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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Tea with Aldridge

This week’s Monday for Tea post is a little bit of backstory to A Baron for Becky. The Duchess of Haverford interferes in the love life of her son, whose life as a rake has been interrupted by his devotion to his mistress.

“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 greeted 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 cant 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 cheerful 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 plebeian 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, but for Aldridge and Becky as well. She hoped it was for the best.

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Tea with Morag and Caitlinn

London, 1790

Eleanor Haverford welcomed her guests to her private sitting room. Thank goodness the duke was not in residence! He would never approve of such company for her.

In the three years since news of their marriages rocked the ton, the two women before her had made no attempt to join Society. Instead, they had remained on the the most northern of the Duke of Kendal’s holdings; a Scots estate, complete with castle, that had formerly belonged to the most ancient enemies of his family, the Lorimers of Lorne.

As had her guests. The remaining two women of the Lorimer family had married the last surviving men of their traditional foes.

Society had been beside itself when the news broke. Michael Normington, Duke of Kendal, had wed his housekeeper, disappointing dozens of marriage-minded mamas and their tedious offspring. Worse, the housekeeper was worthy of the position, even though she had been hiding her own lofty origins for twenty years. And if she had been concealed in the duke’s household, no one suggested for a moment she had been up to anything unseemly, unless it was with the duke himself. Marriage covered any such sins.

Worse, for those who wanted the ducal title for a grandchild, the duke had found evidence for his first marriage, elevating his base-born son to legitimacy and a courtesy earldom. Which would have been good news if Lord Farringhurst, the new earl, had not married his new step-mother’s cousin, the two couples plighting their troth in a dual ceremony weeks before the news made its way south to Town.

“Scots ways,” her husband had declared. “Barbarians the lot of them. Even Kendal, who is English born. No idea of the proper way to behave.”

But now the Kendals and Farringhursts were in London, and a chance meeting at an inn had led them to accept Eleanor’s hospitality when the roof on their own house proved to be leaky. How her rivals in Society would seethe to know she had stolen a march on them. And Eleanor would be happy to help smooth the way of these new friends if she could. She very much liked what she’d seen of them. Why, the duchess and countess fed their own babies at the breast, and spent every spare minute in the nursery!

Eleanor placed a hand on her abdomen as she swore silently that this child, if it lived, would have the same maternal care.

“We must thank you again, duchess,” said her grace of Kendall. “We will not long trouble you. Our husbands swear the repairs will be completed in a week.”

“Indeed, an inn would have been difficult for the children,” Lady Farringhurst agreed. “We cannot thank you enough.” Upstairs in the Haverford nursery, four Normington infants were being tended by a small army of servants, from both ducal households. Her own nursemaids were glad of something to do, her son, the Marquis of Aldridge having long since been released to the schoolroom.

“It is no trouble,” Eleanor assured them. “I am delighted to have the company.” She blushed. “I do not go much into Society at this time.” With a bare two months until her confinement, and four babies lost in the ten years since Aldridge was born, she would obey her doctor’s every directive.

“Then you must call me Caitlin, and my daughter-in-law is Morag, and we shall be comfortable together,” the duchess declared.

Eleanor smiled broadly. If these were Scots ways, then she much preferred them to the ways of the haut ton. “I am Eleanor,” she said.

Morag and Caitlin, and their husbands, are the lead characters in The Lost Treasure of Lorne, which will form part of my next collection of stories, Lost in the Tale. Lost in the Tale will also include The Lost Wife, My Lost Highland Lass, and possibly one or two others. If I get myself into gear, this will come out late next month or early in September.

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Tea with the Wentworth ladies

“Smooth your hair, young ladies. You are going to meet a duchess, for Heaven’s sake.” Anne Wentworth chided her daughters as the Earl of Strafford helped them each alight from the carriage in front of Haverford House in London. Although Anne had presided over two mansions of her own back in Philadelphia, and she was currently living in one as the guest of the Earl and Countess of Strafford, she had never seen a home as stately—as large—as this. Her hand twitched just slightly, as it always did before she entered a social event where she was expected to reflect well upon her husband, the illustrious writer, P.H. Wentworth III. Though such onus was no longer on her shoulders, the habit was deeply ingrained after 20 years of marriage.

