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I had such a wonderful time editing Victoria Kincaid’s latest Pride and Prejudice variation, The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy, and I’m thrilled to welcome her back to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate its release! Victoria is here to talk about her research on espionage and to share an excerpt from the novel. Please give her a warm welcome!

Thank you for having me visit, Anna!  While doing research for The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy, I learned a lot about espionage activities during the Napoleonic Wars.  In particular, I read about the Alien office (part of the Home Office) which was basically the British government’s first official spy agency.  I learned about a number of fascinating incidents which would make great scenes in novels but didn’t fit into this book.  Still, I think that anyone who is interested in the era would find them remarkable—and entertaining:

  • The Alien Office thwarted one actual domestic insurrection: an incipient Irish rebellion led by agents supported by the French government. The secret service placed agents in Ireland to infiltrate the organization. This enabled them to arrest all of the rebellion’s leaders in 1798 before the event took place this represented one of the office’s greatest success.
  • In 1800 the secret service helped one faction of the French royalists form the “English Committee” in Paris. The Committee was responsible for several assassination attempts on Napoleon’s life—the most famous of which was the Rue Nicaise bombing on Christmas Eve, 1800. By 1803 the Committee had detailed plans in place for Napoleon’s kidnapping or assassination.  These plans almost certainly could not have remained in place without the tacit complicity of Fouche, the well-known minister of police in Paris.
  • One of the Committee’s most successful agents was a woman, Madame Williams. An Englishman’s widow who made multiple Channel crossings, some disguised as a sailor, Williams was never captured or apparently even suspected of being a spy.
  • Napoleon had planted agents of his own. One double agent arrived in England with his own false plans for overthrowing the French government.  Aware of the ruse, the British government created an elaborate counter plan that was designed to fool the French authorities into believing the British had fallen for their trick.  For months they created correspondence and moved agents around Europe with the purpose of deceiving Napoleon’s spy.
  • Savary, the chief of Napoleon’s personal guard, was charged with Investigating the extent of a treasonous plot. He visited the home of a recently discovered traitor along the Channel coast and found early drafts of reports that he himself had given to the Emperor.  He realized then that the information in the reports he had been giving had been authored by the British Alien Office.

It is difficult to say to what extent the secret service’s efforts helped to bring about Napoleon’s eventual demise since it is the nature of espionage to have unseen effects.  Most likely the agency’s efforts helped to sow the seeds that eventually led to many French citizens to switch to the royalist cause, but at the time eventual success was attributed to diplomacy and conventional warfare.

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An excerpt from The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy, courtesy of Victoria Kincaid

Darcy returned his attention to Elizabeth’s still form, aware that the doctor’s eyes were upon him.  After a long moment the Frenchman spoke.  “You are not a laborer searching for work.”  It was a statement, not a question.

Darcy stiffened.  “No?”

“Your hands are too soft, with callouses only from a horse’s reins.”  The doctor’s voice was matter-of-fact, not accusatory.  “A farm laborer’s hands are calloused everywhere.”

Darcy cursed himself silently for not having anticipated that detail.

“And you have an English wife.”  No doubt myriad explanations occurred to the doctor: spies, expatriate nobles, smugglers.

Darcy readied himself to fight.  Were he alone he could simply flee, but he could not leave Elizabeth behind—and traveling might kill her.

But Martin spread his hands, giving Darcy a gentle smile. “I am not your enemy.  To me, you and your wife are simply patients in need of care, and I have taken an oath to care for all who need it.”  Darcy regarded the doctor steadily.  Did he dare take the other man’s word?  Did he dare put his life—and Elizabeth’s—into this man’s trust?

Darcy sighed, and his shoulders slumped.  In truth, he had no choice.

“I swear I will not give you up to the authorities.  I have no love for them.  I would not give a rabid dog into their keeping.”  For a moment Martin’s expression was quite fierce.

Darcy nodded, somewhat reassured.

Martin looked at him sidelong.  “But will you tell me how an English gentleman and his wife came to be in Saint-Malo in the midst of a war?”

An English gentleman.  Darcy rubbed his face with both hands.  Despite his clothing, Darcy apparently might as well be wearing a sign proclaiming his name and rank.  Very well. The doctor had guessed enough of the truth; Darcy might as well tell more.  “Elizabeth was on a ship that exploded near the Channel Islands. It was reported that everyone on the ship was lost.  I am seeking the man responsible for the explosion, but I did not expect to find…” He gestured to Elizabeth’s still form.

“Yes, I remember hearing word of that.  An explosion would explain the blow to the head, but her survival is wonderful indeed.  I know of no other survivors.”

The rise and fall of Elizabeth’s chest fascinated Darcy, and he allowed himself to revel in the simple fact of her breathing.  Although he did not like the soft rattle in her exhales or the convulsive coughs.  “It is a miracle.  I had no hope.”

Martin clasped Darcy’s shoulder.  “If someone killed Marguerite, I would hunt him down as well.  I wish I knew this man so I could help you seek revenge.”

Darcy continued to regard the other man warily.

Martin chuckled.  “Our countries may be at war, but I have no quarrel with you, sir.  Your secret is safe with me.”

Did Darcy even dare to trust the man?  “I cannot ask you to take such risks…”

“The risk is not so great.  Bretagne only grudgingly supported the revolution or the emperor.  My sentiments are very common.”

Darcy was humbled by the man’s generosity and trust.  “I thank you, sir.  I will be forever in your debt.”

The man took the necklace from the table and poured it into Darcy’s hand.  “You must keep this safe until your wife may wear it once more.” Darcy stared dumbly at the pendant in his hand.  “I am afraid the chain broke when we removed it from her neck.”

Darcy threaded the chain of his watch fob through the loop at the top of the pendant.  He had chosen his plainest, cheapest watch and fob for the journey, but the doctor’s sharp look suggested it was still out of place.  Hopefully the future of Britain did not rest on Darcy’s abilities to pass as a common Frenchman.

Darcy heard a knock sounding on the front door.  Martin looked toward the source of the noise.  “Ah, I have a patient for a return visit.”   With a nod to Darcy, the doctor slipped through the door and closed it behind him with a quiet click.

Darcy was alone in the room with Elizabeth—his sleeping miracle. His eyes sought out her face once more, savoring the features he had never thought to see again in this lifetime.  His heart was so full that it felt ready to burst from his chest. Yes, Elizabeth was ill, and they were trapped in a country at war with an unknown enemy threatening them.  But Elizabeth was alive, and for the moment that was more than enough.

****

About The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy

A Pride and Prejudice Variation

Mr. Darcy arrives at Longbourn, intending to correct the mistakes he made during his disastrous proposal in Hunsford. To his horror, he learns that Elizabeth Bennet was killed in a ship’s explosion off the coast of France—in an apparent act of sabotage. Deep in despair, he travels in disguise to wartime France to seek out the spy responsible for her death.

But a surprise awaits Darcy in the French town of Saint-Malo: Elizabeth is alive!

Recovering from a blow to the head, Elizabeth has no memory of her previous life, and a series of mistakes lead her to believe that Darcy is her husband. However, they have even bigger problems. As they travel through a hostile country, the saboteur mobilizes Napoleon’s network of spies to capture them and prevent them from returning home. Elizabeth slowly regains her memories, but they often leave her more confused.

Darcy will do anything to help Elizabeth reach England safely, but what will she think of him when she learns the truth of their relationship?

Buy on Amazon

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Giveaway

Victoria is generously offering a reader’s choice giveaway of either an ebook or paperback copy of The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy. One winner will be selected. This giveaway is open internationally, and will be open through Sunday, August 5, 2018. To enter, leave a comment with your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Victoria! It’s always a pleasure to have you visit. Congratulations on your new release!

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It’s a pleasure to welcome Don Jacobson back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of his latest audio books, Henry Fitzwilliam’s War and The Maid and the Footman. Please give him a warm welcome!

Which came first: The Written or the Spoken Word?

One of my favorite mantras to students…be they history or writing…is that “if it sounds weird, it probably is weird.” Oh, I know, this is odd to be coming from the podium at an august institution of higher education, but it is spoken with the best of intents. T’is my fun way to encourage the l’il darlin’s to proofread aloud. That way they will hear the sound of their words…and understand that if they are spewing a mouthful of gibberish, they likely have written something semantically incomprehensible.

This exercise is rooted in my belief that every single syllable, pause—partial or full—sentence, and paragraph have grown from Humanity’s effort to preserve that which came first; the spoken word.

Recall that t’was the Greeks who invented vowels (after they pinched the Phoenician alphabet in the mid-700s BCE to replace Linear B from the pre-Greek Dark Ages days: nobody could read it!) so that they could preserve the Homeric Epics after Homer died.

