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Imposter Attempts Theft of Title

Sam, you made a good call when you sent me to listen to the debate in the Lords. Whoever told you the Duke of Haverford was up to something, didn’t hint at the half of it! Here’s a transcript of what he said.

Your Graces, My Lords, it is with a heavy heart that I come before you today. Not long ago, it was our sad duty to recognise that our esteemed monarch was no longer able to meet his responsibilities and needed to be placed in the care of his loving wife.

Today, we face a like task, as one of the foremost peers in the land falls victim to the ravages of time and illness, so that his judgement is impaired and his decisions dangerous for his family, his estates, and the realm.

I refer, dear colleagues, to one of my oldest friends. With the greatest of regret, I must disclose to you that the Duke of Winshire has succumbed to the blandishments of a rogue and the yearnings of his own heart, and has recognised an imposter as his heir.

This man, claiming to be Winshire’s only surviving son, arrived on these shores only days ago. I have reason to believe he is not even English, but comes from the far reaches of Persia, or even further into those godless lands.

My lords, the Duke’s sons are all dead. I, myself, wept with him when the news came from the East of the death of the man this reprobate claims to be.

Moreover, the rogue brings with him six young people whom he claims to be his legitimate children. You and I, my lords, will know how to answer such a ridiculous attempt to lay hands on one of the treasures of England, the duchy of Winshire.

So there it is, Sam. I can’t wait to see what happens next! Fun times to be a reporter, that is for certain.

In 1812, high Society is rocked by the return of the Earl of Sutton, heir to the dying Duke of Winshire. James Winderfield, Earl of Sutton, Winshire’s third and only surviving son, has long been thought dead, but his reappearance is not nearly such a shock as those he brings with him, the children of his deceased Persian-born wife and fierce armed retainers.

This series begins with a prequel novella telling the love story of James senior and Mahzad, then leaps two decades to a series of six novels as the Winderfield offspring and their cousins search for acceptance and love.

To Wed a Proper Lady, the first novel, is on preorder and will be released on 15 April.

Everyone knows James needs a bride with impeccable blood lines. He needs Sophia’s love more.

James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her, he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.

Sophia keeps secret her tendre for James, Lord Elfingham. After all, the whole of Society knows he is pursuing the younger Belvoir sister, not the older one left on the shelf after two failed betrothals.

Find out more and buy the book.

Excerpt

The racing curricles had negotiated the bend without disaster and were now hurtling towards the village. Long habit had James studying the path, looking to make sure the villagers were safely out of the way, and an instant later, he put Seistan at the slope.

It was steep, but nothing to the mountains they had lived in all their lives, he and his horse, and Seistan was as sure-footed as any goat. Straight down by the shortest route they hurtled, for in the path of the thoughtless lackwits and their carriages was a child—a boy, by the trousers—who had just escaped through a gate from the village’s one large house, tripped as he crossed the road, and now lay still.

It would be close. As he cleared one stone fence and then another, he could see the child beginning to sit up, shaking his head. Just winded then, and easier to reach than lying flat, thank all the angels and saints.

Out of sight for a moment as he rounded a cottage, he could hear the carriages drawing closer. Had the child recovered enough to run? No. He was still sitting in the road, mouth open, white-faced, looking as his doom approached. What kind of selfish madmen raced breast to breast, wheel to wheel, into a village?

With hand, body and voice, James set Seistan at the child, and dropped off the saddle, trusting to the horse to sweep past in the right place for James to hoist the child out of harm’s way.

One mighty heave, and they were back in the saddle. James’ shoulders would feel the weight of the boy for days, but Seistan had continued across the road, and just in time. The racers hurtled by so close James could feel the wind of their passing.

They didn’t stop. Didn’t even slow. In moments, they were gone.

The boy shaking in his arms, James turned Seistan with his knees, and walked the horse back to the gates of the big house. A crowd of women waited for them, but only one came forward as he dismounted— a gentlewoman, if her aristocratic bearing and the quality of her fashionable gown were any indication.

“Forgive my temerity in speaking without an introduction, my lady,” he said, “but have you perchance mislaid this child?”

