It’s all about Character.
Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to my next release, THE DANGER OF DESIRE, coming on Nov. 29th from Kensington Brava. This is the last of my Georgian period Dartmouth stories, although THE DANGER OF DESIRE takes place almost exclusively in London, England in the year 1799. It’s the story of Captain High McAlden, whom we got to know as a secondary character in both THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE and A SENSE OF SIN.
This book also introduces a new character to my readers, the heroine of the story, Meggs the pickpocket. Meggs was both an easy and a difficult character to write. Easy because I could all but hear her voice as I was writing, and difficult because she very well could have appeared to be an unsympathetic character—a conscienceless thief (at least according to the hero).
So how could I make a character who was in direct opposition to a well-known, and well-liked, hero appear sympathetic to readers? How could I get them on her side?
By making her as transparent as possible—by sharing her every thought and every emotion with the reader. By choosing words that reflect her unique personality and life experience. By clearly illustrating with her words her place at the bottom of the ladder in the world of Georgian London, and therefore her vulnerability within that world. By making her essentially powerless.
But making her powerless could upset the delicate romantic balance between the hero and heroine. No one likes, nor really believes in a romance in which one partner has all the power. For me, romantic chemistry must be predicated by mutual respect.
So how does Meggs get respect? By being as smart as the day is long, and very, very good at what she does.
And by showing the reader her stealing, rather than telling. By putting the reader in her worn-out shoes.
Here’s an excerpt:
The toff limping out of Spring Gardens onto Cockspur Street was just the sort she liked, if she couldn’t have a drunk. Big man, but tired, he was, weariness stewing from his bones like the cold steam of his breath in the frigid, snowy air. And he was a gimp—heavily favoring his left leg—but without a cane or walking stick. So far so good. It paid to stay well clear of walking sticks. But he was a gentleman, all right, with a well enough set of togs, though he looked none too comfortable in them. Too new. Country man recently come up to town, was her guess.
Meggs took a deep breath, hitched the basket of sewing higher onto her hip, tipped Timmy the wink and headed along the pavement in the man’s direction.
She kept her eyes on the mark. On his hands and his face. Definitely a country man, though he was younger than she had first thought. Pain and injury did that to a man—aged him. His face, as he looked up and down Cockspur Street for his direction, was weathered and rugged like the granite hills of Derbyshire. A walking tor, that’s what he was.
There it was again, that same strange pang of dread, that feeling that was half memory and half longing for something just out of reach. She tried to mentally push the nebulous sensation away, but it was like swatting at a cobweb—invisible, tenuous bits of feeling clung stubbornly to her brain.
But there was no room for mooning about. She needed to keep her wits about her head and concentrate on the flat ahead. On the gleaming watch he’d just pulled from his pocket to consult the time.
And then, he looked up and Meggs saw his eyes. So pale a blue, they were shocking in a face so tan. Chips of ice held greater warmth, and yet there was a fire, a force that sparked so strongly, so powerfully within the frozen wasteland of his gaze, she had to turn away for fear of being singed.
She knew that look. A zealot. Moon-eyed. Dicked in the nob. Whatever it was, every instinct she possessed screamed danger. And clever girl that she was, she minded quick-like, keeping her head down and scurrying across the street to stay well clear of his path, away from all that steely awareness. She had no desire to receive another blast from the furnace that was his eyes, thank you very much.
But that was a mistake, too.
For while she was minding the dangerous, sharp-eyed cove, she smashed headlong into another body and down they went, for real.
It was generally not the sagest of ideas to frisk a toff without having ever clapped peepers on him to see if he were a likely chum, but her clever fingers were already making professional-like, cataloging his portable chattels before she could have a look-see and come to a prudent decision.
Merino wool, good quality. Waistcoat, brocade silk. Belly of considerable girth. Scent of expensive cigars and brandy. Toff. Watch, fob and purse, quick and easy as you please as she fell down, and the top button of her loosely pinned bodice obligingly popped open to fill his eyes with the sight and feel of her padded, upthrust breasts as they brushed against him. And to finish the business, a spill of white petticoat and a breathless, helpless display of calf.
It was all as familiar as a Drury Lane play, and twice as well-rehearsed.
“Lawks,” she cawed on top of him, “me basket!”
Then she snatched at the fallen bits of fabric and sewing, an embroidered bodice piece having fallen, quite by design, in the gentleman’s considerable lap. Her fingers brushed mercifully fleetingly across his cods, so his blood would keep well away from his brain.
It was just as old Nan always said—a man couldn’t think and fill his rod at the same time. Keep him doing the one, and he’d never be able to do the other.
And it was done. She was up and fussing with her basket and moving away muttering, “Don’t care who they knock over. Missus’ll have my head, if- Ere, gimme that!” she called as Timmy darted by, pretending to grab at the lacy underthings she carried in her basket.
“Here now! Leave off there!”
Meggs turned back, thinking for some un-Godly reason of the pale-eyed man. But no, it was worse—a constable. How had she missed seeing him? Cripes, that was all they needed—the Law barging his way towards her, waving his cosh at Timmy.
But Timmy scarpered right quick, the heavy purse she passed him already surreptitiously down his shirt. “I saw her bottom, I saw her bottom!” he yelled gleefully as he went running through the foot traffic.
Meggs stepped into the Trap’s line of sight to divert his attention. “Oh, Constable!”
“You all right, Miss?” the constable asked.
The constable was young, and thankfully, someone she had never crossed before. Meggs let her real fear and apprehension color her voice. “Brazen it out,” old Nan would have said, “but make it real, dearie.”
“Thank you. Knocked me off my feet, he did.” She cut her eyes towards the fat toff still righting himself and fanned her hand demurely across her half-revealed décolleté. Lovely word that, one of Nan’s favorites. “Have to be rich to have décolleté,” she used to say, “the poor just have titties.” Rich or poor, the young constable’s gaze had dropped six inches to what one hand revealed, while under the basket, her other hand concealed the liberated watch deep within the folds of her skirts.
It was a risk to draw such attention to herself, but she needed to make sure Timmy was clean away, and with the constable’s eyes glued to her bumped up titties, she’d earned herself some running room. Speaking of which.
“Lawks, the time! My Missus’ll have my head. Much obliged, Constable.” And she was off, muttering and fussing, turning from the pavement and heading into the sea of people moving through Charing Cross.
And then she felt it—the icy blast from the Devil’s own furnace. Meggs turned to find the eyes of the pale-eyed country man slicing into her like cold, sharp steel. That was when she abandoned all play acting and ran like hell was opening up behind her.
This time, she kept her eyes wide open.
So how do you think I did? Leave a comment and let me know, and to celebrate both my inaugural blog here at the Plotting Princesses and the release of THE DANGER OF DESIRE, I’m giving away three copies to random lucky commenters. Good luck and thanks for stopping by!