook Regency Romance - R2 - Red 1200x628

Together with historical romance authors Maggi Andersen, Jade Lee, Emily Murdoch and Carole Mortimer, I’m in a week-long promotion with a book each we’re offering for free only on this platform. In other words, it’s full price everywhere else except for here. So be transported to a world of magic, make-believe and romance just by clicking here.


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Excerpt from Rake’s Honour

Beverley_Oakley_b3As I’ve just had a new cover done for Rake’s Honour – and the book is on sale – I thought I’d post an excerpt. I wrote Rake’s Honour as the first in my Scandalous Miss Brightwell series. I’ve recently rewritten it quite extensively – as I have done for Rogue’s Kiss, the second in the series. Now book 3 – Devil’s Run – is nearly finished and will be published in a couple of months.

Rake’s Honour

In this scene, Fanny has gone looking for her sister’s bracelet which Antoinette has lost after leaving Lord Quamby’s ballroom. Finding herself in a chamber hung with lurid artwork, Fanny has just tumbled down some stairs, ripped her gown, and is hiding in a very strange edifice as she knows the man she fancies is following her. Isn’t Fanny a silly girl?

Anxiety and urgency made her fingers clumsy as she tried to fix the damage. In despair, she glanced up at her reflection in the huge gilt mirror that formed one entire wall of the festooned tent.

How was she to re-fashion her Grecian coiffure when she’d lost most of the necessary hairpins? If that was not bad enough, how could she ever make her reappearance at the ball in a gown so badly damaged?

She was conscious of his presence near the entrance and both longed for and feared his arrival.

“I… I’m not quite ready.” Would she ever be?

The insidious knot of self-doubt always lurking beneath the surface grew. It hardened, lodging in her chest cavity, and ground away at the self-assurance she’d polished to a shine. Who did she think she was, parading as a society miss, dangling her brassy powers of attraction before Britain’s ten thousand in the hopes of snaring a husband who would benefit the Brightwell family, collectively? A baron’s daughter she may be, but she had nothing other than good looks and a reputation still intact—if Fenton kept his word—to recommend her. At this moment, even that was imperilled on account of her careless pea goose of a sister. Her feverish attempts at feigning a life of leisure and frivolity in accord with those whose life she sought to share seemed suddenly stupid and pathetic. She’d be a laughing stock if people knew the long hours she plied needle and thread to clothe her sister and herself in the latest splendour.

Desperation at her plight was shredding her insides. Tomorrow she was to marry Lord Slyther, unless…

Unless what? There was not time. Lord Fenton was waiting for her and all she could do was stare into the looking-glass like some unworldly debutante frozen by fear.

Right now, in her hour of need, she could not even find a threaded needle to save her reputation. Lord Fenton would think her little better than a costermonger when he saw her with her torn skirt and disordered hair. What would he think if he could see into her shrivelled-up little soul?

Her toes curled and her insides cleaved with frustrated longing. Tonight she’d recognised in his eye the mysterious fascination she wielded. She’d wielded the same power over Alverley.

It was true that she’d not wanted Alverley but he’d offered the means of survival. Survival for her and her family.

Lord, but she wanted Fenton. It was too early to call it love—when love was what she aspired above all else—but there was a magnetism between them that defied common sense. Surely that was a good enough beginning to warrant throwing all her efforts into making him want her when the alternative was Lord Slyther?

With an effort, she steadied her breathing. Her mother would be equally satisfied with Lord Fenton. Fenton provided the same opportunities as Lord Slyther. He had lineage, money, prospects enough to offer the entire Brightwell clan. Her mother would be as delighted over a match with Fenton as she was with Lord Slyther. Wouldn’t she?

Fanny could be a wife worthy of Lord Fenton. Fanny needed a man like Lord Fenton. And Fanny wanted…Lord Fenton.

Actually wanted him, like she’d never wanted a man. The need to reconnect with him, physically, was so powerfully intense she had to grip the sofa arm to steady herself.

Beware. She closed her eyes and forced reason to prevail. Fenton had the power to make her forget herself. It had happened before and she’d been lucky.

