Home of the Bluestocking Belles

Because history is fun and love is worth working for

Author: BellesInBlue (Page 1 of 2)

Titillating Truths Revealed Over Tea…

On Tuesday, the newly wed Lady Theodora Stonemere and I had the occasion to take tea. It was quite the visit as I have learned so many tidbits about some of my favorite former patrons.

You see, I am the former Madame of The Market. But, since I married my long lost sweetheart, I have become Lady Hartfield.  And now I sip tea with those ladies daring enough to associate with me and I occasionally offer a smidgen of guidance here or there.

On Tuesday, Theo, Lady Stonemere, came to tell me how she and her rather highhanded husband are doing. Lord Stonemere is struggling with his wife’s rebellious nature, and she is finding it difficult to stay out of trouble.

But she tells me that despite their issues, marital relations are going along smashingly! I knew that visit to The Market I arranged for her would turn the trick.

Of course, we are both worried about poor Lord Brougham. He is Stonemere’s best friend, the two were inseparable before Stone married, but Brougham appears to still be very much a bachelor.

Theo is worried that the man will meet a woman who steals his heart but won’t surrender hers. He’s broken the hearts of so many ladies over the years, it seems he might be due for a taste of his own medicine.

Well, I say. Would you look at the time? I’m due at Madam La Fleur’s for a fitting within the hour. I hope to have more news on Lord Brougham for my next visit! Until then, here is an excerpt from His Hand-Me-Down Countess (Lustful Lords, Book 1)

Since the recitation of their vows that morning, Stone had barely spoken to Theo. Nerves stirred again as he glanced at the brave face she had pasted on upon their arrival at the wedding breakfast her parents were hosting. Despite the tension around her eyes, he assumed most of their guests wouldn’t notice it, or would chalk it up to bridal nerves as she smiled and welcomed all their well-wishers.

Concern filtered past his walls until he asked, “How are you holding up, Lady Stonemere?”

Her cheeks flushed an enticing shade of pink. “I am fine, Lord Stonemere.”

“Good. I believe these are the last of our guests and we may take our seats soon.” He nodded at the group of arrivals just entering her parents’ foyer.

Stone watched his bride beam at each guest and wondered how much longer they would be required to indulge their company. The last group filed past until they stood alone in the dark-paneled entry hall. The impulse to take her there and then, feed off her vitality, soak up her liveliness, and mark her as his lanced through him. He burned to stretch her out across his bed, bind her to it, and make her scream her pleasure. Yet he knew to use her thusly would at best shock her and at worst send her screaming from their breakfast.

Without any indication of his filthy thoughts, he tucked her delicate hand into the crook of his arm and led her into the dining room to their table. What kind of man desired to use his wife in such a coarse manner? Did his need to command her body and soul stem from some cancerous mass that tainted his own soul?

“Regrets so soon, my lord?” She watched him warily as she sipped champagne from a delicately etched crystal flute.

“Regrets? No.” He frowned, confused by her query.

“Then you may wish to consider schooling your features when you look at me, or our guests may be led to believe that you intend to whisk me away and thrash me as opposed to ravish me like a dutiful bridegroom.” She set her glass down and smiled sweetly at him.

Chagrined at being caught out by his bride, he dug deep to smooth his features and shut down his lecherous line of thought. Casting his most devastating smile in her direction, he took her hand and carried it to his lips. Skin against…moleskin. A strong reminder that his wife was a lady, not a prostitute, or even a widow. And yet his desire refused to abate.

His gaze lingered on the swath of skin exposed above her neckline. It pleased him to see the gooseflesh his touch raised. And the soft sigh that escaped her kissable lips teased his inner beast, made him desperate to elicit more such sounds from her.

She softly cleared her throat and lifted one silky eyebrow. His lips curved up at her less-than-subtle reminder. “I suppose I should have gathered from our previous conversations that you have a tendency to say unexpected things in the most inappropriate of places.”

“If by unexpected you mean true, then I suppose you should.” The little minx agreed so effortlessly with his observation that he couldn’t resist smiling.

“Quite so. I see you shall keep me on my toes. Be warned, madam. You will find me equal to your challenge.” A strange sense of contentment chased away his consternation and left little room for his previous inner debate. As long as his wife continued to engage him in conversation, he had no time to worry about things he could not change.

His Hand-Me-Down Countess (Lustful Lords, Book 1)

His brother’s untimely death leaves him with an Earldom and a fiancée. Too bad he wants neither of them…

Theodora Lawton has no need of a husband. As an independent woman, she wants to own property, make investments and be the master of her destiny.

