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Chapter One
The Season had, in Miss Claire Dalton’s estimation, come early, and come directly to her. It had arrived—or was soon to arrive—in the form of her cousin Charles, whom she had not seen since childhood. More interestingly, it was to arrive in the form of two of Charles’s friends, young men he had seen only a few times since leaving for the Coalition Wars more than seven years ago.

Claire’s mother had warned the Lads would be much taken with one another, but had not stopped Claire from dressing in the finest gown appropriate for home. She was consequently adorned in a white gown embellished with a rather high collar that nearly brushed her jaw but left the hollow of her throat exposed. The day was warm, and she had foregone a wrap, satisfied instead with the splash of pink allowed her by the ribbon of a deep straw bonnet that protected her skin from the weakening September sun. She felt quite pretty, with dark ringlets brushing her cheekbones as they fell free from the bonnet, and if her steps minced due to the slight gather at the gown’s hem, then at least she was ladylike and not striding about like a man.

It would be more suitable, she supposed, to await Charles’s arrival in a sitting room, pursuing her needlepoint or reading…or singing, or painting, or Italian, or any one of the myriad applications well-bred young women attended to. She had spent the morning engaged in similarly appropriate activities: calling upon the widow down the road with her mother before stopping in to visit friends and discussing, in breathless anticipation, the arrival of Charles and his Lads. The only pall that lay over these enjoyable duties was the absence of Claire’s elder brother, recently commissioned and off to the Peninsula, but in their way, the morning engagements distracted her from that as well.

And if she wished to spend the afternoon pacing—not that she was pacing; she was merely taking a refreshing stroll up and down the precise length of the garden walk from which she could still see the drive—then that was her business and hers alone. Her mother’s mouth had not, Claire was sure, twitched with amusement when Claire had announced her intention to take some air. Nor, surely, was her mother now watching from an upstairs window with poorly-concealed laughter on her features. No, she was merely smiling at her only daughter, and nothing more. Claire was determined, if not actually certain, of this, and carefully didn’t look toward her mother’s well-cut figure in the window for fear of dislodging her own determination.

Some little while ago dust had risen on the road, lifting Claire’s spirits with it. In due time, though, that dust had ejected not a trio of young men, but a wagon filled with victuals intended to sustain three strapping youths over the course of four days. Claire’s spirits had been hopelessly dashed. Now she presented an expression of complete indifference to a new cloud rising from the end of the drive, though her heart beat at an unnatural pace and her fingers were white about the knuckles where she strangled a trembling sapling with her grip.

Charles had, in her memory, been quite handsome: tall and with the promise of shoulders that any maiden would swoon for. He looked a great deal like their grandfather, or at least like the paintings of that gentleman (in, of course, his youth) which now adorned the halls of the Dalton residence in Town. It stood to reason, then, that Charles’s friends would also be handsome, as they were all gentlemen and surely like called to like. Claire’s first glimpse would tell all, and that was well worth skulking about in the garden.

Not that she was skulking. She lacked the opportunity to re-form that thought into a more pleasant interpretation before the carriage—no, the riders!—appeared. All three of the young men rode ahead of the carriage, so far ahead of it that its dust cloud had become a distant lie about their approach. They were so far ahead of it, in fact, that although she had been watching for them for three hours, their arrival came as a surprising thunder of hooves and laughter.

All of them sat beautifully upon their horses, with buckskins and Hessians, round-fronted tailcoats and light, capeless great coats all of such fine quality that in the rush of their appearance, not one man could be said to stand out from the others. Two of them had dark hair and the third, light, but beyond that, there were no immediately distinguishing characteristics. Hardly worth peering through the hedges for, Claire thought with a sniff of irritation. She took a single step back, and in doing so, attracted the attention of one of the riders. He had been in the lead, but without warning he spun his horse—a fine bay gelding—so that he circled the other two and came up behind them. He was not, though, attuned to his companions, but rather to the gardens beside the drive. Appealingly, he was framed, as if deliberately, by a slender archway in the hedge that allowed egress and exit from the garden to the drive.

Claire saw at once that he fell short of devastatingly handsome—a slight weakness of chin in profile stole that from him, though as his gaze came around to her, it became evident that his jaw had all the necessary breadth from the front to disguise its minor lack in profile. His nose, though, was perfect, and his cheekbones so sharp as to have been carved by a razor. Black hair was worn full of height and swept forward so that the fringe softened the width of his forehead; sideburns accentuated both his cheekbones and the length of his jaw.

Their gazes locked and a jolt of excitement stopped Claire’s heart, only to have it start again at a racing pace as a wickedly sly half-smile slid over full and sensual lips. His eyes were as blue as a lightning flash, and Claire stood as though struck by them, unable to retreat or advance. It made no matter: he had seen her, his smile was for her alone, and he would sweep her into his arms, unguarded against passion, and within hours he would ask to speak to Claire’s father privately, neither of them able to wait a moment longer than necessary for consummation of the fire that even now burned in both their breasts—

“What ho!” this vision of manliness cried, “Charles, there is a mouse in the garden!”

#

The girl herself, truth be told, was barely visible within the long confines of a poke bonnet. Her bonnet, though, glimpsed through the tangle of branches and changing leaves that lined the drive to the Daltons’ country home, made so strong an impression of a mouse’s quivering nose extending from a hole that Benedict Fairburn spoke before he thought. The words had barely left his lips when he saw the girl more clearly through the green archway that separated drive from garden. Dismay clawed his voice, and any amelioration he might have made, away.

