Tea with a gossip columnist

Note from J. Swann, newspaper reporter, to H. Markham, editor: Eleanor Grenford, Duchess of Haverford, seldom consents to an interview. Though she lives, perforce, in the public eye—as wife to one of the most powerful men in England and mother to two of England’s most notable rakes—she carefully guards her private life.

She agreed to invite this columnist to tea and answer my questions only after being assured that I am from the future, not the fictional Georgian (later Victorian) world she inhabits.

Born Eleanor Creydon, eldest daughter of the Earl of Farnmouth, she is related by birth or marriage to most of the noble houses of England and many in the wider United Kingdom and Europe. She married the Duke of Haverford before she attained the 18th anniversary of her nativity, and has since become one of the ton’s leading hostesses.

  1. What are you most proud of about your life?

Aldridge

“My two sons,” says the duchess, without hesitation. “Aldridge—the Marquis of Aldridge, my elder son and Haverford’s heir—is responsible and caring. And Jonathan, too. They are, I cannot deny, a little careless. But they are not heartless, dear. I’ve always thought that being heartless is the defining feature of a true rake.

“They take responsibility for their by-blows, which is so important in a gentleman, do you not agree? And neither of them has ever turned a mistress off without providing for her, or at least not since they were very young.

Jonathan

“Sadly, the example set by His Grace their father was not positive in this respect. I flatter myself that I have been of some influence in helping them to understand that they have a duty to be kind to those less fortunate and less powerful than themselves.”

  1. What are you most ashamed of in your life?

The duchess does not answer immediately. She seems to be turning over several possibilities. “I neglected him, you know. I neglected Aldridge. When he was born, I left him to his servants. I thought that was normal, and Haverford… he was very angry when I suggested I should stay at the castle instead of going to London for the season.

“Why; even his name… Haverford insisted everyone call him by his title. But I could have called him ‘Anthony’ in private, could I not?

“Dear Aldridge had no-one but his staff. I was seldom at Margate, and when I was… His Grace thought it my duty to spend my time with him. I saw Aldridge once a day, brought to me clean and quiet of an evening before his bedtime.

“I had no idea what I had done until Jonathan was born. He timed his birth for the end of the season, and His Grace left for his usual round of house parties, so I could do as I wished. I wished to be in the nursery with my sons.

“After that, I found ways to bring them to London with me, and to spend time with them at play as often as several times a week! Even so, I did not dare go against the duke’s orders, and I call my son by his title to this day. Everyone does. Poor dear boy.”

  1. What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

“People don’t see me, my dear. They see the Duchess of Haverford. I cannot blame them, of course. I am at pains to project the image of ‘duchess’. I have cultivated it my entire adult life. Why! If people truly saw me, they would be very surprised, I think.”

  1. Do you think you have turned out the way your parents expected?

“My parents expected me to marry well and to present my husband with heirs. Had I married beneath their expectations, I daresay I would never have seen them again. I cannot say, dear, that such an outcome would have been entirely a bad thing.”

  1. What is the worst thing that has happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

James, Duke of Winshire, once Kagan of a mountain kingdom north of Persia, and before that a suitor beloved by Eleanor and rejected by her father.

“I could say losing James, or I could say marrying Haverford, but it is all of a piece. I cannot tell you where the one ends and the other starts. I gave my heart to James, but he was a second son. My father gave my hand to Haverford.

“And by ‘hand’ I mean the rest of me, dear. Imagine a sheltered seventeen-year-old, innocent but for a stolen kiss with the man she hoped to wed. And instead of that man, I spent my wedding night in the hands of a hardened roué with no patience… He is two decades my senior, dear. Thirteen years older than James.

“I believe my sons are known for their skills. (I speak of bed sports, dear, and do not blush for it, for at our age we should scorn to be coy, and this article will be published, you have assured me, some two hundred years in my future.) If Haverford has such skills, and the rumour is not just flattery aimed at money to be made from his patronage, he did not feel inclined to waste it on a mere wife.”

  1. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

“I am fortunate. I live in luxury. I have my sons (or, at least, I have Aldridge close by and regular letters from Jonathan, who is on the Tour, dear). I have the little girls, too—Haverford’s by-blows, but I love them dearly. I can give them an education, respectability, a little dowry… I do these things, too, for my poorer godchildren, and I love nothing better than to present one of my goddaughters for her Season.

“I enjoy entertaining—balls, musical evenings, garden parties and picnics in London, and house parties at our other estates. My entertainments are famous. I have promised to be honest with you, so I will say ‘not without reason’.” The duchess laughs, her eyes for a moment showing glints of the self-deprecating humour that is part of her elder son’s attraction.

“And, dear, I have come to an accommodation with Haverford. He leaves me to live my own life, while he carries on with his. Between you and me, my dear, my life is pleasanter without him in it.”

  1. What have you always wanted to do but have not done? Why?

“I have always wondered what my life might have been like had I defied my father and eloped with James. He came to me, you know, after the duel; after his own father exiled him. I turned him away. And then, six months later we heard he was dead. I didn’t care what happened to me after that, so I gave in to my father’s demands and married Haverford.

“It wasn’t true, as it turned out. He arrived back in London not long ago, with a great band of wild children. I could have been their mother, had I been brave enough to go with him.

“But there. Had I married James, I would not have Aldridge and Jonathan. Perhaps all is as it should be.

“You asked what I have always wanted to do? I want to see James again; to talk to him, just the two of us. Haverford… he and James do not speak. We Grenfords do not acknowledge the Winderfields and they do not acknowledge us. If people are inviting James or his offspring to their social gathering, they do not invite us. If us, then not him. We do not meet.

“But Society is surprisingly small. One day… one day…”

Note from Jude

Her Grace appears in all my novels and many of my novellas and short stories, often smoothing the path of a romance. She is also the hostess of the house party that is at the centre of the 2016 Belle’s box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.

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Tea with Aldridge

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

“Mama?”

At the sound of Aldridge’s voice, Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford composed her face, smoothing the slight frown that creased her forehead and forcing a smile as she greeted this beloved guest.

