It is 1842, London, and the gorgeous, ever-capricious twenty-two year old Eliza Gilbert, (aka Lola Montez) is in deep trouble and seeks escape from a divorce trial. Desperate to be free, Lola accepts an alluring offer of a paid trip to Spain, if she will only fulfill a few tasks for Juan de Grimaldia Spanish theatre impresario who is also a government agent and spy for the exiled Spanish queen, Maria Cristina. Lola soon finds herself in Madrid, undercover as a performer in a musical play. But when she falls dangerously in love with the target, General Diego de Léonthe “perfect Spanish soldier, lover and horseman”Lola becomes a double agent and the two hatch a plot of their own. Disaster strikes when the plot is exposed, Diego is captured, and Lola is forced to flee on horseback to France, with a dangerous group of Loyalists in hot pursuit. Will Lola’s reckless daring, feminine whiles, and signature whip be enough to save her life and preserve her cause? She will have to be more whip smart than ever.
About the Author
Kit Brennan is an award-winning playwright, who teaches writing and storytelling at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, and who has now successfully branched out into a new career as a novelist.
With her husband, Andrew, she divides her time between Montreal and the quiet lake wilderness of Ontario, and maintains a disciplined writing regime each morning, revising the previous day’s work and then progressing by a further five, or six, pages.
In growing up her first interest was in becoming a ballet dancer, but that gave way to a love of horses and an ambition to be a jockey, followed by painting, children’s book illustration, and finally acting, yet with writing always in the background somewhere.
She worked for a number of years as an actor in the professional theatre before being asked to write a play for children to be performed on tour in elementary schools. This re-kindled her interest in writing and she moved on to become a professional playwright.
One of the recurrent themes found in her work is gained from her interest in history, particularly Victorian, and personalities from that era are found in both her plays and novels. She meticulously researches the characters before placing them in a fictionalised setting with sometimes exaggerated adventures, which brings more life and interest to them than is usually possible in a straightforward biography.
Her play, ‘Tiger’s Heart’, explores the life of Dr. James Barry, who was actually a woman disguised as a man in order to be allowed to practice medicine in an age when this was not permitted, and the debut ‘Whip Smart’ series of novels is based on the real-life story of Lola Montez, a top notch, notorious bad girl of the Victorian era who was one of the most widely travelled women of her time.
Read an Excerpt
Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards
By Kit Brennan
Astor + Blue Editions, LLCCopyright © 2012 Kit Brennan
All rights reserved.
* * *
"Tell us in your own words." The small, elegantly dressed man speaks.
The Cockney pulls up a chair and seats himself after a quick glance at the other man. Obviously the dandy is the one in charge.
"This evening was a very important night for me, gentlemen," I begin carefully. "You have no idea how dangerous this intruder is. In my country, he is a murderer!"
"We agree there is danger." The miniscule man's accent is a mystery to me. It is not English, nor Irish, nor Scottish. It is Continental—but from where? Not Spanish or Italian ... not German. It worries me.
"Are you from the police?" I ask, my chin high, about to take offence—or at least to seem so.
"We're askin' the questions," the big Cockney purrs, leaning closer and giving me a head-to-toe lick with his eyes.
My usual bravado has been given a jolt, and I realize that I'm frightened, which makes me more so. There was shocking manhandling and a stumbling drag through the streets, into the mouth of a building, and down hallways; both the Cockney and I are still puffing from the struggle. And now this room reveals nothing. I have no idea where they've taken me; it could be anywhere. The paneling on the walls of the room is solid, a dark burnished wood, and the hangings are rich brocade. But here are only two chairs and a lumpy settee, and one candelabra with three tapers burning, nothing else. Not a soul in the world knows that I'm here.
"Right from the top of the evening, if you would, madam."
"Señora," I correct the small European. No response, not a flicker. "My friend, the Earl of Malmesbury—a member of Parliament, as I'm sure you know—was in attendance tonight." I want them to understand I have friends in high places, even if that friend ... Don't think it, don't let it show. Their faces remain impassive. Well, I can play at that as well as any man, I think, as a jolt of fury fizzes through my veins and prickles out to the ends of my fingers. They wouldn't expect a lash and a sting! I long to deliver it. But, of course, this sort of behavior is always my downfall.
Calm, Lola, give nothing away.
