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A Surprise for a Sister

My Fishingham twins spying on their sister’s meetings with the Beast Next Door.

“Why did you stop me telling Charis about the Earl of Wayford?” Matilda demanded, as soon as Charis was out of earshot. “She clearly has no idea…”

Eugenie smirked. “Exactly. She has no idea. Just think what a delightful surprise it will be for her when the Earl actually turns up to claim his bride!”

Matilda frowned, puzzled. She could work absolute magic with a needle, but she sometimes had to have plots explained to her. It was not that she was stupid, it was just that she was straightforward and honest, so Eugenie had to be devious enough for them both. Eugenie didn’t mind; that was, after all, what a twin was for.

Eugenie didn’t exactly mind, either, that Charis, who was two years older than the twins, walked around with her head in one of her books, and ignored the family’s dire straits and the measures needed to save them. That was just Charis. She had always been that way, preferring her own company to playing with the twins, and regarding fashion, gossip, and the twins’ other interests with a kind of bewildered disdain.

She was extremely cross that Mother had accepted a proposal on her behalf.

“Are you not delighted that Charis is the one to find a rich husband to save the family?” Eugenie asked Matilda. “You and I will be much freer to choose. Someone comfortably placed, of course, but how lovely that Mama will be able to depend on Charis!”

Matilda nodded. “Of course I am pleased. But Eugenie, shouldn’t we tell Charis…”

“Definitely not. After what she has put us through this season? Besides, if she had told mother she was meeting someone when she wandered off next door, she might have learned the truth much earlier. Nothing good comes of lying to one’s mother!”

Matilda burst out laughing. “Eugenie Fishingham, you are a complete card. You and I have been lying to Mother ever since we followed Charis weeks ago, and saw whom she was meeting. Not to mention…”

“Let’s not mention,” Eugenie said, hastily. She would be far more prone to falsehoods if she did not fear that Matilda would blurt them out at the first opportunity. She reminded herself that really was lucky to have such an honest twin.

“I suppose we can always tell Charis tomorrow,” Matilda decided. “Shall we go up to our room, dearest? I, for one, do not wish to return to the parlour to hear Mother berating Charis for refusing this wonderful opportunity.

Charis is the heroine of The Beast Next Door, a novella in Valentines from Bath. See our project page for more about the book.

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.

FAKE RING IN AUCTION SCANDAL

The ring recently sold by auction by Bowker, Bowker and Bowker is not the famous ring of Follow Your Star Home, or if it is, the ring does not work.

Your intrepid reporter can state this categorically, since he managed to borrow it from the auctioneer to try its power. His sister wore it for a whole afternoon, and was not united with the young man she desired.

The Teatime Tattler leaves no stone unturned to bring you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter the scandal.

We caution readers that the auctioneer could not prove that said ring was the ring in the stories, which continue on the Belles’ blog hop.

Does the true ring bring true lovers together? Could it be that your reporter’s sister is merely infatuated, and not truly in love? Could it be that the ring is a fake, while the true ring is the real deal? Read the stories, dear reader, and make up your own mind. And while you do, listen to the playlist chosen by the authors for each story.

A Rose Thief meets a Bear

That Rosa Neatham. They say that she hurt her ankle. I ask you, is that likely? How did she come to hurt her ankle fifteen minutes walk or more from her home? And her with a sick father to look after?

I say sick, but we all know he is deranged. And no wonder, poor man, after what his wife and then his daughter put him through.

She just happened to hurt her ankle on the doorstep of the most eligible bachelor to come this way in a month of Sundays. Now their banns have been called, and you cannot tell me she didn’t plan it all.

Just wait until he finds out who her aunt is. That’s what I say. Or is the woman her aunt? Some say the scandalous trollop is her mother!

House of Thorns

His rose thief bride comes with a scandal that threatens to tear them apart.

Retired spy, Bear Gavenor has fled the marriage mart for the familiarity of his work; restoring abandoned country manors to sell to the newly rich. Never does he anticipate that his first task will be to deal with the thief he’s caught stealing his roses.

Evicted from her home and ruined with claims she has a lover, Rosa Neatham fears she will soon be unable to care for her invalid father. When she returns to her former home to gather roses to brighten his room, her fortune worsens. She’s startled by the home’s new owner and injured in a fall.

