Tea with Sophia

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On this fine afternoon in September, the duchess had ordered tea served on the terrace overlooking the rose garden. “We should enjoy the sunshine while we can,” she told her goddaughter, Lady Sophia Belvoir.

Sophia had been surprised—and somewhat disconcerted—to find she was the only guest. What was Aunt Eleanor up to?

But Her Grace discussed only the weather and the roses as she poured the tea and passed the cucumber sandwiches; tiny triangles of finely sliced bread with the cool crisp vegetable melting on the tongue.

Sophia took a sip of her tea. Ah. The finest oolong with just a touch of lemon. Aunt Eleanor never forgot.

At that moment, the duchess pounced. “Tell me about Lord Elfingham, my dear.”

Sophia’s hand jerked as she returned her cup to its saucer, and it clicked loudly. She blushed. At her clumsiness, of course, not at the mention of the young viscount who had been everywhere she went for months

“You met him even before most of London, his aunt tells me,” the duchess prompted.

“Not met, exactly,” she demurred. “We were not introduced.”

Aunt Eleanor said nothing; just raised her brows in question, and after a moment Sophia added, “I was visiting the orphanage at Bentwick. A child ran out of the gate into the road, and was almost run down by racing curricles. Lord Elfingham rescued the child and returned him to the- the orphanage servants.”

Appearing from nowhere just as she emerged from the gate and saw disaster unfolding before her. Riding down on the cowering boy right under the noses of the teams that threatened to trample the child underfoot. Scooping up the runaway and leaping to safety on his magnificent stallion. Fixing her in place with a fervent gaze from his dark eyes. Haunting her in dreams ever since.

“He has been pursuing Felicity,” she told Her Grace. “Hythe will not consider it.”

The duchess’s brows rose again. “Your sister Felicity? Are you certain? It is you his eyes follow when you are at the same entertainments, Sophia.”

For a moment, Sophia’s heart leapt, but Aunt Eleanor was wrong. She was too old for the marriage mart, and had not been as beautiful as Felicity even when she was a fresh young debutante. Besides, her brother the Earl of Hythe would not countenance the connection, whichever sister was being courted.

She shook her head, not trusting her voice. “May we speak of something else?” Which was rude, but Aunt Eleanor graciously allowed it.

“Very well. Let us discuss next week’s meeting to set up the fund for the education of girls. You will take the chair, my dear?”

******

Sophia is the heroine of The Bluestocking and the Barbarian in the Belle’s box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts, now on sale.

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Win a kitten in the Holly and Hopeful Hearts kitten tour

A kitten from the Bluestocking Belle’s box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts needs a home.

Meet Snowball, the kitten who captured the heart of the Earl of Hythe

Meet Snowball, the kitten who captured the heart of the Earl of Hythe

In my story, The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, Snowball is tempted from hiding by dangling gold tassels on James’ boots.

“I reckon gold tassels on the boots would be right proper, my lord,” the footman ventured.

He was right, too. Gold tassels that swung as James walked, catching and then losing the light. Not that gold tassels were going to make up the ground he’d lost with Sophia, but still…

“See what you can find,” he told the servant. “Adam, go on ahead and find your lady. I’ll be down in a minute.”

So it was that when he left his chamber, three gold tassels dangled from the front of each boot and proved a tempting target. A white kitten darted out from under an occasional table when James stopped to close the door behind him and took a flying leap at the tassels, as James discovered when he felt the sudden weight.

He took a careful step, expecting the small passenger to drop away, but it buried its claws and its teeth into its golden prey and glared up at him.

“Foolish creature,” he told it, going down onto the knee of the other leg so he could remove it, carefully lifting each paw to detach the tangled claws. “These gaudy baubles are to attract my lady, not a fierce little furry warrior.” He lifted the kitten in one hand and held it up to continue his lecture face to face. “Now where do you belong, hmmnhmmn? Have you wandered off from your mama? Do you belong to this house, I wonder, or did you come with a guest?”

The kitten squeaked a tiny meow.

“No, little one. I will not put you down to chew my tassels, or to trip one of the great ladies or to be trodden on by one of the gentlemen. You are a pretty little fellow, are you not?” He tucked the cat against his chest and rubbed behind its ears, prompting a loud rusty purr incongruously large for the small frame of the kitten.

Although focused on the kitten, he was aware of footsteps approaching. It was Hythe, who looked uncomfortable in a tight-fitting jerkin over short ballooning breeches that allowed several inches of clocked stocking to show between the hem of the breeches and the thigh-length fitted boots. The short robe, flat cap, and heavy flat chain gave a further clue, and Hythe had tried for authenticity by stuffing padding under the jerkin—a pillow, perhaps?

