Tea with Mist

The spy known as Mist made a perfectly appropriate entrance, on the arm of Eleanor Haverford’s colleague Tolliver, announced by the butler. Some of Eleanor’s acquaintances had also employed the young woman, and reported that she simply appeared in their rooms, coalescing like the mist she was named for, not there one minute and the next sitting sedately in a chair, ready to ask searching questions.

A most unaccountable young woman, they called her.

She did not play such games with the Duchess of Haverford, but then her history gave her cause to be nervous of the Haverford family. Not that her suspicions were justified, but the duchess could not reassure her without touching on matters that must remain unspoken between them until Mist raised them herself.

Tolliver broke the silence. “Well, Your Grace, we are here, as requested.”

“It is your colleague’s services I require, Tolly,” she told him. “But you may remain if you wish. Please. Be seated. May I offer you both tea?”

Mist accepted, politely. Tolly declined, also politely, but gestured to the brandy decanters Eleanor kept for her sons. “Indeed. Help yourself, my dear. Mist,” her name was Prudence Virtue, but Eleanor would not use it unless Miss Virtue herself invited her to do so, “I wish to commission you for a job. I have grave concerns about the safety and well-being of a godson of mine. He has been a faithful correspondent, and I have not had a reply to any of my letters for several months.”

Mist tipped her head to one side while she considered. “Has anything recently changed in his life to explain the absence of letters? A new school or a new friend? Travel?”

“The Earl of Penworth is twenty, and has been educated at home because he is blind. I write to him each month, and have done for the past twelve years, since he was old enough to read my letters and pen a response. Since his accident, he has dictated his replies, and he always responds promptly. So when I heard nothing, I asked Tolliver here to send to the Penworth estate. The Earl has been gone for months. His half-sister, the Countess of Wyvern, fetched him away and since then the estate steward has been taking his direction from her.”

Mist frowned. “Lady Wyvern has… something of a reputation, Your Grace.”

Eleanor acknowledged the point. “She is a ruthless and selfish woman. She does not like Rupert, and Rupert does not like her. Tolliver brought me some more news. The people at the estate were told that their earl has married, and is taking an extended honeymoon at Wyvern Castle. Which is not completely unlikely, since Lord Wyvern is Lord Penworth’s guardian. But I can find no one who  has heard from, seen, or spoken to Lord Wyvern for at least seven months.”

Mist nodded, then took a sip from her cup while she thought about what she had heard. “You wish me to go to Wyvern Castle and discover what I can.”

“Yes. Will you accept the commission?”

The story of the Earl of Penworth, and his imprisonment with the bride his sister forced him to marry, is told in The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, a novella in my permafree book Hand-Turned Tales. Click on the link for more details and buy links. In The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, you will meet Mist and her friend and colleague Shadow, hero and heroine of Revealed in Mist, the first scene of which takes place in Wyvern Castle between the last chapter of the novella and the epilogue. My stories are all stand-alone, but they link. I cannot deny that they link.


Sunday Spotlight on box sets

Lots of quality reading at a bargain price

Do you like box sets? I do. They’re usually a great value way to acquire a lot of reading. Tell me what you like about them, and what you don’t. I’m planning to be in at least five, and possibly seven, in 2018, so it would be a great help to know what to avoid.

Box sets of the first few books in a series are wonderful. I’ve bought them both to go back to earlier books I’ve missed when I come across a new-to-me author in book 4 or 5 of a series, and also when I’ve followed the series from the beginning through my library, and yearn to own it. The Mary Jo Putney Lost Lords set was one such book. I also have the Lucinda Brant Alec Halsey Mysteries, books 1 to 3. Among others.

I’m less inclined to purchase multi-author box sets of novels, unless the authors are mostly writing heroines of mine. It’s the librarian training I had as an adolescent. I want to shelve all the books by a particular author together.  (And yes, I can do that with electronic books; shelve them in several places all at the same time. But what can I say? I have my obsessive moments.) Still, I have a few, because what can you do but grab a bargain when you see one?

