Tea with Sophia

monday-for-tea

On this fine afternoon in September, the duchess had ordered tea served on the terrace overlooking the rose garden. “We should enjoy the sunshine while we can,” she told her goddaughter, Lady Sophia Belvoir.

Sophia had been surprised—and somewhat disconcerted—to find she was the only guest. What was Aunt Eleanor up to?

But Her Grace discussed only the weather and the roses as she poured the tea and passed the cucumber sandwiches; tiny triangles of finely sliced bread with the cool crisp vegetable melting on the tongue.

Sophia took a sip of her tea. Ah. The finest oolong with just a touch of lemon. Aunt Eleanor never forgot.

At that moment, the duchess pounced. “Tell me about Lord Elfingham, my dear.”

Sophia’s hand jerked as she returned her cup to its saucer, and it clicked loudly. She blushed. At her clumsiness, of course, not at the mention of the young viscount who had been everywhere she went for months

“You met him even before most of London, his aunt tells me,” the duchess prompted.

“Not met, exactly,” she demurred. “We were not introduced.”

Aunt Eleanor said nothing; just raised her brows in question, and after a moment Sophia added, “I was visiting the orphanage at Bentwick. A child ran out of the gate into the road, and was almost run down by racing curricles. Lord Elfingham rescued the child and returned him to the- the orphanage servants.”

Appearing from nowhere just as she emerged from the gate and saw disaster unfolding before her. Riding down on the cowering boy right under the noses of the teams that threatened to trample the child underfoot. Scooping up the runaway and leaping to safety on his magnificent stallion. Fixing her in place with a fervent gaze from his dark eyes. Haunting her in dreams ever since.

“He has been pursuing Felicity,” she told Her Grace. “Hythe will not consider it.”

The duchess’s brows rose again. “Your sister Felicity? Are you certain? It is you his eyes follow when you are at the same entertainments, Sophia.”

For a moment, Sophia’s heart leapt, but Aunt Eleanor was wrong. She was too old for the marriage mart, and had not been as beautiful as Felicity even when she was a fresh young debutante. Besides, her brother the Earl of Hythe would not countenance the connection, whichever sister was being courted.

She shook her head, not trusting her voice. “May we speak of something else?” Which was rude, but Aunt Eleanor graciously allowed it.

“Very well. Let us discuss next week’s meeting to set up the fund for the education of girls. You will take the chair, my dear?”

******

Sophia is the heroine of The Bluestocking and the Barbarian in the Belle’s box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts, now on sale.

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Unequally yoked? Love across the boundaries on WIP Wednesday

brakespearew-youngloversDo you have a pair of star-crossed lovers? If so, what makes their union impossible? Different classes? Different races? Different faiths? Feuding families? Warring countries?

Today on Work-in-progress Wednesday, I’m looking for excerpts in which characters show the chasm they must bridge before they can be with their loved one. My piece is from my story in the Belles 2016 holiday box set.

Ah. Here was his goddess, approaching across a generous entrance hall that appeared at first glance to be full of people, though in truth he counted eight, not including the pair blocking his way inside.

“Felicity, you put me to the blush.” She turned from her sister to address the girl in spectacles. “Allow me to present Lord Elfingham, Miss Ellison.” Then she regarded him with wary eyes. “Have you come for the house party, Lord Elfingham?”

James gathered the wits that had scattered at Lady Sophia’s approach and told his tale of a lame horse and the need for shelter until he could diagnose and fix the problem. The other ladies and gentlemen stopped their work of hanging ribbons, garlands, and wreaths from every available vantage point, and gathered around to be introduced to the scandalous barbarian suddenly in their midst.

James smiled, nodded, and exchanged pleasantries, moving farther into the hall, his back prickling as he found himself surrounded by these polite strangers.

“There is a horse in the forecourt, and it will not move. Odd looking beast. Small head and too long in the back. And one blue eye! Whoever heard of a horse with blue eyes?”

James turned toward the voice at the door, and met the eyes of Nathan Belvoir, Earl of Hythe.

For all his youth—Hythe was three years Sophia’s junior and seven years younger than James—he was head of the Belvoir family, and James would prefer to have his blessing to court the man’s sister. From the hostility in young earl’s blue eyes, it would not be forthcoming.

“My horse,” James explained mildly. “Seistan.”

“The horse is lame, Hythe,” Lady Felicity told her brother, “so Lord Elfingham cannot travel on tonight.” She turned to the young woman in spectacles who had entered behind Hythe. “Will you inform the duchess, Cedrica?” The girl nodded and went back outside.

“He cannot stay here, either,” Hythe declared, his brows almost meeting as he frowned. “You should have stopped in the village, Winderfield, or whatever your name should be. The duchess will not want your sort mixing with her guests.”

James schooled his face to show no reaction. At least two insults in as many sentences: the denial of his title and his legitimacy, and the “your sort” comment. Sophia would doubtless be displeased if he challenged Hythe, or simply punched him.

Or punched Wesley Winderfield, who was grinning like a loon at Hythe’s elbow. Weasel Winderfield was some sort of a distant cousin and had been heir presumptive to the Duke of Winshire after the untimely deaths of the duke’s three sons one after the other, and then of his eldest son’s heir, his only known grandson. Weasel was most disappointed when Winshire’s third son proved to be not nearly as dead as reported, the inconvenience of his return compounded by the tribe of offspring he presented to his father when he arrived in England.

Weasel’s presence here was unfortunate but not unexpected. He was an acolyte of the man most determined to prove James a bastard: the man who owned this house, the Duke of Haverford.

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