Tea with the Duke of Winshire

After a particularly vigorous practice bout with his son Andrew, the Duke of Winshire was mopping the sweat from his torso. He had held his own, Persian art of the samsir against the French sword play that Andrew and his older brother James, Lord Sutton, had been learning here in London.

The three of them were arguing the finer points of the match when the butler entered, his usually bland face unusually anxious, a calling card held high on a silver tray.

“You have a visitor, Your Grace. Two visitors, I should say.”

Winshire lifted one brow. “Am I at home to callers? It is but eleven of the clock.”

Bartlett’s frown deepened. “If you would look at the card, sir.”

Winshire picked it up, and the second brow flew up to join the first. “Her Grace of Haverford? Here?”

“Escorted by the Marquis of Aldridge, Your Grace. Should I tell them you are not receiving?”

“Are you not receiving, Your Grace?” The voice from the doorway had him spinning around and reaching for his shirt, all in one movement.  Eleanor Haverford’s hazel eyes twinkled, not in the least abashed at his lack of attire. “Are we to go away and try again by appointment?” she asked.

Winshire barely spared a look at the tall fair man at her shoulder, though he noted that the slight amused curve of Aldridge’s lips belied the watchful caution of the hazel eyes inherited from his mother.

On either side of him, his sons were also on full alert. The feud between the Haverfords and Winshires  had so far confined itself to insults and legal wrangles between the heads of each house. Winshire would prefer to keep it that way.

And whatever Eleanor wanted, it would not be war between them. She had welcomed his heir into one of her houses (albiet in the absence of her husband). Yes, and supported Sutton’s courtship of her goddaughter, Sophia.

He bowed, conscious that her gaze was not unapproving, and resisting the urge to preen. “If you will forgive my state of undress, Your Grace, and give me a moment to amend it, I will be at your service. Bartlett, show Her Grace and his lordship to the Red Parlour. Order tea and refreshments, please.”

“If I might strain the bounds of my welcome still further, perhaps Lord Sutton and Lord Andrew would be willing to show Lord Aldridge their weapons. I am sure he will find that far more interesting than the conversation of two old friends.”

Aldridge’s startled look lasted a fraction of a second, replaced by the bland expression the English aristocracy practice from the cradle.

Winshire bowed again, and Eleanor followed the butler from the room, leaving the three younger men to cluster around the swords, and Winshire went off to wash and change, wondering what had brought her to him.

He’d been back in England a year, the second son returned to inherit all after the death of the first. He’d spent the previous thirty-four years in exile for daring to love, and be loved, by the lady the Duke of Haverford had chosen for his bride.

Haverford still held a grudge. He had claimed that Winshire’s marriage was invalid, and his sons illegitimate. He had lost the case, and now refused to occupy the same room or even street as Winshire. Haverford’s wife and son clearly had a different view.

And, equally clearly, Eleanor wanted to speak with him alone.

Time to go and find out why.

In Part 3 of A Baron for Becky, Eleanor and Aldridge go to the Duke of Winshire to seek his support to have Hugh Overton’s peerage descend to his daughter. The scene above shows what happened when they arrived. The courtship between James, Lord Sutton, and Sophia Belvoir, mentioned above, is described in The Bluestocking and the Barbarian.

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Tea with Joselyn

Joselyn, Lady Maddox, had resisted her cousin’s machinations for years, had helped feed the village through the troubled times when the men were away fighting Napoleon and harvests were poor, and had faced down a gang of smugglers.

“But I have never had afternoon tea with a duchess,” she informed the large raven who sat on the window ledge, watching her flutter from one place to another in her anxious preparations. She aligned the cups on the tea table, plumped the cushions on the couch, moved the plate of delicate cakes a little to the right, dusted a spot on the mantlepiece with her handkerchief, and swapped two of the cushions over for a more pleasing colour combination.

The raven made a derisory remark in Raven. “That is easy for you to say,” Joselyn scolded. “She is Felix’s godmother, bird. And I want her to like me.”

“I am already predisposed to do so, my dear,” said Eleanor Haverford, from the doorway. Behind her, the butler was gesturing helplessly. Her Grace had simply swept ahead of him, and what was a butler to do?

“Your Grace.” Joselyn curtsied, trying hard to ignore the blush she could feel heating her face and her chest. “Please. Come in. May I offer you a seat?”

The duchess took her by the hand, and she rose from her curtsey to be engulfed in a perfumed embrace. “You have made my godson a very happy man, my dear Lady Maddox — or may I call you Joselyn? A cup of tea would be lovely, and I would very much like to meet your raven.”

Jocelyn is the heroine of The Raven’s Lady, a short story in my collection Hand-Turned Tales. Hand-Turned Tales is free as an ebook — click on the name to see what other stories are in the book and to find links for download.

