Today it is my pleasure to welcome debut historical author Jennifer McQuiston to HJ
Thank you so much for inviting me for an author spotlight! What Happens in Scotland is my first novel, so I am excited to share bits and pieces with you!
She woke up married…
And then she ran.
When recent widow Georgette Thorold wakes up in a Scottish inn with a wedding ring on her finger and lacking all memory of how she came to be there, she does what any well-bred lady with a modicum of sense and a distrust of marriage would do: she panics, clocks the wickedly handsome stranger in her bed over the head with a chamber pot, and runs.
James McKenzie, Esquire has either spent the evening protecting a very naïve, and—dare he say it—very drunk young lady from the advances of every disreputable character in the town of Moraig, or he has gone and married a pretty, scheming thief. Not that his own head is entirely clear on the matter, but when the woman in question repays his kindness with a knock on the head, the bill for her room, and the theft of his purse, an embarrassed James is determined to track her down and show her she picked the wrong solicitor to swindle.
As Georgette sets out to discover exactly what happened during her forgotten night, she uncovers a man that seems far more a hero than a rake. But when they finally meet, instead of sweeping her into his arms and kissing her senseless, he serves her with a summons, claiming she is a thief. Now the fight is on, and the only question is was it a night worth remembering? Or a mistake they would both rather forget?
My 5 favorite Excerpts
1.The book’s Opening page (which was delicious fun to write!):
Somewhere in Britain, 1842
Though she would never admit it to polite Society, Lady Georgette Thorold hated brandy almost as much as she hated husbands. So it was the cruelest of jokes when she awoke with nary a clue to her surroundings, smelling like one and pressed up against the other.
As she reluctantly came to her senses, unwelcome scents and fears crowded out lucid thought. In all her twenty-six years, Georgette had never even raised a glass of the amber liquid, much less slept in sheets that smelled as if they had been washed in a distillery. She was used to a feeling of comfort on waking, or at least familiarity. But judging by the stained wallpaper in her bleary line of vision, she was not in her bedroom, and there was nothing of comfort in the pounding of her head.
And, more to the point, her husband had been dead for two years.
A man’s warm body was stretched against her back, and she could feel the telltale press of an erection knocking against the base of her spine. She stared down at the muscled forearm that lay across her shoulders, noting its possessive, sinewy strength. For the briefest of moments she considered closing her eyes and going back to sleep in the appealing cage of this man’s arms. But clarity punched its way through her murky confusion.
She was in bed. With a stranger.
Heart pounding, she wiggled her way free and leaped from the tangled covers, dodging a gauntlet of broken glass and articles of clothing as she scrambled for safety. She sucked in a roomful of air, trying to escape the panic perched on her shoulders.
There were feathers everywhere. On the floor. On the ceiling. On her. Horrified by her lack of hygiene and the fear that somewhere in this room there might be a slaughtered goose, she closed her eyes, praying that when she opened them again it would all disappear. But the lack of eyesight proved ill-advised in the mess of the place. She tripped and stumbled against a wardrobe that looked to have survived the Jacobite Risings only to now sit ruined, one door hanging off its hinge.
Despite her graceless clattering, the man in the bed snored through it all. Georgette scrubbed a fist across her eyes, as if she could banish the sight of him, then lowered her hand to cover her mouth. The smell of brandy hovered there on her skin. Had she bathed in the vile stuff? What on earth had she done?
Dear God, she was in a strange room with a strange man, smelling of the same spirits her former husband had consumed to lethal outcome—what hadn’t she done?
2. My next favorite scene: Neither character can remember just what the hell happened last night, but the bits and pieces that start coming in from everyone they meet paint a rather sordid picture. In this scene, my heroine, Lady Georgette Thorold, is confronted by a colorful town resident who unfortunately knows what happened far better than she!
“I’ve brought you a kitten, miss.”
Georgette whirled, her heart leaping in her throat. A man in a bloodstained apron stood a few feet away, close enough that she could smell the coppery, sweat-soaked scent of him. He sported a beard the color of clay, littered with bits of food and other ill-considered things.