I mean, how would The Illiad read if there was an eternal confusion over (OK, this is English, but imagine an Athenian bard trying to sing for his supper) whether the word “dg” was “dog,” “dig,” “dug,” or “dag?” The cardinal vowels (a, e, i, o, u…forget about the cross-dressing “y” and “w”) were created to allow the Greeks to record their favorite after dinner entertainment. OK, Plato surely recorded many down-and-out drinking brawls where Alcibiaedes and Socrates would try to drink each other under the klismos, but that was after a local minstrel had recited a few dozen stanzas of something designed to show the cultural chops of the party’s host.

Yet, given that the Greek’s captured the eloquence of Homer’s words…and later those of Sappho, Aeschylus, and, later by Romans living on another peninsula, Ovid…these written works were still designed to allow an oral performance before an audience.

This is, I admit, a long way around the block to get me to the point of saying that all writing is rooted in the oral tradition. If that is the case, should not all writing when heard sound as good as (if not better than) when it  read silently?

In the #InspiredByAusten world, #Austenesque authors over the past few years have been moving through the processes of bringing their works to a broad public using a range of electronic publishing options. Many are now adept at designing their stories to fit both digital and print venues.  We have, it seems, been following the traditional path extant since our good friend Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press in the 1450s.

Naturally, this great leap in the manner in which the written word could be distributed forced a putting of the cart before the horse, essentially given primacy of written over spoken. And so it has remained until the last 20 or 30 years.

However, new technologies (I am ignoring phonographs upon which you could have enjoyed Gielgud performing King Lear…not particularly portable.) led to a reappraisal of the spoken word as a literary device. Three words…books on tape.

Of course, these were usually the author or celebrity author reading their word into a microphone. The utility was that one could listen to a book…and hear the author’s voice…without having to cease other tasks in order to flip pages. But, t’was “just” a reading, not a performance. And, so it remained for a few decades.

With the advances in Internet technology and ever-expanding server farms, more opportunities to move books to recorded arenas are now available. And, in the process, voice artists are bringing their talents to performing and interpreting the books.

I have been in the midst of a four-month process of moving all of my books (Bennet Wardrobe and Lessers and Betters) to #Audible.

The reason is simple: I want my readers to also be able to engage my books in a different manner. The performers with whom I work offer just that. Barbara Rich (The Lessers and Betters stories) and Amanda Berry (The books of the Bennet Wardrobe) bring their training and experience to play to present listeners with a uniquely different experience.

They interpret the pacing of the writing. They assume the nature of the characters. They bring emotion to the passages and, hopefully inspire reactions not experienced by readers of the printed books. They draw you in…much as the ancient Greek and Roman rhapsōidos did 2,500 years ago. And, in the process, make the words I have laid down sound much as they did when I imagined them.

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Please read the following excerpt from Chapter VIII in Henry Fitzwilliam’s War while listening to the audio sample as performed by Amanda Berry found here.

The House thus settled itself for another night much as it had for almost a century, its long porches reaching out to embrace the turbulent weather that had disturbed its owners’ homeland just a few hours before. Idiosyncratic creaks and pops echoed through the structure as ancient nails and beams gave up the heat collected from the watery October sun. Yet, while the building and its servants may have surrendered themselves to sleep, the two principals found such relief impossible to attain.

She could not imagine that he could be pulled away from her again, even though she knew that it was impossible for him to remain in this time.  His absence would disrupt every thread, every mote that swirled in the complicated universe governed by the Wardrobe. Only the fact that her husband was in Washington permitted the soldier’s presence next door.

As she lay there, counting the hours to dawn, she gazed around her son’s room, the furnishings so distinctly male, yet still revealing his sensitive nature.  On the one hand, his polo mallets were resting in hooks on the wall facing the window; two cricket bats were also propped in the corner.  On the other, one of her favorite canvases, his oil of Roses on Fieldstone, Deauville looked down at the foot of the bed.  How she prayed for his safety. What would he have made of the young man resting in his parent’s bed?

That young man tossed one way and then the other.  Each crash of thunder returned him to that night, back to Loos, to the moment when he could still count sight as one of his senses. But, artillery was only thunderous at the moment of impact.  The low grumble beyond the horizon, sometimes punctuated by flashes of grim lightening, first led to a whistle that increased in pitch and volume if the shell had your number.  If not, the sound deepened and the moaning faded as the charge found another target.

Then there was the wind; its gusts shook the House like a terrier would a captured rat. Again he was thrown back to the Front where the ground quivered pudding-like under the pounding of Hun cannons. Sudden drafts chilled his cheeks and chin as the pervasive blasts overwhelmed well-mitered windows.

How foolish we were, to allow phony “national pride,” the ultimate manifestation of masculinity, to destroy the system that had kept the peace for a hundred years.  Now the blood price that will have to be paid to erase this, man’s original sin—pride, will be steep indeed.

He knew that the coming parting was utterly necessary. He had to return to his own time lest he become another Kitty Bennet, now lost in the Wardrobe for 70 years. He could see Gran’s sadness when she spoke of her next eldest sister.  He could not subject his family to that sort of grief.

***

There was a point around midnight when she found herself sitting on the edge of her bed.  Had she dozed?  Then, responding to a dream, had she risen in pursuit of…she knew not what? The pulling she had felt for twenty-plus years was roiling her insides. The demand was too intense.

Her bare feet touched down on the bedside throw rug. Gathering a blanket around her shoulders, she glided across the mahogany stained floorboards to open her door. Just four steps down the hallway to his. She rested her forehead against the panel, trying to control her breathing—but with little success.

Stop…do not proceed.  You will break your heart…and his!

In his darkness, he first perceived her scent, roses rushing over the grass to his nose.  He must have lost the sound of the door opening beneath one of the crashes of the storm.  Somewhere, feet or inches away, She stood, silently.  The weight of her eyes in the nighttime darkness bore on him.  Her gaze played up and down his body and pushed his aura like a hand gently stroking a cat’s silky coat.  He could hear her shallow quick breaths signaling intense conflict. But, she did not move to close the gap.

****

Giveaway

Don is generously offering a two-pack of Audible codes for Henry Fitzwilliam’s War and The Maid and the Footman. There will be two winners selected. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, August 5, 2018. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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About the Author

Don Jacobson

Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years.  His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio.  His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards.  He has previously published five books, all non-fiction.  In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe SeriesThe Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series.  Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”

 Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations.  As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.

He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound.  Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).

He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear.  Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.

His other passion is cycling.  Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills).  He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days).  Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).

Connect with Don: WebsiteAmazon Author Page | Goodreads Author Page | Twitter

Thank you, Don! It’s always a pleasure having you as my guest! Congratulations on your latest audio book releases!

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I have a special treat for you today, dear readers! Courtesy of Head of Zeus, I have an excerpt of The Girl in the Pink Raincoat by Arlene Hughes, and a giveaway.

About The Girl in the Pink Raincoat

When a factory girl and a Jewish businessman fall in love it seems that the whole world is against them.

Manchester, 1939. On the eve of war Gracie Earnshaw is working in Rosenberg’s Raincoat factory – a job she hates – but her life is about to be turned upside down when she falls in love with Jacob, the boss’s charismatic nephew.

Through Jacob, with his ambitions to be a writer, Gracie glimpses another world: theatre, music and prejudice. But their forbidden romance is cut short when Jacob is arrested and tragedy unfolds.

Gracie struggles with heartbreak, danger and old family secrets, but the love of her first sweetheart comes back to her in an unexpected way giving her the chance of a new life and happiness.

Buy on Amazon

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An excerpt from The Girl in the Pink Raincoat

‘Mam, are you sure there’s enough hot water to rinse my hair?’ Gracie asked for the third time, as she sat in the tin bath in front of the fire.

‘Aye, of course there is. I’ve told you already.’

‘But I want it to be really shiny.’

‘You’ve used enough of that coal tar soap, but we’ll give it a final rinse with vinegar. That’s as much as we can do.’ Sarah took the pan of water off the stove and tested the temperature with her elbow. ‘Right, cover your eyes.’ She poured it over Gracie’s head. ‘How’s that?’

‘In my eyes!’ cried Gracie.

‘Ach, well, the next one’ll wash it out.’

When Gracie’s dark hair was squeaky clean she stepped out of the bath and her mother handed her the warm towel from the fireguard. Then there was the painful ritual of teasing out the knots and tangles. Finally Gracie, in her candlewick dressing-gown, took her book and sat in front of the fire to dry her hair.

It took her nearly as long to decide what to wear on her first proper date with Jacob because she had no idea where he would take her. On a Sunday night not everywhere was open and it was quite likely plenty of places would be shut because of war being declared. She hoped they might go dancing and kept imagining what it would be like when he held her in his arms. Or they might go to one of the better pubs where they could spend the evening getting to know each other better. In the end, she decided that her navy dress with the peter-pan collar would look smart wherever they ended up.

