Writing Women Back Into History: Read an extract from The Chocolate Maker’s Wife by Karen Brooks

Writing Women Back Into History: Read an extract from The Chocolate Maker’s Wife by Karen Brooks

PART ONE

May to September 1662

To conclude, if God give you success, use it humbly and far from revenge. If He restore you upon hard conditions, whatever you promise, keep.

— Charles I’s final letter to his son, Charles, Prince of Wales, 1649

’Twill make Old women Young and Fresh;

Create New-Motions of the Flesh,

And cause them to long for you know what,

If they but Taste of Chocolate.

— Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke, translated by James Wadsworth, 1652

Chapter One

In which a young woman encounters four men and some horses

On the 29th May 1662, God Almighty and Ever-Punishing chose to make it bloody hot. At least that’s what Rosamund heard Sissy Barnes say as she staggered into the kitchen with a pail of milk. The current of warm air she brought with her caused the other two scullions to moan and flap their aprons at their faces, earning a scolding from Dorcas, the housekeeper, who told them to stop making such a blasted fuss. Rosamund pressed her lips together lest she too be accused of making a blasted fuss and instead picked up the tray of bread, melting cheeses and coddled eggs to deliver to the sweltering guests waiting to break their fast in the taproom.

Tobacco smoke hung thick in the air, punctuated only by the chittering of the finely dressed women who appeared to be competing with each other to see who could be the loudest. As Rosamund entered, one of them lamented in strident tones that the inn didn’t provide coffee, a protest greeted with much head-shaking and tut-tutting. Rosamund didn’t feel inclined to inform the heavily powdered woman, whose cheeks carried more patches than flesh, that they did indeed provide the bitter, silty beverage, but supplies had run out with the sudden influx of visitors.

The women made a point of ignoring Rosamund, holding her responsible for their having to drink ale or sack like commoners instead of the fashionable new drink fast becoming the rage in London. Their male companions offered her sly smiles and surreptitious winks. One of the so-called gentlemen even leaned behind his lady to pat Rosamund on the bottom. Overlooking this liberty, as she did all others because her stepfather, Paul Ballister, said a man was within his rights to treat a woman any way he wanted (a view Rosamund silently maintained her grandmother, Lady Ellinor Tomkins, would have contested), she replaced the tray behind the counter and waited to see if her services would be further required.

The men and women puffed on their pipes, sipped the liquids they claimed to despise, ate the tepid but tasty food placed in front of them and prattled emphatically — usually about whatever they were reading in the news sheets and pamphlets so many of them brought with them from the capital or purchased in town. She’d have to make sure to remove them when they’d finished lest Paul happen upon them. Poring over the discarded papers that he was too tight to buy himself, he would rail about the ‘rubbish royalist claptrap’ the ‘cunting correspondents’ published, then take his anger out on all those around him — mostly, her. He never said anything negative about the King within earshot of the guests; he was too clever for that. Choosing to nod amiably as they recited snippets from the pages and praise His Majesty like the most practised sycophant, he presented a picture of affability.

Looks could be so deceiving.

Rosamund rubbed a streak of egg-white from her bodice and frowned at the greasy mark it left on an otherwise reasonably clean gown. For the umpteenth time she wished she could read the news sheets too, especially since whatever was written seemed to incite such passionate conversations and aggravate Paul so very much. A contrary part of her had no doubt she’d like what he loathed and that gave her a little warm feeling right between her breasts.

She examined her fingernails and resisted the urge to chew them. Her mother had warned her that her usual lacklustre efforts at personal hygiene were unacceptable while there were so many guests, and insisted she wash her face and hands every night and morning. Pleased to obey her parent in this instance, knowing the additional patrons also meant Paul was kept occupied tending to them, Rosamund enjoyed feeling relatively clean, even if the condition was only temporary.

When she glanced at her reflection in the mouldy mirror hanging behind the bar, she marvelled at how pink her cheeks were when they weren’t decorated with smut and mud, and how her brows formed neat arches without soot in them. Whereas no-one would have given her a second look a week ago, it was remarkable what a little soap and water could do. Tucking a stray lock of hair back into her cap, she was trying to fathom how she could remove the egg stain when she caught a glimpse of her stepfather weaving his way between the tables, bowing in his fawning way to all and sundry.