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Tea with Susan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tea with Pierce, Earl of Wainthorpe

Pierce, Earl of Wainthorpe finds himself in a position he never conceived of; in need of the haut ton’s approval. An unrepentant rake and member of the secret Wicked Earls’ Club, he must change his ways, or he’ll never gain guardianship of Bianca Salisbury—the young woman he won at cards. And for reasons, he can’t begin to explain, much less wants to examine closely, assuring her safety has become the most important thing in his life.

Barlow stood just inside the parlor entrance. “The Earl of Wainthorpe, Your Grace.”

Pierce surveyed the elegant room, and the even more elegant Duchess of Haversford. Well, he might as well get on with it. He’d come this far. He bowed over her hand, “Thank you for you invitation, Your Grace.”

“Wainthorpe. I am so pleased you could join me. Please be seated. Will you take tea?”

“Yes, please.” If he must. Pierce flipped his tails out of the way as he sank onto the dainty butter-colored chair. “As I said in my letter, I find myself in need of some direction, and who else, but someone of your pristine reputation to assist me?”

The duchess raised an elegant brow, but remained silent.

“Honestly,” devil it, Pierce felt like an errant school boy, “I wasn’t sure you’d see me. As you well know, I haven’t been the modicum of respectability.”

“I was indeed surprised to receive your letter, Wainthorpe, given your reputation. But I certainly have no interest in placing barriers in the way of a true intent to reform.” She lifted the silver sugar bowl. “Milk? Sugar?”

Don’t suppose he dared ask for coffee instead? No, better not. “Milk and two—er—three lumps, please.” It was about the only way he could abide the beverage.

“And tell me how I can help. And, more to the point. Why I should help.” She passed the cup, and began to prepare her own.

Piece took a sip while sorting while deciding on the best course of action. The duchess seemed a direct sort of person. “I’m determined to win the Chancery Court’s favor. In order to do so, I must have the support of peeresses like yourself.”

“Why?” She stirred her tea, not giving a hint of what she might be thinking.

Yes, definitely blunt and to the point.

Pierce leaned forward, trying to convey the urgency of the matter. “I won a young woman, Bianca Salisbury, in a card game against Lord Fairfax. He must not be permitted to remain her guardian.” He shook his head. “I shudder to think what would have happened to her had someone else won that hand of cards.”

The Duchess of Haverford straightened, and regarded him thoughtfully. “I think I need an explanation, young man. You won a young woman? I must say I agree that Lord Fairfax is a most unsuitable guardian, but are you any better? What do you intend for the girl, Wainthorpe?”

The last was sentence was arid.

This wasn’t going well.

Pierce set aside his teacup and pressed his lips together for a moment.

“Your Grace, she has no one to come to her aid. No one, save I, who cares enough to make sure Fairfax doesn’t use her as collateral again.” He sighed and had one finger inside his cravat to tug the choking cloth loose, before he caught himself. Pierce shook his head. “I freely admit I’ve been a rogue and a scoundrel, but I also have a sense of honor. My only intent is to keep her safe from her blackguard of a cousin.”

Hmm. She truly has no one else?” Duchess Halversford peered at him, her eyes slightly squinted. “When I received your letter, I asked my son Aldridge about you. And Aldridge gave me the same report.” She pointed a long finger at him. “You are a rapscallion of Aldridge’s own stamp, but at base a man of honor as well.”

“The two are not as incongruous as they might seem, Your Grace.” He glanced out the festooned window. “For her sake, I cannot fail.”

“Very well. I warn you, however, of two things,” the duchess said.

He cocked his head. “Yes?”

“First, we shall not convert all of Society. Some stick to their beliefs. However, I flatter myself that where I lead, others will follow, and you will have my approval and support.”

“And?” Hope flickered brighter.

“Conditionally, which is my second point. I count myself the young lady’s champion, my lord, and will be watching how you conduct yourself with her.”

Relief flooded Pierce. “I expected no less.”

Now all he had to do was convince Bianca she was better off with him.

Earl of Wainthorpe: (Wicked Earls’ Club)

Could you ever love the unrepentant rake who won you in a wager?

He didn’t gamble on losing his heart when he won her at the gaming tables.

Pierce, the Earl of Wainthorpe has finally thwarted his worst enemy. Except he can’t revel in his victory after winning his foe’s ward in a winner-takes-all wager. If Pierce refuses to assume Bianca Salisbury’s guardianship, the fiery-haired beauty with a matching temper may very well find herself sold to the highest bidder.

The shameful secret she guards makes it impossible to love a rogue.

Desperate to escape her blackguard cousin, Bianca Salisbury ventures to London to find a husband or employment. Instead, she’s bartered to a notorious rakehell. She either risks being compromised and accepts The Earl of Wainthorpe’s protection, or flees him and her guardian. But without money and a place to go, she fears she’ll face the same tragic fate as her mother.

Caution: This romance features a sexy, irredeemable scoundrel determined to thumb his nose at the haut ton, a saucy country miss unafraid to speak her mind but terrified of even a hint of scandal, a unlikely aristocratic matchmaker, a trio of busybody sisters you’ll adore, and a very pregnant calico that is convinced humans are only around for her convenience.

