The English Lieutenant’s Lady: the Beginning

The English Lieutenant's Lady

British Spies in Oregon

Tongue Point, Oregon Territory
October 1845

Geoff heard the click of a rifle being cocked in the bushes behind him, and then a woman’s voice, deadly calm. “Stand up—slowly, now—and keep your hands where I can see ’em.”

He obeyed without question. Several years of service in Her Majesty’s Army had taught him not to argue with people pointing weapons at him. Not at the moment, at least. Once he got his hands on the pistol at his belt, this would be a different conversation.

Her voice came again. “Turn around. Let’s have a look at you.”

Slowly, hands raised, he followed her orders. The sunlight fell through a gap in the trees overhead, almost blinding him. He blinked. As his eyes adjusted to the light, a young, dark-haired woman stepped onto the path. She was a tiny thing, the top of her head almost level with his shoulder. But the eyes that studied him were as steady as the rifle in her hands. The one that she was pointing straight at him.

He cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, madam.” Civility never hurt at a time like this.

“Are you calling me a madam?” She tilted her head as though trying to determine if the word was intended as an insult. A loosely bound braid of dark hair shifted to fall over one shoulder of the overlarge man’s coat she was wearing. Her eyes were a truly beautiful gray, the color of woodsmoke before it dissipates in a breeze.

“I meant no offense, ma’am.” He nodded toward the opened pack at his feet. “I was not going to steal anything.”

This wasn’t the first time he’d been on the wrong side of a rifle. He could usually talk his way out of a bad situation. All the same, his heart raced and a tiny thread of sweat trickled down his back. The autumn day was not unusually warm, but he welcomed the breeze that wafted up the hill from the Columbia River.

“So you say.” The woman raised the rifle a bit higher. “If you weren’t bent on thieving, why were you going through my pack?”

“I was looking for some identification, so I could return the pack to its proper owner.” I was looking to see if it had any information that I could use.

Her eyes narrowed, as if what he was thinking showed on his face. He shifted his gaze to focus on her lips, avoiding direct eye contact. “My friend and I are private travelers on a tour of the Oregon Territory. Seeing the sights. Scientific exploration of the New World. Sketching scenic vistas. That sort of thing. While my friend was securing the boat at the landing, I decided to come up the hill to, er, see if I could get a view of the surrounding countryside. The leaves changing colors and all that. Charming, don’t you know.”

As he spoke, he relaxed his features into what he hoped she would take to be an expression of amiable fatuousness. “I was merely passing by when I saw the pack on the side of the road.”

If he were being honest—which he mostly wasn’t, considering all the lies he had just told her—“road” wasn’t how he would have described a barely navigable trail through the woods. Still, this looked like one of those times when it would be as well to be diplomatic. The young woman might take exception to any criticism of the area. A local, by the look of her. Surely no female brought up in civilization would ever dress in an ill-fitting man’s shirt and trousers, topped by an oversized coat. She wore the odd clothes with all the self-possession of Queen Victoria herself, though this girl could not have been much above twenty.

She looked as if she had forgotten how to smile. The corners of her lovely mouth seemed fixed in a permanent curve downward, but the charming sprinkle of freckles across her nose made her seem less forbidding, more approachable. Or as approachable as anyone could be while pointing a rifle.


When I’m reading, I tend to look for stories that start off with a bang. So that’s how I started this story.

Is it too abrupt? I know some people like stories that develop gradually over the course of the novel.

When History Meets Romance

Reynolds_Coussmaker

Portrait of an English soldier, by Reynolds

Truth lies not in the accounts but in the account books. – Josephine Tey, Daughter of Time

I had a lot of fun researching the Oregon Border Dispute when I was writing The English Lieutenant’s Lady. (Yes, I’m a geek. I like research.) Specifically, I searched for information about the two spies: a pair of British Army officers named Lieutenants Vavasour and Warre. The Colonial Office sent them to Oregon from Montreal, with instructions to pass as gentlemen of leisure on a scenic tour. Their mission was to evaluate the territory and its population to determine whether the British should declare war against America to defend their claim to the land.

The two men travelled across the continent to the Pacific coast, where they tried to purchase the aptly named Cape Disappointment. Failing at that, they went up the Columbia River and then the Willamette, evaluating sites for potential forts and even drawing up a plan to occupy the only town of any size in the area, Oregon City.

My story focuses on a character based on one of the actual lieutenants, Vavasour, and a fictional woman from the Oregon Territory. At least, I thought she was fictional. But looking through the records, there is evidence that the lieutenant was involved with someone while on his mission.

fullsizeoutput_115Looking through the accounts of items purchased by Vavasour at Fort Vancouver, I found evidence that he purchased not only the standard supplies he would need for his stay in the territory, food and such, he also made some intriguing additional purchases. He purchased a pair of ladies shoes and several yards of gauzy material. On a couple occasions he purchased hair ribbons.

