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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Tea with Garrick and Coira

With wide eyes, Coira Easton held tightly onto Garrick of Clan MacLaren’s arm.

“Where are we…?” her whispered words trailed off whilst she gazed upon in the manor the likes of which she had never seen before. Polished wood panels with portraits hanging on the wall appeared as though the people depicted there were going to jump right out of the artwork. She had never seen anything like it in her entire life.

“…and how did we get here?” Garrick finished. “Were we not just upon the battlement walls of yer cousin’s keep ready to go and have speech with him or am I dreaming whilst I am fully awake?”

“If you are dreaming then we are at least together and I am thankful you are with me.”

A gentleman in clothing certainly different than their own came rushing to their side. “There you are. Please come with me. The Duchess is waiting for you.”

“Duchess?” They spoke in unison and broke out into a smile.

Garrick pulled her closer and leaned down to kiss her cheek. “I will keep ye safe, lass.”

“I know you will. Shall we follow him?”

“I am not certain we have another alternative since we know not where we are.”

Following what Coira assumed was a servant, they went down several passageways and she marveled at the treasures her eyes beheld at every turn. Completely lost in the maze of corridors, they at last came to a door that was promptly opened. “Tea is being served,” the man informed them. “Her Grace has been waiting for you.”

“Tea?” Garrick asked after leaning in to murmur in her ear.

She shrugged. “Do you suppose I should curtsy?”

“Mayhap but I cannot know for certain.”

They came to stand before a well-dressed woman. They glanced toward one another. Coira gave a short bob of a curtsy, whilst Garrick bowed.

“Lady Coira, is it not? And the Piper Garrick. You are most welcome. Please, be seated. May I offer you… now, how to describe it. A tisane that we enjoy here in my century.”

They both took a seat but continued to clasp each other’s hands. “Where are we, milady?” Garrick asked.

“Ah. Forgive me. I did not introduce myself. I am Eleanor Haverford, wife to the Duke of Haverford, and you are in my London townhouse. The more pertinent question is ‘When’ are you, for you have travelled far indeed to take tea with me, Master Garrick. How it occurs, I do not know, but every Monday my visitor book shows the names of those who will appear in my private sitting room, and I never know from when in time or where in space. My own place is here, in the nineteenth century after the birth of Our Lord. Your century, I would guess from your clothes, is the twelfth or thirteenth?”

Coira burst out laughing, ’til she noticed the Duchess continued to look upon them with a serious expression. “’Tis the year of Our Lord’s Grace 1182,” she answered.

“Seven hundred and seventy years!” The duchess’s eyes widened with awe. “How wonderful! I am so excited to have you visit me.”

“No offense, milady, but will we able to return to our own place in time?” Garrick asked tentatively reaching for the cup the duchess held out for him. He sniffed at the cup, uncertain if he should partake of what she offered him. Taking a sip, he sighed in pleasure, nodding to Coira to give the brew a try.

“Yes, indeed. I have had some visitors more than once, and they have returned to their own place as soon as they left me. But tell me, are you husband and wife?” She gave a pointed look at their joined hands.

“Nay, not as yet, Your Grace,” Coira replied, unclasping her fingers from Garrick’s. “We were just on our way to have speech with my cousin, Lord Dristan of Berwyck. Perchance you know of him?”

Her Grace’s brows furrowed as she considered. “Berwyck Castle, on the border with Scotland? I believe I know your cousin’s many-times great grandchildren, the current Duke of Hartford and his brother and sister.  Your cousin will be pleased with the match, I hope?” she added.

Garrick shuddered. “If he does not throw me in a pit first for my insolence, I may live to see another day.”

Coira gave Garrick a gentle slap. “Dristan will not dare put you in his pit. Besides, he is most agreeable to most things.”

Garrick choked on his tea. “Agreeable? He is known as the Devil’s Dragon and wants ye to wed a knight.”

The duchess met Coira’s eyes with a concerned glance. “Oh dear, Master Garrick. You are not confident, then?”