Before he could detain her, Rosamund ducked below the counter and slipped out of the room. Keen not to be accused of slovenliness, or anything else that might earn her stepfather’s opprobrium, she grabbed the besom and some rags and swiftly ascended to the upper floors, wiping the bannister as she went, searching for the dust and dirt inevitably trailed inside from the road. The Maiden Voyage Inn might be on the verge of decrepitude, but there was no reason for the old place to be filthy as well.

Squeezing against the wall to allow some patrons passage, dropping a curtsey and murmuring a ‘God’s good morning’ as she did, Rosamund couldn’t remember the place being so full. Why, if they’d been in Bethlehem and the blessed Joseph and Mary had asked for a room, they would have been turned away. As it was, anyone who was anyone (and quite a few with no claim even to that) had left London either to join the King in celebrating his bride’s arrival in Portsmouth or simply to celebrate. Rumour had it the real festivities wouldn’t commence until King Charles brought his Portuguese wife, Queen Catherine, back to Hampton Court, and would no doubt resume all over again when the court moved to Whitehall.

Not that anyone seemed to care. Lords, ladies, courtiers, hangers-on, servants, messengers, actors, actresses (whores by any other name, according to Paul — which didn’t stop him ogling each and every one), and canny vendors had spent the best part of the past month rushing from town to country and back again like bees in a summer field. They drank like thirsty dogs and, as she overheard Mister Rohan, the night soil man, saying to Dorcas, rutted like ‘tiffany-traders persuaded they were bleeding rabbits’, whatever that meant.

With all the extra guests came additional duties, and Rosamund didn’t mind throwing on an apron and helping the servants they’d employed to assist with the rush — after all, they lightened her tasks considerably. With more hands, they could present the illusion of being accustomed to serving fine people and catering to their peculiar needs and tastes, never mind all the personal servants guests had at their beck and call. Beds for the extra men and girls had been made up in the stables, and two lads even dossed down in the kitchen. There was no doubt her stepfather and mother were enjoying the bounty these sorts of patrons and their coin provided.

Her mother donned her best dress each day, fashioned her hair beneath a stylish bonnet (Rosamund was certain she’d seen it atop the head of an actress who’d stayed with them one night about three months ago) and, apart from ordering the staff around as if she were a queen in her own right, had arisen early today so she might escort a party of their guests to the river. From there, some would board craft to take them back to London, while others would watch the flotilla of caparisoned boats passing. Even Paul had made an extra effort with his brocaded Sunday jacket, fixing a smile beneath his finest periwig and visiting the barber for a shave.

He’d ordered his sons from his first marriage, the twins Fear-God and Glory, to bathe, make sure their collars and cuffs were clean, and to assist the ostler they’d hired, an ex-sailor named Avery who’d joined the Navy years ago and fought under Cromwell and, after the Restoration, for King Charles too, in the hope it would make his fortune. Fighting for the Lord Protector, he’d enjoyed regular pay, but since the King returned, he hadn’t seen a single penny, even though he’d been back from Guinea for months. He’d many a bitter word to say about His Majesty, who could spend a fucking fortune on his strumpet’s jewellery but not see fit to pay good honest sailors who helped secure the throne as well as new territories for the crown.

Rosamund was actually grateful to the King — not for spending the money Parliament granted him on his latest fancy-woman, but because his marriage kept her stepfather from noticing her lapses of judgement or finding flaws in her work and using these as a pretext to give her one of his lessons. She tried so hard to be good and obedient as the catechism she recited for him every day demanded. While she didn’t adhere to the rules around cleanliness as much as she probably should, she felt there were good reasons for that and God in His wisdom would understand. Mind you, spotless or dirty, well-behaved or disobedient, it didn’t seem to matter, as Paul would always find reasons to punish her.

