First let me express the wish that everyone had a great Christmas, Yule, etc., and is looking forward to a fun New Year’s. Also thank you, Yankee Romance Reviewers, for asking me to blog. As a native New Englander and one whose family(maternal side) has been here since the 1630s, it’s kind of nice to blog for Yankees. So, now, about that trying of something new …
I had a few qualms about stepping away from the Highlander stories I’ve been doing for 10 years. I’d done other things in the past – English medievals, US historicals(even one set in the Berkshires), and Westerns – but that stopped ten years ago. I started gently asking my editor if I could try some other place and time a few years ago and he finally agreed. I offered him a synopsis for one tale plus two follow-up story ideas and he decided to put them out as a trilogy.
What I came up with was a family living in late-Georgian England, a family of two branches – the Wherlockes and the Vaughns. This family’s riddled with psychic gifts. Pick a psychic gift and they have it – from seeing ghosts to seeing the future. Naturally I had to come up with a time where they wouldn’t be burned, hanged, pressed to death, or drowned for these gifts. The past treatment of such gifted people is also why they’re a very reclusive family. Their ancestors didn’t fair all that well and superstition continues to make their lives difficult at times.
IF HE’S WICKED(June 2009) was the first and in it Chloe Wherlocke becomes entangled in Lord Julian Kenwood’s life and the danger he’s in because of her dreams. The one that’s out now is IF HE’S SINFUL with Penelope Wherlocke and Lord Ashton Radmoor. Penelope can see and often converse with the dead and that leads her and Ashton into a lot of trouble starting with the ghost she sees when she is kidnapped and taken to a brothel. Lord Ashton tumbles into the midst of it all when he finds her there. Throw in treachery and betrayal and I manage to keep them very busy.
I found that a heroine who could see and hear ghosts opened up lots of possibilities. It was fun even when my characters were not having a good time. The cast of secondary characters include many of her gifted and eccentric relatives. And, yes, I have plans for most of them. Delving into the many variations of psychic gifts and phenomena was great fun and somewhat startling. I soon decided that I’m rather glad that I don’t have a ‘gift’.
I’ve just handed in the third book of the trilogy called IF HE’S WILD and the heroine in that has vivid visions and can have them just by touching something. It’ll be out in June of 2010. Just as with my Highlander series, none of these books have to be read in sequence; the only real connection is the familial one. I’ll return to my Murray clan for the book following that and have plans to alternate between the two series. I hope you will give my Wherlockes a try.
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Hey Everyone, make sure and leave Hannah a comment or question about her story below along with your email addy to have a chance at one of three copies of If He's Wicked. Hannah will pick the winners at the end of the week.
Thanks so much Hannah for the great blog and giveaway. Happy New Year Sweetie!!!
IF HE’S SINFUL
London – fall, 1788
There was something about having a knife held to one’s throat that tended to bring a certain clarity to one’s opinion of one’s life, Penelope decided. She stood very still as the burly, somewhat odiferous, man holding her clumsily adjusted his grip. Suddenly, all of her anger and resentment over being treated as no more than a lowly maid by her step-sister seemed petty, the problem insignificant.
Of course, this could be some form of cosmic retribution for all those times she had wished ill upon her step-sister, she thought as the man hefted her up enough so that her feet were off the ground. One of his two companions bound her ankles in a manner quite similar to the way her wrists had been bound. Her captor began to carry her down a dark ally that smelled about as bad as he did. It had been only a few hours ago that she had watched Clarissa leave for a carriage ride with her soon-to-be fiancé, Lord Radmoor. Peering out of the cracked window in her tiny attic room she had, indisputably, cherished the spiteful wish that Clarissa would stumble and fall into the foul muck near the carriage wheels. Penelope did think that being dragged away by a knife-wielding ruffian and his two hulking companions was a rather harsh penalty for such a childish wish born of jealousy, however. She had, after all, never wished that Clarissa would die, which Penelope very much feared was going to be her fate.
Penelope sighed, ruefully admitting that she was partially at fault for her current predicament. She had stayed too long with her boys. Even little Paul had urged her not to walk home in the dark. It was embarrassing to think that a little boy of five had more common sense than she did.
A soft cry of pain escaped her, muted by the filthy gag in her mouth, when her captor stumbled and the cold, sharp edge of his knife scored her skin. For a brief moment, the fear she had been fighting to control swelled up inside her so strongly she feared she would be ill. The warmth of her own blood seeping into the neckline of her bodice only added to the fear. It took several moments before she could grasp any shred of calm or courage. The realization that her blood was flowing too slowly for her throat to have been cut helped her push aside her burgeoning panic.
“Ye sure we ain’t allowed to have us a taste of this, Jud,” asked the largest and most hirsute of her captor’s assistants.
“Orders is orders,” replied Jud as he steadied his knife against her skin. “A toss with this one will cost ye more’n she be worth.”
