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The Pirate’s Baby

Dear Qiao,

I hope this missive finds you and yours happy and healthy. Congratulations on becoming a grandmother. You make a fierce pirate leader, yet I think this baby will find you to be an easy conquest. Please tell me how it feels to hold the child of your child in your arms, since I have nothing to compare, alas.

I am happy for you, my dear, although it means our mid-sea rendezvous will become less frequent, am I right? Please tell me that at lea

st you haven’t given your heart to anyone else but that grandchild.

I write to you today heavy-hearted. Andre and Sophie arrived the other evening, proclaiming they want to spend Christmas with me. You cannot imagine how excited I was. I was sure they were going to tell me I’m a grandpapa. Instead, Andy pulled me aside and told me he’s afraid Sophie is dying. Dying!

Granted, she looks thinner than usual, and has shadows under her eyes, but her personality is still vibrant. I find it very hard to believe that she is wasting away, unless she has been overtaken by some unknown virus. Andre is beside himself with worry, which gladdens my heart to some degree. I never thought I’d see that ungrateful pup settle down and take a wife, let alone fall in love.

Sophie wants to throw a Christmas masquerade ball, the likes no one in New Orleans has seen in years. She is so excited to do so, I can’t tell her no. And if she is ill, I can’t prevent her such a small happiness. So, here I am, stepping out of the way while the long gallery is swept, and dusted, and polished, much like when my dear wife was alive. My reward is the brightness of Sophie’s smile.

Pirate Masquerade

Of course, Andre is not on board with this celebration. He would much rather spend Noël on the open sea, gathering his form of Christmas gifts from unsuspecting merchant vessels. Yet, even my bullheaded son can’t help but notice the transformation in his wife. There is a renewed twinkle in her eye, and a bounce in her step that wasn’t there when they arrived. And, even though they think I don’t notice, I’m aware that they disappear into their room most afternoons.

PirateI hope against hope that, instead of some deathly illness, dearest Sophie is with child. You would think it possible, would you not? They are newlyweds, after all. I hold my breath daily for the news, and in the meantime, my home is readied for the ball.

I toy with the idea of wearing a pirate mask for laughs, but my daughter-in-law doesn’t find that amusing. She tells me I should at least make an attempt at anonymity. I know you see the humor in that request, as well. It has been a long time since you or I have been anonymous.

Sophie wants dancing, about which Andre also complains. Honestly, now that he’s been home for a few days, I’ve noticed he complains a lot. I don’t believe I was ever that vocal during married life. For example, he doesn’t like the minuet; says it’s a prancing dance that makes fools of the men.

Have you ever danced it, dearest Qiao? Or is there something similar in your culture? I tell my son to shut his mouth, and be happy his wife is happy. This younger generation doesn’t know how to get along in the matrimonial sphere. Hopefully, your daughter and son-in-law are managing better.

I feel calmer, now that I’ve voiced my concerns to you, dear friend. Mayhap I will have answers to all my questions by the time this letter reaches you. Pray for Sophie’s health, and my patience with my obstinate son. And, of course, drop a kiss for me on the head of that new grandchild. Congratulations, and know that I miss our time together.

Bon jour,
Louis Dubois

Excerpt

“Sophie? Sophie Bellard? Is that really you?”

Sophie’s head snapped up at the sound of the unforgettable voice from her past, while her purse fell to the cobbled street from suddenly nerveless fingers. Her body began to shudder and vibrate at the nightmare that was Gilbert Harrington’s silky voice.

She felt faint, in danger of collapsing, her past hurtling toward her like an out-of-control mining cart threatening to jump its track. She reached out a steadying hand against the brick wall of the flower shop.

No longer did she occupy a cobbled street of the Vieux Carré during Avent. She’d been transported, trembling and afraid, to that time, five years ago, when she’d lost her innocence. Her innocence, and her youth. Just the sound of his voice, the timbre and its cadence, was enough to catapult her into a shivering mass of fear and dread.

