Victorian Frog Murder, Or December’s List.

I feel sure that I’ve used this graphic before, but it’s my favorite inexplicable Victorian holiday image — and it gives me such a tickle of violent joy that I could not resist repeating it.

December was, I am sorry to say, a spending orgy. Besides our annual gift shopping, I also spent significantly on the Christmas show I performed in. I bought fresh stage make-up, some hair accessories and a hair dryer, some costume jewelry, and four pairs of tights for the performances. I had already spent $600 on (completely optional) voice lessons earlier in the autumn, and then came all of the little extras this month — including drugstore items and parking at the theatre. I don’t have an exact total, but I spent something approaching $1000 to be in this show. Yes, it was totally worth it — and I loved every minute of it. But it was undeniably a pricey activity.

We also, partially because of my rehearsal and performance schedule, spent a ton on takeout. It was a spending failure all around, all month long. Over the past weekend, I even managed to forget to put the groceries away after a trip to Trader Joe’s! The frozen items acted as ice packs and kept the refrigerated foods safe, but as they thawed they became unsafe to eat and I had to throw them away. I’ve never done that before, and I felt like such an idiot!

However, I also:

  • Got a year of Martha Stewart Living for $5.49. I think I would pay more for a single issue at the store!
  • Only purchased a few gift bags and a single pack of tissue paper for wrapping. Everything else was leftover from previous years or reusable.
  • Saved peels from 2 bags of satsumas to make citrus vinegar for cleaning. It worked better than I expected and even diluted it removes hard water stains without scrubbing.
  • Used a 15% off coupon on eBay to buy some extremely Darth Marple red suede loafers for less than $20, including shipping. (Who knew eBay even had coupons?) I get many (if not most) of my shoes on eBay, usually very lightly used or new-in-the-box for a fraction of their normal retail cost. I have problematic feet, so I generally purchase the same brands again and again. Most of these have consistent fit, too, so I have no qualms about ordering them without trying them on.
  • Reviewed my fabric spending for the year and discovered that I actually stayed below my budget of $35 a month. I spent $353.44 in 2018, which works out to $29.45 a month. This is probably the first time I’ve come in under budget on this category, so I’m justifiably pleased with myself.
  • Rented “Mission Impossible: Fallout” for $0.99 on Google Play streaming with a coupon code.
  • Read six ebooks and five physical books from the library, and one free Kindle book. I also checked out a DVD. I spent $41.54 on other books (not counting gifts for others), which isn’t terrible considering my track record. I’m going to try to stick more firmly to a budget in the new year, but I’m also going to raise my book budget amount, as my current target is clearly not realistic for my reading habit.

I’m changing up these frugal lists in 2019 and will be unveiling a whole new kind of monthly recap post at the end of January. I’m going to be tracking all sorts of goals and intentions, rather than just how I save money. I’ll post my new set of goals within the next few days. I don’t think many of us will miss 2018, so I’m not going to belabor the point with any further reminiscence. Forward!

More like “2018 Make None,” amirite?

I discovered when reviewing my 2018 Make Nine list the other day that I had failed pretty spectacularly in accomplishing much on it. Reading the list literally, I made exactly one item: my beloved Suki Kimono.

I did try two different trousers patterns, neither of which went beyond the muslin stage due to fitting issues — and I did make an A-line dress from my Concord tee pattern, but not technically a swing dress. So I’m not sure either count as completed items.

I also knitted a few inches of progress on my Baktus scarf, but I’ve come to realize that I am no longer really a knitter. I do intend to finish this scarf, and I’m not ruling out knitting a hat or two in the future, but knitting is rough on my hands (pain-wise) and I don’t watch much TV these days, so I have less need for an “occupy my hands” hobby. Furthermore, if I’m going to be brutally honest about it, I was never very good at knitting. I’m also a very slow knitter, which always tried my patience. I intend to finish this scarf (eventually) and then let go of most of my yarn. I’m going to hang onto my favorite knitting tools, but I intend to knit very sparingly in the future.

I like the idea of the Make Nine challenge — and I did sew several things last year — so I’m going to attempt it again in 2019, only with rather different parameters (post coming in January).

