I’m happy to present my interview with Elizabeth Ellen Carter. Her book is Moonstone Conspiracy.
(blurb and excerpt below)
* * *
Hi Elizabeth., Thanks for stopping by to talk a little about your writing!
Let’s jump right in. Moonstone Conspiracy is a sequel to Moonstone Obsession. Was that the intention from the beginning?
It wasn’t. I had always seen Moonstone Obsession as a stand alone, but once it was released, I started getting feedback from readers telling me how much they enjoyed Lady Abigail Houghall (who was really a nasty piece of work) and they wanted to know what happened after her arrest.
One of Lady Abigail’s most staunch advocates was my husband!
How do you turn a villain like Lady Abigail into a heroine people will root for??
I had to go back to the beginning with her. In Moonstone Obsession, she was the heroine’s love rival and the complete polar opposite. Selina is warm and generous, Abigail is brittle and selfish.
I had to sit down and think why Abigail was that way. What decisions had she made in her past the coloured the way she looked at the world? How did she feel about herself and her circumstances now? What was she prepared to do about it?
Abigail has been taken down a peg or two since we last saw her in Moonstone Obsession, but that hasn’t blunted her indomitable spirit — just shaped it and given it direction and purpose.
She still has an acerbic wit and a resourcefulness which will come in very handy when she meets the Honourable Daniel Ridgeway.
Tell us about the hero.
Daniel Ridgeway is an equally complex hero. He’s a spy who is determined to have no emotional or romantic attachments – He’s been severely hurt by his past and hasn’t quite got over his feelings for the woman who married his best friend. His conflicted feelings make him reckless.
On what level must writing succeed in order to resonate with a reader?
First of all, I think readers have to at least understand your characters’ motivation, even if they disapprove of their choices. The best way to do that is through point of view. Readers have to know the thinking and the emotional drivers behind the choices they make. Your hero and heroine also have to be vulnerable, which is quite different to being weak — even the most alpha of heroes has to have a chink in his armour – whether it be the love for the heroine or his family or his unflinching honour.
Do you listen to music when you write? Does music ever influence your writing?
I don’t listen to music as I write, I get distracted too easily. I most often prefer to write in silence. But when I
listen to the radio in the car, I hear songs that so perfectly capture a moment in time or an emotional waypoint for the characters.
By the end of the first set of revisions, I have a fantasy soundtrack album for the book!
What advantages or challenges does a writer in your genre face in today’s fiction market?
Fortunately there is a great deal of interest in history and historical romance at the moment thanks to what is out on film and television – Viking, Wolf Hall, Downton Abbey, Outlander, Poldark (Aiden Turner – swoon!) and in film we have Far From The Madding Crowd and Macbeth coming out this year.
I’m hopeful that people who enjoy seeing the film or TV series and enjoyed the original source material will look for other books set in that time period.
Tell me a little about the characters and the conflict in Moonstone Conspiracy.
Abigail has had her heart broken. The man she wanted left her and the scheme she got herself involved in had her unwittingly involved in treason. She has been ‘exiled’ to Bath by England’s great spy master, Sir Percy Blakeney.
She thinks she has been all but forgotten and plans to make her fortune (thanks to a marked deck of cards) and leave England for good. Abigail is nearly there, when Daniel Ridgeway, an agent of Sir Percy’s, arrives to recruit her to help foil a plot to bring France’s bloody revolution to England’s shores.
Were your characters difficult to write, or did they seem to spring easily from your mind to the page?
I found the characters to be quite easy to write, although it did take a little while for Daniel to fully unveil his back story which was actually quite pivotal in understanding the decisions he makes.
Tell us a little bit about the heroine and hero and the challenges threatening their love.
You mean apart from being chased across France by the advancing republican army?
One of the biggest challenges is Daniel’s conflicted emotions when it comes to Abigail because he’s never really quite gotten over his first love and he fears that he has let down and disappointed anyone who has ever been dear to him.
Abigail knows what it is like to be desired, wanted, even lusted over, but she’s not sure that she’s ever known love — or even how to recognize it.
What do readers have to look forward to in the future from Elizabeth Ellen Carter?
I have so many story ideas, I’m not sure I can keep up! I have a conspiracy-thriller set in ancient Rome, an action adventure featuring Barbary Coast pirates, a medieval detective series, a Tudor-era political drama…
They’re all different, but they will all have a happily ever after.
