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Author: Jessica Cale (Page 1 of 2)

Rumors from Southwark: Is Meg Henshawe Missing?

March 11th, 1679

Alice sipped her coffee with a frown. She’d been staring at the sea for so long, it had gone cold and sickly sweet. Even the sugar from St. Croix couldn’t save it now. She poked at the crystalline sediment at the bottom of her mug.

She had only managed half of her porridge, as well. It had been more than a year since she had survived ingesting a truly spectacular amount of arsenic, but her stomach had yet to recover.

Her son ate his porridge happily enough. When she sweetened it with honey, he almost always finished the bowl. He was young for it still, but he was growing faster than she could feed him on her own. Achilles was a beautiful baby, a stout, sturdy little fellow glowing with health. He had her eyes and his father’s hair. She was so in love with him she wished she could show him off to her sisters and her friends back in Southwark, but for now, she and her new family were alone in The Hague.

Alice had nothing to complain about; she had married the boy she’d loved all her life to find he was an even better man than she thought he’d be. Their rented rooms faced the sea on one side and the square on the other, a picturesque space full of shops and, as of this week, tulips of every variety. It was nothing like the street she’d grown up on. For one thing, she could take her son with her to the shops without fear they’d be robbed.

England was so close she could feel it, almost see it across the water. They wouldn’t be able to travel until Achilles was older, but it was just close enough to make her mad. She was far more worried than she let on to Jack; for all Meg complained about the inn, she’d never willingly leave it. What had become of her?

A month before, she and Jack had overheard a traveler in town lamenting the disappearance of Meg Henshawe. Alice’s eldest sister was a tart so infamous that men embarked on pilgrimages to see her for themselves, but this traveler had returned disappointed. He’d made it to her family’s inn, The Rose and Crown in Southwark, to find it half burned down and Meg Henshawe gone.

Alice wrung her skirt in her hands like fear twisted her guts. Meg burning down the inn would surprise no one–least of all Alice–but where had she gone? Where were Bess, Bel, and Judith in all of this?

She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and searched her memory for clues. She knew maddeningly little. According to the traveler, a local tea merchant she had seen about, her sisters were gone and the inn had been taken over by a Jewish prizefighter and his wife.

Alice had never enjoyed watching the fights–certainly not as much as Meg did–but she knew the boxer in question by reputation alone. Every time he knocked out an opponent, it was all anyone could talk about.

It was all Meg could talk about, at least.

Meg had had so many lovers over the years, she must have thought Alice wouldn’t notice her fascination with Jake Cohen. It wasn’t hard to miss. Of all the men Meg had known, he was the only one she talked about. Her comments always seemed to come out in semi-incoherent thoughts muttered to herself or divulged to Bess or Bel after one too many glasses of wine. Their last conversation echoed in her mind.

Meg and Bel had returned late from Bear Gardens the night Jake Cohen had knocked out Tom Callaghan, the father of Meg’s youngest boy.

“Did you see that, Bel? God’s teeth, there’s no finer man alive.”

Bel snorted. “Not so fine now. Jake the Jew gave him a bloody good thrashing.”

Meg smacked her arm affectionately. “I wasn’t referring to Tom.”

“You think Tom will take kindly to you fancying his rival?”

Meg topped up their wine. “Bugger Tom. If I thought I had a chance with Jake…”

The idea that Meg couldn’t have anyone she wanted had struck Alice as absurd, and the notion hadn’t become more believable with time. Meg Henshawe a legendary beauty capable of turning grown men into babbling fools with a glance. Surely a boxer–

Alice gasped as another possibility sprung to mind.

Once Achilles had finished his porridge, she bundled him into his little coat and his boots with the reinforced heels. She had a question only a tea merchant could answer.

Alice’s story, The Long Way Home, is out now. Watch for Meg’s story, Broken Things, coming out May 1st, 2017. Here’s a preview…

Broken Things
The Southwark Saga, Book 4

Rival. Sister. Barmaid. Whore.

