Tea with Lalamani and Philip

Haverford House was built to impress, every room at more than human scale, every surface glittering with evidence of wealth and power. As Lalamani and Philip followed the butler up staircases and down halls, the ducal ancestors frowned down from painted and sculpted portraits, and even the occasional landscape appeared to disapprove of the intruder who had infiltrated these august surroundings.

Lalamani clung tighter to Philip’s arm, and resisted the urge to inform a particularly contemptuous portrait of some duke’s favourite horse that she had been invited.

At long last, the butler opened a door to a comfortable sitting room, still built on the grand scale but somehow transformed by the placement and choice of furnishings into a welcoming place that was a fit setting for the lady who awaited them.

“Lord and Lady Calne, Your Grace,” the butler announced.

Lalamani had been presented to the Duchess of Haverford once, at one of her balls — the same ball at which Lalamani had met the Earl of Calne. Three minutes in a receiving line, with a long queue of people waiting behind, but in those few moments, Her Grace had given Lalamani her complete attention and made the rank outsider, the merchant’s daughter, feel welcome.

And now the duchess’s smile of welcome was repairing the wounds to Lalamani’s self-respect inflicted by the house. “My dears, do come and take a seat. How did you find the walk through this dreadful house? Such a long way, and so much clutter. Tea, Lady Calne?”

She spooned leaves from a small tea chest into a waiting tea pot and handed it to the hovering maid to be filled from an urn.

“Thank you.” Lalamani settled herself on a small sofa, sweeping her skirts to one side so that Philip could sit comfortingly close. Though he had grown in this world no more than she, still he was born to it and had spent more time there, besides.

The duchess beamed. “I was delighted when my friend, Lord Henry Redepenning, mentioned that you and your husband first met at one of my balls, Lady Calne. Lord Henry will tell you that I like nothing better than a love match, and if I did not have a hand in this one, I am at least pleased to have provided the venue for its inception.”

“It is a love match,” Philip assured her, gravely, and she smiled.

“Yes, and it annoys you, I think, that Society is calling you a fortune hunter and your lady a social climber. It would annoy me, too, even were it true. And I can see for myself, now that I see you together, that the two of you are deeply in love, as Lord Henry assured me.”

The great lady’s frankness steadied Lalamani. It seemed the duchess had a mind to support them. What could she do, though? Lalamani repeated the wisdom of her Aunt Hannah. “Nothing can be done about gossip and scandal, except to live it down.”

Her Grace laughed. “I would not say ‘nothing’, my dear. Milk and sugar?” She added a little of both to the cup the maid handed her, then gestured for it to be brought to Lalamani.

“I am not without resources to replace one set of stories with another, Lady Calne. I invited you here to discuss what gossip about your courtship you would find most pleasing. The discovery of the hidden Calne treasure? The rescue of a beleaguered widow? A true romance that seemed fated to be unfulfilled, because of the poverty of the hero and the class of the heroine? You shall decide, and I shall make sure that Society takes you into their hearts.”

Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby is a Christmas novella, released last month. Follow the link for blurb and buy links.

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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 NarrAy

Captain NarrAy Jorlan of the All People’s Liberation Army ran the words through her mind again, trying to fathom the meaning. Was this some kind of rebel code? Or imperial? Why would a duchess be inviting her to… what was it again?

“I’m sorry, Brox. I’ve been invited to what?”

“Just ‘tea,’ ma’am.'” Her adjutant showed her his screen. “See? It says it right here.”

“Just ‘tea’ and nothing else?” She squinted at the device. “You’re right. Tea is all it says.”

“Maybe ‘tea’ is code.” Broxus lowered his voice. “NarrAy, have you been spying on the Empress again?”

“No.” She set a hand against her bosom. “At least, I hope not.”

“What do you mean you hope not?” Broxus’s voice had risen to a squeak. He coughed into a fist. “Please tell me you haven’t been working for another faction.”

“Oh, of course not!” She waved away his concern. “I have enough to do, working for the rebellion. Believe me. I wouldn’t be taking on any more work.” She stood and picked up his notereader, tapped the screen. “I wonder what being invited for tea actually means.”

“Maybe it’s like tea that you drink.”

NarrAy laughed. “I doubt that.” She handed him back the device. If this was a trap she would soon know. “Tell her yes and thanks and get directions for me. Maybe she wants to offer her support. Trust me, if this has anything to do with the Imperial Armada, I’m going to know about it.”

“Yes, ma’am, but be careful. After what happened to your parents…”

She stiffened. “I don’t need reminding about that.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He stood, head lowered. “I apologize, but I worry about you.”

“I know. I appreciate it, but the Empress is not going to take me out as easily as she took them. Send the coordinates to my ship.” She picked up her gloves and drew them on. “And anyway, if it’s just drinking tea with a nice lady, how much trouble could I get into?”