Beyond the bonnet, a prim and old-fashioned dress did so little for the girl’s attributes that it could only have been chosen to disguise them, or by a servant grateful to wear the outdated cast-offs of a wealthy mistress. He had shown poor enough manners by calling attention to her. It was worse yet to tease someone of such obviously lower rank than himself. His companions wheeled about, already laughing. Flushed with embarrassment, Benedict did his best to wave them off. “Never mind, it was a mean jape, let us ride on—”

Charles, a man of more genial nature than his wartime reputation suggested, chuckled agreeably and clicked to his horse, bringing it around again. Evander Hewitt, though, somewhat meaner than Benedict remembered from school, urged his forward a few steps, ducking to peer through the arch at the young woman. “Looks like a mouse to me, Benny. Shall I be the cat?” He pressed the horse forward, moving implacably toward the girl.

Just beyond Hewitt’s shoulder, Benedict saw the girl’s expression clear to such forthright astonishment that the vividness of her green eyes became visible despite the bonnet’s depths. She did not, he thought with surprised admiration, look afraid. But then, she could withdraw easily enough: they were in a garden, not an alleyway, where Hewitt’s horse would block any avenue of escape.
Still, it had already gone far enough. Benedict said, “Hewitt,” at the same time Dalton, more firmly, said, “Evander,” but neither man’s voice stopped their third. He advanced, smirking with anticipation of the girl’s oncoming fearful break.

Instead, she held her ground, small jaw set within the confines of her bonnet. There was hardly anything to her, Benedict thought. She was a slight and delicate creature, not much larger than a mouse after all, though there had never been a mouse with such a forthright gaze. The set of his shoulders said even Hewitt lost confidence in the face of her calm. Pride kept him urging the horse onward, though, until the girl, who had not moved a step, put her hand up with slow and gentle certainty to take the animal’s bridle at the cheek piece. The horse blew a lippy breath full of commentary as it lowered its head. Hewitt’s spine, already stiff with his riding posture, went positively rigid.

The girl took no notice of him at all. She could not, Benedict realized with slow horror, be a servant, regardless of how unfashionable her gown was. No servant, not even Dalton’s valet Worthington, who ranked among the most unflappable men Benedict had ever encountered, could remain so arrogantly collected in the face of three gentlemen and their horses. He was not surprised, then, when the girl placed a gentle hand on the horse’s nose and murmured to it in cultured, dulcet tones, “What utterly appalling creatures you travel with, my beauty. I don’t suppose you would care to dump the one astride you into the garden pond? Well, yes, I’m certain you would, but you are far too well-mannered a beast to do such a thing, aren’t you? What a shame.”

She lifted her gaze then, to look through Hewitt as if he were not there at all, to disregard Benedict as if he were something too unpleasant to acknowledge, and to lance Charles with disgust. “Cousin Charles. I’m sure you are welcome to my father’s house. I expect you remember where the stables are. Perhaps you and your companions could take yourselves there, tend to your horses, and before dinner is announced, do something about the dreadful smell of horse embedded in your clothes and skin. Good afternoon.” With another gentle touch to the horse’s nose, showing clearly that it stood highest in her estimation of the gathering before her, the girl turned, walked away, and did not look back.

All three men gazed after her, mesmerized, Benedict with the heat of bad manners scalding his cheeks. He had not yet scraped together an apology to Charles, much less attempted to form one to offer to the young woman, when Hewitt barked, “Well! Good thing we’re not here for the society, isn’t it?”

“That was badly done, Evander,” Charles said quietly. Dalton never spoke loudly, not anymore, Benedict thought. He’d been hotter of head in their school days, but not since his return from the front. Now he was always reserved, even in his sensibility, and yet his mild tone caved even Hewitt’s stiff posture.

Sullen, he muttered, “Thought she was a servant. and I’d put a scare into her, that’s all.”

“It is almost worse to terrorize a serving girl than a gentlewoman,” Dalton said in the same softly chiding voice. “A lady might have the education, self-possession and wit to stand her ground, as my cousin did, whereas a servant could only quake and tremble for fear of losing her position if she dared defend herself. Fear is no way to live a life, Evan. Come. We have horses and, if Miss Dalton is to believed—and I dare say she is—bathing to attend to.”

With the faintest uncomfortable suspicion that the smooth waters of Dalton’s tones could turn suddenly dangerous and rough, and that Miss Claire Dalton might well be a topic that could set those rough waters a-boil, Benedict followed after his host and tried not to think too long on the green-eyed girl.

#

His cousin had not, it seemed, grown much in stature, though she had retained the boldness he recalled from her girlhood. Dalton smiled as he led the Lads toward the stables, where, despite Claire’s pointed suggestion, they handed the beasts over to the stable-boys rather than tend to the animals themselves. He was, indeed, smiling still when he met the other two at the stable doors, and Fairburn blushed to see Dalton’s humor still engaged.

“I’m ashamed of myself, Dalton, I truly am. I’ll apologize to Miss Dalton—”

“If she’ll let you,” Charles said with an upward flick of his eyebrows. “I remember Claire as a proper little thing, Benny, but deuced if she didn’t hold her ground once she’d made a decision. She may go through the forms, but whether she’ll forgive you, that’s something else entirely!” Still with uplifted eyebrows, he added, for clarity’s sake, “You, Evan, will apologize.”

Hewitt’s lip curled. “You’ve just said she wouldn’t accept it.”

“And yet.” Charles offered one of his gentlest smiles and watched with a trace of sorrow as Evander Hewitt’s shoulders bowed slightly, as if the smile had the weight of a blow.

