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Some old acquaintance are better forgot


“Cici! Darling!” The tall lady in the fashionable dress turned at her name, and pasted on a smile as a willowy blonde in green hurried across the room to seize her hands and kiss in the vicinity of her cheek.

She returned the salute, the smile still not reaching her eyes. Lady Norton had retired to the country a year ago, perhaps because her husband was ill. And then, a few months ago, she was widowed; not an unexpected occurence with a groom some forty years her senior.

Apparently, she was back. “Vivi, I did not know you were out of mourning.”

Vivi waved at her gown, and laughed, the melodious tinkle that Cici had heard her practice every morning when they shared a room at the select ladies’ academy they had both attended. “As you see, my dear. And Guy says it will be perfectly acceptable for me to attend assemblies and the like, but not to dance.”

“You are staying with your brother?” Guy Kitteridge had been a suitor for Cecily’s hand. Thank goodness she had had the sense to select dear Thornley instead. And Thornley had chosen her instead of being distracted by Vivi’s obvious and openly proffered charms.

Girls were protected from the very knowledge that would keep them safe, but since her marriage she had learned that Kitteridge was vicious as well as rather stupid. Somewhat like his sister, in fact.

“With my aunt, though I have just come from meeting Guy. Cici, you will never guess who Guy and I ran into today. Candle Avery! Lord Avery, I suppose I should call him now, since his father died. Such a tragic accident. And his mother will never walk again, or so I hear.” She smiled, as if this news was particularly delightful. “I suppose it must be true, since he was at a business meeting with a designer of invalid chairs. He must be buying one for his mother, do you not suppose?”

“How sweet,” Cecily said. “He always was a very nice man.”

Vivi dismissed the comment. “I suppose. Odd-looking though. So tall and skinny, and his hair such a bright shade of red. No wonder his schoolfriends called him Candle!”

Not friends at all, from what Cecily had heard, but bullies led by Vivi’s own brother.

“Still,” Vivi was pursuing her own line of thought. “He is a viscount, and one can put up with a lot for a title. And he has inherited a fortune, as well, which is a thing I could do with, for Norton’s guardian is difficult about allowances.” She flicked impatiently at her gown, which was of the finest silk and bore the unmistakeable look of a London modiste. The new Lord Norton was in the custody of his much older cousin, who was known to heartily dislike his aunt-by-marriage. Cecily noted that Vivi’s only mention of her son so far was in relation to money for gowns.

“I could have had him three years ago, but he was poor then, and untitled,” Vivi continued. She nodded, decisively. “It is a good idea, I think.”

“Three years ago,” Cecily reminded the silly cat, “Candle Avery was courting Minerva Bradshaw. He wouldn’t have noticed you if you had appeared in his bed naked.”

Vivi laughed again. “Darling, a dead man would notice if I appeared in his bed naked, but so funny that you should mention little Minnie! Guess who Candle has hired to make his mother an invalid’s chair!”

Ah. Cecily had heard that the Bradshaw Carriage Makers, Minerva’s family business, also produced chairs for the many invalids of Bath. “The Bradshaws?” She said, since Vivi was clearly not going to go away until she had said whatever she had come to say.

“Close, darling, but not quite. Little Minnie herself! Not just from the shop, darling. She is an actual tradeswoman. How shocking, do you not think? Of course, Candle will never look at her now.”

Ah. Here came Thornley. Thank goodness. He smiled at his wife, and bowed coldly to Lady Norton. “You must excuse us, Lady Norton. My wife and I have an engagement.

Cecily took his arm and waved goodbye, hoping her relief was not apparent.

Though Thornley noticed, of course, saying once they were out in the road, “Really, my sweet widgeon, why do you talk to that fluff-headed she-cat? You do not even like her!”

“I haven’t talked to her in a year, Thornley,” she protested, but he informed her from his superior height that Lady Norton had been in the country for a year. “And I wish she had stayed there,” he added. “I tell you, Cecily, if you invite her to our house, I shall beat you.”

Cecily, who knew precisely the weight to put on such threats said, “You know that you will not, Thornley.”

“No, because I love you to distraction,” he agreed. “But really, my dear, will you not cut the connection? I know she was your friend at school, but I can do without being propositioned under the very eye of my own wife.”

Cecily pulled to a stop, tugging on his arm until he faced her. “She didn’t! She did!” She dropped his arm, and turned on her heel to march back down the hill.

“Wait!” Thornley caught up and stood in front of her. “It was a year ago, darling, and I had a word with her husband. That’s why he took her home to his country estate. Of course, then he died, but I thought she’d be out of circulation for at least another six months.”