“None of us’d be telling and the wench ain’t going to be able to tell, neither.”
“I ain’t letting ye risk it. Wench like this’d be fighting ye and that leaves bruises. They’ll tell the tale and that bitch Mrs. Cratchitt will tell. She would think it a right fine thing if we lost our pay for this night’s work.”
“Aye, that old bawd would be thinking she could gain something from it right enough. Still, it be a sad shame I can’t be having me a taste afore it be sold off to anyone with a coin or two.”
“Get your coin first and then go buy a little if’n ye want it so bad.”
“Won’t be so clean and new, will it?”
“This one won’t be neither if’n that old besom uses her as she uses them others, not by the time ye could afford a toss with her.”
She was being taken to a brothel, Penelope realized. Yet again she had to struggle fiercely against becoming blinded by her own fears. She was still alive, she told herself repeatedly, and it looked as if she would stay that way for a while. Penelope fought to find her strength in that knowledge. It did not good to think too much on the horrors she might be forced to endure before she could escape or be found. She needed to concentrate on one thing and one thing only – getting free.
It was not easy but Penelope forced herself to keep a close eye on the route they traveled. Darkness and all the twists and turns her captors took made it nearly impossible to make note of any and every possible sign to mark the way out of this dangerous warren she was being taken into. She had to force herself to hold fast to the hope that she could even truly escape, and the need to get back to her boys who had no one else to care for them.
She was carried into the kitchen of a house. Two women and a man were there, but they spared her only the briefest of glances before returning all of their attention to their work. It was not encouraging that they seemed so accustomed to such a sight, so unmoved and uninterested.
As her captor carried her up a dark, narrow stairway, Penelope became aware of the voices and music coming from below, from the front of the building which appeared to be as great a warren as the alleys leading to it. When they reached the hallway and started to walk down it, she could hear the murmur of voices coming from behind all the closed doors. Other sounds drifted out from behind those doors but she tried very hard not to think about what might be causing them.
“There it be, Room twenty-two,” muttered Jud. “Open the door, Tom.”
The large, hirsute man opened the door and Jud carried Penelope into the room. She had just enough time to notice how small the room was before Jud tossed her down onto the bed in the middle of the room. It was a surprisingly clean and comfortable bed. Penelope suspected that, despite its seedy location, she had probably been brought to one of the better bordellos, one that catered to gentlemen of refinement and wealth. She knew, however, that that did not mean she could count on any help.
“Get that old bawd in here, Tom,” said Jud. “I wants to be done with this night’s work.” The moment Tom left, Jud scowled down at Penelope. “Don’t suspect you’d be aknowing why that high-and-mighty lady be wanting ye outta the way, would ye?”
Penelope slowly shook her head as a cold suspicion settled in her stomach.
“Don’t make no sense to me. Can’t be jealousy or the like. Can’t be that she thinks you be taking her man or the like, can it. Ye ain’t got her fine looks, ain’t dressed so fine, neither, and ye ain’t got her fine curves. Scrawny, brown mite like ye should be no threat at all to such a fulsome wench. So, why does she want ye gone so bad, eh?”
Scrawny brown mite?, Penelope thought, deeply insulted even as shrugged in reply.
“Why you frettin’ o’er it, Jud?” asked the tall, extremely muscular man by his side.
Jud shrugged. “Curious, Mac. Just curious, is all. This don’t make no sense to me.”
“Don’t need to. Money be good. All that matters.”
“Aye, mayhap. As I said, just curious. Don’t like puzzles.”
“Didn’t know that.”
“Well, it be true. Don’t want to be part of something I don’t understand. Could mean trouble.”
If she was not gagged, Penelope suspected she would be gaping at her captor. He had kidnapped the daughter of a marquis, brought her bound and gagged to a brothel, and was going to leave her to the untender care of a madam, a woman he plainly did not trust or like. Exactly what did the idiot think trouble was? If he was caught, he would be tried, convicted, and hanged in a heartbeat. And that would be merciful compared to what her relatives would do to the fool if they found out. How much more trouble could he be in?
A hoarse gasp escaped her when he removed her gag. “Water,” she whispered, desperate to wash away the foul taste of the rag.
What the man gave her was atankard of weak ale, but Penelope decided it was probably for the best. If there was any water in this place it was undoubtedly dangerous to drink. She tried not to breathe too deeply as he held her upright and helped her to take a drink. Penelope drank the ale as quickly as she could, however, for she wanted the man to move away from her. Anyone as foul smelling as he was surely had a vast horde of creatures sharing his filth that she would just as soon did not come to visit her.
When the tankard was empty he let her fall back down onto the bed and said, “Now, don’t ye go thinking of making no noise, screaming for help or the like. No one here will be heeding it.”
