Advice for Learning, Writing, and Life?

I don’t usually talk much about myself on my author social media, because, well … who the hell cares about what I do with my life that isn’t writing books. But lately, my day job and my writing have collided in some interesting ways, and it’s made me feel contemplative, so I thought I’d share, in the event that there’s someone who might find it interesting.

I think it’s pretty well established that my day job is English professor. I’m the English Education Coordinator at Sacramento State, which means I advise and teach students who are learning to be high school English teachers (I teach courses in teaching literature and teaching writing). I also teach American literature (which is what my PhD is in) and popular literature and culture (which is where my worlds sometimes collide). I also do scholarly work—research and writing—in all these areas.

So, anyway, one thing I do in this day-job world is serve as an Area Chair for the annual conference of the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association. This is an event where pop culture academics converge for four days to be fan-scholars and scholar-fans on topics ranging from comic books to Harry Potter to food culture to music to television to film to … you name it, if it’s geeky, there are probably pop culture scholars studying it. I organize and chair the Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Works of Joss Whedon areas. I also often present work of my own there. This year, I’m giving a presentation on Whedon’s problematic feminism.

Here’s where you’re muttering to yourself “She’s right. Who the hell cares?” Hold on, I’m getting to it, I promise. Or I hope, anyway.

This year the main conference organizers asked me to do a workshop on self-publishing as well. This request caused a spectacular collision between my deeply ingrained imposter syndrome and my pathological inability to say the word ‘no,’ and the result was a gory scene where my generalized anxiety was splattered all over the road, and I lay there, gasping and paralyzed.

Wow. That metaphor got really dark. Here, Lola, have a cookie and go sit down.

I don’t talk much about myself because I can’t imagine people being interested unless they’ve actually asked me a question. I don’t talk much about the specifics of my writing because I know for an absolute fact that I don’t do much “the right way.” I do what works for me, but I make no assumptions that what works for me would work for anyone else. Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, at its core. There is no one way to be a writer, or an author. There is no one way to be successful at either–except, of course, to write.

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned that one of my day-job duties is to advise students. I’m the kind of advisor who doesn’t tell you what to do. I’m a big fan of the Socratic method: I ask you to think about what you want and need, and to figure out what you should do on your own. I’ll give you some things to think about, and some factual information. I might tell you my own experience, but I’m not going to say, “Here’s what you should do”—unless it’s something like “I really think you should get out of the way of that speeding bus now.”

Anyway, that’s how I broke my anxious paralysis about this workshop—A THREE-HOUR WORKSHOP OMG (wait, don’t think about that, keep moving)—I decided to prepare it as if I were advising students on the subject—just lay out the things that I’ve learned and that have worked and failed for me, use myself as one example in a vast and complex world of examples, and send them in directions for more information.

And it turned out, I had a lot to say. I was sort of stunned at the sheer amount of experience and knowledge I’ve gained from this endeavor that started one late-October evening in 2013, when I screwed up my courage, loaded a poorly-formatted file to Amazon, used their humble cover creator option to add a bland cover, and pressed “publish” on my first book.

There are a lot of things I know about and know you “should” do that I don’t do, because I made a choice to define my success in a certain way, to know my boundaries and understand the pivot point at which I could risk the most important facet of my success: my love of the writing itself.

I know how much I struggle with anxiety, so I draw my boundaries within my limits, and I don’t do the things that might make my “bestseller” status transcend the confines of Amazon and reach to higher realms, but would also cause that anxiety to blow up my head.

That became the focus of my workshop (3 HOURS HOW AM I GOING TO TALK FOR 3…no, chill out, it’ll be fine): define your own success. Understand what you want and strive for that. Make the goal realistic and concrete. If that goal shifts along the way, make sure it does so organically. Don’t compete—don’t measure yourself against anyone but yourself, your goals and your concept of success.

I’ve got my plan for this workshop finished, and, as it happens, I think I could go for longer than three hours, lol. The PowerPoint is freakin’ enormous. But I realized something: my advice for self-publishing authors is the same as my advice for students and could be summed up in less than three minutes: Identify what you want. Learn what you need to reach that goal. Do your best work. Build a strong community around you. Measure yourself only against yourself. Love what you do.

Also: be kind, find joy, and try to relax.

I think that’s just generally good advice for life itself.

xoxo
s—

 

HONOR, Brazen Bulls #5: Cover Reveal & Preview!

HONOR BB5 digital cover

It’s time for the cover and synopsis reveal for Honor, the Brazen Bulls MC #5! Honor is Apollo’s story.

I’ve got also Chapter Four for you as a preview—when Apollo and his love, Jacinda, first meet.

Honor goes live on Saturday, 24 February—4 weeks from today!

Because I’ll be away at an academic conference during the week that I would normally set up the preorder for an upcoming release, I’m going to set this one up a few days earlier than usual—the preorder will be up next weekend. And, of course, I’ll let you know when it’s live.

Meanwhile, you can add it to your TBR.

Synopsis:

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1999.

Born on the day after the moon landing to a father with his head in the stars, Neil “Apollo” Armstrong has never felt that he could reach as high as his father’s dreams. He got as far as Tulsa, and there, with the Brazen Bulls MC, he found a way to fly on wheels. But he’s worried now that the club has lost its way.

The Bulls are reeling from a bloody, blazing street war that tore through the heart of the club. Their brotherhood has been badly damaged, and the trust among them is fragile.

Jacinda Durham doesn’t have a lot of trust to give. With a painful past still weighing on her present, she keeps people at a distance, preferring inconsequential encounters, to guard against the chance of being hurt. The career she’s chosen is another piece of her armor; she makes a living of suspicion.

After a blistering-hot night together, Apollo and Jacinda go their separate ways, despite a mutual sense that their attraction is deeper than skin. Then a fateful coincidence throws them violently back together, and Apollo finds himself standing between his club and a woman he barely knows, each a possible threat to the other. Where his loyalty lies should be clear, but his trust in the Bulls is shaken, and he can’t allow another innocent to be hurt.

It’s more than a question of loyalty. It’s love as well, a deeply rooted love for his club, and a powerful new love growing between him and this tough, beautiful woman who’s offered him her precious trust.

To save all he loves, Apollo must put everything on the line—his honor, his love, his life. He will have to pay the price that settles all their debts.

Note: explicit sex and violence.

Preview:

CHAPTER FOUR

“You have Adonis’s complete attention now,” Ryan said with a snort.

Jacinda didn’t look. She’d noticed the guy because the couple farther down on her side of the bar had had a spat about him, and her brain was wired to notice domestic spats and investigate. So she’d tagged him as he’d made his way around to the far side of the bar, the last seat, where the bartender had set his Guinness, and pose himself on the stool like the lord of the realm. Her job was to observe discreetly and see everything, so she’d observed and seen this guy.

His attitude was pure cock, straight-backed and strutting, but there was a dash of sweet in it, too, somewhere. Probably a blend he’d concocted to perfection by years of unbridled success with the ladies—because he was absurdly good looking. Easily the best-looking guy at Donovan’s, possibly the best-looking guy in Tulsa. A contender for the whole state of Oklahoma.

Handsome like Michelangelo had chiseled him from marble. Short blond hair, trim blond beard, cheekbones etched to precision. Big, too—over six feet, carved muscle from his neck down. He wore a blue and white checked shirt that strained against his substantial form. On her way to and from the bathroom, she’d seen faded jeans fitting nicely over solid thighs and slim hips, and black, square-toed cowboy boots on big feet.

Seriously. He was ridiculously hot.

She also saw a bit of smooth, contoured chest with an edge of ink showing under his shirt (three buttons open) and the white beater under it, and more ink on his arms, showing beneath his turned-up sleeves. She hadn’t been able to make out the images themselves. There might also have been a burn scar on an arm, or it had been a weird trick of the light. She hoped it was a scar. The dude needed a flaw.

That was all she’d been able to take note of without stopping and simply staring.

The bartender came over and set a fresh drink she hadn’t ordered on a green cocktail napkin before her. “From the guy at the end of the bar.” With his head, he indicated Adonis.

