Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 27

Losing control

Rita gripped the basin on the escritoire with white knuckled hands in an attempt to stop the shaking. The water swirled, a dull pink, as the blood leached out of the once white cotton cloth. The rug in which she had concealed Connor’s body had done an admirable job of keeping the floor stain free, but the silk damask of the settee was stubbornly refusing to come clean.

The aging Madame had managed to drag her employer’s corpse to the steam driven elevator in the corner of his cabin, and had ridden with it down to engineering where Bucky had helped to hide it. Connor had said no one was to know, but Rita simply could not face the tragedy without some help. With Just in the SSA for his father’s funeral, she had no one else. The Chief Engineer was quick to understand the precariousness of the situation, and he was discreet. After they had found a barrel large enough, and found a quantity of high-grade scotch to fill it, Rita shucked her blood-drenched dress. The two, as lovingly as possible, folded Connor’s long legs into the barrel and bathed him in the amber scotch. Rita had never heard a sound as mournful as the hammer on the nails that sealed the barrel’s lid over Connor Graves.

Leaving Bucky with orders to destroy the rug and her discarded dress, Rita returned to the elevator. The only physical evidence that remained of the murder was the stained settee and Rita was damned if she would rest before it too had been restored to order.

The front of her shift was soaked through and bore the marks of the night’s horror. Her usually flawless chestnut hair was a corona of wisps and drooping tendrils. All trace of the mannered, contained and highly refined woman had been wiped away by an assassin’s knife, and what was left was shaking with bone-deep ague. A sob escaped her lips, and Rita raised one fist, biting her knuckles to stop the tears. There would be a time for grieving, but this was not it.

Pulling herself together, Rita wrung out the cloth and carried the basin to the French doors on Connor’s beloved taffrail. The assassin had entered through them earlier, and they stood open still, letting in the rotting stink of London. Connor had always hated London, and now Marguerite would join him in that hatred. She flung the pinked water over the balcony and into the Thames with a grimace of disgust.

Tomorrow they sailed for America. The thought of telling Just was a lead weight in her belly as she attacked the blood stained settee with fresh cloths and clean water. The crossing would be difficult as well, but her early life in a brothel had prepared her for the gentle lies and the masking of true feelings that would be required. She knew how to smile through pain, and flirt past despair. Those skills never truly went away, no matter how long they lay unused.

Briefly, she wondered if the Palace would revert to the time honored template for a brothel now that Connor and his vision of egalitarianism were gone. She shook her head in emphatic denial of that idea. The only method she now had of honoring her dear friend and mentor was in maintaining his shining ideals.

Crunchtober 2012 Day 26

It's raining now

The rain floods down from the dirty skies above London Town with alacrity of an emptied chamber pot in auld Edinburgh. Though not, thought Connor sullenly, with so much as a single ‘gardyloo!’ in warning. He pulled the sopping velvet of his evening coat tighter across his chest and hunched into his collar, miserable and still more than a little drunk.

He wasn’t sure why this particular anniversary had hit him so hard. Maybe it was being in London, a town that had never agreed with him. Maybe it was the fact that it was Kitten’s eighteenth birthday and for the first time ever he wouldn’t see her on the day. Maybe it was the fact that his beautiful daughter was now the age her mother had been on that blessed, cursed day. Whatever the factors, Connor had set out to drown his sorrows in drink and had taken a fairly good stab at it. The London rain seemed determined to finish the job.

A silent shadow slipped from an alley way and followed Connor’s stumbling steps towards the Thames docks. Connor was too preoccupied to notice he had picked up a tail. His thoughts were mired in the past. He burst into off-key song, a serenade for his lost love:

There was a lord in Lon-don town

He court-ed a la-dy gay

And all that he court-ed this la-dy

For was to take her sweet life a-way


Just paced the decks of the Palace waiting for the return of his best friend. His pain at the loss of Isabelle was the only thing Connor had ever refused to share. On the anniversary, Connor traditionally masked his scars long enough to celebrate with his daughter, but once she was safely tucked into bed, he would disappear to the seedy underbelly of the dock-side dives and drink himself insensible. More than once, Just had found a sick a bloodied Connor in the gutter the morning after, but he knew enough to help his friend home and not mention the events of the night.

The problem this year, was that Connor’s annual pity-party fell on the week they were in London. They had avoided this cursed town as much as possible over the years since Isabelle had died while they were berthed here. Just and Rita attempted to schedule London runs when they could be piggy backed onto Calais or Glasgow stops, to allow Connor the dignity of business demands away from the ship for the single night or two it stopped in London.

Now, though London was growing in prominence, and the lure of strong new business had made Connor schedule a week stop at Thames docks. Just had not noticed that the week would fall over the anniversary, and apparently neither had Connor. That was part of why the boss was out punishing himself. Just wished he had taken up Rita’s suggestion to send a telegraph to Kitten the day before. The child could have taken the train to London and been here to help anchor Connor to the here and now.

Well, it was too late for regrets of that stripe. Just would give Connor another few minutes, and then he would head out into the downpour to find his friend and bring him home.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 25

The time between dusk and dawn

The porters were purposefully dragging their feet, Kitten was sure. She had only packed three steamer trunks, and two portmanteaus. They should have the carriage loaded already. She stood in the angled rays of the late summer sun on the front steps of Fettes College and fretted over the hour. If they did not leave for Leith by 8:00 PM, they would miss the sailing of the Carolina. If they missed the canal boat, they would certainly miss connecting with the Palace in Glasgow.

Her father’s letter had been specific. She must arrive at Clyde Docks no later than 4:00 AM, or the Palace would sail without her. He had no choice; he must be in Calais by midnight so that the ship could be prepared for the arrival of a Bourbon Prince. Though the crown of France was long lost, the surviving descendants of the royal family continued to expect royal treatment, and Connor Graves was especially good at providing those considerations, including punctuality.

Connor had engaged a suite in the Grand Central Hotel for Kitten in case she was forced to wait for the Palace’s return. She was determined not to need it. She had a limited holiday term, and did not relish the thought of spending nearly half of it in a hotel no matter how grand and modern! She needed the palliative of the Palace family and atmosphere to restore her. The Palace was vibrant and alive, whereas Fettes was stifling and moribund. The company on the Palace was witty and engaging, and at Fettes it was simply… not.

The last school porter finally appeared with her portmanteau and heaved I to the footman waiting on the carriage roof. They could embark! Kitten hurried down the stairs, and too impatient to wait for the footman, opened the door herself, pulling the accordion step down and climbing into the velvet interior in one smooth move.

“To Leith Docks, driver, and hurry please. The Carolina.”

“The Carolina, Miss? Ye’ll not likely catch the canal boat at this late hour.”

“Well, I simply must! There is a gold sovereign in it for you if we get there in time.”

The driver didn’t answer, but with a crisp cry of ‘Hold yer haun’s boys!’ he whipped the horses into a brisk trot around the fountain in the entry circle. As they gained the tree lined drive, he pushed the horses into a canter. Kitten held onto the edge of the window grimly determined to ride the bumps without complaint. She was on the way and that was what mattered.

As the carriage veered out of the gates of Fettes College onto the cobbled carriageway that led into Stockbridge the dusk light gilded everything with antique gold. The windows of the terraced houses on the hill glinted red and orange and the streets were flooded with palpable light. Kitten would be chasing the sun well into the evening as she sailed westward down the Edinburgh Canal to the Forth and Clyde canals. Then at the dawn, as she rejoined her family, and home, the tables would turn and the sun would chase her into the summer holidays.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 24

This is what the neighbors saw

This cruise was not going into the log as one of his favorites, Connor thought as he stalked down the promenade towards the fo’csle and the refuge of his cabin. It was those blasted English. Such a study in contrasts: whimsical but rigid, classist but egalitarian, adventurous yet demanding. He said a silent prayer of thanks that good King Jamie the sixth had resisted the siren song of the English throne three centuries before and the Scots had kept themselves to themselves.

Connor almost wished that he had resisted the siren song of a full ship for a trans-Atlantic crossing. The English guests were affable enough, until something upset them and then they were a plague. Mrs. Portenoy Sr. felt the soup was spiced too strongly. The Duchess of Cambridge felt it was too bland. Lord Hendale disliked being required to bathe before engaging a lady. Lady Hendale resented that he wasn’t required to bathe après cavorting as well. The Captain’s day had become one long hour after another of soothing ruffled feathers, and making accommodations for guests who didn’t want to ‘be a bother’.

He was within sight of his door when a voice raked him back to his duties.

“Captain, I really must have a word with you.”

It was the Duchess, a sturdy, jowly woman, clopping along the promenade in a pair of wooden shoes with Geoffrey in tow behind her, his modesty protected by a tiny silken loincloth. The Duchess was wearing an outrageous open cage bustle with no skirts and nothing but a pair of thin cotton bloomers underneath. A horsetail was cunningly affixed to the waist in back and it swished with her movements as if it was batting at flies. Geoffrey held a set of reins that trailed from and leather headband across the Duchess’s expansive brow.

“Really, my good man, you cannot believe what dear Geoff and I have to put up with from that French fellow in room 112.”

“Do you mean Milord Rougeot?” Connor asked, pronouncing the name row-gut. “The Earl of Northumbria?”

“That may be how he styles himself, but we all know that Milord Roo-zyaa is only one generation removed from his froggier relations. And really, he has no respect. You will not believe the sight poor Geoff and I were exposed to when we were out for an innocent ride.”