“Henry the Eighth?” James ventured, half-expecting Hythe to walk past without speaking or make another intemperate verbal attack.

Instead, the younger man nodded. “My sister Felicity picked it. Er… I wanted to speak with you… I owe you an apology, Winder… Er… Elfingham. My sister Felicity told me that… Well, the fact is I made an accusation without checking my facts.” Hythe nodded again, clearly feeling that he had said what he needed to say.

“Very handsome of you, Hythe,” James said.

Hythe ran a finger around inside his collar, flushing slightly. “Yes, well. The thing is… You will tell Sophia that I apologized, will you not?”

Ah. Clearly Sophia had expressed her discontent.

“Sisters can be a trial, can they not?” James said, and Hythe warmed to the sympathy.

“Just because she is older, she thinks she can…” He visibly remembered his audience. “Sophia is of age and will make her own decisions, but I think it only fair to tell you that I have advised her to wait until after the hearing at the Privileges Committee before she makes any decision.”

James inclined his head. “I understand your position.” Which would not prevent him from doing his best to persuade Sophia to ignore the advice.

Time to change the subject. He held up the little kitten. “Do you happen to know where this little chap belongs?”

Hythe flushed still deeper. “So that’s where he got to. He… ah… appears to be mine. In a way. The housekeeper’s cat had kittens, and this one seems to have adopted me. Little nuisance.”

But Hythe’s hands were gentle as he took the kitten from James, and he tucked it under his chin, his other hand coming up to fondle the furry head.

“I’ll just put him back in my room so he doesn’t get in anyone’s way. Foolish boy, Snowball. Do you wish to be lost? Was the fish not to your taste?”

Hythe retreated back down the hall. James could not hear individual words, but from the sound of his voice, he was continuing his loving scold. And James had managed to have what almost amounted to a conversation with his intended brother-in-law. He would count that as a win.

Follow the book links to learn more about the stories. Enter the rafflecopter below to be entered for the random draw to win the kitten.

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The winner will be announced at the Book Launch Party on November 13th. The other kittens in the novellas are also looking for new homes, so be sure to keep an eye out for them! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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How a disease of cows saved hundreds of millions of lives

Would people innoculated with cowpox become cows? The cartoonist James Gillray lampooned the fear.

Would people inoculated with cowpox become cows? The cartoonist James Gillray lampooned the fear.

I’ve been looking back over 250 years of growing knowledge about the human body, the ills that befall us, and how to treat them. In her book Smallpox, Syphilis, and Salvation, Sheryl Persson points out that the idea of curing disease is a very new one. For most of history, and for many illnesses even today, physicians have treated symptoms and tried to keep the body alive long enough for it to cure itself.

smallpoxAs for eradicating a disease, we’ve managed to get rid of one, and it took us 180 years from the time a country doctor in England first published a pamphlet suggesting not just the possibility, but the method.

How can we who live in the West in the 21st Century imagine a society where a single illness killed one tenth of the population every year? Where a quarter of the entire population was killed or permanently scarred by that same illness?
Smallpox was no respecter of persons, killing kings and street beggars alike. It was responsible for one out of every three deaths in childhood at a time when a third of children died before they were nine.

It changed the course of history several times, contributing to the fall of Rome, altering the succession of the British throne and ushering in the Georgian era, killing the rulers of the Aztec and Incan nations and crippling their nations so the conquistadors could sweep all before them… The list goes on and on.

Death among the Mezo-Americans

Death among the Mezo-Americans

By the middle of the 18th century, England had learned the practice of variolation; fundamentally, the practice of rubbing a cut or scratch with material from a smallpox scab to give a healthy person a case of smallpox. As long as the person administering the treatment avoided both of the two major risks, the person had a far better chance of surviving the disease, and then they wouldn’t catch it again.

The risks? Doctors tried to find milder strains of smallpox by looking for people who were recovering, but sometimes they got it wrong. And—without a germ theory of disease transmission—some of them weren’t that careful about washing their instruments (or even their hands) between patients. Variolation was common during a smallpox epidemic, and doctors carried contagion from their dying patients to their well ones.

George III of England lost two infant sons to variolation within six months of one another. Still, a death rate of less than one in fifty was an improvement over the status quo.

