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A sister’s love

Flora hugged her cloak around her, as much for its concealment as for its warmth, though certainly the night grew colder as midnight approached. A dark shape in the shadows of the trees, she could not be seen even if the old hag had men patrolling the grounds. And in the two hours Flora had been watching, no patrollers had shown themselves.

Presumably, the Dowager Lady Rutledge assumed she had her daughter-in-law thoroughly cowed.  And, indeed, how likely was it that such a gentle creature as Chloe would flee into the night?

Flora spread her lips in a fierce grin. Her little sister was stronger than that harpie knew; stronger than Chloe herself knew. She had survived her vicious husband by retreating into herself, but the real Chloe peeped out when she was with her little daughters, or on the rare occasions that Flora was permitted to visit.

Since Lord Rutledge’s death, Flora had been turned away at the door and Chloe had been confined. Flora had laid out far too much of her small stock of coins to confirm that her sister had been locked in her own suite of rooms. If she was successful tonight, they would need to go cap in hand to the Countess of Chirbury. Flora hoped she would take them as her pensioners, for if she turned them away, there was no backup plan.

The last of the lighted windows turned dark. In half an hour, the whole house would be asleep. She began reciting the play Hamlet as a rough measure. When she finished Act II, it would be time to move.

Flora kept to the edge of the shrubbery as she crept closer to the house. When all that separated her from the wall she needed to climb was a large open patch bathed in moonlight, she stopped, waiting for a cloud to cover the moon. In the near dark, she ran across the grass to crouch, her heart pounding, at the foot of the wall.

It would have been too much to hope that Flora’s nieces would be kept with her, so Flora needed first to free Chloe, and then raid the nursery to kidnap the two girls.

She unclasped the cloak, and rolled it into a bundle. Now her childhood prowess at climbing was about to be put to the test. But it was easy. The old vine that draped the wall clung to the stones and provided almost a ladder to the window she had selected, in the suite next door to Chloe’s. Now she would find out whether the help she had been offered was true, or a trap.

The window slid up easily, as she had been promised. And no-one waited to keep her from her sister. Now for a little more light to see if the key was waiting, too.

On cue, the cloud slid away from the moon, and there it was, waiting in the keyhole of the connecting door, as promised. Flora put her ear to the door, but could hear nothing. Chloe had a maid sleeping with her, apparently. But the girl slept deeply, and if the sister remained quiet, they could escape without waking her.

Time to put it to the test.

Flora took a deep breath, turned the key and opened the door.

The scene about takes place around six months before The Realm of Silence. In the book, the new Lord Rutledge has many burdens: a estate bankrupted by his wicked brother, both financially and morally; a mother who hates him; a sister-in-law who hasn’t been seen since she fled into the night with her two children.

The Realm of Silence

(Book 3 in the Golden Redepennings series)

Rescue her daughter, destroy her dragons, defeat his demons, go back to his lonely life. How hard can it be?

“I like not only to be loved, but also to be told I am loved…  the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.” George Eliot

When Susan Cunningham’s daughter disappears from school, her pleasant life as a fashionable, dashing, and respectable widow is shattered. Amy is reported to be chasing a French spy up the Great North Road, and when Susan sets out in pursuit she is forced to accept help from the last person she wants: her childhood friend and adult nemesis, Gil Rutledge.

Gil Rutledge has loved Susan since she was ten and he a boy of twelve. He is determined to oblige her by rescuing her daughter. And if close proximity allows them to rekindle their old friendship, even better. He has no right to ask for more.

Gil and Susan must overcome danger, mystery, ghosts from the past, and their own pride before their journey is complete.

Get the first in series, Farewell to Kindness, for only US 99c for the rest of May, and the second, A Raging Madness, with a US $2.75 discount from Jude’s shop. Just choose the Buy from Jude Knight button, go to checkout and enter the code KWMS6GNW.

WIDOW AND VISCOUNT IN GREAT NORTH ROAD SCANDAL

Was a certain widow connected to some of the highest families on the land seen cavorting on the Great North Road with a retired army officer recently ascended to a viscountcy?

