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A Golden Opportunity

She slipped out the side door of the private wing and crossed Mrs Brewster’s personal garden.

At this time of day, the Brewster family were fully occupied with their duties in the inn. No one was present to see their maid — their now former maid –unlock the private gate to the lane with the keys she had lifted from their hook in Mr Brewster’s office.

She would leave them in the lock. By the time they were discovered, she would be far from here, on her way to a position far, far away.

Freddie was waiting in the lane with his family’s gig and pony. It wasn’t elegant, but it would get them to the nearest coaching inn on the highway, 20 miles away inland.

His eyes widened as he took in the picture she made in her new gown and bonnet. One of the outfits she’d acquired for her new life. As she approached the gig, she saw that he’d found the bag and trunk she’d hidden in the stables last night. She hoped no one saw him take them away. Almost, she asked him, but, no, she mustn’t give him any reason to think she doubted him.

She let him lift her up into the gig, and hurry around to the other side.

“You look right pretty today, Miss Alice,” he said, as he took off the brake and gave the reins a shake. “Walk on, gray mare.”

Alice kept scanning the surroundings, to make sure no one saw them leaving. Not that they could stop her. She was the Brewster’s employee, not their slave. Had been the Brewster’s employee. Her resignation letter was hidden in the clutter of papers on Mr Brewster’s desk. He would find it about the time she was due back at work after her day off.

No, they couldn’t stop her, but if they knew what she had been doing and where she was going, they might make her departure difficult. Certainly, Freddie would not be allowed to transport her.

She smiled at him, and tucked her hand into his arm. Dear Freddie. He was a kind soul, and she felt just a little guilty for using him in this way, but needs must. She wasn’t going to settle for a fisherman’s son and spend the rest of her life in Fenwick.

She had new clothes, a job waiting for her, and money jingling in her reticule. She would say goodbye to Freddie at the coaching inn. Perhaps she would even give him a peck on the cheek — some sort of recompense for the trouble he was going to be in when he got back to Fenwick on Sea.

Freddie was chattering away about the men who had arrived at the inn to question all the servants about the source of the reports that had been published in the Teatime Tattler.

Alice smirked. Miss Abney always said that education gave you opportunities. Alice had found an opportunity. She had always been good at listening to people, putting two and two together, telling stories. Writing them was not much different. Sending them to Mr Clemens had been a clever idea, if she did say so herself.

And Miss Abney was right. The first opportunity had given her another. “I can use someone like you,” the letter from Mr Clemens had said. “Someone with the skills to work within a household and the brains to collect the stories I need.”

Alice was off to London to take up a permanent job as a reporter with The Teatime Tattler.

Alice is a character in the stories of Storm & Shelter. See the link for novella blurbs and buy links, and the collection for some of Alice’s Teatime Tattler reports.

Read more Storm & Shelter flash fiction at our blog hop, where our characters try to figure out who the mystery reporter is.

And congratulations to our prizewinners, who read the book, correctly named the reporter, and had their names drawn in the prize draw.

Mischief and Murder in the Midlands

Dear Mr Clemens

How sad it is to see a maiden fall. And yet, blood will tell, will it not? When a young woman (for I will not say lady) is born and raised in a barbarous foreign land, amid pagans and idolaters, how can she be expected to know the proper way to conduct herself?

Even if she is the daughter of a duke.

And yet, dear Mr Clemens, I am sure your readers will weep, as I do, at the fate of Lady R. W. For she has been — who knows by what wicked stratagems — inveigled into the lair of a Monster.

I speak, Sir, of the Earl of A, a man who hides on his estate in the Midlands, afraid to let the light of day fall on his loathsome face. he fought bravely against the French, or so they say. Yet all that courage has turned to brutality when injuries made him as ugly without as he became within. Even the local villagers shun him, knowing of his madness.

This wicked villain killed his brother and his own wife. His sister-in-law escaped by inches, having hidden his daughter and his niece away for safety.

What then, are we to assume happened when the poor maiden entered his lair? (If she was, in fact, a maiden, and who can know what happens in foreign places where they have harems and the like). Entered, I say, whether willingly or not, and stayed for more than a month!

He must have tired of her, or perhaps she escaped. Be that as it may, she has returned to her family and was recently seen in London, where she is attempting to move among Polite Society as if nothing has happened.

We will know what to do about that, Mr Clemens, will we not?

