An Appetite for Violets is an utterly compelling story of food, obsession and mystery, introducing a brilliant new voice in historical fiction. Check out an excerpt below and enter to win a hardcopy of the book.
Release date: January 13th 2015
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
We were nearly shipshape when Jem’s knock shook the door. Even with hands still claggy with flour I couldn’t get to him fast enough, my heart fluttering like a pigeon in a basket. Then there was Jem leaning on the door frame with the afternoon sun gilding him; I am tall for a woman, but his golden hair near touched the lintel.
‘Did you see ’er?’ His hazel-gold eyes glinted. ‘Under all them frills she ain’t nowt but a girl. Dirty old goat, he is, to take such a bantling to his bed.’
‘She may be fine-looking but she don’t look frisky to me.’ I’d seen her youth, sure enough, but also something tight-knotted in that pretty face. ‘Not like some,’ I said with a prod at his chest.
He made a grab for my hand, grinning all the while. ‘Yer got flour on yer face,’ he laughed and smeared it so I must have looked worse. ‘Are them pies I can smell?’ He craned forward, stretching the thick tendons of his neck. ‘Give us a taste then,’ he said, so low and slow my belly fizzed. That boy could make me melt like butter. ‘You rogue, you’ll have me out the door with no wages,’ I protested, pulling back away from him behind the threshold. We could never forget the rules all we female servants lived under: no husband, no followers, not even a wink. Even Mrs Garland only held her title from tradition, for every cook was Missus, though almost all were spinsters. ‘No callers’ was the rule set by every respectable master. It was the curse of my life, to choose to cook or to choose to marry.
‘Now you won’t forget about tomorrow night’s Souling?’ I chided. ‘You will tell Mr Pars we’re to wed?’
‘I’ll do it, love. Then we can start up our alehouse and you can get cooking. I don’t half fancy being a landlord.’
‘Aye, but we need the means to start it up first. We need the capi- tal, Jem.’
It was the grand future we dreamed of. If ever we won a bonus or were remembered by a generous master, we would turn the old ruin at Pars Fold into a tavern. It was in a most fortunate place, right by the new highway. With all the new money rattling around from turnpikes and trade, I’d heard travellers would rather eat beefsteak for a shilling than bread and cheese for tuppence. But sometimes I wished I’d never told Jem my notion, for now he talked of little else. ‘The time will come, my love,’ I added, then reached to touch his cheek.
‘One kiss,’ he croaked. ‘Look, I fetched some Fat Hen for you.’ Jem offered me a bunch of wilting greens.
I reached for the plants, rubbed the leaves with a snap of my finger and thumb and sniffed. They were as fresh as spinach but not so peppery and warm. And wasn’t that a faint whiff of cat’s piss? Mrs G always said I could sniff a drop of honey in a pail of milk. I used my nose then and saved us all from a night of gripes.
‘That’s not Fat Hen, you noddle. That’s Dog’s Mercury. Once I knew a band of tinkers that made a soup of it and near died. If I serve that up to the new mistress I could be hanged for murder.’
‘God help us. Give it back here. It’s ill-omened.’ He hurled the plants towards the hogs’ trough. ‘I’ll fetch you whatever you want from the glasshouse.’
‘I have fruit by the barrel-load,’ I laughed. ‘Get along now. I’ve Her Ladyship’s supper to see to.’
‘Wait, I near forgot my news.’ He held me back with his calloused hand. ‘This footman fellow of hers just come from town. A brown- skinned fellow he is, a right chimney chops, wearing one of them gold footman’s coats. He’d got a letter from London. Billy saw it in his hand. So maybe the master is coming home after all. Sir Geoffrey might put his hand in his pocket when we wed.’
‘Maybe, maybe not, Jem. When he was younger, perhaps. His bride coming up here on her own, that don’t bode well.’
Just then a waft of bitter smoke reached me from the kitchen. ‘My damned pies!’ I cried and turned back inside.
Jem caught my wrist as I turned. ‘Where’s my kiss then?’
‘They’re ruined,’ I snapped. ‘Teg must find you a morsel.’I am sure that’s what I said that day, that I confused his victuals with his kisses.
When I rescued the pies they were greasy brown and tasted of cinders. ‘You stupid distracted numkin,’ I cursed to myself as I stared at my ruined handiwork.
But before I could tip them in the trough I felt a shadow at my back. Turning about, I found Teg twitching like a puppet on a string.
‘Biddy, come quick. There’s a lady in the kitchen asking for the cook, but I just run off dumb.’
*Thanks to St. Martin's Press for sponsoring this giveaway.