Pre-order links now up on most e-retailers

I woke at around 4.30 this morning and checked my buy links for Farewell to Kindness. As you do.

And all of the e-retailers who allow pre-order are now showing the book. Woohoo! So, to celebrate, here’s another excerpt.

Rede and his friend, the enquiry agent David Wakefield, are about to leave for Bristol. Alex is Rede’s cousin.

men planning

“Pack for an overnight stay, Rede,” David instructed. “You may not get to see him straight away, and I have a job this evening that Thomas was going to help me with. You’d be even better. Pack something to impress the solicitor with your consequence, and something suitable for a bit of lurking. Something inconspicuous.”

Rede raised an eyebrow, but didn’t ask questions.

The footman entered, followed by a maid, as Rede and his friends were leaving the breakfast room by the door into the Great Parlour. “Denning, would you send John to my bedchamber, please? I’ll meet him there.”

“Go on ahead,” Alex said, impatiently. “I can’t come upstairs with you anyway, Rede.”

Rede hurried his steps, leaving Alex and David to take seats in the parlour.

Up in his dressing room, he found a satchel and began packing it with the few things he needed for a night away.

“Going to Bristol with Master David, my Lord.” John made a statement of it, as he took Rede’s shaving kit from his hands and took over the packing.

“I need two changes, John. Something lordly and something that will make me invisible. But not too much to carry.”

John looked at him with a spark of interest in his eyes. “You can do much by changing your neckerchief and adding a bit o’ glimmer to distract.”

He rummaged through the shelves, adding one item and then another. Rede decided to dress up a plain brown coat and beige pantaloons with an embroidered silk waistcoat in a verdant green, intricately tied cravat, and various items of jewellery, and then dress it down again with a black linen waistcoat, a knotted kerchief, and a cap instead of a beaver-felt top hat.

Downstairs in the Great Parlour, David was chatting with Alex about the holidays they’d spent here at the Court, but he came swiftly to his feet when Rede entered.

“John is organising our horses,” Rede told him. “They’ll be ready in a few minutes. Will we take them right through, or change part way?”

“We’ll rest them at a cottage I have in Winterbourne,” David said. “I need to change my look and pick up a few things.”

Rede clapped Alex on the shoulder. “Watch out for your sisters, won’t you? Just in case we’re dealing with fools?”

Alex regarded his crutches with no little disgust. “Some help I’ll be if we’re attacked.”

“I don’t know,” Rede mused. “You don’t shoot with your legs, do you? And if they come close enough to grapple with, your crutches will make excellent clubs.”

Alex snorted a reluctant laugh. “Brimming with sympathy, that’s you.”

“And, um,” Rede’s hands twirled his hat, “present my apologies to the good Lady Redwood, would you?”

One corner of Alex’s mouth quirked. “I’ll be sure to do so. Though from what Susan tells me, Lady Redwood is merely providing the venue. So I’ll be sure to present your apologies to the engineer of these dance lessons. I’ve been wanting to meet her, anyway. I’ve heard so much about her. From Susan and Mia. Not from you, cousin, strangely enough.”

“Thank you,” Rede replied insincerely, heading off towards the door. But David had stopped. “Some new flirt of Rede’s, I take it?”

Rede tried to keep him moving. “We don’t have time for gossip.”

“The lovely Mrs Forsythe: a tenant of Rede’s in the village, and an old flame of George’s.”

David’s brows shot up in surprise. “Rede has taken up with one of George’s mistresses?”

“She is not, and never has been, one of George’s mistresses!” Rede snapped. Then added, belatedly, “And I haven’t taken up with her.”

Alex nodded to David. “He’s a bit sensitive about it.”

“I am not… Don’t be ridiculous. She’s a lady, Alex. Leave her alone.” This last in a growl that sounded out of proportion even to Rede.

David nodded, slowly. “He is sensitive, isn’t he? Better stop teasing, Alex, or he’ll wrap that crutch round your ears.”

