First kisses

Someone I know is publishing a collection of first kisses. I love the idea, so here are a few of mine!

Farewell to Kindness

the kiss 3“I think your brandy may be ready to drink.”

Anne started to lift it to her mouth.

“No. Wait,” Rede said. “Swirl, sniff, and then sip. Here, let me show you.” He leaned forward and cupped his hand around the glass over hers.

“Swirl.” He moved her hand gently in a small, tight circle.

“Sniff.” He held the glass several inches from her nose and again swirled it slightly, then shifted it closer.

“Now sip. Just a small amount, slowly. Let it slide over your tongue.”

The kissAnne followed his directions, not taking her eyes off Rede. This time, the brandy seemed a lot smoother. The flavour filled her mouth, the fiery liquid warmed her throat.

Rede had not removed his hands, and now he leaned forward still further, his eyes holding her motionless.

He came closer and closer, slowly. He would stop if she protested. She should protest. She would not.

The first brush of his lips on hers was brief, and light as a feather. He drew back enough to look into her eyes, then leaned in again. This time, his lips landed and stayed, moulding to the shape of her mouth. After a moment, he began to move, cruising along her upper lip with tiny pecks and then along the lower. He settled again, this time his mouth slightly open. Was that his tongue, sliding along her lips? How odd. How… pleasant.

She opened her own lips, and was rewarded with a hum of approval before he dipped his tongue into her mouth. Tentatively she touched his tongue with her own, which sent a tingle down through her breasts to her belly.

He hummed again, this time almost a moan.

So he liked that, did he? She began to copy, doing to him what he was doing to her. At some level, she was conscious that he had removed the brandy glass from her hands and set it to one side. With that out of the way, he came to his knees before her chair, and she found herself widening her legs so that he could press up against her.

She was aflame with sensation, barely aware of all the ways he was touching her; his hand on the curve of her waist, pulling her into his body; his lips, teeth and tongue teasing and tasting. His other hand had somehow found its way inside her robe, and was lightly stroking its way up her breast, ever closer and closer to the nipple, which had pebbled so hard it was almost painful.

Candle’s Christmas Chair

the kiss 2And then she pressed her sweet lips to his and he was lost. With a groan he enfolded her in his arms, slid his hands up behind her head, and deepened the kiss.

It could have been a minute; it could have been months. Time ceased to exist as he explored her mouth and she followed his lead. Her tentative movements, bold and shy at the same time, intoxicated him and he was conscious of nothing but the burning need to sink into her softness. Until a piece of gravel on the path turned as he shifted his knee, and dug into his skin.

He drew away from her with a groan.

Had he done that? Her lips were swollen and red, a sleeve was pulled down baring her shoulder, and one glorious breast was nearly tipped out of her dress. Another nudge, and he’d see…

He blinked, and shook the idea out of his head. “Min, my own dearest love.” He had to be calm. She looked as dazed as he felt. Probably more so, given her innocence. If his world was shaken, hers must be reeling.

“I would help you put yourself to rights, beloved. But I don’t dare touch you.”

She straightened her dress, repinned the lace cap she wore in her hair, rewrapped her shawl around her, all the while sneaking peeks at him and colouring each time their eyes met.

Before they left the succession house, he put a finger on her now clothed arm.

“Min, will you accept my apology, beloved? I meant no disrespect, I promise you. I should never have kissed you. I know how powerfully I react when we touch.”

To his surprise, she suddenly grinned. “Ah but Ran, you forget. I kissed you first.”

Encouraging Prudence (wip)

the kiss 4“Prue?” He lifted on hand to gently stroke the side of her face, his own eyes suddenly unguarded. She responded to the concern and, yes, the yearning, leaning towards him as he moved to meet her lips with her own.

She had come home. Except for that one night five months ago, Prue had been a stranger, an outsider, living hidden in the margins all her life, but here in David’s arms she was known; she belonged.

For a long moment, she let herself revel in the feeling, but she knew it wasn’t true. She had no home. She had to remember that if David knew all, he would reject her. But — as he shifted himself closer to her chair to deepen the kiss — at least she had been wrong about his indifference to her. This close to him, she couldn’t doubt that he wanted her physically.

He was the first to draw back.

“Prue.” Just her name, but with a wealth of longing in it.

Her defences down, she spoke what she thought, “Not just friends, David,” and was rewarded by the flare in his eyes.

“Friends… and lovers too?” His voice was tentative, as if he expected to be rebuffed.

She reached for him, answering his question with a kiss, stopping only when the turnkey knocked.

David crossed the room to the door before saying, “Enter!”

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I meet Candle and Min

BookcoverCCC2This excerpt from Farewell to Kindness is for those of you who have read and enjoyed Candle’s Christmas Chair (27,500 downloads so far, not counting those resellers that don’t report free book downloads, libraries, Scribed, and the three pirate sites I’ve found). Thank you for the wonderful reviews and star ratings.

In the back of the novella, I say:

Candle and Min first appeared when I was writing my novel Farewell to Kindness. I needed someone to diagnose sabotage on an invalid chair that collapsed in the middle of an assembly, and Min pushed her way out of the crowd, with Candle hovering protectively behind her.

I wondered how two such different people got together, and this story is the result.

In the excerpt below, we’re at a country Assembly. One of the organisers is Lady Avery, the wife of a local viscount. Supper is over and Major Alex Redepenning, an injured war hero and current user of the chair, is refusing to allow his broken and infected legs to spoil his fun.

rolinda-sharples-clifton-assembly-room1The dance was a line dance, the Bloom of the Pea, and Alex—invalid’s chair and all—was taking part. Jonno promenaded him up the centre and back, and twirled him around his partner, she entering into the escapade with enthusiasm by holding the steering column of the chair when the pattern called for her to hold her partner’s hand.

Some of the bystanders, and even some of the other dancers, were crowding closer to see this original version of the Bloom.

The last part of the pattern called for the lead couple to weave down the line of other dancers, and Jonno began pushing Alex down the men’s line, as the Major turned the chair from side to side to go in and out.

They were halfway down the line when, with a loud crack that could be heard over the orchestra, the chair collapsed, spilling Alex into the man he was passing.

Jonno stood bewildered in the middle of the floor. Susan hurried to her brother’s side, getting there just after Rede. And Lady Avery hurried up to kneel beside the broken pieces of the chair.

The man Alex had knocked to the ground was getting up, carelessly shoving Alex to one side. Alex let out a muffled grunt. “Careful, man!” Rede told the stranger.

“He knocked me. Tell him to be careful,” the man protested, but Rede gave him no further attention. Alex was white as bone, his teeth gritted.

“Everyone stand back,” Rede commanded. “Give him room.”

“It was his own fault,” the felled dancer continued grumbling.

Dr Millburn pushed his way through the crowd and knelt beside Alex. Leaving him to provide the needed care, Rede focused on getting people to move back, widening the circle of gawkers.

Susan spoke to Jonno, and he pulled himself together and went off, coming back a few minutes later with John and a board large enough to provide a stretcher.

With Dr Millburn supervising, they moved Alex carefully onto the board. He had recovered enough to joke, “How convenient that I’m staying just down the hall.”

“It is indeed, Major Redepenning,” the doctor said cheerfully. We can examine you in comfort. Doesn’t seem to be too much damage done, except to the chair. Odd. I wouldn’t have expected it to come apart like that.”

Lady Avery, who—with Bradshaw her father—had been carefully examining the broken pieces, said, “It had help.”

“What do you mean?” Alex asked.

“She means sabotage,” said Bradshaw. “Someone deliberately damaged the chair so that it would break.”

“And it has been done in the last fortnight, since I gave the chair to Dr Millburn,” Lady Avery insisted.

“How can you be sure?” Rede asked.