Penelope opened her mouth to give him a tart reply and then frowned. The bed might be clean and comfortable but it was not new. A familiar chill swept over her. Even as she thought it a very poor time for her gift to diplay itself, her mind was briefly filled with violent memories that were not her own.
“Someone died in this bed,” she said, her voice a little unsteady from the effect of those chilling glimpses into the past.
“What the bleeding hell are ye babbling about?” snapped Jud.
“Someone died in this bed and she did not do so peacefully.” Penelope got some small satisfaction from how uneasy her words made her burley captors.
“You be talking nonsense, woman.”
“No. I have a gift, you see.”
“You can see spirits?” asked Mac, glancing nervously around the room.
“Sometimes. When they wish to reveal themselves to me. This time it was just the memories of what happened here,” she lied.
Both men were staring at her with a mixture of fear, curiosity, and suspicion. They thought she was trying to trick them in some way so that they would set her free. Penelope suspected that a part of them probably wondered if she would conjure up a few spirits to help her. Even if she could, she doubted they would be much help or that these men would even see them. They certainly had not noticed the rather gruesome one standing near the bed. It would have sent them fleeing from the room. Despite all she had seen and experienced over the years the sight of the lovely young woman, her white gown soaked in blood, sent a chill down her spine. Penelope wondered why the more gruesome apparitions were almost always the clearest.
The door opened and, before Penelope turned to look, she saw an expression upon the ghost’s face that nearly made her want to flee the room. Fury and utter loathing twisted the spirit’s lovely face until it looked almost demonic. Penelope looked at the ones now entering the room. Tom had returned with a middle-aged woman and two young, scantily clad females. Penelope looked right at the ghost and noticed that all that rage and hate was aimed straight at the middle-aged woman.
Penelope almost cursed as the word echoed in her mind. Why did the spirits always whisper such ominous words to her without adding any pertinent information, such as what she should beware of, or whom? It was also a very poor time for this sort of distraction. She was a prisoner trapped in a house of ill-repute and was facing either death or what many euphemistically called a fate worse than death. She had no time to deal with blood-soaked specters whispering dire but unspecified warnings. If nothing else, she needed all her wits and strength to keep the hysteria writhing deep inside her tightly caged.
“This is going to cause you a great deal of trouble,” Penelope told the older woman, not really surprised when everyone ignored her.
“There she be,” said Jud. “Now, give us our money.”
“The lady has your money,” said the older woman.
“It ain’t wise to try and cheat me, Cratchitt. The lady told us you would have it. Now, if the lady ain’t paid you that be your problem, not mine. I did as I was ordered and did it quick and right. Get the wench, bring her here, and then collect my pay from you. Done and done. So, hand it over.”
Cratchitt did so with an ill grace. Penelope watched Jud carefully count his money. The man had obviously taught himself enough to make sure that he was not cheated. After one long, puzzled look at her, he pocketed his money and then frowned at the woman he called Cratchitt.
“She be all yours now,” Jud said, “though I ain’t sure what ye be wanting her for. T’ain’t much to her.”
Penelope was growing very weary of being disparaged by this lice-ridden ruffian. “So speaks the great beau of the walk,” she muttered and met his glare with a faint smile.
“She is clean and fresh,” said Cratchitt, ignoring that byplay and fixing her cold stare on Penelope. “I have many a gent willing to pay a goodly fee for that alone. There be one man waiting especially for this one, but he will not arrive until the morrow. I have other plans for her tonight. Some very rich gentlemen have arrived and are looking for something special. Unique, they said. They have a friend about to step into the parson’s mousetrap and wish to give him a final bachelor treat. She will do nicely for that.”
“But don’t that other feller want her untouched?”
“As far as he will ever know, she will be. Now, get out. Me and the girls need to wrap this little gift.”
The moment Jud and his men were gone, Penelope said, “Do you have any idea of who I am?” She was very proud of the haughty tone she had achieved but it did not impress Mrs. Cratchitt at all.
“Someone who made a rich lady very angry,” replied Cratchitt.
“I am Lady Penelope – “
She never finished for Mrs. Cratchitt grasped her by the jaw in a painfully tight hold, forced her mouth open, and started to pour something from a remarkably fine silver flask down her throat. The two younger women held her head steady s o that Penelope could not turn away or thrash her head. She knew she did not want this drink inside her but was unable to do anything but helplessly swallow as it was forced into her.
While she was still coughing and gagging from that abuse, the women untied her. Penelope struggled as best as she could but the women were strong and alarmingly skilled at undressing someone who did not wish to be undressed. As if she did not have trouble enough to deal with, the ghost was drowning her in feelings of fear, despair, and helpless fury. Penelope knew she was swiftly becoming hysterical but could not grasp one single, thin thread of control. That only added to her terror.