On the other hand, multi-author box sets of novellas are catnip to me. I’ve discovered many new favourite authors that way. Particularly at this time of year, when holiday box sets abound. I love seeing how authors combine the magic of Christmas and the magic of romance.

I have just read Christmas in Duke Street, every story of which is a gem. Waiting in my TBR unread books collection on Kindle, I have 7 Rogues for Christmas, The Dukes of Vauxhall, How to Find a Duke in Ten Days, Romance on the High Seas, Lords of Love, A Regency Collection, An Encounter at Hyde Park, Historical Hellions and more. Joy!

I have, as you know, published my own Christmas box set this year: all my holiday romances between one set of covers. If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales is available now, so if you don’t have my four holiday novellas, grab it and the two bonus novelettes.

I’ve also co-written a holiday story in the world of Sally and Toad, from Never Kiss a Toad. God Help Ye, Merry Gentleman is a prequel short story to Never Kiss a Toad, and also has a number of other shorts and excerpts from the world of Sally, Toad, their families, and their friends. It it is up for presale on Amazon, and will be published on 23rd December. (At the moment, it is free to my Wattpad and newsletter subscribers, who have a link to the unproofed version on a password protected page on my website, but I plan to take that down later this week. And put up a page for the presale links on my book tab.)

And, of course, I have novellas in three multi-author box sets: Never Too Late, with the Bluestocking Belles; Rejoice and Resist, with the Speakeasy Scribes; and Christmas Babies on Main Street, with the Authors of Main Street.


Tea with Lalamani and Philip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Spotlight on Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby


My new Christmas novella, Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, is here, and already has reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

But you wanted an excerpt, didn’t you?

Here you go, then. This is from their ‘meet cute’.

She met his smile with a quizzical tip of the head, and he ignored the five ladies standing over her. “Our dance is in a few minutes, Miss Finchurch, so I came to find you. Would you care to take a short stroll while we wait?”

Would she take the rescue, he wondered, glancing from her to the others? Three were strangers. One, he vaguely recognised. But the remaining woman… He nodded a polite but cold acknowledgement to Lady Markhurst, who had pretended to accept his courtship when he was last in Society four years ago, after recovering from the injuries that ended his army career and brought him home to England.

Lady Markhurst had soon made it clear his only attraction was his unwed cousins, one an earl and one the heir to an earl. Philip wasn’t close to either, and had not seen her since she discovered that fact. He assumed her pursuit was unsuccessful; certainly, she had wed before the end of that season, to a lowly and rather elderly baron who proved to be not as wealthy as rumour had painted.

Clearly, Philip’s attractiveness had increased with his accession to the title, since Lady Markhurst fluttered her fan and her eyelashes, and fingered the diamond drop dangling from her ornate necklace into the valley between her breasts.

“Why, Lord Calne. Surely you cannot intend to dance with a merchant’s daughter. Your inheritance cannot be in such a dire state as that. Let me save you from such a fate by offering myself as a partner instead.” The throaty note in her last sentence made it a naughty innuendo.

He ignored Lady Markhurst and her outstretched hand, offering Miss Finchurch his bad arm, which functioned well enough as a prop for a lady. Lady Markhurst’s face flushed and then whitened. She had not learned to control her temper, then.

Miss Finchurch made up her mind, set her book to one side, and stood to slip her hand into his elbow, and he turned to the door. Lady Markhurst launched another attack before they reached it.

“Do be warned, Miss Finchurch. The Calne title comes with a bankrupt estate and a crippled earl.”

Miss Finchurch gripped his arm, making him wince, and she sensed it, too, the fires she was about to turn on Lady Markhurst doused by her concern for him. He took another step towards the door.

“Ignore Lady Markhurst, Miss Finchurch. I would say her disappointment in her ambitions has made her bitter, but she was always a scold.”

His mother would have punished such rudeness, but he was well compensated by the gasps from behind him as he whisked Miss Finchurch into the hall and pulled the door closed. She was tiny; perhaps no more than five feet tall, the top of her head barely on a level with his shoulder, and he shortened his steps when he realised she was near running to keep up with him. She was, however, by no means quelled. “You and Lady Markhurst are old friends, it seems, Lord Calne.”

