Jilly: Snippet

A couple of weeks ago I decided to write a new Elan Intrigues prequel novella as a giveaway for my newsletter subscribers. I’ve been in my writing cave ever since.

The Pulse of Princes will be 15-18,000 words, about the early life of recurring character Prince Daire of Caldermor. In this story he’s aged 19. His father is dying and Daire is likely to inherit the throne soon. It’s the first time he seriously butts heads with his domineering mother, the indefatigable Princess Irmine.

Here’s a snippet from the encounter that triggers Daire’s rebellion.

 

Request Denied

“This should prove an interesting test.” Daire’s mother folded the note and slid it back into her pocket. When she withdrew her hand, she was holding a small pouch. She bounced it in her palm, and even through the heavy padding Daire heard the familiar jingling sound. Elan. He made it every month, albeit in small quantities. He’d never kept a single pulse for himself.

The crown princess opened the pouch and drew out a single hard-shelled, bean-shaped nugget. She held it reverently between her finger and thumb, tilting it so that it shone pure gold in the morning light. He wasn’t close enough to catch the scent, but his mind supplied it: sweeter than the most delicious fruit pastry, richer and more complex than the finest tree-sap. He’d been making elan since he was ten years old, and the smell of it still made his mouth water.

A low wooden rail guarded the edge of the terrace. Inside the rail a narrow shelf offered enough space to place a pair of gloves or a cup of cordial. Princess Irmine dipped her hand into the bag and placed twelve pulses of elan on the shelf, one by one, spaced a handspan apart.

She stepped back, assessed her handiwork, and nodded in satisfaction. His mother never did anything without reason. What on the gods’ fair earth was she doing now?

She lifted a hand and waved toward the garden gate where Captain Bale waited, in her line of sight but out of earshot. He snapped a salute, opened the gate, and ushered in three servants in Edevald livery.

The first, a cleanshaven, skinny young fellow, Daire recognized vaguely as one of the clerks from the treasury. The boy looked bug-eyed and scared out of his wits. The second was a middle-aged woman he’d last seen in the kitchen, making apple pies. She’d smiled at him then. Now she looked as though she’d found weevils in the flour. The third was the couriers’ hostler, Sharp, who looked like his usual shifty self.

Prompted by Bale they lined up before the terrace and each made their obeisance.

“Ask them anything,” his mother encompassed the three with a wave of her hand. “Their work, debts, spouses, children. Whatever you need to know in order to decide.”

“Decide?” The sweet pastry Daire had devoured earlier roiled in his gut.

His mother shrugged. “Which one I should dismiss.”

She clearly expected him to ask, so he chose the line of least resistance. “Why must you dismiss any of them, ma’am? And why must I choose?”

“If I am to meet your request I need to find a saving elsewhere. The quickest and simplest way is by culling a hireling or two.” She glanced at the line of elan beans, glimmering on the shelf, and her lips tightened. “For a dozen pulses it should be all of them, and more, but as this is an unfamiliar challenge for you I decided to make it easy.”

Daire made himself look the servants in the eye. The boy was trembling so hard he could barely stand upright. The kitchen maid crossed her arms and stared back at him. She looked furious. Sharp met Daire’s gaze briefly, then fixed his eyes on Princess Irmine.

“No questions?” The crown princess held out her hand to Daire. On her palm sat the empty elan pouch. “Choose one servant, and you may take the pulses with you.”

Daire put his hands behind his back. “No.”

“No?” Princess Irmine asked softly.

“No.” He didn’t shout, but his confirmation was louder and more forceful than was proper.

“Very well.” His mother nodded to Bale. “They can go.”

Sharp bolted down the path and disappeared. The kitchen maid put her arm around the clerk. Bale followed the sorry pair as they left. He closed the gate behind them and stood at attention.

“Well?”

“You knew I wouldn’t choose.” Daire gripped his hands together behind his back, so tightly he thought his bones might crack.

“I thought you wouldn’t,” Princess Irmine corrected. “Now I know.”

“You terrified those servants to teach me a lesson.”

“It made a lasting impression, did it not?” His mother waited a beat, daring him to deny her assertion. “Simply explaining the problem would not have worked half so well.”

***

Whoo! I hope you enjoyed that.