In Fenton she wondered if she’d met her match. She recognised in him qualities that went deeper than the ironic façade he chose to present to the world—for she practiced the same deception. A necessary deception if she were to shield her most vulnerable self from an exacting and judgemental society.

She bit her trembling lip and tried to collect her wits. If she had time she could work herself into the woman of Fenton’s dreams—dreams that would last beyond the here and now…

…if only she had time.

“You may come, Lord Fenton.”

[End of Extract]

So that’s it from me for now. I hope you enjoyed the extract.

Rake’s Honour is available on all platforms here.


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Saving Grace – New Release Excerpt

Beverley_OakleyI remember the excitement of being signed up by Pan Macmillan Momentum five years ago at the Gold Coast Romance Writers of Australia Conference when they contracted Saving Grace as part of an anthology with nine other stories.

Lots has changed in the publishing world since then and now Momentum – Pan Macmillan’s digital arm – is no more.

I therefore wrote asking for my rights back, which were graciously granted, and have just rewritten the novella, which was inspired after reading ninenteenth century journalist Henry Mayhew’s study of London during the 1850s, titled London’s Underworld.

My new version of Saving Grace is now Book One in my Fair Cyprians of London, a series of vignettes telling the stories of the determined and enterprising young women working at the brothel keeper Madam Chambon’s St James’ establishment. They’re there because, having lost their reputation through no fault of their own, they face almost certain poverty and ruin. Victorian society was unforgiving towards a girl who’d lost her ‘character’. Of course, there were no similar strictures as regards the men who’d transgressed.

Here’s a short extract.

A rich man’s hobby is a poor girl’s ruin during the years of early photography

It’s 1878 and London’s most beautiful and hard-hearted prostitute, Grace Fortune, is preparing for her next job. She’s the special initiation ‘gift’ procured by a mother in fashionable Mayfair for her son’s twenty-first birthday.

When Grace discovers she is to be servicing the man whose secret she’d guarded at the cost of her once-secure position as a housemaid and whose betrayal has plunged her into this hated life, she wants revenge.

London, 1878

Reclining on a red plush sofa, Grace took a sip of her sickly sweet orgeat and forced a haze over any thoughts about the night ahead. Madame Chambon only allowed her girls champagne when the gentlemen were paying for it and although Grace was not a drinker she liked the way it dulled her senses to the present.

The others were gathered in companionable groups on the fashionable Egyptian sofas, their heavy scent perfuming the air, their soft murmurs imbuing the atmosphere with a falsely domestic air.

She glanced at Hope, another of those who, like her, kept to themselves. Hope was favoured by the gentlemen who patronised their St James’s establishment for her milky white skin and delicate, elfin features. Grace had heard the girl had been a governess before she’d eloped with the squire’s son who’d abandoned her. She’d been too ashamed to return to her family. Maybe it was the truth. Each girl had a story to suit herself.

To Grace, the only truth was that they were all on a path to hell. It didn’t take much for a girl to lose her character but once it was gone there were precious few options for her to put food in her belly and keep a roof over her head.

An expectant hush fell as the heavy draped and tasselled curtain was drawn aside and Madame Chambon arranged herself theatrically in the opening, ready to address her petites choux.

Ravissement!” she complimented them in thickly accented English, clapping her hands. Grace suspected the elegantly ravaged Madame came from Lambeth rather than the Left Bank. Not that it mattered. No one in this business was who they said they were.

Least of all, Grace.

The girls, awed and anxious, straightened their rich, colourful gowns nervously. Despite her appearance of bonhomie Madame Chambon could turn on a coin. And it was she who ensured the girls did not return to where most of them had been plucked from—the gutter.

“A great opportunity awaits one of you tomorrow,” she addressed them, “for I have just been honoured by the visit of a woman of great discernment …”

A couple of the girls tittered. “A woman?”

They closed their mouths at Madame Chambon’s beady stare, attending as she went on, “who has requested I supply her with one of my loveliest …”

She drew out the pause as several of the brothel’s most popular young ladies preened.

“… most hard-hearted girls.”

All heads turned towards Grace. She blinked, surprised to register shock when she rarely felt anything these days. Is that how they regarded her? Hard-hearted?