Meg Henshawe has been a lot of things in her life, and few of them good. As proprietress of The Rose and Crown in Restoration Southwark, she has squandered her life catering to the comfort of workmen and thieves. Famous for her beauty as much as her reputation for rage, Meg has been coveted, abused, and discarded more than once. She is resigned to fighting alone until a passing boxer offers a helping hand.

Jake Cohen needs a job. When an injury forces him out of the ring for good, all he’s left with is a pair of smashed hands and a bad leg. Keeping the peace at The Rose is easy, especially with a boss as beautiful—and wickedly funny—as Meg Henshawe. In her way, she’s as much of an outcast as Jake, and she offers him three things he thought he’d never see again: a home, family, and love.

After Meg’s estranged cousin turns up and seizes the inn, Meg and Jake must work together to protect their jobs and keep The Rose running. The future is uncertain at best, and their pasts won’t stay buried. Faced with one setback after another, they must decide if what they have is worth the fight to keep it. Can broken things ever really be fixed?

Buy links coming soon! For updates, sign up for Jessica Cale’s newsletter here

Tales from a Shifting Duchy: First Day on the ‘Job’

June 6, 1814…

Stonebridge House…

Mondays. Would they forever be known as the most dreaded day of the week? Even at Stonebridge House, the servants approached all Mondays with a sense of reluctant melancholy.

Personally, I had never thought so. My father tossed me out of his house on a Wednesday on account of my having conceived a child out of wedlock. And the Duke of Stonebridge rescued me, offering me a position in his home, on a Monday, so…

But this Monday, the 6th day of June, my nerves were a jumble of fiery sparks bouncing about in the pit of my stomach and wreaking all sorts of havoc on my digestion as I worked tirelessly to shine the brass railing on the main staircase of Stonebridge House, hoping to make a good first impression on Her Grace. And not by casting up my accounts at her feet, if you take my meaning.

You see today was the first official day that Lady Grace Langley née Radclyffe would take charge as the new Duchess of Stonebridge and Mistress of Stonebridge Park…and we bloody well didn’t know what to expect.

The duke? Well, he was no help at all. When asked, he just smiled and said, “You’ll see,” then wandered off with a whistle and a bounce in his step the likes of which we’d never seen before.

Oh, now, he wasn’t a bad master. Not at all. But he’d never been so…so…jolly afore now. Yes, that’s the word for it…jolly.

Now, I’m not one to bandy words, but…this particular morning, I was near the foot of the stairs and near finished with that stubborn railing when Their Graces came a-walking down the stairs, hand-in-hand, and laughing up a storm. And Her Grace? She actually took a moment to stop and say “Good morning,” to me. I was so startled, I just…forgot to respond. Instead, I just stood there, mute, with my mouth wide open like a candidate for Bedlam. She wasn’t supposed to do that, was she?

And the duchess? She just smiled, threw me a wink, and carried on. I watched all agog as the two of them stopped near the door. They surely didn’t notice my stare for they had eyes only for each other.

After only a few murmured words, the duke left the duchess with a kiss and a “You’ll be marvelous, darling,” and that was that. I couldn’t help but blush on my lady’s behalf. It was clear she was a might nervous, judging by the twisting of her hands in her skirts. Yet it was just as clear the duke had no such reservations.

So anyways, I started to resume my polishing, but wouldn’t you know that the duke marched back in not five seconds later and give her a second kiss? I nearly gasped, I was so surprised.

Then, there was a third kiss. I swear I tried to look away, but they were simply too…sweet…to be ignored.

But then out of the blue he just growled. And swore. And marched back out the door, slamming his hat on his head in the process.

I might have thought he was angry, but the duchess? She just crossed her arms and laughed at his departing back, a little more at ease. Still, I waited with baited breath as she stood there, arms akimbo now, staring at the door.

Was she expecting him to return yet again? I held my breath in solidarity.

Five seconds passed. I thought sure he was gone this time.

Ten seconds. I looked to the duchess, amazed.

Twenty seconds and I was ready to polish again.

But then sure enough, thirty seconds later the duke ran back in, swung his lady up into his arms, and carried her upstairs as if his breeches were on fire.