Rede gave a reluctant chuckle. “I was thinking about it,” he admitted. “Or shoving it down your throat, Alex. Remind Susan, will you, that she promised not to gossip? Mrs Forsythe has to live in this village. Speculation about her past or my intentions could make her life impossible.”

“And do you have ‘intentions’?” Alex asked, seizing on the word Rede had regretted as soon as he said it.

“Yes. I intend to go to Bristol and set about a rumour that the Redepennings are rough, tough fighting men who would resent any actions that hurt their women.” He caught Alex’s eyes in his for a long moment. Even as he did, he knew it was a threat display, and that it was for Anne, though he hardly knew why or what he threatened.

Alex broke the stare first. “So,” he said, “Ride safely.”

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Are historical romances moral?

Today, I blog about the morality of historical romance over on Mythical Books, answering a question posed by my hosts. I suggest that the triumph of good over evil tends towards morality, and ask whether regency novels are more moral than the times they tell of.

This is a tour stop on the Enchanted Book Promotions blog tour. Thank you, CCAM.

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Farewell to Kindness is on Manic Readers today

Today, I’m featured on Manic Readers, with a post on happy endings and some information about Farewell to Kindness. Thanks, Ivy.

the kettle is on

And here’s the excerpt I promised:

What was it about this woman that made Rede want to spend time with her? She was, of course, delectable. But many women had faces and forms as lovely.

Since Marie-Josèphe died, he’d felt the stirrings of lust from time to time—and more than stirrings. Acting on those stirrings always felt like too much trouble, though.

In his private desires, as in all the rest of his life, he saw the world as if through a thick blanket that numbed feeling. He went through the motions of looking after his business interests and the Earldom, of acting appropriately in social occasions, of charming his tenants and his neighbours—but all the time, he was acting a part, as if he had been buried with his wife and children, and was reaching from the grave to operate his own body like a puppet.

Except when he woke each morning with his grief still raw. Except when he was planning how to make his enemies pay. Except when he read the reports David sent him every week.

And now, something beyond his vengeance was reaching through the blanket of unfeeling and bringing him back to life. Or, rather, someone.

He studied her for a moment, as he stood apart from the group. He couldn’t put his finger on what made her different. Perhaps it was that she talked to him, and not to his title or his wealth. He enjoyed her wit, her humour. He liked how she treated him with no more and no less deference than she did Will or the Squire or the innkeeper’s wife.

Today, she was dressed far more like a lady than a cottager, in a light-coloured dress in the modern style, modestly covering but shaping to her bosom, and dropping from there to a flounced hem. Yesterday’s apron had defined her slender waist, but the dress beneath it had hidden her shape entirely. Today’s dress left her waist a mystery, but clung to her hips and legs as she walked…

It would give the villagers confidence to see their lord working side by side with the other local leaders. Rede had run large teams of trappers, invested the money into multiple enterprises and made a not inconsiderable fortune by finding managers he could trust and inspiring them to give their all to serve him. He knew the value of showing his tenants and neighbours that he counted himself one of them.

His decision to help was for the village at large, not to impress the lovely Mrs Forsythe.

“And,” he admonished himself as he rode away, “if you believe that, I have a village built of pure gold in Upper Canada that I’d like to sell you.”

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Farewell to Kindness deleted scene – Anne’s trip to Bristol

I’m travelling today, and so I thought I’d post the deleted travelling scene from Farewell to Kindness. I enjoyed writing it, remembering all the times I’ve travelled with my own children or entertained someone else’s children on a train or a bus. But it didn’t help the pace of the story, it introduced a whole heap of characters who never appeared again, and the single plot point could be carried in the one or two paragraphs that replaced it.

The photos of luggage are from my Pinterest board Farewell to Kindness trip to Bristol.

Behind time

A few minutes later, they were away. This was the shortest part of the trip. Some of the passengers had left Gloucester at 7.00 in the morning, but now there was just 15 miles to go. They would break the trip only once more, at Winterbourne.

