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Tag: Broken Things

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?

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