Friday, March 1, 2024

March New Releases from BWL Publishing Inc.

 



https://bookswelove.net/doucette-h-paul/

Late one night, Gabe Herschon, a gay Jew, was walking home from his job at King Cole’s where he worked as the night manager when he was viciously attacked by four men and left for dead in an alley. The local beat cop found him lying unconscious and nearly dead.

 

When Matt Murphy, an ex-cop and now P.I., found out about the attack, it filled him with a terrible anger. Gabe was a long-time friend. He knew the police could only allocate a certain amount of time to the matter, so he decided to take steps of his own to find and bring these men to justice.

 

In the course of his investigation he soon learned the true nature of bigotry and hate at a deadly cost.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Those Were the Days--maybe...

 



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More memory lane writing for February, a month I get used to skipping, because the obligation only comes around every four years. Recently, I completed my 79th trip around Our Local Star. So it happens that many of my elder friends spend a lot of time wishing they were 50-60 years younger. 

Sorry to say, but contrary to a lot of what my same-age friends seem to remember, youth wasn't all Golden Days. 

Here's a case in point, a memory I have of a now mostly forgotten blizzard which happened in Massachusetts in February in 1969. This was a year in which my husband had graduated from college but instead of entering the work world, we'd fallen for siren song of those days and dropped out. He was working in a leather shop for a pittance and I was working a few days a week as a nurse's aide in a small hospital about an hour's commute away. We lived in a cabin in the woods near the Quabbin reservoir, which, in those days, was pretty empty of people, although there were a lot of deer, rabbits and raccoons. We had 1930's indoor plumbling, a woodstove and a kerosene heater, which made the house a lot more "modern" than others in the area.  

Other college friends had migrated to the big city of Boston (and vicinity) and were working 9-5 jobs. Sometimes we went in to visit them over weekends. On this particular Sunday, we left late, around 12, I think. It was snowing--but in those days that was not unusual or even a subject of much concern. A big storm was said to be coming in, but we knew the drive back to western Massachusetts well. It was two and half hours, give or take, to dirt road that led to our little house. 

We piled into the car. Our son, then 3 years old, was crying at leaving his same age friend and heading back to the no-kids world of the country. My husband took the wheel, I sat beside him, and we all headed out. First, we'd have to travel north on the 128 beltway before intersecting the secondary road which would take us much of the way across the state to our cabin in the woods. At once the wind picked up, blowing mightily. 

Snow blasted down. It was crystaline, and began drifting across the road, making it hard to see. If you remember old Beetle windshield wipers, you understand they were having a hard time keeping up, so now and then it was hard to see. The traffic, always heavy on the beltway, began to slow. The big cars nearby began to skid and wobble, struggling to maintain their lanes, lanes which were rapidly becoming little but the tracks of vehicle ahead of you. 

It was quickly becoming apparent that we weren't going to escape Boston. On every side, people were heading for the exits. Trucks fishtailed and then jack-knifed, but, intrepid Beetle drivers that we were, we manuevered around them. Still, anxiety increased every moment because there we were in the middle of it--Daddy, Mommy and little boy, all within this German eggshell. And, oh, yes, I haven't mentioned it yet, but I was eight months pregnant. We were beginning to get cold too. It was the old VW tale about the single heating vent burning up the driver's left foot, while icicles formed on the passengers. 

The wind was howling, pushing the trucks. The wipers were no longer keeping up. Nothing to see but blowing snow and red tail lights as ahead, people braked for obstacles we couldn't see. Finally, my husband saw a familiar exit, the way to his parent's house in Lexington. This was problematic, as we currently weren't on good terms. Still, it seemed the only choice. We dove into the exit.

Now there was another problem--drifts were clogging the ramp. The plows, always diligent in these populated areas, couldn't keep up. Cars ahead were getting stuckwhile trying to exit the exit! The heavy cars of those days wallowed and skidded. People were getting out of their cars in that whipping wind, hoping to push themselves free. The little V-Dub became bogged down too. 

"Get out and push!" my husband yelled. So there I was, in my full-length dress, high boots and big belly, scarf tightly wrapped around my head, pushing the car. When he found traction and surged ahead, I fell flat on my face into the snow. He managed to manuever around the stalled cars higher on the ramp, until he encountered the penultimate drift. His forward progress came to a halt.

I trudged back to the car amid wind and blinding white, shivering from the snow still stuck to my bare legs. When I arrived, he jumped out, cried, "You drive  now!" There had been only one car ahead of us, but they were making slow forward progress toward the main road. No waiting there! You just had to merge and pray the crawling cars saw you coming. 

So through that final, high drift, with me on and off the clutch, rocking the car, and with him pushing, we broke free and reached the road. He wore his prized, very cool hat, an old fedora--but this blew off, and was last seen sailing above 128 into a wall of white. 

Now at the top, we paused, changed drivers, and went the final few miles to safety, starting and stopping and negotiating our way through intersections where the lights were not working, and past many, many disabled, abandoned vehicles.

No cell phones in those days, so there were, on the steps of the Lexington house, where. blessedly, the door opened to us. Once inside, I had one of those false labor episodes, which are rather painful. I remember my mother-in-law calling a pediatrician who lived close by, who said he would make his way over if this didn't resolve, but, of course, once I was warm and had changed my clothes, it eventually went away.    

We were in that house for three days, because that's how long it took for all the abandoned vehicles to be cleared from the exit/entrances. Our son was happy to be at his grandparents because there were two teen Aunts to play with him, although, naturally, the elders were definitely ready for us to leave by the time we did. Driving around on the second day, hoping to find an opening, we'd passed by " our" exit, and seen the grill of the car that had been behind us, almost buried under a monster drift that completely had encased it. 