Dear Readers, we can assure you that we have eye witness accounts to confirm the shocking truth.

We speak, of course, of Mrs. C., widow of the Laird of G., a captain in our navy who died a hero’s death three years ago, defending the shores of our beloved country. All witnesses confirm that she and the viscount in the case were alone for several days, perhaps as much as a week, sharing the same carriage and staying at the same inns.

What, do you suppose, will her sponsor and godmother, the Duchess of H., make of that?

You will recall, dear Readers, the Vile Viscount whose death late last year came as a relief to all of his creditors and his dependents, not least to his third wife, who lost no time in escaping, with her daughters, from the monster’s lair. Perhaps Mrs. C. believes that the new Lord R. does not share his brother’s foul nature. Let us hope for her sake that she is correct.

The Realm of Silence

(Book 3 in the Golden Redepenning series: release date 22 May 2018)

“I like not only to be loved, but also to be told I am loved…  the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.” George Eliot

When Susan Cunningham’s daughter disappears from school, her pleasant life as a fashionable, dashing, and respectable widow is shattered. Amy is reported to be chasing a French spy up the Great North Road, and when Susan sets out in pursuit she is forced to accept help from the last person she wants: her childhood friend and adult nemesis, Gil Rutledge.

Gil Rutledge has loved Susan since she was ten and he a boy of twelve. He is determined to oblige her by rescuing her daughter. And if close proximity allows them to rekindle their old friendship, even better. He has no right to ask for more.

Gil and Susan must overcome danger, mystery, ghosts from the past, and their own pride before their journey is complete.

Preorder links and more information on my website

Excerpt

“Gil, can I trouble you to escort me to the Academy?” Susan continued, and Gil had agreed before he thought about how it might look. He quelled his doubts, but they returned fourfold when he descended from washing in his room just behind two gossipmongers who were quacking about a notorious widow and her escapades on the Great North Road. “She travelled all that way with a Rutledge, dear. Need I say more?”

The other protested. “But not the Vile Viscount, Millie. This is the younger brother. One of Wellington’s war heroes, and a family friend of the Redepennings. It is only natural he would offer his help to the sister of his friend.”

Gil should make his presence known, but a perverse need to hear the worst consumed him, and he stopped just above a turn in the stairs to listen.

“A war hero he may be. I say nothing to that. But a man may be brave, and still be a killer and a villain. They say the Vile Viscount killed his first wife, and perhaps his second—though…” the speaker paused, clearly determined if reluctant to be fair… “she may have died in childbed, I suppose. Certainly, his third must be glad he is dead, poor little thing.”

If Gil had been his unknown sister-in-law, he would have danced on Gideon’s grave out of sheer relief, though running away as she did was a practical step, he supposed.

The second woman was still fighting his corner. “The new Lord Rutledge is accepted everywhere, Millie. You know perfectly well that his brother was barred from all but the lowest of places.”

Millie was not impressed by the argument, her harrumph expressing both scorn and disbelief. “The influence of his friends. And look at what friends, Lettie! The Redepennings! Rakes to a man and a woman. Why Countess Chirbury is a Selby, and they are as bad as the Rutledges. And Renshaw married a madwoman, who killed her first husband. I had it from her own sister! The apple does not fall far from the tree, Lettie. Susan Cunningham may walk very high in the instep, but she is no better than a trollop, travelling alone with a Rutledge.”

“Enough,” Gil said, quietly, making them both jump.

Millie was the first to recover, drawing herself up to her full height, still a full head shorter than Gil, even after he rounded her to stand one stair below, blocking her way to the inn’s next floor. He fixed her with his best Colonel Rock Ledge glare.

“Do I know you, sir?” she demanded, haughtily.

“No, madam, you do not. Nor do you know my friends, although you do appear to have a passing acquaintance with my brother.”

“Then you are interrupting a private conversation,” she informed him, and flapped both hands at him as if he were an importunate chicken that could be scared into a scurried retreat. “Go away. I do not speak with men to whom I have not been introduced.”

“Your name, madam?” He asked the second lady, a hint of command infusing the words so that she had introduced herself as ‘Mrs Robert Fenhaven, and this is my friend, Miss Stenhouse.”