Thus she’d developed the habit of keeping her ears and eyes tuned for his presence lest he order her into his study and close the door or find her alone in a corner of the inn or the stables and begin the lesson there. He could be quieter than a hungry cat stalking a mouse, looming out of the shadows and pouncing when she least expected it. However, as long as the inn was at capacity, she was relatively safe from Paul — and his sons, who were fast developing the unnatural tastes of their father — and could enjoy the pleasure of warm water and soap and more besides. If that meant the King deserved her gratitude, well, she wouldn’t begrudge him a little. As far as Rosamund was concerned, even though these royal hangers-on treated her as if she was the ash in their hearths, she wished they’d never leave.

Rosamund wished for many things of late. It was nine years since her beloved grandmother, Lady Ellinor Tomkins, had died and she’d been rudely taken from the comfort of Bearwoode Manor. She might not have been a legitimate granddaughter — no-one, not even the servants at Bearwoode, bothered to pretend that her father, the dashing Sir Jon Tomkins, had ever considered marrying her mother, a mere miller’s daughter — but when Rosamund’s mother left her newborn bastard on the doorstep of the Tomkins’ estate, Lady Ellinor had taken her in and cared for her as if she were a rightful scion. Having lost her son to the first King Charles’s cause, her heart would not allow her to do otherwise, despite, or perhaps because of, those who held firm to the notion that in publicly acknowledging Rosamund her wits had deserted her.

When Rosamund remembered those days, days when her laughter rang through the house and grounds at Bearwoode and her ready smile brought answering ones from everyone around her, she also recalled she’d never had cause to mourn her state as a bastard. On the contrary, she revelled in the firm love and many kindnesses proffered to her. Lady Ellinor might not have shown a lot of affection, but she took care to instil in her granddaughter good manners, an appreciation of her position and the rudiments of an education. Alas, this was short-lived as, upon Lady Ellinor’s sudden death, the moorings securing Rosamund to her life at Bearwoode came adrift.

The mother she knew only from dreams and had been forbidden to mention sailed into her life. Tilly Hobson, miller’s daughter, had become Tilly Ballister of the Maiden Voyage Inn. Respectable, married and, after taking the payment promised her, prepared to be what she had once denied — a mother to Rosamund. Tilly and her husband, Paul, brought eight-year-old Rosamund south to Gravesend. And put her to work. Barely given time to draw breath, let alone become accustomed to her change of circumstance, Rosamund went from being waited on to doing the waiting. And wishing.

Sissy always reckoned wishing was a waste of time, but the cook, the Widow Cecily, told her to ignore Silly Sissy as it did no-one harm and if it made you feel better, then wish away because you never knew when God was listening and would grant one. Figuring Widow Cecily might have cause to know, Rosamund kept wishing — often late at night when the rest of the inn was asleep and she could gaze at the stars without fear of interruption. They were the same ones she hoped the steward of Bearwoode, her much-loved Master Dunstan, was looking upon.

She’d send her wishes heavenward where they’d be kept safe with her grandmother, her father and God Himself, and meted out when necessary. Somehow in her mind God, her father and her grandmother had become one and the same. Whenever Reverend Madoc delivered his Sunday sermons and spoke of the Lord, she’d imagine her dead relatives sitting either side of God, who was perched upon a grand golden throne. She felt certain they advised Him on whose prayers to heed and whose to ignore. She knew it was unfair she had such an advantage and figured that was probably why her prayers weren’t answered. Her grandmother could never abide favouritism.

Sighing, Rosamund shook herself. Dwelling on the past did no good. It wasn’t as if you could return there, was it? That’s what her grandmother used to say, mostly when anyone expressed sorrow that her son had died so ignobly. From the face her grandmother would pull whenever this word was used (mostly by Puritan neighbours), she thought it must be a synonym for painfully. Certainly, it was painful for Lady Ellinor to hear. So was thinking about the past, and when it was within one’s compass to prevent pain, it made sense to do whatever it took to avoid it. Thus Rosamund tried, often unsuccessfully, not to think about her life before. The Maiden Voyage Inn was where she lived; that Paul and his sons happened to dwell there too was not something she could alter. She had to make the best of it; it was what her grandmother would expect of her, no matter how cruel the circumstances, how perverse the situation.

