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A family feud in London’s ballrooms

The Earl of M. has returned to England, after fifteen years overseas. This paper understands that he has been touring Europe, the Levant, and even the East since he was abducted from England when he was a mere schoolboy.

Our younger readers may not remember the rancorous battle when his father died; his stepmother and fraternal uncle claiming custody, and his maternal uncle insisting that his rivals wanted the young earl dead.No evidence was ever offered, except for accidents such as any befall any twelve-year-old. But then he disappeared, the only evidence of his continuing existence quarterly letters to his agents and lawyers.

With the Earl back in Society, all eyes are on him and the two from whom he fled: the Dowager Countess of M. and her constant companion, her husband’s younger brother Lord D. P. If these two are disappointed that the younger man survived the many rigours of foreign travel, they hid it well at the Winshire Ball last night.

And if the Earl blames the older couple for the two unusual accidents and the street attack he has suffered since setting foot in London three weeks ago, he gave no sign of it.

Still such brushes with eternity must be giving him pause. He is understood to be looking for a bride. We look to see him apply the lessons in courting that we believe him to have learned in far-off climes.

***

This piece of gossip belongs to a short story I’m writing for my newsletter subscribers. I send out six free stories a year, and I post them on my website in password protected files open to my subscribers. Below is an extract from the beginning of the story; I hope you find it intriguing. Subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to read the rest of it when I send out my November announcements (which will be about the publication of two more books: another Christmas novella and a collection of all four of my stand-alone Christmas novellas at a discount price for the four).

If you’re into Facebook parties, I’ll be talking about both publications (and others) at Caroline Warfield’s Celebration of Holiday Reading today, and at the Bluestocking Belles’ Never Too Late Release Party on 4 November. Hope to see you there.

***

The Mouse Fights Back

Tiberius thought of his wife as Mouse.

He’d had a mouse once; a little wild creature that he’d rescued from his step-mother’s cat and carried off to the folly that he had been allowed to make his own because his step-mother did not care for wildernesses.

There, he’d nursed its wounds and released it, and for the rest of his long summer holiday, Mouse had eaten the food he left for it, occasionally even venturing from hiding while he was still in the room, though it would scurry away if he approached.

Miss Mouse—Miss Chausse was her real name, but he misheard it when he was introduced—had the same frightened, frozen stance when he first saw her, at the elbow of the fat sleek cat who he later learned to be her aunt, afraid to move lest her torturer stop pretending to ignore her and returned to her vicious games.

He wasn’t here in Society to rescue mice, however, so he moved on to the next lady on his list. With his uncle determined to step into his shoes, Tiberius needed to fill his nursery, and he couldn’t make a start on that without first obtaining a wife.

The search went poorly,not least because Mouse kept intruding. Not by design. She did her best to remain invisible. But Tiberius noticed whenever she was present and looked for her when she wasn’t.

Wondering at himself, he once asked her to dance, but the experiment was not a success. She wouldn’t look at him, stumbled when he spoke, and mumbled when she answered his questions. Still, she was graceful when he gave up conversing, and he fancied she gentled to his touch as they moved through the figures of the dance.

He might have tried again, except that he saw the fear in her face when he returned her to her aunt; saw her shrink into herself when another gentleman took his example and asked for her to partner him. The aunt’s verbal onslaught when she returned from this second set left Mouse white-faced and fighting to hold back tears.

Tiberius could not solve her problems. He had troubles enough of his own, and needed a strong-minded wife who could protect and defend the new earl if one of the murder plots succeeded before Tiberius could prove that his uncle was the mastermind behind them. Him and dear step-Mama who, it transpired, was an intimate friend of Mouse’s aunt. Two cats together.

Still, he stepped in to rescue the poor girl from the claws of some cats-in-training outside the ladies’ retiring room one day, and another time punched a known debaucher in the nose and escorted Mouse out of the garden she had unaccountably entered.

“You should not have been out there alone,” he scolded, keeping his voice as calm and gentle as he could with the anger and outrage still surging in his veins.