Gil ignored Miss Stenhouse’s hissed protest to her friend and bowed. “I am Rutledge, Mrs Fenhaven, and I have a particular interest in a conversation about myself, in which I and my friends are made the subject of scurrilous and evil lies.”

Mrs Fenhaven paled, and Miss Stenhouse coloured but rallied. “Those who eavesdrop seldom hear good of themselves.”

“Those who spread lies about prominent members of Society seldom prosper,” he countered. “I do not know you, Miss Stenhouse, and I do not care to further the acquaintance. I very much doubt that you are personally known to any of the people whose names you freely malign in an open stairway of a public inn. However, I am confident that Mrs Cunningham and the other ladies of her family can find out all about you, your family, your connections, and any skeletons in your family tree.”

“Are you threatening me?” The stance was still belligerent, but the slight quaver in the voice suggested uncertainty, and Mrs Fenhaven was gabbling apologies as fast as her tongue could wag.

Gil nodded, gravely. “Not a threat, precisely, madam. Consider it, instead, a promise. I have spent my entire adult life defending my country, as Mrs Fenhaven has pointed out. I will defend my friends from any attack, including those by ignorant muckrakers spreading false rumours. I promise you, Miss Stenhouse, you would be wise to keep your ill-informed opinions to yourself.”

Mrs Fenhaven was whispering urgently to Miss Stenhouse, who had deflated like the silly hen she was, her eyes glancing everywhere except at Gil, as if seeking a way to leave the battlefield with dignity.

Gil took pity on the poor friend, and stepped to one side, allowing them to pass, Mrs Fenhaven curtseying slightly and saying, in a harried tone, “So nice to meet you, my lord, at least it would have been… oh dear, oh Millie, how could you.”

In the private parlour Lord Henry had ordered for their meal, the rest of his party was already gathered, but after they had eaten and the nursemaid had taken the children upstairs to get their coats for their outing, he told Lord Henry and Susan about the encounter. Susan was scornful. “I’ve never heard of the woman, and I doubt she knows anyone who matters, Rutledge. She cannot harm me or mine. Though I would have paid pounds for a ringside seat on her dressing down. I am sure she must have been shaking in her shoes.”

Gil was less inclined to be amused. “Unfortunately, I doubt I’ve spiked her guns, and she is only one, besides. We can’t deny that we did travel together, and alone, and though you and I know it was in all innocence, people will believe what they will.”

He cast an anxious glance at Lord Henry. “I am sorry, general.”

“No apology required, my boy. Susan has told me how you looked after her; yes, and found and rescued Amy, too.”

Susan made a small delicate noise of disgust. “Apologies, indeed. Are you sorry you came with me, Rutledge? I was going anyway, as you full well know, and while I am fully conscious of what I owe you, I do not appreciate the suggestion that either you or my father controls my behaviour.”

Gil had to smile at that, a wry twist of the lips. No one controlled his goddess. She was a force of nature. Nonetheless, he could not be as blithe about the rumours as her. “Perhaps I should take the children to see the playing fields, and the General should come with you to the school, Susan. My presence will only add fuel to the fire of the rumours.”

Susan shook her head. “Your absence, when you are known to be in Cambridge, will look like guilt, Gil. Be damned to the rumourmongers. I would appreciate your escort.”

Gil glanced at Lord Henry, who said, “Susan is right. The only way to deal with rumours is to act as if you have done nothing at all of which to be ashamed.”

Susan gave a deep sigh. “There. You have the agreement of the male head of my family. Satisfied, Rutledge?”

Even Gil, who had lived in an almost entirely male world since he was a schoolboy, knew better than to give an honest answer to that. “It shall be as you wish, Susan.”

Rumours of a mad rival

Overheard in a London drawing room.
“To be fair, Lady Amelia, many females have run mad over a red coat.” Lady Fenella’s jibe—and Lady Amelia’s blush—reminded the others present of Lady Amelia’s own excesses last Season in pursuit of a certain officer of the Horse Guard.

