Polygamy or Monogamy?

I don’t know of any writers who didn’t start out as avid readers. I can clearly remember standing in front of my kindergarten class reading The Three Little Pigs out loud for a star on my reading paper. Sometime after that, I had to stay home because I was sick, and my mom bought me a hardback copy of Black Beauty. You know, those slick covered books like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys were published in? Yeah, that kind of hardback. I didn’t know the name Rob Roy, or the significance of a horse with that name in the story, but I loved every word.

I started out monogamous to one book at a time. I was young and had shoulders and arms that were uninjured, so I could take my book with me just about everywhere. Slowly, that changed, because I developed a need to read at any moment. Especially in the bathroom. Sometimes at someone else’s house, I would be so desperate to not waste the 4 minutes while I peed that I would read the labels on their shampoo or air freshener.

Then it started to be an issue to carry a book to the dining room at dinner time, and remember to take it back to the bed room. So I would have one book in the bathroom, one in the dining room, and one in the bedroom.

The next phase started when I rode public transportation more often, and when I spent oodles of time waiting somewhere for someone. I carried paperbacks with me at all times. I looked for free books everywhere, picked them up for pennies at the thrift stores, and traded with friends.

A quick aside, I loved getting beautiful hardbacks for a dollar or so at the thrift stores, but occasionally I would cause myself more frustration than anything. I got a hardback copy, a read hardback with a dust jacket and everything, of Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Mirror of Her Dreams, book 1 in the Mordant’s Need series. Score! But I never, ever found the second book, A Man Rides Through, in hardback and had to settle for an uneven match there.

I joined Romance Writers of America and after one year or so of just hanging out, volunteered to be in charge of the used book sales. (Sadly, due to tax laws and other grumpy things, we can no longer sell anything at the meetings) I hauled several crates to and from each meeting every month. And I found many many many romances that looked good, at 3 for a dollar. I still have some of those, unread nearly 20 years later. Even with reading multiple books, I can’t keep up with what I want to read.

Now we are in the wonderful age of an entire library full of books on a small device weight a few ounces to a pound. My husband and I each got a Nook. Then we put Nook and Kindle apps on our smart phones. And we got a tablet which also has both apps. I can’t leave home without a book.

So here is my current reading list: Well, I can’t leave out Scribophile where I am reading and crititquing many stories. And I can do this on my breaks at work too. On my phone, I am reading Mr. Donaldson’s The Power that Preserves, the last book in the first trilogy of the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. On the tablet, I am reading Book 4, The Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon in her Outlander series. In the bedroom, I have a collection of short stories, romances, by some pretty good authors. In the bathroom, I have Shadow Heart by Laura Kinsale. And Mike is reading Cryoburn to me at night, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books being one of our shared loves. We read the whole series in the last few months from start to finish, in chronological order, and will have to choose another series in a month or so. We’ve done most of the Terry Pratchett Discworld series, and some Neil Gaiman books, as well as other unusual things that strike our fancy.
Besides these enthralling stories, I have The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd at work for trips to the ladies’ room that are going to take more than a few minutes. And for my commute, I listen to audio books, currently a second listening to Up in The Air by Walter Kirn. Next up when I finish that set is About a Boy.

So there you have it, I am no longer monogamous thanks to the temptation of so many available books in various formats. I started a thread with this theme on Scribophile, and amazingly, the answers were as varied as the wonderful people on that site. Some people are loyal to one book at a time, some can’t stand to stay true for very long.

Looking forward to any feedback you wish to share! Have a good week.


You Can’t Hide Your Ergo Eyes

**Disclaimer** I am not a doctor or a physical therapist. When you experience pain, you need to seek professional help. If you have had injuries in the past, consult a doctor or PT before establishing an exercise routine. Please don’t sue me.

These days, we know better than to separate any part of the body and treat those symptoms. My tendonitis actually started with overuse of my shoulder that caused everything to tighten and pull. My thigh was hurting because I have degenerative disc syndrome. Each part had to be strengthened and exercised to cure the over-all condition.

Eyes also need to be considered as part of a whole, such as your head and neck. Eye strain related to computer use can cause headaches, stiff necks, and dry eyes.