Anne was squeezed between a large woman who had not woken during the Chipping Niddwick stop, and a small balding man who offered her a tentative smile over the top of his glasses. On the opposite seat, a young man was trying to keep a small boy occupied with cats’ cradle patterns in wool, while his wife rocked a sleeping little girl.

18th century luggageBefore long, the boy lost interest in what his father was doing, and became restless.

“You look like a boy who enjoys stories,” Anne said to him. The boy looked to be of an age with Daisy, who had a robust taste in adventure, preferring Anne to spice her tales of fairies and princess with wicked pirates and hungry dragons. Playing down the fairies and playing up the dragons should work for a boy.

He looked at her with hope and suspicion. “He does love stories,” his father said, his own expression all hope. Then hastened to introduce himself and his family. “This here is Georgie, and that’s Millicent with my wife, Mrs Norris. George Norris, that’s me. And that there lady by thee, that be my mother.”

So Anne introduced herself before launching into a tale that she made up as she went along, in which a coach travelling through the Gloucestershire countryside was magically transformed into a ship that – beset though it was by storms, pirates, dragons, and a rather large giant who wanted to take it home for his bath – nonetheless managed to come safely to port not quite an hour and a half later as the coach pulled into Winterbourne.

By this time, young Georgie was leaning on Anne’s knee, anxious not to miss a single word of what she said, and Anne’s voice was growing hoarse. “The End,” she finished, with a sense of relief.

At the inn in Winterbourne, the older Mrs Norris woke, and levered herself out of the couch asking for the necessary. The guard poked his head around the door into the couch. “Does anyone else need to get down? We’ll be here 10 minutes. And we don’t wait for no-one.”

Georgie whispered something to his father, and they left the coach, followed by the small balding man.

“Can George get you a drink, Ma’am?” Mrs Norris said softly over the head of the sleeping girl. “Thy throat must be that sore from all that story. Why it was as good as the players that come to Christmas fair, and so it was!”

wallpaper boxAnne turned down the drink, wanting to avoid her own trip to the necessary, but thanked Mrs Norris for the thought and the compliment.

Mrs Norris senior clambered back into the coach. “Move over, Lilly, do. How’s my Milly?”

Mrs Lilly Norris, who had relaxed into the middle of the seat, shifted sideways again to accommodate her mother-in-law’s bulk, and dropped the little girl’s head so that Mrs Norris could see her.

“You should wake her, you should.” Mrs Norris turned to her son as he put his son up into the coach and followed. “I’ve been telling Lilly she should wake Milly, else she’ll not sleep tonight.”

The guard poked his head in the door again. “Are we all aboard, then?”

“There is still one gentleman to come, I think,” Anne told him.

The guard said something scathing about passengers, adding, “Not present company, ma’am. Best take your seats. We’ll be off in just a tick, whether the gent comes back or no.”

Mrs Norris was still organising her children and grandchildren, and took no notice, but it didn’t take her long to set Norris next to Anne, and settle herself beside her grandson, with her yawning granddaughter on her knee.

“There, now we shall be comfie,” she announced, with satisfaction. “Feel under the seat, young Georgie, and tha shall find summat tha’ll like, I warrant.”

Georgie obeyed, pulling out a rectangular basket just as the thin balding man attempted to climb into the coach.

“Here, be careful, fellow,” the man said.

Norris apologised, and helped Georgie hoist the basket onto the seat between his wife and his mother.

He sat back just as the coach started with a jerk, and Georgie fell backwards against the thin man, prompting more apologies.

“Tha’ll have one of my apple turnovers, and all will be well,” offered Mrs Norris, digging into the basket with one capacious hand, while steadying the child on her knee with the other. And she and her daughter-in-law proceeded to hand out food from a seemingly bottomless basket – pork pies, apple turnovers, gloucester tarts.

Anne accepted a tart, offered shyly by Lilly Norris. “Tha should have a pork pie, ma’am,” Mrs Norris told her, frankly. “Tha has no meat on thee.”

