Throughout time, it has never been too late for love

Welcome, Time Travellers, to 1886.

You have arrived in the year of my novella, Forged in Fire, which appears in the Bluestocking Belles’ box set Never Too Late.

In 1886, Queen Victoria was the revered mother-queen of the British Empire, on which the sun never set, and New Zealand was her furthest possession.

This was the year in which Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Karl Benz patented the world’s first successful gasoline powered car. The Apache chief Geronimo surrendered in this year, ending the last major US-Indian war, and Spain abolished slavery in Cuba.

A strange mix of long ago and very near.

I was startled when I realised that my grandfather — whom I remember from when I was four — would have been a young apprentice builder in 1886, working with his master builder fathers and uncles to build the home my mother grew up in, and after which I would one day name my publishing imprint, Titchfield Press.

Lovers of 1886

In 1886, Grover Cleveland became the first and only sitting President of the United States to marry while in office. He and his bride, Frances Folsom, remain the only president and first lady ever to marry in the White House.

The ceremony was a small affair performed at 7pm in the evening. The new first lady took over the hostess duties formerly performed by the president’s sister, and became very popular. She managed another first for a first lady, giving birth to the second of the couple’s two daughters during the president’s second term. In all, they had three daughters and two sons.

The lives of lovers in 1886

In the British Empire in 1886, your lifestyle would have very much depended on who you were and where you lived. My own ancestors were almost all in New Zealand by then — all hard working people, tradesmen and shopkeepers, determined to make a better life for their descendants. (One grandmother was yet to be born in London — she came out as a war bride in 1819.)

In 1886, New Zealand reached a milestone, when the census showed that, for the first time, more non-Maori residents had been born in New Zealand than had immigrated from overseas.

What they wore

The bustle returned in 1886. Fashionable ladies wore theirs straight out from the back waist, and decorated them with bows, frills, and swags of drapery. My own family photographs don’t show anything as extreme, but still Sunday best had a decided bustle.

Most men wore full-length trousers even for formal occasions, often with knee-length top coats in the colder weather.

Hats of all kinds covered heads then as they would for the next seventy years, right through into my childhood.

What they ate

The 1880s were hungry years for some in New Zealand, with an economic depression leading to poor working conditions and exploitation of the labour of women and children.

Those with money or a bit of land of their own ate food they were familiar with, mostly British-Isles cuisine. One innovation not found in the old country was meat. Meat was rare on the tables of Britain’s labourers. In New Zealand, all but the very poor ate meat at every meal.

And New Zealanders retained the sweet tooth of their countries of origin, with baked goods made to imported and newly invented recipes becoming a great staple of every social occasion. With no shortage of milk and butter from the family cow, and eggs from hens, the ‘ladies a plate’ entry fee was born. No need to pay for a ticket, just bring food for the supper.

Where they lived

According to the 1886 census, 95% of the population lived in one of New Zealand’s 108,000 houses made with good materials. By which, the statistician meant mostly wood, since fewer than 5% of the houses, he informed the government, were made of brick, stone, or concrete.

New Zealand had a lot of wood, though they were felling the forests at an enormous rate. Even our Parliament Buildings were made from wood, worked to look like stone.

Most houses had three or more rooms, which was just as well, since the average house had five people living in it. Titchfield was built with eight rooms (four upstairs and four down), for my great-grandfather and his family (a wife and eight children). Later alterations added a lean to kitchen at the back and other improvements.

Health and wellbeing

By 1886, the Maori population was reeling under the effects of the loss of their land and the diseases brought in by pakeha (the settlers). Lack of resources, overcrowding and poor diet let disease take hold. Just over 50% of Maori who died in 1886 were children. Significantly fewer Maori girls lived to child bearing age, which meant far fewer Maori were born.

For the settlers, better food and living conditions than they’d had in Britain meant better health, more children surviving the diseases of childhood, and a longer life expectancy.

New Zealand had its own risks, though. Not just the rare but devastating earthquake or the volcanic eruption that I write about in Forged in Fire, but the ever-present risk (in a land formed by water) of flooding. By 1886, the main roads had bridges, but many journeys still required fording a river. In the nineteenth century, drowning was known as ‘the New Zealand death’.

The rights of women

Reading the lives of colonial women, I am in awe. They set up house in the most primitive of conditions and built homes in the wilderness, working shoulder to shoulder with their men to clear the bush, at the same time raising and educating large tribes of children.

By 1886, most New Zealanders lived and worked in or around one of the towns rather than out in the country, but there were still cows to milk, pigs and hens to feed, vegetable gardens to tend, butter to churn, bread and other baking to make, and a myriad of other tasks to keep the family fed. Not to mention clothes and linen to boil and wash in kettles under an outside shelter or in a shed, and then to dry, with mending and the making of new items of clothing also high on the list. And childcare. Did I mention large tribes of children?

Male drunkenness was an abiding problem, and the Women’s temperance movement a response. That, in turn, led to a bid for women’s suffrage. The theory was that women who voted would be able to exert pressure on the liquor laws, to improve the lives of women and children who suffered from unbridled drinking.

Two suffrage bills narrowly failed to pass Parliament in the late 1870s. In 1885, a group of women led by Kate Sheppard founded the New Zealand version of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. So as a time-traveller, you might see them rallying for the vote, or collecting signatures on one of the huge petitions presented to parliament.

Barriers to Love for my 1886 couple

Tad and Lottie are both running from scandal when they meet on the other side of the world. It’s a bad time. Lottie is resigned to her fate, and untrusting of charm. Tad is being summoned back to England to a life he doesn’t want. And Lottie’s cousin is determined to keep her unpaid lackey, even if it means lying.

Tad has had many more choices than Lottie. As a man, he has been able to travel and find work. Lottie has been living as a dependent, physically safe and well cared for but emotionally abused.

Facing the power of the volcano gives them pause. Do they want to die before they have lived? And if they survive, will they have the courage to step into a whole different life?

Comment to win

All comments on this blog will go into the draw to win a mug with an 1886 map of the British empire, drawn seven days from the date the blog was published.

Comment on all eight blogs in the tour, and be in to win a $25 gift voucher from Amazon and a print copy of Never Too Late.

Farewell from 1886

Thank you for dropping in. Your next stop should be on Elizabeth Ellen Carter’s blog on 28th November. Or return to the time machine page on our Bluestocking Belle’s website and pick a year as they are posted over the next few weeks.

I wish you safe travels. Good luck. Try not to land in the midst of the Black Plague or Paris during the Terror of the French Revolution.