“My love,” she said, as he crossed to press a kiss on the hand she raised for him, and then on one cheek. The boy looked well. He had a spring to his step that had long been missing, his eyes were clear and bright, and his cheerful grin had lost the cynical twist so pronounced a bare few months ago—to her eye, at least.

Eleanor hoped what she had to say would not cast him back into melancholy.

Aldridge had been raised with the finest manners money could buy. He took the seat he was offered, complimented her on the success of her most recent entertainment, asked about the book her companion was reading, discussed the likelihood of rain on Tuesday next, and generally kept up his end of the conversation without once showing impatience or asking why she had sent for him.

He must be wondering, though. “Cousin Judith,” Eleanor said to her companion, “I would like a few minutes of private conversation with my son. Would you leave us, please? I will send when I want you.”

“What do you plan for that one, Mama?” Aldridge asked. Haverford had an army of indigent relatives, with nothing to do but hang on the ducal coat tails. Eleanor had long since formed the habit of taking the women one by one as companions, finding their talents and interests, and helping them into positions that suited their skills.

“Not, I think, a marriage, my dear. A library perhaps. She is happiest with her head in a book. Or, I begin to think, perhaps she might be persuaded to try her hand at a memoir or a Gothick. She writes the most delightful letters. I can see her living with Cousin Harriet in a comfortable little house, writing spine-chilling stories and having a most wonderful time.”

Aldridge chuckled. “Cousin Harriet, is it? The one that breeds dogs and hates men? Mama, you are a complete hand.”

“I collect that is a cant expression, Aldridge darling,” she said attempting to be disapproving, but twinkling back at him. He really was a sweet boy.

“You must be wondering why I sent for you,” she began.

He leaned over to kiss her cheek again. “Because you missed me?” he suggested. “I have neglected you shamefully, Mama, these past weeks.”

An opening. Eleanor took it. “These past six months, Aldridge. Since you took Mrs Winstanley into your keeping. You have been much engrossed, I take it.”

Aldridge sat back, his eyes suddenly wary. “I am sure discussing one’s mistress with one’s mother is not de rigueur,” he complained.

“Introducing one’s mistress to one’s Mama opens one to such comments, dear,” Eleanor teased, ignoring the subtle withdrawal evidenced in the suddenly bland voice, the stiffness of his posture.

As she’d hoped, Aldridge relaxed, a fleeting grin lifting one corner of his mouth.

But the matter was serious enough. “One hears remarks, my dear. Hostesses who lack the Merry Marquis at their affairs; gentlemen who must play their cheerful japes without their boon companion; even His Grace your father has commented you have abandoned your usual pursuits.”

“His Grace has no reason to complain. I do my work.”

“Yes, my love. You are an excellent manager. But, Aldridge, I am concerned.”

“You have nothing to be concerned about, Mama.” It would be an exaggeration to say her tall elegant son flung himself to his feet, but he certainly rose more quickly and less smoothly than usual, and then stalked with controlled deliberation to the brandy decanter she kept for him on the sideboard. “May I…?”

She nodded her permission, and he poured a drink while she decided how to approach her topic. It was harder than she expected. She yearned to tell him to do what pleased him, to stay in the fools’ paradise he was building with the lovely Becky.

But she could not ignore the duty owed to the young woman. Eleanor, who seldom allowed herself to feel such a plebeian and useless emotion as guilt, was aware she should have given Becky the means to escape when they met six months earlier. She had quite deliberately put Aldridge’s need for Becky’s brand of comfort ahead of Becky’s evident desire to abandon the life of a courtesan. She did not feel guilty. But she did acknowledge a debt.

“You are not the one for whom I am concerned, Aldridge,” she said.

He had been studying his brandy, but glanced up at that, a quick look from beneath level brows before he drew them into something of a frown.

“Who, then?”

“Mrs Winstanley, dear. I am concerned for Mrs Winstanley.”

Another quick movement, this one sending the brandy sloshing in the tumbler, but he steadied his hand before it spilled. “No need, Mama. Becky and I are very happy.”

“You spend all your time with her, Aldridge. If you are not at her townhouse, she is in the heir’s wing. If you travel, she travels with you. Last time you went to Margate, you stayed with her in the town rather than at Haverford Castle.”

“You are very well informed, my dear.” Eleanor knew that cold ducal tone, but from her husband’s lips, not her son’s. Almost, she stopped. But no; she would do her duty; she had always done her duty.

She matched his tone with her own. “You employ Haverford servants, Aldridge. They answer my questions, as they should.” But this was not to the point. Better to just spit it out.

“If you continue as you are, you will break Rebecca Winstanley’s heart, Aldridge. She deserves better from you.”

Whatever he expected, that wasn’t it. He was too controlled to openly gape, but the muscles of his jaw relaxed. He recovered himself and took a sip of his brandy, gaining time while he thought. It was a trick she used herself.

“What can you offer her, Aldridge? A year? Two? And then what? You cannot marry her, of course…” Was that a flare of longing she saw, quickly suppressed? Merciful heavens, had it gone so far, then?

“You cannot, Aldridge. Even if we could find a way to conceal her past—and with the interest your marriage will attract, every tiny detail of your wife’s history will be uncovered and inspected—she is lower gentry, if gentry at all.”

“Lower gentry,” he conceded, reluctantly. “But what does that matter, Mama? Peers have married beneath them before. What of Chandos? Or, if you want a more recent example, Marquis Wellesley? ”

Eleanor struggled to show no hint of her alarm, keeping her voice level as she said, “And their wives have suffered for it, Aldridge. Their estates, too. You would be doing Mrs Winstanley no favour, Aldridge, even if her past did not come to light. And it would.

“Besides, your duty to your name precludes such an action. You will be Haverford. Your wife will be mother of the next Haverford.

“And consider your little half-sisters, who will only be able to overcome the circumstances of their birth if Society continues to pretend they are my protégées and not your father’s base-born daughters.

“You cannot marry your mistress.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly the fight drained out of him, taking, it seemed, his ability to stay upright. He sank into a chair, all the joy gone from his face leaving it bleak and lonely.

