Tag Archive | Beverley Oakley

Beverley Oakley: Cressida’s Dilemma

Rediscovering the Magic

Beverley Oakley

Many years ago I dipped into nineteenth century journalist Henry Mayhew’s report on crime and prostitution in London and discovered a gold mine of material for my fiction writing.

One real-life story in Mayhew’s book, London’s Underworld, became the basis of Cressida’s Dilemma, a sweet, sensual Regency about a long-married couple rediscovering what was once wonderful about marriage.

The anecdote Mayhew recounted was about a husband and wife who’d drifted apart and who were each, individually, enticed to seek diversion at a house of assignation. Mayhew describes the “house…where ladies, both married and unmarried, go in order to meet with and be introduced to gentlemen, there to consummate their libidinous desires.” He gives an account of one such “lady of intrigue, belonging to the higher circles of society, married to a man of considerable property, [who] found herself unhappy in his society… Her passions were naturally strong, and she one day resolved to visit a house that one of her female acquaintances had spoken about…” When her unknown paramour, whose features were indistinct in the gloomy but tastefully decorated ‘May Fair’ house, began to converse with her, the lady “with a cry of astonishment recognized her husband’s voice” while he, equally confused, discovered he was speaking to his ill-used wife. Surprisingly, Mayhew finishes, saying: “This strange encounter had a successful termination, for it ended in the reconciliation of husband and wife, who discovered that they were mutually to blame.”

In the days when marriage really was a contract for life, except for the very rich, there must have been many marriages that could have done with a bit of shaking up like this. Goodness knows how meeting in a house of ill repute could have led to this couple’s reconciliation when I’d have thought the very opposite would have happened but there’s no accounting for what’ll stir the fires of passion.

And it certainly makes for a good story.

About Cressida’s Dilemma

In Cressida’s Dilemma, I teamed the idea of a naïve, timid young wife afraid of having more children with a mystery surrounding a lost child, a case which consumes her husband. Thus rumours that Cressida’s once-adoring spouse has returned to the arms of his former mistress, a singer at Mrs. Plumb’s Salon, puts the couple at cross purposes and gives each very different motivations for entering a “house of ill repute”.

Cressida’s Dilemma is the book is the first in my Salon of Sin series, where kitchen maids and cuckolded duchesses don disguises and venture through the red baize door of Mrs. Plumb’s House of Intrigue to find love. Many of these characters are, in fact, based on those interviewed in Henry Mayhew’s London’s Underworld.

Below is part of the first chapter, in which Cressida’s bullying cousin gloatingly passes on the rumour that is titillating London town.

Excerpt

Chapter One

“The Earl of Lovett has taken a mistress?”

The breathy shock of pretty newlywed, Mrs. Rupert Browne, sliced through the buzz of conversation, lancing its unsuspecting target three feet away and causing a deaf colonel to ask the duchess solicitously if she required a glass of water.

Still choking on her champagne, Cressida, Lady Lovett, strained to hear the response of her cousin, Catherine, who had obviously disseminated this latest shocking on dit while she smilingly assured deaf Colonel Horvitt she was quite all right, as if her happiness were not suddenly hanging by a gossamer thread.

cressidasdilemma_800 copyShe could only hope she was making the right responses to the colonel’s monologue. All her concentration was focused on the nearby conversation as she waited desperately for a rejection of the outrageous claim.

“Surely not?” gasped the generally well-intentioned but oblivious Mrs. Browne to Cousin Catherine’s whispered reply. “But the earl made a love match. Mama told me he scandalized society by marrying a nobody.”

Cressida had to use two hands to keep her champagne coupe steady. The indignity of being described as a ‘nobody’ was nothing compared with the pain of hearing her husband’s amours—real or otherwise—discussed in the middle of a ballroom. She forced her trembling mouth into her best attempt at a smile as the colonel leaned forward and wagged his finger at her, his stentorian tone precluding further eavesdropping. “Your husband ruffled more than a few feathers with his speech in the House of Lords last night, Lady Lovett.”