“And when did you plan to tell me,” Cecily demanded.

“I didn’t. The barbarian in me delights in the idea of your scratching the nasty cat’s eyes out.” He heaved large sigh. “But I know you are too much of a lady to descend to her level. So it seemed pointless to upset you, especially when you were so fretf— so impatiently waiting for the arrival of our son.”

Cecily thought about this and decided the excuse could be accepted.

“Very well, Thornley, but do not think to keep such secrets from me again,” she said sternly. Her husband hung his head and did his best to look contrite, though his eyes twinkled so that she relented and told him, “And I will cut the connection.

Can a viscount and a carriage maker’s daughter find love?

Randal Avery, known as Candle, comes to buy an invalid chair for his mother, and finds the woman who has been haunting his dreams for three years. He has until she finishes the chair for his mother to convince her to marry him. If he says it with flowers, will she understand?

Minerva Bradshaw, educated beyond her station, once dreamed of stepping into the fairy tale world of the ton, only to have her dreams crushed. Now the man she cannot forget is back, and he seems determined to raise those false hopes all over again. But she only has to resist until Christmas.

Buy links on my website at http://judeknightauthor.com/books/candles-christmas-chair/

Excerpt

“Tha’ wants to talk to Min about they chairs,” said the man in the office, and directed Candle Avery to the far corner of the carriage-maker’s yard.

Candle strode through the light rain, dodging or leaping the worst of the mud and puddles. Min. Short for Benjamin, perhaps? Or Dominic?

No, he concluded, as his eyes adjusted to the light inside the shed. The delightful posterior presented to his eyes belonged to neither a Benjamin nor a Dominic. The overalls were masculine, but the curves they covered were not.

She was on a ladder, leaning so far into a bank of shelves that lined the wall opposite the door that her upper half was hidden, but he had no objection to the current view—said delightful posterior at his eye level and neatly outlined as she stretched, a pair of trim ankles showing between the tops of her sensible half boots and the hems of the overalls.

“Botheration.” Whatever she was reaching for up there, it was not obliging her by coming to her hand. Perhaps his lofty height might be of service?

“May I help, Ma’am?” he asked.

There was a crash as she jerked upright at the sound of his voice, and hit her head on the shelf above. As she flinched backward from the collision, the ladder tipped sideways, spilling its occupant into Candle’s hastily outstretched arms.

The curves were everything he thought, and the face lived up to them. A Venus in miniature, black curls spilling from the kerchief that held them away from the heart-shaped face, that quintessentially English complexion known as peaches and cream, grey eyes fringed with dark lashes.

Grey eyes that had haunted his dreams for three long years, ever since she’d led him on at a house party for the amusement of her friends, and then left without saying goodbye.

Grey eyes that turned stormy as he held her a moment too long. He hastily set her down.

“Miss Bradshaw.”

“Captain Avery. No, it is Lord Avery, now, is it not? My condolences on the death of your father.”

He bowed his acknowledgement, his mind racing. Bradshaw Carriages. He hadn’t made the connection. Had he known when he was courting her that she was a carriage-maker’s daughter? He didn’t remember anyone mentioning it.

But he did remember that her friends called her Minnie. Miss Minerva Bradshaw. Min.

Lord Avery was broader than she remembered. He’d been little more than a boy at that horrid house party, but even then the tallest man she had ever met. Isolated and nervous in that crowd of scheming cats who had only invited her to humiliate her, she’d believed him when he claimed to care. She’d been thrilled when he called her a little goddess, and asked for leave to worship her.

With him at her side, she’d braved the crush at the ball. Short as she was, she usually found such occasions overwhelming. People looked over her, bumped into her, ignored her. But Lord Avery—Captain Avery he’d been then—kept her safe. She’d even, for the first time in her life, been enjoying herself at a ball. Right up until she overheard his best friend talking to him, and it became clear that Lord Avery despised her common origins and was only courting her for her money.

Mistletoe never tells tales

It was a good costume; I’ll give her that. Her story was nonsense, of course. But she certainly looked the part she insisted on playing.

I picked straight away that she was dressed as a tree spirit. And not just any tree, but one eminently suited to the season that had ended the night before. The slenderness was natural, of course. The draperies, a nicely measured compromise between Greek drapery and the current fashion (which called itself Greek but was far fussier), still gave the impression of leaves and a hint of branches in its golden-green overlaid on a golden underskirt. The hair confirmed my instant conclusion; she’d managed to achieve a golden-green colour in her tresses the exact shade of mistletoe leaves, and if that were not clue enough, the beads threaded through her hair were actual mistletoe berries.