PirateShe had no defense, carried no weapon. How could she? Gone was her pirate garb, her protective armor. In its place, she wore silk and brocade, gilt buttons and a feathered hat. There was no hiding place for a deadly dagger or a one-shot pistol. Just as there was no devilish pirate to come swinging in on a line, clenching a curved blade between his teeth and racing to her rescue. She was his defenseless prey.

As she continued to stare dumbly at the man before her, one part of her mind, not frozen in fear, noticed that Gilbert Harrington hadn’t changed much in five years. He’d bulked up slightly, bore a man’s frame instead of a youth’s, and his eyes glittered like hardened chips of ice.

Gone was the thin, gentlemanly veneer he’d used to woo a star-struck young girl experiencing the first throes of romance. In its place stood a man used to getting what he wanted with little or no resistance; a man stimulated and aroused by feminine defiance. She recognized these traits after living in the company of men for those same five years. Recognized, but could not articulate a properly scathing response.

Like a predatory shark, he moved in, grabbing hold of her upper arm in a tight grip and leaning forward until his mouth rested mere inches from her ear. “I remember you, Sophie. I remember every moment we were together like it was yesterday. Every touch, every sound, every movement.”

His hand began to smooth up and down her brocade-covered arm in an unsettling caress. She remained statue-still, incoherent whimpers erupting from her throat. This could not be happening. He could not be standing here, in her present life. But he was, she acknowledged through the haze of fear blanketing her, as she stared straight into his smiling visage.

“I’ve never forgotten you, Sophie, though there have been plenty after you.” Here he chuckled, running his forefinger down her cheek. He laughed again, while she closed her eyes to the memories he dredged up.

Leaning in until their noses almost bumped, brows lowering and lips peeling back into a ferocious mask, he continued, “Imagine my surprise when I heard you’d become a pirate, marrying into the Dubois family, and becoming the Commandant’s darling daughter. You did alright for yourself after me, didn’t you, little Sophie?”

And then his lips were on hers, crashing against her mouth in a bruising imitation of a kiss, while both hands clasped her arms as he hauled her up against him.

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About the Author
Cathy Skendrovich has always loved a good story, and spent her formative years scribbling what is now called Fan Fiction. The current heartthrob of the time featured heavily in all her stories. Unfortunately, once she went to college, her writing took the form of term papers, written on typewriters instead of computer keyboards.

Upon graduation, Cathy took a job as an English teacher in a middle school. Along the way, she married her husband of now thirty-three years, had two sons, and moved to southern Orange County, California. She chose to work part-time in the school system there.

Now she has returned to writing. Prisoner of Love is her first published novel, followed closely by The Pirate’s Bride. The sequel to The Pirate’s Bride, The Pirate Bride’s Holiday Masquerade, is due out Oct. 1. Another contemporary romantic suspense, entitled Protecting the Nanny, is due out in 2018.

She likes writing romance because she feels it’s lacking in today’s technological world. While she enjoys writing contemporary stories, creating romance in bygone times fascinates her. She hopes her ability to write in both genres will be the beginning of a long and satisfying writing career.

You can reach Cathy at the following sites. She loves hearing from readers.

http://www.cathyskendrovich.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Cathy-Skendrovich-249667925220631/
https://twitter.com/cskendrovich
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14232546.Cathy_Skendrovich
https://www.instagram.com/cathyskendrovich/
https://www.amazon.com/Cathy-Skendrovich/e/B015JJZZOW/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Whispers in a Corner of Cairo

The dining room of the Hotel des Anglais in Cairo hummed with conversation and bustled with activity. Waiters in white saw to every comfort. Gentlemen in formal dress surveyed the diners from their perch near the door, ready to step in if needed. Della Faulkner thought that they well should. A baronet’s granddaughter, she had fine sense of what was due her sort.

Cairo

The Dining Room, Hotel des Anglais, Cairo (later Shepheard’s Hotel)

She huddled at a table in the far corner with two other ladies in perfectly proper English dress, and perfectly proper English bonnets, their faces bright with a sheen brought on by Egypt’s oppressive heat. They lingered over after-dinner cordials, their husbands having departed in search of something more fortifying. After a voyage on the new mail steamer and a harrowing trip across the desert from Suez, they were in great need of civilized comforts.

