Resources: A sadly somewhat outdated list of online research links. I used man of these for the first Welsh Blades books, but have failed to keep it updated for all my subsequent research. Still, there are some fun things there, and sites I regularly return to, so it's not useless or anything.
Essays: Bloggy type writings, as well as my work on white supremacist narratives in historical fiction.
Welsh Blades Map: Because it's a road trip novel, so of course you need a map!
Photo Album: Just a few pictures to help you visualize some things
Nan novel : This was given to newsletter subscribers for a limited time only, and is no longer available.
House of Cads
This scene originally was written as the opening to open Chapter Three of House of Cads.
“Tell me about the American!” Helen demanded breathlessly as she pulled the bedroom door closed behind her.
Marie-Anne couldn’t help but laugh a little at the sight of her. The so very proper and elegant Lady Summerdale was wearing her nightgown, dark hair only partially contained by a ribbon at her nape, and her eyes alight with excitement. She had a light shawl wrapped around herself for modesty’s sake, but threw it across the dressing table as the door shut. There was little modesty between the friends anyway.
“Oh Hélène, you will be very disappointed. We did not speak of politics at all, or economics.”
“No, you spoke of oxen and kangaroos, Joyce told me.”
Helen flung herself onto the bed where Marie-Anne sat, sliding under the crisp sheets and plumping a pillow beneath her head. She looked up at Marie-Anne, eager as a girl and just as carefree. It brought a lump to Marie-Anne’s throat to see there was not even a hint of sadness about her, as there had used to be. What joy, to witness the joy of a beloved friend.
They had not stayed long at the ball. It was only done as one more step in the process of introducing Marie-Anne back into polite society. Six days in London had meant several morning calls with Lady Summerdale at her side, two small dinner parties, a card party, and then this evening’s ball. These were carefully chosen outings in friendly territories, all designed to announce that Marie-Anne was acceptable to the Earl of Summerdale and so she must be acceptable to anyone else who mattered.
In the carriage back from the ball tonight, Lord Summerdale had declared it a success, and he felt sure they left her in a favorable situation. Then he and Helen renewed the offer to bring her with them on their little holiday to Norway. But Marie-Anne had decided that she truly did owe a little something to the Shipley girls, whose prospects had been tarnished by her actions so long ago. Besides, she had no desire to tag along on what was a bit of a belated honeymoon. The rest of the ride home had been spent in assuring Lord Summerdale that she would learn from the Shipleys themselves exactly why they wanted her here – though she could see that he had already learned a little something, or had guessed it, and bit his tongue against sharing it – and all the while dear Helen had been bursting to hear about Mr. Mason. And his kangaroos.
Marie-Anne cleared her throat of her sudden emotion and replied, “Yes, we were very absurd, he and I. I should have asked him for you about bisons, or the little dogs that live in the earth. What are they?”
“Prairie dogs, Marie-Anne, but you know very well that is not why I was asking about the American. He has red hair.”
“Yes, very red.”
“And he is handsome.”
“Do you think so?”
“And you were flirting!”
Marie-Anne gave a bland look and a shrug. “Et alors? I eat, I breathe, I sleep, I flirt. One is not required to be very young to be a coquette, you know, and I am much better at flirting than dancing.” She let out a laugh at the sight of Helen’s slight frown. “Now you are about to tell me to stop being so very Gallic.”
“I wasn’t!” protested Helen. Then she smiled a little. “Oh very well, maybe I was, but I only want you to speak plainly. I will tease you ruthlessly if you evade the subject, and I have your example to follow in that practice. Now tell me! I had his name from Joyce but not much else, except that he does not dance. His name is Mr. Mason.”
“It is.” She sighed at the eager look on Helen’s face and relented. “Bien, I learned he has made his fortune in timber and he has come to London for his business.”
Marie-Anne knew it showed in her face, how very much she liked Mr. Mason. She had always considered it terribly unfair that she was unable to hide the flutterings of her heart. Helen seemed to find it great fun, though.
“Oh look how well you like him! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that look on your face. What did you speak of when Joyce was not there? She said you were positively beaming at each other.”
Helen slid down further under the coverlet. She was settling in for a good story, it was clear. It seemed she had become a romantic since her marriage. No, Marie-Anne reminded herself – Helen had admitted to being very enthusiastic about romance in her youth. She had only lost that enthusiasm for a little while, and now it seemed to be back with a vengeance. Marie-Anne sighed.
“You look for the beginnings of a love story, Hélène. But you must not forget I loved my Richard too well to leave any room in my heart for another. I only spoke to Mr. Mason for a few minutes, you know. Perhaps I would entertain the possibility of a dalliance, but what do you think would come of it? That he will stay in England forever, or that I will move to New York? Bah. It is not even likely I will see him again.”
Her friend frowned at this, with just the tiniest hint of a pout – like a child deprived of a bedtime story.
“Do not be a spoil sport, Marie-Anne! You know very well I am leaving tomorrow and I should very much like to imagine you caught in the coils of a grand romance while I am exploring the fjords. And no matter how unlikely it is, your pessimism is very telling. You are never pessimistic. You attempt to convince yourself, not me, that it is futile to like him.”
She put her hand to Marie-Anne’s arm and shook it a little. "Tonight we won’t care that it’s futile. Come,” she said with a hint of pleading in her eyes. “Be a little girlish with me, please. I know you want to.”
Marie-Anne sighed again and wondered when Helen had become so insightful. She might always have been, but Marie-Anne had never minded it enough to notice. But... well it had been years since she had enjoyed talking to any man as much as she had Mr. Mason. And there really was nothing more delicious than whispering about a handsome man with a friend. It had been years since she had done that, too.