“He only wants what is best for me and thinks wedding a nobleman is what I need,” she replied. “Garrick will convince him otherwise, will you not?”

Garrick set down his cup and took her hand once more, raising it to his lips. “Ye know that I shall, Coira.”

“Good for you, Lady Coira. Marriage to a man who loves you is what you need, if the man is loyal and true.”

“Master Garrick, I wish you every success to you and your lady.”

“I am certain my cousin will agree, Your Grace,” Coira replied.

Garrick stood, assisting Coira to rise and tucked her hand in the crook of his arm. “My thanks for having us today, Yer Grace,” he replied with a bow.

The duchess rose, inclining her head. “It was truly my pleasure.”

The Piper’s Lady is Sherry Ewing’s story in Never Too Late, the 2017 collection from the Bluestocking Belles.

Never Too Late

Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t.

Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday and More Anthology.

It’s Never Too Late to find love.

25% of proceeds benefit the Malala Fund.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find buy links. (It’s 99c for one more week only, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

 

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Tea with Lillian and Ed

“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.

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Tea with Harry

A nervous young man stands in the Duchess’s anteroom certain he has fallen asleep over his writing moments ago. His lanky form and khaki pants feel out of place among the finely carved furniture, porcelain artifacts, and gilded wallpaper of an earlier age.

He must be dreaming. He is sure of it.

A rather plain young woman in an antique, but rather business-like looking gown appears in the doorway. “Mr. Wheatly, the Duchess will see you now.”

Duchess? All doubts flee. He is most certainly dreaming. Why does it feel so real?

A dainty grey-haired woman beams at him from a settee when he enters. “Henry Wheatly! How delightful.”

“Harry,” he mumbles. “My name is Harry.”

“Of course! I had forgotten. You look very much like your great-grandfather, by the way.”

He runs a hand over his neck, puzzled. My great-grandfather? She must mean Rand Wheatly, the patriarch who first came to Canada. Can she be old enough to have known him?

“I’m sorry,” the duchess says. “You must be wondering why I summoned you here. Please sit and I will explain.”

“I’m wondering how,” he replies sinking into a small but surprisingly comfortable chair and stretching out his long legs.

A quiet moment passes while the duchess pours tea, fascinating Harry with the grace of her movements. He has seen nothing so graceful at university in Ottawa or even in his father’s house in Calgary, rough western town as it was when he grew up. She made a far lovelier sight than anything his army-training depot had to offer.

“I’m afraid I cannot tell you how I summoned you here,” she says at last. “Just know it is for your own good. I am Eleanor Haverford and I am a friend of your three times great aunt, Catherine, the Countess of Chadbourn.

Harry had been only vaguely aware that nobility lurked on his family tree. That startled him almost as much as the realization that this woman could not have possibly have known them, unless— “What year is it?” he demanded.

“1814,” she replied.

Harry choked.

“Don’t drop your tea dear, I know that shocks you.”

He had traveled back a hundred years. “How—that is, why—and who did you say you are?”

“I am Eleanor, the Duchess of Haverford, and I brought you here to warn you.”

He breathed in deeply and waited.

“I know that you have enlisted in the Expeditionary Force and expect to ship out to France any day. You signed up rather impulsively, I must say. That young woman who snagged the mayor’s nephew and dropped you cold was not worth your life, Harry. She would have made you more miserable if she married you than she did when she ran off. Your heart isn’t broken, it is merely bruised.”

Harry glared at her. “The state of my heart is not your concern, Your Grace,” he spat. “Or whoever you are,” he added under his breath.

The duchess chuckled. “Ah but it is your heart that concerns me. You have a good and tender heart, Harry, full of love and beauty. It shows in your poetry.”

Is there anything this woman does not know?