Unfortunately, her father signed her life away in a marriage contract to the future Earl of Stonemere. But then the cad upped and died, leaving her fate in the hands of his brother, one of the renowned Lustful Lords.

Achilles Denton, the Earl of Stonemere, is far more prepared to be a soldier than a peer. Deeply scarred by his last tour of duty, he knows he will never be a proper, upstanding pillar of the empire. Balanced on the edge of madness, he finds respite by keeping a tight rein on his life, both in and out of the bedroom. His brother’s death has left him with responsibilities he never wanted and isn’t prepared to handle in the respectable manner expected of a peer.

Further complicating his new life is an unwanted fiancée who comes with his equally unwanted title. Saddled with a hand-me-down countess, he soon discovers the woman is a force unto herself. As he grapples with the burden of his new responsibilities, he discovers someone wants him dead. The question is, can he stay alive long enough to figure out who’s trying to kill him while he tries to tame his headstrong wife?

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About the Author

Sorcha Mowbray is a mild mannered office worker by day…okay, so she is actually a mouthy, opinionated, take charge kind of gal who bosses everyone around; but she definitely works in an office. At night she writes romance so hot she sets the sheets on fire! Just ask her slightly singed husband.

She is a longtime lover of historical romance, having grown up reading Johanna Lindsey and Judith McNaught. Then she discovered Thea Devine and Susan Johnson. Holy cow! Heroes and heroines could do THAT? From there, things devolved into trying her hand at writing a little smexy. Needless to say, she liked it and she hopes you do too!

No such thing as vampires

Inside a Parisian tavern on July 13, 1789

Francesca sat at a table with her fellow conspirators. All night they sang songs to give them courage. People had been arrested and tossed into the Bastille for the slightest reason.

“It’s not right. We will free the prisoners. We want justice,” Armand shouted.

“We want food,” shouted several others.

The crowd went crazy with anger and too much drink.

“Are we really going to attack the Bastille tomorrow?” She whispered to Pierre besides her.

“If they don’t surrender the prisoners, we will. Come up to my room, and I will show you the plans.”

She pushed him away and got up. It was her shift for clearing the tables, not that she’d go anywhere with him. All the girls knew Pierre, so she didn’t have to.

As soon as she had a full tray of dishes and entered the kitchen, Chloe pulled her aside. “Did you see this in the newspaper, Francesca?”

“What does it say?”

“It says there are vampires in the city. The rumor is they are waiting for a war, so they can feed on the fallen in the open.”

Francesca put the dishes into the large sink. She separated out the empty pints. “Chloe, you are funny. There is no such thing as vampires.”

The girl crossed herself. “You don’t believe. Oh, Francesca, may God protect you.”

Francesca smiled while tying her kerchief on her head. “I’m done, and may God protect you, Chloe. I’m off to pray.” She walked out the back door into the dark on her way to Notre Dame.

As she hurried around the corner, she ran past a gentleman with a tall hat. He didn’t follow her, and she was relieved. Francesca didn’t want to admit it but the talk of vampires chilled her to the bone. She pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders and looked behind her. No one was there.

From Peasant to Vampire Princess (Secrets behind Vampire Princess of New York)

by Susan Hanniford Crowley

(Note: Francesca is Noblesse Vander Meer’s human name. Marie is Margot’s human name. Jacques is not Louis’s human father.)

They all laughed with the French vampires around the table, finishing a grand meal. As the Arnhem Knights retreated to the large meeting room on the main floor, the royal family moved to a parlor off the main bedroom.

Max and Evie took the love seat closest to the blazing fireplace. Jacques, Margot, and Louis took the sofa and Donovan and Noblesse the other chair. The seating was a loose half-circle around the fire.

“How did you become a vampire, Francesca?”

“We hadn’t heard from you, Mama. Then Grand-mère died. I had nothing. When I told the priest I was going to Paris to find you, he gave me some coins, and with Grand-mère’s last sweet bread wrapped in cloth, I started walking. Afraid, I went to Domrémy first to pray, to ask the aid of Sainte Jeanne D’Arc. Then I walked until it was dark.”

“You went alone?” Margot asked.

“I had no choice. There was no one to walk with me. The first night I was attacked by bandits. They took the little I had, tied me to a tree, and talked how they would use me. I was fortunate that they drank themselves into a stupor. It was my one chance to get away, but my bounds were too tight. Then I saw her.”

