I'm loving these Wenchly blogs about our stories in our new anthology, Mischief and Mistletoe. And I feel so honored to be part of the first published anthology by a blog group!
My own story, "A Wilder Wench," came about because I wanted to play with one of my favorite themes, the rebel/outlaw/smuggler hero (or heroine) vs. the upholder of the law. Lovely fun writing this one -- the wench is wild indeed, a smuggler's daughter gone proper, who reverts to wilder ways just this once to save her brother. The hero, a viscount and sheriff, considers himself a bit dull now, by choice, as he was once a bit wild himself. Throw in smuggling, thievery, a Yuletide snowstorm, steamy romance and a stack of custard pies, and you have my concoction for Mischief and Mistletoe.
I love whisky smuggling Highlanders - I've written them before, in an anthology, April Moon, with Merline Lovelace and Miranda Jarrett, and in The Highland Groom, one of my historical romances written as Sarah Gabriel. If you're a fan of Scottish heroes and romantic adventure, and you're fond of stories that mix rebellion, danger, and a bit of mischief, you too might be partial to smuggling heroes -- and heroines.
The smuggling trade in Scotland flourished particularly in the 18th and early 19th centuries along the Solway coast and was widespread inland as well, from the central and upper Highlands to the eastern regions. Highland whisky, widely acknowledged as the finest available, was an illicit product thanks to English laws that favored heavy excise taxes. The Scots, being pragmatic, stubborn and independent thinkers, resisted the English laws, feeling they should be able to do as they pleased with their own barley crops. And they pleased to make uisge beatha, the water of life, as it had been made for centuries, with the finest barley malt and the purest Highland water.
The "barley bree," as Robert Burns -- himself an excise officer because poetry didn't pay -- termed it, was produced in hidden glens and pockets in the hills and transported (often quite boldly) down to the rivers and lochs to be taken over water to England, Ireland, Europe and even America. King George IV greatly favored a particular Highland whisky - famously ignoring that it got to his table courtesy of Scottish smugglers.
Malt-based Highland whisky was made in small batches of much higher quality than the cheaper grain whiskies produced in the Lowlands and England. What Highlanders smuggled is similar to the finest stuff available today. The English taste for excellent, affordable malt whisky bolstered the illicit Highland whisky trade even as the government tried to quell it (pictured - Dougie MacLean's own Caledonia whisky for the Edradour label, made in the old way). Add revenue officers who were often outsmarted and out-dared by tough, clever Highland free-traders, and it’s a great recipe for fiction.
In Mischief and Mistletoe, I blended whisky smuggling with excise officers and a girl who poses as a highwayman to protect someone she loves. Edward Armstrong, Lord Dunallan, is a revenue officer and acting sheriff of the same Highland region where he is also a reluctantly inherited viscount -- and when he meets the local vicar's niece, Cristina Heron-Shaw, at a supper party, he recognizes the girl he protected at risk to himself years before -- and recalls that her father was a notorious smuggler. Cristina recognizes Dunallan, too, dismayed to find he's now sheriff -- just when she's planning to ride out on that snowy night to stop the coach that carries documents condemning her brother, wrongly accused of smuggling and currently cooling his heels in Dunallan's jail. A night of cross-purposes, wild rides, midnight passions, a snowstorm and an old vow --not to mention a little custard pie action -- made "A Wilder Wench" a truly delightful writing adventure for me. I hope you'll love it too.
Here’s an excerpt, where Dunallan has captured a highwayman—rather, highway-wench—and has had an encounter with a leftover pie . . .
He kicked the door open, rusty latch
giving, and strode across the hall and up the stairs. She was a featherweight,
this troublemaking girl, he thought, as he pushed open the door to his
bedchamber, the only decently furnished room in the place. He hardly thought
about the location, preoccupied with the horses still to be stabled, the wicked
weather, the blasted pie sliding over his brow, the fact that the vicar’s niece
was a bandit.
He dumped her on the edge of the bed and stood back. His grandfather’s dogs bumped against his legs—the terrier and the deerhound had followed him up the steps.
The girl sat up, setting a hand to her head. She had lost the hat, and her hair fell in a golden tousle, smeared with apple custard. Turning, Edward brightened an oil lamp on a side table, then snatched a linen towel from the washbasin stand and handed it to her.
In silence, she wiped the glop from her hair. He fisted hands to hips.
“There’s crust over your ear,” he said.
She reached, but the piece dropped to the floor to be snatched by the terrier. The girl looked up at Edward. “I am sorry about the pies. I’ll make more.”
He huffed. “The tolbooth, where you'll soon be, lacks a kitchen.”
She blinked, eyes wide and blue. “You’ve custard on your nose.”
“Miss Heron-Shaw,” he said, rubbing his face, “first, are you hurt? How is your head?”
Touching her forehead, she winced. “It aches a bit. But I am fine. I should go—“ She began to stand, then sat abruptly.
“Rest,” he advised. “And explain yourself. What the devil—“
“I cannot tell you, exactly. And please do not swear.”
“Pardon. We will stay here until you are ready to talk. Just what were you about tonight?”
She picked the desserty bits from her hair and let them drop to the dogs; they gobbled up and eagerly awaited more. "Tonight?"
He hooked his foot around a chair, drew it to him and sat so close that his knees nearly touched hers. Extracting gooey pie bits from his hair, he brushed at the custard on his coat sleeve. “So, you rode out this evening with a plate for a neighbor, and then robbed a courier. Do not deny it,” he said, when she began to protest. “I saw you and apprehended you.”
“I did bring something to Mrs. MacDonell.”
“Dressed like a brigand?”
“It is cold outside.”
“I see. Perhaps the scarf about your face gave you an irresistible urge to waylay a gig.”
“I am not a thief. I only meant to help someone.”
“By taking my papers?” he asked abruptly.
“P-papers?” She ran her fingers through her tangled hair. “Your papers?”
"Aye." Edward plucked a wedge of crust from her hair. His fingers smoothed over curls so fine and soft that his heart bounded. “You took a valuable parcel that belongs to me, and I want it returned,” he said, low and ominously.
Which do you prefer, a bad boy hero or a law-abiding one? Or perhaps you like a bit of both in your heroes -- reformed to the law, or reverted to rebellion! And how do you spell whisky/whiskey? In America we tend to use the -ey ending, though the Scots definitely prefer the -y ending, thus my choice for the story.
I'd love to give away a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe to a reader who comments on this blog, so go for it! And if you would love to order the book or ebook now, now, now - please click here! The Wenches thank you!