The woman leaned forward. “You are about to enter a great and terrible war. You are a courageous and valiant soul and will acquit yourself with integrity. But oh! Your heart! The darkness will overwhelm you if you let it. Despair kills, Harry. Never doubt it, particularly in a world where one must fight to stay alive every day. Worse, the darkness could kill that beautiful soul of yours and leave you dead inside even if you survive. Don’t let this happen.”

Harry sat back and studied the woman. “What precisely to you suggest I do about it?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“Stay open to beauty when you find it. Stay open to love. Love terrifies, but it is always worth the risk.”

He snorted. Duchess or no, she was a fool. “Was Lauren worth the risk?”

“Goodness no! I told you. She merely bruised you. When you find the real thing open your heart wide. You won’t be sorry.”

He sighed and put his cup down. “Thank you for your advice, Your Grace.” This old woman has no idea what she talks about. We’ll be home by summer—everyone says so—and I’ll go back to university.

“Please send me back where I belong.” Or let me wake up.

“One more thing, Harry. When the war is over, study law if you wish, but don’t let your father bully you. Do it only if you want it, but never forget you are a writer. Writing may make your heart bleed, but it is what you were born to do.”

A moment later Harry stood in a musty tent, standing in front of a camp desk with a pen in his hand. He looked down on the poem he had begun a moment ago. “What just happened?” he asked into the empty tent.

Never Too Late

Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t.

Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday and More Anthology.

It’s Never Too Late to find love.

25% of proceeds benefit the Malala Fund.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find buy links. (It’s 99c for one more week only, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

An excerpt from Roses in Picardy

Are men in Hell happier for a glimpse of Heaven?”

The piercing eyes gentled. “Perhaps not,” the old man said, “but a store of memories might be medicinal in coming months. Will you come back?”

Will I? He turned around to face forward, and the priest poled the boat out of the shallows, seemingly content to allow him his silence.

“How did you arrange my leave?” Harry asked at last, giving voice to a sudden insight.

“Prayer,” the priest said. Several moments later he, added, “And Col. Sutherland in the logistics office has become a friend. I suggested he had a pressing need for someone who could translate requests from villagers.”

“Don’t meddle, old man. Even if they use me, I’ll end up back in the trenches. Visits to Rosemarie Legrand would be futile in any case. The war is no closer to an end than it was two years ago.”

“Despair can be deadly in a soldier, corporal. You must hold on to hope. We all need hope, but to you, it can be life or death,” the priest said.

Life or death. He thought of the feel of the toddler on his shoulder and the colors of les hortillonnages. Life indeed.

The sound of the pole propelling them forward filled several minutes.

“So will you come back?” the old man asked softly. He didn’t appear discomforted by the long silence that followed.

“If I have a chance to come, I won’t be able to stay away,” Harry murmured, keeping his back to the priest.

“Then I will pray you have a chance,” the old man said softly.

About the Author

Caroline Warfield has been many things, from poet to librarian, from mother to nun. Now retired to the urban wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania, she divides her time between writing and seeking adventures with her grandbuddy and the prince among men she married. Her new series sends the children of the heroes of her earlier books to seek their own happiness in the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She wishes to inform readers of this post that Harry’s great-grandfather, Rand Wheatly is the hero of The Renegade Wife.

• Website: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/
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Tea with Alice

“Miss Crocker. What a pleasure to see you again. Please do come in. Her Grace is expecting you.”

Alice smiled and stepped over the threshold. “It’s good to see you again as well, Faversham.”

“May I take your wrap, Miss Crocker?”

“Thank you, yes.”

The grandeur of the reception room took her breath away, as it always did, with its marble fireplace, magnificent paintings, and exceedingly fine furnishings. She would have loved to remain and study the room down to the smallest detail, but it seemed unlikely she would ever have the chance. Indeed, she was most fortunate to be permitted to enter through the front door, given her lowly status as a gardener. But then, the Duchess of Haverford had some very unusual—perhaps even revolutionary—ideas about such things. What other high-ranking lady would invite her former gardener to her home for tea? Her grandfather’s long-time employer, Mrs. Manley, was another such one, but most of the ton ladies Alice had encountered tended to ignore the presence of the lower classes.

