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The Courtesan’s Ball – a new fact/fiction project

Catherine Walters: courtesan, brilliant equestrian, long-term friend of King Edward VII
Catherine Walters: courtesan, brilliant equestrian, long-term friend of King Edward VII

During last year’s lockdown my creativity dried up. This year’s lockdown, things are very different.

As you might have seen from your international news, Melbourne now has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most locked-down city. We have a curfew, can’t travel beyond 15km (extended recently from 5km), and the only place we can see anyone is in a park, or outside, with a couple of others. Soon that number will rise to 10 vaccinated people – but still outdoors.

Basically, that’s not going to change until the whole of Australia has 70% double vaccination though we won’t open our borders to interstate – or the rest of the world – until we’ve achieved 80% vaccination. That’s because our hospitals are pretty much at capacity, and our health care workers are exhausted, understandably. And the government doesn’t want more people to die.

Anyway, there’s nothing like isolation and lockdown to get one thinking creatively (although that wasn’t the case in the first lockdown when my creativity dried up).

 

But, here’s what’s now happening in my creative world…

Fair Cyprians of London

October is my big promotion month for my six-book series about Madame Chambon’s girls and their second-chance-at-happiness romances. On Goodreads the Fair Cyprians of London series has more than 1500 ratings with a 4.01 average.

Now, I’m doing something a bit different with book 7 which will be on pre-order in the next few weeks. As you may know, these stories were influenced by nineteenth-century journalist Henry Mayhew’s interviews with fallen women in his London’s Underworld.

Book 6 of my Fair Cyprians series – Loving Lily – was inspired by Lady Audley’s Secret, first published in 1861 and written by the celebrated Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who was regarded as the ‘leading light of sensation fiction’,  a position she shared with Wilkie Collins, who wrote The Woman in White. (You might have seen the 2018 mini series starring  Jessie Buckley, Ben Hardy, Olivia Vinall, Dougray Scott and Charles Dance.)

Well, book 7 is going to be in two parts – fact and fiction.

The ‘Fact’ part will be about the famous courtesans and sensational figures of the day such as the fascinating and controversial English courtesan Cora Pearl, who could command the equivalent of 90,000 pounds in a month; and Catherine Walters – known as Skittles – who was looked after into old age by Edward VII but who, as a young woman, drew massive crowds to watch her drive her famous phaeton in London’s Hyde Park.

The fiction part will feature all the characters in the six books in the series – Grace, Faith, Hope, Charity, Violet and Lily – taking part in a Christmas gathering at a ‘Courtesan’s Ball’ where a dramatic event will take place.

I haven’t decided what – whether it’ll be a murder, or an mismatched elopement – but it’ll be a chance to meet up again with all these characters who’d been at their lowest ebb at Madame Chambon’s House of Assignation when readers first met them.

And there’ll be photographs!

Catherine Walters
Catherine Walters – an accomplished equestrian who used to be sewn into her riding habits and who fascinated all stratas of mid to late Victorian society.

So, stay tuned for ‘The Courtesan’s Ball’. That might be what it’s called. I’m not sure, yet. If you have any suggestions for either the title OR the kind of dramatic event at the centre of the story, then I’d be happy to hear them!

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The House Party

Bring on the 1820s.

In The Wilful Widow, matchmaking sisters Fanny and Antoinette are preparing a lavish week-long House Party at Quamby House…

Fanny from Scandalous Miss Brightwells
Antoinette from Scandalous Miss Brightwells

Amongst their guests are the ‘notorious’ widow, beautiful Lady Highcliff, and the gorgeous, kind, and soon-to-be-betrothed Alexander.

On the left is a sneak peek of the fashionable ensembles of some of the guests, namely, the fashionable Brightwell sisters – now Lady Fenton and Lady Quamby since their scandalous rags-to-riches marriages.

These are fashion plates from around the mid 1820s, and you can see that the bustline is lower, though not quite yet on the ‘natural’ waist.

The hem of the skirt is heavily decorated with flounces or roulades, which, together with the broader puffed sleeves, is a visual trick that makes the waist or torso appear more slender.

Fanny and Antoinette are great arbiters of fashion. And, while fun-loving and frivolous Antoinette – and slightly more serious Fanny – are keen to unite mismatched lovers, one of their faults is a tendency to judge too quickly.

They did this in The Wedding Wager (but made amends), and they do it again in The Wilful Widow. In this book, it is, in fact, their children – Katherine and George – who come up with a grand plan to reunite two former sweethearts: four-times married Charlotte; and Alexander who is trying to drum up the enthusiasm to ask a different (and rather unsuitable) young lady to become his future wife.

On the right is how I envisage Charlotte, Lady Highcliff. She’s supposed to be a notorious, husband-eating widow, but the reality is very different. She’s kind, shy, and it’s not her fault that her four husbands either died, were murdered, had unfortunate accidents or … divorced her.

The Wilful Widow
The Wilful Widow

Here’s an extract, and below that is my special Buy Direct offer for both ebooks and audiobook.

Chapter Three of The Wilful Widow (#5 in the Scandalous Miss Brightwells series)

It was a cold, crisp afternoon for a walk, but with just an hour left of daylight and with a sudden sun shining through the clouds that had lingered all day, Alexander was glad of an excuse to stretch his legs.

