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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Tea with Janet

Three young women, linked by marriage and scandal, awaited the duchess today.

The Countess of Chestlewick had intrigued Society less than a year ago, making her appearance as a young, impoverished, and extremely beautiful widow. The much older Earl of Chestlewick had been, as far as Eleanor understood the matter, one of the few to offer her a permanent arrangement of the legal kind. Many had more illicit relationships in mind.

Gossip suggested she had chosen Chestlewick for his wealth, but Eleanor had seen them together. Yes, the earl doted on his young wife, but equally the wife looked up to and admired her husband. It was, in short, a love match, and Eleanor was confident that the robust baby the joined the household only a few months after the marriage was, in fact, the true son of the earl who claimed him.

With her was her daughter-in-law, Countess Medford. Now there was a story. The Earl of Medford had returned from a hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands with an aching heart, after a lass who nursed him through sickness disappeared without a trace. Medford’s lack of interest in his former rakish pursuits, his dogged devotion to finding his lost love, and his mournful demeanour won him the nickname ‘the Cursed Earl’.

Imagine Society’s delighted horror when the missing girl proved to be none other that the Earl of Chestlewick’s daughter by a former marriage. Lady Jane Amhurst, as she was known here in England, arrived from the Highlands with a pair of Scottish servants, a small daughter, and no husband. As Mrs Pellingham, the third guest this morning, gleefully explained to anyone who would listen.

But it turned out that the pair had married in the Highlands, and their blissful reunion was rather more than a nine-days wonder, especially when a chastened Mrs Pellingham made her first appearance with her wronged sister-in-law.

The gossip had not died down, of course, but Eleanor would see what she could do to help ease at least the way of the Countess of Medford, and the others, too, if they seemed deserving.

My Lost Highland Lass is a story in my new book of lunch-length reads, Lost in the Tale.

Other Monday for Tea posts about stories in the book are:

Tea with Mrs Markinson (The Lost Wife)

Tea with Callie (Magnus and the Christmas Angel)

Tea with Morag and Caitlin (The Lost Treasure of Lorne)

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Tea with Mrs Markinson

Villages could be cruel places for an outsider, and the new solicitor’s wife was certainly an outsider.  Mr Markinson himself had been quickly accepted by the men, and their wives and sisters were rapidly won over by  his grave courtesy and the military bearing left by years in the British Marines. Indeed, had he been less personable, they may have more quickly forgiven the foreignness of his lady.

Rank and foreigness were the two problems in a nutshell, and today the duchess intended to solve them both. The rumours had it she was an army-lightskirt, or one of the wild girls who followed the Spanish guerrillas and slit the throats of wounded Frenchmen. The rumours lied. Mrs Markinson was some sort of Spanish nobility, and the Spanish nobility was even more complicated and heirarchical than the English. The women of the sizeable village that nestled around the feet of Haverford Castle were unable to assign her a place, and so counted her very obvious quality as an affectation and a lie.

At the rectory, most of the committee for the Spring fete had already arrived, but not Mrs Markinson. Excellent. If the woman following instructions, Eleanor had precisely fifteen minutes before introducing her as the newest committee member. Plenty of time for the ridiculous courtesies the village ladies thought suitable for the mistress of the castle.

Eleanor swept into the room, this month’s companion-secretary in her wake, and sure enough, within ten minutes, had the committee seated and ready for her next move. “I have asked the new solicitor’s wife to join us, my dears, and I expect her shortly. Before she arrives, may I solicit your kindness for Mrs Markinson?” She paused, her brows delicately raised, looking around at the startled faces of these leaders of local society. The mayor’s wife was trying to smooth out a frown, and the squire’s wife was near biting her tongue lest she say something to offend the duchess.

The village haberdasher, who was the biggest gossip in all of Eastern Kent,  opened her mouth, and the rector’s wife (God bless her) was swift to ask her, sotto-voiced,  if she needed more tea.