“Who?” Louis asked.

“The Maid herself in armor and sword. She cut my bounds and said one word, ‘Run.’ I ran until morning and found refuge for a few hours in a small church many villages away. I don’t know how many days or weeks I walked begging food and sleeping in churches.

“When I came to Paris looking for Marie Therese Aquilla, no one knew you. Unable to find you, I took cleaning jobs and fell into the spirit of the Revolution. I held a sword shouting protests to free the prisoners. Then we stormed the Bastille. I was shot and remember falling.”

Margot wept and leaned on Jacques.

“Max picked me up, carried me away, and made me a vampire.”

Max interrupted. “She was a magnificent warrior. Still is for that matter. I told her that she was the noblest of creatures. I named her Noblest.”

Noblesse smiled and added, “I named myself Noblesse, because I thought I was damned. It took me a long time to adjust to being a vampire. Max, being an excellent father, was very patient. He taught me how to be a civilized vampire, and how to run what would become an international business.”

Margot sighed and wiped her eyes. “You became a vampire because of me.”

“No, Mama. I believe that I’ve been watched over. I have not always believed I was fortunate, but now I know I am.” Noblesse kissed Donovan on the cheek. “I’m a very happy vampire. Don’t cry, Mama. How did you become a vampire?”

Margot smiled and held Jacques’s hand. “I was working in the kitchen of the palace, when Princess Sophie became ill. The queen heard I had experience as a healer and asked to see me. Only nobility could touch the royal children, so the queen had me finely dressed and called me ‘Lady Aquilla’. She told her ladies that I was robbed while traveling, and afterward mistaken for a commoner. She said that the name belonged to a noble family of Italy. I did not argue with the queen. The baby princess was gravely ill, and she asked me to help her care for the child.”

Louis looked straight into the fire, pain etched on his face.

“I tried everything I could think of for the little one, but she died. The queen did not blame me. Then I became ill, and she hired Jacques and his sister Gabrielle to care for me. She did not miss that I cared for Jacques, who did a variety of jobs at the palace.”

Jacques said, “When I knew your mother was dying, I changed her. The queen heard she had died and paid me to provide a proper burial for the ‘sweet lady’. I had to buy a casket and have a mass and burial. I purchased the plot in St. Marguerite’s. In the middle of the night, I dug her up so she would not awaken terrified of being buried alive.”

“What happened to your sister?” Noblesse asked.

“When she became ill, I tried to change her too. She did not survive. Gabrielle is buried in the grave at St. Marguerite’s.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.”

“How did you become a vampire, Louis?” Max asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it. You may if you wish, Father.” Louis continued to stare into the fire.

“We smuggled Louis out of Temple Prison. He was only ten. We replaced him with another boy’s body already dead from disease,” Jacques said.

“Some of the books say that there were witnesses with him when he died.”

“Mesmerization is a wonderful tool.” Noblesse’s mother smiled and winked at Donovan.

“But there is DNA evidence from the Prince of France’s heart interred at St. Denis,” Noblesse said.

“Ever hear of tampering with evidence?” Jacques asked. “It was in Louis’s best interest that the world think him dead.”

“You aged him with Shuma Moot?” Max asked.

“Yes. We needed to age him fast, so we could leave Paris for a while,” Jacques said.

Louis looked angry and sad at the same time, but he didn’t add to the conversation on his life. Noblesse felt torment radiating from him. She reached into her pocket and took out the little book.

“We are family here, wouldn’t you agree, Louis, my brother?”

“Sure.”

“A French writing desk that Donovan bought for me survived the explosion at the Arnhem Society, though it did break in half. In it we found the little book with the information about my mother and Jacques. It’s a dear book written by a mother, mostly about the love she had for her children.”

Noblesse stood up and walked over to Louis, who looked confused. “It has helped a great deal in my life. I give to you, because by rights it is yours.” She handed him the book, and he opened it.

“What is it, Francesca?” her mother asked.

“It is a diary of Queen Marie Antoinette, hidden for centuries.”

Louis’s expression melted into sorrow, as he read. A blood tear slipped down his cheek. “Thank you, my sister Francesca.”

Noblesse returned to snuggle with Donovan in the love seat. The family sat quietly together watching the fire for a long time.

Louis stood facing the fire, swinging his arm as if to throw, but in the last minute held the little book against his heart instead.