A physician inspects the growth of cowpox on a milking maid' Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A physician inspects the growth of cowpox on a milking maid's hand while a farmer (?) passes another physician a lancet. Coloured etching, c. 1800. Published: [ca. 1800]

A physician inspects the growth of cowpox on a milking maid’
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images, http://wellcomeimages.org

Edward Jenner, the country doctor I mentioned, drew on folklore to find a better way. While not the first to inoculate healthy patients with cowpox, he was the first to press his treatment on the medical community. Cowpox was a related disease, seldom fatal or even serious, and country folk had long known that milkmaids were immune to smallpox.

When, in 1796, Jenner inoculated his gardener’s son with cowpox taken from a local milkmaid, he founded the science of vaccination, and took the first step in the long road to the last natural case of smallpox, a hospital cook in Somalia in 1977.

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I’ve been reading about illnesses and deaths in the 18th and 19th centuries, and about medical knowledge, for some of my books. In A Raging Madness, (Book 2 of the The Golden Redepennings) the hero is crippled after being hit by a canister shell (today we’d call it shrapnel) and the heroine is a doctor’s daughter and was her father’s apprentice. In the Mountain King series, the next book after The Bluestocking and the Barbarian is The Hermit and the Healer. My healer takes on a cholera epidemic at a girls’ boarding school, and needs to deal with the prejudice of the locals as well as the suspicion and anger of the reclusive parent of one of the girls.

I have one of my regular background characters dying of syphilis (the great pox—more about the medical history of that scourge next week).

And I’m still working out what will kill Mia Redepenning’s husband’s Javanese wife so that Mia can finally have her happy ending in Unkept Promises, Book 4 of The Golden Redepennings. (Something lingering, so she has time to send a letter halfway around the world to her English ‘sister wife’ to beg Mia to be a mother to her four little children.)

The first vaccination

The first vaccination

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Globalisation ancient central Asian style

Not so much a road as a route, and only one of them, at that. Imagine a procession of heavily laden camels, donkeys and carts.

Not so much a road as a route, and only one of them, at that. Imagine a procession of heavily laden camels, donkeys and carts.

I’ve been fascinated for most of my life by the histories I didn’t learn at school. According to the wisdom I received from my teachers, enlightened thinking began with the Greeks, was codified by the Romans, and was resurrected after the Dark Ages in the Renaissance where it grew into the humanist and democratic beliefs that bubbled up in Europe in the 18th Century and reached its culmination is the set of beliefs and practices widely known as western civilisation.

(Gandhi was once asked what he thought of western civilisation, and said he thought it would be a good idea.)

This view, of course, completely ignores the fact that Europe was a backwater until at least the 16th Century, and all the time inventions and advances and discoveries in the rest of the world laid the foundations upon which Europe would later stand.

Let’s leave for today the great kingdoms of Kush, Nri, Songhai, and Asumite in Africa, the Olmec, Aztec, and Mayans of the Americas, Kutai, Khmer, Dvaravati in South East Asia. In the past months, I’ve been filling my head with the broad swathe of city-states, kingdoms, principalities, and empires that created, maintained, and thrived because of the Silk Road. Not so much a road, but rather a rambling plaided string of trade routes from China and India to the Mediterranean Sea by diverse ways.

This was the mixing ground of cultures, ideas (including religious ideas), new technologies, and products. Above all, products: silk, paper, and spices travelling West; carpets, jewels, drugs, metal, glass, and other trade goods travelling East.

To hear the Venetians tell the story, they started the whole thing. In fact, they were very late into the game. One of the main western arteries did come first, established in Persia. It was the old Persian Royal Road, with postal stations along the route. The pony express was nothing new. The Persian route was established close to 2,500 years ago.

2,250 years ago, an emperor of China, struggling to keep the horse nomads of the north out of his land, sent an envoy west looking for help. Zhang Qian’s expedition led to trade deals to purchase the larger faster horses the envoy found in central Asia. Silk for horses. The Chinese beat of their enemies, and settled down to consolidate the trade, while from the other end the Parthians (who now controlled Persia) were doing the same.

For 2000 years, the Silk Road was how China got its western goods, and places as far distant from China as England got its silks and spices. Then, in the 15th Century, the rising Ottoman Empire blocked European merchants from using the routes, impelling them to find a sea route. Columbus went west, and Vasco da Gama south. And the rest is history.

If you’d like to know more, this 10:30 minute video is entertaining and interesting.

Huh! How about that. I set out to write about the Kopet Dag mountains between Turkmenistan and Iran, and the place of their inhabitants in the silk routes, and I’ve got all excited about ancient history. Another time, perhaps. Meanwhile, feel free to look at the novella I have in the Bluestocking Belles 2016 box set. Called The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, it features as hero a young man who grew up in a small kaganate high in the Kopet Dag mountains. The link is to my book page, which in turn links to the first two chapters.

