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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.

Keeping Secrets

Julius Caesar Ibbotson, Skating on the Serpentine, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796, watercolour, pen and grey ink (Eton College Collections)

Lady Prudence Danvers watched her sister Abigail from across the frozen Serpentine. Pouting, she skated her way over to a bench and plopped herself down. Tears blurred her vision. It was so unfair, she fumed. Why did Abigail constantly get the attention of all the eligible men?

She continued watching her sister and her companion skating side by side. Lieutenant Abernathy had all the qualifications of what made for a proper match. Handsome, well-mannered, and obviously he had enough money to attend all of Society’s most popular events despite his military career.

She followed him as he skated ahead of Abigail who began a conversation with some friends. Her laughter echoed on the wind causing Prudence’s mood to sour. The Lieutenant continued on without Abigail until he came close enough to Lady Constance Whittles to make her teeter on the edges of her skates. Lord Osgood took the lady’s arm to steady her even as the Lieutenant gave her a wicked grin and a tip of his cap. What appeared even more interesting was Lady Constance’s reaction as the lieutenant skated away.

Abigail was too occupied to notice the slight diversion of the Lieutenant’s affection but beamed at him when he rejoined her. The silly fool, Prudence mused even as her eyes narrowed with a devious thought. She began taking off her skates.

This tiny bit of tittle tattle was just the thing Mr. Clemens liked to receive for his Teatime Tattler. Prudence would receive a nice stipend for the information of this possible love triangle and this time she would not have to share the coins with Abigail. Giving no further thought of the disservice she might be doing to her sister, Prudence left the ice and made her way home to pen her missive to the editor.


This is an original piece with minor characters is Belle Sherry Ewing’s A Second Chance At Love that will release in the Belles’ box set, Fire & Frost on February 4th. Read on for the first encounter of Lord Osgood and Lady Constance:

Excerpt:

A rush of air left his lips as though he had been holding his breath while awaiting her answer. He stepped up to the desk and reached for her hand, kissing the air between his lips and her knuckles as any proper gentleman would. “You are very gracious, Constance. I must admit I was afraid you would hate me, considering how I left things between us.”

She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “I could never hate you, Digby.” A blush rushed to her cheeks at the tone of her voice. They had been on a first name basis two years ago and somehow it seemed right to call him by his given name. My word, she had missed this man.

“Then perhaps you would allow me to escort you to a meeting at the Duchess of Haverford’s residence next week on the third. I understand she is in the process of forming several committees to organize an event for The Ladies’ Society for the Care of the Widows and Orphans of Fallen Heroes and the Children of Wounded Veterans.”

Constance laughed. “You must be joking? Why, you will never get all that on any kind of a banner.”

Digby joined her and laughed. “I would never make up such a tall tale, my lady.”

“No one in their right mind would, although it does sound like a worthy cause.”

“I could not agree more, which is why I have offered my services to the gentleman’s auxiliary, whose responsibilities will include making sure you ladies are able to do your work in this dreadful weather. I knew this was just the sort of event that would be of interest to you.”

“You know me so well. I would be happy to accompany you, Digby.”

“Wonderful,” he replied with a smile. “If your aunt could join us and act as chaperone, then I could pick you both up around noon, if that is acceptable.”

“I will eagerly await next week, my lord.”

Digby took her hand again and bowed over it. “As will I, my lady.”

His gloved hand felt warm in hers. When Digby’s thumb gently caressed the back in a small circular motion, Constance’s heart leapt at the possibility that all was not lost. Her eyes went to his in a long lingering glance as pleasure swept across her entire being. She smiled, and he returned it with a smile of his own. Constance could not remember when she had ever been this happy… until the spell was interrupted. They quickly broke apart.

“I say, Lady Constance, is this gentleman bothering you?” Lieutenant Abernathy bellowed as he left the tearoom and rushed to her side. The few patrons who escaped the fog outside looked up from their books at the disturbance he was causing.

“Not at all and please lower your voice,” Constance advised sternly before remembering her manners. “My apologies. Lieutenant Abernathy may I present Lord Osgood, who is an old friend.”

The two men shook hands but, from the looks they exchanged, neither cared for the other.


A Second Chance At Love in
Fire & Frost: A Bluestocking Belles Collection
Pre-order now for only $0.99!

Can the bittersweet frost of lost love be rekindled into a burning flame?