“I trust I may expect you to keep my confidence,” the duchess continued, silencing any further attemp at interruption. “I believe it may help us to make Mrs Markinson welcome if you know a little of her history, and of her connections with my family. She grew up in England. Her father was the younger son of an English gentleman, and her mother the daughter and widow of Spanish lords, equivalent perhaps, to what we would call a baronet.”

The ladies were nodding. The daughter of a baronet and a country gentleman. Mrs Markinson was assuming a shape they could understand. “After first her father and then her mother died, she returned to Spain to keep house for her half-brother, child of her mother’s first marriage.”

“The baronet,” the squire’s wife said, nodding to show she was following the story.

Eleanor inclined her head in agreement. “Don Imanol Mendina de la Vega, who by chance was at Eton with my son Aldridge.”

That fetched a buzz. Mention of Aldridge always provoked comment. “When the war came to Spain, Don de la Vega led a force into the mountains to support the English and oppose the French, and his sister continued to manage his household, but also to keep a village school. She also learned simples from her mother and her English grandmother, so naturally she used her knowledge to treat the wounded. And one day, a badly injured English marine was carried up the mountain to her village for her care.”

“Mr Markinson,” the ladies chorused, their soft smiles displaying their enjoyment of the romantic tale.

“You have guessed it. And the rest must be quickly told, for I see Mrs Markinson at the garden gate. It was, of course, Don de la Vega, who recommended his sister’s new husband to my son, and for love of her husband, she has followed him to Kent, leaving behind both her Spanish people and her childhood town far to the north in Lancashire.”

Eleanor stood as Mrs Markinson entered the room, and crossed to take her hand, as the rest of the village ladies rustled to their feet around her. “Mrs Markinson, I am so pleased you were able to join us. You see before you the committee for the Spring fete. I always say the best way for someone to feel at home in a new community is to be given a job to do, and you have come to the right place.”

Seated again a few minutes later, Eleanor watched with delight as the village ladies tumbled verbally over one another in their anxiety to please the duchess’s new protegee, and Mrs Markinson gave agreeable replies in her softly-accented English.  The duchess had given the barest outlines of the story, of course. Nothing of the decade of separation that split the Markinson’s wedding from their marriage. But the rest was Teri Markinson’s to tell.

The Lost Wife is a story in Lost in the Tale, to be published this week.

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Tea in the schoolroom

Eleanor paused in the doorway of the schoolroom, where her three foster daughters were drawing under the supervision of their governess. The subject was a collection of objects: a flower in a rounded glazed bowl, a trinket box open to display a set of coral beads that trailed over the edge onto the polished surface of the table, a delicate statuette of a gun dog, with proudly pointing muzzle.

A difficult composition for such young girls, though little Frances was talented, and the older two girls competent enough. At thirteen, Frances had inhabited the Haverford nursery floor for eleven years, and by the time of her debut, in three or four years, the scandal of her existence was likely to be minimal. Especially since she, least of the three, resembled their shared father.

Matilda would face the ton first. At sixteen, she was as much a beauty as her mother had been, with the dark hair and stunning figure that had made her mother a reigning beauty of the ton, despite a less than stellar birth and lack of fashion. The combination was lethal, for the girl had died in childbirth, and the grieving furious grandmother brought the baby to Haverford House, to the man the dying mother named as father. An identification the grandmother had no hesitation is spreading.

It was just chance that Haverford was away on , and that Eleanor had just been arriving home. Or an intercession of the divine. Haverford would have turned his full ducal rage on a scion of the local gentry, and denied everything. But Eleanor took the baby in her arms and fell in love.

She smiled as she watched the three heads bent in concentration. It had taken His Grace nine months to realise that his nurseries were once again occupied, and by then Jessica, some six months younger and the daughter of an opera dancer, had joined her half-sister. No-one could doubt her parentage. She and Lord Jonathan, Eleanor’s second son, were as alike as male and female could be.

Haverford, of course, denied that he’d sired them, and ignored them completely. His solution to the unfortunate results of his careless whoring was to blame the female, a bag of coins (carefully measured to their social position) the only assistance they could expect.