“Now, Milady,” Connor tried in his most soothing voice, “You know that the Palace officially has a play and let play policy.”

“Play? This would not matter a whit if it was play! He was pretending to be a dog! He was with that girl of yours, the French one, Yvette, and she had him on a leash! And he was barking! The indignity of it all is frightening. I shall never forget the sight!” She emphasized her outrage with the stomping of a wooden hoof.

Connor nearly choked on his swallowed laughter and made a mental note to give Geoffrey a bonus for keeping a straight face through all of this. The Duchess would, Connor was certain, not only never forget, but would probably never stop telling the tales if he did not find a way to diffuse the situation. He did not care a whit for the Earl’s reputation, but the Palace had her own reputation to look to.

Crunchtober 2012 Day 23

On the other side

Being a virgin on a ship full of prostitutes was an uncomfortable and frustrating position for Kitten. Every female in her life was on the other side of womanhood. They were cultured, urbane, witty and self-possessed. They were beautiful and secure in their bodies. They laughed differently, as if they belonged to a secret club in which she was not yet initiated.

It was high-time, Kitten felt, that she get some education in the art of love. After all, she was fourteen now, and would be a grown woman soon. She had spent the whole of the afternoon working up her courage and now she stalked Geoffrey through the public rooms. He was the most likely candidate because of his impeccable skills at keeping secrets. Kitten knew that if her father found out, he would kill her and then lock her in her room for eternity. A man who could keep silent was essential; also, Geoffrey had dreamy green eyes.

She watched him from her position behind the potted fern as he moved through the room, paying compliments, delivering saucy looks, flirting as often with the men as the women. Kitten didn’t understand, but the women seemed to like it when Geoffrey made eyes at the men. Why would he bother to do that? Geoffrey was no longer a boy, and the men that liked it with other males generally preferred boys, didn’t they? There was just so much she didn’t understand about the world of sex. Tonight she would take her first step on the road to understanding.

She lurked. She plotted. She imagined. She dozed. When she snapped back to awareness, the salon was empty. The gaslights were turned low, the glasses had been cleared, and the cushions fluffed. Kitten looked around, both frantic and groggy. She had to find Geoffrey. This was her night!

She stumbled out the French doors onto the promenade, searching desperately left and right for a sign of her intended. She tripped over a teak deck chair and sprawled in a heap against the railing. Her heart was pounding and her head was woozy. Her only thought was that she couldn’t bear even one more night stuck on the wrong side of womanhood. Tears began to flow and Kitten screwed her eyes shut trying to stem the tide.

“Kitten, honey, what’s wrong, beloved?” It was Just, bending over her, as she lay crumpled against the rail in a heap of confusion and frustrated hormones.

His kindness was more than she could bear. “Everything,” she said. “Everything in the whole world!” She pulled herself to her feet and ran for the safety of her room unable to outpace her humiliation.

Kitten was sure she would never, ever be a confident and inspiring woman like those she was surrounded by. She would never be bright and funny like Stella, or wise and warm like Yvette. She would never be as canny as Rita, or as beautiful as her mother had been. Her life might as well end now before it ever started. Who had she been kidding? Geoffrey would never look at her in that way. She was on the wrong side of womanhood.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 22

AND.... finally:

Write about asking for mercy

Her nipples tasted of strawberries, and Connor looked up at her in surprise, one eyebrow cocked in question.

“Trade secret,” she said, using her interior muscles to squeeze his cock and refocus his attention.

She arched her back as he devoted himself to worship of her breasts. He sucked the nipples to rigid points, alternately licking them with a soft tongue and lightly nipping at them with his teeth. Her motions on his cock became more frantic as she drove towards orgasm, and he widened his thighs to give a deeper thrust.

Her mouth clamped down on the spot between his collarbone and his shoulder. Her frantic sucking sent tendrils of need through his body. He bucked under her, unable and unwilling to let her provide all the motion. They rocked together, fingernails raking down the muscles of their backs, fingers pinching, mouths searching for purpose, tongues fighting a battle as old as humankind.

Stella began to cum and her muscle spasming drove Connor over the edge as well. They clung to each other, hearts pounding, as their bodies slowly unclenched and relaxed into each other.

“Feel better?” her impertinent question was asked against the hollow of his neck where his heartbeat still fluttered wildly.

“I feel like I still have work to do,” he growled in response. He shifted his body to turn and lay her back on the furs. “My father taught me you must always groom a steed after you have taken it for a ride.”

He pushed open her thighs and drove his tongue into her tender flesh. She arched up at his assault and then relaxed to his ministrations, shuddering and moaning her pleasure softly into the furs beside her head.

He could taste his seed mingled with her juices and it drove him to deeper explorations. She was a mystery and his tongue probed for answers, alternately thrusting rigidly, or lapping with long strokes against the tender flesh. When her orgasm came she tightened the muscles of her thighs, thrusting his head back, too overcome by sensation to allow any further contact.

“Feel better?” he asked when she finally stopped shaking.

They spent the long afternoon while the ship was becalmed alternately pleasuring each other and sleeping; waking only to drive towards climax again. Stella welcomed Connor’s long pent up desire, and matched it with a sensuality of her own. The repeated cycle of tension and release relaxed him in a way that he hadn’t managed in nearly sixteen years.

Finally, he reached a point of exhaustion, and his satiated manhood would not rise again. “Have mercy, woman! I am an old man.”

“Not so old in my book, Connor Graves,” Stella said with a satisfied cat of a smile as she curled up with her head on his shoulder and drifted off to sleep.

As Connor lay listening to her gentle snores, he marveled at the restorative magic of a lover’s touch. He felt more clear-headed than he had in ages. He still missed his wife; he would likely mourn her loss all his days. But for now, lying tangled in the curls of this obstinate and remarkable Irish girl, he was content.

Crunchtober 2012 Day 21

Cont from yesterday...

In a state of disarray

Connor knelt over Stella and drank in her naked form. The intoxication of it had a far greater effect on him than the whiskey. She reached up to undo the buttons on his fly. Her knuckles brushed over his erection, and he quivered at the touch.

“It has, um, been a while love,” he said, a note of pleading in his voice.

“Well let’s get the preliminaries out of the way shall we? Then we can both relax.” She sat up on the furs and pulled his trousers over his hips and down his thighs. The tiny buttons on his trotters provided no barrier to her nimble fingers, and his erection sprang free of confinement, rigid and trembling.

Stella leaned forward and took him in her mouth. Her tongue made circles over the tip of his cock, sending fresh waves of pleasure shooting up his spine with every pass. Her attentions drove all conscious thought from his mind and he was reduced to a being of pure sensation.

The ends of her hair brushed against the fronts of his thighs, tickling his skin and causing the coarse black hair on his legs to stand to attention. He reached for something to hold on to, and she raised her hand to intertwine with his, palm to palm. Her other hand stroked the base of his shaft and between the rhythm of her ministrations and the darting of her tongue it was not long before he found release.

As his shudders began to subside, she pulled her mouth away and gave him a wicked smile before guiding him to a reclining position beside her on the bed of furs. For a brief moment, Connor thought that this would be it. The edge had been taken off his lust, and he could simply rise, gather the shreds of his dignity, and quietly leave the room. Stella, however, had other ideas.

She rose to straddle his hips, her spine to his face, and proceeded to lean forward to tug his trousers off. As she leaned, her ass rose just a bit, and the cheeks separated so that he could see her glistening sex. He suspected that trousers were not that difficult to remove, but she took her time at it, being sure he had long minutes to stare at her offering. His cock responded by stiffening under her thighs, and she ground her pelvis into him to let him know she noticed.

When his feet and legs were at last free of the encumbrance of clothing, she pivoted on his hips to face him, deftly slipping his newly aroused manhood inside her silky passage. Connor sighed with the overwhelming eroticism. He thrust his hips to meet her, reveling in the magic of a purely biological nature.

Seeing Stella’s breasts unclothed for the first time, peeking out from behind the curtain of her hair gave him the desire to taste them. He wrapped his hands on her hips and held her in place as he moved to the edge of the platform where he could sit up and take her nipples into his mouth.

To be cont…

Crunchtober 2012 Day 20

Advance apologies for the next three prompts. I fell behind so needed to write four today and it just turned out that they all kind worked for sexy times… so an extended sex scene it is. This one is a direct continuation of yesterday’s.

Write about high tide

Connor stepped across the threshold into the pleasure suite as self-conscious as a gangly teenaged boy. Stella sensing his awkwardness, went straight to the built in liquor cabinet and poured three fingers of scotch into a tumbler. She handed the amber elixir to him and turned to fill her own glass.

She had brought him to the aboriginal suite. Just had decorated this one with furs, and fertility statues, and dangling charms designed to influence the course of pleasure. Instead of a bed there was a platform layered in mink and sable. The chairs were rustic carved wood. The lamps held amber glass, tinting the room with soft golden light. On cold nights, a fire would burn in a circular enclosure in the floor, safely kept behind glass, providing the perfect ambiance. There was no need for a fire this afternoon, however.

“Slainte!” Stella said calling his attention back to her. She lifted her glass in salute and then lowered it to her lips. Her throat flexed as she swallowed and Connor’s eyes followed the movement downward until they rested on her full breasts.

Quickly swallowing his own scotch, Connor set the glass aside and reached to pull the girl against his chest. Indecision melted away under the thrust of his desire and the knowledge that Stella wanted him as much if not more.