“I know, Mama. Truly.”

He fell silent again, cradling his brandy in front of his chin and staring into nothing.

She had to ask. “Does she seek marriage, my son?”

Aldridge’s short laugh was unamused. “Becky? Of course not. She has no expectations at all. Not even of common courtesy or kindness, let alone of being treated like the lady she is. And I am a scoundrel for taking advantage of that. Were I the gentleman I pretend to be, I’d set her up as a widow somewhere and leave her alone. After the life she has had… I doubt she would marry me even if I asked. She is grateful to me, but gratitude only goes so far.”

He glared at his mother. “But I will not give her up, Mama. We have the rest of this contract term, and another after that if I can persuade her to a second term.”

“I am not asking you to surrender your domestic happiness, my dear. Just to reduce it a little for Mrs Winstanley’s sake.”

Aldridge cocked one eyebrow in question, but said nothing.

Should she tell Aldridge his mistress was in love with him? She had seen them in the park:  Becky, her little daughter, and Aldridge—by chance as she returned from an unusually early errand and then deliberately several more times. Her son was so absorbed in the woman and the little girl he never noticed the stopped carriage where she sat observing the three of them together.

No. She would say nothing. If he had already considered the logistics of marrying the woman… “You will have to let her go, Aldridge—at the end of the contract, or in any case when you find a suitable bride. The parting will be much harder, for both of you, if she fancies herself in love with you.”

“Spend a few nights a week away from her, my dear. Let her know you are seeing other women. Help her to armour her heart against you, if you love her.”

“Love, Mama? Can Grenfords love? I like her. I respect her. I enjoy being with her. She makes me happy, Mama. Is that so terrible? I’m not sure I know what love is, but I know I don’t want Becky to leave me, or—worse—to hate me and stay.”

“I have every faith in your charm, Aldridge. You will be kind. You will be gentle. And you will do your duty by your mistress as you always do your duty in all things.”

As Eleanor always did hers, she reflected after her son left, and duty could be a cold and thankless  master. Aldridge would not soon forget her role in this day’s work, and Becky would be ungrateful if she ever found out. But it was for the best. She had to believe it was for the best—not just for the Grenford family, but for Aldridge and Becky as well. She hoped it was for the best.

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Dear brother, on WIP Wednesday

A romance novel, by definition, is about the developing love between the two main protagonists. But the story is often given strength and substance through relationships with other characters: family members, friends, even enemies. In particular, we grow to know our main characters through their actions towards those they love but with whom they are in conflict: and that’s the theme of this week’s work-in-progress Wednesday: conflict between the main character and family members or friends.

Mine comes from Concealed in Shadow, which is in the very early stages of writing. At this point, I have a few paragraphs of beginning, a general idea of the overall shape of the plot, and random scenes, most of them still in my head. This one happens early on, after David comes eagerly to London to meet and marry Prue, and finds her missing. His half-brothers were the last to be seen with her, and only one of them is still in London.

(Concealed in Shadow is the sequel to Revealed in Mist, which is on presale and will be released next week. See the link for purchase information.)

The early morning sun was just filtering through the fog when David’s quarry let himself into his bed chamber. He had already discarded his hat and gloves somewhere between the outside door and this upper floor, but he was shrugging out of his overcoat as he entered the room.

The overcoat flew to drape over the arm of a couch, and the muffler beneath followed. David watched from the shadowed corner behind the draped head of the bed as the man stripped to his shirt and breeches, with swift economical movements. The coat, richly embroidered waistcoat and cravat followed the rest, and the man crossed to a fireside chair to pour himself a brandy from the decanter that stood ready and slip out of his dancing shoes.

He had clearly been somewhere that required formal evening dress, though David was certain a ballroom had not been his last stop of the night, or David would have found him four hours ago. The man sat relaxed in his own private domain, a little tired — though his energy was legendary — beyond a doubt sated, resting a blond head back against the chair and shutting his hazel eyes as he cupped the glass in his hands to warm the brandy.

When David spoke, it was not much above a whisper, but shockingly noisy in the silent room. “Where is she, Aldridge. What have you and Gren done with her.”

 

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Holly and Hopeful Hearts

Today is the day, people. At last we’re ready to reveal the box set the Belles have been working on for so many months. I give you:

holly-and-hopeful-hearts

When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

Read about all eight novellas, and find pre-order links, on the Bluestocking Belles Holly & Hopeful Hearts page.

Today, meet my hero and heroine, James and Sophia.

the-bluestocking-and-the-barbarian-fb

james-bbJames must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.

Sophia keeps secret her tendre for James, Lord Elfingham. After all, the whole of Society knows he is pursuing the younger Belvoir sister, not the older one left on the shelf after two failed betrothals.

An Excerpt from The Bluestocking and the Barbarian

Chapter One

A country road in Oxfordshire
April 1812

curricle-vs-phaeton

They heard the two curricles before they saw them, the galloping hooves, the cacophony of harness and bounding wheels, the drivers shouting encouragement to their teams and insults to one another.

The Earl of Sutton turned his own horse to the shoulder of the road and the rest of the party followed his lead. As first one racing carriage and then the other careened by, James Winderfield murmured soothingly to his horse. “Stand, Seistan. Stand still, my prince.”

Seistan obeyed, only a stamp of the hind foot and muscles so tense he quivered displaying his eagerness to pursue the presumptuous British steeds and feed them his dust.

From their position at the top of what these English laughably called a hill, James could see the long curve of the road switching back at the junction with the road north and descending further until it passed through the village directly below them.

One of the fool drivers was trying to pass, standing at the reins—legs broadly astride. James hoped no hapless farmer tried to exit a gate in their path!

Seistan clearly decided that the idiots were beneath his contempt, for he relaxed as James continued to murmur to him.  “You magnificent fellow. You have left us some foals, have you not, my beauty? You and Xander, there?”

The earl heard his horse’s name and flashed his son a grin. “A good crop of foals, if their handlers are right. And honors evenly divided between Seistan and Xander. Except for the stolen mares.” He laughed, then, and James laughed with him.

