Spotlight on The Bride Price

I first read The Bride Price on Wattpad, following each episode and waiting impatiently for the next. Quenby has updated and polished , and I’m looking forward to reading it again now that it is published. It is a tale of ruination and recovery, of a fall from grace that opens the way to joy, of long hidden love finally rewarded. I loved it.

The Bride Price

To save her family from scandal, Emily Collicott must marry.

Ruined in her first season in London, she is given no choice but to wed her father’s pick for a husband, or be cast out from her home. Emily agrees to marry William Hazlitt, a man she hardly knows. But William remembers her. Growing up as a tenant on her father’s estate, he admired her from afar, their lives kept separate first by class, and then by loss.

Emily seeks to begin a new life with this quiet man to whom she finds herself wedded. But the scandal she escaped in London soon finds her again, the very man who destroyed her reputation threatening to tear down the happiness she’s found with her new husband. To keep from losing everything, she must either make a deal with a devil… or learn how to defeat one.

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Excerpt

It did not take long for Emily to learn of her lowered status among the members of London society, many of whom had welcomed her into their homes only days before. Josephine relayed the gossip, much of which had to be amended throughout the day as another round of afternoon teas were concluded or a new report passed through the lower quarters of the house.

“Scandal is like a living, breathing thing,” Josephine informed her near the end of her second day in seclusion. “It grows and it changes, acquiring new features and discarding old ones as quickly as one changes a hat. Today, you might be viewed by some as nothing more than a naive young girl who was set loose on London without proper tutelage or guidance. By tomorrow, you could be the Whore of Babylon, come to destroy us all.”

By the beginning of the third day, Emily was made aware of the prevailing opinion currently soaring through every drawing room and traded over every breakfast table.

“A fortune hunter,” Josephine had told her, getting directly to the point without a hint of delay. “Come to London with the sole intention of trapping a wealthy husband, by any means necessary.”

Emily nodded. If she had been in another person’s place, hearing such salacious gossip from every corner, this would most likely be the easiest theory to believe. “So everyone thinks—”

“—that you sought out Marbley, hoping to be caught in a situation, of sorts.”

“Which I was,” Emily pointed out.

“And thus forcing him to make an offer for you. Except—”

“—he didn’t make an offer,” Emily finished for her. “Instead, he left me to bear the brunt of their condemnation.”

“While he is applauded and celebrated for having made an apparent escape.” Josephine twisted her mouth into an expression of displeasure. “If I were a man, I would call him out. A bullet in his shoulder would serve him very well, I believe.”

“Only his shoulder?” Emily looked up with some surprise.

“Oh, I wouldn’t wish to make a martyr out of him,” she replied, and pulled at a thread that had escaped from the edge of her sleeve. “But a nice, lingering wound would do. Perhaps something disfiguring.”

“The tip of his nose,” Emily chimed in, buoyed along by the sparkle of humor in her friend’s voice.

“Or maybe a chunk of ear,” Josephine said, all mock seriousness. “Only superficial injuries, of course.”

But the levity of that moment had faded too quickly, and Emily once again receded into a depression. Not from any sorrow at her own predicament or because of the opinions of those members of society with whom she was hardly acquainted, but rather from the feeling of absolute helplessness that threatened to overwhelm her.

She was a gentlewoman, and so raised to expect a life devoid of struggle and exertion. She’d been given no training for anything beyond embroidery, music, a vague smattering of French, and composing lengthy letters that covered such fascinating topics as the weather and inquiries about one’s health. And now. . .

Now she was a pariah. Her chances of making a fortunate match had been reduced to nothing. And so she was trapped, a prisoner to her own gentility and the infuriating fact that she’d been born a female.

Meet Quenby Olson

Quenby Olson lives in Central Pennsylvania where she writes, homeschools, glares at baskets of unfolded laundry, and chases the cat off the kitchen counters. After training to be a ballet dancer, she turned towards her love of fiction, penning everything from romance to fantasy, historical to mystery. She spends her days with her husband and children, who do nothing to dampen her love of the outdoors, immersing herself in historical minutiae, and staying up late to watch old episodes of Doctor Who.