When we reached home, we were delighted that our dirt road had been cleared. My husband forced the car into the drift at our driveway, and then we half-swam half-crawled our way over chest-high snow to the house, towing our little boy and a suitcase. The cats were glad to see us, as their kibble had long since run out and the house was darn cold. The old kerosene "furnace," by itself, kept the place in the vicinity of 45 degrees, so the plumbing hadn't frozen. With a fire started in the wood stove in time we were warm again.

~Juliet Waldron

My historical novels:







 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The 100 Rejection Club Or How Writers Find a Support System By Connie Vines

 The old adage among serious writers is to aim for 100 rejections every year.

While I never garnered close to 100 rejections, I've spent my fair share of time on the revision marry-go-round.


At the start of my career, I wrote for magazine publications. While I published half a dozen romantic short stories, my primary focus was the children and young adult market.  

This consisted of historical events/famous people, craft projects/historical cooking and recipes, spooky Halloween stories, etc. Since both sides of my family had a strong oral history and many photos, making history fun was relatively easy for me.

Writing full-length fiction novels requires an almost hermit-like existence. When I was working in the education field, I wrote at night and Saturday afternoons.  

So, since I'm now a professional writer/full-time hermit, where is my support system?

I belong to several well-known writers' groups as a virtual member.






I log onto Zoom two mornings each week with half a dozen authors, all with our cameras off and mic on mute. 

We log on, say hello and a few words of encouragement, then go into dark mode for 4 hours of dedicated writing time. We check in at the end with a wrap-up of what we worked on, but we also just say goodbye until the next day/next week. It's a no-pressure way to socialize and get some writing done. 

The point is that we all need tools and mutual support to keep us motivated and on track.

Not everyone needs this, but I know I do.




Thank you for stopping by today.

Happy Reading :)

Connie


For my books, website, and more:


https://bookswelove.net/vines-connie/

https://connievines-author.com/  (blog link is here, too)


https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/vinesbwl












Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Introducing Tai-Chi in my next series - by Vijaya Schartz



Find these books and more on my BWL page HERE

As I’m writing the last book of the Blue Phantom series, set in the Azura Universe (Angel Revenge – October 2024) I wonder about the theme of my next science fiction series. There will be a little fantasy, of course, (Magic is only science we do not yet understand). A strong heroine is a must and I already have her. As for my next hero, I’m thinking of making him a Tai-Chi man.


I have been practicing Tai-Chi daily for over a decade, and teaching it for years, and for some reason I never used it for a character in a book. So, for the start of my next series, one of the protagonists will be a Tai-Chi practitioner.

In a violent universe often at war and fighting back evil forces, the art of Tai-Chi, a soft and graceful martial discipline might offer a different perspective. Tai-Chi works with energy gathered from all around us.


Long ago, in imperial China, this secret Marcial Art was practiced by the feudal Chen and Yang families, hence the two main different styles. Chen is more aggressive, and Yang more flowing, but both are deadly.

Intrigued by this secret technique, the emperor summoned the heads of the Chen and Yang families and ordered them to teach his guard the secret art of Tai-Chi. Since they could not refuse the emperor, the two clans taught Tai-Chi not as a Martial Art, but rather as a dance or an exercise for health purposes. So, the fighting applications of each movement were lost in the official Tai-Chi spread through imperial China.

But through the centuries, the Chen and Yang families kept the secret fighting techniques for themselves. Today, with all the dissemination of information, many of these secrets have resurfaced, and although most Chinese masters are reluctant to teach these techniques to Westerners, a few of their students have come forward to teach in the West.

I was lucky to find a teacher who knew about these fighting applications, and as a practitioner of many other martial arts over the years, (Aikido black belt and instructor, Karate, Judo, sword, etc.) I jumped at the opportunity to learn this technique.


Tai-Chi is for everyone, young or old. It has been called stillness in motion. The health benefits have been studied at Harvard Medical School and definitively proven. It’s a long list. Find a Tai-Chi school near you. There are videos on U-Tube. Or watch movies like “Man of Tai-Chi” on Plex with Keanu Reeves as a villain, or “Shang Chi and the legend of the Ten Rings” with Simu Liu.

SHANG CHI and the legend of the Ten Rings

Through my next series, it will be my privilege to open a window on this ancient Martial Art, and maybe inspire some Westerners to try it. The health benefits alone are worth it.

Tai Chi in the park on Tai Chi Day, a few years ago.

In the meantime, you can read about my fighting angels, as they confront evil and demons bent on subjugating the universe. Be prepared for epic space battles.


Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats

Monday, February 26, 2024

A sneak peek at A Troubled Heart—Tricia McGill

 

Buy A Troubled Heart here

For some reason I am fascinated with the history of this vast country of Australia where my long-suffering husband and I made our home many moons ago. So it is that my latest book is set in Tasmania when it was more or less the last place in Australia where the British Government had decided to send their surplus convicts. In 1848, my hero Finn is a prisoner of this Government at the infamous penal penitentiary of Port Arthur. The Port Arthur settlement started life as a small timber station around 1830. The settlement was hacked from the bushland and the first decade saw the growth of manufactories like ship building, shoemaking amongst others. The hospital where my hero first meets Blythe was built around the same time as a flour mill in 1842. My second favourite state, Tasmania is a beautiful and serene place, far removed from how it was in those early days of settlement.