“My aunt–” Mouse coloured and stammered. Her aunt would be angry?

“I will not tell her, Miss Chausse.” He meant to reassure, and instead received an indignant glare.

“She took me outside. She left me with… That man.”

His hand convulsed on hers and she trembled, impelling him to gentle his touch. “The nasty old cat!”

His indignation must have given her courage, because she burst into an explanation, admirably succinct. “She is afraid I might marry, and remove my money from her grasp, and so she seeks to have me ruined, though she has not thought about how that might curtail her social life. But aunt is not clever, just cunning.”

The speech was the longest he’d heard from her, and full of intelligence and even a certain bitter humour. “But surely…” Tiberius stopped, uncertain how to say that she must be in her mid-20s, with the spectre of marriage behind her.

“I am twenty-two, but my inheritance is in trust until I am thirty. And no one has shown any interest in me in five years since my come out until you… That is, until this year.”

Ah. Tiberius had put her at risk by dancing with her. How our good deeds come back to haunt us.

“I am sorry,” he offered.

Mouse did not pretend to misunderstand him. “You are not responsible. You did not make aunt a bully or my trustee a thief. Or me too much of a coward to stand up to them.”

They had stopped on the terrace, far enough apart from others for this private conversation, but in full decorous sight of at least a score of people, and there her aunt found them, Tiberius’s step mother and uncle at her elbow.

“Where have you been, you wicked girl?”

 

The Inverness Marriage Maker Strikes Again

“Lorena, my dear, you’ll never believe what I just read in this morning’s issue of The Teatime Tattler!

“That old rag? Sister dear, I’ve told you time and time again that Mr. Clemens’s newspaper is nothing but a scandal sheet. I don’t know why it is you waste your pocket money on such rubbish.”

Lavinia Forrester rolled her eyes. “Rubbish it may be, dear sister, but I’m quite certain there is something here you would find of considerable interest.”

Lorena Clapham put down her sewing and gave her sister a glassy stare. “I am equally certain there is nothing there that I care to hear, Lavinia. Do put it down before the servants see you reading it.”

The Tattler has it on good authority that Miss Cornelia Hardcastle, daughter of Admiral and Mrs. Cornelius Hardcastle was married on Friday last to Mr. Preston Warrington, brother of William, Viscount Warrington, of Cheshire.” She paused in order to witness her sister’s reaction.

She wasn’t disappointed. Lorena’s head jerked back and her sewing clattered to the floor. “Miss Hardcastle, you say? But that can’t be true!”

“After a seaside honeymoon at Brighton, the newlyweds will return to London to take up residence at the Hardcastle home on Leicester Square, which will soon be vacated when the Admiral and his wife sail for Canada where he will take up the post of Governor General of British North America.”

Lorena snatched the newspaper out of her sister’s hands and continued reading, her fury giving her words an angry intensity.

“Our confidential correspondent claims that this is the latest of a long line of successful matches coordinated by Sir Stirling James, popularly styled “The Inverness Marriage Maker” whose own marriage to a duke’s daughter was the result of one of his most challenging schemes. One has to wonder from whence this particular power emanates and how far it can be taken. It is the opinion of this writer that there will soon be an exodus of carriages of desperate parents taking to the Great North Road to avail themselves of Sir Stirling’s skills for their recalcitrant sons and daughters.”

“Miss Hardcastle swore to my son she would never, ever marry. She broke his heart and he’s never been the same since!”

It’s not her fault she didn’t return his affection. And who can blame her? He’s always been such a nitwit. 

“Perhaps now he’ll look for another young lady.”  Not a chance. A wife would interfere with his drinking, gaming, and whoring.

Lorena dropped the newspaper on the table, a faraway look in her eyes. “A marriage maker, eh? You don’t suppose…”

Lavinia’s eyes widened. “Surely you don’t intend to engage the Inverness Marriage Maker? Why, you don’t even know him—and he’s in Scotland.”

