W.C. Fields said “Never work with children or animals,” and for a lot of people that holds true for romance books, too. Some readers really dislike having children or animals in books, others love them. Me? I say it’s all in the execution. Sweetly lisping precocious bratty-type children? Little saintly critters? Generally no — though I have written several books with children. Animals? Well, I’m a sucker for animals.
The reason W.C. Fields said this was that children and animals generally attract the audience’s attention away from the star — him. And it’s true. There are no children in THE AUTUMN BRIDE, but there are animals — specifically kittens. I started with my heroine’s sister rescuing a cat and a litter of young kittens from a building that was going to be demolished. That was it. It was just meant to be a slight plot complication. But kittens have a way of attracting attention…
When Abby discovers elderly aristocratic invalid, Lady Beatrice Davenham living in squalor and at the mercy of her rapacious neglectful servants, she’s invited by the old lady to move in with her. Abby and her “sisters”, calling themselves the Misses Chance and pretending to be Lady Beatrice’s nieces, move in, sack the servants and set about improving life for Lady Bea and themselves. It all works beautifully until Lady Beatrice’s nephew Max returns from the Far East and demands to know who these impostors are. So we’re all set for a confrontation — right?
Remember how I said animals upstage the stars?
“My nieces, Max,” said Aunt Beatrice with a smile that had a lot in common with the look the little cockney had given him. Lying through her teeth and daring him to deny it.
But why? “Damn it, Aunt Bea—”
“Later, Max,” she said airily. “Thank you, girls. My nephew and I have much to catch up on. Featherby, perhaps a cup of tea in half an hour.”
Max waited with folded arms as the girls bustled about gathering things—magazines and bits of lace and fur and fabric lay scattered all over the counterpane—and examining him surreptitiously from beneath lowered eyelashes….
The women were still fussing over the bits of fabric, sorting them in a manner calculated to annoy him.
“That will do,” Max snapped. “Collect it later.” He moved to sit on his aunt’s bed.
As he did so, five women and a butler shrieked.
Lady Beatrice snatched up a tiny white kitten from the spot where Max had been about to sit and cradled it to her bosom. “Max, you could have killed her.”
“Well, how was I to know you’d taken to keeping cats? I thought it was a bit of fur.”
“It is—attached to a kitten. This is Snowflake, and over there is his brother, Marmaduke.” A small tortoiseshell kitten emerged from under a magazine, regarded Max and yawned extravagantly.
See? They upstage. But Max, being a hero, rallies, of course, and takes the kittens in his stride…
He reached out to pat the white ball of fluff, and a small black missile flew out and attached itself to the fabric of his sleeve. It clung determinedly, growling.
“What the—” Max picked his assailant off his sleeve. Black as soot, black as sin, the tiny piece of fluff sat on his palm and stared back at him, undaunted, then clamped needle-sharp teeth down on his thumb.
“This is Max,” his aunt said. And then, bewilderingly, “Stop it, Max! That’s a very bad habit.”
Max frowned at her. “I beg your pardon?”
Mischance, repressing—not very successfully—a smile, came forward and removed the kitten from his grasp. “Yes, Max,” she said sternly addressing the kitten, face-to-face. “A very bad habit.” The kitten gave her nose a few exploratory pats.
“You named that kitten Max?” Max said.
“Yes.” His aunt beamed up at him.
“Why?” He looked at the small, scruffy kitten, now resting against the soft bosom of a deceitful woman. The creature was too young to know the dangers of that.
“Because he is bold and dashing and handsome, of course,” said his aunt.
“Because he is always off adventuring and never where he ought to be,” said Miss Abigail Chance at the same time. With a pointed look, damn her cheek. What did she know of his business?
She held the small black kitten against her bosom, caressing it behind the ears. Max the kitten purred blissfully, like a rusty little coffee grinder.
Max the man glowered.
See? The poor man hasn’t a chance. Not only are there five women to deal with — all of them lying in their pearly white teeth — there are kittens. . .
W.C Fields would sympathize.
So what about you? Are animals in books a problem for you? Or are you an animal lover? And if so, what’s your favorite animal? Tell us for a chance to win one copy of my book!
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