Evander had been generous in boyhood, a generosity made easy by an income guaranteed to him as both only child and beloved son, and by good looks that artists loved to paint. Things had changed since their school days, though, many things, and where generosity had once flowed, meanness now too often ran in its stead. Several of the other lads—not just lads, but the Lads, half a dozen of them in all who were closest to Dalton’s heart in friendship—didn’t care for Hewitt, but thus far they were all willing to tolerate him for Dalton’s sake. Dalton himself had lost too much to give up on this Lad, and so Hewitt remained.

He also nodded, muttering an agreement to apologize, and to Dalton’s way of thinking, all was once again right with the world. He fell into step between the Lads, momentarily aware that he stood—if they were to measure men as they did horses—a full hand shorter than the other two. Claire’s diminutive size was something of a family trait, although Dalton considered his friends tall, rather than thinking of himself as short. The three of them passed through the stable doors together before Dalton took the lead, though anyone could see the pathway to the main house.

It was a fine-looking manor, not ostentatiously large and set into well-kept lawns and gardens that had not yet lost the jeweled colors of summer. A chicken yard and vegetable garden, attended by a white-capped girl who dipped a curtsy as the Lads passed by, lay between stables and house. The whole of it made a pretty picture, the very essence of a quiet, comfortable country life. There were lands enough to hunt on—indeed, that had been much of the appeal in agreeing to his uncle’s invitation—and there were, aside from Claire, no young women to confuse a lads’ holiday with the never-ending Society nonsense of matchmaking. Charles had returned from the Peninsular War some weeks ago only to be accosted by his parents’ hopes of a swift and suitable marriage, a barrage as ceaseless as the guns of war. He consequently spent as many waking hours as possible in the Lads’ company, avoiding not only his mother’s unsubtle hints but what few parties and socials that nice society held in the autumn. His Uncle George’s offer of a country visit had been a respite Charles both desperately desired and felt was ideal for the time of year; London was dull in September. All this reflection took him in companionable silence around the chicken yard and toward the front doors. Just before they swept open, Benedict seized Charles’s arm and spoke in a tone of nervous concern.

“Cease your musing, Charles, and tell me what to do if Miss Dalton refuses my apology. I’m unaccustomed to insulting young ladies.”

“Brave it out, man,” Dalton said in surprise. “She won’t be rude, and aside from meals, there’s no call to speak to the girl. We’re here for a bit of sport, not to fuss over whether a country miss has had her nose put out of joint. Besides, it’s Hewitt who tried to intimidate her and from whom a proper apology is necessary. You only made an unfortunate remark.”

“But one that needs redressing.” Fairburn straightened his shoulders, earning an eye-roll from Hewitt before the doors opened and all three Lads were ushered in.

Dalton was drawn directly into an embrace by his short, sweet-faced aunt, whose dress, he noted, was no more fashionable than that of her daughter’s. The house, at a glance, gleamed and was well-kept, suggesting their lack was in a sartorial sense, not funds, though it was possible a commission for their son had set them back farther than they might care to admit. But, no: in thinking about it, it seemed to Charles that even when he was young, his aunt’s fashion sense had been some years behind the times. Having a daughter of marriageable age had not, it seemed, improved the matter. George Dalton, a man of middling height and little hair, was not badly out of fashion, but men’s styles changed less rapidly than did women’s.

“Charles Edward,” his aunt, oblivious to his thoughts, said with real pleasure. “What a delight to see you again.”

“Aunt Sylvia. You look well. Uncle George.” Dalton shook the latter’s hand, then, smiling, allowed himself to be drawn into an embrace there as well. The elder Dalton gentleman rumbled a greeting, surprising Charles, as always, with the unexpected depth of his voice from such an unprepossessing man. “And George Arnold?”

“In Spain.” Sylvia Dalton put visible effort into not allowing a shadow to cross her smiling face. “Not at the front, or not last that we heard. And these are your friends?”

“Yes, of course. May I present you to Mr and Mrs Dalton, my beloved uncle and aunt. Aunt, Uncle, these are Benedict Fairburn and Evander Hewitt. You will recall me speaking of them, perhaps, from my school days.”

Hands were kissed and shaken with polite murmurings as Aunt Sylvia said, “You would be Benny and Evan,” with a smile. “How splendid to finally meet you. Claire mentioned you were all in dire hope of a bath before supper, so I’ve had hot water sent up. I hope Worthington won’t be too put out.” Her light blue eyes sparkled, bringing a laugh to Dalton’s lips.

“I see you remember him too. Well, he’s traveling with the carriage and our belongings, so he can’t protest too strenuously if I’m clean before he arrives. I have no doubt our dinner wear will be laid out and presentable, all at his able hand, before we’re out of the bath.”

“Knowing Worthington, he may well somehow have it done before you’re in the bath. Best hurry before he proves me right.” Uncle George’s words were made droller yet by the depth of his voice.

Charles felt Fairburn and Hewitt exchange a surprised glance as they heard George’s voice properly for the first time. As a footman escorted them up to their rooms, Benedict breathed, “He ought to have been a politician, with that voice.|”

“I believe he was slated to be,” Charles murmured in response. “But he fell quite in love with my aunt rather than make the fortuitous marriage my grandfather had arranged for him, and in pique the old man cut him off. They retired to the country to live on Aunt Sylvia’s younger brother’s sufferance, but he died in a riding accident when I was only a child. There being no others of her lineage, she inherited this house and lands. It nearly gave my grandfather apoplexy to have his disinherited son come into such comfort.”

“Charming family,” Hewitt muttered.

Charles chuckled as they were led into their separate rooms. “Cast no stones, Evan. Heaven knows what we all are, beneath the surface.”