Her sister shrugged. “He must travel to London on occasion. How else did he manage to induce Miss Hardcastle into marriage when she has sworn against it? I daresay he won’t have half so much trouble with my darling Robin. Oh Sister, he will be ever so much more steady with a sensible wife.”

Lavinia groaned. Poor Sir Stirling. After this seemingly innocent piece in The Tattler, she suspected he was going to be inundated with mail from desperate parents all over the British Isles.

The Marriage Maker Goes Undercover

Fall 2017

Lady Elana Gallaway, known as master spy The Raven, has made a career of navigating enemy territory and risking her life in situations and places no gentlewoman should know exist. She possesses all the social graces, and is adept at sweeping into glittering royal courts on the Continent, then vanishing without a trace after she’s ferreted out the treacherous secrets that drew her there in the name of duty. She’s equally accomplished in London and Edinburgh, or wherever the British King requires her service. But never has a mission struck so close to her heart—or proved so daunting—as finding love for four retired spies.

These operatives have helped her many times, once or twice, even saving her from certain death at risk to their own lives. 

Now, they live solitary lives, lonely lives while surrounded by throngs. Luckily, Elana hasn’t forgotten them. Her career has introduced her to more than enemies. Among her close friends is Sir Stirling James, the famous Inverness marriage maker. He’s just the man she needs.

The Marriage Obligation by Susana Ellis

Cornelia Hardcastle has been determined never to marry since she was eighteen and discovered an ugly family secret. Now that she’s twenty-four, however, her parents want to see her settled so they can move to Canada for her father’s prestigious new government post. Not a chance!

The second son of a viscount, Preston Warrington is more than happy to leave the viscount business to his brother so he can travel the world in search of adventure. His recent stint as a spy for the British in the War with the French has come to an end, and he’s getting pressured to marry and settle down. Hell no!

How could the notorious Marriage Maker from Inverness all the way in Scotland possibly know that these two marriage-averse individuals are perfect for each other?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Loved and Lost

Fira poured the last of the ale into a goblet held out in front of her, yet her attention remained on the man across the Great Hall who paced in front of the turret stairs. A pinch to her already bruised back side tore a snarl from her lips as she swatted away the outstretched hand of a knight.

“Not tonight, Sir Turquine,” she bellowed, causing the knights at the table to chuckle.

“I told you ’twas a lost cause, brother,” Taegan laughed. “She has her mind set on another this eve!”

“You cannot blame me for trying,” Turquine retorted. “Be a good lass, Fira, and bring us more ale. We have a long night of drinking afore us.”

Grumbling to herself, Fira returned to the kitchen to refill her pitcher. The knights had a mighty thirst this night and she would be lucky if she saw her bed afore the dawn. Her gaze traveled through the doorway and her heart flipped with his nearness. No other man in the hall held her interest, although she had taken several of them to her bed at one time or another. Nay, the only one she cared about was the clan’s piper.

He was a handsome man with his tawny colored hair and bright green eyes. She had thought she had a chance with Garrick of Clan MacLaren. After all… he had never once made any advances towards her, not like the rest of the men she had bedded. Mayhap ’twas why she was attracted to him… he had never been anything but respectful towards her and because of this, he had unknowingly slipped into her heart.  They had been on friendly enough terms for a while now and she had thought she was making progress in possibly wringing a proposal from him, or so she had assumed. Then she arrived at Berwyck and everything had changed.

’Twas as though the other women in the kitchen knew where her thoughts had led as she began overhearing their conversation about her nemesis.

“She be a true lady, that one is. No uppity airs, no demanding ways. She does her deceased brother proud, she does,” boasted one of the serfs.

“Do not forget she is Laird Dristan’s cousin and as such ’twould be wise tae treat her with respect lest ye wish tae feel the heat o’ the Devil’s Dragon’s wrath,” another replied with a shudder.