Cressida had once giggled with her ferociously forceful cousin, Catherine, that the colonel used his deafness as an excuse to peer down the cleavage of every pretty lady he addressed. She was in no mood for giggling now. Clearly, Cousin Catherine was disclosing details about the state of Cressida’s marriage, of which Cressida, apparently, was the last to know. She straightened and pushed her shoulders back, suddenly self-conscious of appearing the sagging, lacking creature the several hundred guests crowded into Lady Belton’s newly renovated ballroom must imagine her, if they were already privy to what she was hearing for the first time. Before her last sip of champagne, she’d considered herself happily married. It was all she could do to remain standing and dry-eyed.

Adjusting the lace of her masquerade costume, she managed, faintly, “Ah, Colonel, you know Lord Lovett and his good causes.” She tried to make it sound like an endearment, but the axis of her world had become centered on ascertaining what other titbits about her marriage Catherine was divulging to Mrs. Browne.

The music swelled to a crashing crescendo, the end of which was punctuated by Mrs. Browne’s shocked squeak, “Who is the woman? Madame Zirelli? Was she not once Lord Grainger’s mistress? No! His wife? He divorced her? And now she and Lord Lovett—?”

Cressida hadn’t wanted to come to Lady Belton’s masquerade. Little Thomas was teething, but Justin had been especially persuasive, reminding her that it had been a long time since they’d been out in public, and that, yes, he knew Thomas was cutting a tooth, but there was nothing Cressida could do that Nurse Flora couldn’t, just for a few hours that evening.

Searching the ballroom for her husband, she spied him talking to her friend, Annabelle Luscombe, near the supper table. Justin’s look was enquiring, as if he were hanging on her every word. Cressida knew he would take equal interest if Annabelle were talking about her latest bonnet or about the Sedleywich Home for Orphans, of which Justin was patron and Annabelle on the committee.

A frisson of longing speared her. Justin had looked at her like that when she’d first met him. So handsome, so determined, so interested and sincere.

The thought that he’d made a special plea for her presence tonight purely in the interest of stilling wagging tongues was almost too terrible to consider.

A mistress? Her kind, beloved, faithful Justin?

As if he were conscious of her from across the room, Justin turned, his dark brown eyes kindling at the sight of her, the warmth of his smile spreading comfort like a woolen mantle. It radiated across the heated, perfumed distance that separated them. Dear Lord, he looked like a handsome prince taken right out of the pages of a storybook, his brown, wavy hair brushed fashionably forward, topped with the laurel wreath required by his costume, his sideburns contouring his elegantly chiseled, high cheekbones. Dressed like a stately Roman senator, he was the stuff of every girl’s dreams, yet it was she, insignificant Miss Cressida Honeywell, daughter of a poor country parson, who had won his heart all those years ago.

She’d thought she still had it—had vowed she’d always keep it.

Rallying, she took a step forward, responding to the invitation implicit in her husband’s eye, but the colonel began counseling Cressida on the dangers of Justin making speeches about orphans and sanitation when he could better rouse his audience in the Lords if he concerned himself with more important matters.

The look she’d just exchanged with her husband was enough to all but dismiss her fears. Exhaling with relief, Cressida smiled at the colonel who, obviously regarding this as encouragement, closed the distance between them as he pursued his argument. She retained her smile as Justin, from the other side of the room, focused another very warm glance in her direction before attending to the hunchbacked Dowager Duchess of Trentham, whose eightieth birthday celebration this was. Justin had the gift of making every woman feel the center of his especial interest. Clearly something must have been misconstrued…

And yet.

Awareness prickled through her—that she had for some time sensed all was not quite right. Taking a step back, she swallowed past the lump in her throat while making, she hoped, the appropriate responses for the benefit of the colonel. Justin, lately, had not been the contented husband of old. The recent bolstering she’d silently received from him faded upon this acknowledgement and her eyes stung. She knew her behavior had not been beyond reproach—that she had withdrawn and that understandably, he was confused. Some months ago, he’d tried to raise the subject, yet she’d brushed it aside, incapable of putting her feelings into words, unable to entertain that unmentionable aspect of their marriage at the heart of all their problems.

Forcing aside her shame, she turned in the direction of her cousin.

“Catherine? A minute, if you please?” Cressida waylaid the stately, dark-haired young woman dressed as a siren as the colonel—thankfully—responded to his wife’s perfunctory summons. With a little intake of breath and a stammered excuse, the recently gossiping Mrs. Browne slipped away while Cousin Catherine betrayed her guilt with a blush.