Lord, I still blush to think on it.

I recall the duchess giggling all the way upstairs…right up until the door to the Master’s chambers closed with a bang!

Ooh – and that was going on 2 hours ago.

I guess, she must not be all bad, right? For him to be so openly carefree with his lady?

-Miss Eliza Smythe
Downstairs Maid
Stonebridge House

What the Duke Wants
Agents of Change, Book 1
By Amy Quinton

England 1814:  Upstanding duke desperately seeks accident-prone wife from trade…

She is from trade. He is a duke and an agent for the crown with a name to restore and a mystery to solve. Miss Grace (ha!) Radclyffe is an oftentimes hilariously clumsy, 20-year-old orphan biding her time living with her uncle until she is old enough to come into her small inheritance. Much to her aunt’s chagrin:

She isn’t:

  • Reserved – not with her shocking! tendency to befriend the servants…
  • Sophisticated – highly overrated if one cannot run around barefoot outside…
  • Graceful – she once flung her dinner into a duke’s face… on accident, of course. But she is:

But she is:

  • Practical – owning a fashion house is in her future; unless someone foils her plans…
  • In love… maybe… perhaps… possibly…
  • The Duke of Stonebridge is a man with a tragic past. His father died mysteriously when he was 12 years old amid speculation that the old duke was ‘involved’ with another man. He must restore his family name, but on the eve of his engagement to the perfect debutante, he meets his betrothed’s cousin, and his world is turned inside out… No matter:

He is always:

  • Logical – men who follow their hearts and not their heads are foolish…
  • Reserved – his private life is nobody’s business but his own…

And he isn’t:

  • Impulsive – it always leads to trouble…
  • Charming – that’s his best friend, the Marquess of Dansbury’s, area of expertise…
  • In love… maybe… perhaps… possibly…

Can he have what he wants and remain respectable? Can she trust him to be the man she needs?

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Amy Quinton is an author and full time mom living in Summerville, SC. She enjoys writing (and reading!) sexy, historical romances. She lives with her husband, two boys, and two cats. In her spare time, she likes to go camping, hiking, and canoeing/kayaking… And did she mention reading? When she’s not reading, cleaning, or traveling, she likes to make jewelry, sew, knit, and crochet (Yay for Ravelry!).

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The Rose, No More? Send Word From Southwark

February 11th, 1679

Dear Achille,

I am most relieved to hear you survived King Louis’ summons unscathed. It is said people have short memories, but nowhere are they shorter than they are in Versailles. I have no doubt your sugar will prove irresistible; I do hope Colbert sees fit to reimburse you for it.

Alice thrives once again, to my greatest relief. At last Achilles smiled only this morning, and it was the most remarkable thing I believe I have seen in my life. I cannot express how much I enjoy being his father. As I did not have one of my own, I am often at a loss for how I ought to behave, but I love him and his remarkable mother with all of my heart, and I would drain the sea if that’s what it took to adequately provide for them.

Fortunately, my current position is significantly less arduous. I am now in the employ of the Republic, officially serving as a translator between the Stadtholder’s men and emissaries from our two countries, though I do not have to tell you my unofficial duties are rather more akin to my work with the army and your own good self. Tensions are high of late; King Charles dismissed parliament a week ago and we can only guess at his plans to replace it. King Louis sends guests monthly with gifts for the Stadtholder and proposals to discuss. He is quick to make peace now the war has ended, but the Dutch have longer memories than even Louis, and still they suffer from those lost among their ranks.

I have sent this to your house in Paris on a hunch–I have heard La Reynie’s investigation is closing in a number of poisoners among the divineresses of Montmartre. You wouldn’t have had anything to do with that, would you?

If you journey to London this year, would you please look in on Alice’s sisters in Southwark? We overheard the most distressing piece of gossip in the market this Saturday past–a merchant just arrived from London was expressing his disappointment that Meg Henshawe is no more! Meg is Alice’s eldest sister and quite infamous even this far into the continent. I questioned the gentleman and he told me he had gone in search of The Rose & Crown to see Meg for himself. Upon arriving, he found it very different from the legends: there were no rooms to let and the inn had suffered some fire damage. He inquired after Meg and was told in no uncertain terms she did not exist. It would seem the inn is now in the hands of a Hebrew prizefighter of some renown.