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Tea with Lady Gwendolyn

Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington made her way through the richly appointed manor home of Her Grace, the Duchess of Haverford. Why she had been summoned at such a time was beyond her understanding. She had more important concerns, like her unfortunate wedding days from now, but one did not easily dismiss an invitation, no matter how untimely, from Her Grace.

She continued following the footman, largely ignoring paintings of several generations of Haverfords upon the walls. The house and its furnishings were no different than the ones she herself grew up with. being the daughter of a duke. Even so, she could still appreciate several unique pieces of artwork that caught her eye as they continued through several hallways to meet Her Grace.

Gwendolyn began to wonder just how large the house was when they at last rounded a corner and stopped before an open doorway of a salon. The servant announced her as she entered the room, and she saw the duchess sitting behind a desk attending to her correspondence.

“Lady Gwendolyn, so nice of you to join me,” Her Grace said, placing her seal upon her letter and then giving Gwendolyn her full attention. “I do so admire promptness in my guests.”

Gwendolyn curtseyed. “Thank you for receiving me, Your Grace.”

The duchess stood and came to sit in a chair near the hearth just as a trolley cart was wheeled in by another ever-efficient maid. She motioned to the vacant chair. “Do be seated and join me for a cup of tea, Lady Gwendolyn.”

Gwendolyn sat as the duchess began to pour and offered her a cup of tea. She gave a nod of thanks and they sat in silence for several minutes, leaving Gwendolyn concern as to what this meeting was all about. She took a sip of her tea and waited.

“Gwendolyn, my dear, I will get straight to the matter of why I have invited you here today,” Her Grace began.

“I was concerned about why you wished to see me,” Gwendolyn replied setting down her cup. The duchess focused on her and Gwendolyn swallowed hard. Those eyes. She seems to know my deepest secrets, she thought.

“I would be remiss in my duties as a friend to your mother, if I did not voice my concerns about your impending nuptials to Lord Sandhurst.”

“My marriage was decided upon years ago before my father passed.”

“I understand you had given your consent.”

Gwendolyn gave a heavy sigh trying not to shiver at the thought of being wed to a man she would never come to love. “Being a dutiful daughter, I would not go against my father’s wishes. For reasons known to him, he favored Lord Sandhurst’s suit.”

“And your brother continues to honor the commitment.” Her Grace took another sip of her tea.

Her Grace looked none too pleased with her brother’s decision. “I attempted to plead my case to Hartford but was unsuccessful at changing his mind. I have no idea why he was so adamant we honor the contract.”

The duchess tapped a finger along the brim of her cup. “So your mother has informed me. I thought if anyone would be able to persuade your brother, it would be her. There must be some underlying reasoning behind his decision.”

“I am afraid that still does not get me out of a marriage to a man I loathe.”

“If Hartford will not agree—and I understand you have no money of your own. Very improvident of your father.”

Her Grace’s comment did not require an answer. Gwendolyn stared at the hands holding the cup, blushing a little.

“If you are willing, my dear, I will help you run away. My friend Lady Grace Winderfield provides a—what can I call it—a refuge for women suffering from the power that men use so carelessly.”

“A refuge?” Gwendolyn had never heard of such a thing.

“Indeed. I must warn you, it would not be what a duke’s daughter is used to. You would be encouraged to find another name. You would need to work.”

“And– and leave my family?”

The duchess’s gaze was compassionate.

“It would need to be a complete new beginning, my dear. Those my friend helps rely on no one discovering their whereabouts. Everyone who joins the group must cut all ties with the past.”

Gwendolyn’s heart sank. She could not do it. Never see her mother again? Or Brandon? Or even Hartford, annoyed though she was with him at the moment?

“I cannot,” she replied. “Thank you, Your Grace, but I cannot. Surely things are not that bad?”

“Yours will not be the first marriage to start off under such circumstances. But you are your mother’s daughter and shall make the best of a horrendous situation,” Her Grace informed her, setting down her cup.

“Yes, of course, Your Grace.” Gwendolyn finished her tea and could tell her meeting with the duchess was at an end. “Thank you for receiving me today.”