“Why, Cressy, I did not notice you. How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough to wonder who Madame Zirelli might be and what she is to my husband,” Cressida responded with uncharacteristic harshness.

Catherine’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, Cressy,” she gasped. “I had no idea you— I’m so sorry. But of course, it’s only gossip. You know how quick people are to jump to conclusions.” But her cheeks were flushed. She knew she was guilty of the charges Cressida made. “You’re looking unwell, Cressy. I’ll take you home. We’ll have a nice, cozy chat in the carriage, shall we? I hadn’t expected to see you out this evening, you’ve been hiding away so long.”

Cressida was about to argue that she planned to return home with Justin when Catherine took her arm, saying breezily, “Don’t trouble yourself over Justin. He’s asked me to tell you he’s off to White’s with Roddy Johnson. He knew you were anxious to return home to little Thomas.”

Was that grim satisfaction she saw on her cousin’s face?

It wasn’t until she’d gained the darkness of the vehicle that Cressida broke her tense silence. She could barely force out the words, but she would not have Catherine secretly gloating over something Cressida was apparently the last to know about.

“I’d thank you to tell me everything you told Mrs. Browne.” Sinking back against the squabs of her husband’s plush equipage, she hid her disquiet beneath a veneer of dignified anger. “If she is under the impression Justin has taken a mistress, you apparently did little to disabuse her of that notion, when I know very well it is not true. I’d like to know the source of your information.”

Catherine shifted beside her, and although Cressida could not see her face, she could tell she was uncomfortable. “No need to get on your high ropes, Cressy,” she muttered, and Cressida could imagine the proud, defiant tilt to Catherine’s pointed chin as she defended her actions, just as she had done all through her impish childhood and spirited adolescence. “Like you say, I’m sure there’s nothing to it.”

Giveaway

So what’s the most unlikely reason for a couple reconnecting that you’ve ever heard of? I’d like to offer a copy of my Ellora’s Cave Dangerous Gentlemen or Her Gilded Prison for any ideas or comments.

About the Author

Beverley Eikli author shot for ARRA copyHistorical romance author Beverley Eikli’s love of the gypsy lifestyle and appreciation of the world’s varied heroes was honed during years of working in the male-dominated safari and airborne survey industries. Redemption is her favourite theme and flawed heroines her specialty. Now living with her family in Melbourne, Australia, twenty years after hitching her star to the Cessna Caravan (now a Boeing 777) of the handsome Norwegian bush pilot she met around a campfire in Botswana’s beautiful Okavango Delta where she ran a safari lodge at the time, Beverley teaches creative writing, makes historical costumes and works as a disaster events researcher.

You can find Beverley here: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

And you can buy Cressida’s Dilemma in ebook or print here.

 

Beverley Oakley and “Dangerous Gentlemen”—GIVEAWAY!

Good morning, Susana!

Thanks so much for having me around for a lovely chat about Regency life – the glitter and the grit. Like the Victorian era, The Regency offers so many writerly opportunities to showcase the underbelly beneath the veneer of respectability. While on the surface there appeared there appeared a greater degree of freedom than during Victorian times, a ruined reputation was nevertheless not something that could be patched up. This kind of pressure really ups the stakes when it comes to protecting – to the death, sometimes – one’s most valuable commodity.

As you know, I write under two names, and in the past couple of weeks I’ve had a release under each of them – an erotic Regency published by Ellora’s Cave called Dangerous Gentlemen about a viscount’s daughter who poses as a prostitute to save her life; and a Regency Intrigue published by Choc Lit called The Maid of Milan about a newly married heroine with a ‘past’ that must be kept secret at all costs. (It’s also been described as a Regency-era ‘Dynasty’ with its drug addiction, love triangle and lies.)

Today I was delighted to receive my first review for Dangerous Gentlemen from The Jeep Diva, who says this:

‘A fun and fast paced story, full of secrets, conflict and agenda mark the first book that I have read by Beverley Oakley… Secrets and slanderous intentions run rife through this story; set in the mid 1800’s when concerns for the traitorous behaviors of the Spencean followers was at a high point as concern for the realm, monarchy and status quo for the gentry was in danger, and assassination plots were feared around every corner.