I was very distressed to hear this and immediately concerned for the fate of Alice’s four sisters. Alice reserves her worry–Meg has always had a certain fascination with the fighters of Bear Gardens–but she has written home nonetheless. We would be most grateful for any insight you might provide.

Your loyal friend,

Jack

The Long Way Homethelongwayhome (1)

(The Southwark Saga, Book 3)
By Jessica Cale

A paranoid king, a poison plot, and hideous shoes…it’s not easy being Cinderella.

After saving the life of the glamorous Marquise de Harfleur, painfully shy barmaid Alice Henshawe is employed as the lady’s companion and whisked away to Versailles. There, she catches King Louis’ eye and quickly becomes a court favorite as the muse for Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. The palace appears to be heaven itself, but there is danger hidden beneath the façade and Alice soon finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, and Satanism at the heart of the French court.

Having left his apprenticeship to serve King Charles as a spy, Jack Sharpe is given a mission that may just kill him. In the midst of the Franco-Dutch war, he is to investigate rumors of a poison plot by posing as a courtier, but he has a mission of his own. His childhood friend Alice Henshawe is missing and he will stop at nothing to see her safe. When he finds her in the company of the very people he is meant to be investigating, Jack begins to wonder if the sweet girl he grew up with has a dark side.

When a careless lie finds them accidentally married, Alice and Jack must rely on one another to survive the intrigues of the court. As old affection gives way to new passion, suspicion lingers. Can they trust each other, or is the real danger closer than they suspect?

“Really brilliant writing that’s so engaging with such endearing characters! I especially love the way Jack and Alice are both so devoted to each other! I was totally absorbed in this exciting and fascinating world Jessica Cale created from the very first paragraph to the last! I read this all in one sitting, staying awake late to finish, just had to!” – Romazing Reader

Goodreads | Amazon| B&N | iBooks | Kobo

Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series,The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History and a Bluestocking Belle.

Stunning Crime Thwarted by Duke’s Grandson on Marlborough Street

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This reporter is in shock today after witnessing the attempted heinous crime in our dear city of London, this day, the 23rd of December, in the year of our Lord 1822. The criminal acted with deplorable boldness when he attempted to snatch the reticule of the ton’s beloved Lady Delia Witherspoon whilst the lady frequented the elegant shops of Marlborough Street. This reporter is appalled at the criminal’s audacity to commit such fiendish acts, but it is with a gleeful pen I report the criminal’s even more magnificent downfall.

It happened thus –

Lady Witherspoon had just alighted from her carriage in front of the esteemed establishment of Rugbottom’s Books on Marlborough Street at the stroke of two o’clock. The lady was, of course, escorted by her charming companion, one Miss Penelope Paiget. Lady Witherspoon was intent on procuring one or two more items for the loved ones on her Christmas list when she thought to peruse the offerings of Rugbottom’s. But no more had she stepped from the carriage than the assailant attacked, slicing the strings of her reticule with wicked accuracy as he made off with his purloined treasures. Lady Witherspoon promptly and properly executed a trembling scream of outrage so sharp it was heard by this reporter from across the thoroughfare.

This reporter had only seconds to follow the ill-fated attempt of the criminal to flee when the intrepid Mr. Samuel Black, whom our dear readers will know as the handsome grandson of the popular Duke of Lofton, leaped into action with breathtaking cunning. With moves this reporter is unable to capture with proper articulation, Mr. Black apprehended the criminal and returned the offended reticule to Lady Witherspoon. But while Mr. Black’s capture of the thug was earthshattering, it pales in comparison to the explosion of heat that erupted when our dear Mr. Black laid eyes on the lovely Miss Paiget.

Will this reporter be writing of the sounds of wedding bells for our Mr. Black and Miss Paiget? Perhaps next time on the Tattler.

