Tea with the Rose of Frampton

And another excerpt post, this time from A Baron for Becky. My duchess has arrived at her nephew’s house to find her son in residence, and alone with a young woman; a rather scandalous young woman! Aldridge may be enamoured, but he will not disgrace his family. Will he?

After dinner, the ladies withdrew to the great parlour, leaving the two men to the port.

“I am travelling in the morning, so will go up to bed,” the duchess announced. “Mrs Darling, perhaps you would give me a few moments of your time?”

“Be nice, aunt,” warned Lady Chirbury, making Rose even more nervous. The duchess gave an enigmatic smile and led the way upstairs.

“Leave us, dear,” she said to the maid who was standing ready by the bed. “I shall ring when I want you.” She took a chair by the fire and waved Rose to the other.

“Do not look so nervous, Mrs Darling. I do not intend to bite you.”

Rose blushed scarlet. Aldridge had promised to bite her, and had explained exactly where. No. She must not think of that. She sat, as commanded.

“Mrs Darling, you were raised gentry, were you not?”

Rose nodded, cautiously. Where was the duchess going with this?

“The manners, the speech, the accomplishments—they can all be taught, of course. But one who has learned them from the cradle…” Her Grace waved a hand as if to flick away counterfeits.

“The usual story, I imagine? Seduction or rape? And no father to defend your honour?”

“My father…” Rose swallowed hard to remove the lump that closed her throat at the memories. “My father was a librarian. He took the part of his employer.”

“Ah.” Her Grace nodded. “And the employer was the cause of your downfall. Or his son, perhaps?”

“His son,” Rose confirmed. His sons, in fact, but she would not say that.

“And Sarah was the…?”

“No, Your Grace. Sarah… came later.”

“Mr. Darling?”

“There was no Mr. Darling,” Rose admitted.

The maid must have added a fresh log to the fire just before they arrived. The top was still uncharred, but flames licked up from the bed of hot embers. A twig that jutted from one side suddenly flared, turned black, and shrivelled. The bottom of the log began to glow red.

The duchess spoke again, startling Rose out of her flame-induced trance.

“What do you want for your daughter, Mrs Darling?”

“A better life,” Rose said immediately, suddenly fierce. “A chance to be respectable. A life that does not depend on the whims of a man.”

“The first two may be achievable,” the duchess said, dryly. “The third is highly unlikely for any woman of any station. You expect my son to help you to these goals, I take it.”

Rose was suddenly tired of polite circling. “I was saving so that I could leave this life, start again in another place under another name. But my last protector cheated me and stole from me.

“I do what I must, Your Grace. Should I have killed myself when I was disgraced? I had no skills anyone wanted to buy. I could play the piano, a little; sew, but others were faster and better; paint, but indifferently; parse a Latin sentence, but of what use was that in my circumstances? Should I have starved in the gutter where they threw me?

“Well, I was not given that choice. Those who took me from the gutter knew precisely what I had that others would pay for. As soon as I could, I began selling it for myself, and I. Will. Not. Be. Ashamed.”

Her vehemence did not ruffle the duchess’s calm. “We all do what we must, my dear. I am not judging you. Men have the power in this world, and women of the gentry are raised to depend on them for our survival. But you must know that Aldridge cannot offer marriage to a woman with your history.”

The mere thought startled a laugh out of Rose. Marriage had never crossed Aldridge’s mind. Of that she was certain. “His Lordship has offered me a two-year contract as his mistress,” she said, “with very favourable terms. If I accept, and if I save carefully, I will never need to take a protector again.”

“Two years!” The duchess arched a delicate eyebrow. “Aldridge seldom keeps a mistress beyond six months. He must be utterly besotted.”

“He has no thought of marriage,” Rose found herself reassuring the duchess. “And neither do I. I like him, but do not love him, and I think only love could make marriage tolerable.”

It was only partly true. She could easily fall in love with Aldridge… was, perhaps, beginning to do so already. That way, she knew, led to heartache, for the duchess was right. Aldridge would never offer her marriage, or even permanence.

The duchess nodded, decisively. “You are wise. I think you will be good for him, Mrs Darling—which is a ridiculous name. May I call you ‘Rose’?” Her Grace’s smile was a wonderful thing, another feature her son had inherited.

“Would you…” Rose had never imagined having such a conversation, but there was something about this woman. Nothing shocked her, and she listened. “Would you call me Becky? It is my real name.”

“Becky, then. Becky, as long as you remember that you will never be accepted as a fit mate for the future Duke of Haverford—which is a great shame, for you seem to be a fine young woman, but we must live in the world as it is—you and I shall be friends, and I shall support you and little Sarah to find the new life you seek when Aldridge is finished with you. He needs someone like you. He is not happy, poor boy.”

That squashed the nascent hope that the duchess’s sponsorship might mean she could avoid accepting Aldridge’s protection. Still, it was a good offer. Becky accepted the duchess’s outstretched hands. “Thank you, Your Grace. I will do my best to make him happy.”

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Tea with Becky

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The Duchess of Haverford rose and crossed the room to greet her visitor with a kiss to the cheek.

“Becky, my dear, thank you for making the time to see me.”

Lady Overton returned the embrace, real affection in her eyes as she smiled at the older woman. “It is kind of you to invite me, Your Grace.”

“Call me Aunt Eleanor, please, as you did when I stayed with you after little Isabelle’s birth. Is she well, my dear? Have you brought her and her sisters to London?”

Becky confirmed that she had, while taking the seat that the duchess indicated. For several minutes, they discussed the children, as Her Grace busied herself at the tea service that stood ready on its own ornate cart beside her preferred seat. Once she had presented Becky with a cup and a plate with a selection of finely crafted pastries, she poured her own tea and chose a single pastry.