She stood in the kitchen doorway and asked, ‘How do I look?’

Sarah put down the book she was reading and smiled. ‘Lovely, and your hair’s so shiny.’

‘Ah,’ said Gracie, ‘I think we overdid the vinegar – I keep getting a whiff of it.’

‘Never mind,’ said Sarah. ‘Once you’re out in the fresh air it’ll go.’

*

Gracie caught the bus to Piccadilly and went to stand outside Lewis’s department store. There were several people on their own, just like her, and she watched each one as their date arrived, imagining their stories: the accountant with the shorthand typist who hadn’t known each other long; the factory worker and the shop girl who had saved up almost enough to get married; the couple in their thirties, married, but not to each other.

The minutes ticked by and she began to wonder if he was waiting at one of the other entrances. She was about to walk round the corner to see if he was there when she spotted him running across the road. He was frowning as he dodged a bus. His tie had blown over his shoulder and his hair had fallen forward. In one graceful movement he pushed it back. Then he saw her and his smile made her catch her breath.

‘Thank goodness you’re still here,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry I’m late. I had to help my uncle—’

‘It’s all right. I knew you’d come.’

He nodded and looked pleased. ‘Come on then, it’s not far.’

She hoped he might take her hand or, at the very least, offer his arm, but he did neither. He was more concerned about the outbreak of war and talked non-stop all the way to Shudehill. ‘We’ll be bombed for sure,’ he told her. ‘Next to London, Manchester is one of the biggest industrial cities, with its aircraft factories, engineering works, food-processing plants, you name it – everything needed to supply the armed forces. And, as if that wasn’t enough, my uncle’s worried about his business.’

Gracie looked at him. ‘But he makes raincoats.’

‘Yes, but the factory is owned by a German family.’

‘You mean—’

‘If we’re lucky we’ll get some abuse, maybe a brick or two through the factory windows, but who knows what’ll happen when the fighting starts?’

Gracie was shocked. ‘But your family’s been in the city for such a long time, nobody could think they supported Hitler, especially when Jewish people are fleeing Germany because of the way they’ve been treated.’

‘Ah, Gracie, not everybody has a heart as kind as yours.’ His mood seemed to lift. ‘You look lovely,’ he said, and took her hand. ‘I like your hair.’

At the top end of Shudehill they stopped outside a narrow four-storey building with a façade of brown glazed tiles. ‘Here we are,’ he said, and Gracie had just enough time to look up at the pub sign – the fearsome, swarthy face of a man with a jewel in his ear, wearing a huge turban and, below it, ‘Turk’s Head’ painted in gold. It was packed inside with the sort of rough-and-ready types her mother wouldn’t have approved of, and Jacob read the disappointment on her face. ‘Don’t worry, it might look a bit seedy but I’ll get us some drinks and then we’ll go upstairs.’ He left her to go to the bar.

With the smell of drink, the swearing and raucous laughter, Gracie began to feel uncomfortable. A man in the corner, puffing his pipe, caught her eye and beckoned her over. She quickly looked away. Jacob had seemed so respectable, why would he bring her to a place like this? She noticed a sign on the wall ‘Rooms upstairs’, glanced at the door and thought about leaving, but then he appeared at her side and handed her a glass. ‘I got us some lemonade; I hope that’s all right. Let’s go upstairs.’ He took her arm, but she pulled back. ‘What’s the matter? I promise you’ll enjoy it.’ Then he saw the look on her face and understood. ‘Oh, Gracie.’ He laughed. ‘You didn’t think…’

‘What’s upstairs, Jacob?’

His face lit up. ‘Just the most wonderful music you’ll ever hear and some dancing, if you like, but I have to say I’m not much of a dancer.’

The room was dimly lit by candles stuck in green bottles on each small table. At one end there was a raised stage with an upright piano, a snare drum and a microphone. In front of it was a small dance-floor. Several people were already seated, and Gracie was pleased to see that, in contrast to the bar below, they were chatting quietly. She was reassured to see some well-dressed women among them. A few men acknowledged Jacob as he led her to a table near the stage.

‘You’ve been here before?’ asked Gracie.

‘I’m here most Sunday nights. It’s one of the few places where you can listen to jazz in Manchester.’

 

At that moment a spotlight lit the stage and the pianist and drummer took their places. They were followed by a thick-set black man, carrying a trumpet, who drew enthusiastic applause. Jacob leaned towards Gracie and whispered, ‘Leroy Skinner – he’s the nearest thing you’ll get to Duke Ellington this side of the Atlantic.’ Gracie had never heard of Leroy Skinner and had no idea who Duke Ellington was, so she said nothing.

The applause died down, the piano played an introduction and the snare joined in. Leroy moved to the beat, with one hand tapping the trumpet against his leg, the other softly clicking his fingers. He licked his lips, brought the trumpet to his mouth and blew. It was a sound such as Gracie had never heard. It reverberated inside her, and each note that followed was so unexpected that at first she couldn’t discern a tune. But still she was drawn to it. Jacob leaned towards her, his breath on her ear. ‘Just relax and let the music take you.’ Slowly what had seemed like discord emerged into discernible patterns, changing like a kaleidoscope in her brain. The tunes came and went, and she wondered how she had lived twenty years without ever hearing music like this.

In the interval Jacob left to get them some more lemonade while Gracie went to powder her nose. She studied her face in the cracked mirror on the windowsill: her skin was flushed, her eyes were bright, and she couldn’t help smiling. There would be dancing after the interval.

Jacob was talking to some lads around his age when she came back. She would have joined him, but as soon as he saw her he left them.

‘You didn’t have to leave your friends,’ she said.

‘I know, but I just want to be with you.’ He moved his chair closer to hers. ‘Tell me, did you really like the music?’

‘I did.’

‘And would you come here with me again?’

‘Of course.’ Gracie saw the tenderness in his eyes. ‘I’d go anywhere if you asked me.’

At that moment the performers returned to the stage and this time they were accompanied by a woman in a tight-fitting black dress and black evening gloves who went straight to the microphone. Leroy counted them in and, on cue, she began to sing, in a husky voice, ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’.

‘Will you dance?’ asked Jacob.

Gracie had been to the Ritz and other ballrooms plenty of times with her friends. She liked the lively dances; the foxtrot and the quickstep were best. If a lad liked you he would choose a slow dance, but you had to be careful because some of them just wanted to touch you in a way they shouldn’t.

‘Yes, I will,’ said Gracie, and gave him her hand.

He held her close, but there was gentleness in his touch. She rested her head against his shoulder and they moved together to the slow rhythm of the song. Her fingers were on his neck and she wanted to stroke it. She felt his hand on her back and longed for him to caress her. He stepped away a little and she looked up to see him smiling down at her. ‘How am I doing?’ he said.

‘Fine, so far, but I’ll have to make sure you get more practice.’

He laughed and swung her around just as the music ended, then pulled her close to him and held her for a moment. *

The light was fading when they left the Turk’s Head. ‘Where do you live?’ he asked.

‘About twenty minutes up Oldham Road. I could run it in fifteen minutes and get there before it’s completely dark.’

‘Or I could walk you home and we’d have another twenty minutes together.’

‘But you’ll be in the dark then.’

‘Not at all.’ He patted his pocket. ‘I’ve a torch to light my way and the memory of dancing with you to keep me company.’ He took her hand and they set off. ‘So, what do you really think about jazz?’

‘I love it,’ said Gracie. ‘I’ll never forget tonight.’

‘I remember when I first went to a jazz club,’ he said. ‘It was when I lived in Berlin, and my father took me. I must have been about sixteen. That sort of music was very popular in Germany, but the clubs are probably all gone now. I don’t know…’

They walked a while in silence, and Gracie thought about Jacob coming to live in England. ‘Can I ask you something?’ she said.

‘Of course.’

‘What was it like to leave your home and come to a strange country?’

‘It wasn’t easy,’ he said. ‘People are wary of you. You might look different, sound different, and all you want to do is to fade into the background. You keep your head down, try to become invisible.’

‘And do you forget the place you left behind?’

His voice was strong. ‘Never. You carry it with you. You’ll always be different, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.’

When they reached Pearson Street Gracie stopped. ‘I live just down here. You don’t need to see me to the door. There’s still a bit of light.’

Jacob looked about him and pulled her into a nearby shop doorway. She felt his arms around her, sensed the dip of his head as he bent towards her. His kiss was warm and gentle on her lips. His hands caressed her, then suddenly his kiss was urgent and Gracie felt her stomach tighten with the pleasure of his body against hers.