Decided, Marie-Anne gave a great flounce that moved her onto her side facing Helen, her head on the pillow next to her friend. She pulled the sheet up to her chin, smiled, and prepared to be a little girlish.
“He has a dimple in his cheek and it is exactly like my own.” Marie-Anne pointed at the groove in her cheek as Helen clapped her hands in delight. “He likes to amuse me. I could see him search for ways to make me smile. And he is very good at it. Only talking to him feels like my veins are filled with champagne. I was full of little bubbles, and giddy and a little foolish.”
“Oh, how divine! And what color are his eyes?”
“They are a hazel, you know? The greens mixed with browns and there are even little flecks in them, like freckles. They match the freckles on his nose – very light. They enchant me absolutely. There, you see how you make me confess?”
“I wish I had thought to ask Joyce what his given name is. He didn’t tell you?” Marie-Anne shook her head. “I think he looks like a Henry. Maybe a Samuel, or James. We must find out. He is from New York?”
“Ah, here I have some news of America for you,” Marie-Anne said. Helen had a passion for America. “He lives now in New York but he comes from a village called Skillman, in a state called Kentucky. Where is it? It is close to New York?”
“No, not at all. It is far to the south and west across some mountains.” Helen frowned. “But you say his business is timber? I thought all the timber industry was in the north of the country – far north of New York, even. We shall have to look at the atlas tomorrow morning. And we can ask Stephen! I almost did so before talking to you, but I was not sure if you would like it. He is sure to know something.”
Helen’s husband held an impressive knowledge of anyone who mixed with London society. He probably knew Mr. Mason; he might even do business with him. And if he did not, then Stephen could very easily discover all there was to know about him. Lord Summerdale was terribly good at that. At the very least, he could find out for Marie-Anne where to contact Mr. Mason so that she could apologize for her rudeness in rebuffing his offer to call on her. No one else would say her response had been wrong, but she knew it had been quite unfeeling of her. After all, the poor man was so obviously unfamiliar with the etiquette. Marie-Anne remembered very well her own confusion when she had first begun moving among the English upper class. She used to step on toes with alarming frequency even when she wasn’t dancing. Now, years later, the rules and conventions had so seeped into her that she had been startled at his intention to call on her though she had not invited it. She was rather disappointed in herself.
But if she wanted to contact Mr. Mason, she could always ask Joyce. There was no need to put Helen’s husband to the trouble.
“There will be no time tomorrow to consult with your husband or the atlas,” Marie-Anne reminded her friend. “You will be off on your Norwegian adventure. And speaking of very handsome men, why are you in my bed when you can be in his?”
“Don’t be silly, Marie-Anne, I am with him every night.”
“More than once some nights, I hope,” she said with a knowing lift of her eyebrows. She could not resist the chance to make Helen blush. As expected, Helen turned her face into the pillow and gave an embarrassed little groan. Marie-Anne watched her ears turn pink and laughed out loud.
“You are terrible, Marie-Anne,” she admonished in a muffled voice.
“You are too easy as a target, Hélène,” she replied. Then she spoke more gently. “But tell me – it is well between you now, in that way?”
She had given Helen advice once, in those early months of her marriage, about the principles of pleasure between a man and woman. She had thought poor Helen might faint several times before any wisdom was imparted, but she had managed to make it through and let Marie-Anne know that she had acted upon the advice. It seemed to have done as much good as Marie-Anne could ever have hoped, because Helen now looked her in the eye as she nodded, even though her face was as red as Mr. Mason’s hair.
“It is very well. Exceedingly well. Very exceedingly well,” Helen said with a burst of laughter, and Marie-Anne joined her in it. When Helen regained her breath, she said, “Like champagne in the veins, as you say. Will it always be like this?”
“I wish I knew.” Marie-Anne caught a stray lock of hair that had escaped Helen’s ribbon and tucked it behind her ear. “My Richard and I only had a little more than two years together. But you will have much more than that with Stephen. You will become an old married woman who will know more than me about these things. I will have to come to you for advice.”
“Well if you will hear my advice now, then believe me when I say there is no one in the whole of Bartle who is a good fit for you. Whether for marriage or grand passion or just a dalliance, as you say, you’re not likely to do any better than Jilting Jeremy. I do wish you’d allow yourself to want more than village life.”
Marie-Anne refrained from pointing out that Helen had been perfectly happy with the same village life for years, even without a lover. But her friend was right that there was something missing from Marie-Anne’s life in Bartle. To say it was a lover was too simplistic, and it was something more than just the loneliness caused by her friends moving away. She turned on her back to look at the ceiling and wonder what it was. Her friend mirrored the movement and they both lay in quiet contemplation for a few moments.
“I can’t believe it was Jeremy,” Helen finally said, with a note of incredulity in her voice. She’d known Marie-Anne had a secret paramour, but had never asked questions. “I believe I thought it was Mr. Higgins.”
“Pfft. His wife would wallop me.” Her friend laughed, which caused Marie-Anne to doubt her vocabulary. “Is that the word, wallop?”
“Yes, you will sound like a native villager if you keep on that way. I suppose if Jilting Jeremy is to marry little Agnes, then we must send a wedding gift.”
“Oh, must we be so very civil?” Marie-Anne asked. “It so very...civilized. Bah, to be gracious is overrated, I think.”
“Mm, yes, well I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place if you wish to escape civilization, mon amie,” said Helen through a yawn. “It’s the London season, after all.”
“Hmf. The most savage place I know.”
“That’s the spirit,” mumbled Helen, drifting off to sleep.