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Will you be my Valentine?

Maudy Braxton sidled into the ballroom behind Miss Waterson, the subscription secretary, and two of the senior maids. She had been maid-of-all-work at the Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath for all of three days, and she had already learnt not to attract the attention of Mr. Fowler, the manager.

He was there up the front, smarmy toad, but so was another man – a fine-looking gentleman, elegantly dressed in pantaloons and neatly fitted jacket, with an embroidered waistcoat that she regarded with the eye of a connoisseur.

Such fine work had been her ambition when she worked for Mrs Primm. She was employed to sweep the floors under the cutting tables and to fetch and carry the threads and fabric needed by the artists Mrs Primm employed in her workroom. She had been promised lessons in creating the blossoms and scrolls that decorated the skirts of the gowns intended for fashionable ladies. Borders and ornate waistcoats such as this – the work of those at the top of the trade – had been a distant dream.

She nudged Annie, the maid who had been so kind at showing her how things were done here, and whispered, “who is that with Mr Fowler?”

“That’s Mr King himself; that’s who that is.”

The Master of Ceremonies? What a magnificent gentleman. And what did he require of all the staff of the upper assembly rooms?

“Quiet, there.” Mr Randal, the senior footman, spoke sternly but with a small smile playing in the corners of his lips. Mr Randall was ever so kind. Tall and handsome too, though handsome is as handsome does, Granny always said. Granny would have approved of Mr Randal.

Mr King cleared his throat. “You may be wondering why Mr Fowler asked you all together. I wanted to tell you myself that the committee has approved a Valentine’s Day ball. This will be held on a Tuesday night, not one of our usual assembly nights, but I am sure you will all work with me to make it a success.

“I realise it will involve extra work both in the preparation and on the night itself. I have authorised Mr Fowler to meet the costs of employing you for the extra hours required. I intend this to be an event to remember; the highlight of the 1815 Bath Season. Now, does anyone have questions?”

Miss Waterson raised her hand. “Mr King, will this event be covered by the usual subscription, or will it require a separate ticket?”

“An excellent question.” Mr King inclined his head to the lady, recognising her superior status to most of the Upper Room’s other servants. “The ladies and gentlemen of Bath will purchase tickets to this Ball. I have suggested to Mr Fowler that, in addition to advertisements in the Bath Chronicle and notices in the pump rooms and other places where Society gathers, we send out personal invitations to each of our members and to other prominent residents. I imagine I can leave this in your capable hands, Miss Waterson.”

After several other questions, the servants were dismissed and scattered to their work, most of them fervently discussing the coming event.

“I did not expect all this extra work,” Miss Waterson was complaining to Mr Fowler. “My sister has been begging me to give up this work and come and be her companion.”

“Please, Miss Waterson,” Mr Fowler said. They turned the corner and Maudy heard no more.

Maudy left with Annie, but they separated off, Annie to tidy the card room, and Maudy to fetch a bucket and mop from the supply cupboard behind the anti-chamber. The floor in the card room awaited her attention.

She found the buckets easily enough, but as she looked around for the mops, Mr Fowler entered the covered, closing the door behind him.

“How are you enjoying working here?” Mr Fowler asked, prowling closer.

Maudy backed up a step, which was as far as she could go. “Good, thank you, sir.” Her voice trembled. She clutched the bucket more tightly, and wondered how long her employment would last if she hit Mr Fowler with it. Her job with Mrs Primm had not survived her resistance to a man who mistook her for a seamstress, and mistook seamstresses for loose women.

As if he could read her thoughts, Mr Fowler purred, “I hear your last job was as a seamstress. Perhaps you’d like to show me a fine — uh herm — seam?”

“No, sir,” Maudy stammered, “I was Mrs Primm’s maid. I am a good girl, sir.”

Mr Fowler put out a hand to fondle her cheek just as the door opened behind him. He dropped his hand. Harold Randal took in the scene in a single glance.

“Is that door swinging was shut again? We should get the carpenter to look at it, sir.” He held out a hand for Maudy. “Come along, girl. That card room won’t clean itself.”

Maudy followed him gratefully, wondering how to explain the scene he had witnessed. She didn’t need to. As soon as they were out of earshot of Mr Fowler, Mr Randal said, “I should have warned you, Miss Braxton. I tell all the girls. Always work in pairs. Never be alone with Mr Fowler.”

Annie was waiting in the card room, already armed with bucket and mop. Mr Randal left them to their work and the friendly conversation that helped pass the time. “If you was a lady,” Annie said after a while, “which gentleman would you choose to dance with at the Valentine’s Day Ball?”

Maudy said she didn’t know any gentleman. Mrs Primm had said the man who tried to assault her was no gentleman. Annie knew several, having taken their cloaks and coats on many an occasion here at the assembly rooms. She was happy to chatter on, comparing their features and deficits.