A long list for October and November.

I somehow missed posting after October, but I’m back.

Things have been less than ideal lately. My partner had a death in his family this month, so a lot of things got derailed. I have been very overextended energy-wise, so I’ve been spending a lot more to compensate. Oh, well. Guilt isn’t going to improve the situation; only effort can do that.

Without further ado, in October and November I:

  • Downloaded a free Kindle First preview novel.
  • Bought a fantastic shower head for only $16. I read some random article on the best things you can do to upgrade a rental and it mentioned that this particular shower head was excellent, so I thought — at that price — that I would try it. One of the (many) irksome features of our flat was how awful the shower was. A combination of the cheapest and most terrible shower head imaginable plus low water pressure made for showers like standing under a lukewarm garden hose. I did try to fix the old shower head by soaking it in vinegar and removing the silt from it, but that only made it a slightly more vigorous garden hose experience. Since we renewed our lease again*, I decided to do as many inexpensive things as I can to make it a less negative place to live. This was my first such experiment, and it was a real winner! Everything positive the article said was true! I’m kind of in love with this shower head. It even makes rinsing my long, fine hair easier! (*I know I have probably complained a lot about this apartment on here, so you must be wondering why on Earth we renewed the lease on this terrible place. Well, mostly the price. They didn’t raise our rent at all with this renewal — and average apartment rent in Houston went up 16% last year. Yeah, in a single year. We didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars more a month — or endure the trauma of moving again. So we’re sticking it out for a while.)
  • In that same vein, I spent $6 on new drip pans and $8 on burner covers for the electric stove. It’s definitely less unattractive now. Marginal improvements are still improvements, even in this apartment.
  • Convinced apartment management to finally replace our dishwasher! It’s not top of the line, but it’s brand new and completely functional — and will make my life much, much easier. We made such strides in making our apartment a better place in October.
  • Had my annual Halloween tea. I had plenty of decorations (since we do this every year), so I only bought a bag of fake spider webs and some Halloween themed paper plates and napkins on sale. We did buy some special food and some purple tulips for the table, but we managed to have a heck of a “do” for around $50.
  • Bought four pairs of leggings from Old Navy for $5 each. Yes, I know that this is fast fashion and therefore a questionable (and arguably unethical) purchase — and yes, I’m fully capable of making leggings myself — but I could barely get fabric for a single pair of leggings for the $20 total I spent on this. And that’s without counting my time or energy! I wore out several pairs of leggings recently, so these were also replacement purchases.
  • Redeemed a $5 reward on my Walgreens loyalty card for my OTC allergy medicine. I usually purchase it at Costco, but I had suddenly run out and this made the price comparable.
  • Ordered holiday gifts during a 40% off sale, long before Black Friday. I have to have my shopping finished at least a week early this year because of the play I’m doing, and although I’m waiting on a few packages in the mail, I am very nearly done already.
  • Bought a new-to-me, very gently used wool coat on eBay for $35 (including shipping). I don’t usually talk about this, but even though I stopped dieting years ago, my weight has never completely stabilized. I swing up and down within the same 20 pounds (most of the time), but even that is a full dress size. My favorite winter coat was custom made during a lengthy bout of stomach illness, during which I was about 10 pounds smaller than my normal low weight point. I’m currently about 5 pounds larger than my normal high point, and although most coats are loose-fitting enough to work with a 20-pound difference, my old coat is too fitted to work with a 35-pound difference. “But Sarah,” you may be saying, “You’re a ‘great big fat person,’ as Buffalo Bill so memorably said in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ — why don’t you just starve yourself until that coat fits again?” Well, I have a couple of problems with that. First of all, diets don’t work long-term (it’s true), and my body will likely return to its 20-pound wide comfort zone on its own soon enough. I just can’t say when. Secondly, my fat ass is cold right now. I can’t wait the eight or twelve weeks it would take to starve myself into my old coat, even if I were willing to do so. (Sorry not sorry for the fat acceptance rant.)
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Spent an afternoon at the fine arts museum strolling through their regular collection. We pay for an annual membership, but sometimes forget that one of our benefits is free admission to all of the various regular collections. The membership almost always pays for itself in reduced price or free admissions to special exhibits, so free general admission is just a bonus.
  • Redeemed credit card points on two credit cards to help pay for Christmas shopping. We got back $150.00 on one card and $175.00 on the other, and we’re not likely to spend much more than that since our gift list is relatively short — and we’re relatively cheap. This really is “free money” because we pay all of our cards off in full each month.
  • Read 22 ebooks and 6 physical books from the library between the two months, and managed to squeeze in 5 more Kindle Unlimited titles before my cancellation in October. I spent a ghastly combined $85.03 on other books, though, so I have nothing to brag about. I simply have been unable to stick to a reasonable book budget.
  • Checked out a few DVDs from the library, too. I sometimes forget to add this to the list, but free beats even Redbox prices every time.
  • My partner got two free boxes of granola bars from my step-dad because they fell off the back of a truck. I mean that in a literal sense, not the mafia sense! He’s a truck driver and an entire case was damaged and written off. The store told him to keep it. My step-dad kept some, gave some to friends and family, and sent the rest to the food bank. It was only the outer box that was damaged, not the bars themselves.
  • Was delighted to be informed that Instacart has dropped their service fees for Express members. I expect that means they’ll be raising their Express membership price next year, but I’ll analyze that when I see the new numbers (if that really happens). I’m going to enjoy the reduced fee while it lasts!
  • Got a free hot chocolate mix and a free jar of black pepper from Penzeys. Both will be holiday gifts. I really love Penzeys. Not only are their herbs and spices delicious, but they’re generous with free items and discounts. And they’re even woke! They’ve become so vocal about the political situation in the US that right-wingers have called for a boycott against them. Usually you hear about boycotts against companies that are doing truly terrible things, but apparently calling for unity and caring among cooks is reason enough for some people.
  • Despite everything, I did manage to cook more of our meals at home than we generally do. This is better for our bottom line — and our health — even when using some pre-packaged ingredients. Success! On at least one thing.

