I’m addicted to writing books. Reading them, too. Writing and reading and true love and chocolate–life doesn’t get much better than that. Well, maybe watching The Princess Bride while munching crème donuts.
When I was in grade school one of our assignments was to read a poem in front of the class. I couldn’t decide between Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” and Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis” (I love horses).
Why yes, I was an overachiever, why do you ask?
I chose Alfred Noyes. The bell rang before I finished and no one moved. At that moment I decided I’d be an actress when I grew up. And I’d write a romance inspired by my favorite poem. I’ve achieved both goals, although THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER took longer (I played Nellie is South Pacific at age 19).
First, I want everyone to know that THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER has a happy ending. And now…here’s an excerpt:
1 April, 1787
Elizabeth Wyndham gazed at her reflection in the mirror above her dressing table. Dispassionately, she scrutinized her ink-black hair, which fell in ringlets on either side of her face, not unlike a spaniel’s ears. A scowl caused her delicately arched brows to descend toward her dark brown eyes–so dark that from a distance they looked like lampblack. “You’re a fraud,” she said to her image. “A cheat.”
“What did ye gabble, Mistress?” asked her servant, Grace.
“I wasn’t gabbling,” Elizabeth fibbed, her lashes thick dark crescents against her cheekbones. “I coughed.”
“It didn’t sound like a cough t’ me.” Grace regarded her mistress with disapproval. While no one could deny that Miss Elizabeth was an attractive woman, Grace wondered how much longer her looks could possibly hold up. After all, she must be close to thirty. And yet she acted as if men would always flock ’round her, like pigeons. Truth be told, Elizabeth Wyndham should have been married for a good decade now, and mother to at least five children.
“What are you staring at? My gown?” Elizabeth allowed a thin smile to tug at the corners of her mouth. “In truth, this gown is so out-of-date, ’tis moss-grown.”
“Ye never fret over fashion when we’re at home.” Grace’s gaze touched upon Elizabeth’s powdered white shoulders, which contrasted dramatically with the red brocade of her gown–her very low-cut gown. “If ye want the naked truth, Mistress, yer bosom’s practically fallin’ on the table. What would yer mother–“
“–say if she saw such a thing?”
With a shrug, Elizabeth turned back to her reflection. She was aware of her shortcomings and strengths, and considered her beauty her most important asset. But only because of society’s dictates. Her quick intelligence, which would last far longer than her face and figure, would ultimately serve her better. Until that time, however, she would display her physical attributes, turning a blind eye–and a deaf ear–to the servant, chaperone, or even stepmother who expressed dissatisfaction.
“God blessed me with a generous bosom,” she said, “and I see no reason to hide it.”
Grace’s face flushed. “Ye’re an authoress, Mistress, not a . . . one of them . . . improper ladies.”
“Whores, you mean?”
Grace looked as if she were about to faint. “Yer language,” she reprimanded. “Wait till I tell your mother–“
“Wait till I tell somebody,” Grace cried, stomping toward the bed.
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said. “It’s just that I’m so nervous.”
It’s just that you’re a fraud, her reflection mocked. How could she face the 150 guests gathering in the ballroom below? Tonight was supposed to be the crowning moment of a career that, in all modesty, had been enormously successful.
She cradled her face in her hands. Her cheeks were so hot. While she prided herself on her iron constitution, her body was sometimes bothered by a variety of vague aches and pains. She attributed their origin to tension, unhappiness, confusion, and a host of the womanly maladies she had always disdained.
Perhaps I’m coming down with a fever and will die in the next few minutes, she thought hopefully. Then I won’t have to encounter all those smiling faces, and listen to all those compliments, and pretend I’m still the darling of Minerva Press.
She had already decided that her writing career was over. Pretending otherwise was artifice.
Grace captured two black velvet ribbons and lifted them from the four-poster’s gold counterpane. “What do you want me to do with these, Mistress?”
“Tie them around my neck and wrist, please.”
“I’d rather fetch yer shawl.”
“No.” Elizabeth extended her wrist, but her servant just stood there, holding the ribbons gingerly, as if she’d caught two mice by their tails. “All right, hand over the damnable things. I’ll put them on myself.”
Grace gasped at the word “damnable.” Her thick brows shot up toward her mob cap. Without further comment, she thrust the ribbons at her mistress.
Elizabeth’s fingers felt like chips of ice as she fumbled with her accessories. She knew she shouldn’t snap at Grace. Her servant wasn’t responsible for B.B. Wyndham’s inability to finish Castles of Doom, and Grace certainly wasn’t responsible for Elizabeth Wyndham’s related problem, or more precisely, her obsession.
“My obsession,” Elizabeth whispered to her reflection.
She squeezed her eyes shut, but it didn’t help. Behind her closed eyelids, she conjured up the raven-haired knight whom she hated and feared and loved–the raven-haired knight who existed only in her imagination. His face remained elusive, but the more she wrote, the more frequently she caught flashes of him–the width of his back beneath his surcoat, his thick hair curling over his ears and brushing his nape, the way he held his lithe body so straight and tall. She had fled the Yorkshire Dales in a virtual panic. That way she wouldn’t have to confront her knight’s forthcoming death. Yet he had followed her here to London, invading her publisher’s palatial townhouse. She now knew he would follow her everywhere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Former singer/actress and perennial rule-breaker Mary Ellen Dennis is the author of several award-winning historical romance novels and culinary mysteries and is growing her audience for both. She is married to novelist Gordon Aalborg (aka Victoria Gordon), whom she met online through a writer’s group; they live on Vancouver Island. She has two books in stores this month, released by Sourcebooks Casablanca: THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH–set in the exotic world of a 19th century circus and sweeps readers into death-defying feats, dangerous rivalries, and a love that has all the thrills and romance of the greatest show on earth., and a reissue of THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER: A fast-paced and passionate retelling of the story of two timeless lovers who would die for each other. If only they didn’t have to. This gorgeous romance gives the poem a whole new depth and a happy ending. For more information, please visit www.maryellendennis.com.
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