Maudy listened with half an ear. In her own mind, she was dressed in one of Mrs Primm’s finest ball gowns, and was dancing in the arms of a gentleman who bore a stunning resemblance to Mr Harold Randal.

Join the Bluestocking Belles for five original stories set at and around the Valentine’s Day Ball. On preorder now, and published 9 February.

For blurb (including the individual blurbs for each story) and buy links, see our project page.

An Invitation to Holiday Revels

An invitation addressed to His Grace, the Duke of Harlowe, has found its way into our newsroom. It appears that Gertrude Marsden, Countess of Marsden may have sent several letters of this ilk regarding revels at her country house.  The lady, if we may call her that, is quite bold in her expression in this one. We at the Teatime Tattler believe it will be of interest to our readers, who may wish to be warned about the countess’s nature before they accept.

December 1, 1815

Your Grace~

Now that we’ve sent that rascal Bony to the far reaches of St. Helena, I’m ready for festivities for the Season! I hope you are also.

To marry off my darling nieces, I’ve invited my fondest friends to my Christmas house party on the North Steyne in Brighton from December 21 through December 28. Twenty-six will lodge in the house. More than one hundred also have responded they’ll attend my annual ball Christmas night. At least half of them are eligible men. And should you accept my invitation—which of course this is—you will be numbered among them.

I do hope you will attend us here for the duration! I’ve planned the usual diversions. Greenery gathering, though we do not wish to prick our fingers! Cards and dice, though I will ensure my darling Marjorie does not pick your pocket too deeply! Charades. Do plan to partner me in that game as—perhaps—Romeo and Juliet? Elizabeth and Darcy?

I know it has been five long months since we “played” at anything together. However, I do presume to invite you to join me during this gathering. I need a partner. You.

Yes. You see I am quite frank!

Why?

First and foremost, my step-son, Colonel Lord Marsden, remains with Wellington in Paris. While I wish for his return—especially to do what his heart commands and woo my niece Marjorie—I have no final word from him that the Duke will permit him leave of absence.

Secondly, but not less important, I must declare once and for all, Your Grace, I need you here with me. For Christmas, I wish you close.

I can imagine your marvelous blue eyes wide, your grey brows arched high, with surprise at my declaration of desire. But I am compelled. Driven. Indeed, needy, Your Grace. Needy!

No, I have not written you since I left you in that quaint little hotel room that afternoon in Margate in August. I wished to contemplate what we did there. And I’ve concluded that what I felt then for you, Your Grace, was a passion as hot, an affection as radiant as the summer sun. I feel it still each time I recall us as we lounged like libertines on the terrace naked while the sea crashed upon the shore and took our breaths in such raptures.

I do confess that since I left you that afternoon I’ve been atwitter, hoping against hope you might favor me by calling upon me. Alas, you have not. But I excuse you readily. Of course I do. I put your reluctance down to your desire to conclude your year of mourning for your wife. That formal period ended last week.

After much thought on the matter, I can understand other reasons why you’ve not approached me. You were shocked by your quick affections. I was surprised by my own. After all, it had been five years since last we met…and enjoyed the varied rewards of our mutual affections. Five years ago, those were of conversation and the recognition of like minds. Our Margate encounter was the rekindling of those sparks which previously we dared not fan. Yet I will declare our interlude was a unique rapture. If my heart palpitated with exquisite delights that afternoon we spent in the throes of madness, my mind since then has relived a thousand times the ecstasy we shared.

Might you not come to my party? Might we not rekindle the flames of a glorious afternoon rolling as God made us upon those downy linen sheets?

Yes, you may call me bold. Yes, you may refuse me a response.

But I ask you, Your Grace, is not life for the living?

My husband has long since departed this world.

Your wife, gone less time, but nonetheless not of this world.

My step-son is grown. A man about to take a wife. My other responsibilities of my dearly departed sister’s three daughters will soon cease as they go to their own marriage beds. My days spread before me and I wish for another marvelous taste of true love before I grow too mature to revel in its physical pleasures…and its ethereal rewards.

Won’t you join me and my guests for Christmas?

Let us hail Christmas with reverence. Hail my nieces’ and my step-son’s engagements with joy. And ring in the New Year, just you and I alone in a cocoon of our mutual desires for romance, love and conjugal unity.

Darling Winston, let us not to the marriage of true minds find impediments. We are too old to worry that children may object. Would yours dare? They married for love. We two are also free, unburdened by family responsibilities. Your three are married and prospering. Mine soon will be, too. We both are too established among the ton to care that you are a duke, widowered, and I, a widowed countess who has slept alone for more years than I care to recall.

