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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 Unlike Aldridge, Glenaire had withdrawn from affairs of the Sudbury duchy and thrown himself into government, becoming highly influential in foreign affairs.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

Navy captain trapped by smugglers doxy

Sam, this story is all around Margate and the local countryside. Hard to tell what’s smoke and what’s substance, but I’m sending you my notes. Make what you will of it. I’ve spoken to some of the party goers, some servants taken on for the night and dismissed with the guests, local excise men, a few villagers down near the Castle, and even the vicar’s housekeeper.

A bacchanaal hosted by the Merry Marquis at Haverford Castle several nights ago was interrupted by the arrival of a wild-eyed girl who claimed to be pursued by smugglers.

At first, the revelers assumed she was part of the entertainment, and perhaps she was. But if so, the Merry Marquis was not inclined to share, for within minutes of drawing her to one side for private conversation, he evicted all of his guests.

The guests — the usual miscellany of wild youths, dedicated debauchers, ladies of the night, and daring widows — could not say with certainty what the relationship between the two of them was, though most thought he knew the female.

Given what we know of his lordship, even if she was not a close acquaintance one would assume they were very close by the time the night was over. Or perhaps not, given what transpired within the week.

But I get ahead of myself.

The next information comes from several troopers with the excise men, who speaks of the troop being roused by a Haverford Castle groom, and led out to the coast to apprehend a gang of smugglers, and to retrieve some dead bodies from a network of caves the smugglers frequented.

The Merry Marquis and about a score of his servants had already fought a battle with said servants and the girl was with them. I was told she had ridden into the affray astride the Merry Marquis’s horse, clinging to him. Stark naked, some say. Others demurred, claiming she was fully dressed, but all agree that she hurled herself over the body of a man whom the smugglers had beaten, and defied anyone to further hurt him.

This is where information becomes more speculation than fact. I have ascertained that the man in question was taken up to the Castle, as was one of the corpses, an elderly man. The Merry Marquis claimed the two men and the girl had been prisoners of the smugglers. The girl also returned to the Castle — and you know how closed-lipped Haverford servants are.

However, the doctor, who was called to attend the two who still lived, told his housekeeper that the man was a Redepenning — one of the Earl of C’s connections, and almost certainly the youngest son of the General Lord R. (or Lord H. as he is more commonly known). The girl, the housekeeper said, was a nobody from one of the local villages.

Turns out those who know — let’s call her Miss S. — those who know Miss S. are likewise mixed in their opinion of her. Some say she is little more than an innocent child, and that the man that died, her father, was a scholar. Others suggest that he robbed graves and collected bones, and that she is a wicked thing, no better than she should be, and bound to come to a bad end.

Suffice it to say, rumours are rife. Was she a smuggler’s doxy who fell in love with the young Redepenning’s pretty blue eyes, as some attest? Or a helpless victim of said villains, held for nefarious purposes.

It seems almost certain that she had spent several nights in the same locked cave as Redepenning. If she had any virtue to lose, it seems unlikely to have remained intact, particularly given what came next.

Lord H. arrived, along with his daughter, Mrs C. The doctor returned several times to the castle. Next, the vicar was summoned.

Sam, the young Redepenning married the girl. He has now left. Gone back to his ship, which is bound for the Far East. The new Mrs. R. is bound for London.

I don’t suppose you can print any of this — not with such powerful families now protecting the female at the centre of it. But it makes you think, doesn’t it?

Unkept Promise, out this coming week and on special at 99c on release day

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/UnkeptPromises

Jude’s website (where you can read the first three chapters): https://judeknightauthor.com/books/unkept-promises/

The English Captain has a consecutive harem

Cape Town
July 1812

Dear Sister

How lovely our homeland must be now that Summer is here. I regret being so far away, even though I know you have many worries in these troubled times.

We, ourselves, are under the boot of the British, as you know. I have told you that their Governor has freed most of the slaves owned by the Company, and that the British who have come to live here are very unlike us in their ways.

A prime example, dear sister, is the irregular household of Captain Redepenning of the British naval ship the Advantage. It has been distressing the upright citizens of our little community for the past three years. At least the native girl he installed in his house knew her place, and did not venture out among proper wives and their families; at least after she attempted to attend divine services that one time I told you about.

