Winter Storms, which was bought by Amazon Encore, is showing some great sales, which I'm delighted about. The Cornish story with its hot-headed heroine was always a favorite of mine. I hope shortly to start writing the sequel as it has proved so popular.
My Victorian theatre romance The Orchid has been released with a lovely new cover.
Available from Amazon and Smashwords for 99p!
The figure turned around and she jerked back, raising a hand to her mouth to stifle her gasp. It wasn’t Jasper or Charles. This man, with a long, dark red scar that raised the corner of his mouth towards his cheek, was a stranger.
“You needn’t try and hide your shock. I know what I look like,” he said. “It is fitting that I am in a theatre, is it not? When I look like the main character from a grisly murder play.”
“You do not sir,” she said, truthfully. He was badly scarred—that she couldn’t deny—but above the twisted injury, his eyes were intelligent and the colour of a conker shell in autumn. The hollowed cheeks and pale skin however, testified to a long illness.
“I am Miss Miller,” she said.
He bowed. “Henry Scott-Leigh.”
Ava sat down on the sofa, wiggling as the broken springs pushed up against her bottom. She studied Henry, the middle brother of the family. Some-one knocked on the door and she leant over to pull open the handle.
“Tea?” Daisy said, bobbing a curtsey.
Ava wished she wouldn’t. Every-one at The Orchid helped out with other jobs, but that did not mean that Daisy had to act like a cowed servant.
“Thank you,” Ava said, standing up to take the tray and placing it on the table. Glancing at it, she nodded. Cook had at least used the decent tea pot, even if the sandwiches looked dry and under filled. Setting out two cups, she poured as Henry strode to look from the window.
“Milk or lemon?” she said.
“What? Oh, lemon please and sugar.”
Thankfully, he sat down in the chair opposite as all his pacing about was irritating. Whatever he was here for, he didn’t look comfortable. It was clear he was about to impart bad news and she had a very good idea of what that news might be.
Her hands trembled as she handed him a cup. Please don’t let him close The Orchid. It was the only home she had ever known. And what would happen to the motley-crew of actors who had become her family? Nausea rose from her stomach and she swallowed.
Henry cleared his throat. “I’m here to sort out the running of the theatre. Since your father sadly passed away, our profits have dipped alarmingly.”
Ava moistened her lips, not daring to move in case she fainted.
“I’m sorry for the reduced payments, but I can assure you the drop in income is only temporary. We’ve got some good shows planned.”
“It’s got nothing to do with your shows. You have lost many of your patrons because their wives do not feel that The Orchid is the respectable establishment it once was.”
“I don’t have prostitutes drifting about my premises.” She noticed his cheeks flush at her use of the word. Really! Did he think she was a complete innocent?
He coughed. “People aren’t happy about the theatre being run by a woman and a single woman at that.”
“Mr Scott-Leigh, I have always helped my father with The Orchid and ran it successfully during his final illness.”
“It is not considered appropriate for you to manage such a business alone.”
“Is this the opinion of the patrons, or your own?”
His jaw tightened. “It is the opinion of everyone I have spoken too. You shouldn’t have just taken over when your father died. My family own the theatre and it is our place to put in a manager.”
She gripped the settle, fingers whitening. “You are ordering me out because I am a woman?”
“My family invest in theatres, music halls and breweries; we pride ourselves as a family business and guard our reputation well. We can’t be associated with a theatre that is both failing and of ill-repute.”
“Ill-repute?” She sprang to her feet.
“Sit down. I appreciate the situation is not of your doing, but that is the word on the street.” He eyed her. “And a good theatre manager ought to have been aware of it.”
“I haven’t heard these slanderous rumours because I don’t frequent taverns or coffee houses,” Ava said, teeth clenched. “I spend my evenings sewing and reading. Yet a man can drink, keep mistresses and still be considered a suitable person to employ.”
“That is the way of the world, I am afraid.”
“So what is to happen to me? The workhouse?”
“My sister is in need of a ladies’ maid. You’re used to helping actresses dress and do their hair, are you not?”
Ava looked at him, trembling in anger. “Not just actresses, I dress actors too—handing them their breeches and straightening their collars.”
He jerked back and she closed her eyes. Why had she said that? It would only prove to him that she was the immoral woman he believed her to be. It was too late to take it back though. But hopefully it would make him realise that she would not be a suitable servant to his sister.
“Then perhaps I should employ you as my valet, since you are so well versed in the dressing habits of men.” The corner of his lips turned up slightly in amusement.
Ava raised her chin with dignity. “I do not believe that would be considered suitable, sir.”
“I will therefore search for alternative employment for you.”
“As a governess, or seamstress?”
“No one would employ an ex-actress to teach their children. Can you sew?”
Her lips tightened; he was playing with her.