Thank goodness she had been strong enough to hold out for the right to keep the children. As long as he never saw them, was not expected to acknowledge them in any way, and provided nothing extra for their support, he chose to treat her fostering as an eccentric hobby.

Eleanor loved the three girls with all her heart, loved them as fiercely as she loved the two sons she had borne her husband. And she could not regret bringing them into her home, selfish of her though it was. She had learned better, especially after the disastrous end to David Wakefield’s time under the Haverford roofs. For years now, she had been quietly settling her husband’s by-blows in less scrutinised households, carefully supervised to ensure they had the love and care she wanted for those who shared blood with her sons.

As for the three sisters, their origins and the prominence of the family meant they would face many barriers in a quest for a fulfilling life. If only they did not so strongly bear the Grenford stamp! Still, with her support and that of her sons, all would be well. She hoped. She prayed.

Time to announce her presence. “Miss Waterson, is this a good time for an interruption? I have come to take tea with the young ladies.”

This is a little bit of backstory to my historical world. The sisters are first mentioned in Revealed in Mist, and will appear in later novels. In Never Kiss a Toad, the early Victorian novel that I’m writing with Mariana Gabrielle (being published episode by episode on Wattpad) I’ve just been working on a chapter that mentions Frances’s wedding, and another that touches on the tragedy of Jessica’s death. I don’t know Matilda’s story, yet.

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Tea with Callie

Her Grace has heard about the wedding, and sent her carriage and her companion to the hotel Magnus chose as a refuge for the rescued bride. Caroline Thrushnet was carried off to Haverford House to be cossetted, cherished, and prepared for a second wedding, to Magnus and not Lewis, in a few days time.

Now she has followed the footman assigned to wait in the corridor outside her bed chamber, and is being ushered into a small private sitting room, clearly the domain of the duchess, who waits for her behind a large tea tray.

“Miss Thrushnet, come and sit down, my dear. Tea?”

“It would be welcome, Your Grace. I hardly know whether I am on my head or my heels.”

“Indeed. You have sustained several shocks in quick succession.”

That was putting it mildly. First being forced to marry Lewis, who had cruelly closed all other avenues when he threatened Nanny, the only person Callie had left to love. Then being rescued moments before the vows by a man she thought long since dead. And now contemplating marriage to that man, who swore that marriage to him was her only safety.

The duchess asked how Callie took her tea, and busied herself preparing a cup. “Fenchurch is my godson, Miss Thrushnet. He was a fine boy, but his sufferings have changed him. If you wish to marry him, you may do so from Haverford House. If not, then you may remain here with me.”

“But Lewis, Mr Colbrooke…” Lewis had threatened to tell the whole world that she was his whore, and she could not deny that she had lived in his house, though he had done no more than tell her in salacious detail what he would do when they were wed.

The duchess patted her hand. “I cannot deny that marriage to the Earl of Fenchurch is the best answer to his cousin’s lies, my dear. But I am not without my own resources. If you do not wish to marry Fenchurch, we shall contrive.”

Callie is the heroine of Magnus and the Christmas Angel, a story in my forthcoming collection Lost in the Tale. Magnus and the Christmas Angel is set six months after Magnus and Callie marry, and tells how they became reconciled. The excerpt that follows is from a start I made to turn the short story into a full novel or novella.

He was always correct and pleasant in front of others, and she made certain to stay in company as much as she could, but if he caught her alone she could expect to be stroked, fondled, squeezed, even pinched. And at any time she could expect him to sidle up beside her, and bend to whisper in her ear.

Such disgusting things: what he planned to do to her, what he would teach her to do to him. ‘Train’ her, he said, as if she were a dog to be brought to heel or a filly to be taught manners with a curb rein.