“How can we ever thank you enough, sir?” Her voice confirmed her class. She took the child from him, and handed him off to be scolded and hugged and wept over by a bevy of other females.

The woman lingered, and James too. He could hear his father and the others riding towards them, but he couldn’t take his gaze off her. He was drowning in a pair of brown-gray eyes, like a pond in the deep shelter of a nurturing forest. Did she feel it too? The Greeks said that true lovers had one soul, split at birth and placed in two bodies. He had thought it a nice conceit, until now.


Scandalous Doings in High Places

To the editor, Teatime Tattler

Dear Honoured Sir

It is with the greatest of reluctance that I put pen to paper. I am not, I assure your readers, sir, one to speak ill of my fellows, but I also believe most strongly that we of the highest ranks must set a good example to others.

Sadly, what I have observed with my own eyes leads me to believe that a previous correspondent to your paper has the right of it. One of the highest ladies in the land outside of the Royal Family has, indeed, been led into the most grevious of errors by the kindness of her heart.

Just the other night, I was at the theatre. It was not a memorable occasion to begin with — a very mediocre crowd, and much focused on some actor from the provinces who was making his debut on the London stage. At the interval, however, a vast crowd, all very merry, joined us, which was a great improvement, for what is the point of getting dressed to attend the theatre, if few people see you?

But I digress.

Miss C., a young person (I do not say ‘lady’, though she aspires to such) who currently lives in the household of the great lady I mentioned, was reprimanded — very properly, I might add — by the cousin who is the head of her family, and responded most pertly.

Are these the manners she learns at a ducal table, I ask you?

Perhaps so. You will be shocked — I was shocked, sir — to know that one much closer to the great lady’s heart (though not precisely what a proper gentlewoman would consider family) was also seen behaving scandalously a few days earlier.

I happened to be walking in Hyde Park on one of the first days without snow and fog, and I came across Miss J. G. in the arms of Lord D., who has been heard to wager he will be there to catch the maiden, if maiden she be, when she falls.

Miss J. G., you will know, is said to be the ward of said great lady (though the polite world knows she has no right to be in a ducal household, unless in the most menial — or the most scandalous of positions). It appears she has inherited the appetites of the mother who gave away her virtue to the great lady’s husband.

I interrupted them and they were soon after joined by Miss J. G.’s sister and Lord H. — another scandalous pairing.

Furthermore, the newly minted earl, Lord C., might look to the company that his sister, Lady F., is keeping under the sponsorship of the great lady. As if walking the back alleys of London with only a one-handed footman for protection is not foolish enough, she has now taken up with the Recluse of Cambridge!

Alas. One hears rumours that the great lady’s husband is ailing, and that his ailment is of the type to affect the brain. Perhaps the condition is infectious, for what else can explain such terrible flaws in judgement on the part of a lady we should all look up to.

I am sure you and your readers will join me in my concern over the ruin that encouraging such behaviours will make of public morals. In my own family, moral turpitude had such terrible consequences that my only recourse was to flee my home. Let a public outcry arise before London likewise sinks entirely into the mire.

I remain, most sincerely,

Lady A.

Lady Ashbury, is, of course, having a go at the Duchess of Haverford, patroness of a Ladies’ Society formed to help veterans. She also takes a swipe at the heroines of three of the stories, plus Jessica Grenford, the sister of my heroine, Matilda Grenford.

For more about these stories of love in a time of ice, see our Fire & Frost page, which has blurbs for each story and buy links for most retailers of ebooks. You can also buy Fire & Frost in print from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Lady Asbury appears in my Children of the Mountain King series. She is the wicked sister-in-law of my Earl of Ashbury, the hero of the second book, who is one of the people she is accusing of moral turpitude; safely enough, because he hasn’t ventured from his estate since he recovered from the injury that crippled him to find his wife and brother dead, children sent off to school, and sister-in-law gone.

A chance meeting on purpose

Aldridge looked around the unfamiliar room of a club patronised by the son and heir of the Duke of Sudbury. He soon spotted the distinctive white-blonde head of hair. Glenaire was dining alone at a table set apart from the others. Aldridge strolled over, catching up a chair on his way.