She looked, and he lifted his Guinness at her with a smile that must have been rehearsed in the mirror for hours until it had been perfected.

That was cocky as hell, seeing as fifteen seconds of noticing her would have produced the information that she was here with a man. That Ryan was gay and they were here because he had a crush on the grey-haired fiddle player was irrelevant; Adonis over there couldn’t know that.

She pushed the drink away. “No, thank you.”

With a wry smirk, the bartender took the drink away.

“So this is the dance tonight?” Ryan asked, finishing his beer and gesturing for a new round for both of them—making a statement of his own. The bartender set the drink he’d made in front of Jacinda again, and this time she didn’t refuse it.

“What do you mean?” she picked up the drink she’d already had.

“Please. I saw you Sherlocking the guy, and he sure as hell noticed you. Hottest guy and girl around notice each other across a crowded pub. Hottest guy buys hottest girl a drink. Hottest girl refuses it, plays hard to get. It’s like the opening of a romance novel. Or Cinemax After Dark. Next, he’ll get up, push himself in next to you, and ask why you turned down a free drink. I give it ninety minutes before you’re shagging in his…Jeep Wrangler. He looks like a Jeep Wrangler.”

“I’m not playing hard to get, and I absolutely will not be shagging anyone in a Wrangler. Ever in my life.”

Ryan simply grinned and paid for their drinks. Sidelong, Jacinda noticed Adonis notice that. If he got up and came over now, then he was either a glutton for punishment or pathologically confident.

He got up. And headed over.

Ryan, the turd, picked up his beer and pushed his chair back. “The band is back. I’m gonna go talk to Jimmy.” The fiddler.

He was leaving her with an empty seat at her side, all warmed up for Adonis. “You asshole.”

“Play nice, now. I’ll watch from afar and make sure you don’t break him.”

“Har har, asshole. This friendship’s over.”

Chuckling, he kissed her head and left, passing Adonis with a nod.

As expected, Adonis made himself comfortable in the seat of her betraying friend. “This seat taken?”

Of course he had a great voice, too. Deep and smooth, like velvet soaked in whiskey, rolling over the air.

Jacinda sipped her drink. “I thought it was, but apparently not.”

He nodded in the direction Ryan had gone, toward the stage. “You with that guy?”

She turned to look him in the—bright blue—eyes. Jesus, was this guy built in a lab or something? “You know I am.”

He grinned. Straight, white teeth, too. “I mean, are you with him?”

“Why would you think I’m not?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Just not the vibe I’m getting.”

“You do that a lot, get ‘vibes’?”

“I’m pretty good at understanding the things I see, yeah.”

That was a surprisingly interesting answer, and Jacinda gave him another hard look.

Ryan knew her well. The truth was, this guy here was hot beyond all reason and had the makings of a very nice fuck. She was into him, no denying it. For years, Jacinda had avoided relationships with men, but a harmless, meaningless good time was another matter. Maybe it seemed upside down, to trust strangers more than lovers, but she knew how to defend herself against strangers. It was lovers who came up from behind while her guard was down and did real harm.

She turned away from the blond god’s sapphire stare and sought out Ryan. She found him standing beside the stage, grinning and laughing like a schoolgirl while he chatted up his crush.

“Ryan’s a friend,” she answered, turning back to the guy she might or might not be shagging later on. But not in his Wrangler. They’d do it in a cheap motel, where meaningless fucks and illicit liaisons were meant to be done.

“As I thought. So, then, I have a question. Why’d you turn down my drink?” As he spoke, he watched her mouth; she’d used the stirrer straw because the drink was more ice than liquid now, and she didn’t like the ice dumping against her mouth when she tipped the glass.

She set the glass down. “Why’d you think I’d accept? I don’t know you.”

“In civilized societies, buying a lady a drink is an accepted means of getting to know her.”

“That’s what you are? Civilized?”

“I am if you’re a lady.”

“And if I’m not?”

His confident grin widened to unrehearsed enjoyment, and he leaned in close. “Then I’m anything you want me to be.”

He smelled good, too.

She laughed and shook her head. “You think you’re God’s gift, don’t ya?”

“I think we’re all God’s gift.” He nodded at her nearly empty drink. “Offer’s still good.”

“One drink. And I’ll buy the next round. Keep things even.”

“Free drink from a beautiful woman? Sounds great to me.” He waved for the bartender. “Bobby! ‘Nother round over here—and send one to her friend over there—and the band, too.”

The bartender took in the scene at the stage, and her and Adonis, and gave him a smile she couldn’t quite read.

“Spending money isn’t gonna impress me, if that’s your gambit.”

“No gambit. Just a nice guy is all.” He held out a large hand adorned with two heavy rings. “I’m Apollo.”

Sweet baby Jesus, he was an actual Greek god. She choked on the last sip of her current Sea Breeze. When she’d coughed her throat clear, she gasped, “You have got to be shitting me.”

“Nope. Apollo.” His offered hand hovered between them. “In civilized societies, it’s also accepted that you shake a hand when it’s offered.”

She shook his hand. Rough, like he did manual labor. She could feel the strength in it, but he didn’t squeeze hard. Before she let his hand go, she turned it and noted his rings—an intricate bull’s head on his middle finger, and a thick, solid band on his ring finger, etched with letters. She leaned in and saw icent desol. “Magnificent desolation?”

“Yeah.” She could hear in his tone that she’d pleasantly surprised him. “It’s a quote. You know it?”

“Buzz Aldrin said it from the moon. About the view from there. Is that why your parents named you Apollo? They’re space nuts?”

He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and she realized she was still holding him. She let go. As he pulled his arm back, she saw the ink on his forearm in better detail: a bull, breathing fire.

Bull ring, bull ink, rough hands, cocky—fuck, he was a Brazen Bull.

He confirmed it with his answer. “My dad’s a space nut. They didn’t name me Apollo, but yeah, that’s why I’m called that. I was born the day after the moon landing, to folks named Armstrong. Guess what they named me.”

“Not Neil.” Nobody would really do that, right? That was worse than naming him Apollo—which was obviously his road name.

His sardonic grin was answer enough. Jacinda had a strong urge to offer condolences, and might even have done so, but Bobby the Bartender brought over their new round of drinks just then. Jacinda thanked him with a smile.

“You’ve got a great smile. Don’t suppose I could get one turned my way.” Apollo said, leaning close again. “Or at least your name.”

“I’m not a trained poodle. I don’t do shit on command.”

“I’ll earn the smile, then. But it’s only fair you tell me your name. You got my whole name and a story.”

She’d gotten more than that. Sitting here with him, she’d also learned that he was a patched member of the Brazen Bulls MC. She’d lived in Tulsa her whole life, so she knew the Bulls, and last year, she and her parents had paid very close attention to what had gone down between the Bulls and the Street Hounds. It had been hard to miss for even the most casual viewer of the ten o’clock news, but people in their line of work had contacts with more information than the average Tulsan. Jacinda had good information about exactly what both sides of that war had done.

Before last year, she would have said that she didn’t have a problem with the Bulls. They stayed on their playing field and didn’t cause trouble for regular citizens, and Jacinda herself had wobbled on the fine line between legal and expedient more than once. It was part of the job. Sometimes law had to be pushed out of the way a little bit to reach justice.

But last year—that was something else. Innocent people had gotten hurt. Lives and livelihoods had been destroyed. After the war between the Bulls and the Hounds, the racial line between black and white, always solid in Tulsa, now had barbed wire.

They hadn’t pushed the law out of the way, they’d obliterated it. If they’d found justice, it wasn’t for Tulsa.

The question now before her, as Neil ‘Apollo’ Armstrong of the Brazen Bulls MC awaited her name, was whether it mattered to this moment and, if so, how much. Not at all, for a meaningless fuck at the Osage Motor Inn. But she’d be careful what she told him about herself.

And it probably wasn’t a Jeep Wrangler he’d ridden in on.

The band began their next set, filling the pub with folk music. She turned and sought out Ryan, who’d taken up a seat at a tall two-top near the stage. Seeming to sense her attention, he turned and smiled at her, lifting his hands in a question. She sent back a subtle thumbs-up, and he laughed. Cocky fucker.