Of course Daire knows he can’t allow Princess Irmine to get the better of him, or he’ll be under her thumb before he even inherits the throne. I’m having fun writing his counter-offensive 🙂 .

Have a lovely weekend, and I’ll see you next Sunday.

Jeanne: Truffles Don’t Feed the Bulldog

Cute white English Bulldog puppy in a classic red velvet and gold crownOn Friday, Elizabeth posted a short story prompt where the main character had to deal with a difficult client, using the following words:

bulldog           undersea       grill                moonbeam

lonesome      chain               ambush           detox

facade            bluntness      miserable       injury

wealthy          audience       entertain        cynical

Everyone is welcome to join in. If you want to participate, you can leave your story in the comments, as Kay did. Here is my attempt:

The maitre d’ at the Undersea Moonbeam Grill looked down at Lady Perpetua Fortheringham-Wythe’s bulldog.

“You can’t bring that animal into the restaurant with you.”

“Of course Hermione will dine with me,” said Lady Perpetua. “She adores your truffles foie gras.” Continue reading

Jilly: Sunday Short Story–Claws and Effect

It’s a treat to be back in discovery mode, trying to get to some traction on a new story. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m getting close.

In an attempt to maintain my creative momentum, here’s a short story based on the prompts from Elizabeth’s Friday writing sprints, in which the main character makes an unfortunate discovery, and including the words collar, gum, confidence, assassination, flawless, pill, cardio, dart, strange, tiny, balance, coat, hollow, bayonet, affair and guidebook.

Claws and Effect

Xavier the Chemist was free. None of us could believe it.

The Agency boys and girls had played strictly by the rules. Permissions, documentation, evidence, charges, their work had been flawless. They’d built a watertight case against Xavier with painstaking care and they didn’t even get their day in court. A sleazy lawyer, a crooked politician, a few million in used notes, and the entire team was suspended without pay pending an official investigation.

Xavier’s PR firm had a field day, deploying a lethal combination of money and influence in a supremely confident no-holds-barred attempt to bayonet the wounded. He owned the front pages, news websites and social media, demanding an apology and nation-bankrupting damages. Questions were asked in the House.

The bastard was untouchable now. And that meant more good people would die.

Like hell they would. If arrest and imprisonment couldn’t keep us safe, it would have to be assassination.

For the Agency, the law was a straitjacket. For us it was more of a guidebook.

Tomorrow Xavier would disappear beyond our reach, escorted on to his private plane or his armored superyacht. Tonight he was within our grasp, sleeping off his exertions after a torrid twenty-four hour affair with an oligarch’s spoiled daughter.

I opened the door of our nondescript trailer and watched Shadow dart outside. The tiny wildcat shifter was my preferred partner and for her this was personal. Some of Xavier’s deadliest concoctions targeted the shifter community.

I adjusted my headset and took my seat in front of the video screen. If we were lucky, my job would be to watch, listen and chew gum until my jaws ached. If not…

Continue reading

Jilly: Christmas Story–A Gift Fit for a Queen

Here’s my contribution to our 2019 short story challenge. I think I got all the prompts 🙂

Happy Holidays, all!

A Gift Fit for a Queen

“Careful with those crocks, lad.” Ben Wildridge watched hawk-eyed as his apprentice unpacked straw-filled crates containing the finest bee nectar in the northern borderlands. Maybe in the entire kingdom.

“Yes, master.” Fifteen-year-old Toby rolled his eyes, but he lifted out the earthenware jars with care, cradling each one like a priceless bauble.

Which it was. Ben sold his regular honey in the weekly market, but he saved his mountain nectar for Wintersnight. The fragrant, sticky syrup was like the essence of summer, and the high prices of the midwinter holiday made it worth his while to wait.

When the crates were empty he left Toby to set out their stall and drove the cart into the inn yard. In an hour or two the place would be nose to tail, but it was still early and the bored ostlers were more than happy to spoil Silver.

Ben knew all too well that by noon the press of bodies, the gabble of voices, the smell of woodsmoke and fried food, warm wool and unwashed skin would make him puking sick. For now he could take an hour to show the townspeople he was alive and well, and that he knew how to exchange social niceties like a civilized person, no matter what the gossips said about his aversion to crowds. Then he’d sell his nectar as fast as he could and retreat to his mountain lair.