“Not since I discovered her heart was made of the same substance as the stones in her necklace.”

Miss Finchurch laughed, an amused gurgle. “Paste, you mean? Very appropriate! Cold, hard and false.”
“Paste? Really?”

“I am the daughter and niece of diamond merchants, Lord Calne. I would need to examine the smaller stones more closely, but the drop is decidedly not a diamond. Perhaps it is ill bred of me to disclose the lady’s secrets, so I shall compound the error by making it clear I am not looking for a husband, and if I were, I would not accept a fortune hunter under any circumstances.”

A game of truths, was it? “Nor am I looking for a wife, Miss Finchurch. Especially one prepared to take a destitute cripple for the sake of his useless title. But a dance might be safe enough? I have managed several tonight and am as yet unwed.”

That earned him the gurgle again, and they took the positions for a long dance, Philip apologising in advance for being unable to grasp with his withered left hand.

Miss Finchurch assured him she would grasp well enough for them both. “What happened, Lord Calne? Or were you born with it? Or should I not ask?”

How refreshing to meet someone who said outright what everyone else speculated about in whispers behind his back. Philip answered as simply. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were crossing a newly repaired bridge in Sicily. But the French had set dynamite, and it blew up, with half the baggage train. I lost the use of one hand.”

His writing hand, but he could manage well enough with his right, after years of tutors who had punished the use of the other. “Many lost more.” His brother-in-law for one, which directly led to the deaths of his sister and her baby. She had gone into labour shortly after the news reached her in Malta, and when the child was born dead, she had turned her face to the wall and died. Or so Philip had been told when he recovered from the fever, by which time he was in England, in his uncle’s care.

“You were in the army?”

“With the Engineers.” And in charge of the repair of the bridge. He should have detected the sabotage. The deaths—all the deaths, not just those of his family—were his fault.

Their turn came in the figures of the dance, giving him time to bludgeon his mind into accepting that the room was not caving in on him; that the glittering crowd were not about to turn on him to demand his immediate conviction for dereliction of duty.

Either something in his face caused Miss Finchurch to take pity on him, or she was bored with the subject, because when they stood out next, she reopened the conversation by asking whether he enjoyed this kind of entertainment in a voice so doubtful he laughed.

“No more than you, I suspect, Miss Finchurch, though more so since fate handed me a partner who does not send me to sleep with talk of fashion and gossip. Tell me, what is a diamond assessor doing in a Haverford House entertainment? You came with Lady Carngrove, those vixens said?”

“My aunt.” The mournful tone suggested this was not a circumstance for congratulation. “I live with her. At the moment.”

If you like Christmas novellas set in the Regency, with a wee bit of a mystery and a sweet old aunt, go check out my book page for blurb and buy links.


Time, a tavern, and a marmalade cat

The Final Draft Tavern was, said the Marquis of Aldridge, a considerably more reputable place than it had been just before the turn of the century, when he came down from Oxford during his holidays and caroused there with his student friends.

Nonetheless, he insisted that his mother wait in the carriage while he and Jonathan, shadowed by two of the larger Haverford footmen, checked that the tavern held no dangers and nothing unsavoury.

Foolish boys, but the duchess would allow them their precautions as long as she had her way in the end.

She was here in Paternoster Row to meet the Marchand family, proprietors of a tavern of some kind since shortly after their ancestors crossed the English Channel in the army of William the Conqueror. As did her own, though they sat, Eleanor thought, considerably further up the would-be-king’s table, on the noble side of the salt.

Still, heritage was heritage, and there was something to be said for a family property that stayed with the same line for eight hundred years, even if it was a tavern.

The tavern and the Marchands were not the attraction, however. But Aldridge had warned that the tavern cat might not be present. A cat, after all, cannot be commanded, and this cat, more than most, was an uncanny beast.

Aldridge reported the all clear, and Eleanor entered the tavern on his arm, her younger son alert at her heels and a phalanx of stout footmen before and behind.