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Sunday spotlight on the past three years

The two on the far right are from a previous career. The rest have been published in the past three years. The collections bulk it out, with stories by other writers. On the other hand, I don’t yet have print copies of two of the anthologies I was in this holiday season.

As I race toward the release of my third story collection (If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales), I’ve been thinking about my brief (so far) career as an independently published historical romance writer.

My first post on my blog was three years and three months ago, on 16 September 2014. ‘Tentative first steps’, I called it. At that point, I was still writing Farewell to Kindness, my first novel. Candle and Min Avery had not yet wandered into the Assembly at Chipping Nidwick, and I had no idea that a month later I’d be consumed by their story, that two months’ later I’d be writing it, and that three months’ later the novella Candle’s Christmas Chair would be my first published historical romance.

Things have not turned out the way I planned at the beginning. Based on those two books, I figured I could manage three novels a year, while working full-time in the day job. I didn’t allow for the sheer volume of work required of an indie publisher and all the marketing needed in the bazillion-book marketplace. I didn’t factor in the changing needs of family, or the ill health that was about to dog my PEH (personal romantic hero) and I.

In the event, I’ve managed to write and publish four novels in three years, and I’m nearing the end of the fifth. I’ve also written and published eight novellas and a dozen or so novelettes or longish short stories.

And I’ve blogged. I’m a bit more structured today than I was in the beginning, with four regular weekly features. But they cover the same ground.

I’ve also talked about the writing process, about my books, and occasionally about the philosophy that underpins the kind of stories I chose to write.

I’ve written to you, and you’ve written back to me, in the comments and in emails. I’m grateful to have you with me on this journey.

So what is in store for 2018? Better health, I hope. I have committed to a book for Scarsdale publishing and four (count them, four!) anthologies. The Realm of Silence will be completed before Christmas and in editing in January. I’d love to think I could finish the next in the series, Unkept Promises, as well as Concealed in Shadow, the sequel to Revealed in Mist. So many plots. So little time.

As I said in my very first post way back in 2014: watch this space!

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The history of mistletoe at Christmas

It’s the season for mistletoe, or at least so it would have been back in England during the 18th and 19th century. The little plant with its golden boughs, yellow-green oval leaves and sticky white berries had an important role to play in Christmas celebrations, forming the crucial part of the Kissing Bough or being hung in bunches in strategic places around the household.

Any woman standing under the tree could be asked for a kiss, and courted bad luck if she refused. In one version of the tradition, every kiss was paid for by plucking a berry from the hanging stems, and when the berries were gone, so were the kisses.

So how did a little parasite come to be a magical harbinger of romance?

There are a few stories; some from Norse tradition, some Greek, some from the druids of ancient Britain, and some with strong Christian traditions.

The plant that killed the favourite

In Norse mythology, one god was the favourite of all the others. Everyone loved Baldur. Everyone, that is, but Loki, the god of mischief. Frigga, Baldur’s mother, protected her beloved boy by travelling all the world, and asking everything that grew on land and under it to promise never to hurt Baldur.

As a result, Baldur became invulnerable to anything thrown or thrust at him, provided it was plant-based. Of course, poking Baldur with plant-based weapons became a favourite game, because boys are like that. But Frigga had forgotten one important fact.

Mistletoe doesn’t grow on land or under it. It grows on the branches of another plant — including, willow, oak, and apple trees. Loki made a dart from mistletoe wood and gave it to the blind god, Hoder, so he could join in the game. And Baldur died.

Everything in heaven and earth wept, and Frigga tried for three days to restore her son. In the end, her tears became the mistletoe berries, and Baldur woke from death. In her joy, Frigga made the mistletoe her sacred plant, and decreed that anyone standing under it would never come to harm, but would only be kissed.

Power over hell

In Greek myth, mistletoe had power even over hell. Two doves bought a golden bough of mistletoe to Aenas to light his way through the forest that blocked the way into Hades. When he showed the bough to the ferryman at the River Styx, he and the bough were instantly transported alive across the river.

The sign of peace

To the druids, mistletoe was very special. They believed it could heal just about anything. They cut it from oak trees with sickles of gold, and gathered it without letting it touch the ground. And they hung it in bunches in houses to keep away sickness and war, protect the household from sickness and ghosts, and bring happiness and fertility.

Anyone passing under mistletoe had to lay down their arms and desist from fighting until the next day, even in a forest. Even more so in a house, where guests would stand under the mistletoe to greet their hosts with a kiss of friendship.

Love conquers death

No wonder, with this history, the mistletoe was adopted by the new Christians of Northern Europe, who easily made the transition to seeing this plant of healing and peace as a symbol of Christ, who lay down his life to bring peace to the world, and who came alive out of death. Mistletoe became particularly associated with the birth of Christ, which was now being celebrated in midwinter, when mistletoe had been a traditional part of pre-Christian ceremonies.

Friendship kisses under the mistletoe translated nicely into the new Christian celebrations.

Kissing for luck

Exactly how kisses of peace became the romantic kisses we think of today, we can only guess. But the idea that mistletoe will bring prosperity and fertility might have something to do with it. Prosperity for a woman meant marriage, and by the sixteenth century, kissing under the mistletoe was wildly popular among the working classes.

By the nineteenth century, the custom had often been adopted above stairs as well as below, though not by all. Some regarded it as licentious and improper. But only the most rigid of moralists would refuse a kissing bough to the servants’ hall, even if his or her own daughters could safely pass through the family’s parlours safe in the knowledge that no errant white berry posed a risk to the sanctity of their fair lips. Poor girls.

A week today, I’m publishing the ebook version of If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales, a collection of my Christmas novellas and novelettes. The print version is already available. At 92,000 words, or 320 print pages, of stories about the magic of romance during the magic of Christmas. At $2.99 for the ebook, it represents a 40% discount over the cost of the individual books. And the print cost of $12.50 makes it a great stocking stuffer. Follow the link in the name above for blurb and buy links.

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Bit parts in WIP Wednesday

I have a tendency to become absorbed in the lives of my bit parts — those minor characters who walk on stage and walk off again. Enter, messenger, stage left. Exit, messenger, stage right. But I want to know! Who are they? What are they like? Why are they that way?

I’d like to think it adds texture, even if little of it reaches the page. But whether or not, I can’t help but dream up little backstories for the street sweeper and the third footman and the serving girl in the tobacco shop.

What do other authors do? Why not show me in the comments. An excerpt with a walk-on part, please, and I’ll show you mine. This is from The Realm of Silence, and my hero and heroine are meeting with an anxious innkeeper. In my mind, Mr Withers has children of his own, all grown now. His dear departed wife would have insisted that he help this worried mother as if the missing child was one of their own grandchildren.