“Good evening, Glenaire. Would company go amiss?” It was a comedy they enacted for the audience. Glenaire had offered this as a meeting place when Aldridge asked for a private conversation.

Glenaire looked up from the pamphlet on which he focused to the neglect of his plate. “It would be my pleasure.” He hooked a finger at a passing footman. “A place setting for Lord Aldridge.”

As the footman hurried away, Glenaire went straight to the point. “Forgive if I’m assuming, Aldridge, but I gather this is about your family matter.”

Aldridge grimaced. “In a sense, Glenaire, though it touches on your particular interests. Let me be blunt. My ‘family matter’ as you call it is out of my hands and into those of men like your esteemed father. I shall need to trust they make the right decision, for what else can I do? Meanwhile, I am doing my best to contain the mischief my own progenitor can cause, as quietly as possible, for my mother’s sake and the sake of the duchy.”

Glenaire’s somber expression deepened. Unlike Aldridge, Glenaire had withdrawn from affairs of the Sudbury duchy and thrown himself into government, becoming highly influential in foreign affairs. His sharp disagreement with the duke his father made working together impossible and, unlike Haverford, the Duke of Sudbury remained very much in control. He understood, however, the frustration of watching his family heritage poorly managed while lacking power to intervene.

The footman arrived to serve a bowl of rich oyster soup. Aldridge thanked him with a smile, and took his first sip while waiting for the man to leave. “With your sister supporting this event my mother is sponsoring, I take it we shall be seeing you at the auction?”

“Of course,” Glenaire agreed. “Chadbourn and I have been working on similar issues for a few years. I will support the ladies’ efforts any way I can.”

“I was somewhat surprised to see your sister at Haverford House and joining in the committee’s activities. My impression has been she prefers to remain in Oxfordshire.”

Glenaire shook his head. “Georgiana is much too much a recluse. One worries. I urged her to come down for a few weeks while our parents are not in town.” A small movement at the corner of his lips hinted at amusement. “Your mother recruited her rather quickly. Now she has moved to Chadbourn House. She and the earl’s sister Lady Flora are partners in this cause.”

Aldridge grinned. “Chadbourn already has a special interest in the Society’s cause. The Chadbourn House servants are an interesting lot.”  (Chadbourn recruited many of his servants from among disabled veterans and war widows.)

The footman finished pouring the wine to go with the soup course, and left. Aldridge leant forward and lowered his voice. “Glenaire, I’ll get straight to the point. It has come to my attention that a certain crime lord in the London slums has smuggling interests, and that the implications may touch on the security of the King’s realm. If… and I pose the question hypothetically… if a prominent Devon landowner gave safe haven to such criminals, and someone presented the government with information about the places and times of meeting, could the landowner’s name be kept out of it? The family would, of course, guarantee to deal with the matter in their own way. Indeed, steps are already being taken.”

Glenaire nodded. “Ah, but the government would have a strong interest in assisting the family in this matter. Confidentially, Aldridge we both know there are smugglers one winks at (your boyhood shows that) and ones that mean us harm. I assume these are the latter and can ensure the full force of the border enforcement—riding officers and military aid if it came to that. Unless, of course, you prefer I keep them out of it.”

Aldridge frowned. “It’s a tricky matter, Glenaire. It needs to be handled by someone with a bit of discretion. Yes, running with the smugglers in Devon is almost a rite of passage for Haverford sons. My brother and I both did it when we were schoolboys, and I still know some of the men I met then. They wouldn’t touch these London thugs with an extremely long barge pole.”

He looked down at his soup spoon, but it was clear his mind was far away. “I can’t stand by and let a man’s second childhood, and his resentment of a romantic rivalry from before I was born, put England at risk. But I don’t want — can I be blunt? — I don’t want the fool attained for treason, either.”

“Are we back to a “family” matter?” Glenaire asked.

Aldridge nodded, cautiously. “Hypothetical, again? Imagine a man whose excesses have rotted his brain, and who has always thought he was one step up from God. If he needed to pay a villain for an assassination attempt, and the payment demanded was free use of smuggler sanctuaries, would his conscience bother him, do you think?”

