This is the question my heroine, Sarah, faced in The Bricklayer’s Helper.
Sarah’s story was based on the actual life of Catherine Wilson, who was orphaned at fourteen and faced a bleak future. Catherine refused to accept the social restrictions of her day and donned her deceased brother’s clothes to find work under the name of John Thomson.
Over the next ten years, Catherine worked at various jobs including, drover, foot boy, and bricklayer’s laborer. However, when her landlady discovered Catherine’s sex, she blackmailed her into marrying her pregnant daughter to avoid the disgrace of an illegitimate child. Catherine reluctantly complied, which eventually lead to her undoing. She could not support a wife, child, and mother-in-law and deserted them, only to be dragged back by parish officers to whom she finally confessed.
Truth is often much stranger than fiction, and it is a wonderful way to find inspiration.
In The Bricklayer’s Helper, Sarah finds herself orphaned and alone—like Catherine—when a suspicious fire burns down her home with her family trapped inside. All she can remember about the horrific event is the warning to “run and hide,” and hide she does. Sarah cuts her hair and dons the garb of a young boy, hoping to survive on her own. In this disguise, she’s obtains a job as a bricklayer’s helper and remains safe for thirteen years.
When work takes her to London, a man from her past recognizes her and arranges a meeting, only to be murdered before they can speak. Desperate that she may be the next victim, Sarah hires an inquiry agent from the Second Sons Inquiry Agency.
William Trenchard, the inquiry agent, is far too frippery for Sarah’s taste. In her experience, handsome men can rarely find more than their way underneath a lady’s skirt, but she’s afraid he may be her last chance. And William is so sick of being labeled a “Bedroom Bantam” that the look of disdain in Sarah’s eyes drives him to prove his worth.
Unfortunately, their decisions may prove to be dangerous to their hearts…and their lives.
Sarah has introduced herself as Sam Sanderson, hoping to maintain her disguise and freedom as a man. But William is not entirely sure she’s everything she seems.
“About this 1806 fire?” William prompted his visitor.
“Yes, sir. It was a fire down Longmoor-way. The Marquess of Longmoor’s place. Elderwood it was called back then, while it still existed.”
“And what is this matter to you?”
“I was orphaned by the fire.”
“I see,” William said. “And you would have been, what? About nine at the time?”
“More or less,” Sanderson replied. His glance moved restlessly, focusing on the bookcase on William’s right. There was a brief gleam of interest in the gray eyes before he blinked and caught William’s gaze again. “This major had information about it. I want to know what.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if you conducted your own inquiries?” William asked.
“I thought this place belonged to a gent named Mr. Gaunt,” Mr. Sanderson asked in an abrupt change of subject. “Do you work for him?”
William’s mouth twisted wryly. “We are associates.”
“Then you work for him. Perhaps you don’t have the authority to take on new cases? Where is Mr. Gaunt?”
So his client was sharper than his appearance suggested.
William revised his previously favorable opinion of Mr. Sanderson downward. His voice hardened. “Mr. Gaunt is away. On another case. I assure you, I have complete discretion in the matter of accepting new cases.”
“Then you’re afraid?” There was something in his tone that suggested what he really meant was that he thought William was an idiot.
“I beg your pardon?” William asked, forcing his face into a bland mask.
“Well, you’re dithering, aren’t you?” Sanderson asked.
He wanted to reply that it wasn’t the danger in trying to find a killer that bothered him. It was the ridiculously low payment Mr. Sanderson offered.
However, when William gazed into those gray eyes, he found his anger ebbing and flowing away into sheepishness. The lurking fear in Sanderson’s gaze stirred a deep sense of gallantry in William.
Mr. Sanderson stood and thrust his hand out. “If you can’t make up your mind, then I’ve no need of your services. Good night to you, sir.”
William waved at the chair. “Sit down. I never said I wouldn’t take your case.”
“But you don’t want to, do you?” His shaggy head lifted at the sound of bells in the distance. “And I am missing my supper.”
“In fact, I do,” William said, leaning forward and clasping his hands on the desk. “Now, let’s start again and never mind your supper.”
“Then start,” Sanderson said with startling frankness. “What do you want to know?”
Nonplussed, William stared back before forcing a smile. “Tell me about the fire. That is as good a place to begin as any.”
“I can only tell you what I remember,” Mr. Sanderson replied. “And that isn’t much. If I could remember everything, I wouldn’t need you now, would I?”
Award-winning author Amy Corwin is an insatiable reader and writer. She joined the Romance Writers of America at its inception and plunged into writing despite the time-wasting annoyances of a career as an enterprise systems administrator in the computer industry. She writes Regencies, paranormals, and mysteries, although to be truthful, most of her books include a bit of murder and mayhem since she discovered that killing off at least one character is a highly effective way to make the remaining ones toe the plot line.
Amy’s books have received numerous writing awards and reviews. Her Regency, I BID ONE AMERICAN, received a perfect score of 5 from Long and Short Reviews. Her most recent Regency, THE BRICKLAYER’S HELPER, is now out from The Wild Rose Press in both e-book and print formats and she has a paranormal, VAMPIRE PROTECTOR, due for release in November, 2010.