A courtesan, I guessed, and one with a generous protector by the jewelry that caressed her slender neck, arms, and ankle, and dangled from her ears. More mistletoe leaves and berries, this time fashioned with gold and opals.

No virtuous woman would be in a coffee house at any time of the day, and certainly not at seven in the morning. Was she heading home, like me? She did look tired, sitting there alone in a booth near the rear of the coffee bar, nursing a cup and staring into space, a small smile on her face as if what she saw in her imagination pleased her.

I had been planning to ask for a pot of coffee to take up to the rooms I kept just down the street. Feast day or no feast day, I had a story to write on the Twelfth Night bacchanal I’d attended at the Duke of Richport’s, and the editor of the Teatime Tattler would expect it on his desk when he returned from taking Epiphany Day gifts to his nieces and nephews.

Even on a good day, when I was neither tired nor busy, I lacked the means to attract such a lovely — and clearly expensive — lady of negotiable virtue.

But something drew me to the tree spirit, and I found myself sitting at the table across from her, waiting for her to notice my presence.

Close up, she was even more beautiful than I thought: an other-worldly beauty enhanced by the colour of her hair, and in no way impaired by the startling eyes she turned towards me, her smile still curling her lips.

They were white, dear reader. I kid you not. Not a pale grey or a blue, as I’ve seen before, but as white as the berries that wreathed her head.

She tipped her head to one side and examined me carefully. “You wish to join me?” She sounded not quite English: the low musical voice pronouncing each word in an exact educated accent, but with a hint of something else. Not French. Not Greek or Latin. Not Gaelic. Something Northern, I thought, and I have not yet studied the Northern languages.

“I do,” I replied, “if you permit. May I buy you another drink?”

She lifted the cup she cradled, and looked into it, a slightly perplexed expression crossing her face as if she wondered when she had emptied it. “It is a lemon-scented tea. It refreshes me.” A single brisk nod, as if she had decided something. “You may if you please, but I am not what you think.”

“You are a tree nymph, of course,” I agreed. “From a mistletoe tree.” I waved to the waiter, and turned back to her once I had her attention.

She nodded again. “Some call us parasites, but others see us as a great blessing.”

“I am Jack Parslow, at your service. I write articles for the Teatime Tattler.”

The lady, for the cultured tones confirmed that she had been born into the same class as myself, raised her brows at that. “Do you think to find a story? Here? With me?”

I told her what Sam Clemens always tell us. “Everyone has a story, miss…”

She extended her hand, palm down. “Gwynneth Santalacaea.” A mischievous smile lit her face when I raised my own brows. Don’t voice it around, because my colleagues at the Tattler would never let me hear the last of it, but as well as a gift for languages and a first in Greek at Oriel, I am a bit of a botanist. The Viscus Albans, the white-berried mistletoe she represented, is classified a member of the Santalacaea family, and Gwynneth is a Welsh name meaning White Lady.

Her smile grew more mocking and recalled me to my manners. I bent and kissed just above the hand, deciding then and there to play along with the identity she had assumed with her costume.

“A busy time of year for you, then, Miss Santalacaea, and I imagine you have many stories to tell.”

“Of those who kiss beneath my branches and take a toll of a berry a kiss?” She lifted to her eyes as if some vision of precious beauty danced just over my right shoulder. “I have seen much magic this holiday season, Mr Parslow. But we mistletoe never tell tales.”

On 15th December, I’m releasing the ecopy of If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales, a collection of six already published holiday stories. To celebrate, I’m giving the book away for the next couple of days,  until midnight GMT on 11 December. Pick up a copy on https://www.instafreebie.com/free/QD1m0, and Merry Christmas or happy whatever holiday you are celebrating.

I hope you enjoy the book, and would be delighted if you chose to leave an honest review to help me with book sales after release.

See my book page for more details about the six stories in the book, and for links to the eretailers where reviews can be left. The print copy is already available on Amazon, and reviews left against that will transfer to the ecopy when the ebook is published.

Oh, and if you have someone who’d love 320 pages of holiday magic for Christmas, consider buying them the print book. Only $12.50 USD, and it is a beautiful object (said proud Mama).

 

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?”

 

Silver eyes. It’s uncanny

1st June 1794

Today, Town will be nearly empty as the ton streams to the border between Wales and England, to a remote valley where the reclusive Duke of Bleidrich rules a fiefdom older than the four kingdoms.

Seldom does His Grace honour Town with his presence, and then to the benefit of Westminster rather than the rounds of Society. Never in living memory has he held a ball. What can be the reason? Is the duke in search of a duchess? Or can the rumours be true? Seven years ago, the duke installed a ward in the castle schoolroom, a maiden understood to be a younger daughter of Baron Whitleaf of Northern Lancashire. Will Isadora Whitleaf defy her humble origins to become the next Duchess of Bleidrich?

