Friday, September 30, 2016

Sneak Peek at The Captive Heart

My 8th book comes out on Saturday, October 1st. The Captive Heart is my first novel set almost entirely in America. I know, right? What's up with that? Beats me. The story was just a whim of an idea that the publisher happened to like.

Though it's still the day before the book comes out, here's a little treat . . . the first chapter, just for y'all. 

Chapter One
London, England, February 1770
My precious Lord;
My only hope;
My Saviour, how I need You now.
Eleanor Morgan repeated the words, over and over, scrubbing her fingernails more vigorously with each repetition. Prayer was always better than blood. Perhaps if she focused on the simple child’s verse she taught her charges, she wouldn’t feel like heaving. She bit her lip, trapping a scream behind her teeth. A merciless idea. Better had she cried out at the unfairness of it all, for now blood wasn’t merely under her nails. Saltiness warmed the tip of her tongue.
A rap on her chamber door stopped her scrubbing. The nailbrush clattered into the basin, her heart into her stomach. Before she could think, she turned and snatched one of the brass candlesticks off the bureau. Hot wax spilled onto her skin, the pain barely registering. Duke or not, this time she’d do more than scratch the man’s face. Lecher. Beast. She raised the makeshift weapon, the flame extinguishing as the door swung open.
A tiny woman in a lace wrap entered. Eleanor choked. The candlestick slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor.
My precious Lord;
My only hope;
Duchess Brougham’s gaze darted to the rolling candlestick, then back to Eleanor’s face. One of her brows lifted.
Eleanor rushed forward and sank to her knees in front of the woman, not caring to grab a dressing gown to cover her shift. Why bother? Humiliation was cloak enough. “Your Grace, I swear I did not encourage your husband’s advances. Please, you must believe me. I would never—”
“Rise, Miss Morgan.” The lady waited until Eleanor stood on shaky legs, a single furrow marring her forehead. Was that compassion on her face. . .or resentment?
Duchess Brougham sighed, long and loud, as if she might expel whatever demon anguished her soul.
Eleanor knew she ought say something, but all her words dried up and blew away like the last leaf of autumn.
Slowly, the lady’s mouth curved into a fragile smile. “Did you not wonder, Miss Morgan, why we have had four governesses in the space of a year?”
 Eleanor grimaced. She would have inquired had not pride muddled her thinking. The position of governess in a duke’s household didn’t seem nearly as prestigious anymore. La, what a foolish dolt she’d become.
You’ll never aspire to anything higher than a trollop, girl.
The sting of her father’s prophecy slapped her with more brutal force than she’d dealt her employer. She lifted fingertips to her own cheek, coaxing out a whispered confession. “I assumed lack on the part of the other women, Your Grace, and for that I am woefully repentant.”
Duchess Brougham’s eyes glinted with an odd intensity. “The lack is in my husband. I had hoped that this time. . .for you see, the children dearly love you—” Her voice cracked, and she shook her head. “It is a sorry business, but there is nothing to be done for it. For your sake, Miss Morgan, you should leave. Now. Walk out the door and do not come back.”
Leave? The word made as little sense as finding the undressed duke in her bedchamber earlier. Eleanor wrapped her arms around herself, gaining what comfort might be found in the action. If nothing else, perhaps it might hold together her grip on reality. “But it is the middle of the night, Your Grace. Where am I to go? I have no relations, no one to—”
“You do not understand the severity of the duke’s anger.” Though a head shorter than Eleanor, the lady grew in stature as she lifted her chin. “You have done more than rebuke him. He shall have to account for the scratches on his face at the club tomorrow. The passions grafted onto wounded pride are the most inveterate, and my husband’s appearance is his pride. At best, the duke will see you never again work in England. At worst . . .”
She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t need to. Just last week, Eleanor had heard the downstairs help gossiping about the fate of young Joe. For naught but a cross look at the duke, the lad now resided in a holding cell at Newgate on a trumped-up charge of thievery.
Eleanor retreated to the side of her bed and sank onto the counterpane, grateful to the mattress for holding her up. All her dreams of becoming London’s finest governess had just been yanked from beneath her, the unfairness of it staggering. Fresh tears burned tracks down her cheeks.
