Two years ago I began envisioning a Children of Empire sequel involving a trio of siblings, children of my h/H in Dangerous Works. From the beginning, all three have given me difficulties, none more so than the sister, Catherine Athena Mallet. With the first of that series, The Price of Glory, set and scheduled for a July launch (imagine me doing the happy dance), I’ve begun writing The Value of Pity, Athena’s story. She will not be your average romance heroine. Here’s my first scene in her point of view; she has caused a near riot by sneaking into a lecture hall at the university in Edinburgh, and is recovering. Please tell me what you think.
Athena Mallet stared out the glass sides of the greenhouse, or she would have if they were actually clear. The faint grey glazing suited her while she gathered herself together. She wondered vaguely how it was done.
There’s a woman behind me…
She would have preferred to be alone, but at least her brother Archie’s friend kept quiet, the stillness a boon. The woman had seen her wrap herself up tightly in quilt and rock back and forth on the stool, soothing herself as she often did before sleep. It had been a long time since she needed soothing badly enough to do it in the light, in front of others, where it distressed people who sometimes made it worse. At least this woman—who had likely been dispatched to make sure she didn’t hurt herself after Archie left—didn’t agitate her.
What have you learned, Athena? Papa’s words, his most frequent question. Her given name was Catherine, but she liked that he called her Athena. She preferred it.
I learned that university doctors don’t know everything.
She expected a university lecture to teach her something, to finally learn more about human anatomy than she’d already read or surmised from observation. Instead, the professor said something stupid about humors in the blood. She waited, but none of the students spoke up, so she had to, or all those future physicians would hear something incorrect. She had no choice.
Why wouldn’t those men listen to her? They all began shouting and when the professor shouted mean words, his nasty face blurred, and he began coming toward her, the walls came in. Archie could have explained it better, but he had left her on her own, and now she’d made a mess of it and couldn’t go back. She wanted to go home. Papa would buy her every book on the human body in print. She could write her corrections in the margins when she learned more. It was a good plan.
She turned to see a very young woman, freckle faced with thick red curls, kind eyes, and a tentative smile.
Athena blinked. “Moira Langhorne.”
The smile warmed. “Yes.”
“This is your greenhouse.”
“My father and uncle own it actually. Langhorne Gardens is at your service, Katy.”
I am Athena… She didn’t bother to say it; people forgot. “I want to go home now, but I have no money.” Archie might have enough. He had abandoned her in the back of the lecture hall because he had been offered work at the Langhorne Gardens. He promised to come back for her. She thought perhaps he had, but it was too late, and she didn’t remember that part. “Where is Archie?”
“It’s good you are ready to go home. Some people came for you. Archie went to speak with them.”
Who would come for me? “Papa?” She hoped it wasn’t Mama. She preferred her father’s anger to her mother’s upsets and outbursts. He would ask her what she had learned and they would talk about it. Her mother fretted and they argued.
“Not family. Some lord has come to take you. A family friend, they said.”
“Ladies do not travel alone with men. Even lords.” Her mother had been quite, quite firm on that point. “Archie knows that.”
Moira Langhorne found that funny. People often laughed at Athena, but this time she was almost certain it was her brother that amused this person.
“He may know, but will he remember?” Moira winked at Athena, who had to think for a moment before she recalled what that meant. Her oldest brother explained that it meant secret agreement. Do I agree with this woman? Athena didn’t want to puzzle that through; she needed to think about the mysterious lord.
“There you are Katie. Enjoying the flowers?” Someone stood at the door to the greenhouse studying her.
Athena knew that sound, deeper than most people’s voices. She liked the way it resonated in her ears, and the way it made her feel. “I am Athena.”
“Of course, you are. I forgot, I’m sorry.” He approached her slowly, as if he expected her to run like a rabbit.
She didn’t think she would. She had known him her entire life. “Arthur Landrum. Viscount Rochlin. I’m meant to call you Rochlin. My brothers do.”
“You always remember my name, but you’re meant to call me Artie like my sisters do.” He smiled down at her, and Athena felt hot when he looked at her.
“I’m not your sister,” she corrected.
“He was a king. I like that name.” She studied his eyes. She especially liked those eyes. Her mother called them chocolate colored once, but Athena thought that was wrong. Coffee would be closer, but they changed sometimes and Athena saw more browns—some dark, some light, some flecked with gold—like the ones she saw in the woodlot on his father’s property
“No, you most definitely are not my sister.” The little lines in the corner of his eyes deepened like they did when he laughed, but he wasn’t laughing.
“I’m not your cousin, either.” His parents were her parents’ friends. She called them uncle and aunt but they were not. Mama said it wasn’t a lie, but a ‘conceit.’
His smile deepened. “Not that either, but friend I hope.”
“Friend. Yes.” Athena liked that he was her friend. He had been kind to her in the spring when they were in London. She smiled back at him.
“May I escort you to the parlor?” He held up his arm for her to take as she’d been taught. She usually didn’t care to touch gentlemen’s arms, but she liked Arthur.
She glanced at her hands. No gloves. Is it acceptable to take a man’s arm without gloves? There were so many rules for Athena to remember. He didn’t appear to mind, so she put her hand on his arm, and found she quite liked feel of the soft texture of his sleeve, and his arm, much harder than hers, underneath. Men are harder than women. She caressed it with her fingers, smiled, and let him lead her out of the shelter of the greenhouse.
Note: excerpts from works in progress may have not yet been edited, will likely undergo change, and may not even make it into the final work!
And perhaps she looks a bit like this… Only blond. Or not.