“Tell me exactly what you heard Mr. Badawi say,” Della demanded for the second time. As the eldest and, in her opinion, highest ranking of their number, she assumed the right to demand. Frustration that she had missed a confrontation between the Egyptian manager for the Nile and Oriental Company, their local contact, with a scandalous fellow passenger gave her voice more force than normal.

Alice Fuller, the nervous woman next to her, jumped at the sound. A tiny woman, she blinked several times while she babbled, “He said, ‘if you are not married.’ I heard that distinctly, didn’t you Bertha? ‘If’ he said.”

Cairo

The Lobby, Hotel des Anglais, Cairo (later Shepheard’s Hotel)

The third woman, a sour-faced matron of indeterminable years glowered at Alice and sighed deeply. “We weren’t eavesdropping, mind, but when we saw Captain Wheatly conversing with Mr. Badawi in the lobby, we feared yet more difficulties and moved closer. This entire journey has been a nightmare. I so regret letting Albert talk me into the overland route.”

Della brushed that aside. “Yes, yes, but what did you hear?”

“He all but accused Wheatly of lying to him, but I did not hear the proof.”

“Tell me ladies, did the couple act as if they were married when aboard ship?” The speaker, the lone man in their company, leaned forward. Della detected an unattractive eagerness behind his air of unconcern. Egbert Weaver appeared encroaching to her, though the others professed to find his quiet manner charming. Quiet he may be, but the man didn’t miss much that went on, always hovering nearby listening.

“Well, the way they carried on on deck, they should be married,” Alice giggled. “Remember Bertha? Right there in front of us?”

Della sniffed. “No better than she ought to be if you ask me, latching on to an officer and pretending to care for those children of his.” She shuddered.

“Is there something odd about his children?” Weaver asked, his face a mask of sympathy.

Alice leaned toward him to whisper, “They are dark. Indian, no doubt. His but not hers—you know…” She raised her eyebrows.

“Oh say the word, Alice! Bastards, Mr. Weaver. I would bet my bonnet on it,” Della proclaimed. “And if he isn’t married to the woman traveling with them—well!”

“We don’t know that, Della. He told me he was widowed. As to his current companion, they had two cabins, as I recall,” Bertha pointed out.

cairo steamship

Della rolled her eyes. “You are too softhearted, Bertha. None of that means squat and you know it. Who slept in which bed and why, I should like to know,” she hissed under her breath.
“Are you saying they are married, but slept apart,” Weaver began, “Or—”

“Look!” Alice said bouncing in her seat and wagging her head toward the door. All eyes followed her direction. The subject of their little talk, Captain Frederick Wheatly, led his “wife,” Clare into the dinning room. Two dark-skinned girls followed, gazing around at the room and the diners.

“Who is that young man who stood up to greet them?” Alice whispered, when the boy seated the two little girls as if they were grand ladies.

“I don’t know, but the fool acts like they belong here.”

All four pairs of eyes watched the tableau on the far side of the room, as if trying to ferret out the truth. Moments later, an older man with the air of great consequence entered accompanied by an outburst of excessive bowing and fussing on the part of staff. He stood well over six feet tall, his white-blond hair reflecting candlelight. He walked directly to the Wheatlys’ table, and the diners rose to greet him.

Della gasped.

“What is it?” Bertha asked anxiously.

“Not what. Who. Wheatly just introduced that woman to the Duke of Sudbury. I believe that young man dining with them is his nephew, Richard Mallet.”

Alice covered her mouth with her serviette, eyes wide, unable to speak. Bertha, too, stared back at the group. Before their fascinated eyes, the duke smiled at the children, spoke briefly with Wheatly and his companion, and left, taking the captain with him.

“Well!” Della declared. “I should like to hear that conversation.” She turned her attention back to her companions only to sigh with an irritation she didn’t attempt to disguise. “Mr. Weaver, what are you scribbling?” The little man bent over a small notebook writing rapidly.

“Merely taking a few notes, ladies,” he said ,snapping the notebook shut and rising to his feet. “If you will excuse me, I think I’ll have a chat with Badawi before I turn in to catch up on my correspondence.”

