Excerpt and contest

Today it’s all about me me me, mainly blatant self promotion since I have a spiffy updated website with a ludicrously easy contest. Check it out!

I’ve been very busy rewriting an early attempt to crack the romance code, The Malorie Phoenix, which is coming out in a month or so. My first version(s) included a scene where a kitten came to an untimely end which I was told would turn the whole world against me, and after much thought I rewrote. Folks, the kitten gets better and we lose interest in him. Would it have been a dealbreaker for you? What IS a dealbreaker for you? Is it, for instance, having a heroine who is a criminal and in a just world should be punished by transportation or hanging?

You be the judge. Get out that black cap! Here’s the beginning of the book:

 

August, 1801, Vauxhall Gardens, London

Her name was Jenny Smith.

It denoted no particular rank, no origin, and was so ordinary most people laughed in disbelief when she identified herself. Let them.

When later they discovered a brooch or bracelet inexplicably lost, the missing expensive embroidered handkerchief, she’d be laughing.

But she rarely revealed herself, knowing that fitting in with her surroundings was vital to her success and survival. By the light of Vauxhall’s lanterns, no one could tell her jewels were colored glass, her gown second hand. And she wore the final guarantee of anonymity–a black satin mask.

Occasionally a man would approach her, mistaking her profession. She smiled and moved away to mingle with the crowd who gathered to see the Cascade at midnight. She could take advantage of the upraised faces and rapt attention, strolling quietly among the crowd as though seeking a lost acquaintance, with a murmured word of apology if she brushed up against someone.

Tonight was a very successful night for her. She did not allow herself to dip a hand into the pocket of her silk gown–it would be foolish to draw attention to herself. A gold brooch–she was fairly sure it was gold not pinchbeck–a bracelet, a couple of fob seals, and two handkerchiefs represented the night’s haul. Her stomach growled. She thought in anticipation of the hearty dinner she would order, but not at Vauxhall’s, notorious for its expensive, thinly-sliced ham and other overpriced refreshments. Possibly she could buy a new gown–this one was good enough for work in the dimly-lit gardens, but the hem was ragged and stained. She rubbed a fold of silk between her fingers, enjoying the softness of the luxurious fabric. Silk from China or some such place, as far away across the sea as her mother and sister now were. Was China near Australia?

Pushing away the momentary loneliness, she strolled a few steps behind a gentleman who, like her, watched the crowd more than the surroundings. She thought at first he might share her profession, but his coat, although of good cut, was old and not particularly fashionable. Probably he was from the country, gentry almost certainly, and not worth the effort, but…

“Beg your pardon, sir.” She brushed against him and moved to one side. Her fingers flitted beneath his coat tails, into the pockets there.

Empty.

Damnation.

She should go home. She had taken enough. Greed led to carelessness, and carelessness led to discovery, and that could lead to the gallows.

“You require a handkerchief, madam?”

She froze at the murmured words, uttered in a deep, rich voice that reminded her, despite her terror, of the flavor and harshness of sweet, strong coffee.

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