“It has always been a place that welcomes dissenters and independent thinkers, Mama,” Aldridge murmured, “as long as their coin was good. But the meeting rooms and private parlours are empty this early in the day.”

The public bar was fast emptying, too, the early drinkers sliding out the door as unobtrusively as possible so as not to catch the eye of the ducal party. Eleanor must be sure to leave a suitable purse to recompense the owners for any loss.

Aldridge led his mother to the young woman waiting by the fire place. She was pretty in a buxom kind of a way: brown hair neatly tucked into a cap trimmed with a discrete edge of lace, a gown in green worsted, long-sleeved and buttoning to the neck, and a crisp white apron she was twisting in nervous hands that belied her calm face.

“Your Grace,” Aldridge said, “may I present Mistress Marchand?” Mistress Marchand sank into a deep curtsey. A wife? Or a daughter of the house? Aldridge continued before she could ask. “Mistress Marchand is the eldest daughter of the proprietor, duchess, married to a third cousin and mother of a lovely little girl. She is also the designated– er– carer of the cat.”

“Please rise, my dear,” Eleanor suggested. “Shall we sit down?” The chairs by the fire place looked a little scruffy, but clean enough. Eleanor sat, and the young woman, after a hesitant glance at Aldridge, followed suit. “It is the cat I wished to see, Mistress Marchand. Is he within the premises at present?”

“Whiskey comes and goes as he wishes, my l– Ma’am. I went looking for him when Lord Aldridge said you wanted to meet him, but he wasn’t in any of his usual places, and he didn’t come when I called.”

Eleanor must have looked disappointed, because Mistress Marchand added, “I am sorry, Ma’am.”

“Is it true that a cat called Whiskey has always lived in the Final Draft tavern?” Eleanor asked. “A marmalade cat?”

“So family legends say, Ma’am.”

“I have heard that the legends go further, and say it has been the same cat, for eight hundred years,” Eleanor added.

Mistress Marchand looked reproachfully at Aldridge, who said, “I didn’t tell her that, Molly.”

Eleanor looking between the two, wondered just how old Molly had been when Aldridge came here as a student. He had said the attraction was the beer and the egalitarian conversations with a street’s worth of printers and the like, but there was something between the two of them that spoke of more than mere acquaintance.

The tension was broken when a large ginger cat strolled nonchalantly out from under a table. “Where did he come from,” Jonathan exclaimed. “I looked there!”

“Whiskey, come and meet the duchess,” said Molly. The cat sat in its tracks and bent to lick its own stomach, then, with an air of conferring a great favour, sauntered to the chair where Eleanor sat, and sniffed at the hand she offered.

“Hello, Master Whiskey,” she said, and made an attempt to pat the animal, but it ducked so that her hand did not connect, and slid out from under, moving several feet away before turning back to regard her with a lordly disdain.

“You have been found wanting, Mama,” Lord Jonathan said, and tried to scoop the cat up, but it evaded his clutch, and when Aldridge joined the chase, it disappeared back under the table.

Both men, and several of the footmen, bent to look. But the cat was gone.

“I am that sorry, Your Grace.” Molly was blushing. “Whiskey is… Well, I don’t know what to say.”

“You warned me, Mistress Marchand,” Eleanor pointed out. “Whiskey comes and goes as he pleases. Shall we have a cup of tea and wait to see if he will grace us with his presence once again?”


The Final Draft Tavern, formerly the Final Draught Tavern until Paternoster Row was given over to booksellers whose proprietors and patrons rebaptised it, features in the novellas of the holiday box set that the Speakeasy Scribes are producing for this holiday season.

Watch for stories set at different times, in different moods, in both London and (after the Marchands move to the New World) Boston, and linked in some cases to the other work of the author responsible. Mine is a stand-alone, though; a post-apocalypse story called A Midwinter’s Tale. My heroine is almost the last of the Marchands, though she might also be an ancestress of the charming Molly.

Cover, title, and pre-order links to come.


Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which our hero decides our heroine is not indifferent

Under the image is another excerpt of my current work in progress, Candle’s Christmas Chair. I posted the first 800 or so words a few days ago, so read them first if you want to follow the story. (Or wait a few weeks – I’ll be publishing the whole thing as a free book. I’m aiming at having it out before Christmas.) DISCLAIMER: this is raw. No editing, no proofreading.


Miss Bradshaw was as lovely as he remembered. Such a shame that she preferred other women! He’d refused to believe it at first, when her friend hinted it to him after she had run off. What a fool he had made of himself over her.

“So can you sell me an invalid’s chair, then,” he asked her.

She sighed, and in a patient voice explained, “I need to know more about how the chair will be used, Lord Avery. We have chairs suitable for street use, chairs that work well in a park, chairs that can be easily pushed inside a house, even chairs that can be propelled by the occupant. What sort of chair do you require?”

“I see.” That made sense. What didn’t make sense were the signals he was receiving. Three years ago he’d been as close to an innocent as a 19-year-old with a father like his could be. But his time in the Coldstream Guards had taught him a great deal, including what to think when a women’s pupils dilated, and she became breathless and flushed.

Perhaps it was wishful thinking. Certainly, his own anatomy had a strong opinion about what to do with the delectable Miss Bradshaw and his own arousal might be predisposing him to misread hers.

Inspiration struck.

“Can you show me each different type and explain what the different uses are, please, Miss Bradshaw?”

There. That should win Candle at least 15 minutes to observe her while she showed him around.

She stood her ground. “Who is the chair for, Lord Avery.”

Good point. He needed to remember his key purpose in coming here, which had nothing to do with pursuing the elusive Miss Bradshaw.

“My mother was injured in the same accident that killed my father,” he told her baldly. “She is paralysed from the waist down. I wish to buy her a chair so that she is not totally dependent on being carried to go where she wishes.”

Mis Bradshaw’s lovely grey eyes softened and warmed. He remembered how changeable those eyes were. They go cold with disdain, hot and stormy with anger, and warm with compassion. Lying eyes. He had to keep reminding himself that she had made a fool of him.

“Ah, your poor mother. Yes, we will certainly find a chair for her. And what sort of places does she wish to go?”


Min showed Lord Avery the inside chairs first. He was very taken with the Merlin chairs, named after the inventor, a clockmaker who had built a self-propelled chair after he’d broken his leg. Lord Avery asked her to demonstrate how to turn the handles on the arms, and then insisted on trying the chair himself, folding his great length in order to fit.

“I think we should have one of those,” he said, brushing past her as he circled the chair, examining it from all sides. He skimmed his hands down the chair’s sides, gently caressing, and Min’s mouth went unaccountably dry.

“Yes, well,” she said. “Over here we have the outdoor chairs.” She had designed them for different types of surface, changing the size and pitch of the large wheels on either side of the chair, and lengthening or shortening the undercarriage to change the distance between the chair and the small front wheel that the occupant could turn in order to steer.

Once again, Lord Avery insisted on trying the chairs, handing her into each one, parading her solemnly up and down the workshop, and then handing her out. Fortunately, he seemed focused on the chairs, and didn’t notice her fingers trembling. His effect on her seemed stronger than ever.

“I like this one,” he said, finally, pointing to the one chair they hadn’t tried.

“I am sorry,” she told him. “That one is not for sale.”

“But it would be perfect,” he said. “The wheels are broad, so Mother won’t sink into the grass when she strolls in the garden, and they are slightly skewed to give her greater stability. The longer undercarriage also improves stability, but it isn’t long enough to impair turning, so she will be able to manage even the paths in the maze. It’s perfect.”

He’d listened to her every word. More; he’d understood exactly what she was trying to do.

“It is a prototype,” she explained. “I do not sell my prototypes, and I do not manufacture until the prototype has been thoroughly tested.”

He was nodding before she’d even finished. “That’s even better. Let us test it for you. And once you are satisfied, you can sell us one of the new models.”