Viscount Digby Osgood returns to London after a two-year absence, planning to avoid the woman he courted and then left. Surely she has moved on with her life; even married by now. A bit of encouragement from a friend, however, pushes him to seek the lady out. Can she ever forgiven him and give them a second chance at love?

Lady Constance Whittles has only cared for one man in her life. Even after he broke her heart, it remains fixed on him. Another man tries to replace him, but she soon learns she can never feel for him a shadow of what she still feels for Digby. One brief encounter with Digby confirms it; she is more than willing to forgive him. Can they truly take up where they left off?

Charity projects and a Frost Fair on the Thames bring them together, but another stands in their way. Will he tear them apart?

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About Bluestocking Belle Sherry Ewing:

Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical and time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time. When not writing, she can be found in the San Francisco area at her day job as an Information Technology Specialist.

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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.)

A Wager Between Siblings

Lord Roland de Wolfe burst into his sister’s bedchamber, sword drawn to meet whatever peril she was facing. A frown quickly marred his brow to see her calmly sitting by the fire reading a book.

“You said ’twas urgent,” he muttered placing the blade in the scabbard strapped to his side. “I thought mayhap you were in danger.”

Livinia gave a light laugh. “I am perfectly fine.” She pointed to his attire or lack thereof. “You could have at least put on a tunic. Obviously, I interrupted your bath with my summons.”

“Aye, you did, among other things,” he replied with a sly grin, not that his sister needed to know of the woman waiting for him back in his own chamber. “What was of such import that it could not wait ’til the morn?”

“I have an idea that could be of mutual benefit to us. A wager if you would care to take a chance,” she said with sparkling eyes. She reached over for a cup and took a sip. “Are you game?”

His eyes narrowed as he pondered her. Livinia had always been mischievous in her youth. In the past, Roland had been more than willing to be an accomplice for whatever she had in mind as long as no one was hurt in her games. She was used to getting her way and Roland supposed he was much to blame since he had been left to raise her.

He came to sit opposite her, leaning his forearms on his legs. “What did you have in mind, my dear?”

“Our cousin Catherine arrived this morn. She brings with her Sir Charles…”

“Nay!”

“… along with her husband’s sister, Lady Freya,” Livinia continued with a smirk.

His brow rose. Now his sister had his attention. Roland knew of his Livinia’s infatuation with Sir Charles since she was a young girl. He had hoped she had outgrown those feelings but apparently not. “Laird Douglas has a sister?”

“Aye, he does, and he has brought her with them to Wolverhampton. I was introduced to them a short while ago, although I am expected to return to the great hall shortly.”

“Go on,” Roland said sitting back in his chair as he began tapping the wooden arms with his fingertips.

“You worm your way into Lady Freya’s affections. I do not care how you do it, only that it drives a wedge between the woman and Sir Charles,” Livinia answered.

“How exactly do you know Charles cares for the woman and why does this matter to you?”

“I am not blind, Roland. Suffice to say I would like to see just how far we can push them, tear them apart, or bring them together. I only care to make Charles suffer a bit for not returning my affections in our youth,” she lifted her nose a bit higher causing Roland to laugh at her antics.

“What is in it for me?” he said mockingly. He just may enjoy this challenge if only to see what depths his sister might go to try and finally win Sir Charles.

“Why, you get the company of a lovely young woman who no doubt has a hefty dowry that could be yours if you play this game right. Have you not said that we both should marry soon to replenish your coffers?”

“And you finally get Charles.” He let his comment fill the space between them ’til he watched Livinia shrug.

“That is the whole point of this, Roland. Are you in?”

“This seems like an easy bet to make with you, sister. You will fail, of course, and would never be happy with Charles as your husband. If he and Lady Freya ended up as husband and wife, our wager will be that you agree to marry the man of my choosing. Agreed?” he smirked knowing Livinia would agree before she thought out her plan in greater detail. Generally, she could charm anyone to bend to her will, Charles being the exception.

“Agreed!” she said clapping her hands.

“’Tis a wager then.” Roland stood and bent down to place a kiss on her sister’s cheek. “Now if you will excuse me, I shall see to making myself presentable.” He also needed to get rid of the woman currently waiting for him in his chamber. As he left Livinia, he began mentally composing a list of eligible noblemen whom he might consider worthy enough to marry his sister.