‘…Mixing historic events, sights and balls, with detail and description that help build the tension in the story… Emotionally honest, especially in the interactions between the sisters… A fun read for historic romance fans who are not averse to a more modern take on the sexual content, while not frequent, the sexual moments are steamy, detailed and well described.’

While Dangerous Gentlemen is a racy, steamy ride through history, The Maid of Milan is more a subtle portrayal of hot-house repression set in exactly the same year, again with an underpinning of the politics of the time – and so much to lose for my heroine in the event of discovery.

Thanks so much for hosting me, Susana. I’d love to offer a giveaway of my award-winning racy Regency Romp, Rake’s Honour, to a commenter who tells me what item of historical clothing they would not have liked to have worn.

maid-of-milan          rake'shonour

Excerpt

Here’s a short excerpt from Dangerous Gentlemen. It takes place when my heroine, shy, well-intentioned Hetty, starts searching for proof that the apparently dangerous Sir Aubrey is not a traitor. At a ball, she accidentally stumbles into his room after discovering he’s a house-guest.

“Hello?” she asked in a low voice. She took another step into the room. “Is anyone in here?”

Silence greeted her. A low fire burned in the grate before which was a table, against which were propped several items, including a familiar silver-topped cane. Her breath caught in her throat. The last time she’d seen that cane was when Sir Aubrey had exchanged several words with Araminta in the street as Hetty had been bringing up the rear with Mrs. Monks. Of course Sir Aubrey had not looked twice at her, excusing himself before having to be introduced to the younger sister and the chaperone who’d nearly closed the gap.

Heart hammering, Hetty closed the door behind her and went to pick up the cane.

How fortunate to have stumbled into Sir Aubrey’s room, she thought when she observed the fine coat lying upon the bed, apparently discarded in favor of what he was wearing tonight.

He really was a nonpareil, wearing his clothes as if they were an extension of his athletic physique.

Yet he was dangerous, she had to remind herself. Meaning she should not be here, which of course she shouldn’t, regardless of whether he was dangerous or not.

But how such a scion of good breeding and genteel society could be guilty of such a heinous crime as treason, Hetty could not imagine. And surely the story of the runaway wife was a gilded one. It was all the stuff of make-believe and Cousin Stephen was only telling Hetty he was dangerous to curb her schoolroom daydreams.

Turning, she saw half protruding from beneath the suit of clothes what appeared to be the edge of a silver, filigreed box. It was partly obscured by the overhang of the counterpane, as if it hadn’t properly been returned to its hiding place.

A moment’s indecision made her pause but soon Hetty was crouching on the floor, closing clammy fingers around the box. Might it contain secrets? Ones that would reveal, conclusively, what Cousin Stephen claimed was true?

Alternatively, proof that would exonerate Sir Aubrey?

Hetty fumbled for the catch. Dear Lord, this was too exciting for words. Perhaps Sir Aubrey was a secret agent working for the English, and Stephen had no idea.

Perhaps he was—

Protesting door hinges made her squeal as the door was flung wide. Hetty let the lid of the box fall and retreated into the shadows as Sir Aubrey strode into the room.

dangerousgentlemen_msrHe was breathing heavily as he shrugged off his jacket with a curse, raindrops spattering into the hissing fire as he raked his fingers through his hair. A curious stillness overtook him and he froze, obviously sensing all was not as he left it.

He sniffed the air. “Orange flower water,” he muttered, stepping closer to the fire, fumbling for the tinderbox on the mantelpiece to light a candle.

Immediately he was thrown into sharp relief and as he stared at Hetty, it was not his look of shock and suspicion that made her scream—but the copious amounts of blood that stained his shirtsleeves and once snowy linen cravat.

“God Almighty, who are you?” he demanded as his gaze raked her finery. “You’re no parlor maid, that’s for certain.”

Gaping, unable to formulate a sensible answer, Hetty finally managed, “What happened to your arm, Sir Aubrey? Are you injured?”