And if she does? No one can give details, but all agree there is something uncanny about the Bleidrichs.

1st July 1794

As Society stream back from the celebrations in Bleidrichvale, the Teatime Tattler has been able to confirm that the rumours about Miss Whitleaf were unfounded. The stated reason for the ball was to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of Lord Nathaniel Marrock, younger brother of the duke, before he left for his Grand Tour of those parts of the continent still available to travellers.

The true reason? Our editor has been told in confidence by several Grande Dames of the ton that His Grace was most attentive to their own particular charge. We have also heard from some of the young maidens, who described the duke as remote and scary. Given the gentleman’s high estate, we do not see this as an insuperable bar to matrimony, and even those who shivered at his silver eyes, did not deny him beauty of form to an unearthly degree.

He may be uncanny, but he is rich, titled, and handsome.

 10th October 1794

In an update to our story several months ago about the Duke of Bleidrich and his ward, we have recently heard that Miss Whitleaf has married. And married not the master, but the schoolteacher. Marriage to the highest noble in the land would have been a considerable step up for Miss Whitleaf. Marriage to a village schoolmaster, even one who has been tutor to the younger son of a duke, must be seen as a descent.

But then, Miss Whitleaf, more than any, must know the truth about the Bleidrichs. Has she chosen the better part?

12th August 1804

Ten years ago, the Duke of Bleidrich raised hopes in the hearts of matchmaking mamas and their daughters, when he held a ball at his remote estate. And then, nothing. Until today.

Today, dear readers, the finest in the land have been stunned to receive an invitation to another ball in Bleidrichvale. What surprise has the duke in store for us? The Teatime Tattler will not venture to make a guess, but warns readers that the Bleidrichs are known to be uncanny.

24th August 1804

Isadora Harris, formerly Isadora Whitleaf, is the new Duchess of Bleidrich. Yes, dear reader, you read that aright. The Duke of Bleidrich has reached down into the commonality to lift up his bride.

His Grace travelled to the far reaches of Yorkshire to retrieve his widowed bride, marrying her by special license in York a scandalous five weeks after her husband’s death.

Furthermore, the lady comes with a considerable encumbrance in the way of a family. We have been unable to confirm how many are her own, and how many she and the eccentric Mr Harris added to their family by adoption, but we are told that the ducal nurseries, schoolroom, and dining table have been considerably expanded to add twenty-four place settings for the Harris children.

The correspondent we sent into Bleidrichvale has suffered an unaccountable memory lapse, and has been unable to tell us what else he has discovered. We will report soon.

24th September 1804

Sam Clemens sat at his desk, turning a sheet of paper over and over in his hand, staring at nothing.

Joe the printer, coming through from the workshop, stopped in the doorway.

“Fancy visitors, those, Sam.” Joe had stepped aside to let the lord and lady pass, being careful not to let his inky apron touch the lady’s fine silk.

Sam’s voice seemed to come from a distance. “Hmmm.”

“An advertisement? Not scandal. Not those two.” The man made Joe shiver: silver eyes under a dark wing of brow, and the lady was unusual, too. Eyes of forest green, and the loveliest face he’d ever seen. But they were no gossipmongers, that was for certain.

“I came for the front page, Sam. You said you were writing up the news from Yorkshire. About Bleidrich and the Harrises.”

Sam looked blankly at Joe, and then back at the sheet of paper. Joe moved closer, hoping it was the copy he needed, but it was blank.

“Story?” Sam seemed to shake himself awake. “No. There’s no story from Yorkshire.”

“No story? What am I to put on the front page?”

With a problem to solve, Sam was galvanised into action, and in the rush of moving things around, finding extra copy to fill spaces, and getting the paper to print, the weird incident was forgotten.

But later that night, as they sat over a celebratory mug of ale, Joe remembered where he had heard of silver eyes. “Sam,” he asked his editor, “was that the Duke of Bleidrich and his wife who came to see you today?”

“Yesterday,” Sam said, for it was three in the morning. And then his eyes went suddenly blank and he gave his head a quick shake as if to dislodge a blockage in his thoughts. “Bleidrich? Fine chance that would be. The duke in my newspaper office? No, Joe. You must have been dreaming.”

Someone was, Joe thought. But he wouldn’t mention it again. That way, there’d be no risk of drawing that silver gaze on him.

There was no doubt about it. There was something uncanny about the Bleidrichs.