I have my show coming up in December, so I expect that my energy deficit will continue to drive my spending through the roof. I guess we’ll see!



A short list for September.

We spent a significant amount of money in September, as we purchased a new car. This is the first time in about ten years that we’ve had two cars, so it’s quite a change. We’ll be adjusting for higher transportation expenses, but I need a couple of months of real numbers to analyze before we can make realistic adjustments to other budget categories. I’m hoping to bring in a little extra income to help offset the insurance costs, too, but we’ll just have to see how that shakes out. We live very much within our means, so we have more wiggle room than most people. I recognize our privilege in this case and know that this would be a much larger budget change for most households — but also understand that this will be an adjustment for us, too.

Being able to go wherever I want without worrying about using up all of my energy getting to and from the bus stop is very freeing!

I wasn’t too focused in September, but  I:

  • Rented the newest Avengers movie from Redbox using a coupon. Only $0.81 for a Blu-ray rental!
  • Caught up a side client and billed for five months of work. (They paid right away, too.)
  • Ordered a batch of Lane Bryant underwear during a “buy three, get three free” sale.
  • Needed a 3-ring binder for my script and music for the show I was cast in and opted to use an old one that I  had from teaching my last voice student instead of buying a new one. This only saved a few dollars, obviously, but it’s more of a mindset. Each small thing eventually adds up.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Read 7 ebooks and 3 physical books from the library. Also read 7 Kindle Unlimited books, for an approximate cost of $0.14 a book. That will be the last of the Kindle Unlimited reads, though — I will cancel the trial this coming week. I also re-read a few of my old books — that’s always free. I managed to halve last month’s book spending (thank goodness) and spent $45.98. Still not ideal, but a vast improvement over last month.

Besides the cost of the new car, I also managed to get sick with a terrible sinus infection in September. Our new insurance didn’t cover the clinic visit, but it did help a bit with the prescriptions. (When did ear drops get so expensive, anyway?) I also spent a small bundle on probiotics and supplements because I need to stay healthy to perform in December. I’m willing to do the work, but my immune system needs all the help it can get! I expect I’ll fare a little better once the ragweed pollen tapers off — and I’ll be sure to get a flu shot — but there are certainly plenty of things I can do or take to support my immune system.