“Bah!” Fira fumed. Slamming the pitcher down upon the table, she wagged her finger at the women who had no issue gossiping amongst themselves. “She doesna belong here and should go back tae France or wherever Sir Morgan found her.”

“Yer just jealous because ye have lost the favor o’ our handsome piper.”

“I havena lost him,” Fira boasted, “and I can have him in me bed with a crook of me finger, I can.”

“Ye may get him in yer bed, but yer reward will likely be a babe in yer belly and nothing else,” another called out.

“He willna marry ye, ye silly girl.” A chorus of laughter erupted from those near enough to hear the conversation.

“Besides, I have heard Laird Dristan say he will look no lower than a knight fer her husband.”

“Then ’tis settled. Since Garrick holds no title, he is considered beneath her station in life so our laird willna let them marry,” Fira retorted with a smirk.

“Ye think that matters when yer in love? Ye best set yer sights on someone else fer ’tis plain fer all tae see Lady Coira has won Garrick’s heart.”

“Ye know nothing of Garrick’s heart,” Fira yelled.

“Then take a look,” the woman mocked, taking Fira by the arm and pushing her towards the doorway to observe what was taking place inside the hall.

Fira’s heart lurched when she espied the Lady Coria and Sir Morgan descend the stairs and Garrick bowed low afore the lady. Their conversation was brief but ’twas enough to see for herself the man she wanted for her husband had eyes only for another. Even whilst he took his place at the table to break his fast did he continue to stare upon Lady Coira. Only when the lady raised her chalice in a silent salute and Garrick returned the gesture with a smile did Fira finally begin to realize she had lost him.

“Heed my words, Fira, and leave him be. Another has already claimed him,” the woman taunted afore returning to the kitchen.

A sob tore from Fira’s lips. Life was so unfair and more so for someone in her position. She ran from the Great Hall to find her home, not caring if she would be punished come the morn for leaving the hall without finishing her duties for the night.


This original piece is a companion to The Piper’s Lady by Bluestocking Belle Sherry Ewing. The Piper’s Lady is one of eight novella’s within the Belles’ 2017 anthology, Never Too Late.

Never Too Late
A Bluestocking Belles Collection

Release Date November 4, 2017
Special Pre-order price ~ $0.99
25% benefits the Belles’ mutual charity The Malala Fund

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You can learn more about Sherry on her page here with the Belles or find her on her website here. Sherry loves to interact with her readers so be sure to sign up for her newsletter or join her Facebook Street Team to keep up-to-date.

 

Harry Townsend Found and Lost Again

Whenever Lily was alone in the workshop, she sat in her father’s chair.

He was out back with the new apprentice, showing him how to split a log into usable planks. From her seat at his desk, the familiar sound of sawing all but drowned out her sisters’ incessant chatter and the noise from the street outside. She leaned back and swung her boots onto the desk, taking up her file and setting to work on the toy in her hand. It was nice out here. The furniture for sale couldn’t tease her or pull her hair. It didn’t cry or scream or ask her for anything.

She could get used to this.

The door swung open and Tommy Henshawe rushed in. His cheeks were pink and he was out of breath, but he was smiling. He set a little cloth sack on the desk in front of her. “I can’t stay long, but I saved you some of these.”

Lily dropped her feet to the floor and leaned forward. “Cinnamon biscuits?”

He shook his head. “Raspberry this time. Grandma Ruta has a bush behind the bakery. I wanted to bring you some before they ate them all back home.” He opened up the sack to reveal half a dozen biscuits sticking to each other in the summer heat. They were golden and flaky and smelled like honey.

Lily snatched one and popped it into her mouth with a moan. “You have the best grandma,” she said between bites. “I thought she lived in the city.”

“She does.” He took a biscuit for himself. “She’s been coming around more to help mum until the baby comes.”

“How much longer?” Lily pinched another biscuit.

“Another month or two, I think.” He noticed the file and her half-finished project. “What are you working on?”

“I’m making a present for the baby. It’s a dagger.”