Articles such as this brought the Earl of Ashbury out of exile and racing to London, then on to Brighton, to rescue Lady Ruth Winderfield, the lady he had come to love. Read on for more.

To Mend the Broken-Hearted

Ruth Winderfield is miserable in London’s ballrooms, where her family’s wealth and questions over her birth make her a target for the unscrupulous and a pariah to the high-sticklers. Trained as a healer, she is happiest in a sickroom. When a smallpox epidemic traps her at the remote manor of a reclusive lord, the last thing she expects is to find her heart’s desire.

Valentine, Earl of Ashbury, was carried home from war three years ago, unconscious, a broken man. He woke to find his family in ruins, his faithless wife and treacherous brother dead, his family’s two girl children exiled to school. He becomes a near recluse while he spends his days trying to restore the estate, or at least prevent further crumbling.

When an impertinent, bossy female turns up with several sick children, including the two girls, he reluctantly gives them shelter. Unable to stand by and watch the suffering, he begins to help with the nursing, while he falls irrevocably for both girls and the lovely Ruth.

The epidemic over, Ruth and Val part ways, each reluctant to share how they feel without a sign from the other. Ruth returns to her family and the ton. Val begins to build a new life centred on his girls. But danger to Ruth is a clarion call Val cannot ignore. If they can stop the villains determined to destroy them, perhaps the hermit and the healer can mend one another’s hearts.

This is a new release in the The Return of the Mountain King series. Published on 23 March, you can preorder now through Books2Read: https://books2read.com/Broken-Hearted

Where does that woman get her information?

Sam Clemens shoved the offending article across his desk and then tugged it back, once more scanning the pages. He was the proprietor and editor of the Teatime Tattler, London’s–nay, the ton‘s–premiere scandal sheet. If anyone published tales such as those within these covers, it should be him. And yet, this person had scooped him. Him! With all his contacts, all his reporters sniffing out stories, all the correspondents (anonymous and named) who sent him letters unasked when something of interest happened in their vicinity, all the readers who waited impatiently for the two editions he published each week!

“How does she do it?” he asked Arthur, the boy who responsible for keeping him supplied with coffee, cigars, and ink, and for running his copy to the presses.

Arthur shook his head. “Must know folks,” he offered.

She must. “The Hicklestones? I knew the earl had married a neighbour, but I had no idea about her daughter. Why didn’t I know that? And that little tidbit about where Viscount Charmly first met the Dowager Duchess of Fambrough! Mind you, I don’t know that I believe it! Still, it’s true the old duke met his wife in Italy somewhere, and no-one knows anything about her people.”

He glared at the offending book. “Who failed to let me know that the Marquis of Gamford was back in the country, and reuniting with his child bride, now all grown up? Why weren’t we first with the story that she was living retired in the country? And if her name was linked in gossip with a local man, are the happy couple, in fact, happy?”

Sam made a note to send someone to Somerset to find out.

“Then there are the Millchurches.” Another sigh. He had actually covered the story of the attempted murder, the treachery, and the arrests. But the story behind the story had happened without him finding out, as did the rather nasty story of the Baron Collinwood, his cousin, and the vicar’s missing daughter.

There were other stories in the book, too, but they did not concern him. “I don’t care about the Enright stables, though there might be a story in the way Durridge cheated. Have to look into that. But they’re not ton, Arthur. No-one can say they are. Same with that agent who purchased a wife in Scotland while he was out of mind with fever, and the retired naval commander who discovered the mystery behind the girl in charge of the ruined bookshop.” He flipped through the book one more time. He might have covered the story of the woman torn from her lover and forced into marriage to a devil; after all, she had been a gentlewoman. But her relationship with the local miller put her below his notice. And the other two stories didn’t trespass on his territory at all, the one about a nun who was actually the wife of her sworn enemy being set in Scotland in medieval times, and the other some kind of futuristic fantasy about a farmer’s wife in far away New Zealand, where only sealers, whalers, missionaries, and tattooed natives lived. Even if,  seventy years from now, New Zealand did have colonial settlers, they were unlikely to be visited by angels. Unemployed wanderers, certainly.

He shook off the unproductive thought. “Arthur, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I am writing to this Mrs. Jude Knight to offer her a job. Clearly, her sources are better than mine.”

***

Sam has been reading Chasing the Tale, Jude Knight’s latest book. It’s a collection of eleven short stories, perfect for reading when you’re too tired for something longer, or want something to finish while you have a short wait. Get it now for 99c before the price goes up to $2.99.