“There, there, Miss Morgan.” The duchess took a step toward her, then stopped and clasped her hands. Though Eleanor longed for a comforting touch, the woman would approach no closer. She had already breached propriety by coming to Eleanor’s chamber.
Drawing in a ragged breath, Eleanor gave in to a moment of self-pity, hating how weak she was in light of the lady’s strength and dignity.
“Do not despair so.” The duchess’s words were quiet. Intimate. As if she were speaking as much to herself as to her governess.
Eleanor looked up, surprised to see the lady’s eyes glistening with unshed tears. Indeed, the woman’s face was a portrait of misery, and why not? How awful must it be to live with an unfaithful husband?
“Now then.” The duchess sniffed, her shoulders straightening with the movement. “I have a cousin in Charles Towne, Mr. William Taggerton. I shall send him a missive, posthaste, recommending you. Lord knows his children could use a proper education in that uncivilized land. Book yourself passage, and I shall have him meet you with the fare once you land. The Colonies are the best I can manage on such short notice.”
The Colonies? Eleanor swallowed back a sour taste. The tales she’d heard! The sideshows she’d glimpsed of savages and ruffians and wild animals. This was where she would spend the rest of her days? A shiver charged across her shoulders, leaving uncertainty in its wake. But besides a beggar’s cup—or debtor’s prison—what choice did she have?
None. For a moment she nearly gave in to opening the cage door to a wild hysteria. But truly, what would that accomplish other than possibly attracting the duke back to this chamber?
Sucking in a breath, she stood. So be it, then. If that were her fate, she’d do her best to not only embrace it but to conquer it. Mayhap across a sea, in a land of foreigners and anonymity, she’d finally be successful at blotting out her father’s words. Indeed. She would be a success or die in the trying.
“I thank you for your kindness, but,” she paused and angled her head for a clear view of the lady’s face. “Why? Why do this for me?”
The duchess smiled. “You are a rare one, Miss Morgan. I have appreciated your candor, spoken with such grace and humility. An exceptional trait in a servant. You, I shall remember.”
Blinking, Eleanor fought another round of tears. Had anyone ever been so kind? “Thank you, Your Grace. Neither shall I forget you.”
“Pack up your things and ready yourself to leave. I will return shortly with a note of reference.”
The duchess departed before Eleanor could think how to reply. In truth, though, what more was there to say? She relit the candle and tucked her two spare dresses into her traveling bag. By the time the lady returned, Eleanor had dressed haphazardly, slipped into her mantle, and tied her hat ribbon tightly beneath her chin.
“Here is the note, and also some money.” The duchess stood in the doorway, holding out her hand. Creased and folded, a single banknote rested atop her palm along with a small parchment. “I grant ’tis not a large amount, but it should at least keep you fed on your journey.”
Eleanor hesitated. She wasn’t owed any wages for several more months. It didn’t seem right, taking money from this lady. Still, her own paltry coins would get her nowhere.
Duchess Brougham stepped into the room only so far as to set her offering down upon the bureau. Before she turned to leave, she reached toward Eleanor, then slowly let her hand drop. “Godspeed, my dear.”
With the closing of the door, the candle sputtered, fighting for life in the shadows left by the lady’s departure. Eleanor stood, dazed, knowing she should move, should breathe, should. . .something. How had her life come to this? And worse, what did the future hold? Gooseflesh rose on her forearms, and she fought the urge to whirl about and dive beneath the bedstead. She hadn’t realized that allowing self-pity to enter her thoughts also invited fear to tag along, hand-in-hand.
Bear up. Bear up!
Despite her inner rallying cry, her heart skipped a beat. Too bad the silly thing didn’t quit altogether, sparing her the horrors of traveling alone, unprotected. Bowing her head, she closed her eyes.
My precious Lord;
My only hope;

My Saviour, how I need You now.


chappydebbie said...

I absolutely LOVE this book! It is making it really hard to focus on the next book on my tbr pile. But, I will push through....on a bit of a deadline. Have a great weekend!

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