At Doncaster, the Ship and Anchor rewarded Susan with the information she and Gil sought. It was possible that a French governess and her charges had stayed the night, and did Madam by any chance know the name of those charges?

“Why do you ask?” Susan wondered.

The clerk, an earnest young man with thinning hair and a face set in lines of anxiety cast his gaze around the room, as if for inspiration, and an older man cut short his conversation with an aproned maid and limped over to speak to them. This man was altogether more prosperous looking; no less neat and his equally subdued clothing of higher quality cut, fabric, and stitching.

“Is there a problem, Clemowes? May I be of service, madam? I am the proprietor, Mr Withers.”

“I am seeking some information, Mr Withers,” Susan explained.

“This lady was asking after the French lady, sir, and the young lady and gentleman.”

Withers pulled his spectacles down his nose to regard her over the top, then appeared to make up his mind. “Clemowes, you have the helm. Madam, would you be so good as to step into my office.

Gil came in from ordering the next change of horses, and followed them as she and Withers crossed the inn’s entry hall through a door hidden in the panelling.

The office was small, with barely enough room for the desk, shelves neatly stacked with file boxes and books, and three upright chairs; one behind the desk and two in front. “If you would be kind enough to be seated, Mrs— Er—, I will explain.” Withers squeezed between the desk and wall of shelves, and faced them with his hands on his own chair, standing until Susan had selected her chair and lowered herself into it. Like the man himself, it was serviceable but not ostentatious.

Gil ignored the remaining seat to stand behind her, his silent presence an unaccountable comfort.

Withers tidied an already neat stack of papers then more perfectly aligned an ink pot on its tray.

If he would not begin the conversation, Susan would. “I asked your clerk about the French woman and her two charges, Mr Withers. In return, he asked me an impertinent question. I trust you do not intend to follow that example.”

Mr Withers grimaced. “It is an odd circumstance, madam, but I could not be easy in my mind if I did not follow the instructions I was given, as Mr Clemowes has followed mine.”

“And those instructions are?”

“First, madam, would you indulge me by naming at least one of the young people? Even just a first name? I would not insist, but yours is not the first enquiry, and the previous fellow did not appear to be aware of… But never mind.”

Susan glanced up over her shoulder, and Gil nodded his agreement. “I am seeking Amelia, known as Amy, and Patrice, known as Pat. Pat is travelling as a male.”

Mr Withers let out his breath in a sigh, and opened a drawer to his right. “Then you are the rightful recipient of this note, madam, left for me by one of the young ladies. I might add that the note was wrapped in another, addressed to me as innkeeper. Before I hand it over, I must ask for the full name of one or both of the young ladies.”

“Amelia Susanna Elizabeth Cunningham and Patrice Grahame,” Susan told him, and Mr Withers passed her the folded piece of paper, and another that he said was the note to him. Gil reached over her shoulder to abstract that one from the innkeeper’s hand.

Susan recognised her daughter’s neat schoolgirl hand on the single sheet, clearly torn from a lined notebook, with some commonplace about the weather written in ink at the top and crossed out in pencil, and a pencil-written message taking the rest of both sides of the paper.

“To our rescuer,” she read. “We suspect Mlle Cornilac of being a French spy. She caught us following her and has forced us to go with her. We don’t know our destination, but the post-chaise is booked for Newcastle, and she has inquired about accommodation in York. We will be staying at The White Rose. Ask there for a further message.

“Look for a lady with a French accent accompanied by a girl in the costume of our school, and a boy. Amy is the girl and Pat is the boy.

“Please let Amy’s mama and Pat’s aunt know that Mlle has not hurt us, and we are both quite safe. But she is very clever, so when we seek help, she turns it so people do not believe us. If we get the chance, we will escape.

“Yours faithfully, Amelia Cunningham and Patrice Grahame.”

Susan handed Gil the letter and read the note to Mr Withers. “To the innkeeper. Please keep the enclosed note safe and give it only to someone who asks after us and who knows our names. This is not a game. Our lives could be forfeit if you fail.”

Like the other note, it was signed with both girls’ names.

“Clever girls,” Gil murmured, making Susan smile.

“It is true, then?” Mr Withers flushed a little. “I must beg your pardon, Mrs Cunningham. I took the liberty of reading the enclosure in order to be certain I was not caught up in some child’s prank. It is Mrs Cunningham, is it not? The eyes. One cannot mistake the relationship. And you would be Mr Cunningham, sir, I take it.” He bowed to Gil, as well as he could while still seated.

Gil accepted the name without demur. “Why York? It is but four or five hours away.”

“A delay with the post chaise.” Mr Withers colour deepened as he explained that the post chaise lost a wheel not thirty minutes after leaving Doncaster, and that the passengers had been left in a farm cottage while the post boy rode back for an alternative equipage. With nothing available but Mr Withers’ own gig, he had himself fetched them and brought them back to the Ship and Anchor to wait for either the repair of the broken wheel or the next post chaise to return from its travels. The note had been discovered after the party’s second departure from the inn.

Gil nodded at the conclusion of the saga. “So they did not leave until early afternoon. Good. That helps us, Susan. Now, Mr Withers, we cannot delay. We have but another three hours of daylight and I wish to be as close to York as I can before we stop for the night. We will take some refreshment, and will you join us, sir, to answer some further questions?”

Within thirty minutes, they were on their way, warmed as much by the news of the girls as by the warm stew and the pint of ale inside them. Thanks to the accident with the post chaise, they were catching up faster than they’d hoped.

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Tea with Lalamani and Philip

Haverford House was built to impress, every room at more than human scale, every surface glittering with evidence of wealth and power. As Lalamani and Philip followed the butler up staircases and down halls, the ducal ancestors frowned down from painted and sculpted portraits, and even the occasional landscape appeared to disapprove of the intruder who had infiltrated these august surroundings.

Lalamani clung tighter to Philip’s arm, and resisted the urge to inform a particularly contemptuous portrait of some duke’s favourite horse that she had been invited.

At long last, the butler opened a door to a comfortable sitting room, still built on the grand scale but somehow transformed by the placement and choice of furnishings into a welcoming place that was a fit setting for the lady who awaited them.

“Lord and Lady Calne, Your Grace,” the butler announced.

Lalamani had been presented to the Duchess of Haverford once, at one of her balls — the same ball at which Lalamani had met the Earl of Calne. Three minutes in a receiving line, with a long queue of people waiting behind, but in those few moments, Her Grace had given Lalamani her complete attention and made the rank outsider, the merchant’s daughter, feel welcome.