“I gave it a complete overhaul before I sent it to him,” she replied.

“You can believe her.” That was Lord Avery. “The chair is her design. If she says it was in good order, it was. If she says it was deliberately damaged, it was.”

A dozen voices all started up at once, far more titalated by idea of a peeress who made invalid carriages than by the putative assault on Alex. In the chaos, John and his nephew carried Alex off to the bedroom wing of the hotel, followed by Dr Millburn and Susan.

Rede sent Will to find the manager of the hotel, and secure a room where he could question staff about who had access to the chair.

“We’ll need to clear the floor,” said the Master of Ceremonies. “That,” he pointed to the wreckage of the chair, “is in the way of the dancing.”

Lady Avery nodded at Rede’s quizzical look. “I have learned everything I can from where it is lying. Just give me one minute to make a sketch and we can clear floor.”

“Madam, I do not think…” the Master of Ceromines began.

“Lady Avery will make her sketch,” said Lord Avery, firmly. The Master of Ceremonies looked at the tall young viscount, and Rede, who was standing shoulder to shoulder with him, and clearly decided against arguing.

“Yes, well,” he said. Then turned and raised his voice. “Perhaps everyone would like to move through to the supper room while we clear the floor? Dancing will resume shortly.”

Lord Avery grabbed a footman by the arm as he passed. “Fetch something for my lady to draw on,” he commanded.

Lady Avery, who had been talking in low tones with her father, turned and slipped her arm into his. “I am sorry, Ran.”

He looked down at her affectionately, a tall greyhound to her little kitten. “For what?”

Lady Avery waved her unused hand at the crowd. “Now they’ll all be talking again.”

He smiled, taking her hand in his. She had removed her gloves while she examined the wreckage, and Rede felt a pang of longing when Avery lifted her hand to kiss the palm and fold her fingers over the kiss. Had he ever had someone to touch with such casual affection? His children, of course, but the Wades and Spencer had taken that from him. He saw Anne hovering on the edge of the crowd, and took comfort from her presence.

“They always talk, Min,” Lord Avery said to his wife. “Stupid cats. We don’t care, remember? I’m very proud of my lovely, clever, creative wife, and I don’t care who knows it.” He looked challengingly at Rede over her dark head.

“I am awestruck,” Rede told her. “You really designed the chair yourself, Lady Avery? Alex loved it. He already had great plans for touring our boyhood play places. I hope it can be fixed!”

Bradshaw, who had drawn closer, said diffidently, “I could take a look at ‘er, MIn. I’ve a wee workshop set up at home.”

Lady Avery laughed. “So have I, Papa. Lord Chirbury, if we cannot get it working again, we will get Major Redepenning another one.”

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A new year, a new novel

imageI wrote my first blog post here on 16 September 2014. I’d been working up to it for some time. In 2013, I began researching for Farewell to Kindness and several other novels, and in April 2014 I finally committed the first scene to the keyboard. By the time I set up the website and wrote the first post, I’d written 60,000 words. I was pretty sure I could finish the novel, but I was full of doubts about the path I’d set myself:

I feel like the new girl in school.

After all these years growing confident in my profession, I now have a new one. Will I be any good? Will people like what I do?

Since that post, I’ve finished and edited Farewell to Kindness, sent it out to beta readers, and started collating the feedback. I’ve heard back from 12 of the 19 readers, and they have some great ideas for making the draft stronger. I can’t resist sharing some of the compliments.

“…now I can’t wait for the next 2 books! The way you write is refreshing! A lot of books I read are just too obvious. I can figure out the good and bad guys right away and that gets rather tedious. This book, however, kept me guessing, kept me wondering and wanting to find out how it all turns out. ”

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to reading more.  I am not a huge fan of the romance genre and have struggled (and eventually given up) on other historical romances so I was a bit apprehensive about reading this but there was enough action, intrigue and mystery to keep me interested and the intimate scenes were well placed, made sense to the story and weren’t too abundant (I’m sure some authors are trying to meet a sex quota!).”

“I loved this book.  I thought it was well-written and -plotted.  In fact I would give it the ultimate accolade – I would pay real money for it.”

I’ve also written, edited, and published a novella, Candle’s Christmas Chair (free through most resellers). On New Year’s Day 2015, at 9am of a New Zealand summer’s morning, more than 6,000 copies of Candle have been downloaded, a number of people have subscribed to my enewsletter, and one has even put all three of the 2015 novels on their ‘to-read’ list at Goodreads.

(By the way, if you want to keep up with my release information, please subscribe to the newsletter. I won’t send it often; just when I have news about a forthcoming publication.)

So here’s the plan for 2015.

April: Farewell to Kindness – I’ll start the final edit tomorrow.

September: Encouraging Prudence – I’ve finished the plotting and character sketches, and this morning I’ve written the first 650 words.

December: A Raging Madness – still developing the plot and writing the character sketches. And researching Cheshire and the canal system that brought goods all the way from Liverpool to London.

With beta readers by mid-November for release in 2016: Lord Danwood’s Dilemma – just making the occasional note as I come across relevant facts or visual inspiration.

I’ll continue doing a daily blog post.

And I’ve joined a small group of other indie authors; we’re planning a combined release for next Christmas. More news about this as our plans solidify.

Other ideas are still fluid, but one thing is for certain. 2015 is the year I finally earn the right to call myself a novelist. Yay!

And beyond 2015? Here’s a chart of my planned novels, colour coded by series. I’m working through them more or less in date order.

Happy New Year, all. What are your plans for 2015?

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Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which various people receive a surprise

And here it is, the last chapter of Candle’s Christmas Chair. Tomorrow, at the Christmas Party Blog Hop, I’m giving the novella its official launch. Please join me for a Christmas at Avery Hall in 1804, and then tour time and space with my 24 author colleagues.

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 1

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 13

 Frederick_Morgan_-_Off_for_the_Honeymoon

Chapter eight: A Christmas present

The chair was done. It was, perhaps, the best Min had ever made. It was wrapped in protective blankets and secured to the top of the carriage that would take her and Mama to Avery Hall the following day.

As she sat with Cara in the tea rooms at the Roman Baths, waiting for Lady Cresthover to return from the retiring room, Min was thinking about the answer she would give Ran. She had done a great deal of thinking in the last two weeks.

She was no longer afraid of going into Society. Oh, the high sticklers and the bullies might never accept her. But enough of her old schoolmates had become friends that she need not fear isolation. She would never be a darling of the ton, but neither did she wish to be.

And she had learned that she could ignore any nasty remarks made to her. They no longer had the power to crush her, even without Ran’s support. If he stood at her side, she could face anything.

Ran at her side. That was the biggest lesson of all. Whether he meant what he said about her chairs or not, she was going to accept Ran. If she had to make a choice between her work or her love, she chose love. With him, she felt complete. His absence felt like a gaping hole in her personal universe. She could, if she must, do something other than build chairs. She could not contemplate facing the rest of her life without Ran.

“You are thinking about Lord Avery again, are you not?” Cara said.

“Is it so obvious?”

“You are just like Henrietta Millworthy. She loved the man she married, too. And before the wedding she used to drift off into nowhere, just like you.” Cara reached across the table and grasped Min’s hands. “Marry him, Min. Do not let cats like my cousin stop you.”

Min laughed a little. “I plan to, Cara.”

“And you will still be my friend, will you not?” Cara looked a little lost. “I will miss you when you move away from Bath.”

“I will write, and I will not be far away. I imagine we will be able to visit, you and I.”

“Well, is this not sweet? My cousin and her little shop-girl friend.” Lady Norton, her voice pitched to carry across the room, sneered down at them.

“I suppose you think you are so smart, Mini Bradshaw, trapping a peer. But you will never fit in. Do you hear me? Never.”