#

For a country estate with no pretensions at grandeur, Worthington decided the Dalton house was tremendously well presented. The room appointed to his immediate employer, young Master Dalton, was spacious enough to house a large bed and wardrobe with a vanity without crowding, yet small enough that the generous fireplace would easily warm it on a cold winter’s day. Even the uppermost corners were clean of cobweb and soot. The leaded glass windows fit snugly into their frame, and the shutters were padded to hold in heat. The colors were, if not fashionable, at least pleasant, and were kept up; there were no faded patches in the duvet cover or on the upholstered chair, and the mirror above the fireplace reflected wallpaper of handsomely striped cream and burgundy.

He had been suitably welcomed by the staff. The butler himself had shown Worthington the way to Charles Edward’s room while the three footmen carried luggage to each of the young men’s rooms. When the footmen were gone, Worthington had, in a politely conspiratorial voice, wondered if there was anything within the household of which he should be aware. He was informed in an equally conspiratorial tone of the set-to betwixt Miss Dalton and the Lads upon their arrival, observed, the Dalton’s butler murmured, by a maid watching from an upper window. Worthington extended his gratitude for the bit of knowledge, and butler and valet alike had shared the brief, expressionless look perfected by servants the world over that spoke volumes about the ladies and gentlemen they served without ever betraying a word or a thought of it on their faces. Both parties departed the discussion with the satisfaction of knowing they could work comfortably with the other man.

The young master’s clothes were, of course, unpacked, and a suit pressed and laid out for the evening before he emerged from the bath. For some reason that caused Charles Edward to laugh, but laughter had been rare enough from him in the past months, and Worthington was glad to hear it. He now helped Dalton slip a deep blue, double-breasted tailcoat over his shoulders as the young master observed himself in the mirror, Worthington an unremarkable shadow in its background. Dalton turned twice, examining the fall of the tails to the backs of his knees and the admirable upward nip of the front, then brushed his thumbs down the lapels with satisfaction. “I believe that will do, Worthington, thank you. Tell me, is my aunt and uncle’s house a tight ship? Do you approve?”
Worthington lifted his eyes to meet Dalton’s in the mirror, his own non-committal brown; Dalton’s a lazy hazel. “Of course, sir.” He took precisely enough breath after the last word to leave things unsaid, and Charles Edward, of course, seized upon them.

“But?”

“It wouldn’t be my place to say, sir.”

“Oh, please, Worthington. I know we’re back in civilized territory, but must we return to all that prattle?” Dalton shook off Worthington’s hands so he could face the valet with all the laziness gone from his hazel eyes. “Haven’t we been through enough to forgo the niceties of society, at least in private?”

“What is practiced in private cannot be forgotten in public,” Worthington replied, but held up a hand to forestall his master’s complaint. “Very well, sir. I may have heard that your companions, Master Hewitt in particular, were badly behaved toward Miss Dalton.”

“Oh, that.” The laziness came into Dalton’s eyes as he waved the concern away. “I’ve spoken to them already, Worthington. They’ll apologize, both of them. Anything else?”

Worthington hesitated, examining his employer’s features. Dalton was monied, of course, his parents having easily afforded a commission that the young man had not necessarily required. Nor had he needed to serve at the front; he might have had a safe and respectable desk job that no one would have sneered at, but such caution was not in Charles Dalton. Serving had been a passion; serving well, an obligation to that passion.

Similarly, Worthington might have stayed behind, sending a more adventuresome valet in his stead, or indeed allowing Dalton’s person to be cared for from within the military ranks. But Worthingtons had served Daltons for over half a century, and James Allen Worthington would not be the son to abandon his duty. He had grown up with—or near, at least—Dalton, who was only a few years his junior; they had been man and servant since Dalton’s eighteenth year, just under a decade now. There had never been any real question that Worthington would join Charles wherever he went.

Nor was there any question that if Worthington felt strongly about any topic that he should, in time, be able to make his employer aware of it, though that was in Worthington’s opinion the duty of any valet. It was somewhat less expected, perhaps, that a man of Dalton’s stature might deign to listen to his valet’s opinions, but listen he did.

That did not mean the moment was always right to express one of those opinions. Worthington, judging Dalton’s pleasantly curious guise, concluded that this was not the time. The softness had already slid once from Dalton’s gaze, and Worthington knew well what dangers the harder edge in Dalton’s eyes could unveil. So rather than pursue topics that could ignite a fire, the valet straightened the tall and slim lines of Dalton’s ballroom cravat and, with a step back, said, “Nothing, sir, now that I’ve got that tidied.”

“Very good. I’ll call for you after dinner, Worthington. I think I can manage until then.”

“Probably not, sir,” Worthington said dryly, “but I’m sure you’ll muddle through.”

Dalton grinned, the familiar and friendly smile of an equal, and clapped his hand to Worthington’s shoulder before hastening to the dinner call. Worthington trailed a few steps behind, retreating as the other Lads came down an opposite stair to meet Dalton at the landing. Worthington, silent and attentive, might have been no more than another sculpture.

But he watched Evander Hewitt, and as the Lads departed, Hewitt’s sharp gaze met Worthington’s neutral one. The valet lowered his eyes as was appropriate to his station, and knew that Hewitt could not read the mistrust that Worthington felt in his bones.

cover art for Bewitching Benedict
Pre-order Bewitching Benedict on:
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(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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My charming little Regency romance, BEWITCHING BENEDICT, is now available for pre-order at Amazon!

