Today I am so pleased to welcome Jackie North to Joyfully Jay. Jackie has come to talk to us about her latest release, Fagin’s Boy. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!

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Exclusive Excerpt

This scene takes place a little further along in the beginning of the book. Oliver, concerned about his prospects in life, goes to have a drink on his own, and runs into Jack. Jack, seeing that Oliver is in over his head at the tavern, takes care of him in spite of Oliver’s protests. 

***

Uncle Brownlow never liked hearing the story of little Oliver’s early life and had listened only once or twice before he’d declared he’d had enough. He didn’t even want to hear the part about how Fagin, upon seeing the many holes in Oliver’s old stockings, had stolen him a new pair. Nor had Uncle Brownlow wanted to hear how Fagin had, with his own hands, stuffed straw around the windows to keep his boys warm. None of that mattered, only that Fagin was a fence, a flash man living at the bottom of a very hard world. That he was a thief and a Jew seemed to matter less than that he’d stolen Oliver away.

Uncle Brownlow’s disinclination to listen didn’t make what had happened not so, however. Oliver knew that. And he suspected that Uncle Brownlow did, as well. But nobody else had specifically asked to hear of his adventures, so he’d stopped telling them. Soon, it was as if they’d never happened, except in Oliver’s own mind. And in Mr. Grimwig’s memory, of course.

For some reason, Mr. Grimwig was always able to work the torrid details of Oliver’s story into any conversation, especially to those persons with whom Oliver was making his first acquaintance. Mr. Grimwig always saw to it that everyone he met knew exactly the low places that Oliver was familiar with. Such as this tavern. Mr. Grimwig would indeed be satisfied to know that all his opinions about Oliver might be more true than he suspected. Not that Oliver would ever tell him.

He took another slug of gin and considered the glass in his hand, smeared with grease and not very clean. He realized quite clearly that Uncle Brownlow would be shocked to see him drinking out of such a vessel, and that opinion, so dearly missed, was making him feel very badly about being where he was, and on such a day.

“You’ll be wantin’ better than that, you will, my flash companion.”

Oliver heard the jaunty voice from over his shoulder, and it came at him as if pressed through some kind of chamber, sealed at one end so that it echoed back at him without ever having been spoken. The hair on his neck began a creeping dance, rather as if it were trying to slide beneath the collar of his woolen greatcoat. The skin across his shoulders soon joined it, and he turned his head, wondering if there would be something to scare him, or if he would only find the sightless eyes of a beggar wanting a sip of the gin that had suddenly turned to ash water in his mouth.

He was badly drunk, drunk enough to be dreaming, but there Jack Dawkins stood with his heavy brow and that wide mouth, smiling far too broadly. On his head he wore a ragged, once-shiny top hat. Stolen, no doubt, as had been the coat, for such articles would not have been purchased, not by someone who possessed such talented hands, which were now jammed into pockets, ruining the elegant lines of the coat.

Jack was of a height with Oliver, though not quite as broad or well-fed as the gentleman for whom the coat had been designed. But yes, he wore Oliver’s red scarf around his neck, boldly tied, of course. Only Jack Dawkins could wear a scarf in that manner and call it fashion.

Still Oliver could not speak, could not greet Jack and call him by name, for to do so was to bring back the past to the now. Particularly to the now where he’d been caught with his second gin in his hand. In a tavern near the river, in a rough part of town. He saw Jack’s eyes take in the ugly grey scarf that Oliver wore.

“Have you been following me?” Oliver asked. His mind froze at this; if Jack could find him on a snowy, ice-crusted day in London, then Jack could find him anywhere.

“Why are you always so surprised to see me, eh, Nolly?” Jack smiled the smile that Oliver knew so well.

“Anyway, you’re the only person I know in London,” continued Jack with a shrug. “Besides, that muck’ll give you belly rot,” he added, nodding at the glass in Oliver’s hand.

Jack didn’t truly care, of course. Oliver could sink into drunken madness at that very moment, and Jack would only be concerned with what he wanted, with what was good for Jack. Jack Dawkins. The Artful Dodger. Mr. Artful, if you please.

Oliver opened his mouth to speak, and someone bumped into him. Oliver jerked his hand, and the gin spilled all over his trousers. The gin oozed down his leg and reeked through the air, and all the while those green eyes, sparkling beneath the brim of that hat, watched him.

