A few months ago, I rewrote my novella Rescuing Rita and turned it into the novel, Rewriting Rita. Rita is now twice as long. But since Rita is technically the sequel to Stealing Mercy, and since Mercy was my first self-published novel, I decided to give Mercy another read-through before re-publishing Rita.
I've learned a lot since I first published Mercy nearly six years ago. But one thing I haven't quite figured out is how to make every scene magical. If I could somehow recreate that flash of a really great idea with every scene, I'd never have to stare at a blank computer screen again.
I remember exactly where I was sitting when the idea for this scene came to me. I couldn't wait to get home and capture it. Rereading it all these years later, I still love it. Here it is: Stealing Mercy, chapter 13.
The bell tower struck three as she hurried down the path with the tarts hidden beneath a cloth in the basket she carried over her arm. The May sun burned warm, clouds skittered across the sky with the light breeze, for once there wasn’t a hint of rain. It would have been a lovely day for a carriage ride, but if Mercy’s plan worked, as she hoped it would, Eloise would not spend the afternoon in Mr. Steele’s carriage.
Standing on the porch, Mercy fought back her worry. She rapped so hard on the front door that she bruised her knuckles.
Laurel, Eloise’s maid, opened the door and curtsied. “Good afternoon, Miss.”
“Good day, Laurel.” Her voice sounded steady. Grateful wracking nerves were inaudible, Mercy took a deep breath to steady herself and asked for Eloise. She trailed after Laurel to the sitting room.
Mercy glanced at the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Carol hanging above the fireplace mantle and took a seat on the divan. In her imaginations, she felt the cold gaze of Mr. Carol. You should be thanking me, she told him.
She’d learned from Eloise that Mr. Carol, a man with stern set to his lips and a rigid jaw, had uncompromising views on womanhood and marriage and Eloise’s inability to choose a suitor and settle down had caused such a frustration that after Eloise’s third broken engagement Mr. Carol had shipped his only daughter off to live under her brother’s eagle eye. Mercy prayed that Eloise wouldn’t choose Mr. Steele for her next fiancé, but, just in case God wasn’t listening Mercy’s prayers, Mercy had made tarts. Tarts that would ensure Eloise would spend the afternoon in her bed. Mercy knew proud, arrogant and filled with self-importance Mr. Steele wouldn’t take kindly to being stood up. The Lord helps those who help themselves, she rationalized, but she wasn’t sure if the Lord would approve of friends drugging friends.
Mercy jumped to her feet when she heard footsteps in the hall. Her heart sped when she recognized the voices.
“She’s a pretty little filly,” Trent said. “Long legs. She may be more temperamental than you’d like.”
“Good teeth?” Miles asked.
Horses, Mercy breathed. They’re talking about horses. She tucked the basket behind her, the tarts were for Eloise only. She tried to sit still so that the men wouldn’t notice her. When the front door opened and then closed and the two men’s voices floated through the open window, she let out a sigh of relief. Please let them go far away, she prayed.
She whirled to see Eloise standing in the doorway. Her friend wore a green cotton dressed piped with a yellow silk trim and a trying-to-be-polite-expression on her face. Mercy took note that the men’s conversation had stopped when Eloise had spoken her name.
“You look so pretty,” Mercy said, hoping her tone could convince Eloise she had not come to restart last night’s argument.
Eloise’s stiff back didn’t loosen an inch.
Mercy took a step forward. “I brought you a tart, two actually, to sweeten my apology.”
“Apology?” Eloise lifted an eyebrow and looked skeptical.
Mercy nodded. “I know I shouldn’t listen, or spread gossip…It’s wrong and I’m sorry.”
Eloise sniffed and looked a little mollified. “You wouldn’t even tell me who had told you those lies.”
“You know the saying, a cruel story runs on wheels, and every hand oils the wheels as they run.” Mercy lifted the cloth off the basket and released a warm, fragrant puff of air. “I didn’t want to get gossip-oil on my hands, but, I know you’re bright, intelligent, and completely capable of forming your own judgments. I’m sorry I tried to sway you.”