Blurb:

Noblesse is the daughter of the Vampire King of New York Maximillion Vander Meer. In his absence, she is the CEO of VMeer Industries and is an Arnhem Knight (a vampire warrior sworn to protect human life in New York and render aid to other supernaturals.)

But in the over two hundred years, she’s been a vampire, Noblesse has never found a true love or discovered what happened to her mother who disappeared just prior to the French Revolution.

Noblesse has to choose between two men. Both profess their love. Both are keeping a secret from her. One wants to destroy her, and one wants to love her forever. But which one?

Buy Links:

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Meet Susan Hanniford Crowley

Susan has been writing since she was 8 years old. She started out writing animal stories as a child and grew into a science fiction and fantasy author. Her short stories appeared in anthologies edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her novella Ladyknight published in the Spells of Wonder anthology went international. In 2006, a friend suggested paranormal romance and it’s been her passion ever since. Currently, she has two paranormal romance series, a mythology romance, and a steampunk romance. Susan specializes in vampires and rare supernaturals. She enjoys incorporating historical mysteries and places of interest into her novels, and does intense research.

Susan, the founder of the Nights of Passion blog, a member of RWA and SFWA,  speaks at scifi and romance conferences. In her day job, she is a webmaster. Married for 38 years, she is a mother and grandmother. Her goal is to give her readers as much fun as possible. Susan believes we all need more fun in our lives.

Website: www.susanhannifordcrowley.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Susan-Hanniford-Crowley/e/B004YXOGXG

Blog: http://nightsofpassion.wordpress.com

Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/SusanHannifordCrowley/about

(I still have some room for friends on my profile. Please, say you’re from the Tattler!)

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The Teatime Tattler recommends the virtues of Prudence

rolinda-sharples-clifton-assembly-room1The Season is off to an excellent, if early, start. Lady S., daughter-in-law of the Duke of W. must be delighted with the attendance at her soirée, though perhaps less than pleased with the behaviour of some.

While this year’s crop of debutantes has not yet been served up to the marriage mart, those remaining from previous seasons were in eager attendance, every mother hoping to steal a march on all the others in attracting the attention of wealthy or titled bachelors or widowers with a mind to wed, while avoiding fortune hunters and those with more sinister intentions.

In corners of the main reception rooms, the powerful decided the disposition of whatever pawns they controlled: brokering treaties between nations, political parties, trading enterprises, families, or potential marriage partners, depending on the interests of the negotiating parties.

brummellBut the affairs of the great are far from the only business conducted at such an event, and last night was no exception.

In rooms set up for the purpose, gentlemen and ladies with a yen for such things offered up the evening to fate represented by the turn of a card.

In the ballroom, fashionable gentlemen eyed one another in the endless struggle for elevation in the eyes of those they are pleased to call friends, while those more given to energetic pursuits danced or stood in small groups discussing horses or hunting or pugilistic exploits.

Ladies spoke sweet flatteries to one another’s faces and shredded appearances and reputations behind one another’s backs. Maidens sought husbands, wives sought lovers, poor widows sought protectors, and wealthy widows amusement. Everywhere, couples—as they have since the beginning of time—bargained for affection: temporary or bound by vows before a cleric; some under the eyes of stern chaperones and others in less well-lit corners on the dance floor or the chilly terrace.

In small darkened rooms throughout the mansion, those desiring a tryst found a few moments of privacy. Among them, we are assured, was Lord S. himself and also his son, Lord E., who was seen to absent himself from public places on two separate occasions, each time with a different companion.

Our informants also observed Lady G., the duke’s spinster daughter, meeting with a much younger man who is believed to have been Mr. W., widely rumoured to be the unclaimed and unwanted base-born son of the Duke of H.

One can hardly imagine that a lady of such pristine reputation would be indulging in an amorous encounter, but that leaves only the possibility that she is employing Mr. W. in his capacity of thief-taker. Has her ladyship lost a valuable item, perhaps? Is she acting on behalf of Lady S. to investigate the activities of her brother or nephew? Or both? We will watch developments and keep you informed.

As if that were not enough, Mr. W. and an unidentified woman, possibly one of the army of companions in attendance on various matrons, were involved in the most shocking event of the evening. They combined to effect a rescue of a foolish damsel who allowed herself to be enviegled into one of the aforementioned private rooms.

maidenOne would expect a maiden in her second season to show more sense than to respond to a note from a man, and certainly the girl’s protectors to display more awareness of their charge’s whereabouts. Was the title ‘Earl’ a lure that caused her and her chaperone to cast discretion and rational thought to the wind?

