14 Days, 14 Sentences

I looked at the calendar this morning and, to my shock, realized it’s just 14 days until the release of Grace Under Fire. I’ve had a year to ramp up to this, but somehow, impending releases always manage to take me by surprise.

Anyway, in honor of the two-week pre-release milestone, I hereby bring you 14 sentences of historical, menage-y goodness. Enjoy!

“If it please your lady, I am Mr. Atticus Stilwell, and this,” he continued, standing and gesturing in Sir Blue Eyes’ direction, “is Viscount Colin Fitzgerald.”

Momentarily dumbfounded by this abrupt shift in the tension pervading the small room, Grace could only nod and marvel that, somehow, she had correctly intuited which of them held the title and which did not.

“Colin wishes to ask for your hand in marriage.”

“What?” Her gaze snapped abruptly from Mr. Stilwell to Lord Fitzgerald, and she swayed dizzily when the gentleman nodded his dark head in confirmation. She was so taken aback by this turn of events, she blurted out the first words that came to her mind. “So, I am not about to be ravished, then?”

Mr. Stilwell laughed, a hearty, rolling sound like water at full boil. “Now, now, I never said that.” Grasping her upper arm, he guided her onto the settee, sitting so close beside her that the warmth of his body radiated through the layers of her dress and petticoat right to her skin.

Lord Fitzgerald crossed the floor in two long strides and seated himself on the other side of her. He, too, was hot as a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. “Atticus is right,” he murmured, placing his hand on her thigh. “If you wish to be ravished, we can certainly oblige you.”

A Scene for Sunday

May 26, 1902

Dear Lady Beckwith,

It is with no small regret that I must inform you of my findings in your case. Alas, the strange noises you have been hearing in your home are not signals from the spirit of your dear departed husband, but the unfortunate rumblings of a boiler in desperate need of servicing. It is my recommendation that you dock your butler’s wages, as it is clear he has not attended to household maintenance in an exigent or responsible manner.

Despite the outcome of this investigation, I hope you will think of me again should you encounter other phenomena of a supernatural nature in the future.

Elodie Capshaw
Investigative Spiritualist

With a sigh of resignation, Elodie folded the carefully typed letter and slipped it into the envelope addressed to Lady Beckwith. The elderly widow was sure to be displeased with the report, but Elodie could not bring herself to falsify the facts to comfort the lonely woman, especially when such falsification might lead to the old lady and her house being blown to bits by an equally aged boiler. She was equally disinclined to inform the grieving countess that her husband’s ghost had taken up residence not in their fashionable Kensington townhome, but rather in his favorite bordello near Piccadilly, where he had spent nearly as much more time in life as in death.

After setting the envelope in the outgoing post tray, she lifted the carbon copy of the letter from the desk and turned to file it in the cabinet behind her. The top drawer creaked loudly on its steel rollers as she opened it, so the sound of a throat being cleared behind her made her jump.

“Excuse me,” a polite male voice said as she spun around, “but are you Miss Capshaw?”

Elodie lowered her spectacles to peer at her visitor. A gentleman wearing pin-striped trousers and a polka-dotted necktie stood near the doorway, nervously fingering the brim of his hat. His wavy brown hair was too long and stood slightly on end, giving him a wild look at odds with his otherwise pressed and tailored appearance.

“Of course I am Miss Capshaw. Who else would I be?”

The gentleman coughed. “Well, you look rather more like a secretary than an Investigative Spiritualist.”

“You were expecting something more…colorful?” Elodie asked.

She deliberately eschewed the gaudy, gypsy-inspired costumes of the other women who plied her trade not merely because she thought them garish and unflattering, but because she did not wish to associate herself or her services in any way with those of the charlatans who merely pretended to commune with the dearly departed. No, Elodie was cut from different cloth entirely, and she chose to dress accordingly. Her ruffled white blouses and plain black skirts might be unexpected, but they clearly advertised to her clients the gravity and diligence with which she would approach their cases.