Once he admitted his desire, the tide rose to an incredible pitch. His erection strained against the buttons of his fly, eager to be loosed. He buried his hands in her luxurious hair, wrapping his fingers around her skull and turning her head to lower his mouth on hers. She tasted of scotch and caramel as she returned his kiss, flicking her tongue across his lips to gently meet his own.

Connor groaned into her. He had been unaware how much he needed this contact; sealed off from his own desire. When Kitten had been on board, he had outlets to pour his energies. Ways of releasing or sublimating his physical needs so that he could ignore the calls of the flesh and concentrate his attentions on his daughter. That had been well and good, but since he had sent her to boarding school, fatherly duties no longer stood between the man and his carnal desires.

Stella’s hands were at work on the buttons of his shirt. She undid the last one and pulled the shirttails free, sliding the sweat-soaked cloth off his shoulders to land in a heap at their feet. The cool softness of her hands on his chest sent stabs of electric energy radiating up and down his torso. He disentangled his hands from the thicket of her curls and took hold of the collar of her shift, resting between her shoulder blades. The fabric tore easily, opening up along her spine and cascading to join his shirt at their feet. He swept her into his arms and took the three steps necessary to mount the platform and lay her onto the furs.

She reclined in comfort, letting his gaze rove freely over her body. Every hair on her body was blonde, and in the amber light glowed like molten gold.

To be cont…

Crunchtober 2012 Day 19

In the heat of the afternoon

Becalmed. A ship powered by oars, in turn powered by steam engines should not be becalmed. Yet here they were, sitting motionless on the Sea of Crete without so much as a breath of wind to cool the intense rays of the southern sun.

Connor paced the promenade, heedless of the sweat that soaked his fine lawn shirt. Bucky had forcibly removed him from the engine room, claiming ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ so Connor had no work on which to pour his attention. With Kitten away at boarding school and Just still gainfully employed below, there was no outlet for Connor’s frustrated energy.

“Is everything all right wit ye, Connor?”

The question caught him by surprise and he whirled to see the new Irish lass bathed in the gold of the Greek sun. Her long blonde curls trailed over the shoulder of her shift, brushing the curve of her breast and falling to dance around her hips.

Connor was suddenly aware of a lust he hadn’t felt in years; not since Isabelle. He cleared his throat somewhat awkwardly, and was surprised to find himself blushing. “No, I mean, yes. I am brilliant. Fine. They won’t let me help fix the engines,” he finished petulantly.

The corner of her full lips quirked upward. “I see. So ye’ve come to wear a groove in the deck just to feel useful, is it?”

Connor gaped at her, wounded pride battling with good humor. His laugh came sudden and unexpected. The tension flooded from his shoulders and he grinned at the Irish minx who was the newest addition to his Palace. “Well, one does what one must.”

Her laugh held the lilt of crystal waters tumbling down the heath. Her teeth were small pearls of perfect symmetry tucked behind full red lips. Suddenly Connor wanted nothing more than to kiss that mouth. To silence the laughter with passion. To taste her breath and crush her body to his. Shaken by the strength of his desire, he turned away from her and gripped the deck’s railing.

Connor was in the business of selling pleasure, but he had ceased long ago taking any of the wares for himself. Passion had died the night Isabelle left him on a tide of blood. “I’m sorry Estelle…”


“Stella. I am sorry Stella, but I seem to have been a bit over come by the heat, would you excuse me?”

Connor attempted to move past the girl but she stepped into his path.

“There needn’t be games between us, begging your pardon, sir,” Stella said placing a hand on his chest. “I can tell ye want me, and I want you as well. We are adults, and there is no reason we shouldn’t enjoy each other.”

“I haven’t… I can’t… I don’t,” Connor searched for words that wouldn’t be hurtful or dismissive, but nothing came to mind.

“You have, You can, and you do!” Stella took his hand a led him toward a pleasure suite.

On the threshold, Connor fumbled for his key. Entertainment suites were entered by the application of a key unique to each guest. Steam driven clockwork would then record the entry and subsequent exit, adding the charges to the guest’s bill discreetly and without the usual crassness of cash payment. Connor was issued a key upon the Palace’s maiden journey, but he had rarely found occasion to use it.

Stella pressed his hand down. “Every now and then, a girl likes to entertain a cock that did not pay for entry. This one is not for the books; this is just you and me, and whatever we choose to do with each other.”

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 18

When the dust settles

Chunk! Chunk! Chunk! One by one the great supporting struts fell to the shipyard floor in giant clouds of sawdust and metal filings. The massive hull of the ship groaned against the restraining hawsers, anxious for the kiss of the sea against her flanks. Connor and Just stood upon the viewing platform, raised up above the bones of their dreams and held their collective breaths as Bucky called orders below.

“On my mark, cut the lines and heave ho.”

The shipbuilders shouldered the ropes and pulled them taut.


Long knives flashed and men immediately took up the slack walking step by careful step towards the shore. The ship moved steadily along the rollers, as graceful as a Duchess entering a grand salon. When the bow reached the water, the nose dipped and a few of the men were pulled off their feet.

“Steady, men! Drop away, she’s water bound!”

The men dropped their ropes and stepped back into the settling dust to watch the ship relax into her watery cradle. With a sigh, and a last cracking retort towards the limiting constraints of land, the Palace rolled easily over the final rollers and slipped into the sea.

A great cheer rose from the throats of the men below and Connor let out his breath in relief. It was a good omen, the launch was smooth; sailing would be good. The Palace was floating regally on the Clyde, her unfinished top decks doing nothing to diminish her pride.

“Well Just old boy, I do believe we have a ship,” he said with a grin.

“Now comes the fun part,” said Just. “How long until the top decks are sealed and I can begin the interiors?”

One of the surprises of the project had been Just Fletcher’s talent for beauty. He had a knack for texture, colors, and pattern. He had traveled the world as Connor worked with Bucky and the engineers to build the hull and create the engines that would power her. Just had visited the Middle East, the Orient, the Great Northern climes, and islands in the South Seas for fabrics, metalwork, burnished woods and carved ivory. He was anxious to see how his finds would work together to furnish the public rooms of the ship.

Once the public rooms were finished, he could begin on the private berths. Three of the great wool houses in the Borders had been employed to produce cashmere duvets in all the colors of the rainbow. The embroiderer’s guild of Edinburgh had been commissioned to produce silken coverlets embroidered with scenes from world mythology. Each stateroom would be decorated in concert with the mythology depicted on the silk. The result, Just hoped, was to create refuges that felt like complete worlds in miniature. In his head, it was perfect. Now came the test of realizing his vision.

Connor noticed his friend’s trepidation. “No worries, Just. The Palace will be the most beautiful ship afloat, inside and out. I have faith.”

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 17

Grrr... this one is too much tell not enough show. I am having a 'stiff' day. Forgive me.

If I could do it over again

Just shifted in place, his back uncomfortable on the scratchy hospital sheets. He had grown soft in his years on the Palace; he was used to high quality Egyptian cotton, Viennese silk, and the softest cashmere blankets. Kitten had offered to bring bedding from home but he had proudly refused. It was ridiculous for a man who had been born a slave to require such comfort. It was immaterial that Just did not remember slavery, it having been abolished before he was wearing long pants. The fact was, his roots were in poverty, and even though he had lived the majority of his life in luxury aboard the Palace, some part of him felt disloyal for craving those comforts.

The wind-up clock on the bed-stand ticked away the moments, reminding Just of the contrast his life and death held to that of his friend and employer Connor Graves. Connor had been born to comfort, the son of a wealthy engineer and a university proctor. He had been educated in the best Universities of the world and had made his first fortune by the time he was seventeen. The man was brilliant, insane, manic, and dear. And he had died a horrible, brutish death.

Just, on the other hand, had been born to violence and deprivation. He had educated himself in back rooms of bars, and on the decks of riverboats. He knew nothing of ease, of the pleasure of reading, or the joy of scientific discovery, but he was good with his hands. Just could build things. He carved toys out of wood, he took apart clocks and used their gears to create other mechanisms, he braided cheap cotton twine into ropes of cunning knots. His hands were always busy. And here he was dying of old age. At this point, Just would almost welcome a quick and violent death.

When Connor found Just, he was acting as stevedore onboard the Mary Sue, a steamboat making the run from St Louis to New Orleans. The unconventional pair struck up a friendship united by matching curiosity and desire to see the world. Friendship turned to devotion for Just when Connor saved him from capture by a group of rogue slave traders who had taken to kidnapping freed Scottish slaves and sending them to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations.

Connor took Just on as a personal project, educating him in the classical European style, teaching him to use his mechanical gifts in the pursuit of science and engineering. For his part, Just attempted to be the man and business partner that Connor assumed he was. The two were nearly inseparable for twenty-some years.

‘And then,’ thought Just bitterly, ‘I left him to attend a funeral of a man I did not remember, and Connor was killed.’

Not the type of man to second-guess his past, in this one instance, he broke type. Just had never forgiven himself for leaving Connor’s side. He replayed the events over and over in his mind nearly every day. If only he had been there. If only he hadn’t let Connor talk him into going to his sire’s funeral. What good had come of him standing awkwardly at the grave-side of a man who had been sold away and never laid eyes on his own son?

Sighing the stale breath of unanswered questions, Just shifted his back trying to get comfortable on the hospital sheets. Maybe he would have Kitten bring the bedclothes after-all.