One of his delights was to speculate about whether he should wait until after their wedding to introduce her to her marital duties, and each night she propped a chair under the handle to prevent his entrance. Not that such a measure did more than postpone the inevitable, but at least she did not have to fear him entering to rape her while she slept. Nanny had insisted on sleeping in the dressing room, but her presence would not dissuade Lewis if he had not chosen to stay away for his own purposes.

Nor did he do more than frighten and dismay her during her waking hours. No mercy, that. He wanted to give her fear time to build, and it had worked. Now, as each turn of the carriage wheels carried her closer to the church and the vows that would imprison her for life, she fantasised about hurling herself screaming from the carriage and throwing herself at the knees of the kindest looking passer-by to beg refuge. Only the knowledge that the alternative might be even worse—for Nanny, if not for her—kept her in her seat. That, and the watchful presence of Lewis’s guard dogs.

The ride was interminable and over too soon. She climbed the steps of St George’s, flanked by the footmen, and entered at the back of the huge church; walked the great empty length of the nave towards the small crowd of Lewis’s hangers-on, sycophants, and cronies.

They watched her approach, avid-eyed, spectators at her execution. They believed her to be Lewis’s mistress already; had she not lived in his house these past six weeks? For some reason of his own, he had taken her to a hotel when they came up to London yesterday, but her reputation could now only be restored by this marriage.

She kept her back straight, her face calm; stilled the trembling of her hands by sheer force of will. No one would know she was afraid. No one but Lewis, who knew and was pleased.

When she was close enough, Lewis grabbed her hand and squeezed hard enough to leave bruises, digging in his fingers. She hid her wince, but the minister noticed and frowned, and frowned still further when Lewis instructed him to begin.

“She’s here. Get on with it man. Splice me to the damn chit. I have other engagements this afternoon, and a wife’s maidenhead to breach before I can get to them.”

“Sir!” The minister was horrified. “Your rudeness is not to be tolerated in this sacred place, and in the presence of a lady. Miss Thrushnet, such lack of respect does not bode well. It does not indeed. I urge you to consider carefully before you proceed.”

Callie shook her head. “I have no choice. Do it quickly, please.”

The minister  shook his head, but he began the words of the service. Callie barely listened, until he reached the point that he spoke to the congregation, almost, it seemed, begged the congregation. “If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it.”

He fell silent and waited. If only someone would speak up! They would not, of course, but even so Callie turned to look at those witnessing this travesty of a wedding, ignoring Lewis’s foul words as the minister ignored his commands to proceed.

The door to the church crashed back, and a large angry man shouldered his way past Lewis’s footmen, beating them off with his walking stick and shouting, “Stop the wedding!”

His face. Callie knew that face. This was a man, and not a stripling boy, and barbaric black whorls and dots disfigured all of one side—forehead, cheek, chin, and half the nose. But she would have known him had the tattoos covered all, by his resemblance to his father and by the leap of her heart as he fought his way furiously up the nave of the church.

Magnus. It was Magnus returned from the dead to save her.

Her head felt light, and then the world spun around her and went black.

The minister caught Callie as she fell, fainting at the horror his face had become. He would have to explain. The men on the ship that rescued him grew used to his tattoos during the long voyage home. Could Callie?

But no time for that now, with Lewis shaking his fist in Magnus’s face and demanding he be removed, not that anyone seemed anxious to oblige him. Lewis’s lackeys were unconscious on the ground at the back of the church; the onlookers eyed Magnus’s stick warily, and his grin with even more caution.

Magnus looked Lewis up and down and his grin broadened. The monster who had made his youth a torment was now six inches shorter than him, and showing signs of dissipation in his broadening girth, his soft jowls. While he indulged every vice in London, Magnus had survived shipwreck, fought to earn his entrance into the elite of a warrior culture, and worked his way home from the other side of the world on a naval vessel.

Lewis turned his shoulder, ostentatiously. “Get on with it,” he told the minister. “This madman has nothing to do with us,”

The minister had lowered Callie to the ground and now stood protectively over her. His words were addressed to Magnus. “Who are you, sir? And what cause or impediment do you bring?”

