H is for Historical Romance

ImageI love history. Today, Day 8 of the  A to Z Blog Challenge, I thought I’d talk about history. When I decided to devote time to writing, I thought I’d end up writing historical romances. I did and I didn’t. The Captain’s Promise, my first historical romance, was published in September 2013, but it wasn’t my first novel. I discovered  I enjoy writing suspense and wrote two of those first. While I love history, I need suspense in my story too. When I began to write The Captain’s Promise, I realized I had to marry my love of history with romance and suspense to create I story I myself would enjoy. 

I’ve read books about all aspects and eras of history. My university degree in history is based on a number of courses in ancient civilizations. I think, had it been an option open to me, I would have loved to have gone into archeology, like Indiana Jones, but I became a high school English teacher instead, one with a voracious appetite for history. One of the things I loved about teaching English was being able to teach the social historical context in which the books were written. Teaching Great Expectations allowed me to talk about the Industrial Revolution. Cue For Treason brought in Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth I and King James I. To King A Mockingbird brought in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. So many books, so many possibilities. And then, of course there was Shakespeare, a treasure trove of history. 

When I chose to write The Captain’s Promise, I decided I wanted to write about lesser known history. American, English, and Scottish history  are well known and most recently, Viking history has become popular, but little  is known about early French history in North America. While it’s true that television takes incredible liberties with historical fact, it does provide a glimpse into the past. It whets the appetite and that’s a good thing. The Captain’s Promise is primarily a reunion love story set against a backdrop of intrigue related to the founding of the French Merchant Marine and the colonization of New France and martinique in the mid-seventeenth century. I am currently working on a book set in New France in and around the same time. 

I love history. I hope people who take a chance on my books will love it too. 

ImageExcerpt from The Captain’s Promise

Cherbourg, May 1, 1674

            “Marie, I do not know how we will manage,” Danielle barely held her tears at bay. “If my aunt cannot get the Chevalier to agree to my plan, then we are ruined. I do not see Paulette willingly opening the coffers of Cherbourg to pay my dead husband’s gambling debts, debts that are now my obligations to honor.”

She and Marie sat on the stone bench in the rose arbor, a place that held many memories for her. Ten years ago, it had been the place where she had received her first kiss and suffered her greatest heartache. For months afterwards, she had been unable to visit the arbor without giving in to tears. It seemed fitting that she should choose to sit here now, the place where all of her pain and disappointment had started.

“I am worried, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot see a way out of these difficulties. I thought the worst was behind us, but it seems life keeps hitting me with one heavy blow after another.”

“Elle, I have told you, everything will work out for the best. You’ll see. It still distresses me that I had no foreknowledge of Allain’s death and the subsequent problems it would bring. All I foresaw was your release from the pressure under which you had found yourself. I saw you happy and smiling again. He had been to the country the previous week; I thought it meant you had conceived a child. I should have known better than to try to steer the hand of fate.” Sadness filled Marie’s eyes. “It has never worked out the way I hoped it would.”

Danielle looked around worriedly. It was still early in the season and the new leaves had not yet filled in the branches so she could see all the way up to the veranda. A servant swept the boards slowly, as if more intent on watching her than doing that simple task. The panic surrounding witchcraft had gripped Europe again, and several women had recently been hung. Servants tended to gossip, and rumors might arise once more concerning Marie’s abilities.

“Shush! I have asked you not to speak of your revelations so openly,” she whispered to her companion. “You know there are spies all around us. If my aunt learns that you still have the sight, she might denounce you. She would most certainly send you away, and I could not bear to lose you after I have already lost so much.” She gave her friend a quick hug.

“Would knowing that I was to be widowed have helped me? I do not know. I suppose had I been aware of the extent of Allain’s gambling debts, I might have been able to prepare myself. As it is, once this last obligation is paid, there will be nothing left for us, and we will be dependent on my aunt’s generosity.” She scowled and wrung her hands. Somehow, she could not see her aunt being very charitable.

“It is annoying that this vast sum has not been identified, but I pray Tante Paulette can reason with de Flambeau. Not knowing who forged my signature to the papers that put my inheritance up as surety to a known usurer is most frustrating, but the marriage contract leaves me obligated for his debts anyway. Now, Cherbourg itself may suffer because of his addiction.” Her brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of this latest disaster.

