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Bounder deceives Lady Taffy

Mr. Clemens–

It is with great reluctance and heaviness of heart that I write to you today, but decency demands I must. Were that it not so! A most intriguing stranger arrived at the Pump Room not a fortnight past — you’ll note I hesitate to call him “gentleman”! The Chevalier d’Aubusson — if indeed he holds the honor — has charmed all and sundry with a practiced grace and the face of an Adonis, but I rather suspect –nay, I am certain! — he means to abscond with one of our impressionable young ladies. For their part, the young ladies are only too happy to comply!

His attention has fallen upon the rather tragic figure of Lady Emilia Lloyd-Marshal, known to some by the affectionate appellation “Lady Taffy” because of her unfortunate Welsh roots. As you well know, Lady Emilia was presented late, and is now on her sixth — sixth! — season with not a suitable swain in sight. What does she expect, carrying on the way she does? She shocked the assembly into silence with an impromptu harp recital whilst we were attempting to take the waters in peace. She discarded her gloves, then emptied her glass into a ficus — a ficus, I ask you! At the ball this Thursday last, I espied her sneaking gin from a flask concealed on her person, then she stole a dance with the chevalier from my daughter, and deported herself like a veritable harlot. If that isn’t enough to scandalize you, my dear Mr. Clemens, you may need to find your seat for what I am about to impart.

Lady Emilia Lloyd-Marshal is to appear in a play with none other than the infamous Countess of Somerton — in a theater!

Truly, some Good Samaritan ought to save that girl from her own worst impulses. I suppose it cannot be helped. Though I have not seen her parents in your scandal sheet of late, I can assure you their behaviour is as reprehensible as ever. It is an open secret Lord Brecon lives in sin with a fishwife in some Welsh backwater, while Lady Brecon frequents the bawdy houses of Soho with her retinue of misguided lords, chief among them the hapless Lord Dorchester, who seems quite devoted, poor lamb. In such a household, I daresay Lady Emilia hadn’t the slightest chance of reaching maturity unscathed. But I digress–!

Mr. Clemens, I only wish to caution the unmarried ladies of the ton against this mysterious chevalier. He must be a pretender, for what gentleman would ever seriously court Lady Taffy? Fortune cannot make up for shamelessness or ill manners, and I’m afraid Lady Emilia has an abundance of both. I shudder to think what machinations the “chevalier” has in store for her, but whatever fate awaits her, I am assured she brought it on herself.

Regretfully,

Lady C—-

Beauty and the Bounder by Jessica Cale

He’s a liar and a fortune-hunter . . . and exactly what she needs.

The moment Lady Emilia sets eyes on the Chevalier d’Aubusson, she knows their fates are tied together. For good or ill, she cannot say. A mysterious aristocrat with a tragic past, the chevalier makes waves with his considerable charm.

Seb Virtue is not as he seems. A once-famous actor with a limited options, his future depends on him catching a rich bride. He thought it would be easy, but he didn’t count on Emilia.

There are cracks in Seb’s story, and Emilia never could resist a mystery. Whether he’s a gentleman or a bounder, he might just be the man for her.

Beauty and the Bounder in Valentines from Bath — see more, including buy links, here.

Excerpt

Seb had as much right to be here as anyone. Birth be damned, he was just as good as them if not better. Hadn’t he fought and nearly died for his country? So, he didn’t have a fortune or an ancient name that meant anything outside of Southwark, but he knew how to treat a woman. If Emilia took a chance on him, she’d find out just how good he was at that.

As the couples split into pairs, Seb took Emilia in his arms. She looked startled as his hand found its natural place at the base of her back. At a loss, her free hand skimmed his chest and settled behind his neck. Holding their joined hands tighter, he led her around the room. As he spun her in clockwise circles in an anticlockwise direction, the unavoidable dizziness gave one the sense of flying.

Emilia followed him easily, but he had the sense he’d shocked her. They were moving too quickly to properly converse, and he preferred it that way. He relaxed into the familiar steps and focused on her face. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks flushed, and her lips parted in surprise. She was a little breathless, but not nearly breathless enough. As he twirled her, a sprig of lavender fell from her hair and was crushed underfoot, adding to the perfume of beeswax and warm bodies in the air. She gasped as he caught her and held her to his chest.

Her gaze fell to his lips. “I’m quite scandalized.”

He regarded her with interest. Not yet, she wasn’t.

Jessica Cale is an author, editor, and historian based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned her B.A. in History and MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History, and you can visit her at dirtysexyhistory.com.
Website: http://www.dirtysexyhistory.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dirtysexyhistory
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JessicaCale
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/caleisafourletterword

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.