Personally, I hope my eyesight stays with me for a very long time. My family history included cataracts, but surgery is keeping up with that problem. Also glaucoma, but losing weight and keeping my blood sugar in line has slowed the progress there. I have two pairs of glasses, one for computer work and one for distance and reading.

A valuable lesson I learned from all the ergonomic training I have been involved with is to take a visual break every 20 to 30 minutes. Look up from your book, sewing machine, screen, chalk board, whatever, and look as far away as possible. Allow your eyes a few minutes to adjust focal range. While doing this, you might want to do a few shoulder rotations and stretches from last week’s blog. Then cup your hands and place them over your eyes. Obviously you will need to remove glasses or any eye wear. Does anyone wear monocles these days? DO NOT apply pressure to your actual eyeballs. What you want to do is create a portable darkness that will allow your eyes to relax completely, as when you sleep. So lids closed, darkness in place, count to thirty, and enjoy the retinal light show.

Here’s what the pros have to say: http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/ergonomics.htm

Another issue I deal with is hunching forward. I have a well-rounded figure, so checking on my posture now and then is part of my routine. Some of the consequences of my tendonitis included a tendency to hunch over, so that laying flat on the floor helped stretch things out. Even more so, a fat tube of foam of some kind laid along my spine let me stretch my shoulders back farther. Gravity assisted until it hurt, but each time the pain stayed away longer and longer. I used this position also to bring my knees up to my side, left to right, then right to left. This stretch is excellent for back muscles and tendons.

This Running Times article looks at the foam roller for working kinks out of muscles. Good use for it when you aren’t stretching: http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-treatment/almost-magical-foam-roller

The first part of this video shows the position of the foam roller that I used. I didn’t move my arms up and down as this person does, but just stretched to the side and let them hang there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nJ9ON9wbzc

We must be sure to know safe practices when it comes to eye wear. Thanks to my husband Mike, I have a pair of safety eye shields that fit over my glasses. I use them when building aviaries or even cleaning out cage trays. So far I haven’t done anything dangerous as far as writing goes, however. But here’s a link to some very good information about eye safety. http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/living/preventing-eye-injuries.cfm
And that reminds me, as the page lists eye injuries from home improvement projects and such, I know one person who injured her eye when her toothbrush slipped, and another who did the same thing with a wooden mixing spoon. Maybe we should just wear eye protection all the time?

Well, believe it or not, you have muscles that work tirelessly in your eye area. Strengthening them can help you stay focused and injury free for years. I have a type of dyslexia (are there more than one type? I will look at that shortly) where my eyes don’t like to look at the same place at the same time. I can’t follow a straight line across a page or wall. My glasses are huge and correct for this. Also I have one lazy eye that lets the other one do all the work. These eye exercises will pretty much solve most of my problems, if I can get in the habit of doing them daily: http://www.wikihow.com/Exercise-Your-Eyes

And yes, there are several different types of dyslexia, and as I learned to read well, out-loud and to myself, we will assume that I loved reading enough to overcome this problem. Spelling, on the other hand, is a different matter. http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia

To wrap this up, I will leave you with some positive quotes regarding writing:

“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
—Catherine Drinker Bowen

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
—Elmore Leonard

“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD

All of these and more can be found on the Writers’ Digest web page:

Have a fantastic week!

Ergonomics for Writers

**Disclaimer** I am not a doctor or a physical therapist. When you experience pain, you need to seek professional help. If you have had injuries in the past, consult a doctor or PT before establishing an exercise routine. Please don’t sue me.

In my real life job, I occasionally evaluate staff for ergonomic equipment and posture. I then suggest to the managers any such equipment that could help the staff member avoid long term repetitive strain injury. Having myself endured tendinitis and arthritis, ways to combat and relieve pain are essential elements of my life as a writer.