“If a book such as this can win over a non-romance reader such as myself, I’m certain that you will enjoy it as well. My rating: 5 out of 5” Literary Gold

A Troubled Heart Excerpt:

Chapter One

Port Arthur Tasmania 1848 

Through a haze he could hear a voice somewhere above him, and although vaguely aware that someone had called his name all else was lost in pain. The sweat on his face began to sizzle with the heat—or so it seemed. As he opened his eyes a fraction of this sweat ran into their corners and began to sting as if boiling his eyeballs to add to the sawdust already there, or perhaps it was blood.

“Hang on Finn, yer silly bugger, they’ve gone to fetch ‘elp.” The speaker then disappeared and Finn tried to move, but he had to grit his teeth as a searing pain shot through his shoulder and down his arm.

Heaven knew, he’d had his share of agony and discomfort since coming to this godawful place, but this topped it for certain. To take his mind off it he tried to think of better moments in his life, but they were sparce, far back and almost all lost in time.

A sudden movement beside him in the sawpit alerted him that someone had jumped into the pit and was now leaning over him in the narrow space. “Well, here’s a fine mess you’ve got yourself into young fellow,” a kindly voice said. “How in heaven did you manage to do this to yourself? They said you was the top man, so how come you ended up down here amid the sawdust and dirt?” Patting Finn on the unhurt shoulder, he added, “I’m what’s the nearest to what can be called a doctor here today, they call me Johnson.”

Finn squinted up to see that this Johnson was not a lot older than himself, and was likely nearing his thirtieth year. His mop of unruly hair drooped over his forehead as he began to use a knife to hack his way through Finn’s shirt sleeve, and Finn gritted his teeth as the pain seemed to worsen. To add to his injury was the knowledge that he’d done this damage by his own foolishness. If he hadn’t been larking about as usual to show how handy he was with his fists, none of this would have come about. Never one to shirk from a fight, when the big oaf they called Bear started to taunt him, of course he could not back down from the inevitable.

“You’ve lost a small amount of blood from your forehead, but as far as I can see it’s just where you caught the log on your way down.” Turning to rummage about in a small bag he had at his side this Johnson fellow produced a piece of rag and then began to wipe away at the blood. “I fear the problem with your arm could be a lot worse—probably broken.” The searing pain when he moved that arm made Finn flinch and Johnson apologised. “It’s as I expected, we’ll have to get you off to the infirmary.” Patting Finn’s shoulder he said with a small laugh, “This’ll stop you fighting for a while,” then apologised again, adding, “Sorry, my attempt at humour.”

As another shape appeared above him Finn recognised it as his Scottish working mate Spence who then dropped down to stand at his side opposite the man tending him. “We’ll have to haul you up, matey, so grit yer teeth, eh?” Finn’s teeth ached already with the gritting. “How the bloody hell you managed to get yourself in this mess, I can’t work out. It’s not as if you don’t know how to look after yourself. Mucking about never did you any good, and if I told you once I told you a million times, stick to the rules.”

“’Twas that big oaf Bear, if he hadn’t delivered that mighty punch that knocked me sideways and down here, I would have beaten him to next week. Doc here says it’s not that bad—that’s right isn’t it, doc?” Finn grimaced as he tried to push himself up onto his good elbow.

“Well, honestly, I’ve seen many worse. You were unfortunate that you didn’t pick a more suitable spot for your match.”

Someone up above then tossed a rope down, ordering, “Tie it round his shoulders, Spence, and we’ll haul him up.”

Finn had a feeling he might have passed out as he was dragged up out of the pit, only just being squeezed past the huge log that they had been in the process of sawing through when the accident happened. “Guess it could have been worse, matey—if the log had fallen in on top of yer,” one of the haulers said as they lay him down beside the pit.

This cheerful observation accompanied by a chuckle did nothing to ease the guilt Finn felt. If they had been working on this one for longer and had cut further through it, the log would have fallen onto Spence, and his mate would not now be alive and kicking. He could only offer thanks that they had only started sawing a short time before his silly argument with Bear. Cursing his idiocy for allowing the big idiot to stir him so, he vowed never to be so daft next time.

As Johnson gave orders for Finn to be assisted to the small cart that stood a short distance away, Finn saw Bear standing some distance back laughing his stupid head off and Finn knew his vow would never be kept. “How long before I can get back to work, Doc?” he asked, as Johnson clicked the horse into a walk, once he’d ensured Finn was comfortably settled behind him.

Johnson laughed. “In a hurry to get back to the job, are you? I would have thought you would welcome a stay in hospital to get away from the horrible tasks set upon you?”

“Oh, it’s not so bad working out here amid the trees, a lot better than working on the new prison they are building.” There were times when Finn almost relished the tough going. “It beats the work we were set to up north by a long way, or working on the treadmill all day.”

“You came down from Sydney Town, did you, when they decided to close it?”

“Yes, and it won’t be long afore I will be a free man. Done my ten years haven’t I?”

“Goodness, ten, eh? You must have been a young ‘un when they sent you here.”

Finn chuckled. “That’s a fact. Think I was about fifteen. Never know for sure as I wasn’t certain when I was born.”

“You aren’t alone in that fact, Finn, many of the men in the prison yonder would have no idea when they were brought into this world. One good thing about it is you never have a birthdate to celebrate so don’t notice the years passing.”

Finn said nothing to that as Johnson pulled the horse up in front of the hospital. No doubt this man had never been locked away in pitch black solitude where all you had to do was count the hours and the minutes as they ticked away. Johnson jumped down, and awkwardly Finn did the same. Together they walked towards the brick structure that Finn thought was one of the ugliest buildings he had ever seen. The pain in his arm had subsided and only ached when he moved it, but he wasn’t about to say anything as a night in hospital as the doc said would not be hard to take. Anything was better than sleeping amid the stench of the other men he usually shared his sleeping quarters with.