Her visitor’s cheeks grew ruddy with obvious embarrassment “Er, well, yes, as a matter of fact, I was. I’m afraid I just assumed…that is, I’ve never—“

Elodie smiled gently. Most of her clients had little to no experience with spiritualists before they came to see her, and what little they did know was influenced by the mania for seances and the like. “That’s quite all right. I completely understand.” She gestured toward the chair on the opposite side of the desk. “Please, have a seat, Mr.—“

“Langley. Sir Francis Langley,” he supplied as he slid into the seat, resting his hat on his lap.

“Very well, then, Sir Francis,” she said, setting her spectacles on the desk as she settled into her own chair, “why don’t you tell me what brings you to seek my services today?”

He glanced furtively from one side of the small office space to the other before loosening his necktie. She thought he meant to make himself more comfortable, the better to divulge his concerns. Many of her clients were embarrassed to admit they had any belief whatever in the supernatural—aside, of course, from the realms of spiritual belief prescribed by the church—let alone that they were actually experiencing visitations from the dead.

When he began to unbutton his shirt, however, Elodie experienced a trickle of alarm. What, exactly, did he think an Investigative Spiritualist was? Surely he didn’t expect her to investigate what was beneath his clothing.

“Here.” He stopped at the third button and pulled the shirt collar away from his neck.

Elodie gasped. Three deep gashes ran from just to the right of his Adam’s apple all the way down to his upper chest, slashing through the copious whorls of dark hair growing there. The wounds had begun to heal, but they still appeared swollen and tender to the touch. And certainly like nothing any ghost could have done.

“What happened to you?” she asked, unable to keep the wonder and horror from her voice.

Langley shook his head. “That’s just it. I’m not sure.”

“How could you not know?” If she had ever sustained such terrible injuries, she was certain she would remember the circumstances.

He twirled the hat in his lap, looking uncomfortable again. “I’d been out at my gentleman’s club in Tottenham Court Road that night. I’m afraid I had a bit more to drink than my usual.”

Elodie emitted a delicate cough of skepticism. Not only did she doubt that any self-respecting gentleman’s club would be located in the middle of the Rookery, one of London’s most notorious slums, but it seemed rather unlikely that Sir Francis had merely over-imbibed. On the other hand, he would probably prefer not to confess to having visited either a brothel or an opium den, and it was possible that neither fact was relevant to the case.

“Beg pardon,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand. “Swallowed the wrong way.”

Sir Francis nodded his acceptance of her apology and continued his tale. “I don’t remember much of what happened after I left except that there was a full moon that night and I heard howling. When I woke, I was lying in an alley, my clothes were ripped open, and I had these.” He indicated the wounds on his chest. “Not to mention the bites on my arms and hands.”

“So you were attacked by a feral dog.” Her brow furrowed. “Which makes me wonder why you’ve come to see me? I should think you’d be wanting the dog catcher, not an investigative spiritualist.”

“And I would go to the dog catcher, Miss Capshaw, I most assuredly would, except…” He leaned forward and tugged at one of the tufts of hair that poked out from his open collar. “You see this?”

Elodie blinked. She could hardly avoid seeing it. “Of course.”

“I didn’t have this before I was attacked. It’s all grown in the four days since then.”

Elodie sat a little straighter. That was definitely odd. And intriguing, if not precisely in her area of expertise.

“And this,” he continued, pointing to the thick, overgrown hair on the top of his head. “I had it cropped short only yesterday. Not to mention my back and…well, other places. And then…” He glanced around the room again to assure himself no one but Elodie was listening.

A fruitless enterprise given that a full half-dozen ghosts inhabited the two interconnected rooms which housed her office and private living space.
But she was not attending her client, who had lowered his voice to a near whisper. “And then, there is my appetite.”

“Appetite? You mean you are eating more than is customary?”

“Yes, that certainly,” he said, clearing his throat. “But it’s almost my appetite for…well…for the flesh, if you understand my meaning, miss. Though, of course, you oughtn’t as an unmarried lady of good reputation.”

Elodie suppressed a chuckle. She knew rather more about everything than an unmarried lady ought. But then, she was hardly a typical lady, unmarried or otherwise.