Surely she was not alone in a profession that demanded one’s soul in return for the necessities to live?  She simply had nothing left to offer once she’d done what was required in order to pay Madame Chambon her keep and just survive.

Madame Chambon levelled her expectant look upon Grace, whose mouth dropped open in protest. “A woman? But—”

“The woman wants to give her son a present to remember for his twenty-first birthday. She is obviously a very fond mother—” Madame Chambon allowed herself to share the girls’ amusement, adding, “with very good sense in choosing our select establishment to provide him with the very best initiation—” Her smile grew cloying as she continued to look at Grace—“without fear of him being lured into a transfer of affections amidst all the other … ahem … transfers that take place.” Though she made a gesture with her hands to indicate the transfer of money, the girls tittered at the double entendre.

Redheaded Faith, known for her noisy exuberance, leaned in towards the girl beside her. “Grace doesn’t have a heart to lose.” Her whisper resonated.

Nor did Grace have the heart to participate in the banter that followed.

So what if she’d been selected? It was just another job and a good thing she need not worry about eliciting the emotions of a twenty-one-year-old virgin. Pleasing, also, was the knowledge that any business with a virgin meant it would all be over in less than five minutes.

* * *

Madame Chambon selected her dress for her, in royal blue and silver stripes to complement her dark hair and pale skin. Grace’s slender form lent itself to the silhouette of the day: a close-fitting cuirass ending in a draped fan train emphasised with knife pleat ruching. The expensive gown was at the forefront of fashion and made Grace feel she was rubbing shoulders with those she’d once served.

She contoured the flat of her stomach with her hand, turning to look over her shoulder in the cheval mirror at the stylish figure she cut.

It was true she enjoyed wearing a gown the like of which she’d once not even been entrusted to fold and put away but of course, like everything else, it came with a caveat: she could take only mincing six-inch steps and Madame Chambon required that her girls pay for the clothes she insisted they wear.

“Lor’, but yer look like a duchess,” breathed her dresser, little Maisy, standing back to appreciate the ensemble.

It was nice praise, and not surprising the girl didn’t add that she envied Grace.

Grace patted her on the shoulder and smiled. “Make sure you’re in bed early, Maisy, not hurting your eyes with those penny dreadful novels you do so love.”

Maisy need look no further than those she served for lurid tales of ruined girls to provide the same moralising warning  she got from her beloved stories. Grace hoped Maisy found another situation before Madame Chambon ‘elevated’ her from serving tired and often ungrateful young women who’d been up all night, to eager, high-paying gentlemen.

[End of Extract]

So, there it is. I hope you enjoyed it. There’s a twist at the end and the original Momentum version has been well reviewed on Goodreads. As a special bonus, I’m including Saving Grace for free for readers who preorder the complete Daughters of Sin Box Set  a saving of 25% over the individual books. That’s due to release on April 20, the same date as Saving Grace.

You can pre-order Saving Grace for only 99c at all retailers here.daughters-of-sin-box-set-e-reader

And you can pre-order the Daughters of Sin Box Set at all retailers here.


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Let’s talk covers after a wrong cancer diagnosis

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My lovely dad

Well, I’m in a really good mood because my dad isn’t in the final stages of cancer of the gall bladder as he’d been told he was by the doctor, so instead of thinking there were only two weeks left I can look forward to lots more conversations and hanging out with him as he finalises his memoirs and talks about life in Botswana and Lesotho. Very cool!

That means I can write a blog post on a lighthearted subject like my latest cover experiences instead of crying into my pillow because dad was apparently dying. It’s a wonderful thing to be told you’re dying and then suddenly you’re not!