Jessamine had been wanting his undivided attention since luncheon and, the truth was, it was rather refreshing to have a variation in the company on offer. He wasn’t yet ready for a repeat effort of this morning’s almost proposal.

So, a small group set out for a brisk ramble through the fields, following the path that led through the estate’s parkland. Lord and Lady Fenton brought along their daughter, Katherine, a precocious livewire of about eleven, while Lady Quamby led the charge in deep discussion with Lord Ashbrook; her son George, a stolid, sulky lad, lagging behind. Alexander had long since stopped paying attention to Jessamine’s chatter as he’d found himself diverted by George telling Beatrice what she was expected to do for some childish charades or performance he gathered would be taking place the following day. The way George spoke, he got the impression the adults were to be enlisted for the amusement of the children rather than the other way round.

“Anyone wish for a rest or shall we continue?” Lady Quamby called from a few yards ahead. “Miss Squib, do come and walk with me. I’ve been telling Lord Ashbrook all about…”

Alexander missed what Lord Ashbrook had been telling Lady Quamby about, for at that moment he caught Beatrice’s earnest blue eyes and lowered his head to hear her whispered, “You haven’t forgotten, Mr. Pemberton?”

“Of course not, Beatrice!” he replied, silently reminding himself to speak to Hobson.

And when Katherine demanded in what he suspected was her usual busybody fashion—having a rather bossy sister, himself—what the secret was, he put his finger against his nose and said in a mysterious fashion, “I’m afraid that’s between Beatrice and me, Miss Katherine,” before winking at Beatrice and earning a giggle for his reward. When she lost her anxious, pinched expression she was quite a pretty, engaging child, he discovered.

“Mr. Pemberton, here comes the baroness! Do help her over the stile, if you would,” Lady Quamby called over her shoulder from the front of the pack.

Alexander stopped as the others wandered ahead, except the children who crowded about him, earning him a reproving shake of the head from Jessamine who often chided him for spending more time with her younger siblings than herself.

“Is that the Wicked Widow? Or should we call her the Brazen Baroness like Uncle Fenton called her?” George asked, craning his head before receiving a cuff over the ear from Katherine, who sent a meaningful glance at Beatrice. Alexander, too, dropped his interested gaze from the figure striding down the hill to make sure Beatrice had not heard her young host’s unkind barb.

The Brazen Baroness. He’d heard the epithet whispered several times among his hosts, though not in Lord Ashbrook’s hearing, of course, and was intrigued to finally meet her. Beatrice obviously adored her and called her kind, so she couldn’t be too much the husband-eater at the expense of her child’s welfare.

He took in the willowy form, on the taller side, walking determinedly down the hill; head bowed as she battled to keep her bonnet upon her head in the breeze. While he couldn’t see her face, she gave the impression of being a woman of self-assurance, which was just as well, marrying an exacting husband like Lord Ashbrook.

“Baroness,” he said, offering her his hand as she balanced upon the top step while the wind tossed her blue merino skirts about her ankles and tendrils of dark hair about the curve of her cheek. “Mr. Alexander Pemberton at your service.”

She’d already laid one hand on Alexander’s, while with the other she gripped her skirts, putting a foot over the fence, but at his words, she startled and missed her step, stumbling into his arms on the other side. The children giggled and Alexander, somewhat embarrassed, helped her to right herself, supporting her about the waist as she raised her gaze to meet his.

He was not prepared.

“Charlotte.” Every sense fizzed into shocked awareness as the familiarity of those dark-fringed sapphire-blue eyes worked their way through the defenses of nine long years.

“Alexander,” she whispered, gripping his hand tighter, staring at him almost as if she were in a trance.

A trance quickly broken by Beatrice’s happy, “Mama! I missed you!” as she flung herself into her mother’s arms. “This is Mr. Pemberton, Mama! He’s been ever so nice to me. Come. Lady Fenton’s waving to you.” She took her mother’s hand and started to lead her away while Alexander, still too dumbfounded to utter a word, watched as the distance between them lengthened, saw her look over her shoulder once before shaking her head in apparent confusion; and felt his own heartbeat in frightening disarray.

“Do you know that lady?”

“Yes. No. What?” Alexander glanced down to find Katherine staring up at him.

“The Wicked Widow? I mean, the Baroness?” She was testing him. “Mama says she must be addressed by her proper title.”

Alexander continued to stare at her retreating back. Would she look over her shoulder again? What had been behind her expression of shock? Remorse, perhaps? Or regret? He forced himself to attend to Katherine. “Her proper title?” he repeated. “And what might that be?” He barely knew what he was saying as he followed the rest of the party at a distance, young Katherine trotting happily at his side.

“Lady Highcliff. She’s a widow because Lord Highcliff was killed in a duel.” She glanced up at Alexander as if gauging his reaction, but he kept his expression bland. With a sigh, Katherine continued, “Before that she was married to a banker who stole a lot of money. And before that, there was a clergyman only he died on their wedding night. But…” she drew out her words in what was clearly a calculated ploy to highlight the shock value—very effective in one so young and when Alexander was so susceptible— “she was…divorced!”

At this, Alexander did glance down and clearly his expression finally delivered to Katherine what she was looking for. With a satisfied nod and an expression of collusion, she was about to go on when Alexander put up his hand and demanded, “How do you know all this?”