I am on the computer for much of my work day. On breaks, I critique for friends on Scribophile. I go home and play a few games on Facebook, answer posts, and then work on this blog or my parrot blog, my weekly weight-loss support group report, bulletins for my two Scribophile groups, and on the weekends I write on my own book. Throw in the occasional game of solitaire, and you see I spend about 90% of my time mousing or typing. If I am going to continue to have the use of my arms and hands for these pastimes, I find it imperative that I do exercises and stretches to maintain bone and muscle function.

Here’s a good, over-all, discussion of Typing and Ergonomics: http://www.typingtest.com/blog/ergonomics-and-the-dark-side-of-touch-typing/

Trivia Time: Do you know why keyboards use the “qwerty” formation? Bonus points for knowing where the name “qwerty” came from. 8) Answer at the end, unless I forget.

Fingers and Hands: Teach yourself to type gently. Old typewriters needed a bit of muscle behind the keystroke to work, but our wonderful modern machines are much more touch sensitive. In fact, occasionally one of my birds will land on the keyboard and type something that surprises me. My lovebird Jake liked to land full force on the Windows key and cause no end of cuss words to spew from my lips. Good thing I love him.

This site: http://www.rocmd.com/conditions-treated/wrist/ has this display of hand exercises, which are what my PT had me doing a while ago.

Hand ergo

Another key to strong hands is to keep the keyboard clean. I’m not so strict as to prohibit food or drink at the computer. But I also keep napkins and tissues at hand, so that accidental spills can be quickly cleaned. The birds are not allowed on the keyboard, which makes them more determined to get there, but they never get to stay for long.

While we’re on the subject of hands, your mouse needs to be the right size for yours. And you can teach yourself to mouse with the off hand, your non-dominant hand. The settings for the mouse can be reconfigured to support this change, and it will give your dominant hand a rest.

Arms, Shoulders, Neck: Pinched neck vertebrae run in my family. So keeping my neck and shoulders in good shape should be a higher priority for me, and possibly one of the reasons I chose this subject for the blog is because I needed to remind myself of that fact. This site has all the exercises anyone needs for wrist, arm, shoulder, and neck stretches and exercises: https://sites.google.com/site/activecarephysiotherapyclinic/ergonomic-exercises

At work, I posted some exercises that can be done while making copies. Our copiers are much faster these days, and I don’t think anyone sees the sheet anymore. Most of these exercises are designed to be performed at work, but if you work at home or don’t stop working once you get home, these are just as important for you as for any office clerk.

By the way, arm rests on chairs and wrist rests on keyboards and mice are not good for you. Really. They can cause pressure on some of the joints that are most vulnerable. You can rest your elbow or wrist there between typing but don’t leave your arm or hand in that position while working. Remember to move your whole hand while mousing, not just the fingers. This is why I have a track ball mouse, it’s less strain on my arm and shoulder. Most sites are going to suggest lots of padding to make the arm rests good for you, but really, you don’t need arm rests. Most people get lazy and lean over on one or the other.

Posture: This is a good place to stop and talk about posture. But first we need to talk about your monitor. When you sit straight in your chair, feet flat on the floor, arms extended and hands on the keyboard, look directly ahead of you. Your eyes should be looking at a spot about two inches below the very top of your monitor. If you are looking at the middle of it, your monitor is too high. If you are looking over your monitor, it’s too low. If you think about it, bending your neck forward is much more comfortable than bending your neck back. This posture will compress vertebrae, and that’s not good.

When you reach out an arm, your monitor should be about 3 inches beyond that, but this depends on how tall you are because that determines the length of your arm. No, really! A person who is 6 feet tall will have a 6 foot arm span, fingertip to fingertip. There are always exceptions, but this is a general rule. The monitor should be 20 to 30 inches in front of you.

You need a foot rest if your feet can’t set comfortably on the ground. Your ear, shoulder, elbow, and hip will line up if your posture is correct. Your elbow will bend at a 45 degree angle. Your chair seat will be long enough to comfortably support your thighs, but will give you a couple inches of room behind the knees. Your chair must have good lumbar support as well.

And the most counter-intuitive tip of all, don’t use the silly little legs that manufacturers put on the top edge of your keyboard. Your hands naturally curve downward. If you can elevate the edge closest to you slightly, you will be better off. If you extend those legs, your hand will curve upward, and the result will most likely be injuries.