“One officer might be a mistake,” Mrs Fullerton suggested, “but two seems a little excessive. It certainly sounds as if this poor mad sister of Braxton’s makes a habit of compromising situations with the cavalry.”

“Only one compromising situation, surely,” Lady Eustace Framley protested. “I thought she was the baronet’s widow. One can’t compromise oneself with one’s husband.”

“One can before he is her husband, darling.” Lady Fenella widened her eyes. “Or do you not remember how you came to marry Lord Eustace?”

“Is it true that this mysterious officer stole her from her bedroom in her chemise?” Lady Amelia wondered.

“It would be rather cold,” said Lady Eustace. “It was, after all, more than a month ago, and in the Spring. One would imagine the Cheshire weather would dampen the ardour.”

“Your innocence is so charming,” Lady Fenella said. “Do you practice it in front of the mirror?”

“I do not much like these Braxtons. If I lived with Mrs Braxton, I dare say I should be mad myself,” Lady Amelia declared.

“I would certainly prefer Major Alex Redepenning to Mr Braxton,” said Lady Fenella, watching Mrs Fullerton very closely.

“Anyone would,” Lady Amelia agreed. “At least one would have before he was crippled. Goodness, Fenella, you don’t mean that Alex Redepenning stole Melville’s widow away! But that’s…” Her voice trailed off and she, too, stared speculatively at Mrs Fullerton.

Lady Eustace proved her relative naivety by rushing to make the comment the other two women merely thought. “Melville’s widow? Sir Gervase Melville? Wasn’t he your particular friend once, Mrs Fullerton? Yes, and Major Redepenning, too!”

“Poor dear.” Lady Fenella took Mrs Fullerton’s hand and gave it a warm squeeze. “It can hardly be pleasant to know you are unlikely in love not once, but twice, and both times have lost to the same woman.”

Their marriage is a fiction. Their enemies are all too real.

Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he has married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return.

Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. Perhaps she will learn to bear him.

In their masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they expected. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.

Gossip makes the march go faster

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, soldiers’ wives were the army support crew, scavenging for food, mending and washing clothes, nursing the wounded, and even working alongside the men.

“Thought you’d be with the wounded, Maggie,” Becky Watson said, trying but failing to keep the glee from her tone. Maggie Palmer had been lauding her extra income and increased status over the other women since she’d won the coveted nursing position, and Becky was not the only one to rejoice in her downfall.

Maggie glared at the girl who rode her donkey twenty yards in front of them. Fifteen years old, newly married, and taking up the duties of the real doctor, her father, who had collapsed with an apoplexy on the day she married Melville.

Lady Melville didn’t notice Maggie. All her attention was on the cart carrying those fit enough to be dragged along with the regiment to their winter quarters, her father among them. For the moment, she was the closest the regiment had to a regimental surgeon. 

“Wash, wash, wash. And every bucket needing to be carried from the river and heated over the fire. I washed this morning, I told her, and I’ll be damned if I wash again. And changing the sheets every day, and all that rubbish. Thinks she’s so much better than us just because she managed to snare a baronet.”

“Captain Brownlie always makes the nurses wash,” Becky pointed out. She’d been appointed nurse herself until little Freddie was born, but Captain Brownlie wouldn’t have women with children in the hospital quarters.

She hoisted the toddler higher onto her hip and kept trudging. The women had left camp as soon as possible after first light, and had been walking for an hour. They’d be another seven on the road. Becky could do with Lady Melville’s donkey, and that was a fact.

Maggie hadn’t finished complaining. “She isn’t her father. She’s not an officer, or even a proper doctor. She has no right to order me around.”

This charming painting purports to record a moment in history, when a child with a French regiment was put on the tomb of a knight to sleep, out of the way of a fight, covered by his father’s jacket.

Maggie was a fool. As long as the Colonel backed Lady Melville’s commands—as he had when Maggie went bleating to him with her complaints—the lady had every right to order the nurses about.

But all the wives knew Maggie was bitter because her former services to Lieutenant Sir Gervase Melville had stopped when he suddenly up and married. And Becky would bet her best iron pot that Maggie did a lot more for him than cooking and cleaning. Mind you, Lieutenant Melville didn’t confine himself to regimental widows like Maggie. He had dipped his toes in a lot of other soldiers’ bedrolls, as well as the local bits of fluff who came out to serve the regiment wherever it camped.