What to tell them? Images from the evening jostle for attention: Well-dressed people in the street outside, descending from carriages, smoking cheroots. Inside, a turmoil of men shifting scenery, the sound of singers warming up in their underground lair. The stage doorman's whispered caution—policemen had been around, asking questions; there'd been another murder.
Then, waiting in the wings, an eye to the peekhole: Every seat taken, the royalty box full! Check the backstage mirror in its ornate frame—tight black velvet bodice, dark red and violet skirt, soft red shoes. I look remarkable! Stagehands scurry to bring in my backdrop, set up the folding screen, then away into the wings left and right. The first bars of music—my cue to wrap myself in the black lace mantilla, take a firm hold of the castanets. The stage manager signaling, the curtain rising. I step out into the lights.
That moment of connection! Then something else takes over. The performance itself is a blur of absorption, with the earl yelling support and his friends joining in. My signature dance, my own creation: El Oleano. The story is simple. I enter, a young girl in a meadow enjoying the sunshine, picking the flowers. But there's a large spider's nest down stage left. I don't see the nest, and I step upon it—thousands of little spiders have just been born. They climb my skirts; they're everywhere! Sudden whirling, twirling energy—get them out!—and then I turn. I see it in my mind's eye: the enormous parent spider! I leap towards it, and oh the stamping and crushing that ensues! A rivulet of sweat runs from my temple to land on my breast. Hair flying, sheer animal pleasure surging through me; in the dance I am transformed into sheer movement—no past or future, just these delicious sensations.
The curtain descends with a thud; on the other side, the syncopated, muffled sound of approval, like the beginnings of a rain storm, slow at first and then enormous; the theatre swept with round after round of applause. They love me, I think, I can scarcely believe it! The curtain rises up and, thanks to the earl, flowers are landing upon the stage. The audience is requesting an encore—it's a triumphant début, in London, in England! At Her Majesty's Theatre, before royalty and nobility! And then ...
I gasp, suddenly confused. The spell is broken.
"Madam?" the small man pounces with the word.
Spit it out, Lola, then brave it out.
"My performance was perfection. Then out of nowhere, that devil began to scream his vile lies."
The Cockney enjoys repeating them for me. "'She's a hoax, a fraud. How can anyone be fooled?' Ain't that what 'e said?"
The memory makes me cover my eyes and shiver from head to foot—the shape of a man moving swiftly along a row of seats, causing others to cry out as he pushes past with that high, angry voice.
"He then claimed, 'That's not Lola Montez,'" the European adds. "'Her name is Eliza Gilbert, formerly known as Mrs. James, as many of you men know. She's a fraud and an adulteress.' I believe those were the exact words."
I stare at him in horror.
"Tell us wha' you did then." The Cockney grins, clambering to his feet. "I love this part."
Again with my fear comes a spurt of anger. Don't you toy with Lola Montez. Don't dare bully me, you turds!
"I did what any professional would have done," I say. "The orchestra leader was looking up at me, astonished, so I waved at him to go on."
Yes, he raised his baton, my music began again, and I stepped behind the folding screen. To catch my breath, to ask myself, who is this bastardo trying to ruin my triumph? The hysterical voice began yelling again, and suddenly I recognized it! Before I knew what I was doing, I'd bent down and ripped off my shoes, reached to my thighs to unclip my garters, yanked the stockings from my legs, and stepped out again from behind the screen. In my head was an explosion of hot, red light, the flame of realization: I may know your obscene secrets, you fiend, the ones you hissed into my brain, but I also know exactly what you fear! So I danced again, I danced El Oleano barefoot and barelegged! I danced that araña repulsivo right out of the theatre! I leapt and stamped, naked legs flashing. Ladies were screaming and trying to get out of their seats; husbands covered their ladies' eyes while peering, bulgy-eyed, themselves. There was such a hubbub I could barely hear the music, but as the hideous shape slithered out the auditorium doors, I was inspired by a wild jubilation. Flinging my skirts back and forth in flamenco style, I shook my hips and my castanets, dancing towards the edge of the stage until the orchestra leader's eyes protruded in alarm, thinking I was about to drop upon him. Arching my back, I ripped the mantilla from my head and shook my tresses loose to cascade over my shoulders in a dark mass. The curtain fell, just missing me, the orchestra came to an abrupt, wheezy halt, and my encore was over.