“I overheard Mama and Aunt Antoinette talking.” She withdrew an apple from her pocket and took a bite.

“In front of you?” He was shocked.

She gave him an assessing look. “Some of it,” she said with a shrug. “We heard Papa and Uncle Quamby talking about it when they didn’t know George and I were listening. So we asked Mama and Aunt Quamby.”

Alexander was still shocked. For one so young to be so informed gave him a most uncomfortable feeling.

They were trailing about five yards behind Lady Fenton and…Lady Highcliff, and ten yards behind Jessamine whose neat pink figure should have drawn his gaze, but instead he could focus only on the proud, straight form of the new arrival.

“I think her pelisse is rather fine, too. A very arresting shade of blue with quite an unusual detailing on the collar. When I’m a grown-up I shall be known for my style.”

Alexander understood with ever greater clarity that the young lady at his side missed nothing. She could tell exactly where he was looking.

This was enough. He increased his stride muttering under his breath, “I’m sure you don’t know what divorce even is,” and was dismayed that her hearing appeared as acute as her observational skills, for she replied in suitably horrified tones as she hurried to catch up with him, “I don’t know exactly what it is. Just that it’s the greatest scandal from which no woman escapes unscathed unless she is exceptionally beautiful and wickedly cunning.”

Alexander’s jaw dropped as his stride faltered.

Katherine nodded and replied, as if he’d asked her for her opinion when, right now, Alexander wanted nothing more than to drop the subject completely and, in fact, remove himself from the territory if not the entire house party. Happily, she went on, “That’s what Papa said when Mama was going over the guest list, and they were quite astonished Lady Highcliff was marrying Lord Ashbrook. I thought they mustn’t like her, and I wasn’t expecting to, either. I thought anyone who’d had four husbands had to be terribly old, but she isn’t at all. Papa was quite taken with her charming manners and thought her very beautiful but had not the slightest idea how old she was.”

“Twenty-eight.”

“Thank you; I shall tell Papa.”

“No! No need to do that at all,” Alexander said hastily. “No need to mention any of this.”

“Any of what?” Katherine seemed genuinely perplexed. “Am I to understand you know Lady Highcliff? You were a little unclear when I asked before.”

“Yes. No.” He shook his head.

“Which one is it?”

Alexander stared grimly ahead. Would Charlotte want their old association brought up at any stage? Surely not, with a husband-to-be as part of their company. And clearly those three days of madness with Alexander had meant little to her all those years ago. It was possible she may even have forgotten. An unexpected three days, nine years ago and four husbands later would surely be entirely forgettable–given that she’d reneged on the fateful meeting that was to have decided their future. Reneged on her wild assertion that she would give up on her marriage to Lord Busselton in order to elope with Alexander the following night.

Charlotte still hadn’t looked back, and Alexander didn’t know if he was disappointed or relieved. Especially when Jessamine waved at him, reminding him of where his responsibilities lay.

“We were once acquainted,” he said, looking down at Katherine, hoping that satisfied her.

“Really?” But the way she said it suggested a whole new level of interest had just been laid bare.

End of Extract

Here’s what the readers and listeners say:

“Scandalous and adorable!” ~ Chirp

Perfect happy ending for a comedy of errors. Hero is heroic, heroine is worthy. All’s well that ends well.” ~ Chirp

 

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Rake’s Honour Audiobook

Rake's Honour audiobook
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Welcome to Book One of my humorous, matchmaking Scandalous Miss Brightwells series! 

I hope your smelling salts are on hand! This naughty Regency romp spares no details in its honest portrayal of how wicked and lively Fanny and Antoinette Brightwell made their rags-to-riches marriages and became darlings of the English aristocracy?

How did it all begin?

After Fanny’s ambitious mama offers her beautiful, intelligent daughter’s hand in marriage to odious Lord Slyther, Fanny has only two weeks to secure an alternative match that will please Lady Brightwell – and settle the creditors’ bills.

Desperate, Fanny disguises herself for a visit to Vauxhall Gardens where she encounters the devilishly delectable, rapturously responsive – and (fortuitously!) eligible – Lord Fenton.

Not only does this roguish rake have the looks and wit to please Fanny, he has the title and pocket book required to please Fanny’s mama!

However, persuading the naughty nobleman that Fanny would make the perfect wife, requires a deft touch and a lot of cunning.

With a spurned suitor intent on revenge, and a feckless sister who is more interested in fun and flirtation than finding a proper suitor, Fanny has her work cut out for her if she’s to appear the demure debutante that Fenton – or, rather, his exacting mama –  requires.

Will Fanny get the right kind of offer from fabulous Fenton – or will feather-brained Antoinette ruin both their reputations?

What the readers say:

★★★★★ “What a splendid book! I loved every moment of it… I was delighted by their torrid and passionate meetings. And the end… made me burst out laughing. It rocks!” BookedUp Reviews: 5 Stars

★★★★★ “Steamy and passionate… A good light-hearted read.” ~ Amazon reader

★★★★★ “A fast-paced story, filled with humour, sexual attraction, love and desperation. The first in a series of novels set in a time when chastity and honour were everything.” ~ Amazon reader.