Turning back to the cocky fucker at her side, she said, raising her voice above the music, “Jacinda.”

“That’s beautiful. Never known a Jacinda before.”

“You don’t know one now.”

He laughed, his confidence unshaken. “I’d like to.”

Every time he parried one of her barbs, she liked him more. He flew by all her checkpoints, never turning into an asshole, never getting hurt and then pissy. Just evaded the blow of her snark, or absorbed it, and kept moving.

“Do women ever tell you no?”

“Sure. You’ve told me no several times already.”

“Do you ever take no for an answer?”

“Sure. But I told you, I’m pretty good at reading situations, and your nos don’t seem firm. Tell me I’m reading this wrong, and you want me to go, and I’m gone.”

He wasn’t reading it wrong. She sipped her drink and said nothing, until he laughed and picked up his glass.

“You are an interesting woman, Jacinda.”

“How do you know? Maybe I’m just a secretary who lives alone with her cat.”

“I know a lot of secretaries. Never met one who wore black leather pants and boots like that.”

“You have now.” Not a lie, strictly speaking. She did all the administrative work of the agency, including answering the phones most of the time. And she lived alone. With a cat.

He cocked a blond eyebrow at her over his glass. “A secretary, huh? What kind of secretary?”

“I work at a company that does insurance work.” Also true. They got a lot of business from insurance companies investigating claims. It seemed prudent to keep the specific nature of Durham & Associates Detection Services’ work to herself while talking to a Brazen Bull.

“Well color me surprised. Are you like Catwoman, meek and mild by day, pouncing on unsuspecting men by night?”

She laughed. “Sure. We’ll go with that.” As she sipped the last of her drink, Apollo brushed a finger along her cheek.

“Damn, it is a gorgeous smile.”

She tipped her head out of his reach and focused on getting the attention of Bobby the Bartender so she could order another round and square things up between her and the Greek god who was making a claim on her.

Bobby came over, and she ordered. That would make five drinks for her in—she checked her watch—less than two hours. Shit, when she stood up, the room would spin. She’d be too drunk to drive. She might already be.

Okay. That meant making conversation for a while until she could get some water in herself and have another pee, too.

“So what is it you do, Apollo?”

“Mechanic.”

Of course he was. At Brian Delaney Auto Service, no doubt. She let him dissemble, as she had. There was no need for full disclosure between them.

Bobby brought their drinks. As Jacinda reached for hers, Apollo laid his hand on her arm. Yeah, that was a burn scar, dark and smooth. At the same time, he held Bobby up with a gesture of his other hand. “Hold up.” He turned to Jacinda. “You’ve been pounding those back. How about we get something to eat?”

He wanted to sober her up? “You want to sober me up? I thought you had designs.”

“Basket of chips,” he ordered, “with salt and vinegar, and a cheeseburger for the lady.”

“I’m a vegetarian.”

That was a pants-on-fire kind of lie that had come out of nowhere, probably because she didn’t like him ordering for her, but Apollo simply said, “Make it a garden burger.” Bobby made a note and handed it to a bar-back.

When the bartender was gone again, Apollo leaned in close. “Never in my life have I needed to get a chick drunk.”

Of course not. They probably passed out from the sheer power of his pheromones. “Point of pride?” she asked, adding a little stinger to her tone.

“Point of human decency.” He sat back and picked up his glass.

Well, shit. That was a good answer. She was starting to like this guy, and not just because he was beautiful and she was—yes, getting drunk.

She watched him while he poured Guinness down his throat. Even the cadence of his swallows, the flex of those muscles, showed his strength. An urge grabbed her to press her fingers against his pulse point and feel that strength; she quelled it and sipped her own drink.

Setting his glass down abruptly, Apollo leaned toward her and fished in his jeans pocket. He pulled out a cellphone. “’Scuse me,” he said and answered. “Yeah. … Hey, Ox, there trouble?”

He turned away and pushed his chair back, as if he meant to get up, but stopped, leaning forward. Jacinda couldn’t help but listen. Eavesdropping was a professional skill that became an unavoidable personal habit.

“Slick and Fitz are on that.”

Apollo. Ox. Slick. Only big bad bikers could get away with calling themselves such ridiculous names without being ridiculed.

“Yeah, that’s right. You need me to come in? … Okay, man. Call again if you don’t get him. Yeah, ‘night.” He ended the call and pushed the phone back into his pocket, then turned to her with that well-rehearsed smile. “Sorry about that.”

“Trouble?”

“Nothing I have to deal with.”

“You and your friends have interesting names. Is that a thing with…mechanics?”

He shrugged. “It’s a thing with my friends, how ‘bout that.” Shifting his chair to face hers, he leaned in, so close that she felt his beard on her cheek, a sensation that tripped wires all the way through her, tightening her nipples and clenching her pussy, and murmured in her ear, “It’s not nice to listen to other people’s conversations.”

Turning her head slowly so the touch continued, her cheek slipping against his beard, her nose brushing his, their mouths close enough that his breath tickled her lips, she whispered back, “In civilized societies? I thought we’d established that we weren’t civilized.”

When he smiled, his beard brushed her lips, they were that close. “I guess we’re not. I like you, Jacinda the Catwoman.”

Though they were already practically mouth to mouth, and the magnetic fields of their bodies drew them to close the infinitesimal distance remaining, they didn’t. Jacinda liked that zing of the pull, the way the chemistry between them tingled all through her, too much to give into it, and Apollo seemed to like it just as much. So they hovered there, quivering on the fulcrum of potential, and everything around them dimmed to an inconsequential hum.

Until a broad shadow loomed over them and parked itself there. Reluctantly, Jacinda leaned back and looked up into Ryan’s smug face.

“Hello, kids.”

Jacinda sighed. “Ryan, meet Apollo. Apollo, Ryan.”

To her friend’s credit, though his eyes narrowed at the name, he kept his snark about Greek gods to himself and shook Apollo’s hand.

“Don’t mind me. I just want to let Jacinda here know that she doesn’t have to wait on me. I’m going upstairs to hang with the band after last call, and I’ll call a cab after.” Donovan’s kept an apartment above the pub to house talent while in town. Ryan shifted his friendly grin to one with some edge. “But until then, I’m just over there if you need anything.”

“I got it. Thanks. Have fun!”

Ryan blew her a kiss and wended his way back to the band’s table.

“Your friend dating the singer?” Apollo asked.

The singer was a waifish woman named Nuala. Ryan was out, but Jacinda made a point to let him deliver word of his outness to the people he met. This time, however, the words coasted out on a Sea Breeze wave. “The fiddler.”

“Oh. Ah.” Apollo shot a glance over her shoulder, toward the stage.

“You have a problem with that?”

“Why would I? Where he puts his dick is his business, as long as he has permission to put it there.”

Again, this guy surprised her. Not only for his lack of judgment, but for the oddly astute and precise way he had of explaining his reasoning. She liked it. She liked him.

So she kissed him.

She’d surprised him, but he recovered quickly and opened his mouth for her, letting her find his tongue. Oh, she liked that, too, how he didn’t take over and try to dominate her. This guy was smooth as glass. The rich taste of Guinness lingered on his tongue and rolled over hers. His lips were soft and full, and his beard was just rough enough to electrify the contrast of sensation. He smelled—God, what was that? He didn’t smell overly chemical or like she’d just dodged the cologne gauntlet at Dillard’s.

God, it was good, whatever it was.

She lifted her hand and hooked it around his neck—so solid and firm—and that touch charged through him somehow. Without ending the kiss or pulling back at all, he gripped the arms of her chair and yanked it around so that she faced him directly.

That surprise really hit her, and she turned away from his mouth with a gasp she couldn’t hold back. But he was right there, his hot breath skimming over her flushed cheek.

“Food’s here, Catwoman,” he murmured, his lips caressing her skin as he spoke.

Jacinda swallowed and tried to focus, no longer clear on whether she was drunk on vodka or on the god whose tongue had just memorized her mouth.