 

To Be a Spy: A Christmas Spy Series Short Storyjessieclever_tobeaspy_800px

by Jessie Clever

Samuel Black must make a decision: to be a spy like his father or follow his heart.

Either is likely to give his mother chest pains.

For Samuel is no longer a lad with the ambitious and noble wish of being a lamplighter to keep the seedy streets of London safe. About to embark on university, his mind stirs with the thoughts of creating a policing force in London to safeguard its citizens. Held back by his family’s legacy as spies, Samuel does not make his ideas known.

But when he stops a would-be purse-snatcher, his path unexpectedly veers into that of one Miss Penelope Paiget, and suddenly, Samuel must make a choice.

The short stories in the Spy Series:
1. To Be a Spy
2. To Be a Duke
3. To Be a Lady
4. To Be a Debutante

The Spy Series short stories take place after the conclusion of the Spy Series.

*Goodreads * Amazon US * Amazon UK * Nook * iBooks * Google Play * Kobo*

Now available on audio!
*Audible * iBooks*

Excerpt

London, 1822

It happened on Marlborough Street a little past two o’clock two days before Christmas.

Samuel had just returned from Eton the day before as his Greek studies had compelled him to stay longer than the rest of the students. It all sounded rather dull, but honestly, it was quite thrilling as one of his tutors believed he had stumbled upon an undiscovered Biblical text. The ramifications could be enormous, and so when asked to assist him in analyzing the text, Samuel had stayed on, of course. It wasn’t as if he would miss the opportunity.

And thus two days before Christmas, he found himself on Marlborough trying desperately to find a present for Jane and Elizabeth. He wondered briefly if any other man of ten and eighteen was stricken with not just one headstrong sister but two for whom to shop, and if those sisters were raised by an equally headstrong mother. All three of them would not settle for the customary ribbons or baubles or fabrics that other ladies would surely drool over. If it were anything less than divine, the Black women would not find it at all appealing.

Samuel stared in one window after another hoping inspiration would strike. It was while waiting for inspiration that the crime was committed.

He was standing innocently enough outside of Rugbottom’s Books admiring a particularly ornate illustration of Shakespeare’s sonnets when the commotion began behind him. Having been raised in less than ordinary circumstances, the time that lapsed between when the commotion began and when Samuel noticed it was rather exaggerated. But commotions were quite common in the Black family, and he thought nothing of it.

Until Lady Delia Witherspoon screamed.

“He’s stolen my reticule!”

Samuel turned at this in time to see Lady Witherspoon pointing at a fleeing figure clutching the offended reticule under his arm.

And then Lady Witherspoon screamed again.

“That man! He’s stolen my reticule!”

The fleeing man charged at Samuel directly, as it was previously noted, Samuel merely stood in the middle of the pavement staring into a window. He was obviously ripe for any interaction with a passerby on the pavement, even should that passerby be a thief.

As he watched the thief approach, Samuel’s mind took that opportunity to think on matters. He wondered briefly if other gentlemen stepped out of the way of fleeing criminals or if they advanced. He wondered if they cowered at the thought of getting their waistcoat ruined. And then he wondered what the wives of said gentlemen would think if their noble husbands did not act to avenge the slight against a lady.

Samuel thought none of that likely as the gentlemen of the ton that he had had the pleasure of meeting were all sopping idiots. The apprehension of criminals was not something that suited such personalities.

And then Samuel sighed.

He sighed because he quite liked his waistcoat. It was a fine cranberry color that went well with his breeches, and if he had learned anything from his Uncle Alec, it was that a man who showed care for his dress showed care in every aspect of his life. And that was why Samuel was rather despondent to put his cranberry waistcoat in danger.

jessiecleverheadshotAbout Jessie Clever

Jessie decided to be a writer because the job of Indiana Jones was already filled.

Taking her history degree dangerously, Jessie tells the stories of courageous heroines, the men who dared to love them, and the world that tried to defeat them.

Jessie makes her home in the great state of New Hampshire where she lives with her husband and two very opinionated Basset Hounds. For more, visit her website at jessieclever.com.