The earl offered her his arm, and she gratefully slipped her hand under his elbow. Her husband’s cousin had been a stalwart support to her since they had arrived in England, hardly what she had expected, given their past, but she couldn’t be more appreciative.

The enormously stressful situation had been almost more than she could bear. Packed off to Europe by her husband, without so much as a by your leave, expected to sit out the American conflict in England, leaving her son to his fate, and her parents and sisters. She would not even have the comfort of her daughters, as she would escort them to Paris to their new finishing school in less than a sennight, to leave them for a year. And then to find that Palmer had not given her access to his accounts in London as he had promised, but rather expected her to live on an allowance, like a child, at the mercy of a banker who had no idea of her needs or her social standing. It was intolerable.

“You need not dwell, my dear,” Strafford whispered in her ear. “The frown does not suit your lovely face, and we shall find a way to alleviate your cares. I promise you, my cousin cannot abandon his wife in so callous a manner. I will not allow it.”

She squeezed his fingers and pasted on the smile she had perfected before she was fifteen, that had charmed presidents and prime ministers, and half the nobility of Europe, on those few occasions Palmer agreed to such trips.

“Much better,” Strafford murmured. “You will be fine with the duchess. She is a kind woman, underneath her steel, and I am afraid I must speak to her son, Lord Aldridge, with some urgency, or I would be pleased to take tea with you ladies.”

“It is fine, Strafford. We shall be fine. Thank you. Girls?”

Strafford slipped off around the side of the house, for Lord Aldridge had a separate entrance to his portion of the house, and Anne rapped lightly with the door knocker. Before the door was opened, she took one last look at her daughters’ deportment, straightening a ribbon on Fleur’s dress, tucking a curl back behind Belle’s ear. As long as they behaved themselves, they would do credit to her. And to their father, not that he cared.

The butler showed them into a parlour larger than Anne’s dining room at home. No, no longer her home, since Palmer had sold it right out from under her. No sooner had they taken seats in a grouping of chairs set around a tea table than the duchess swept in. Greying hair perfectly coiffed, and a dress that must have cost three times Anne’s and her daughters’ combined.

All three women stood immediately, and Fleur’s and Belle’s curtseys were all their mother could have asked. It was a moment before she realized she was tardy in making her own bow, so she rectified the social blunder immediately. “Your Grace, it is so very kind of you to ask us for tea before the girls leave for school.”

“The pleasure is mine, Mrs Wentworth. Your daughters are charming.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” the girls recited in unison.

“Please do be seated, my dears, Mrs. Wentworth. Tell me; you are as matched as a pair of bookends, but which of you is the elder?”

“I am,” Belle said, and Fleur finished the thought with, “I am only younger by eight minutes, Your Grace.”

“And I believe I recall from our brief meeting at Lady Bannister’s party that the yellow hair ribbon is Miss Fleur’s and the green Miss Wentworth’s?” With a small giggle, both girls nodded.

“Would you care for a cup of tea, young ladies, or shall I send for some lemonade?”

“Tea will be lovely, I’m sure,” Anne replied, nudging Belle to sit up straighter.

Belle opened her mouth and then closed it again, with a sidelong look at her mother. While the duchess arranged with a maid to bring more refreshments than were available on the sizable tea tray, Anne narrowed her eyes at the girls. They had, perhaps, not spent enough time in society before they left America, and, since they had arrived in England, had shown a propensity for countermanding their mother in company.

When the duchess turned back, Anne, who had conversed with the wives of the most important men in the world, to say nothing of the wealthiest industrialists in America, found herself a bit tongue-tied. Her Grace of Haverford was among the most influential of the nobility. A word from her and the girls’ presentation to the queen next year would be a success, no matter how likely they were to switch hair ribbons and make fools of the gentlemen who would wish to meet them.

“Cream and sugar, Mrs Wentworth?”

“Cream, please,” Anne said. Belle began to ask for sugar, but Anne spoke over her. “None for the young ladies. They are watching their weight.”

The duchess passed the first cup to the maid and prepared the second as it was delivered to Anne.

“You are leaving for school in France soon, I believe you said when last we met?” the duchess began. “I am so pleased you could spare the time for this visit. I do enjoy the company of young ladies. Are you looking forward to your new school, Miss Wentworth? Miss Fleur?

