Tea with Lady Emma

Lady Emma Landrum curtseyed deeply when the Duchess of Haverford’s secretary announced her. Puzzling over the invitation during the carriage ride over had brought her no conclusions, and she had no more idea why the duchess wished to see her than she did when the summons arrived. Summons it had been. An invitation can be declined politely.

She ought to have sent regrets, but didn’t dare, even if it did force her to delay her return to Chadbourn Park by a day. Mother would worry and Papa would rant when she failed to appear as expected.

How on earth did Her Grace know I raced to town for a fitting? We didn’t even put the knocker out. How did the woman know everything? Emma feared the duchess somehow found out about her little unauthorized excursion the day before. She prayed not. A woman of eighteen years with one season behind her ought to be allowed a bit of freedom for pity’s sake.

“Lady Emma, my dear, stop gazing at me owlishly and take a seat.” If the duchess’s knowing eyes rattled her a bit, the amused expression reassured her. Emma sat, and let the age-old ritual of the tea service calm her nerves.

“I don’t bite, you know,” Her Grace said after a particularly long silence when polite comments on the weather petered out. “But I expect you wonder why I wanted to speak with you.”

“I have been wondering,” Emma replied. “I know you have more important concerns than my opinion of Mme. Delacroix’s latest designs.”

The duchess laughed out loud at that. She did enjoy young people, and this one was a particular favorite. Emma Landrum had backbone and plenty of opinions. Her Grace was certain the girl would be a force to be reckoned with in a few years.

“I understand your uncle has returned from India.”

Emma felt her shoulders relax. Fred? This is about Fred? She grinned at the duchess. “He has indeed. With no notice, two heretofore unknown daughters, and a charming companion.”

The duchess’s eyebrows shot up. “I hardly know which question to ask first,” she said.

“Mama quite likes Clare—that’s the woman’s name. Apparently Uncle Fred engaged her to accompany his daughters to us. Mama says he expected—these are her exact words—to foist them off on us. But Clare forced him to come as well, at least until he introduced them to us. Mama is determined he will stay and—her words again—do his duty by those darling girls.”

“If the Countess is determined, your uncle has no chance. She finds the daughters ‘darling?'”

“Oh, Your Grace, they are charming! Meghal has more wit than those twice her age, and backbone too. Mama says Meghal alone will make sure Fred stays where he belongs. She adores the girl.”

“Meghal? Is that Bengali?”

“I believe so. They lived in West Bengal.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Their mother was Fred’s mistress in Dehrapur.”

Her Grace’s lips twitched with suppressed laughter. She whispered back, “So I had guessed.”

“But how did you—Oh. Cousin Charles was here.”

“He was indeed. I’m afraid he ended our tête-à-tête rather abruptly before I could ask him why he hired an enquiry agent. Is there trouble at Eversham Hall?”

Emma shrugged helplessly. “No one tells me anything. A man died in a haying incident. There were whispers it was no accident, but when I asked they hushed me up as if I was a moony ten-year-old.”

“Being protected can be a dreadful bore,” the duchess murmured. “I tell Aldridge that often.” She did so on the rare occasion her son thought he might keep something unpleasant from her.

“You’re right, Your Grace. I hate it,” Emma exclaimed. “As if that wasn’t bad enough, Fred and Charles forbade us to leave the house without an army of footmen and grooms. Would they tell me why? No! Peck said it was about the nabob who bought the Archer place across the river, but that’s all I know.”

The duchess caught her lower lip between her teeth, nodding. “Nabob,” she said at last. “Someone Fred knew in India?”

“I have no idea.”

The duchess deftly turned the conversation to fashion after that. Emma did indeed have opinions about this year’s fashion, all of them astute and some wickedly funny. When the girl departed she called for her secretary.

“I need to pen a message to Walter Stewart. I believe the Duke of Murnane and his cousin Fred may be his current employers. Let’s ask him to call for tea.”

The Reluctant Wife

Children of Empire, Book 2

Genre: Pre Victorian, Historical Romance  µ Heat rating: 3 of 5 (two brief -mild- sexual encounters)

ISBN:  978-1-61935-349-9 µ ASIN:  B06Y4BGMX1 µ Page count: 275 pages

Pub date: April 26, 2017

When all else fails, love succeeds…

When Captain Fred Wheatly, a soldier with more honor than sense, is forced to resign from the Bengal army, and his mistress dies leaving him with two half-caste daughters to raise, he reluctantly turns to Clare Armbruster for help. But the interfering widow has her own problems, and a past she would rather forget. With no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must return to England and turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above the past to forge a future together.

Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B06Y4BGMX1/

And click here for my review.