I’m going to close with this site that has back strengthening exercises, and next week look at a few more issues in this topic. http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/posture-straighten-your-back

Oh, and (qwerty) you may know is the first six keys left to right on the top row of letter keys on the keyboard. And it was developed to prevent the keys from jamming on the earliest typewriter. Not necessarily to slow the typist down, because amazing speed records have been attained, but to prevent the jams from most often used letters that were next to each other. Studies show that this design allows for faster typing due to the alternating of hands in creating words. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QWERTY

The Harp, Part Two

Setting down the tray, the butler allowed Miss Nichols to pour, and turned his attentions to lighting the fire. Max fidgeted with his watch fobs, watching Maggie’s slim hands stir cream and sugar into his tea. He hated cream and sugar in his tea, but accepted the cup without a word. The mixture tasted better than he supposed it would. At last Campbell headed for the door. Max stopped him.

“There is a harp out in the garden. Have it brought in, would you?”

“I will see to it, my lord.” The butler slipped long enough to send a curious glance at Maggie, and then he bowed and left.

Max turned back to the desk, and once more could see the departed Mr. Nichols sitting there. He squinted, and concentrated. The figure picked up the letter opener, and inserted it into a groove at the back of the standish, between the inkpots. Something clicked. The entire top of the desk slid back, revealing an inner compartment. Completely undetectable.

“Lord Bridewell? Are you feeling ill?” Maggie put a hand on his arm.

“I may be, Maggie, and you must call me Maxwell. Or even Max if you do not dislike it.” He moved to the desk, and studied the standish. He tried to pick it up. “This is bolted to the desk!”

“Yes. Grandfather sailed with the Merchant Marines in his youth. He brought the desk back from some ship or other.”

Nothing for it but to try. Max grasped the letter opener, and put it in the groove. Something clicked. “Aha! That scheming old goat!”

“I beg your pardon!”

The desk top slid toward them, away from where a person sitting at the desk would be. Max hastened around to the proper side, and looked into the compartment. A dozen or so small velvet bags filled the space.

“What is it? What have you found?” Maggie reached impatiently past him, and picked up one of the black bags. She opened the draw‑string top, and dumped the contents out on the desk top. “My goodness!”

“Diamonds. Large, perfect diamonds.”

She scrambled to put the gems back in the bag. “What shall we do? My grandfather stole and smuggled diamonds!”

“You don’t know that! They could have been obtained legally.” Max heard the lack of conviction in his own words.

“Turner found out, and blackmailed him for a share in the profits.”

“Nichols must have been holding out on him, and he knew it.”

“He demanded more money, and when Grandfather refused‑”

Maggie gasped as the library door opened, and Campbell entered with the harp.

Max snapped the desk lid back into place, and glared at the hapless butler. “Thank you, Campbell. That will be all.”

Maggie walked to the fireplace, shivering again. Max joined her as soon as they were alone, wishing he could find an excuse for holding and comforting her.

“G‑grandfather always struck me as something of a rogue. Beneath his respectable exterior beat the heart of a pirate.”

Pirate and rogue. Maxwell sucked in his breath, and heard Nichols’ voice saying, “You’re as much a rogue as I am, lad. Must explain why I’m so fond of you.”

He glared around the room, sure that the old man’s ghost watched him, and dropped clues when he felt like it. “Damn it, man! We need proof if we are to catch Turner.”

Maggie’s startled expression let him know his behavior had gotten out of hand. He walked away from her, and stared at the harp that took up a good portion of the room. “You can play this beast, then?”

“Would I have risked my life to get it otherwise?” She walked to the instrument and caressed the strings. “After the rough handling you gave it, the strings need tuning.”

He watched as she pulled a delicate chair over, and set about this task. He returned to the desk, and sat down.

Something about the harp appeared off, and he studied it. The top finial looked lop‑sided. Probably damaged when he lowered the harp to the ground. He would pay to have it repaired. Maggie must let him do that much for her.

“Maxwell Random, I’m ashamed of you!”