Swiving locals would be frowned on, but tupping the wives of his soldiers was worse. Mind you, it would be the woman who paid if anyone spoke out of turn. She’d be drummed out of the regiment and lucky if she was given the passage home. And the Lieutenant would get a rap on the knuckles.

“I’m going to tell the Lieutenant,” Maggie declared. “He’ll make her take me back.”

Becky stopped to move Freddie to the other hip, then hurried to catch up. “Don’t make trouble for her, Maggie. She has it hard enough. You know what he’s like.”

None of the wives believed the poor girl had suddenly started tripping over tent pegs and bumping into corners. Melville had been horrified when forced to marry the doctor’s daughter, and Melville in a temper was a nasty man.

But Maggie was obdurant. “Serves her right. She made her bed when she seduced him. She’ll just have to lie in it.”

Becky shook her head. No point in arguing. Maggie had her mind made up, but Becky didn’t believe Lady Melville seduced the baronet. Not her. As nice and as ladylike as the Colonel’s wife, who Becky had served as maid back when she first married Watson, while the regiment was still in England.

In any case, anyone with eyes would know it hadn’t been Melville that the doctor’s daughter wanted.

Becky sighed. She was a happily married woman, and a mother. But even she could see the appeal of Captain Alexander Redepenning. It was over now, of course. Lady Melville had made her choice and was stuck with it.

And how it happened, Becky couldn’t fathom.

“Yes. That’ll do. Gervase will help me.” Maggie slid her eyes sideways to see the effect of her use of the baronet’s personal name.

Suddenly sick of the other woman’s nastiness, Becky decided to take a stand. “Watson says the Colonel’s wife has come over to join him in winter quarters. Used to be her maid, I did, and she still has a fondness for me.”

“Not as fond as the Lieutenant is of me,” Maggie smirked.

“Yes, well, that’s the point, isn’t it. The Colonel will want her to check that the camp followers are,” Becky quoted the oft-repeated demand of the regimental regulations: “sober, industrious, and of good character. Don’t worry about it, Maggie Palmer. If they find out what you’ve done with the Lieutenant, you’d likely get your passage home. If the Colonel is in a good mood.”

Maggie frowned. “Are you threatening me?”

Becky shrugged. “Take it how you will. But leave Lady Melville alone.”

 

Their marriage is a fiction. Their enemies are all too real.

Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he has married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return.

Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. Perhaps she will learn to bear him.

In their masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they expected. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.

Jude Knight’s book pageSmashwords # iBooks # Barnes and NobleAmazon US

Miranda makes her move!

A Lady Correspondent had not intended to eavesdrop. Truly. She was just sitting in an alcove catching her breath and, it must be admitted, admiring the two Grenford brothers who were leaning on a pillar just in front of her. She could not help but see Miss de C accost them. She could not help but overhear all that transpired. At one point, she nearly spoke up, as horrified as the target of the brothers’ focused attention, but no. Surely Miss de C would be most embarrassed to know anyone else had witnessed her humiliation. She sank back into the shadows. But was she not planning to write the story for the Teatime Tattler? No. No she was not. However she disguised the name and circumstances, everyone here tonight would recognize the event to which she referred. The brothers had been careful of the silly girl’s reputation. She could not destroy it.

Miss Miranda de Courtenay took one last look into the mirror, adjusted her domino mask, and left her room. There was no turning back now. Her mind made up, she prayed her brother Adrian would not remove her from the ball the moment he set eyes upon her scandalous costume of a Greek goddess. If she were to win her bet with her sister Grace, she needed to make an impression on the man whom she had chosen as her target. She had no desire to lose that wonderful bonnet her brother had brought her from Paris and she already looked forward to winning the bottle of perfume from her sister.