Once the herd recovered from the long sea voyage, many of the mares had come into season. Not satisfied with his allotment, Seistan had leapt several of the fences on the land they had rented near Portsmouth, and covered two mares belonging to other gentlemen. And most indignant their owners had been.

“They did not fully understand the honor Seistan had done them, Father,” James said. Which was putting it mildly. When James arrived, they had been demanding that the owner of the boarding stable shoot the stallion for his trespass.

The earl laughed again. “I wish I had been there to hear you explain it, my son.”

ikon-_golden_akhal_teke-stallionA thirty-minute demonstration of Seistan’s skills as a hunter, a racer, and a war horse had been more convincing than any words of James’s, and a reminder of the famous oriental stallions who founded the lines of English thoroughbreds did the rest. In the end, he almost thought they would pay him the stud fee he had offered to magnanimously cut by half.

But he waived any fee at all, and they parted friends. Now two noblemen looked forward to the birth of their half-Turkmen foals, while James had delivered the herd to his father’s property in Oxfordshire and was now riding back to London to be put to stud himself.

“Nothing can be done about his mother, Sutton,” his grandfather, the Duke of Winshire, had grumbled, “but marry him to a girl from a good English family, and people will forget he is part cloth-head.”

The dust had settled. The earl gave the signal to move on, and his mount Xander took the lead back onto the road. James lingered a moment more, brooding on the coming Season, when he would be put through his paces before the maidens of the ton and their guardians. One viscount. Young, healthy, and well-travelled. Rich and titled. Available to any bride prepared to overlook foreign blood for the chance of one day being Duchess of Winshire.

Where was the love the traveling musicians spoke of? At least his cousins had adamantly turned him down. Not that he had anything against the twin daughters of the uncle whose inconvenient death had made his father heir and him next in line. But they did not make his heart sing.

The racing curricles had negotiated the bend without disaster and were now hurtling towards the village. Long habit had James studying the path, looking to make sure the villagers were safely out of the way, and an instant later, he put Seistan at the slope.

It was steep, but nothing to the mountains they had lived in all their lives, he and his horse, and Seistan was as sure-footed as any goat. Straight down by the shortest route they hurtled, for in the path of the thoughtless lackwits and their carriages was a child—a boy, by the trousers—who had just escaped through a gate from the village’s one large house, tripped as he crossed the road, and now lay still.

It would be close. As he cleared one stone fence and then another, he could see the child beginning to sit up, shaking his head. Just winded then, and easier to reach than lying flat, thank all the angels and saints.

Out of sight for a moment as he rounded a cottage, he could hear the carriages drawing closer. Had the child recovered enough to run? No. He was still sitting in the road, mouth open, white-faced, looking as his doom approached. What kind of selfish madmen raced breast to breast, wheel to wheel, into a village?

With hand, body and voice, James set Seistan at the child, and dropped off the saddle, trusting to the horse to sweep past in the right place for James to hoist the child out of harm’s way.

One mighty heave, and they were back in the saddle. James’ shoulders would feel the weight of the boy for days, but Seistan had continued across the road, so close to the racers that James could feel the wind of their passing.

They didn’t stop. Didn’t even slow. In moments, they were gone.

The boy shaking in his arms, James turned Seistan with his knees, and walked the horse back to the gates of the big house. A crowd of women waited for them, but only one came forward as he dismounted.

“How can we ever thank you enough, sir?” She took the child from him, and handed him off to be scolded and hugged and wept over by a bevy of other females.

sophia-rembrandt_peale_-_portrait_of_rosalba_pealeThe woman lingered, and James too. He could hear his father and the others riding towards them, but he couldn’t take his eyes off hers. He was drowning in a pool of blue-gray. Did she feel it too? The Greeks said that true lovers had one soul, split at birth and placed in two bodies. He had thought it a nice conceit, until now.

“James!” His father’s voice broke him out of his trance. “James, your grandfather expects us in London.” The earl lifted his top hat with courtly grace to the woman, and rode on, certain that James would follow. Not the woman; the lady, as her voice and clothes proclaimed, though James had not noticed until now.

A lady, and by the rules of this Society, one to whom he had not been introduced. He took off his telpek, the large shaggy sheepskin hat.

“My lady, I am Elfingham. May I have the honor of knowing whom I have served this day?”

She seemed as dazed as he, which soothed him a little, and she stuttered slightly as she gave him her name. “L-L-Lady Sophia. Belvoir.” Unmarried, he hoped. For most married ladies were known by their husband’s name or title. And a lady. He beamed at her as he remounted. He had a name. He would be able to find her.

“Thank you, sir. Lord Elfingham.”

“My lady,” James told her, “I am yours to command.”

For more of our stories, see our individual blogs:

A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight (this story links the others and is featured in the Teatime Tattler)

Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis

A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing

Artemis, by Jessica Cale

The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight

Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack

An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield

Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett

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Partings on WIP Wednesday

This week on work-in-progress Wednesday, I’m inviting you to post about partings. Do your characters leave a lover, a friend, a relative, an enemy? Do they part for an hour, a day, a month, forever? Show me what you’ve got.

(The video clip is the wrong period, but the right mood for my excerpt, which is below.)

In my current work in progress, the hero and heroine both work, and their commitments take them in different directions several times in the course of the novel. I like this parting.

Gren kept up a light patter of social conversation over the meal, and Prue made a valiant effort to contribute, though she was dreading the coming parting, and kept lapsing into silence to just watch David and soak up her last moments with him.

He was quiet, too, and Charrie oscillated from bright and bubbly to morose and silent. Without Gren, it would have been a dismal meal.

When the men got up to leave, Gren suggested to Charrie, “Shall we leave them the breakfast room for a moment, Charity? I know my brother wants to kiss her goodbye, and he doesn’t want to embarrass her in front of her sister.”

Charrie looked from one of the men to the other. “You are brothers?”

“Half brothers,” David confirmed.

Charrie opened her mouth, thought better of whatever she was about to say, and shut it again. Without another word, she left the room, Gren trailing in her wake.”