PURCHASE THE EARL OF WAINTHORPE FOR $.99 HERE

https://books2read.com/EOWcc

Before the price goes up to $3.99!

Meet Collette Cameron

USA Today Bestselling author, COLLETTE CAMERON pens Scottish and Regency historicals featuring rogues, rapscallions, rakes, and the intelligent, intrepid damsels who reform them.

Blessed with three spectacular children, fantastic fans, and a compulsive, over-active, and witty Muse who won’t stop whispering new romantic romps in her ear, she lives in Oregon with her mini-dachshunds, though she dreams of living in Scotland part-time.

Admitting to a quirky sense of humor, Collette enjoys inspiring quotes, adores castles and anything cobalt blue, and is a self-confessed Cadbury chocoholic. You’ll always find dogs, birds, occasionally naughty humor, and a dash of inspiration in her sweet-to-spicy timeless romances.

Connect with Collette:

Website: http://collettecameron.com

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Newsletter: http://bit.ly/TheRegencyRose  (Get your FREE 3-Book Starter Library!)

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Tea with Parsifal Keazund

The teapot, tea set, and tea service have all been set up in the private sitting room of Her Grace, the Duchess of Haverford. All is ready for the mysterious guest. Steampunk? Eleanor wonders what steampunk might be. Steam, she understands, but isn’t punk something to do with tinder?

A light cough alerted the Duchess to Barlow’s entrance.

“Your Grace,” he said. “Lord Keazund is here.”

Lord Keazund entered, dressed all in drab black, tweaking at his cuff. He didn’t look like a lord. He couldn’t have been very old. Sixteen or so, with sun-bleached blond hair and intelligent eyes that harbored a strange sadness in their blue waters.

Her Grace hid her surprise at her visitor’s youth, while wondering whether he had a taste for tea or whether she should send for something else. “Lord Keazund, you are very welcome. Please, come and take a seat.”

“Thank you, your grace,” Parsifal said, sitting down on the divan opposite the Duchess.

“I can offer several varieties of tea, or I can send for a chocolate, if you wish. Indeed, Haverford House can provide most beverages, so do not hesitate to state a preference.”

“Tea will be perfect, thank you,” Parsifal replied with a smile. “I do love a good cup of tea and I’m sure yours will be excellent. I thank you again for the invite, it was most kind, although a bit surprising, as I haven’t been back in England long.”

“I should warn you, perhaps, that your England might not be precisely the same as my England,” Her Grace said, calmly. “The invitations to my Mondays at Home go, rather mysteriously, to what my author calls ‘the fictionsphere’. Do you take milk, my lord? Sugar? Lemon?”

“Milk and sugar, if you please,” said Parsifal. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. Not wildly different, I trust. I believe it may be said that certain technologies and political boundaries are rather different, or at least differently advanced, in my ‘my’ England. I’m not altogether unfamiliar with the concept of…how to put it…other-worlds? I have just returned to ‘my’ England from one, after all.”

She passed him a tea made to his specifications. “You have been travelling, then? How I would love to travel. Where have you been, Lord Keazund?”

“Yes…” Parsifal replied. He paused as he sipped his tea and then continued, somewhat hesitantly. “I’ve just returned from an extensive expedition. My uncle—the late Lord Keazund—set out to find a forgotten city in the wastes of Siberia. Tragically, he was lost under the ice. I came back by way of the Siberian Skyrail. That’s the official story, anyway.”

Eleanor Haverford frowned. “The Skyrail? I don’t understand. My condolences on your loss,” she added.

“Thank you, your grace,” Parsifal said. “I’ve had to explain the Skyrail so many times. There was a newspaper story a while back about the Russian airship that crashed in the North Sea…sort of a long balloon that could be steered. The Skyrail is like a cross between an airship and a train…but the trains from ‘my’ England might be a bit different than yours?”

“Trains.” Eleanor considered for a minute, her mind full of long lines of donkeys or carters. Then her face cleared. “Ah, yes. My son Aldridge has mentioned the term. A row of carts pulled by a steam engine. It runs on rails, and they use them in the mines. Is that what you mean?”

“Yes,” Parsifal said, frowning a little. “Yes…you’ve never ridden one? Never mind. This is excellent tea, your grace!”

“But—you say the official story. Tell me if my curiosity is unwelcome, my lord, but if you can share the unofficial story with an inquisitive lady from another world entirely, I would love to know more.”

“Well, yes, I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” Parsifal said. “No one in ‘my’ England would believe the truth, and it could cause problems with the Prime Minister…but in reality, the expedition found a…a doorway into another world, I guess. One connected with my own, a place that myth calls the Sea. People and ships sometimes slip through from our normal waters into this other, land-less place. They are lost at Sea. Anyway…it’s a very long story, but I went into that Sea and I came back in a storm…a Weather Caster made it, they can send the weather wherever they like, on the Sea or Land. It’s quite outlandish, I know. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”

Eleanor closed her mouth, which had dropped open in a most unladylike manner. “I have never heard of such a thing,” she said. “How fascinating. And how fortunate that you were able to find your way home.”