© 2017 Susan Fanetti

HONOR BB5 paperback cover

 

 

 

Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is LIVE!!

suffragette digital cover FINAL

Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is my favorite book I’ve written, and possibly the best book I can write, and it’s live now on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and B&N. I’ve approved the proof of the paperback version as well, and that should be available any time now on Amazon.

NOE&NIH is a historical romance set between 1910-1920, during the fight for women’s suffrage.

Here’s the synopsis:

England, 1910.

Lady Nora Tate is a young woman caught between the expectations of her station and the demands of her own heart and mind. The noble world of her birth is a luxurious cage, locking her away from all she wishes to know and feel and do, the woman she wishes to be. All around her, the world is changing, and she fights to join it, even as she creates scandal with her every attempt to break free.

William Frazier is the scion of an American railroad tycoon, in England to seek new business opportunities for his family’s empire and visit his good friend, Lord Christopher Tate. With Chris as his guide, he tours the London Season, and meets his friend’s younger sister. He’s captivated at once by the lovely young lady with the sharp wit and searching eyes.

Raised by visionary parents, William sees Nora’s cage for what it is and admires her striving against constraint. But her world will neither free her, nor accept him. William would be her hero and save her, but Nora wants to save herself, if she can.

Set against the tumultuous cultural and political backdrop of the end of the Edwardian Era, on two continents and across an ocean, Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is a story about the deep love between a young woman finding her voice, and the man strong enough to stand at her side as she demands the right to use it.

2018: What the New Year Holds

Get lost, 2017. Hello, 2018!

Well, I thought 2016 was rude, but 2017 was positively abusive. Can’t say I’m sorry to see that nasty jerk walk out the door. 2018, if I let you in, you have to promise to behave—and maybe help clean up some of the mess 2017 left.

From a personal perspective, there’s a lot about 2017 I’d like to scrub from my memory, but from my writing life, there are a few things I’d like to pin for safekeeping.

#1: I went to my first signing, Penned Con in St. Louis, and got to meet some lovely FANetties and a bunch of other wonderful readers, as well as some very cool authors! 😀

#2: I published six novels, finishing my personally beloved Northwomen Sagas, continuing the popular Brazen Bulls MC, and beginning the Sawtooth Mountains Stories—and I got a lot of much-appreciated support for the odd way the first Sawtooth book, Somewhere, found new life. I’m so glad I decided to put that book back in the world under my own name, and I’m so grateful for the love and support of my readers, and for the new readers Somewhere has found! ❤

#3: I wrote seven novels (plus about a third of an eighth), challenged myself in new directions, and created a serious backlog of completed, unpublished work. I’m going to publish more often in 2018 and try to catch up with myself.

Even with a faster publishing pace, most of the work I plan to release in 2018 is already written, so now, on the first day of the year, it seems a good time to look forward to the new year and tell you what I know of my publishing plans—and other details of my writing life you might be interested in.

My 2018 Plans:

The way I mean to begin catching up with my backlog is to go back to a six week (or so) publishing schedule. That’s already underway, as my first book of 2018 is going live six weeks after my last book of 2017. I fudged that six-week thing a bit here and there to get release days to sync up with or get out of the way of other days in my personal calendar, but I think I’ll be able to put out 8 new releases this year.

Since so much of the work I mean to release this year is already completed at least in first draft, I can be pretty specific for dates through most of the year. To wit:

13 January: Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven
This is a standalone historical romance, set in the Edwardian Era. The female lead is an English suffragette (and a noblewoman), and the male lead is an American industrialist. It’s a big story, half again as long as most of my other books (which tend to be a bit long anyway), and absolutely my best work to date, IMO.

Every book I publish is the best version of that book I can write at that time. I think NOE&NIH might be the best book I can write, period.

Find a preview here.

The preorder is available now on Amazon and Kobo, iBooks, and B&N.

24 February: Honor, The Brazen Bulls MC Book 5
I guess this counts as a title reveal, though the cover reveal is a few weeks off. Honor is Apollo’s story. More details when I reveal the cover, toward the end of the month.

7 April: Aurora Terminus
This is a departure for me—it’s a post-apocalyptic story. That’s my favorite genre to read, but until this past year, I hadn’t written in it. While it is absolutely a love story, told in the dual POV of two characters who fall in love and become a committed couple, it’s not quite a romance, according to the genre guidelines. The story is bigger than the relationship between the couple, and the focus is really on how they navigate their broken world and work to build up a new one.

And the sex all fades to black. You know I’m not prim about writing explicit sex, but the vibe of this story never felt quite right for that. So it’s definitely a love story and definitely romantic, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on, and some stuff not going on (on the page, at least–they totally bang, they just do it in private), so not a romance. Still, I hope you like it. I’m proud of it.

It has the potential to be a series, and there’s more story I want to tell with some secondary characters, but it’s also a standalone.

Late last summer, I signed Aurora Terminus with a small press, and when all the paperwork was done, they and I both announced the deal. When we started to get the ball rolling to work together, however, it became quickly apparent that how I work and how they work didn’t mesh especially well. I asked if we might reconsider working together, and they were kind enough to let me out of the contract. It was all very calm and amicable, for which I’m really grateful.

Anyway, I’m publishing AT myself, as usual. Since it’s a different genre, I’m using a different variation of my name—S.E. Fanetti—and I have social media accounts set up in that name, which I intend to start using now. I’ll keep both “identities” linked and share AT news on my usual social media as well.

You can find links to S.E. Fanetti social media here. Please throw me a like/follow over there, if you’re of a mind. Those accounts will be more active as of now.

2 June: The Brazen Bulls MC Book 6
This one is done, has a title and even a pretty solid draft of a cover, but I’m not sharing any information about it until Honor is released. With seven books of the BBMC series written, I’m pretty sure this is the best of the bunch–it’s definitely the one closest to my heart. A bit different from the others, though. You’ll see. 🙂

14 July: The Pagano Brothers Book 1 (TENTATIVE)
The first book of a new Mafia romance series. If Deep is your favorite book of the Pagano Family series, then you’ll probably like this series, which will focus on the Pagano Brothers organization. I’m writing Book 1 now, and on my FB author page a couple of weeks ago, I shared the first few words I wrote. This story is developing in ways that surprise and challenge me, and I have no idea where it’s going. But I’m 30K+ words in at this point, so I feel confident enough it’s going to get finished and be worthwhile that I’m willing to stick my neck out and give it a likely release date.

The Pagano Brothers series begins where the epilogue to Miracle, and the whole Pagano Family series, ends, which is a little more than twenty years after that series begins. Carlo’s son, Trey, is grown, and Book 1 is his story.

In this series, I also want to write a story for Donnie Goretti, who became known in the Pagano Family series as The Face. And I kinda want Angie Corti, Tina Corti Pagano’s brother, to get a story, too; he caught my interest when I was writing Miracle, the conclusion of the Pagano Family series. Beyond that, we’ll see what characters ‘pop’ and demand their own stories. I kinda know where, and with whom, I want the series eventually to end, but it’s far too early to say that out loud.

28 JULY: MOTORCYCLES, MOBSTERS AND MAYHEM, Cincinnati, OH
I’ll be attending this themed author event for lovers of biker and mobster romance! I’ll have a preorder form up soon.

1 September: The Brazen Bulls MC Book 7
This one is written, too, but it’s too early to say more about it. It’ll be the last BBMC book of 2018, but not the end of the series. The series will end in 2019, with Book 8 and a subsequent standalone prequel.

20-22 SEPTEMBER: PENNEDCON 2018, St. Louis, MO
And I’ll be back at Penned Con this year, too! Again, I’ll have a preorder form up soon.

Okay, that’s what I know about 2018. Here’s what I’m planning for the rest of the year, but since it hasn’t been written or started yet, I can’t be sure. Don’t want to take Lola for granted, you know. She’s prickly.