Auckland

The Lords and Ton of New Zealand… and the Scumbags… or are they?

“Mama, why must we,” Emma twitched at her crinoline with a scowl in an attempt to keep it clear of the mud and manure in the middle of the main thoroughfare, “wear the height of London fashion in this God-forsak—”

“Emma!” Mrs.Wyndham-Smyth hissed. “Ladies do not use that sort of language.” She flicked glances over both shoulders, her face paling.

Her daughter continued like she hadn’t heard her. “I thought we were moving to the wilderness when we came all the way to New Zealand and we’re still stuck in this filthy town. At least if we went to the provinces we could have some fun and not dress like trumped-up—”

“That really is enough, young lady.”

Auckland
from http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/heritageimages/index.htm

Emma took a deep breath to steady herself before she went on. “Tūī says we wear too much clothing. I agree. It’s steaming hot in these woolen dresses. We should dress like—”

“Heathens!” her mother declared. “You pay no mind to what the servants say. They are servants and we are their masters.”

She stared at her mother. “Tūī is my friend. She works for us, even though New Zealand is their land. The Māori’s land. I’m not sure why you treat them with the disdain you and so many others do.”

“It’s just the way it is.” Her mother tried to look indignant, but she seemed to be losing ground and stole more looks around her. As if her friends might be nearby.

“Anyway, I want to go live in the provinces. Coromandel Town seems a nice place.”

Driving Creek, Coromandel

“The mines?” Mrs. Wyndham-Smyth’s eyes goggled and she turned a shade whiter. “Wherever did you hear that claptrap?” Her knuckles whitened on her shopping basket and she walked faster toward the market.

“From that nice Prussian newspaperman, ummm…”

“You mustn’t say ummm, my—”

Emma went on. “That Mr. von Tempsky whom Papa invited to supper last month.”

Her mother’s lips tightened. “He’s not a newspaperman any more. He’s leading our colonial troops into the bush… against the Māori. To ensure the successful invasion of the Waikato.”

von Tempsky

“But…” Emma froze, then finally slapped her mouth shut a full half minute later. “That can’t be true.”

“True it is,” the woman said, turning back toward her. “And don’t let your father hear you say that. He’s the one who secured the commission for ‘The Prussian’ to help our army.”

“But we can’t…” Emma whispered. “It’s their land. They have all the land south of the—”

“Not any more.” Her mother gritted her teeth. “Seems the land in the Waikato has already been offered to the Australians and mercenaries who are coming to help fight.”

“Clear the way, prisoner coming through!” shouted a burly man. It was the jailor, bundling along a tall, dark man who would’ve been as handsome as Mr. von Tempsky if only he wasn’t so dirty and wearing manacles.

“Do you know who that is?” Emma whispered to her mother.

“It must be that Spaniard—Xavier Argolli or something, I think they said. The constable just caught him. He’s been running free after murdering his ship’s captain on the voyage to New Zealand.” She sniffed. “Imagine that.”

The prisoner looked up then and his eyes met Emma’s. He shook his head and just had time to whisper something before his captor dragged him past.

Fort Britomart, Auckland

Find von Tempsky,” had been his words.

Emma stared after the prisoner. He must’ve heard her mention the Prussian’s name. “Excuse me, Mama, I’m not feeling well,” she said as she spun on her heel and raced for home, already planning what to pack in her saddlebags. She’d find him.

scottish

Excerpt from A Sea of Green Unfolding:

December 1863, Auckland

Crowned by a spired white church, a high, rocky headland jutted out of the coastline to their port side. The captain of the whaler steered wide of the breakwater extending from the point and headed his ship into the next big bay.

“Auckland,” the captain said, nodding his head at the sprawling city behind the ships filling the inlet and docked at the wharves.

Upon the headland ranged several cannon and many one- and two-storied stone buildings. A Union Jack, flying from a flagpole, presided over the site.

“Complete with fort?” Xavier said.

“Fort Britomart, on the point of the same name.” Thompson nodded at the cluster of buildings. “Built on an old site.”

“Big ditches around the outsides and all,” Xavier said, staring up at them as they passed.

“They’d be the original Māori trenches,” the captain said, never taking his eyes from the rocks to their port side. “We’ll dock at Queen’s Wharf,” he added.

The city of Auckland spread out before them, rising up the gradual slope beyond the bay. The fort was sizable, but the church dominated the skyline behind Point Britomart. Warehouses and stores lined the road running along the water’s edge and houses covered the hills in the background.

“That’s a bit grand for this little place,” Xavier said, pointing to the church.

