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Whispers in a Closet

Information comes to the Tattler from many sources, whispers among servants being one of the most fruitful…

Mary Fisher went about her business as her mistress directed, even with the house in an uproar and the mistress preoccupied with worry.  The whole staff had more work than usual, what with a wedding the day before. She carried her bucket and rags carefully up the servant stairs to the third level with great care so as not to spill a drop, an effort that proved futile when a hand snaked out, grabbed her free arm, and pulled her into the linen closet. The door slammed shut.

“Ow! You made me slosh water on the floor. Are you trying to cost me my position?”

In the gloom, she could just make out the gleam in Lizzy Smith’s smug expression.  “Pish posh. That countess is too soft-hearted to fire either of us over some spilled water.”

Mary leaned down to wipe up the spill. “Y’ought to be working, not lurking in closets,” she muttered. “You planning to pounce on that green-eyed footman again? That will get you dismissed if you keep it up.”

Lizzy pulled her up. “Don’t be daft. I just want to talk. Did you hear what went on in the Countess’s sitting room? The Family is in a state and that’s the truth.”

“Everyone knows Mister Rand disappeared last night. Rob Portman heard it all serving the breakfast. His bed wasn’t slept in and—”

“But I know what happened in the countess’s sitting room.” There was no mistaking Lizzy’s self-satisfied smirk now. She knew something. No doubt about it.

Duty warred with curiosity in Mary’s heart. Servants oughtn’t to gossip, her mam taught her that early. The family had been good to Mary, though and she hated all the running about and the countess’s worried expression. Curiosity won out. “What’d you hear?”

“Well, you know as how Mr. Rand’s stayed at Cambridge after the duke, his cousin came to down two months ago?”

“’e just come in three days ago, though he was supposed to stand up with the duke. Rob said they never spoke, even yesterday at the wedding. Like somethin’ happened tween the two o’ them as used to be stuck like burrs one to the other.” It distressed Mary to see two young men that always seemed like good folk be against each other that way. “Never saw one without the other ever—”

Lizzy waved a dismissive hand. “So we know there’s bad blood now, but over what I ask you ?”

Mary shrugged. “Young men fight. They’ll come around.”

“Lurking at keyholes, more like,” Mary muttered.

Lizzy ignored the jab. “I heard the countess crying her eyes out, and the earl, he’s trying to comfort her. He says, ‘Cath…’ (did you know he calls her that?) ‘Cath,’ he says, ‘the whole world knows that woman is carrying a baby, except for maybe Charles, the young fool.’”

“He called the duke a fool? He’s ever so smart.”

“A man can be smart about business and a still let a woman pull wool over his eyes.”

Lizzy would know, Mary thought glumly. The import of Lizzy’s other words hit her. “Wait, are you saying the new duchess is pregnant?” Her jaw hung slack.

Lizzy pursed her lips. “Don’t be a slow top. Of course she is. That isn’t the good part.”

Good may not be the word, Mary thought, but she suspected she was about to hear whatever it was.

“The earl said as how it was too bad Mr. Fred didn’t come to the wedding because he could talk some sense into them both, but the countess says something like, ‘Rand had no idea.’ It were kind of muffled like. The earl, he says Mr. Rand couldn’t know nothing since he stayed away and the countess says—listen up Mary!”

“What did she say?” Mary dreaded hearing it, but couldn’t help listening.

Lizzy dropped her voice, “Clear as a bell, she tells the earl Mr. Rand said the duchess is so far along it had to have happened while he was still walking out with her.”

Mary blinked rapidly, trying to understand.

“Don’t be a booby, Mary. The duke got Mr. Rand’s lady with child while she was still supposed to be with Mr. Rand. No wonder those two are at each other’s throats. No man wants his cousin—much less best friend or any other man—poaching on his preserve. Ran off he did. Said he isn’t never coming back.”

Mary shook her head and picked up her bucket without talking.

“Earl said, ‘That woman will make Charles miserable, mark my words,’ and the countess she said, ‘She already heaped misery on all of us,’ and went on back to crying.”

Mary stopped listening. She went back to work, her heart heavy. Family oughtn’t to treat one another badly. They ought to come together in time of troubles, that’s for certain, she thought.

_________________

About the Book, The Renegade Wife

Reclusive businessman Rand Wheatly finds his solitude disrupted by a desperate woman running with her children from an ugly past. But even his remote cabin in Upper Canada isn’t safe enough. Meggy Blair may have lied to him, but she and her children have breached the walls of his betrayed heart. Now she’s on the run again. To save them he must return to face his demons and seek help from the family he vowed to never see again.

It is available in Kindle format free with Kindle Unlimited or for purchase as ebook or in print:

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The Renegade Wifeis Book 1 in Caroline Warfield’s Children of Empire Series.