Then, slowly, that suffocating panic began to ease. Despite the fact that the women continued their work, stripping her naked, giving her a quick wash with scented water, and dressing her in a lacey, diaphanous gown that should have shocked her right down to her toes, Penelope felt calmer with every breath she took. The potion they had forced her to drink had been some sort of drug. That was the only rational explanation for why she was now lying there actually smiling as these three harpies prepared her for the sacrifice of her virginity.
“There, all sweets and honey now, ain’t you, dearie,” muttered Cratchitt as she began to let down Penelope’s hair.
“You are such an evil bitch,” Penelope said pleasantly and smiled. One of the younger women giggled and Cratchitt slapped hard. “Bully. When my family discovers what you have done to me, you will pay more dearly than even your tiny, nasty mind could ever comprehend.”
“Hah! It was your own family what sold you to me, you stupid girl.”
“Not that family, you cow. My true parents’ family. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if they are already suspicious, sensing my troubles upon the wind.”
“You are talking utter nonsense.”
Why does everyone say that? Penelope wondered. Enough wit and sense of self-preservation remained in her clouded mind to make her realize that it might not be wise to start talking about all the blood there was on the woman’s hands. Even if the woman did not believe Penelope could know anything for a fact, she suspected Mrs. Cratchitt would permanently silence her simply to be on the safe side of the matter. With the drug holding her captive as well as any chain could, Penelope knew she was in no condition to even try to save herself.
When Cratchitt and her minions were finished, she stood back and looked Penelope over very carefully. “Well, well, well. I begin to understand.”
“Understand what, you bride of Beelzebub?” asked Penelope and could tell by the way the woman clenched and unclenched her hands that Mrs. Cratchitt desperately wanted to beat her.
“Why the fine lady wants you gone. And, you will pay dearly for your insults, my girl. Very soon.” Mrs. Cratchitt collected four bright silk scarves from the large carpetbag she had brought in with her and handed them to the younger women. “Tie her to the bed,” she ordered them.
“Your customer may find that a little suspicious,” said Penelope as she fruitlessly tried to stop the women from binding her limbs to the four posts of the bed.
“You are an innocent, aren’t you.” Mrs. Cratchitt shook her head and laughed. “No, my custo0mer will only see this as a very special delight indeed. Come along, girls. You have work to do and we best get that man up here to enjoy his gift before that potion begins to wear off.”
Penelope stared at the closed door for several moments after everyone had left. Everyone except the ghost, she mused, and finally turned her attention back to the spectre now shimmering at the foot of the bed. The young woman looked so sad, so utterly defeated, that Penelope decided the poor ghost had probably just realized the full limitations of being a spirit. Although the memories locked into the bed had told Penelope how the woman had died, it did not tell her when. However, she began to suspect it had been not all that long ago.
“I would like to help you,” she said, “but I cannot, not right now. You must see that. If I can get free, I swear I will work hard to give you some peace. Who are you?” she asked, although she knew it was often impossible to get proper, sensible answers from a spirit. “I know how you died. The bed still holds those dark memories and I saw it.”
I am Faith and my life was stolen.
The voice was clear and sweet, but weighted with an intense grief, and Penelope was not completely certain if she was hearing it in her head or if the ghost was actually speaking to her. “What is your full name, Faith?”
My name is Faith and I was taken, as you have been. My life was stolen. My love is lost. I was torn from heaven and plunged into hell. Now I lie below.
“Below? Below what? Where?”
Below. I am covered in sin. But, I am not alone.
Penelope cursed when Faith disappeared. She could not help the spirit now but dealing with Faith’s spirit had provided her with a much needed diversion. It had helped her concentrate and fight the power of the drug she had been given. Now she was alone with her thoughts and they were becoming increasingly strange. Worse, all of her protections were slowly crumbling away. If she did not find something to fix her mind on soon she would be wide open to every thought, every feeling, and every spirit lurking within the house. Considering what went on in this house that could easily prove a torture beyond bearing.
She did not know whether to laugh or to cry. She was strapped to abed awaiting some stranger who would use her helpless body to satisfy his manly needs. The potion Mrs. Cratchitt had forced down her throat was rapidly depleting her strength and all her ability to shut out the cacophony of the world, the world of the living as well as that of the dead. Even now she could feel the growing weight of unwelcome emotions, the increasing whispers so few others could hear. The spirits in the house were stirring, sensing the presence of one who could help them touch the world of the living. It was probably not worth worrying about, she decided. Penelope did not know if anything could be worse than what she was already suffering and what was yet to come.
Suddenly the door opened and one of Mrs. Cratchitt’s earlier companions led a man into the room. He was blindfolded and dressed as an ancient Roman. Penelope stared at him in shock as he was led up to her bedside, and then she inwardly groaned. She had no trouble recognizing the man despite the blindfold and the costume. Penelope was not at all pleased to discover that things could quite definitely get worse – a great deal worse.