“Thank you for coming,” the duchess replied before leaning over to take Gwendolyn’s hand. “These things have a way of working out, my dear. Somehow, I have the feeling life will throw you an opportunity when you least expect it and did not even see coming.”

Gwendolyn rose, curtseyed, and excused herself. She began mumbling to herself as she left about the injustice of her life and being married to a man she could not love. How she could look forward to some unknown opportunity in her future was beyond her. Two days later, she was a married woman and her descent into hell had just begun.

Nothing But Time: A Family of Worth, Book One

They will risk everything for their forbidden love…

When Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington is forced to marry a man old enough to be her father, she concludes love will never enter her life. Her husband is a cruel man who blames her for his own failings. Then she meets her brother’s attractive business associate and all those longings she had thought gone forever suddenly reappear.

A long-term romance holds no appeal for Neville Quinn, Earl of Drayton until an unexpected encounter with the sister of the Duke of Hartford. Still, he resists giving his heart to another woman, especially one who belongs to another man.

Chance encounters lead to intimate dinners, until Neville and Gwendolyn flee to Berwyck Castle at Scotland’s border hoping beyond reason their fragile love will survive the vindictive reach of Gwendolyn’s possessive husband. Before their journey is over, Gwendolyn will risk losing the only love she has ever known.

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Excerpt:

Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington strode across the floor of her brother’s study, carelessly threw her bonnet onto a high backed leather chair, and crossed her arms. The missive she held in her hand had driven all thoughts of a trip to the milliner with her friend Lady Calliope out of her head. Her shoe tapped a rapid staccato on the wooden floorboards. Her brother remained indifferent to her demand for his attention whilst he continued writing. The insufferable lout did not even have the decency to acknowledge her presence in his pursuit to finish his correspondence. She cleared her throat, hoping to gain his notice.

He continued whatever business he was attending to without a pause, except to say, in a barely civil and flat monotone, “You did not knock.” His disinterest in her presence served as a reminder of his place within his household, as if she could ever forget she was subject to his directives.

Her brother had had the arrogance to send a servant to deliver his note to her bedroom. He should have come there himself to speak with her, given the news he wished to impart. She tossed the crumbled parchment onto his desk. He, in turn, swatted it aside like it was nothing but a pesky insect.

“You have been given your instructions, Gwendolyn. We have nothing further to discuss.”

“Do not take that tone with me, Edmond. You may hold our father’s title, but that in no way gives you leave to treat me as if I must comply with demands such as these,” she fumed. Where had her carefree older brother of years past gone? Surely some measure of the young man she had adored in their youth lurked behind the expressionless mask of this unfeeling cad before her?

Edmond Gerard Worthington, 9th Duke of Hartford, set his quill down. The blue eyes he at last bothered to turn upon her were just as cold as his voice. Since he had inherited his rightful title of duke after their father’s passing, along with all the responsibilities such a position held, Gwendolyn hardly recognized her brother. She swallowed hard, knowing she could not easily sway this uncaring man. Still, she had to try.

“Mother will hear of this,” she warned. “She will not allow her only daughter to be wed to a man in order to fulfill some business deal made years ago.”

“Mother is fully aware of the obligations that must be met. I should not have to explain how things of this nature are done, sister. Arranged marriages happen every day within the ton. Yours will be no exception.”

“Brandon, then. Surely my younger brother cares what happens to his sister since you have made it painfully obvious you do not,” Gwendolyn retorted sharply.

“He is my brother, too, if you would care to remember.” Edmond sighed heavily. “Both mother and Brandon have been summoned to return to London immediately. The marriage contract was agreed years ago and bears the signatures of all parties, including your own. You would have already been wed, had it not been for father’s death.”

Edmond leaned his elbows upon his desk, fingers forming a steeple as if contemplating his next counter to whatever argument she could muster.

She quickly thought of the first excuse that crossed her mind. “I am still in mourning,” Gwendolyn declared through clenched lips.

His eyes roamed down the length of her pink floral gown and his brows rose in unsuppressed amusement. “Your mourning period is long since over, as your garments surely attest. Resign yourself to wedding Lord Sandhurst.”