I clear my throat, about to speak proudly of my victory, but in that very second the reality of the fiend's reappearance strikes: My God, I understand. He's found me out and come to kill me! And then, in horror: Are these the devil's henchmen? Give nothing away!
The Cockney, who's been pacing, reaches down to clamp my dirty bare left foot in a frightening grip. "I've never seen a woman dancin' with bare legs and flashin' 'er skirts—thought I'd died and ended in 'eaven!" He is laughing.
"Be silent," the other admonishes, turning back to me. "Tell me, madam, what do the words of the intruder—"
"The madman!" I pant. "The hound from hell!"
"—what do his words mean? Before leaving the theatre, he said you are wanted as a spy and that the Spanish government will pay handsomely—dead or alive." The three final words rip again through my vitals.
I yank my foot from the Cockney's grasp. The vile man is now jiggling a knife he's pulled from somewhere. "Yer luvly performance and yer luvly bare legs," he coos, "they're very distractin', but we need to know more." The yellow glimpse of his incisors is not encouraging.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I'm shuddering like a dish of jellied eels. "What in God's name do you want of me?" The hair is rising on the back of my neck as another dreadful thought strikes: Are they toying with me; warming me up and then—?
"The truth," the Cockney is saying, "even the bits you don' unnerstan'."
The dapper one rises swiftly and moves towards me. I cry out and lunge away, but he pins me back into the chair.
"Calm down, we haven't hurt you. What did he mean by 'spy'? And why do they want you 'dead or alive'?"
"I don't know who 'they' are!" I cry. "It's only the madman who wants me dead! It's such a terrifying story, you would never believe it!"
He lets go of me, sits again, then steeples his fingers and waits, motionless. The Cockney begins pacing around behind my back, which makes my scalp prickle again.
"I cannot place you, madam," the dandy muses. "What we saw tonight is not the dance of a dignified widow."
"You're wrong! It is the dance of a heartbroken Spanish widow, the devastated survivor of her hero's tragic death!" Saying this, the shock of everything that has happened in the past six months cascades in upon me—and nearer still, the assassination and treachery, which is so appalling that I don't know how to bear it. My fearless rebel! My mask of bravery is slipping, and a sob bursts from me.
He watches silently as I struggle to bring myself under control. Then, "You're a performer, that is very clear."
Liar—you dog! My heart is beating like a sledgehammer and will surely break. I can barely hear the man's soft, measured voice above my agitated thoughts.
"You see, young lady, and this is very important: We think you know something you don't know that you know. And we're concerned for your health. For your ... life. Do you understand?"
The Cockney smacks his lips. "Almost relives it, she does, tears an' all."
"Mmm ... There's a thought." The dandy comes to some decision. "Doña Lola, listen to me carefully. Take your mind back to the beginning of your 'terrifying story', to how it started. Think through everything that's happened. We know what we're looking for; you don't."
The Cockney's breath is hot up against my neck. "Give it to us, very pretty. Jus' like you."
"Here's what's going to happen, Lola Montez, or whoever you are," the elegant one says with finality. "We're going to leave you here to calm yourself. You won't be able to escape, so don't bother trying. Put it all straight in your head. Every detail. And in the morning, you will tell it to us, sedately, with no histrionics."
"Yer life depends on it," adds his genial chum.
"How can I know what to tell you if I don't know who you are?" I quaver, trying to remain strong, the brave Spanish widow. "Are you from the government? The military? The ... the church?" I manage to get this out, but just barely.
The small man's eyes go hooded, and the Cockney sucks his teeth. I am cold all over.
"How do I know I can trust you?" I persist.
"We don't know that we can trust you," the European says. "Think it through. We'll leave you now."
And they do.
I have no idea whose side they are on.
The minute they're gone and their footsteps can no longer be heard, I leap to my feet and dart around the room, checking everything—the paneling, behind the wall hangings, the floor boards. The door is locked fast, as they said it would be. There are no windows. Everything is stale and dusty, as if the air hasn't been disturbed for a very long time. Why oh why did I return to ghastly old England? I hate the place, it's always been bad luck! I could kick myself, so I kick the paneling, hard and repeatedly. I should have gone to America, I curse. The land of liberty, assertiveness, and impulsiveness! A country of free men, where women shoot pistols while riding astride. If I ever get out of this, I swear I will get to America, leave this detestable land of boiled milk and blood pudding once and for all, and never look back!