Glenaire leaned forward. “I think it would not bother him one whit.” He bit his lip, choosing words cautiously. “Let’s assume, hypothetically, a prominent individual has so taken leave of his senses as to put his duchy, locale or indeed England at risk. Dear God! He must be stopped.”

“Agreed.” Aldridge spread his lips in a travesty of a grin, as if Glenaire had said something amusing. “At any cost, Glenaire. Any cost. But I’m selfish enough to wish to limit the cost to something I can afford to pay.”

 “Care for the impact of such a thing on a mother and her wards — not to mention the wellbeing of the duchy — is not selfish. No one gains by the scandal of a trial for treason. With the cooperation of close individuals — his heir for example — the man in question might be dealt with quietly. Some sort of confinement could be arranged. Do you anticipate difficulty from his peers? A duke for example, hypothetically?”

Another nod. This one more emphatic. “Indeed. A duke whose own heir might be very close to you.”

“Precisely. I have little influence with my father,” Glenaire acknowledged, “but this… no, I don’t suppose you want him to know about this.”

Aldridge inclined his head. “I am grateful for your understanding. He is not the only man on the panel for the Competence Hearing, so I do not despair of an appropriate outcome. If not — I have servants loyal to me. Something will be contrived.”

“A positive outcome there would make all this easier. You may be sure the Regent will agree with a finding in favour of the truth,” Glenaire assured his fellow heir, then his brows shot up. “One thing, Aldridge. You said, ‘an assassination attempt…’ but you don’t name the victim. Surely not the Regent! A high ranking official? We’ll need to organize protection.”

Aldridge responded with a wry quirk of the eyebrows. “The man in question has his own very efficient protection. You will have heard of the footpad attack more than a year back on the town carriage of a certain duke? Five of twelve scoundrels left dead in the streets? The next two attempts have been kept quiet, but have resulted in a similar body count.”

“Ah,” Glenaire said knowingly. “A man with a private army perhaps?”

A small smile. “No noble is permitted a private army, Glenaire. This personage has only the number of retainers permitted by law. That they are unusually skilled, men and women alike, is to their advantage in this case.  I am not concerned for their safety and wellbeing. Though for all their prowess, if this Devil’s Acre fellow is allowed to continue, he might get lucky.”

Aldridge opened his jacket and pulled a slim package from an inside pocket. “A report from David Wakefield, the investigator. Use it as you need to, Glenaire.”

Glenaire accepted it and put it away in his own jacket. “Thank you for the warning. I’ll send the support the hypothetical heir needs, alert certain influential individuals. Ah yes, and speak to you again at the ladies’ auction. Our sisters will insist on it.”

 Aldridge laughed. “I expect it to cost me a pretty penny, one way and another. My mother tells me it is my duty to purchase the baskets of any lady who may be left behind. I trust I can content myself with driving up the bids of others.”

Glenaire allowed himself a slightly broader smile. “I fear I lack your patience for the latter but I’ll try to do my duty by the first.”

“One must have patience to be a success with the ladies, Glenaire.” Aldridge smiled warmly at the footman who replaced his soup bowl with a plate of roasted beef and finely cooked vegetables. “Thank you. Will you see the doorman and fetch the bottle I left with him? Glenaire? May I treat you to a fine Italian red?”

***

The event the Duchess of Haverford is organising, and some of the other matters touched on in this discussion between Jude’s Marquis of Aldridge and Caroline’s Marquess of Glenaire, are featured in Fire & Frost, due for publication on 4 February. Click on the link to find out more about five wonderful stories, set in the winter of 1813-14, when the weather was so cold the Thames froze over, and all five stories converge at the Frost Fair.
And come back to check out the tour around the Belles’ blogs on release day your own personal guided tour of five Frost Fair booths, with a large helping of scandal and five micro stories written just for the blog tour. (The link will be added when the tour opens.)

The duke’s ungrateful son

Sam, you were right about the story, but you can’t use it. You’ll have two dukes down on you like a ton of bricks. You won’t be able to hide this one in initials and pretend you’re talking about someone else.