Marie nodded, and reached out to clasp her hand. “I know. I am only trying to make you feel better. There was very little joy in your marriage to the Viscount, but I know that your second marriage will bring you laughter and children.”

She stood and walked to the edge of the arbor, looking around to see if anyone was within hearing distance. “I have seen them playing at your knees. I saw the sea again last night, and the night sky awash with stars unfamiliar to me. They seem to point me towards the south, as if I am following a path. I do not know what it means, but I know that a seaman will come to see you and he will both elate and distress you. I must go in and see to the extra duties the Countess has assigned me.” She made a face. “Not even the unpleasant task of emptying all of the manor’s chamber pots will separate us.”

Danielle nodded. Marie had been conscripted to do the most unpleasant of the manor’s chores, supposedly as payment for her room and keep—what room? She slept on a pallet in the floor of Danielle’s room, and her meals were small and of poor quality. Danielle knew that it would not take much for her aunt to separate them. She had been very outspoken when Papa had made Marie his ward years ago.

Marie hurried to the house, leaving Danielle to ponder her circumstances.

How much more sorrow was she expected to endure? She had lost Etienne ten years ago and her parents a few years later. She had been forced into a loveless marriage to a man who had since died, leaving her in this precarious financial position. Marie spoke of a second marriage, but who would want a penniless widow? Her dowry, and now her inheritance as well, had all gone to pay for a sick man’s perversions. She shuddered, remembering Allain’s last visit. She would not mourn his loss.

When her father and mother had died, the wealth of Cherbourg had been split—half of Cherbourg’s value to her, but the title, the rest of the estate, her guardianship, and the management of her finances had passed to her Oncle Philippe. He had owed the Viscount D’Estrie some sort of boon, and had paid it with her hand in marriage, an unhappy marriage doomed to fail before it had even begun.

With Uncle Philippe’s death last fall, control of the estate and its income had passed to her aunt, the Countess Paulette, who was guardian of the estate and its heir, her twelve year old son, Sébastien. The boy was a fop, overly concerned with his appearance, dressed in the court’s latest fashion, the only thing in the world that seemed to hold his attention. The new Count de Cherbourg deferred to his mother for everything. Danielle could not expect any help from her young cousin.

Paulette meted out an allowance to Danielle, but the sum she would receive this year would not even cover half of the debt owing. While her aunt could not be considered a popular woman, she was a powerful one, with considerable influence. Danielle hoped she could use that influence to negotiate more reasonable terms.

She shivered, hoping that those negotiated terms would be something she could handle with grace. She had learned only yesterday that the Chevalier De Flambeau had purchased Allain’s surety from the usurer. The idea of being obligated to such a man did not sit well with her. He had been Allain’s friend, but she had never liked him. She had caught him more than once, staring at her, lust evident on his face.

Danielle stood and closed her eyes. The roses were not yet in bloom, but in her mind, she could smell them as they had been the night of her sixteenth birthday. She leaned against the arbor wall, trying to hold back the tears of loneliness that slipped from her eyes. She had not felt whole since that night.

            “Madame,” a servant appeared before her, startling her back to reality. “There is a man here to see you. Shall I bring him out here or will you meet him in the parlor?”  Obviously, she thought, the parlor is his first choice since it would be easier for him to spy on us.

“Bring him out here, Marcel. I have no desire to go in yet.” The servant bowed, but the look on his face showed his displeasure.

Please, Lord, not another creditor, she prayed.

She used her lace handkerchief to dry the last of her tears. She straightened the skirt of her high-necked, black mourning dress and pulled a thin shawl over her shoulders.

“Hello, Elle. Do you remember me, old friend?”

Danielle’s head snapped up at the sound of a voice she would have recognized anywhere. Etienne! He had returned just as he had promised. Her heart leapt. She stared at the compelling man who stood before her, searching his face for the youth she remembered.

“Etienne, my God, is it really you?” This time the tears could not be held back and spilled down her cheeks.

You can purchase The captain’s Promise wherever ebooks are sold. It’s also available in paperback. You’ll find purchase links on my website.

Susanne Matthews

 

Don’t forget to check out the other  A to Z Blog Challenge offerings. 

 

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