“Not really,” said Parsifal. He looked out the window and bit his lip. “I left a friend there.”

Meet Parsifal Keazund, from the Weather Casters’ Saga

Parsifal Keazund, recently having inherited the title of lord, has already been through the adventures of books one and two in the Weather Casters’ Saga, and stands on the brink of book three, A Hole in the Air, coming in late February.

A Hole in the Ice (Weather Casters Saga, book One):

A Hole in The Ice is an epic historical fantasy sweeping across time, myth and nineteenth-century Europe. A decadent cast of characters embark on a mysterious journey in pursuit of a mythical lost land said to be inhabited by beautiful but deadly mermaids. As the reader sweeps across the story under the glimmer of chandeliers and falling snow flakes, they are taken on a beautiful adventure to the very limits of the imagination. Each character in this extraordinary tale has their own personal treasure they are hunting and each one will pay a price higher than they ever anticipated.

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/2v2oS1I

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2vgjkkP

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2uL1AL0

A Hole in the Sea (Weather Casters Saga, book Two):

As the chase continues into the extraordinary seascape of a mysterious ocean, where sea monsters reign, deadly mermaids hunt, and pirates skulk, Parsifal learns that staying alive on the high seas is no easy task; especially when being hunted down by the vengeful and determined Lady Vasille. As beautiful, deadly, and driven as ever, Lady Vasille will stop at nothing to retrieve the compass and the power it contains. In this fantastically wrought, nautical fantasy adventure, McCallum J. Morgan transports the reader into a truly magical realm.

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/2uHR4o3

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2tLjbS1

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2uL1AL0

 

Meet McCallum J. Morgan

McCallum J. Morgan is a twenty-two year old author who also dabbles in the dark arts of painting and costuming. His books include the steampunk fantasy, The Weather Casters Saga, and the horror-comedy, Ambulatory Cadavers. He lives and writes in North Idaho, where nature and music inspire madness while he dreams of times long past.

Website: http://mccallumjmorgan.weebly.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mccallumjmorgan

Blog: http://mhablas.blogspot.com/

Publisher: http://www.littlebirdpublishinghouse.com/

Youtube: http://bit.ly/2v2N2cc

Twitter: @McCallumJMorgan

Instagram: @mccallumjmorgan

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2vRR1pG

 

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Tea with Aldridge

“Mama?”

At the sound of Aldridge’s voice, Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford composed her face, smoothing the slight frown that creased her forehead and forcing a smile as she turned from her desk to greet this beloved guest.

“My love,” she said, as he crossed to press a kiss on the hand she raised for him, and then on one cheek. The boy looked well. He had a spring to his step that had long been missing, his eyes were clear and bright, and his cheerful grin had lost the cynical twist so pronounced a bare few months ago—to her eye, at least.

Eleanor hoped what she had to say would not cast him back into melancholy.

Aldridge had been raised with the finest manners money could buy. He took the seat he was offered, complimented her on the success of her most recent entertainment, asked about the book her companion was reading, discussed the likelihood of rain on Tuesday next, and generally kept up his end of the conversation without once showing impatience or asking why she had sent for him.

He must be wondering, though. “Cousin Judith,” Eleanor said to her companion, “I would like a few minutes of private conversation with my son. Would you leave us, please? I will send when I want you.”

“What do you plan for that one, Mama?” Aldridge asked. Haverford had an army of indigent relatives, with nothing to do but hang on the ducal coat tails. Eleanor had long since formed the habit of taking the women one by one as companions, finding their talents and interests, and helping them into positions that suited their skills.

“Not, I think, a marriage, my dear. A library perhaps. She is happiest with her head in a book. Or, I begin to think, perhaps she might be persuaded to try her hand at a memoir or a Gothick. She writes the most delightful letters. I can see her living with Cousin Harriet in a comfortable little house, writing spine-chilling stories and having a most wonderful time.”

Aldridge chuckled. “Cousin Harriet, is it? The one that breeds dogs and hates men? Mama, you are a complete hand.”

“I collect that is a slang expression, Aldridge darling,” she said attempting to be disapproving, but twinkling back at him. He really was a sweet boy.

“You must be wondering why I sent for you,” she began.

He leaned over to kiss her cheek again. “Because you missed me?” he suggested. “I have neglected you shamefully, Mama, these past weeks.”

An opening. Eleanor took it. “These past six months, Aldridge. Since you took Mrs Winstanley into your keeping. You have been much engrossed, I take it.”

Aldridge sat back, his eyes suddenly wary. “I am sure discussing one’s mistress with one’s mother is not de rigueur,” he complained.

“Introducing one’s mistress to one’s Mama opens one to such comments, dear,” Eleanor teased, ignoring the subtle withdrawal evidenced in the suddenly bland voice, the stiffness of his posture.

As she’d hoped, Aldridge relaxed, a fleeting grin lifting one corner of his mouth.