Eloise took a step closer, licked her lips and looked into the basket at the two tarts. “Are you going to eat also?”
Mercy shook her head. “I’ve had plenty. They were something of an experiment.” She thought of Tilly snoring in the sewing room, her head slumped onto the table and nestled in a pile of blue surge cotton.
Eloise looked down at her dress. “Maybe I should wait until after my ride.”
“Oh please, they’re so much better when warm. Just one bite,” Mercy said, knowing that one bite would almost certainly lead to another. “It’s a new recipe I’ve just made and I’d like your opinion.”
Although, Tilly had enjoyed her tart.
“Perhaps if I’m careful not to get crumbs on my dress,” Eloise murmured as Mercy used a piece of linen to draw out the tart. Golden brown fluted crust, blackberries swirled in a creamy pudding--Mercy cradled her creation in her outstretched hand. It looked and smelled like edible heaven.
“Please take one,” Mercy said. “Then I’ll know that you’ve truly forgiven me for being a bossy, nosy gossip monger.”
“And a preachy priss,” Eloise added choosing the blackberry. “Oh, it’s still warm.”
“Fresh from the oven, because this preachy priss loves you.”
Eloise took one bite and then another. “I love you, too,” she sighed, her eyes rolling in delight.
Mercy wrapped her arm and around Eloise’s waist and led her to the divan.
“This is so yummy, are you sure you don’t want some?” Eloise asked, settling down and looking up at Mercy.
“So sure,” Mercy said.
“But you brought two.”
“Because I didn’t know if you preferred blackberry or rhubarb.”
Eloise touched her fingers to her lips. “You’re almost as sweet as this tart.”
Almost, Mercy thought.
A door opened and footsteps in the hall signaled the return of Miles and Trent.
Eloise patted the divan with one hand and ate the tart with the other. “Sit with me?” she asked with blackberry stained teeth.
“No, sweetie.” Mercy listened to the men’s footsteps and voices moving down the hall. As much as she wanted to stay to ensure the oil from the snapdragon seeds worked their magic, she didn’t want to meet Trent, Miles or especially Mr. Steele. “I told Aunt I’d only be gone a minute.”
“But you just got here. I need a hen chat.”
“Tomorrow, on the way to the ball you can tell me all about your drive with Mr. Steele.”
Eloise leaned back into the divan, her eyes dreamy. “Hmm, Mr. Steele.” She gave Mercy a lopsided grin and Mercy smiled back, wondering if she should tell Eloise that she had a smear of blackberry cream on her chin.
Miles stood in the hallway. Disappointment mingled with relief when she saw he was alone. Trent had gone. She despised being muddled and Trent made her feel upside down. If she didn’t want to see him then why was she so disappointed to find Miles alone? After a moment, she decided that she didn’t want to see Trent because she knew that he could ferret out her plan. If he knew what she’d done, he would think poorly of her. He had a knack for seeing through her.
The guilt returned and Mercy mentally argued it away. What should I have done? I could not tell Eloise I have a previous history with Steele nor could I stand by and watch her throw herself at him. Mercy sighed while the guilt twisted. She picked up her basket and turned to face Miles. She didn’t worry that Miles might suspect her laced tarts.
“Miles,” Mercy said, coming toward him. “How lovely to see you. I wish I could stay longer, but as I was just telling Eloise, I’m afraid my aunt needs me at the shop.” She’s sound asleep and there’s no one minding the store. After one last look at Eloise, who sat on the divan, touching a linen napkin to her lips, Mercy brushed past Miles on her way to the door.
“Perhaps I could walk you,” Miles offered, falling into step beside her.
“Oh.” Mercy thought for a moment. “But, won’t you need to be here when Mr. Steele arrives?”
Miles opened the front door and frowned. A breeze blew in and circled the foyer. It carried with it the scents of a late spring afternoon and Mercy itched to be on her way.