As soon as the door closed behind them, Prue walked into David’s arms.

“Travel safely,” she said.

“I’ll call for you on my way back.”

“No; I doubt I’ll stay long. I will go back to London. Come to me there.”

“Stay at my place, Prue. Mrs Allen knows to welcome you and make you comfortable. Treat it like your own home.”

“I will. I would like to.”

They kissed, and it was a hello and a farewell all at once. This one kiss would have to sustain them for a month or more. It lasted an eternity and was over too soon.

“I do not want to leave you,” David said at last, drawing his head back but keeping her locked in his arms.

“I do not want you to go. But we each have our duties. Go, David. Finish your enquiries and come home to me.”

David smiled, more a warmth in the eyes than a movement of the lips. “Home. Home is wherever   you are, Prue.” He kissed her again, a gentle benediction, then stepped away and opened the door.

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Once upon a time I invented a rake

WALLACE COLLECTION - THEATRES OF LIFE   Eug ne Lami, A supper during the Regency or The Prodigal Son or The orgy, 1853 Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)   The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.  Photographer: Mike Fear  127.1995_c_2.jpg

I joke that my creative process relies on the plot elves. I sit down to do my 500 words, or 1000 words, or 2000 words, or whatever the target for the day is, and the characters start acting out the scene disclosing all sorts of things the plot elves have been working on in the background.

The truth is that my creative process is a mystery to me. The invention of my Marquis of Aldridge is a case in point.

Here’s his very first appearance on a page, in my work-in-progress, Embracing Prudence. David Wakefield, base-born son of the Duke of Haverford, is investigating a case of blackmail.

A knock on the door heralded Aldridge’s arrival. A maid showed him into the private parlour. He’d clearly been treating her to a display of his facile charm; she was dimpling, blushing, and preening.

David examined him as he gave the girl a coin “and a kiss for your trouble, my darling.” The beautiful child had grown into a handsome man. David had heard him described as ‘well-put together, and all over, if you know what I mean.’ The white-blonde hair of childhood had darkened to a light brown, and he had golden-brown eyes under a thick arch of brow he and David had both inherited from their father.

Aldridge navigated the shoals of the marriage market with practiced ease, holding the mothers and their daughters off while not offending them, and carrying out a gentleman’s role in the ballroom with every evidence of enjoyment.

But his real success, by all accounts, was with bored widows and wives, where he performed a role in the bedroom with equal enjoyment. Society was littered with former lovers of the Merry Marquess, though he had the enviable ability to end an affair and retain their friendship.

He ushered the laughing maid out of the room and closed the door behind her, acknowledging David’s appraisal with a wry nod.

“Wakefield. You summoned me. I am here.”

David ignored the thread of irritation in the young aristocrat’s voice.

“I have some questions I wish to ask about the story your brother tells.”

Uninvited, Aldridge grabbed a chair and straddled it, resting his chin on his forearms. “Our brother,” he said, flatly.

I should, perhaps, explain that I’ve been creating an entire fictional world these last five years, peopled with enough characters for at least the forty books for which I have plot lines. Many of the characters are just names in my database and spreadsheet, but if I need a mother, or a cousin, or villain, or an old school friend, I look there first before I invent someone new. So when David needed a case to investigate, I involved his patroness, the Duchess of Haverford, and her son Aldridge came with the territory.

I knew Aldridge existed, and I knew he was a rake. There’s a crusading social zealot growing up in my world who will one day need a hero who is as much a challenge to her as she is to him. But I hadn’t given him much more thought than that, till I inserted him into David and Prue’s story. I generally start a book with tidy character descriptions (eight pages for protagonists and major antagonists, and one page for anyone else with more than a walk-on part), a plot outline, and maps. After I start, though, the plot elves take over and anything might happen. And so it was with Aldridge.

Very soon, he proved to be a larger part of Prue’s past than David knows. He is also deeply concerned about his younger brother Jonathan, who becomes David’s assistant in the investigation. What with one thing and another, by the time Prue, Jonathan, and David disappear from England, Aldridge has enough guilt riding him to dive into a bottle and hide there for months, as explained in this deleted scene from A Baron for Becky.

“Cousin, I don’t believe you’ve been sober since June—this business with Jonathan is not your fault, you know.”

Aldridge shook his head. He didn’t agree. Jonathan was his younger brother, and he’d promised to keep him safe. He’d promised Mama.

“Do you remember the frogs in your tutor’s bed?” Rede asked.

Aldridge was not fooled by the seeming change of subject. He’d taken the blame for that, though the prank had been Jonathan’s. “The tutor was a vicious fool, and would have beaten Jonathan until his arm fell off. And His Grace would have done nothing; Jonathan was only the spare. Disciplining me was reserved to His Grace, and the tutor would not disturb him for such a minor infringement.”

It was Rede’s turn for the dismissive shake. “Jonathan’s not nine any more, Aldridge. The scandal was of his own making; quite deliberately from what I heard. ”

Aldridge grinned. He was worried, and he felt guilty, but he still admired his brother’s strategy. “He wanted to travel and His Grace said ‘no’. So Jonathan arranged to be exiled. Pudding-brain. Doesn’t he know there’s a war on? I hope David finds him.”

Rede slid the brandy decanter towards him. “David? David went after his… after a lady that he loves.”

Aldridge busied himself pouring another glass and exerted every ounce of control not to tip it straight down his throat. There was the crux of it—not Jonathan’s defection, though Aldridge still believed he should have been able to prevent it. But Aldridge’s contribution to the loss of his other brother, his father’s bastard; Aldridge’s treatment of the woman David loved.

“Did you not know? She went with Jonathan. And I don’t think David will ever forgive me, Rede.”

I had just realised what a crucial part Aldridge played in Prudence’s backstory and the major misunderstanding between David and Prue when my group of Historical writers, the Bluestocking Belles, embarked on a three week marathon of interactive story telling on Facebook.  We invented a magical inn that allowed our fictional worlds to collide, and brought along our characters for an impromptu party.