Tommy cocked his head. “I don’t know if babies are supposed to have daggers. They can hurt themselves.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “That’s why it’s wood,” she explained like he was stupid. “Mum and the girls are making blankets and clothes for it. Don’t tell your mum, I think it’s meant to be a surprise.”

Tommy grinned. “She’ll like that. Your mum’s so good at that. I haven’t been cold once since she patched my trousers. Are you going to learn to sew, too?”

“God, no.” Lily shuddered. “I’m going to grow up to be like my daddy.”

He nodded solemnly. “Me, too.”

The door opened again and a man stepped inside, looking lost. He was her mum’s age and dressed like a curate. He approached the desk slowly, no doubt surprised to find the shop being kept by a little girl. “Erm…good afternoon. Does Mark Virtue live here?”

Lily crossed her arms and looked him up and down. He was either a vicar or a lawyer, and she couldn’t think what either would want with her dad. “Who’s asking?”

“Eli Hartford,” he introduced himself. “I have a letter for him.”

He held the letter in one hand and his hat in the other. She had never seen such clean hands in her life. She didn’t trust him. “Why are your hands so clean?” She blurted.

He blinked at her, surprised by the line of questioning. “I work with lepers. Everything is clean.”

She nodded sagely, though she wasn’t quite sure what that meant. She got up and stuck her head out the back door. “Daddy! There’s a leper here to see you!”

Mark stopped dead in his tracks, the saw halfway through a log. “What?”

“I’m not a leper–” the man protested.

Lily shot him an impatient look over her shoulder.

Mark wiped the sweat from his face and pulled his shirt back on. He told the apprentice to take a break and strolled into the workshop. He looked relieved when he saw the man. “Lily, he’s not a leper, he’s a curate.” He shook his head. “How can I help?”

The man let out a sigh of relief and held out the letter to her father. The paper was thin and battered, as though it had traveled a very long way. “My name is Eli Hartford,” the non-leper repeated. “My sister Maude is indentured in the Carolinas and this was included in her last letter. She asked me to be sure you received it.”

The color drained from her father’s face. He seemed to know what it was. “Thank you, Mr Hartford. Do you know what it is? Is your sister well?”

“She’s well. She mentioned some trouble earlier in the year and that she believed you were looking for someone. That is all I know.”

Mark shook his hand. “I can’t thank you enough. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”

The man shook his head. “My thanks, sir, but I must be on my way. I hope you find who you’re looking for.”

After the man had left, Mark all but ran to the house, tearing the letter open as he went. “Jane! Jane!”

Lily ran after him, and Tommy followed close behind. Her mother appeared at the door with the baby on her hip. “What is it?”

“Word from the Carolinas.”

Jane’s eyes widened and she met him in the garden. “Harry?”

“It has to be.” His family gathering around him, he read aloud. “Dear Mr. Virtue, We have received your letters. My master burns them. I am forbidden from replying, but I write to you to repay the kindness Mr. Townsend showed me during his time here.”

Jane swallowed, the hope on her face fading.

“Mr. Townsend worked here for four years. He was treated very poorly and my master kept your letters from him. I saved one from the fire and read it to him.”

“Are we sure it’s the same Harry?” Jane asked. “It’s not an uncommon name.”

“He robbed my master, seduced his wife, and incited a riot the likes of which has not been seen since Virginia in ’76. Servants and slaves have escaped and a number of farms have been burned to the ground.” Mark grinned. “It’s him.”

Jane gaped, but she didn’t look unhappy. “Good lord, Harry.”

“My master has sworn vengeance and hunts him to this day. If he finds him, he’ll be shot. I am loathe to bear this tragic news, and I pray Mr. Townsend finds his way back to God.” Mark punched the air in triumph. “He’s fine.”

Jane laughed. “What do you mean, he’s fine? It sounds like he’s in trouble.”

“Nah.” Mark shrugged. “He’s found his way out of worse.”

