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Outrageous Debut!


Mr. S. Clemmons is alarmed to confirm the rumor running rampant for the past week that a certain Miss T*** L***, a young female of such dubious reputation that one hesitates to call her a “lady,” despite her gentle birth, will in fact affront the propriety of Society by entering the Marriage Mart this Season. 

Such a young person would expect to meet with nothing but the Cut Direct she so richly deserves, were it not for the unfortunate circumstance that perhaps the most redoubtable matron in all Society, the Dowager Countess Lady S****, has inexplicably agreed to act as her sponsor.

While one would never have the temerity to question the decision of this formidable lady (or wish to risk incurring her censure,) we believe that responsible members of Society (and certainly matrons with innocent daughters to protect) will find a discrete but effective way to avoid interacting with this Infamous Personage. After sufficient discouragement, we trust that this unsuitable female will soon remove herself from the company of respectable members of Society.

Respectfully submitted, Mr. S. Clemmons

About the Book

Angered by Society’s treatment of her mother and unfounded suspicions about her character, Temperance Lattimar dreams of exploring the world, gathering treasures for her father.  Hiding a dark secret, she’s determined never to marry—until her father’s restrictions on her fortune induce her to suggest a marriage of convenience to her brother’s rakish best friend, Gifford Newell.  If he’ll allow her to travel as she wishes, he can use her money to further his career in Parliament. 


Then a tragic accident turns this “mister” into an earl, upsetting the comfortable terms of their “marriage blanche.”  Temper knows an earl needs an heir, while Gifford finds himself increasingly tempted to renegotiate their bargain of a marriage in name only–for the hoyden he once knew has become a seductively beguiling woman…

Amazon:   https://amzn.to/2LtnNpC

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Kobo:  https://bit.ly/2BxwQRx

Google play:  https://bit.ly/2PUz5Dz

~Excerpt~

London, early April, 1833

            “You’re certain you won’t come with me?” Temperance Lattimar’s twin sister asked as she looked up from the trunk into which she’d just laid the last tissue-wrapped gown.  “I know Bath isn’t the center of Society it used to be, but there will be balls and musicales and soirées to attend.  And, with luck, attend without whispers of Mama’s latest escapade following us everywhere.”

            Temperance jumped up from the window seat overlooking the tiny garden of Lord Vraux’s Brook Street townhouse and walked over to give Prudence a hug.  “Much as I will miss you, darling Pru, I have no intention of leaving London.  I won’t let the rumor mongers chase me away.  But I do very much hope that Bath will treat you kindly—“ though I doubt it, London gossips being sure to keep their Bath counterparts updated about the latest scandal—“and that you will find that gentleman to love you and give you the normal family you’ve always wanted.”  Letting her sister go, Temper laughed.  “Although, growing up in this family, I’m not sure you’ll recognize ‘normal’ even if you find it.”

            “You mean,” Prudence asked, irony—and anger—in her voice, “not everyone grows up with a father who won’t touch them, a mother with lovers tripping up and down the stairs every day, and rumors that only their oldest brother is really the son of their father?”

            “Remember when we were little—how much we enjoyed having all those handsome young men bring us hair ribbons and sweets?” Temper said, trying to tease her sister out of her pique.

            Pru stopped folding the tissue paper she was inserting to cushion the gowns and sent Temper a look her twin had no trouble interpreting.

            “I suppose it’s only us, the lucky ‘Vraux Miscellany,’ who fit that sorry description,” Temper said, changing tacks, torn between sympathy for the distress of her twin and a smoldering anger for the way Society had treated their mother.  “Gregory, the anointed heir, then you and me and Christopher, the…add-ons.  Heavens, what would Papa have done, had Gregory not survived?  He might have had to go near Mama again.”

            “Maybe if he had, they’d have reconciled—whatever difficulty lay between them, and we would have ended up being a normal family.”

            Temper sighed.  “Is there such a thing?  Although, to be fair, you have to admit that Mama has fulfilled the promise she made to us on our sixteenth birthday.  She’s conducted herself with much more restraint these last six years.”

“Maybe so, but by then, the damage was already done,” Pru said bitterly.  “How wonderful, at your first event with your hair up and your skirts down, to walk into the drawing room and hear someone whisper, ‘There they are–the Scandal Sisters.’  Besides, as this latest incident shows, Mama’s reputation is such that she doesn’t have to do anything now to create a furor.”