Bear takes her in, but when the rector confronts him about living with an unmarried woman, Bear decides to halt the rumormongers’ attempts to ruin her further and marries Rosa.

He needs an heir.

She needs a home.

Love needs to overcome the scandal, secrets and self-doubts that each brings to this marriage of convenience.

Buy links

Jude Knight’s book page  ♥ Amazon US  ♥ Amazon UK  ♥ Amazon Ca ♥ Amazon Au

Excerpt

The intruder stealing his roses had lovely shaped calves.

Bear Gavenor paused at the corner of the house, the better to enjoy the sight. The scraping of wood on stone had drawn him from the warmth of the kitchen, where the only fire in this overgrown cottage kept the unseasonable chill at bay. He had placed each foot carefully and silently, not from planned stealth, but from old habit. The woman perched precariously on the rickety ladder seemed oblivious to his presence.

Or—his sour experiences as a wealthy war hero in London suggested—she knew full well, and her display was for his benefit. Certainly, the sight was having an effect. Her skirt rose as she stretched, showing worn but neat walking boots. Her inadequate jacket molded to curves that dried his mouth. Wind plastered her skirts to lower curves that had him hardening in an instant, visions of plunder screaming into his mind.

It had been too long since his last willing widow.

Disgust at his own weakness as much as irritation at the invasion of his privacy, fueled Bear’s full-throated roar, “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing with my roses?”

She jerked around, then cried out as the rung she stood on snapped free of the upright. Bear lunged toward her as the ladder slid sideways. One upright caught on the tangle of rose branches and the other continued its descent. The woman threw out both hands but the branch she grasped snapped free and—before Bear could throw himself under her— she crashed onto the ground.

If the fall was deliberate—which would not surprise him after some of the things women had done to attract his attention—she had made too good a job of it. She lay still and white in a crumpled heap, her head lying on a corner of a flagstone in the path. He dropped to one knee beside her and slipped a hand into the rich chestnut hair. His fingers came away bloody.

As he ran his hands swiftly over the rest of her body, checking for anything that seemed twisted out of shape or that hurt enough to rouse her, a large drop of rain splashed onto his neck, followed by a spattering of more and then a deluge. He cursed as he lifted the woman and ran into the house through the garden doors that opened from the room he’d chosen for his study.

She was a bare handful, lighter than she should have been for her height, though well endowed in all the right places. He set her on the sofa and straightened. He needed a doctor.

Just like a man!

“I’m nearly there, Molly,” Sukie told her friend. “With what I earn in the next few days, I’ll have enough to set up in a little apartment, and to hire a carriage to take me driving in Hyde Park. And then, we’ll see whose eye I catch, and who catches mine! Perhaps even the Marquis of Aldridge!”

“You gotta know, girl, I want all the best for you, but that there Aldridge? He don’t look at no-one but the Rose of Frampton.” Molly sighed. Every woman in the trade in London, and most of the United Kingdoms beside, wished they could be the kept woman of the Merry Marquis. “Lucky woman.”

“Maybe not so lucky,” Sukie said, smug that she knew something Molly hadn’t heard first. “Word is he has been seeing other women!”

“No!” Horror and delight mingled in Molly’s reaction. “Poor Rose! Just like a man.”

See Jude’s blog post, Tea with Aldridge, to find out why Aldridge began seeing other women.

A Baron for Becky

A fallen woman dreams of landing on her feet, until unexpected news threatens to land her back in the dirt

Becky is the envy of the courtesans of the demi-monde — the indulged mistress of the wealthy and charismatic Marquis of Aldridge. But she dreams of a normal life; one in which her daughter can have a future that does not depend on beauty, sex, and the whims of a man.

Finding herself with child, she hesitates to tell Aldridge. Will he cast her off, send her away, or keep her and condemn another child to this uncertain shadow world?

The devil-may-care face Hugh shows to the world hides a desperate sorrow; a sorrow he tries to drown with drink and riotous living. His years at war haunt him, but even more, he doesn’t want to think about the illness that robbed him of the ability to father a son. When he dies, his barony will die with him. His title will fall into abeyance, and his estate will be scooped up by the Crown.

When Aldridge surprises them both with a daring proposition, they do not expect love to be part of the bargain.

Buy links

Jude Knight’s book page  has buy links for many retailers, including her own book shop

 

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