Once more, one of my fellow-authors at Rogue Phoenix Press is my guest today: Sheila M. Sharpless.
Sheila will be awarding an ebook copy of Dress With Grace to one
randomly drawn commenter, so please take the time to leave a message. I can personally recommend Dress With Grace, as I've proofread the book and really liked it.
The Marquis and Marchioness are aristocrats living in a magnificent
Elizabethan manor, Karidan, with their two daughters, Cassandra and Charlotte.
On the surface, the family is wealthy and well respected, but the double life of
the Marquis reveals illegal and dangerous activities, although at heart he is a
good Christian man. Charlotte is to be wed to the local widowed vicar, but her
affections lie elsewhere, namely with the Lord of the adjacent estate who, owing
to a long-standing feud, is not welcome at Karidan and harbours his own secrets.
Will Charlotte give in to her passions or follow the path her parents have
chosen for her?
The moon was full that night, shedding its light on the ripples of the tide,
as it covered the fine sand in the cove; a beautiful sight, to lovers a backdrop
to a romantic evening; to the artist an invitation to capture on canvas that
magnificent prospect. Perhaps, for some, it was simply a pleasurable experience.
But there are those who shy away from such beauty, preferring to go about their
business in the dark.
For the solitary figure standing on the shore, it was everything he did not
enjoy, so, as he turned to view Karidan, the wonderful Elizabethan manor house
behind him, set in magnificent parklands, and saw every window ablaze with
candle light, he cursed under his breath. He knew the extravagance of so many
candles meant the Marquis was hosting another party, perhaps a ball with
champagne flowing, beautiful, assured ladies in gowns which would, for some,
cost the equivalent of six months' food. He smiled to himself. Little did they
But, he caught his breath. For all his envy, he knew the Marquis was good to
him, always gave him his due, and sometimes more for his wife and children.
Yet, for all that, he knew that it was people like the Marquis and the
Marchioness who were the reason why his life was haunted by shadows, why
sometimes the vision of the gallows filled his dreams.
Standing alone, Cooper began to think of what he knew of the history
surrounding this place. Built during the reign of Henry VIII while he was still
married to the tragic Jane Seymour and intended to be the later home of his
heir, it was a beautiful building where nothing had been spared. The walls, the
windows, the altar in the chapel on the ground floor were all a miracle of
workmanship, lined and fluted in gold. The rooms were spacious, light and there
were many. Twenty-four bedrooms, seven sitting rooms, the kitchen in the
basement of the building was apparently the largest ever designed with the big
fireplace holding a spit big enough to cook a whole ox or deer.
It was said, although he doubted it, that during Elizabeth I's reign, she
visited Karidan with her entire household when it was sensible to be away from
her home for a while, but finding a very poor deer population, she moved to
Berkeley Castle where she knew there were many deer. Before she left Karidan she
told the Lord that she would send him a number of deer and because she had been
so comfortably housed, she would increase his title from Lord of Karidan to the
Marquis of Karidan, and the present Marquis was a descendent of this long
During her stay at the castle, history books tell us, she used her first
skill with bow and arrow and, to the horror of the Lord of the castle, she shot
thirty-six of his prize deer.
Shaking his head, Cooper returned to the present and banned those thoughts.
What did ancestry mean to him anyway?
If he could see inside that house, however, he would indeed be greeted by
music, dancers, the well-bred conversation between men and women, the light
laughter, characteristic of the young ladies enjoying themselves at their first
ball. Among those young ladies were the two daughters of the house and several
of their close friends, feeling alternately grown up, sophisticated or
overwhelmed, shy. The Lady Cassandra now seventeen, and her sister the Lady
Charlotte nearing her sixteenth birthday, were the daughters of the Marquis and
the Marchioness, while the Lord Augustus of Sharpfield, a cousin of the Marquis,
held sway among friends, the other side of the ballroom. The other young ladies
similarly aristocratic, showed little sign of wonder but were obviously enjoying
the party, which this time was celebrating Cassandra and Charlotte's Aunt's
fiftieth birthday. She was almost a permanent visitor, although she had her own
mansion and staff some fifty miles away. She loved her time at Karidan, enjoyed
the company, but, although she would never say it within hearing at her home,
the Marchioness's cook was infinitely preferable to her own. She looked now at
her two beloved nieces, seeing two beautiful young women, smiling and talking
animatedly to their friends. She knew the girls' gowns, as had their mother's,
been made by Madame Frederica, a French seamstress, who had created many
beautiful gowns for the Marchioness and her friends. The young ladies, of
course, had all been presented at Court, welcomed by the Prince who definitely
approved of pretty young ladies. Not for nothing had he been called The Prince
of Pleasure. Her two young nieces had their dance cards, beautifully engraved,
hanging from their wrists and were excited but shy as the young men came to
claim their dance.