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The ‘meet cute’ on WIP Wednesday

meet-cute‘Meet cute’ is a term from Hollywood that has crept into book publishing. It means that moment in a romantic comedy when the hero and the heroine first encounter one another. The implication is that the first meeting is amusing, entertaining, or charming.

Even if you’re not writing romantic comedy, the term can apply, but today I’m just using it as shorthand for the first meeting in your book. My own current works-in-progress have progressively less and less cute about them. The Bluestocking and the Barbarian comes close, with James swooping down to save a child from the path of racing curricles.

With hand, body and voice, James set Seistan at the child and dropped off the saddle, trusting to the horse to sweep past in the right place for James to hoist the child out of harm’s way.

One mighty heave, and they were back in the saddle. James’ shoulders would feel the weight of the boy for days, but Seistan had continued across the road, so close to the racers that James could feel the wind of their passing.

They didn’t stop. Didn’t even slow. In moments, they were gone.

The boy shaking in his arms, James turned Seistan with his knees, and walked the horse back to the gates of the big house. A crowd of women waited for them, but only one came forward as he dismounted.

“How can we ever thank you enough, sir?” She took the child from him, and handed him off to be scolded and hugged and wept over by a bevy of other females.

The woman lingered, and James too. He could hear his father and the others riding toward them, but he couldn’t take his eyes off hers. He was drowning in a pool of blue-gray. Did she feel it too? The Greeks said that true lovers had one soul, split at birth and placed in two bodies. He had thought it a nice conceit… until now.

In Revealed in Mist, David and Prue parted in anger in the Prologue, and meet again for the first time in months in the first chapter. Prue has just saved a young lady from rape.

She put the girl behind her with her free hand, then pulled the door closed. Something thrown banged against it on the other side.

“We must get you to safety,” she told the girl, a very young debutante in a torn white gown, her honey blonde hair falling from its careful coiffure, the delicate oval of her face streaked with tears.

“I cannot… I did not… Everyone will think…”

“Take the child to Lady Georgiana.” Prue started at Shadow’s voice and the girl yelped and clutched at her for protection. Fussing over the girl gave Prue time to catch the breath that had escaped at his sudden appearance. He was leaning against the next door down, half concealed in the doorway. “There’s a small sitting room along there.” He pointed down the passage towards the far end, seemingly unaffected the meeting, while Prue was torn between spitting in his face and throwing herself at his feet to beg him to forgive whatever offence she had caused. “Half way to the corner. Lady Georgiana is in there. She’ll take care of your maiden, and I shall see to the assailant. Who is it?”

And A Raging Madness has the least cute meet of all, as Ella flees confinement and abuse in her in-laws house to beg help from Alex, who she knew long, long ago.

The couch faced the fire, its back to the bed chamber door. The occupant was invisible until they stood right over it, and then there she was, lying on her back, wrapped tightly in a scruffy grey woollen blanket, heavily mired at one end with dried mud. All they could see of the woman was her head, and that was somewhat the worse for wear. Her face was far too thin, with dark patches under the eyes and bruise over bruise along her jaw, as if she had been gripped too hard time after time, week after week. She lay in a tangle of long brown hair, escaped from the plait to which it had been confined.

As they watched, she opened her eyes. For a moment, she stared at them, confused. Then she seemed to recall where she was, and sat up in one convulsive movement, clutching the blanket to her with a bare arm as it fell, but not before Alex had seen she wore nothing but her shift.

“Alex, thank God. You must help me. Please.”

“Lady Melville.” Alex bowed as well as he could, leaning heavily on his stick, hating to show weakness in front of her of all people. But her eyes did not leave his, and she displayed no signs of noticing his infirmity.

“Please,” she repeated, just as someone knocked on the door. She shot off the couch, clutching the blanket, and retreated to the wall, her eyes wide. He had seen such a stance before, people under threat finding a wall for the back, animals at bay, almost dead from fear, but  still searching for escape.

“It is just the major’s breakfast, my lady,” Jonno said, soothingly. But a male voice in the hall belied his reassurance. “Knock again,” it said, loudly, authoritatively. Braxton.

“Please,” Ella begged, one more time.

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Reflection characters on WIP Wednesday

masqurade-1795‘Reflection’ character is Michael Hauge’s expression. I’m still processing his full-day Story Mastery workshop from the RWNZ Conference, but have already strengthened Revealed in Mist by applying his inner and out journey methodology to the hero and heroine.

The reflection is the person that shows the protagonist when they are acting according to the armour they’ve built around their woundedness, and when they’re reaching into the real person they’re meant to be. As always, you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.