I contributed one drunk and depressed Aldridge to the fun, and it was fun! Poor Aldridge. He had a frustrating time, with his advances to one lady after another being rejected, sometimes violently.

Then along came Mrs A. Mrs Angel is the invention of Catherine Curzon, and she is a wonderful character, mistress to princes, owner of brothels, and a rollicking good-time girl. Aldridge’s pursuit of Mrs A. jumped from thread to thread and took days, with one accident after another keeping him from his goal.

I decided to write it up as a light-hearted romp; the story of Aldridge and the golden-hearted harlot who saved him. But I soon realised that Aldridge needed quite a different kind of experience at this point in his life. Becky began to take shape in my mind – a broken bird, rescued by Aldridge but carrying scars from her past experiences. The book became Becky’s story, and the elderly baron Catherine and I had first envisaged became Hugh, Aldridge’s best friend, a man with his own scars.

And so, in the end, Becky and Hugh took over what began as Aldridge’s story, and A Baron for Becky is a far better book than I originally intended.

Where to from here? I have a vague idea, but quite a distance to travel first. In the main stream of my novel writing, I have yet to finish 1807. Aldridge will be a bit player in several more books before 1814, when his own story begins with a social reforming spinster bursting into his bedroom demanding that he come save his bastard son from a molly brothel. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Contemporary and Regency heroes discuss transport and children – Part 4

Here’s part 4 of the story that Keisha Page and I co-wrote about a meeting between our two heroes. Separated by 200 years and the Atlantic ocean, they discuss the very different cultures they inhabit. See Keisha’s The Word Mistress blog for the same encounter from the perspective of Alex, hero of Rhythm of Love. My hero is the Marquis of Aldridge, from A Baron for Becky. If you want to start at the beginning, here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 on my blog.  

fjord_horse_vs__airplane_by_mariszAlex smiled. “Transportation is vastly different now. We have cars; they’re combustion powered wagons that can travel many hundreds of miles in a day. Imagine if a wagon were pulled by three hundred horses all working together. It’s kind of like that, but without the actual horses. I can drive to Denver in two days, if I stop to sleep. Faster if I fly.”

“You can fly?” Aldridge does his best not to look skeptical. How many brandies has Alex had?

Alex laughed.

“Not me. I get into a machine called an airplane, and it flies. The airplane can get me to Denver in about four hours.”

Alex slid the rest of his brandy across the table toward Aldridge.

“You may need this. An airplane can fly from New York City to London in less than eight hours.”

“Eight hours? I find that difficult to… I mean no insult, friend Alex, truly, but… Eight hours?” He pushed the brandy back towards Alex. “In truth, I appear to have had more than enough. Men from the 21st century. Machines that fly. Carriages that need no horses.” He shook his head slowly.

“It may be I have fallen asleep on my horse and am dreaming this whole interlude, but this is certainly the best dream stew and most unusual dream conversation I have ever had. Perhaps the dream will let me visit this New York of the far future. Will you give me a tour, Alex?”

“I would be honored to give you a tour! There’s so much for you to see! Skyscrapers and elevators and the Brooklyn Bridge. I kind of can’t believe I’m having this conversation, because it’s so, well, surreal, but yes, Aldridge! Let me show you the wonders of the twenty-first century. And if you thought the stew was good, just wait. There’s so much food for you to try!”
“Better than this stew?” Aldridge grinned. “You can keep your roast peacock and turtle soup. At the end of a day’s ride, there’s nothing better than good plain hearty fare like this. And the bread is superb.”

“Tell me about your children, Alex. How many do you have? And what are they named?”

Alex’s eyes softened and he smiled as he says, “I have three. My Ella is seventeen. She’s going to be a senior this year. She wants to spend the summer after she graduates in Europe, and I’m not so sure that’s such a hot idea. I know I’m an overprotective father, but I’m not sure she’s as ready to conquer the world as she thinks she is. Leslie and Ella’s mom both tell me that I need to let her go, but I’ve been overseas. I know what the guys there are like.”
Alex shifted in his chair. “My son Ryan is twelve. He’s almost taller than his mom already. He’s gonna be a beast. He’s on the track team and the wrestling team. He’s the fastest kid in his grade, too.”

“Samantha is ten. She is something else, man. Spoiled rotten, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve gotten to spend a lot more time with her when she was younger than I did with Ella, and it made such a difference. I’ve been able to give my kids everything they’ve ever needed because of my job, but I’m not completely convinced that missing out on months of their lives at a time was worth it. What about your kids?”

Aldridge swirls his brandy in his glass. It really is an excellent drop. “I have three, too. I think my world is very different to yours, Alex. I missed the Grand Tour myself. Napoleon, you know. But in our world, it is the men who are sent off to see the world, and the women stay home.

“My Antonia — I say mine, but I did not know of her existence until she was six years of age, and to this day she knows me only as an uncle. I would not for the world attract the attention of the gossips and scandalmongers by telling anyone of our closer bond. But — ah Alex, what a girl!

“She’s smart, she’s kind, she’s every bit as lovely as her mother. I feel very privileged that they let me see her, and be an uncle to her. And anything my name and title can do to smooth her path… Her stepfather won’t ask, of course. But it is hers, nonetheless.” Undoubtedly his smile is every bit as soft and silly as the one Alex wore when talking about his girls. Antonia is ten, too. The same age as Alex’s youngest.

“And I have two boys. I was luckier with them, or perhaps kinder to their mothers would be more the truth. With each one, when I found my mistress was with child… I take precautions, Alex. I would not have you think I am careless, but they don’t always work. Well, twice now, I’ve found my chere aimee a husband who will welcome my child as his own.

“I would give a great deal to be in your shoes, and to be able to acknowledge them without hurting them and their families.”

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Two heroes. Two centuries divide them. Two different fictional worlds. Part 2

Today, I’m continuing the story Keisha Page and I wrote for her blog, The Word Mistress. Our heroes – the Marquis of Aldridge from A Baron for Becky and 1810, and Alex from Rhythm of Love and the 21st century – have found their way to a mysterious inn where the food is excellent and time no longer applies.

awY3dMbAlex’s grasp was firm for a hallucination. And he returned to the slice of fresh bread he’s cut with an enthusiasm Aldridge did not associate with ghosts. “Margate?” he asked, between mouthfuls. “Is that your home?”