Daughters of Sin collage

The five covers in my Daughters of Sin series

Anyway, it’s been quite a week with DH away on a motorbike trip in South Australia’s beautiful Flinders Ranges while I’ve been looking after the kids – unfortunately forgetting that school holidays started this week and not having a plan for Miss 11. (I’m sure nobody told me school holidays had started which makes me feel really silly because I work as an editor for the Curriculum and Assessment Authority so am immersed in education all day long meaning I should be the last person who didn’t know that!) But I didn’t and I suppose that’s what happens when your husband has spent two years too injured to fly then gets his reprieve and is told he can after all, so to celebrate suddenly heads off on a big trip like this; and then the same week your dad is told he’s dying of cancer and you’re trying to get his memoirs (that he’s been working on for fifteen years) finalised and printed before it’s too late and in time for a big splash and launch (with lots of wine and chocolate, as planned) that everyone can enjoy – before the two to six weeks remaining that was what the original prognosis was, is up.

daughters-of-sin-box-set-e-reader

The elegant cover done by Dar Albert

Back to me and my covers

Anyway, there it is! And now we can cut back to me again because suddenly life’s good once more and here we are, on a Tuesday night on a cool Autumn Melbourne night, after a glass – or maybe two – of red wine. (Yes, I know, it’s a week night but I’ve needed something as I anticipated the phone call from my sisters in South Australia who rushed over to be with dad who is now in hospital but is going to be all right.)

And now that they’ve just given me the the low down on dad I am just so relieved, so that’s what I’ll talk about: the box set cover I had designed for my Daughters of Sin series which helped take my mind off everything.

I was going to talk about my Africa book and dad’s memoirs with lots of pics of Botswana and Lesotho in the old days but I’ll do that in a more considered blog post rather than in one that’s been written from the hip (if you can say that) and covers are fun and frothy and that’s what I need right now – something fun and frothy since the house is very quiet right now.box-set-cover-e-reader

It’s been quite an interesting experience – this whole covers thing for my Daughters of Sin series – because I commissioned a cover for each of the five stories in the series, and now that the final story has just been published, I have to do what all authors do – make a box set of the complete series to sell at a discount.

The Daughters of Sin series

In case you haven’t read any of the Daughters of Sin series, it’s five intrigue-laced books about four sisters (two nobly-born (and their mother) and the nobly-born sisters’ two illegitimate half sisters) competing for social success during the Regency era with an espionage plot running through them all. The initial story – Her Gilded Prison – is (I confess) an older woman younger man, rather poignant story, with a twist at the end, written for Ellora’s Cave, while the second book is about a debutante being mistaken for a lady of the night.

Daughters_of_Sin_BoxSet

The cover done by Fiverr

By the end of Dangerous Gentlemen I realised that intrigue rather than erotic romance was more my milieu so in a second rendition (the one up there and published now) I toned down the heat in the first two books (which nevertheless are still quite steamy) while the final three books are more intrigue laced with suspense and lots of romance as they detail how the lives of the four sisters intertwine after one of them marries a suspected traitor. Ambition runs rampant, whether it’s beautiful and vain Araminta, Lady Debenham, who needs to rid herself of an inconvenient encumbrance, regardless of the cost; or sweet Kitty, her half sister who as a celebrated stage actress yearns for respectability, or her hardworking sister Lissa who must forgo London revels because she’s a governess but whose abilities as a portraitist bring her into the bosom of the ton – and earns her the love of the evil Lord Debenham’s hardworking secretary, the resourceful and besotted Ralph Tunley.
Each of the five stories has their own cover and the cheapest way – I found – of creating a box set is (if you can’t do it yourself on Photoshop) to get someone on Fiverr to mock up the five books as a box set. They can do this for about $20 using the original covers.
However, as book one – Her Gilded Prison – was my least favourite cover, I wasn’t convinced this was the way to go. So I commissioned the designer who’d done all the other covers to come up with something completely different for the box set cover and this is what she came up with, above.

I must mention that it took a few days for her to get back to me and in the meantime I’d commissioned someone from Fiverr to do it for me and this is what they came up with. While I like it, I don’t think it has the elegant look that my designer Dar Albert achieved.

More covers to come

In my next blog post I’m going to put up three more covers done by different designers at Fiverr, as well as a friend who’s talented in Photoshop, so you can compare costs and expertise. Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to work on making sure dad’s memoirs look as good as they deserve to look, and put up some pics and extracts.

And if you want to check out the Daughters of Sin box set, this link will take you to every retailer’s platform. Check it out.

 

 

 


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