“Sir Aubrey, is it? So you know who I am but you still haven’t told me who you are?” He grunted as he looked down at his arm, the bloodied linen shredded over the long graze. “It’s not as bad as it looks and I assure you, I gave a good account of myself.” His laugh was more a sneer. “Indeed, my assailant lies dead in the gutter.”

Hetty gasped. “Dueling?” Myriad questions crowded her mind. Could this be to do with Araminta? Had Sir Aubrey left Araminta in the middle of the ball to fight some other contender for her affections?

“Dueling?” he repeated. He shook his head and Hetty drew back at the coldness in his eyes. “There was nothing noble about my activities this evening. I was set upon in a dark alley. A short scuffle ensued, I drew my knife, then…” With his hand, he made a gesture like the slitting of his throat, adding, “I am slightly wounded but as I said, my attacker does not live to repeat the insult.”

Her horror clearly amused him, for his eyes narrowed while his generous mouth quirked. He looked like an incarnation of the most handsome demon she’d ever seen depicted in the fairy stories she loved to read.

“We all have enemies, madam. Enemies who must be eliminated if we are to breathe freely.

Aubrey was enjoying the girl’s wide-eyed terror. No doubt she imagined he’d sliced the throat of a footpad, not the snarling, mangy cur who had leapt upon him as he’d been returning from his brief assignation to settle a gaming debt incurred by his favorite reprobate nephew.

Taking pity on her, he said reassuringly, “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.’ Her wide-eyed look as he removed first his jacket, then the bloodied shirt he tossed upon the bed before he rose to his full height, bare chested, afforded him the most amusement he’d had in a long time. “So, you’re the girl Madame Chambon sent?”

She simply stared at him and he nodded appraisingly as he sat on the bed and pulled off his boots. “You had me fooled for a moment. I thought you really were some innocent who’d lost her way in these catacombs.” Had he not been so jaded he might have been ashamed at the assessment in his tone when he added, “My faithful procuress threatened to one day surprise me—and that I’d not be able to tell the difference.” He chuckled and put out his hand. “Well, come into the light so I can see you better. After the god-awful night I’ve had, you might be just what I need. The retiring sort—for I’m sick to death of women who like to play games.”

Like that Miss Araminta Partington, he thought. Now didn’t she like to play games, with her speaking looks and half-whispered promises? Which wasn’t to say he hadn’t enjoyed his brief assignation with her in an antechamber behind the supper room. He’d been on his way out to settle his nephew’s wager when Miss Partington had waylaid him before proving extremely amenable to a kiss and a fondle. But of course that was as far as it could go and the throbbing of his engorged cock after that little encounter had been one good reason to slip unnoticed out of Lady Knox’s townhouse.

Unsatisfied desire had made him restless in every sense, and while he’d imagined a feisty coupling with whichever ladybird sent to him, this young lady’s contrived innocence was having a curious effect upon him. It would seem Madame Chambon had read him correctly, for even he hadn’t realized how tired he was of worldly sophistication.

“Yes, here.” He patted his knees. “No need to carry the pretense to quite such extremes. That’s right. I want you to sit on my lap so I can…observe you better.”

“Sit on your lap?” she squeaked as he tugged at her hand and her rounded bottom landed on his thighs.

He ran his hands over her contours appreciatively. She was rather a nice little thing with a familiarity that tugged at his memory. Plump and almost pretty. Not quite, but with that slightly gawkish look about her that indicated she was in transition to womanhood and might go either way—turn into a swan. Or not.

He rather fancied she had the makings of a beauty, though that didn’t concern him now since he had her only for one night. Madame Chambon would have sent her on approval. She seemed vaguely familiar. It was quite possible he’d seen the chit at the brothel and unconsciously dismissed her on account of the very reasons Madame Chambon had sent her—for her innocence and youth.

He ran his fingers through her fine light-brown curls and contoured her neck appreciatively, amused that she tensed as if this had never happened to her before. Well, if he liked her, he’d see her as often as he wished over the following month. By the time the abbess presented him with one of her exorbitant accounts, he’d know whether the girl gave value enough to continue the arrangement.

If she pleased him as much as his former mistress Jezebel had, Aubrey would indeed be seeing more of her. The next hour or so would tell.

“Oh sir!” she cried, jumping up as his hand came into contact with her breast. “What are you doing?”