He took both her hands as she opened her mouth to reply, speaking before she could. “Please, Miss Bradshaw. It would mean so much to her. She used to practically live in her garden, rain and shine. To be able to get there again without being carried; to be able to move around and decide where she wants to go–it would mean the world to her.”

His big hands cupped hers, his thumbs stroking across her trapped fingers. For a moment, she was almost mesmerised, but then she tugged her hands away, and he released her instantly.

“But you wanted it for Christmas.” It was a weak protest, close to a capitulation, and he clearly knew it.

“But this is even better, don’t you see? She’ll get the use of a chair immediately, without waiting for Christmas, and at Christmas she’ll have one made just for her. Oh. But will there be enough time?”

It was late October. Not quite two months to go. Yes, they could do it. Min would need to start building the model before she got the prototype back, but the final testing was unlikely to turn up anything.

“I will need to upholster the chair and to run some final tests, then your mother could have it for perhaps a month? I will need to talk to her after that.”

“Of course. I’m going to take that – did you call it a Merlin? I’ll take the Merlin with the red cushions. She loves red. Could you cover the new chair in the same fabric?”

“I could possibly do the same colour,” Min agreed. Did she have enough red leather? No; she’d cut the last skin a few days ago. Perhaps she could get some from the main carriage works. If not, she would have to make a trip to the leather merchants.

He nodded, running a hand over the plush surface of the Merlin and immediately leaping to the right conclusion. “You use leather for the outdoor chairs, don’t you? They might get wet, I suppose.”

“Minnie, are you in here?” That was her cousin Daniel’s inevitable greeting, as if her presence in her own workshop was a perpetual surprise to him. He followed his voice into the room, and drew himself up to his full height, still a good eight inches shorter than Lord Avery.


The man who called Miss Bradshaw ‘Minnie’ in that familiar way was built like a bull: broad in the shoulders and chest, with massive arms and a thick neck. Candle grudgingly admitted he was handsome enough, in a thick-set kind of way, his blonde hair slightly overlong, even somewhat blocky features, and fine hazel eyes currently fixed on Avery in challenge.

Miss Bradshaw kept her smooth calm. “Lord Avery, may I present Daniel Whitlow? Daniel, Viscount Avery is here to purchase a chair for his mother.”

The bull relaxed slightly, returning Candle’s nod. “Minnie–Miss Bradshaw–designs the best chairs in Bath, Lord Avery.” He rested a proprietary hand on Miss Bradshaw’s shoulder. “You won’t regret choosing one of her chairs.”

“Two,” Candle said. “Two chairs.” How proprietary was this cousin? Not that Candle cared. Not after what she did three years ago. Or did she? If her friend was mistaken about her preferences, did she tell the truth about Miss Bradshaw’s reasons for leaving? He needed to pay attention. The bull was saying something else.

“One for indoors, and one for outdoors,” Candle explained.

“Daniel, I need dark red leather for the outdoor chair. Can I purchase some from your stock?”

The bull nodded. “Yes, we got a whole cart load of skins dyed for the big order. We could spare you a skin or two.”

“The one you’re using is a bit more yellow. I had in mind this colour.” She ran her hand over the chair as Candle had a few minutes ago. In precisely the same place, in fact. He wondered if she realised that. He shifted his hat, strategically.

The bull shook his head again. “No. Nothing that colour.”

Candle was opening his mouth to say that he’d choose another colour when the bull went on, “And I can’t spare anyone today to take you down to buy some. We’re going to be all hands working late as it is.”

“I could escort you, Miss Bradshaw?” Candle offered.

The bull examined him with narrowed eyes.

“After all, the sooner the chair is covered, the sooner my mother can try it out,” Candle went on, looking as innocent as he knew how.

It was enough. The bull nodded again. A beast of few words. “Take your maid, Minnie. Your servant, Lord Avery.”

>Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 3


Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which our hero and heroine meet after 3 years

Bath chairFirst few 100 words from WIP – a short story I want to give away for Christmas.

‘”Tha’ wants to talk to Min about they chairs,” said the man in the office, and directed Candle Avery  to the far corner of the carriage-maker’s yard.

