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Word from Southwark, Suspicions Confirmed

Theodoor Verstraete, High Tide

May 13th, 1679

The Hague

It was late afternoon and dark as dusk, with rain pelting the window again. It was unseasonably cold for May and the rain had barely stopped since March. As each dreary day rolled in off the sea, Alice’s dread deepened. It had been months since she’d had word of her family, and the local tea merchant who had last reported her sister missing had proved maddeningly difficult to find.

They had never gone so long without a letter from home before. By her estimation, Jane should have given birth again in late January, and Mark had never let such an occasion pass without writing. She filled the silence with an endless procession of nightmare scenarios, each of them ending in the death or injury of someone she loved.

Was Jane alive?

Where was Meg Henshawe?

How had a Jewish prizefighter come to own her childhood home and her family’s business?

This last question tied her mind in knots. Jack’s tailor was Jewish with family in London, and he had informed her that although his people had been formally readmitted to England, they were still not permitted to own property there.

How had he managed it? Was there a chance the tea merchant could be mistaken?

Alice’s heart leapt as the door slammed on the ground level. The noise was followed by heavy steps as someone thundered up the stairs.

“Your father’s home,” she whispered to her infant son, sleeping with his angelic face pressed into her shoulder. He had begun to fall asleep on her following his afternoon feeding, but Alice never had the heart to put him in his bed. He would be grown soon enough. Instead, she relaxed into her chair by the window and let him sleep.

Jack rarely made a sound as he returned home every day, light as the thief he had once been. Some things never changed. That she could hear him at all troubled her. Either something had happened, or he was being chased.

He flung open the door, out of breath. Immediately, he noticed Achilles in her arms. He flung up his hands in contrition, an opened letter clutched in one. “Sorry,” he whispered and closed the door behind himself.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice low.

Achilles yawned and slept on.

Jack’s face lit up. “A letter from Mark!”

Relief warred with excitement in her chest. Achilles felt it and shifted. “Is Jane well? What of my sisters?”

“Everyone’s well, by the sound of things. He had sent the letter to Paris and Achille had it forwarded to us when he returned from Versailles, that’s what’s caused the delay.”

He sat in the chair across from hers and passed her the letter. She shifted the baby’s weight more fully onto her shoulder and flipped it open with her left hand.

He leaned forward on his knees, watching her reaction. “You were right.”

Dear Jack,

Happy Christmas! I hope you and Alice and your little soldier are enjoying a nice quiet one. I have given up on ever having a good night’s sleep again and I find I am happier for it. There’s no use in wishing for the impossible, now more than ever. Jane gave birth to a healthy boy on Christmas Eve. We’re calling him John. He’s thriving and does not often cry, but the rest of the children make such a fuss over him it’s noisy as a lark’s nest. I nodded off at work on Meg’s kitchen this week and woke to her foot between my ribs. Married life has made her sweeter, but her toes are still sharp as anything.

I don’t expect she’s written, so I’ll be the first to tell you. Meg’s married Jake Cohen and now she refuses to make pork pies. The notion had my full support until she told me in no uncertain terms my pies are gone for good. I won’t half miss them, I can tell you! I suppose it’s worth it to see her so happy. Happiness on Meg is the strangest thing — she’s unrecognizable these days. More beautiful, if you can believe it. She wears her hair differently and when folks come looking for Meg Henshawe, she tells them she’s dead. I couldn’t be gladder for the both of them, but the whole ordeal has been rather humbling. If this is what happy looks like on Meg, I don’t recall seeing it before this month. Jake’s a right decent sort, but it would seem he’s a magician as well.

We’re on better terms with Meg now. Jane had some trouble with this last birth and Meg was able to help her, to my everlasting gratitude. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say Jane would not be alive if not for Meg, and I’ll never forget it.

Everyone else is alive and well. Alice’s sisters are selling cosmetics out of the inn and business appears to be picking up. Nothing like a pretty face to sell complexion tonic, except perhaps four of them. When you return you will find things roughly where you left them, but improved, as so few things are, with time.