We could have advised the young lady that this particular earl has been known to ruin and abandon foolish young women who go apart in his company. His recent ascent to the title on his father’s death has clearly not changed his character.

Fortunately for the damsel, the man (we hesitate to call him a gentleman) was interrupted in his evil pursuit, and she was delivered intact, having had a salutary scare, to Lady G., a well-known defender of the innocent. And her own family name and fortune mean that any sanctions against her from the arbiters of social standing will be mild.

As for the Earl in question, we are assured that he has been banned from ever entering the household again. And where Lady S. leads can other hostesses be slow to follow?

Yes, the Season is off to an exciting start indeed!

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The Sutton soirée is the scene of the first chapter in Jude’s new historical mystery, Revealed in Mist, currently available on pre-order and to be released early in December. Mr. W. and the unnamed companion appeared in The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle, a novella in Hand-Turned Tales, as the rescuers of the blind earl and his countess who were the hero and heroine of that novella. You may also have met them (as David Wakefield and his mysterious woman partner) investigating a crime for the hero of Farewell to Kindness.

Their pasts could bring them together or separate them forever

revealed-in-mist-smallPrue’s job is to uncover secrets, but she hides a few of her own. When she is framed for murder and cast into Newgate, her one-time lover comes to her rescue. Will revealing what she knows help in their hunt for blackmailers, traitors, and murderers? Or threaten all she holds dear?

Enquiry agent David solves problems for the ton, but will never be one of them. When his latest case includes his legitimate half-brothers as well as the woman who left him months ago, he finds the past and the circumstances of his birth difficult to ignore. Danger to Prue makes it impossible.

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Revealed in Mist is on pre-order at most eretailers. Sadly, not on Amazon, since Jude is in Amazon jail for getting the final version of Gingerbread Bride to them two days late, only eight days before release. Circumstances beyond Jude’s control doesn’t cut it with the Amazon guards, so no pre-order. But if you want the book in Kindle format, pre-order from Smashwords, iBooks, or Barnes and Noble, or follow Jude on Amazon for an email the day the book goes live.

Smashwords * iBooks * Barnes and Noble * Follow me on Amazon

About Jude Knight

Jude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place, where they can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, delight in a happy ending, and return from their virtual holiday refreshed and ready for anything.

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Interview with the spy’s husband

park-444223_1920The newest correspondent for The Teatime Tattler is masked, but the mask cannot disguise the youth of her voice or the slenderness of her form. Still, who better to interview a viscount about his life and his love, than a lady? The predictable, thrifty, chivalrous hero from Barbara Devlin’s book My Lady, The Spy takes the seat beside her in the park, as arranged.

Anonymous interviewer for The Teatime Tattler: What is your full name?

Viscount Wainsbrough: Dirk Henry Archibald Randolph, Viscount Wainsbrough.

TTT: Do you have a nickname?

VW: My brother calls me His Dullship of Wainsbrough, though I take issue with his characterization.  What Rebecca calls me is between my wife and I.

TTT: What is one word that best describes you?

VW: Honorable.

TTT: You don’t elaborate much, do you?

VW: I exercise economy in all things.

TTT: Describe what you are wearing now to our readers.

VW: Buckskin breeches, a white shirt sans cravat, a dark green hacking jacket, and highly polished Hessians.

TTT: Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

VW: I do not believe I am as stodgy as Ms. Devlin thinks, and I suspect my wife would agree with my assessment.

TTT: What makes you laugh out loud?

VW: I am not one to engage in frivolous jollity.

TTT: What is your favorite dessert?

VW: Rebecca, my wife.

TTT: What is your favorite drink?

VW: Brandy.

TTT: What is your greatest fear?

VW: That Rebecca might be recalled into service for the Counterintelligence Corps.

TTT: What is your favorite color?

VW: In truth, I have no such partiality, but Rebecca believes I favor burgundy, which was my father’s preference.  It is a longstanding joke in my family.

TTT: What do you wear when you go to sleep?

VW: That is between my wife and I.

TTT: What is the perfect romantic date?

VW: Ah, Ms. Devlin explained that a date refers to a private event, of sorts, with a lady, and that is an easy answer.  Anything involving my wife.  Beyond that, my needs are simple.

TTT: How ticklish are you? Where are you ticklish?

VW: I am immune to such childish antics.