The thin man shared his name after the first apple turnover, and the reason for his journey after the second. He was Frank Durney, and he was on his way to Bristol to take up a job as a clerk in a counting house. This coach, which he had joined at Chipping Niddwick, was his second of the day.

After his third tart, Durney complimented Anne on her story, and after the basked had been packed away, he launched into a song that, he said, had always amused his own little one.

It involved dancing for all kinds of rewards, and the others knew it. Norris and his wife joined in the singing, and Mrs Norris danced little Milly on her knee to the music, until both children were weak with giggling.

painted basketNorris produced another basket from under the seat, and pulled out a jug of cider and some wooden beakers, which he passed out to everyone in the coach, even the two children.

“And what about yourselves?” Durney asked. “It’s a long trip for the children. Cheltenham, was it, you came from?”

“Gloucester,” Norris told him, leaning out to see Durney around Anne. “But Mother has always had a yen to see Bristol, and Mrs Norris here,” he raised his cup in a salute to his wife, “she wants to stay at the seaside. So we’re off on holiday, we are, just like the nobs.” He said the last with great satisfaction, then looked at Anne with alarm. “Saving your presence, Ma’am.”

“All that way for a holiday!” Durney sounded shocked.

“What I say,” said Mrs Norris cheerfully, “is you’re a long time dead. That’s what I say. Let’s go and have a good time, I said to George here.

“But such a long way. And so much money!” Durney was clearly having trouble grasping the concept.

“Business is doing well, lad, and George deserves the time off, I told him. You’re a long time dead, I said.”

Durney looked inclined to continue arguing, so Anne hastily changed the subject. “The ride seems much smoother.”

This worked, as Durney had information he wanted to share. “We’re on the Bath road, Ma’am,” he told her. “Up till now we’ve been on lesser roads, but the Bath to Bristol road is a major post road. The toll charges are higher, but they put the money into keeping the road up.”

The following dissertation on road maintenance soon lost Anne, but clearly fascinated Norris and his son, and Anne ended up crossing the coach to sit between Lilly Norris and Mrs Norris, so that the two men could talk about various methods of road surfacing and maintenance while the boy listened.

“We will be in Bristol soon, I think,” Anne told Milly, who was shifting restlessly on her grandmother’s knee.

“I going to the sea,” Milly told her, before putting her thumb firmly back in her mouth.

“How exciting. Have you seen the sea before?”

Milly had never been to the sea, it appeared, and neither had any of her family. Anne talked to them for a little while about walking on the sand and wading in the surf, and about the shells, and strangely shaped wood, and other things that washed up on the beach.

She was surprised when she realised they were coming into Bristol. This last part of the trip had gone very quickly. Both children abandoned the adult conversations to press their noses up against the coach windows.

Before long, they turned into the yard of the coaching inn.

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Lydia is bored – an excerpt from Farewell to Kindness

regency-fashion-plateOn this visit to Swinbeck Castle, Lydia was finding the country less boring than usual. Quite apart from the young and lusty lover who kept her amused and the servants scandalised, she was gaining unexpected entertainment from joining the committee that was organising an assembly in the nearby town.

She sniggered inwardly. The most recent committee meeting had been particularly funny. The other ranking lady was a nobody from a trade family who had married into a title. Lydia made a point of opposing her at every turn, just for the pleasure of seeing how the other three women, toadies all, coped with trying to please both her and the upstart. The upstart had a higher title, but Lydia had the higher pedigree.

She didn’t attend every meeting, of course. She was on the committee to lend it her name and influence, but the commoners could do the actual work, and she included Lady Upstart Avery, who was as common as muck.

This afternoon, though, there was no meeting and Chirbury’s nephew was asleep in her bed. The game they’d played until dawn had involved a number of challenges for young Nat, sending him running and climbing all over the castle, with the challenges becoming more demanding and the rewards more intimate as the night wore on.

Lydia’s exertions had been confined to the interludes between challenges, and she’d drunk water while he tossed down brandy. She was wide awake and looking for something to do.