I’ve written it up anyway. Maybe it will come in handy when their Graces have gone to their reward — which, if there’s any justice in the afterlife, will involve hot flame and pitchforks. In any case, it will satisfy your curiosity.

Mr Redding, the young man who insisted on seeing the Duke of Sutton, was a gentleman — Perkins could tell a fake a mile off — but almost certainly a younger son, and so of no account. He had an attempt to spruce himself up, but the marks of travel were clear to an experienced butler. Poverty, too.

Perkins thought it unlikely that His Grace would receive Mr Redding, but he was not prepared to take the risk of making the decision for that irascible peer. To interrupt him and his friend the Duke of Haverford at their port might earn him a glass flung at his head. To fail to interrupt him if Mr Redding’s claim of urgency was true would see him on the street, never mind a lifetime’s faithful service.

To Perkin’s surprise, he was ordered to show Mr Redding in immediately. “You’ll be interested in this, Haverford,” His Grace of Winshire told his friend.

Perkins was, too, so he was careful not to completely close the door once he’d ushered Mr Redding inside, so that any conversation would reach the ear he put to the crack.

“Well, Redding,” the duke said. “Where’s my son?” His son? Lord Sutton was probably at his club, Lord Richard had been dead nearly two years, and Lord James, God bless him, had met his end on foreign shores fifteen years ago.

“I’m sorry, Your Grace,” Mr Redding replied. “We weren’t able to persuade him.”

“What!” Even over the duke’s roar, Perkins could hear the crash as he leapt to his feet fast enough to knock his chair over. More crashes followed. He’d be sweeping anything before him off the table. Perkins winced as priceless Italian crystal goblets and fine Chinese porcelain were sacrificed to the duke’s rage.

“You should have abducted him!” the old man shouted. “The Devil knows I gave you a large enough purse to hire an army.”

“We did, Your Grace. We had men at the ready, but we thought to persuade him first. He seemed open to it. Then he asked if he could bring his wife and eight children home, four of them sons.”

The duke’s snort gave all the answer needed.

“Exactly, Your Grace. A native woman and her brats? And him the heir to one of the premier titles in Britain?” Perkins could almost hear Mr Redding shake his head. “We weren’t fool enough to tell him that, but he must have known, because he slipped away in the night, and managed to evade the men we had ready to detain him.”

“That was it? He escaped and you let him go?”

“We chased him, of course, Your Grace.” Mr Redding managed to sound a little hurt. “No catching him. Those horses they breed in Turkmenistan are devilish fast, and you’ve never seen endurance like it. Of course, once he made it into his mountains, and was locked up in that kingdom of his, there was no point in anything but going home. He left a note for you, Your Grace.”

There was silence for a moment, then the duke’s voice, raised again. “Cognizant of your generosity. Must regretfully decline at this time. Will pray for good health and a long life for my nephew. Damn the boy. How dare he!”

Haverford’s voice sounded amused. “Refused you, did he? He always was an ungrateful cub. Never mind, Winshire. Sutton’s whelp seems to be in better health. You don’t need your youngest son. He has clearly gone native, and is unfit for your high position.”

Winshire snapped at his old friend. “You’re just upset because he coveted your wife, Haverford! Four sons! He’s a good breeder, I’ll give him that. I’ll get him home if it’s the last thing I do. Get out, Redding. I don’t want to see your face.” Something smashed on the door, warning Perkins, and he stepped away in time to escape being caught as Mr Redding scurried out of the room, just ahead of another crash.

Perkins, his mind seething with conjecture, conducted Mr Perkins to a small parlour, well away from the salon where the duke still raged. Lady Georgiana, the duke’s daughter, would not be pleased if he let the man leave without consulting her. Besides, Perkins himself wanted to hear news of Lord James, whom all the servants had loved — something that could not be said for the duke or his eldest son.

“Sit yourself down, Mr Perkins. You are fatigued and must be hungry. Let me get you something to eat and perhaps a drink. Do you have somewhere to stay the night? Shall I have them make up a bed?”

He sent a maid scurrying to the kitchen and another to the third floor where an anonymous guest might stay with the duke none the wiser, and hurried upstairs to her ladyship. If he was fortunate, she might permit him to stay and listen when she questioned Mr Perkins.