He strolled round the half empty market, exchanging Wintersnight greetings with families he’d known all his life. He’d almost finished his rounds, a warm venison pasty for Toby in one pocket and a flagon of cordial for himself in the other, when he saw an unfamiliar stall, displaying small rock crystal jars filled with something that caught the light and glowed like amber.

It couldn’t be honey. First, he was the only honey seller in Borderbridge. Second, who ever would put honey in rock crystal? Crystal was expensive, hard to find and even harder to work. And third, surely no honey could be that bright, that clear?

He stood rooted to the cobblestones, slack-jawed and blinking, until a small woman uncapped one of the jars and used a crystal dipper to drizzle the contents over squares of fresh bread on a wooden board. His nostrils flared. His mouth watered. It was an invitation, and a challenge. Continue reading

Jilly: Short Story–Challenge Accepted

The MacHugh saga continues 🙂 .

Last week I wrote a short story about Jordy MacHugh, the Canadian music teacher who inherits a derelict estate in the Scottish Highlands and decides to build an outdoor opera house by the sea.

Elizabeth continued the story and raised the stakes by introducing Jenny, a tourist from Kansas, who discovers twin babies in a basket, courtesy of the mysterious MacHugh Blessing Stone.

Maeve, the local seer, pronounces Jordy, Jenny and the twins a family, but as Jenny observes (via Kay) in Friday’s writing sprint, the whole setup screams Trouble with a capital T.

Read on to find out what happens next. Using the prompts from Friday’s writing sprint, our character(s) face a challenge. And the story includes the words equipment, belly, aimless, baffling, noise, bloke, fuzzy, clever, beekeeper, footwork, glass, dream, corduroy, setup, lump and artist.

Challenge Accepted

They couldn’t go on this way. Somebody had to make this village of dreamers face reality, and apparently that someone was Jenny.

Sunday service was over, and she emerged from the small stone kirk into the sunlit, postage-stamp sized churchyard. She settled the oversized wicker basket at her feet and chatted politely with the villagers, all twenty of them. They were kind and friendly, but their warm welcome wasn’t for Jenny herself. Not really. Her true value to them was as companion-dash-housemate to the new laird, Jordy MacHugh, and as carer for his adopted twin daughters.

“Swap you!” Moira from the But & Ben bistro, a vision in purple tweed and moss green corduroy, handed Jenny a covered basket and picked up the larger one that contained Elspeth and Isla, snug as a pair of bugs in their fuzzy romper suits. She deftly lifted the blanket and checked for rattles, nappies and all the equipment required to keep the twins clean, dry and contented for a couple of hours. Then she departed for the village at a brisk clip, offering Jenny a conspiratorial grin over her shoulder that said I know what you’re up to.

She didn’t. Nobody in the village did, and Jenny intended to keep it that way.

She’d fallen into her current role through a combination of her own aimless lifestyle and Maeve from the Pointing Dog’s fancy footwork. Now people were making assumptions. She had to unwind the setup with Jordy before somebody got hurt.

The laird-come-lately let himself out of the side door that led to the organ loft, bell-tower, and Maeve-the-Beekeeper’s rooftop hives. Jordy was Canadian—an incomer like Jenny—but you’d never have known. It was baffling, but from his curly red-gold hair to his Sunday best kilt, he belonged in the Highlands. He smiled at Jenny and she swallowed her nerves down deep into her belly, where they burned worse than Moira’s infamous loganberry liqueur.

“What’s that?” Jordy raised an eyebrow at the covered basket.

“A picnic. I thought we might walk out to the lighthouse.” Jenny tried to sound casual. “Moira said she’d watch the twins for the afternoon.”

“Fine idea.” He was even starting to add a Highland overlay to his transatlantic drawl. He treated her to another easy smile that faded to a concerned frown as he met her eyes. “Right. Let’s go.”

He settled the basket on one muscular arm, offered her the other, and they strolled out of the churchyard and along the cliff path that led to the lighthouse.

“What is it?” he asked as soon as they were safely alone. “Problem? Can I help?”