In The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, the heroine’s sister holds up a mirror to her just before this scene, set at the Costume Party.

Sophia frowned at Felicity, who was ostentatiously ignoring her from the other side of the room. They had had words, especially when Sophia had realized Felicity had deliberately sought Lord Elfingham out, accosted him in the garden, rejected him for herself, and sent him to Sophia. Sophia was not taking her sister’s leavings, and so she told her. Felicity, of course, claimed that Elfingham wanted Sophia all along, but Sophia did not believe that for a moment.

Oh, dear. He was coming this way. He stopped to speak to the Persian king, and Sophia took the opportunity to hurry away, putting as many people as possible between herself and her suitor.

He could not possibly be serious, and besides, she had her life all planned. She would never marry. She would be content with her studies and her work for the disadvantaged. She would be an aunt to Felicity’s children and one day to Hythe’s. If Hythe married someone she did not care for, she had money enough to hire a companion and set up her own establishment. She would be free and independent.

Why did such a life suddenly sound dreary?

 

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Holly and Hopeful Hearts

Today is the day, people. At last we’re ready to reveal the box set the Belles have been working on for so many months. I give you:

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When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

Read about all eight novellas, and find pre-order links, on the Bluestocking Belles Holly & Hopeful Hearts page.

Today, meet my hero and heroine, James and Sophia.

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james-bbJames must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.

Sophia keeps secret her tendre for James, Lord Elfingham. After all, the whole of Society knows he is pursuing the younger Belvoir sister, not the older one left on the shelf after two failed betrothals.

An Excerpt from The Bluestocking and the Barbarian

Chapter One

A country road in Oxfordshire
April 1812

curricle-vs-phaeton

They heard the two curricles before they saw them, the galloping hooves, the cacophony of harness and bounding wheels, the drivers shouting encouragement to their teams and insults to one another.

The Earl of Sutton turned his own horse to the shoulder of the road and the rest of the party followed his lead. As first one racing carriage and then the other careened by, James Winderfield murmured soothingly to his horse. “Stand, Seistan. Stand still, my prince.”

Seistan obeyed, only a stamp of the hind foot and muscles so tense he quivered displaying his eagerness to pursue the presumptuous British steeds and feed them his dust.

From their position at the top of what these English laughably called a hill, James could see the long curve of the road switching back at the junction with the road north and descending further until it passed through the village directly below them.

One of the fool drivers was trying to pass, standing at the reins—legs broadly astride. James hoped no hapless farmer tried to exit a gate in their path!

Seistan clearly decided that the idiots were beneath his contempt, for he relaxed as James continued to murmur to him.  “You magnificent fellow. You have left us some foals, have you not, my beauty? You and Xander, there?”

The earl heard his horse’s name and flashed his son a grin. “A good crop of foals, if their handlers are right. And honors evenly divided between Seistan and Xander. Except for the stolen mares.” He laughed, then, and James laughed with him.

Once the herd recovered from the long sea voyage, many of the mares had come into season. Not satisfied with his allotment, Seistan had leapt several of the fences on the land they had rented near Portsmouth, and covered two mares belonging to other gentlemen. And most indignant their owners had been.

“They did not fully understand the honor Seistan had done them, Father,” James said. Which was putting it mildly. When James arrived, they had been demanding that the owner of the boarding stable shoot the stallion for his trespass.

The earl laughed again. “I wish I had been there to hear you explain it, my son.”

ikon-_golden_akhal_teke-stallionA thirty-minute demonstration of Seistan’s skills as a hunter, a racer, and a war horse had been more convincing than any words of James’s, and a reminder of the famous oriental stallions who founded the lines of English thoroughbreds did the rest. In the end, he almost thought they would pay him the stud fee he had offered to magnanimously cut by half.

But he waived any fee at all, and they parted friends. Now two noblemen looked forward to the birth of their half-Turkmen foals, while James had delivered the herd to his father’s property in Oxfordshire and was now riding back to London to be put to stud himself.

“Nothing can be done about his mother, Sutton,” his grandfather, the Duke of Winshire, had grumbled, “but marry him to a girl from a good English family, and people will forget he is part cloth-head.”

The dust had settled. The earl gave the signal to move on, and his mount Xander took the lead back onto the road. James lingered a moment more, brooding on the coming Season, when he would be put through his paces before the maidens of the ton and their guardians. One viscount. Young, healthy, and well-travelled. Rich and titled. Available to any bride prepared to overlook foreign blood for the chance of one day being Duchess of Winshire.