He grinned as he tugged her back down and resettled her across his knees. “Madame Chambon has trained you well. Now I suppose you’ll tell me you’re a virgin.”

She nodded vigorously. “I am, sir. Indeed I am and—”

His scowl made her stiffen with apparent terror. Oh, she was good.

“Really?” He reached for the cutlass that had fallen from his belt and now lay at his feet. Idly he stroked the blade, stained with the dead dog’s blood, while he contemplated her. She was indulging in the charade perhaps a little too enthusiastically but then, as he narrowed his gaze and saw how frightened she really seemed, it occurred to him that every whore had to be broken in sometime and perhaps Madame Chambon had decided to play a little trick on him.

She’d told him he needed softening. That the effects of the opprobrium directed at him since poor Margaret’s death had stripped him of his humanity. Perhaps tonight was the time to cultivate his more tender side.

“A virgin?” Before, he’d spoken with blatant skepticism. Now he would allow that she could be telling the truth.

She nodded, her eyes riveted on the blade he was now using to clean his fingernails.

“So this will be your first time with a man?”

She drew in a trembling breath and repeated stupidly, “First time with a man?”

He tried not to sound irritated. There was only so much of the play-acting he could take. “Madame Chambon obviously selected you on account of your innocence. She knows my proclivities and that experience is my preference but I can be gentle. I won’t hurt you.” He grinned as he was struck by the responsibility of breaking in a virgin. One who would always remember her first time with him, no matter how many paying customers she serviced in her working life.

He licked his lips as he watched understanding dawn, adding as he traced the edge of her décolletage with his right forefinger, “In fact, I promise that you’ll quite enjoy the experience. God knows, you’re going to endure enough during your career, so you might as well start off on a good note. Now, shall we begin?

About the Author

Beverley Eikli and her Rhodesian Ridgeback, HomerBeverley Eikli is the author of eight historical romances.

She has worked as a journalist, magazine editor, a safari lodge manager in the Okavango, and an airborne geophysical survey operator on contracts around the world

Beverley wrote her first romance at seventeen, but drowning her heroine on the last page was symptomatic of the problems she grappled with during her 23-year journey towards publication. She did however stumble upon lasting romance, herself, when the handsome Norwegian bush pilot she met around a camp fire in Botswana whisked her off into a world of adventure, encompassing 12 countries in twenty years. A romantic adventure that’s lasted to the present day.

Recently Beverley received her third nomination from Australian Romance Readers for Favourite Historical Romance with her suspenseful Napoleonic espionage Romance The Reluctant Bride.

She now teaches in the Department of Professional Writing & Editing at Victoria University, Melbourne.

Beverley also writes under the name Beverley Eikli.

You can read more on her website or blog.

And you can buy Dangerous Gentlemen here:

Ellora’s Cave | Amazon US | Amazon UK | All Romance Ebooks

My TBR List For Summer + GIVEAWAY!

Inundated With Books

Untitled-1Are you like me…overwhelmed with piles of hundreds of books I’m dying to read, but not enough time to read them? Since I reinvented myself as an author/blogger/promo queen, the days seem to go by way too quickly. I used to read about five books a week—once I read an Outlander book in a DAY, believe it or not—but now I’m lucky to get through two. Now if I could hire someone to do clean the house and do the yard work, well, maybe I could get in one more. (Uh, maybe not. I’m not the greatest housekeeper. But the house and yard would certainly look better!)

So I thought I’d post a list of books I definitely want to get through this summer—before August 31. Not necessarily in this order:

*The Queen’s Favourites is an older hard copy I happen to have in my collection of Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr books. I chose this one because it’s about Sarah Churchill and Anne Stuart, and last year I heard about their relationship while touring Blenheim Palace, which was built for the Duke of Marlborough (Sarah’s husband).

Of course, I have a few hundred others on my Kindle and several shelves full of print books, so these won’t even make a dent. And after my trip to Scotland (June 20-July 6), I may be inspired to add a few more Scotland-set books. Or even write one of my own, who knows?

What books are you planning to read this summer? Post your own list in the comment section and be eligible to win a deck of cards featuring covers of Ellora’s Cave books OR a Merry Monarchs card game from England (your choice). Will mail anywhere in the world!