“Yes, Your Grace,” Belle said in a perfectly modulated tone, but before Anne could stop her, Fleur added, “But we’ve heard Madame LaPointe is terribly strict.”

Thankfully, the duchess did not seem disturbed by the outburst. “But very elegant, my dear,” Eleanor assured Fleur. “If one wishes to make a stir in Society, one could do much worse than to learn from the mistress of a French finishing school.”

Turning back to Anne, who couldn’t help thinking this was where the duchess’ attention should have been all along, rather than indulging young ladies not even presented yet, the duchess said, “I met your husband when he worked in London, Mrs Wentworth. Many years ago, of course, but I still follow his occasional columns in the Financial Times. I find his commentary intriguing.”

Anne struggled to keep a smile on her face, but just managed it. “Indeed? A great many people seem to find his commentary useful. Straff–er, Lord Strafford has been investing on Mr. Wentworth’s advice since they were young men.” It would not do for the duchess to think her on intimate terms with her husband’s cousin, no matter that they were sleeping under the same roof. And it would not hurt to remind anyone in the nobility that while she might be from the “colonies,” her husband was a man of global influence. “It has been ten years since we were in London last, but I am given to understand the royal family still follows his columns.”

“I have heard that. My sons, as well. You must be very proud of your father, young ladies.”

“Oh, yes,” Fleur gushed, while Belle merely glanced at her mother before she rightly held her tongue. “Of course, we are too silly to understand all of the things he writes, but everyone says how brilliant he is. My friend Fanny’s papa has been trying to convince him to join Mr. Lincoln’s cabinet.”

“Fleur refers to Fanny Seward, the Secretary of State’s daughter. My husband is close friends with Mr. Seward, and our families often visit.”

“But I understand he insists on remaining neutral in your current conflict?”

“He is, he says.” Anne’s smile slips. “Though it is difficult to see how when he also insists upon living among the slave-trading heathens.”

“I daresay he must live on one side of the conflict or the other, or in another country entirely,” the duchess pointed out. “I doubt his views are popular with the Confederacy, however.”

“His views are not popular with anyone,” Anne said curtly.

At a nod from the duchess, the maid passed each of the girls a plate filled with delicately iced cakes. Anne could not gainsay a duchess, but she hoped Fleur and Belle recalled they were not to be eating sweets.

“But let us speak of pleasanter things,” the duchess offered, seemingly as a peace offering. “Do you intend for the girls to be presented here in London, Mrs Wentworth, when they have finished their schooling? You are remaining here with the Straffords, I believe?”

Schooling her face into a more serene expression, Anne agreed, “Lady Strafford has graciously offered to sponsor the young ladies once they have finished school next year. I… I am not certain of my plans. We have engaged a town house, but I may be… needed in Philadelphia. Strafford—Lord Strafford—is making enquiries on my behalf.”

Her Grace gave no sign that she had heard any of the gossip that had arisen briefly during their last visit to London, which Strafford had promptly put down. Instead, she smiled at the girls. “You shall certainly set the young gentlemen on their ears, my dears. Two such lovely young ladies, and each the image of the other. I shall make certain to ask my friend, Lady Strafford, which of my entertainments might be suitable for you.”

As she spoke, the two gentleman joined the party. Anne cast her eyes down at her teacup at the heated glance Strafford sent her way, hoping the duchess hadn’t noticed.

“We are just in time, I see,” Lord Aldridge said. “Strafford, you sly dog. You did not tell me your cousins were so lovely.”

Fleur and Belle both blushed identically, glancing at the terribly handsome new addition to the party from under their lashes. Anne, however, once she looked up again, saw the same sort of heated stare directed toward her daughters by this new arrival. Milord or no, it would not do. She sat up straighter, clearing her throat to recall the girls’ attention.

“Your Lordship,” she said, standing and smoothing her skirt. “I am Anne Wentworth. Mrs. Palmer Wentworth,” she emphasized. She gave a brief curtsy. “Delighted to meet you, I’m sure.”

Both girls stood up in a rustle of silk, waiting to be introduced. They could wait a lifetime, if their mother had anything to say about it.

“And these lovely young ladies must be your sisters,” Lord Aldridge said, bowing to them.

