Thursday, 22 March 2012

To Catch a Husband

by Sarah Mallory
pub. May 2011 (North America).
Harlequin Historical

Kitty Wythenshawe must marry well and an invitation to London brings her everything she had hoped, including an offer of marriage from a rich lord. But it is the dark and brooding northerner Daniel Blackwood who haunts her dreams and threatens to ruin her well-laid plans….

I decided to begin this story in my local area, the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. Spinnning and weaving had been carried on here for centuries but by the Regency period new manufacturing methods were being employed and a new breed of manufacturer was emerging - rich, powerful and determined!  You can scroll down to read an extract.

I had been toying with the idea of writing something about this for a long time but my inspiration for this story started with a car journey.  We were taking a detour to one of the local towns ad the road took us across a very beautiful ford hidden deep in a valley.  There is still an old mill house (now a private home) but the ford is now in a very rural area, and I decided it would make a wonderful setting for a confrontation between Kitty and Daniel. This picture shows you how vehicles cross the ford today and the cobbles hint at it being a major crossing at some stage.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth century it was the norm for carriages to cross small rivers and streams by a ford (the clue is in the placenames of many towns and villages - Exford, Bideford, etc etc). Most bridges were narrow affairs, built for packhorses and pedestrians.  Below are pictures of a packhorse bridge and ford at Allerford in Somerset

To Catch a Husband - Extract:-

(just to set the scene, Kitty has begged a lift from a local farmer's son to get to Halifax, where she is meeting friends who will take her to London. And don't worry - Daniel only adopts the strong local accent to tease Kitty!)

As they descended to the crossroads she spotted a large black horse standing at the side of the lane. At first she thought the animal unattended, but as they approached a man stepped into view.  His serviceable buckskins and brown riding jacket were liberally spattered with mud and he was hatless, his black hair unconfined and hanging wild and disordered to his shoulders. He did not look around as they approached, but was concentrating upon securing the straps of his saddle.
'That fellow might know which is the correct road,' said Kitty. 'You should ask him.'
Joshua looked at the bedraggled stranger and pulled a face. 'Nay. No need for that.'
'To be sure he looks very rough, but he might know the way.'
'Tha can't be certain o'that.'
'Well it would do no harm to ask,' said Kitty, trying to hide her impatience.
Joshua ignored her. When she realised that he had no intention of asking for directions she decided she would have to act. As they drew abreast of the man she leaned over the side of the gig and called out to him.
 'I say, my man – yes you: which one of these roads leads to Halifax?'  
She was not used to accosting strangers, and a mixture of nerves and irritation at her companion's stubbornness made her tone much sharper than usual. The man turned slowly and looked up at her from beneath heavy dark brows. Kitty found herself facing the blackest, fiercest stare she had ever encountered.
It was as much as Kitty could do not to recoil from the stranger's angry glare. With some alarm she realised that Joshua no longer intended to drive past.  He brought the gig to a halt and the man walked over to stand before them, looking very much as if he would drag her from the gig at any moment. Swallowing hard, she sat up straight, determined not to show fear. She said haughtily, 'Did you understand me, fellow?'
Those piercing black eyes held hers for a moment, then they swept over her, from the crown of her bergère bonnet down to the nankeen half-boots peeping out from under the hem of her walking dress.  Kitty had the unsettling feeling that he could see right through her clothing to the flesh beneath.  She felt thoroughly exposed and her cheeks flamed. She snapped her head up and stared straight ahead.
'Drive on, Joshua.'
The stranger's long arm shot out and one big hand caught the pony's bridle.
'Nay,' he said in a slow, deep drawl. 'First tha needs to know t'road.'
Kitty shot a furious look at him.
'Then perhaps you would be good enough to tell us!'
'I'll tell thee nowt afore I hears a civil word from yer ladyship.'
Joshua shifted uncomfortably beside her. Kitty wondered that he did not stand up to the stranger, but a moment's consideration told her that her companion, a stocky youth of sixteen, was no match for the tall, broad-shouldered stranger some ten years his senior. The man stood at their pony's head, one hand gripping the leather cheek piece while the other stroked the animal's neck with slow, reassuring movements. The pony, traitor that he was, turned his head and rubbed against the stranger's arm.
Kitty realised that however angry the man might be with her, he was in control of himself and the situation. They could not move on until he allowed it.
She ran her tongue over her dry lips.
'I beg your pardon,' she said politely. 'Pray be good enough to direct us to the Halifax road.'
It dragged on for a full minute. Kitty gave the stranger a challenging look but he did not move, merely stared back at her with his unfathomable black gaze.  He looked as hard and immobile as the rocky granite outcrops that littered the moors.
Joshua rubbed his nose. A bullock cart lumbered up to the junction and turned along one of the lanes but still the stranger held Kitty's eyes.  Then, just when she was wondering if Joshua would dare to use the shotgun that she knew lay beneath the seat, the man stepped back.
'That's thy road.' He pointed to the lane where the bullock cart was disappearing around a bend. 'Just follow yon wagon t'bottom of  t'hill.'
With a slight nod of acknowledgement Joshua flicked the reins and they began to move.
'Thank you.'
Kitty felt obliged to utter the words as they drove away, but she kept her eyes fixed on the road ahead.  From the tail of her eye she saw the man tug his forelock but there was nothing subservient about the gesture and she could not shake the horrible conviction that he was enjoying her discomfiture.
Daniel Blackwood watched the gig pull away, a deep crease in his brows. He was in the worst possible humour but he should not have taken it out on that young couple.  He had been travelling since yesterday afternoon, his horse was lame and he had been obliged to spend the night on the moors.  He was in a devil's own temper and it had not been improved by being addressed by an arrogant chit as if he was a lackey! 
He had seen the gig approaching, but knowing the young couple could do nothing to help him he had ignored it, only to be summoned like a servant to give directions.  True, the girl was young and pretty, but he was in no mood to appreciate the heart-shaped face, the large green eyes fringed with dark lashes or the dusky curls that escaped from beneath her wide-brimmed straw bonnet. He watched the gig rolling away down the hill, the little figure in her green robe and yellow bonnet sitting rigidly upright beside the boy who was driving. Probably some farmer's daughter trying to impress her swain by acting the great lady. Well she had chosen the wrong man to try out her airs and graces!

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