Thanks again for stopping by, Elizabeth! Readers can discover more about Elizabeth Ellen Carter here:
Elizabeth Ellen Carter
Genre: Historical Romance
Word Count: 101,683
Page Count: 423
Re-release Date: 7/3/2015
Revolution in France, rebels in England, and one woman caught in the crossfire…
For her unwitting participation in a plot to embezzle the Exchequer, Lady Abigail Houghall has spent the last two years exiled to the city of Bath. A card sharp, sometime mistress, and target of scandalous gossip by the London Beau Monde, Lady Abigail plots to escape her gilded cage as well as the prudish society that condemns her. But the times are not easy. France is in chaos. The king has been executed, and whispers of a similar revolution are stirring in England. And because of her participation in the robbery plot, the Spymaster of England is blackmailing her into passing him information about the members of London’s upper crust.
When the dashing English spy Daniel Ridgeway takes a seat at her card table and threatens to expose her for cheating, she has no choice but to do as he demands: seduce the leader of the revolutionaries and learn what she can about their plot. As she’s drawn deeper into Daniel’s dangerous world, from the seedy backstreets of London to the claustrophobic catacombs of a war-torn Paris, she realizes an even more dangerous fact. She’s falling in love with her seductive partner. And the stakes of this game might just be too high, even for her.
An Excerpt from Moonstone Conspiracy
The Home of Viscount Edgecombe
Abigail placed a shiny copper penny on the six of spades card embroidered onto the rich green baize. She held her breath and trusted her “luck” would hold.
Don’t let it be a six, she begged. Do not let it be a six. The silent instruction became a prayer she repeated over and over.
The banker, Admiral Cecil Worthington, flipped over the card.
The Jack of Diamonds.
She silently released the air in her lungs as Sir Reginald de Witt, seated to her left, let out a groan and watched his stake slide toward the Admiral. The squat-bodied fop, aged in his sixties, pulled himself up from the table, the jeweled rings on every finger glittering in the light of the overhead chandelier.
“Won’t you play just one more game, Sir Reginald?” Abigail purred.
The man gave her a slight, lascivious smile, but shook his head. “I can’t think of anything I would rather do than spend more time basking in your beauty, but I’m afraid my purse couldn’t take the strain, my dear.”
At the age of twenty-seven, Abigail knew she was past the first flush of youth, but her looks had not yet dimmed. Her lustrous platinum blonde hair was curled and pinned in the latest style, her complexion fresh and as yet unlined.
With no little pride, she still held a fashionable figure that attracted no shortage of male admirers and, in equal measure, envious looks from women a decade younger. Abigail’s breeding and once close connection with the Princess Royal and also—as gossip mongers were wont to repeat—the Prince Regent himself made hers a sought after name to make up the numbers at well-to-do affairs in the bourgeois social circles of Bath. For those who had already succumbed to the parson’s mousetrap, a dash of glamour with the piquancy of naughtiness in hobnobbing with a successful demimondaine was just the spice needed to liven up evenings not otherwise spent dancing and drinking at The Assembly Rooms.
Abigail returned the compliment to her card playing companion with a coy smile of her own and gave her attention to the pile of coins sitting at the Admiral’s elbow. Between the various players and the house, many guineas had changed hands during this evening’s faro, but Abigail’s initial stake was safely back in her purse. Now she played for profit.
The white-haired Admiral stroked his elaborate walrus moustache and waited for the other gambler, Lord Fforbes, to make his wager on the fall of a particular card.
Everything was sparse about Fforbes—his size, his thinning black hair, even the little moustache that clung tenaciously to his upper lip. After much prevarication, he slid his ten gold guineas onto the rectangular shape embroidered with the King of Spades.
As the card slid from the shoe Abigail hastily changed her bet, removing the copper coin and placing three pounds on the Ace. That was her card. The one she had waited all evening to see.
With a theatrical flick of his wrist, the Admiral revealed the Ace of Hearts.
Abigail allowed herself a broad smile. It had been a good evening. Sixty guineas richer, sixty guineas closer to her own independence. Far away from her meddling relatives who would have a fit if they knew how she was spending her evening while those desiccated prunes wasted their time discussing the mating habits of the Lesser Whitethroat with their equally dour cohort.
From somewhere within the fashionable new Landsdown Crescent townhouse, decorated in the modern neoclassical taste, a grandfather clock chimed the eleventh hour of the evening. It was ignored by the other participants in this private gambling affair until a small company of maids and footmen swept through the room, clearing away empty decanters and platters as well as the chamber pots and bourdaloues. Freshly filled decanters of wine, brandy, port, and other spirits on silver platters were installed, casting shadows like stained glass on the polished oak sideboard.