Entering the ballroom, she had a moment of hesitation as her eyes quickly scanned the occupants of the already overflowing room. She took a deep breath, wondering if she could truly pull off an outside appearance of confidence when deep inside she was a nervous wreck. I can do this and must remember my purpose, she thought, whilst her gaze continued to flit across the crowd. Ah ha! There he is. There was no mistaking the handsome form of none other than the Marquis of Aldridge, along with his brother, the equally devastating Lord Jonathan. ‘Gren’, he had asked her to call him, and surely such an intimacy must mean he intended to propose?

She shrugged. Either man would do. She pushed back her shoulders and began advancing toward the two gentlemen, one of whom was leaning upon a pillar looking utterly divine. Neither man had a costume other than their evening attire and the masks placed upon their handsome faces; one white, the other black. Perhaps this is what set these two gentlemen apart from any other within the room, for they needed no other enhancement to draw attention to themselves. She had chosen wisely when she set her cap. Inwardly she sighed, wondering how she would feel once she actually received a proposal of marriage from the man known as the Merry Marquis.

Grace’s warning that she should stay far away from this man in particular flashed through her mind, but she ignored it. She dropped down into a proper curtsey, hoping against hope that the men found her attractive as she knew she appeared.

“Good evening, my lords,” she purred. “Were you perhaps looking for me?” She was unprepared for the smile that made her insides churn in a wave of nervous jitters. Being on the receiving end of the Marquis’s charm was deeply disturbing.

His voice was pitched to carry just as far as her ears. “Why, Miss de Courtenay, how delightful you look. Aphrodite herself come to enthrall us with her beauty.”

Her cheeks flushed with heat causing her to question her own stupidity for wearing such a daring gown. But it obviously had the desired effect and could only serve as one step closer to winning her bet. “You are too kind, my lord,” she said offering her hand.

Gren leaned forward to whisper in her ear. “What a charming blush. I would love to see how much of you it covers, my dear.”

A gasp escaped her. How could it not? For all she pretended to act as if she knew all there was to know about men, she was an innocent at only twenty years of age. Miranda instantly became aware that Grace may have been correct when she warned her about this pair. She could feel the warmth of the man’s breath as he lingered near her ear.

She glanced down at her gown and was shocked at how much of her cleavage was there for his viewing pleasure since he towered above her. Good heavens, she really was a fool to have chosen this costume but the die was cast and she had no one else to pursue in her attempts to win what she was now thinking a silly and foolish bet.

Raising her chin, she took hold of her fan and playfully slapped the gentleman’s arm. “My you are a bold one, are you not?” she teased, all the while wondering how she was going to get herself out of this mess she was in and still save face with her sister.

“As are you, my sweet,” Gren said. “And I admire boldness. Do not you, Aldridge?”

“Indeed. Boldness in a woman is highly desirable,” Aldridge agreed, his lids half closed, his voice husky. “Exactly how bold is she, Gren, do you think?”

Miranda glanced between the pair. This was not exactly how she thought this conversation would be leading. Perhaps, if she could just get the marquis alone for a moment, she might still be able to get him to offer for her. Surely he would be swept away by her beauty and propose on bended knee in no time at all.

She turned her full attention to the gentleman, all but ignoring his brother. Rude, perhaps, but this was a matter of grave importance. “My Lord Aldridge, perhaps you could spare me a moment to have a private word with you, just there, by the alcove?”

“Oh no, my dear,” Aldridge said, lifting one aristocratic eyebrow over twinkling eyes. “We must be more careful of your reputation. I would not for the world risk your good name ─ or your brother’s good health.”

“Fie, Aldridge,” Gren scolded. “How would the child know the way these things are done? She is very young still.”

“It will be my pleasure to school her,” Aldridge murmured, his words for his brother, but his eyes captivating Miranda’s and not letting them go. “Very much my pleasure. And hers, too, of course.”

Eyes wide and turning scarlet, she could barely breathe at the implication of his words. Right here, of all places, on the sideline of the ballroom for any and all to hear. Good heavens!

“My Lord, I─” Her lips snapped shut. Any further response was beyond her, as she felt, not just Aldridge, but his brother as well step closer, one to each side of her. When had this situation become completely out of her control?

