Mary was a daughter of the navy, raised aboard ship by her admiral father and a succession of nurses. She had learned her company manners from the gentlemen’s sons who vied to sit at her father’s table, and had them polished almost to breaking point during her one London Season.
Since then, she’d become wife to her own captain, and in her own world of naval wives, she knew precisely how to behave. She had even — her husband being grandson to an earl — become comfortable with those aristocrats she counted as family, counting among her close friends the wife of the current earl.
But having afternoon tea tête–à–tête with a duchess was outside of her experience. She had met the Duchess of Haverford at various entertainments in London. Her Grace’s sister had been mother to the current earl, so they had even attended some of the same family events. But she would never dare to presume on such a distant acquaintance were the circumstances not — what they were.
Summoned in response to a note asking Her Grace for an audience, she had expected to be seen as a petitioner, with perhaps a secretary on hand to make notes. Instead, she had been shown to a private sitting room, where two chairs waited in a sunny window overlooking a garden, the great lady herself occupying one.
“Mrs Alexander Redepenning, ma’am,” the butler announced, and the duchess rose to greet her.
Mary took the hand offered, and curtseyed. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, Your Grace.”
“But of course. You are family, my dear, and I always have time for family.”
“It is in that hope I have come, Your Grace.”
Shrewd hazel eyes examined her, then the duchess seated herself again, saying decidedly, “Then be seated, Mary — I may call you ‘Mary’, may I not? Tell me how you have your tea, and then tell me what I may do to help you with whatever distresses you.”
Mary obeyed, and was very soon sipping tea with lemon from a cup of delicate china.
“Well, Mary?” the duchess prompted.
“It is a long story, ma’am. It concerns Susan, my sister-in-law, her daughter Amelia, and my son James. I am not sure where to begin.”
“At the beginning, my dear,” Her Grace suggested.
Mary Redepenning is the heroine of Gingerbread Bride, a Christmas novella written for the Bluestocking Belles holiday box set in 2015. Gingerbread Bride is free this month as part of a promotion with 149 other novellas and novellas.
This scene, though, takes place some twelve years later, when Mary’s 11 year old son and her 16 year old niece go missing, and her sister-in-law Susan disappears in pursuit. These events won’t happen until The Realm of Silence, which will be book three of The Golden Redepenning series.
The Duchess of Haverford appears in many of my books, first helping her nephew with his love affair in Farewell to Kindness. She also aided and abetted the not-quite-hero, her son, in A Baron for Becky. Most recently, she has been the hostess of the Christmas house party in the Bluestocking Belles box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts, which is also on special for December, at only 99c.