Where was the love the traveling musicians spoke of? At least his cousins had adamantly turned him down. Not that he had anything against the twin daughters of the uncle whose inconvenient death had made his father heir and him next in line. But they did not make his heart sing.

The racing curricles had negotiated the bend without disaster and were now hurtling towards the village. Long habit had James studying the path, looking to make sure the villagers were safely out of the way, and an instant later, he put Seistan at the slope.

It was steep, but nothing to the mountains they had lived in all their lives, he and his horse, and Seistan was as sure-footed as any goat. Straight down by the shortest route they hurtled, for in the path of the thoughtless lackwits and their carriages was a child—a boy, by the trousers—who had just escaped through a gate from the village’s one large house, tripped as he crossed the road, and now lay still.

It would be close. As he cleared one stone fence and then another, he could see the child beginning to sit up, shaking his head. Just winded then, and easier to reach than lying flat, thank all the angels and saints.

Out of sight for a moment as he rounded a cottage, he could hear the carriages drawing closer. Had the child recovered enough to run? No. He was still sitting in the road, mouth open, white-faced, looking as his doom approached. What kind of selfish madmen raced breast to breast, wheel to wheel, into a village?

With hand, body and voice, James set Seistan at the child, and dropped off the saddle, trusting to the horse to sweep past in the right place for James to hoist the child out of harm’s way.

One mighty heave, and they were back in the saddle. James’ shoulders would feel the weight of the boy for days, but Seistan had continued across the road, so close to the racers that James could feel the wind of their passing.

They didn’t stop. Didn’t even slow. In moments, they were gone.

The boy shaking in his arms, James turned Seistan with his knees, and walked the horse back to the gates of the big house. A crowd of women waited for them, but only one came forward as he dismounted.

“How can we ever thank you enough, sir?” She took the child from him, and handed him off to be scolded and hugged and wept over by a bevy of other females.

sophia-rembrandt_peale_-_portrait_of_rosalba_pealeThe woman lingered, and James too. He could hear his father and the others riding towards them, but he couldn’t take his eyes off hers. He was drowning in a pool of blue-gray. Did she feel it too? The Greeks said that true lovers had one soul, split at birth and placed in two bodies. He had thought it a nice conceit, until now.

“James!” His father’s voice broke him out of his trance. “James, your grandfather expects us in London.” The earl lifted his top hat with courtly grace to the woman, and rode on, certain that James would follow. Not the woman; the lady, as her voice and clothes proclaimed, though James had not noticed until now.

A lady, and by the rules of this Society, one to whom he had not been introduced. He took off his telpek, the large shaggy sheepskin hat.

“My lady, I am Elfingham. May I have the honor of knowing whom I have served this day?”

She seemed as dazed as he, which soothed him a little, and she stuttered slightly as she gave him her name. “L-L-Lady Sophia. Belvoir.” Unmarried, he hoped. For most married ladies were known by their husband’s name or title. And a lady. He beamed at her as he remounted. He had a name. He would be able to find her.

“Thank you, sir. Lord Elfingham.”

“My lady,” James told her, “I am yours to command.”

For more of our stories, see our individual blogs:

A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight (this story links the others and is featured in the Teatime Tattler)

Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis

A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing

Artemis, by Jessica Cale

The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight

Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack

An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield

Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett

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Unequally yoked? Love across the boundaries on WIP Wednesday

brakespearew-youngloversDo you have a pair of star-crossed lovers? If so, what makes their union impossible? Different classes? Different races? Different faiths? Feuding families? Warring countries?

Today on Work-in-progress Wednesday, I’m looking for excerpts in which characters show the chasm they must bridge before they can be with their loved one. My piece is from my story in the Belles 2016 holiday box set.

Ah. Here was his goddess, approaching across a generous entrance hall that appeared at first glance to be full of people, though in truth he counted eight, not including the pair blocking his way inside.

“Felicity, you put me to the blush.” She turned from her sister to address the girl in spectacles. “Allow me to present Lord Elfingham, Miss Ellison.” Then she regarded him with wary eyes. “Have you come for the house party, Lord Elfingham?”

James gathered the wits that had scattered at Lady Sophia’s approach and told his tale of a lame horse and the need for shelter until he could diagnose and fix the problem. The other ladies and gentlemen stopped their work of hanging ribbons, garlands, and wreaths from every available vantage point, and gathered around to be introduced to the scandalous barbarian suddenly in their midst.

James smiled, nodded, and exchanged pleasantries, moving farther into the hall, his back prickling as he found himself surrounded by these polite strangers.

“There is a horse in the forecourt, and it will not move. Odd looking beast. Small head and too long in the back. And one blue eye! Whoever heard of a horse with blue eyes?”