Abigail turned her attention back to the table, sweeping a large number of coins into her powder blue satin bag and listened to them tinkling, the sound of each one applause to her cleverness.
“Gentlemen, another hand?” she asked.
Fforbes shook his head adamantly. “I don’t know what my wife would say if lost more.” He mopped his receding hairline with a kerchief. “She will be most cross that I’ve lost this much.”
The Admiral barked out a laugh and pushed himself back from the table. “Trapped under the cat’s paw, that’s always been your trouble, Roland. You don’t know how to treat women. You’re the man of the house. You just tell the little woman what’s what. If you want to have a little flutter she has no right to tell you otherwise.”
Lord Fforbes didn’t seem to appreciate the unsolicited advice. Abigail dropped her head to avoid giving away a smile.
She schooled her expression to one of vapid disinterest and turned wide-open eyes to the Admiral. “What of yourself, Cecil? Surely you have nothing more pressing than to keep a poor lady company in a friendly game of cards.”
With an avuncular pat on her hand, the older gentlemen shook his head with regret. “Not this time, my pet, I have some serious business to discuss with Colonel Campbell-Young before the end of this evening. The goings-on in France are a jolly nuisance and bound to get worse. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were at war with the frog-eaters by the New Year.” He paused, thoughtful for a moment. “Forgive me going on. This must be boring stuff for a young lady like you I’m sure.”
Abigail’s smile floundered for the barest moment before righting itself again. She would dearly love to tell him what a patronizing old fool he was, but she played politics of a different sort.
The Admiral stood, raising his hand to catch the Colonel’s attention and, with a final polite bow to her, hurried to shepherd the man out of the room.
Abigail too rose from the table and brushed the wrinkles from her powder blue brocade dress embroidered with sprays of full bloom roses. Her jewelry was a simple single strand of pearls and pearl studs—a gift, a very expensive one—from a one time admirer. Years before, as a diamond of the first water, she would have been dripping with expensive baubles, but Abigail gave thanks for the emergence of the new minimally adorned fashion which had made its way over from France.
It was useful to disguise financial embarrassment.
Much of her fine clothing and jewels had been sold to pay debts and to furnish the modest home she was forced to share with distant relatives. Tonight, however, her purse weighed heavily on her arm, a promise that the tide of fortune might soon be changing. Adapting to the mood, Abigail judged it right to not press her luck any further. Instead she began to plan her strategic exit. She rose to mingle and give thanks again to Viscount Edgecombe and his wife for a perfectly profitable evening.
“Leaving so soon? I was so enjoying the entertainment.”
A stranger stood in the spot vacated by Lord Reginald, a man aged in his mid-thirties by her judgment. He was tall, his body that of a sportsman. And although his hair appeared dark, the light thrown by the chandeliers picked out highlights of red-gold. He was dressed fashionably, but not elaborately; his dark green frockcoat was cut to fit broad shoulders and a tapered waist. Dark gray breeches fit snugly across muscular legs. He was handsome to be sure, but an arrogance in the set of his jaw put Abigail on her guard immediately.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” she said, turning away to search for Lady Edgecombe. “You’ll excuse me I’m sure while I pay my respects to our hostess.”
“The ace of hearts, the three of clubs, the seven of diamonds, the jack of clubs, and the four of spades. Shall I go on or do I have your complete attention?”
The stranger had named the marked cards in the deck. Suddenly the coins in Abigail’s purse weighed more heavily on her wrist. Beneath the flounced ecru lace sleeves of her gown, she clutched her treasure in both hands and slowly sank to her chair.
The stranger also sat, unhurried and unconcerned by the slight flush she could feel rising across her cheeks.
Abigail straightened her back. Despite what the man thought he’d seen, she had earned every one of those coins, and the devil himself couldn’t take them away from her.
“You have my attention for as long as it amuses me,” she told him.
A slight smile, which might be equally taken for a sneer, crossed his face. “And you have my congratulations.” He reached for one of the discarded cards on the table, the ace of hearts. The man placed it side-up on the table and a small tell-tale notch on its long edge became obvious against the baize.
“Your talents are legendary in some circles, but before I took the word of our mutual friend, I wanted to see for myself whether the reputation was deserved.”
Abigail’s eyes rose to meet his—a shade of blue that reminded her of a long past summer day. Her response was as icy as the upcoming winter.
