Tea with Susan

“Yes, that should work well.” Her Grace, the Duchess of Haverford set the last of the pages she had been reading onto the pile before her, and smiled at her goddaughter. “I like the way you have involved the parents in the running of the school, Susan. I shall have to adopt that idea for my own establishments.”

Susan Cunningham returned the smile as she explained, “Our Scots villagers are theoretically in favour of education, at least for their sons. But they will not support anything that interferes with work on the farm. So it makes sense to organise the school sessions around the demands of the harvest.”

“Yes, and if the leading farmers are the ones who set the timetable, the others will follow their example. Good. Well done, and of course I am happy to be named as a patroness of the school, although you have done all the work, my dear.”

Susan sipped her tea before answering. “A duchess on our letterhead will be much more impressive than a mere Missus, even if I am the widow of a prominent local landlord.”

The duchess laughed. “Yes, by all means use my title to collect donations from your local gentry. But Susan, I wanted to ask about your daughter. How is Amyafter all her adventures?”

“Unscathed,” Susan replied, dryly, then corrected herself. “To be fair, the experience has left her more thoughtful and less impetuous. But she is safe, thanks mostly to Gi- to Lord Rutledge. I do not know what might have happened without him.”

“Your father mentioned that he escorted you on your trip north, but he said little else, except that Amy was found safe and well.”

Susan shuddered. “She is safe and well because she was found, and only just in time.”

The duchess reached for a cucumber sandwich. “And how is Lord Rutledge? I have always thought the pair of you liked one another rather more than you made out.”

Susan sighed. “It is complicated,” she said.

Susan and Gil Rutledge, childhood friends who have been estranged for twenty years, are forced to work together when Susan’s daughter runs away from school. Their story is told in book 3 of The Golden Redepennings, The Realm of Silence (coming in May). Here’s an excerpt.

Dear Lord. All these years she’d held a small bubble of resentment that he’d left London and then England without a note or a message. She should have thrown caution to the wind and written to him before she agreed to marry James.

She snorted at the thought. A fine letter that would have been. “Dear Lieutenant Rutledge, a fine young naval officer has asked me to marry him, and before I give him my answer, I just wish to enquire whether you have any interest in having me instead.”

Regrets and might-have-beens were stupid. She had been happy with James, at least in the beginning, until he proved to lack the gift of fidelity. Even after he made it clear that he would not give up his other women, he did not flaunt them in her face. He was courteous and friendly, respected her abilities and supported her decisions, gave her control of his estate and his income, expected little from her except his nominated allowance and the occasional public appearance. She had been content in her life, if not her marriage, and she had the three most wonderful children in the world.

Accepting Gil’s hand back up into the cabriolet-phaeton, she composed herself for the next stretch of the journey. Knowing he admired her still, at least enough to kiss her, set all of her body singing. She needed to be realistic, and smother the foolish dreams creeping from her memories. She was thirty-seven, and he was a baron. He would need to find a young wife who could give him an heir, and she would need to smile and be glad for him.

A less personal subject than family was needed for the next part of the trip.

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