Lewis argued. “He is mad, I tell you. Will no one rid us of this violent lunatic?”

Magnus ignored his cousin, but raised his voice for the benefit of the onlookers. “I am Magnus Colbrooke, Earl of Fenchurch, and this lady is my betrothed.”

Amid exclamations and questions from the onlookers, and shouted imprecations and denials from Lewis, the minister and Magnus locked gazes for a long moment. Then the minister nodded, and turned his attention to Callie, who was stirring.

Magnus had to attend to Lewis and one of the footmen, who had recovered from the blow that knocked him out and was gamely approaching again. He backed off when Magnus shook the stick at him, more frightened of another blow than of his master, who was red faced and hissing like a steam kettle.

“This is not my cousin,” Lewis shouted. “My cousin is dead. I am the Earl of Fenchurch.”

Magnus would have known Callie’s voice anywhere, though maturity had given it a depth and richness. “My dear Fenchurch,” she said, and the church hushed as everyone turned to listen. She was shaking off the minister’s supporting hand, crossing to Magnus with her hands outstretched in welcome. “You are very welcome. Sir,” she glanced back at the minister, ignoring the avid audience, “this is indeed Magnus Colbrooke, Earl of Fenchurch, and my betrothed.”

Another surge of comment from the rabble, which Magnus did not bother to untangle, instead enjoying the sensation of Calllie’s soft hand in his, and keeping a watchful eye on Lewis and his henchman.

Lewis was shaking his head. “No. I don’t know where you found him, Caroline, but this masquerade won’t work, and you will pay for it in the end.”

“You will be receiving notice from my lawyer, Lewis. I am returned, and I will be taking back my own.” Magnus gave Callie’s hand a comforting squeeze. “Starting with my betrothed, but also my houses, my estates,” he looked pointedly at Lewis’s hand, “my signet ring.”

“I deny it. I deny it.” Lewis shook his fist at the minister, who was smiling. “Do you hear me? I deny it.” He threw a threatening look at Callie. “You came here to marry me. I demand that you marry me. You promised.”

Magnus took a step towards the cur, but Callie pulled on his hand and spoke her own defiance. “I came here to marry the Earl of Fenchurch, to whom I was betrothed before he left for the ends of the earth. I stand ready to do so.” She looked up at the unscarred side of Magnus’s face and smiled. “For here he is.”

“Now?” Magnus asked. “I am willing.”

The minister, though, was shaking his head. “Miss Thrushnet, I cannot wed you to any man today. The impediment to your marriage to Mr Colbrooke is clear, and the name on the licence must be changed if you are to marry another man.”

Lewis blustered some more, but Callie ignored him, thanking the minister politely.

“I am staying at Grillions, Fenchurch,” she said. “Shall we return there so that we can talk in private?”

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Tea with a gossip columnist

Note from J. Swann, newspaper reporter, to H. Markham, editor: Eleanor Grenford, Duchess of Haverford, seldom consents to an interview. Though she lives, perforce, in the public eye—as wife to one of the most powerful men in England and mother to two of England’s most notable rakes—she carefully guards her private life.

She agreed to invite this columnist to tea and answer my questions only after being assured that I am from the future, not the fictional Georgian (later Victorian) world she inhabits.

Born Eleanor Creydon, eldest daughter of the Earl of Farnmouth, she is related by birth or marriage to most of the noble houses of England and many in the wider United Kingdom and Europe. She married the Duke of Haverford before she attained the 18th anniversary of her nativity, and has since become one of the ton’s leading hostesses.

  1. What are you most proud of about your life?

Aldridge

“My two sons,” says the duchess, without hesitation. “Aldridge—the Marquis of Aldridge, my elder son and Haverford’s heir—is responsible and caring. And Jonathan, too. They are, I cannot deny, a little careless. But they are not heartless, dear. I’ve always thought that being heartless is the defining feature of a true rake.

“They take responsibility for their by-blows, which is so important in a gentleman, do you not agree? And neither of them has ever turned a mistress off without providing for her, or at least not since they were very young.