After a long soothing bath, she submitted herself to her maid’s hands. This girl was one of Carrington’s cast-offs, and credited Lydia with her change in status. No need to tell the girl that she’d developed too many curves to retain Lord Carrington’s interest. Gratitude made her loyal. And she’d become quite skilled at dressing hair, mending dresses, and creating lotions that softened her mistress’s skin.

Dressed at last, she checked Nat, but he was still asleep. She toyed with the idea of waking him. Still, he’d be of more use well rested.

She frittered away half an hour trying on jewellery. Most of these were family pieces. Her stepson, Tony, had asked for some when he married his little mouse. She told him he could pry them out of her dead, cold hands.

Still, she’d sent him a few pieces when she sent him her daughters. Not the best pieces, of course. But she was grateful that he’d taken his four half-sisters: Carrington’s daughter by his second wife, and her own three girls.

Carrington had not been amused at her decision to send them away five years ago. “Do you think I am a danger to my own daughters?” he challenged her, impaling her with his pale blue eyes. She denied it, of course, but still she knew, deep in her mind, that her intervention had been too late for the step-daughter.

She didn’t dwell on such thoughts. She’d learned as a trembling teenager, offered to Carrington by a debt-ridden brother, not to think about past or future, but to enjoy the moment as well as she could, and to please her husband.

Sending her daughters away was the one time she defied him, and even then, she did it without his knowledge and faced him only when—weeks later—he noticed his daughters were gone.

Though he punished her for her presumption, Carrington didn’t confine her as he promised, or send to bring his daughters back, which was confirmation of a sort, if Lydia cared to think about it.

She did not.

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Meeting the neighbours – a Farewell to Kindness excerpt

Miss Pinkertons AcademyAnother Farewell to Kindness excerpt. Rede sees Anne for the first time:

The service wound to its final blessing, and the congregation followed the Rector from the church as the bells pealed.

He moved towards the door, through a rippling sea of bows, curtseys, touched foreheads, murmured ‘My Lord’s’. Out in the churchyard, the villagers and gentry stood in groups, exchanging greetings and enjoying the warm spring sunshine. Children ran in and out of the shrubbery in the adjacent Rectory garden, in a game of chase. Some had the look of the Rector, who introduced Rede to his wife. Mrs Ashbrook had a no-nonsense manner, direct light-blue eyes, and the well-padded shape of a matron with a growing family and a healthy appetite.

A trio of prettily dressed young ladies—the dark-haired girl from the Ashbrook pew, the Saxon-blonde Redwood and a remarkably attractive girl whose face was framed in brown curls—strolled arm and arm up and down the path to the church gate, as bright as butterflies in their light dresses and their charming bonnets, chattering away like starlings.

Rede stayed for a while, shaking hands with those who came for an introduction, catching up with those he’d met during the week, and generally making himself pleasant.

Several times, he met eyes as blue as his own, fringed like his with dark lashes. His predecessors had certainly left a mark on the population. Many of the poorer members of the community bore the certain sign that a female ancestor had caught a Redepenning’s fickle attention.

Mrs Forsythe, the tenant who lived unaccountably rent free, wasn’t introduced. He had been hearing her name all week. His tenants spoke of her warmly, and with respect, listing her good deeds, and praising her kindness. From what they said, she was a lynch pin of village life. Listening to their stories, he’d formed a picture of a mature widow; a gentlewoman of private—if straightened—means; a bustling matron with a finger in all the charitable activity of the parish.

The trio of young ladies on the path broke up, two coming over to be introduced as the daughters of the Rector and the Squire. The third young lady collected a child and another young woman from the Rectory garden.

The child was a little older than his Rita would have been; perhaps the age Joseph would have been, had he lived. She studied him curiously as she passed; meeting his blue gaze with her own. Indeed, he could have been looking at one of his own childhood portraits, cast in a more feminine mould.

She didn’t take her colouring from the two young ladies with her. And a quick glance after her showed that bonnets masked the faces of the two ladies they joined.