To find out what happened ten years ago, and what brought about the marriage after a decade, read The Heart of a Wolf, a short story in Lost in the Tale. Lost in the Tale is released on 6 September. Buy links on Jude Knight’s website at http://judeknightauthor.com/books/lost-in-the-tale/

Come sample Jude’s wares in her second short story/novella collection

The Lost Wife: Teri’s refuge had been invaded: by the French, who were trying to conquer their land, and by wounded soldiers from the English forces sent to fight Napoleon’s armies. The latest injured man carried to her for nursing would be a bigger challenge than all the rest: he had once broken her heart. (short story)

The Heart of a Wolf: Ten years ago, Isadora lied to save her best friend, and lost her home and the man she loved when he would not listen to her. Ten years ago, Bastian caught his betrothed in the arms of another man, and her guilt was confirmed when she fled. Ten years on, both still burn with anger, but the lives of innocent children and the future of their werewolf kind demand that they work together. (short story)

My Lost Highland Love: Interfering relatives, misunderstandings, and mistranslations across a language barrier keep two lovers from finding one another again. The Earl of Chestlewick’s daughter comes to London from her beloved Highlands to please her father, planning to avoid the Englishman who married her and abandoned her. The Earl of Medford comes face-to-face with a ghost; a Society lady who bears the face of the Highland lass who saved his life and holds his heart. (short story)

Magnus and the Christmas Angel: Scarred by years in captivity, Magnus has fought English Society to be accepted as the true Earl of Fenchurch. Now he faces the hardest battle of all: to win the love of his wife. A night trapped in the snow with an orphaned kitten, gives Callie a Christmas gift: the chance to rediscover first love with the tattooed stranger she married. (short story)

The Lost Treasure of Lorne: For nearly 300 years, the Normingtons and the Lorimers have feuded, since a love affair ended in a curse that doomed dead Lorimers to haunt their home, the Castle of Lorne.

Now the last Marquis of Lorne, the last of the Lorimers, is one of those ghosts, and the Duke of Kendal, head of the House of Normington, holds the castle.

Kendal doesn’t care about the feud or the ghosts. He wants only to find the evidence that will legitimate the son his Lorimer bride bore him before her death, and to convince his stubborn housekeeper to marry him.

But the time allotted to the curse is running out, and his happiness depends on finding the Lost Treasure of Lorne before the 300 years draws to a close. (novella)

 

Rumours of a mad rival

Overheard in a London drawing room.
“To be fair, Lady Amelia, many females have run mad over a red coat.” Lady Fenella’s jibe—and Lady Amelia’s blush—reminded the others present of Lady Amelia’s own excesses last Season in pursuit of a certain officer of the Horse Guard.

“One officer might be a mistake,” Mrs Fullerton suggested, “but two seems a little excessive. It certainly sounds as if this poor mad sister of Braxton’s makes a habit of compromising situations with the cavalry.”

“Only one compromising situation, surely,” Lady Eustace Framley protested. “I thought she was the baronet’s widow. One can’t compromise oneself with one’s husband.”

“One can before he is her husband, darling.” Lady Fenella widened her eyes. “Or do you not remember how you came to marry Lord Eustace?”

“Is it true that this mysterious officer stole her from her bedroom in her chemise?” Lady Amelia wondered.

“It would be rather cold,” said Lady Eustace. “It was, after all, more than a month ago, and in the Spring. One would imagine the Cheshire weather would dampen the ardour.”

“Your innocence is so charming,” Lady Fenella said. “Do you practice it in front of the mirror?”

“I do not much like these Braxtons. If I lived with Mrs Braxton, I dare say I should be mad myself,” Lady Amelia declared.

“I would certainly prefer Major Alex Redepenning to Mr Braxton,” said Lady Fenella, watching Mrs Fullerton very closely.

“Anyone would,” Lady Amelia agreed. “At least one would have before he was crippled. Goodness, Fenella, you don’t mean that Alex Redepenning stole Melville’s widow away! But that’s…” Her voice trailed off and she, too, stared speculatively at Mrs Fullerton.

Lady Eustace proved her relative naivety by rushing to make the comment the other two women merely thought. “Melville’s widow? Sir Gervase Melville? Wasn’t he your particular friend once, Mrs Fullerton? Yes, and Major Redepenning, too!”

“Poor dear.” Lady Fenella took Mrs Fullerton’s hand and gave it a warm squeeze. “It can hardly be pleasant to know you are unlikely in love not once, but twice, and both times have lost to the same woman.”

Their marriage is a fiction. Their enemies are all too real.

Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he has married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return.

Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. Perhaps she will learn to bear him.

In their masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they expected. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.

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