The last half of chapter 7 of Candle’s Christmas Chair leaves us with just one post to go. I’ll upload the final excerpt on Friday my time, and launch the full ebook on Saturday evening my time. Look for the post, and for the links to resellers on the book page. I had great fun writing the dialogue in the last part of this excerpt. I hope you enjoy it.
The flowers continued to arrive, and so did presents of produce from Avery Hall. Min didn’t need the constant reminders. Ran was a phantom presence wherever she went. Everything she saw or heard, she wanted to share with him. Ran would like this. Ran would find that funny. Ran would be interested.
The nights were worse. Ran had woken something in her. She didn’t know how to ease whatever he had aroused, but she knew who could ease it.
And all the time, Ran’s view of her chair making, and her father’s opinion of that view, warred in her head.
One morning, the note with the day’s present went beyond the usual compliments, adding:
“I beg Mrs Bradshaw and Miss Bradshaw to do me the honour of accepting my escort to the Lower Assembly Rooms this evening.”
Min had been planning to go—the next step in her experiment in social climbing. But going with Ran would be wonderful. Mama sent a note back with the Avery servant, inviting Ran to dinner, and Min hurried to the workshop to make an early start on the day’s work.
Ran was in Bath! Min half expected to see him on her walk to work. She almost stayed in her walking dress, in case he came to her workshop, but common sense prevailed and she donned her overalls.
She would see him tonight. Tonight, she could tell him all the things she had been saving up to say, and she could hear about his week at Avery Hall, and about Lady Avery, and the planned gardens, and the performance of the chair, and the progress of the renovations…
Min caught herself. When had her life begun to revolve around this man and his concerns?
Suddenly, he was there. “Min.”
She dropped her tools and walked into his open arms for a kiss that satisfied and, at the same time, left her longing for more. All too soon, he put her gently from him.
“Min, I won’t stay. But I couldn’t wait to see you. Have you been well? You look well.”
“Yes. And you?”
“I’m well now,” Ran said, and the warmth in his eyes said much more. “I must go. I have appointments today… I will see you tonight, Min.”
One more kiss, and he was gone. So much for keeping her head until she had made her decision.
After daydreaming for an hour, Min packed up and went home. She was accomplishing nothing today.
Candle was humming to himself as he walked into the White Hart after seeing the Bradshaw ladies home. The evening had been wonderful. The dancing, the conversation, the food, everything had conspired to provide a perfect evening. And, at the centre of it all, his Minerva.
She was his, he was almost sure of it. He hadn’t asked her again, but tonight she’d had her armour down. She’d been happy to be with him; she’d let her hand linger on his in the dance, and she’d leant into him when he’d offered his arm to go in to supper. Two dances had not been nearly enough; Candle would have taken every dance, given a choice.
But he’d played at being civilised, even danced with other females, although there was only one in the room worth thinking about.
Surely she was planning to say yes? Her father thought so, but her mother warned him not to be too certain. And in the light of what her cousin had let slip, Candle was more and more sure that it might take his secret plan to convince his Min she could trust her future to him.
Candle stopped at the desk to see if there had been any messages, and waited while the clerk checked.
“Candle, old man.”
“Michaels; good to see you.”
His friend grinned. “I saw you at the assembly, but you didn’t have eyes for anyone but that black-haired beauty you were escorting. Gorgeous female. Lovely…” He cupped both hands in front of his chest and jiggled them up and down.
“The future Lady Avery,” Candle warned. The clerk was shaking his head. No messages.
Michaels said a cheerful, “Sorry,” but was not at all abashed. “When’s the happy day?”
“She hasn’t accepted me yet. But she will.” If he said it often enough, perhaps it would be true.
“I imagine she will,” his friend agreed. “Candle Avery, the man who never gives up. Look, Candle, I thought you might have those militia training plans you promised me.”
“They’re up in my room; come on up and I’ll give them to you.”
They were discussing the most recent news from the Fleet as Candle opened the door to his room and led the way in.
“Will you have a drink?” Candle asked, crossing to the decanter on the sideboard.
“Uh, Candle.” Michaels was stock still in the middle of the room, his face suddenly neutral. He was staring at the bed.
“Candle, darling, come back to bed.” Lady Norton, her hair hanging down across her shoulders, sat up in his bed. A sheet preserved some shreds of decency, but she was clearly naked. Very naked.
Candle was suddenly coldly furious. “You mistake, madam. I would sooner bed a snake.”
“But Candle! After the afternoon we had?”
The door opened again, and Kitteridge burst in. “What are you doing with my sister, you villain?” he declaimed, then frowned at Michaels. “He isn’t meant to be here.”
Lady Norton struck her forehead with the back of one hand. “Guy! Candle, we are discovered! My brother knows all!”
Candle suppressed a laugh. High melodrama indeed! Though it would be quite unfunny if he had come up to bed on his own, or if he didn’t have witnesses to how he’d spent his afternoon and evening.
“Michaels, shut the door, will you? We’ll keep this to ourselves if we can.”
“You have compromised my sister! I demand satisfaction.” Clearly Kitteridge intended to follow the script despite the unexpected addition to the cast.
“Very well,” Candle said. “Michaels, will you stand my second?”
“Not a duel. Marriage. You’re meant to marry her,” Kitteridge explained.
“No,” Candle said.
“But she’s in your bed. You have to marry her.” Kitteridge was pleading now.
“Kitteridge, I have been in company every minute of the day since I arrived in Bath. I have witnesses who will swear to that. The only one to suffer if you and Lady Norton insist on making a scandal is Lady Norton.”
He turned, then, and locked eyes with Lady Norton, but continued to address Kitteridge. “I don’t know whether your sister is after my money or if she is with child again, but I will not be her dupe.”
Lady Norton shrieked at the suggestion she might be pregnant. “Guy! He has insulted me! Call him out!”
“But Vivi, he has been a soldier. He’s probably a good shot.”
“Regimental champion three years running,” Michaels offered. He was bouncing forward on his feet, like a boy on outskirts of a fistfight: close enough to see the blood but preserved from any pain and having a wonderful time. “And he’s none too bad with a sword.”
Kitteridge nodded vigorously, and said, “He’s good with his fists, too. You should have seen him at school. He’d go into this sort of calm rage, and nothing would stop him.”
“I’ve seen it,” Michaels agreed. “A sort of cold, logical beserker. Very scary. I wouldn’t duel with him if I were you.”
Candle was keeping an eye on Lady Norton. She was assessing every object within reach. He recognised the signs. He’d had a mistress who threw things when she was upset. Yes. There went the jug, water and all. He’d been ready to duck, but obviously she was angrier with her brother.
The jug struck a glancing blow, and what water hadn’t already soaked the bed and sprayed across the floor finished up on Kitteridge’s jacket.
“Vivi!” he complained, “I hope that doesn’t stain.”
“Mr Michaels and I are going downstairs,” Candle told them. “We will return in 30 minutes, bringing the manager with us. I suggest the two of you leave before that time. And Lady Norton, Michaels and I will keep this to ourselves. But only if you do not try anything like it again.”
They didn’t speak as they descended the stairs. Candle ordered a brandy each, and they took it to a corner of the public room. “Well,” Michaels said. “You do know how to make an evening entertaining, old chap.”