Rosamund paused in wiping the windows upon the upper floor, the rag unmoving against the thick glass. She pushed the window out and inhaled the sweet fragrance of hawthorn and the pungent odour of horses, and gazed upon the vista. It was a glorious blue-domed day without a cloud to be seen. A sultry breeze made the trees quiver and their leaves shake; the tendrils of hair that escaped Rosamund’s coif lifted as if to wave back. There was a whinny and the sound of hooves striking the ground, followed by gentle laughter. Avery’s voice carried as he spoke to one of the guests. She heard mention of the unaccountable heat, the relatively good condition of the road now it was so dry, and then the river. Captured by the idea of the water, she stood on tiptoe so she might see it.

On the other bank, she could just make out the dark stones of Tilbury Fort before her gaze returned to the fluid expanse. Sunlight struck the surface, disguising its usual muddy-green colour and transforming it into a sparkling ribbon. Already the river traffic was thick: wherries, barges laden with brimming crates, overflowing barrels and bleating livestock; tilt boats as well as the occasional ketch moved both with and against the currents. Most of the pleasure craft carried people dressed in splendid clothes, some reclining languidly as if the warmth was already too much for them. Stuart colours abounded and Rosamund could just make out the faint strains of music; it might be early, but this was a time for festivities. It wasn’t every day the King brought a bride home to London — and on both his birthday and the anniversary of his restoration two years earlier.

The river and its attractions were all well and good, but they wouldn’t clean the inn, so Rosamund dismissed them and continued to dust, praying Paul would remain occupied below. He’d be pleased she was attending to the housework, something he considered within her ken. Never mind that Rosamund not only took charge of the presentation of the rooms, but it had been her idea to hire Widow Cecily to cook for them after her husband died a few years ago. Listening to idle gossip in town one day, Rosamund learned Cecily Brickstowe’s husband had been so fat when he expired, she couldn’t afford a coffin. It had taken six winding sheets to cover the body and eight men to carry him to the churchyard. Rosamund concluded you didn’t get that size from want of food and decided the widow must be a very good cook. Her hunch was right and now the Maiden Voyage Inn, the first or last place one came to on arriving or departing Gravesend, was earning a reputation for fine fare. Not that you’d know it today when, according to Widow Cecily, the heat ruined everything.

Paul had begrudgingly conceded that Rosamund, whom he first thought was touched in the head because of the way she constantly found reasons to smile and laugh when he could see none, had business sense. Why, she overheard him saying to Tilly one day — admittedly after he’d downed a few more ales than usual — the girl could barely read or write, but somehow, when it came to the inn, she had a head for knowing what worked and what didn’t. She knew how to set things right, make disgruntled customers content and ensure that even in the lean season coin crossed their palms. She knew how to strike a bargain with suppliers and what to order in bulk. Messengers made a point of staying, even if the horses were better at the Cock and Bull or beds didn’t have to be shared at the Privateer’s Chest. Somehow, Rosamund remembered how the men preferred their ale, what their favourite food was and even to ask after their children, offer condolences if their wives had passed away or inquire whether they’d recovered from that wretched toothache.

If only her stepfather had asked, Rosamund could have explained how she came upon such knowledge: it was no trick. All it required was a set of ears, a willingness to listen and a good memory — all of which Rosamund possessed. Above all, Rosamund enjoyed people and, when they understood that this young woman really wanted an answer to her questions and was genuinely interested, they indulged her. Who didn’t like a sweet, albeit dirty, face and a set of ears in which to pour their stories? People spoke to and around her and, like the rags she used to wipe spillages, she absorbed all they said. She might not have a tutor like rich folk, her lessons in reading and writing being consigned to the past, or attend Petty School as the twins once did, but she didn’t need to when she had so many people from whom she could learn. What they shared also made Rosamund understand that while the burden she bore in private was great, there were those who carried greater. Most people delighted in talking with the unusual girl with huge, sad brown eyes and lovely if fleeting smile. When they saw it, they felt as if the sun had peeped from behind the clouds just for them.