Reader Advisory: This steamy Regency is not for the faint-hearted as Fanny Brightwell is prepared to risk everything to save herself from a lifetime attending to Great Aunt Seraphina’s chilblains or massaging lecherous Lord Slyther’s gargantuan ego – amongst other things.

If you love matchmaking romances with saucy heroines and sizzling seduction scenes, you’ll love the Scandalous Miss Brightwells series.

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The Wilful Widow

The Wilful Widow1827 ~ A shy seven-year-old’s inventive plan to derail her mother’s fifth wedding causes mayhem at Countess Quamby’s country-house party near Bath.

Another matchmaking tale from the Scandalous Miss Brightwells series!

Wicked and lively Fanny and Antoinette Brightwell have made spectacular marriages—despite scandals and the treachery of a disappointed suitor determined to besmirch their reputations.

Now it’s their children’s turn to play matchmaker after a deserving, much-married baroness waltzes into their orbit – about to marry the wrong man.

Antics abound as three determined youngsters work creatively together to ensure the fifth golden ring that is slipped onto pretty, widowed Baroness Highcliff’s left hand is not from the man she’s due to marry in three weeks.

But will it be from the right man? The one she should have married first?

This sweet tear-jerker second-chance romance reminds us that young hearts and minds are often wiser than we imagine. Get your copy now!

 

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Loving Lily Release Day!

Loving Lily

Today is release day for Loving Lily!

Do you love stories of kidnapped heroines? Are you intrigued by the late Victorian craze for seances and Spiritualists? Does a hero tortured by his repressive upbringing who falls in love with a “most unsuitable woman” sound like the kind of hero you’d like to read about?

If you’ve read the previous stories in my Fair Cyprians of London series, you’ll know each young woman featured is connected with Madame Chambon’s House of Assignation (or, Ill Repute, as some call it).

Loving Lily is Book 6 in the series, and my heroine, Lily, has just been kidnapped from an insane asylum in Brussels, where her husband confined her two years before.

Escaping her kidnapper, Lily flees through London streets and finds refuge at Madame Chambon’s where she is nourished and restored.

 

But she does not work at Madame Chambon’s. Her kidnapper has found her again…and he has a different agenda.

This is a fairly long romance with a complex plot and, I hope, satisfying twists and turns along the way. Like my other stories, I try to keep the reader guessing until the second-to-last chapter.

The last chapter, of course, is so the reader can enjoy seeing the lovers in their new world, while loose threads are explained and tied up.

So, as I sit up in bed at 10.30am on a Monday in Melbourne writing this – because where else do you write on a cold Autumn morning when no one is allowed to leave the house – I’ve chosen a rather random snippet to showcase. It’ll give you a sense of the early relationship between Lily and Hamish as they meet at the unlikely location of Madame Chambon’s.

I hope you enjoy it!

Excerpt

 

She followed him to the door where he arranged his hat and cane, ready for departure. Already his demeanour was distant. “With no disrespect, I would prefer to speak to Celeste.”

Lily felt her desperation rise, but she could do nothing but hide her feelings as she waited while he reached into his pocket, perhaps to withdraw a handkerchief though his card case fell to the floor and spilled open in the process.

Lily was quick to reach down first. He’d not wanted to introduce himself beyond his name, but an understanding of how he might help her would be to her benefit if his card named his business.

“McTavish and Sons publishers?” Lily jerked her head up from reading his calling card. “You are the publisher of Manners & Morals?”

“The editor, madam.”

She pressed her lips together. “Your magazine is widely read, sir.”

“Indispensable literature for the servants’ halls, the parlours of the middle classes, and the salons of the aristocracy, I have been reliably informed.” His tone was dry.

“Are you Mr McTavish? Or the son?”

“My father began it as a newspaper that printed religious texts. Fifteen years ago, he expanded it into the magazine it is today.”

“To feed the appetite for self-improvement and chaste entertainment for all levels of society. A weighty moral burden.” She smiled at his clear surprise at her pronouncement, her thoughts running over why he should be interested in Celeste and Lord Carruthers. “You have a nose for scandal, then,” she said. “And a mandate for stamping it out, given the position you hold?”

He sent her a level look. “Vice and immorality are the hallmarks of weakness, and it is up to every individual to harness such dangerous impulses. I publish a mix of improving instruction, and entertainment.” He checked himself. “I am not a prude, madam. But what I provide is wholesome and morally uplifting.”

“And Celeste’s activities could be dangerous to public morality?” she asked.

“That, and more,” he said. He drew in a breath and appeared to consider his words. “I need not reiterate that my seeking information is in the public interest. If it should be revealed that I’ve even come to this house, I promise you that I can cause a great deal more trouble than such a revelation is worth.”

Lily raised an eyebrow. “I hope that was not a threat, Mr McTavish. Besides, what you have said suggests that you’d not mind, one way or another, what would put Madame Chambon and her girls out of business. But pray tell, what do you propose the women who work here should do in order to strive for self-improvement? Other than read your magazine, of course. What other possibilities are there that might entice them to leave their lives of vice and sin?”

“They should find respectable employment, of course.” His tone was full of scorn. “But of course, respectable employment does not pay as well as this.”

