I have a confession to make. Progress on the third book in the Shaking the Tree trilogy, Slaves in Petticoats, is moving very slowly and I need your help. While I’ve reached the half-way point (45,000 words) and have the remainder of the story clear in my head, I’ve stalled.
I’d appreciate your thoughts on what you would like to see happen to satisfactorily complete the trilogy. I can’t guarantee that I’ll implement all your ideas, but I promise to consider them carefully as it’s important to me that you, my readers, feel satisfied when you reach the end of the last book.
The novel centers around Viola and opens nine years after the end of A Pivotal Right. She has completed her medical training in Paris and has been working as a doctor at the Women’s Hospital in London for three years. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you that Viola will fall reluctantly back in love with an old flame, she’ll go on a journey, will confront some ghosts from her past, right some wrongs, and will question the path her life has taken.
Here is the first draft of chapter one. It’s unedited so will contain typos and the content may change before the final novel, but I hope it will give you an indication of where Viola is at in her life.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions for me feel free to send them through the contact page on my website.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Charles. That is completely out of the question.” Viola rose from the crumpled sheets.
“Why? You’re my mistress in everything but name already. Why not make our arrangement formal? My wife doesn’t care as long as I’m discreet. I’ll get you a better flat than this squalid hovel you insist on residing in and I’ll take care of your expenses. You can have anything you desire; furs, dresses, jewellery. Just name it and it’s yours.”
“There is a name for women who accept payment in return for what we have just done.” She walked across the room her long, dark hair swaying against her naked back. “I don’t want or need your money or your gifts and I am perfectly happy with my flat.” She cast her gaze around her small bedroom. “In fact, I’m insulted that you would even suggest such an arrangement.” She sat down on a chair beside her neatly piled underwear. “I made it clear when we began that I intended to continue to live as an independent woman. You said you understood.”
“I did not realise how it would become between us when I agreed to that.” Charles raised his hands in entreaty. “You fill my thoughts. I am like a mad man when we are apart. I cannot work, or eat, or sleep. All I can think about is having you in my bed. I must know that you are mine.”
Viola paused in the task of rolling a silk stocking up one leg. “I will never belong to you or any other man. I am free to make love to whomever I choose.”
Charles sprang from the bed. He crossed the room in two strides raising one finger to stab the air in front of Viola’s face. “Are you saying there are other men?”
Eyeing him standing over her, Viola knew that to allow the discussion to continue in this vein was risky. Charles was not a man to be trifled with. She took his hand, turned it over and kissed his palm before raising her eyes to his. “There are no others, my love, only you. You know I am married to my career.”
Charles’s face twisted into a sneer. “I’d hardly call pandering to the needs of hysterical women at that ridiculous place you call a hospital a career.”
She dropped his hand and rose to her feet. “I am proud to practice under Doctor Garrett Anderson. She runs a fine institution and our work benefits thousands of women.”
He opened his mouth and then snapped it shut. They stood in silence, their eyes locked until his expression softened and he reached for her. “Come along, my darling. Let’s not fight. We still have an hour until I must be back at my rooms for my next patient.” He slid his arm around her grasping her backside and pulling her against him. His obvious desire for her pressed against her thigh.
Viola stiffened. Charles was handsome, well-connected and a brilliant surgeon, but his growing possessiveness was beginning to wear. Similar situations had occurred several times in the past with lovers who could not understand her desire to remain free. She had initially made the mistake of embarking on relationships with single men, but after two proposals of marriage, the first from a lovesick fellow student in Paris, and the second from a young Earl on his Grand Tour of Europe, she had come to the conclusion that married men were a safer option. However, even they attempted to shackle her. Charles, while enamoured with her face, body and abilities in the bedroom, did not see her as an equal. He wanted to own her because he felt deep down it was his right to do so.
Beginning the affair with him had been a calculated decision designed to forward her career. He was on the medical board and held great influence. He had the power to help her. However, he was jealous and temperamental and could just as easily destroy her both socially and professionally—she was walking a dangerous path.
Viola forced a smile, pecked a kiss on his cheek and then gently extracted herself from his arms. “Let’s discuss this further when you visit me next week.” She picked up her corset. “Help me with this will you?”
He took the garment from her outstretched hand. “Yes, we shouldn’t ruin a perfect afternoon with a silly argument. You’re just tired from spending too much time at that hospital. I won’t take your words to heart. We’ll talk about it again when you have had a chance to reconsider and can see that my offer makes perfect sense.” He tied the final knot in the ribbon at the small of her back and went to the far side of the room where he also began to dress.