It was those brief smiles and daily interactions that allowed Rosamund to keep the joy that had burst forth the day she was born burning within her. Master Dunstan once told her (having heard it from one of the midwives present at her birth) that unlike most babes who wailed upon leaving the womb, Rosamund had entered the world burbling with laughter. Her stepfather might have done all he could to douse her happiness, but she kept one tiny, belligerent spark alive. It was her single act of defiance, a keepsake from Bearwoode Manor and her grandmother that she refused to relinquish. One day, she promised herself, it would have cause to flare again… One day.

For now, she beat the dust out of the wall-hangings which, despite having faded to the colour of the river, hid some dire cracks, then swept the floors and polished the glass and sills, humming a ditty the sailors often sang. Passing by the open window again, she heard her name spoken. Startled, she fell silent.

‘I said, have you seen Rosie?’

Rosamund gripped the sill.

‘Not since the kitchen, Pa,’ said Fear-God.

‘Want we should fetch her?’ asked Glory.

‘Aye, I do. Her mother’s about to depart, it be a good time for a lesson. Bring her to my study. Don’t let her sweet talk her way out of it either.’

‘No, Pa,’ said the twins in unison.

Rosamund risked a look. Paul disappeared inside the front door while the twins ran around the back towards the kitchen. No doubt they’d split up as they had before to catch her on the landing. They knew she wouldn’t dare make a noise and risk disturbing any of the guests still in their rooms. Shoving the broom and rags behind a tapestry, Rosamund did the only thing she could. Hoisting her skirts, she swung a leg over the sill and, bracing herself against the edge of the window, hurled herself at the nearest tree. Two nesting sparrows shrilled their protest and took wing in fright.

‘Sorry,’ whispered Rosamund, clinging onto the branch. Praying her slippers would grip, she clambered down the tree. Above, she could hear her brothers calling, using their ‘mannered’ voices, the ones their father knocked into them to deploy around the inn. Glancing up, she saw their hulking shadows as they moved along the corridor. She wished she’d thought to shut the window.

Once on the ground, she crouched so she wouldn’t be seen and, bent double, scooted past the bewildered horses, who snickered quietly, and around the side of the building. Only then did she stand upright, dust off her hands and skirts and fix her coif; it wouldn’t do to look like a fugitive if she encountered anyone. Her stepbrothers’ voices were fainter now, but she knew they wouldn’t stop looking. There was no hope for it, she simply couldn’t abide the thought of another so-called lesson. She began to recite the catechism, as if to somehow compensate for her recalcitrance. ‘My duty is to love, honour and succour my father and mother; To honour and obey the King, and all that are put in authority under him; To submit myself to all my governors, teachers and spiritual pastors and masters; To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters…

But Paul was her stepfather, not her father, who, she was certain, would never have countenanced such instruction. As for her mother, why she had no more cared what Paul did to her than she did about the hen whose neck she had ordered wrung last night. Whether it was the memories of childhood she’d stirred earlier, the day’s dazzling sunshine, or just some contrary part of her nature, Rosamund decided being obedient didn’t prevent her being held unfairly to account. What would happen to her if she defied not only the catechism, but her stepfather for once? Surely it couldn’t be worse than what she regularly endured. Paul flouted God’s words daily; the same catechism told him he should ‘hurt no-one by body or deed’ and ‘do to all men as I would they should do unto me’. He did not. Yet the Lord didn’t smite him.

Walking past their old milk cow, Mabel, Rosamund patted the gentle creature before opening the rear gate and, keeping to the shadows offered by the stables, climbed up the hill and into the fields beyond before heading back down the slope to join the main road. As she did, the church bell struck ten of the clock. She’d managed the impossible — freedom was hers for a time. God knew what would happen to her for such wilful disobedience.

She hadn’t gone very far when she began to regret she didn’t have her broad-brimmed bonnet, the sun was so intense. Her bodice stuck to her skin and her coif began to itch. Undoing her apron, she scrunched it into a ball, conscious how drab her clothes, how scuzzy her hands. Only her slippers hinted she was not what she appeared — a lowly servant on an errand. No, she was an errant princess, having escaped a wicked tyrant. Of course, she knew this was pure fancy that belonged on a stage, not in real life. Yet, like the plays performed by travelling troupes at the Cock and Bull, real life did have monsters, monsters who wore a vizard before others, concealing their true selves.