Here’s to a hopefully productive and healthy October!

I forgot to post the August list!

My apologies. I have been “Mucha” distracted. (So sorry! Couldn’t resist.) I have been distracted, though — and am likely to get overwhelmed in the upcoming weeks. I mentioned in the newsletter that I had been cast in the chorus of a Christmas show and rehearsals start this week. I’m nervous and far busier than usual. I haven’t been on stage for many years and have no idea if I can still handle it. We’ll see.

In a month of mostly usual stuff (and one impressive failure), I:

  • Paid for my Seamwork subscription and one Patreon donation with money earned doing surveys.
  • Did unspeakable things to free clip art from Creative Market and The Graphics Fairy. (Note: The Graphics Fairy website is particularly egregious to deal with and slow to load due to ads and other web clutter, but it is still a good source of free vintage graphics. Just don’t try to look at it on your phone or on a slower web connection.)
  • Pulled a very pretty 2019 wall calendar from the free pile at work. I usually wait until closer to the end of the year to give clients first pick, but we moved to a new office this month and I was afraid the calendars would be thrown away.
  • Got a bottle of kombucha and a can of a weird sparkling Kool-Aid drink as free samples from Instacart.
  • Read 16 ebooks from the library and one free Kindle book. I also read 15 Kindle Unlimited books with an approximate cost of $0.07 each due to the promotional price I paid on Amazon Prime day. I will probably cancel Kindle Unlimited before it renews at the usual rate. Although I am more than getting my money’s worth on the program at the moment — and it has been a handy source of books during an unusual library slump — I know from previous experience that the selection is too limited to maintain my interest in the long term.
  • Bought a paperback at the library for $0.25. This, however, was nothing to brag about since I spent an unconscionable $74.90 total on books. I could make excuses, but I won’t. I just plain spent more than I intended.

Who knows what September will bring? We will probably buy a second car this month, so I expect our expenditures will be, um, intense.

On arrogance and ruination.

A few quick notes for people who write in library books:

  1. If you’re going to write in a library book, use a red pen for maximum impact.
  2. If you’re going to alter punctuation in a library book, use the correct proofreading symbols to do so.
  3. If you’re going to proofread a traditionally published, copy-edited, and previously proofread book be sure that you have an intimate understanding of grammar and punctuation. Be very sure that the changes you’re making are absolutely correct.

It takes a certain kind of person to write in a library book. It takes another kind of person to alter punctuation throughout an entire library book — incorrectly alter punctuation, in every single instance. I gave up reading the book in question (excerpt pictured above) because the added commas were so glaringly incorrect that it made my skin crawl. I wanted to find the inarticulate comma monster who defaced this perfectly innocent murder mystery and slap them in the face with a glove and demand satisfaction.

Let me explain something. I understand arrogance very well because I am inflicted with that particular malady. Have you ever heard of a psychological condition called Imposter Syndrome? I definitely don’t have that. I sort of have the opposite of that. When I walk into a new room, I’m not secretly worried that I don’t belong there or that I’m a fraud. Very often I walk into a room and think: Oh, come on. I am so much better than these people.

Part of the problem (and at least I do see that there is a problem) is that, as a kid genius and a long time stage performer with a truckload of training, I have often been the best/smartest/most talented person in a room. Not every time, of course. But just often enough that the feeling was sometimes justified. I have been — many times — an arrogant little shit.

I refer to myself these days as a recovering asshole. (“Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m an arrogant asshole.” / “Hi, Sarah!”) I’m not as awful as I once was, but I still have my arrogant moments.

And even I would never deface a library book with incorrect punctuation. Never. Even if the punctuation was truly incorrect and I was in the right.