She stomped her foot in frustration. “Bernard Sandhurst is a lecherous old man and ancient enough to be my father.” She barely held back a cry of despair. “How can you condemn me to a life with that horrible person, however long the vermin will still remain on this earth?”

“I am doing the best I can to save this family from financial ruin. You should be grateful Sandhurst will still have you, given the limited amount I could spare for your dowry. I will not be swayed in my decision, Gwendolyn, and Sandhurst can no longer be put off. He has all but stated his time waiting for you is over. He has been as patient as one could ask of a man getting on in years. You are now twenty years of age and should have been wed with children of your own by now.”

Thoughts of being intimate with a man who repulsed Gwendolyn made her shudder. The few times she had had the displeasure of being alone in the same room with Lord Bernard Sandhurst, he had mauled her with his cool clammy hands. He reminded her of a fish, and an unappealing one at that.

“Edmond─”

Her brother cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Father made this decision and you must abide by it, along with the rest of us.” Edmond picked up his quill and examined the tip before dipping it into the inkwell.

“You are a duke, Edmond. Surely you can pay the man off so I can find a worthy man to love.” She silently pleaded with him, and, for the briefest instant, she held the smallest measure of hope he would accede to her wishes.

His piercing blue eyes leveled on her but briefly. “Love is for fools. Better to marry for wealth and a decent position in society than to lose your heart to such a frivolous emotion as love.” Edmond returned to his work, the quill scratching across the parchment. The sound echoed in her head as though the missive sealed her fate. “Resign yourself to your marriage Gwendolyn. Sandhurst has made arrangements for the wedding to take place two weeks hence.”

Meet Sherry Ewing

Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical & time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time. Always wanting to write a novel but busy raising her children, she finally took the plunge in 2008 and wrote her first Regency. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Beau Monde & the Bluestocking Belles. Sherry is currently working on her next novel and when not writing, she can be found in the San Francisco area at her day job as an Information Technology Specialist. You can learn more about Sherry and her published work at www.SherryEwing.com.

Website & Books: http://www.SherryEwing.com

Email: Sherry@SherryEwing.com

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Spotlight on Nothing But Time

In today’s Sunday Spotlight is Sherry Ewing’s Nothing But Time.

This short Regency novel is the tale of Gwendolyn, married despite her protests to a nasty old man who bullies and abuses her, and cuts her off from contact with her friends. It’s also the story of Neville, the successful investor and rising aristocrat who falls in love, quite against his will, with another man’s wife.

Adultery is a daring topic for a romance. To keep our sympathy, the writer needs to give us extenuating circumstances, and Ms Ewing does so to the max. The story has it all: thwarted love, a villain,  a mad chase north, a heart-wrenching  separation, and a few passionate interludes to give us hope that all will be well.

I liked Gwendolyn’s compassion for her ungrateful spouse, and how hard she tried to be true to the vows she didn’t want to make. But Neville was my favourite of the two. He was not an innocent, but he was in love for the first time, and he was putty in Gwendolyn’s hands, as well as charming, determined, faithful, and brave.

The book was short and the characters only lightly painted. The horrible husband was a caricature, but the boorish elder brother and the mischievous younger one both show promise. I look forward to more stories of the Worth family.

They will risk everything for their forbidden love…

When Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington is forced to marry a man old enough to be her father, she concludes love will never enter her life. Her husband is a cruel man who blames her for his own failings. Then she meets her brother’s attractive business associate and all those longings she had thought gone forever suddenly reappear.

A long-term romance holds no appeal for Neville Quinn, Earl of Drayton until an unexpected encounter with the sister of the Duke of Hartford. Still, he resists giving his heart to another woman, especially one who belongs to another man.

Chance encounters lead to intimate dinners, until Neville and Gwendolyn flee to Berwyck Castle at Scotland’s border hoping beyond reason their fragile love will survive the vindictive reach of Gwendolyn’s possessive husband. Before their journey is over, Gwendolyn will risk losing the only love she has ever known.

 

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Neville’s first glance at Gwendolyn

He held her stare. How could he not when he had been admiring her beauty just a short while ago? He did not dally with women whose husbands were living, and certainly not one who was associated with a potential business associate. The last thing he needed was some man breathing down his neck challenging him to a duel, and that most assuredly included her brothers as well as her husband.