About Caroline Warfield

Traveler, poet, librarian, technology manager—Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

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Giveaway

Caroline is sponsoring a grand prize in celebration of her release. You can enter it here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/2017blogtourpackage/

The prequel to this book, A Dangerous Nativity, is always **FREE**. You can get a copy here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/a-dangerous-nativity-1815/

Excerpt

Before they reached the top, the door swung open. There stood a stiff-backed English butler in a high white collar and black coat. His chin pointed upward, he wore a perfectly professional glower, but his eyes held the slightest gleam of curiosity. Meghal startled him before he could speak.

“Are you my uncle?”

The old man frowned ferociously and said, “I beg your pardon?”

Clare let go of the girl’s hand and pulled her close. “We are . . . that is, these young ladies are Mr. Frederick Wheatly’s daughters. He has been delayed by an accident with a hay wagon, and we’ve come on ahead. He sent word to his family.” Did he? Now she wasn’t sure. Even if he did, would it have reached them here?

“We know of the accident. Men have been sent to help.” The butler’s brows drew together, and he frowned at the girls, unable to speak.

“Fred’s children? Truly?” came a voice from behind the man. A blond head peered around him, a vision with laughing eyes and a beguiling smile.

“Lady Emma, I am not sure,” the butler said cautiously.

“Of course they are! How perfectly marvelous! Bring them in, Banks. Don’t leave them standing there.”

The butler escorted them into an immense foyer from which a wide marble stairway curved upward; its heavy wooden railing gleamed with polish. Clare wondered that they permitted anyone to walk across the stunning parquetry, much less three travel-stained strangers.

The young woman who had welcomed them rocked up on the balls of her feet in excitement, hands clasped in front of her. She had carefully coifed blond hair and wore a pink gown with a cinched waist and expansive skirt which Clare assumed was the height of fashion. She wasn’t exactly sure since she had been away more than a year.

“Oh dear,” Lady Emma exclaimed. “Who shall make introductions? Rules of proper behavior leave this situation out,” she laughed. “I am Emma Landrum, your cousin.”

Lady Emma, Clare remembered. “This is Miss Meghal Wheatly and Miss Ananya Wheatly,” she said, studying the young woman, who demonstrated no sign of distress, rejection, or even surprise that her uncle had brought two half-caste children home unannounced. On the contrary, Clare saw nothing but joy in her face. Both girls stared back at her.

“Are you a princess?” Ananya lisped.

“You survived your come out with body parts intact,” Meghal said, quoting Catherine’s letter and causing Lady Emma to burst out laughing.

“I did indeed! Who told you that?” Lady Emma asked, eyes dancing with delight.

“It was in a letter from Catherine. She is my aunt.”

“That sounds like something she would say.” She drew up, suddenly remembering something. “Oh! Yes. Mother. Banks, please let the countess know we have visitors.” That settled, Emma looked expectantly at Clare. “And you are?”

“I’m Clare Armbruster,” she said. She had to think for a moment. What am I? Nanny? Governess? I am nothing. “The girls’ escort. I will leave once they are settled.”

“But you did say Uncle Fred is coming,” the young woman reminded her, worrying her lower lip between her teeth. Clare assured her he was.

Emma reached out both hands toward the girls to lead them to the drawing room. “Come, cousins, let’s get acquainted.”

Clare took a step backward. Perhaps I should go back out and wait for Fred, she thought and then chided herself for acting like a ninny.

“Were you expecting us?” she asked.

Emma paused to smile back at her over her shoulder. “Not in the slightest, although I should say yes. My mother has expected Uncle Fred any time for nine years. Do come and rest, Miss Armbruster. You must be exhausted. I’ll ring for refreshments.”

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Tea with Ruth

Ruth Henwood had taken tea with the Duchess of Haverford several times, and each time had felt out of place; a pit pony in a herd of thoroughbreds; no, a metal kitchen mug somehow displaced in among the exquisite oriental tea cups.

Today was a thousand times worse. On every previous occasion, she had trailed along as companion to Lady Chirbury or one of her sisters, to be included in the conversation not because she belonged, but because the ladies she worked for loved her and because the duchess was kind. Today, she was alone, and here by personal invitation.

She had reread the perfumed note several times; checked that the inscribed name was indeed her own; traced the signature with one mystified finger. Eleanor Haverford. What did Her Grace want?

Had she somehow discovered Ruth’s less than stellar origins? She had been born into the lower reaches of gentry as her improvident father and foolish mother made the final fall into poverty, orphaned before she was twelve, and educated only through the mercy of a charity school and a sponsor with a kindness for her mother. At her very first job as a governess, she had failed to protect herself or her charges. Somehow, years later, she found herself treated as an extra sister by the ladies of an earl. Surely they would stand up for her if the duchess was inclined to expose her to Society as the fraud she was?

She shifted uncomfortably then stilled her limbs. A lady did not fidget. A lady sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and her face composed and calm, not matter how much turmoil disturbed her mind and her heart.

“Miss Henwood? Her Grace will see you now.” Ruth rose and followed the maid from the little room where she had been deposited to await the duchess’s pleasure. No. That was a sour thought. She had arrived early, and had waited not above ten minutes, for all it felt like hours.