And now the duchess’s smile of welcome was repairing the wounds to Lalamani’s self-respect inflicted by the house. “My dears, do come and take a seat. How did you find the walk through this dreadful house? Such a long way, and so much clutter. Tea, Lady Calne?”

She spooned leaves from a small tea chest into a waiting tea pot and handed it to the hovering maid to be filled from an urn.

“Thank you.” Lalamani settled herself on a small sofa, sweeping her skirts to one side so that Philip could sit comfortingly close. Though he had grown in this world no more than she, still he was born to it and had spent more time there, besides.

The duchess beamed. “I was delighted when my friend, Lord Henry Redepenning, mentioned that you and your husband first met at one of my balls, Lady Calne. Lord Henry will tell you that I like nothing better than a love match, and if I did not have a hand in this one, I am at least pleased to have provided the venue for its inception.”

“It is a love match,” Philip assured her, gravely, and she smiled.

“Yes, and it annoys you, I think, that Society is calling you a fortune hunter and your lady a social climber. It would annoy me, too, even were it true. And I can see for myself, now that I see you together, that the two of you are deeply in love, as Lord Henry assured me.”

The great lady’s frankness steadied Lalamani. It seemed the duchess had a mind to support them. What could she do, though? Lalamani repeated the wisdom of her Aunt Hannah. “Nothing can be done about gossip and scandal, except to live it down.”

Her Grace laughed. “I would not say ‘nothing’, my dear. Milk and sugar?” She added a little of both to the cup the maid handed her, then gestured for it to be brought to Lalamani.

“I am not without resources to replace one set of stories with another, Lady Calne. I invited you here to discuss what gossip about your courtship you would find most pleasing. The discovery of the hidden Calne treasure? The rescue of a beleaguered widow? A true romance that seemed fated to be unfulfilled, because of the poverty of the hero and the class of the heroine? You shall decide, and I shall make sure that Society takes you into their hearts.”

Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby is a Christmas novella, released last month. Follow the link for blurb and buy links.

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Sunday Spotlight on the Hellions of Haversham

Somehow, I managed to miss this series from one of my favourite authors, Lorraine Heath, until last month, though the third book came out over a year ago, and the little novella that rounds things off was published in March.

I’m so glad I discovered it!

The Hellions are four boys raised at Haversham Hall by a Marquess who is sunk in a grief so deep that the world calls him mad. One is the son whose mother died giving birth to him; three the children of the Marquess’s best friends who died in a train crash.

I say ‘raised’, but for the most part they bring themselves and one another up, reaching adulthood to travel the world and conquer Society, which will forgive them anything for their charm and their tragic pasts.

Each of the three novels tells the story of one of the Hellions.

An unconventionial heiress, a rakish duke

In Falling Into Bed with a Duke, Minerva Dodger is an unconventional heiress whose fortune has been courted but who never expects to be loved for herself decides to attend the Nightingale Club, where women can maintain anonymity while choosing a lover. Spinsterhood is better than a marriage of convenience, but she would like at least one night of passion.

The Duke of Ashebury has one inflexible rule: never more than one night with a woman. He will not risk love, and when he meets Minerva wants nothing more than a photograph of perfection to add to his collection. It will be one more item in the wall of loveliness he builds to keep away the thoughts that haunt him. But he is soon intrigued, and  sets out to find her identity and woo her in earnest.

She has no reason to trust. He has every reason to be afraid. Heath deftly manages the reveal of his secret and Minerva’s hurt and repudiation of her deceitful betrothed without me losing sympathy for either of them. And Ashe’s response is just perfect.

On a side note, Minerva’s father is a delightful character.

The substitute

The Earl Takes All is my favourite of the books, mainly because of the character of the hero. He’s a better man than he realises.

Edward Alcott, twin of the Earl of Greyling, returns from his last adventure with his brother to bring the tragic news of his brother’s death. But to honour the vow he made to his dying brother, he must masquerade as Greyling until his brother’s wife has her baby.

It’s complicated. Edward has been in love with Julia since he kissed her in a dark garden, a kiss she accepted thinking he was Grey. Since that night, Julia has despised Edward, and Edward has acted to widen the breach to keep a distance between them.

Now Julia finds that her husband has changed, and is appealing in an entirely different way. But what will happen when she discovers the truth?

This could all have gone horribly wrong in the hands of a lesser writer. If Edward’s internal decency had not been so well drawn — the conflict between his desires and the differing calls on his honour — I would not have been nearly so invested in the outcome. And I loved Julia, too. A worthy heroine, truly in love with her husband, and capable of loving again, a different man in a different way.

I couldn’t see how this was going to work out. A man cannot marry his brother’s wife; that’s the Anglican rule. But Heath had a surprise up her sleeve, and I couldn’t have been happier.

One of the best marriage of (in)convenience stories I’ve read

The Viscount and the Vixen is about the fourth of the Hellions. Viscount Locksley is never going to fall into the trap of love. He knows that way lies madness, as happened to his father, the Marquess of Marsden.

But when his father advertises for a bride and Portia Gadstone arrives, Locke reads the contract and realises she just might be the answer to his need. She has been guaranteed a marriage. He wants a bride he can feel nothing for: and a fortune hunting vixen prepared to marry an elderly man for his title should be perfect.

But Portia is there out of desperation, not greed, and her secrets may ruin them both.

Portia is a wonderful heroine. I occasionally wanted to shake Locke, but his actions were totally in keeping with his character and the times, and he came through in the end. Another amazing novel to round off a superb series.

Not sorry I read it

When the Marquess Falls is a novella telling the love story of Locke’s mother and father, the doomed Linnie Connor and Marquess of Marsden.

The story is charming. He always follows the rules set by his inflexible mother. She is the baker’s daughter, and therefore completely unsuitable. And I liked both the main characters.

I thought Heath had set herself an enormous challenge in writing a novella for which readers of the series know the end, since we know that Marsden spent most of his lifetime sunk in grief.

I tell you, people, she just about pulls it off. The last three chapters are beautifully evocative. For me, the paranormal elements grate, but that’s me.

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And let there be light

Waking up to a town-wide power cut this morning set me thinking about how recently in history we lit up the night. As a person writing mostly stories set at the very beginning of the revolution in lighting, it’s something I need to keep very much in mind.

Fire, fire burning bright

Fire came first, of course. Humans had brought fire into their campsites (for protection, warmth, and light) long before recorded history. The first portable light would have been a piece of firewood, with experimentation leading to better and better torches for lighting the winter evenings or winter marches. In essence, a torch is a pole (of wood or metal) with something at the end that burns easily: perhaps moss or fibre soaked in fuel plants (oil pressed from nuts or seeds) or from animal fats.