“It does not pay sufficiently to keep a roof over a woman’s head or food on the table,” Lily said. “I have learned this only now, for, like you, I grew up in comfortable ignorance of the fact that a milliner working from dawn til dusk earns a pittance insufficient to pay for the barest necessities of life. As for respectable employment, without a glowing reference from some upstanding citizen, these girls can’t even choose to step back into the kind of life you propose—moral rectitude.” She raked her gaze over the fine cut of his coat and his well-made shoes. “It is all very well to proselytise when you have a comfortable buffer against starvation. But I suggest this is not a place where you will find friends spouting your moralising beliefs.”

“There is no excuse for sin other than a deficiency of one’s own moral character,” he said grimly.

“And you have never sinned?”

His nostrils flared. “I was born a sinner, like everyone. But I have never exhibited a weakness of the flesh that brings men here.”

“Men like Lord Carruthers, an upstanding man with a wife and family.” She hesitated. “And women like Celeste who do his bidding.” The knowledge she was trying to dredge up, when for two years she’d been absent from any discussion of world matters, was slowly coming back. “Lord Carruthers holds an important position, and you are looking to shame him in your newspapers and magazines? Reveal, perhaps, the fact that Lord Carruthers has a mistress?” She shook her head, discounting this. “No, printing such sensationalist material would not be well received by your readers. The secrets of what a man does in the privacy of his bedroom are sacrosanct. You can’t print that. But…” She looked up. “The fact that a man holding such an important position has a mistress who is simultaneously sleeping with…with the enemy, could.”

Buy Loving Lily here – and enjoy a pre-order reduction. And while the series is still in Kindle Unlimited (until August 1).

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Four New Audiobooks

When my kids were little, I loved reading tongue-twister, fun stories to them each night.

Dr Seuss’s Sneetches on Beaches was a favourite! The girls loved it when I read it, faster and faster.

So, it made sense to read my own audio books.

Like anything, one gets better, though everyone has to start, somewhere.

I’m sure my 25th book was much better written than my first published book, Lady Sarah’s Redemption – though of course that went through a refresher stage after I got the rights back from my publisher and I made it available through my own publishing house, Sani Publishing.

Just as I’m sure the fourth book I’ve narrated – The Wilful Widow – is better than the first I narrated, The Bluestocking and the Rake.

But, I’ve always loved reading aloud and the process has been fun.

So, here are the first four. Two are already published, and two will be available in the next few days.

And, if you are interested in audiobooks, just remember that when you buy direct, you’re getting the cheapest price while the author gets more pennies, too.

Enjoy!

 

First audio book – The Bluestocking and the Rake

Mombo during audio recordingAfter more than a year of talking about it, checking out narrators, and then doing courses on narration and recording, I finally started recording my first audio book.

As I’d had a successful promotion for my Daughters of Sin series, I started with Book 1, Her Gilded Prison. However, this is one of my steamier books, and on playing back for the first eight chapters, there were too many scenes in which I sounded positively embarrassed, that I decided to put this one down to experience.

So, with another big promotion coming up on The Bluestocking and the Rake, I decided that this one – book 2 in my Hearts in Hiding series – would be the ideal start.

Above is a picture of my recording studio. As you can see, old faithful, my Rhodestian Ridgeback Mombo, had to be in on the action. He’s just loved the fact that we, in Melbourne, have had around six months of partial, followed by full, stringent lockdown, so he is always with his pack!

Generally the recording goes OK, though sometimes I have to pause when he starts to chase rabbits in his sleep, or to snore.

Here’s a Taster of The Bluestocking and the Rake!

This takes place after Jemima’s ‘husband’ has taken her out for an evening.

