Tea with Minerva Avery

The Duchess of Haverford’s manner to her guest was, perhaps, a little warmer than usual. While she would never embarrass Lady Avery nor dishonour her husband by apologising for the duke’s behaviour, she was very aware that the Haverfords were indebted to the lady.

Minerva Avery was every inch a lady, whatever her origins, and whatever His Grace had implied when he took delivery of the wonderful new invalid chair that would give the insensitive, autocratic, lecherous old snake freedom from being confined to one room unless carried by a pair of robust footmen.

And to think that this dainty young woman had made the chair with her own delicate hands!

“Lord Avery must be very proud of you, my dear Lady Avery,” she said, as she poured the tea for which her guest had admitted a thirst.

Minerva coloured prettily. “Lord Avery is biased, Your Grace. He thinks anything I wish to do is perfectly acceptable. I know my work is not considered at all the thing in higher circles. I should be satisfied to supervise my servants, socialise with my peers, and shop.”

A ridiculous view in the duchess’s opinion. As if ladies did not work! And the greater the estate and the social position, the harder their role.

“People can be very foolish. I daresay your husband—Candle, is it not?—suggests that you ignore them.”

“Randal, Your Grace. But he has been called Candle since he was at school.”

Yes. The boy was long, thin, and pale, with a head of fiery hair. But a nice lad, and doing very well by his viscountcy and the trading enterprise he inherited from his mother’s family. His choice of bride had set the dovecotes fluttering. A carriage-maker’s daughter, and one with her own enterprise creating invalid chairs? The doors of Society were largely closed to the young couple.

The duchess smiled. Young Minerva had helped the Haverfords with the fruit of her labours. Now it was time to return the favour. Those closed doors would open soon enough when it was clear the Averys were her protégés.

“Tell me, my dear, do you have an engagement for this Friday? I am giving a ball, and I would be delighted if you and your Candle could attend.”

Min is the heroine of Candle’s Christmas Chair, which I’m currently giving away in a promotion. A number of my friends are also part of this week-long giveaway, including fellow Bluestocking Belles Caroline Warfield and Elizabeth Ellen Carter. Enter to win 45 Regency Romances, and to be in the draw for a Kindle Fire.

Here’s the link to enter: https://www.booksweeps.com/enter-win-45-regency-romances-feb-17/

 

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Tea with Min

“The duchess is a charming, gracious lady, Min,” Viscount Avery assured his wife, when he dropped her to the front entrance of Haverford House. He immediately undercut his own assumption of confidence. “I can stay if you wish. Do you want me to stay?”

Minerva Avery looked around the grand entrance hall, the full height of the house, with majestic flights of stairs rising on either side and curving to meet at spacious landings, only to part again to swerve to the next level. The hall was designed to intimidate and impress, and it worked.

But she was Lady Avery, wife to Lord Randal Avery, and was here by invitation. “Her Grace asked to see me, Candle. I will be perfectly fine.”

She stood on tiptoe to kiss her tall husband, who bent to meet her part way, and turned his face so that her peck on the cheek became a loving salute to the lips. Had this august space seen other aristocrats show affection in public? Probably not, but in this she was proud to be true to her tradesman heritage. People of her class loved their spouses.

She shot a defiant glance sideways to the butler who waited to conduct her to the duchess, and surprised an indulgent smile before he wiped it from his face. “This way, my lady,” he said.

“I’ll just take the horses on a circuit around the park and will be waiting when you are finished,” Candle promised.

Min followed the butler up the first flight of stairs and along a sumptuously carpeted hall wide enough for three of her invalid chairs to race side by side, without bumping the elegant furniture and beautifully carved statues that lined both sides.

They passed room after room, until at last they came to a small sitting room, richly furnished but somehow warmly welcoming. Her Grace the Duchess of Haverford rose from a sofa by the fire.

“Lady Randal Avery,” the butler announced, and Min sank into the deep curtsey that her friend Anne, Lady Chirbury, had been schooling her in all week.

“Lady Avery, how very kind of you to call.” The duchess smiled, and took her seat again, patting the cushions beside her. “Come. Sit with me and tell me how you take your tea.”

They spoke commonplaces while Her Grace made and poured the tea, Min following the duchess’s conversational lead.

“Now,” Her Grace said, once they were both served. “you must be wondering why I asked you to visit, and I shall not keep you in suspense, Minerva. May I call you Minerva?”

Min nodded, her tongue suddenly frozen at the thought of such familiarity from so grand a lady.

“Minerva, I shall get straight to the point. I am the patroness of a hospital for servicemen, and I am in need of a large number of invalid chairs. My nephew Chirbury tells me that the one you provided for his cousin, Major Redepenning, was the best he has ever seen. Are you still in that business, my dear? For I should dearly appreciate your help.”

Min is the heroine of Candle’s Christmas Chair, a holiday novella that was my first published book. You can read all about it on my book page, at the link. I first met Min and her viscount in Farewell to Kindness (which is Rede’s, the Earl of Chirbury’s, story). Min provided the invalid chair that Rede’s cousin, Alex Redepenning, has collapse under him during a vigorous chair based rendition of a line dance. I wondered how a carriage-maker’s daughter with a business making invalid chairs came to marry a viscount, and next thing I knew, a tall skinny viscount with bright red hair turned up at her carriage-maker’s shop to order a chair as a Christmas present for his mother.

The first two chapters are linked to the book page, so please go and enjoy.

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I meet Candle and Min

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

In the back of the novella, I say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” Alex asked.

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

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

“How can you be sure?” Rede asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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