“Lady Norton, this is a private conversation,” Min said.

“He will not be faithful to you, you know. His father was notorious for his affairs. Ask her mother.” Lady Norton pointed a gloved finger at Cara. “Everyone knows her mother was one of his amours, when she was just plain Sally Hemple. He had a taste for a bit of the common, just like his son.”

Min met Lady Cresthover’s shocked eyes over Lady Norton’s shoulder and attempted to stem the flow. “Lady Norton, that is quite enough.”

Lady Norton took no notice. “Sally Hemple. My mother told me that she trapped my uncle. Just like you are trapping poor Lord Avery, Miss Bradshaw.” She gave her cousin a poke with one finger. “You should try it, Carrie darling. Before you crumble to dust on the shelf, you poor old thing.” She swayed a little. “Ooops.” She caught herself by grabbing the back of a chair, and laughed her tinkling laugh.

Lady Cresthover was whispering to a footman, who nodded and hurried away.

“He is not very good in bed, Miss Bradshaw. You should not hope for much. Perhaps you could get my Auntie to give him a few pointers?”

The footman was back, with a colleague. Lady Norton yelped as they took an elbow each.

“How dare you! Unhand me. Do you know who I am?”

She was continuing to protest as they half carried her out of the room. “A very sad case,” Lady Cresthover said in a carrying voice. “A sad unsteadiness in her mother’s family, you know.” She dropped into a piercing whisper that could be heard in every corner of the room. “It is said that her grandfather thought he was an elephant.”

“Come, Cara, Miss Bradshaw.” Ignoring the embarrassed titters, she sailed out of the room, Min and Cara in her wake, and Polly the maid scurrying behind.

In the foyer, Lady Cresthover ordered Lady Norton into a sedan chair. “It will keep her out of the public eye,” she said, her voice back at its normal volume. “Miss Bradshaw, do not be concerned about my niece. She will retiring to a quiet place in the country.” She turned away to follow her daughter and the chair, then turned back again. “And I can assure you that young Lord Avery is nothing like his father.”

~*~

The men worked all night by lantern light to finish Candle’s surprise. He was tempted to wait until she had given him her answer and then show her. He would love her to choose him without his gift. But no. He wouldn’t play games, and wouldn’t take the risk she’d turn him down and then refuse to change her mind.

He would show her first, and then propose to her again.

He checked the surprise for the third time that morning, ran inside again to see if a message had arrived from the gate yet, stopped to ask his mother how she was, and went back out to the steps to see if he could see their carriage.

The weather was cold, with gusty showers that hinted at sleet in their future. He hoped Bradshaw’s carriage was warm. What was he thinking! The man was the king of carriages. He would send his womenfolk in the best he had.

Returning inside, Candle looked around the entry hall. Yes. It looked splendid. Mother loved Christmas, and took no notice of the tradition that decorations must wait until Christmas Eve. As soon as the Christmas Octave started on the 17th of December, she mobilised the entire household to transform the house into a Christmas paradise. The servants had outdone themselves this year. Every surface sported ivy, holly, and greenery. More greenery was tied to the stair balustrade with bright ribbons, and ribbons festooned the kissing balls of holly, ivy, rosemary, and mistletoe. Mother had made enough kissing boughs to put one in every room, upstairs and down.

“My Lord, she be here! Her carriage be coming down the hill.”

Candle waited impatiently at the bottom of the steps, and was at the carriage door as soon as it rolled to a stop. The door swung open before he could grasp the handle, and Min tumbled out into his arms.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, Ran, yes. I will marry you.”

Later, after he had kissed her, been kissed on the cheek by Mrs Bradshaw, and escorted them inside to his mother for congratulations and more kisses, he managed to detach Min from the admiring group around the new chair.

“I have something for you, beloved. A surprise present for Christmas. Mother, Mrs Bradshaw, I am taking Min to show her her present.”

The mothers waved them away.

~*~

Ran refused to tell her what the surprise was, but he took her outside, and to a building behind the stable. “Stop.” he commanded. He rushed ahead and opened the door, then returned and covered her eyes with his hands. “I’ll guide you. Take three paces forward. Now turn slightly and take one more pace. Now feel forward with your foot for the step. There are three steps. One; two; three. Two more paces. Stop.”

He removed his hands.

Min stared. Then turned her head. Then turned in a complete circle.

“Ran? Ran, it’s my workshop.” She ran forward and brushed her hand over the draughting table, picked up and put down the pens and pencils waiting for her, straightened the blotter. Next, the workbench, where racks waited for her tools, still back in Bath in the racks he’d duplicated. The shelves of supplies were mostly empty, too, but she could imagine them filled.

“Ran.” She smiled at him and his dear features wavered as her eyes swam with tears.

He looked concerned. “Min? Is it alright?”

“It is the most wonderful thing anyone has every done for me. My workshop.”

“How else are you going to keep inventing your wonderful chairs, my love?”

“Ran.” That seemed to be the only word she could say, but she invested it with a wealth of meaning. Then she melted into his arms, and neither of them spoke for some time.

~*~

Candle Avery was climbing the hill track in the rain. He was cold, wet, and thoroughly happy.

He and his companions had refused a lift on the cart taking the freshly cut yule log back to Avery Hall. The hill track was the quicker way. And at the Hall Min waited for him. Min Avery. His wife of three days.

He’d be hard put to pick the happiest moment of his life. When she tumbled out of the coach and accepted his proposal? When she agreed to using the special licence he’d obtained, and to marrying him as soon as her family could come from Bath? When he’d turned from his place before the altar and seen her walking towards him in a cloud of lace, or a few minutes later when she’d given him her hand and her trust with her vows? When she welcomed him into her embrace and her body later that night? When he woke up the next morning to her shy suggestion that they should make love again?

Each day, he fell in love a little more.

They crested the top and Daniel said something Candle didn’t catch. Michaels gave Candle a friendly punch on the arm. “No point in talking to him,” he told Daniel. “The man walks around in a daze.”

“To be fair, we are intruding on his honeymoon,” Daniel noted.

To be fair, they were mostly being careful not to intrude. But it was Christmas Eve, and it was his job as master of the house to collect the yule log. “My wife and I want you to enjoy your Christmas in our home,” he said. As well as Min’s family, Michaels and Miss Cresthover had come for the wedding, and were staying for Christmas.

“Preferably without disturbing you and your wife. Yes, we understand,” said the irrepressible Daniel.

Michaels gestured ahead. “Who, if I do not mistake, is coming to meet us.”

Below, two women waited in the shelter of the summerhouse.

Sure enough, as the men drew level with the structure, Miss Cresthover and the new Lady Avery dashed down the steps under their umbrellas.

“So do we have a good yule log,” Min asked.

“An excellent one,” Daniel said, “but I’m sorry to say we failed in one mission.” He let his eyes, lips and shoulders droop.

“What was that?” Cara could be depended on to ask the questions that set Daniel up for whatever punchline he intended to deliver.

Candle held Min back, letting the others go on ahead, but they could still hear Daniel’s reply as the three in the lead turned the corner of the path.

“We couldn’t find any mistletoe to replace all the berries Min and Candle have used, so nobody else in the Hall can be kissed, Miss Cresthover.”

“But Mr Whitlow, you kissed me this morning!” replied Cara.

“I kissed you this morning,” Candle told Min.

“Really? I am not sure that I remember. Perhaps if you do it again?”

After several minutes, he drew his head back. “Min, the yule log won’t be here for another hour. Shall we go up to bed?”

“Up the stairs in front of our friends and family? Ran, I could not.”

He thought for a moment of suggesting the back stairs, but through the kitchen full of servants wouldn’t appeal to her, either.

“However,” said Min, “your study has a sofa and a warm fire, and I unlatched the window before I came out.”