The Bluestocking and the Rake“How dare you insult me, so? You took me to a prostitute’s den,” she hissed when they were indoors, and the sleepy housemaid had put a final log on the fire and retired to bed.
Roderick had the grace to look ashamed as he flicked up his tailcoat to seat himself on a stool close to the warmth. “Perhaps it was not quite the place to take a—”
“A respectable wife! No!” she ground out, stepping back when he rose and held out his arms with an appeasing look.
The room was dim and smelled of wood smoke. Jemima hated every square inch of the floral wallpaper and stained rug, but it was the only home she had. She glared at him as he sat down, clearly deflated, while she counseled herself silently that she mustn’t complain when she was equally responsible for the decisions that had led to this disastrous marriage.
Unconsciously, she put her hand to her belly as she prayed, not for the first time, that there was no child within to bring into the world and share her misery. Yet perhaps that was all she had to look forward to now—children.
If she’d been in doubt before, this evening had helped her decide that she couldn’t—wouldn’t—reveal the truth about the clay tablet to a man she despised. Roderick, as her husband, would have the legal right to own every last gold coin of her discovery, should matters proceed to eventual success.
Roderick returned her look with a long, enigmatic look of his own, and Jemima sighed. It wasn’t that he was a bad man, just that he was weak, and he’d taken advantage of circumstances to benefit himself at her expense.
She rose, intending to go to bed, but at the doorway, she turned. She’d have expected him to resort to his usual self-justifying bluster but his mouth was set in a grim line.
“No, it’s not where I would take a respectable wife.”
Something in his tone sent a spear of foreboding through her. Was he telling her he didn’t consider her respectable? That there was some stain on her virtue for which he intended to punish her? Anger bubbled through her veins. How dare he, when marriage to him had been the only way to salvage her reputation and every woman knew that without that she was doomed to poverty and ignominy?
She took a step back into the room and put her hands on her hips. Her gown was secondhand and had belonged to Roderick’s aunt, she’d discovered after he’d gifted it to her not long ago. She hated its matronly cut and was conscious of the old-fashioned line of the skirt—when fashion wasn’t something she’d ever considered in the past. It helped stoke her anger. “Do not blame me for forcing your hand when you made me your wife,” she said softly. “I told you of my need to be in London, at St Paul’s churchyard on Epiphany when I very first met you, and you took advantage of that in a way no gentleman would have.”
“And who did you intend meeting?” He was sneering now, yet he had believed her when she’d explained at that time that it was a family matter of the utmost urgency. He pushed back his tight, ginger curls as he rose. “A lover? One who didn’t turn up, I might add. You used me to meet your lover; only he left you all alone and unprotected. What was I to do except take you to find lodging? I behaved like a gentleman.”
“And no damage might have been done to either my reputation or yours if your mother hadn’t tracked you down and thrown a fit of the vapors, believing we’d eloped. She decided then and there that I had set my cap at you when nothing could have been further from the truth.”
“You were looking for a protector! Admit it! I offered you the job of governess out of the goodness of my heart. My mother would never have offered the position to anyone who didn’t have a good character, but you had nothing. Nothing! No doubt you were cast out of your own home because you were discovered with this…this knave you intended to meet and run away with the moment you’d thrown yourself into his arms at St. Paul’s. That’s why you had no character when you came to me. Your reputation was already ruined, but I saved you from sleeping under any more haystacks. Admit there’s more than a grain of truth to what I say.”
Jemima advanced toward him with fire in her belly. It was rare she was pushed to anger, but the injustice of his speculations and the self-righteousness he paraded made the matter in her head close to bursting.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth! Is that what you truly believe? That I was running away from some sordid past? That I was already ruined? How dare you! I only married you because it was the only way I could retain my character, my reputation. Your mother was screeching the most vile things about me, threatening to see my name blackened throughout the entire country and yes, you nobly played the gentleman, but at the time you professed undying love. You said we could make marriage between us work. You begged me to marry you. As for me, I entered into a marriage contract because I thought that you believed in me, that you loved me and because if I didn’t, I would be ruined. Oh, but it’s my fault I was so easily cowed by your vengeful mother and your avowals of love and protection when I had nowhere else to go.”
She clenched her hands at her sides and drew in a deep breath, realizing the need for calm. Slowly common sense returned. She was bound to this man for life. She did not love him, but he’d behaved decently when called upon, and if there was any joy to be had she needed to try and mend the rift between them.
She turned and went up to him, placing her palms against his chest. She could do this. She would be the pliant, submissive, grateful wife. It was the only way she could manipulate a dreadful situation so they might negotiate a difficult peace.
“I’m sorry I spoke harshly. You were good to me, Roderick. I do thank you for giving me a position when perhaps no one else would have. And I’m sorry if you felt you had no choice but to wed a penniless runaway. But please remember that at the time it was what you wanted. And that I wasn’t already ruined. Our wedding night proved that. Please don’t cast aspersions on my good character.”
The flickering candle on the mantelpiece played across his features as, with head bent, he toyed with his wedding ring. She’d hoped to see his expression relax, but instead, she saw evasiveness when he glanced up at her.
“I was in no position to afford a wife,” he muttered. “I knew that.”
Jemima forced her smile to be bolstering. She put her hand on his shoulder. “But you were a gentleman who would not see me ruined. I’m sorry I’ve been a drain on your purse strings.” Should she hint that perhaps she had the means to provide them with a fortune beyond his wildest dreams? Could that save the situation? Make them happy?
She opened her mouth to say the words. Marriage was a lifelong contract, and she could make them rich. That would give them both freedom. And honesty was essential if they were to have any chance of navigating the morass of misery that threatened to engulf them both.
“Roderick, I must tell you something…”
Impatiently he turned away from her, raking his hands through his hair, his mouth set in a grim line. He squeezed his eyes shut briefly. “Jemima, the truth is, I can’t afford either you or this house.”
“This house?” She put her head on one side, trying to understand him. “So we’ll have to move somewhere…more affordable?” Already their abode was cramped, and in the most insalubrious of areas when she knew Roderick aspired to so much more.
He cleared his voice. “The bailiffs are coming tomorrow.” He removed her grasping hand from his shoulder and began to pace, hurrying his words as he went on, “Lord knows, I hate to say this, Jemima, but I’m going to have to give you up, too. I mean, I wanted to make it right in the end, truly I did. I loathe myself for actions that are against the code of a gentleman, and if things had gone as I’d hoped a week ago, we could right now be contemplating a grand move up in the world.”
“Give me up?” She shook her head, uncomprehending. It was one thing to have to give up a house one could no longer afford. One couldn’t dispense so easily with a wife, even if she’d love nothing more than to be free of him. “But we are legally bound,” she reminded him.
This time, it was he who shook his head, groaning as he dropped his face onto the crook of his arm, which rested along the edge of the mantelpiece. “Oh Jemina, did you really believe that piece of fiction?”

You can buy it or read it in Kindle Unlimited here.

OR LISTEN TO IT HERE:

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Have Yourself A Merry Little Scandal!

The Big Day has Arrived … and Our Gorgeous Christmas Box Set is Now Available!

