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The Coffee Pot Book Club Presents "The Merchant's Dilemma" by Carolyn Hughes


Please make welcome to the tavern the lovely Carolyn Hughes! We're celebrating her new book release and blog tour for The Merchant's Dilemma, a Meonbridge Chronicles Companion Novel. Grab a cup of mead and let's take a peek into Carolyn's intriguing story...


1362. Winchester. Seven months ago, accused of bringing plague and death from Winchester, Bea Ward was hounded out of Meonbridge by her former friends and neighbours. Finding food and shelter where she could, she struggled to make her way back to Winchester again.


Yet, once she arrived, she wondered why she’d come.


For her former lover – the love of her life – Riccardo Marchaunt, had married a year ago. And she no longer had the strength to go back to her old life on the streets. Frail, destitute and homeless, she was reduced to begging. Then, in January, during a tumultuous and destructive storm, she found herself on Riccardo’s doorstep. She had no plan, beyond hoping he might help her, or at least provide a final resting place for her poor body.


When Bea awakes to find she’s lying in Riccardo’s bed once more, she’s thankful, thrilled, but mystified. But she soon learns that his wife died four months ago, along with their newborn son, and finds too that Riccardo loves her now as much as he ever did, and wants to make her his wife. But can he? And, even if he can, could she ever really be a proper merchant’s wife?


Riccardo could not have been more relieved to find Bea still alive, when he thought he had lost her forever. She had been close to death, but is now recovering her health. He adores her and wants her to be his wife. But how? His father would forbid such an “unfitting” match, on pain of denying him his inheritance. And what would his fellow merchants think of it? And their haughty wives?


Yet, Riccardo is determined that Bea will be his wife. He has to find a solution to his dilemma… With the help of his beloved mother, Emilia, and her close friend, Cecily, he hatches a plan to make it happen.


But even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. And the path of love never did run smooth…


The Merchant’s Dilemma is a companion novel to the main series of Meonbridge Chronicles, and continues the story of Bea and Riccardo after the end of the fourth Chronicle, Children’s Fate. It is a little more romantic and light-hearted than the other Chronicles but, if you’ve enjoyed reading about the lives of the characters of Meonbridge, you will almost certainly enjoy reading The Merchant’s Dilemma too!

 

Sneak preview from The Merchant's Dilemma ~


From Chapter 1

One evening, Riccardo knocked on the door and waited for her to answer before entering the chamber. Bea grinned to herself: he was acting very coyly, given what they’d once been to one another. Nonetheless, she was enjoying his gentlemanly behaviour. It made her feel he truly cared about her, perhaps even respected her. At his knock, she’d returned to the bed, set her back against the pillows and pulled the covers up to her breast, letting her hands rest upon the coverlet. Then she’d called ‘Come in!’ and was thrilled at the sight of his beaming, handsome face.


He came forward and took one of her hands in his. ‘Oh, darling Bea, you do look much recovered, just as Mistress Collyton said.’


‘I’m still not strong enough to walk much, but I do feel better in my heart and head.’


‘With each day you will get stronger. And spring is not too far away. The warmth of the sun, and the sights and sounds of life returning to the world will surely revive you greatly.’


‘How much I’m looking forward to being able to go out into the garden, and even just downstairs to the hall.’


He squeezed her hand. ‘Just take it slowly, my love. There is no hurry.’ Lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed it.


They sat quietly for a while. Then Riccardo stood up and stepped over to the window. But it was almost dark and there could have been nothing out there to see. He came back to the bed and took her hand again.


‘You seem troubled about something,’ Bea said. ‘What is it?’


He looked into her eyes. ‘I am not sure now is the right time to ask you.’


‘Ask me what?’


‘Where you went when you disappeared from Winchester last May. I was distraught. I did not know what had happened to you, if you were alive or dead.’


‘You had abandoned me, Riccardo,’ she whispered. It was in the March he’d sent her the gift of a costly brooch and the key to her rooms. How devastated she’d been, unable to stop waves of sobs overwhelming her for hours on end. But, at length, she’d pulled herself together. Owning the rooms, good as they were, didn’t make up for losing the man she loved. Neither did it provide a daily living. She was forced back onto the streets.


A moan escaped Riccardo’s lips. ‘And how very much I did regret it.’ He looked up. ‘Before you left, did you hear the bishop’s message, about the pestilence coming back?’


‘It was what made me decide to leave.’


‘When I heard it, I thought of you immediately. I had not seen you for weeks. I presumed you must have returned to the streets and, Bea, my heart was seething with remorse, knowing it was my fault you were now in the greatest peril.’