I *may* have pre-order links for other sites by tomorrow, but if not, I should have most of them for Friday when it goes live. With luck I’ll also have print edition links, but it’s possible that will take another week, and the audio book, which is in the works, won’t be out for a couple months. Still, it’s coming together QUITE NICELY here at the end. I’m pretty excited. :)

This constitutes a major milestone on the Nibbled To Death By Ducks list of things to do, as well as an entirely new publishing venture for me (I’ve never done a magic-free historical romance before!), and hopefully the first of a very long list of things to come out on a very regular schedule for the next, um. Several years. :)

Cover for Bewitching Benedict

Benedict Fairburn does not quite need his ailing great-aunt’s fortune, especially since he’ll have to marry to get it. His family, however, thinks otherwise—as do many of the eligible ladies in London—and the pressure is mounting. An embarrassment of attentions fill Benny’s time, but the young lady he prefers roundly dislikes him.

Claire Dalton, cousin to one of Benedict’s oldest friends, is too busy debuting in Society to pay much attention to the Fairburn boy who once insulted her past bearing. He doesn’t recognize her, but that’s hardly upsetting, especially with the fetching Mr Graham offering his arm.

Unfortunately, Mr Graham is not all he seems, and each week brings a fresh disaster for Claire’s first Season. It’s enough to drive a young woman to distraction, especially since Benny Fairburn keeps behaving so very oddly. Concealed tragedy, poor orphans, a dotty great-aunt, deception and misunderstanding whirl in every direction, ready to explode.

Benedict and Claire are perfect for each other. Unfortunately, it may take catastrophe to make them realize as much…

The Lovelorn Lads:
A man needs manners, if he is to marry.

I really hope you’ll like this story as much as I do. It’s just cute, and I really think anybody who likes my writing ought to like the Lovelorn Lads just fine, even if you’re not usually a romance reader. *happy, excited dance*!

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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I went to bed around 10 last night and, not at all to my delight, woke up at 10 to 6. I lay around for a while sullenly considering that this was, in fact, the ideal I’m nominally going for: earlyish to bed, early to rise, get some work done before bringing Indy to school and all that.

Except not on a Sunday, dammit.

Anyway, I got up after half an hour or so and spent a couple hours getting increasingly tired while working on an e-book layout, and I’ve concluded that probably if I can do this on a weekday basis, having to interrupt the work flow to bring Indy to school and then take myself to the gym is EXACTLY what I’ll need in order to keep myself going through the morning and into the afternoon. I don’t know what I’ll do about the almost-inevitable 2pm slump (the obvious answer here would be ‘go for a walk’) but given the sleepiness cycle, I’d say yeah, this would probably be Just About Right.

Assuming I manage to get to bed right around 10pm ALMOST ALL THE TIME. Well, Catie, who’s responsible for that, then, *hmmm*? (Of course, if I get into the habit of the gym, for the first several weeks at least I’m going to be so exhausted that I may fall asleep by 10 whether I mean to or not…)

I went into the bookstore the other day and there are so many books I want to read and I’ve got so much work to do before I can read any of them. *cries* Also my houseguest is TEMPTING me, TEMPTING ME, I SAY, to watch s5 Orphan Black this Thursday & Friday (the first days of school) and I’m being Drawn Into Temptation. Which means I have to finish up this e-book (which is waiting on cover art and also on me figuring out which button to press to tell it to clean up unused code) and do another set of copy edits by Thursday, which really isn’t anything like impossible. It just seems like a lot, somehow.

I was telling someone at Worldcon that I’m basically five years behind in my reading schedule, so pretty much if you had a book come out in 2012 I’m right on it! But I’d like to be reading a little closer to the present. Moop. So I’ve got KSR’s new book, and I still haven’t read Ian MacDonald’s Luna books and really want to, and I have the second two Anne Lyle (hello, 2012) books to read, and there’s another Long Earth book out, and I’m *desperate* to read Emma Newman’s Planetfall books, and I have (HELLO, 2012) a Carol Berg duology to read, and those are just what I can think of off the top of my head without checking the TBR shelf, much less going into the bookstore again. *flails* So if I get my edits and things done I’m going to read SOMETHING over the weekend.

(*pauses to check how many books I’ve read from this year’s TBR shelf. 10 of the 41 I’ve read this year, which isn’t bad, actually. It leaves me with 13 fiction books on the TBR shelf, assuming I don’t bounce off any of them. Also, 41 books, while not BRILLIANT, isn’t bad for the year so far.)

I better go finish this e-book.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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I’ve had this to-do list for…ever. Forever. Very little of it is the fun kind of to-do, which for me is YAY WRITE A WHOLE NEW BOOK YAY THIS IS MY FAVOURITE PART. It’s all the other stuff. It’s edits and copyedits and guilting over unwritten short stories

(I was going to really try to focus on writing…I was going to say ‘good’, but I write good enough short stories. But twisty, deep ones, perhaps. I want to add that to my skill set. So I was going to try focusing on learning how to write those. And then I realized I’ve got so much else actually *due* that it would be moronic to try to add that to my plate. It’s probably mostly a reaction to admiring people who win Hugos or sell short stories independently, anyway, and sort of vaguely wishing I was Like Them, and I usually get over that. Even if I really would like to be able to write more independent, clever, intelligent short stories. I’ll stop being parenthetical now and try to get back to the point.)

and all the little details of self publishing that I haven’t, for one reason or another, managed to hand off to Ted, and anyway, I usually have a Thinks To Do list but this has been my Nibbled To Death By Ducks list, and I’m about two years behind on all of it. Which is a lot of catching up to do.

But I am THIS CLOSE to being caught up/done with TWO projects, and it’s starting to be a Big Psychological Relief.

I’m finalized-cover-art away from launching BEWITCHING BENEDICT, my adorkable magic-free Regency romance, and I’m copy-edits-and-book-layout away from delivering REDEEMER to my insanely patient backers, toward whom I feel so much guilt I want to cry every time I think about it. Those projects are almost done, and, just…*weeps* It’ll be such a relief to have those out.