What’s a London Regency Season without a scandal?

Readers of my Scandalous Miss Brightwells series will know there are plenty of those…and even more in my novella The Courtship Caper which is amongst the twelve gorgeous, heartwarming historical romances in our newly released set.

Here’s a bit about it…

Have Yourself a Merry Little… Scandal!

From the snowbound Scottish Highlands to the glittering ballrooms of London, our fearless heroines enter the Christmas season in pursuit of their heart’s desire.

But, the course of true love never did run smooth… especially when SCANDAL is afoot.
Tales of romantic adventure, sizzling passion, and heartwarming holiday romance.Unwrap the pleasure…

You can read these twelve gorgeous Christmas novellas for FREE in Kindle Unlimited, or get them here:

http://viewbook.at/MerryLittleScandal

And here is a taster of each story…

Rogue for Hire – by Sasha Cottman
When heiress Alice North engages the scandal managing services of Lord Harry Steele, she gets a first-hand lesson in steamy, wicked behaviour.

The Highlander’s Christmas Lassie – by Anna Campbell
A chance to mend two shattered lives. After years of searching, the Laird of Dun Carron finds his lost beloved and their son, but the reunion doesn’t go as expected.

The Christmas Rose – by Emma V. Leech
Darkly handsome Ludo—universally known as Lascivious Lord Courtney – is the wickedest rake in Christendom, and unwitting wallflower Felicity Bunting just accidentally trapped him into marriage.

The Lady’s Guide to Scandal – by Emmanuelle de Maupassant
With her name already mired in scandal, posing as the fiancée of reckless explorer Ethan Burnell can only spell trouble–or make Cornelia Mortmain so notorious she’ll become irresistible. The game is on!

The Courtship Caper – by Beverley Oakley
When the scandalous Brightwell sisters wave their matchmaking wands, Christmas becomes a comedy of errors for two hapless couples who find themselves paired with their imperfect match.

A Scandalous Secret – by Laura Trentham
A secret passion is revealed when a spymaster’s daughter and the man pledged to protect her are forced to shelter for the night in a cottage—with only one bed.

Fate Gave Me a Duke – by Amanda Mariel
Christmas brings unforeseen complications for the Duke of Cleburne and Lady Juliet Gale. Will they give into fate, or fight against it?

Duncan’s Christmas – by Ellie St. Clair
Though the woman he captures one freezing winter night is not the woman he intended to nab, she just may be the one intended for him walked out on, truly is.

Bedeviled: A Russian Pursuit – by Elsa Holland
Prince Ilya Petroski is honor-bound to play the rake and dominate London’s gossip columns; cruel are the fates to introduce him to the love of his life, the gentle-hearted Seraphina Seymour.

At the Mistletoe Masquerade – by Dayna Quince
Lady Cassandra’s plans go amiss when a kiss gone too far turns into the scandal of the season.

The Christmas Courtesan – by Victoria Vale
Moonlighting as a Gentleman Courtesan seems like the best way to earn a dowry for his sister—until a scandal during a Christmas house party leads Roger Thornton toward a fiery and unexpected love.

A Scandal Before Christmas – by April Moran
He’s determined to win her back; she’s determined to resist. Will the night before Christmas bring scandal or the renewed promise of a wedding?

Her Virgin Duke – by Nicola Davidson
A lost wager sparks an unlikely alliance and a wicked affair between England’s stuffiest duke and London’s Mistress of Sin.

 

 

 

 

Three Generations of Khamas and Netteltons in Botswana

Three Generations of Khamas and Netteltons in Botswana

Written by Beverley Eikli [nee Nettelton] in discussion with her father Spencer [Ted] Nettelton

My sister and I are the fourth generation of Netteltons to have spent time living in the Okavango Delta (and the third generation to have fallen in love there).

In 1899, my great-grandfather Clement Nettelton left his home in Basutoland (now Lesotho) and arrived in Botswana (then the Bechuanaland Protectorate), 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, the language of the Basotho, is similar to Sechuana, the main language spoken in Bechuanaland and there was a preference for appointing Basotho police due to their lack of family connections in Bechuanaland. An outsider was also preferred for the role of Head of the Police force and my grandfather Clement, who was fluent in Sesotho and the head telegraphist in Maseru—an important means of communication between Southern Africa and London—was chosen.

The Boer War was in progress so travel was difficult. Clement took up his post as head of the Bechuanaland Police Force in Gaberone, at that time a small village on the railway line. My great-grandmother, Rose, (my dad’s grandmother) followed a few months later. With four children aged under ten, the three-day train journey was arduous and dangerous. There was no dining car and several bridges had recently been blown up by Boer commandos.

As Rose and Clement’s house was not yet ready, my great-grandparents took up residence with Colonel Ellenberger who later became Bechuanaland Resident Commissioner and whose son, Vivian, married one of their four children, my Great-Aunt Bimbi. I remember her as a very formidable old lady when I met her in London in the 1980s.

Another of their four children was, obviously, my grandfather, Gerald Nettelton, who became a District Officer (and, later, Serowe District Commissioner, then Bechuanaland Resident Commissioner).

As a young man, Grandpa Gerald 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 dissidents who were believed to have crossed from North West Africa (now Namibia) into Botswana.