Think about the sheer moxie that would take — the pure, unadulterated hot-shitness of it all. What makes a person pick up a ballpoint pen and say to themselves, “I took an English class once, and I can clearly see that this book is missing all of the important commas. I must correct this injustice if it’s the last thing I do! BY GOD AS MY WITNESS, THIS SHALL NOT STAND!” And then, tongue tucked in the corner of their mouth in concentration, said person, in deep concentration, proceeded to add and subtract commas at will. “There,” the person must have whispered triumphantly into the night, “now everyone will see the depth of my genius and understand that only I — and I alone — can command the comma perfectly. I do not need any trained proofreader or sly copy-editor to pollute my unblemished efforts. Bow before me, library readers, and see how I have bested them all!”

I expect they devolved into paroxysms of maniacal laughter at that point.

You see, the kind of arrogance exhibited by the person who defaced this book isn’t like my on-again-off-again overabundance of (occasionally unwarranted) self-confidence. This is the kind of arrogance that ruins things for everyone who comes after them. My arrogance tends to injure me socially — no one loves a braggart — but this kind of arrogance hurts other people. In this case, it hurt me — and I’m just arrogant enough in my own right to make an issue of it.

To make a long story short, do not deface library books. Especially if your punctuation “corrections” are wrong.

List for June and July.

The last week of June saw me scrambling to get everything done before our vacation in July, so I didn’t manage to get a list posted. Considering that vacations are spendy things (and that I came home sick), I don’t have much to show for two months of combined effort. I spent more than I intended in several areas (although not, oddly enough, on the vacation itself), but I didn’t go too overboard.

In June and July, I:

  • Paid for Seamwork subscription with money earned doing surveys.
  • Watched a free Redbox rental. It was “The Commuter.” Utterly forgettable, and yet — because I enjoy watching Liam Neeson beating his way out of impossible situations — I enjoyed it. I probably would have enjoyed it less if I had paid, though!
  • Had a free Taco Bell taco and a $1 “happier hour” iced tea. I went with my Mom. She loves a free taco! (Who doesn’t? Only monsters, probably.)
  • Bought two books from the library. They have a huge sale of donated books every year, but most branches have a small table of donated books for sale all the time. The prices are so low that they’re practically garage sale prices — only $1 for a hardback and $0.25 for a paperback. I got “Texts from Jane Eyre”(*) and a P.G. Wodehouse novel I hadn’t read before for only $1.25! (*I will now always send texts as Medea, which you will understand only if you’ve read the book.)
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Mom treated us to a night at the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Though famous for paranormal activity (and being the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining), I didn’t sense any ghosts — but it was beautiful there, and the history was fascinating.
  • Enjoyed an at-home karaoke birthday party for one of our hosts while we stayed with friends in Colorado. I am completely jealous of their basement stage set-up! Puts my Bluetooth karaoke mic to absolute shame.
  • Used a $1.50 off coupon and a $5.00 reward from my Walgreens card on my special mouthwash, making it pretty much the same price as regular mouthwash. (Seriously, take care of your teeth and gums. Don’t ignore them for years and expect that it will all work out in the end. It won’t.)
  • Finally scanned a bunch of notes from online courses I’ve taken over the past couple of years, thereby freeing up a little physical storage space. Although that doesn’t really save any money on its own, you could argue that it does as a cumulative habit. I’m mostly paperless and have only one file box of current papers and one file box of sentimental papers and old writing. I also regularly donate and discard unnecessary things, which makes it much easier to live in a smaller, more affordable apartment. We’re not minimalists by any stretch of the imagination — I have 160+ yards of fabric shamefully squirreled away in our closet, for instance — but we live in 650 square feet and no longer pay for a storage unit, so we must be doing something right.
  • Read 31 ebooks and 7 physical books from the library. I also signed up for 3 months of Kindle Unlimited for $0.99 on Prime Day. I read 5 Unlimited books in July, so each cost me approximately 7 cents to borrow. Unfortunately, I spent $110.92 on other books. (Ouch!) I’m still averaging about $1.14 per book for all reading so far in 2018, so I suppose it could be much worse. (But still, ouch!)

Not a terrible pair of months, but it could have been better. I need to reign in our spending again, but I’ve fallen behind on client work (I have just been ill more than usual this year), so I haven’t had my usual amount of income lately. I need to focus on catching up that work in August — and getting paid by the clients who have outstanding invoices — as well as cutting unnecessary spending.