“Ah, Min,” Candle told her, “how lucky I am to have a clever wife.”

THE END

Thank you for reading my novella. For a copy of your own, please choose one of the retailers linked from my Candle’s Christmas Chair page.

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Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which our hero finds a cat in his bed and our heroine lies sleepless in hers

The last half of chapter 7 of Candle’s Christmas Chair leaves us with just one post to go. I’ll upload the final excerpt on Friday my time, and launch the full ebook on Saturday evening my time. Look for the post, and for the links to resellers on the book page.  I had great fun writing the dialogue in the last part of this excerpt. I hope you enjoy it.

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 1

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 12

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The flowers continued to arrive, and so did presents of produce from Avery Hall. Min didn’t need the constant reminders. Ran was a phantom presence wherever she went. Everything she saw or heard, she wanted to share with him. Ran would like this. Ran would find that funny. Ran would be interested.

The nights were worse. Ran had woken something in her. She didn’t know how to ease whatever he had aroused, but she knew who could ease it.

And all the time, Ran’s view of her chair making, and her father’s opinion of that view, warred in her head.

One morning, the note with the day’s present went beyond the usual compliments, adding:

“I beg Mrs Bradshaw and Miss Bradshaw to do me the honour of accepting my escort to the Lower Assembly Rooms this evening.”

Min had been planning to go—the next step in her experiment in social climbing. But going with Ran would be wonderful. Mama sent a note back with the Avery servant, inviting Ran to dinner, and Min hurried to the workshop to make an early start on the day’s work.

Ran was in Bath! Min half expected to see him on her walk to work. She almost stayed in her walking dress, in case he came to her workshop, but common sense prevailed and she donned her overalls.

She would see him tonight. Tonight, she could tell him all the things she had been saving up to say, and she could hear about his week at Avery Hall, and about Lady Avery, and the planned gardens, and the performance of the chair, and the progress of the renovations…

Min caught herself. When had her life begun to revolve around this man and his concerns?

Suddenly, he was there. “Min.”

She dropped her tools and walked into his open arms for a kiss that satisfied and, at the same time, left her longing for more. All too soon, he put her gently from him.

“Min, I won’t stay. But I couldn’t wait to see you. Have you been well? You look well.”

“Yes. And you?”

“I’m well now,” Ran said, and the warmth in his eyes said much more. “I must go. I have appointments today… I will see you tonight, Min.”

One more kiss, and he was gone. So much for keeping her head until she had made her decision.

After daydreaming for an hour, Min packed up and went home. She was accomplishing nothing today.

~*~

Candle was humming to himself as he walked into the White Hart after seeing the Bradshaw ladies home. The evening had been wonderful. The dancing, the conversation, the food, everything had conspired to provide a perfect evening. And, at the centre of it all, his Minerva.

She was his, he was almost sure of it. He hadn’t asked her again, but tonight she’d had her armour down. She’d been happy to be with him; she’d let her hand linger on his in the dance, and she’d leant into him when he’d offered his arm to go in to supper. Two dances had not been nearly enough; Candle would have taken every dance, given a choice.

But he’d played at being civilised, even danced with other females, although there was only one in the room worth thinking about.

Surely she was planning to say yes? Her father thought so, but her mother warned him not to be too certain. And in the light of what her cousin had let slip, Candle was more and more sure that it might take his secret plan to convince his Min she could trust her future to him.

Candle stopped at the desk to see if there had been any messages, and waited while the clerk checked.

“Candle, old man.”

“Michaels; good to see you.”

His friend grinned. “I saw you at the assembly, but you didn’t have eyes for anyone but that black-haired beauty you were escorting. Gorgeous female. Lovely…” He cupped both hands in front of his chest and jiggled them up and down.

“The future Lady Avery,” Candle warned. The clerk was shaking his head. No messages.

Michaels said a cheerful, “Sorry,” but was not at all abashed. “When’s the happy day?”

“She hasn’t accepted me yet. But she will.” If he said it often enough, perhaps it would be true.

“I imagine she will,” his friend agreed. “Candle Avery, the man who never gives up. Look, Candle, I thought you might have those militia training plans you promised me.”

“They’re up in my room; come on up and I’ll give them to you.”

They were discussing the most recent news from the Fleet as Candle opened the door to his room and led the way in.

“Will you have a drink?” Candle asked, crossing to the decanter on the sideboard.

“Uh, Candle.” Michaels was stock still in the middle of the room, his face suddenly neutral. He was staring at the bed.

“Candle, darling, come back to bed.” Lady Norton, her hair hanging down across her shoulders, sat up in his bed. A sheet preserved some shreds of decency, but she was clearly naked. Very naked.

Candle was suddenly coldly furious. “You mistake, madam. I would sooner bed a snake.”

“But Candle! After the afternoon we had?”

The door opened again, and Kitteridge burst in. “What are you doing with my sister, you villain?” he declaimed, then frowned at Michaels. “He isn’t meant to be here.”

Lady Norton struck her forehead with the back of one hand. “Guy! Candle, we are discovered! My brother knows all!”

Candle suppressed a laugh. High melodrama indeed! Though it would be quite unfunny if he had come up to bed on his own, or if he didn’t have witnesses to how he’d spent his afternoon and evening.

“Michaels, shut the door, will you? We’ll keep this to ourselves if we can.”

“You have compromised my sister! I demand satisfaction.” Clearly Kitteridge intended to follow the script despite the unexpected addition to the cast.

“Very well,” Candle said. “Michaels, will you stand my second?”

“Not a duel. Marriage. You’re meant to marry her,” Kitteridge explained.

“No,” Candle said.

“But she’s in your bed. You have to marry her.” Kitteridge was pleading now.

“Kitteridge, I have been in company every minute of the day since I arrived in Bath. I have witnesses who will swear to that. The only one to suffer if you and Lady Norton insist on making a scandal is Lady Norton.”

He turned, then, and locked eyes with Lady Norton, but continued to address Kitteridge. “I don’t know whether your sister is after my money or if she is with child again, but I will not be her dupe.”

Lady Norton shrieked at the suggestion she might be pregnant. “Guy! He has insulted me! Call him out!”

“But Vivi, he has been a soldier. He’s probably a good shot.”

“Regimental champion three years running,” Michaels offered. He was bouncing forward on his feet, like a boy on outskirts of a fistfight: close enough to see the blood but preserved from any pain and having a wonderful time. “And he’s none too bad with a sword.”

Kitteridge nodded vigorously, and said, “He’s good with his fists, too. You should have seen him at school. He’d go into this sort of calm rage, and nothing would stop him.”

“I’ve seen it,” Michaels agreed. “A sort of cold, logical beserker. Very scary. I wouldn’t duel with him if I were you.”

Candle was keeping an eye on Lady Norton. She was assessing every object within reach. He recognised the signs. He’d had a mistress who threw things when she was upset. Yes. There went the jug, water and all. He’d been ready to duck, but obviously she was angrier with her brother.

The jug struck a glancing blow, and what water hadn’t already soaked the bed and sprayed across the floor finished up on Kitteridge’s jacket.

“Vivi!” he complained, “I hope that doesn’t stain.”

“Mr Michaels and I are going downstairs,” Candle told them. “We will return in 30 minutes, bringing the manager with us. I suggest the two of you leave before that time. And Lady Norton, Michaels and I will keep this to ourselves. But only if you do not try anything like it again.”

They didn’t speak as they descended the stairs. Candle ordered a brandy each, and they took it to a corner of the public room. “Well,” Michaels said. “You do know how to make an evening entertaining, old chap.”