“I’ve got an interview with a solicitor today,” said Oliver, his mouth thick over the words. “And no time, not any, to spend in idle talk with a pickpocket.” His hand shook, and he spilled more of his gin on the floor so that there was only a draught or two left in the glass.

“How much have you had, anyway?” Jack sat on the stool next to him, and Oliver shifted back.

There was something sinewy about the way Jack moved. And, as Oliver looked at that coarse skin and the fringe of dark hair coming down the hard jawline, he thought about the five years since Jack had been deported. It was from that faraway place that Jack had returned, looking more a young man than the boy Oliver remembered. Regardless of when and how, Jack’s one major task of consequence, to wit, was to pester his old pal.

Oliver really couldn’t understand why Jack had sought him out yet again. Oliver had told Jack everything he knew about Fagin’s gang, or at least what he could say. That everyone from Fagin’s gang, from the smallest lad to the man himself, had been scattered to the winds. He shoved away the memory of Fagin’s last night in Newgate and thought of Nancy’s death. Though with no details forthcoming, he could only imagine her blood running across the cobblestones till the street ran red like those at Smithfield Market. And of Sikes’s body, shot, hanged, dead, something like that—

“Some air,” said Jack.

He took Oliver by the arm, as though they’d been in the midst of discussing it and Jack had just decided. He got up and pulled Oliver to his feet and made him walk outside.

The air on the street was painfully cold, now that he’d been breathing in the warm funk of the tavern, and fresh, in spite of the smack of the scent of the river in his face. His blood was racing through him, courtesy of the gin. The heat of his skin became flecked with frost as it cooled, and he wondered why he’d not worn a different scarf, such as his red one, and then remembered that Jack had stolen it, was wearing it even now, the soft red wool swirling around his ex-convict neck.

Oliver shook his head and let himself be dragged, which was a sad mistake because if Jack meant to haul him somewhere quiet and dark and hold him there till Oliver gave up whatever Jack wanted, well, it would be a short wait. Jack was all bundled up, prepared for the weather, and Oliver was not.

But once Jack got him into the street, he stopped and released Oliver. They were still close to the overhang of the sign for the Green Dragon, where people passed in and out of the door. And the snow, as it blew off the roof, slanted toward them; splats of snow landed on Oliver’s neck.

Jack patted the front of Oliver’s greatcoat. And, as Jack leaned toward him, Oliver found he was too close to the swath of dark hair that spilled across Jack’s forehead in greasy strands from beneath the ragged edges of that hat. The warm, steady touch of Jack’s hands overwhelmed him. Oliver tried shoving backward, but Jack gripped the edge of his lapel. His own gloveless hands tried for purchase on Jack’s thicker coat, but it was useless. He was about to fall on his backside in the snow. Right there in the street.

“Let go of me,” said Oliver, flushed, feeling that his words came out indistinct, to be regarded by nobody.

He tightened his whole body to pull away, but Jack pulled him close, close enough to almost touch Oliver’s face with his own. Close enough that Oliver could smell the smoke and sweat on him, see the wreath of grit on his neck.

“There’s no sense in that, Nolly,” said Jack, tugging on Oliver’s greatcoat to keep him still. “Seein’ as I’ve got you.”

For a moment, the hardness of that voice erased almost every bit of boyishness Jack possessed. Almost. The street thug was there too, in the husk of air as it pushed out of his lungs. Oliver watched the frost of breath from Jack’s lips and felt himself shake his head, as if he were saying no to one of Jack’s suggestions.

Jack laughed and pulled back, twitching his head to resettle his hat, and Oliver sank back against the wall, his boots slipping in the snow, melted ice from the sign dripping down his neck. Jack grabbed his arm again and pulled Oliver up the street to where it narrowed to a mere lane.

“Let go, I say,” said Oliver, trying for force, teeth grit, but not wanting to make a scene, not wanting word to get back to Mr. Grimwig for any reason at all. “Let go!”

He threw a punch, wide with his bare fist, hitting Jack in the arm. It was ineffectual, but it did stop Jack. Jack bunched up his shoulders, as though he were going to strike back, but then he lowered them. When he reached out his hand, it was to push the moist hair from across Oliver’s forehead and to gently pat Oliver’s cheek.

Oliver staggered, as though he had been struck, clutching onto Jack’s wool-clad arm, dazed and staring, feeling as though he should understand what was happening, could understand it if his head wasn’t ringing. When Oliver tried to pull away again, Jack gave Oliver’s arm a rough shake. Then he walked a few paces, pulling Oliver with him.