Max looked over his shoulder at the faint image of Bernard Nichols. “I found the diamonds, didn’t I?”

“I have to show you everything.” Bernard shook his transparent head and walked to the harp. He paused a moment to place a kiss on his granddaughter’s head, then casually knocked the top finial off the harp.

“Oh!” Maggie jumped up, sending her chair back. Bernard faded away.

“In the harp?” Max asked no one in particular as he approached the instrument.

“What’s in the harp?” Maggie narrowed her dark eyes at him.

“Only one way to find out.” He tipped the ponderous thing toward him, and looked inside.

“Do you see anything?” She tried to push him out of the way, but he hung on.

“There is something.” He reached inside and grasped what looked like an envelope. It came out easily, without tearing. Maggie snatched it from him, and opened it. He stepped close behind her, slipping his arm around her shoulder so he could read too.

“Bills of sale,” she said with relief. The diamonds are paid for.”

Max took one and examined the receipt. “Looks legal. But now how do we explain the murder?”

To his surprise, Maggie handed him the rest of the papers, and sat down at her harp. In moments, the room filled with the gentle, sweet sounds of her playing. Max found himself relaxing, and his ideas began to make sense.

“We need to talk to Turner. He has all the answers.”

Without missing a note, Maggie nodded.

Campbell tapped at the door and entered. “The carriage is ready, my lord.”

Max looked at the clock, and went to the desk. He scribbled a hasty note, and sealed it. “Have this delivered to Mr. Hannifly. He will no doubt be asleep, but it is urgent that the note reach him immediately.”

“Very good, my lord.”

“Maggie, we’re going to see Mr. Turner.” Maxwell opened the shallow secret compartment once more, and extracted one of the bags. “If he has all the answers, we must convince him to share them with us.”

Miss Nichols stopped playing and stared at him for a whole moment. Max feared she would refuse to come with him. Then she jumped up. “You are not an idiot, my lord, and I am sorry I ever said that.”

Grinning like a fool, Max took her arm and led her out to the entry hall. Campbell had fetched the earl’s hat and coat from the garden, which caused Maxwell to study Maggie.

“You came out in this weather without a cloak or at least a pelisse?”

“I could not handle the harp in bulky clothing. I did not expect to spend a night on the roof.” She glared at him and crossed her arms. “I’m not cold.”

Campbell gave a discreet, butler‑like cough. “I believe your lordship’s opera cape would suit your guest.”

“Perfect!” Max beamed at servant and thief alike. Moments later, they were in the carriage and heading for Mr. Turner’s
shabby residence.

If Max’s new home appeared to be a Gothic monstrosity, Turner’s townhouse looked all too depressingly British. Once a
lovely Jacobean structure, little had been done in the last decade or so to restore the place. Max escorted Maggie to the
door, and knocked.

“What if he won’t see us?” she asked.

“He will.” He reached inside his pocket, and gripped the bag of diamonds. “I have something he wants.”

The tousle‑haired servant who opened the door to them stated he could not rouse his master at seven in the morning. Maxwell
displayed a pair of gold crowns. The servant found he had been meaning to give his notice in any case.

Inside, the house attested to better treatment than the outside. Fine furnishings, luxurious fabrics and elegant
knickknacks met them at every turn. The small parlor they waited in could have been found in any of the best homes in London.

“The scoundrel,” Maggie hissed. “This is my fortune going
to keep him in high style.”

Max laughed softly. “You will be so well off from the sale of the diamonds that you won’t even miss this money.”

“I’ll miss my grandfather, no matter how rich I am.” Her grim expression told Max that she had deep feelings with which
she hadn’t dealt.

“I miss him, too. We’ll see that Turner gets his punishment, don’t fret.”

When the door opened, Mr. Turner looked into the room with every sign of wanting to be elsewhere. As he stepped in, Maxwell
went to shake his hand.

“Sorry to wake you, Turner. I found this person breaking into my house. She told me some wild story about being thrown
out, and that the house you are renting to me is actually mine.”

The paunchy, ill‑shaved man glanced at Maggie, and gave a very unpleasant laugh. “Now, your lordship, how could I be
renting your own house to you? The girl must have escaped from Bedlam.”