“No. Yes.” Jenny dropped his arm and turned to look out to sea. High in the cloudless sky a mob of bright yellow-headed gannets plummeted at high speed, one after another, toward the glass-smooth ocean. “We need to talk about the twins’ future. To find the right person to care for them after I’m gone.”

For a full minute there was no sound but the waves below the cliff, washing gently against the rocks. Then the scuffing noise of a basket hitting the turf.

“Gone?” Jordy echoed. “What do you mean, gone?”

Continue reading

Jilly: Short Story–The Laird’s Legacy

I loved Elizabeth’s short story Hands Off! using last week’s Writing Sprint prompt words.

That excellent tale inspired me to try a Highland-based short story offering a nod to Jeanne’s recent trip to Nova Scotia and using this Friday’s prompts: a character who found something unexpected, incorporating the words basket, symbol, siren, bottle, freewill, baby, future, confusion, absurdly, little, grabbing, aroma, banana, vision, identical and robbery.

Here goes!

The Laird’s Legacy

“As you can see, we’re jam-packed…” Moira Douglas gestured to the dining room behind her. The But & Ben was rarely full in high summer, let alone in early October, but tonight every family in the village was there, trying to look casual and hoping Moira’s home cooking and smooth talking would persuade the visiting Canadian where Charlie the Solicitor Advocate’s carefully worded suggestions had failed.

Jordy MacHugh smiled politely. He had to duck his head to get through the doorway but now he stood tall, blocking the entrance. It was an assertive sort of politeness, worthy of his long-dead ancestors, masters of cattle raiding and border robbery. “The Pointing Dog had a kitchen fire. They had to close for the evening, so they sent me over here. They promised you’d feed me.”

Of course they did. There was a lot of him to feed, and while he’d reportedly made fast work of a full Highland breakfast complete with porridge and black pudding, that was eight hours ago. Since then Charlie had walked the incomer all the way round the boundaries of the McHugh property with little more to fuel them than a packet of oatcakes and a flask of coffee.

Right on cue, Jordy’s stomach rumbled. “I’m starving hungry, and it’s a twenty-mile drive to the next village. Can you please squeeze me in somehow?”

“Well…” Moira drew out the word like a siren call. “There’s a table in the kitchen. You could sit there and chat to me while I cook. The food’s the same.”

His face lit up like the aurora borealis on a clear winter’s night. “That’d be great. Thank you.”

Moira seized the advantage. Continue reading

Jilly: Short Story–The Great Escape

I was too busy to play along with Elizabeth’s writing sprints last Friday, but I was in the mood for something upbeat and I really liked the prompt words. So…here’s a short story featuring a character who lost something important, including the words proud, plaid, thief, viper, whisper, drawer, crazy, disguised, deceit, fictional, ideal, sibling, insecure, nerve, garden, and squirrel.

The Great Escape

It was a crazy plan, so audacious that nobody suspected a thing.

Theodora Greatly-Minted started the rumor herself. She confided in one carefully selected friend after obtaining a pledge of utmost secrecy. Then watched it snowball from a faint whisper to the hottest tidbit in the ton.

Poor Lady Theodora. Too proud to admit she’d fallen victim to The Squirrel. Too haughty to acknowledge that her family’s place in the highest reaches of the Upper Ten Thousand was suddenly— calamitously—insecure.

Society’s most poisonous vipers salivated over every humiliating detail.

The Squirrel, legendary thief and expert forger, was a master of deceit. He’d waited until Theodora was out of town, disguised himself as her long-lost older brother, and convinced the manager of Cahoots Bank that he was the heir to the Greatly-Minted fortune. The fictional sibling had emptied the vaults, mortgaged the town house and the country estate, and sold every painting, horse, and stick of furniture. He’d left Theodora so indebted she didn’t have a feather to fly with.

Continue reading

Jeanne: It’s All About the Plot, ’bout the Plot, No Subplots!

sign-3228713_640Last week I started work on a short story, a prequel to my Touched by a Demon series. It features Dara’s grandparents and explains how Esther and Lonnie met and how they came to start the demon-fighting ministry that plays such a major role in Dara’s life.