But the matter was serious enough. “One hears remarks, my dear. Hostesses who lack the Merry Marquis at their affairs; gentlemen who must play their merry japes without their boon companion; even His Grace your father has commented you have abandoned your usual pursuits.”

“His Grace has no reason to complain. I do my work.”

“Yes, my love. You are an excellent manager. But, Aldridge, I am concerned.”

“You have nothing to be concerned about, Mama.” It would be an exaggeration to say her tall elegant son flung himself to his feet, but he certainly rose more quickly and less smoothly than usual, and then stalked with controlled deliberation to the brandy decanter she kept for him on the sideboard. “May I…?”

She nodded her permission, and he poured a drink while she decided how to approach her topic. It was harder than she expected. She yearned to tell him to do what pleased him, to stay in the fools’ paradise he was building with the lovely Becky.

But she could not ignore the duty owed to the young woman. Eleanor, who seldom allowed herself to feel such a plebian and useless emotion as guilt, was aware she should have given Becky the means to escape when they met six months earlier. She had quite deliberately put Aldridge’s need for Becky’s brand of comfort ahead of Becky’s evident desire to abandon the life of a courtesan. She did not feel guilty. But she did acknowledge a debt.

“You are not the one for whom I am concerned, Aldridge,” she said.

He had been studying his brandy, but glanced up at that, a quick look from beneath level brows before he drew them into something of a frown.

“Who, then?”

“Mrs Winstanley, dear. I am concerned for Mrs Winstanley.”

Another quick movement, this one sending the brandy sloshing in the tumbler, but he steadied his hand before it spilled. “No need, Mama. Becky and I are very happy.”

“You spend all your time with her, Aldridge. If you are not at her townhouse, she is in the heir’s wing. If you travel, she travels with you. Last time you went to Margate, you stayed with her in the town rather than at Haverford Castle.”

“You are very well informed, my dear.” Eleanor knew that cold ducal tone, but from her husband’s lips, not her son’s. Almost, she stopped. But no; she would do her duty; she had always done her duty.

She matched his tone with her own. “You employ Haverford servants, Aldridge. They answer my questions, as they should.” But this was not to the point. Better to just spit it out.

“If you continue as you are, you will break Rebecca Winstanley’s heart, Aldridge. She deserves better from you.”

Whatever he expected, that wasn’t it. He was too controlled to openly gape, but the muscles of his jaw relaxed. He recovered himself and took a sip of his brandy, gaining time while he thought. It was a trick she used herself.

“What can you offer her, Aldridge? A year? Two? And then what? You cannot marry her, of course…” Was that a flare of longing she saw, quickly suppressed? Merciful heavens, had it gone so far, then?

“You cannot, Aldridge. Even if we could find a way to conceal her past—and with the interest your marriage will attract, every tiny detail of your wife’s history will be uncovered and inspected—she is lower gentry, if gentry at all.”

“Lower gentry,” he conceded, reluctantly. “But what does that matter, Mama? Peers have married beneath them before. What of Chandos? Or, if you want a more recent example, Marquis Wellesley? ”

Eleanor struggled to show no hint of her alarm, keeping her voice level as she said, “And their wives have suffered for it, Aldridge. Their estates, too. You would be doing Mrs Winstanley no favour, Aldridge, even if her past did not come to light. And it would.

“Besides, your duty to your name precludes such an action. You will be Haverford. Your wife will be mother of the next Haverford.

“And consider your little half-sisters, who will only be able to overcome the circumstances of their birth if Society continues to pretend they are my protégées and not your father’s base-born daughters.

“You cannot marry your mistress.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly the fight drained out of him, taking, it seemed, his ability to stay upright. He sank into a chair, all the joy gone from his face leaving it bleak and lonely.

” I know, Mama. Truly.”

He fell silent again, cradling his brandy in front of his chin and staring into nothing.

She had to ask. “Does she seek marriage, my son?”

Aldridge’s short laugh was unamused. “Becky? Of course not. She has no expectations at all. Not even of common courtesy or kindness, let alone of being treated like the lady she is.

“And I am a scoundrel for taking advantage of that. Were I the gentleman I pretend to be, I’d set her up as a widow somewhere and leave her alone. After the life she has had…

“I doubt she would marry me even if I asked. She is grateful to me, but gratitude only goes so far.”

He glared at his mother. “But I will not give her up, Mama. We have the rest of this contract term, and another after that if I can persuade her to a second term.”

“I am not asking you to surrender your domestic happiness, my dear. Just to reduce it a little for Mrs Winstanley’s sake.”

Aldridge cocked one eyebrow in question, but said nothing.

Should she tell Aldridge his mistress was in love with him? She had seen them in the park:  Becky, her little daughter, and Aldridge—by chance as she returned from an unusually early errand and then deliberately several more times. Her son was so absorbed in the woman and the little girl he never noticed the stopped carriage where she sat observing the three of them together.

No. She would say nothing. If he had already considered the logistics of marrying the woman… “You will have to let her go, Aldridge—at the end of the contract, or in any case when you find a suitable bride. The parting will be much harder, for both of you, if she fancies herself in love with you.”