To say she was beautiful would not have done the lady justice. She was young, perhaps no more than twenty. Her light brown hair was swept up into a pleasing coiffure and one long curling ringlet cascaded down her left shoulder. He could not tell the color of her eyes from this distance but they were framed in a round face with a clear complexion. Neville should not let his gaze linger on those lips for long. They were meant to be kissed and kissed often.

Something about the lady continued to pull at his heart, and, for the life of him, he could not look away. She seemed sad, and he could only ponder the cause. Why her disposition was important to him he could not say, and yet, he had a sudden desire to sweep her away and fill her days with happiness. He squashed down the notion of what he would like to do with her nights.

They continued staring, one to the other, and he watched in fascination as her chest rose and fell as if she were attempting to catch her breath. Neville had been tempted long enough and he gave into the impulse by offering her the slightest of nods. She must have at last come to her senses at his gesture, for she quickly turned away, but not before Neville witnessed a lovely blush rising to color her cheeks.

Meet Sherry Ewing

Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical & time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time. Always wanting to write a novel but busy raising her children, she finally took the plunge in 2008 and wrote her first Regency. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Beau Monde & the Bluestocking Belles. Sherry is currently working on her next novel and when not writing, she can be found in the San Francisco area at her day job as an Information Technology Specialist. You can learn more about Sherry and her published work at www.SherryEwing.com.

Website & Books: http://www.SherryEwing.com

Email: Sherry@SherryEwing.com

Bluestocking Belles: http://bluestockingbelles.net/

Hearts Through Time: http://heartsthroughtime.com

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1TrWtoy

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/sherry-ewing

Facebook: https://www.Facebook.com/SherryEwingAuthor

Goodreads: http://www.Goodreads.com/author/show/8382315.Sherry_Ewing

Pinterest: http://www.Pinterest.com/SherryLEwing

Twitter: https://www.Twitter.com/Sherry_Ewing

Sign Me Up!

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Tea with Mary

Mary was a daughter of the navy, raised aboard ship by her admiral father and a succession of nurses. She had learned her company manners from the gentlemen’s sons who vied to sit at her father’s table, and had them polished almost to breaking point during her one London Season.

Since then, she’d become wife to her own captain, and in her own world of naval wives, she knew precisely how to behave. She had even — her husband being grandson to an earl — become comfortable with those aristocrats she counted as family, counting among her close friends the wife of the current earl.

But having afternoon tea tête–à–tête with a duchess was outside of her experience. She had met the Duchess of Haverford at various entertainments in London. Her Grace’s sister had been mother to the current earl, so they had even attended some of the same family events. But she would never dare to presume on such a distant acquaintance were the circumstances not — what they were.

Summoned in response to a note asking Her Grace for an audience, she had expected to be seen as a petitioner, with perhaps a secretary on hand to make notes. Instead, she had been shown to a private sitting room, where two chairs waited in a sunny window overlooking a garden, the great lady herself occupying one.

“Mrs Alexander Redepenning, ma’am,” the butler announced, and the duchess rose to greet her.

Mary took the hand offered, and curtseyed. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, Your Grace.”

“But of course. You are family, my dear, and I always have time for family.”

“It is in that hope I have come, Your Grace.”

Shrewd hazel eyes examined her, then the duchess seated herself again, saying decidedly, “Then be seated, Mary — I may call you ‘Mary’, may I not? Tell me how you have your tea, and then tell me what I may do to help you with whatever distresses you.”

Mary obeyed, and was very soon sipping tea with lemon from a cup of delicate china.

“Well, Mary?” the duchess prompted.

“It is a long story, ma’am. It concerns Susan, my sister-in-law, her daughter Amelia, and my son James. I am not sure where to begin.”

“At the beginning, my dear,” Her Grace suggested.

Mary Redepenning is the heroine of Gingerbread Bride, a Christmas novella written for the Bluestocking Belles holiday box set in 2015. Gingerbread Bride is free this month as part of a promotion with 149 other novellas and novellas.