13 October: The Sawtooth Mountains Stories #2 (TENTATIVE)
This book here is the whole reason I decided to put Somewhere back out in the world, and I haven’t even written it yet. Sigh. I’ll admit to a little anxiety about starting this one, but it’s next in the queue. It will be Logan’s story, and that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
Assuming that I get Logan’s story written (please, Lola), I do have other ideas in mind for this series. I really love my little town of Jasper Ridge, Idaho.

Finally … in December …
I want to put out a Christmas book. I don’t actually have an idea yet for it, haha, but I’ve wanted to write a Christmas book for a couple of years now, and this is the year I mean to do it, dammit!

In other words, I have no frakkin’ clue what I’ll put out in December. Hopefully a Christmas book, maybe taking place in one of my series. Or another installment in one of the current series. Or something else. 2018 will tell.

And that’s my plan, so far, for the next twelve months.

As for what I plan to write this year: More Brazen Bulls, more Pagano Brothers, more Sawtooth. That Christmas story, should inspiration strike. And I’ve got an idea for another standalone historical romance that I’m pretty stoked about.

Beyond that … whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

I wish you health, happiness, and calm in the new year!

Salut!
s—

2017 Fave 5: My Favorite Reads of the Year

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Since I began writing fiction, and because my day job also requires a lot of reading and writing, I don’t get to read for simple pleasure as much as I used to. But I manage a couple books a month or so. Last year, I posted a list of my top five reads, and readers seemed to appreciate it, so I thought I’d do it again and maybe get into the game and make it a yearly thing.

My favorite genres as a reader are science fiction and fantasy, and since I’m steeped in romance as a writer and beta-reader, my list of pleasure reads tends to lean away from the genre I write in. But I read a few wonderful romances just for fun, and I’ve included my favorite here.

So, let’s do this from bottom to top. In each heading, I’ve linked the title to its Amazon page:

#5: Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

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I am a fan both of Neil Gaiman (I’m going to be teaching a senior seminar on his work next semester) and Norse mythology (as evidenced by my Viking romance series, The Northwomen Sagas), so I had Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on preorder from the moment it was available, and it didn’t disappoint. Gaiman retells prominent Norse myths in his typical style, managing to balance irreverence and respect, humor and pathos on a thin blade of perfection.

#4: The Butterfly Project, by Emma Scott

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Oh, I enjoyed this so much. Zelda and Beckett are wonderful, deep, interesting characters, and their individual stories pack as much emotional punch as their romance. The writing is graceful and true, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the way Zelda’s comic frames and shapes the story. I’m an avid comic and graphic novel reader, and I found the integration of the comic here seamless and interesting–and thematically powerful. Highly recommend this, if you haven’t already read it.

#3: Saga, Volume 7, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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You know how I just said I’m an avid reader of comics and graphic novels? I’ve been following about a half-dozen current titles since their first issue (one, I’ve been reading for about ten years now), and Saga is hands-down my favorite of these regular reads. Last year, Volume 6 made my Fave 5 list, and Volume 7 might be even better. This series has everything–gorgeous art, characters to care deeply about, a unique, epic story, and some deep themes and ideas. At the heart of this story are two powerful people in love, and the small family they’ve made together. If you are a reader of comics, you really should be reading Saga. You won’t be sorry.

#2: The Stone Sky, Book 3 of the Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin

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The Stone Sky is the final book of The Broken Earth trilogy. I’ve been reading this series since last year, and each and every book is a favorite. The first two books (both Hugo Award winners) deserved two places on my list last year, but since this is very much a trilogy, one story in three books, I wanted to wait to recommend it until the end, to be sure Jemisin stuck the landing.

She stuck the hell out of it.

This series is absolutely fantastic, and my favorite SFF read of the last ten years. Jemisin’s world-building takes my breath away, and her characters are deep, diverse, fascinating. They are real people, sometimes prickly, sometimes loving, sometimes brave, sometimes weak. Flawed and wonderful. You will come to love the ‘villain’ as much as you love anyone.

It is not a typical hero’s journey kind of SFF story at all, though it is about a journey, and there is a kind of world-saving thing as a goal. Strong arguments could be made to consider it either science fiction or fantasy. I consider it both.

The first book is The Fifth Season.

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And #1–my favorite book of 2017: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

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This book has been #1 on the NYT list pretty much since its release, so I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Let me add my voice to the thunderous chorus of praise.

I’ll start by saying that I know I’m seriously in the minority of genre readers, but I generally hate first person present POV. Like, unless I have other reasons to proceed, I will decide against a book on page one of a sample that’s written in first present, because I really, really, really don’t like the characters telling me what’s happening while it’s happening. I always wonder why they have time just then to narrate their lives. Shouldn’t they be focused on what’s happening? I want characters to sit me down and tell me a story. So first person is fine in past tense, but third person past is absolutely my favorite POV (note that that’s what I write in, lol).

Now, though I think it’s the POV that’s most often done poorly, I have indeed read some amazing books written, at least in part, in first present (The Handmaid’s Tale, for one), and if there is a compelling reason for me to push through my resistance (a book I’ve been assigned to read, or one a friend has written, for instance, or one that everyone is talking about and my curiosity overcomes my distaste for the POV), and the story is good enough, the writing strong enough, I might eventually get wrapped up enough to forget the POV and just enjoy the story. But it’s usually a struggle to get over that hill, and I need a reason beyond the book itself to keep going.

I say all that because THUG is written in first present, and I struggled with the POV for a good while. I kept trying to put it down because I couldn’t get into it. But E V E R Y O N E  I know and respect had read and loved this book, I’d read countless articles about its importance and worth, and I teach YA literature, so I was considering it for my syllabus. I pressed on. And then, at one very important scene, I crested the hill. More importantly, it became very clear that first present was the exactly right POV for this story. The reader needs to be there while things happen. In the moment. The emotional impact is nearly overwhelming.

This is an important book. It’s a necessary book. But more than that, it’s a brilliant book. It tells a powerful story with nuance and compassion, and it is beautiful.

And yes, it’s on my syllabus.

(Aside: The Broken Earth Trilogy is written in part in first present, too. That’s another read that was so good I overcame it. And it’s another read for which, in retrospect, I see that the POV choices make the book stronger.)

And that’s my Fave 5 list for 2017!

Happy holidays, everyone! xoxo
s–

 

 

 

Cover Reveal & Preview: Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven

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Today I’m revealing the cover and title of my next release. Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is a standalone historical romance that opens in 1910.

I loved writing this like I can’t even describe, and I’m super proud of how it turned out. It’s a big ‘un—155,000+ words. In paperback, it’ll be 735 pages—and the scope of the story is bigger than anything else I’ve written. The research for this one was intense—and so very much fun. The bulk of the story takes place from 1910-1913, and there was a lot going on during those years!

The title comes from the epigraph, which is a quote from Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the women’s suffrage movement in England. The quote is: “Once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible.”

The release day for Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is Saturday, 13 January 2018—four weeks from today. It’ll be available on the usual digital platforms, and in paperback as well. I’m sort of waffling on whether I’ll set it up for preorder, but I’ll let you know if I do.

I’ve set up the Goodreads page, if you’d like to add it to your TBR.

Without further ado, here’s the synopsis and Chapter One as a preview.

Happy Holidays!

s—

SYNOPSIS:

England, 1910.

Lady Nora Tate is a young woman caught between the expectations of her station and the demands of her own heart and mind. The noble world of her birth is a luxurious cage, locking her away from all she wishes to know and feel and do, the woman she wishes to be. All around her, the world is changing, and she fights to join it, even as she creates scandal with her every attempt to break free.

William Frazier is the scion of an American railroad tycoon, in England to seek new business opportunities for his family’s empire and visit his good friend, Lord Christopher Tate. With Chris as his guide, he tours the London Season, and meets his friend’s younger sister. He’s captivated at once by the lovely young lady with the sharp wit and searching eyes.

Raised by visionary parents, William sees Nora’s cage for what it is and admires her striving against constraint. But her world will neither free her, nor accept him. William would be her hero and save her, but Nora wants to save herself, if she can.

Set against the tumultuous cultural and political backdrop of the end of the Edwardian Era, on two continents and across an ocean, Nothing on Earth & Nothing in Heaven is a story about the deep love between a young woman finding her voice, and the man strong enough to stand at her side as she demands the right to use it.