“My poor lady wife,” Sir Francis added on a sigh. “She knows not what to make of me these past few days, nor do I. To say nothing of my mistress.”

Elodie did her best to appear sympathetic. “I can certainly appreciate the vexation of your dilemma, but I’m still not certain understand why you’ve come to me, Sir Francis. I investigate spiritual and supernatural phenomena, not…well…not excessive hair growth and overactive physical energies.”

“But don’t you see, Miss Capshaw? Surely there’s only one explanation for what’s happening to me.” He lowered his voice again. “Werewolves.”

“Werewolves?” Elodie echoed.

The symptoms he described did sound like classic signs of lycanthropy, of course, but there was one problem with that theory: Werewolves, unlike spirits, were pure fiction. As were vampires and fairies and sea monsters and any number of other fantastical creatures human beings had invented to frighten themselves.

Which meant Sir Francis merely believed he had been attacked by werewolves and that his supposed symptoms must be the product of an overactive imagination to match his overactive libido.

“What else could it be, Miss Capshaw? I must have been attacked that night by werewolves and now, I am becoming one of them. It is only a little more than three weeks until the next full moon, and I must know before then so that I can protect my family.” He leaned across the desk, his expression beseeching, and clasped her hands. “Will you help me? Surely my problem falls into the realm of the supernatural, and your advertisement in the paper says you are an expert in all matters spiritual and supernatural.”

Elodie had to admit he had a point there. If werewolves did exist, they would be a supernatural phenomenon. Not that she was allowing for the possibility that they did.

But perhaps all it would take to alleviate Sir Francis’s symptoms was proof that he could not have been attacked by werewolves and that he was, in fact, perfectly sound of body…if not of mind. And who was better placed to prove that than she? Certainly not any of the false “mediums” with whom she competed for customers. Not a one of those ninnies even believed in the spirits with whom they claimed to converse. They would simply bilk the poor, deluded Sir Francis of the contents of his purse and send him on his way, no better off than before.

Besides, she could ill afford to dismiss a client. It didn’t cost much to sustain herself, but she still required the wherewithal to cover her rent and her twice-weekly visits to the butcher shop.

“Very well, Sir Francis, I will take your case,” she said while carefully extracting her hands from beneath his overly warm ones. “But I must warn you that my findings may not suit your preconceived notion of what has happened to you and, if they do not, you must still compensate me for all services rendered.”

“I assure you, Miss Capshaw, I should like nothing better than to be proved wrong in this.” Langley rose from his seat and set his hat atop his head. The brim sat askew, pushed to one side by the unruly mop beneath it.

Elodie squinted, for his hair seemed to have grown longer and more unkempt in the short time he had been sitting there. Was he drawing her into his delusions?

She shook her head. No, that was quite impossible. If there was one thing Elodie was sure of after twenty-eight years of life and more than a half century of afterlife, it was that she was the stuff of other people’s delusions, not the other way around.

So, I hear ghosts are out. But then I see quite a few books that feature ghosts.

My question for you, lovely friends and readers, is whether or not this is a story you’d want more of. Since I know there are some folks who prefer not to comment, I decided to add a poll question to make it easier.

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How Long Should It Be? (Poll)

Get your mind out of the gutter. That’s not what I’m talking about! I’m talking about excerpts posted on an author’s website.

I want to know because I’m getting ready to put up PDFs of the excerpts from all my books, and I’m putting some thought into making those excerpts longer in the PDF (with perhaps slightly shorter ones on the actual website pages) to give folks a better flavor for my work before they make the decision to buy (or, more accurately, hope I can hook you in so you can’t resist buying).

What I’m wondering is whether there’s a “sweet spot” for the length of an excerpt. I’ve generally gone with the first chapter, because my chapters tend to run relatively short, but I’m considering (at least in cases where my publishers don’t object) going up to three chapters or perhaps even more when the chapters are short.

So, do you have an opinion on the matter? How much of a story would you like to be able to read before you make the decision to buy (or not)? Please record your response in the poll or, if you have more to say on the subject, leave a comment. And thanks!

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