The duchess was waiting an elegant room Ruth had seen before, but it seemed somehow larger and richer with only the two of them present, for the maid simply opened the door for Ruth and withdrew.

At the duchess’s invitation to take a seat, Ruth realised she had been frozen just inside the room. Only years of practice at hiding her thoughts allowed her to cross to the indicated chair; to keep up her side of a harmless conversation about the weather and Ruth’s beverage preferences.

What was the duchess up to? Even if Ruth dared put that question to the exalted lady, she would not receive an answer until Her Grace was good and ready. The duchess was known both for her near omnipotent knowledge about those who were broadly called Society, and her ability to keep her own council. She would speak if and when she was ready, and not before.

Ruth finished her tea and accepted a second cup, ate one of the dainty savoury tarts, discussed the dangers and benefits of the new gas lighting, and agreed that the fashion for square necklines would be very flattering to Kitty, Lady Chirbury’s sister.

Indeed, several of the gowns ordered for Kitty’s coming Season had that neckline. Ruth managed not to frown; the duchess herself was sponsoring Kitty at the Queen’s first Drawing Room in the new year, with her debutante ball to follow right here at Haverford House. The social whirl Kitty had so eagerly anticipated for several years was almost upon them, but last summer’s experiences had sucked the joy from her.

“Yes; I am very pleased with our purchases so far,” the duchess commented. “I am not so pleased, however, with what I observe of our dear Kitty.” She held up a hand as if to stop Ruth from commenting. “She jumps at shadows, and I see shadows in her eyes, Miss Henwood. Something has happened. She manages to hide it very well, especially when her sister is watching, but she has consented to this Season to please Lady Chirbury and not because she wishes for it.”

That was true. Kitty had even cited Anne’s desire to give her a Season when Ruth had suggested they could postpone if Kitty felt unready.

“You must see that I need to know, so that I can protect and support her, Miss Henwood. I cannot ask Kitty herself; not when all I have is guesses and rumours. Nor will I ask Lady Chirbury, given her condition. So I depend on you. What happened to my protegée? And what did Lord Selby have to do with it?”

Ruth is a secondary character in Farewell to Kindness, and a witness to at least one of the experiences that changed Kitty from a carefree and confident young woman to one who is papering over the cracks in her composure by sheer force of will. Kitty will have her turn as heroine later in The Golden Redepenning series, in The Flavour of Our Deeds.

Also see Tea with Anne, Tea with Kitty, and Tea with Rede.

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Tea with Lady Anna

monday-for-tea

Lady Anna Wycliff follows the servant into the parlor. The lovely Duchess of Haverford is standing by a table, already laid out with tea and biscuits.

“Do come join me,” the duchess says warmly. “I am so glad you could join me for tea.”

“Of course.” Anna smiles.

“How is your mother?”

“Good. Good. She sends her regards.”

The duchess picks up her bluebell patterned teacup but did not drink. “She mentioned to me that you enjoy to write stories.”

Anna’s smile grows even wider until her cheeks almost pain her. “Oh, yes! There’re just silly little stories. I mostly write for myself and share some with the children at orphanages. It makes them happy, which makes me happy.”

The duchess leans forward. “I would love to hear more about your stories. Perhaps you could read me one some day.”

“Oh, I would like that very much!”

An excerpt from Christmas Kisses:

Throughout the meal, Anna found herself sneaking glances at the marchioness’s son, Lord Pershore. She had nearly tripped over her feet when she walked into the parlor to see a strapping young man there, gazing upon her portrait. He had shockingly black hair, his eyes gray and without much warmth. His words were polite but a little terse, and she could not help imagining him into a story. Not as a hero. More a villain. Yes. He had plans to spirit away the beautiful heroine, and the dashing duke…er…the dashing hero had to save her from his vile clutches. Now when would the villain kidnap her? From where?

She could make him a pirate. The last time she had visited the orphanage, she had regaled them with several already penned stories by other writers, but a few of the tales had been ones she had conjured in her own mind, and she had a feeling the boys might appreciate a tale told partially by sea. Yes. Anna could easily see Lord Pershore’s black hair fluttering about in a strong breeze as he stood on the deck of his ship.

Anna could feel her cheeks flush. She couldn’t tell the duchess about the pirate tale with the villainous Lord Pershore! But she had plenty of ideas for more stories, including a few romances. Maybe one day she would have a romance all of her own…

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Lady Anna Wycliff is the heroine of Nicole Zoltack’s story Christmas Kisses, which appears in the Bluestocking Belles’ holiday box set for 2016, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.

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Her Grace is At Home on Mondays

eleanor-duchess-of-haverford

Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford

wishes to announce that she shall be home to callers

on Mondays.

Any heroine of any work of fiction

is welcome to send a message to

Jude Knight

to arrange a date.

Any era, any genre, any story.

Her Grace would be delighted to converse,

read an excerpt of her guest’s story

or both.

visiting

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