This novel is a standalone.

Note: explicit sex.

PREVIEW:

ONE

 

White light blasted suddenly through Nora’s head, murdering sleep with its fiery blade. She moaned and rolled over, burying her head beneath a silken pillow. It seemed she’d closed her eyes mere moments earlier, but the sun had quite obviously risen since she had.

“It’s time to be up, milady,” Kate, her maid, chirped as she flung open the draperies at the other windows. “I held back as long as I dared, but if you lie abed much longer, you’ll leave your father waiting.”

“What time is it?” Nora mumbled under the pillow.

“Nearly half nine, milady.”

Nora pushed the pillow up and exposed her weary eyes to the sunlit room and the doubly bright glare of Kate’s smile. Her father liked to leave for their morning ride in Hyde Park promptly at ten. Now that she’d been presented at court, to the new King George V, and was a proper lady, it took thirty minutes or more to get dressed in the morning—and in the evening, much longer than that.

If her first few weeks of womanhood were a mark by which to judge the condition, she preferred girlhood.

But it wasn’t her maid’s fault, so Nora sat up and blinked her eyes into working order as Kate set a tray across her legs. While Nora grumpily nibbled at a piece of toast with jam and sipped the day’s first cup of tea, Kate bustled around the room, fluffing Nora’s riding habit, arranging the brushes and pins and other assorted necessities of Nora’s ablutions, and gathering up the crumpled underthings Nora had been too tired to allow her to attend to the night before—or earlier in this same morning. The bells had tolled for three while she and her father were yet in the carriage last night.

“How was the ball?” Kate asked, setting out Nora’s boots for a polish.

Nora finished her tea and set the tray aside. “Like all the other balls. Women preening for the men and trying not to show it, and the men browsing the women like wares on a cart. Everyone trussed up like Christmas geese and too uncomfortable to breathe, let alone enjoy the evening.”

Kate stood at her dressing table, brush in hand, and Nora, understanding the unspoken message, slid from bed. She sat before the mirror and let Kate begin her torturous ministrations.

“But was the Duke there? Did you dance with him?”

Richard Jameson, The Duke of Chalford. He was the supposed catch of London, and he’d turned his eye toward Nora at most events so far this Season. He was handsome—tall and broad-shouldered, with a nicely arranged face and wavy ginger hair. At first, hearing how coveted his attention was, and seeing how pleasant he was to look at, Nora had been, she could admit to herself, dazzled in the beam of his bright blue eyes.

But then she’d sat beside him at a few dinners and spoken with him in a few drawing rooms and during several dances. Now she knew that everything interesting about him was apparent from across a crowded room. And he didn’t like her much better. She talked too much and had too many opinions.

Indeed, that was the growing consensus among everyone in London, whispered in tones loud enough for all to hear. Lady Nora Tate talked too much about unseemly things, like politics. Lord Tarrin had let his youngest child and only daughter run wild for too long. She thought she was a man.

No, Nora knew full well she was a woman. She simply wished she were a man.

She sighed and watched in the mirror as Kate began the painstaking, and painful, ritual of winding her thick blonde mane into the coils and ratted puffs of a proper style. All those pins, digging into her scalp, all the day long. Already she missed the days when she’d worn her hair loose and long—only weeks ago, but never again.

“He was there,” she answered Kate’s question. “We had one dance.”

Kate pulled a little face of disappointed commiseration. “Well, that’s all right. You’ll have another chance at your dinner tonight.”

Her dinner. Before they’d arrived in London, while she was in Paris with her Aunt Martha, buying so many lovely dresses and shoes and hats, Nora had been excited at the prospect of her first Season. Now, after weeks of visits, and dinners, and breakfasts, and parties, and balls, and weeks more to go, seeing the same people over and over, either struggling dully to comport herself like a lady or scandalising the people around her by daring to express an opinion about anything more controversial than the neckline of another lady’s gown, weeks of feeling the baldy estimating gaze of men she barely knew, all she wanted was to return to Kent and the home she loved.

Each day, the expectations for her ladylike comportment, miles wide but barely an inch deep, wore harder on her. She thought it unlikely that the Duke would find her temper any more appealing at her own dinner this evening.

“I doubt it, Kate.”

The robust optimism of her maid was not so easily thwarted. “He’ll have made way for someone else, then. As lovely as you are, the fine lords must be clamoring amongst themselves to claim your hand. You’re sure to have a list of proposals before the Season is out.”

Nora studied the mirror as Kate transformed her into a lady of the Realm. In that glass, she could see everything about herself that was of value. Here in London, no one seemed to care what she wanted, or what she had to offer besides blonde hair, blue eyes, a fair figure, and a titled father.

 

~oOo~

 

Like most young ladies in London during the Season, Nora rode with her father in Hyde Park every morning that the weather was fair. The effort was ostensibly intended for fresh air and good health, but truly, riding the Ladies’ Mile was an event like all the others, meant to display the young ladies to their best advantage so that they might catch the fancy of a likely gentleman.

Nora had always loved to ride with her father, but at home in Kent, she’d been allowed truly to ride—to gallop and jump and splash through muddy pools, to sit astride and even to wear breeches, so long as there were no guests in residence who might be scandalised. When there were guests at Tarrindale Hall, and now here in London, Nora sat sidesaddle, dressed in a cumbersome and dour riding habit, a uniform virtually indistinguishable from that of all the other young ladies riding the Mile.

She wondered whether her father would allow her to sit astride when they returned home in August, or whether, like her corsets and coiled hair, a side saddle and riding skirts were all her future might hold, now that she’d left girlhood behind.

On this morning, like all the other London mornings, Nora and her father rode abreast, nodding greetings to the other pairs of riders they passed. As usual on these daily rides, her father spoke little beyond pleasantries, to her or any other. He was keenly aware of the gossip—that in his great grief at losing his wife and two of his sons all within the span of a single week, he’d left his youngest child to grow up wild in the country, and now, her manners were mannish and unseemly—and he fretted that he’d failed her, that because of him, Nora wouldn’t get the marriage proposal of which her maid was so confident, and her future wouldn’t be secured.

Twelve years earlier, her mother, and Edmund and Peter, her two middle brothers, had all succumbed to scarlet fever. Nora herself, then a child of only six years, had been gravely ill as well, but she’d recovered. Only Christopher, the eldest, and their father had been spared the illness, if not its consequences.

Nora didn’t remember being ill, and she barely remembered her mother or her brothers, but she hadn’t been neglected and allowed to ‘run wild’ after their deaths. She’d been raised by her father and brother, two wonderful men who’d lavished love and encouragement on her and allowed her interests to flourish and her curiosities to be sated. When she’d asked a question, whatever the question, they’d provided an answer, or directed her to the place where the answer might be found. At home alone with family, she’d been free to work out what she wanted and valued in herself and in the world. And to wear riding breeches and ride astride.

Her father had, however, withdrawn from Society upon his grief and never fully returned to it until now. He’d rarely gone to London, and Nora had never been at all until this year. At the few country balls and dinners she’d attended before, she’d thought the other girls vapid and silly and assumed they were country rubes.

She’d expected London to be different. All the most interesting news came out of London. Politics and culture, business and entertainment—it all happened in this great city. For the past several years, Christopher had spent most of his time in the city, when he was in England at all, and he’d always come home with dazzling stories about great debates and brilliant artists. Especially after a few weeks in Paris, Nora had been beside herself with anticipation of her debut London Season, thinking she’d meet many fascinating people and have many captivating discussions.

But no one in London wanted to hear what women had to say, or seemed to have any use for them at all except as ornaments to be hung on a gentleman’s arm. The young ladies here, with whom she was expected to strike up great friendships, were just as insipid as the girls in Kent—either that, or they were well practiced in pretending to be so. Nora was not. Used to speaking her mind at home, she had not yet managed a reliable habit of holding her tongue in London—nor had she managed to understand why she should.

Thus her father, who at home would quiz and challenge her about current events, now in public barely spoke to her, lest she lose control of her tongue and try to express herself, exposing herself as a thinking human being, and thereby ruining her chance to make a good match.

