You can’t imagine how exciting this is for me.
Back in 2003, as my first novel, Sweet Release, was hitting bookstore shelves, I was hard at work on my second novel, Carnal Gift. This one told the story of Jamie, the little brother of the heroine from Sweet Release. All grown up, he’s in Ireland and Britain on behalf of the colony of Virginia to get the British to take seriously the conflict against the French and their Indian allies in North America.
Why does he do this? Because his nephew, his sister’s firstborn son, Nicholas Kenleigh, was taken in a skirmish with the Indians and burnt to death. (Nicholas makes an appearance, alive but changed, in the epilogue. That was cut from the original version.)
This deep personal incentive is what drives him throughout the book. But, if you read the version that was published, you never knew this because this entire thread — what happened to Nicholas, Jamie’s guilt over being unable to save his nephew, his efforts to win the support of Parliament for a fleet of ships and more soldiers — was cut from the book because the book was too long.
Yes, the book was too long.
I cried for a month when I was told by my editor that they didn’t make any exceptions when it came to their maximum number of pages. The weight/thickness of the books determined how many could fit in a box and how much it would cost to ship them. Fewer books per box and heavier boxes means higher shipping costs. And so Jamie’s story landed on the cutting room floor in pieces.
When I got the rights back to Carnal Gift last October, I was so excited because it meant that for the first time I would be able to share with you the story I had written. The story that was published has never felt like my books. How could it with more than 20 percent of the pages gone?
And now the full story is available at last. Jamie and Brighíd finally get their full story told. The copy on the back of the book is the same:
“I expect you to show my friend just how grateful you are. Your willingness is everything.”
With those harsh words, the hated Sasanach earl decided Bríghid's fate: Her body and her virginity were to be offered to a stranger in exchange for her brother’s life. Possessing nothing but her innocence and her fierce Irish pride, she had no choice but to comply.
But the handsome man she faced in the darkened bedchamber was not at all the monster she expected. His green eyes seemed to see inside her. His tender touch calmed his fears while he swore he would protect her by merely pretending to claim her. And as the long hours of the night passed by, as her senses ignited at the heat of their naked flesh, she made a startling discovery: Sometimes the line between hate and love is dangerously thin.
But what’s inside includes those 100 pages, re-edited by me. When I got the chance to go through the book again, I was blown away by how much better my writing had gotten between Sweet Release and Carnal Gift. Also, I’d forgotten the story, partly out of a desire not to think about the fact that the book I’d written had been butchered. Reading it for the first time in eight years, I fell in love with the characters all over again and found myself really wanting to get to Ruaidhrí's story as soon as possible. (Those of you who’ve read the book know that Ruaidhrí is the heroine’s smart-mouthed 16-year-old little brother who almost gets himself hanged.)
Set in Penal Era Ireland, it tells of a history that is largely forgotten over here, when Catholicism was outlawed and priests could be hanged for performing mass. Jamie, our Tide Water plantation hero, sees the world with very different eyes than average subject of His Majesty King George. Taking a look at the biases of Britain through Colonial eyes was fun for me.
The plot remains unchanged. Jamie is given a sex toy by his friend Lord Byerly, but that toy is a terrified young woman whom Jamie is expected to force into sex in front of Byerly. Brighíd expects to be raped, but the man to whom she is given is, unbeknownst to her, trying to do all he can to spare her that fate. What follows is a serious falling out between Jamie and Byerly, with the earl holding all the power — and Jamie having all the balls.
Here’s an excerpt taking from material cut from the book:
“You’re talking about starting a war, Master Blakewell.” William Pitt grimaced, adjusted his swollen foot where it rested, covered in foul-smelling compresses, on a cushioned footstool. “Damned gout!”
“I’m talking about winning a war, Sir, for the war has already begun.”
Pitt seemed to consider this, his forehead bent in a pensive frown beneath his powdered wig. His large, almond eyes, set in a pale oval face, gave him an intelligent, slightly melancholy appearance, and Jamie knew the man’s hard-won political successes had come through wit and oratory. Of all the members of Commons, he was Jamie’s best hope — and the most influential.
“What do you suggest?”
“A fleet of ships designed to fight in the lakes and rivers of the north — and well-trained sailors to man them. Attack the French where they’re most vulnerable — their supply lines, their own towns. Draw them away from English families on the frontier.” Jamie returned Pitt’s steady gaze, waited.
“That’s a bold plan. It would inevitably force them to fight on two fronts or abandon the frontier.” Pitt reached for his teacup, took a sip.
“There’s more to it than that, Sir.”
Pitt raised an eyebrow. “Explain.”