“Spend a few nights a week away from her, my dear. Let her know you are seeing other women. Help her to armour her heart against you, if you love her.”

“Love, Mama? Can Grenfords love? I like her. I respect her. I enjoy being with her. She makes me happy, Mama. Is that so terrible? I’m not sure I know what love is, but I know I don’t want Becky to leave me, or—worse—to hate me and stay.”

“I have every faith in your charm, Aldridge. You will be kind. You will be gentle. And you will do your duty by your mistress as you always do your duty in all things.”

As Eleanor always did hers, she reflected after her son left, and duty could be a cold and thankless  master. Aldridge would not soon forget her role in this day’s work, and Becky would be ungrateful if she ever found out. But it was for the best. She had to believe it was for the best—not just for the Grenford family and the Haverford duchy, but for Aldridge and Becky as well. She hoped it was for the best.

I wrote this piece for The Teatime Tattler two and half years ago, at the time I published A Baron for Becky. It gives a bit of backstory to what happens between Part 1 of that book and Part 2. Poor Aldridge. Poor Becky.

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Tea with [Insert your character here]

The Duchess of Haverford is resting from her New Year’s Charity Ball by planning her social calendar for the coming year. “Take dictation, please, Emmaline,” she says to the poor relation who is currently acting as her secretary, until such time as the duchess finds her a husband, a career, or a hobby fitted to her talents.

“The Duchess of Haverford invites authors from throughout the fictionsphere to send their characters to her regular Monday for Tea afternoons,” she begins, and Emmaline obediently writes the words down. Eleanor holds up a hand to stop Emmaline’s pen, as she explains, “I have had people from the far past and the distant future, even from a time after any of the authors are themselves in existence. How it works, Emmaline dear, I do not know. But it is very exciting.”

She gives a wave to indicate that Emmaline might record what she says next. “Please send Jude a note through the contact page on her website, with the date of your preferred Monday and, if you will, the name of the book you are promoting and the character or characters who will visit.”

She pauses, gathering her thoughts. “For the post, Jude will need a purpose-written piece that can be no more than a few paragraphs or up to 1000 words, in which your characters and I hold a conversation over a cup of tea or the beverage of their choice. If you wish, Jude and I can arrange a time and place to write this with you.”

Another aside to Emmaline. “We have a little space on Facebook we cowrite in. Don’t write this down, Emmaline dear. Facebook is a most peculiar fictional space where very little is as it seems, but Jude enjoys it. On the other hand, many writers prefer to simply produce their own piece after reading about visits from previous weeks, and that is perfectly all right. I have, occasionally, had to edit words that have been put in my mouth, but that is to be expected and I do not at all mind.”

She gives her skirts a flick to settle them more becomingly around her. “I look forward to entertaining your characters, and to promoting your book. Yours sincerely etc etc. Eleanor Haverford. There. That should do it.”

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Tea with Sally

Sally Grenford roamed the room, bewildered by the way it mixed familiar and unfamiliar. The note had invited her to take tea with her grandmother this Christmas afternoon, and she recognised many of the room’s appointments as treasures her grandmother kept in her private sitting room. But many were also missing; gifts she and others had given Grandmama, the experimental dagguerreotype of her and Jonny that Papa had commissioned as part of an investment in the new process, keepsakes from the merchant wanderings of the Winshires.

The proportions of the room were familiar, too, but not from the palatial townhouse where Grandmama lived with her second husband. No, Sally could swear that this was her own mother’s private suite, though from the window all she could see was fog with an occasional swirl of snow.

The portrait of Grandmama over the mantel belonged in the portrait gallery, where it had hung for as long as Sally could remember. Longer. Since Mama became Duchess of Haverford and Grandmama married her second duke, and became Duchess of Winshire.

A stir at the door had her turning, and there stood the woman in the portrait. The self-same woman. Her grandmother, but as she had been nearly thirty years before. This duchess stood to one side of the door, allowing a small troop of maids and a butler to hurry in and out setting up a side table with tea makings.

Both the duchess and Sally waited until they completed their tasks and left the room, then Sally took a tentative step forward. Familiar, but not familiar.

“Grandmama?” she asked.

The duchess hurried forward, reaching with both hands for Sally’s and in moments Sally was enveloped in Her Grace’s familiar scent, hearing the voice she had loved since before she could speak.

“Lady Sarah Grenford. You are my granddaughter, are you not? My dear, when I saw the name I hoped so much — Aldridge’s or Jonathan’s? But let me look at you. Yes, there are the Haverford eyes, and I see something of my boys about your chin. I’ll warrant you are stubborn.”

“What is happening?” Sally asked. “Where am I?”

The duchess led Sally to the sofa next to the tea table, and they sat, the duchess still holding Sally’s hand. “It is odd, is it not? I have quite recovered from being unsettled by the different people who visit me on a Monday afternoon, from many different places and times, Sarah, and I have no idea how or why. I see the names on the invitation and then they appear here in my room at Haverford House. But you have not told me whose daughter you are, dear.”