Glum and bored, still tired from the long night before, and hungry now for breakfast, Nora rode at her father’s side, keeping a social smile in place. Most of the riders were young ladies and their fathers or chaperones, but a few young men rode around and with the ladies as well. They were there for the show, of course. Nora could see them considering the ladies as they rode past, leaning over to remark to each other and chuckle.

She’d learned to shoot from the saddle a few summers earlier. If she had her bow and quiver here in London, she could make those ‘gentlemen’ a bit less arrogant. Her fantasy of racing through Hyde Park hunting conceited young men improved the ride markedly, and Nora grinned. Her father noticed and looked around.

“Is there someone here you’d like to speak to?” he asked. “The Duke, perhaps?”

Nora rolled her eyes. The Duke of Chalford would not warrant such an expression from her. But she scanned the people around anyway, hoping to find someone—a lady would be best—she could mention, since she could hardly tell her father that she’d been imagining running arrows through all the young gentlemen in Hyde Park.

She was saved by broad shoulders and blond hair, riding in from an intersecting path. “Christopher!” Heedless of the propriety, she urged her horse into a trot and weaved through the riders to her brother.

He grinned as she rode up and turned her horse to stand beside his, and he leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Hello, little sister! I wondered if you’d be riding today.”

“Of course. I’m surprised that you’re here, however.” Christopher enjoyed the balls and parties of the Season, but he was critical of the aspects that made it seem overtly like a market—like the Ladies’ Mile.

He smirked. “Just out for a ride on a lovely day.”

“And seeing the sights,” she challenged, nodding toward the lovely riders, most of them batting wide, hopeful eyes at her ruddily handsome brother. If the Duke of Chalford was considered the greatest catch in London, the younger Lord Tarrin might be next in line.

“These are lovely sights indeed, and I am not a man who would turn a blind eye to beauty.”

“You would turn none of your parts, especially the one that leads you,” Nora muttered, hoping she’d been quiet enough that only Christopher could hear.

He laughed and kissed her cheek again. “Careful which man’s cheeks you redden with such words, Nono,” he muttered while he was still close. “What you might say to your brother for a laugh, could turn against you in someone else’s ear.”

She sighed. “I know. I’m trying.”

“I know you are. From all I hear, you should try harder.”

Nora glared at him, and he simply shrugged.

Her brother was twenty-eight years old and had little interest yet in choosing a bride. That was another injustice of Society: women were expected to marry the moment they were old enough to do so. Men were expected to wait—for years—and ‘sow their wild oats’ before settling down to domesticity. Nora had some wild oats, too. There were things she wanted to do, and see, and know. She imagined that most women had wild oats. If they didn’t, they should have.

She’d barely left Kent. Christopher had traveled the world. He’d fought in the Boer War. He’d been to India and Africa and America. He’d seen things, done things Nora could scarcely dream of.

Their father wanted him home now, and to settle down. Brother and sister were finally in the same place, expected to marry. But Christopher had got to have a full life first.

Nora didn’t begrudge him his adventures; he’d brought her marvelous stories and treasures. But she envied him. She envied him even the war, though she’d never say so aloud. That was the only adventure he wouldn’t tell stories about. He’d brought home nothing but a thick scar across his chest and a long stare in his eyes.

“Good morning, Father,” Christopher said with a courtly nod, and Nora turned to see that their father had caught up with them.

“Christopher.” A small, warmly paternal smile flickered at the corner of his mouth. “It’s early for you to be out, is it not?”

“You both wound me with your surprise. I’ll have you know I was abed before the clock struck twelve last night, and up whilst cocks yet crowed this morning.”

“Are you ill, brother?” Nora asked, trying to shape her voice into a guise of concern but unable to control her grin.

“Wronged, I tell you. I am wronged.”

Their father nodded to a point beyond Christopher. “You are not the only one. Forgive me, sir. My son forgets his manners.” He nudged his horse a few steps forward and held out his hand. “I am Oliver Tate, Earl of Tarrin, and this sorry fellow’s father.”

Surprised that there had been someone beside Christopher all this time, Nora nudged her own horse up a step and saw … oh. Oh.

Oh heavens.

Christopher slapped his forehead. “I’m sorry, old bean. I’m an ass. Father, allow me the great honour of introducing my friend William Frazier. William, my father, who has stepped in where I failed and introduced himself already.”

Christopher’s friend grasped their father’s hand. “It’s a true pleasure, sir.”

Hearing his name, Nora had expected the dark-haired, bearded man at Christopher’s side to have a Scottish accent, but he did not. He was an American. She’d never met an American before.

“It was William who saved my life in San Francisco,” Christopher added.

Their father’s aspect changed abruptly, from socially pleasant with a touch of haughty peerage, to openly pleased. “Well, good heavens!” He reached forward with his other hand and shook Christopher’s friend’s hand with both of his. “It is indeed an honour to meet you, Mr. Frazier. We are all in your debt.”

Mr. Frazier responded with a smile and a nod. “Think nothing of it, Lord Tarrin. I’m honoured to call your son my friend.”

Christopher had been in San Francisco, California four years earlier, in 1906. A terrible earthquake had nearly leveled the city, including his hotel. He’d been trapped under rubble, with fires burning all around him, until someone had pulled him free.

This man right here, dressed all in black and seated astride a powerful bay horse. Unlike nearly everyone else in Hyde Park, he wore no hat.

As broad across the shoulders as her brother, but dark where Christopher was fair. His hair and beard were sable-dark, his hair a bit longer than the fashion. Even his skin was a shade or two deeper, the sun-kissed tone of a man who spent a great deal of time out of doors. The crinkled rays at the corners of his eyes—she couldn’t tell what colour they were—spoke of an outdoor life as well.

He was the handsomest man Nora had ever seen. And a hero in the bargain.

She knew the story, of course. Christopher and Mr. Frazier had become good friends in the weeks and months following the earthquake, while Christopher’s broken bones had healed. The hospitals had been overwhelmed, so Mr. Frazier had invited him to convalesce at his ranch across the bay. His father was an industrialist of some sort. Railroads, Nora thought.

The man was looking right at her now, his mouth canted to one side in a lopsided, and inordinately appealing, smirk. With her father and her brother at either side of her, she’d been left without an introduction.

Entirely done with being ignored, Nora cleared her throat with a theatrical flourish. “And I am—”

“—My sister,” Christopher cut her off. “Forgive me again. Lady Nora Tate, please meet my dear friend, Mr. William Frazier.”

Mr. Frazier made a deep bow from his saddle. “It’s a particular honour, Lady Nora.” His voice was deep and smooth, his accent not at all what she’d expected, without drawl or twang. When he sat up again, Nora saw that sardonic grin had taken over his eyes as well. They glinted at her as if she and he shared a secret.

It made her insecure, and her attraction made her self-conscious, and, after being so blithely ignored, that unsettling roil of feelings was just too much to take. She straightened her spine and squared her shoulders. Using the imperious tone she’d heard so often in the past few weeks, when a lady wished to be mannerly but also convey contempt, she offered him a single, terse nod. “Mr. Frazier. Papa, we should be off. Mrs. Owen will have breakfast waiting.”

Christopher and her father stared at her, surprised. Mr. Frazier’s expression changed not a jot.

“Oh. Yes, I suppose you’re right. Well, it was a real pleasure to meet you, Mr. Frazier. Please do pay us a visit at Grosvenor Square—in fact, we’re having a dinner tonight, in my daughter’s honour. I would consider it an honour as well if you would join us.”

It was Nora’s turn to be surprised. Her father had just invited a stranger to her dinner. Her dinner, what was supposed to be the pinnacle event of her first Season. Of course, almost all the guests were strangers to a degree. Certainly, few were friends.

His gaze had hardly shifted from her, nor had its wry gleam faded. “I would be honoured to join you. If it’s all right with Lady Nora?”