A lamp to drive away darkness

The first lamps comprised moss or something similar soaked in animal fat, and held in a hollow rock or shell. Oil lamps start popping up in dig sites of around 6,500 years. Made from metal, stone or clay, they have a fuel chamber that contains the oil, one or more pouring holes through which to fill the fuel chamber, and a wick hole or nozzle for the wick, which was a twist of some flammable material.

Because only the wick and the oil it it soaks up is aflame, oil lamps give light for longer for the same amount of oil.

Light a penny candle

Candles came along around 3,000 BC. They didn’t spill, like oil lamps, and there was no need to advance the wick by hand. On the other hand, they were tedious to make. Beeswax candles were the best, but very expensive. Smelly tallow candles were the most common until the sperm whale industry of the 18th century introduced candles made of spermaceti. Even after advances in lamp making in the 19th century, candles continued to be improved, with paraffin wax arriving in the 1850s, along with plaited wicks that self-consumed and didn’t need trimming.

Recently in history…

The explosion of technological innovation that began in the late 18th century had, by the end of the 19th century, brought us the central draught fixed oil lamp, the kerosene lamp,  gas lighting, and electric lighting with incandescent bulbs.

The first house was lit by electricity in Northumberland in 1878 (or, at least, the picture gallery was), with the first street (in Newcastle) following a year later.

And 142 years later, the electricity has returned in time for me to write this post.

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Aaargh! The dog ate my homework!

Or the internet ate my newsletter subscribers, which is nearly the same thing.

I have finished The Mouse Fights Back, my story for newsletter subscribers. Yay! I’m sending out a newsletter this weekend, so just in time. 9,300 words, and I love it. Hope you do, too,

If you have subscribed to my newsletter recently, can I ask you to do so again? I’ve had some technical difficulties with my coding on the website, and the subscriptions were going through to the email service provider but not being recorded. You’ll know you’re in the system when you get an automated email with a link to a free copy of Gingerbread Bride!

To subscribe, fill out this form: http://judeknightauthor.com/newsletter/

The Welcome email with Gingerbread Bride is the first of three with links to free stories and books, and this weekend’s newsletter also has a link to the Christmas present Mariana Gabrielle and I are giving away to our Wattpad and newsletter subscribers. God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman is a Christmas novelette, a prequel of our early Victorian novel Never Kiss a Toad, and comes packaged with vignettes, short stories, and excerpts about the hero’s and heroine’s family and friends.

But Mouse. Here’s the promised excerpt.

☆ ★.¸¸,.✶

Claudia had no idea when she fell in love with Tiberius.

Millchurch. The earl.

Perhaps the first time they danced. Perhaps when he was so indignant on her behalf in the garden, or later on the terrace when he faced down her aunt. Certainly, she was completely smitten by the time he climbed into her room on the day of her betrothal to the loathsome Lord Demetrius.

She had been locked in all day, refused company, books, and even food. They intended to have her consent to the marriage, they told her, and she need not expect Millchurch to save her. He had always run away from trouble, even as a boy, and the announcement ensured that any fuss he made would cause enormous trouble.

Even so, she heard the racket when he banged on the front door around noon, demanding admittance, and twice again in the afternoon. So when she heard tapping on the window, she half expected to find him clinging to the wall outside. His fingers and face were white with the strain of clinging to tenuous holds in the crumbling brick, and she was quick to help him inside, shaking more with fear for him than with the strain of his weight as he hung momentarily from her arm while swinging his leg over the sill.

She closed the window behind him, and was glad she had when the key scraped in the door.

The earl slithered under the bed, and she was glad for the heavy hangings that normally so oppressed her. Just in time, because all three of her tormentors had arrived to berate her for a wicked ungrateful girl, an unnatural niece, and deficient in any personal charms to make up for her lack of intelligence and beauty.

Claudia, as always, had nothing to say. Countless beatings since her mother’s death had taught her that any answer would be wrong, so she stood, head bowed, and waited for the storm to end. She hoped that the earl would have the sense to stay hidden, for he would stand no chance against the two sturdy footmen who stood either side of the door, witnessing her humiliation.

She would, she was told after quite ten minutes of ranting, be left to think on her deficiencies until the morning, by which time she would be wise to realise her good fortune in being selected by Lord Demetrius as his bride. As the door locked behind them, she took her first deep breath since Lord Millchurch had tapped on the window.

The earl emerged, pale with anger, his eyes blazing, but he did not comment on his horrid relatives or hers. Just unwrapped coil after coil of rope from around his waist and set to tying one end to a leg of the bed.

Satisfied with the strength of the knot, he opened the window and let the rope down outside. Only then did he turn to Claudia.

“What do you wish to take with you, Miss Chause?”

A vague resentment stirred. In fairness, it must be obvious to the meanest intellect that she could not want to stay to be bullied into handing her inheritance and her person over Lord Demetrius. But surely Lord Millchurch did not expect her to climb out a window and run away with a virtual stranger, without even being asked her opinion.

“Where?” Her voice squeaked through a dry throat.

He echoed her thoughts. “You do not want to marry my uncle, do you? And they will hound you until you do if you stay here. Take only things you cannot bear to leave behind. We can replace anything else once I have you safe.”

‘Safe’. That word carried her through packing her mother’s bible, the few bits of jewelleryjewelry that her aunt had rejected as cheap, and some other personal keepsakes. The earl advised her to leave her tooth stick and most of her clothes, so in minutes she had made a bundle of her essential belongings in a spare petticoat, which he wrapped into a parcel with one of her sashes and dropped out the window.

‘Safe’, she told herself again, as he let her down the wall supported by the rope. She needed to cling to the handholds, reach for the footholds, each movement a struggle against the terror that tried to lock her limbs. But he held the rope tightly, and let her down steadily, while all the time her skin crawled with the knowledge she was exposed to view, should anyone of the household wander around to this quiet corner of the house.

Never mind that the staff were not welcome in the private garden, and that the wind was too cold for pleasure walks.
‘Safe’. It became the repeated chorus in her head as the earl climbed out of the window and walked down the wall leaning out into the rope, making it look as simple as strolling in the park.

‘Safe’ took her to Lord Millchurch’s London townhouse, where his secretary, Jasper Minch, immediately deployed a small army of large men to keep the house secure and prevent entry by anyone without the earl’s express invitation.

Jasper frightened her at first. He was large and scarred, with a nose that had been broken more than once and a way of changing his normal casual prowl into a threatening strut at the least sign of danger. Introduced to his new mistress, he nodded politely then turned his light blue eyes to Tiberius. “You are marrying your mouse? Will it serve, Tiberius?”