“Eh? Oh, that’s St. Paul’s Anglican. It was the first one here. It’s been there for twenty years, already. And up there,” he jutted his chin up the hill a little further, “is St. Patrick’s. Take your pick. They’re both grand.”

“I think I’ll find Aleksandra before I start looking around at churches,” Xavier said, with a grin.

The sounds and smells of port hit him when they edged up to the wharf and threw out their hawsers to the waiting men. As soon as the boat was moored, Xavier grasped the hand of the captain and thanked him profusely, then climbed down the rope ladder to the dock.

“Von Tempsky shouldn’t be too hard to find,” the captain called down after him. “Just ask at Fort Britomart. They’ll know where to find him.”

“Thanks again,” Xavier said, waving, as he headed for the point.

The rough scoria of the road surface grated on the soles of his boots as he passed the church. With its tall spire and elegant lines, it was truly beautiful. Certainly a finer building than he’d expected to find here. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a backwater, after all.

His legs were proving a bit unsteady from his time at sea, so he stretched them out as he walked, nodding to passers-by, many of whom turned their faces away as he neared them. He grinned, despite himself. He must smell like a fiend after being on ship for three months, and the last of that on a whaler. Once he set the wheels in motion to find von Tempsky and Aleksandra, he’d get a room and a bath. He could almost feel the warm water of a scented bath enveloping him.

“Hold there,” the guard at the entrance to the fort challenged.

He held up his hands and stood still, coming out of his daydream.

“Hello,” Xavier said. “De veras, of course.”

“State your name and business,” he barked.

“Xavier Argüello, looking for Captain Gustavus von Tempsky. I understand he may be near Drury?”

Several men looked up at his comment, brows narrowed.

“Right this way,” the guard said, giving him a sideways glance, his hand on his sword hilt.

The other men melted away, then the guard stood aside for him to precede him into a stone building.

The door slammed behind him and metal scraped upon metal.

Xavier turned, but the guard was nowhere to be seen.

He surveyed the waiting room. A five by five room, with only a wooden bench against one wall and a high, barred window.

Some welcome.

If they were trying to discourage visitors, they were doing a good job. He knocked on the door. A shiver ran up his spine when no one replied. He tried to lift the latch, but it wouldn’t budge. Even when he shook it. “Hey, you’ve locked me in! Guard!”

Only silence, then retreating footsteps on the boardwalk outside the door.

It finally clicked.

This was a gaol cell. But why? Had von Tempsky disgraced himself?

Xavier sat down to wait patiently, but eventually he rose to prowl from one wall to another. He pulled the bench before the grilled window, but it didn’t give him enough height to see out, so he put it back and continued to walk the walls.

There must be some mistake.

scottish

A Sea of Green Unfolding

When you’ve already lost everything, the only place left to go is up…

Tragedy strikes in Aleksandra and Xavier’s newly-found paradise on their Californio Rancho de las Pulgas and newspaperman Gustavus von Tempsky invites them on a journey to a new life in New Zealand—where everyone lives together in peace.

Unfortunately, change is in the wind.

When they reach Aotearoa, they disembark into a turbulent wilderness—where the wars between the European settlers and the local Māori have only just begun—and von Tempsky is leading the colonial troops into the bush.

Buy Links:

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About the Author

lizzi tremayne image

Lizzi grew up riding wild in the Santa Cruz Mountain redwoods, became an equine veterinarian at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and practiced in the Gold and Pony Express Country of California before emigrating to New Zealand.

Busy raising two boys, farming, and running her own equine veterinary practice, she never thought she’d sit down long enough to write more than an article. A serious injury, however, changed all that, and planted her in one place long enough to jump-start her new career as an author!

With Lizzi’s debut historical romance, A Long Trail Rolling, she was: Finalist 2013 RWNZ Great Beginnings; Winner 2014 RWNZ Pacific Hearts Award for the best unpublished full manuscript; Winner 2015 RWNZ Koru Award for Best First Novel and third in the 2015 RWNZ Koru Long Novel section; and Finalist, 2015 Best Indie Book Award. She’s working on her eighth story!

When she’s not writing, she’s swinging a rapier or shooting a bow in medieval garb, riding or driving a carriage, playing in the garden on her hobby farm, singing, cooking, practicing as an equine veterinarian or teaching high school science. She is multiply published and awarded in special interest magazines and veterinary periodicals.

Lizzi loves the friendships she’s developed with the rest of the Belles. She adores how they’re so progressive, organized, and fun. Best of all, they are all willing to put themselves out there, together, to achieve more, create more, than would be possible going it alone.

Lizzi loves to connect with her readers. How would you like to connect?

Read more about Lizzi’s books

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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