Paradise Regained

In discovering the mysteries of the East, James has built a new life. Will unveiling the secrets in his wife’s heart destroy it?

James Winderfield yearns to end a long journey in the arms of his loving family. But his father’s agents offer the exiled prodigal forgiveness and a place in Society — if he abandons his foreign-born wife and children to return to England.

With her husband away, Mahzad faces revolt, invasion and betrayal in the mountain kingdom they built together. A queen without her king, she will not allow their dream and their family to be destroyed.

But the greatest threats to their marriage and their lives together is the widening distance between them. To win Paradise, they must face the truths in their hearts.

Find buy links at Books2read https://books2read.com/paradiseregained

Paradise Regained takes place in 1794. Eighteen years later, the hero of this novella, now a widower, returns to England with six of his children. The series that tells of the adventures and romances of these children will begin publication around March next year.

Excerpt

James regarded the Russian and the Englishman across the delicately hand-knotted silk and woolen rug. He may have made a tactical error in wearing European clothes. He’d thought to emphasise to Redding and Michaelov that he was English and a duke’s son and to be treated with respect. Instead, they appeared to have taken the message that he was ready to abandon the life he had built here in the Middle East and crawl back to accept whatever crumbs fell from his father’s table.

Their contempt and condescension grew as the interview, if you could call it that when he sat silent and impassive, continued.

At his shoulder, Yousef bristled with anger on his behalf, but he would do nothing without James’s signal.

“You can be sure of the prodigal’s welcome,” Redding said, folding his hands across an incipient paunch with a smug smile. “Your father is prepared to forgive all and to welcome you with the fatted calf.”

Forgive him? For what? For being exiled? For continuing to live after he was imprisoned by the Persians and his father refused to pay the ransom? For certain, Garshasp Khan would have had him beheaded or at least castrated if the man’s mother had not been English and ready to intervene on a fellow countryman’s behalf by pointing out that James had weapons skills that made him valuable to the Khan’s guard.

James inclined his head at Redding’s nonsensical comment, a noncommittal sign but one Michaelov took as agreement.

“And you may yet be duke, Lord James. Lord Sutton has only the one son, and he is a sickly boy. With Lord Edward’s death, you are third in line.”

Time to end this.

“I have four sons,” James told them, “and three daughters.” And another child by now, whose birth he had missed, thanks to the troubles they had encountered and a further delay to meet these idiots. “I take it that my father is willing to accept Lady James and our children with the same enthusiasm?”

Not likely and the expressions on the faces of his father’s men confirmed it.

“Lady James?” Redding said cautiously. “Your native wife, is it?”

His Mahzad, royal in all her bloodlines, every inch a princess and the holder of his heart, though that organ did not appear to be as essential to her as the children and the kingdom they shared. If he were to abandon good sense and his duty to their people and traipse back to England to live on his father’s erratic goodwill, he had very little hope she would come with him.

After that, the meeting broke up fairly quickly. Redding did a good job of hiding his shock that James would put his “native wife” ahead of the supposed advantages of being possible heir to a duke, but Michaelov showed open disdain, and James left before he lost his temper.

“We’ll leave as soon as we can pack, Yousef,” James said as they arrived back in their room.

“Carefully, my lord,” Peter warned. “They have a force of armed men just outside the village.”

James raised his brows. “Good to know. How big a force, and how did you find out?”

“I went to find the black cat I spoke of, my lord. Sure enough, it brought us good luck, though I did not think so when it walked away from me, staying just out of reach until we left the caravanserai and crossed the whole of the village. Then, it dived behind a wall, and when I went after them, I heard them say your name, Winderfield, so I hid and listened.”

“Just as well for us, Peter,” Yousef agreed. “What did you hear?”

Peter explained that the men were itching for action, since they’d been lying in wait for several days. “But Michaelov said you were going to come of your own accord, so they wouldn’t be needed, and they were complaining about having to camp out in the fields in the cold.”