“The French have allied themselves with numerous Indian nations — foremost the Huron, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwa. Most are led by Obwandiyag, whom some call Pontiac. His intelligence and influence should not be underestimated. Not only is he capable of leading his men in battle, but he could easily win more tribes to the side of the French. He is metai, a spiritual leader, and his words carry great meaning for many.” Jamie took a sip of tea, let his words sink in, trying not to overwhelm Pitt.
“If we shift the battle to the great lakes and rivers, the French lose whatever advantage they’ve gained through such alliances. While Pontiac’s men are more than capable of defeating British troops on land, they have no means to counter English warships.”
Pitt brow furrowed. “What makes you so certain Indians can defeat trained English soldiers?”
“The Indian way of warfare is not the English way. They attack through ambush, not from battle lines drawn up in the open. The French have largely adopted their techniques. At Fort Necessity, they fired at us from high in the surrounding trees. Good Englishmen died, shot down by an enemy they could not see.”
Pitt’s upper lip curled in disgust. “That’s barbaric.”
“Perhaps, Sir.” Jamie wouldn’t bother trying to explain to Pitt the Indian point of view on warfare. What warrior in his right mind stood out in the open in front of enemies who were firing at him? “Still, that’s the way it is. An English regiment might easily wander into such an ambush — on a road through the forest or on the banks of a river — and lose every man. To win this war, Britain must adapt, Sir, or British claims along the Ohio will be lost.”
And Nicholas’s terrible death will have been for naught.
For a moment, Pitt said nothing but gazed broodingly into the distance.
“Very well, Master Blakewell, I see the point you’re trying to make.” Pitt wiggled his swollen toes, winced. “But tell me—who would supply such ships?”
“My brother-in-law, Alec Kenleigh, has already drawn up plans for a small fleet of warships specially designed to navigate the northern waterways.”
“Of course.” Pitt smiled. “War is a bloody profitable business.”
Jamie refused to let the comment bait him. “Aye, it can be, Sir. However, Alec is willing to build these ships at no profit to himself.”
Both of Pitt’s eyebrows shot upward. “At cost? Remarkable.”
“My brother-in-law lost his eldest son at Fort Necessity.” The pain, the guilt welled up inside Jamie. “He was taken captive and later … burnt alive.”
Pitt’s eyebrows shot up, before his face shifted into a scowl of outrage. “I do say—how unfortunate and appalling.”
Jamie beat back his grief. “It is war, Sir.”
“My condolences on your family’s loss.” Pitt took another sip of tea. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about your brother-in-law. I’m sorry he should suffer such tragedy.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Jamie decided to press his point. “The longer Britain delays in meeting the French threat, the greater that threat becomes. English families are dying on the frontier — men, women and children — and the French are working hard to persuade Britain’s Indian allies to switch sides. We dare not dally, Sir.”
For a moment, the two men sat, gazes locked.
“Very well, Master Blakewell, I shall represent the Colonial cause in Commons. But I warn you, it won’t be easy. Most Englishmen are more concerned with events on the Continent, as the results will have very real consequences here in Britain. Most believe the Crown can force concessions from the French with regard to the American frontier by dominating them in Europe.”
“They are blind.” Jamie stood abruptly, walked to the nearby window. “They would not tolerate the slaughter of English families on British soil here on this island, but the slaughter of British families—”
Jamie spun to face him. “—British families on the American frontier means nothing to them. For are the colonists not also subjects of His Majesty, equally deserving of his protection and consideration? And what will happen if colonists begin to feel Britain has turned her back on them? It shouldn’t surprise me that many would turn their backs on Britain.”
“I admire your passion, Master Blakewell, and I agree with you. But it will be an uphill battle, all the more so thanks to your friend.” He pinned Jamie with his gaze. “Or should I say erstwhile friend?”
“He’s spreading some rather distressing rumors about you, rumors of collusion with traitorous Irish Catholics. I need to know what truth lies behind these rumors so that I can prepare a proper response.”
Jamie had known this would happen. “Of course.”
As you may be guessing, this was my first contact with research on the French & Indian War (Seven Years War) and led not only to Ride the Fire, in which Nicholas gets his own story, but the MacKinnon’s Rangers series, too.
The book is up and available on Amazon.com, on Barnes and Noble’s website, and at Smashwords. It takes forever to get things up on the Apple store for iPads and pods and such, but it will eventually make it there, too, as will Sweet Release.
I would appreciate anything you can do to help me spread the word, including posting reviews after you’ve read the story if you feel so inclined.
Thanks to Jennifer Johnson of Sapphire Dreams for the lovely cover.
I would love to hear what those of you who’ve read the original published version think of the difference between the two books. Although some people loved Carnal Gift, some feel it’s my weakest book. But they haven’t read this version...
To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of the ebook. To be entered, simply post something nice about Ireland below.