“Miss Crocker, it’s been too long!”

Alice gave a brief curtsey as she entered the lovely blue drawing room and took the seat across from her hostess, wishing she had something prettier to wear than the plain gray wool gown she saved for Sundays.

“It’s been several years at least, since you hired me to redesign your parterre garden. I hope your gardener is maintaining it properly?”

The duchess nodded. “Indeed he is, and you shall see for yourself before you leave. My garden is the envy of the ton, thanks to you.”

Alice flushed. “Thank you, your grace, but I assure you, the pleasure was mine. Designing gardens is one of my fondest amusements. I seldom have the opportunity to assist in their execution.”

The duchess leaned forward. “I am well aware of it, my dear. In fact, that is why I have invited you here this afternoon. I have a commission for you.” At that point, the housekeeper entered with the tea trolley, so Alice had to wait until Her Grace had poured the tea and invited her to partake of the lemon tarts.

A commission? A landscaping commission? But the duchess can afford to hire the best, even Sir Humphrey Repton. Why would she think of me?

“It’s kind of you to invite me to tea,” she said after taking a calming breath. “The tarts are delicious.”

“I have them sent in from M Fournier’s fine establishment. His wife is a distant relative of mine.” She smiled and indicated the plate of tarts. “Have another if you wish.”

Alice obeyed. The tarts were delicious. Grandfather would love them.

“My housekeeper will wrap some up for your excellent grandfather,” said the duchess, causing Alice to start. She knew Her Grace had a reputation for being able to read people, but could she really read people’s minds?

She took a sip of tea. “You are very kind, your grace.”

The duchess snorted. “I hope you think so after my proposition,” she said. “My reasons are really quite self-indulgent. You see, I would like to engage you to design a garden for my house in Spinney Hill.”

Alice nearly dropped her cup. “Me?”

“Your work with the garden here was exceptional, Miss Crocker. I believe you could be one of the best landscape designers in England, given the chance. And I mean to see you have the chance.”

Alice listened in disbelief as the duchess told her about a house she owned in Spinney Hill that she had established as a home for expectant mothers.

“Mitcham House is an easy carriage ride from London. You will use my carriage, of course.”

“I am truly honored, your grace, but what about my position at Vauxhall? I am engaged there six days a week in the spring and summer.”

The duchess waved her arm. “No worries. You shall have the winter to create and perfect the design, in consultation with me, of course. After the spring thaw, I shall expect you to come every day for a fortnight or so; perhaps we may be able to find you accommodation at Mitcham to avoid the tedious journey.”

A fortnight only?

“Of course, a fortnight is not nearly long enough to complete a project of this magnitude,” continued the duchess, “but you will have my gardeners to carry out much of the labor, as well as those occupants of the house who would like to learn about gardening.” She lifted her chin. “We require them to assist with household tasks while they are there, and if they should learn a few useful skills, so much the better.”

Tears welled up behind Alice’s eyelids. “You are so good!” she said shakily. “It would be my pleasure to be a part of your philanthropic venture, your grace.”

“Much will be required of you, Miss Crocker, but I sense that you are a young lady who enjoys a challenge. You will be expected to give up your free Sundays in order to supervise the work until its completion. In return, I am prepared to pay you two hundred and fifty pounds.”

Alice gasped. She had never held more than ten pounds at one time. “But-But—”

“By the time you are finished, you will have earned every penny of it, Miss Crocker. I can be a hard taskmaster. So… what do you say? Are you up to the challenge?”

Alice swallowed and sat up straight in her chair. “I am, your grace. You shall have no cause to regret giving me this remarkable opportunity.”

“I’m sure I shall not.” The duchess put down her tea cup. “Now that it’s all settled, I should like to show you how the garden you created has matured over the years. It is the envy of the neighborhood, I assure you.”

Alice nodded. She felt like shouting with joy, but somehow managed to contain herself in the presence of the duchess. Was this really happening to her?