Jonathan

“Sadly, the example set by His Grace their father was not positive in this respect. I flatter myself that I have been of some influence in helping them to understand that they have a duty to be kind to those less fortunate and less powerful than themselves.”

  1. What are you most ashamed of in your life?

The duchess does not answer immediately. She seems to be turning over several possibilities. “I neglected him, you know. I neglected Aldridge. When he was born, I left him to his servants. I thought that was normal, and Haverford… he was very angry when I suggested I should stay at the castle instead of going to London for the season.

“Why; even his name… Haverford insisted everyone call him by his title. But I could have called him ‘Anthony’ in private, could I not?

“Dear Aldridge had no-one but his staff. I was seldom at Margate, and when I was… His Grace thought it my duty to spend my time with him. I saw Aldridge once a day, brought to me clean and quiet of an evening before his bedtime.

“I had no idea what I had done until Jonathan was born. He timed his birth for the end of the season, and His Grace left for his usual round of house parties, so I could do as I wished. I wished to be in the nursery with my sons.

“After that, I found ways to bring them to London with me, and to spend time with them at play as often as several times a week! Even so, I did not dare go against the duke’s orders, and I call my son by his title to this day. Everyone does. Poor dear boy.”

  1. What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

“People don’t see me, my dear. They see the Duchess of Haverford. I cannot blame them, of course. I am at pains to project the image of ‘duchess’. I have cultivated it my entire adult life. Why! If people truly saw me, they would be very surprised, I think.”

  1. Do you think you have turned out the way your parents expected?

“My parents expected me to marry well and to present my husband with heirs. Had I married beneath their expectations, I daresay I would never have seen them again. I cannot say, dear, that such an outcome would have been entirely a bad thing.”

  1. What is the worst thing that has happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

James, Duke of Winshire, once Kagan of a mountain kingdom north of Persia, and before that a suitor beloved by Eleanor and rejected by her father.

“I could say losing James, or I could say marrying Haverford, but it is all of a piece. I cannot tell you where the one ends and the other starts. I gave my heart to James, but he was a second son. My father gave my hand to Haverford.

“And by ‘hand’ I mean the rest of me, dear. Imagine a sheltered seventeen-year-old, innocent but for a stolen kiss with the man she hoped to wed. And instead of that man, I spent my wedding night in the hands of a hardened roué with no patience… He is two decades my senior, dear. Thirteen years older than James.

“I believe my sons are known for their skills. (I speak of bed sports, dear, and do not blush for it, for at our age we should scorn to be coy, and this article will be published, you have assured me, some two hundred years in my future.) If Haverford has such skills, and the rumour is not just flattery aimed at money to be made from his patronage, he did not feel inclined to waste it on a mere wife.”

  1. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

“I am fortunate. I live in luxury. I have my sons (or, at least, I have Aldridge close by and regular letters from Jonathan, who is on the Tour, dear). I have the little girls, too—Haverford’s by-blows, but I love them dearly. I can give them an education, respectability, a little dowry… I do these things, too, for my poorer godchildren, and I love nothing better than to present one of my goddaughters for her Season.

“I enjoy entertaining—balls, musical evenings, garden parties and picnics in London, and house parties at our other estates. My entertainments are famous. I have promised to be honest with you, so I will say ‘not without reason’.” The duchess laughs, her eyes for a moment showing glints of the self-deprecating humour that is part of her elder son’s attraction.

“And, dear, I have come to an accommodation with Haverford. He leaves me to live my own life, while he carries on with his. Between you and me, my dear, my life is pleasanter without him in it.”

  1. What have you always wanted to do but have not done? Why?

“I have always wondered what my life might have been like had I defied my father and eloped with James. He came to me, you know, after the duel; after his own father exiled him. I turned him away. And then, six months later we heard he was dead. I didn’t care what happened to me after that, so I gave in to my father’s demands and married Haverford.