James turned toward the voice at the door, and met the eyes of Nathan Belvoir, Earl of Hythe.

For all his youth—Hythe was three years Sophia’s junior and seven years younger than James—he was head of the Belvoir family, and James would prefer to have his blessing to court the man’s sister. From the hostility in young earl’s blue eyes, it would not be forthcoming.

“My horse,” James explained mildly. “Seistan.”

“The horse is lame, Hythe,” Lady Felicity told her brother, “so Lord Elfingham cannot travel on tonight.” She turned to the young woman in spectacles who had entered behind Hythe. “Will you inform the duchess, Cedrica?” The girl nodded and went back outside.

“He cannot stay here, either,” Hythe declared, his brows almost meeting as he frowned. “You should have stopped in the village, Winderfield, or whatever your name should be. The duchess will not want your sort mixing with her guests.”

James schooled his face to show no reaction. At least two insults in as many sentences: the denial of his title and his legitimacy, and the “your sort” comment. Sophia would doubtless be displeased if he challenged Hythe, or simply punched him.

Or punched Wesley Winderfield, who was grinning like a loon at Hythe’s elbow. Weasel Winderfield was some sort of a distant cousin and had been heir presumptive to the Duke of Winshire after the untimely deaths of the duke’s three sons one after the other, and then of his eldest son’s heir, his only known grandson. Weasel was most disappointed when Winshire’s third son proved to be not nearly as dead as reported, the inconvenience of his return compounded by the tribe of offspring he presented to his father when he arrived in England.

Weasel’s presence here was unfortunate but not unexpected. He was an acolyte of the man most determined to prove James a bastard: the man who owned this house, the Duke of Haverford.

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Looming disasters on WIP Wednesday

curricle raceIn the last few weeks I’ve written a warehouse explosion, a social nightmare, and a near traffic accident. Disasters are good for stories.

This week, how about sharing with me those moments when all looks grim, and perhaps even the instant when hero or heroine steps in to save the day.

Here is my hero James Winderfield, from The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, and the moment he meets his heroine.

The racing curricles had negotiated the bend without disaster and were now hurtling towards the village. Long habit had James studying the path, looking to make sure the villagers were safely out of the way, and an instant later, he put Seistan at the slope.

It was steep, but nothing to the mountains they had lived in all their lives, he and his horse, and Seistan was as sure-footed as any goat. Straight down by the shortest route they hurtled, for in the path of the thoughtless lackwits and their carriages was a child—a boy, by the trousers—who had just escaped through a gate from the village’s one large house, tripped as he crossed the road, and now lay still.

It would be close. As he cleared one stone fence and then another, he could see the child beginning to sit up, shaking his head. Just winded then, and easier to reach than lying flat, thank all the angels and saints.

Out of sight for a moment as he rounded a cottage, he could hear the carriages drawing closer. Had the child recovered enough to run? No. He was still sitting in the road, mouth open, white-faced, looking as his doom approached. What kind of selfish madmen raced breast to breast, wheel to wheel, into a village?

With hand, body and voice, James set Seistan at the child, and dropped off the saddle, trusting to the horse to sweep past in the right place for James to hoist the child out of harm’s way.

One mighty heave, and they were back in the saddle. James’ shoulders would feel the weight of the boy for days, but Seistan had continued across the road, so close to the racers that James could feel the wind of their passing.

They didn’t stop. Didn’t even slow. In moments, they were gone.

The boy shaking in his arms, James turned Seistan with his knees, and walked the horse back to the gates of the big house. A crowd of women waited for them, but only one came forward as he dismounted.

“How can we ever thank you enough, sir?” She took the child from him, and handed him off to be scolded and hugged and wept over by a bevy of other females.

The woman lingered, and James too. He could hear his father and the others riding towards them, but he couldn’t take his eyes off hers. He was drowning in their chocolate brown. Did she feel it too? The Greeks said that true lovers had one soul, split at birth and placed in two bodies. He had thought it a nice conceit, until now.

“James!” His father’s voice broke him out of his trance. “James, your grandfather expects us in London.” The earl lifted his top hat with courtly grace to the woman, and rode on, certain that James would follow. Not the woman; the lady, as her voice and clothes proclaimed, though James had not noticed until now.

A lady, and by the rules of this Society, one to whom he had not been introduced. He took off his telpek, the large shaggy sheepskin hat.

“My lady, I am Elfingham. May I have the honor of knowing whom I have served this day?”