“I’d be happy to drive Miss Faye home,” Trent stood on the porch, to the left of a pillar, backlit by the sun. When he spoke, Mercy tripped over the threshold and landed wrong, her foot twisting beneath her. Trent caught her arm and held her for a moment against him. He smelled of leather and something she couldn’t define. After letting her go, he bent to retrieve the basket that had fallen to her feet.
“Mr. Michaels, you startled me.” She could see him assessing the basket that she took from him and crooked over her arm. She held it tightly against her body, shielding it. On the street, she could see his chestnut colored horses tied to a buggy. They pawed the ground and shook the reins that held them to the hitching post. “I wouldn’t want to take you out of your way,” Mercy hedged.
“Not at all,” Trent motioned toward his buggy.
Mercy shot Miles an apologetic glance over her shoulder as Trent led her to the front gate. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the ball,” she told Miles.
“Until then,” Miles replied, looking huffy as he followed her to the buggy. She let him hand her up and she settled beside Trent and tucked the basket beneath her skirts.
Since she’d be riding as opposed to walking, the threat of passing Mr. Steele vanished. Perhaps the extra time would allow her to double check on Eloise, to ensure the snapdragon oil had safely put her to sleep. Compared to Tilly’s girth, Eloise was a tiny thing and more susceptible to the drug, but she really wanted to make sure.
“Oh dear,” Mercy sighed. “I believe I’ve forgotten my wrap.” The guilt raised its head and Mercy disliked how easily the lies, fast and furious, came to her lips.
Trent moved to jump from the buggy.
Mercy stopped him. “No. Let me. I’ll just be a moment.” She climbed down and hurried up the front walk. Through an open window she could see Eloise sprawled on the divan, her head rolled back, her mouth open, and her eyes closed. Satisfied, Mercy returned to the buggy.
“You know, I just remembered I’d left my wrap at home.” Lies, lies, lies. At this rate, she’d need to speak with Pastor Klum. She looked up to find Trent standing beside the buggy, his hand outstretched, waiting to help her up. And then she noticed it…the unmistakable scent of rhubarb.
She let him help her up while watching his face for signs of duplicity. Once seated on the bench, she nudged the basket with her toe. Empty. She looked to make sure.
Her back stiffened with the horrible conclusion. “You ate my tart.” The words blurted out of her. She covered her mouth with her hand, equally horrified at her rudeness and the potentially awkward situation she now faced.
“Your tart?” He slapped the reins and the horses moved down the street.
Her voice sounded strangled. “I made tarts for Eloise.”
“Did she enjoy them?”
“She enjoyed one. The other is missing.”
Trent chuckled. “Are you seriously accusing me of stealing your tart?”
Her mouth fell open. “You must have!” she finally said.
“I promise you, I wouldn’t take your tart without your permission.”
She sniffed. “But—” Knowing she sounded insulting she fixed her lips together and leaned back against the cushion and watched Trent as he guided the horses down Olympic hill. “I’m sorry, of course you wouldn’t take my tart.” Another lie.
She looked at him through the corner of her eye. His teeth looked clean. He gave her a quizzical look and she flushed. What would he think of her staring at his mouth?
More importantly, what would she do if he fell asleep before they reached Lily Hill? She imagined him slumped against her, his head lying in her lap. She watched him handling the reins. He held all four in his hand, loosely, and the horses trotted obediently along. She’d never driven a buggy, never ridden a horse; it didn’t look difficult. But, Lily Hill lay on the other side of town. They’d have to pass through the business section, where she’d have to navigate around wagons, buggy’s, pedestrians, perhaps children or small animals that could dart beneath the buggy’s wheels. She couldn’t very well parade through town with Trent dozing, his head on her lap.
“Thank-you for your trust,” he said, his mouth a straight line, not a trace of rhubarb scent on his breath.
“You’re welcome.” She watched him, looking for signs of sleep.