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Christmas at Versailles

le_chateau_de_versailles_sous_la_neige

December 10th, 1678

Dear Jack,

Forgive me for my delay in replying. I was called, quite unexpectedly, to join the Christmas celebrations at Versailles. I was understandably wary to receive a summons bearing the King’s seal after our misadventures last autumn, but one ignores the King at one’s peril, so I made haste to that swamp with a brace of pistols hidden well within my bed linen.

Fortunately, His Radiant Majesty has made no move to clamp me in irons. Rather, I have spoken at length with Colbert on a matter of business: I am to provide sufficient sugar to keep the King, his court, and every Cherche-Midi well satisfied through the next half-dozen years. I stand to make a handsome profit–assuming, of course, war and gloire have not bankrupted the treasury so thoroughly as it is rumored.

Speaking of “gekannibaliseerd”– You will be relieved to hear the court has all but forgotten about you and Madame Sharpe. They are presently occupied with matters of love and war: the King is bored with Isabelle de Ludres and had grown to mistrust the foreign minister, Pomponne. Neither will remain in his good graces beyond the new year. It is said His Majesty confides in Madame Maintenon as he once confided in your wife, but I would wager my house in Chartres Maintenon’s ambitions are anything but innocent.

Truly, the matter of the maitresse-en-titre does not concern me, so long as he does not set his sights on my niece. I brought Laure with me to discourage Languedoc’s ever more brazen advances. Now that she is wealthy and–thanks to yours truly–dressed to the highest fashion and most refined taste, she has attracted friends as flies to honey. Only this afternoon, we went to see the elephant with Marie Angelique de Scorailles. She and Laure are of an age and chatter on as sisters. It was a pleasant enough way to pass an afternoon, until the King’s entourage passed and his gaze lingered on the girls for longer than I would have liked. Though Laure is a woman grown and not many years younger than myself, I still think of her as a child. What will I do if I ever have daughters?

I am passing fond of the elephant. All of the ladies like to see him in the snow, to hang flowers from his neck and feed him peas and wine. They treat me likewise as a curiosity from darkest Africa, though I am French as the King himself. They are kinder to me this year, though few will dance with me and fewer still will consent to coffee. I regret postponing my journey to London. I hope to go once the roads are clear enough to make my escape. If the English women are as gracious as your lady wife, I may yet bring one home with me.

Do give my love to Alice and your son. Your small family is ever in my prayers.

Your affectionate friend,

Achille

The Long Way Homethelongwayhome (1)

(The Southwark Saga, Book 3)
By Jessica Cale

A paranoid king, a poison plot, and hideous shoes…it’s not easy being Cinderella.

After saving the life of the glamorous Marquise de Harfleur, painfully shy barmaid Alice Henshawe is employed as the lady’s companion and whisked away to Versailles. There, she catches King Louis’ eye and quickly becomes a court favorite as the muse for Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. The palace appears to be heaven itself, but there is danger hidden beneath the façade and Alice soon finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, and Satanism at the heart of the French court.

Having left his apprenticeship to serve King Charles as a spy, Jack Sharpe is given a mission that may just kill him. In the midst of the Franco-Dutch war, he is to investigate rumors of a poison plot by posing as a courtier, but he has a mission of his own. His childhood friend Alice Henshawe is missing and he will stop at nothing to see her safe. When he finds her in the company of the very people he is meant to be investigating, Jack begins to wonder if the sweet girl he grew up with has a dark side.

When a careless lie finds them accidentally married, Alice and Jack must rely on one another to survive the intrigues of the court. As old affection gives way to new passion, suspicion lingers. Can they trust each other, or is the real danger closer than they suspect?

“Really brilliant writing that’s so engaging with such endearing characters! I especially love the way Jack and Alice are both so devoted to each other! I was totally absorbed in this exciting and fascinating world Jessica Cale created from the very first paragraph to the last! I read this all in one sitting, staying awake late to finish, just had to!” – Romazing Reader

Goodreads | Amazon | ARe | B&N | iBooks | Kobo

Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series,The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History and a Bluestocking Belle.

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