“I find it exceedingly difficult to believe we have any acquaintance in common, let alone a friend.” She waited for his expression to change. It did. The left corner of his mouth rose.
“Oh dear,” said the man, condescension dripping from his words, “Aunt Druscilla will be most heartbroken.”
At the name Abigail started. Two years of tightly contained anger ignited in her chest.
“More’s the pity that one cannot choose one’s relatives, cousin,” she said, placing particular venom on the last word. “Do forgive me if I choose not to pursue our family connections.” She rose again. “This interview is at an end.”
“Not when I hold all the cards,” replied the man, rising with her and glancing demonstratively at the ace in his hand before slipping it into his inside coat pocket.
“Well, one of them at any rate,” he corrected himself with a smile.
Abigail’s initial flush of fear and rush of anger slumped to dismal annoyance and, in doing so, exhibited a subtle change of stance that must have attracted the attention of their hostess some yards away. Although well into her middle age, Lady Jane Ashford, wife of the Viscount Edgecombe, was of the type that in youth were described as the perfect English rose. Age had not diminished her light brunette hair nor her peaches-and-cream complexion. She had thickened in the middle only a little over the years, her comfortable marriage and fortune enhancing rather than dimming her appeal. Now she approached, a vision in a primrose yellow gown designed to show off her fine bosom.
“My dear Daniel, you arrive and disappear so quickly at my events that I never get you alone,” she exclaimed, threading her arm through the younger man’s in a proprietary fashion.
“How could I risk the wrath of your husband should he learn my true feelings for you, sweetpea?” the man replied with a broad wink and a broader smile. “He would call me out in an instant, and you are too young and beautiful to be a widow.”
“Naughty man!” The handsome matron giggled appreciatively before tapping his arm with her fan. She then bestowed a smile on Abigail.
“I see you have made the acquaintance of one of my favorite guests, Lady Abigail. May I introduce you to the Honorable Daniel Ridgeway; Daniel, Lady Abigail Houghall.”
“Honorable?” Abigail raised an eyebrow and let sarcasm drip from her words.
The man responded with a full smile. “Purely an undeserved title, I can assure you.”
“In your case, I’m sure I can believe it.”
“Daniel is the youngest son of the Viscount Pemberley,” interjected Lady Jane, looking from one to the other, aware of the tension between them, but no doubt uncertain as to its cause.
Abigail seized the opportunity. She clasped the hands of her hostess and offered a slightly pained expression. “This evening has been a delight, but I seem to have ended it with a niggling headache.”
Lady Jane clucked her disappointment. “I shall send for your driver, darling. You must come with me to the morning room and you can rest quietly until he’s ready to take you home.”
Offering a vulnerable smile in a performance worthy of the stage, Abigail leaned heavily on her hostess’s disengaged arm and, without a single glance back, left the damned Honorable Daniel Ridgeway standing alone.
The green morning room was blessedly empty, so Abigail walked its perimeter, around and around the small oval mahogany table set with six balloon-back chairs, past the fireplace where coals burned dully and the chaise longue in the bay window that, during daylight, offered a view of a picturesque formal garden.
The arrival of the Honorable Daniel Ridgeway was a damnable bit of luck. Why here? Why now? Was it blackmail? And what was he to Aunt Druscilla?
She recalled the first time she heard the name, direct from the lips of Sir Percy Blakeney, private secretary to William Pitt, the Prime Minister of England. Sir Percy had been dressed at the Boconnoc House masquerade as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Despite the outlandish costume, the man was one not to be underestimated.
That night Abigail had been escorted back to the house by two men also dressed as characters from Sherwood Forest, to a private meeting in an oak-paneled study…
“I prefer not to insult your intelligence or mine with a pretty dance of accusations and denials, so I’ll get right to the point,” Blakeney had begun without preamble two years ago. “You’re in my way and over your head in matters that are hazardous.”
The man’s supercilious tone bridled. She straightened in the chair and raised her head to stare daggers at him.
“Your concern is touching, Sir Percy, but I’ve achieved my majority and I’m of independent means. I don’t answer to you or anyone else.”
His answering smile was slow and dangerous. “That changes tonight, my dear. You will tell me what you know of the missing Exchequer gold and your knowledge of any conspirators, otherwise I’ll hand you over to the authorities regardless of your position.”
Abigail’s eyes slowly lowered to the carpet at her feet and she unconsciously licked her lips. It would be a remarkably short story to tell.