TTT: What’s your favourite smell?

VW: I adore Rebecca’s lavender water.

TTT: What does it remind you of?

VW: Why, my wife, of course.

TTT: When you look at a woman what catches your interest?

VW: The only woman who holds my attention is Rebecca, and I love her brown eyes.  She is the only woman I have any interest in touching or having touch me.

TTT: Do you have somebody in your life now?

VW: Rebecca is my life.

TTT: What is one word that best describes her?

VW: Incomparable.

TTT: Is your book part of a series?

VW: It is the second in the Brethren of the Coast series.

TTT: What does the future hold for the readers of the series?

VW: Each member of the Brethren has a story, and some have yet to be told.  I believe Damian’s story, The Duke Wears Nada, debuts in January 2017, and I am anxiously awaiting that one, as he is long overdue for his comeuppance.

Barbara says: It’s truly an honor to join the Bluestocking Belles, and I’ve enjoyed introducing one of my favorite characters, the hero from my second book, My Lady, The Spy, which draws heavily on my previous career as a police officer, as well as my personal experiences with undercover work.  Enjoy!

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Excerpt of My Lady, The Spy, Brethren of the Coast book II

barabra-devlin-book-coverThe Descendants
France
April, 1811

Death came in a matter of seconds, and it chose a beautiful, star-filled night.  In the silver glow of moonlight, the blood staining the front of her peach silk gown, and oozing between her fingers, appeared black as soot from a chimney.

“Oh, Colin.  I am so sorry.”  Voices echoed in the distance, and L’araignee peered into the darkness to check the vicinity.  “I never should have left you alone.”

Amid the blooming rose bushes heralding the advent of spring, the renewal of life, another life had ended.  The head cradled in her lap had once sported a boyish expression that melted many a female heart.  Now, with his face eerily devoid of emotion, she bent and kissed the only spot on Colin’s forehead not covered with blood.

“I will avenge you, my sweet angel.”  Despair was a bitter pill, and L’araignee clenched a fist and swallowed a sob.  “I swear it on the graves of my parents.”

A search party drew nigh, and she had to depart or risk a similar fate.

Yet it was so hard to let go.

Her partner would be buried in an unmarked grave, with no ceremony, prayer, or eulogy offered.  And no mourner would shed a tear.

Because no one grieved the death of a spy.

“Over here.  There is someone over here!

“I will cry for you, and I shall carry your memory forever,” she said in a whisper.  For the last time, she caressed his cheek and eased his head from her lap.  She pressed her fingers to her lips, and then touched his cold flesh.  “Be at peace, my darling.”

Rustling in the bushes brought her up short.

“You there, stand fast,” an unknown male ordered.

“I think not,” L’araignee stated softly below the interloper’s earshot.

In a flash, she ran behind a tall hedge to a hailstorm of protestations.  Ah, a garden was an excellent hiding place.  After eluding her pursuers and gaining a measure of safety among the topiaries, she doffed her gown, slippers, and undergarments and rolled everything into a tight ball.

Quickly, she dropped to her knees and crawled beneath the thick canopy of a thorny shrub, which opened countless tiny cuts in her flesh.  Ignoring the burning sensation, she smeared handfuls of damp earth on her skin as camouflage.  When footsteps approached, she covered her mouth, because the slightest gasp could betray her location.  Through the foliage, she counted five rows of buttons on a hussar-style waistcoat and bit her lip.  The man was a member of General Bonaparte’s la Garde imperiale.

And L’araignee was in trouble.

If Bony wanted her, she had been well and truly compromised.

Fear shivered down her spine.  She saluted the disconcerting reaction and set it aside, because now was not the time for hysterics.  She had to get to a safe house.  Had to make a run for the Belgian coast.  If her communiqué had reached London, Colin’s friend, a trusted ally, should be anchored offshore.

Dirk Randolph would take her home.

Information of utmost importance had to be delivered to the Ministry of Defense and the Counterintelligence Corps.  What she possessed was vital to national security, and she could not fail in her duty.

Colin had died for what she knew.

There was a traitor to the Crown in their ranks.

The situation was urgent, and she had to move.  With the stealth and skill of a seasoned agent, she slipped between row upon row of ornamental trees and bushes in the elegant garden.  Conversation ahead halted her flight.  With nary a sound, L’araignee shimmied on all fours and sheltered in the underside of a large holly.  The pointed leaves snagged her hair and the bundled clothing.

“I thought I saw someone come this way.”