And although the To Do list just…keeps…going…on…after that, I’m…I’m trying not to think that far ahead, honestly. I’m trying to just keep one project at a time in mind. If I think about it all I despair. Right now I just gotta get through Nibbled To Death.

September’s Nibbled To Death project is writing KISS OF ANGELS, which absolutely has to be done in September so I can get it into a general release launch in December (Patreon supporters will get it the instant it’s finished). I’m trying pretty desperately here to get myself into a quarterly release schedule, BUT I CANNOT THINK ABOUT THAT RIGHT NOW IT WILL LEAD TO DESPAIR

But once KISS OF ANGELS and three or four short stories are done, I’m…done, I think, with Nibbled To Death By Ducks. And that will be so. nice. *weeps*

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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I am in Helsinki for Worldcon! If I was a more organized person I’d have posted about this earlier, but, well, I’m not, so. I’m in Helsinki for Worldcon!

I will be publically available for chatting at the following times:
1. The Dublin 2019 parties on Thursday & Saturday nights
2. From 2-3:30ish on Friday afternoon–informal kaffeesklatch type thing, the Dublin 2019 table will know where I am if you don’t see me in the seating area around there
3. The Hugos on Friday night
4. Any other time you waylay me unless I have stuff specifically scheduled
4a. I have a panel about women writing comics on Saturday morning at 10am so I’ll definitely be there. :)

Anyway, Helsinki! I flew through Copenhagen, which turned out to be exciting because I thought I had an hour layover but it turned out my plane arrived, I got through passport control, and as I was heading for my gate (ON THE OTHER END OF THE AIRPORT) they announced final boarding for my flight to Helsinki. I scurried and said “my connecting flight just got in!” and they gave the board a skeptical look, but the sign didn’t say “closed” yet, so they let me on and closed the door behind me. Whew!

I hate (haaaate) taking public transport in places I know not at all, so I was nervous about the train from the airport to the hotel, but it turned out that it was very well annotated and I made it with no problem. Then my roommate collected me at the train station (THANK YOU) so all I had to do was follow her and get there safely. And now I’m oriented, so it’s all good.

I immediately saw half a dozen people, upon arriving, whom I might have hoped to see at some point over the weekend, so that was rather lovely. We got dinner and our tiny group of three expanded to about 11, some of whom expressed great surprise over my very different hair (and went on to theorize I might be a spy; I told them not to blow my cover :)). Then I wandered around the convention hall a bit trying to get oriented inside, and managed that fairly well, but didn’t go to the panel tat semeed fun because it was already packed full when we got there!

Instead I said to people that Helsinki is on the same latitude as my hometown, so I was going to go outside and be emotional about the light :)

Then I went outside and was like, oh shit no, I really *am* going to be emotional about the light, and it left me feeling a bit verklempt.

But then I found another friend and got introduced briefly to Ellen Datlow who knew my name (*faints*) and I had a bit more to eat and it was a lovely ending to the evening, which is now going to end properly so I can get up early and have more time with the light. ♥ :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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My captain’s keyboard has stopped working. :}

I’m almost positive I know what the problem is. There are about 8 keys that don’t work, and there’s a pin in the PS/2 connector that got bent a while ago. I was able to nudge it back into place, but it got yanked and bent again and although I’ve nudged it back into place again, I think the base of the pin is no longer connecting.

I’m also almost positive this could be fixed by splicing a new PS/2 connector into place.

The PROBLEM is that the OTHER end of the connection is wired directly into the keyboard (of course), and the keyboard, being two unwieldy pieces, is a pain in the ass to bring anywhere. Assuming there’s even somewhere around here that would do this kind of thing.

It’s frustrating knowing I probably know half a dozen people who could do this in 30 minutes, but they all live on the other side of the world. >.<

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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I’m somewhat better than I’ve been, but I’ve still got a cough and snotty nose. No, I haven’t gone to a doctor, but only because it turns out there’s a shortage of doctors in this town and nobody is taking new patients. We got signed up with a clinic in theory but we still haven’t gotten notification that we’re actually in their system, so…yeah. Anyway. At this point I think I’m going to have healed up before I’m in the system. Whee.

That said, all I want to do today is lie in a lump on the couch and watch Brooklyn Nine Nine all afternoon, but I’d have a 7 year old beside me saying, “What? What?” and fake-laughing at things, which wouldn’t really be much fun.

The Wrinkle in Time trailer dropped yesterday and made me cry. Twice. It looks amazing. (“Mommy,” Indy said incredulously, “are you *crying*?” Yes. Yes I was.) Anyway, I haven’t read the book in at least twenty, possibly thirty, years, and I immediately bought a new copy to read it. I didn’t think it would hold up, honestly, but I’ve read the first chapter and so far it’s still amazing.

I also re-read THE HERO AND THE CROWN a couple days ago and for the first time the acid trip battle with Agsded actually made sense to me. I’ve only read the book about forty times, so it’s nice that I eventually became able to really follow that scene.

Also I don’t remember crying through Talat’s rehabilitation before. *wipes eyes*

I made crabapple jelly with the last of LAST year’s crabapples, some cherry jam, pitted more cherries that Dad brought out, and bought some peaches that I need to process today and see if I’ve got enough for jam. I have frozen strawberries, too, and some many-berry mix frozen berries. Jam, glorious jam. :)

There are TWO kittens in the garden. We’re calling them Topsy and Turvy and are feeding them and their mama. I’m waiting for the local rescue people to have a capture cage available, so hopefully that’ll come through soon.