‘Eh-up! What’ve we here?’ They quickly pulled apart. ‘Well, if it ain’t our Gracie with a fella in m’shop doorway.’

Gracie grabbed Jacob’s hand and pulled him out into the street. ‘Sorry, Billy, we were just—’

‘Aye, lass, I know what you was doin’.’ He put his key in the door. ‘Watch out your mam doesn’t catch you.’ They could still hear him laughing when the door was locked and bolted.

‘I’d better go now,’ said Jacob, and stepped back from her. ‘I really enjoyed the evening.’

‘So did I.’ Gracie desperately wanted to be kissed again, but she knew it would be wrong to reach out to him.

‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ he said.

‘Yes, and thank you for tonight.’ But Jacob had already turned away and she didn’t catch the words he called over his shoulder. The whole evening had been wonderful… the music, his kiss… She had thought he liked her, but it was as though he couldn’t get away from her quickly enough.

She ran all the way to her front door and let herself in. The light was on in her mother’s bedroom and she went in to say goodnight.

Sarah put aside her book. ‘Did you have a nice time?’ she said.

Gracie told her about the jazz club and the music.

Sarah pulled a face. ‘Doesn’t sound like a respectable place to me.’

‘Oh, but it was. The people there weren’t rough at all and Jacob knew some of them.’

‘And what about Jacob?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘A Jewish lad whose family owns a factory, he sounds well-to-do. I’d have thought he’d be going out with girls, you know, like himself.’

‘Mam, I’ve been out with him once. We’re not getting married or anything.’

‘Well, that’s all right, then. Just don’t let yourself down. You know what I mean?’

Gracie rolled her eyes. She knew quite well what her mother meant. ‘Yes, Mam.’

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About the Author

Arlene Hughes
(Photo credit: Tony Edwards)

Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time.

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Giveaway

Head of Zeus is generously offering 3 copies of The Girl in the Pink Raincoat to my readers. U.K. winners can choose between an ebook and a hardback. All other winners will receive an ebook. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, July 22, 2018. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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I am so excited to welcome one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction back to Diary of an Eccentric today. Joana Starnes is here to celebrate the release of The Darcy Legacy, which I’m hoping to read very soon. Please give her a warm welcome!

Many thanks, Anna, for welcoming me here today on the blog tour for my new book, The Darcy Legacy.

As I’ve mentioned before, this novel has rather less angst and a lot more banter compared to my other ones. The two people we have to thank for that – or rather the two culprits – are Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Bennet.

Photo: BBC

These two gentlemen are such fun to write, especially because neither of them is willing to take Darcy very seriously, and certainly not as seriously as he takes himself.

The colonel knows his cousin like the back of his hand, and at all times knows exactly how to deconstruct Darcy’s ever so careful reasoning.

As for Mr Bennet, he poses a very different challenge to our favourite hero: Mr Bennet is The Figure of Authority – and submitting to authority doesn’t come easily to Darcy, not anymore. He has been his own man ever since his father’s death, and has had to obey no will but his own. This is no longer the case. Now he has to deal with one who has the ‘power of veto.’

Elizabeth isn’t of age yet, parental consent is needed for them to marry, and Darcy simply can’t afford to get on the wrong side of Mr Bennet.

The added difficulty is that they’re very different people, who react in very different ways to the world around them. Darcy is conscientious, serious-minded and punctilious to a fault. Mr Bennet tends to make a joke of everything. And chances are that Darcy isn’t likely to regard his courtship as a joke.

So… now I’d like to share a particular interview. Hope you and your readers will enjoy it. Let me set the scene: Mr Darcy has just landed himself in deep water (if you had a peek at the excerpt in my guest post at Austenesque Reviews on Jul 2, you’ll know what I mean 😉 ). Some crisis management is in order – urgently. To put it in modern parlance, Mr Darcy has to ‘fess up.

Hope you’ll enjoy the conversation between Elizabeth’s father and her suitor. I must admit I had great fun writing it.

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An excerpt from The Darcy Legacy

Mr Bennet was in the library, as expected, in his customary place at the farthest end of the large and pretentiously ornamented room. […] Darcy bowed his head in lieu of any other greeting, then instead of joining the older gentleman in his corner, he turned to feign some interest in the nearest bookcase. He had not lost his courage – not as such. The firmness of purpose with which he had embarked upon the mortifying and potentially hazardous endeavour was still with him. However, the ability to choose his words was not.

Darcy struggled to regain it as he stared through narrowed eyes at the shelves before him, seeing nothing but a countenance aflame with the deepest blush and a pair of fine eyes alight with indignation.

‘… this morning brought one disgrace too many, and you should not be here. If neither I nor your own conscience can make you see that my quarters are out of bounds, then you shall have to hear it from my father.’

Disgrace, she had called it, her lips curling in distaste.

“Imbecile,” Darcy hissed under his breath. Yet apparently he was not sufficiently quiet, for his companion looked up from his book again.

“Sir?” Mr Bennet queried. “Did you say something?”

“No, nothing,” Darcy dissembled, then felt compelled to add, “I beg your pardon, I was…”

He let his voice trail off, reluctant to finish his sentence and acknowledge that he was talking to himself. He walked along the book-lined wall, retraced his steps when he reached the corner of the room, and before long what had begun as an aimless amble turned into steadily pacing back and forth.

The fact that his current employment had gained him Mr Bennet’s full attention escaped Darcy’s notice. He did not mutter as he paced but, lips pursed, he proceeded from hissed

invectives to a silent and grim analysis of his performance. Naught but blunder after blunder, and idiotic ones at that. Ambushing her in her quarters. Pressing his suit when she was clearly uncomfortable and most unwilling to have that conversation – and thus compounding the dreadful blunders of the morning. His proposal, seasoned with talk of their disparities – her connections – Lady Catherine. The unhinged mutterings that followed. […] It was little wonder she thought him suffering from sunstroke or the like. And despite his ill-judged remarks on her station in life, she had stayed to watch over him – had shown him concern and kindness. Why the devil could he not respond in kind? He might have helped her to her feet – might have reworded his proposal in a gentlemanlike manner, instead of—

Yet even then, for all the self-reproaches, his breath caught as he revisited those glorious moments in the grove. Her warm weight in his arms. Her enticing form draped over him, pressed against him. Soft flesh under his fingertips, under a thin layer of muslin. Soft lips under his. Her startled gasp when she had held her breath, only to release it in a rush and let it wash over his face, sweet, fragrant and warm, driving him to distraction. Compelling him to kiss her again. And she had kissed him back. She had! Surely, he had not lost his senses to the point of imagining that. She had closed her eyes and kissed him back.

“Spoilt for choice, Mr Darcy?” Mr Bennet suddenly asked, making him start.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You seem to have some difficulty in selecting a book. Were you looking for something in particular?”

“Yes. No, I mean…” Inwardly cursing his newly-acquired propensity to babble, Darcy squared his shoulders. “May I join you?” he brought himself to say.

“By all means, feel free. Find yourself a good book and a glass, if you are so inclined. The port is here, but look in the customary place if you favour brandy over port, or anything in between,” Mr Bennet said, gesturing towards the decanter at his right, and then in the vague direction of the marble-topped dresser where the drinks were kept.

Darcy nodded his thanks and ambled towards the older gentleman’s end of the room, stopping along the way to pour himself a brandy. He chose a chair, moved it a little closer to Mr Bennet and angled it in his direction, then sat, glass in hand. He did not drink, and he likewise disdained the subterfuge of opening a book and feigning interest in it as he chose his words. He shifted in his seat and crossed his legs. He tugged at his neckcloth – tied too damnably tight when he had attempted to make himself presentable upon his return to the house – then crossed his legs the other way.

Across the small distance between them, Mr Bennet looked up to cast him a half-amused, half-exasperated glance.

“Is there anything troubling you, sir?”

“I— Yes,” Darcy acknowledged. “I came to speak to you, if you can spare the time. There is something I must say.”

“Is there? Very well. My time is yours, Mr Darcy, and seemingly in limitless supply,” Mr Bennet evenly replied, closing his book and setting it aside. Then he refilled his glass, raised it amicably towards the other, took a sip and motioned him to begin.

Darcy raised his own glass and drained it. Mr Bennet chortled.

“That bad?” he mildly remarked. “By all means, pour yourself another, if you find yourself in need of a few more drops of Dutch courage.”

“I thank you, no. I had better get on with it.”

“Pray do. So, what did you come to speak of?”

Wishing he had made due offerings to all the gods that endowed one with eloquence, Darcy straightened in his seat.