“I’ll leave you here with this capable young man,” Johnson said after he’d explained to the fellow who met them as they came in just what he thought was Finn’s injury. With a small salute he walked off.

“Can you write?” the man who was some sort of nurse or orderly asked, after he’d led Finn into a room and told him to sit down.

“Yes, I can.” Finn felt quite indignant.  Being treated like a child irked him. “I’ve been reading and writing since I was this high.” He signalled a spot about knee high. That wasn’t strictly true for he hadn’t properly learned his letters until he was likely ten or more.

“Write your name here, then.” The orderly pointed to the page lying on a table. “What’s your sentence? Got much longer to serve, have you?”

“My time is just about up.” Finn squared his shoulders, and a twinge of pain reminded him why he was here. “Should get my pardon any day now.”

“Right ho.” The fellow peered down at the sheet of paper. “Finn O’Connor, you wait here and someone will come along and see what needs to be done.” As Finn sat on a bench, he walked out carrying the page.

The next day Finn walked out of the hospital with the proof that he was a free man tucked firmly into his trouser pocket. As luck would have it the injury had turned out to be not broken, but something to do with the shoulder joint having to be pushed back into its rightful position. The doctor who did this told him he had dislocated it when he fell. After the pain from that subsided, he was told to rest it as much as possible. So, no more fighting for some time, was the order given him. 

It appeared that when his name came before the Commissariat’s office, they realised that his ten-year sentence ended a month or so back and therefore he was deemed free to go wherever he wanted. Just one thing held him back, he had not one penny to his name and possessed just the rags that he stood up in. A young nurse had found him a shirt somewhere to replace the one the doc cut about, but it was not a lot better than the old one. There was the bundle he carried that contained his mug and plate, a worn hairbrush he’d taken from a man who died, and a picture Finn collected somewhere along the way of a place in Ireland called Kilmallock that he kept, as it looked like a nice place to live.

As he pondered what to do next, a soft mutter of annoyance came from behind him and he turned in time to see a woman take a tumble. Landing in a heap at the foot of the steps, her skirts flew about, showing a glimpse of one perfectly shaped ankle. Seldom did females of good breeding travel about alone in these parts so he looked about to see if her carriage driver was here to assist her. A small cart stood not far away, but there was no one else in sight so he went to kneel at her side, asking, “Are you all right miss?”

With a small toss of the head, she looked up at him from the most beautiful pair of eyes he had ever seen. Hair as black as night was pulled back into some sort of roll behind her head beneath the bonnet that she hastily straightened. At a guess he thought perhaps she was about twenty years of age. Not used to being this close to a woman in some time he stood hurriedly and offered a hand, feeling like the idiot he knew she must think him, while he sent up a small prayer of thanks that at least the hand was cleaner than it had been yesterday.

As she took the outstretched hand she smiled, and Finn’s silly heart seemed to do a somersault. “Just feeling a bit stupid,” she said in what Finn called a posh English accent. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

When she stood—close enough for him to feel her sweet breath on his face, he realised he still held her hand and dropped it as if it was a piece of hot coal. “Easily done,” he muttered, looking about again as he asked, “Is your driver somewhere?” again feeling foolish for obviously nobody else was nearby.

“No, I came alone.” Holding a small package aloft she added, “Simply came along to pick up this medication for the small girl who is in my charge.” Brushing at her skirts, she looked around. “Are you waiting on someone?”

“No, I have just come from the infirmary too—only this was because in my foolishness I had a fall and injured my shoulder.” Lifting this arm as if to prove it was also all right, he dropped it swiftly, not knowing what to do or say next, and asked, “Might I ask why you are not afraid of me, Miss? Most females might be inclined to run swiftly from a man alone in these parts.” A stupid blush rushed to his cheeks and he cursed his fair skin and light hair, not for the first time, as he turned away in the hope of hiding his face.

At her small laugh he turned back. “Exactly that, sir, you are alone, and I know that had you been a criminal you would most likely have been on the way back to the prison accompanied by a guard—am I correct?”

Finn stared at her. No females that he had come into contact with—and they were few and far between—had been anything like this one. “I’ve just gained my freedom, Miss, and am wondering where to go and what to do.” Feeling the need to prove the truth of this he delved into his pocket and brought out the precious paper and held it aloft.

With barely a glance at it, she laughed again and asked, “So where do you think you will decide on? It’s a long trek to Hobart where most seem to head once gaining their release.”

Another surprising statement from her. Pushing the paper back into his pocket, he glanced about. “I doubt my meagre funds will take me as far as Hobart at this time—perhaps later. I need to find employment first and foremost.”

“Ah, yes.” With a finger to her chin, she appeared to be making a decision before she said, “The family I am employed by are in need of a man capable of doing a variety of jobs around their small property, perhaps that would suit. The husband is away a lot about his business and his wife sadly hit a decline after giving birth, and therefore is scared of going out and about, so you would have to prove you are trustworthy.”

“And how would I do that, Miss? It’s a fact that we are not given a recommendation on receiving our freedom.”

With a twist of the mouth as if indicating that she was thinking about that, she looked him up and down before saying, “I will vouch for you. Sadly, your clothing gives away the fact that you have been a convict.” Shaking her head she added, “I have an idea. We will soon find a solution to that.”

Mystified that a complete stranger—and a female at that—should be so trusting, he blurted, “I could be a murderer for all you know. Why would you help me in this way?”