“Haverford’s,” Sally explained. “Aldridge in your time, of course.” She nodded at the portrait. “But Haverford long before I was born.”

“He finally married then. I am so glad. And so tempted to ask for more detail, but one must not, of course. Just tell me, dear, has he found love? Is he content with your mother? Oh dear. Do not answer that. What a question to ask a child!”

Sally laughed confident of the answer and delighted to reassure her grandmother, whose rattle of conversation made her more familiar by the moment. “Papa and Mama deeply love one another, and are never happier than when they are together.”

Papa had been a rake and a scoundrel when he was young, by all accounts, but Sally could not imagine him loving anyone but Mama.

The duchess gave a pleased sigh. “Then I shall be patient. It will be easier knowing that he will marry, and happily. And a beautiful daughter, too!”

“And a son.” Sally was five years older, but Jonny, the Marquis of Aldridge, was the pride of the house. Sally mostly didn’t mind.

Another pleased sigh. “Excellent. Your papa must be very proud. Now, dear, tell me what you have in your hand. Something you have brought to show me?”

On receiving the summons, Sally had picked up her favourite Christmas present; perhaps the best Christmas present she had ever received. It was not just because that the box of precisely engineered mathematical tools was exactly what she wanted, though she had not felt the lack until she unwrapped them. It was also — even mostly — that the boy who held her heart had known, acknowledged, and respected her passion for understanding the infinitely wonderful universe of numbers.

“Look, Grandmama,” she said, opening the box on her lap, eager to share. “Look what David Abersham gave me.”

Sally’s Grandmama is in 2011. Sally is fifteen, and is visiting from  1838, on the afternoon of the Christmas morning featured in God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman, the story that starts the collection of the same name, which Mariana Gabrielle and I released just before Christmas. For blurb and buy links, click on the title.

Excerpt from God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman

As she began unwrapping the first box, he murmured a bit closer to her ear, “Have you found all eight, then?”

Blushing, and with a quick glance at her parents, completely immersed in discussion with the Wellbridges, she whispered, “No, not yet. But I will.”

“I will give you the key if you promise to never ask me another question about any of it.”

“I do not need to give up my questions, for I shall find the latches without your help.”

Toad rubbed his right hand over his face and groaned. “Of course you will.” He brightened, though, as he added, “But I am afraid your questions must wait, for Etcetera and I ride out this afternoon to my cousin Smythe’s place.” Another of their set at Eton. “We will return next week for your mother’s ball, but I’d like to see my aunt and uncle and cousins before I go off to school.”

Sally sighed. “Of course, you must go, and I hope you will remember me to Lord and Lady Ostelbrooke. But we only have such a short time left before you go away to school.” She stopped herself a second too late. She mustn’t whine. She mustn’t impose herself on his time, or annoy him.

“I’ll not neglect you, Monkey. I promise. On my return, you shall have first pick of every moment of every day before I leave. And you’ll hardly know I am gone, with all the activities your mother has planned.” She hardly wished to consider what sorts of activities he, Smythe, and Etcetera had planned, once outside their parents’ purview.

“You are right, but I will miss you, Toad.”

“I will be back in no time.”

She opened the top box, a finely wrought wooden case with brass latches, that opened on three hinged tiers of mathematical instruments, a full set of more than two dozen items also wrought of brass, each piece engraved with her initials and set snugly in its own velvet-covered place.

“I found them in Germany.”  Running his finger along the side of the box in a way that made Sally shiver, Toad offered, “They are Swiss, so of course, they are as precise as can be.”

Sally couldn’t explain why she had to suddenly blink away tears. It was such a functional gift. Not something frilly or girlish or decadent, like practically every other gift she’d ever been given in fifteen years. But something that acknowledged her intellect; acknowledged and applauded the love of numbers that others, even Papa, found inexplicable and unfeminine. That Toad should give her such a gift moved her, soul-deep.

“Toad, I… thank you. I think I shall surpass Mr Galbraith’s knowledge of mathematics with these at hand.”

“Then the other box will see you the first woman admitted to Oxford.”

Something in her chest was shifting with every word he said, and she couldn’t explain it. It was seismic—and perfectly right in every respect. And completely foreign.

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Tea with Jude, one day late

I was not surprised to see her. She was sitting on the chair at the end of my bed, her favourite tea set on the butler’s tray my son-in-law made for my birthday years back. Her Grace is, of course, far too well bred to allow her irritation to show, apart from a slight flare to the aristocratic nostrils. Her every movement as she prepared a cup of tea, just the way I like it, was completely controlled, with a trained elegance that she had learned from the cradle.

I’d thought about her often during the day, wondering what her reaction would be to missing one of her Monday’s for Tea. And now I knew. She was here for an explanation.

She looked up from her task and met my eyes. “Tea, Jude?” A glance around the room, more habit than expectation. No, Eleanor, the Knight household does not run to servants, except the mechanical and electronic kind, two centuries away from your experience.