“I came to ask— No, that is— Hm! Mr Bennet, I… er… I feel you should hear it from me that this morning I kissed your daughter,” he said at last, only to mentally kick himself for the abysmally blunt delivery. He braced himself for the repercussions. But Mr Bennet folded his hands around his glass of port and airily asked:

“Oh. Did you? Which one? I have five.”

“Elizabeth,” came Darcy’s crisp reply, as he fought to suppress a scowl at the untimely levity.

“Elizabeth, eh?” the other echoed, a quirk in his brow. “Am I to understand you are here to ask for my consent?”

“No, sir.”

“No? You puzzle me, Mr Darcy. Precisely why are you here, then? I daresay you are not concerned that I might call you out to settle the matter. But,” he added, all lightness of tone freezing under a layer of smooth menace, “if you imagine I shall sit idly by and allow you to trifle with my Lizzy’s affections—”

“Of course not!” Darcy forcefully cut him off. “I would not.”

“Then pray enlighten me as to your intentions. In my day, they were clearly stated before one progressed to taking liberties.”

Darcy’s eyes narrowed. The interview would be as difficult as he had anticipated. Submitting to authority did not come easily when that habit was long lost. It was even harder now, when he knew himself in the wrong – a distinctly unfamiliar experience – and when faced with one whose manner differed so drastically from his own. In every dealing and every circumstance, especially one as momentous as this, he would have chosen plain-speaking and serious-minded discourse. Predictably, Mr Bennet seemed to favour irony and archness.

Darcy did not pause to consider that the very same traits he unquestionably adored in Elizabeth must have had their origins in the older gentleman’s manner; that she must have learned levity and archness at his knee. It was too vexing an experience to find himself so

flippantly questioned – and worse still, to know that, however aggravating the approach, the inquisitor must be courteously indulged, for he was the one with the power of veto. So he fought the urge to bristle at the reference to liberties, and opted for a placating tone.

“I would have stated them already, sir. But I thought it only proper to do your daughter the courtesy of applying for her consent before seeking yours.”

The other tilted his head sideways, by way of concurrence.

“I take it then that you have not proposed,” he observed.

Darcy frowned.

“I began to. But matters got out of hand.”

“How?” Mr Bennet asked, and took another sip of his port, skewering Darcy with a steady glance that joined forces with his current conundrum to make him squirm.

“This morning I sought your daughter out with the intention of offering for her. But before I could finish,” he summarised, “I am sorry to say that—” He stopped short, recognising the falsehood for what it was, even before the forbidden recollections flashed through his overwrought senses. Not sorry, not that! He was all manner of things – mortified beyond endurance to find himself in the wrong, positively terrified of what she might have made of it, but certainly not sorry. “I am compelled to own,” he amended, “that halfway through my garbled proposal, I kissed her.”

“I see. Must I conclude that she was not best-pleased?”

Darcy looked away. It was the wrong time and place to resurrect the aforementioned forbidden recollections – here and now, in the middle of a conversation with her father. Yet therein lay the answer to Mr Bennet’s question, and to his own tormenting doubt. Did she take exception? Her gasp – it had not signified shock or outrage, had it? Just surprise, surely. She had kissed him back – tangled her fingers in his hair. The outrage came later. Much later. Yet still too soon by far.

“I do not know,” he truthfully replied at last. “Before the matter was decided, we were interrupted. The curate—”

Mr Bennet straightened in his chair, and his gaze took undertones of steel.

“Are you telling me that her reputation is at stake and she would be expected to marry you regardless of her wishes? That will not come to pass, sir,” he declared with unprecedented sternness.

Darcy’s response was just as fierce.

“You may be assured I will not force her hand.”

“A wise choice,” Mr Bennet remarked, the sternness barely mellowed by a fraction. Then he added, “I will have a word with Mr Whittaker. He is a sensible man, or at least more sensible than Mr Collins. He will heed me if I ask him to keep his mouth shut.”

Darcy gave a quick gesture of impatience.

“He has already agreed to hold his peace for now. That is not the reason I came to see you.”

“Is it not? Then I am compelled to ask again: why exactly are you here?”

Before he could even begin to examine what force might have propelled him to his feet, Darcy found himself striding towards the bookcase behind him. He raised both hands to run his fingers through his hair and spoke without turning.

“Because I love her! I love your daughter with all my heart and soul, yet I seem to do nothing but antagonise her.”

“Ah,” was all that Mr Bennet said, and by necessity rather than choice Darcy saw fit to turn around and face him.

He saw the older gentleman easing himself forward in his seat to reach for both glasses. He diligently filled them, then set the port decanter down and motioned towards the drinks. Darcy shook his head. With a little shrug, Mr Bennet retrieved his and took a measured sip

“Am I to understand that you wish me to teach you how to court my daughter?” he asked with a mild and not unfriendly smile.

****

Hmm, I wonder how that would go. “Listen up, Mr Darcy: Lesson 1…”

And now it’s GIVEAWAY TIME!

The giveaway is international. Please follow the link to the RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY and enter until the end of Monday, 16 Jul 2018 (midnight Pacific) for a chance to win one of the 10 Kindle versions of The Darcy Legacy, one of the 20 Audible codes with which you can listen for free to your choice of Stevie Zimmerman’s exquisite productions of my other books, or a $25 Amazon Gift Card.

Many thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll like The Darcy Legacy.

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About The Darcy Legacy

Pemberley’s ancient halls harbour many secrets. Which one will affect Fitzwilliam Darcy and the love of his life? How is Mr Bennet to enjoy the comforts of a well-stocked library, when his wife’s premature demise had left him with the task of finding suitable matches for their daughters? What of a misleading encounter on a muddy lane in Hertfordshire, that renders a country-town assembly rather more tolerable than some might have thought?

Shades of mystery, meddlesome relations – not least a drenched Adonis – raillery, old errors and a very recent union make for a challenging courtship when Fitzwilliam Darcy is not on his own ground. Yet when love is the reward, challenges make it more worth the earning. “A fraught courtship? So, let it be fraught,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said with a nonchalant flourish of his hand. “A good challenge never hurt anyone.”’

Buy The Darcy Legacy on Amazon

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About the Author

Joana Starnes

Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family. Over the years, she has swapped several hats – physician, lecturer, clinical data analyst – but feels most comfortable in a bonnet. She has been living in Georgian England for decades in her imagination and plans to continue in that vein till she lays hands on a time machine.

She is the author of eight Austen-inspired novels: From This Day Forward ~ The Darcys of Pemberley, The Subsequent Proposal, The Second Chance, The Falmouth Connection, The Unthinkable Triangle, Miss Darcy’s Companion, Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter and The Darcy Legacy, and one of the contributing authors to The Darcy Monologues, Dangerous to Know and the upcoming Rational Creatures (due in October 2018).

Connect with Joana:

www.joanastarnes.co.uk
www. facebook.com/AllRoadsLeadToPemberley.JoanaStarnes/
www.facebook.com/joana.a.starnes
www.twitter.com/Joana_Starnes

Joana’s books on Amazon.com
Joana’s books on Amazon.co.uk
Joana’s books on Goodreads

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July 2 / Austenesque Reviews/Excerpt Post & Giveaway

July 3 / Diary of an Eccentric/ Guest Post & Giveaway

July 4 / More Agreeably Engaged/ Book Review & Giveaway

July 5 / Of Pens & Pages / Guest Post & Giveaway

July 6 / So Little Time… So Much to Read/ Guest Post & Giveaway

July 7 / My Love for Jane Austen / Excerpt Post & Giveaway

July 8 / Babblings of a Bookworm/ Book Review & Giveaway

July 9 / My Vices and Weaknesses/ Book Review & Giveaway

July 10/ Obsessed with Mr. Darcy/ Book Review & Giveaway

July 11 / Pemberley to Milton/Book Review & Giveaway

July 12 / Just Jane 1813/ Tour Finale & Giveaway

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Thank you, Joana! It’s always a pleasure to have you as a guest, and congratulations on The Darcy Legacy!

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Lona Manning has kindly offered to share an excerpt from her upcoming novel, A Marriage of Attachment, which is the sequel to A Contrary Wind, a variation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. To celebrate the release of A Marriage of Attachment (click to pre-order), the ebook of A Contrary Wind is on sale this week for 99 cents (be sure you’re logged in to your Amazon account to see the sale price). First, I’ll share with you the book blurbs, and stay tuned for a giveaway at the end of the post!

A Contrary Wind: Fanny Price, an intelligent but timid girl from a poor family, lives at Mansfield Park with her wealthy cousins. But the cruelty of her Aunt Norris, together with a broken heart, compel Fanny to run away and take a job as a governess. Far away from everything she ever knew and the man she secretly loves, will Fanny grow in strength and confidence? Will a new suitor help her to forget her past? Or will a reckless decision ruin her life and the lives of those she holds most dear?