“I hope I am a good judge of character, and I know a bit about the past of most who gain their freedom. My Papa was a medical man. We relocated here to Port Arthur in forty-five after the hospital was built and he told me tales of men who were transported for the silliest of crimes. So, what was your crime? Steal a loaf of bread did you, or something just as trifling?” Without waiting for his response, she turned and with a wave of the hand said, “Look, I have to get back or my mistress will start panicking, so are you interested or not?” She headed towards the cart, where the horse was in the middle of a nap, its head bent.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Finn trailed after her. Surely this young female was perhaps mad or was she a gift from the gods? Without assistance she climbed aboard the small vehicle and picked up the reins as she sat back on the bench. As he joined her, she asked, “So what name do you go by? Mine’s Esther by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you, Esther.” With a feeling he had drifted into some strange other world, he added, “I go by Finn O’Connor.” The Finn part was probably fact. As for his surname, he had no idea who had called him that somewhere along the way in his growing years, but he kept it as a way to prove that he was born in Ireland. As the horse began to trot, he asked, “You said your Pa was a medical man—is he not one anymore?”

“Sadly, for me, my dear Papa, along with my Mama, was killed just last year when the carriage they were in overturned after hitting a rock.”

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that. It must have been awful for you. Are you alone now or do you have siblings?”

After a deep sigh, she admitted, “It was the worst time of my life—and no I have no brothers or sisters. That of course is why I am employed as companion of sorts to the girl in need of the medication I was sent to collect. It’s a shame, but she is currently a sickly child and has a nasty cough.”

“So, you not only lost your parents, you also lost your home?” Although he had never known what it was to have a real family, nonetheless a place somewhere near Finn’s heart ached for this young girl who had hers snatched away so cruelly.

Without answering that, she gestured ahead to where a cottage surrounded by a few trees sat atop a slight knoll. “We have arrived,” she said as she pulled up a short distance from a gate in the fence surrounding the garden. “Say little to my mistress, but let me explain to her that you are looking for employment.” Finn nodded, still feeling as if he was in the middle of some strange dream. “Please wait here while I go and fetch you something more presentable to wear. I suppose you realise that you look far worse than a farmer’s scarecrow in those filthy rags.” The look of scorn she sent to his trousers made him realise such if her words had not.

As she walked off, he scratched at his head, knowing at least his hair and body were now clean after the nights’ stay in the infirmary. Was there no end to the oddness of this female? Where on earth would she find clothing for him? Surely not from her employer’s wardrobe?

And how could she be so trusting of a complete stranger and an ex-con at that. If he found the will to do it, he could jump onto her cart and urge the horse away as fast as it could go. Common sense kicked in just as fast as that idea hit him—the troopers would be after him in no time and it was doubtful if the guards would let him pass the place called Eaglehawk Neck anyway, where it was rumoured they kept starving dogs tethered, not to mention the guards who were reported to be no better than savages. And with no money or chance to earn some, about the only option available would be to join up with a gang of bushrangers or the like.

Then there was the matter of this girl who was close to being the best person he had ever come across. She soon returned as he stood rubbing the soft nose of the horse whose warm breath was strangely comforting. Pressing the bundle she held beneath her arm into Finn’s arms, she advised, “Go behind that tree and change, then wait for my return.” Speechless he obeyed, watching her as she led the horse around the fence, disappearing behind the house.

The trousers were of good quality, and she had even provided him with an undergarment such as he had never worn in all his adult years. The shirt he tucked into the belt of these trousers felt soft as butterfly wings against his skin. Lastly, he pulled on a waistcoat, just as she called out, “Are you ready?”

Picking up his ragged trousers and holey shirt he rolled them into a ball before going to stand before her. “I have to ask you, miss, whose togs do I have the pleasure of wearing?”

Sucking her bottom lip in she nodded as she ran her eyes up and down his length. “They were my Pa’s. As luck would have it, I was loathe to part with all of my parents’ belongings after their unfortunate death. I am happy that they fit you well. My Papa was also a big man.” Turning abruptly, she waved over her shoulder. “Come, we will go and present you to my mistress. Leave your discarded things there beneath that tree and you can burn them later.” Stopping before the doorway she said, “I unfortunately have no boots that I could get for you.”

“That’s fine. I got these from a bloke who lost a bet not too long ago.” Truth was the fellow who owned them died, and Finn had to fight a couple of the other men who were set on getting them.

“I told my mistress that I met you on the road. Say that you are seeking work and can do most jobs around the house and outside. Do not mention that you have only recently been given your freedom.”

As he followed her, Finn took in the house before them. By no means a rich man’s property, it was a sturdy cottage which he presumed had been provided for the master of the house on coming to take up his post in the area, whatever that was. As they went beneath the small porch and through the doorway, the smell of cooking coming from somewhere at the back of the house was welcoming and his mouth watered as the thought of a good home-cooked meal made him glad this girl had brought him here, if nothing else mapped out.

A small girl came from one of the rooms and eyed him warily as she demanded, “Who’s that?”

“Now Becky, don’t be rude, I taught you better manners than that. This is Finn and he is going to work for your Mama.” Wrinkling her tiny nose, the child sent Finn a frown before following his rescuer through a doorway.

A long time had passed since Finn stood inside such a building, in fact the courthouse where his sentence was announced those ten years ago was the last place where he’d come up against members of the gentry. It was obvious by the scant furnishings that these people could not be termed nobs though. Digging his hands into the trouser pockets he felt a sense of elation such as he’d never felt in his life. From convict and inmate of the devil’s own prison to an almost employed worker—and all within a matter of a day. What would Spence have to say about this kettle of fish when next he saw him?