Beside me, my personal romantic hero slumbered on, as Eleanor, the Duchess of Haverford carried the tea to my beside table with her own aristocratic hands before resuming her seat and pouring a cup for herself.

”I trust your indisposition is minor,” she hinted, sweetly. I suppressed a smile at her assumption that only an illness or injury could have prevented me from making a priority of writing her regular weekly engagement with the denizens of the fictionsphere. It was not untrue, but I was pleased to reassure her.

”Indeed. I am almost fully recovered. The usual problem complicated by a fall and the demands of a busy season. I lost Sunday to bed rest, and have been trying to catch up without overdoing things.”

She nodded, once, and the slight stiffness eased. “I am relieved you were not badly hurt, and are feeling better. Of course, you have other matters that need your attention.”

”A major project at the day job, Christmas crafts with my grandchildren (that was Saturday gone), a new book with a deadline for final loading of tomorrow and last minute changes to the cover and the interior. Yes, you could say that.” I offered a palm branch. “You will be pleased with the book, I think, Eleanor.  It is about a granddaughter of yours and her suitor.”

”Truly? The name on the invitation for yesterday was Sarah Grenford. One of my descendants, I thought, perhaps.”

”Next week, Eleanor, I promise. God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman will be published over the weekend, and Sally and David will visit you on Christmas Day.”

“That will be very pleasant,” her Grace agreed.

”I am on holiday from Friday, and during my three weeks off I plan to set up the schedule for next year and send out invitations for other authors to send their characters to visit you.” I sipped my tea, appreciating the fine bouquet, though I usually drink decaffeinated in the night. Not something I could expect Eleanor to know about.

She favoured me with her warm smile. ”Thank you, dear. I know my social calendar is only one of your jobs, but I do so enjoy my Monday afternoons.”

“I do, too, Eleanor,” I assured her.

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Tea with Mistletoe and Friends

The Duchess of Haverford looked around her drawing room with some satisfaction. Six lovely couples, and — while she could not claim to have matched them all — she had certainly had a part to play in most of their romances.

Her regular Mondays for Tea usually saw her in a more intimate setting with one, or perhaps two, guests: in her private sitting room, or on a pleasant day, a sheltered terrace. She never knew from just where or when those guests would come; not until she saw the mysterious invitations that rested for an hour on her little lap desk before departing by unknown means, presumably to the hands of those invited.

But the invitations this week had been rather special. Today, she was hostess to five couples she already knew from her own time, and one from the other side of the world and fifty years in the future.

“So why these six couples?” she murmured to her temporary secretary, the lovely Gwynneth Santalacaea, who had likewise appeared without warning. Or, indeed, references, beyond Her Grace’s strong sense that Gwynneth was just what the duchess needed for this holiday season.

“Christmas and mistletoe,” Gwynneth answered, obliquely, passing the cup of tea she had just poured to Lord Avery to convey to his wife, who sat with Mary Redepenning and Cedrica Fournier, comparing recipes for gingerbread and other Christmas sweet treats.

What a mixed group they were. And diverse couples, some of whom seemed destined for one another and some of whom should (in Society’s terms) never have met. A naval officer and an admiral’s daughter. A viscount and the maker of invalid chairs. An earl and the child of jewel merchants. Another earl (this one with barbaric tattoos spiraling across half his face) and his childhood sweetheart. A French chef and her own dear cousin. And from the future, an Irish-Canadian merchant and his Scots Presbyterian wife.

Lady Calne and Lady Halwick were talking to the woman from the 1860s, Rose O’Bryan, asking eager questions about the Otago goldfields in far away New Zealand, where Rose and her husband Thomas ran a chain of general stores.

Thomas was with Cedrica’s husband, Marcel Fournier, discussing shipping times with Captan Rick Redepenning, while Candle Avery collected cups from Gwynneth and handed them around, and Lord Calne and Lord Halwick argued about the best methods of crop rotation.

Yes, the duchess had every reason to be satisfied. She had played a part in the courtship of Cedrica and Marcel, had hosted the ball at which Lord and Lady Calne met, had supported Lord and Lady Halwick in their return to Society after the shocking scandal of his reappearance from the dead just in time to stop her wedding to another man. She was friends with Lord Avery’s mother and Captain Redepenning’s father, and was Lord Halwick’s godmother.

Gwynneth, she noted, bore a similar smile to the one she sensed on her own face. Did she, too, feel a sense of pride in a job well done? And if so, what exactly was that job?

Her Grace’s guests today are from the stories in my new release, If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales. Read this week’s Teatime Tattler to discover what part Gwynneth plays in their stories.

The book comes out on Friday and is a collection of already published novellas (four) and novelettes (two), at a discounted price over buying each book separately. And the print book is already available. At USD12.50 as a print book of 320 pages, it would make a great Christmas present for someone who loves the magic of romance in this special holiday season. Click on the book name above for blurb, details of the books, and buy links.

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