“Once my cousins arrive, we’ll invite the local gentry to dinner,” he told Mrs Ashbrook. “I’ve met some of them. Could you perhaps introduce me to others?”

As he’d hoped, she launched into a list of all the gentlemen and ladies in the neighbourhood, starting with those present. He listened impatiently as the objects of his interest moved further and further towards the gate.

At last, just as they passed under the arch, Mrs Ashbrook said, “and Mrs Forsythe and her sisters, the Miss Haverstocks. They were standing right there by the church… oh dear, you’ve missed them. They’ve just left.”

The slender figure hurrying away down the road with her sisters and daughter did not fit the picture he’d formed of the busy Mrs Forsythe. Not at all.

He continued listening to Mrs Ashbrook, commenting when appropriate, murmuring pleasantries to the people she took him to around the churchyard. And with another part of his mind he planned a change in the order of his tenant visits.

Meeting Mrs Forsythe, owner of the trimmest pair of ankles he had ever noticed and mother of a Redepenning by-blow, was suddenly a priority.

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Farewell to Kindness releases in 78 days

fredericksoulacroix_the_tea_party_thumbI’ve promised to send Farewell to Kindness to the proofreader by the end of next weekend. Still lots to do. Pressure. Pressure. Here’s another snippet to be going on with. My heroine has just talked my hero into donating prizes for the children’s races at the village fête.

He would have liked to continue their private conversation a while longer, a realisation that startled him. What was it about this woman that made him want to spend time with her? She was, of course, delectable. But many women had faces and forms as lovely.

Since Marie-Josèphe died, he’d felt the stirrings of lust from time to time—and more than stirrings. Acting on those stirrings always felt like too much trouble, though.

In his private desires, as in all the rest of his life, he saw the world as if through a thick blanket that numbed feeling. He went through the motions of looking after his business interests and the Earldom, of acting appropriately in social occasions, of charming his tenants and his neighbours—but all the time, he was acting a part, as if he had been buried with his wife and children, and was reaching from the grave to operate his own body like a puppet.

Except when he woke each morning with his grief still raw. Except when he was planning how to make his enemies pay. Except when he read the reports David sent him every week.

And now, something beyond his vengeance was reaching through the blanket of unfeeling and bringing him back to life. Or, rather, someone.

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First meeting

LosHombresdJaneAusten_Bingley_Darcy rumbo a LongbournAn excerpt from the draft of Farewell to Kindness:

The Earl hadn’t yet proved the danger she feared, though the longer he stayed the harder it would be to avoid him. Yesterday in the churchyard, she had peeked at him from under her bonnet. She didn’t dare go close, but from a distance he was far better looking than his cousin.

She’d had a nasty moment when Daisy walked right past him, but they didn’t speak and he didn’t seem to pay them any attention after that.

Perhaps he would not be a danger. The villagers were still reserving judgement, but he was earning their cautious approval. The people who had met him spoke well of him. They were thrilled that he visited them, listened to him. After decades of neglect by one Earl after another, they’d have liked him for that alone. His willingness to spend money on long-overdue maintenance won him more points. They were not yet convinced, of course. But the general opinion was that he was more like his Uncle Henry, whom they’d respected, than the previous three Earls.

Her reverie was broken by the clopping of hooves in the lane beyond the wall. Daisy called out, “Good day, Mr Baxter!”

Meg rolled off the wall, her eyes wide in fear, and huddled down into the shadow at its base whimpering a little.

“Miss Daisy,” the rider beyond the wall replied, cheerfully. Young Will, from the sound of it. The land steward’s son, who’d come six weeks ago to take care of the estate when Matthew the elder was injured. Meg was always nervous around men she didn’t know, but young Will had visited before, and had spoken to them several times during this visit. Anne had just concluded that he must have company when another voice spoke.

“Please, Baxter, will you not present me to this beautiful young lady?” The voice was deep and compelling, with a slight rasp that somehow added to its appeal.