I turned a grant application in last week. I’ve got a book proposal just about ready to submit. I have copy edits to do and need to email my editor about line edits. And…I’d have to look at my to-do list to see what’s next. That’s plenty to get me through the week, though. :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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I’m participating in displacement activities, pretending that organizing a bunch of stuff will get my work done. Obviously I know that’s not how it works, but hey, I’m doing it anyway.

I asked for this perfectly gorgeous blank book for my birthday (and obviously recieved it):

but had no actual specific use for it in mind. I’ve been prodding at habit trackers but basically don’t like any of the digital ones, so I thought what the hell, maybe I’d go old-school analog and try a paper one. I’m hoping it’ll get me a little bit back into the habit of journaling again, too. (I used to be a great journaler, back in the day.)

I think you’ll all agree my first attempt at a habit tracker turned out horribly. The rollerball pen I was using smeared everywhere, and I had no sense of the size I needed to lay the grid out at, and…all kinds of stuff. Live and learn, though, and OH GOSH I GUESS I’LL JUST HAVE TO BUY SOME MICRON PENS JUST FOR JOURNALING WITH O NOES. Probably if I keep it up I’ll eventually figure out a decent grid and everything, but my handwriting will never be magnificently calligraphic or probably even moderately tidy, and I’m just going to have to live with that. Also, I have ink all over my hands. *scowly face*

In other displacement news, I did tackle the Work Thinks To Do list and rendered it somewhat more reasonable. I also had a little talk with myself about the reasons I was procrastinating on some projects, and when we were done having that conversation I told me to get over it and get them done. I hope I listen and obey.

I’m still going to have to…effectively *make* time to do some of the stuff, but I (by which I mean, my husband) solved my laptop hard drive memory problem by suggesting I put my works in project into a directory of their own and sync JUST THAT to Dropbox, instead of my entire Writing Directory. Since I already have a Finished Projects and an Ideas & Inactive Projects folder, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to have a Current Projects folder, and I feel like a moron, but now I’ve got one and the laptop is synced without filling its entire pathetic hard drive. WHICH MEANS (yes, see, there was a point to this paragraph, even though you forgot where it started, didn’t you) that the difficulty of writing in the evenings, post-Indy’s-bedtime, is alleviated; I couldn’t go up to the office because he tends to stay awake even later if somebody’s nearby, but I couldn’t write on my laptop because the Dropbox sync choked the teensy hard drive. So that’s sorted.

Not, of course, that I’m going to do anything as rash as write *tonight*, oh no, that would be madness. But I’m getting myself sorted, bit by bit.

Oh, speaking of getting sorted, I took the newly-fixed secondhand bike out on its first spin today. It’s fine, a little short for me, but certainly rideable. However, after a 15 or 20 minute ride around (maybe not even that long) my nether regions are quite shocked at my behaviour and would like to lodge a protest with the management. :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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June 1, 2017: United States Climate Alliance formed with 3 charter members. Within hours, 7 more signed on with 11 more expressing interest.

Sept 2017: The USCA, backed by 37 member states, Puerto Rico, & Washington DC, is seen as the framework for pursuing the future liberals want.

Dec 2017: All but 4 states (Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, & Alaska) have joined the USCA. The member states demand a constitutional convention.

March 2018: Denied a convention by an increasingly authoritarian federal government, the USCA member states unanimously secede. Alaska, Oklahoma and Alabama join them.

July 4, 2018: The New United States of America government–colloquially known as Los Estados Nuevos–is formed with additional new states of Puerto Rico, Washington DC, and Guam. Much of the framework of the original Constitution is retained; amendments introducing, among other things, campaign reform, equal rights, and anti-gerrymandering strictures are passed. Tens of thousands flee to Texas, now an independent country.

March 6, 2024: Texas petitions to join LEN. The New United States grandfathers it in, but as the 53rd, not the 28th, state of the union. “Remember the 28th” becomes both a battle cry for those who wish to restore the old United States, and an acknowledgement by the new government of necessary change within a republic for it to carry forward.

July 4, 2026: On the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Los Estados Nuevos introduce restitution to African and Native Americans. The Navajo Nation submits a petition to be recognized as an independent entity within the LEN, and for the first time in 150 years, the interior boundaries of the United States, new or old, are re-drawn.

July 4, 2028: Climate warming has held at 1.68 degrees Celsius for two years. Over 170 countries are now functioning on 90-95% green energy. Los Estados Nuevos has reached a 76% renewable energy threshold, disappointing compared to China’s 89% and Germany’s long-held 98% standard. The United States Climate Alliance, still a functioning unit within the LEN, vow to meet Germany’s benchmark by 2030….

(The flag:
the colors and the stars & stripes, of course, represent the traditional USA, but the reduction of the stripes is indicative of moving toward the future. the stars are meant to be a kind of sunrise/starburst, intended to indicate Los Estados Nuevos’ dedication to green energy/forward thinking/a new day. the base of the starburst/sun is the original 10 signators of the USCA, with the rays being the later signatories/rest of the states.

it’s hard to make a sunrise out of stars, ironic as that may be. i’m still not really satisfied but GOSH I’VE STAYED UP ALL NIGHT AND I’M GOING TO DAMN BED NOW)

(wait, before i go, and before people ask: i’m actually thinking about revising this timeline some (it’s a little optimistic) and using it as the basis for the near future/climate change/SF thing i’ve been thinking about for so long. i’ve been utterly stymied…well, for a long time, but particularly since nov 9, and this feels…possible, as a direction to go in…)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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I am ALMOST DONE with revisions on BEWITCHING BENEDICT, my little Regency that’s the first of the Lovelorn Lads romance series. It’s a charming, funny little comedy of manners that I genuinely believe anybody who likes my stuff will really enjoy, even though it (*looks furitive, whispers*) hasn’t got any fantasy aspects to it.