This variation of Jane Austen’s novel includes all the familiar characters from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and some new acquaintances as well. There are some mature scenes and situations not suitable for all readers.

A Marriage of Attachment: A Marriage of Attachment continues the story of Fanny Price as she struggles to build her own life after leaving her rich uncle’s home. Fanny teaches sewing to poor working-class girls in London, while trying to forget her first love, Edmund Bertram, who is trapped in a disastrous marriage with Mary Crawford. Together with her brother John and her friend, the writer William Gibson, she discovers a plot that threatens someone at the highest levels of government. Meanwhile, Fanny’s brother William fights slavery on the high seas while longing for the girl he loves.

Filled with romance, suspense and even danger, A Marriage of Attachment takes the familiar characters from Mansfield Park on a new journey.

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An excerpt from A Marriage of Attachment, courtesy of Lona Manning

In A Marriage of Attachment, Edmund has heard from his estranged wife Mary Crawford Bertram, after a long silence. His sister Julia lives with him at the parsonage at Thornton Lacey, and she is yearning for handsome, gallant, Lieutenant William Price.

JULIA BERTRAM AROSE early to work in her garden on the morning after her return to Thornton Lacey from town.

Her mother used to sit in the shade, playing with her pug dog, as the gardeners at Mansfield Park dug and trimmed, and her Aunt Norris flitted about, directing and admonishing. But as there was no army of servants at her command at Edmund’s house, Julia taught herself to weed and plant, and found she rather enjoyed it, for the activity soothed her restless spirit.

Her flower garden was on a sunny slope behind the house, her own private retreat. She was exceedingly proud of her new hedge. At present her yew trees barely reached her waist, but with the mind and eye of a gardener, she saw the day when an imposing green avenue would trace the path of a gravel walkway, leading to the winding stream at the foot of the garden.

As she examined the promising new growth on her rose trellis, Julia indulged in recollections of a warm autumn day two years ago when her cousins William and Susan Price were visiting at Mansfield Park. The three of them went to pick rose hips in the hedgerows. It was the day she knew she was in love with William Price.

Julia closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun, summoning up the moment when young Susan, enjoying the freedom of the outdoors, went running on ahead, looking for a better patch of rose bushes, and she was left alone with William. She saw William’s face; the look in his eyes when he took her hand and asked her if she could wait for him. She had whispered ‘yes,’ and his face lit up with joy, and he embraced her. His radiant smile, the feel of his strong arms around her—this was her most precious memory, the most exciting and wonderful moment of her young life.

His pledge of love, and her acceptance, was a promise jointly given and taken with a sweet, lingering kiss. Neither one said another word. There was no need to. They stepped apart before William’s sister Susan returned, and if she suspected, she gave no sign. A few days later, William was gone to resume his duties as a lieutenant with His Majesty’s navy. Julia gave him all the dried rose hips to take with him to Africa.

As far as good intentions spoke for her future conduct, Julia believed she would only marry with her parents’ consent. In the meantime, she lived on the memory of one moment, one kiss. While her father respected William for his talents and industry, she feared he would not be pleased to welcome his nephew as a son-in-law. The Prices were poor and undistinguished. William’s father was a disabled lieutenant of marines, and their large family struggled in poverty in Portsmouth.

During her visits to London, Julia had met many highly born, prosperous, eligible young men, and perhaps with a little more enterprise on her part, a greater willingness to please and be pleased, she might have attached one of them. But the lieutenant had conquered her heart.

Julia waited at Thornton Lacey while William sought promotion, prizes, and distinction in the West African Squadron. The lovers agreed to keep their understanding a secret until the day he could step forward as an eligible claimant for Julia’s hand. William would not even correspond with her directly. Instead, he wrote long letters to her brother Edmund, recounting the success of his crew in apprehending slave ships along the African coast. With every ship captured and every slave freed, he was promised his share of prize monies. And the subject of rose hip tea often figured in his correspondence.

“Julia, are you out here?” Her brother’s voice pulled Julia out of her reverie.

“Yes, here I am, Edmund. I was just going to water my peonies.”

Edmund strolled down the path and picked up his sister’s heavy clay garden pot for her. “How well your daffodil cuttings are growing, Julia!”

“Bulbs are grown by division, not cuttings, Edmund.” Julia corrected him, proud of her acquired gardening knowledge.

“Well, at any rate, I remember these daffodils from our old garden. Could you accompany me to Mansfield this Wednesday? Lord Delingpole has sent us a note from Castle Ashby. He asks if we are at leisure to show him around Mansfield Park. I suppose he would rather talk to me than the steward. Could you attend on Lady Delingpole, or would you find it too painful?”

“I’m afraid I might weep, just a little, when I see our familiar old rooms silent and empty. But after all, I am a woman, we sometimes cry for pleasure. Otherwise, we would not speak of ‘having a good cry.’ I will go with you on Wednesday, Edmund.”

If so amiable a young lady as Julia Bertram might be said to have a fault, it was that she tended to think only of herself and her own concerns. But, as she watched her brother absently-mindedly drowning a peony bush with the full contents of the watering jug, she thought to ask: “Edmund? Will you give Lady Delingpole a reply for Mary?”

“Yes, of course, but… I cannot help wondering, Julia, why is Mary writing to me now? Why now? What does she want?”

“What else but to come back to you, Edmund dear?”

“But, shall I take this purely as a compliment to me,” Edmund said grimly, “or is there something else? What has occurred, or what has changed, to impel her to break her silence? Mary always has a motive for her actions.

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Giveaway

Lona is generously offering an ebook giveaway of both books! To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. We’d love to hear what you think of the excerpt. This giveaway will be open through Monday, July 9, 2018. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Lona, for sharing an excerpt from A Marriage of Attachment, and congrats on your latest release!

Follow Lona on Facebook.

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I’m pleased to share an excerpt of With or Without You by Shari Low, courtesy of Aria. If you enjoy the excerpt, I hope you will enter the giveaway below.

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Prologue

The Last Minute of 1999

There were sixty seconds left of the twentieth century.

Hogmanay. The biggest night of the Scottish celebratory calendar, when we eat, we sing, we dance, and we welcome in the New Year with the people we love. The music was blaring, the revellers were dancing up a storm, and glasses were being topped up with champagne, as I leant close to my husband’s ear.

‘I wish you’d had an affair,’ I said, my voice cracking. ‘It would be so much easier to do this.’

Nate, smiled, leaned in and kissed me, but not with any grand passion. That was part of the problem. We’d been together since midway through uni, and then married the year after we graduated, and since the day we’d danced up the aisle we’d had five years of contentment.

Contentment.

I hated that word. Imagine the obituary. RIP Liv Jamieson – a contented life. Worse, who wanted to be content at the age of twenty-eight? I wanted passion and excitement and maybe the odd little bit of danger, but contentment? It was like a scarf of boredom that got tighter with each passing year, until I could barely breathe.

I loved Nate, but – clichéd as it was – I wasn’t in love with him anymore. There was no-one else, no drama, no big scandal or cataclysmic event. Just a gradual drifting apart. A disconnection. And, in a twisted demonstration of our compatibility, he had reluctantly admitted that – while he wasn’t as far along the road of acceptance as me – he knew there was something missing too.

I loved him. He loved me. It just wasn’t enough.

Nate pulled back and pushed a stray curl of my red hair back from my face. ‘An affair? What if I told you I’ve had Kylie Minogue living in the loft for the last year because we’re having a torrid fling and she can’t get enough of me?’

‘I’d say please tell her I’ll let her have you – as long as she’s willing to trade you for her entire wardrobe.’

Nate’s brown eyes creased at the side as he laughed. It was my very favourite thing about him.

We’d tried. We really had. The previous January, just a day into 1999, we’d talked, and we’d agreed to give it everything we had for a year, determined to reignite the spark between us. We’d had weekly date nights. Lazy Sunday sex. Weekend breaks to quiet country cottages and busy city hotels. A fantastic holiday to Bali where we’d taken long moonlit strolls along the sands. We’d hung out with our gang of mutual friends and we’d laughed, celebrated, partied, and discussed it long into many nights.

Yet, much as it destroyed us to admit it, we were still in that ‘best friends’ zone. My heart didn’t flutter when he entered a room. His gaze made me smile, but it didn’t make my libido throb with lust. And neither of us could shake the feeling that there was something – or someone – else out there for us.

So we’d decided to call it a day. To wish each other well, split the CD collection and move on. That makes it all sound so simple, when the truth was that a piece of my heart felt like it was being surgically removed by a jackhammer.

Nate wasn’t one hundred per cent sure. He didn’t like change. Preferred familiarity and stability to the unknown. But he said he loved me too much to make me stay in a marriage that didn’t make me happy. And if he were honest, our marriage wasn’t making him happy either, not like he should have been. I wanted more for me, for him, for both of us.