She nodded, but said nothing.


‘I had promised that marrying Katherine would make no difference to my feelings for you. I promised not to give you up. Yet, I betrayed you’ – his eyes filled with tears – ‘and soon afterwards, you disappeared. I tried to find you, but…’


‘I went back to Meonbridge,’ she said. ‘I thought I might be safer there. Safer from the pestilence, but I thought too I might be able to start again, a new life, amongst my family and friends…’


‘And did you?’


She hung her head. In truth, she scarcely wanted to recall those terrible few weeks. Yet, surely Riccardo should know what happened. If she was hoping he might let her stay for good – maybe even make her his wife – she couldn’t keep the truth from him.


‘No,’ she said, looking up again. ‘Indeed, I came close to losing my life altogether.’


‘Losing your life?’ His eyes were wide. ‘What happened?’


‘I travelled with a carter I knew, Jack, who lived in Meonbridge and plied his trade between there and here. He wanted to get away from Winchester too.’


‘Because of the pestilence?’


‘Yes. But, not long after we got back, Jack got sick and died, and everyone said it was the Death––’


‘But you were not ill?’


‘No. And I didn’t hear about Jack for days. The first thing I did was go to see my ma, hoping – assuming, really – she’d let me live with her…’ She hesitated a moment. ‘But she didn’t want me there. She didn’t want anyone to know I was back in Meonbridge…’ Her eyes brimmed with tears.


‘Why?’


‘Because of what I’d been in Winchester. She was ashamed of me.’ She hung her head again. How shocked she’d been when Ma said she couldn’t stay. ‘She told me I’d have to lie low, keep out of sight.’


‘Did you tell her I’d abandoned you?’ His eyes were sad.


‘No. I said you’d sent me away to keep me safe from the pestilence, though I’m not sure she believed me.’


‘With good reason. If I could, I would have looked after you, not sent you away.’


‘I know, but I didn’t want to say I’d been working the streets again. But I’m sure she thought that anyway…’


‘So you kept hidden?’


‘Mostly. I did meet one or two of my old friends, though no one else knew. Anyway, it was about a week or so later I heard Jack was dead.’ She looked up, her eyes wide. ‘I wondered if I’d get sick too, but I never did.’


‘You were fortunate.’


‘I suppose so. But not long after, one of my friends, Tom, did fall ill. I was distraught, of course, for him, and terrified for myself. Yet I still stayed well. I never understood how Tom got infected, because he hadn’t seen Jack Carter.’


Riccardo shrugged. ‘I am not sure anyone knows how it spread.’


‘Except, in Meonbridge, some folk said it came from corruption. That’s what the bishop’s message said, wasn’t it?’ Riccardo nodded. ‘Anyway, some days later, Tom’s step-ma, Susanna, came to find me. My horrible cousin, Luke, had put it about I’d been a prostitute, and someone – I don’t know who – told Susanna where I was hiding. She attacked me, calling me a whore, and blaming me for Tom getting sick. My ma and step-pa, Will, they made her leave. But after that, everyone in Meonbridge blamed me for all the deaths.’


‘Did Tom die?’


‘He did.’ Her eyes filled with tears. ‘He was so strong and kind… We’d been friends for years…’ She gulped down a sob. ‘Then his little brother, Francis, died too. And two of Francie’s friends, and their pa, got sick as well, and one of those boys died. Then their ma, Agnes, joined Susanna and together they raised a mob of villagers, who came for me again.’


‘They attacked you?’


‘Worse. They seized me, dragging me off towards the woods.’ She gulped, her heart hammering at the memory. ‘I thought they were going to hang me from a tree…’


He gasped and took her hand. ‘Oh, my poor Bea. Thank God they did not succeed…’


Available from these online retailers:

 

Meet the Author

Carolyn Hughes has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, word-smithing for many different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.


Although she wrote creatively on and off for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest that writing historical fiction took centre stage. But why historical fiction? Serendipity!


Seeking inspiration for what to write for her Creative Writing Masters, she discovered the handwritten draft, begun in her twenties, of a novel, set in 14th century rural England… Intrigued by the period and setting, she realised that, by writing a novel set in the period, she’d be able to both learn more about the medieval past and interpret it, which seemed like a thrilling thing to do. A few days later, the first Meonbridge Chronicle, Fortune’s Wheel, was under way.


Six published books later (with more to come), Carolyn does now think of herself as an Historical Novelist. And she wouldn’t have it any other way…


Carolyn has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.


You can connect with Carolyn through her website www.carolynhughesauthor.com and social media.





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