“Not when there are always block-headed men around to do it for her,” Temper said acidly.  “Well, nothing we can do about that.” 

After helping her twin hold down the lid of the trunk and latch it, she gave Pru another hug.  “Done, then! Aunt Gussie collects you this morning, doesn’t she?  So take yourself off to Bath, find that worthy gentleman, and create the warm, happy, normal family you so desire.  No one could be more deserving of a happy ending than you, my sweet sister!”

            “Thank you, Temper,” Pru said as her sister crossed to the door.  “I shall certainly try my hardest to make it so.  But…are you still so determined not to marry?  I know you’ve insisted that practically since we were sixteen, but…
            The dark memories struggled to surface, and Temper forced them down.  “You really think I would give up my freedom, put myself legally and financially under the thumb of some man who can ignore me or beat me or spend my entire dowry without my being able to do a thing to prevent it?”

            “I know we haven’t been witness to a…very hopeful example, but not all marriages are disasters.  Look at Christopher and Ellie.”

            “They are fortunate.”

            “Christopher’s friends seem to be equally fortunate—Lyndlington with his Maggie, David Smith with his duchess, Ben Tawny with Lady Alyssa,” Pru pointed out.

            Temper shifted uncomfortably.  If she were truly honest, she had to admit a niggle of envy for the sort of radiant happiness her brother Christopher and his friends had found with the women they’d chosen as wives.

            “Besides,” Pru pressed her point, “it’s the character of the husband that will determine how fairly and kindly the wife is treated.  And we both know there are fair, kind, admirable men in London.  Look at Gregory—or Gifford!”

            Gifford Newell.  Her brother’s best friend and carousing buddy, who’d acted as another older brother, tease, nag and friend since she was in leading strings.  Although lately, something seemed to have shifted between them…some sort of wordless tension that telegraphed between them when they were together, edgy, exciting…and threatening.

            She might be inexperienced, but with a mother like theirs, Temper knew where that sort of tension led.  And she wanted none of it.

            “Very well, I grant you that there are some upstanding gentlemen in England, and some of them actually find the happy unions they deserve.  I…I just don’t think marriage is for me. “ Squeezing her sister’s hand, she crossed to the doorway.  “Don’t forget to come say good-bye before you leave!  Now, you’d better find where your maid has disappeared with the rest of your bonnets before Aunt Gussie arrives.  You know she hates to be kept waiting.”

            Pru gave her a troubled look, but to Temper’s relief, did not question her any further.  She kept very few secrets from her sister, but this one she simply couldn’t share.

Tacitly accepting Temper’s change of subject, Pru said, “Of course I’ll bid everyone goodbye.  And you’re correct, Aunt Gussie will be anxious to get started.  She’s hoping to travel most of the way to Bath today, so we might arrive in good time tomorrow.  Anyway, since you can’t be presented this year, what do you mean to do in London?”

            “Oh, I don’t know,” Temper replied, looking back at her from the doorway. “Maybe I’ll create some scandals of my own!”

About the Author

Award-winning historical romance author Julia Justiss has written more than thirty novels and novellas set in the English Regency and the American West.

A voracious reader who began jotting down plot ideas for Nancy Drew novels in her third grade spiral, Julia has published poetry and worked as a business journalist.

She and her husband live in East Texas, where she continues to craft the stories she loves. Check her website for details about her books, chat with her on social media, and follow her on Bookbub and Amazon to receive notices about her latest releases. For special subscriber giveaways, discounted books, character sketches and more, sign up for her newsletter at:

www.juliajustiss.com

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After the Ball is Over: Part 2

He found the Forster twins in the face of Rob Jones, the junior footman. “We get the card room. We always do. It’s ourn,’” Hiram Forster shouted at the boy. The card room always had good hunting for stray coins and half-empty wine glasses. Valuables were meant to be turned in, but they all knew Fowler would pocket any coin they handed over.

“Then get you here early,” Harold snarled, coming up behind him. Hiram looked as if he might complain, but the miscreant looked up at Harold’s size and backed down. “Get up into the gallery, you two. Clean the floor. There’ll be wine stains, make no mistake. Mind you scrub it good.”

Hiram stuck out a defiant chin, but his brother Grady pulled his arm. “Told you to come sooner,” the brother muttered. “Let’s see what we can find in the gallery.”