When Esther appeared at the doorway beckoning him, he straightened his spine before following her. The woman who reclined on a sofa took him by surprise. Fully expecting a dowdy older person, she was almost beautiful, and not a lot older than himself. Hair the colour of sand was drawn back from a narrow face. Sad eyes took in his entire length from his unruly hair to his battered boots, before she said, “Esther tells me that you are handy around the house and garden, is that so?”

Deciding to be on his best behaviour, he gave her a small bow before answering, “Yes Ma’am, I can put my hand to just about anything.” Spence would laugh heartily at that lie.

With a small nod, she asked, “So why are you seeking employment with us? Did your previous employer not want your services anymore, and if that were the case, just why was that so if you are so handy?” This was said with a touch of what he thought was derision.

Glancing at Esther in confusion, he realised that he had not taken the time to concoct a story that might please this woman. She came to his rescue by saying, “Finn’s previous employer recently went back to England.”

The woman nodded as she continued to stare at him. As if coming to a decision she said, “I will not tolerate alcohol consumption of any kind while you are in our employ, is that understood? My husband will decide on a wage—if any is earned, and if you prove worthless then you will leave without causing us any fuss or bother.”

Finn nodded, while thinking how odd this person seemed to be—but then again what did he know about the upper class except they could be bullies and tyrants. “Thank you, Ma’am, I vow to do my very best.” Inside he wondered how good his best would be. And then wondered if his rescuer Esther was by now likely regretting her rash decision to fetch him here. Following on from that was the question once again of why she had been so keen to bring him here.

With a flap of the hand his new employer said, “Take him to the stable Esther, where he can sleep. He can come to the kitchen at meal times where Nelly will give him food. The only time you are to come into the house…Finn…is if we need you for heavy work that the women cannot undertake, such as bringing logs for the fire.” As if suddenly coming to a thought, she added, “And do not pay attention to our silly maid Cora who is likely to desire your interest.” She rubbed at her head then as if it was paining her, and flapped her hand again in dismissal.

Esther nodded to Finn and he followed her out, feeling the need to rub at his own head in total confusion. The child tagged behind them as he followed Esther around the house to what Finn presumed was the stable. “Mama doesn’t like you much,” the girl informed him, adding, “But I think you are probably nice—you have a funny name though.”

“Ah, that’s because it’s Irish, and I am glad you like me,” Finn said, feeling so odd he wondered how many other peculiar folks he would find dwelling in this house. Esther seemed to be the most sensible, but following on from that thought came the one that perhaps she wasn’t or why else would she have picked up a likely convict and decided to assist him in this way.

The girl skipped ahead to where the horse still stood harnessed to the cart in front of the shed which consisted of an open section where there was space for two vehicles. “Once you get settled, could you please take care of removing my horse’s harness, Finn.” Stroking the bay’s head she said, “Danny Boy here is of Irish descent much like yourself. Everything goes in there.” She pointed to the open part where, apart from a few bales of hay, there was a jumble of odd pieces of equipment including a chopper and a handsaw. “Come, I will show you where you can make yourself comfortable. I did not think it through when I invited you along, but the cook Nelly and the maid Cora sleep yonder there in the small room alongside the laundry.” Her gesture took in a small addition tagged onto the back of the cottage. “It is a small residence without room for staff.”

“Esther sleeps in my room,” the child informed him before coughing a few times and then skipping off back towards the house—obviously tired of this new addition to the household.

“She doesn’t seem to be so sickly,” Finn said, thinking that she appeared to be quite lively—as compared to some of the very poorly kids he had lived amongst in his early days before his capture.

“Her cough mostly bothers her at night, upsetting her Mama,” Esther said before opening the door to one side of the shed. Finn followed her inside to where it smelt strongly of horse and hay. Surprisingly, the space was larger than he expected. A roped off section was no doubt where two horses could be settled at night, and he wondered briefly where he could sleep. Esther answered that when she pointed to what was no more than a rough shelf, saying, “There is a cot of sorts where you can make yourself comfortable. At least it is closed off from the weather. I am afraid you will have to share it with Danny and the master’s horse and their hay and grain. Perhaps you can stuff some straw into a grain sack to make a mattress of sorts. I will see what I can fetch you for bed coverings and perhaps find you some other items of clothing.”

As if thinking this over, she turned saying, “I will leave you to take care of Danny. Once unharnessed he goes into the small yard until nightfall—there behind the shed. The master’s horse goes straight into his stall when he gets home, which is usually at a late hour.” After a quick jab in that direction, she began to walk off.

 “Can I ask you one question before you go,” Finn called after her. When she stopped and faced him, he asked, “Just why are you doing this for a man who for all intents could be a rogue and a thief?”

Sending him a smile, she surprised him once again by saying, “My father taught me not to judge a person by their past, Finn. Use your intuition he advised, for there are many types of men here in the colonies, and you will learn that not always those who are incarcerated for so-called criminal offences are the untrustworthy ones.” While he stared at such wise words from one so young, she added, “Do not prove my judgement wrong, will you?” With a small nod she walked away.

 

Chapter Two

 

Esther sat on the side of her bed brushing her hair, while she contemplated her perhaps stupid actions of the day. What had she been thinking? Inside, something told her that bringing Finn O’Connor here might turn out to be the most impulsive action of her life. “Oh Papa, please tell me I did the right and Christian thing,” she whispered. After plaiting her thick and sometimes tiresome hair that now reached almost to her waist, she pulled the coverlet over her and let out a sigh.