A few words to our dear pastor and his wife ensured that the congregation was not required to tolerate the presence of a woman of her kind. ‘Mrs Redepenning’, she dared call herself, but we all knew she was no more married than the lowest female who markets her body on the waterfront. She is his mistress, of course, or was until she was too ill. Consumption, they say. A likely story! Paying the price of a dissolute life, I say.

You will understand the impudence of the man when I tell you that he hired a nursemaid for his mistress’s brats. As if such children need that kind of care. It came as no surprise to us all when he moved the nursemaid into his bed, which I daresay was his intention all along. At least she had the virtue of being white, even if she was Irish.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. Another female, also calling herself Mrs Redepenning, turned up just a few weeks ago. Her first act was to throw the Irish slut into the street. We all waited for the native harlot to follow, but it seems the woman who claims to be his wife has some compassion for a sick woman.

She has been out walking with the children. She even had the nerve to attend services at the Church of England chapel on Sunday! I’m relieved to say that the English followed our example , and made it clear that misbegotten coloured children were not welcome in the House of God.

That was not the end of it, though! She has had the effrontery to take the children about town with her fancy man, even attending the races and shopping in the emporiums! The latest outrage is that she has been holding dinner parties. You will be as horrified as I am, dearest, when I tell you that people have attended — not just other naval officers, but even one or two wives!

Apparently — though I find it hard to believe — the woman really is the Captain’s wife, and well connected to the English aristocracy. It may be so, but she has put herself beyond the pale by not just tolerating the presence of his native woman and her children, but actually nursing the mistress, and treating the children as if they were her own.

Whatever is the world coming to? I can only say that I yearn for this war to end and the English to go back to where they belong, so we are no longer obliged to meet such people as Captain and Mrs Redepenning.

Unkept Promises

(Book 4 in The Golden Redepennings series)

She wants to negotiate a comfortable marriage; he wants her in his bed

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

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.

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Excerpt

Adiratna’s eyes widened and sparkled. “Presents!” In moments, she was back across the room, tugging on Perdana’s hand. “What has Papa brought me, Dan? You know, I know you do.”

“Lumps of coal, like the Black Peter we saw on St Nicolas Day,” Perdana answered, promptly, “And a switch to beat you with, for you have undoubtedly been a great trouble for Mami and Ibu Mia.”

Adiratna sniffed, and poked her nose in the air. “That shows you know nothing, Dan, for Hannah never lets me be a trouble, do you, Hannah?” She smiled at her new nurse, who had been an instant favourite with both girls for her store of stories and the energy and imagination that allowed her to keep them constantly on the move from one interesting activity to another.

“Brothers tease,” Hannah told her. “I do not know why they do it, but there it is.”

Perdana grinned at her, not in the least perturbed by this set down, but Adiratna wanted the last word. “Papa never beats us, even when we deserve it. So there.”

“Do you deserve it?” Jules spoke from the doorway, his tone one of scientific inquiry. Both girls forgot their brother and their dignity to hurl themselves into his waiting arms. Mia exchanged a glance with Hannah, who gave a satisfied nod. The man’s clear delight in his children had won that stern arbiter’s cautious approval.

Mia, too, found it hard to retain her indignation while watching him listening to their chatter, squatting on the floor with his back against the door jamb, each arm around a daughter on his knee. Adiratna was pouring out two months’ worth of news at full speed, and even Marshanda spoke so fast her words were tumbling over themselves.

Adiratna suddenly remembered that Jules had not yet disgorged his gifts. “Where are my…” she broke off, sneaking a glance at Hannah, who had been impressing the little girls with the unexpected information that they were ladies. Marshanda stuck her nose in the air. “Ladies,” she informed her sister, “do not ask. Ladies wait to be offered.”

Jules frown over her head at Mia. “Who has been telling you that?” he asked.

Adiratna, however, was not to be deflected. “I like presents,” she announced. “It makes me very happy when people give me a present. Ibu Mia brought presents for me and Marsha. I expect she brought presents for you, too, Dan. I do like presents.”

Faced with this flagrant attempt to get around the ‘ladies do not ask’ rule, the adults struggled to maintain their gravity. Even Jules, who was holding onto whatever grudge had blown in with him, couldn’t resist a twinkle. “I happen to have some presents,” he commented.

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