Harold shook his head. If it was up to him, he’d fire the pair of them. As they walked away, something caught his eye. “What’s that sticking under your shirt, Forster,” he demanded stepping smartly to grab Hiram by the arm and spin him around. He reached under the shirt and pulled a silky white garment out, a pair of lady’s lace drawers.

“That’s mine!” Hiram shouted.

“Wear them often?” Harold sneered.

Hiram turned beet red. “Found it, din’t I? Keeping it for m’ sister.”

“Where would you ‘find’ something like that?”

“That big pot at the end of the portico where it meets the alley. Nice dark spot is that at night.” Hiram shrugged. “Some widow no better than she should be.”

Harold looked at the object he held between thumb and forefinger. It cost someone a pretty penny, but he doubted any lady of quality would admit to losing it. He tossed it at Hiram. “Go ahead. Keep it. Give it to your sister.”

“Yah. Yer sister,” Grady laughed. They scurried off and Harold shook his head. He peered up at the clock on the Octagon. Half-past ten, and still no sign of Fowler.

“Do I need to turn this in?” Rob asked. He held up one black leather glove. Harold nodded at him. “Sorry to say it after those two, but yes. You know where it goes. A gentleman might ask for that.” Rob glanced at the departing Forsters and nodded his understanding.

Maudy approached him when he went back about his work. “Here’s the flannel square, Mr. Randal. Bit damp yet.” She beamed at him, and his heart warmed.

“Put it on the subscription desk, Maudy. We’ll see what Fowler wants to do.” If the fool turns up to work.

He had moved the second row of chairs and was staring on the back one when Maudy returned. “It will go faster if I move them and you mop,” she suggested. He should send her into the tea room, he knew, but what harm in the pleasure of her company? They set to work, and it went quickly, until he found himself mopping the very back row by the wall while Maudy moved the last of the chairs. He looked over to see her bent over, gifting him with the sight of her rounded little behind, and rattling his brain so that he didn’t hear what she said.

“Mr. Randal,” she repeated. “Did you hear me? I found something.” She pushed herself off the dirty floor, and wiped one hand on her skirt, the other holding something. He leaned in and saw it was a book. “Miss Middleton’s Guide To Etiquette,” he read, “Some lady’s no doubt.”

“It’s well thumbed, for sure,” she murmured. “Do you think they’d let me keep it? I won’t want it if I have to ask Fowler.”

Harold didn’t blame her but, as it turned out, she didn’t have to. The Master of Ceremonies, Old King himself, appeared on the scene just as they got the chairs back in their proper places. And it just noon—odd that.

“Good man—Randal, is it? The men told me you sorted the work out.” He must not have spoken to the weasels in the musicians gallery.

“Aye, Sir. They’re good workers.”

“Have you seen any sign of Fowler?” King asked.

“No, Sir.”

“Had complaints from no less than an earl last night. Went to fetch him and he’d scampered. Took the money from the safe with him.” King looked like he’d sucked a lemon. “We can’t have it out, mind you. I’m trusting you to keep it to yourself.”

“No problem, Sir. We don’t want our Assembly Rooms besmirched,” Harold said.

King nodded. “Can you manage the thing? At least for a while until I can sort it out?”

“Yes, Sir. I know I can.” Harold stood a bit taller. Over King’s shoulder he saw Maudy smiling at him. If a promotion was on offer he could afford—well, best left unsaid for now.

“It was a fine ball, though, wasn’t it?” King said. “Valentine’s Day Ball. We’ll have to do it again next year, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Sir. A night for lovers that was.” Maudy’s smile spread into a cheeky grin. Next year might be even better.

For Part 1 of After the Ball is over, see last Wednesday’s post.

For more about Valentines From Bath, the box set of five stories this is the Afterword to, see our joint project page.

For the Foreword to Valentines From Bath, see an earlier Tattler post.

After the Ball is Over: Part 1

When the toffs dance the night away, they spend the morning in bed. The folks who run about to take their coats, clean their spills, and carry trays laden with delicacies—not to mention deliver their billets doux and right scandalous invitations—have no rest at all.

Harold Randal woke at dawn, stuffed his rumpled shirt into his trousers—no need to look sharp during cleanup—and gulped down coffee from a tavern on his way to work. He didn’t worry about being late; that snake Fowler wouldn’t waltz in before ten. Harold prided himself on being better than that. He would have to get the lazy Forster twins moving on his own or they would be at it all day.