The Lovelorn Lads are something of a cross between Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and PG Wodehouse conceptually, in that there are seven Lads who are close friends, and the central character amongst them has a valet who is not only adept at, but necessary to, steering them out of bad marriages and into good ones.

I have *rarely* had as much fun writing a first draft as I did with BEWITCHING BENEDICT, and that’s saying something, because I’m one of those writers who loves writing the first draft and thinks the rest of it is necessary tedium. I’m genuinely looking forward to writing more and I hope everybody’s going to like them as much as I do.

Anyway, with the revisions nearly done, and me with the cover art in my hot little hands, I decided I couldn’t stand to wait another minute and had to show it off. The cover is by Cora Graphics, and the book will be out in…soon! O.O (I want to say June, but that’s probably too ambitious. Probably.)

Cover art: Bewitching Benedict
Young Charles Dalton returns from the Peninsular War with the fond desire to settle back into the bachelor life, but his hopes are upended as the dire news comes that Benedict, one of his favored cadre, must marry at once or lose his inheritance. At the same time, Dalton’s socially conscious cousin Claire comes to London for a Season—but Benedict has already mortally insulted her, and Claire casts her lot with another, leaving Dalton’s beleaguered valet to guide them both into good marriages.

BEWITCHING BENEDICT will be available soon!

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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I’m re-reading the Negotiator Trilogy, which I haven’t done since (before) they were published. I’m doing this so I can write KISS OF ANGELS, which is set (at least partially) after the trilogy, and in some ways I have only a vague idea of what the books are about. I mean, obviously I know what they’re about, but…

Some of you may know that the reason I haven’t written more book-length Old Races stories is that writing the Negotiator Trilogy was…awful. Just awful. Like, I had a small nervous breakdown, writing the third one. The Negotiator Trilogy is 375K long; I wrote well over a million words trying to get there. (For reference, the complete Walker Papers series, including “Banshee Cries” and the NO DOMINION collection, is just under 1.1 million words.)

The first book went through six major, massive revisions before publication.

The second book got an edit letter 6 months late that said “please insert a plot into this book” (that’s not really what it said at all, but that was the solution to what it DID say). It had to be torn apart and a plot forcibly inserted, which required throwing out and completely rewriting about 2/3rds of the book…during the time I was supposed to be writing the third book.

Because the revision letter for book 2 was so late, I’d started WRITING the third book, but because book 2 had no plot, and because there was a character I really desperately wanted to introduce in book 3 who it turned out didn’t belong there, I could not get book 3 written. I wrote between 200-300 pages six times before I got it right, and by that time I doubted myself so much I literally brought the manuscript, in tears, to my husband and said “please tell me if this works at all.”

On top of all that, the copy editor didn’t like my writing style and rewrote huge chunks of my sentences, leaving me to struggle with correcting them (this was before copy edits were done electronically) and leaving errors that remain in the books to this day.

It was an *awful* experience, and it’s why I’ve only ever written short stories and novellas in the world again. Even so it took me years to even consider that.

So! I know what happens in the books, but…not very clearly, because so many versions live in my head, and besides that, it’s been ten years. To write KISS OF ANGELS requires some revisiting of the old material.

I have never, ever (due to the reasons ennumerated above) wanted to re-read the Negotiator Trilogy. I’ve been hoping that they’d turn out to be good enough that, a decade after the fact, they could at least draw me in a little and make a re-read a modestly enjoyable task instead of a sisyphean one.

I’ve just finished HEART OF STONE, and it turns out they are!

In fact, there have been sentences and phrases that, if another author had written them, I would have been envious of the skill and wordcraft there! (That’s a real moment of cognitive dissonance, lemme tell you. :))

Nothing in the story has really *surprised* me, but there have been a number of times where I’ve gone, “Oh yes, this is the thing that happens here, I remember that,” and also, “OH I SEE WHAT I DID THERE, MAYBE NOBODY ELSE EVER SAW IT BUT I SEE WHAT I DID THERE I’M SO FUNNY AHAHAHAH” because I’m a great big dork. *laughs*

One of the things that is *particularly* interesting to me is that I had to work very hard to write Romancy Sensual Sexy Reactions stuff in that book, and I felt like, god, SO heavy-handed, SO awkward, SO awful. But re-reading it? It’s really not any of those things. Which is just fascinating. I mean, I was, like, embarrassed at the heavy-handedness of it all, when I wrote it. (Yes, yes, this from the same woman who wrote THE QUEEN’S BASTARD, but that book didn’t go through the evolution that HEART OF STONE did. TQB was (almost) always supposed to be full of smut. :))

Another thing that I kind of knew but which is much more obvious on re-reading is that holy cats, the short stories have different versions–sometimes MUCH different versions–of the backstory mentioned in the book. Like, there’s stuff in the book that’s just plain wrong, if the short stories are to be believed. Which, IMHO as the author, they are. :)

The nice thing is I’m totally okay with that. I figure two things: One, all of these characters are at least hundreds and often thousands upon thousands of years old, and one can hardly expect anybody to remember the truth accurately over that period of time.

Second, and much more importantly, many of these characters are inveterate liars anyway, and should never be assumed to ever be telling you the truth. (I mean, seriously. You wouldn’t trust Janx or Daisani, would you? You *shouldn’t*, anyway.) :)

Anyway, so now I’m on to reading HOUSE OF CARDS, and I’ll blog about that while I’m finishing it! <3 -Catie

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

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C.E. Murphy

September 2017

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