Around the burly figure, the business of the town’s morning swirled. Children skipped by, and women with baskets headed to the market Georgette had seen a few blocks before. No one seemed to notice or care the man held a cleaver in one meaty hand, and clasped a brown and gray striped kitten by the scruff of the neck in the other.
“Do I know you?” Georgette asked, taking a cautious step back, not even caring that the movement took her into the street.
A smile cracked his lips, revealing a red, jarring hole where his top front teeth should have been. “MacRory’s the name. I dinna have a chance to tell you last night while we were getting acquainted.”
“I met you last night?” And they were acquainted? The man appeared to weigh close to twenty stone, all flesh and gristle. He was either an unhygienic butcher or a murderer. Neither career recommended him as a close, personal friend. He could crush her with a finger as easily as a fist. How familiar could they have become in the brief span of her memory loss?
“You dinna remember? Ach, well, you were on me and off again so fast, I suppose that explains it.” The aproned man’s voice carried the same rumbling burr of the man she had left in her bed, but the timbre of his voice evoked none of the same soul-stirring reactions. His words, and what they implied, make her neck flush with horror rather than attraction.
“I was on you?” Georgette prayed she had misheard him.
“Oh, aye. Wrapped your hands right around my girth you did.” His hearty laugh made the stains on his apron shake like windblown curtains. “You knew just how to squeeze.”
Sweat pricked the hollows of Georgette’s underarms and a racking shiver shook her spine. Her mind’s screamed protestations tumbled about until they distilled into a single, inarguable question. “I beg your pardon?”
“Take it, lass.” The man gestured toward the squirming tabby with his knife. “You earned it.”
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3. My hero, James MacKenzie, is none too happy to wake up and realize he’s been cracked over the head with a chamber pot. As a result of his injury, his memory is a little scattered. His brother, William, is not above a little ribbing on the subject….
James stepped toward to the window, his eye drawn by white linen. The floor crunched menacingly beneath his feet. He wondered if his companion of last night had cut her feet on the shards of glass upon waking. Somehow, the thought did not please him as much as it should.
He peered up at the bit of clothing that had caught his attention. The corset he had spied earlier hung from the drapery rod like a demented flag. Up close he could see the fine stitching and silk ribbons that lined the edges. The edge of an ivory busk peeked out of the center pocket, tempting him with a hint of engraving. He lifted the entire garment from its mooring, tucked it under one arm, and headed for the door.
William’s voice tickled his ear. “I don’t think it’s your size, Jamie-boy, which leaves me to wonder what you want with that bit of frippery. Memento of the evening you have forgotten? A spoil of war, perhaps?”
“It is a clue.” James stepped gingerly into the hallway and peered down the dank, musty stairwell.
William’s chuckle pierced the shadows that swept in from all sides. “Ah, like Cinderella’s slipper.”
James shook his head, which turned out to be a poor idea. The world spun on a broken axis, and he cursed beneath his breath. He focused on feeling his way along the sticky wall until the banister fit into his hand. “No, not like Cinderella. She didn’t attack the prince the day after the ball. When I find the owner of this corset, I will find the woman who assaulted me.” He turned his head back to his brother and offered a grim promise. “And then I will know who to prosecute.”
“Oh, aye, that’s rich.” William laughed. “Let the town know you can’t handle one wee lass in your bed.” A thick black brow rose in amusement. “And how are you going to find this woman? Are you going to strap the bloody thing on every girl you see until you find the one that fits? Do you need me to hold each one down while you try it on for size?”
James turned away from his brother’s taunts, concentrating instead on putting one unsteady foot in front of the other. He knew the value of a good clue. The busk alone was a promising lead. Perhaps it bore an inscription or etching that might hint at the owner’s identity. He imagined his bed partner tripping this way only a few hours earlier without her corset. He wondered if she, at least, had a headful of memories to warm her nights for her trouble. It didn’t seem fair that he should be left with so little of her, just the feminine garment beneath his arm and the smell of her skin on his shirt.
He reminded himself she had hit him. With a chamber pot. If that wasn’t a statement of some sort, he was a donkey’s arse.