Alice Crocker is a character in A Malicious Rumor, from the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 anthology, Never Too Late. The events here take place in 1813, the year before she meets Peter de Luca and her life takes another unexpected turn.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find preorder links while they are being added. (It’s 99c while in preorder, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Tea with Dorothea

Miss Dorothea Horatia Wythe stared at the elaborate invitation in stunned surprise. No matter how many times she read it, the sentiment was still the same:

An invitation to tea.

With the Duchess of Haverford.

The Duchess of Haverford.

Not a relation.

Not a friend of a distant cousin.

Not a person she’d bumped into in the park on accident whilst trying to hide from Lord St. Vincent.

Not a friend of a friend, unless one counted Aunt Harriett who knew simply everyone. Or they her.

No…a duchess. A stranger.

Royalty.

Royalty who wanted to take tea with plain ole Dorothea Wythe—a bluestocking too opinionated to take in society.

Dory didn’t know whether to jump up and down in her stockings or dive beneath the covers and hide for a few years. The entire idea of tea with the Duchess of Haverford was impossible with a view to the absurd.

Did Aunt Harriett have a hand in this? Or worse, Lord St. Vincent?

Dory glanced over at her desk which was littered with page after page of notes from the writing she was translating: coded messages written in the margins of a small bible—one she’d borrowed from Lord St. Vincent. She was nearly finished, which was fortunate for she needed to return the bible before its absence was noted.

The fact that she’d stolen into Lord St. Vincent’s room to borrow it in the first place was telling of her character was it not?

Dory raced to the desk, dipped her quill in ink, and penned her acceptance to tea.

She was far too curious for her own good.

The Umbrella Chronicles is a story in the Never Too Late collection. Every Monday for the next little while, one of my fellow Bluestocking Belles will bring their hero or their heroine along to meet the Duchess of Haverford. I hope you’ll join us to learn more about them and their stories.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find preorder links while they are being added. (It’s 99c while in preorder, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Tea with Mary Bennett

Mary Bennett found it hard to believe the invitation. Doran Ward had to read it to her, Doran, the knight who was staying at her house for a short while. Only until Christmas, that is.

An invitation for tea from a Duchess of Haverford. Why shouldn’t she go? But then, could she leave Doran in her crumbling manor all alone? The knight had a limp and could barely walk. Surely he could not get into too much trouble, given his condition, and likewise be able to handle himself for the duration of tea.

Somehow, the moment she decided to go while holding the invitation, Mary blinked and was no longer sitting at a small table in her kitchen but at a larger, circular table across from a lady in fashion quite unlike anything Mary had ever seen before.

“Mistress Bennett! I am so delighted you can join me for tea.”

Mary did her best to not gape everywhere in wonder. Where was she? Had she fallen asleep? Was this merely a dream?

The duchess clasped Mary’s hand. “Is tea sufficient, or do you prefer something else?”

“Tea would be wonderful. Thank you,” Mary whispered.

The duchess poured for them both. “Biscuits and the like will be ready shortly. My dear, you look rather upset. What all is troubling you?”

Mary shook her head. Honestly, it was more what wasn’t troubling her. Between her manor being in disrepair, the wounded knight, and her lie that her husband still lived, she did not know how she was managing anything, quite frankly. “Nothing I can’t handle,” Mary informed the duchess, and she so hoped she had the right of it.

 

Her Wounded Heart is Nicole Zoltack’s story in the Never Too Late collection. Every Monday for the next little while, one of my fellow Bluestocking Belles will bring their hero or their heroine along to meet the Duchess of Haverford. I hope you’ll join us to learn more about them and their stories.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find preorder links while they are being added. (It’s 99c while in preorder, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Tea with Ottilie

Ottilie Smith smoothed the skirt of her best dress and once again checked the wording of the invitation that appeared mysteriously on the desk that filled one corner of the dining room of the little cottage she shared with her husband and child in the booming New Zealand town of Christchurch.