He found the key in its spot under a brick by the tradesmen’s door and let himself in. The caterer’s kitchen looked well enough. They always take their glassware and leave their bill. He wandered down the servants’ passageway, under the stairs to the musicians gallery, and into the Octagon. Sun streamed through the east windows, and he wished it didn’t. They had a long day ahead.

A soft sound from the ballroom startled him. He thought he was alone. He peeked around the door to see Maudy, the shy little maid of all work, scrubbing away at a doorknob with an odd little scrap of flannel. Pretty little thing was Maudy, but how did she get in?

“Good morning, Mr. Randal,” she said twinkling up at him and not pausing in her work. She peered closely at the brass handle and rubbed it harder. Harold stood transfixed by the sight. Pretty and industrious. She glanced up and blushed. “I ’spect you’re wondering how I got in so early.”

“The thought did come to me.”

“I never went home,” she told him. “I fell asleep under the counter in the cloak room. Thought I best get to work.” She stared down at her dress. “Sorry I’m so wrinkled up.”

Harold laughed at that and pointed to his own clothing. “No need to look fine for cleaning,” he assured her. “Have you had something to eat?”

“I found a half-eaten cake on a plate on the counter when I crawled out. I hope no one minds I ate it and all.”

“What were you doing under the counter, Maudy?” he asked.

She stared at her feet.

“Maudy…”

“Hiding from Fowler,” she whispered, glancing furtively around. “It doesn’t do to get cornered by that one, and he was in a taking last part o’ the night. Frightens me, he does.”

“Dirty bounder,” Harold muttered. He groped for something else to say. “What’s that you’re using to clean with? Looks finer than our usual.”

She held up a piece of flannel, cut in a neat square with embroidery clear around the hem. “I found it on the floor of the cloak room. It’s perfect for shining brass. I can clean it if you think someone will come looking for it.”

Harold’s brows came together. The edge looked fancied up, but who would care about a scrap of flannel left on the floor. “Keep doing what you’re doing. We can clean it if they ask, like you say.”

He fetched a mop and began cleaning the floor to the ballroom, moving chairs back as he went. In a half hour, he had a pile of dust, used tokens, and crumpled valentines fetched up in the middle of the floor. At least four of the gents had their sentiments rejected, near as Harold could see.

By that time most of the crew had wandered in. Most needed no direction. They set about dusting, scrubbing and polishing as needed. He reached the rows of chairs where the dowagers and wallflowers generally sat and began moving chairs so he could mop. He hadn’t gone more than a row deep when he heard a scuffle in the Octagon room.

To be concluded next week.

This Teatime Tattler post is the Afterword from the Bluestocking Belles’ new book, Valentines from Bath. We’ve already given you the Foreword, in an earlier Tattler piece, Will You Be My Valentine.

Fare Thee Well, Nicole

Mr. Clemens regrets to inform the reading public that Nicole Zoltack, busy as she is with four children and her prolific writing, has regretfully resigned from the Bluestocking Belles, the members of which will sorely mourn their loss, although they expect she will remain a regular attendee at their events.

Take heart! As the author focuses on her writing, her work will continue to flourish. The lady’s works are broad and include historical romances, epic fantasy romances, paranormal romances, and urban fantasy (a genre this editor does not understand but gathers is highly successful in some times and places). Her books interest readers of all ages. We are informed from trustworthy sources that her supporters might even encounter her at a Renaissance fair dressed in period garb. Do report any such sightings to our newsroom.

Your Teatime Tattler staff wishes her well.


Will you be my Valentine?

Maudy Braxton sidled into the ballroom behind Miss Waterson, the subscription secretary, and two of the senior maids. She had been maid-of-all-work at the Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath for all of three days, and she had already learnt not to attract the attention of Mr. Fowler, the manager.

He was there up the front, smarmy toad, but so was another man – a fine-looking gentleman, elegantly dressed in pantaloons and neatly fitted jacket, with an embroidered waistcoat that she regarded with the eye of a connoisseur.

Such fine work had been her ambition when she worked for Mrs Primm. She was employed to sweep the floors under the cutting tables and to fetch and carry the threads and fabric needed by the artists Mrs Primm employed in her workroom. She had been promised lessons in creating the blossoms and scrolls that decorated the skirts of the gowns intended for fashionable ladies. Borders and ornate waistcoats such as this – the work of those at the top of the trade – had been a distant dream.