All these purchases went on the official record. He was given an allowance to buy what he needed for his mission, and he included these items in the list. Therefore, it is logical to assume he was prepared to justify the act of buying ladies shoes and fripperies as being required for his mission.

Hmmmn… supplies for his mission? Ladies shoes and hair ribbons? Even if I weren’t a romance novelist I would be starting to suspect that love was in the air.

The British in Fort Vancouver held a ball during this time, as well as putting on several plays. Festivities, in other words. Events for which a lady would need special clothes… hmmmmm…

The back cover description: The English Lieutenant’s Lady

180 The English Lieutenant_s Lady 1800x2700“I’m not your enemy.” He held her gaze, willing her to believe that lie.

It’s 1845. Britain and America both claim the Oregon Territory, and neither side is willing to back down. As the two nations prepare for war, the British government sends Lieutenant Geoffrey Montgomery to Oregon City on a confidential mission. Doing his duty means lying to everyone—including the woman who catches his attention the moment they meet.

Lia Griggs needs to find a home for herself and her nephew. She has the chance to carve a niche for herself in Oregon City—so long as she is prepared to hide her past from everyone, even the Englishman who quickly becomes her friend and ally… and more.

To survive, Geoff and Lia both need to pretend to be someone they’re not. The last thing either of them wants is to fall in love. And as the threat of war grows stronger, choosing to stay together could cost them everything they have.

Cover Reveal: The English Lieutenant’s Lady

180 The English Lieutenant_s Lady 1800x2700

Behold! This is the cover for my new book, The English Lieutenant’s Lady. The cover was done by Cover Shot Creations. It’s quite a good representation of Lia, the heroine.

It was more problematic to include a picture of Geoff, the hero. You’ve probably figured out that he’s the English lieutenant mentioned in the title. The trouble is that in the novel he’s not in uniform, because he’s spying on the Americans in the Oregon Territory.

I thought it would be confusing to see him wearing ordinary clothes of the period, but it would be inaccurate to show him wearing his uniform. And showing him not wearing any clothes at all might work for some types of romance novels, but definitely not for this one. So you’ll just have to imagine what he looks like, okay?

The time Britain and America almost went to war… in Oregon

Oregoncountry
In 1845, Britain and the United States were both considering going to war over which one of them had the right to claim the Oregon Territory. (Neither side seems to have bothered to consult the people actually living there at the time.)

The British wanted to claim the territory all the way down to the border with Mexican-held California. The Americans, on the other hand, wanted to claim the territory all the way up to the Russian-held Alaska. In map terms, they claimed the border was 40 minutes past the 54th parallel. Their motto was 54-40 or Fight. From their point of view, America needed this land, to provide room for the people coming west to settle. It was their right to claim it. This whole argument was what led to term ‘Manifest Destiny’ being coined.

The British didn’t have a catchy motto. They were mainly interested in the resources, such as lumber and furs. Thanks to the fashion in beaver hats dying out, that meant they really only wanted to hold onto the land for the trees. And they still had a whole lot of trees in Canada. Even so, they didn’t like the idea of giving up land, especially to the ex-colonials with whom they’d already gone to war twice in the last 70 years. The British government decided to send out a pair of army lieutenants on a confidential mission to investigate, see how much work it would take to make the territory defensible against the Americans.

That’s what led to me writing The English Lieutenant’s LadyI was fascinated by the idea of the British sending spies into Oregon, the more so as neither of these men were in any way professional spies. One was a general’s aide-de-camp, with a talent for watercolors. The other was an engineer. The two of them posed as tourists while they drew up plans to occupy Oregon City, build forts on the Columbia river, and keep the Americans out. What if one of them also fell in love while he was in Oregon? There is documentation to support this possibility.

I read through a lot of historical documents while researching the Oregon Border Dispute. Though even as a complete history nerd, I still think it’s a bit extreme to have a coat made up of headlines dealing with this issue.

Time for a Fairy Godmother

Plate facing page 050 of Fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen (Walker)

And indeed there will be time…
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Arthur Prufrock

I am making progress on my revisions for The English Lieutenant’s Lady.
It just doesn’t feel like it.
Seriously, I am getting close to done. Well, as close as ever I get. Close to muttering imprecations under my breath and calling it Done so I don’t have to look at it any longer. I’ve got a couple of chapters revised on my Victorian romance, which is going slower than it should be, mostly because I’m 40% done with the rough draft of The-Story-I-Shouldn’t-Be-Working-On-Yet.
Mind you, according to the schedule I’d optimistically drawn up a few months ago, I should be finished with all of these stories and just typing The End on a story that I’ve been dreaming of for–well, for longer than I want to admit.
So many stories, so little time. I wish there were such a thing as a fairy godmother, who could wave a wand and find a way for me to pay the bills and keep NotMyCat fed without having to work at a day job.