“Correspondence with whom, Mr. Weaver?” Della demanded.

A slow smile lit his face. “Why, with my friend Mr. Clemens, editor of The Teatime Tattler. He will love what I have to share.” With a tip of his hat, he left them.

cairo empire reluctant About the Book

The Reluctant Wife:  Children of Empire, Book 2

When all else fails, love succeeds…

Captain Fred Wheatly’s comfortable life on the fringes of Bengal comes crashing down around him when his mistress dies, leaving him with two children he never expected to have to raise. When he chooses justice over army regulations, he’s forced to resign his position, leaving him with no way to support his unexpected family. He’s already had enough failures in his life. The last thing he needs is an attractive, interfering woman bedeviling his steps, reminding him of his duties.

All widowed Clare Armbruster needs is her brother’s signature on a legal document to be free of her past. After a failed marriage, and still mourning the loss of a child, she’s had it up to her ears with the assumptions she doesn’t know how to take care of herself, that what she needs is a husband. She certainly doesn’t need a great lout of a captain who can’t figure out what to do with his daughters. If only the frightened little girls didn’t need her help so badly.

Clare has made mistakes in the past. Can she trust Fred now? Can she trust herself? Captain Wheatly isn’t ashamed of his aristocratic heritage, but he doesn’t need his family and they’ve certainly never needed him. But with no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B06XYRRR1R/

Children of Empire: Three cousins, torn apart by lies and deceit and driven to the far reaches of the empire, struggle to find their way home. The first book is The Renegade Wife

About Caroline Warfield

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

Caroline is of course, a Bluestocking Belles. In addition to  The Teatime Tattler, she regularly writes for  History Imagined.

Website http://www.carolinewarfield.com/

Amazon Author http://www.amazon.com/Caroline-Warfield/e/B00N9PZZZS/

Good Reads http://bit.ly/1C5blTm

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/carolinewarfield7

Twitter @CaroWarfield

Email warfieldcaro@gmail.com

 

 

Felicia: her thoughts as she contemplates retrieving her lost daughter

In Chapter 15, Anthony, Lord Kendall, calls upon Felicia to inform her that he believes her long-lost daughter may be at the Foundling Hospital. She and her maid Maris, a loyal friend from their days at the Pleasure House, reflect on the possibility that the much-anticipated reunion may take place that very day!

The Foundling Restored to Its Mother

Felicia [eyes glowing]: Oh Maris, can this really be happening? I’ve dreamed of this moment for ever, but always in the end believing it to be impossible. [Swallowing] If she had found a suitable home, where she would be nurtured and loved, I should, of course, have been glad for her and refrained from interfering. But I had to know!

Maris [tugging a brush through Felicia’s thick, curly locks]: ‘Twas ol’ Beazley that stole ‘er from ya, may she rot in ‘ell. And tol’ ya she was dead, besides. Witch!

Felicia [nostrils flaring]: I can’t tell you how that troubled my thoughts, dear Maris, worrying over in what manner such a woman might dispose of my child, and all of them so very disheartening.

Maris: As bad as that was, ’twas better than thinkin’ ‘er dead. Gave ya somethin’ ta live fer.

Felicia [clasping Maris’s hands in hers]: It did indeed. I shall always be grateful to you for reminding me of that fact at a time when the world was black and I had no hope.

Maris [tearfully]: No need, miss. ‘Twas out of selfishness, not wantin’ ta lose the only friend I had.

Felicia [turning and giving Maris a quick kiss on the cheek]: We have been through a lot together, have we not? I could not have made it through all those months at the whorehouse without you reminding me of my responsibility to my child. I should never have met and loved Charles, God rest his generous soul, and never have obtained the means to support myself respectably.

Maris [with a secret smile]: Or met Mr. Jamison, er, Lord Kendall ‘e is now, who seemed that eager ta find yer daughter fer ya, miss.

Felicia [flushing]: Don’t tease, Maris. There can be nothing between us. He is very kind, that is all.

Maris [snorting]: Kind? Kind, you say? Ye’ve called ‘im a jackass more ‘n once, and so ‘e was too!