I’ve had it in mind to write this story for a while, so that I’d have a free taste of my Touched by a Demon world to offer potential readers. I’ve written short stories before, even won awards with them, but they were women’s fiction rather than romance. (If you’re interested, you can find a couple of them at www.jeanneestridge.com under the Extras tab.)

As discussed previously in this post, romances are inherently more complex than other forms of genre fiction. Because you have a main plot arc, a romance arc, and character arcs for both the hero and the heroine, even the bare minimum is a lot to juggle. Because I write paranormal, there’s an additional layer of complexity with the necessary world-building.

I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how I’d do all that in 10,000 words or less, so I signed up for a short story writing class through OIRWA, the online international chapter of RWA. In the first lesson the instructor handed me the solution, which is so obvious I’m embarrassed to share it: No subplots. Continue reading

Jilly: Were There’s a Will–Sunday Short Story

Last weekend I was part-way through Elizabeth’s short story challenge when I was struck down by a surprise health problem. All’s well now, I’m glad to report, but after three days of blood tests is it any wonder my story brain turned to vampires and werewolves?

Better late than never. Here are the prompt words, and my attempt:

A scandalous family secret is uncovered during the reading of a will, using the words

Eternity                     Teeth                          Grasp                         Poison

Land                           Cocoon                      Blankly                      Haunt

Capture                      Booze                         Casket                        Faint

Bluster                      Shake                         Nerve                         Awful

 

Were There’s a Will

Annabel McCallan-Whyte stared blankly at her rapacious baby brother. She understood all the words he used, but for a moment or two there she’d failed to grasp his meaning. The sheer nerve of him made her shake with rage. Grandpa was barely in his casket, and Jonathan was already peddling his unique brand of poison.

“A private golf club? Conference facilities? A helipad? Luxury housing? It’s beyond awful. Grandpa would haunt you.”

Jonathan shrugged, but his eyes slid away from hers.

“Come on, sis,” he wheedled. “This place is huge. What else would you do with a hundred acres of prime development land?”

“Give it to the village,” she shot back. “That’s what Grandpa wanted. Use the house for a community center, like they’ve been doing for years.”

Jonathan shrugged again. “So buy or build them one from your half of what this place is worth.”

Luckily the door opened before she could brain him with a priceless Benvenuto Cellini candlestick. She knew old Mr. McLeish, who’d been Grandpa’s lawyer for as long as anyone could remember, but the curly-haired, smooth-faced young guy with him was a stranger. Probably born in the twenty-first century, or at least the very end of the twentieth.

The new kid wore a sweatshirt, a slouchy hat and a broad smile, none of which seemed remotely appropriate given the seriousness of the occasion. Mr. McLeish didn’t seem to mind, but she sent the young man a stern glare. He winked at her.

“Who’s that?” Jonathan glowered at the boy, his face dark with suspicion.

“All in good time, Mr. McCallan-Whyte.” The lawyer shuffled to his usual place at the end of the dining table and set a slim file on the polished walnut. The mystery kid helped him settle into his seat, and then parked himself in Grandpa’s carved chair at the head of the table, where he slouched, entirely at ease.

It was too much to bear. Annabel almost reached for the candlestick again, but something in the boy’s expression made her think better of it. She knew she’d never met him before, but there was something terribly familiar about the way his cheeks dimpled, as though he was enjoying a private joke at their expense.

Continue reading

Nancy: International Woman of Mystery

At the time this post hits the internet, I’ll be off on an adventure in a far (from me) city, soaking up local culture and doing serious research for a long-promised future series. I’ll give you more details about my trip next week, but for now thought I’d share a few pictures, interspersed throughout this post, that might give you a clue about where I am and what I’m researching.

If you can’t figure out my travel destination from the pictures, maybe this scene, which appeared on the blog a long time ago and might or might not end up in book 1 of that future series, will provide another hint. Happy reading, and I’ll be back next week to tell you all about my travels and the stories they’ve inspired!

Murder Clues

When I slid into the passenger’s seat of Pernilla’s tiny black Puegot a little after nine that night, she didn’t spare me a glance or a word. Just floored the gas pedal and sent us zooming down the side streets of Vesterbro before I could even click my seatbelt into place. I took her dark mood to mean she’d neither forgiven nor forgotten the sins I’d committed against her over the past 72 hours. Continue reading