James asked a few more questions about the disposition of the men and the number. “We leave tonight, as quietly as possible, after the caravanserai is asleep,” he decided. “Yousef, let the men know. Once we are out in the desert, no one will catch our horses.” He left Peter to pack up the room and Yousef to organise the men while he wrote a note for Redding to take to the duke a few conciliatory words. If he had to go back to England one day to be duke, as well to leave the door open.

Duchess undermines civilisation

As those who regularly read The Teatime Tattler know, the relationship between the Duchess of S. and the Duchess of H. mirrors that between their husbands: to whit, it has always been, at best, frosty.

Since the wards of the Duchess of H. made their courtesy to the Queen last year, even after the Duchess of S. tried to have them barred on account of their irregular origins, any possibility of rapprochement has become encased in ice.

Today, in Hyde Park, half the beau monde and a considerable number of the lesser sort witnessed the further cooling of the connection.

Her Grace of H. was taking the air with Captain and Mrs J. R. and the children they have claimed as their own. Society has cautiously opened its doors and its hearts to this unlikely family, in part because of the affection many have for the gentleman’s father, and in part through the offices of his powerful allies, not least the duchess herself.

Society, I say, but not the high sticklers among them, and the leader of those most determined to hold the moral line against all possible sources of corruption is, of course, the Duchess of S.

Today, dear readers, when her carriage passed that of the Duchess of H., Her Grace of S. was staring at the trees on the opposite side of the carriage. Was it the cut direct? Not quite, for she showed no awareness of her fellow duchess before turning her shoulder.

Even so, those close enough to the carriage heard her say to her companion, “One wishes to be kind, of course, but some people take kindness to the point of gullibility. Mrs R. has adopted her husband’s natural children as her patroness also did. However, I am reliably informed, these are Hottentots, or as near as makes no difference. It is an outrage, and the Duke and I will not tolerate it.”

Quite what the Duchess of S. plans to do, she did not say.

Readers may wish to note that, as The Teatime Tattler has been informed, the three children in question are not Hottentots, but are quarter-breeds, as their maternal grandmother was Batavian.

The three wards of the Duchess of Haverford are half-sisters, all the daughters of the Duke of Haverford. Melting Matilda, in the Bluestocking Belles’ Fire & Frost box set which is on preorder for February 4, stars Matilda Grenford, the eldest of the sisters.

The Duchess of Sudbury and the Duchess of Haverford are leaders of two rival groups of Society’s ladies. The Duchess of Sudbury and her family, notably her rebel daughter Georgiana and her commanding son, the Marquess of Glenaire, appear in Caroline Warfield’s Dangerous series. (Georgie and Richard have a book each.) Her Grace is not present in the new box set, Fire & Frost, but her disapproving attitude is.

The Duchess of Haverford and her son, the Marquis of Aldridge, are connecting characters in Jude Knight’s regency novels, and particularly the forthcoming Children of the Mountain King series, to which Melting Matilda belongs as a novella. (It fits between To Wed a Proper Lady and To Heal the Broken-Hearted. Last year’s Paradise Regained is a prequel to the Mountain King series.)

Captain and Mrs J. R. are Jules and Mia Redepenning. Unkept Promises, published last month, tells how Mia came to adopt his three children.

“… oaths and anchors equally will drag: naught else abides on fickle earth but unkept promises of joy.” Herman Melville

Naval captain Jules Redepenning has spent his adult life away from England, and at war. He rarely thinks of the bride he married for her own protection, and if he does, he remembers the child he left after their wedding seven years ago. He doesn’t expect to find her in his Cape Town home, a woman grown and a lovely one, too.

Mia Redepenning sails to Cape Town to nurse her husband’s dying mistress and adopt his children. She hopes to negotiate a comfortable married life with the man while she’s there. Falling in love is not on her to-do list.

Before they can do more than glimpse a possible future together, their duties force them apart. At home in England, Mia must fight for the safety of Jules’s children. Imprisoned in France, Jules must battle for his self-respect and his life.

Only by vanquishing their foes can they start to make their dreams come true.

Books2Read: books2read.com/Unkept-Promises

Jude’s Bookshop: https://judeknight.selz.com/item/unkept-promises

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