“If she will have me, we will make it serve, and mind your manners, Jas.”

Claudia and Tiberius talked far into the night. Perhaps that was when she fell in love with him; when she found that he listened without judging as she told him about living in the quiet corners her mother created at the edges of the contentious and aggressive lives of her father and his sister; about her certainty that her aunt, her trustee, and her trustee’s lover were living on money they stole from the inheritance left in trust to her by her mother’s father.

Lord Millchurch—he said to call him Tiberius, and she did inside her head, but her mouth would not shape the sounds—Tiberius told her about his maternal uncle, and their adventures in exotic countries; about the threat from Lord Demetrius that sent them fleeing; about the dangers he still faced, and why he needed a wife, and soon.

When he offered her a choice, he stole what remained of her heart. He wanted to marry her, he said; had intended to ask in proper form. But if the idea didn’t please her, Tiberius would still protect her. He had friends with whom she could live, whose titles and estates would protect her, or she could stay on one of his estates and he would find her a companion.

“That may be less dangerous, Claudia,” he said. “My wife and the mother of my children will be at risk as long as my uncle is free to plot against me. But I have the resources to guard you well, I promise you. I will keep you safe.”

Before she had time to think, they were married by special licence.

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“What’s in a kiss?” on WIP Wednesday

What’s in a kiss? sings Gilbert O’Sullivan, and this week I’m looking for excerpts that answer that questions. The kiss itself, if you please, but also what it means to the hero or the heroine. One moment of bliss? A delicatessen supplying every need? Something less or something more?

My extract is from The Realm of Silence. Gil has absolutely no idea what Susan thinks of him.

Susan was washing her turnover down with a swallow of ale, shifting impatiently as her hands inched towards the knife and fork she had placed on her plate between mouthfuls, as proper table etiquette required. Her inclination to rush the meal and be on her way was clearly at war with her training in manners.

“Relax, Susan. A few minutes will make the world of difference to your digestion, and very little to our arrival time.”

What a valiant creature his goddess was. She managed a smile, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I know you are right, you annoying man. I will try not to worry and to be patient.

“You are thinking I have no notion what you are suffering, and you are right that I have never been a father, and have never had to wait and worry about a child of my flesh.” Gil almost left it at that, but then he took a deep breath and spoke the rest of his thought. “But I have been an officer with men I loved and who loved and trusted me, and I have had to send them into danger knowing that some of them will be killed and others wounded. That perhaps gives me a small inkling of your feelings, goddess.”

He winced as the last word slipped out. She hated when people called her that, but it was how he felt. He had worshipped her from the moment he met her as a boy; carried a candle before her image in his heart since that day; held her as a beacon of the best of English womanhood through a thousand engagements on four continents and any number of islands. She was his goddess.

She was oblivious to his preoccupation, considering what he had said. “I had not thought about it like that. Yes. I imagine you were a father, or at least an elder brother, to your men. My brothers are the same. It is like, Gil. So you know how hard it is.”

Susan called him Gil, he noticed, when she was moved, just as he slipped into calling her goddess. He did not call her attention to his mistake, but when he moved her chair back to help her rise, and she stepped to one side almost into his arms, he could not resist wrapping them around her.

He had intended a brief peck on her hair. She lifted her mouth as if she had been waiting for just such a move, and he was lost. She was all that existed. The elusive scent of her filled his nostrils, her yielding curves filled his arms, and her lips and mouth consumed all of his thoughts as he tenderly explored them.

How long the kiss lasted he had no idea, but when she stiffened and pulled away, he let her go immediately, sense rushing back into his brain and berating it for the most arrant stupidity. She didn’t comment — wouldn’t even meet his eyes — but led the way out of the garden, almost running in her hurry.

They had to wait in the stableyard while the groom assisted a man in a hurry; a rider who spurred his way out of the yard without leaving a gratuity, much to the groom’s disgust.

“Didn’t give me nothing day afore yesterday, neither,” he grumbled to Gil as Gil helped him with the horses for the phaeton. “Silly fool. What’s he want to go dashing up and down to Scotland for?”

Gil looked after the disappearing hooves of the horse. “He’s come down from Scotland? Did he say how the roads were?”

The groom shrugged. “Bit of a slip at Grantshouse, but he said he was ready for it, seeing as how he passed it on the way up yesteren. So what does he want to turn around and come back for, I says. He had business in Scotland, says he, and now he has business in Newcastle. Silly fool.”

Gil backed the horse in his charge into the traces. It seemed a steady sort, and moved without complaint or resistance.

The groom was doing the same with the other horse, but he suddenly stopped. “Hey, I just thought me. You was asking ’bout the man what was following the French lady? That was him there, what just rode out of this yard. Got as far as Dunbar then turned around and come back. Must be mad. What’s at Dunbar?”

Amy and Pat, perhaps. That news would take Susan’s mind off his impudent kiss. If that was their mysterious pursuer, then they might be closer than they thought. Gil pondered the implications while his hands went ahead with the familiar tasks of buckling and fastening. The man was heading back to Newcastle in haste. Had he finished the task that sent him north? And if so, what did that mean for Amy and Pat?

Years in combat had taught him not to fret overlong about what he couldn’t know and couldn’t change. He thanked the groom and gave him a tip a dozen times the size of the despised measly offering for the pursuer.

“If that fellow comes through again, delay him, will you?”

Soon, they were rolling north again, and Gil told Amy what he’d learned, and what he had concluded.

“Will we find them at Dunbar?” she asked

“We will be there by late afternoon. We will find out then.”

She was silent again, probably worrying about her daughter, though Gil was finding it near impossible to think about anything but that devastatingly beautiful kiss. It was dawning on him that the goddess had kissed him back. What was he to take from that? He could reasonably conclude that she wanted to be kissed. Wanted to be kissed by him? She was a chaste and respectable lady; one, furthermore, who had managed her own affairs and those of her household and her husband for more than twenty years. She kissed him back, and he couldn’t believe that she gave her kisses lightly.

It was probably the situation. She was worried about her daughter and needed comfort. He dare not read more into it than that.

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Tea with the Chathams

“The Earl and Countess of Chatham, Your Grace.”

Having made his announcement, the footman withdrew. Mary slipped her arm through John’s and they entered the drawing room together. John was missing a cabinet meeting for this; he said one did not turn down invitations with Duchesses, and that William wouldn’t even notice if he didn’t turn up anyway. Mary had considered arguing with him on that point, but he so rarely agreed to go into society since his disgrace she had not liked to press the point, and she had to admit she was curious about meeting the Duchess of Haverford.