Crunchtober 2012 Day 16

This one is a little rough. I need to better understand how the ship evolves from 'just a floating brothel' to something more. My mind is fighting me on it!

It's snowing

One of the most wonderful things about the Palace for a man like Connor Graves was the lack of a definite itinerary. The ship went where it was needed and changed plans on a moment’s notice. Clients determined the ports of call, and those of senior social status overruled those of lesser position. It was for this reason that they were currently crossing the North Sea on the ragged edge of winter, bound for the coast of Norway.

Connor strode down the promenade warmly encased in his bearskin coat. The telegraph from King Oscar II crinkled in the breast pocket. Queen Sophia was stranded at a spa near Stavanger when her own ship was wounded in a terrible storm. Although Connor relished the thought of testing his ship against the notoriously violent waters of the North Sea, he was admittedly nervous about welcoming the equally notorious old-fashioned Queen on-board.

Sophia was pious, conservative, well-read, and commanding. What would she think of his ship, his employees? Should he attempt to hide the nature of business he conducted? Moreover, if he did, what would the reactions of his other passengers be? Sophia would outrank the Duke, the Laird, and the two New Scotland industrialists aboard, but was that reason enough to change their entire operation?

Lost in the circular logic of his problem, Connor failed to notice the fluttering flakes of snow that began to drift from the sky. He paced the promenade, alone with his conundrum, as the snow built in intensity, coating the upper decks in a blanket of white. The ship slowed, and the change of her motion finally caught Connor’s attention. He looked around in surprise at his transformed ship. Every inch of deck wore a mantle of sparkling snow, marred only by the footprints of his pacing.

Realization dawned. Blanketing the ship in snow did not change the ship herself. She looked different, but underneath, everything continued the same. What they needed was different entertainment! They needed code-words and costume changes. The Goddesses and Gods would have to retire. Instead, they would create a salon of intellectual philosophy, a gathering of minds. They would pattern their evenings after the greatest gatherings of the Enlightenment, the salons of Paris! If at the end of the night some of the guests chose to retire together, who would question it?

Connor grinned, an expression that would sit well on the face of a wolf. Queen Sophia would think his ship a delight. Gentlewomen would not fear to sail with them. Not only that, but imagine the philosophical ramifications of mixing royalty, merchants, and sex-workers into a stew of philosophical intent. What leaps in human understanding they could make. His ship would become more than a floating brothel, it would become an embodiment of the Second Enlightenment! Connor rushed down the promenade to the business offices to find Rita and Just. He would need their help in getting the employees ready for their new roles. They had two days to create all new clothes, practice intellectual discourse, and remake his dream yet again.

The Palace had no definite itinerary, but she always had a destination.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 15

Continuing on from yesterday’s prompt!

Ten years ago...

Kitten trailed her kid gloves across the dusty surface of the mosaic inlaid map table. Just Fletcher had created the table in the second or third year of the Palace’s tenure. The mosaic depicted Mount Olympus, in classic Greek style. Just’s surprisingly delicate artistic sensibilities gave the scene a vitality and power that spoke to her even through the coating of dust. When you peered closely at the scene, you could see the foreign intruders, picked out in tiny pieces of colored glass. Frey and Freya. Epona. Ala. Chaung-Mu. Her father’s deities.

What delight Connor Graves experienced naming the new arrivals; crafting their personas. Did he know that he had empowered them? Sex workers, who were accustomed to being used and forgotten, elevated to the role of Goddess, of Hero. Did he know how they had grown, learned to read and write, how so many of them had become businessmen, land-owners, travelers and philosophers? Did he look down from heaven and see the good he had wrought in almost direct opposition of the usual pattern for brothel owners?

Kitten dusted her hands together, scattering the dust motes of the past. She decided to ask the workmen to bring the table when they delivered the taffrail. Now, however it was time to get to work. She crossed the room in a few efficient strides, pressed her fingers into a hidden recess in the paneling, and sprung the catch that sealed to door into the Captain’s bedchamber. The panel slid aside soundlessly, revealing a room bathed in the last rays of the setting sun. She had been dawdling. It was time to retrieve what she had come for and then leave the past behind.

Tucking an escaped wisp of pure white hair back into the neat chignon at the base of her neck, Kitten pulled off her gloves and dug into her purse for the key. The slender brass key was sculpted to resemble the bodies of a man and woman entwined in lovemaking. The key and the lock it fitted were another example of Just’s meticulous art. Form and function married to metaphor.

Stooping next to the box-bed, Kitten folded back the mattress, revealing an inset panel. Then she felt along under the edge of the railing until her fingers brushed against the keyhole hidden from view. Using her fingers to guide the key to its seat, Kitten counted the clicks as she alternately lifted and twisted the key. Part of the ingeniousness of Just’s design was that the key had to be inserted in a very specific pattern. When she felt the last bump click home, she turned the key and the panel in the base of the bed slid open.

The book was there, still wrapped in its oilskin protective wrapper. Ten years ago, Kitten had written the final log, and placed the journal safely into its resting place. She had not thought to want it ever again, and yet now, as she entered her 8th decade, she found a desire to read the entries, both those in her father’s hand, and those she had written herself. Duty Fletcher, Just’s exuberant grandson, had been after her. He thought there was a book to be written. About the Palace. About Connor Graves. About Kitten’s life. Kitten didn’t know about any book. But she did know she was ready to reclaim her past.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 14

This one is a chance for me to look into the future for Kitten, when ocean travel has been mostly abandoned, and the Palace sits moldering in a shipyard in Boston.

The house is abandoned.

“I’m not sure you should go up there, ma’am.” the nervous boy says. “It may not be safe.”

“Worried for your fee, are you young man?” Kitten asks, reaching into her reticule for the promised gold pound coin. “How about if I pay you in advance, and promise another if you will wait for me here?”

The urchin’s eyes grow huge at the promised treasure, but he still looks furtively over his shoulder. Kitten can tell that he won’t wait long.

“I’ll only be a few moments; I just need to retrieve something of mine that I left on-board years ago.”

Not waiting to see if the boy stays, she begins the long ascent up the gangway. They must have left it in place after the dismantling. The derelict ship lies rusting midst a graveyard of oceangoing vessels. First the airships, and now the aeroplanes had replaced ocean-liners in the hearts of the traveling public. The ship makes a slight groaning noise, like a troubled sleeper, as Kitten’s silk pumps step onto the deck.

The promenade is covered in muck, decaying heaps of browned leaves molder in the corners, and the nearly impervious teak is beginning to crack from neglect. The French doors that lead to the foyer hang desultorily in their frame, all illusion of grace lost to time. She steps over the threshold, careful to sweep aside her Christian Dior skirt. The New Look is not the most practical style in which to do archaeology of the past, but such is life.

Inside, the depredations of abandonment are not as obvious. The dust lies less dense on the divans and end tables of the foyer, and the painted glass skylight still streams multi-hued light, giving the room an enchanted feel. It is tempting to poke behind the desk and into Rita’s office, but her time is short and Kitten realizes this will be her last chance to reclaim what is hers.

The ship breakers are scheduled to begin their gruesome work on the morrow. Valuable materials such as those contained within the hull of her former home should not be left to rot. As much as the romantic part of Kitten wants the ship to live forever, the practical business woman she was raised to be knows that salvage is the best use for the Palace now. Part of the ship will live on though; her father’s beloved taffrail would become the omberture for a south facing window on her home in New Edinburgh.

Memories crowd around Kitten as she makes her way aft to her father’s cabin. Although she sailed the Palace as Captain for nearly twenty-five years, she never shook the habit of seeing those rooms as his. The sitting room held less dust than the rest of the ship; the old-fashioned mullioned windows were still tightly sealed. Kitten lingered only for the briefest of moments, admiring once again the symmetry and balanced use of space in this, her father’s inner sanctum. For some men, the bedchamber or the gentlemen’s club served as sanctuary. For her father, it had been this room designed to his exacting specifications.

At once a parlor, a laboratory, an engineer’s drafting room, and a library, the room contained many ingenious pieces of furniture that could swing out from or disappear into the walls as needed. The back of the room opened via sliding screens onto the balcony of the taffrail. The view provided by that vantage had often served to humble even the most exalted of guests. Memories of evenings spent in this room, far less grand than the public rooms on the deck below, were filled with Kings who talked like men and Goddesses who laughed as friends.

To be continued with tomorrow’s prompt…

Crunchtober 2012 Day 13

Sorry guys, this one is about 350 words longer - but there was no way to do this shorter and it still ends rather abruptly (appropriate for the prompt I suppose ;-}

Write about falling.

“This. Bloody. Taffrail. Will be the death of me!” Connor Graves grunted, loud enough to be heard in the shipyard below. “Who’s brilliant idea was this monstrosity, anyway?”

The monstrosity in question was a two story tall wooden balcony for ship’s aft. It was made from mahogany, generously colonnaded, elaborately carved and deucedly heavy. Each of the four times the workers mounted it, ended in sagging, groaning and other general notes of complaint from the superstructure of the ship it was attached to. Undeterred, Connor decided that he would need to accomplish the installation of this very necessary counterweight himself.

Just Fletcher paced below, watching his employer and friend with concern. “Are you sure you don’t just want to split the holds and store the coal both fore and aft?” He called up.

“Absolutely. Two holds mean two loading bays, two weight factors to manage while under way and double the chance of coal dust filtering upwards and sullying the guest quarters. I just have to get this bugger to work.”