“And Lord Overton,” she asked. “Is he fully recovered?”

Becky was not surprised the duchess knew of Overton’s accident. She sometimes thought that Her Grace knew everything, and certainly she had more reason than most to interest herself in anything that affected Becky’s youngest daughter. “He has headaches from time to time, Aunt Eleanor, but fewer than before. The doctor says he will have no long-term ill effects.”

Her Grace beamed, putting her cup into its saucer and back on the table before her. “Excellent. I was concerned when Aldridge mentioned Overton’s concerns about guardianship of the little girls, but he is just taking sensible precautions.”

Becky set down her own cup, her face carefully blank. “The marquis mentioned it to you, Ma’am?”

“Yes. And he has an idea that might just answer your husband’s need. But I have told him that I must speak with you before I give it my support. Will you hear me out, Becky?”

Becky nodded, cautiously. Another outrageous scheme by Aldridge? Whatever might it be, when he knew perfectly well that neither she nor Hugh would consider… But no, Her Grace would not be involved in anything of that sort.

“If we are to be fair, my dear Becky, we must agree that his last plot on your behalf was highly successful,” the duchess pointed out, which was perfectly true.

“Beyond expectations,” she agreed.

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She was a fallen woman; could they help her land on her feet?

A Baron for BeckyBecky is the envy of the courtesans of the demi-monde — the indulged mistress of the wealthy and charismatic Marquis of Aldridge. But she dreams of a normal life; one in which her daughter can have a future that does not depend on beauty, sex, and the whims of a man. Finding herself with child, she hesitates to tell Aldridge. Will he cast her off, send her away, or keep her and condemn another child to this uncertain shadow world?

The devil-may-care face Hugh shows to the world hides a desperate sorrow; a sorrow he tries to drown with drink and riotous living. His years at war haunt him, but even more, he doesn’t want to think about the illness that robbed him of the ability to father a son. When he dies, his barony will die with him. His title will fall into abeyance, and his estate will be scooped up by the Crown.

When Aldridge surprises them with a daring proposition, they do not expect love to be part of the bargain.

See more about A Baron for Becky, buy links, and links to the first chapters.

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The Duchess of Haverford has taken a hand in Rebecca Overton’s life a number of times, the most significant covered in A Baron for Becky. The following extract is about one of them:

While Aldridge visited his Mama to explain what they wanted, Hugh went cap, and purse, in hand to Doctor’s Commons to arrange a special licence.

It took longer than he’d hoped, and a lucky encounter with a friend from university, to be admitted to the Archbishop’s presence, but two days later, he had his licence. It was in his pocket, and Becky at his side, when they waited on Her Grace, summoned by a scented note delivered by the hand of a liveried footman.

Hugh had been in the heir’s wing many times, and at Haverford, the family seat, when he was a boy. He had never entered Haverford House by the main door. Designed to impress, the approach sat back from the road, admittance through a gatekeeper. They were paraded through the paved courtyard by another liveried servant to the stairs between pillars that stretched three stories to the pediment above.

Inside, the ducal glory continued; a marbled entrance chamber the height of the house that would make a ballroom in any lesser mansion, with majestic flights of stairs rising on either side and curving to meet, only to split again in a symphony of wood and stone. Grenford ancestors were everywhere, twice as large as life, painted on canvas and moulded from stone, cold eyes examining petitioners and finding them all unworthy.

Aldridge met them in the entrance chamber, and led them up the first flight of stairs and down a sumptuously carpeted hall that was elegantly papered above richly carved panels. Four men could have walked arm-in-arm down the middle, never touching the furniture and art lining both walls, between highly-polished doors.

Busts on marble pedestals alternated with delicate gilded tables and seats upholstered in the Haverford green, scarlet and gold, many embroidered with the unicorn and phoenix from the Haverford coat of arms. The art in gilded frames that hung both walls showed more Grenford ancestors, interspersed with favourite animals, scenes from the Bible, and retellings of Greek legends. The ornately painted ceiling boasted flowers, leaves, and decorative swirls, the many colours highlighted in gilding.

Here and there, an open door gave them a view into one large chamber after another, each room richer than the last. At intervals, curtained arches led to more halls, more stairs.

Hugh was openly gawping, and Becky drew closer to him, as if for protection.

“A bit over the top, don’t you think?” he whispered to her, and was rewarded with a quick, nervous, smile.

The duchess received them in a sitting room that, if rich and elegant, was at least more human in scale.

She offered a cheek to Aldridge for a kiss, and a hand to Hugh. Becky held back.

“Come, my dear,” she coaxed. “Mrs Winstanley, is it not? Soon to be Baroness Overton. You shall kiss me, my dear, and I shall be godmother to your child, since I cannot claim the closer title.”

Hugh relaxed, then. Her Grace would champion them for her grandchild’s sake. He took the offered chair, and Aldridge leant against the mantelpiece. The duchess ignored them both to focus on Becky.

She insisted on Becky sitting beside her.

“Are you keeping well, my dear? Are you eating?”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Becky’s voice was so quiet Hugh had to lean forward to hear.

“You must eat several times a day, dear. More as the baby takes up more room…” she trailed off as Becky blushed scarlet. “And when do you expect the little one to arrive?”

“At Yuletide, Ma’am. Or perhaps early January.”

“What of sleep, Mrs Winstanley? Are you able to rest in the afternoons?” She turned to Hugh. “An afternoon rest is most efficacious for women who are increasing, Lord Overton. I will expect you to keep her in bed in the afternoon.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Hugh replied, blushing in his turn.

The duchess silenced her sniggering son with a raised eyebrow.

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