They had each danced before sitting down at their chosen table, when Lady
Charlotte nudged her sister, saying, "Who is that lovely young gentleman talking
to Augustus? I've never seen him before."
"Well," replied the Lady Cassandra, "I'm surprised you have not met him. His
parents own 'Birkham Manor' not far from here. He is Lord Dominic of Birkham. I
believe he has been touring Europe after leaving Cambridge, but he has been home
for a few weeks I think."
"I wonder what he has been doing with himself. I am sure we should have seen
him before this."
Cassandra went on to say that as far as she knew no-one had mentioned him,
although maybe her parents knew him because he was here at Karidan at the ball
for dear Aunt Agatha. Cassandra remembered that she had heard of his beautiful
horse, a black stallion which was, apparently, the envy of all who knew of
"Perhaps Papa or Mama knows the family. I'd like to meet him, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, I think we'll find out a little more."
It was while these two young ladies were wondering about him that Dominic
began his own story to Augustus and Charles. He was laughing as he said, "I had
been looking forward to spending three years at Cambridge. Good company, plenty
of fun and opportunities. I was not wrong. There were of course obligatory
essays and papers, but the tutors were terrific. More like friends than
anything. Like us they enjoyed some fun and a drink or two. Quite frankly they
were nearer our age than one could have expected. There were rules of course,
but only those which kept the College on an even keel. It was suggested that I
should take up fencing and I believed that to be a good idea. I had not tried
anything like it before, but it really appealed to me; developing muscles I
didn't know I had."
Charles interrupted. "I tried that once but I was absolutely useless; no
sense of balance. Naturally, I gave it up as a bad job."
"Bad luck, but you should have kept going, it was good fun. Anyway, I was
introduced to the professional and he was happy to tell me a bit about the
history of the sport and suggested I came to the exercise class the next
morning. So, interested but a little perturbed as to what I had let myself in
for, I met the like-minded fellows, a pleasant group of men. Firstly, I was
given a rope and was told to skip for ten minutes without stopping. That was
taxing to start with, but when I managed to get my breath back, I found I had
enjoyed it. It gave me a sense of achievement. Despite the effort, I was looking
forward to doing it again. The next session, I was told, would be an
introduction to how one handles the foil. I felt confident that I could master
that. It seemed easy enough. And I really enjoyed the exercise. I knew then that
taking up fencing was a good thing. It was great fun and after our strenuous
exercises, it was down to the bar for a well-earned beer."
"Well I was wondering when the beer came in."
"Ha, you would, Augustus. I was feeling quite content with my new life in
Cambridge. It was amazing how my interest in fencing grew until I was giving up
several seminars a week to attend practice and much to my surprise, I was
getting quite skilled and becoming stronger and fitter.Although I never imagined
I would progress to professional fencing, it gave me more than I had expected
including self-confidence and simply an enjoyment of using my body in a way I
had never done before and pitting my strength and skill against an opponent.
"But," Dominic continued, "I haven't mentioned Claire. A rather delightful
young lady who had taken my eye. She had two excellent character traits. One a
great sense of humour and the other enjoyment of any new activity. Her full name
was the Right Honourable Lady Claire Phlemorton-Bragg. She told me that her
father had just bought her a beautiful Palomino stallion. She had not had the
chance to ride him yet but suggested we take a ride together. Happily, I agreed
and so it was, a few days later we set off on a cross-country ride. Her horse
was very frisky, but she handled him well but unfortunately, at the third jump
he refused, throwing his rider into a muddy puddle. She swore that it was my
fault and when she saw me laughing at her, she was not at all pleased and that,
my friends, was the end of the romance."
Sheila Sharpless is a writer in many genres, whether it be for children’s books, plays, activity stories, plays for adults, magazine articles on topics such as travel, personal experience or history/fiction. She finds writing is her most passionate activity. Dress with Grace, a full length novel, illustrates her continuing interest in society in history.