“It wasn’t true, as it turned out. He arrived back in London not long ago, with a great band of wild children. I could have been their mother, had I been brave enough to go with him.

“But there. Had I married James, I would not have Aldridge and Jonathan. Perhaps all is as it should be.

“You asked what I have always wanted to do? I want to see James again; to talk to him, just the two of us. Haverford… he and James do not speak. We Grenfords do not acknowledge the Winderfields and they do not acknowledge us. If people are inviting James or his offspring to their social gathering, they do not invite us. If us, then not him. We do not meet.

“But Society is surprisingly small. One day… one day…”

Note from Jude

Her Grace appears in all my novels and many of my novellas and short stories, often smoothing the path of a romance. She is also the hostess of the house party that is at the centre of the 2016 Belle’s box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.

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Tea with Toad

In this excerpt from Never Kiss a Toad, Eleanor Haverford has travelled to Paris shortly after her granddaughter has been compromised and her honorary great-nephew, Toad, has been sent away in disgrace.

Never Kiss a Toad is a Victorian novel I’m co-writing with Mariana Garbrielle and publishing one episode a week on Wattpad.

Toad felt the heat rising in his cheeks. At eighty, Aunt Eleanor had an old woman’s tendency to truth-telling, which made her one of his favourites among Sally’s relations, but could be deuced uncomfortable.

“It is always good to see you, of course, Aunt Eleanor, but I am confused. How long have you been in Paris? Have we an appointment I have forgotten?”

“My, my, Abersham. Demanding an appointment of a duchess four times your age? Winshire and I realized we had similar problems to be addressed in France and popped over for a few days.” Eleanor took a sip of her tea. “As for my problem, I am dissatisfied with the information I have gathered about the liberties you took with my granddaughter.”

He stared at her with his mouth flapping, unsure what to say. “Haverford told you?” He flushed and stood to pace before the fire, running his hand through his hair in a gesture he shared with his father. “You? I cannot believe he would…” He stopped and stared at her in horror. “It hasn’t become generally known, has it? She’s not been ruined?”

“No, it has not, praise heaven. Most of my information comes from Sally herself. Haverford told me only what I could glean from monosyllables; Wellbridge still less, but at volume. Cherry and Bella were somewhat more forthcoming, but they naturally do not wish to make themselves or their husbands appear culpable, and they may well be. So, yours is the last viewpoint I must consider.”

Toad looked around and took his pacing to the fire, where he added a shovel of coal.

“How do you fare here in Paris, my boy? Are you well and happy?”

Toad opened his mouth to answer, then closed it, then opened it again, but still did not speak. He finally said, “I am well, Aunt Eleanor. You?”

She sighed. “A little tired, dear.” She patted his hand to reassure him. “Sally made her debut last week, and I find I do not recover from late nights as quickly as I once did.” At Sally’s name, his hand jerked as if burned, and she withdrew hers, watching him closely.

He stiffened and looked away. “I am sure it was… lovely.”

“It was and she was, which is what you most and least wish to hear, I expect.” He ran a hand through his hair as she said, in an annoyingly blithe tone, “I have launched debutantes before, of course, but few as fetching. These modern fashions suit her very well. In white, of course, which is a very hard colour to wear well, but Sally has the hair and complexion for it. She wore the Haverford pearl-and diamond parure, of course, and her gloves, fan, and shawl were all silver. She was a fairy princess, Abersham, all moonbeams and stardust.”

He smiled and swallowed hard, caught up in envisioning his beloved in a wedding gown. “I love to see her in white.”

Aunt Eleanor snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Abersham. Abersham! Are you addled, boy? I said… I wish to hear from you.”

“What do you wish me to say?”

Her exasperated look was tinged with affection. “Silly boy. The truth, of course, as you see it, about your unfortunate plans for the ravishment and elopement of my granddaughter.”