“So I thought, until I found this in her possession.” Max did not risk a look at Maggie, trusting her to play along. He
pulled out the bag of diamonds and hefted them. “You will not believe what is in here!”

Turner swallowed, his gaze all but burning a hole in the bag. “You will find me an open‑minded soul, sir. Please, come
to the table and show me.”

Max followed to a high serving table, and gently poured the twenty or so perfect diamonds out onto a silver tray. “Gems of
the rarest purity. How do you suppose she came to have them?”

“Stolen, I dare say,” replied Turner. “Shall I send for the authorities, my lord?”

“You killed my grandfather!” Maggie played her part with brilliance, throwing back the opera cape and pointing at Turner.
“You have kept my inheritance from me.”

“Such a pity. Obviously the strain of her grandfather’s suicide had driven her insane.” The villain managed a look of
sympathy tinged with superiority.

“Then she is Bernard Nichols’ granddaughter? You acted as if you did not know her!” Maxwell scooped the diamonds up,
keeping his eye on Turner. “She resided in my house before I did. Therefore you must know her.”

“I‑I did not recognize her, at first. She has changed a great deal since I‑‑ ”

“Threw her out in the street? With only the clothes on her back?” Max tapped a finger on the table. “Why would you do
that, I wonder? Perhaps there is something in the house that you wish to find. Something you did not want to risk losing.”

Though the morning stayed cool, and no fire blazed in the grate, Turner began to sweat. “You misunderstand, my lord. I
needed time to prepare the house for you. I sent the child’s belongings to her.”

Maggie snorted, and crossed her arms, a gesture Maxwell began to see as typical of her. “Everything you sent had been
gone through, some of the clothing taken apart at the seams. You were looking for the diamonds.”

“But he hid them too well!” Turner looked amazed that a small part of the truth had slipped out. “Nichols refused to
trust me, he never told me where the diamonds were. I have been hard pressed keeping our customers waiting while I looked for

“Customers?” Max looked to Maggie, glad she held up under this confusion. “Explain yourself.”

Turner sighed, and gestured to the sofa. “Why do we not sit down and discuss this calmly?”

Once they were seated, Maggie close beside Max on the sofa, and Turner facing them in a chair, he sighed again.
“Nichols and I procured rare gems on the Continent for clients here in London. I dealt with the sales, Nichols did the
buying. He had a knack for getting excellent bargains, and we have been quite prosperous.”

“What changed?” Max asked. His hand tightened on Maggie’s,and she leaned slightly toward him.

“While Nichols bargained in Belgium last summer, I became acquainted with a certain lord who requested a large amount of
diamonds and sapphires. He desired a tiara and necklace designed for his wife. I knew we would not be able to help him until
Nichols returned, and I feared he would not wait very long.”

The room hushed, and Max held his breath. Turner looked at each of them, then continued. “The war prevented my partner from returning when expected. To keep this nobleman’s interest, I accompanied him to several gaming hells and clubs. I managed to loose heavily, and he bought all my vowels.”

“How much?” Maggie asked.

“Two thousand pounds, or so. I seem to have lost count.”

Maggie stood up and paced. “About the price of the gems he wanted, I would guess. Neatly done.”

“Yes. I could not tell Nichols, when he came back. He took ill, and he trusted me less than before. The nobleman grew
impatient, then began to threaten me. I did not know where to turn.” A look of abject despair accompanied these words. Max
almost believed him.

“You eventually had to tell my grandfather.” Maggie stopped near a window and looked out.

“The gentleman threatened to go to Nichols and demand his jewels.” Turner raised his head. “I hoped our years together
would count for something.”

“I cannot believe Mr. Nichols would not help you,” said Max.

“You are no doubt correct. However, I could not bring myself to tell him.” The confession seemed to come easily now to
the defeated Turner. “I tried to convince him to tell me where the gems were. I thought to return later and take only what I
needed, no more. But still he refused.”

Max became worried about Maggie. She looked like a marble statue, pale and still in the growing daylight. Her eyes burned
as she stared at Turner. “You did kill him. I think I hoped you would say you did not.”