Anne felt a flush rise to her cheeks as Strafford’s lips twitched. She narrowed her eyes, but it didn’t stop Belle from stepping forward with another deep curtsy, “I am Belle Wentworth, Your Lordship.” Gesturing to Fleur, she added, “And this is my sister, Fleur.”

“How appropriate,” Lord Aldridge said. “Two beautiful flowers transplanted to our English shores.”

“Will you be at Lady Beckett’s ball this evening, Your Lordship?” Fleur asked with more animation than she had yet shown.

Anne gasped and snapped, “Fleur Wentworth, that is inappropriate in the extreme.” Turning to Lord Aldridge, she apologized, with a speaking glance at the duchess. “I am sorry my daughter is so forward, my lord.”

“I am sorry my son is so forward,” said the duchess, amusement colouring her dry tone. With a son who looked like… this, she must see ladies lose their heads on a daily basis. No, hourly.

“You must forgive them, Mrs Wentworth,” Lord Aldridge said with a small smile. “London is very exciting, is it not, ladies? But alas, I shall not be at the ball. How fortunate that your cousin Strafford and I finished our business in time for me to meet you before you left.”

“Indeed, my lord,” Anne said, both girls frowning at the news he would not be availing himself of a dance. “It has been a pleasure, but I am quite certain we have overstayed. I am afraid we must leave before the young ladies forget their manners entirely.”

Lord Strafford stepped forward to take Anne’s hand, tucking it under his elbow, and she let out a sigh of relief. Strafford could keep this wolf at bay. Fleur and Belle kept their eyes trained on Lord Aldridge until Anne’s gesture forced them into another curtsy, murmuring, “A pleasure, my lord.” Finally, not a moment too soon for their mother, they turned back to the duchess with only a pair of warm glances back over their shoulders.

Eleanor smiled at each of the girls in turn. “Miss Wentworth, Miss Fleur, perhaps you will be kind enough to call again when you return from Paris. I shall speak with Lady Strafford to arrange it.” With a spare nod at Anne, she added, “Mrs Wentworth, thank you for calling. Perhaps we shall meet again if you stay in London. But you must be anxious to return to Charleston and your husband.”

Before Anne can decide if she is being cut, Fleur and Belle both curtsied again. Belle said, “It was lovely to meet you, Your Grace,” and Fleur followed with, “Thank you ever so much for the lovely tea, Your Grace. We shall look forward to calling when we return.”

Anne made a much shallower curtsy, in the event the duchess was subtly insulting her. “We thank you for your time and your most gracious hospitality, Your Grace.” Strafford patted her hand on his arm and directed her to the door, the girls following.

Blind Tribute

Every newspaper editor may owe tribute to the devil, but Harry Wentworth’s bill just came due.

As America marches toward the Civil War, Harry Wentworth, gentleman of distinction and journalist of renown, finds his calls for peaceful resolution have fallen on deaf—nay, hostile—ears, so he must finally resolve his own moral quandary. Comment on the war from his influential—and safe—position in Northern Society, or make a news story and a target of himself South of the Mason-Dixon Line, in a city haunted by a life he has long since left behind?

The day-to-day struggle against countervailing forces, his personal and professional tragedies on both sides of the conflict, and the elegant and emotive writings that define him, all serve to illuminate the trials of this newsman’s crusade, irreparably altering his mind, his body, his spirit, and his purpose as an honorable man. Blind Tribute exposes the shifting stones of the moral high ground, as Harry’s family and friendships, North and South, are shattered by his acts of conscience.

Universal Link

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Meet Mari Anne Christie

Mari was “raised up” in journalism (mostly raising her glass at the Denver Press Club bar) after the advent of the web press, but before the desktop computer. She has since plied her trade as a writer, editor, and designer across many different fields, and currently works as a technical writer and editor.

Under the name Mari Christie, she has released a book-length epic poem, Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness: Poetry of the Mayan Underworld, and under pen name Mariana Gabrielle, she has written several Regency romances, including the Sailing Home Series and La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess. Blind Tribute is her first mainstream historical novel. She expects to release the first book in a new family saga, The Lion’s Club, in 2018.

She holds a BA in Writing, summa cum laude and With Distinction, from the University of Colorado Denver, and is a member of the Speakeasy Scribes, the Historical Novel Society, and the Denver Press Club. She has a long family history in Charleston, South Carolina, and is the great-great niece of a man in the mold of Harry Wentworth.

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