May we not, my dear, revel in the Season and in each other?

I long to kiss you and invite you to cavort with me!

Let this be a happy Christmas! Come to my party! We’ve much to enjoy!

                                             Yours affectionately,
                                                      Gertrude

About the Books

The Countess of Marsden invites you to her house party! Seven nights and days of frolic, gossip, dancing…and match-making for her three nieces.
Sad, isn’t it, that none of the Craymore sisters wishes to wed?
Exciting, isn’t it, that three war heroes arrive who know precisely what they want for Christmas?
Wonderful, isn’t it, that each might gain the most precious Christmas gift of all?

Find them here:

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0089DS2N2

 About the Author

Cerise DeLand loves to cook, hates to dust, lives to travel, read and write!

She pens #1 Bestselling Regencies and Victorians known for their spice, historical accuracy and eloquence! With awards on her shelves for more than 60 romances, she’s written for Pocket, St. Martin’s and Kensington. She likes awards…and wine at 5 p.m.

Find Cerise:

Cerise DeLand’s Website www.cerisedeland.com

Cerise DeLand’s Delicious Doings Blog: http://cerisedeland.blogspot.com

 

 

 

Asking For A Friend…

Dear Mr Clemens,

I have a friend who is at her wits end and doesn’t know what to do, but she enjoys your newspaper even if she can only read it very slowly and has seen you have offered your sage advice to many others before her. I shan’t tell you her name because the situation is very delicate, and she is likely very soon to become engaged to a Duke, so I must preserve her good reputation.

asking for a friendI say likely, because the whole ton expects the announcement eagerly, and they have done for over a year. I cannot imagine why he is dragging his feet because my friend is considered very beautiful and charming. Yet not only has he failed to ask her, he’s also never bothered trying to steal a kiss either which is very odd. Especially as she’s lauded as an incomparable and had men queuing for her hand before the duke came along.

In truth, he rather scared everyone else off and I had my head turned… I mean my friend did. Who wouldn’t want to marry a duke? Even if this one is a little dull and pads his jackets… only talks about himself…

But I digress, because whilst my friend has been doing absolutely everything in her power- short of smacking him across his arrogant head with her fan to chivvy him into a proposal- there has been another complication.

An unforeseen, unexpected and utterly thrilling complication.

She’s met another man and is inexplicably drawn to him. He’s not noble- not by any chalk- but he is kind and handsome, painfully shy and most definitely does not need to pad out his jacket! I know this because I accidentally encountered him stripped to the waist at my sister’s house a few months ago and I have been entirely unable to dismiss the scandalously magnificent picture of his manly body from my mind.

And he’s a spy! On an important government mission. A secret he entrusted only to me… I mean my friend… when she recognized him pretending to be someone else. Now she is helping him navigate the murky waters of society, a place he feels very uncomfortable within, and in return he is going to make my, er, the duke jealous to hasten the anticipated engagement. Which is marvellous, I suppose, although I’m not entirely sure I want things sped along now that I’ve met Seb… I mean since she met him.

What should my friend do?

Yours sincerely

Befuddled of Berkeley Square

About the Book, The Mysterious Lord Millcroft

Life as a duchess… Or something much more dangerous…?

Constantly told her beauty and charm is all she has to offer, Lady Clarissa is intent on marrying a duke. And intriguing spy Sebastian Leatham will help her! Only first she’ll assist him with his new assignment—playing the part of confident aristocrat Lord Millcroft. Sebastian awakens a burning desire within Clarissa which leaves her questioning whether becoming a duchess is what she truly longs for…
Purchase on Amazon

About the Author

When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. But it still takes her ages to fall asleep.

Website: https://www.virginiaheathromance.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/virginiaheathauthor/
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/VirginiaHeath_

 

Ghostly Gossip

ghostLady Bell invited Mr. Tilson to tea not because she likes him, but to hear about a ghost. I had learned a little about the specter from friends in Carlisle, and she wanted to know more. Unfortunately, Mr. Tilson didn’t want to discuss ghosts. He preferred to backbite about living people.

“All the Warrens are scandalous, absolutely scandalous,” Mr. Tilson told us. “From Lord Garrison to his sister to his cousins, they’re simply dreadful. It’s in their blood.”

There is a certain amount of truth to this. Lord Garrison and his kinfolk do tend to live by their own rules, but they are also far more fun than most people with whom I’m acquainted.

“Surely not.” Lady Bell motioned to me to pour Mr. Tilson a second cup of tea. “Thomasina Warren is a charming girl, so perfectly behaved that she is known as The One Good Warren. She would have made you an excellent wife.”