Tonight was our last night together. It seemed apt. Fitting. The final day of the century, a chapter closing, and a whole new world out there for us to explore. And if I kept telling myself that this was a positive move; the right thing to do, it squashed the part of me that was terrified.

I saw his lips move again. ‘Liv, are you…?’

I missed the last bit. It got carried away on the wave of noise that suddenly engulfed the room.

Ten…

The lead singer of the band was counting down the seconds to midnight. Every year we headed to The Lomond Grange, a gorgeous stately manor hotel on the edge of Loch Lomond, about forty minutes from home, to bring in the coming year.

Despite our sadness, we hadn’t wanted to bail out on the people who shared our lives, so here we were. One last hurrah. On the dance floor, our closest friends, Sasha and Justin stood next to Chloe and Rob, all of them with their champagne glasses in hand, party poppers at the ready, expressions oozing excitement, braced for the big moment.

Nine… Nine seconds until my marriage was over.

A wave of sorrow.

Eight… ‘What did you say?’ I asked him.

Seven… Seven seconds until my marriage was over.

He had to lean right into my ear so I could hear him. ‘I said are you absolutely sure?’

Six… A stomach flip of doubt. We’d discussed this to death. Yes, I was sure. Of course I was. So was he. We’d agreed.

Five… Five seconds until my marriage was over.

‘Yes. Why are you asking now?’

Four… ‘I think…’ I could feel his breath on the side of my face. ‘I think I want to give it one more try.’

Three… Three seconds until my marriage was over.

A sick feeling of panic rising to my throat.

Two… ‘But Nate, we both know it’s time to move on.’ We did. Didn’t we?

One… ‘One more try, Liv. We owe it to each other to give it more time.’

Noooooo. This wasn’t the deal. We’d tried. It hadn’t worked. We weren’t right for each other. It was time to move on, to take different paths.

A deafening cacophony of sound erupted in the room. Happy New Year. Streamers shot in the air. Bagpipes bellowed out a chorus of Auld Lang Syne to say goodbye to the past and welcome the twenty first century.

We were entering a new millennium.

But was I going to spend it with Nate…

…Or without him?

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About With or Without You

Have you ever made a life-changing decision and then wondered if you made the right one…?

A clever, captivating and bitterweet story of what might have been. Perfect for the fans of Jo Jo Moyes and Marian Keyes.

When Liv and Nate walked up the aisle, Liv knew she was marrying the one, her soul mate and her best friend.

Six years later, it feels like routine and friendship is all they have left in common. What happened to the fun, the excitement, the lust, the love?

In the closing moments of 1999, Liv and Nate decide to go their separate ways, but at the last minute, Liv wavers. Should she stay or should she go?

Over the next twenty years we follow the parallel stories to discover if Liv’s life, heart and future have been better with Nate… Or without him?

Buy Links: Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

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About the Author

Shari Low

Shari Low has published twenty novels over the last two decades. She also writes for newspapers, magazines and television. Once upon a time, she got engaged to a guy she’d known for a week, and twenty-something years later, they live in Glasgow with their two teenage sons and a labradoodle.

Follow Shari: Twitter | Facebook

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Giveaway

Aria is offering 2 ebook copies of With or Without You to my readers. This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, July 1, 2018. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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I’m delighted to welcome Tom Austin, author of The Darcy Contradiction, to Diary of an Eccentric today. He’s here to talk about why we write and to share an excerpt and giveaway. Please give him a warm welcome!

Thank you for having me, Anna! And to you all, many thanks for reading my thoughts and for believing that what I have to say is worth your time.

Why do we write?

We all write because of what we rationally want to share with others, we write to send a message, we write with purpose, sometimes even with that of changing the way things are in real life, we write to make our voices heard. Then we write what ourselves want to read, what attracts us, what enchants us. Then we write down the things that fight to get out of us, what an inner voice dictates to us, what is no longer under our control. We write to put our lives in order, to make sense of things, to have the feeling that we have power over the world, any world, even a fictional one. We write to leave something behind, so that all we live is not in vain and will not be lost. We write to build a bridge between us and the past, between ourselves, with our burdened consciousnesses and the superior, clearer mind of our predecessors.

I know that the “The Darcy Contradiction”, with its stranger writing style, its talks about philosophy, art, literature, folklore and war, had its fair share of bad reviews. I am sorry to have disappointed some of you, but I am not sorry for writing it. It is a book which I needed to write. It filled a hole in me and if it meant for a single person half of what it meant for me, then I am happy.

If you want to take a chance on me, I will be glad to hear and discuss your thoughts about it.

Thank you again for being there.

Yours,

Tom

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An excerpt from The Darcy Contradiction, courtesy of Tom Austin

Dinner consisted of only two courses concluded by dessert and accompanied by a dry and savoury red wine. The Darcys were impeccably dressed and Elizabeth was glad to have bought that dress from Meryton. They hardly spoke during supper, the sound of dishes and silvery clattering being sometimes covered by the crackling of the fire and the roar of the blizzard outside. Elizabeth ate delicately, the julienned kale soup with timid sips, the maple-glazed roast beef and honeyed parsnips with small bites. She barely touched the cheese and raisin pie or the strong, unfamiliar wine. Even the small monkey, sitting on top of a mound of dates on a silver tazza, seemed to eat with bigger bites than her.

She looked about the room, admiring the elegant and tasteful decorations, the enchanting paintings, the cats sleeping in front of the fireplace. She had always imagined a country manor having dogs, dozens and dozens of beagles, bloodhounds and greyhounds. She could not see a gentleman of Mr. Darcy’s stature with an estate such as Netherfield keeping cats. In her eyes, cats were preferred by the ladies and not by the men. But then again, Mr. Darcy seemed a bit different that every man she had ever met. She did not incline towards liking or disliking him, but she could tell he was a man apart.

“There is such a craze for Oriental art these days, do you not think?” asked Miss Darcy observing Elizabeth was looking at one of the paintings depicting a severe gentleman. “Although my brother and I both adore travelling, and he tends to collect things from all over the world, I think nothing betters an English painting, either oil or watercolour. Take the Walcombs, for example, on the inside their house looks and smells like the mausoleum of a Mughal emperor, with pots for burning incense, statues of bizarre deities, Buddhist miniatures and Jain paintings. As I said, I love the exotic, but when it comes to art, nothing really compares to a work by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, George Romney, Joseph Wright or even from the young Joseph Turner. But, alas, for every Englishman who reveres them, there are thousands who have not even hear of them. A public gallery to reunite all our great artists, that is what we need.”

“There are many who are working towards that purpose,” said Mr. Darcy, sipping from his glass. “I believe we will soon have it.”

“They seem to be taking their time. They did not defer when you gave them the money. No, they took it with both hands.”

“It was money well spent. Every penny spent on art is well spent,” said Mr. Darcy. A cat jumped on his lap.

“Fitzwilliam was one of the collectors who made his treasures available to others. At Pemberley, artists could book a few hours a week to come and study the paintings and sculptures in our collection. We might start something like that here as well. My brother is already supporting two young artists and he may take more under his patronage, in memory of our father.”

“Do you paint, Miss Bennet?” asked Mr. Darcy.

“Every now and then. I am no Angelica Kauffman, I assure you of it, but I admit I enjoy painting and also drawing. I would love to be better at it and I know it is only up to me to better myself.”

“Oh, you should have had the chance to contemplate the picture-gallery at Pemberley. We took most of the paintings with us, but some need some special conditions. The portrait there is of our father. Do not be fooled, he was never as severe as he looks in that painting. I believe he posed like that just to have some fun. He was a kind and gentle man.”

Elizabeth looked more attentively. She noticed a striking resemblance to Mr. Darcy, the same posture, the same look, the same air of nobility and a dash of arrogance.

“Fitzwilliam is very much like him,” said Miss Darcy and Elizabeth flinched, feeling as if Georgiana had read her thoughts. “If you want, I could show you some of my drawings. I have hundreds of them, some of our father, some depicting Pemberley, some even of my brother when he was younger.”

“I would not want to intrude upon your intimacy,” said Elizabeth softly.

“Nonsense!” whooped Georgiana. “I will show them to you after breakfast tomorrow.”

“Only if you insist. And only with Mr. Darcy’s approval. If he is the subject of the drawings , then he should be consulted.”

“How generous of you,” replied Mr. Darcy.

“Do we have your consent, dear brother?” Georgiana fawned upon him like a cat.

“I will think about it,” replied Mr. Darcy petting the actual cat.