4. Once her panicked flight to freedoms settles into better sense, it’s clear to Georgette she’s going to need an annulment to go along with a much-needed bath. But how to track down the man whose eyes she can’t forget, but whose name she can’t remember? Her new ladies maid, Elsie (whom Georgette also can’t remember hiring), has a few ideas…
“That mark wasn’t made by a corset, because you weren’t wearing one.” Humor edged Elsie’s tone as she acknowledged Georgette’s shocking lack of undergarments had been noticed.
“I …” Georgette fell silent, shifting uncomfortably beneath her wet, transparent blanket. What on earth could she say to that? I left my corset in a strange room with a strange man this morning. Could you please pass the soap?
Elsie peered down at Georgette, her eyes scrunched in amusement. “That, my lady, looks very much like a love bite. Probably from that great, lovely blighter you married last night.”
Georgette froze, all worry of nudity forgotten. She latched on to that bit of information. The maid knew something about her disremembered night. Hope hammered in her chest. Perhaps she now had a more articulate clue than the simple signet ring that still lay on her finger. “Do you know the man?”
Elsie sighed dreamily, her eyes lifting to the herb-hung ceiling. “Oh, aye, right enough. All the ladies in town know him. And if James MacKenzie’s reputation is well earned, I would imagine you had a right fine time acquiring it.”
5. James and Georgette are desperately trying to find each other, and by the time they finally meet, sparks are ready to fly…especially as Georgette has been caught trying to pick the lock to gain entrance to his office.
James MacKenzie took a step toward her, and Georgette’s first ill-advised thought was one of worry. Well, that wasn’t quite true. First there was the raw, shimmering awareness of him. This morning when she had first seen him, he had been abed. Her memory of him was of a man waking with a rakish grin, teasing her back to some forgotten, forbidden pleasure.
This afternoon he was all too awake, and his eyes conveyed nothing of pleasure.
He was impossibly tall. His uncovered head skimmed the painted sign over his doorway, and his tousled brown hair stood at odd angles, as if his hand had raked through it only seconds before. His beard, so wild and incompatible with the boyish charm he had shown this morning, now seemed a perfect accompaniment to his hard eyes. Her stomach turned over once in acknowledgment of how utterly, inappropriately handsome he was.
Worry, then, was her second ill-advised thought.
She eyed the disheveled, bloody man glowering down at her. She had been so focused on finding him and exorcising him from her life that she had forgotten about the chamber pot. He was still every bit as handsome as he had been this morning. But new to the image was the row of ragged stitches that marched across his scalp and the blood-soaked jacket on his broad shoulders.
“Oh,” she breathed. “I am so, so sorry. I have hurt you.”
“Indeed.” His eyes, so green they glittered like ice on new grass, narrowed.
Georgette took a deep breath. He was a difficult man to read, his expression stern and unrevealing. Was he glad to see her? Angry? Indifferent?
There was no point denying it. That last bit would sting, no matter that she knew she did not deserve his interest.
“I am happy to see you,” she whispered, glancing up at him through her lashes. She knew it was probably too late for such a soft sentiment, no matter that it was the truth. She was happy to see him. She only wished he looked a bit more … inviting.
He reached out a lazy hand. For a moment, she thought he might take her arm, or smooth back the lock of hair that had come free from her pins and was waving like a flag of truce about her right cheek. “I wish I could say the same thing about you,” he said. Instead of touching her, he reached down. “In fact,” he said, yanking the stuck hairpin out of the lock and holding it up in front of her face, “the only thing that will give me greater pleasure than never seeing you again is seeing you brought to justice.”
And that was when Georgette realized this meeting was not going to go at all as she had imagined.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these excerpts…
A veterinarian and infectious disease researcher by training, Jennifer McQuiston has always preferred reading romance to scientific textbooks. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, two daughters (who got a pony out of mom’s book deal!) and a house full of mostly mammalian pets. What Happens in Scotland is her first novel. The second novel in her series, Summer is for Lovers, will be released September 24, 2013.