Their hostess awaited them with a generous smile. John bowed; Mary curtseyed. “Your Grace. Many thanks for your kind interest.”

“Lady Chatham, how kind of you to come and visit me. Lord Chatham, you are very welcome. Please, be seated.”

Mary settled into her chair with some relief; standing for long periods did little good for her lame hip. “We are happy to meet you at last, Your Grace. I have heard so much about you from my friend Lady Macclesfield. I trust you are well, and your family?”

She immediately knew she had blundered, for she had not meant to steer the conversation into dangerous waters so soon, even in the name of politeness. She slanted a look across at John; he was stirring his tea, and seemed not to have noticed. To her relief, the Duchess seemed equally alive to the delicacy. John’s rift with his famous brother, prime minister Pitt, was well known, and Her Grace’s response – delivered after a slight, but barely noticeable, hesitation – was a general one, with no specific mention of brothers, ministerial or otherwise. “My family is well, I thank you. My sons keep robust good health, I thank God.”

Mary breathed a small sigh of relief. She had been afraid the Duchess might bring up politics, particularly John’s recent demotion from the post of First Lord of the Admiralty to a comparatively insignificant post. This still rankled, for it had left him open to criticism, which William had been oddly reluctant to refute. But Lady Macclesfield had been emphatic about Eleanor Haverford’s discretion, and Mary could see her friend had been right in her assessment. She began to relax.

“Do you stay in town for the summer, Lady Chatham?” the Duchess asked.

Before Mary could reply, John cut in. “I suspect we shall stay longer than usual. It will be tiresome, as I have so little business nowadays.”

The Duchess sipped her tea in silence, possibly trying to think of a diplomatic answer. Mary said, a little too brightly, “My husband is being modest. In times of war, being a cabinet minister hardly leaves one time for anything. We can only pray for an honourable peace with France, and then perhaps I will have my husband back.”

John snorted something into his teacup about the French having executed honour on the guillotine some time ago. Mary ignored him. At least he wasn’t thinking about his own obsolescence any more.

Lord Chatham, Courtesy of the Commando Forces Officers’Mess, Royal Marines, Plymouth

“This General Bonaparte appears to be achieving great success,” the Duchess said. “His Grace the duke says he is a commoner of no significance, and that, in any case one Englishman is worth a dozen French. I trust he is correct.”

“He is right about the Englishman,” John replied. “I am not so sure he is right about Bonaparte. The man either has a great deal of luck, or a great deal of talent. If we are truly unlucky, he may have both. If only my brother would allow me to re-join the army, I would…”

He left the sentence unfinished, then drained his tea.

It was all Mary could do to stop herself rolling her eyes at him. The Duchess sent her a compassionate glance and said, “I thank God that those dearest to my heart are too young for battle. Surely this war cannot continue long enough that I must send my Jonathan off to war? Yet other mothers, other wives have their hearts so torn. And the poorest have to shift for themselves and their babies, without a man to stand between them and the world. We send them off to fight and die for King and country, and never give a thought to the families that need them.”

“I for one am pleased Lord Chatham will not be going off to fight,” Mary observed firmly, accepting some more tea. “I understand you are doing your part to assist those wretched women of whom you speak. I have heard about your work, and admire it very much.”

Lady Chatham

Mary had finally lit upon a safe topic. The Duchess’s face brightened at that, and the two women settled down to discussing Eleanor’s latest project to raise donations among the ton of clothes, food, and supplies. Even John unbent enough to make suggestions. offering his friendship with the King and Queen as a way of assisting the Duchess’s schemes to reach the very highest circles. Mary was delighted to see him so forthcoming, for he badly needed to believe in his own worth once again.

It was hard being the brother of the prime minister, harder than anyone else seemed to realise. Mary wondered whether she would ever forgive William for taking John’s closeness and support for granted. She only hoped he would come round before irreparable damage had been inflicted on her proud, but vulnerable, husband.

______

Excerpt

‘I hardly need remind you the convoy to Gibraltar departs in a few days.’

Harriot dropped her mother’s hand. William stepped back as though John had struck him. ‘You cannot intend still to go?’

Lady Chatham, too, was startled. ‘John, you are head of the family. I grant you much of the work to be undertaken can best be done through Mr Johnson and Mr Skirrow, but the estates must be examined, the servants paid, the funeral arranged—’

John felt his breath constrict more and more with every word. He cut in desperately. ‘Parliament has voted for a public funeral. The arrangements for that are already out of my hands.’

‘But who will be Chief Mourner?’

The memory of his brother pushing him aside in the Prince’s Robing Room to take Papa’s hand cut into John’s mind unbidden. ‘William can do it,’ he said, more bitterly than he had intended, and his brother flinched.

Harriot’s hooded blue eyes, so similar to John’s own, turned to her older brother in contempt. ‘William is 19. You cannot expect him to take your place.’

‘I don’t,’ John protested, trying to remain calm. ‘I know I have responsibilities to you, but I am under orders—’

‘General Boyd would have released you from them!’ William finally found his voice. John had not seen so much emotion on his self-possessed brother’s face since their father had fallen ill. ‘Many disasters might befall you in Gibraltar, should Spain join the war. You may never come back. Your first duty now is to your family … to us.’ John said nothing, silenced by William’s uncharacteristic outburst. ‘Papa took the Earldom of Chatham as a gift from a grateful King and a loving populace. For God’s sake, be worthy of it. It is the one thing Papa asks of you.’

Stung, John said unevenly, ‘Papa is dead. He asks nothing of me.’ William’s face drained of colour and John cursed his clumsiness. ‘I only want to make my name.’

‘You are Earl of Chatham! You have the greatest name in England!’

‘No,’ John shouted, giving in at last to his anger and fear. ‘You have received England’s most famous name. All I have inherited are debts.’

His words echoed in silence. Harriot braced her hands on Lady Chatham’s shoulders, her face tense. William’s grey eyes were wide. Suddenly his gaze hardened. ‘How could you be so selfish? But then it has always been that way, has it not? Always late, always unreliable. You never think of how others might feel. I will not allow you to load your troubles onto my shoulders. You cannot abandon us all because you are jealous of me.’

‘I already told you,’ John insisted, white-faced. ‘All I want to do is make Papa proud.’

‘As you correctly observed,’ William hissed, ‘Papa is dead.’

______

Earl of Shadows

Two brothers are locked in a life-long struggle to fulfil their destinies.

John and William are the elder and younger sons of 18th century political giant William Pitt. The father is a man of great principle and a great orator. Twice Prime Minister, he accepts the title Earl of Chatham in recognition of his services to the British nation. But his death on the floor of the House of Lords deals a devastating blow to the family.