From her vantage, several pairs of hussar boots appeared on the path.

“Well, there is no one here now.”  The guard kicked a small stone.  “Get some privates from the infantry, and have them dig a hole for the body.  I am returning to the ball.”

L’araignee sat still for several minutes.  Despite inclinations to the contrary, she remained calm and patient.  An ambitious military man could be lurking in the vicinity, in hopes of making a name for himself at her expense.  It was an old trick; one she knew well.

“You are so very sly,” she whispered to herself.  “But so am I.”

She waited a tad longer.

Muffled footsteps caught her trained ear, and she shook her head and smiled.

They would not catch L’araignee that night.

About Barbara Devlin

barbara-devlin-logoBestselling, Amazon All-Star author Barbara Devlin was born a storyteller, but it was a week long vacation to Bethany Beach, DE that forever changed her life. The little house her parents rented had a collection of books by Kathleen Woodiwiss, which exposed Barbara to the world of romance, and Shanna remains a personal favorite.

Barbara writes heartfelt historical romances that feature flawed heroes who may know how to seduce a woman but know nothing of marriage. And she prefers feisty but smart heroines who sometimes save the hero, before they find their happily ever after.

After a line-of-duty injury forced her to retire from police work, Barbara earned an MA in English and continued a course of study for a Doctorate in Literature and Rhetoric. She happily considered herself an exceedingly eccentric English professor, until success in Indie publishing lured her into writing, full-time, featuring her fictional knighthood, the Brethren of the Coast.

 

What is it with cats and boxes?

box3Hollystone Hall, Buckinghamshire

November 1812

Marcel Fournier sat on the bed assigned to him in the wing set aside for upper servants at Hollystone Hall and brooded on his wrongs.

The house was grand enough, the house party would serve the highest in Society, and Marcel could certainly not complain about the wages he would receive for a mere month of employment. The Duchess of Haverford was also compensating him richly for the few days needed to visit the house this month so he could advise on the construction of the kitchen he would use for the three-week event.

And that was the sticking point.

Not the kitchen itself. They were building—had almost finished building—a whole new kitchen out of some unused storage rooms. He was thrilled and flattered to have final say on the selection and placement of equipment, from the modern iron range to the last pot and spoon. No. He had no complaints about the kitchen he already regarded as his own.

Even the need for a second kitchen; he could concede the sense of that. To him would fall the important task of preparing the banquets that would thrill and impress the guests each and every night, culminating in the dinner on the night of the grand ball that would end the house party. He and the servants set to assist him would have their hands full with dish after dish after dish, each one different and each magnificent.

Let the English cook have her own kitchen to make little scones and heavy cakes, to fry eggs, bacon, and sausages, for the lesser meals of the day.

But she should answer to him. He, Marcel Fournier, was the master chef. He was a former apprentice to the great Carême himself. He should be in charge of all menus, ruler of both kitchens, deciding what would be made and how the kitchen staff were to be allocated. What was this Cissie Pearce but a country cook?

“Good English cooking,” Mademoiselle Grenford had said. “Mrs. Pearce is known for her good English cooking.”

Marcel could do good English cooking! Had he not grown up here in England after his family escaped from the Terror?

In Spitalfields, until he was apprenticed to a cook in an inn on Tottenham Court Road, then in Soho where he took charge in an earl’s kitchen, and finally, after having himself smuggled into France and attracting the man’s attention by the bold trick of sneaking into his office with a box of his own pâtisseries and menus for a year’s worth of banquets, in the kitchen and under the direct supervision of the great Marie Antoine Carême, chef to Tallyrand and through him to the diplomats of Europe.

For the past six years, Marcel had been one of the most sought-after chefs in the whole South of England. Good English cooking, indeed.

She was a little dab of a thing, Mademoiselle Grenford, with her light brown hair pulled back into one of the unloveliest coiffures he had ever seen and her thick glasses concealing rather fine eyes. He had thought her a mouse and had tried to overwhelm her with his masculine authority, honed by years as undisputed master of a kitchen. “I shall be in charge, of course, mademoiselle,” he told her. “I am a trained chef and a man. Madame Pearce shall lead in her own kitchen, but both kitchens shall answer to me.”

“The two kitchens shall operate independently, Monsieur Fournier,” the little mouse replied calmly. “Each of you shall be responsible for your own kitchen, its staff, and the food it produces.”