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 14

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Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which our hero is stunned by a kiss and our heroine is disappointed in her father

Continuing with Candle’s Christmas Chair. I have one more chapter to read into the recorder, then I’ll do the paper proofread while listening to the playback. I hope that’ll help me pick up all the proofing errors. I plan to put it up to the distributor on Wednesday, so it is ready for you to download by the middle of the weekend, wherever in the world you happen to be.

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kissing

Chapter seven: A proposal and a proposition

Whatever Mother said to Min, she was quiet and thoughtful for the rest of the walk home. Both mothers went for a rest as soon as they’d eaten a nuncheon.

“Would you like to see the succession houses?” Candle asked Min.

He took her the long way around, through the gardens she’d not yet had a chance to see because of the rain. As he’d hoped, they were deserted. All the gardeners were with their families enjoying a Sunday rest.

Avery Hall had three succession houses, One was given over to grape vines that snaked along the walls and looped overhead, and strawberries in pots. One was growing late autumn and early spring vegetables. And in the last one, they saw the first person they’d seen since they left the house. Mugridge, the head gardener, was checking the fire that was used to keep the succession house warm.

He nodded to Candle, and smiled warmly at Min, giving her a somewhat deeper bow. The servants, who adored Mother, had taken Min to their hearts—at first for what her chairs meant to Mother, but then because she was sweet, unassuming, and genuinely interested in them.

“I be just checking this fire, my Lord, Miss. Won’t be long.”

Candle showed Min along the lines of seedlings—trees, shrubs, and flowers being propogated to fill the garden in spring. True to his word, Mugridge very soon said, “I be off now, then. No-one be coming this way till night time, now, my Lord. Close up when tha leaves, will ‘ee?”

Candle promised, and turned back to Min. She looked both apprehensive and amused, with amusement winning.

“He thinks we want to be alone,” Candle explained.

“I gathered that,” she replied.

“Come. Take the chair near the stove.”

It was somewhat battered, but sturdy. She sat in it and he settled himself at her feet.

It was an odd setting for a proposal, but safe. Any place he could be sure of being alone with Min in the house was a place he’d already imagined making love to her in. He wasn’t confident that he could control himself if she accepted his proposal. Or even that he would get to the proposal before…

He had to stop that train of thought. The succession house was becoming less safe by the minute. He was already thinking of the logistics of lovemaking here in the dirt among the seedlings. His coat spread to protect her dress… No. Not here. Quite apart from the respect he owed to an innocent and his future viscountess, he had no intention of consumating his desire in front of a hundred glass panes.

“Min, you know what I want to ask you.”

“I think I do.”

“Will you, Min? Will you make me the happiest of men? Will you marry me?”

“Ran, I am not from your world.”

“I know you are too good for me,” he joked, “but I’m hoping you’re prepared to make the sacrifice.”

“Ran, I am serious. I am the daughter of a carriage maker. You are a peer. Society…”

“Min, I love you. If you love me, then Society can go hang itself.”

“I want to continue making chairs.”

“I hope you will.”

“Really? You would not mind?”

“Min, you have a gift. I want you to use it. Say you will marry me, and I’ll have the bans read. We can be wed before Christmas.”

She withdrew. She didn’t move a muscle, but he felt her pulling into herself, away from him.

“Don’t, Randall.”

His full name. That couldn’t be good. But he wasn’t Lord Avery again, which was a hopeful sign.

“Is that a no, Min?”

She shook her head.

“Is it a yes?”

Another head shake.

“Min?” He came up onto his knees in a single motion, and captured her face between both of his hands, looking into her grey eyes.

She collected herself then, his brave little goddess. “When I come back with the chair, I will give you your answer.”

And then she pressed her sweet lips to his and he was lost. With a groan he enfolded her in his arms, slid his hands up behind her head, and deepened the kiss.

It could have been a minute; it could have been months. Time ceased to exist as he explored her mouth and she followed his lead. Her tentative movements, bold and shy at the same time, intoxicated him and he was conscious of nothing but the burning need to sink into her softness. Until a piece of gravel on the path turned as he shifted his knee, and dug into his skin.

He drew away from her with a groan.

Had he done that? Her lips were swollen and red, a sleeve was pulled down baring her shoulder, and one glorious breast was nearly tipped out of her dress. Another nudge, and he’d see…

He blinked, and shook the idea out of his head. “Min, my own dearest love.” He had to be calm. She looked as dazed as he felt. Probably more so, given her innocence. If his world was shaken, hers must be reeling.

“I would help you put yourself to rights, beloved. But I don’t dare touch you.”

She straightened her dress, repinned the lace cap she wore in her hair, rewrapped her shawl around her, all the while sneaking peeks at him and colouring each time their eyes met.

Before they left the succession house, he put a finger on her now clothed arm.

“Min, will you accept my apology, beloved? I meant no disrespect, I promise you. I should never have kissed you. I know how powerfully I react when we touch.”

To his surprise, she suddenly grinned at him. “Ah but Ran, you forget. I kissed you first.”

~*~

Daniel must have left Bath before dawn. He was at the door by mid-morning, and wouldn’t accept Ran’s invitation to stop for lunch. Rain was coming, he said, and he wanted to be safely back in Bath before the deluge.

Min, her valise packed with all the notes and drawings she needed to finish the chair, kissed Lady Avery on the cheek, and gave Ran her hand. He lifted it and deliberately placed a kiss in the palm.

“Bring it back to me, Min,” he said.

She almost told him, then and there, that she would marry him, but—no. She had to get back to Bath. She would make her decision without his disturbing presence tugging her to fall into his arms.

Neither Daniel nor Mama commented on the kiss. Mama asked after Papa, and then she and Daniel discussed the dispatches about the Navy’s victory. They were calling it the Battle of Trafalgar, and nearly 450 British sailors had died. Almost ten times as many died on the other side.

Min didn’t contribute. Mostly, she didn’t listen. She sat and thought about chair design, and what she needed to do to finish Candle’s chair for his mother in time for Christmas.

And all the while her thoughts kept going back to Candle’s kiss, and to the answer she would need to give him.

~*~

Min strode across the yard, her pattens sending sprays of water flying from puddles she ignored in her indignation. Daniel was in the outer office. She didn’t trust herself to speak in front of the clerk; she jerked her head towards the inner office, and went through to wait for him.

He was quick to join her, his face wary. “Now, Minnie, what has got your back up?”

“Did you tell…” She caught herself. Took a deep breath. Best to check the facts first.

“Richards has ignored the instructions I left, redrawn my designs, and reworked the chairs for the Barfoot sale. He claims he had your authorisation.”

Her cousin’s eyes gave him away, sliding evasively to one side. “Now, Minnie. Richards is a good foreman.”

“You gave him authorisation to change my work,” she said flatly.

“He’s highly experienced, Minnie. He said a few changes would save materials and increase our profit.”

“A few changes that mean we do not meet the client’s specifications and will not make the sale.”

“You are exaggerating. He showed me his drawings. Sound carriage design.”

“Unsound chair design,” she snapped back.

Papa entered the room, saw the two of them, and closed the door behind him.

“What’s going on?”

“I want Richards out of my workshop,” Min told Papa, not taking her eyes off Daniel.

“She is upset about a few economies that I approved.” Daniel put on his ‘I am reasonable and you are a female’ voice. “Look, Minnie, you have to let go and let us take over. After all, you will leave all this behind you when you marry your Viscount.”

“Point one,” Min thought she did well to keep her voice calm and level, “I have not accepted Lord Avery’s proposal. Point two, if I do accept, he has promised that I can continue making chairs. Point three, the chair workshop is mine, and you had no right to allow Richards to disobey a direct instruction.”

“Well, Minerva. Strictly speaking he is general manager of the whole works,” Papa said. The traitor.

She looked at the two of them in silence for a moment. First things first. She needed to deal with the chair disaster.