By-the-book Captain NarrAy Jorlan meets playful thief Senth Antonello in At the Mercy of Her Pleasure, Kayelle Allen’s rollicking science fiction romance set in the far future. Do opposites attract? Oh, mercy! This sweet romance contains action, adventure, danger, humor, and a malfunctioning automated suitcase that wreaks havoc everywhere it goes.

Available exclusively on Amazon or in print (autographed, shipping included) from Romance Lives Forever Books.

Kayelle Allen writes Sci Fi with misbehaving robots, mythic heroes, role playing immortal gamers, and warriors who purr. She’s a US Navy veteran and has been married so long she’s tenured.
https://kayelleallen.com
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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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Tea with Lord Henry

Today’s guest is an old friend. Eleanor Haverford has known Brigadier General Lord Henry Redepenning since he was a mere captain and she a girl barely graduated from the nursery to the schoolroom.

They met at the baptism of their mutual niece Emily, daughter of Eleanor’s sister and Lord Henry’s brother, and met again six years later when the Reverend Lord Stephen Redepenning and Lady Stephen proudly presented their second child and only son to God and  the fashionable world. Eleanor was thirteen then, and Lord and Lady Henry had two children and a third on the way.

The friendship had been forged in the nursery that week. Lady Stephen had a wet nurse and little interest in her children beyond their dynastic purpose, so Eleanor and Lord and Lady Henry found the nursery a safe place to escape the lady’s loudly expressed disappointment over the recent marriage of her husband’s elder brother, the Earl of Chirbury, and his new wife’s obvious fecundity, which showed Chirbury’s clear intention to depose Lord Stephen as heir presumptive with a brand new heir apparent.

That had been forty years ago, and the friendship between the duchess, as she became within six years, and the Brigadier General and his wife had survived the test of time, and even been strengthened by the death of Lady Henry twenty years ago.

Today, Lord Henry had come seeking a favour, which was his without question, though Eleanor burned with curiosity about his reasons.

“Thank you for taking the children,” Lord Henry said.

“It is no trouble, Henry. It is nice for Frances to have Anna’s company, and the older girls are in a fair way to making a pet of your little Michael. But how do you come to have charge of your daughter’s two little ones? Susan always keeps them close.”

Lord Henry frowned, staring into his cup as if for inspiration. “It is worrying, Eleanor. In fact, that is why I asked you to take Anna and Michael. Because I mean to go north and see what I can do to help.”

Eleanor leant forward a little, her head tipped to one side. She would assist her dear friend without an explanation, but she devoutly hoped he intended to give her one.

And yes, he responded to her silence as she had hoped. “I should explain. Susan has been in Scotland with the younger two children. She insists on Michael visiting his estate several times a year, young as he is, so that the tenants and local gentry come to know him. I expected her back in London some time this week, but Anna and Michael arrived with her servants, and a note saying she had detoured to visit her daughter Amy at school, and would be following within a day. That was a week ago.”

Now Eleanor’s frown mirrored Henry’s. “A whole week? Is Susan ill? Has there been an accident?”

Lord Henry shook his head. “It seems that Amy was missing when Susan arrived, and Susan has gone after her. She sent me a note, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Something about spies and a French music mistress. Then I had another note from Stafford, where Susan left her groom because he was ill.”

Eleanor put her cup down, spilling her tea in her agitation. “So she is on her own? Henry!”

“No. Not as bad as that. Or worse, perhaps. She is travelling with Gil Rutledge, who is an old friend of my children, Eleanor, as you know. He is a good man, is Rutledge.”

“Oh dear. I mean, I am pleased, of course, that Susan has support, and I trust Rutledge to help Susan find Amy quickly, but I do hope no-one sees the two of them travelling together.”

“On the busiest road in the kingdom? For Amy is heading north up the Great North Road, and Susan and Gil after her.” Lord Henry gave a heavy sigh. “At least Rutledge is unwed, and Susan is a widow, so they can salvage their reputations with a wedding.”

“That is the least of our concerns, dear Henry,” Eleanor corrected him, sternly. “What has become of dear Amy?”

“You are right, Eleanor. And that is why I have ventured to burden you with my grandchildren. I must go north and see what I can do. I would have sent one of Susan’s brothers, but with three of them overseas and Alex’s wife due to deliver a baby any day… No, I must do this myself.”

“You can count on me to care for Anna and Michael, my dear friend. Yes, and for anything else you might need.”

 

Lord Henry’s daughter is the heroine of my current work-in-progress, The Realm of Silence, which is the third novel in The Golden Redepennings. I am working on it, honest! I was trying for December, but February might be more realistic.

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