“I’m hurt that you would think I meant you ill,” said Jack. “Wounded, even.”

Oliver rubbed his coat sleeves with his bare hands and tried to be more worried about his soaked trouser leg and the tiresome explanation he’d have to make when he got back to the townhouse. Better to worry about that rather than how close Jack was, and how the curve of his mouth and the smell of his skin, warm in the cold, took Oliver right back to a place he’d never thought to return, and from which he’d come so far.

“Here, what money you got? Any change? Be a good boy and hand it over now..”

Blinking, Oliver thought of the small change purse in his pocket from whence he’d brought forth enough for two measures of gin. He’d been a good boy for so long, but with the right sort of people, he might be a bad one. But Jack’s expression said, in dark familiar lines, that the kind of boy Jack wanted him to be was an obedient one. One that would hand it over, and that right quick.

How much money did he have left, and what did Jack want it for? Maybe Jack wanted lodgings and someone to recommend him; Oliver couldn’t think straight enough to figure it out. And all the while, Jack’s eyes were watching him. As Oliver jerked his hand near his pocket to protect it, Jack reached out and grabbed him by the wrist.

“Pull it out, or I pulls it out for you.”

Something warm and dusky was in Jack’s voice; Oliver believed he meant to do what he said, though Oliver couldn’t imagine anyone doing what Jack was suggesting. To put his hand in another man’s pocket

“Just hand it over, Nolly,” said Jack, shaking his head, the velvety tones of his voice slipping away to the street-bright ones. “We’re goin’ t’get somethin’ to sober you up. Here.”

Jack made a wide gesture with his hand, and Oliver made himself focus. They were directly near a coffee busker, a cart on wheels with its slanted canvas roof clean of snow, the wheels painted a bright blue. The cart had a little hob over which hung a silver pot with a short, curved spout.

Jack nodded at the man, who tilted the pot and poured out a large dose of coffee into a dented metal cup. Into this, he tipped some brown sugar and handed it to Jack.

“Bread as well, then?” asked the busker.

“With butter,” said Jack. “Is it salted?”

He gestured to Oliver to pull out his money, and this Oliver did, feeling half-stupid and far short of being half-sober. Jack took the change purse, and, without asking, pawed through it for a handful of pennies, which he handed to the busker. Then he held out the tumbler.

“Extra sugar in that, if you please,” Jack said, pocketing Oliver’s change purse so quickly that Oliver blinked. “My mate here likes it that way.”

When the busker handed over the slices of buttered bread and the large tumbler of hot coffee, Jack handed the tumbler to Oliver.

“Here, get some of that into you.” Jack even tipped the container toward Oliver’s mouth to encourage Oliver to drink.

Oliver took the tumbler in both hands and put it to his lips. The metal was hot, but in the cold air, quickly cooled as steam rose from the surface of the coffee in mad swirls, dissipating somewhere near his forehead. It was occurring to him, through the fog the gin had created, that Jack meant to help him rather than to hinder.

He took a small sip of the hot coffee. It warmed him through as he watched Jack take a bite of the bread and butter, his lips smacking around the bite, as if it were the best he’d ever eaten. It might have been, for all that. Oliver found himself strangely disquieted by the fact that he didn’t mind that Jack had spent his money, though he did want that change purse back. Uncle Brownlow had given it to him at Christmas, and the clasp was guaranteed for life.

“There’s no cream in it,” he said. “But it’s what you need.”

Jack took the coffee from Oliver and took a large swig. Then he handed the coffee back as he ate the rest of the bread and butter, rather as if he were starving, which Oliver imagined he might be. After all, what did an ex-convict, recently hextricated, do for a living? Never mind. He had no intention of asking.

“Our own dear Nolly,” said Jack, after taking another swig of coffee and handing it back to Oliver. He tapped the cup, as if to encourage Oliver to drink still more. Which he did, taking a large swallow that was not quite hot enough to burn his tongue.

“Sweet Oliver,” Jack said now, still watching him. “Suckin’ back a glass of gin from a dirty glass, no less, with his elbows on the counter, for all the world like a down-and-out sailor.”

Frowning, Oliver handed Jack the coffee, only now realizing that they’d been sharing the same container. But then, what of that? In the bad old days, there’d been fewer mugs and tumblers than there had been boys. Fagin’s lads shared what they had, from cups of coffee to slices of bread. Rough pillows and worn blankets. The circle of bare feet around an open fire in a raggedy hearth.