When she returned to the hospital for the evening shift Viola was confronted by a red-faced boy waiting outside her office. He hopped from one foot to the other an envelope clutched in his hand.
“Are you Miss…I mean Doctor Beaufort?” he asked, his eyes darting around the corridor.
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“I have a telegram for you.” He jammed the envelope into her hand and scurried away without waiting for payment.
Viola unlocked her office door. There had been strong resistance to the hospital when it first opened with all sorts of ridiculous stories printed in the papers about the goings on within its walls. Even now, many men refused to step foot inside its doors.
She lit a gas lamp and sat at her desk. The envelope bore her name and the address of the hospital in typed letters. Her stomach squirmed. Any missive had the potential to bring bad news, but the arrival of this telegram filled her with particular apprehension.
She picked up an ornate ivory letter opener, a gift from a former lover, and slit the envelope open. Her heart fell. Hugh has passed. Funeral on Saturday. Please come. Mama.
Viola leaned back in her seat tossing the paper onto her desk. So, it had finally happened. She knew it was coming. Her mother’s letters since she and had recently returned to England had indicated their neighbour was in failing health.
A pang of guilt cut through Viola. She had not been back to Fenwick for nine years. Initially, it had been the thought of seeing Matilda’s father, Abraham, that had kept her away. He did not know the truth about his son-in-law and Viola knew that if she saw him, she would feel compelled to admit everything. As time stretched on it was as if she had built a mental wall around her previous life. She was no longer the woman she had been when she left Fenwick and to return had come to seem impossible.
She stood and moved to the window staring through the dusty pane at the brick wall blocking her view of the grimy streets and leaden sky. It was not as if she’d had no contact with her parents since she left New Zealand nine years earlier. They corresponded regularly and Mama and Jack had come twice to Paris in the six years she had been studying there. They had been residing in their house in Auckland, New Zealand for the past three years and since their return to England a couple of months ago, Mama had written several times asking Viola to come home. She had used her work as an excuse not to make the trip north to Fenwick. She could and should have gone, but just couldn’t face it.
When she had first arrived in Paris nine years earlier, Viola had still been suffering the after-effects of William Kinghorne’s attack on her. She realised now that her delicate state of mind, mingled with lingering guilt over Matilda’s fate, had caused her to close herself off emotionally. Being aloof had proved a useful defence as she was one of only a few women in a male-dominated university environment where any overtures of friendship were usually misconstrued as flirtation. She had become the master of containing her feelings deep inside. Her concern now was that she was no longer sure she knew how to access them.
Viola had taken her first lover during her fourth year at university. As the only woman in her class, she obviously attracted much attention from her fellow students, not all of it positive. Bastien, a classmate from Alsace had taken it upon himself to be her champion. He was a sweet, softly-spoken boy with cognac coloured eyes and long, dark eyelashes. Even though Viola had no need of his protection, she had to admit to being flattered by his gallant attempts to defend her from the advances and barbs of their fellow students.
As part of their studies, the trainee doctors were introduced to a device called a condom. It was designed to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of disease during congress between a man and a woman. While the idea had been around for many centuries in various natural forms such as fish skin, linen and sheep gut, this new version was made from vulcanised rubber and was considered vastly superior to previous varieties. When slipped over the man’s erect penis before sex it prevented direct contact and transmission of bodily fluids.
Viola undertook to get her hands on one of these devices. Partly because she was curious, but also because her studies into the workings of the human mind had led her to theorise that if she performed the sexual act in an environment where she was in control, she would see that it was merely biology and there was nothing to fear from it. With the risks of disease and unwanted pregnancy removed, she could conduct her experiment with whomever she chose.
Bastien had been her unwitting, but none the less willing, co-participant. She had lost her virginity to him in her narrow bed in the tiny flat she occupied in Paris. Viola found consensual sex with a loving and attentive partner to be a wonderfully fulfilling and positive experience. Her one-time experiment with Bastien became a series of trysts as her appetite for the act grew.
Unfortunately, Bastien misunderstood the nature of their connection and fell utterly and completely in love with her. He became obsessed, begging her to marry him. She was forced to break off the affair. He took to drink and dropped out of university. His body was found floating face-down in the Seine a few months later.
This event, whilst tragic, only hardened Viola’s resolve to remain free of all emotional involvement with her partners. There was sex and there was love—and the latter was not necessary for the former.
Viola wrapped her arms around herself. The life she had chosen was not a conventional one and had put her at odds with society. Discretion was essential as scandal and gossip had ruined the lives of many women of her class.
She looked again at the telegram. There was no avoiding it—the time had come to go home to Fenwick.