Usually he travelled with a dozen or so carriers and a Scotch Cart, or rode his detested mule since horses were susceptible to being bitten by the tsetse fly and therefore succumbing to sleeping sickness. 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 (detailed in Volume V which is due to be published in 2021). 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 1992, a handsome Norwegian bush pilot, while I was managing Mombo Safari Lodge, on the northern tip of Chief’s Island, in the beautiful Okavango.

But back to the Nettelton and Khama families three generations earlier.

My great-grandfather was a great friend of Chief Khama III and in the last three years that Great-Grandpa Nettelton was working for the government at the request of Chief Khama, he was promoted to District Commissioner in Serowe (he was still a police officer at the time), serving in this position until he died.

Dad remembers his grandmother telling him how Chief Khama would arrive in his horse-drawn buggy and lock himself in Great-grampa's study for hours. In those days the London Missionary Society was very strong in Bechuanaland and had strict rules about drinking, as did Chief Khama who didn't drink and who’d abolished Lebola (bride price) and banned alcohol.

On the basis of what his Granny Rose used to say, dad wondered if Chief Khama and grandpa enjoyed a little nip of the brandy bottle when they locked themselves away.

Anyway, the relationship between my great-grandfather, Clement Nettelton, and Chief Khama III, was an amicable one.

The Banishment of Seretse Khama

However, there would be constitutional upheaval when Clement’s son, my grandfather Gerald Nettelton, was one of three men appointed to the Harrigan Inquiry that ultimately recommended the banishment of Chief Khama’s grandson, Seretse Khama.

That’s all documented in my dad’s diaries, The Memoirs of Spencer “Ted” Nettelton.

Available here: https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=spencer+nettelton&search=Find+book

Lesotho’s Food for Work programme in the 1960s.

Lesotho’s Food for Work programme in the 1960s.

…in conversation with my father, Ted Nettelton, former District Commissioner, Mokhotlong, Lesotho.

I’ve seen the photos of literally hundreds of women wielding picks on rocky mountains passes, so I asked my father to tell me more about Lesotho’s Food for Work programme of the 1960s.

Here’s what he said:

The work gangs were made up of about 70% women and 30%men and we always started these projects in close proximity of the villages. While that entailed a lot of extra expense in getting bags of mealie meal, oil, etc, to often remote areas, it was very worthwhile as it enabled these women to achieve work for the five hours in the morning then go home and prepare the evening meal. They would get their food payment after three weeks and the food was delivered either to their village or within easy reach.

The plan was developed after I requested a meeting with the Director of the World Food program who came to talk at an Oxfam conference, and he enthusiastically supported the concept.

We spread the word about the scheme and there was no shortage of takers from the local community. We said we could work on a road or work or a dam to water stock, and it was the villagers who decided what they wanted to do. Usually there was no problem getting consensus and I believe the villagers felt great enthusiasm at the fact they were involved in making those decisions.

The implements were basic: wheelbarrows, picks, shovels. There was no machinery and the government gave us no help to buy the picks and shovels. It all came from Oxfam.

The programme started in the Mokhotlong district while I was DC. It continued during the time I was in Maseru working as Independence Officer and later, when I was secretary to Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan. The PM and I were really good friends and when I said I thought my role in a senior position government should go to a Masotho, he gave me the role of Director of the Food Programme. For the next two years we worked closely together so that when I left the country in 1969, 14,000 people were working in Food Programme every day and 10,000 kids were getting lunch every day.

I was responsible for the programme getting the food that it needed. I travelled a lot throughout the country dealing with these schemes right throughout Lesotho and I didn’t depend on District Commissioners any more.

One of the problems was that due to difficult weather conditions, was that the roads got washed away very easily. There just wasn’t the infrastructure to maintain those roads. Some lasted. For example the road from Tlokeng to Letseng la Terai – that we began entirely with food aid - enabled us to get a road 22 miles long that connected those 200-400 miners to the roadhead.

During my first winter in Mokhotlong, I’d got a message that the people in Letseng la Terai were starving and I appealed to Oxfam who financed buying the food. I got all the government mules I could find and with a couple of people from my office, we struggled to get the food up to Letseng la Terai. The snow was so deep we had to go to the edge of the ridges to get up. But we got that food through and got home very late. We didn’t have to do that the next year because the road was there.

In time, the scheme was quite well provisioned so when one gang had completed its three weeks – whereupon it would be paid in food - the next gang would take over the picks and shovels. By the time the PM came on board, we had by then built up a reasonable stock of picks and shovels.

Another initiative was improving prenatal and antenatal care with more clinics. I remember there was one very remote section: Beverley Boulevard I called it – which went to hell and gone. Right out there! I had been able to rope in the guy who was director of the Red Cross and was head of the Native Recruitment Corporation in Lesotho and he was very helpful and able to get funds from outside. For many women who wanted pre-natal care it was a 4-hour walk to the nearest point where they could get medical assistance, so we built clinics. How on earth we managed to get a midwife to stay in some of these remote outposts, I don’t know. But we did and the nurses’ salaries were paid for by the Red Cross. We had quite a reservoir of trained Basotho nurses in Lesotho we could recruit and while I was in Mokhotlong we were never without a nurse in each of these outposts.

You can read more in The Memoirs of Spencer “Ted” Nettelton
https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=spencer+nettelton&search=Find+book