Of course, what went unsaid is the aesthetic value of the old-fashioned taffrail. The stunning wooden extension would, on one level create a walk through for the promenade, a romantic stop for guest’s perambulations. On the upper level it would provide a private balcony for the captain’s cabin. Just had tried to suggest, subtly, that counter weighing the coal could be handled by more traditional ballast methods, but Connor was insistent. Not only would his floating palace be the fastest ship on the seas, but also the most ostentatious.

Taffrails had gone out of fashion more than one hundred years before, but Connor argued ‘Why should that stop us, quadremes were out of fashion for nearly twenty times that but we’re going to use oars!’ So, a taffrail it was, no matter how bloody difficult the things were to anchor to a steel hull.

Sighing to himself, Just reached out to grab the scaling rope that draped down the side of the hull. He hated heights, but he knew Connor would not be able to settle the taffrail into the new steel cradles by himself. He needed a man on the other side. Wrapping the end of the rope securely around his waist, he lifted his left foot and placed it flat on the riveted steel. Hopping a bit on his right foot, Just grabbed the rope above his head, lifted his weight and placed the right foot on the hull as well.

Slowly and deliberately he climbed the hull; inching his way towards Connor and the looming taffrail. Just didn’t look down or allow his thoughts to dwell on how tall this bloody ship was. Each step was carefully placed, counted, and repeated. 22. 23. 24. Every now and again, Just would stop, pick up the sagging rope and loop it over his head to add to the coils around his waist.

When he drew parallel to Connor, Just risked looking away from his feet. He wished he hadn’t when he caught sight of Connor’s grinning mug.

“Are you snug there in your cocoon, Just?” Connor’s rope had a single safety loop and the rest swung free down the hull side.

“Laugh all you want boss-man, but I have no intentions of breaking my neck for your taffrail.”

As if he had cursed himself with that ill-advised statement, his left boot chose that moment to lose purchase; the leather skittered free from the metal. Just stiffened in panic and pushed too hard with his right foot attempting to compensate. Overbalanced, he swung into the side of the ship with a reverberating clang and a knock on the elbow, which numbed his entire arm causing him to lose grip with his left hand. To add insult to injury, his body rebounded and swung back to the right. Hitting that elbow as well caused him to lose his grip entirely.

Just had gone to a circus once and seen a lithe and limber aerialist dance in a swath of silk. The big finish to her act had been to climb nearly to the rafters wrapping the silk around her body as she went and then let go and fall to the show-ring floor in a graceful tumble of flashing limbs and trailing hair. The silk stopped her just before she hit the ground and the tent had erupted in tumultuous applause.

Just Fletcher’s fall down the sides of the ship followed the same mechanics as the beautiful circus girl’s but held none of the grace. He banged and bumped and thumped along the length of hull, shouting curses and imprecations all the way to the bottom. His limbs flailed, making repeated and bruising contact with steel. He slammed his head into the ship every third or fourth revolution so by the time he came to a trembling, jerking stop he was barely conscious.

Connor slid gracefully down his own rope, repelling with a couple of neat hops until his feet were securely on the shipyard. He put his shoulder under the bulk of his semi-conscious friend and lifted so that he could untie the rope that held Just suspended.

As Connor lowered the injured man to the floor he heard Just say, “You, sir, can install your own damn taffrail.”

Monday, 15 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 12

Write about promises that were broken.

“Well, though I thank you for you interest,” Marguerite said, standing and moving from behind her desk, “I will not put myself under the control of a man, no matter how devastatingly handsome and charming.”

Her polite, but firm nature usually served to force mannerly compliance from her guests, but the determined Scotsman currently dwarfing her delicate Queen Anne chair was not moved.

“What part of my proposal implied that I expected you to be under my control?” One eyebrow took wing to the fringe of coal black curls. “The exact reason I need you is because I am incapable of control in these matters. Far too soft, you see.”

This last was said with an entirely straight face. Infuriatingly, Marguerite could not tell if the double entendre was an unintentional slip, or a deliberate tease. That was the trouble with men. They could not approach the business of running a brothel with an appropriate attitude. Always they were one of two types: the bully, who beat his employees, drank and kept sloppy books, or the dandy, who preened, impregnated his employees and kept sloppy books. A man in a whorehouse was about as useful as a one-handed girl in a ménage a trois.

But which type was this man? His clothes were fine, his boots polished, and he smelled clean and sweet. These things would point to him being the latter. But his hands were rough, the skin over the knuckles cracked, and his face bore the golden hue of a man who has stared into the sun on more than a few afternoons. These things would indicate he was the former.

Marguerite shook her head firmly to reorder her thoughts. It did not matter what type of man this one was. She would not be accepting his offer. She made a business decision once on the back of a man’s promises, and it had taken ten years of striving to recover from the hole he had left her in. No, Marguerite Chanson would not make that mistake again.

“Monsieur,” Marguerite gestured delicately to the door she was holding open. “If you would be so kind, I have another appointment.”

“What would you say,” the Scotsman said, paying no mind to her dismissal, “if I were to propose a new kind of establishment. One where the girls, and boys for that matter chose their partners rather than the other way around?”

“Such is madness! What man would subject himself to the scrutiny?” Intrigued, despite her better judgment, Marguerite sat upon the matching chair. “How would the girls choose?”

A slight smile quirked the corner of Connors lips before he suppressed it and continued his sales pitch. “Imagine a ship, one that journeys the seven seas, from Calais to Barcelona, from Edinburgh to Boston. This ship is populated with Gods and Goddesses. Athena reclines in a bower, Apollo strolls the promenade. Thor, Hermes, Epona all of the deitys that ever were – given human embodiment.

“Now,” he continued, warming to his subject, “add the heads of state, the royalty, the nobility, the obscenely rich merchant class. These people must travel, and what better way to do it than in the lap of a luxurious ship, reclining with the Gods. What king wouldn’t thrill to be chosen for love by the Goddess of love herself?

“This is why I need you. This is why only Marguerite Chanson can fulfill my vision.”

In the wake of his enthusiasm Marguerite understood only one thing, she would ignore the warnings of broken promises and ruin in order to bring this shining vision to life.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 11

If I had my way...

“If I had my way,” Chief Engineer Alastair Buchannan raged at his crew, “I’d have the lot of ye in irons powering them oars with the sweat of yer brow. Now when I give the word, I expect ye to turn the ring spanner exactly forty-five degrees and no more in a two count. Have you got it you maggots?”

Calls of ‘Aye! Sir,’ and ‘Aye, aye Bucky’ rang out in the control room, carried down the great expanse of the engine hold by brass speaking tubes. When the ensign at the communications desk had checked off all stations, he nodded at the Chief. “All stations report ready, sir.”

Bucky mopped the sweat from his severely freckled brow with a rag heartily anointed by grease. He had to get the timing of his count right or the crew would fail at simultaneous adjustment and entire ranks of oars would freeze and possibly lock the pistons on their respective engines. If that happened, they would be lucky to be simply dead in the water. The more serious consequences didn’t bear thinking about. Not for the first time, Bucky cursed his brilliant employer’s engine design. Yes, the engine was 40% more efficient, requiring far less coal to produce far more steam, but the exacting nature of the adjustments required to keep the engines cycling in sync was a pain in the arse.

Once, early into the maiden voyage Bucky had exerted his autonomy to insist that any engine worth its salt would not need such regular adjustments. By the end of the second day an uncomfortable juddering had begun to shake the hull. The engines were out of sync and the measured thumping of the pistons had devolved into cacophonous drumming. Connor Graves had said nothing, but Bucky had re-synced the engines, and performed the task daily from there on out.

Due to the length of the ship, the calculations for the count had to be made accounting for the length of time it took for the order to travel the speaking-tubes. Just Fletcher had done the calculations and created a count sheet with time markings for Bucky to follow. Pulling his watch from his waistcoat pocket, Bucky flipped open the lid and began the ritual chant that marked the end of his day in the engine room.

His voice rang out through the tubes and Bucky watched out of the great pane of glass in the control room as engineers’ backs tensed, their hands flexing on the sword-length ring spanners. An ensign, who held a bright red flag in one hand and the earpiece of the speaking tube in the other, joined each engineer. As Bucky sang out the final count all the flags leapt skyward and the spanners turned. Everyone in the engine room held their breaths for a moment, until the engines resumed their rhythmic thumping.

Once again, the count had worked, but as far as Bucky was concerned, Just could not work fast enough on the fancy new-fangled light switch he had promised. Supposedly, when Just had that installed, all Bucky would have to do is flip a switch, and the system would automatically relay the order so that a light would flash on above each engine, already in perfect sync. For now though, Bucky could retire to his berth content that his engines were once again in exact calibration.

“Well done, gentlemen,” he called into the tube. “Prepare for change of shift. O’Riley, you have the conn.”

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 10

You see a shooting star

The ship had left Marseilles in the late afternoon, which had become one of those drawn out twilights so particular to the Mediterranean, where it seems as if the earth is holding her breath, afraid to disturb the beauty. Bucky had the engines singing along at a steady thrum. The oars slipped soundlessly into the water, moving the ship forward in a gliding motion not unlike a waltz. From his perch in the fo’c’sle, Captain Graves surveyed his domain, resplendent in coat and shirtfront, his angelic white hair oiled to a gleam, and his acclaimed sangfroid poised to match.