Whatever arguments he raised, however loudly, she just repeated the same thing. When Marcel Fournier was displeased, sous-chefs made themselves inconspicuous, apprentices cried, and kitchen maids fainted, but Mademoiselle Grenford just repeated, “The two kitchens shall operate independently,” until he ran out of ire, and came to bed.

So what now? Should he tell the duchess that he would not take the commission? Did he continue to agitate to be master below stairs? Or would he cede the field and with it the lucrative rewards of the handsome fee he was being paid and the opportunity to impress potential clients for the restaurant he would one day open when his savings grew sufficiently?

Put like that, there was little choice. The English had a saying about cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. He preferred his nose to continue in its current position. Well then. In the morning, he would concede, and he would do so with flair. Madame Pearce would be grateful for his magnanimity. Mademoiselle Grenford would be impressed at his generosity.

Since he was staying, he would inspect his kitchen again. He had some ideas for improving the layout. He would note them tonight and instruct the little mademoiselle in the morning.

Marcel found his slate and some chalk and threaded through the dark halls. His candle threw insufficient light in the cavernous space that would, in less than a month, be a bustling centre for gastronomic excellence. He retraced his steps to Mrs. Pearce’s deserted domain and retrieved a whole box of candles.

Two hours later, his slate covered with notes and his head full of plans, he went to return the box. In the morning, he would astound the little mouse with his brilliance! But he stopped at the kitchen door. There, enveloped in a shawl over her nightrail, with her hair cascading over her shoulders, was Mademoiselle Grenford herself, her elbows on the table, a cup clasped between two hands.

Hot milk, perhaps? He could have made her hot milk, with a touch of nutmeg and perhaps a hint of honey to sweeten. Perhaps he should offer.

No. He would not disturb her.

Marcel took the image of her back to his room. She was a sweet little mouse, was Mademoiselle. Out of his orbit, of course. He hinted to clients of his elevated family, brought low by the revolution. The claims were fantasy. He had been born in a noble household, as he claimed, but his father was a valet, and his mother a dairy maid.  La Grenford really was a lady of the nobility, and from a ducal family at that.

But he could ease her way in this coming house party, and he would.

As he prepared for bed, he imagined her expressions of delight as guest after guest complimented her on the fine cuisine and the smooth running of the dinner service. The large, comfortable bed would do very well for the month he would be in residence. Yes. The decision to stay was an excellent one.

He reached over to douse the candle but stopped. What was that noise? There it was again. A squeak? Had he conjured mice with his thoughts of the little mouse lady? But no, it was not a mouse squeak. More of a…

In seconds, he was out of bed and zeroing in on his travelling trunk, from which the sounds came, and what he saw there sent him running to the kitchen.

“Mademoiselle, you must come. You must come immediately. It is an outrage.”

She looked up and blushed scarlet. “Monsieur! Your…” She turned her head away.

He looked down. He wore his shirt to bed, and nothing more, except a night cap against the cold. Coloring himself, he backed out the door. ”I will dress, Mademoiselle. But quickly, and then you must come. A minute. No more.”

Soon, with the cap shoved under a pillow and his shirt tucked into hastily donned pantaloons and covered by a banyan, he stood beside the lady looking down into the trunk, where a scrawny white cat fed a litter of newborn kittens. Inside his luggage. On his chef’s caps and aprons.

“It is an outrage,” he repeated a little helplessly. The cat was watching them through eyes slitted with the joys of motherhood and purring loudly enough to wake the household.

“This is Cristal, the housekeeper’s cat,” the mademoiselle said. “Mrs Stanley will be pleased that you found her, Monsieur Fournier. She was worried.”

“Found her? Worried? But she…” Running out of words, he scratched the cat behind one ear, and she purred more loudly.

“You keep an eye on her,” the mouse commanded, “and I shall find a box in which to move her. Do not worry, monsieur. I will see to it that your garments are laundered in the morning, and they shall be good as new.”

And she whisked out of the room, leaving him guardian of the feline and her young and in possession of the memory of an exceedingly trim pair of ankles.

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The excerpt above is from A Suitable Husband, the linking story in our box set for this holiday season.

Lucky kittens! By the time the duchess’s house party begins, they’ll be old enough to venture into the house, and all seven will find a home in one of our Holly and Hopeful Hearts stories. And each Saturday from next week, one of the Bluestocking Belles will be looking for a home for one of Cristal’s kittens. Find the post, read the story excerpt, and enter the rafflecopter for your own soft toy representation of these wee treasures.

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