“It will be,” Aldridge said, without much enthusiasm. “One of them. I mostly live in London, though.” He smiled, his expression softening. Officially, his London residence was the heir’s wing at Haverford House. But the townhouse he’d purchased for his mistress, Becky, was more of a home to him than anywhere else on the planet. “I’ll be home tomorrow,” he said.

Aldridge hoped this was true; that he’d walk out of here and it would still be 1810. “And do you live in New York, Alex?”

“I’ve been to London a few times. I’m guessing it looks much different now. Cars and pollution, and, oh, all of the new buildings that have been built. I live here, in an apartment in the Bronx. My kids live with their mother, in a house a few miles from my place. At least they’re close enough that I can see them all the time.” Alex dunked his piece of bread in his stew.

The London Aldridge knew had dirt and filth enough; pollution, certainly. Cars? He’d seen a few processions, but perhaps this modern London had more? He focussed on the part of Alex’s statement he could make sense of. The term ‘kids’ clearly meant children. “I also have children who live with their mothers, but I see little of them. You are fortunate to have yours close.”

Alex nodded.

“I am pretty lucky. My girl, Leslie, wants to move here, but if she does, then her kids’ dad wouldn’t be able to see their kids. It’s kind of a pain in the ass. Not the kids, but the making sure that everyone gets to see each other when they’re supposed to. I don’t know how anyone makes a second marriage work.”

Another statement with outlandish implications. The man had been married to the mother of his children and now wanted to be married again to someone who had children by another man? How outraged Society’s dragons would be to hear Alex refer so casually to second marriages.

“So, Aldridge, how many times have you been married?”

Aldridge ignored the question, still thinking about Alex’s statement. Perhaps his interpretation was wrong.  “May I… I do not wish to give offence, so please tell me if I breach courtesy in asking this… may I confirm that I understand correctly? Your children live with their mother. And the woman you would marry lives near the father of her children.

‘But you speak of a second marriage. You are both divorced, then? And all the parties work together so that the children can see their fathers and their mothers?”

“Dude. That is the least offensive thing you could say.” Alex smiled at Aldridge, clearly not offended.

“Yes, Leslie is divorced from her first husband, the father of her children. They both live in Denver. I am divorced from my first wife, who is the mother of my children. She lives near me here. We’re actually required by law to make things work. If Leslie moved the children here without her ex-husband’s permission, a judge could put her in jail. And so far, her husband won’t agree to let her move here.

“Truthfully, I can’t say I blame the guy, but it’s frustrating. Leslie and I… I can’t stand being without her. She lives 1800 miles away, so we only get to see each other every few months. The last time I got to see her, it was only for a couple of days; I was in the middle of a tour, so I couldn’t stay long.”

He held up his brandy snifter to catch the attention of the waitress. She nodded in his direction. He sat the glass down and looked at Aldridge.

“I didn’t realize divorce was common in 1810. Or even legal, I guess.”

“It isn’t common,” Aldridge confirmed. “It requires a Bill in Parliament, which means washing the family’s dirty linen in full view of every gossip in England.”

Not an option for any person of consequence. No decent man would do that to his wife and children, not any respectable woman, either, unless in peril of her life.

“A man can get a divorce and custody of his children if he proves his wife was unfaithful. A woman has to prove extreme cruelty, and even then she might not keep the children. A man might survive the scandal, but a woman? I can only imagine what would drive a woman to such a course.”

He took another slow sip of brandy, saying out loud the doom his father had been enjoining on him all this last visit to Margate.

“I’ll have to marry some day. When I do, it will be for the rest of my life.”

Alex said, “Oh boy. It works much differently now. It’s mostly paperwork. You file papers in court, and if a judge agrees that the division of assets is equitable, then six months later, you’re single again.”

It couldn’t possibly be as easy as that. Could it? Aldridge took another bite of the excellent bread. Alex was still talking.

“I hope it works out forever with Leslie. I love her more than I ever thought I could love someone. When we’re together, I feel like I can conquer the world. Do you have a girlfriend?”

At two score and ten, he was old for a girl, but he’d have to choose one, he supposed. A girl who was a friend? He had largely ignored this year’s crop of debutantes, but it seemed unlikely he’d find a friend in their ranks. How he wished…  Well. No point in that. “I envy you, Alex. And I hope it works out for you, too.”

“I’ll marry some women with the right lineage, and for the land or political advantage she offers my family. It doesn’t matter for me… I think I’m not capable of the kind of love you mention. But I feel sorry for the poor lady I marry.” Despite his determination, his mind drifted back to his mistress, and he heard himself saying, “If I could love, I expect I’d be head over heels for Becky, the woman I am going to now. She’s… well, she’s a fine woman. Beautiful, intelligent, kind. I could see spending the rest of my life with Becky.”

If he married his mistress, elevated her to future Duchess of Haverford, the dragons would tear her to pieces. They would never accept her. They would not rest until they had destroyed her and her children with her. He could not subject her to that horror.

See Keisha’s post for her hero’s point of view, and find out how he feels about Aldridge’s revelations.

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In a space out of time, two hundred years no longer separates our heroes

After Keisha Page, The Word Mistress, agreed to be a host on the A Baron for Becky blog tour, we talked about the type of post I might write. As many of you know, I’ve done quite a bit of co-writing with my Bluestocking Belles colleagues, on one another’s blogs and at Facebook parties such as our Bluestocking Belles Crock and Bull inn, and the Bluestocking Bookshop.

But I’ve never before put one of my Regency heroes or heroines with someone else’s contemporary dude.

Keisha’s Alex is a quite a guy. In fact, he’s a rock star. The hero of Keisha’s Rhythm of Love, he is astounded to find himself having dinner with a man from 200 years ago. My Marquis of Aldridge, one of the two male protagonists of A Baron for Becky, is pretty surprised, too.