Passengers and employees navigated the decks below Connor’s vantage with a graceful dancing motion as they accommodated themselves to the unique rocking produced by 400 oars stroking loving fingers across the face of the sea. The evening was too young for any revelry to have developed. Before long, the bell would ring announcing the hour to dress for dinner; the first night of a new journey was typically greeted with a high formal dinner. For now, guests were content to explore the ship and learn her ways.

As the sun tipped into the ocean in their wake, Connor felt a small but sturdy hand slip into his. He didn’t turn from the sunset to look at his daughter; he could have sculpted her from memory. Instead, he stood a little taller, and reminded himself once again that his life was perfect. The ship he had built with his own hands under his feet and the child of his great love next to him were a bounty of blessing he didn’t feel worthy of.

“Da,” Kitten’s small but precise voice sang his name like a talisman “is tonight the night we will see the comets?”

“Meteors, Kitten, yes. Tonight is the night they are predicted.”

“But how do the scientists know it will be tonight?”

“They can see them coming from a long way off my darling, through their telescopes.”

“Then won’t we need a telescope to see them too?” Her brow creased right in the spot between her unruly eyebrows. Both the crease and the eyebrows were a gift from her mother and Connor’s heart crimped a little, as it always did, when he saw it.

“In the daytime we would, sweeting. But at night they will light up the sky for us, like shooting stars.”

“Hm.” She turned her fuzzy red head back to the sunset, as always, taking him at his word and prepared to wait for events to materialize just as he had promised.

Kitten was such a serious child. Full of curiosity. Inquisitive. Stubborn at times. She was a great observer, and a keen study of human nature. She often schooled him in the handling of employees, even at only five years of age, she often knew about disputes and petty rivalries before he did. Connor had thought that life on the ship would prove empty and unbearable after the loss of his Isabelle, but this small, fierce being at his side had anchored him to reality in a surprising and pleasant manner.

Smiling to himself at his maudlin thoughts, Connor bent and scooped his daughter into his arms just as a sweet, silvery bell sounded throughout the ship. “Come on my wee hooligan. We must get you dressed for dinner. The stars will be waiting for us once the meal is finished and we mustn't keep His Highness the Duke waiting.”

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 9

The last time

“I cannot go in there,” Connor stood at the rail, his hands gripping so tight that surely they would leave an impression in the teak.

“Connor,” Rita said gently, “this ship is your brave new world. You do not have to follow outmoded conventions for the lying-in.”

“It is not convention!” The words spat from his lips with rifled intensity. “I cannot face this. I cannot see Isabelle this way.”

A strange expression flitted across the Madame’s face and her eyes brimmed with tears, but she schooled herself and simply said. “She is asking for you, Connor, and you will not disappoint her at this juncture. She needs you.” Rita turned from her Captain, confident that no matter how personally uncomfortable he was, he would never deny his wife’s wishes.

In the wake of Rita’s rustling silk, Connor squared his shoulders and steeled himself for the sight of his wife in child-birth. By the time he reached to door to the bedchamber, he had even managed to put a smile on his face. It was a ghastly grimace at best, but it was what he had.

The door to the improvised birthing room swung open at his touch and revealed his beautiful bride reclining on a bed of blossoming red. That’s odd, thought Connor, why would they have scattered rose petals under Isabelle while she labored? With dawning horror he realized that the bed was festooned not with flowers, but with blood. Surely every child did not arrive on such a tide of gore.

“Connor,” Isabelle’s voice was weak, her skin pallid. “Connor, we have a girl. You must name her after your mother, and after mine. You must name her Katherine Yvonne.”

For the first time Connor registered the squirming bundle on the table being fussed over by Rita and Sarah. It made no sound, simply thrashed its arms and legs. Weren't babies supposed to cry or mewl or something? The entire scene was surreal and slightly out of focus, as if time was being pulled by the steam powered taffy machine on Coney Island.

“Connor.” His wife’s faint voice pulled his focus back to the bloodied bed. “Connor, I don’t have much time. We must talk.”

“Isabelle, darling. You must save your strength.”

“Connor James! Shut up and listen.” Isabelle paled visibly from the effort of raising her voice. She shifted in the bed, attempting to sit straighter. A gush of fresh blood crested the swell of her thighs. Blood thick with clots as if it were carrying away pieces of her very soul. Blood like that, Connor realized with a sinking heart that could only mean one thing.

There was a rushing in his ears, a buzzing inside his head, as of a thousand angry bees had been let lose in his cranium stinging his brain into stupidity. He would not accept it. Isabelle couldn't die. He could never live without her.

“Connor,” Isabelle tried again. “Connor, you must name our daughter after our mothers. You must promise to give her the love of both a mother and a father. You must tell her each and every day that she is a gift. That she is wanted. The she can do anything in this life she chooses.” Isabelle’s voice began to grow faint with the effort of speaking.

Connor fell to his knees, reaching tentative hands to his wife’s shoulder and hip. Some part of his brain was screaming that he should pick her up, scoop her into his arms, and run. Run away from the deathbed. Run away from the ship and responsibility as Captain and father. He didn't want it, he didn't want any of it. All he wanted was Isabelle.

Two minutes ago, he thought he could not bear to see his wife in pain. A bitter chuckle escaped him at this thought. What a coward he was. “I can’t,” he whispered, a faint echo of that earlier declaration.

Isabelle’s eyes flashed, a taste of her usual spirit. “This is the last time I will get to command you Connor Graves, and you damn well better do as I say!”

“Why are they not helping you?” Connor stumbled to his feet, his anger blazing at the two women wasting time with the baby. “Why are you not helping her? Rita? Sarah? Get bandages, get the feverfuge, get the cauterizing wands! Do something!”

“There is nothing to be done my love.”

Isabelle’s whispered words dropped like stones into his heart. “Something has torn inside. Even if we were not leagues into the open ocean, even were I in the best hospital in Edinburgh, there simply would be nothing to be done. At least here, I can spend my final moments with you, and with my baby girl. That is more than I had right to.”

Isabelle gestured weakly toward the table, and Rita gathered up the newborn bundle, placing in the cradle of the new mother’s arms. As soon as the child was secure, Rita took Sarah’s hand a led her to the door where they slipped silently into the corridor leaving the grieving family to their farewells.

Crunchtober 2012 Day 8

Someone gave you flowers.

“This is getting ridiculous!” exclaimed Madame Rita as the fourth mountain of tulips walked up the gangway. Only the clomping of the sturdy wooden shoes at the base of the stems betrayed the human agency that allowed the blooms to walk. “Whatever am I to do with all of these?”

She did not expect her question to receive an answer, and in any case, she already knew the time-honored rejoinder her employer would supply were he here to respond to her ire. ‘That, my dear Rita, is why you have my trust. You will figure it out, you always do.’ Shaking off her exasperation at the phantom voice of Connor Graves, she turned her mind to the grand floral displays made necessary by the sheer number of blooms.

Giving in to the inevitable, Rita turned to her assistant, “Sarah, I want you to take Jaques and round up every vase, bowl, and urn we have on-board. Place them in the aft dining hall and gather the chambermaids to help in making bouquets. It seems the silver inventory shall have to wait.”

“What is all the foliage for?” Stella asked Yvette as the two leaned on the ornately carved taffrail, enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

“It must have something to do with the Herr Dansig. I hear he has been appointed Dutch Ambassador to the Holy See. I assume he will be joining us for the trip to Rome.”

“Oh, Yvette! I am so sorry. There is no way you can take sick for the entire journey, is there?”

“I don’t mind Herr Dansig so much. I just make sure that we spend our first night in the baths, after which he is not so bad. As long as I can keep him busy enough to not talk. And never sit with him at dinner. And instruct cook absolutely no garlic!”

Stella laughed appreciatively. Uncouth clients were rare on the Palace, but some of the older patrons still did not quite understand the unique relationship Palace employees generally held with their clients. The Palace was not a typical brothel where women and young boys were sold as wares. The Palace was an enveloping experience, a trip to a world where societal customs and class strictures were relaxed, where the sexes commingled on equal footing, where the working women and men of the ship were as likely to choose their companions for the night as the reverse.

Turning her back to the shore, Stella leaned on her elbows and shook her tumbled blonde curls, still damp from the baths over the rail to dangle down the side of the ship. Her hair was long enough to pool on the ground at her feet and for this reason alone she often played the Goddess Venus to the delight of the ship’s clientele.

“Careful Stella, if you let your hair grow much longer you will be in danger of it dragging in the sea!”

“If I let my hair grow much longer I run the risk of creating a noose that will wind me to an early grave in my sleep!” She laughed a deep, husky sound. “And yet Connor loves it so, and who am I to deny that man?”

“Has anyone ever denied Connor anything?” Yvette asked, joining in the chuckle.

Just then, the man himself appeared on the gangway his arms full of tulips. “Look my loves, I brought you flowers!”

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 7

Write about a river

Yvette stood on the Pont Neuf Bridge starring glumly down into the churning waters of the muddy Seine. Her sturdy shoulders squared under her serge coat, her long feet cased in simple leather boots, and her thick nut-brown hair tied back in a severe knot of braids and twists, all gave the impression of a woman of great practical sense and little taste for frivolity.

Appearances can be deceiving however, because under her plain exterior lay the heart of a romantic. A girl who read Shelly and Byron, who dreamed of grand romance and adventure. Adventure that seemed to finally be hers when a fiery young southerner named Jacques had appeared, sweeping her off her feet and out of her virginity in one passionate week. Certain that her grand adventure was at last beginning, she quit her job as a chambermaid without references and moved her meager possessions into a Pied a terre with Jacques.