Felicia [tugging at her neckline]: Yes, well, perhaps he was rather disagreeable in the beginning, but it had to be a bit of a shock to discover that his uncle left half of his fortune to his mistress. I’m inclined to forgive him for all that, especially now that he has sought to reunite me with my daughter. [Rises from the chair.] Cynthia. Oh Maris, she is three years old already and her name is Cynthia! How will I ever explain how I lost her?

Maris: Jis’ like that. She was lost and ya found ‘er.

Felicia: Or Anthony did. How can I ever thank him? [Maris chuckles.] No, no, not that way. Never again that way! I shall ever after be a respectable lady, for myself first, and also for my daughter. Cynthia. She shall have everything I can give her, that I never had myself.

Maris: A father?

Felicia [turning pale]: No, but a doting mother will surely be enough. We shall be very happy, just the two of us. And you, of course, Maris. We shall find a house in the country, near a village, with children and cows and fresh air.

Maris: And Anthony?

Felicia [folding her arms across her chest]: What about him? Anthony will go on with his life, take his seat in Parliament, marry some noble young lady with whom he will have a passel of children, and become a bastion of London society. He and I will never cross paths again. And that is the way it should be.

Maris: If you say so, miss.

Felicia: I do say so. [Looks toward the window.] Is that a carriage, Maris? Where is my bonnet? Oh Maris, I’m going to be a mother! Do you think she’ll like me? What if…? If she’s been abominably treated, I shall never forgive myself. Has Mrs. Grey finished preparing the nursery, do you think?

Find out what happens when Felicia and Anthony visit the Foundling Hospital in an attempt to retrieve her daughter in the next installment of Susana’s Resilience, on wattpad.

 

Missing his cue

Lord Adrian de Courtenay entered the billiards room and scanned the guests already in attendance for the afternoon’s tournament. He thought this was to be a game between gentlemen. Given the number of women and children in the room, the event was apparently open to any and all who were visiting Hollystone Hall.

Noticing his sister Grace had as yet to arrive, his gaze landed on the young miss who had been following him for several days. Lady Celia Lacey was a pretty little bird who would one day become a true beauty once she left childhood far behind. He would admit, if only to himself, he had enjoyed the few encounters when their paths had met, for she acted far older than her fifteen years.

Lady Celia was the niece of the very same gentleman who thought Adrian and Grace were married, not brother and sister. The man was a fool to let a simple misunderstanding stand between him and Grace, and worse to give her no opportunity to rectify his misconception. As Adrian continued to examine the room, it was as if Lord Nicholas Lacey knew where Adrian’s thoughts had led. Grace’s gentleman eyed him warily whilst sizing up the table for his next shot. Adrian did his best to hide a smirk of satisfaction knowing he could so easily get under the man’s skin just by appearing in the room. He wondered how far he could push him.

Wishing to test his theory, he made his way to Lady Celia, whose face lit up as he drew closer. “Lady Celia, how lovely you look this afternoon,” he crooned in a sweet tone. “Why, the sun and stars must surely shine brighter knowing they gaze upon you from their place in the heavenly sky above.”

Nervous giggles escaped both the young lady, and her sister, Lady Alice, who stood next to her. “You are too kind, my lord. Will you be joining in the tournament?” Lady Celia replied, snapping open her fan to wave it in front of her flushed face.

What a becoming blush, he thought as he gave her what he considered his best smile. It really was a shame she was not older. “Perhaps, if I can find a willing opponent.”

“Pick someone. There are plenty here waiting for a chance to play.”

Her eyes sparkled as she gave him the challenge, leaving Adrian to wonder if he should consider asking her. Instead, he turned his attention to the window and noticed the weather. “I am surprised to see you indoors on such a pleasant day. I would think a stroll in the gardens with the other ladies, no matter their condition this time of year, would be more to your liking.”

“I am here to watch my uncle, but perhaps afterwards I shall take your advice,” she said.

Maybe a small distraction would not cause too much harm, he thought. “Would you care –”

“Excuse me, Lord de Courtenay,” Lord Nicholas interrupted, giving Adrian a slight bump when he brushed up against him while moving to the same side of the table as his niece to continue his assessment of the balls left on the table.