“My Lord,” Will began.

“No, no,” the Earl—it must be he—insisted. “Fairy queens take precedence, and surely she must be one?”

Daisy giggled, but straightened her back proudly. So much for keeping her daughter from his sight.

“Miss Daisy, may I present Lord Chirbury? My Lord, Miss Daisy Forsythe, queen of Lilac Cottage.”

“An honour, your Highness,” the Earl said.

Anne snorted at the easy charm. She stopped on the path to pat Meg soothingly, before straightening so she could see over the wall.

The ground dropped on the other side; putting the heads of the two horsemen on a level with Daisy’s. Anne met eyes the image of her daughter’s. His hair was like hers, too—a golden blonde. It was trimmed tightly to his nape, but she knew from seeing him outside the inn and in church that the elegant hat disguised curls.

It was the eyes and general colouring that gave the impression he looked like his cousin. The shape of his face, his generous mouth, his broad shoulders—in all these ways he was somehow more than the former Earl. He had, in some ways, a hard face—even grim. But it didn’t look unkind. If he was not such a threat to her family, she would find him attractive, which had certainly not been the case with George.

“My Lord, Mrs Anne Forsythe. Mrs Forsythe, Stephen Redepenning, Earl of Chirbury.” Will did the honours, adding unnecessarily, “Mrs Forsythe is young Daisy’s Mama.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Mrs Forsythe.”

She bobbed a curtsey. “Lord Chirbury.”

“I hope the other charming young lady I saw is not hurt, Mrs Forsythe?”

“Aunt Meg does not like strange men,” Daisy volunteered.

Meg was still crouched at the foot of the wall, hugging herself. At least she’d stopped whimpering. A pleasant conversation between Anne and the gentlemen might be the best way to calm her down.

“She is very shy,” Anne added. Which was not exactly true, but worked well enough as an explanation. “I apologise, my Lord.”

He smiled, drawing her attention back to that generous mouth. “Not at all. I apologise for startling her. Have your dolls been enjoying their picnic, Queen Daisy?”

Daisy lifted her little chin imperiously. “They are at an assembly, sir. Not at a picnic.”

“You say ‘my Lord’; not sir,” Anne whispered.

“Of course they are,” Lord Chirbury agreed, amusement warming that deep voice. “And a fine assembly it is, I’m sure.”

“It would be better if the kittens had not run off,” Daisy confided. “They was going to be the gentlemen, and now the dolls have to dance with each other, and they are both ladies. Aunt Kitty and Miss Ashbrook dance with each other, but only to practice. When they go to an assembly, they will dance with gentlemen.”

Lord Chirbury’s eyes danced, but his voice remained grave as he agreed with the little girl that ladies preferred to dance with gentlemen when they were at an assembly.

As they continued to talk, Meg slowly uncurled, stretching up till she could peep over the wall. She dropped down again, tugging on Anne’s skirt.

“It is the bad Earl,” she whispered, when Anne bent down to her.

“No darling. It is a different Earl. The bad Earl is dead; remember?”

Meg rose again, burrowing into her sister’s side as she did so. This time, she took a long look. Anne could tell the Earl was aware of her sister’s examination, but—apart from a single flick of his eyes—he kept his attention on Daisy and continued talking to her.

After several long moments, Meg nodded, and relaxed a little, though she didn’t let go of Anne.

“It is a diff’ent Earl,” she agreed.

Now Lord Chirbury looked at Meg, then at Anne, with a question in his eyes.

“Lord Chirbury, may I present my sister Meg, Margaret Haverstock?”

“How do you do, Miss Haverstock? I am sorry I startled you.” How had she thought him grim? He smiled at Meg with the same kindness he’d shown to Daisy.

Meg, however, was anxious again. “Chirbee?” She clutched harder to Anne. “A different Chirbury,” Anne reassured her.