“Oh! You are impossible! What is there to think about? It is art! Even if you are the subject of it, you have no rights over it. The merit and the ownership belong to the artist, not to the muse. Even if they had been nudes, you would not have had any right to decide who sees them and who does not.”

Elizabeth blushed. She sipped from her glass. The cat meowed and jumped off.

“My brother and I are quite different when it comes to art,” continued Miss Darcy turning towards Lizzy. “I am a creator, while he is more of a collector. I take great pleasure in expressing myself while he takes great pleasure in observing what others have expressed. All this talk of art has put me in the mood for music. Shall we proceed to the drawing-room?”

“Maybe Miss Bennet is tired,” said Mr. Darcy. “I am not sure she has fully recovered from being almost frozen solid.”

“Oh, do not worry about me. I feel as if nothing had happened. Besides, I would really love to hear Miss Darcy play.”

“You see!” exclaimed Georgiana. “She is feeling better than ever. That wine of yours had surely contributed to it.”

They moved back to the drawing-room, followed by one of the cats. Elizabeth was indeed feeling well, a sensation she had never known before. She could feel her cheeks red, her head slightly lighter, her mood cheerful. Somehow she knew her parents were well and that her father, although surely worried, would have talked sense into everyone else. She took a seat, eager to be entertained.

Most well-bred young ladies of the time, especially those who wanted to enchant a possible husband with their accomplishments, could play at least one musical instrument. The grand favourite was the piano and a great number of girls would have practiced playing it and taking lessons to prepare for when they would be called upon at an evening party to perform in front of an audience most often consisting of eligible gentlemen. But Miss Darcy did not play only one instrument, but several— among which the pianoforte and the harp — and not only play, but she was somewhat of a virtuoso worthy of a Vauxhall concert. When Georgiana played Mozart or Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert, Liszt or Mendelssohn, her eyes shut, her fingers dancing wildly on the piano keyboard, she showed such composure that her spiritual self seemed to be off far away somewhere, plucking the sounds from some crystal firmament or some celestial sounding board.

Elizabeth observed the impact of Miss Darcy’s divine music on her brother. Mr. Darcy sat leaning back his head, his eyes shut just like his sister’s. He was living the sounds, that moment or another from the past or the future, from real life or from dreams. Elizabeth admitted to herself that she felt quite envious of the power the girl in front of her, a few years younger than her, could have on a man. Mr. Darcy was her brother, but Elizabeth had no doubt she would have left the same impression on any man, that she could tame anyone just like Orpheus with his enchanted lyre.

“I believe music is the most divine of all the arts,” said he when Georgiana finished and made a deep bow. “Compared to music, every other art seems barbaric. It needs materials to make it visible, it needs to be seen. Music does not require anything. It comes from the air, from imagination, from the human mind. By voice or perhaps only by a wooden box and some strings, it can give you the sensations no other art is able to. A painting or a sculpture can be impressive, but it cannot take a man all the way to wherever the artist wants to take him. Music can imitate the sound of sunrise, a lazy summer morning, a hot afternoon, a snowy winter evening, a storm, the sound of midnight, the sound of love, of war, of horror, of wonder.”

“It truly is an art that reigns above all others,” agreed Lizzy.

They spent the rest of the evening talking about music and art in general, about what it meant to be an artist or merely a performer. At one point, Georgiana even suggested the two would dance while she played a tune of their choice, which they both refused in one voice.

Mr. Darcy proved to be a very cultivated man, an admirer and a supporter of all the arts. Miss Darcy as well, despite her age, was highly cultured and had many talents. Elizabeth went to her room close to midnight, impressed by the two, feeling that life at Netherfield had to be good. Maybe because of the excitement of spending time in such an unfamiliar and noble company, maybe because of the wine, she could not put her mind to rest. She thought of a great number of things, her hosts, her parents, her sisters.

So that was the mysterious Mr. Darcy, she thought, the man who had eluded just about everyone for so long, the man she was so curious to meet. Now she had met him and did not know what to make of him. He seemed moody and whimsical, and she could have blamed him for her sister’s unhappiness, but somehow she could not feel ill of him. And even if he had driven away Mr. Bingley, it was because he was only looking out for his own sister’s best interest. He did not seem to hold a grudge against her, a Bennet, he had spoken to her with civility, he had listened to her speak her mind, he had never interrupted her or dismissed her opinions. Miss Darcy herself could be sometimes arrogant and shrewish, but something told Elizabeth than she was good and that her brother was also good.

Then she remembered the words of the fortune-teller. ‘He will come to you in your hour of need’ said the gypsy lady. How could she have known? Elizabeth asked herself. Had it been a lucky guess? Could such things be true in their modern world? Was it something that the madam was telling her customers every now and then, hoping to be right? A tall and handsome man — is that not what every girl dreams of? Extremely wealthy with a big house — the same. Lizzy thought back then that she would recognize the one fated to be hers, but now, lying on that swan feather mattress in that modish bedroom in that house fit for kings, she felt more uncertain than ever in her entire life. Then, all of a sudden, she imagined what the nude drawings of Mr. Darcy would look like had they been real. She fell asleep late, but she was not to have a peaceful, restful sleep.

It was still dark when the door silently opened and Mr. Darcy sneaked in, tiptoed. He was not wearing the tailcoat or the cravat he dined in, but his blue robe de chambre. She knew why he was there, but felt she could not and would not resist him, regardless of anything. She knew the dangers, the huge risks she was taking. Mr. Darcy did not seem to be the type of gentleman who would sneak into a girl’s room at night. He seemed to be one who would respect protocol more than anyone. But she did not care. She eagerly opened his robe, revealing his bandages. She caressed his broad, hairy chest and, almost as if she was scared, she merely touched his groin through the pantaloons. He took off the night gown Georgiana had lended her, he almost ripped it off, he kissed her gently, from her ear to her neck, to her breasts, going down her belly. His cheek was rough, a day’s beard maybe, his lips were soft. She stopped him, took his hand in her hands and asked him if he loved her. He said yes and only after that did she let him continue. But he did not get to do much, for she awoke. She awoke and she felt guiltier than she had ever felt in her whole life. Everything had seemed so real, but even if nothing had happened, Elizabeth felt ashamed. It was for the first time she had such impure thoughts about a man. She thought of men before, but never like that. She once imagined Mr. Wickham kissing her and that had been the apex of such lustful imaginings.

Lizzy told herself that she would never give herself like that to a man, to a man she had just met, a controversial man she did not even know, outside of wedlock, in a strange bead, wearing his sister’s clothes. The thought comforted her a little, but when she went down for breakfast, she could not look either of the two in the eye.

“Are you all right?” asked Georgiana seeing her behave strangely.

“Yes, I believe I am,” mumbled Elizabeth blushing.

“It is perhaps because of the wine,” opinioned Mr. Darcy.“You were not used to it. It may not have been the best of picks. I should have chosen maybe one from France or Italy, which you might have been more familiar with, it being drunk, I believe, at Longbourn as well. Instead I chose one from the Black Sea, a wild vine that bears a special type of grape.”

“I am fine,” Lizzy said more clearly. “And the wine was excellent.”

“You look like you had not a wink of sleep all night,” said Georgiana. “What kept you up?”

“You were maybe thinking of your parents? And your sisters?” asked Mr. Darcy.

“Yes, I was thinking of them and I could not fall asleep,” replied Lizzy. She detested lying. Even when it was only a half-lie.

“Maybe you will catch a nap after lunch,” said Miss Darcy.

“I was thinking of having breakfast in the conservatory today,” proposed Mr. Darcy. “We shall not have our usual view because of the blizzard, but it would still be nice.”

“My father used to have his breakfast in the conservatory…” Elizabeth said melancholically.

“You will be with him shortly. This weather cannot last for ever,” assured her Mr. Darcy.

“Yes,” approved Georgiana. “You shall be away from this place and far away from us faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Now, about that breakfast…”

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About The Darcy Contradiction

“The Darcy Contradiction” is a retelling of the classic love story, with quite a few twists and turns. All the well-known, beloved and behated characters, plus a few memorable new ones. A new master at Netherfield, a specious hunting accident, the elusive Mr. Darcy and his impressive library, a matchmaker for Jane and a fortune-teller for Elizabeth, the primordial silence of Iona Abbey and the dreaded beauty of St. Wulfstan’s Blizzard. The Regency Era in all its splendor, the vivid tea parlours of London, the colourful enchantments of India, the Napoleonic Wars, Shakespeare, Lord Byron and Hegel. Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh as you have never imagined them before.

Buy The Darcy Contradiction on Amazon

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Giveaway

Tom is generously offering an ebook copy of The Darcy Contradiction to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. We’d love to know what you think of the excerpt. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, July 1, 2018. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thanks, Tom, for sharing why you write with us. Congratulations on your new release!

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