He returned her look, haunted by things they could not see. “Madness is a most peculiar thing. A momentary madness, and then
things have gone too far to turn back. I have almost convinced myself that Nichols did commit suicide. I have no other friends,
you see. I miss him a great deal.”

“We have no choice but to give you over to the authorities,” Max told him gently.

“I feared as much.” Turner reached into a deep pocket of his rich brocade dressing gown, and extracted a pistol. “I
believe I would rather leave the country than be hung for murder. You do understand.”

“Quite.” Maxwell weathered the chill coursing down his back. Maggie had stepped so far away from him, he could not get
to her to protect her. “We will not keep you any longer.”

“No, but I think I would do much better with a traveling companion, such as Miss Nichols.” He stood and crossed to
Maggie, placing a hand on her shoulder.

While he hadn’t known Miss Maggie Nichols a long time, Maxwell Random knew she would not take such treatment well. He
looked to the pistol, aimed at her heart, and shuddered. The least jolting of Turner’s arm could set the thing off.

Just as Maggie pulled back, out of Turner’s grasp, Max took two quick steps and kicked. His booted foot connected with the
gun, sending it across the room. It did not go off when it landed, to Max’s relief. He sent a good right cross into
Turner’s jaw, and watched the man sink to the ground.

“Maggie! Are you all right, dearest?” He had her in his arms before she could react.

“I‑I am fine, my lord. How magnificent you are!” Her eyes shone with candid admiration, and something more that made his
heart beat a little faster.

The servant who had let them in entered with an air of apology. He glanced briefly at where his master lay on the
floor, then addressed himself to Max. “There is a Mr. Hannifly demanding to be let in, my lord. He has brought a Bow Street
Runner with him.”

Reluctant but resigned, Max released Maggie and told the servant to let the men in. He greeted James solemnly. “Mr.
Turner will no doubt go quietly. He has made a confession to us that he murdered Mr. Bernard Nichols, his partner.”

“I see.” James, with typical understatement, motioned to the runner. That jolly little man had been making notes in his
Occurrence Book, but he readily took charge of Turner. He roused the fallen man and led him away.

As silence settled over them, James coughed and looked pointedly at Max. Then he glanced at Maggie. “Ah! How remiss of me. Maggie, I present my closest friend, Mr. Hannifly. James, Miss Nichols, granddaughter of our late friend.”

“A pleasure, Miss.” James took her hand and bowed. “May I extend my deepest sympathies at your loss.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hannifly. I‑‑ Forgive me, I am quite disoriented now.”

Maxwell put his arm around Maggie and guided her back to the sofa. “I will have my man of business go over all the papers. I
will see your fortune restored, and you will no longer need to give harp lessons.”

“No.” She shook her head and looked up at him. “I don’t know what I shall do now.”

“I have an idea,” he answered, unable to stop the grin that pulled at his mouth.

“Ah. Well.” James blushed and moved hastily to the door. “Can’t let the horses stand, you know. I’ll call on you this
afternoon, Max.”

“See that you do, James. I will need a best man.”

As the door snapped shut, Maggie’s eyes widened. “You’ve gone mad! It’s contagious.”

“I hope so, I hope you are just mad enough to accept.”

“How can you want to marry me? We haven’t even known each other for a day!”

He placed a hand on her cheek, caressing the soft rose color that crept in. “I have known you since last summer, my dear.
Not a day passed but your grandfather related some tale about his dear Maggie. How you would play your harp for him when he had
the headache. How you loved fresh peas and detested ratafia.”

“You must have been bored,” she said. “He loved to scheme, but this is too much.”

He noticed she did not pull away from him. “When I saw you climbing up the side of my house, I knew. I could tell no other
woman would make me happy and keep me interested for a life time. Only you, Maggie. And when Turner held that pistol on you, when
I thought I’d lost you so soon, I did go mad. Will you marry me?”

“You are doing this out of a misplaced sense of responsibility. Grandfather gave you the idea. You will soon regret it.”

“I think not.”