He watched Jack licking his fingers and tucking them around the metal tumbler to warm them. There were new scars along the backs of his fingers, and the bones on his hands and wrists seemed too near the surface. It made Oliver want to ask what Jack had been doing while he’d been away.

Jack tipped his head back, his throat working as he swallowed the rest of the coffee. Then he gave the metal cup back to the coffee busker. He patted his stomach, seeming content as he gave Oliver a quirky half smile.

“Filled now,” he said. “And you’re more sober.”

“Yes,” said Oliver.

His body was beginning to feel the steadying effects of the gin being chased away by the hot coffee. And by Jack’s presence, which was, in truth, as good as a slap in the face. It reminded him that if he didn’t sign those papers, he wouldn’t be able to work for Mr. McCready. And then he would end up like Jack, a vagrant in the street, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Well, nothing respectable to do.

“I have to go,” said Oliver quite bluntly.

Watching Oliver with an intent expression, Jack reached into his pocket and jostled Oliver’s change purse in his hand, up and down, as though he were tossing a child’s ball. He didn’t offer the change purse back to Oliver, and Oliver didn’t dare try to grab it, for Jack would just laugh and pull away, as if the whole of it were some game. That change purse was as long gone, as gone as if Oliver had thrown it into the Thames with his own hands.

“I can catch up with you later,” said Jack. “I’ll come tomorrow.”

“But you won’t,” said Oliver, saying this before he realized he should just let the comment remain where it was without an explanation. He stepped back from Jack, his boots slipping a bit in the wet snow that had gathered around his feet. Though he was an orphan still, he was no longer a small boy to be detained by a street thug, and he had somewhere to be. “I’ll be moving on. I’ve got an interview this afternoon, and then I’ll be in a different part of London.”

“Well,” said Jack, tugging at his lapels and tipping his head back to look at Oliver down his nose. “That ain’t no matter to me;  for I’ll find you, just the same.”

Of course, Jack would. He had before; there was nothing to stop him from doing it again, not when the whole of London belonged to him. Then Jack turned and walked up the slanted street without a backward glance, and, in a moment, he’d disappeared around a corner as if he’d never really been there.


Blurb

fagin's boy coverOliver & Jack, Book 1

In 1846 London, respectable young men do not fall for street thieves. This is the love story of Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger.

Oliver Twist has one desire: to own a bookshop and live a simple, middle-class life, far away from his workhouse-shadowed past. One thing stands in his way: Jack Dawkins–The Artful Dodger–who’s just returned to London and is looking for Fagin’s old gang.

Jack’s visits cause Oliver nothing but trouble, but he finds himself drawn, time and again, to their shared past, Jack’s unguarded honesty, and those bright, green eyes.

Oliver craves respectability, which he won’t find with a forbidden love. Can Jack convince Oliver that having one doesn’t mean losing the other?

A gay, m/m Victorian-era romance with grumpy/sunshine, hurt/comfort, opposites attract, emotional scars, and pure, sweet love. A little sweet, a little steamy, with a guaranteed HEA.


Bio

jackie north bio imageJackie North has been writing stories since grade school and spent years absorbing the mainstream romances that she found at her local grocery store. Her dream was to someday leave her corporate day job behind and put her English degree to good use and write romance novels, because for years she’s had a never-ending movie of made-up love stories in her head that simply wouldn’t leave her alone.

As fate would have it, she discovered m/m romance and decided that men falling in love with other men was exactly what she wanted to write books about. In this dazzling new world, she is now putting stories to paper as fast as her fingers can type. She creates characters who are a bit flawed and broken, who find themselves on the edge of society, and maybe a few who are a little bit lost, but who all deserve a happily ever after. (And she makes sure they get it!)

She likes long walks on the beach, the smell of lavender and rainstorms, and enjoys sleeping in on snowy mornings. She is especially fond of pizza and beer and, when time allows, long road trips with soda fountain drinks and rock and roll music. In her heart, there is peace to be found everywhere, but since in the real world this isn’t always true, Jackie writes for love.

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Giveaway

To celebrate the release of Fagin’s Boy, Jackie is giving away:

  • a Paperback copy of Fagin’s Boy for a US or Canadian Winner
  • Any ebook from Jackie’s backlist (International Winner)

By signing up to Jackie’s Newsletter, you’ll also get two freebies, one sweet, one steamy! Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win!

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