The Duchess of Haverford requests the pleasure of the company of Mrs Thaddeus Smith for afternoon tea.

She and Tad had giggled over it, sure it was a joke. A duchess sending an invitation to the wife of a bookshop keeper? And the address given was on the far side of the world, in far away England: a castle in Kent. One of Tad’s friends was playing a trick on them, certainly. But she had returned from her women’s suffrage meeting, picking up the invitation from the hall table as she passed through into her sitting room, and found herself here, on a sunny terrace in what could only be England, with the grey stone walls of a castle looming behind her.

“Ah! Mrs Smith. I am so glad you could come.”

The lady, elegantly dressed in the fashions of nearly a century ago, was walking towards her from the french doors that let into the house, her hands held out in greeting.

Lottie stood and curtsied. “Your Grace.” Tad had joked about her knowing the proper forms of address, and she was glad he had, for dream or not, she would not wish to be discourteous.

“Please, Mrs Smith. Do take a seat. May I pour you a tea? Or would you prefer coffee or chocolate?” For a few minutes, the duchess fussed over the pot and the plates of delicate pastries and cakes that a silent maid passed at her command.

But when Lottie was served and the maid waved away, the duchess said, “Now. I understand you survived a volcanic eruption, though you were buried in the ash. Tell me about it, if you please. What happened?”

Forged in Fire is my story in the Never Too Late collection. Every Monday for the next little while, one of my fellow Bluestocking Belles will bring their hero or their heroine along to meet the Duchess of Haverford. I hope you’ll join us to learn more about them and their stories.

Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find preorder links while they are being added. (It’s 99c while in preorder, so buy now.)

If you’re an Amazon US purchaser, buy it here.

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Sunday Spotlight on Never Too Late

Yesterday, the Bluestocking Belles announced the name of our 2017 box set, out in time for holiday reading on November 1. You’ve heard me talking about my story for the set: Forged in Fire. Here’s the description of the book as a whole, and of each story in it.

Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t.

Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday Anthology.

It’s Never Too Late to find love.

25% of proceeds benefit the Malala Fund.

(Read on below the buy links for individual story blurbs.)

Preorder Links (will add other eretailers as the links go live):

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075VDCLCB
AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B075VDCLCB
BR: https://www.amazon.com.br/dp/B075VDCLCB
CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B075VDCLCB
DE: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B075VDCLCB
ES: https://www.amazon.es/dp/B075VDCLCB
FR: https://www.amazon.fr/dp/B075VDCLCB
IN: https://www.amazon.in/dp/B075VDCLCB
IT: https://www.amazon.it/dp/B075VDCLCB
JP: https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B075VDCLCB
MX: https://www.amazon.com.mx/dp/B075VDCLCB
NL: https://www.amazon.nl/dp/B075VDCLCB
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B075VDCLCB

The Piper’s Lady

By Sherry Ewing

True love binds them. Deceit divides them. Will they choose love?
Coira does not regret traveling with her grandfather until she is too old to wed. But perhaps it is not too late? At Berwyck Castle, a dashing knight runs to her rescue. How can she resist?

Garrick can hold his own with the trained Knights of Berwyck, but they think of him as a piper, not a fighter. When his heart sings for the new resident of the castle, he dares to wish he is something he is not. Will failure to clear her misunderstanding doom their love before it begins?

Her Wounded Heart

By Nicole Zoltak

An injured knight trespassing on Mary Bennett’s land is a threat to the widow’s
already frail refuge. Even so, she cannot turn away a man in need and tells him he has her husband’s leave to stay until Christmas.

Doran Ward wishes only to survive for one more day. However, as he begins to
heal and to pay for his lodgings by fixing the rundown manor, the wounds to Mistress Bennett’s heart intrigue him.

Can two desperate souls find hope in time for Christmas?

A Year Without Christmas

By Jessica Cale

London, 1645
Edward Rothschild returns home from war defeated in more ways than one. His friends killed and his property seized, he is an earl in name only. His family and his servants have all deserted him– all except his housekeeper, Lillian Virtue.