“I’m willful and untidy. All my gowns are torn. I cannot dance or do needlework. I could not be a countess.” Her voice
raised in pitch, agitation clear in her blue eyes.

“You are just what I desire for my wife. A countess does not need to be tidy, unless she wishes it. I will teach you to
dance, we will hire one maid just to do needlework. And you can wear trousers if you wish. Nothing else matters.” Max leaned
forward and captured Maggie’s mouth with his. Moving his hand behind her head, he did not allow her to resist. The sweet
surrender when her mouth opened to him caused a singing in his ears.

“Ah, love. Nothing else matters,” he repeated when they paused to breath. “Say yes.”

“Yes, Max. But I have warned you.”

“Enough of that till you’re married,” Mr. Bernard Nichols growled in Max’s ear. “Impatient young pup!”

Max glanced over his shoulder. “I would think you would want me to have some reward for solving the mystery.”

Maggie tilted her head. “What reward do you want?”

“Careful,” Nichols said sharply. “She is a complete innocent.”

Turning away from Maggie, Max glared at the faint specter behind the sofa. “Aren’t you supposed to go rest in peace, now?
We can manage quite well, thank you.”

Nichols smiled and floated to the fireplace. “Haven’t decided yet if I should go. You might need me still. What are
you going to do with all those gems in the desk?”

“Hand them out to everyone who shows up at the door.” He looked at Maggie. She gazed at him as if he had grown another
head. “Here, why can’t she see you? She’s your granddaughter, after all.”

“Maggie is too practical. You are the dreamer. You will balance each other nicely.” Nichols did a graceful pirouette,

“I don’t like it. I wish you would leave.”

“Max, I had better get you home.” She placed a hand on his forehead. “You must have taken a chill on the roof.”

“Yes, my pet. I shall do as you say. You are the practical one.” Max stood up and walked to the door. “And someday, when
our lives have become dull and routine, I will tell you about seeing your grandfather tonight. How he helped me solve our

“What do you mean?”

“He showed me how to operate the latch in the desk. He knocked the finial off the harp.” Max considered the evening carefully. “No doubt he kept the fog off my street so I could see you climbing the drainpipe, and damaged my property to keep us on the roof.”

A faint chuckle came from the apparition. “Very clever, Maxwell. Very clever, indeed.”

Maggie tugged at Max’s wilted cravat, and loosened his shirt collar. “Take a deep breath, dear. You are just over excited.”

“Maggie, my love, I am fine.” He pulled her into his arms again. “Let me show you just how fine I feel.”

As they kissed once more, Maxwell could feel the resentment radiating from his invisible friend.

“Oh, Max. Everything is so wonderful with you.” She placed her head on his chest, moving closer into his embrace.
Max glanced over at Nichols, surprised to see the ghost smiling.

“She likes you well enough, and you like her, I think. My last plan went better than expected.” The deceased came and
placed a kiss on Maggie’s head, just as he had done before, then nodded to Max. “Keep her safe and happy, that is all I ask.
Goodbye, my friend. Remember me to my great‑grandchildren.”

“I will,” promised Max.

Bernard Nichols walked to the door and disappeared without a
backward glance.

“You will what, Max?”

“I will keep you safe and happy, my pet. I will tell our children about their great‑grandfather.”

“Max, now that we are rich, can we sell the Gothic house and buy a normal home?” Maggie looked up, uncertainty in her gaze.

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure. Why your esteemed ancestor built such a place, I will never understand.”

“That’s easy to explain. He did it for Grandmother.”

Max looked his question, and got the rest of the story.

“She loved to read novels, where the heroine is held in a Gothic castle. She thought life would always be exciting if she
lived in such a house.”

“So Nichols built this place to please his bride.” He knew the feeling. Right now Max would do just about anything to
satisfy Maggie.

“Well, actually, he built the house and then asked Grandmother to marry him. The Gothic castle gave him the edge
over her many suitors, and she accepted at once.” Maggie grinned at him. “They were very happy, too.”

“History is about to repeat itself,” he promised her. “Now, let’s go get a bishop out of bed, shall we?”

Laughing, his future bride took his arm and set off to make him the happiest man in London.