“Let me explain the problem, gentlemen. Richards has scaled down standard carriage parts.” Blank looks. “Scaled them precisely. Without any consideration of the structural integrity of the new thicknesses.”

The two men exchanged glances again. Consternation had replaced smug commiseration. Just so, she thought with a grim satisfaction.

“All three chairs will need to be remade if we are not to forego 90 guineas and the chance of future orders. And I am fully committed on Lady Avery’s chair.” Fortunately, Richards had left that chair alone. She had made every inch of it herself, investing hours. She didn’t just want efficient engineering; she wanted a superb piece of furniture. Carved, turned, and polished woodwork for the handle; upholstery in the finest leather with a buttoned back and seat, sewn detail, and cording on the edges.

“I’ll see to it, Minnie.” Daniel sounded humble, but she couldn’t expect that to last. She was so used to his persistent belief in his male superiority that she noticed it only because of the contrast with Ran’s respect.

“Very well then. And Richards goes.”

“I’ll reassign him.”

“Thank you.” She could be gracious in victory.

She left her menfolk in the office they shared. She wanted to cut the leather for the arms and leave it to relax, and add another coat of polish to the handle. It could be drying while she went out to tea with Cara and her friends. She was cautiously venturing into Society, and finding it less threatening than she expected.

Bother. She had forgotten to tell her father that she wouldn’t be walking home with him.

Turning back through the outer office, she started to push the inner door open, and paused.

“Do you think Lord Avery means to let Minnie make her chairs?” That was Daniel.

“Don’t be daft. Whoever heard of a viscountess doing that sort of stuff? No he’s just saying it. Or he means it now, but will come to his senses soon enough.” That was Papa.

“Yes. You should have put a stop to it long ago, Uncle.”

“It made her happy. And she’s done some good work, you can’t deny it.”

“It isn’t right, though. A woman shouldn’t be doing carriage work, Uncle. I’m sorry to hear that Lord Avery is encouraging her.”

“You know what they say, lad: ‘When a man grows hard between the thighs, he grows soft between the ears.’ He’s soft on my girl, right enough.”

Min had heard enough. Her ears burning, she retreated to her workshop.

Were they right? Ran had sounded so convincing when he spoke of his hope that she would continue her work. But she had always known that marriage would make her dependent on the goodwill of a husband, and she had seen that the face a man showed before marriage was not always the one his wife saw after.

Could Ran be trusted?

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 13

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Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which our hero and his mother give our heroine much to think about

Here’s the last half of chapter six of Candle’s Christmas Chair. This leaves me chapter 7 (which I’ll post in two halves) and chapter 8 (which is short, and will go up as one post). The ISBN should be through by Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m proofreading the last three chapters, formatting the file for the distributor, writing a piece on the language of flowers to go at the back, and writing my blog post for the blog tour at which I’ll launch the novella as a free giveaway. Lots to do, but so much fun!

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girl-woman-man

Lord Avery’s mother was a darling. She never complained, though she was clearly often in pain. Instead, she would turn the conversation somewhere else. Min coaxed her into being clear about how the chairs worked for her.

“If anything hurts or is uncomfortable, I want to know so that I can fix it, my Lady.”

Afterwards, Min went in search of Lord Avery. The butler directed her to the study, where he was working at a huge old desk, his back to the large window. The fitful rain of the past few days had cleared, and sunlight was pouring over Lord Avery’s shoulder onto his work. The light glanced of his red hair, setting gleaming threads on fire.

He felt her gaze and looked up, meeting her eyes with a slowly warming smile that set light to a slow burn in her.

“Miss Bradshaw, please come in.”

“I am sorry to disturb your work, Lord Avery.”

He rounded the desk and set a chair for her, hovering over her as if he wanted to guide her physically into the seat. Her skin seemed to yearn towards him. She held herself stiffly in check.

“It is about your mother.”

Lord Avery’s eyes grew concerned, the heat that disturbed her banked for the moment.

“Is there something wrong?”

She hastened to reassure him. “Nothing we cannot fix. She is developing sore patches. Because she is unable to move herself, and because she has no feeling in her lower torso,” Min blushed at mentioning such a word to a man. But it needed to be said.

Lord Avery frowned. “I will have a word with her maid. She must be more vigilant. Could we find an unguent or something to soothe…? But you said you could fix it. What is your plan, Miss Bradshaw?”

“What you suggest is good, and I have discussed it with your mother and the maid. But I would like to try something that one of my customers told me about. Would you be able to procure a sheepskin with the wool still on?”

“We keep sheep on the home farm, as well as up on the wolds. I should think I already own any number of sheepskins.”

“Sitting on sheepskin may help. And lying on it, as well, in bed.”

They talked a little more about the possible benefits, and Lord Avery sent a servant down to the home farm to order at least three skins of various depths and sizes.

“May I show you through the house, Miss Bradshaw?” he asked.

Min panicked. The thought of being alone with him, even in a house full of servants, suddenly seemed overwhelming. She muttered something about resting, and made her escape.

By dinner time, she was ashamed of herself. Lady Avery and Mama had discovered a mutual love of embroidery, and of the language of flowers. When Mama mentioned her hope of soon having a garden, this spread into a deep conversation about methods of cultivation, and what did best in their local climate. When Lord Avery suggested a stroll in the picture gallery, and Mama waved her compliance, Min took Lord Avery’s arm and let him conduct her down the hall.

The gallery stretched across the back of the house. He left her in the doorway while he lit candles in sconces all along the walls, then came back with a candelabra to escort her to the first picture.

The Averys had been at Avery Hall since the dawn of time, it seemed. And all had been recorded in paint for this moment; to look down in scorn and judgement on an interloper of the middle sort who had begun to dream of stepping out of her class.

Lord Avery took them in his stride, telling stories about the people in each portrait, describing them with affection and familiarity. He could, of course. He belonged here.

She nodded, and smiled, going through the motions from behind the wall she’d long since learned to erect. Never before with Lord Avery, though.

Suddenly, two thirds of the way down the long room, he stopped and turned her towards him, his hands on her shoulders.

“This was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?” he said. “Look, Miss Bradshaw. Min.” He released one shoulder to raise her chin with one finger, so that her eyes looked straight into his. “Min,” he repeated, his voice pleading, “they don’t matter. You have as many ancestors as I do, you know. All human beings do. But none of them matter, on either side. You matter. We matter. Don’t let them come between us.”

Lost in his eyes, she couldn’t remember why they should. There was only him. Randall. Ran.

He stooped, curling his head down to her height and brushing her lips gently with his. A soft caress of the lips, over too quickly.

She gave a small sound of distress, quickly stifled. He was right to stop. They were alone, unchaperoned. Mama trusted her to behave.

As if he could read her mind, he said, “We had better go back, Min. Your Mama trusts me, and I’m afraid I cannot be trusted too far. I should not be alone with you. Will you…?” He didn’t finish his sentence, but just gestured to the door at the far end of the gallery.

She led the way, silently. Her knees felt as if they did not quite belong to her; as if each step had to be carefully planned in advance or she would find herself in another room, another house.

As she approached the door, a painting on the other side caught her eye–a man on a horse with the look of Ran. He was older though, and the artist had caught a mood, an expression that she’d never seen on Ran’s face. This man’s face, Min thought, would fall easily into a sneer or a leer, but never into the kindness that was natural to his son. She didn’t need Ran’s muttered: “My father, the previous Viscount Avery,” to tell the relationship.

Somehow, her earlier discomfort with the array of ancestors had gone, but Ran was tense and miserable beside her. “He was not a good man,” she said, afraid when she heard her voice that she’d gone too far.

But Ran nodded. “You’re right. He was an indifferent landlord, a neglectful father, and a bad husband. He wasn’t a bad man, exactly. He just never grew up.”