She had timed it to the sip of his brandy. She must have, so skilfully did she make him choke. Once finished coughing, he started, “I am surprised she spoke of it. Is she…”

He was so close to the information he sought that his heart beat faster. “Can you tell me; is she well? Does she think of me fondly, or have I hurt her irreparably? I cannot tell a thing from the letters she writes under Haverford’s eye.”

“She is certainly better than she was when I arrived back in London, but still not back to her old self. Of course, she is proud; she will put on a good show.”

Before Toad could respond, a knock at the door revealed Blakeley. “My lord, as you requested earlier, dinner will be ready in three-quarters of an hour, if it pleases you.”

He looked over at Aunt Eleanor with one cocked brow. “Will you stay for dinner?”

“Thank you, Abersham. I am not dressed to dine, but if you will not regard it, nor will I.”

Once Blakeley had gone and shut the door behind him, Aunt Eleanor began again. “I would have your side of the story, dear lad, before I am too old to comprehend it.”

He laughed a bit harshly. “I set out to make Sally my wife and was thwarted and exiled. What more is there to say?”

She finished her tea, put her cup back on the saucer, then examined him carefully. “That was why you met her, was it? You compromised her to force a marriage?”

He flushed and turned his eyes away. “No! I did not mean to compromise her. Nor to marry… not yet, anyway… not from the first… but… soon after.”

Eleanor held out both hands to Toad and when he took them, said, “Collect yourself, Abersham.”

He took a breath and pulled his hands back. “She sent a note and said she needed my help. I thought she was planning a prank, or escaping her governess for an afternoon, and of course, I would help her with anything of the sort she asked.”

Her lips twitched. “Of course you would. And instead of coaxing you into a lark, she was curious about kissing.”

He gave a short nod, turning away from her incisive stare.

“And you agreed… Why?”

He stammered and rose to pace again. “She is… I had never thought she would… I mean…” He finally stopped and looked her in the eye. “She is everything to me, Your Grace, and has been since we were ten—before that, probably—and I hadn’t any idea she felt the same. I always thought she looked at me as… a friend… a brother. I thought we would marry. Our parents have talked of nothing else for years. But I wouldn’t think of seducing her. I just assumed she would… I assumed the love of a man and wife would grow from friendship… after we wed. After I could… show her my devotion without causing her dishonour.” He blushed and stammered the next words. “I agreed to kiss her because I could not resist the chance to kiss the woman I have loved since childhood.”

“Hmm.” The duchess looked at him thoughtfully. “If that is so, it seems odd you have always bedded any willing woman who came near enough.” She held up a hand to his incipient objection. “No, I believe you believe you love her. You told her you did not know how to love a wife, Abersham. How has that changed?”

What had changed between declaring himself a free man and declaring himself to Sally, was not a question he had stopped to ask.

“I had not thought myself ready to love a wife, no. But I cannot lose her, Aunt Eleanor.” He worked to keep the pleading out of his voice, but not successfully. “And I do love her. If she is my wife, I will love her the same way I do now, as I always have, but we will be allowed to… er… we will no longer live apart.

“That you can please a wife in bed, I have no doubt, given Wellbridge and Haverford. Can you be a good husband in every other sphere of your lives? What say you to the rumours you have not slept alone, or with the same girl twice, since you came to Paris?”

His hand shook as he poured. “I say they are much overblown.”

She lifted a dainty eyebrow. “Untrue? Or exaggerated?”

He downed the rest of his brandy in one gulp. After not having had a drink in several days, out of necessity as he studied for examinations, and now far too many in quick succession, it went to his head rather faster than he was accustomed to.

“Most likely both, as gossip always is. I will be faithful to Sal, if that is your concern. I have no interest in any other women if I have her. I cannot…” he blushed to the roots of his hair. “I have no interest. Must we speak of such things? You are practically my grandmother. It is not natural to discuss… marital relations with you.”

He took a gulp of his brandy, not waiting for it to warm.

To follow the adventures of our star-crossed lovers, see my page on Wattpad or Mari’s.

https://www.wattpad.com/user/marianagabrielle

https://www.wattpad.com/user/JudeKnight

 

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