Short Story: “Breakfast for One.”

Serena studied the early morning light caressing the patterned silk adorning the breakfast room of her little house in St. John’s Wood. She rarely saw such soft, comforting illumination, as her late nights often kept her late abed.

She reluctantly turned her attention to the man sharing her table, her supposed new protector. His table manners were every bit as repulsive as she had imagined, and disgusting to observe in the flesh.

“Compliments to the cook,” he grunted, following up this inane statement with a prolonged belch. “I’ve no doubt you’re impatient to get started, but a man does deserve a meal after the morning I’ve had.”

Serena pasted on her best smile. “As you’re gracing my table, I assumed the event was settled in your favor, my lord.”

Lord Glennair, belted earl and blackened scoundrel, grinned slyly. He stopped shoveling coddled eggs into his foul maw long enough to say, “The duel went in my favor, true. But it took no effort on my part. The idiot fainted dead away. All over sweat, Sir Robert was, terrified at meeting me on the field of honor.” He took another forkful of egg and added with his mouth full, “Not that you’ve much honor to defend.”

Serena kept her eyes from narrowing at his insult, but could not keep the muscle in her cheek from twitching. “Did the surgeon revive him, my lord?”

Glennair shrugged and tore at the ham on his plate. “I’ve no idea. I left while the man was attending him. I assumed a faint was as good as a forfeit and hurried on my way here.”

Serena suppressed a smile. Events were unfolding precisely as she had planned. “More tea?” she prompted, pot in hand.

He grunted an affirmative, so Serena daintily filled his cup.

“None for you?” He pointed his fork at her own cup.

“I prefer coffee, my lord.” She was lying, although her cup did contain coffee this morning.

“Filthy stuff, that. Far too popular in the colonies,” Glennair said with a grimace. He eyed Serena with vague hostility. “A proper cup of tea should be good enough for you.”

Serena merely smiled. She wouldn’t touch the tea this morning, and if he tried to pour it down her throat, she would take the silver knife sitting unused by her plate of dry toast and shove it directly in milord’s throat. She contemplated whether such action might be more satisfying than the fate already in store for him, but glanced at the carpet and decided she would rather have less mess.

“How long have you been at this business? About ten years?” Glennair interrupted her thoughts. He had moved back to the eggs, following every few bites with a gulp of tea.

Serena refilled his lordship’s cup again. “About that.”

“Well, you must’ve started young. I’ve no complaints, as long as you’re tight enough to satisfy. But you’ve not welped, as far as anyone knows, so that’s not likely to be a problem.”

She did her best not to sneer. “I do like to give satisfaction, my lord.”

“Just so,” he leered. “And I expect to be well satisfied before I leave here this morning.”

“One of us will be,” Serena murmured.

“I didn’t quite catch that,” Glennair said. Serena noted with relish that his forehead was beginning to sweat.

“No matter, my lord,” she said soothingly. “I’m sure all will go exactly as it ought this morning.”

Glennair settled back in his chair, blinking. He seemed to have lost his train of thought.

“Did you send the contract to my man of business?” Serena asked as she poured herself more coffee.

“What? No, no. Not yet.” He waved an unsteady hand in dismissal. “I never send the contract until I’ve had a taste of the goods.” He shook his head and smacked his lips together.

“Yet you know that I never let a man into my bed without a signed contract, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave, Lord Glennair.”

He ran his tongue over his lips, and said muzzily, “Look here, girl. You don’t dictate terms with me. You’re little better than a whore.”

“I’m far better than a whore, my lord.” She tilted her head in thought. “Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m something other than a whore. Something far more criminal, I’m afraid.”

“What?” Glennair attempted to rise from his chair in outrage but found his legs too wobbly to support him. He glared at Serena, but there was more than a hint of fear in his eyes. “What did you do to me?”

“I’ve killed you, my lord,” Serena said cheerfully. “Do you want to know why?” she added with a seductive smirk.

“I’ll see you hang for this,” his lordship wheezed. He scrabbled against the edge of the table, seeking support, but his hands would not cooperate.