It had all been a bitter cosmic joke. Now here she stood, deflowered, robbed of her savings, and bereft of opportunity. Her life effectively was over, so why couldn’t she bring herself to jump? As she stood and debated, the wind sang debris-filled arias along the boulevard ensuring that all Parisians of good sense remained safely tucked away in fire and brandy warmed salons.

Connor Graves, was not Parisian, and, being a Scot, was not daunted by a minor slurry of wind and rain. His mood, in direct contrast to the miserable girl on the bridge was positively buoyant. A telegram had arrived from Just. The Palace would dock in Calais within the fortnight. Connor had secured the services of a ethereal blonde girl and a strikingly pale and handsome young boy, now all he had to do was find one additional girl, of a more robust nature, and he could rejoin the ship with pride at a job well done.

He didn’t like recruiting from other houses, there were too many bad habits that came from working in traditional bordellos. It was difficult, as well, to know if a worker was clean once they entered the trade. Connor had better luck with the unknowns, the untried, and the inexperienced. It was easier to teach good habits than it was to break bad ones. Today would be his last chance for that type of recruiting though. If he did not find a girl today, he would be forced to visit Madame Blatsky in her fashionable house on the Ile St. Louis.

As he approached the Pont Neuf, Connor caught sight of a woman starring into the depths of the Seine, and something in her posture arrested his progress. “Are you all right, Mademoiselle?”

His voice startled her and Yvette leapt back from the railing as if she’d been stung. She reflexively clutched her coat closed at the neck, her eyes huge and rounded by the scare. She bit her lip and drew in a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart.

Connor held out a steadying hand. “I didn’t mean to startle you. You just looked so sad, I thought for a moment…”

The girl stood before him, homely and plain except for her eyes, which were as cerulean and clear as the painting on delft-ware. She looked him over, taking his measure and suddenly broke into a wide smile transforming herself from dowd to Goddess with the simple twitch of facial muscles. It was a strange brand of alchemy, as if she were an ancient Grecian deity disguised to walk among humans.

As quickly as the smile had arrived, it departed and her features resumed their plain and unassuming guise. Connor knew he had found his last girl. It would be a joy to watch her work this magic on the crowned heads of Europe, so used to dismissing those that fell short of the mark of perfection.

“My name,” he said, holding forth his calling card, “is Connor Graves and I should very much like to employ you.”

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 6

Another chance to explore my beloved Edinburgh?!?!? GIFT!

Find your way in a city

Closes are the bloody tool of the Devil! thought Just as he ran up yet another flight of narrow har-slicked stone steps. Edinburgh clings to ancient volcanic rock, appearing always just one tremble away from losing purchase and sliding down to the waiting gardens lounging in an ancient lake-bed.

“You’ll never get lost in Edinburgh,” Connor had bragged. “Just think of the auld girl as a fish.”

“A fish?” Just had cocked an eyebrow at this. “Is that anyway to describe a lady?”

Connor’s mouth quirked as he fought to keep control of the conversation. “Not the city herself, mind, but the shape of her. The castle is her head, the palace is her tail and the Royal Mile with her closes and wynds form the spine and ribs. If you always know which way to her head, it is impossible to get lost in Edinburgh.”

Just remembered this conversation bitterly as he turned out of yet another fog-cloaked entrance onto a Royal Mile denuded of Lukenbooths. During the day, when the portable vendors plied their wares it was possible to gain some idea of direction based on the types of goods on offer. Carving knives were sold close to the Fleshmarket for example, flour and spices between the Sugarhouse and Bakehouse Closes. Now, as dense pockets of mist rolled through the tightly packed stone buildings it was impossible to recognize landmarks.

Just figured it was his own damn fault. In his amazement at the bustle and activity of the Royal Mile, he had forgotten the name of the Close which contained the oyster cellar where he was to meet Connor. Since he could not read the painted brass signs that named each alley, he had noted the Lukenbooths that set at the entrance for landmarks. Unfortunately, those temporary structures disappeared at dark-fall as if they had never been there. The somber stone faces of the buildings contained few identifying marks, and what signs there were, seemed to loom out of the fog suddenly, as incomprehensible and unreliable as ghosts.

The Close he wanted would be on the North side of the Mile he knew, so there was nothing for it. Since he could not ask for directions to a place he did not know the name of, he would have to brave the cut-purses and shades that haunted the cobbled street, climb the half-mile or so to the castle, and begin to methodically check each and every Close until he came upon the right one.

As Just trudged up the steadily rising street leading to the great castle on the crag that dominated Edinburgh, he ruefully recalled the trip across the ocean from the United States of New Scotland. On the ship, he proudly refused to learn to read. “There will be time for all the book-learnin’ I need once we are in Edinburgh. For now, I want to enjoy breathing as a free man.”

As he walked, the city revealed facets of herself to him: a corbie–staired gable here, a painted glass window there. It was as if there were great riches just below the surface, covered by cosmetics of granite and smoke. Just vowed that he would come to know this city as fully as his benefactor did, even if that meant learning to read and climbing innumerable steps through hundreds of Closes to do it.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 5

These two characters are both employees of the Palace and are under strict ‘no fraternization’ rules. ADVANCE WARNING this is NSFW - but I am determined that you cannot write a novel about a brothel without including sex and I will need to practice that. Consider yourselves guinea pigs.

Write about a forbidden activity

He came upon her in an aft corner of the promenade deck. She was using the railing of the canopy support as a stretching device, one arm twined overhead, her back bowed, and her left-leg lifted high behind her as she pulled upon the ankle.

“You are Athena to me,” Javier said as he encircled her waist and breathed against the alabaster curve of her upraised arm.

Meg giggled nervously. “Jave, you mustn’t, someone could come along, and we would both be put out of our positions.” Her body betrayed her words as she leaned into him, allowing her leg to drop and curl around his thighs.

He shifted to press his rock-hard erection against the toned flesh of her backside. “Then we will find a place to be alone because I really must! I must kiss you. I must hold you. I must tease you to heaven with my tongue.” Javier punctuated each of these declarations with a physical demonstration of his intentions.

Meg flushed, as her heart raced ahead of her mind and her womb blossomed with heat. She was vaguely disturbed that the Spaniard could evoke such reactions, but lately she had taken to fantasizing about him when she took clients to her bed. Instead of Prince Georg’s fumbling and apologizing, she would imagine Javier’s determined tongue blazing a trail from her navel to her clit. Instead of Count Svengny’s careful and delicate entries she yearned for Javier’s impatience, his explosive need that was sure to match her own.

Conscious of the precariousness of her position, Meg’s better nature tried once again to exert some form of mastery over the situation. She stood, pulling slightly away from him. The cool air against her backside was shocking after his heat.

“Javier, please. We must respect our positions. The ship is Edinburgh bound, and you know that if we are found breaking the rules Master Graves would not hesitate to put us off as soon as we make the docks at Leith. We must resist the temptation.”

She took another step back, adjusting her shift, which his dexterous brown fingers had managed to slip open over her breasts. As the silken fabric moved across her painfully erect nipples they responded with a twinge that echoed deep in her belly. The Spaniard was trouble, no doubt about it.

“But my Goddess,” the ridiculously handsome porter said. “I shall die of lance poisoning. You cannot leave me in such a state.”

“Do not call me that. Off-duty I am just Meg.” In spite of her best intentions, Meg’s eyes were drawn to the front of his skin-tight breeches where the proof of his arousal stood beckoning. She forced her eyes to rise to his. “You know the Goddess name is just my working name.”

“I do not call you Athena because of your work,” he said stepping closer once again. “I name you so because you have hunted my heart and I am helpless against your charms. For those other men, you play the Goddess – for me you embody her.”

This last said in a low growl against her neck that effectively destroyed Meg’s feeble defenses. God help her, but she wanted this man! “All right!” she whispered fiercely, “We can meet, but not here, not in the open. We must find a place that no one knows about.”

Javier’s smile could have blinded the sun. “Leave it to me, my love. I will prepare a place where we can quench our thirst for each other at last!” He turned with military precision and strode down the promenade, a man with a mission.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 4

I obviously don't know Rita or ANY of my courtesans well - I will need to remedy that. The ship, on the other hand is forming itself nicely in my imagination!

The end of the day...

The hum of the coal burning engines was a muted accompaniment to the susurrus of the oars swishing steadily through the waves. Porters walked quietly in the dawn light along the promenade, dousing gas-lamps grown nearly molten from a long night of lighting the revels.

Rita moved gracefully through the salons, picking up discarded cigarette holders, spectacles. and watches: the debris of gentlemen moved by passion to disregard of personal property. One of the elements of customer service that burnished the reputation of the Palace was the fact that no personal item, no matter how small or inconsequential was lost upon her decks. Guests of the Palace were assured that they would leave the gangway with every item they had upon embarkation.

Guests also prized the fact that they would leave the ship with no foreign complaints. The courtesans – both the female and male varieties - were perfect specimens of youthful beauty and Rita’s strict policies on cleanliness kept them that way. Groups of scantily clad employees were already making their way to the steam baths for the daily ritual.

The baths ranged along the center beam of the ship below decks in a railroad format that made the daily ritual of cleanliness a journey where tired workers could release the stresses of the night. Although guests were welcome to use the baths during the day, evening and through the night, between 4:00 and 7:00 am the fragrant refuge was reserved for employee use only.

