“Lord and Lady Somerton,” the butler announced. Lillian’s hand clenched on Ed’s arm and he covered it with his own. “As you are,” he murmured, reassuringly, but the look of surprise on the face of the woman—the grand lady—who awaited them had his dear wife shifting nervously.
But in the next moment the lady stood to greet them. “Lord and Lady Somerton. I am so glad you could accept my invitation. I am Eleanor Haverford, and if I might guess by your clothing, I would say you are a little over a century and a half out of your time.”
Ed frowned, looking around at the ornately but tastefully decorated room that showed no signs of the looting by Parliamentary forces and his own flesh and blood that had denuded his own house. “I do not understand. Your Grace.” The invitation had said she was the Duchess of Haverford, and they had come to Haverford House in London, but this mature woman was not the poor child that had recently been wed to the rigid moralist who currently held the title.
“Please, be seated,” the duchess said. “Allow me to pour you some tea.”
Ed escorted Lillian to a seat, keeping a cautious eye on her grace. She did not look insane, but a century and a half? On the other hand, she was dressed very oddly.
“I have no idea how it works,” she said, as she handed him a cup to pass to Lillian, “but every Monday afternoon I am available to visitors from anywhere in space and time. I have had some most interesting conversations. I am correct, am I not, in thinking that you are the Earl and Countess of Somerton from the time of the Interregnum?”
“I am my lord’s housekeeper,” Lillian insisted. “An earl cannot marry a maid.”
“A man can marry the woman he loves,” Ed reminded her. “The rest means nothing in our time, Your Grace.”
“I understand. It was a dreadful time in our history. I wonder if I should tell you… I was surprised when you came, my dears, because I had seen your name on the invitation and was expecting the Lord and Lady Somerton I know. They had their wedding at my estate last Christmastide, and I am pleased to say that Lady Somerton is in expectation of a happy event.”
Lillian’s hand dropped to her abdomen, protectively, and the duchess smiled.
“Descendants of my son Arthur, I suppose.” Ed shrugged. “It is good to know that the earldom survives. Interregnum, you said? So the monarchy returns?”
“In time. And your son will be a favourite of the next king, so the stories say.” She gave a significant look at Lillian’s midriff. “Your son, Lady Somerton.”
Ed and Lillian appear in The Year Without Christmas, a story from the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 anthology, Never Too Late. They are the parents of Nick Virtue, hero of the book Tyburn, and Lillian is mother of Mark Virtue from Virtue’s Lady. Mark also appears in The Year Without Christmas, as a three-year-old. (Ed: I love Mark.)
Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find buy links for most eretailers. It is still at the special price of 99c, but only until 15 November.