She reached into her skirt, searching for coins so she could buy a drink and some nourishment, her fingers finding the cold hard comfort of a couple of pennies. As she waved at Farmer Blount ploughing his fallow field, the oxen in the shafts patiently plodding through the dirt, the sun beating on their pale, bony backs, she felt a spring in her step. When was the last time she’d done this? Fled the inn? Why, never. Something stirred within her, a peculiar sensation that both tickled and hurt. Her breath came fast; her skin felt clammy. Her eyes shone.

Rosamund crossed to the grassy verge opposite, enjoying a brief respite from the heat as she passed into the dappled shade of some mighty oaks, wiping her forehead and the back of her neck with a kerchief. All along the riverbank, the royal colours blazed in the bright sunlight, streamers and garlands hung from fenceposts and door-knockers and twisted around pylons and across wharves to show loyalty to a king who, though he might not pass this way, had courtiers who would no doubt report such deference.

While the town might have dressed in its best, as she approached Rosamund saw that the usual throng of people and carts were absent, apart from a few stalwarts like the girl, Betty, who sold oranges, and old man Otway, who wheeled his oyster barrow along the docks. The streets were all but deserted. Dull hammering and other workday sounds emanated from nearby warehouses, a shanty was being sung upon a docked ship, and wood and tobacco smoke emerged from a nearby tavern, competing with the odour of cooked meat and drying horse shit.

Uncertain, Rosamund lingered near the alehouse. Maybe she could watch the parade of boats awhile… or perhaps go to the baker’s and visit Frances, the one friend she’d made in all the years she’d been here. Just as she was about to knock on the bakery door, she saw the sign. It was shut. Quashing her disappointment, she decided to find somewhere to sit on the riverbank, purchase a drink and pastry elsewhere and while away some time. Aye, she’d quite a hankering for one of Master Denis’s pasties…

‘God’s good day to you, Rosie,’ panted a deep voice behind her.

‘Fancy finding you ’ere and all,’ said another.

Standing on the high street were Fear-God and Glory. Stocky, with broad shoulders and thick arms, they were three years older than Rosamund and at least twice her size. They stood with their legs apart, arms folded, their faces red and sweaty, their chests heaving. A cat busy grooming itself in the shade of an awning froze and, fixing its golden eyes upon the brothers, bolted into a narrow lane. An old dog lying outside a suddenly silent alehouse whimpered and, its tail down, scraped at the door for admittance. Rosamund wished she could do the same. A window fell shut with a bang. A door quietly closed. Fear-God and Glory’s reputation had grown of late; they were not to be countered — in anything or by anyone. Hidden eyes waited to see what would happen; concealed folk drew their collective breath.

‘You be for it when Pa finds out you scarpered down here,’ growled Fear-God. ‘What with the inn full and all.’

‘I had to get supplies,’ said Rosamund calmly, holding up the coin as proof.

‘Nah, you didn’t,’ said Glory adding, ‘Think we’re stupid? It be the King’s birthday; everyfing be shut. You buggered off, you did. And Pa don’t like that, do he Fear?’

‘Nah, he don’t, Glory. He’ll teach you a lesson all right.’

‘Unless we teach ye first, Rosie.’ Glory licked his lips.

‘It’s Rosamund,’ said Rosamund, more from force of habit. She loathed that the twins and their father insisted on the diminutive. It wasn’t that she disliked the name, on the contrary, one of the scullions was a Rosie, a lovely girl. It was just she never was and never would be a Rosie. Her grandmother had called her Rosamund and that’s who she was.

‘Gone all hoity toity, you have, Rosie, since them fancy guests been hanging about,’ said Fear-God. He took a step towards her.

‘Seems you’ve forgotten your kin,’ sneered Glory, emboldened by his brother.

‘No,’ said Rosamund, taking a small step back. She measured the distance to the lane that ran behind the alehouse which intersected with a veritable labyrinth of snickets and alleys. ‘I’ve not forgotten.’ An image of her grandmother appeared.

‘Then, prove it,’ said Glory, coming closer, moving to cut off her escape.

‘Give us a kiss,’ said Fear-God and lunged.