“So I thought.” Mr. Tilson heaved a sigh redolent of the seed cake with which he had stuffed himself. “But when I questioned her sternly with the full force of my manly intellect, Miss Warren herself admitted to the taint.” He took a breath. “In fact, she confessed to an uncontrollable urge to sin.”

I ask you, how likely is that?

Her ladyship glowered at him. “What nonsense. No innocent maiden would say anything of the kind.”

Particularly to a stodgy sort like Tilson.

“I do beg your pardon,” he murmured. “It was the truth, but I shouldn’t have mentioned something so unsavory in the presence of ladies.”

He sighed again, and I moved as far as possible from him on the sofa. I like seed cake, but not at second hand.

“I have heard that Miss Warren doesn’t wish to marry,” I said.

“Nonsense, my dear Clara,” Lady Bell said. “Every young woman wishes to do so.” She simply will not accept the fact that I have never been tempted to exchange my comfortable single state for submission to some tedious male.

Ghost“Miss Warren knows full well that she is unmarriageable,” Mr. Tilson said. “Her conniving father tried to trap me into wedding her. Much as I pity her, I was fortunate to escape before I found myself tied to her forever.” He was enjoying himself, which is in frightfully bad taste. How vile to denigrate the former object of his affection!

It was obvious to me that Miss Warren was the one who had escaped. What’s worse, now he gazed at me with a warm expression in his eyes.

Lady Bell gave a smug little smile. Good God, was she thinking I might like to wed this bore?

Time to change the subject. I assumed an expression of trepidatious inquiry. “Earlier, her ladyship mentioned something about a ghost at Hearth House.”

Lady Bell set down her teacup. She is an enthusiastic believer in the supernatural. “Yes, a Roman soldier who patrols Hadrian’s Wall. He carries a spear and threatens anyone who comes near.” She paused, twinkling. “Except courting couples of whom he approves.”

“Now, now, my lady,” Mr. Tilson said. “You will have your little jest, but ghosts do not exist. Old houses like Hearth House tend to creak and groan, especially in cold weather.”

I put on an innocent face. “I was told that you made banishing the ghost a condition of marrying Miss Warren—but how can one drive away something that isn’t real?”

Mr. Tilson reddened, hastening to explain. “To calm her, so she need not fear for the safety of our future children.” What a lie that was! I knew from other sources that it was he who’d been afraid. Imagine refusing to marry a girl because of a ghost!

“Why should she fear?” I asked. “By what I’ve heard, she likes the ghost. It protects her from unwanted suitors.”

Mr. T glared. I must confess, I enjoyed witnessing his attempt to summon his manly intellect and produce an explanation that made him look fearless, noble, self-sacrificing, and so on.

“That only goes to show,” he said, “that sin is not the only taint in her family. There’s madness, too.” He paused dramatically and lowered his voice to a hush. “I saw her talking to the ghost.”

Heavens! “You saw the ghost?”

He huffed. “No, I saw her talking to thin air, which is a well-known trait of the insane. It gave me quite a turn. Thank God for that pleasant young man who was visiting Hearth House and kindly warned me away.”

Hmm…. I wonder now, who is the pleasant young man, and what was his reason for getting rid of Mr. Tilson? I can think of several possibilities. I believe I shall pay a visit to Hearth House and find out!

GhostAbout the Book

Faced with the intolerable suitors her father approves, Thomasina Warren resolves never to marry, and decides to lose her virginity so that no respectable man will have her. Who better to ruin her than handsome, charming James Blakely? But James is an honorable man and refuses point-blank. Humiliated, she resorts to outright refusal to wed, with the help of a ghost who scares her suitors away. But four years later, her father has arranged her marriage to a stodgy gentlemen whose only condition is that the ghost must be banished forever.

James Blakely never forgot the lovely girl who asked him to ruin her, and when he offers to get rid of the ghost, he thinks he’ll be doing a good deed. Instead, he is faced with the hostile Thomasina, her cowardly suitor, pigheaded father, lecherous cousin, an exorcist monk, and a ghost who warns of danger and deadly peril—and a few short days in which to convince Thomasina that with the right man, she might just want to marry after all.

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F71SZD6/
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07F71SZD6/
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07F71SZD6/
Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07F71SZD6/

About the Author

Award-winning author Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young, then moved on to paranormal mysteries and Regency romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa). She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.

http://www.facebook.com/barbara.monajem
http://twitter.com/BarbaraMonajem
https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/3270624.Barbara_Monajem
http://www.barbaramonajem.com/
http://barbaramonajem.blogspot.com

A Rose Thief meets a Bear

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

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

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

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

House of Thorns

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

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

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

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

He needs an heir.

She needs a home.

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

Buy links

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

Excerpt

The intruder stealing his roses had lovely shaped calves.

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

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

It had been too long since his last willing widow.

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

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

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

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

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

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