She seemed as dazed as he, which soothed him a little, and she stuttered slightly as she gave him her name. “L-L-Lady Sophia. Belvoir.” Unmarried then, or she would be known by her husband’s name or title. And a lady. He beamed at her as he remounted. He had a name. He would be able to find her.

“Thank you, sir. Lord Elfingham.”

“My lady,” James told her, “I am yours to command.”

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Animals on WIP Wednesday

woman-at-the-piano-with-cockatoo-by-gustave-lc3a9onard-de-jonghe-1870My friend and fellow Bluestocking Belle Caroline Warfield is fond of owls, and is thinking of putting one in her next book. She comments that she has had sheep, goats, a dog, a cat, horses, and a number of chickens, but not an owl.

My books have been relatively deficient in animals. One heroine’s daughter had a pet rooster, I wrote a short story about a pet cat, and horses are common. I had wolves in another short story, but they didn’t stay wolves for long, and were not pets. And, of course, The Raven’s Lady has a raven in it.

But animals feature in two current works-in-progress.

  • In my novella for the Belles’ holiday box set, I have a kitten. The housekeeper’s cat has produced a litter, and several of them will pop on in various stories in the set.
  • And two horses feature in the novel I’m writing at the moment: the heroine’s colt, which she has to leave behind when she escapes her bullying relatives, and the canal boat horse, Daisy.

Do any of your stories have animals? Share them here, in the comments. Here’s my kitten from The Bluestocking and the Barbarian.

When he left his chamber, three gold tassels depended from the front of each boot, and proved a tempting target. A kitten darted out from under an occasional table when James stopped to close the door behind him, and took a flying leap at the tassels, as James discovered when he felt the sudden weight.

He took a careful step, expecting the small passenger to drop away, but it buried its claws and its teeth into its golden prey and glared up at him.

“Foolish creature,” he told it going down onto the knee of the other leg so that he could reach it and remove it, carefully lifting each paw to detach the tangled claws. “These gaudy baubles are to attract my lady, not a fierce little furry warrior.” He lifted the kitten in one hand, and held it up to continue his lecture face to face. “Now where do you belong, hmmm? Have you wandered off from your Mama? Do you belong to this house, I wonder, or did you come with a guest?”

The kitten squeaked a tiny meow.

“No, little one. I will not put you down to chew my tassels, and to trip one of the great ladies or be trodden on by one of the gentlemen. You are a pretty little fellow, are you not?” He tucked the cat against his chest and rubbed behind its ears, prompting a loud rusty purr incongruously large for the small frame of the kitten.

Focused on the kitten, he was still aware of footsteps approaching and looked up to see Hythe, who looked uncomfortable in a tight fitting jerkin over short ballooning breeches that allowed several inches of clocked stocking to show between the hem of the breeches and the thigh-length fitted boots. The short robe, flat cap, and heavy flat chain gave a further clue, and Hythe had tried for authenticity by stuffing padding under the jerkin—a pillow, perhaps?

“Henry the Eighth?” James ventured, half expecting Hythe to walk past without speaking, or make another intemperate verbal attack.

Instead, the younger man nodded. “My sister Felicity picked it. Er… I wanted to speak with you… I owe you an apology, Winder… Er… Elfingham. My sister Felicity told me that… Well, the fact is I made an accusation without checking my facts.” Hythe nodded again, clearly feeling that he had said what he needed to say.

“Very handsome of you, Hythe,” James said.

Hythe ran a finger around inside his collar, flushing slightly. “Yes, well. The thing is… You will tell Sophia that I apologized, will you not?”

Ah. Clearly Sophia had expressed her discontent.

“Sisters can be a trial, can they not,” James said, and Hythe warmed to the sympathy.

“Just because she is older, she thinks she can…” He visibly remembered his audience. “Sophia is of age, and will make her own decisions. But I think it only fair to tell you that I have advised her to wait until after the hearing at the Privileges Committee before she makes any decision.”

James inclined his head. He could understand Hythe’s position. He hoped he could persuade Sophia to ignore the advice. Time to change the subject. He held up the little kitten.

“Do you happen to know where this little chap belongs?”

Hythe flushed still deeper. “So that’s where he got to. He… ah… appears to be mine. In a way. The housekeeper’s cat had kittens and this one seems to have adopted me. Little nuisance.”

But Hythe’s hands were gentle as he took the kitten from James, and he tucked it under his chin, his other hand coming up to fondle the furry head.

“I’ll just put him back in my room so he doesn’t get in anyone’s way.”

Hythe retreated back down the hall. James could not hear individual words, but from the sound of his voice, he was giving the kitten a loving scold. And James had managed to have what almost amounted to a conversation with his intended brother-in-law. He would count that as a win.

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