She nudged Annie, the maid who had been so kind at showing her how things were done here, and whispered, “who is that with Mr Fowler?”

“That’s Mr King himself; that’s who that is.”

The Master of Ceremonies? What a magnificent gentleman. And what did he require of all the staff of the upper assembly rooms?

“Quiet, there.” Mr Randal, the senior footman, spoke sternly but with a small smile playing in the corners of his lips. Mr Randall was ever so kind. Tall and handsome too, though handsome is as handsome does, Granny always said. Granny would have approved of Mr Randal.

Mr King cleared his throat. “You may be wondering why Mr Fowler asked you all together. I wanted to tell you myself that the committee has approved a Valentine’s Day ball. This will be held on a Tuesday night, not one of our usual assembly nights, but I am sure you will all work with me to make it a success.

“I realise it will involve extra work both in the preparation and on the night itself. I have authorised Mr Fowler to meet the costs of employing you for the extra hours required. I intend this to be an event to remember; the highlight of the 1815 Bath Season. Now, does anyone have questions?”

Miss Waterson raised her hand. “Mr King, will this event be covered by the usual subscription, or will it require a separate ticket?”

“An excellent question.” Mr King inclined his head to the lady, recognising her superior status to most of the Upper Room’s other servants. “The ladies and gentlemen of Bath will purchase tickets to this Ball. I have suggested to Mr Fowler that, in addition to advertisements in the Bath Chronicle and notices in the pump rooms and other places where Society gathers, we send out personal invitations to each of our members and to other prominent residents. I imagine I can leave this in your capable hands, Miss Waterson.”

After several other questions, the servants were dismissed and scattered to their work, most of them fervently discussing the coming event.

“I did not expect all this extra work,” Miss Waterson was complaining to Mr Fowler. “My sister has been begging me to give up this work and come and be her companion.”

“Please, Miss Waterson,” Mr Fowler said. They turned the corner and Maudy heard no more.

Maudy left with Annie, but they separated off, Annie to tidy the card room, and Maudy to fetch a bucket and mop from the supply cupboard behind the anti-chamber. The floor in the card room awaited her attention.

She found the buckets easily enough, but as she looked around for the mops, Mr Fowler entered the covered, closing the door behind him.

“How are you enjoying working here?” Mr Fowler asked, prowling closer.

Maudy backed up a step, which was as far as she could go. “Good, thank you, sir.” Her voice trembled. She clutched the bucket more tightly, and wondered how long her employment would last if she hit Mr Fowler with it. Her job with Mrs Primm had not survived her resistance to a man who mistook her for a seamstress, and mistook seamstresses for loose women.

As if he could read her thoughts, Mr Fowler purred, “I hear your last job was as a seamstress. Perhaps you’d like to show me a fine — uh herm — seam?”

“No, sir,” Maudy stammered, “I was Mrs Primm’s maid. I am a good girl, sir.”

Mr Fowler put out a hand to fondle her cheek just as the door opened behind him. He dropped his hand. Harold Randal took in the scene in a single glance.

“Is that door swinging was shut again? We should get the carpenter to look at it, sir.” He held out a hand for Maudy. “Come along, girl. That card room won’t clean itself.”

Maudy followed him gratefully, wondering how to explain the scene he had witnessed. She didn’t need to. As soon as they were out of earshot of Mr Fowler, Mr Randal said, “I should have warned you, Miss Braxton. I tell all the girls. Always work in pairs. Never be alone with Mr Fowler.”

Annie was waiting in the card room, already armed with bucket and mop. Mr Randal left them to their work and the friendly conversation that helped pass the time. “If you was a lady,” Annie said after a while, “which gentleman would you choose to dance with at the Valentine’s Day Ball?”

Maudy said she didn’t know any gentleman. Mrs Primm had said the man who tried to assault her was no gentleman. Annie knew several, having taken their cloaks and coats on many an occasion here at the assembly rooms. She was happy to chatter on, comparing their features and deficits.

Maudy listened with half an ear. In her own mind, she was dressed in one of Mrs Primm’s finest ball gowns, and was dancing in the arms of a gentleman who bore a stunning resemblance to Mr Harold Randal.

Join the Bluestocking Belles for five original stories set at and around the Valentine’s Day Ball. On preorder now, and published 9 February.

For blurb (including the individual blurbs for each story) and buy links, see our project page.

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