A comment by the Prince of Wales on the night he ended their affair, that his allowance was insufficient to keep one mistress in the manner to which she was accustomed, let alone support two, led Abigail to a small flirtation with a very indiscreet treasury official who inferred, indeed, there was less gold in the treasury than was generally supposed to be.
Finally, a mention of the matter to a duplicitous family relation, Earl Canalissy, who was a member of Pitt’s cabinet, resulted in broad hints from him that renewing her attention to Sir James Mitchell would be to their mutual benefit. With the Earl asking particular questions regarding James’s coming and goings since his recent return from America, it hadn’t taken Abigail long to deduce James had a secret to hide.
A short story it was indeed, but one she would not reveal the ending of, under her present circumstance, until she was assured of her future security.
Abigail had worn a sumptuous Egyptian costume. She adjusted her posture regally and pinned Blakeney with a direct look. “Should I furnish this information, can I trust your honor as a gentleman that investigations into my…indiscretions will go no further?”
The man folded his arms and leaned back into the studded leather chair, peering at her through his quizzing glass before breaking into a slow smile. “It would be a poor bargain for me to relinquish a winning hand on so small a bet, my dear.”
Abigail raised her chin, her face hardening imperceptibly. She might have known this moment was to come. It would not be the first time she had leveraged sexual favors to elude punishment. Very well, if that’s what it took, she would perform. At least Pitt’s secretary, though tall and lean, was handsome in his own way. She leaned forward, bosom spilling a little further over the top of her gown.
Blakeney laughed heartily at the display. “Get those thoughts from your head. You’re a fine actress and, believe me, I know actresses well. Your charms are wasted on me.”
Wounded pride made Abigail angry. She stood and slapped her hands on the desk between them. “Then what do you want?”
Blakeney rose slowly, his eyes sparkling with clear amusement at her ire. Pride filled his voice. “My dear, I’m going to turn Jezebel into Rahab. One day, you are going to be one of my most accomplished spies.”
Soon after that, Abigail had been ordered to live with her spinster aunt in Bath and write weekly letters of the gossip and goings-on in town. The letters, to be sent without fail, were addressed to “Aunt Druscilla.”
It was hardly the stuff to determine the fate of the Empire. It was a school girl’s punishment. Yet, so powerful was the threat Blakeney held over her head, Abigail became a most diligent correspondent.
She had not seen nor heard from Blakeney in two years.
Two long years with the threat of criminal charges—possibly even transportation to Sydney Town for blackmail—hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles and not a single word. It was torture of the acutest kind.
A brief knock on the door halted Abigail’s reflection and her pacing. The butler entered and announced her carriage awaited.
Courtesy required she find and thank her hosts once again. As she did so, a quick glance around the private gaming room revealed no sign of Daniel Ridgeway.
One of the parlor maids helped her into a light silk rose jacket and a footman assisted her into the slightly worn and saggy interior of her carriage. No fashion trend could save her conveyance from revealing her genteel poverty.
Sitting back in the seat, Abigail opened her purse and felt the coins, cold and solid at her fingertips. Without the need to look, she found and withdrew two guineas, and slipped them into her glove. The gambling may have finished, but the true game was about to begin.
She slapped the leather seat harshly. Damn this Daniel Ridgeway. Why had this agent of Blakeney’s shown up now? Abigail calculated she had enough already for passage and to last her several months abroad, but still not nearly enough to buy a villa outright, a property to secure her future far away from this wretched place.
If only, if only, if only…
The carriage slowed as it turned onto one of the lesser streets in Bath and rolled to a stop outside a modest townhouse. Alighting from the vehicle, Abigail smoothed her jacket and felt something unexpected in one of the pockets. She stood closer to the lamp light by the door and frowned as she fished it out.
It was a playing card.
The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up as she turned it over.
Abigail blinked at Stanstead’s inquiry from the open doorway.
“Is there anything amiss?”
She swallowed and shook her head, slipping the card back into her pocket. Stepping past the butler, she walked into the study to warm herself by the small fire recently lit in the hearth.
Stanstead followed and waited just inside the room. “Will there be anything more, my Lady?”
Abigail reached into her glove and deftly withdrew the guineas she had set aside for the purpose. “Just this,” she said, holding out her hand.
The butler approached and accepted the gold coins. Half for him, half for her chambermaid and the groom. Such patronage assured their ongoing discretion.
“Thank you, my Lady,” he murmured deferentially. “Good night.”
Alone once again, Abigail retrieved the card.
It was the marked Ace of Hearts.