“You won’t be seeing much of anything, my lord. Save perhaps the fires of hell.” Serena finally bit into her toast. She munched it thoughtfully as she watched Lord Glennair slide slightly further down in his chair. “You haven’t much time left. Ten minutes, perhaps?”

Glennair let out a groan, and Serena nodded. “Most courtesans have similar tales of woe. Many were servants who surrendered their virtue — willingly or unwillingly, it matters not — to some man of the house and were dismissed without reference. One must work or starve, so many turn to the sole means of support available to young, uneducated women. Some of these unfortunate girls end up trading favors for coins in the alleyways, but the prettiest ones end up working the houses — at least until some man offers an exclusive arrangement. All of that when they only meant to dust a parlor!”

Serena paused to take a sip of coffee and observe that Glennair, although dazed and fading, remained conscious. “My tale is nothing like the ordinary, my lord. I was born into the gentry, although not into any prestigious or wealthy family. My father was a gentleman; my elder brother inherited the lot. He announced one evening that he had arranged my elder sister’s marriage to a cruel neighbor. She said she would rather die than be sold to such a man, and held true to her word. I’d never seen so much blood in my life. A few years later, my brother, having learned his lesson, told me we were going to visit neighbors but delivered me instead to a church where I was married to a man I’d never seen before in my life.”

Lord Glennair made a horrible gurgling sound.

Serena was so lost in her memories that she barely heard. “I will refrain from boring you with the details of my marriage, but suffice to say that I bashed my husband’s head in one night while he was sleeping. I stole as much of the silver as I could easily carry and made my way to London, where I recuperated. It took some time to learn not to flinch when someone touched me.” Serena tapped her coffee cup. “When there was no more silver left to pawn, I set about finding a gentleman I could tolerate.”

Glennair’s eyes were starting to glaze over, and his breath rattled in his chest.

“It’s not really a happy story, is it?” Serena took a bite of toast and carefully chewed. “My last gentleman was my final protector. I never intended to take on another, but I played a pretty game, pitting you against Sir Robert for my favors, inciting you to duel. I told you both that whoever won would have me, but I’m afraid I lied. I met Sir Robert last night and gave him a good luck charm — an engraved flask. As he had never dueled before, I took the risk that he would find himself thirsty before the event. I assume, from what you said earlier, that he couldn’t resist taking a nip or two for courage. I expect he’s already awaiting you in hell, my lord.”

Serena dabbed at the corners of her mouth daintily. “We courtesans talk amongst ourselves. It’s rather laughable that you and Sir Robert thought your crimes unknown to us. You were both notorious for broken promises and blackened eyes. When I heard about what you’d done to poor Elsie Greenchurch–” Serena broke off with a shudder. “I decided to end you both, my lord, as a going away present for my fellow soiled doves. No more broken ribs or unpaid contracts — or bastards dropped at the orphanage. I’ll never regret this day’s work.”

Lord Glennair huffed out one last tortured breath and became utterly still. Serena rose and pulled the tasseled bell cord beside the mantel. Her majordomo promptly entered and awaited instruction without so much as a glance toward the cooling corpse sitting at the table.

“I’ve a bit of refuse here,” Serena said, motioning to his lordship. “I suggest you drop it in the river.”

“Very good, madame,” the servant said with a bow. He and a burly footman efficiently removed the corpse, and when the majordomo returned, both his person and his composure were completely unruffled.

“Is all in readiness for our journey?” Serena asked, her attention focused once again on the morning light against the wall covering. It was stronger now, less a glow and more of a bright luminescence.

“Mrs. Hopkins has a task or two to finish, madame, but we will be ready to accompany you when the tide turns.”

“Excellent,” Serena said, smiling with a newfound lightheartedness. “I think we will find the new world very agreeable.”

Her servant bowed deeply, a smile tugging at the edges of his mouth. “I must oversee the trunks, madame.”

“Of course.” Serena watched him go and resumed her place at the breakfast table. She placed the rim of her coffee cup against her lips and murmured, “Pistols for two, breakfast for one.”

She laughed aloud. “And what a delightful breakfast it was.”

Photo credit: Heather Cowper.