Her father had made the invitation, so she could hardly refuse to extend it herself now. The oddly tumultuous feeling he seemed to instill in her would only make a stressful event more uncomfortable. On the other side, Mr. William Frazier was very nice to look at. Also, as an American he wasn’t a suitable match, so she wouldn’t have to be quite so careful of the things she said to him—or quite so worried when she wasn’t careful enough.

She smiled in the way she’d practiced for her presentation at Court. “I, too, would be honoured, Mr. Frazier. Of course.”

 

~oOo~

 

Breakfast that morning was a quiet affair. Christopher normally stayed in the family townhouse when he was in London, but, pleading an intolerance for the commotion of Nora’s debut Season, he’d gone off to stay at the Carlton when she and their father had come to town. Thus, on days without visitors, Nora and her father took their meals alone.

After returning from their ride, Nora went up to change into the day’s second ensemble. With her dinner that evening, she was able to decline visitors and stay in for the better part of the day, so she would have only four changes of dress for the day: her riding habit; her day dress, for breakfast and luncheon; her tea dress; and finally, her dinner gown. On most days, she changed clothes five or six times, dressing additionally for luncheon and for evening.

Being at home without company for the next several hours, Nora was able to wear her corset a bit looser and her hair a bit less pinned. One had, of course, always to be ready for the unexpected visitor, so she could hardly go about the house in her dressing gown, but she was glad to be somewhat more comfortable.

After breakfast, her father closed himself into his study to conduct his correspondence of the day. Nora wandered listlessly in the same direction, toward the adjoining library, where her correspondence awaited her. Thank you notes to send and visitor cards to answer.

On the way, she chanced to meet Mr. Gaines, their butler, moving through the main corridor at a sharp clip. When he saw her, he drew back, pressing the papers in his hands to his chest as if to protect them from her view.

“Excuse me, my lady.” He stepped to the side, out of her way.

The fold of papers he held so protectively was only the daily newspaper—the Times, she could see by its type and layout—and Nora couldn’t fathom why Gaines would try to shield them. Her curiosity piqued, she held out her hand.

“I’ll take those to my father, Mr. Gaines. I’m on my way to the library.”

He glanced guiltily at his burden, as if he held a penny dreadful rather than the most esteemed newspaper in London. “Thank you, my lady, but there’s no need.”

She pushed her open hand closer and used her London Lady voice. “I’ll take them, Mr. Gaines, thank you.”

It worked! The butler bowed and handed them to her, albeit reluctantly. “They aren’t for you, Lady Nora. They’re too coarse for a fine lady’s lovely eyes.”

With a sudden crash of understanding, Nora snatched the fold of papers from the butler. She’d always shared the news with her father. When they were alone together in Kent, they would even read at the breakfast table, and her father would ask her what she thought about the most important items. But that was to be taken from her now, as well?

What was it, exactly, that proper ladies did to spend their hours? What thoughts filled their heads?

Nora spun on her heel and stalked down the corridor, toward the library. Her father wished her to marry well and want for nothing. She wished to make him happy. But this life he wanted for her was no life she wanted. For herself, all she truly wanted was a life like her Aunt Martha—independent and alone. Of course, Aunt Martha had married a man much older than she and been widowed within a few years.

Perhaps that was what Nora should do. Find an old lord who still needed an heir. Perhaps one who was hard of hearing.

In the library, she closed the door and opened the papers, wondering what had happened in the world to make Mr. Gaines so worried about defiling her virgin eyes.

Nothing. But oh—this wasn’t the Times. Another paper lay atop it: the Daily Herald. Oh, interesting. Why was her father taking the Herald? It was the paper of the lower classes, with a decidedly pro-Labour editorial stance. Her father hated the Herald.

Feeling almost as if she’d in fact come across a penny dreadful, Nora glanced guiltily at the closed door of her father’s study before she set the Times aside and settled at the desk at which she’d been meant to write her notes and replies. She laid the Herald out before her and, beginning at the front page, undertook to read every word.

 

~oOo~

 

Deeply immersed in an editorial regarding the recently convened constitutional conference, Nora heard the door open but didn’t heed its warning until her father’s shadow loomed over the desk and his hand settled gently on her shoulder.

“What are you reading, monkey?”

Nora flinched, and he leaned closer.

“Is that…what is that rag doing in my house?” He snatched the paper from the desk in an angry fistful and wadded it up.

“Ga—“ She stopped abruptly. Clearly, the papers Gaines had been holding had not been her father’s. To say more would impugn the butler. “I found it outside. I went out for a breath of air.”

“And brought a filthy piece of rubbish into the house with you? And read it? Nora, what were you thinking?”

Abashed and outraged in equal measure, Nora stood up and faced her father, her fists clenched and shaking at her sides. “I was thinking that it would be interesting to read what the workers think! I was thinking that I wanted to know! I had questions and I was thinking to find the answers!”

Her father glowered at the wad of newsprint in his hands. “GAINES!”

Gaines was at the main library door at once. “My lord?”

“Lady Nora informs me that she dragged this foul thing in from the streets.” He thrust the Herald at the butler. “Rid us all of it, please. And see to it that better attention is paid to the condition of the grounds around our gates.”

“Of course, my lord. My apologies.” With a quick and grateful dash of his eyes to Nora, Gaines took the bundle and absented himself from the room.

“I don’t understand, Papa. It was only the news. Why does it give you such offense?”

Her father turned a far softer look on her then. He took her hand. “Oh, my love. Come and sit with me.” He led her to the nearest sofa, and they sat together. “The Herald is not the news. It’s claptrap masquerading as news. But that’s hardly the point.”

“The point is I’m not supposed to care about such things any longer.” She pulled her hand free and threw herself against the back of the sofa. “Now that I’m a lady, all I’m supposed to care about is dresses and suitors. But you’re the one who taught me to care.”

“I know, Nora, and I did you a grave disservice. All I wanted after your mother and brothers died was to make you as happy as you could be, and I didn’t see that it was my task to teach you how to be happy in the life you would lead. Instead I let you follow your own will, and now…”

“Now I’m a scandal.”

“Not a scandal. But not properly studied in the ways of our world.”

“This isn’t our world, Papa.”

“It is, Nora. This is the world you must find your future in. I will see you settled and secure. I will be sure of it. But I need your help. People say you are the greatest beauty in London this Season, and perhaps even for many seasons before. You should be in high demand and have your choice of proposals. I want that for you, to be able to choose the man who will be your husband. But you speak of vulgar things, and it puts good men off.”

Nora might dispute the point that a man was good if he could be put off by a woman having thoughts of her own. Her own father, the man now cajoling her to act the empty-headed mannequin, was the one who’d taught her to think for herself. “It’s not vulgar to know what’s happening in the world. Politics is not vulgar.”

He chuckled bleakly. “Little in the world is more so, Nora. If you were part of it, you would see it to be true. Such talk is not for graceful ladies.”

It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t part of politics. Women couldn’t vote, much less hold office. “I don’t want to be a graceful lady. I want to go back to Kent and be as we were.”

In his forceful sigh, Nora heard the end of this argument. He would hear no more. “You sound like a petulant child, Nora. You are my daughter. I am the Earl of Tarrin, a line more than a thousand years old. We all have our roles to play in service to our ancestors and to our King. Yours is to marry well and produce strong heirs for your husband. Mine is to preserve the Tarrin legacy. I have faltered with you and Christopher both, giving you too much your own way, but I will not fail either of you. I see my errors now, and I will repair them.”

“Papa…”

“Enough.” Her father stood and pulled her to her feet as well. “Do you love me, Nora?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then do this for me. Be the elegant lady I know you can be. Find your happiness where it should be. Show me tonight that I needn’t worry for you.” He squeezed her hands. “Please, monkey. Give me some ease.”

How ironic that he would use his pet name for her, a name she’d earned as a small girl, climbing and cavorting like that animal through the woods at home, at this particular moment, as he demanded that she set that part of herself—which was her whole self—aside. Yet Nora could hardly deny such a request from the man she loved best in all the world. “Very well, Papa.”

He folded her in his arms, and Nora promised herself she would try to find something of interest in the interests she was allowed to have.

© 2017 Susan Fanetti

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