How Does the Rake Know the Paragon?

The end-of-season ball thrown by the Duchess of Fambrough will be the talk of Society long after the Season ends. Not for its appointments, or the excellence of the supper or the musicians, though these were fine, indeed. Not for the quality of the assembly, though the invitations had gone out to everyone of significance, and many who merely hoped they were. Not even for the long-expected announcement of the duke’s betrothal to a young lady as well born as he.

No, the defining moments of the Fambrough ball came shortly before the supper waltz, when Lord Charming, arriving late but as elegantly dressed as ever, strolled down the stairs into the ballroom, his arms full of roses, and marched straight across the floor, his eyes fixed on the Paragon herself.

Some say he had hailed the duke when that gentleman was riding in Hyde Park that morning, and that the two of them had spoken earnestly for close to half an hour, their horses pacing side by side.

Others report he visited during the time for calls, carrying even more roses and attended by two footmen similarly burdened. The ducal house was not receiving, being consumed with preparations for the ball, but he left the roses behind when he departed.

That made tonight Lord Charming’s third encounter with the ducal household, and the assembled onlookers held their collective breath in order not to miss a moment of the drama that played out before them.

The duke was between the viscount and his stepmother. His Grace moved to one side as she stood. The scandalous gentleman approached close enough to touch, and those close enough heard him say, “I promised you roses, Marie.” Those who murmured at his familiar address were shushed by those around them. His lordship ignored them all as he handed her his roses. “These are from the rose garden at Welling. The plums are ripening on the trees. I had hoped to bring you cherries, but my gardener says they will be next week.”

These were not the loverlike words we expect from Lord Charming, and his expression was unexpectedly open. Serious, too, as was the lady’s.

“What of the conservatory, Sam?” she asked. Another murmur at the intimacy of first names, again subdued by ferocious gestures.

“We are owed clement weather, are we not? But it stands ready, Your Grace, to protect us through storms.”

The duchess looked up from her roses and their eyes met. Lord Charming moved to take Her Grace in his arms. “Will you honour me with a waltz, Marie?”

Without taking her gaze off him, she passed the roses to her step-daughter, and stepped into the viscount’s embrace.

This is an excerpt from one of the stories in Chasing the Tale, Jude Knight’s latest publication. It’s one of eleven short stories, and intended for reading over a coffee or a meal, or at night before going to sleep.

I always enjoy picking up something from Ms. Knight because I know I will not be disappointed. This is a wonderful collection of unique stories ranging from medieval times to the 1800s. Nice, short stories you can read during a lunch break or a quick bedtime read. The stories were all entertaining and enjoyable with well thought out characters that were brought to life with the talented writing of Ms. Knight. The storylines had a nice smooth flow and the plots held my interest all the way through. Definitely a collection you want to have handy when you’re looking for a quick, captivating read. Highly recommend! [Advance Reader Copy reviewer]

Are Runaway Brides in the Spirit of Xmas?

Honoured Sir

I write as a concerned member of the public. This recent rash of BRIDES who refuse to do their duty to their FAMILY must be stopped.

Sir, I protest the latest offering from the Bluestocking Belles, this CABAL of females who publish FICTIONAL ACCOUNTS that encourage women to think for themselves.

As if any female has the BRAIN, sir, to know better than her FAMILY about how to choose a husband to protect and care for her.

In their latest book, the Bluestocking Belles offer stories of brides who RUN from excellent matches. The first has a maiden who is upset to find that a young man is marrying her for her dowry and her pedigree. This, young woman, if the WAY of the WORLD. It is not an excuse to flee your responsibilities.

In the second, likewise, the young woman rejects the excellent match her FATHER made for her on the specious grounds that the chosen man has firm ideas about controlling her behaviour. Clearly a case of spare the ROD and spoil the CHILD.

The third story has a commoner who refuses to marry at the behest of her AUNT, even though the COUSIN the aunt choses is a man with a TITLE, and therefore better than such a female might hope to expect.

In the fourth, a girl whose birth is questionable runs from an earl offering, or so she thinks, a liaison that is NOT respectable. What else does such a female expect?

Two more short stories complete the set, on the same scandalous theme.

I wish, sir, to express the most serious of objections to this collection.

***

If you want to know more about these brides and the grooms they choose, buy Holiday Escapes, released tomorrow. More information and buy links here.

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