Give my love to Alice and your boy.

Affectionately,

Mark Virtue

P.S. No word yet from Harry. He was last seen in the Carolinas, and I sent another letter there this week. Hugo is well and very excited to have another boy to play with at last.

Alice took a moment to catch her breath. “I was right,” she whispered. “Meg’s married Jake Cohen.”

Jack nodded. “I barely remember him. Was he the one with the unusual fighting style?”

Alice shrugged. “I never saw him fight, all I remember is Meg’s description.”

“And?”

“He’s built like a coach and four and handsome as the devil himself,” she mimicked her sister’s voice. “Those eyes, that punch…that back. God’s teeth, Bel, I could stare at him all night.”

Jack’s laugh was pure glee. “Sounds like she gets to now. Never thought I’d see the day.”

“You’re not the only one,” Alice sighed, feeling as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “Meg. Married.”

Jack kneeled before her and took her hands in his. “You must be so relieved. I know you’ve been worried about your sisters.”

She nodded. “I’m sorry about Harry.”

His face fell almost imperceptibly, but she noticed.

“We’ll find him,” she assured him with more certainty that she had. “Or he’ll find his way back, just you see.”

Broken Things

Out Now

Content notes: contains profanity, violence, graphic sex, and references to domestic violence.

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?

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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

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.

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.

The Dutch Word for “Cannibalized”: A Letter From The Hague

Joust on the Hofvijver, 1625

October 30th, 1678

Dear Achille,

Many thanks for the boots – you are too generous! Achilles thrives and I doubt it will be long before he can fit into them. He has barely opened his eyes and already seems to have his mother’s serious temperament. He rarely cries and has not smiled; I worry that some dark aspect of the battle will hang over his life. He can have no way of knowing how many good men died as he drew his first breath or how close the cannon fire came to his parents, but I look at him sometimes when I hold him and wonder. Alice swears it is only that he is too young and I’m certain she must be right as she has heretofore been right about nearly everything, but if you could only see him, Achille! It would seem he was born to bear the weight of the world, and that is a fate I would not wish on anyone, least of all my own small son.

Alice is in good spirits, but she has been slow to recover. The birth was not easy, but I thank God for every day she is here with me and Achilles, and I pray for her recovery. We have made it to The Hague and will stay here until Alice is able to travel again. I found us a modest apartment overlooking the square where I am told Johan de Witt and his unfortunate brother were dismembered and eaten by an angry mob not half a dozen years past. My Dutch is improving by leaps and bounds, but stories like that make me wish it was not so good. I could do without knowing the Dutch word for cannibalized (gekannibaliseerd, if you’re wondering), but Alice takes it in stride and tucks the word away in her remarkable mind between other fearful words in half a dozen languages in case we ever have occasion to use it. I pray we never will.

Thank you for the kind offer to stay with you in Paris. When we are mobile again, I should like that very much. I am dismayed to hear of your niece’s fixation on Languedoc as she always struck me as a clever girl. Attraction has little to do with reason, I’ll warrant, but I hope for her sake she directs her attentions toward someone who is free to return them.

I hope you enjoy your journey to London. It has been years since I’ve been back and I miss it dearly. Southwark is a wild place, so do take care to disguise any obvious wealth should you happen to walk down the street. I know this will be difficult for you as your wardrobe puts the King’s to shame, but have a care as my former neighbors are proficient and ruthless thieves and you will be a tempting target. Give my love to my old master, if you will. Mark Virtue lives on Love Lane in a house with the sign of a coffin out front. You may also enjoy meeting his brother and his wife, the Earl and Countess of Somerton. Sally is French and a brilliant baker, so if you find yourself longing for your own language and cuisine, I’m sure you’ll be more than welcome at their table.

As for the Henshawe sisters…bon chance.

Your affectionate friend,

Jack

thelongwayhome (1)The Long Way Home
(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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