This scene, though, takes place some twelve years later, when Mary’s 11 year old son and her 16 year old niece go missing, and her sister-in-law Susan disappears in pursuit. These events won’t happen until The Realm of Silence, which will be book three of The Golden Redepenning series.

The Duchess of Haverford appears in many of my books, first helping her nephew with his love affair in Farewell to Kindness. She also aided and abetted the not-quite-hero, her son, in A Baron for Becky. Most recently, she has been the hostess of the Christmas house party in the Bluestocking Belles box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts, which is also on special for December, at only 99c.

You can read the first two chapters of Gingerbride Bride here.

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Tea with Charlotte

monday-for-teaAs the Duchess of Haverford topped up their tea from a fresh pot, Charlotte helped herself to her fifth petit four. Though she had been nervous to meet Her Grace on her own, there were advantages to having tea with a Duchess. Monsieur Fournier’s little cakes were at the top of that list, with the delicious orange pekoe coming in at a close second.

Her Grace smiled indulgently. “Marvelous, aren’t they?”

Reproduced under a CCC. Artist, Victor Nizovtsev

Reproduced under a CCC. Artist, Victor Nizovtsev

Charlotte’s eyes rolled in ecstasy as she bit into the smooth pink icing. “I can’t get enough of them. I have dreams about them. The baby already has expensive tastes, God help me.” She idly stroked her enormous belly. “I eat them as fast as Cedrica brings them.”

“Do you see her often?” She lit up at the mention of her relation.

“As often as she can get away. She has been occupied with Fournier’s, of course, but stops by for tea perhaps once a week.” She finished the cake with a sip of her tea. “Mrs. Phillips says I ought to cultivate more ‘advantageous’ friendships to ease my way into the ton, but who could be better than the wife of a French chef?” She laughed. “Cedrica is my dearest friend and I so look forward to our talks.”

Her Grace looked up from her tea with gentle concern. “How has the ton been treating you? Have you had many invitations?”

Charlotte sighed. She had been a countess for all of six months, a change she had embraced with rather more enthusiasm than society had accepted her. Actresses did not marry earls, after all. London’s shopkeepers, on the other hand, had embraced her with open arms. “I have had some,” she said carefully. “Apollo’s friends, mainly. Aldridge has been lovely.”

“I would certainly hope so.” There was pride in her voice as she spoke of her son. “He and Apollo have been friends for years. They used to spar in the parlour.”

“Now they spar in ours!” Charlotte laughed.

“More tea?”

“Please.”

“Apollo is a dear boy. I wanted to thank you both for your generous donation to the girls’ school.” Her Grace stirred a drop of cream into her tea.

“Of course! I was hoping to speak to you about the school, actually.”

Her Grace smiled. “I would be delighted to talk about the school. It’s one of my favorite subjects.”

“As you know we have the orphanage in Southwark. We have more children than we have space to keep them, and so many of them are little girls. We were wondering if perhaps we might be able to sponsor a number of them to have places at the school. They’re bright enough, and I know if they have the right education, they might be able improve their situation–”

“Say no more.”

Charlotte stiffened, unsure of how the Duchess would react. Would she object to admitting working class orphans into her beloved school?

“I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Charlotte sighed in relief. The orphans were fast becoming a crusade of hers; just the thought of helping them brought tears to her eyes. She could not be happier that she was now in a position to help them. “I’m so pleased.”

“What shall we call it?”

“Call it?”

“Scholarships often have names, sometimes in memory of the person leaving it. As you and Somerton are thankfully in good health, is there someone else you might name it for?”

Charlotte grinned as it came to her, her heart so full of joy she thought it could burst. “Might we call it the Artemis Rothschild Fund? In memory of Apollo’s late sister.”

Her Grace smiled indulgently, and Charlotte wondered how much she knew of Apollo’s family history. “Of course.”

artemis-fb

HOLLY AND HOPEFUL HEART 

Read the story of Charlotte Halfpenny and the Earl of Somerton in the Bluestocking Belles’ box set, 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?

BUY LINKS for HOLLY AND HOPEFUL HEARTS

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About Jessica Cale

Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series, The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina. Visit her history blog at www.dirtysexyhistory.com.

Website: http://www.authorjessicacale.com

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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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