Becky stirred and mumbled in her sleep before turning over. The night promised to be hot, and Esther felt a restlessness such as never before, but felt sure it had nothing to do with the heat. Something about the stranger she had felt compelled to assist had awakened certain unknown feelings within her. How she wished Mama was here—she would offer wise advice. How stupid, for if Mama were still alive, she would not be living in this house, caring for a child and the girl’s feckless mother. Letting out a small sob of self-pity, she turned onto her side and stared into the darkness as she not for the first time tried to block out the horror of the day when both beloved parents left this world.

A small tap on her shoulder brought Esther out of a light sleep. Becky stood so close to her she could feel her breath on her face. “I have to wee,” she said grumpily.

Esther sighed. “Use the chamber pot. You are not a baby any more, Becky, and are capable of managing on your own.”

“Can’t see it, it’s too dark.” Her complaint was followed by a cough and a few sniffles. As always, she made a drama out of the smallest task.

“It is not dark at all for the moon is bright tonight and there is plenty of light coming through the window.”

“I’m scared of that Finn man, he might come into our room and hurt us.”

“Oh Becky, do not be silly—he is a kind man and will not harm us, and I distinctly remember that you said you liked him.” As she said that, Esther wondered just why she felt so sure that he was kind and would not hurt them. Free man he might be, but until only recently he had been locked away amid thugs and ne’er do wells, and for all she knew he had been sent there for committing some horrendous crime.

With a small harrumph Becky took care of her problem and climbed back into her small cot. Esther got up and went over to the window. The moon was so bright that she could clearly see the man who had kept her from her slumber standing over by the fence around the small paddock, and he was stroking Danny Boy’s head. They had decided to let the horse stay outside as it was such a warm night.

Later, she would ask herself just why she felt the need to slip into her shoes and with great stealth leave the room. The small wind that blew in from the sea was cool upon her face as she went across to stand at the man’s side. She was not small by any means but she came just about to his shoulder. Danny Boy snickered and put his muzzle close to her face, breathing softly onto her cheek. A few moments passed before the man called Finn said softly, “Could not sleep either eh, Miss?”

“’Tis fair hot. I often have trouble sleeping since my parents died. What about you? Was the cot allocated to you so uncomfortable?”

As he looked down on her for the first time, she recalled that she had left the house in her nightgown, and her cheeks burned as she wondered what had prompted her to come outside almost unclothed. Fighting an urge to run, she crossed her arms across her breasts, realising that they suddenly felt unusually heavy.

“I’ve slept in worse beds, believe me Esther. There is little wrong with this one.” He jerked his head in the direction of the stable.

“Did you not have a comfortable bed to sleep on in the days before your arrest? What about your childhood?”

With a small laugh he shook his head. “My childhood was to say the least a sketchy one. Mind you, I only recall a small amount of the tales related to me and have no idea if they were made up or not.”

Intrigued now, she forgot her embarrassment and asked, “You did not spend your childhood with your Ma and Pa?”

His small laugh announced how ridiculous that thought was. “I have no idea who fathered me, but I was told that my Ma died not long after my birth and along came a gypsy who took me as her own.”

Esther let out a small gasp. “And this gypsy woman then brought you up?”

“Far from it. I think I was going on two when some fancy English woman who was passing through Kilmallock with her nob of a husband decided it was no fit life for a child, and she more or less stole me away and that is how I ended up in London.”

“Goodness me, I cannot believe that she could simply whisk you away like that. Were there no laws for such abduction?”

“Oh, there were laws for the rich and noble but not for us common Irish folk.” With a shrug he patted Danny Boy’s head. “Thinking back on it, I suppose they thought they were offering me a better life.”

“And they were not?” To Esther his was a sorry tale, which left her thinking that he was probably destined for a life of crime from an early age. “And so, you resided in their house in London?”

His laugh came out as more of a soft grunt than one of humour. “And what a right disaster that was. Their two stuck up daughters hated the fact that I was allowed to sit in on their lessons, and their merry tantrums meant I barely learned more than how to add one and two together.”

“Poor man. But you must have at least learnt to read and write?” Feeling quite bewildered at such treatment that was so far removed from her own childhood, her heart ached for the boy that he was.

“Not at all. I was in about my tenth year when I could stand it no more and fled in the dark of night, taking little but the clothes I wore and a couple of their books.”

“But where did you go. I cannot for one moment imagine how a ten-year-old would manage to survive alone in a city.”

“I wasn’t alone for long, Miss, for there were many boys who lived a life on the streets of London, so in no time I had what I considered my family. There were about six of us, and we survived mostly on our wits—and thieving of course. The biggest who we thought of as our leader, well he taught me how to read and write.”

It was taking Esther some time to digest all this. About to say something more, the jingle of harness warned of an approaching vehicle. Startled she cried, “I must get back to my bed. The master of the house is coming. He may need assistance with his horse. Tell him only what you told the mistress. Oh, and go to the kitchen at dawn for your breakfast.” Leaving him standing there she fled as fast as she could, thankful she could get inside the house through the kitchen entrance.

Her employer often returned late at night, and usually took care of unharnessing his gelding. Esther stood by her window watching as the two men faced each other, obviously discussing who Finn was and what he was doing here, then the master strode to the house, and Esther climbed into bed knowing what was coming.

The mistress’s shrill cry of, “Why are you so late again?” did not surprise Esther, for he was always greeted in this way. The soft thud of their bedroom door told her he had gone into their room, and then in a loud voice he demanded why she had seen fit to take on some character who could likely be a criminal. For some time, all Esther could hear was his loud rumble and his wife’s soft cries and pleas.