“My apologies, Lord Nicholas,” he replied. Taking a step closer to Lady Celia, Adrian took her elbow to move her slightly out of the way. He leaned closer to whisper in her ear. “We must not distract your uncle from his game. We would not want him to lose now, would we?”

“Of course not,” Lady Celia murmured. As she raised her face to his, Adrian was momentarily startled. She was too innocent to know she revealed her emotions with just one glance in his direction with her lovesick eyes. This may have been only a game to set her uncle’s nerves on edge, but he was not one to dabble with the affections of a young impressionable woman still in the school room. No, best not to encourage her. His early thought of escorting her outside, vanished for he did not wish to hurt her feelings.

Just as he was beginning to wonder how he would get himself out of the situation he put himself in, Grace solved his dilemma by entering the room.

Lord Nicholas was too preoccupied with lining up his shot to notice Grace was present. Adrian smirked, knowingly. Just as the man drew back his arm to make his play, Adrian called out loudly. “There you are at last, Gracie darling.” He watched in satisfaction as Lord Nicholas completely missed the cue ball. “Will you excuse me, Lady Celia?” he whispered for her ears alone.

Adrian made his way to his sister, gave her what would appear as an affectionate kiss on her cheek, and then proceeded to drape his arm around her shoulder pulling her close.

“Whatever are you up to, Adrian,” Grace said quietly, “as if I could not guess, considering who is here?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about, my dear,” he replied stiffly, watching Lord Nicholas who now was talking with his nieces. He looked none too happy with the young lady Adrian had just left whilst Celia continued to stare in his direction. “It is hardly my fault Lord Nicholas missed his shot.”

“I am not necessarily talking about the tournament, Adrian, and you very well know it. What are you doing looking all moon eyed over his niece,” she all but hissed, taking him up task. “She is far too young for you.”

Regret for the small part he played in furthering Lady Celia’s infatuation with him, he took Grace’s elbow and went to the farthest corner of the room. “I was only having a bit of fun with your beau, Gracie.”

“He is not my beau,” she hissed, even as Adrian put an arm up against the wall all but capturing her in the corner. Such a gesture gave the impression of an intimate conversation between them. “Stop it, Adrian.”

“Why should I?” he asked. “If Lord Nicholas is a fool to think we are married then let him see we are a happy couple. It will make for such an entertaining event when he finally learns the truth.”

“You are horrible to tease him but what is even worse is for you to be giving any form of attention to that poor young girl who clearly thinks she is in love with you!”

Adrian whirled around. Sure enough, Celia’s face registered her disappointment and confusion whilst she continued to watch him before her uncle escorted her from the room. “Very well, Grace. I shall concede your point about Lady Celia by no longer encouraging her attention, but be warned. Lord Nicholas is still fare game.”

It would be several years before Adrian’s path would cross again with Lady Celia Lacey.


 

Adrian de Courtenay and Lady Celia Lacey are secondary characters in Sherry Ewing’s novella, A Kiss for Charity which is part of Holly and Hopeful Hearts, a Bluestocking Belles Collection. 25% of the sales benefit the Belles’ mutual charity, the Malala Fund.

A KISS FOR CHARITY ~ Young widow, Grace, Lady de Courtenay, is more concerned with improving her mind than finding another husband. But how was she to know that a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would spark her interest and make her yearn for love again?

Lord Nicholas Lacey has been on his own for far too long after losing his wife in a tragic accident. After a rare trip to a masquerade, his attention is captivated by a lovely young woman. Considering the dubious company she keeps, perhaps she might be interested in becoming his mistress…

From the darkened paths of Vauxhall Gardens to a countryside estate called Hollystone Hall, Nicholas and Grace must set aside their differences in order to let love into their hearts. It will take more than a dose of holiday cheer to see these two on the road to finding their happily-ever-after and a kiss for charity may just be what they both need.