I collapse onto the settee, holding my head. My body's exhausted from the night's dancing and from the fear. I'm also suddenly hungrier than I can remember—and I've been through some hungry times in recent months.
There are three candles burning, but no others that I can see. With misgiving, but resolve, I blow two of the candles out. Then I sit again. I fear the coming dark almost as much as the men's return.
How can I tell them everything? There is so much I cannot tell, under any circumstances. When there's so much to conceal, I'm afraid to say anything, afraid I'll be caught in my lies.
But no. That's the reasoning of a frightened little girl. Everything that has come before has led me to this, to the new life I've created for myself. I put my hands to my hot cheeks, considering my options. And my resolve begins to rise again: After all, there's no going back. That story is dead; this one's alive. I have a quick mind and a certain wit. I'm young, I'm strong. Like a cat, thrown from a four-story building, I can twist and turn and land on my legs. That's my luck and my talent; it's what I'm good at.
My lost year in Spain ... Can I bear to remember?
I let the shadows from the flickering candle paint the scene, searching, selecting, giving myself courage as my lover might: It's a game of chance, and I must shuffle the cards.CHAPTER 2
It Began in London
* * *
I'd arrived back in London from Scotland in the middle of May, just one year ago, in desperate need of money and no longer able to turn to my long-suffering stepfather. Yes, at twenty-two, I'd burned that bridge beyond a doubt; my mother never wished to hear from me again. What was open to a young woman of my reduced means? Not very much that was appealing: Governess? Hideous. Lady's companion? Perish the thought. I'd heard rumors of women on the continent who spent their lives pleasing men, but didn't fancy it. What if the man was not to your liking? I'd just escaped from that exact torment and wasn't eager to put my neck in the rope again any time soon. The person I was most keen to emulate, and quickly, was the famous Madame Vestris, though the theatre was not my world and I didn't know exactly how to go about becoming part of that milieu. But I wanted it. Needed it.
I took myself to George Lennox's lodgings as soon as I'd found rooms for myself. George had been a revelation in bed after Thomas, my erstwhile husband. I'd thought George and I were made for each other. I'd thought we had a future. Of course he'd never told his wealthy parents about me, nor anyone else in his life that mattered. Just his theatre friends and club mates, the jolly riffraff he collected.
He was at home—this time, alone. And very surprised to see me.
"Don't worry, George, I'm not here for you," I said, swanning into his drawing room and flinging my reticule down on the chair upon which I'd found him bouncing the fat, white ass of a third-rate actress named Angel six months before. "I need a favour."
"Do you know your heel of a husband has sued me?" George retorted. "He's filed papers suing me for 'criminal conversation' with his wife—that is, with you."
I had to laugh at the legal euphemism.
"Well, he's suing me for divorce," I said. "When's your court date?"
"Middle of September."
"Mine is earlier. I don't think I'll be here."
"For God's sake, Rosie."
"I'm serious—and don't call me that."
"Where've you been, anyway?"
"Mouldering in Scotland with my damned relatives, no thanks to you," I snapped. "I need the name of the very best teacher in London, George. Acting teacher. And don't you dare laugh."
It was all so hard to believe, standing there looking at him, that day of my return. The man I'd loved to distraction. I'd wasted my stepfather's present of a nest egg on him; George always seemed to be short when it came time to pay a bill. It had all ended when, planning his twentieth birthday celebration, I'd been tripping around for presents and edibles. I was close to his lodgings and needed a rest before our big night, so I'd stopped there. He was at his club—or so I thought. For a moment I didn't recognize the sounds coming from behind his door. My brain didn't take it in. I used the key, the door swung wide, and there at the end of the corridor was the coarse, slatternly actress George had taken me to meet one night after a musical play: Angel. Stark naked but for her boots, straddling a similarly naked George. My parcels tumbled to the floor, and before I knew what I was doing I'd grabbed up George's riding whip from his hall table, rushed towards them flourishing it, and walloped the blowsy slut across the shoulders several times. She fell backwards howling as George wrenched the whip from my hand. Angel scrabbled crab-like across the parquet towards her crumpled, abominable clothing.
Excerpted from Whip Smart by Kit Brennan. Copyright © 2012 Kit Brennan. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
It Began in London,
And on to Paris,
Interlude: The Dead of Night,
Return to London,
And Now: The Denouement,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If this was truly a fiction book, I would not have liked it. The fact that is was written based on someones life makes it more interesting. Odd life this lady led.