“A lot of Society men are like that,” Min said.

“Yes. When we are children, we think our parents are unique. But he was very ordinary, really.”

“He made you unhappy.”

“He ignored me, mostly. He spent all of his time in London, and I stayed here at Avery Hall with Mother. I had a wonderful childhood. Then Father took it into his head that he should send me away to school.”

She was holding his hand. She wasn’t sure how that happened, but she squeezed it. She didn’t need to be told that he hated school. Min had been miserable enough as a day pupil. Ran went to Eton, far away from home.

Again, his thoughts had tracked hers. “I lived for the holidays when I could come home.”

“Your mother must have missed you.”

From his surprised look, he hadn’t consider that. “Yes. She was always so calm, I had not thought… But, yes. Poor Mother. I never really came back. Just holidays. I went from school to Oxford, to the Guard.”

He looked so sad. She put her arms around him to give him a hug, and his came around her. With her head on his chest, she could hear his heart thumping. He shifted, so his body moved back from hers, and she blushed. How forward he must think her.

~*~

One moment he’d been lost in a sad past, and the next he could think of nothing but the woman in his arms. He’d had to move her away from his groin. He wasn’t sure how much she knew about male anatomy. He’d like nothing better than to teach her, preferably right this minute, what the hardness he was hiding from her was for. No. He had enough sense left to know that he shouldn’t take the power of choice away from her.

“Min? We need to go back to our mothers.”

She had turned the most delightful pink. He wondered how far it spread then shut that thought off. It was not helping.

“I apologise, Lord…”

“Ssshh.” He put a finger on her lips to stop her. “No apologies. I won’t apologise to you for desiring you, and you won’t apologise for being kind when I needed kindness. And it certainly isn’t my fault or yours that you are still my goddess.”

She smiled against his finger and he couldn’t resist tracing the smile. One day; one day soon, he would feast on those generous lips.

~*~

Min asked questions, took measurements, made adjustments, and asked more questions. But by the end of the second day of her visit, she had run out of things she could do unless the rain let up for long enough to take the chair out of doors.

Everywhere she looked, Avery Hall showed signs of coming back from a long period of neglect. Ran said he was spending most of his efforts on improvements to the broader estate, investing so that he and his tenants would benefit in future years. But he was clearly also bringing the house back to its former glory. The legacy from the uncle must have been every bit as large as rumour painted it.

After dinner that night, Lady Avery asked Min for some music. “I am not an accomplished pianist, my Lady,” Min said.

“She sings very nicely,” Mama said.

“Randall, play for Miss Bradshaw,” Lady Avery commanded.

So they put their heads to choose music, then Ran’s long fingers coaxed the keys. Min remembered how they felt on her lips. And his eyes held hers as she sang:

“Nor yet in the valleys below

Nor yet in the valleys below.”

And he replied, in a warm tenor:

“‘Pretty Betsy, don’t fail,

For I’ll carry your pail,

Safe home to your cot as we go;

You shall hear the fond tale

Of the sweet nightingale,

As she sings in those valleys below.'”

They finished to applause from the mothers, whom they had quite forgotten.

“The tea tray, I think,” said Lady Avery. “Ring the bell, please, Randall.”

~*~

The rain had cleared the next morning, and Lady Avery insisted on riding the invalid chair to Sunday service, the rest of the party walking alongside.

Min tried to ignore the curious looks of the villagers, and focus on the performance of the chair. It handled the solid ground well, though the footman pushing it struggled when they hit soft ground.

Lady Avery was having a fine time, surrounded by people who flocked to talk to her.

“This is the first time she has taken the chair down to the village,” Ran said from behind her. She felt herself warm in his direction, as if he was the sun and she a flower.

“It’s a fine thing you do,” Ran went on, “this chair building.”

She waited. Now he would tell her that it wasn’t proper for a viscountess; that she wouldn’t need to continue when she was married.

Instead, he introduced her to the Vicar, and then to other people, a sea of strangers who all shook her hand, and smiled, and told her how welcome she was, and how good it was to see Lady Avery out and about.

Lady Avery took the lead on the way home, while Ran gave his right arm to Min and his left to Mama. It was good to see Lady Avery with colour in her cheeks, laughing up at Wilson the footman who was grinning back as he swerved the chair around the puddles.

“There will be no stopping her now,” Ran joked. “Every fine day, she’ll be running poor Wilson ragged, all over the garden and in and out of the village.”

“She should be enjoying life,” Mama commented. “She is a young woman, still.”

“On her next birthday she’ll be 41,” Ran confirmed.

Min hadn’t realised how young she was. She must have been little more than a child when Ran was born.

Ran was frowning a little as he watched his mother. Mama patted his arm with her free hand. “Let her enjoy herself, Lord Avery,” she told him. “And you enjoy her, too, for the time you have her.”

Min tried to peer around Ran. What could Mama mean?

“Did she tell you?” Ran asked.

“Yes, dear. She has had two seizures since the accident, and she has lost a little bit with each one.”

“The doctor thinks…” Ran didn’t finish.

“I know. She told me,” Mama said. “Enjoy the time you have, dear. You are making her happy, with the work on the estate and the way you care for her.”

“Randall!” Lady Avery called. “Take Mrs Bradshaw down to the gardener’s cottage, my dearest, and ask them for the bulbs I promised her. Miss Bradshaw and I will wait at the lookout.”

Ahead, the driveway took a curve to give a view out over the estate, Avery Hall foursquare below. Ran obeyed his instructions, and Wilson took himself a short distance away.

“I wished to speak with you, Miss Bradshaw,” Lady Avery said.

Here it comes, Min thought. Now she will tell me I am not good enough for him.

“You will think me an interfering old woman, but please remember that I love my son, and I want what is best for him.”

“I know that, Lady Avery.”

“He wants to marry you. You know that of course.”

Min nodded. She was afraid to speak in case she cried. She liked Lady Avery, and she couldn’t blame her for being concerned about the same distance in status that concerned Min. But still, she could feel the tears gathering.

“I wish you would consider it, my dear. I can understand you being worried about the gossip, and I cannot promise you it will be easy, but I wanted to tell you there are two things you need never worry about.”

Lady Avery paused as if to let Min comment, but Min still couldn’t speak. This was so far from what she expected that she had no words. Lady Avery continued.

“You do not have to worry that Randall is like his father. He looks like his father, but he takes his nature from my family. We give our hearts once, and for a lifetime. He has given his heart to you, Miss Bradshaw. It will be yours forever.

“And, if you are concerned about living with me, do not be. I will not make old bones, though I would love to live long enough to see my grandchildren.”

Min found her voice. “Lady Avery, I hope you live to be 100, and no woman in her right mind would be concerned about living with you.”

“Then you will consider marrying Randall?”

Min looked down at the frail hands she’d taken in her eagerness to show Lady Avery how she esteemed her. “I am trade. He is a peer. You and I both know what Society will say.”

“I do not give a fig for Society, and neither does Randall. But, I understand that you must make up your own mind, my dear Minerva. I may call you Minerva, may I not?”

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 12

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Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which our hero frets and our heroine thinks about kisses

20 December and publication day is almost upon us. I’m currently reading the novella into a voice recorder on my iPad so that I can play it back while I follow on a paper copy with a red pen in my hand.  So watch this space, folks. But meanwhile, here’s the first half of chapter six.

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Regency-Era-Guy-and-Girls

Chapter six

The flowers kept coming, the type repeated, but in different combinations each day. Each day, Mama interpreted the message for her, and Daniel took great delight in offering an alternative reading. According to Mama, Christmas roses and asters with sprays of mimosa meant ‘My concealed love is now disclosed. How will it be received?’ Daniel suggested, ‘I wish to hide because the thought of love makes me anxious.’ Blue salvia, irises and yellow roses meant ‘I think of you, miss you, and long for your friendship’ to Mama. But Daniel claimed it meant ‘When I think of you, I miss having friends’.