***

You can read more about Harry, the Virtues, the Henshawes, and the other residents of Southwark in Jessica Cale’s The Southwark Saga, out now.  Mark and Jane’s book is Virtue’s Lady:

Virtue’s Lady

Lady Jane Ramsey is young, beautiful, and ruined.

After being rescued from her kidnapping by a handsome highwayman, she returns home only to find her marriage prospects drastically reduced. Her father expects her to marry the repulsive Lord Lewes, but Jane has other plans. All she can think about is her highwayman, and she is determined to find him again.

Mark Virtue is trying to go straight. After years of robbing coaches and surviving on his wits, he knows it’s time to hang up his pistol and become the carpenter he was trained to be. He busies himself with finding work for his neighbors and improving his corner of Southwark as he tries to forget the girl who haunts his dreams. As a carpenter struggling to stay in work in the aftermath of The Fire, he knows Jane is unfathomably far beyond his reach, and there’s no use wishing for the impossible.

When Jane turns up in Southwark, Mark is furious. She has no way of understanding just how much danger she has put them in by running away. In spite of his growing feelings for her, he knows that Southwark is no place for a lady. Jane must set aside her lessons to learn a new set of rules if she is to make a life for herself in the crime-ridden slum. She will fight for her freedom and her life if that’s what it takes to prove to Mark–and to herself–that there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Read Now on Kindle Unlimited

Scandal in Venice

VeniceThis house is not a brothel.  I Signora Rossi conduct a respectable boarding house—respectable! All Venice knows. And I tell you true. Those English aristos, they bring disgrace on my business. One would expect an earl and his sister to bring renown to an establishment like mine. Instead the Earl of Ambler and that disgraceful sister of his bring me ruin.

When they arrive, I already suspect. His so-called sister comes with no maid, no older lady to, what you call, chaperone. What kind of “lady,” travels with men and no older woman? The clink of their coin sounded more real than their story; I swallowed my misgivings. Perhaps a respectable older woman, delayed along the road, did follow. So far I see no sign of her. The earl, he looks younger so perhaps he really is her brother. She calls herself Lady Charlotte Tyree.

The earl comes in drunk, loud— very late the first night, shouting that he met that English poet Byron, another aristo. A very bad set, that. Me, I try to warn the woman, but the earl? Like most men, he don’t listen. If he visits Venice to study our architecture or take in Tinteretto, I see no sign of it. The few days he doesn’t sleep all day he runs off with that poet to Lazaretto and the Armenians. Only the girl spends time in our many lovely churches. She does the sketching and the studying. Perhaps he plans to pass her work off as his—idiota.

The girl behaves well enough. I began to think her respectable and pity her the company of her spoiled brother. Last week everything changes. Due pescatori still in their fishing clothes and drunk as lords, drop the earl at my door smelling of fish and rotten water. The boy tried to swim Il Canal Grande like his idol, an even bigger fool. He spews canal water—and worse—on my floors. 

VeniceNow scandal in my house. I not bargain for scandal. The medico—the one with the horrid children and nasty mother—he arrives. I stand at my door and before I can blink he comes down my stairs carrying that girl over his shoulder. He dumps her in his ancient gondola and leaves his helper upstairs with the earl. No coin. Not one word to me.

Santa madre di Dio! What is a widow to do?

About the Book: Lady Charlotte’s Christmas Vigil

It’s 1818 and Byron is in Venice. When Lady Charlotte Tyree’s feckless brother attempts to mimic his idol and swim the Grand Canal, putrid fever lays him flat and strands her there. Venice, Christmas, a handsome Italian doctor… her life is about to take an interesting turn.

Pre-order from Amazon or Epub from Smashwords

About the Author

Caroline Warfield, a Bluestocking Belle and regular contributor to The Teatime Tattler, writes historical romance. In addition to her holiday novellas, she writes novels set in the Regency and immediate post-Regency eras.  In her newest series, Children of Empire, three cousins driven apart by lies and deceit, find their way home from the farthest corners of the British Empire—and find love along the way.

Find out more here.

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