The Earl excused himself graciously, claiming that he and Will were expected elsewhere. Did he leave so that Meg would be comfortable? Surely not. An Earl couldn’t be expected to show such sensitivity. Though the Earl wasn’t at all what Anne expected. She’d never imagined that a ton gentlemen would talk about dolls with a little girl.

Charm and kindness did not make him trustworty, of course, but it certainly made him very appealing.

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First kiss scene from Farewell to Kindness

The heroine is staying at the hero’s house. When she cannot sleep, she goes to check on the rest of her family, and meets him in the darkened hall. He invites her to sit with him in the old Minstrel’s Gallery.

bluedrink setRede set the tray down, and took the candleholder from her to light candles in a candelabra that sat with others on a shelf just inside the door.

The room was not more than eight feet from where they had entered to the opposite wall, but stretched out to her left for an indeterminable distance. The near corner of the room was lit by the candelabra Rede set on the small table where he’d set the tray. Within the circle of light was the opposite wall, only a few feet high, letting out onto a dark void.

“It looks out over the Great Hall,” Rede told her, motioning to a chair.

Anne sat. She really should not be alone with him. She was sure Ruth and Hannah would advise her to beg a candle and take herself to bed. Alone. Of course, alone.

candelabraRede broke into her thoughts. “Your sister seems very excited about the Assembly.” He passed her the drink he had poured.

She smiled, fondly. “It is a great opportunity for her.” She took a sip, and blinked rapidly.

“What is this? It is very…” She paused, trying to find words to describe how it tasted.

“Your first brandy? Don’t drink it yet. Cup the glass with your hands so that the drink warms.”

He followed his own advice, bending his head to inhale the smell from the glass as he held it in both hands.

Anne, with most of her attention on copying him, said, “It has been hard for her when the other girls are talking about coming out; knowing that she must wait.”

He tipped his head to the side and raised his brow. “You plan a come out for her, then?”

“Just in Bath. Or perhaps Cheltenham? Not this year, though. We hope for next year, but the year after is more likely.”

“She is young yet. You have time enough, surely.”

Anne shook her head. “She is already 18. But she is very lovely. I am certain that she will ‘take’.”

“Ah. You are seeking a husband for her, then.” Rede sounded as if he disapproved.

“Should I not? Someone to love her; someone she can love. And children. She would make a wonderful mother, I think.”

“Wealth and title, I suppose.” He kept his voice neutral, but she could sense the sneer. What right had he to make assumptions and then sneer?

She refused to rise to his baiting.

“A competence is a useful thing for a couple starting life together. I would not like her to be poor. Wealth, however, is not necessary to happiness, in my view.” No need to tell Rede that Kitty would bring wealth enough to any marriage. Indeed, if she could, Anne would like to keep that information from Kitty’s putative suitors.

Rede inclined his head, making no comment.

“I do not hope for a title. Quite the contrary. Those peers I have met are, on the whole, arrogant and self-centred.” She swirled her brandy, absently. The amber liquid glowed where it caught the light. “I dare say it is not their fault. They are raised to think the world owes them respect, and make no effort to be worthy of it. I cannot think such a man would make my Kitty happy.”

“Ouch,” Rede murmured.

She raised her eyes to his, suddenly realising how her diatribe sounded. “Oh, Rede. I did not mean you. You have been everything kind.” Flustered, she sought to change the subject.

“That is an unusual shawl.” In the better light, she could see it was striped, with the occasional broad red stripe and the other stripes woven blue and white, red and white, and yellow and white. The long knotted fringe swung as he moved his legs, twisting slightly as he looked down.

leg-sash“My ceinture flechée? Yes, there can’t be many of them in England. My wife’s people make them.” He ran his hand over it where it fell from the knot around his waist. “Marie Joséphe made this one for me. These are her family’s colours.”

“Marie Joséphe was your wife.”

“Hmm, yes.” He was focused on the shawl.

“What did you call it? Ceinture flechée? Arrow sash?”

“For the pattern. 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 leant 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.”

Anne 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.

Almost_Kiss__in_Black___White_by_AshsAshsAlFalDwnThe 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?

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