The gifts of produce from the estate kept coming too, prompting Cook to tell Daniel (who passed it on to Min) that she hoped Miss wouldn’t turn the young Lord down too soon, because his presents were so useful.

Walking home from the workshop one afternoon, Polly in attendance, she had to stop suddenly to avoid a fashionably-dressed young woman who burst out of a shop door without looking, to stand frozen in the road, her hands clenched at her sides and her face stiff with the effort of holding back tears.

Min, who had been about to circle around her, took a second look. “Cara? What’s wrong? May I help?”

Caroline Cresthover had been closer to a friend than any of the other girls at the select girl’s seminary Min’s parents had sent her to.

“Min? Min Bradshaw? Oh Min, if I had stayed in the shop I would have killed that woman.” The tears had escaped, spilling down Cara’s cheeks.

The shop door opened to let out a maid carrying a reticule that matched Cara’s pelisse. Min could see past her to Lady Norton and a gaggle of her friends. Kitty Cat was clearly up to her usual tricks.

“Do not let her see that she upsets you,” Min counselled Cara. “Come; let us move away where they cannot see us.”

“I know I should be charitable, but…”

“Never mind being charitable. Just do not give her a stick to beat you with.” Min turned to the maid. “Do you have a handkerchief for your mistress? Here, Cara, dry your tears and let’s go and have tea and tear Kitty Cat’s character to little tiny shreds.”

Over tea, Cara confided that Vivi Norton loved to commiserate with her about being ‘on the shelf’, which Cara mostly ignored. But today’s nasty remarks had included a series of snippets about the activities of one Captain Marsh who, according to Lady Norton, had cut a swathe through the widows of London and was about to announce his engagement to a debutante of 17.

“And Vivi says she is blonde and slender, and everyone knows that slender blondes are more fashionable.” Cara, whose hair and eyes were brown, and who was generously curved, began to cry again.

“Captain Marsh is special to you?” Min ventured. It seemed a safe enough guess.

“He said we would announce our engagement as soon as he had the approval of his grandfather. His father is the third son of the Earl of Scuncester. He said we had to keep our courtship secret in case his grandfather did not approve.”

“If it was a secret, Cara, how did Vivi find out?”

Cara blushed. “I might have hinted. Just a little. Only in the strictest confidence, and only because she teased me so about being twenty and unmarried.”

Several cream cakes cheered Cara up. She was not, Min deduced, particularly attached to Captain Marsh. His status as the grandson of an Earl and his professed interest in marrying her seemed to be the sum total of his attractive features. Cara found his conversation boring, his lack of dancing skill annoying, and his repeated attempts to kiss her frightening.

“Mama said I should never be alone with a man because he would try to kiss me, and then I would be ruined,” she told Min. “I wasn’t even alone with Captain Marsh; well, not really alone. The first time was in the garden, and there were other people there, but it was dark and we couldn’t see them. And Mama was right. He did try to kiss me. I did not let him, though.” She nodded, pleased with herself.

“And then the next week he stopped me in the hall at a party. He said he was dying of love for me, which was very romantic, I thought. And he asked me to meet him outside and tried to kiss me again when I said no. I told him I did not want to be ruined. He said I would not be ruined for just one kiss. That was when he said he planned to marry me. He said it was alright to kiss the man you were going to marry. But Mama came and he went away.”

“Then what happened?” Min was finding the whole saga morbidly fascinating.

“He kept trying to get me on my own so he could kiss me. And in the end, I let him. It was not very nice.” Cara frowned. “It was wet. And I could not breathe properly. Has anyone kissed you, Min?”

Min shook her head, mostly to dislodge a sudden wish to know how nice Lord Avery’s kiss might be. Certainly she had, on several occasions, seen Mama and Papa kiss, and Mama seemed to like it very well.

“I do not recommend it,” Cara said.

“Perhaps Captain Marsh is not very good at it,” Min suggested.

Cara shrugged. “Anyway, then he went off to London. He said that he could not write because we could not yet announce our betrothal, but that I should just wait and he would come back. He did not mean it, did he Min?”

“I do not think so, from what you have told me, Cara.”

“Well, I do not care. But I would have liked to have one over that cat Vivi. You know that she had to marry? She would have been ruined if she did not, my Mama says. But now she is Baroness Norton and she takes precedence over me, and it is just not fair, Min.”

Cara helped herself to another cream cake, which seemed to console her.

“Vivi is not very popular you know, Min. I only spend time with her because she is my cousin. Most of the girls we were at school with do not like her at all.” This seemed to console Cara even more. “I know, come to my afternoon at home tomorrow. The girls would be so pleased to see you.”

Min refused, but Cara was so enthusiastic about the idea that, in the end, she went. To her surprise, she enjoyed herself, and even accepted an invitation to walk in the Sydney Gardens with a group  of the ladies later that week.

It seemed that most of them had suffered under the rule of Vivi Kitteridge’s little group. Min, sunk in her own misery, had never realised that the school was split into two groups. On the one side, the vast majority, trying hard not to be noticed. On the other, Kitty Cat and her three disciples.

But outside of the enclosed environment of the school, the small group of bullies had lost their power. Even Cara, most of the time, ignored Lady Norton’s spitefulness, though she couldn’t completely cut herself off from her cousin.

#*#

“Randall, darling, do stop pacing. You have been to the window so many times the carpet is developing a groove.” Mother was smiling. His nervousness amused her. How nice.

“I wish they had let me escort them,” Candle said. Had he met them in Bath, they would be here by now, or–at the very least–he would know the delay was because they had left Bath late, and not because of any of the disasters along the way he could picture all too clearly.

“Do you think she’ll like her room,” he asked.

“Randall, you have asked me the same question three times in the last hour. And driven Mrs Howard nearly demented in changing her room six times in as many days, moving furniture in and then out again, and I do not know what else. I know you want everything to be perfect, my love, but just relax. I’m sure your Miss Bradshaw will like her room.”

“My Lord.” It was Howard, the butler. “Young Jem has just arrived my Lord.” Jem was the youngest groom, and had been  posted on a hill overlooking the road from Bath as an early warning system.

“They’re coming?”

“Yes, my Lord. A chaise, my Lord, coming fast.”

Not too fast, he hoped. That bend at the bottom of the hill could be tricky at speed. He should have had the curve reformed in the summer.

“Whatever you are worrying about now, Randall, don’t,” Mother said.

The chaise arrived safely at the foot of the stairs, and Candle was at the door with an umbrella almost before it had come to a stop. Daniel descended first, but stepped under the umbrella a footman offered him and waved to invite Candle to hand down first Mrs Bradshaw, then her daughter, and then the maid, Polly.

He handed Mrs Bradshaw over to Daniel and escorted Miss Bradshaw inside himself, leaving the footman with a third umbrella to bring the maid in.

Daniel wouldn’t stay, saying that he needed to get back to Bath. After a cup of tea and a plate of sandwiches, he took leave of his aunt and cousin.

“I’ll be back for you in four days,” he told them, then met Candle’s eyes over their heads. “You’ll take care of my family, Candle,” he said; a statement, not a question. Candle agreed, anyway.

Mrs Bradshaw went to rest to recover from the trip. Miss Bradshaw refused the suggestion, and instead closeted herself with Mother to ask questions about the chair. At a loose end, Candle took himself off to his study, but he couldn’t settle to work. Not with her in the house at last.

He wanted to show her everything. He wanted to hold her and kiss her till she agreed to stay forever. No. That would frighten her off. But somehow he would find a way to convince her that she belonged with him. She was only here for a few days. He would have to make the most of them.

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 11

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