Keisha posted the first part of our joint story, written from Alex’s point of view, and I’m following in her wake posting the same part again, but from the point of view of my Aldridge. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to our blogs, to catch the rest, which we’ll post every few days over the next fortnight.

Oldinn

Aldridge checked his horse at the top of the rise. Surely that was an inn in the hollow? And one that hadn’t been there three weeks ago when he rode north?

He was wet, cold, and tired. If they had a warm room and good brandy, he’d take it. Mystery or no mystery.

An ostler took his horse in the stable yard, and the front door opened to warmth and the welcoming smells of stew and fresh bread. This was exactly what he needed!

The public room was nearly empty, apart from the old codgers in the corner that seem to live in every pub. Aldridge took a seat at a table near the fire and grinned invitingly at the girl at the bar, who was fetchingly, if surprisingly, dressed in skin tight pantaloons of some dark material.

The serving girl handed Aldridge a beautifully written menu – printed, it looked like. Aldridge raised an eyebrow at the expense of such a print job, but the appetising odours had already made up his mind.

“A dish of your stew, my sweet, and some of that bread I can smell. And soon, dearest, if you love me? I’ve been riding since dawn, and my belly thinks my throat’s been cut. And brandy, if you have a good French brandy. Otherwise, your best ale.”

The barmaid did not appear impressed at his endearments, but she pressed a device in her hand, and said, “Be right wiv ya,” before turning to the man who had just taken a seat at the next table, a strangely dressed fellow in tight leather pants and a bulky leather jacket. And was that a helmet under his arm?

“When did this place open?” the man asked. Aldridge could not place his accent.

“Oh, we’ve been around for ages, sweets. We’re just not always in the same place twice.” She sauntered away, her swaying rump delightfully outlined by the tight cloth of her outrageous garment.

At the next table, the stranger swiped his hand down the front of the jacket he war, and it split into two pieces. How was that possible? Aldridge couldn’t see the fastening, just a series of tiny metal bars down both front seams.

It didn’t take the servant long to return with his brandy. Aldridge held the beautifully formed glass in his hands to warm the drink, and inhaled its fragrance. Yes. This would do nicely. The man at the next table was watching him. He raised the glass slightly and tipped his head in a polite salute. “If the taste is up to the bouquet, I can recommend it,” he said.

“Fantastic, thanks,” the man said; then, after a long pull from his beer. “This is going to sound strange, but why are you dressed like that?”

The man was right. It did sound strange. How else should he be dressed? Riding jacket now open to show the richly embroidered waistcoat underneath; check. Cravat, neatly tied in a knot a hundred dandies would sell their eyeteeth to duplicate; check. Pantaloons, formerly almost white but showing the impact of a day’s hard riding; check. Hessian boots, with tassels of his own design; check. His beaver and the many caped greatcoat that had kept of the worst of the rain were hanging in the foyer.

Perhaps the man thought he should be in breeches for dinner?

“One does not normally dress in formal dinner wear for a country inn,” he explained. “Would you care to join me at my table?” Aldridge would appreciate a closer look at the man’s own clothes. Especially the clever fastening for the jacket.

A strange expression crossed the other man’s face, then he picked up his mug, and moved to Aldridge’s table. “Sir, you’re sitting in a restaurant in the middle of New York City.”

Aldridge blinked. That made no sense at all. “New York City? In the colonies? I beg your pardon, I should say the United States, of course. Sir, I rode up to this inn not fifteen minutes ago in the countryside between Margate and Canterbury. In England.”

The servant placed a fragrant plate of stew in front of each of them, and a whole loaf of fresh hot bread on its own cutting block in the centre of the table. “Told you,” she said. “Sometimes we’re not even in the same place once.”

Aldridge raised both eyebrows. Surely she couldn’t mean that as it sounded. Had he stepped into a gothic romance? He took a deep breath of the stew to ground himself in something real.

Then his dinner companion said, “I’m Alex, current denizen of twenty-first century New York City. Pleased to meet you.”

“Twenty-first….?” Aldridge shook his head. Two centuries in his future? Impossible. Nonetheless, he put out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Alex. I’m Aldridge. And when I rode out this morning from Margate, it was 1810.”

Read more about A Baron for Becky

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Royal Regard meets Encouraging Prudence – Part 1 of 4 now available

Authors’ note: In the virtual worlds of historical fiction, authors create whole societies of characters, interacting with real historical events and even real people. But each virtual world sits alone, never touching the worlds of other authors. Until now.

The Bluestocking Belles11025188_432122276937344_5770461272420998884_n, as part of the launch of our new website for historical romance readers, created a magical coaching inn—fittingly called ‘The Crock and Bull’—a place for characters to meet from all of our books’ worlds and those of our guests.

Mariana Gabrielle and Jude Knight soon discovered that two of their characters knew one another well. Rather too well, according to all who knew them as young men.

During the course of the party, the Duke of Wellbridge and the Marquis of Aldridge have referred on several occasions to an incident that saw them banned from an entire town, from the Prince of Wales’ presence, and even—for a time—from England. Until now, even the Duchess of Wellbridge hasn’t known the whole truth.

What was that mysterious event? How do Aldridge and Wellbridge know each other? Why has it been so long since they’ve spoken? Are they still keeping secrets?

Now, exclusively for readers of our blogs, Mariana Gabrielle and Jude Knight have co-written a small bit of backstory shared by a young Lord Nicholas Northope (from Royal Regard) and his protégé in crime, the Merry Marquis of Aldridge (who first appears in Jude Knight’s work-in-progress, Encouraging Prudence).

Mariana and I will share sections of this scandalous story the week of March 8-13, leading up to the Bluestocking Ball on March 14.

The year is 1801 in Fickleton Wells, Somerset.

The Marquis of Aldridge, heir to the Duke of Haverford, is 21, just down from Oxford. Lord Nicholas Northope, second son of the Duke of Wellbridge has been, at 27, racketing about England unchecked a fair few years without much purpose. And the trajectories of both young lives are about to change.

See Mari’s blog for part 1.

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