How Esther dreaded ending up in such a relationship—and hoped sincerely she could find a man to offer her a love such as her parents shared. Her Papa was such a patient soul and treated his wife as an equal, for she was just as clever as he. Both of them instilled a compassion in Esther for those less fortunate.

Finn’s story took up all her thoughts for some time and when Becky shook her shoulder imploring her to wake up, it was with heavy eyes she looked up at the girl who stood coughing into her palm. “I am sorry, Becky I was dreaming. Go fetch your medicine.” As she put her feet to the floor, a soft knock announced that Cora had brought their water for washing.

“Morning Miss,” the maid chirped as she placed the ewer on the small dressing table. “Master’s gone off already.” Leaning closer to Esther she said in a near whisper, “Right barney they were having when I took their breakfast in earlier. Did you hear it?” Cora liked nothing better than a gossip.

“No, I did not hear it, and you should be more aware that what they do or say is not your business.”

Her reprimand was shrugged off by the maid who went on, “He don’t seem too happy about the new help—even though I see that Finn had his horse all harnessed and ready to go as soon as the sun came up.” When she got no response from Esther, she made a face and left.

If Mr. Franklin had already gone about his business, then Esther wondered if he at least had given Nelly instructions on the tasks she could set Finn. Shrugging, she prepared Becky and herself for the day.

Finn was sitting at the table when they went into the kitchen, and Becky went and sat beside him on the bench, staring up at him in curiosity as she asked, “Are you going to stay here or did my Papa tell you to go?”

Esther gave Finn a questioning look before taking the chair opposite him at the table. “Did he?” she queried.

Rubbing his chin, Finn chuckled. “To be honest the man said little, apart from asking where I came from and what I was capable of doing. I set his mind at rest by telling him I was no criminal set on robbing him.” With another small chuckle he cleared his bowl of porridge.

Nelly handed Cora a breakfast dish which she then placed on the table in front of Esther before going around and sitting beside Finn, so close that when he tried to move away from her, he was penned in on his other side by Becky who was now spooning up her porridge. Cora placed a hand on his forearm, exclaiming, “You are very strong, I’ll bet you can lift anything, would you like to lift me?”

Abruptly Finn rose, shaking free and climbing over the bench as he said, “Best go in now, for Nelly here told me the mistress said I was to see her about what tasks she wanted me to be doing this morning.”

Cora watched him with a dreamy look in her eyes until he left the room and then said, “Isn’t he handsome?”

“Now now, Cora, keep your foolish thoughts to yourself,” Nelly chided as she began to pour water from the huge kettle into the sink. “He’s here to work, same as you are, so get on with your chores and stop with your dopey chatter or else I will report you to the mistress. The big carpet in the parlour needs a good brush and then you can make a start on the laundry.”

Cora made a face behind Nelly’s back before scurrying off. Nelly turned to Esther and asked, “Where did you find that one?” This was asked with a jerk of the head.

“I met him along the road, Nelly, and as he was looking for work and I knew you needed more help around the place I suggested he try here.” Of course, that was not strictly true, but still Esther could not find a logical excuse for just why she had befriended Finn. After hearing his tale, she felt glad that she had taken a chance on him, for his start in life had been anything but easy if his story was to be believed. “You sorely needed someone to fetch water from the well and take care of the harder tasks needing a man’s strength.” Rising, she said, “Come Becky, we must start your lessons. It is a lot cooler today so perhaps we will sit outside. Fetch your chalk and board and we will continue with sums.”

When they were settled beneath the branches of the only tree close to the house, Finn strode towards them and sat beside Esther on the bench. “Your mistress is a rare one for sure, isn’t she?” This was said with a nod towards the house.

“I think she is a very miserable person,” Esther said softly. Becky was engrossed in her adding and subtracting tasks that Esther had set her and paid no attention to them. “I should not discuss my employers, but sadly they do not have a contented relationship. Did she give you an idea of what your tasks will be?”

Rubbing at his brow, he said, “Fact is, she was more interested in how I came to meet you and why I was in this part of the country, wanting to know more about me. I’m ashamed to say I lied, telling her that I came over from Ireland only recently.” He leant closer and whispered, “Is she slightly mad? Her hands were a-fidgeting all the time, and she seemed to have a need to touch me.”

Esther had no idea how to answer that. It had occurred to her early on in her time here that Mrs. Franklin was what her mother would have called unbalanced after the stresses of childbirth. “So, you still do not know what your tasks are?”

“She said to see Nelly, so that is what I shall do.” Pressing his hands on his knees he rose. “I’m not sure about the master of the house either. They are an odd pair of sods to be sure. But at least he gave me some idea of what I should start on. I think he was happy with me preparing his horse for the day. I gave the fellow a good brushing.” 

Esther watched him stride off. Cora was right, he was a very strong and handsome fellow. Hair as light as his was rare for a man, but it suited him. With a slight shake of the head, she realised that she was spending far too much time contemplating what it would be like to be held in those strong arms of his. This would never do—she was becoming as foolish as Cora. “Have you finished yet, Becky?” She took the offered chalk board and was pleased to see that the child was doing well at her sums. “Now, we shall do some reading.” Esther took a book of simple rhymes from her basket and patted the bench beside her.

A short time later she saw Finn toting water from the well, obviously on the way to fill the laundry tub for Cora. The girl would no doubt use that opportunity to bother him with her silly nonsense. The sudden burst of jealousy Esther felt made her give herself a shake at the foolishness of that thought.

A Troubled Heart can be purchased here: https://books2read.com/A-Troubled-Heart

 

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