Forced to forego his military career, John inherits the title and a debt-ridden estate. William inherits the gilded tongue that will make him the brilliant rising star. John sees the problem looming, but the little brother cannot succeed without the big brother’s support. At the most critical moment John runs away from his responsibilities and his brother. It proves to be a fatal mistake.

Can John ever make amends and find forgiveness? Or will he continue to hold onto a pain that has almost become part of himself? Can he escape the long shadow of destiny?

Earl of Shadows is a meticulously researched and moving account of sibling rivalry in a world of duty and honour at the heart of one of Britain’s most iconic political families. It brilliantly underlines the notion that history is about more than just the winners – that there is another, more human, story to tell.

Absorbing, historically accurate portrayal of family conflict, soaring ambition, and redeeming love. An impressive fiction debut by a highly talented author.‘ — Margaret Porter, bestselling author of ‘A Pledge of Better Times

Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century British history from Cambridge University. She has been researching the Pitt family for many years, focusing particularly on the life of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, whose nonfiction biography she has also written. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two young children, both of whom probably believe Lord Chatham lives in their house.

Buy the book at: –mybook.to/earlofshadows (universal buy link)

Talk to Jacqueline at:

twitter.com/latelordchatham (twitter)

facebook.com/latelordchatham (FB)

thelatelord.com (website)

 

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Spotlight on The Viscount’s Seduction

Alina K. Field has joined me today, with book two of her series, Sons of the Spy Lord. It’s on sale at 99c from 26 November to 4 December everywhere except Google Play — Links below. The Bastard’s Iberian Bride, book one, is at 99c until 26 November, so get it today.

Revenge and Romance—can she find both with one determined Viscount?

Searching for the Truth

Lady Sirena Hollister has lost her family, her home, and even her fey abilities, but somehow the fairies have handed her an unexpected chance at a Season in London. From her place on the fringes of high society, she resolves to find the truth about her only brother’s vanishing, and settle her family’s score with the wily English Spy Lord, the Earl of Shaldon. Soon enough, her schemes stir up an unknown enemy…and spark danger of a different sort, in the person of the Earl’s handsome heir, Viscount Bakeley.

Seducing the Beauty

The impertinent hoyden Bakeley met years earlier was as wild as her Irish roots, and just as unlucky. And she’s still an Irish traitor’s sister! But Lady Sirena has grown into a beauty whose charm and courage intrigue him. When danger threatens, Bakeley comes to her rescue, risking scandal, the ton’s disapproval, his interfering father’s ire…and his own heart.

Buy Links for The Viscount’s Seduction

Amazon   ♥  Kobo   ♥  iBooks   ♥  Nook  ♥  GooglePlay

Excerpt: First Kiss

He snatched up her hand. “You look lovely tonight. Stay. Keep me company.”

She tried to pull away but he reached for her other hand.

“Do not do this, sir.”

The anger was giving way to fear, though whether it was real or feigned he couldn’t tell. He drew her closer to the light. Her eyes glowed with that same luminosity he’d noticed at Hackwell’s ball, her lips were plump and inviting, and gold highlights bounced off her dress and her hair. She was a beauty in daylight. By candlelight, she was a goddess, a golden siren. No wonder she’d had to run away from her cousin.

And that thought brought him up. He didn’t ravish women, unless they wanted it. This girl didn’t want it.

Unless he convinced her she did.

He eased in a breath. No. At least, no, not tonight.

“You and I, my lady, we’re looking for the same thing.”

She swallowed hard, her lovely throat jumping. “You are mistaken.”

“Am I? What do you think I’m talking about?”

She pursed her lips. Opened them. “A liaison.”

“An improper one?”

Her brow furrowed. “You’re mocking me now. Let me go.”

“First we should search together.”

“I don’t know what you mean, and we’ll be missed. Both of us gone? Together?” Her eyes became shiny. She’d drummed up some tears. “I’ll be…on the street. I’ll be fortunate if I’m sent back to serve as my cousin’s, my cousin’s—”

“Files, Lady Sirena. Files that say Hollister on them.”

A tear ran unchallenged down her creamy cheek and her mouth dropped. “Oh.”

He swept the tear away with his finger. So soft her skin was, as he dragged the moisture down to her lips and traced a path over them. Her chest rose, her breasts straining the modest bodice of the yellow gown.

He yanked her closer and settled his lips on hers, and a sharp gasp escaped her before she clamped her mouth shut.

“Just one kiss,” he whispered. He nibbled around her locked lips and stroked the line of her jaw until she shivered in his arms and her lips parted, allowing him entry.

He kissed her then, sweeping his tongue against hers, for long minutes, then tasting her skin, following the path of his fingers along her jaw and down to her neck, inciting a sharp gasp and a moan, and more wriggling. He wanted her, and she wanted him, and—

“Stop.” Her hands locked on his shoulders, pushing.

Heart pounding, he froze. He was a gentleman. Even if she had been no lady—which she most definitely was—he would have stopped. No matter how hard his cock screamed for release, as it did now. “Right.” He stepped back and straightened his neck cloth.

Sirena’s heart pounded so wildly she could barely find breath to speak. “The files,” she said finally.

“Yes. He wouldn’t keep them here in so accessible a location.”

Oh, he was lathered, she could tell, almost as much as herself. This was what was meant by seduction—not the graspy, slobbery, forced thing her cousin had attempted. If not for the housekeeper and butler and a strong dose of laudanum…oh, this was very different, and this man a far more powerful lord than her cousin.

She’d be lucky to survive this night with her maidenhead intact. But she wanted that file. She needed to know what happened to Jamie. “His study then? My father had a room like that.”

“Yes. We’ll look there.” He gazed down that bored nose, straightened his neck cloth, though not so much as a hair of the man was out of place, while inside herself, every nerve was dancing a jig. She pressed a hand to her throat and hoped her heart hadn’t pounded her bodice askew.

Meet Alina:

Award winning author Alina K. Field earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and German literature, but her true passion is the much happier world of romance fiction. Though her roots are in the Midwestern U.S., after six very, very, very cold years in Chicago, she moved to Southern California and hasn’t looked back. She shares a midcentury home with her husband, her spunky, blonde, rescued terrier, and the blue-eyed cat who conned his way in for dinner one day and decided the food was too good to leave.

She is the author of several Regency romances, including the 2014 Book Buyer’s Best winner, Rosalyn’s Ring. She is hard at work on her next series of Regency romances, but loves to hear from readers!

 

Visit her at:

http://alinakfield.com/

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https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7173518.Alina_K_Field

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