Connor Graves was not a man who believed in false modesty, so (at least among his employees) men and women disrobed together and entered tepid baths filled with charcoal filtered water and a 10% solution of hydrogen peroxide. Sloughing off the night’s activities in a stinging bath was not particularly pleasant, but the lack of infection on the ship spoke to the effectiveness of the routine. Following the bite of the peroxide bath, the men adjourned to a steam room while the women employed vinegar douches followed by chamomile oil to soothe stressed tissues before joining their fellows in the heated mist.

When their skin glowed under a coating of finely wrought sweat, the torpid employees rose and dove through a series of pools alternately cool and hot until they emerged at the far end of the gallery where porters stood by with enveloping robes of Turkish cotton.

As the sun broke over the horizon of the crystal sea, gilding the decks rose-gold, toweling clad paramours made their way to private quarters and well earned rest.

Certain that all personal items had been collected and routed via porter to the correct guests, Rita made her way to her office in order to tally the night’s income. Unlike surface bound houses of pleasure, the Palace did not deal in cash. Each guest held a unique key that was inserted into specially designed boxes mounted beside the entrances to each of the pleasure suites. Before entering, the guest simply presented the key, and then did so again upon exiting. An ingenious system of clockwork tallied the keyed time and credited the guest’s account appropriately. All Rita needed to do for the tally was pull the ticker-tape from the tally printer, run it through the reader, and record the results in her ledger. It was neat, effective and clean, just as Rita expected her employees to be.

Crunchtober 2012 Day #3

Write about the sky you were born under.

Connor Graves was holding court in the grand salon. Courtesans, princes and captains of industry grouped at his feet as he exuberantly expounded upon the virtues of his native city from his position on the credenza.

“Edinburgh sits high on a crag, her face immobile, unaffected by the ravages of time. Her volcanic bone structure supports a patrician brow crowned with the tiara of castle walls. Royalty twirls in the hem of her skirt, a glittering trim at her dancing feet. Her gown, strictly corseted, laced along the stays of close and wynd, is severe and somber in cut, but decorated with tucked away extravagances and coy flourishes.”

He took a breath and a healthy drink of whiskey before adopting a tone of voice halfway between the naughty indulgences of a small boy, and the whispered coercions of an ardent lover.

“This is a lady who reveals herself slowly, batting her eyes not as the coquette, but as the dangerous and intoxicating vixen. The city dances the Dance of Seven Veils perpetually stopping at the sixth; never revealing her final secret. She teases, tantalizes, strokes and embraces you, all the time knowing that you love her more than she will ever love you.”

“Come now Connor,” cried Prince Georg, “surely you are inflating her charms for our benefit?”

“Not at all!” cried Connor, “Edinburgh is a place of mystery and romance. Ghosts live cheek-by-jowl with bankers, students walk in the shadows of the resurrectionists, ancient cemeteries serve as convenient spots for lover's trysts. Past and present mingle with the future in Edinburgh.”

“I know that for a fact,” teased Morag as she twirled her bright red curls with slender fingers. “If I step foot in Edinburgh, my past will overcome my present and cancel out my future in an instant!”

This was greeted with appreciative laughter, but Connor was not ready to cede the floor to frivolity. “It is the light of a late summer afternoon that will be your undoing in Edinburgh,” he said. The reverence in his voice, and the far-away look in his eyes pulled the group’s focus back to his imposing frame.

“Summers in Edinburgh hold a particular fragility, and as the sun travels the long pathway to its night-time resting place in the Firth, the air fills with gossamer threads of gold. It as if the sheerest of veils drapes the bowl of the great blue, burnishing every reflective surface with riches beyond price.

“At moments like that, the air is so pure it hurts to breathe. The light is so fine it slips through your fingers and you know that if you could only capture it you would hold the keys to the secrets of the ancients.”

There was a reverent hush as Connor stopped speaking. His audience, held spellbound at his description of the ancient seat and capital of the empire, parted silently as he climbed off the credenza, slipped back into his loafers.

“Now if you will forgive me,” he said while making a slight bow to the Prince, “I really must see to my other guests.”

“Is Edinburgh truly as Herr Graves says?” The Prince asked Morag as the group broke apart.

“To Connor it is,” she replied, “and because it is so to him, it has become so to me as well.”

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 2


Just Fletcher was a man who threw a long shadow. Born Boy Fletcher, property of Joseph Fletcher, esquire of Wyatt, South Carolina, Just had been a free man for most of his fifty years. Being a free black man in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not offer a great deal of opportunity for social advancement, so Just had perfected the art of operating from the shadows.

It is not possible for a black man of soaring height and bulwarked shoulders to escape notice, but Just moved so silently and spoke so seldom that white folks were prone to dismissing him on sight, a propensity that Just exploited to slip onto the ship unseen.

Rita’s message had been urgent, and she had marked the envelope with the sigil of his old master, a code used only in the most dire of emergencies. Although she had not expressly said to come silently, Just felt it was better that no one know of his return to the ship until he had assessed the landscape.

He slipped along the promenade with footfalls a soft as cotton, passing several couples engrossed in amorous ambles and a group of younger gentlemen smoking cigarillos and chivvying each other; working up the courage to enter the salon and talk to the girls.

The dockside lanterns lent a golden glow to the night, and Rita had kept the ship’s gaslight turned low to take advantage of the ambience. Just slipped into the aft passageway and took the stairs to the captain’s cabin in three long strides. He scanned the hall for intruders out of long habit, and noting that all was as it should be, he slid his key into the lock and turned the handle on the burnished maple wood door that stood between his old life as Connor Graves’ friend, and the new one as his avenger.


Shadows were a comfort, a refuge, and a tool. All three of which would be desperately needed now that his friend and employer Connor Graves was dead. Although Just burned with desire to find the murderer and repay villainy with suffering, his personal vengeance must wait.

The villains must know that Lady Katherine stood to inherit the Palace, and if they were willing to ignore social standing and royal friends in order to kill Connor, they were not likely to balk at taking out a slip of a girl in sixth form at boarding school. Just had to get to the school before anyone else could find the girl; Kitten must stay safe at all costs.

The Glasgow docks were teeming as usual. A unique blend of scabbies, merchants, rope monkeys, naval officers, and urchins moved in all directions. Voices floated above the crowd; boarding calls, price haggling, insults and greetings dancing on eddies of fortune seekers and bottom feeders. In the whirls of color and motion, no one looked to the shadows and the silent giant who slipped past the commotion and was lost in the night.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Crunchtober 2012 Day 1

Write about leaving...

Connor Graves, swept the silky lock of shockingly white hair off his brow, studiously hiding the wince of pain that accompanied the gesture. He lifted himself slightly, adjusting his position on the silk settee causing a fresh gush of blood from the gaping wound in his side. A woman knelt at his side, her deep plum velvet skirting gathered into wads which she used to apply pressure to the wound.

“Even your magic, Rita, will be unable to save the cushions, I fear.” Although his life dripped through the sieve of fine Viennese silk and pooled on the Persian rug, Connor’s famous charm warmed the room and heightened the sense of impending loss.

“You must tell Just,” Connor went on as if he were detailing the day’s itinerary as normal, “that he is not to blame. I would not have allowed him to miss the funeral of his father and were he here then he would most likely be in the same condition as I am, and then who would look out for my Kitten?”

“Hush now, Connor. Don’t waste your breath. Lizbet has gone for the surgeon.” The woman’s voice shook with the awareness she refused to acknowledge.

“Now Rita, you and I have never spent our breath in orders and demands, there is certainly no reason to begin now. And regarding now, these words are all I have with which to take my leave, I do expect you to honor that and let me speak.”

Rita choked back a sob and bowed to his will. When Connor James MacMillan Graves set his mind to a thing, that thing was accomplished.

As his business partner, madame and friend ceded the ground, Connor’s mouth quirked with the ghost of a smile.

“Kitten will need looking after, and I want her to know nothing of the circumstance of my demise. The villain who did this has earned his just reward and I am content for the Lord Almighty to deal with him. What is most important is that the Palace, the girls, you and Just Fletcher must soldier on. Without the income from the winter cruises, Kitten will not be able to finish school. You must see that she is kept from the knowledge of this. Rita? Do you hear me? Katherine is not to know.”

“But how?” The Madame’s face drained of blood as the import of his words struck her. “Connor, you cannot mean the girl is not to be told of your…” She choked on the words, horrified at what he was asking.

“No one is to be told dear Rita. You must remove my body when my spirit has fled. Take it to the aft hold and pickle it if you have to, but remove all evidence of my death. When Kitten has passed her 6th forms, and the season has come to a successful close, only then can you let it be known that I have expired.”

A fine sweat broke out on Connor’s normally pristine forehead. “I am afraid my dear that I have no more time. Do this for me. Make the Winter season into a long farewell. Make excuses. Say I have gone to conduct business in farthest Araby. Write letters to Kitten in my name. Say all the things a father should say to a daughter upon taking his leave. Above all, you and Just must keep her...”

As elegantly as he had lived his life, Connor Graves slipped into death. Rita stood, her bloodied skirts falling sodden over her petticoats. She moved as an automaton, laying the body of her employer and friend neatly onto the ruined carpet, straightening the room, hiding the settee under a luxurious fur throw. If Connor wanted to keep his death a secret, then she would have to save her mourning for another time.

The winter season of 1894 would forever be branded in her mind as the season of the long goodbye.