“But you will share, Aldridge, will you not?” Gren asked. “After all, Miss de Courtenay’s lures have been as much for me as for you. And we have shared a mistress before”

Aldridge nodded. “It is only fair to the lady. The duties of the duchy will prevent me from giving her the devoted attention I used to be able to pay my lovers.”

Miranda’s head swiveled between the pair of brothers. She opened and closed her mouth several times before she was at last able to squeak out some form of a response. “Sh-share?” she stammered. Her hand rose to her throat as if that would cover her embarrassment and heaving bosom.

“I assure you, good sirs, that I am not yours to be,” she quickly looked around so she was not overheard and whispered, “shared between you.”

“Aldridge has grown stuffy,” Gren assured her. “If you were our mistress, my love, I would make sure you never felt neglected.”

“Mistress? Between you?” she cried out in alarm. All thought of trying to squeeze a marriage proposal out of either man was gone as she tried to wrap her thoughts around their outrageous proposition.

Both men frowned, straight eyebrows drawn down over identical hazel eyes. “You would prefer just one of us?” Aldridge asked.

“I suppose that’s fair,” Gren said to his brother. “I dare say she is still an innocent, despite the way she has been pursuing us. She might struggle to meet the needs of us both.” He turned back to the gasping maiden. “You choose then, Miss de Courtenay. Whose mistress would you like to be?”

“I will not be any man’s mistress but a wife,” she huffed, stamping her foot as though that would drive her point home. She looked between the pair and still could not believe they would offer such a proposition as to actually be their mistress. What a fool she had been!

“Grace was right about you,” she whispered gazing directly at Aldridge, as if he were the root of all her problems. She hated to admit she had knowingly brought this whole ghastly situation upon herself with her own sense of arrogance and pride. Humiliation consumed her even as tears welled up in her eyes, both from embarrassment and frustration that she had lost the stupid bet with her sister. At least she still had her virginity intact. God help her if she stayed any longer with this dangerous pair before her.

With tears rushing down her face, she mumbled an apology and dashed from the room, barely even acknowledging Grace when she entered the ballroom. She would have been appalled if she had witnessed her sister’s silent toast with her glass of wine to the gentlemen she had just left.

Aldridge and Gren returned Grace’s salute with a nod and a smile, but Gren’s eyes are clouded. “Poor innocent,” he commented. “I didn’t expect it to upset her so much.”

Aldridge pursed his lips. “She might act like a vixen on the hunt, but she is no more than a foolish kitten. Our agreement with her sister had us honour-bound to offend but not injure.”

Gren grinned. “I kept to my lines, Mr. Propriety. The frown returned to crease his brow. “But I am sorry for the silly chit.”

“Better hurt feelings and pride than ruination,” Aldridge said. “If she’d tried her tricks in London some rogue would have had her out in the garden or off in some secluded library before her brother or sister knew she was on the loose. Yes, and flat on her back with her skirts up whether she wanted or not, with some of the people you and I both know. We have done her a favour, Gren.”

“We’ve won Grace her bet, that’s certain,” Gren concedes. “Though I imagine she is happier to have her sister safe than whatever fribbet they wagered.”

Mission accomplished, the two brothers begin to move through the ballroom, still talking. They were sons of the hostess, and Mama would expect them to mingle.


ABOUT HOLLY AND HOPEFUL HEARTS

When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

Holly and Hopeful Hearts is a Bluestocking Belles Collection is on sale now through December for $0.99.
25% of the sales benefit the Belles’ mutual charity the Malala Fund!

Buy Links:
Amazon US | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords

Amazon AU |  Amazon CA |  Amazon UK


This is an original piece by Bluestocking Belles Sherry Ewing and Jude Knight.

Miranda and the Grenford brothers can be found as secondary characters in the Bluestocking Belles’ 2016 holiday box set entitled, Holly and Hopeful Hearts. Miranda, in particular, is in A Kiss for Charity by Sherry Ewing. Aldridge and Gren are interwoven in several of the novellas and are written by Jude Knight. They also appear in Jude’s latest release, Revealed in Mist. You can learn more about Jude and Sherry and where to find their published work by clicking on their names on this website.

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