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Holly and Hopeful Hearts

Your proprietor, as is well known, is proof against the arrows of the mischievous son of Aphrodite, but sympathetic to those who fall subject to the god’s shafts. Especially when their love seems doomed to disappointment, for who does not like a happy ending against the odds? Today, on behalf of the proprietors, The Teatime Tattler is publishing a special edition to announce a new book from the Bluestocking Belles; one in which no fewer than eight couples are surprised by Cupid’s attentions.

Without further ado, allow your humble servant, Mr. Samuel Clemens, Editor, to present:

hollyhopefulhearts

When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

Read about all eight novellas, and find pre-order links, on the Bluestocking Belles Holly & Hopeful Hearts page.

In between the seven main stories in the box set, one chapter at a time, we tell the story of the duchess’s companion, and her search for a meaningful future. Can it be possible for a poor relation to find a suitable husband?

a-suitable-husband-fb

As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Perhaps among the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party, she will find a suitable husband?

Marcel Fournier has only one ambition: to save enough from his fees serving in as chef in the houses of the ton to become the proprietor of his own fine restaurant. An affair with the duchess’s dependent would be dangerous. Anything else is impossible. Isn’t it?

An extract from A Suitable Husband

Marcel had disguised himself in a costume found in the attics

Marcel had disguised himself in a costume found in the attics

Mademoiselle Grenford looked up as he approached, tipping her head a little to one side as she waited for him to speak.

“May I have the honor of this dance, fair shepherdess?” he asked.

She furrowed her brows for the briefest of seconds. “I do not dance, sir, but I will find you a partner—”

“Not dance? When your costume is made to swirl on the dance floor, and the music begs—nay, demand—for you to pay homage?” A slip there. He had pronounced homage in the French way.

Her eyes widened, but she said nothing, merely—oh joy—placed her gloved hand in his and allowed herself to be conducted through the doors to join the waltz.

They began slowly, his hands resting tentatively just above her waist, and hers placed lightly on his shoulders. He honoured the respectable distance due to a maiden, but as they began to circle one another in the dance, his legs shifted past hers and could not avoid repeated touching.

Turn, turn, and turn again. The candles of the chandeliers seemed to whirl above them, the other dancers disappeared, and he and Mademoiselle Grenford were alone in the ballroom. She swayed and dipped and twirled with him, light as a feather but far more substantial, a delight to his hands, his arms, and his legs.

Her eyes fixed on his, her face flushed, she murmured, “Monsieur Fournier, what are you doing here?”

It was a dose of cold water, jerking him back to reality. Would she rebuke him? Tell the duchess?

Only Marcel saw beyond the spectacles and the tightly controlled hair.

Only Marcel saw beyond the spectacles and the tightly controlled hair.

“One dance,” he managed, almost begged. “I promised not to importune you, mademoiselle, but I thought… In costume, no one would know if I stole one dance.”

Somehow, his feet kept moving, they kept dancing, round and round and round, their legs shifting past each other’s again and again, their eyes still locked.

She smiled, a benison beyond his deserving. “This dance is not a theft, monsieur, when I give it willingly.”

“Give?”

He was in heaven. He was no longer dancing; he was floating several inches about the ballroom floor. She knows me even in my disguise. She dances with me willingly.

His heart was too full for speech, and she said nothing more as they continued around the floor, oblivious to everything except the music and one another.

Marcel stepped back when the music ended, dropping his hands from her waist to her hands, unable to resist touching her for a moment more. “Thank you, mademoiselle. Thank you more than I can say. I will leave now, but you have given me food for many happy dreams.”

“No.” Mademoiselle Grenford folded her fingers around his and tugged him to follow her. By chance, they had stopped at the most poorly lit end of the ballroom, close to the corner where a door let on to a servant’s passage, and it was to this she marched determinedly, with Marcel bobbing after in her wake.

No. Not that door. She was opening a door onto the terrace, and in moments, they were outside.

“I do not want it to end,” she said. “Will you not consent to sit and talk with me for a little?”

Consent? Did she not know he would consent to the guillotine for her sake?

He would return to his kitchen to dream of that one perfect dance.

He would return to his kitchen to dream of that one perfect dance.

For more of our stories, see our individual blogs:

Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis

A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing

Artemis, by Jessica Cale

The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight

Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack

An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield

Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett

 

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