Rosamund threw the coppers, smacking him in the face. Then she flung her apron, which embraced his features and was repelled. Instead of turning, she ran straight at the men and squeezed past. Pausing briefly to kick off her slippers, she hoisted her skirts and bolted.

It was as if she was possessed by a demon. She flew along the road, attracting attention from the river, people watching her with open mouths, some crying out encouragement as bets were laid as to who would win the chase. She raced past Farmer Blount’s lands, maintaining her pace as she drew level with the inn. Glancing back, she made a decision. The horses raised their heads, one whinnying as if to spur her on. Her feet were fleet, her arms pumped at her sides, her lungs filled, her hot cheeks were bellows.

Just beyond the inn was a crossroads. Without hesitating, she turned away from the water. Small stones and dried mud stuck to the soles of her feet; she stubbed her toe against a rock, dislodging it and almost tripping over. She ignored the pain in her foot and blossoming beneath her ribs. The dull thud of the twins’ boots resounded in pursuit, their breathing hoarse as they tried to gain on her. When they understood she wasn’t going to seek the shelter of the inn, their cruel laughter was like a punch to her stomach.

Still Rosamund ran. Her chest was burning, her face afire; her feet, numb. The sun’s brutal beams began to take their toll.

Rounding the last corner before the long stretch of road took travellers south, Rosamund determined to duck into the woods and pray she had enough of a lead to hide beneath a fallen tree or skitch up a tall one. Using every last ounce of strength, she was about to leap off the road when a cry of alarm forced her head up. There was the discordant jangle of harnesses, dirt and pebbles flew in her face and the shocking screams of horses rang in her ears before a great force pushed her back.

She struck the ground hard, crying out as her punished bottom bore the brunt, then swiftly rolled and flung her arms above her head to protect her face. But the sun found it, the abominable sun that filled her eyes with tears, turning the world into a blur of dark spots and whirling shapes. A writhing mass of powerful legs circled above her. There were shod hooves, wild eyes, and the dark wood of shafts before, incongruously, she saw a man’s appalled countenance staring. His mouth was agape, his voice hoarse, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She tried to squirm out of the way, then something struck her hard upon the temple and she knew no more.

About the author:

Karen Brooks is the author of eleven books, an academic of more than twenty years’ experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years, and prior to that dabbled in acting.

She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, in a beautiful stone house with its own marvellous history. When she’s not writing, she’s helping her husband Stephen in his brewery, Captain Bligh’s Ale and Cider, or cooking for family and friends, travelling, cuddling and walking her dogs, stroking her cats, or curled up with a great book and dreaming of more stories.

Buy a copy of The Chocolate Maker’s Wife here.

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      Australian author Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this sweeping, breathtakingly researched tale of 17th century London. Set against the backdrop of Restoration London, the plague and the Great Fire, this is a tale of cruelty, revenge, redemption, love and hope, and the sweet, sinister temptation of chocolate.

      Damnation has never been so sweet...When Rosamund Tomkins enters the world she is so different, with her darkling eyes and strange laughter, that the midwives are afraid, believing her a changeling. But Rosamund's life is set to be anything but enchanted...Born into poverty, brutalised and ignored by her family, it is only when she is married off to a nobleman that her life undergoes a wondrous transformation, as he recognises that Rosamund infuses magic she does not know she possesses into everything she touches.Clever, quick and irrepressible, Rosamund soon becomes the darling of the haute ton, and presides over her luxurious chocolate house where the rich go to be seen and indulge in their favourite pastime, drinking the sweet and heady drink to which they've become oddly addicted.But Rosamund stands on the brink of losing all she has worked so hard to achieve and will be forced to make a choice: walk away from all she knows and has grown to love with her soul intact, or make a deal with the devil?
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      About the author

      Karen Brooks

      Karen Brooks is the author of eleven books, an academic of more than twenty years' experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years, and prior to that dabbled in acting.She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, in a beautiful stone house with its own marvellous history. When she's not writing, she's helping her husband Stephen in his brewery, Captain Bligh's Ale and Cider, or cooking for family and friends, travelling, cuddling and walking her dogs, stroking her cats, or curled up with a great book and dreaming of more stories.

      Books by Karen Brooks

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