Lillian feels like home in a way that nothing else does, but as his servant and a recent widow, it would be impossible for them to be together. Then again, Christmas has been banned and the social order fractured; can one more impossible thing happen this year?

The Night of the Feast

By Elizabeth Ellen Carter

As a spy deep in the heart of Revolutionary France, Michael St. John hopes to make amends for a wasted life his by helping the citizens of the Vendée stage a counter-revolution.

Jacqueline Archambeau, tavern owner and cook, accepts that life and love have passed her by. She never dreamed she would fight her own countrymen for the right to keep her customs and traditions.

When they plot together to steal plans at a regimental dinner will they risk their lives—and their hearts?

The Umbrella Chronicles

George & Dorothea’s Story

By Amy Quinton

Lord George St. Vincent doesn’t realize it, but his days as a bachelor in good standing are numbered.

He has a fortnight, to be precise—the duration of the Marquess of Dansbury’s house party.

For I, Lady Harriett Ross, have committed to parting with several items of sentimental worth should I fail to orchestrate his downfall—er, betrothal—to Miss Dorothea Wythe, who is delightful, brilliant, and interested (or will be).

If I have anything to say about matters, and I always have something to say about matters, they’re both doomed.

Did I say doomed? I mean, destined—for a life filled with love.

I’m just an old woman with opinions. On everything.

A Malicious Rumor

By Susana Ellis

Vauxhall gardener Alice Crocker has had to defend herself from encroaching males all her life, but the new violinist is a different sort. So when she discovers that he is the victim of a malicious rumor, she naturally wants to help.

Peter de Luca greatly admires the lady gardener, but this is his problem to resolve.

What will it take to prove to this pair that they would be stronger together as a harmonious duo than two lonely solos?

Forged in Fire

By Jude Knight

Burned in their youth, neither Tad nor Lottie expected to feel the fires of love. The years have soothed the pain, and each has built a comfortable, if not fully satisfying, life, on paths that intersect and then diverge again.

But then the inferno of a volcanic eruption sears away the lies of the past and frees them to forge a future together.

Roses in Picardy

By Caroline Warfield

After two years at war, Harry is out of metaphors for death, synonyms for brown, and images for darkness. Color among the floating islands of Amiens and life in the form of a widow and her little son surprise him with hope.

Rosemarie Legrand’s husband died, leaving her a tiny son, no money, and a savaged reputation. She struggles to simply feed the boy and has little to offer a lonely soldier.

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Descriptions in WIP Wednesday

One of my beta readers on my contemporary novella pointed out that I described two secondary characters, but not the hero and heroine. Which was true. In fact, sometimes I barely describe my characters at all, though I almost always work from photographs and paintings so that I can see the person in my mind’s eye as I watch them act the dramas I document.

How about you? Do you see your characters? Do you describe them, and if so, is it eye of God or in another character’s viewpoint or the old ‘in a mirror’ trick?

This week, please share a description of someone in your work in progress. My excerpt describes, Ottilie, the heroine of Forged in Fire, which will appear in the box set for the Bluestocking Belles. We announce the title and reveal the cover this coming weekend.

She wasn’t as meek as she pretended. He’d seen the steel in her, the fire in those pretty hazel eyes.

The word ‘pretty’ put a check in his stride, but it was true. She had lovely eyes. Not a pretty face, precisely. Her cheeks were too thin, her jaw too square, her nose too straight for merely ‘pretty’. But in her own way, she was magnificent. She was not as comfortably curved or as young as the females he used to chase when he was a wild youth, the sort he always thought he preferred. Not as gaudy as them, with their bright dresses and their brighter face paint. But considerably less drab than he had thought at first sight. She was a little brown hen that showed to disadvantage beside the showier feathers of the parrot, but whose feathers were a subtle symphony of shades and patterns. Besides, parrots, in his experience, were selfish, demanding creatures.

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