Candle strode through the light rain, dodging or leaping the worst of the mud and puddles. Min. Short for Benjamin, perhaps? Or Dominic?

No, he concluded, as his eyes adjusted to the light inside the shed. The delightful posterior presented to his eyes belonged to neither a Benjamin nor a Dominic. The overalls were masculine, but the curves they covered were not.

She was on a ladder, leaning so far into a bank of shelves that lined the wall opposite the door that her upper half was hidden, but he had no objection to the current view–said delightful posterior at his eye level and neatly outlined as she stretched, a pair of trim ankles showing between the top of her sensible half boots and the hems of the overalls.

“Botheration.” Whatever she was reaching for up there, it was not obliging her by coming to her hand. Perhaps his lofty height might be of service?

“May I help, Ma’am?” he asked.

There was a crash as she jerked upright at the sound of his voice, and hit her head on the shelf above. As she flinched backward from the collision, the ladder tipped sideways, spilling its occupant into Candle’s hastily outstretched arms.

The curves were everything he thought, and the face lived up to them. A Venus in miniature, black curls spilling from the kerchief that held them away from the heart-shaped face, that quintessentially English complexion known as peaches and cream, grey eyes fringed with dark lashes.

Grey eyes that had haunted his dreams for three long years, ever since she had bedazzled him at a house party for the amusement of her friends, and then left without saying goodbye.

Grey eyes that turned stormy as he held her a moment too long. He hastily set her down.

“Miss Bradshaw.”

“Captain Avery. No, it is Lord Avery, now, is it not? My condolences on the death of your father.

He bowed his acknowledgement, his mind racing. Bradshaw Carriages. He hadn’t made the connection. Had he known when he was courting her that she was a carriage-maker’s daughter? He didn’t remember anyone mentioning it.

But he did remember that her friends called her Minnie. Miss Minnie Bradshaw. Min.


Lord Avery was broader than she remembered. He’d been little more than a boy at that horrid house party, but even then the tallest man she had ever met. Isolated and nervous in that crowd of scheming cats who only invited her to humiliate her, she’d believed him when he claimed to care.

With him at her side, she’d braved the crush at the ball. Short as she was, she usually found such occasions overwhelming. People looked over her, bumped into her, ignored her. But Lord Avery – Captain Avery he’d been then – kept her safe. She’d even, for the first time in her life, been enjoying herself at a ball. Right up until she overheard his best friend explaining that Avery despised her common origins and was only courting her for her money.

That had been Min’s last venture into the aristocratic world her parents had educated her for. She’d come home to Bath, and told her mother that she would marry, if marry she ever did, in her own class. But none of her suitors had ever measured up to the tall red-headed guards officer who even now, standing here in her workshop, turned her knees to jelly.

What was he doing in her workshop? Why would he tracked her down?

“Can I help you, Lord Avery?” She couldn’t do much about the colour that pinked her cheeks, or the way her heart pounded. But she could, and did, keep her voice level and and her tone cool.

He was immediately all business. “I am after a chair, Miss Bradshaw. It is still Miss Bradshaw?”

She nodded, seething. How dare he comment on her marital status. She wanted to tell him that she’d refused five proposals in the last three years. But he was continuing:  “The Master at the Pump Rooms told me that Bradshaw’s makes the best chairs in Bath, and the man in the office sent me here.”

“I see. And what sort of a chair do you require?”

His brows drew together. “An invalid’s chair. That is what you make, is it not? What your father makes, I mean?”

He might as well know the whole of it. She was not ashamed. And if his eyes turned cold and scornful, what was that to her? She was, no doubt, just imagining the warmth she saw. As she had imagined his admiration so long ago.

“You were right the first time, Lord Avery. I design the chairs. And I make each prototype for my assistants to copy.”

“I say,” he said, “good for you!” And he smiled at her. She remembered those smiles. And, though her mind knew he couldn’t be trusted, her foolish heart didn’t believe her.

Excerpt 2 posted on 25 November.