This is an original piece with secondary characters from Belle Sherry Ewing’s novella, To Love An English Knight: De Wolfe Pack Connected World, that released today. Read on to learn more about her medieval romance.

Excerpt:

Sir Charles de Grey read the missive he held from Wolverhampton Castle a second time. Disbelief changed to anger, filling his soul that perchance the outcome may have been different had he been with Lady Catherine’s brother and his family. But, nay… he was Catherine’s guardsman, sworn to protect her. He knew his duty to her and what was required of him. She may have been born Catherine de Wolfe, but she was now the lady of Berwyck.

Knowing the heartbreak this would cause Lady Catherine, Charles knew he must quickly locate her husband so he could reveal the news from the missive. Charles would like nothing better than to crush the parchment beneath his feet than to deliver such horrible news to someone he cared for.

He gave a heavy sigh as he left the stable area after seeing the runner was sent to the kitchens to fill his belly after his trip. Memories flitted unbidden across his mind, and he shook his head remembering how he had once been in love with Lady Catherine. Aye! ’Twas foolish on his part he knew, but the months he had been at Berwyck had dispelled such feelings. She was happy in her marriage to the Lord of Berwyck. Thankfully, Charles and Douglas fell into a common accord to keep the lady safe at all costs. Her happiness was all that mattered. Charles’s heart would mend one day, or so he supposed.

As he came into the inner bailey, he saw a flash of fabric as a woman ran behind the healer’s hut. A hint of a grin lit his face. Lady Freya, the laird’s sister, had been a bit of an annoyance when he had first met her while traveling to Caen. When he had first captured the woman who had been following him through camp, he had thought her one of the whores who tended to show up at such events. ’Twas hardly his fault for the mistake.

Fire had blazed in her blue-green eyes, and for the briefest moment when their lips touched, he was reminded how long it had been since he had a woman beneath him. His fingers had skimmed her brown hair with blonde streaks lightened from the sun. She was beautiful, but at the time, his heart had been clouded by another.

She had continued to shadow him throughout their time at the tournament and even on their travels to Berwyck last year. He had strange feelings for the young woman who could be no more than a score of years. Considering he had been thrown into Berwyck’s dungeon because of the jealousy she felt toward Lady Catherine, he supposed he could forgive. She was young and sometimes foolish. Charles’s heart had become bitter from the ordeal, and the wound that Catherine loved another was part to blame.

As he neared the hut, she came around the corner carrying a basket as though she had not a care in the world. Her eyes sparkled when they met his while she hummed a merry tune. But this was no time to tarry with whatever antics she was up to today. He must find Douglas without haste.

“Sir Charles,” she called out. She offered him a smile, and he gave the briefest nod of his head. “’Tis a lovely morn, is it not?”

He was momentarily startled by her comment when he looked about at the cloudy sky above. “I suppose if you care for the possibility of rain,” he murmured.

“I love the rain. ’Tis fun tae dance in. Have ye never tried it?”

“I have hardly had time for such amusement. Your brother keeps us busy with our training. Once it rains, I am too busy trying to keep upright from slipping in the mud.”

“Ye should make the effort sometime. Ye might enjoy it as long as ye have the right partner.” She fell into step with him when he continued on his way toward the keep.

To Love An English Knight:
De Wolfe Pack Connected World
By Sherry Ewing
$0.99 or #FREE in Kindle Unlimited

Can a chance encounter lead to love?

Sir Charles de Grey is in turmoil. He cannot forget the Scottish lass he kissed in Caen, but her jealous spite toward the lady he was sworn to guard infuriated him. Living at Berwyck Castle, he is torn between his desire for Lady Freya and his need to rebuke her sometimes reckless behavior. Leaving her almost tears him apart, but it might give him time to recover some balance.

Lady Freya of Clan MacLaren didn’t expect to become blinded by love until she became quickly besotted on first seeing the English knight in Caen. How quickly everything fell apart when she defies him! Even worse, when he begins to show signs of returning her feelings, he receives a message from home that will tear them apart. Defying him again may put an end to any chance they may have together, but what other choice does she have when he leaves her?

Can the fragile love they found blossom into something more or will circumstances beyond their control continue to provoke behavior that keeps them apart?

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About Bluestocking Belle Sherry Ewing:

Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical and time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time. When not writing, she can be found in the San Francisco area at her day job as an Information Technology Specialist.

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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.

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