Three cousins, who grew up together in the English countryside, have been driven apart by deceit and lies. (You may guess a woman was involved!) Though they all escape to the outposts of The British Empire, they all make their way home to England, facing their past and finding love and the support of women of character and backbone. They are:

  • Randolph Baldwin Wheatly who has become a recluse, and lives in isolation in frontier Canada intent on becoming a timber baron, until a desperate woman invades his peace. (The Renegade Wife)
  • Captain Frederick Arthur Wheatly, an officer in the Bengal army, who enjoys his comfortable life on the fringes until his mistress dies, and he’s forced to choose between honor and the army. (The Reluctant Wife)
  • Charles, Duke of Murnane, tied to a miserable marriage, throws himself into government work to escape bad memories. He accepts a commission from the Queen that takes him to Canton and Macau, only to face his past there. (The Unexpected Wife)

Who are their ladies?

  • Meggy Campeau, the daughter of a French trapper and Ojibwe mother who has made mistakes, but is fierce in protecting her children. (The Renegade Wife)
  • Clare Armbruster, fiercely independent woman of means, who is determined to make her own way in life, but can’t resist helping a foolish captain sort out his responsibilities. (The Reluctant Wife)
  • Zambak Hayden, eldest child of the Duke of Sudbury, knows she’d make a better heir than her feckless younger brother, but can’t help protecting the boy to the point of following him to China. She may just try to sort out the Empire’s entangled tea trade–and its ugly underpinning, opium, while she’s there. (The Unexpected Wife)

Book 3, The Unexpected Wife, will be released on July 25.

Here’s a short video about it:

https://www.facebook.com/carolinewarfield7/videos/924791187669849/

For more about the series and all of Caroline’s books, look here:

https://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/

About the Author

Caroline Warfield grew up in a peripatetic army family and had a varied career (largely around libraries and technology) before retiring to the urban wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania, where divides her time between writing Regency and Victorian Romance, and seeking adventures with her grandson and the prince among men she married.

 

 

 

 

The Family Feud

The family feud between the Earl of Chadbourn’s nephew, the Duke of Murnane, and his cousin, Randolph Wheatly, has caused considerable talk recently. We believe our readers will find two missives that have come into the Tattler’s possession to be of interest. Some would say the conflict is old news. Others might suggest its influence on current events makes for as juicy a story today as it did seven years ago.

 S. Clemens

familyPrivate Pratt,
Y’ asked why mister Rand hates that duke his cousin. No one at the servants table answered cause they all love the duke. I learned as how to rite at the dame school at home so I thot I would rite the answer down. The earls vall-et told me how to spell Private but I dint tell him why I wanted to know.

The duke married the girl Mr. Rand corted and that’s a fact. Both wanted ‘er an one got ‘er. When Mr. Rand found out she was far gone with child already at the wedding, he said as how the duke had his way with her even while she still walked out with Mr. Rand. Bad business that.

No man wants a girl to lift her skirt to some ‘un other. Mr. Rand he got so mad he high tailed it to Canada where you met him. Stayed away seven years. Now th’earl told them to work together and everyone’s walking around like a storm’s brewing.

But no person here wants to beleev the duke would do his cozin such a turn neither. I heared Missus Alberts the cook say quiet like once that she dint think the boy were the duke’s son neither but you codnt tell that from how he dotes on the lad. Hes a good father, is the duke.

I know you admire Mr. Rand and I thot you’d want to know.

Elsie Jones, tweeny


Family

Sketch by Ernest Blaikley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Miss Jones,
Thank you for your kind note. Any soldier knows it is safest to know the lay of the land, and it has been hard enough for me living in a posh household like this one without the folks hiding things from me. Mr. Rand is one of the best men I know, and he has been careful to protect Meggy Blair and her children, folks as are important to me. I cannot think ill of him. He came all the way to London to make sure they are safe, and he won’t back down.

I can’t say I know the duke, but he seems like a solid fellow as well, and he plans to help us so I can’t think ill of him either. He even plans to go after the general’s crooked activity. No, I have to respect him, especially since he helped me sort out the matter of desertion from the army and all.

Whatever the truth of it, they are honorable men. I hope they come to peace because there will be enough fighting if they try to take on the ugly gang of button fakers and thieves as they talked about. Bad doings there, and they will need to watch their backs.

Your words helped me Miss. Maybe when this settles down I’ll be free to ask you to walk out of a Sunday.

Yrs
John Pratt

__________________________________

FamilyAbout the Book, The Renegade Wife: Book 1, Children of Empire

Betrayed by his cousin and the woman he loved, Rand Wheatly fled England, his dreams of a loving family shattered. He clings to his solitude in an isolated cabin in Upper Canada. Returning from a business trip to find a widow and two children squatting in his house, he flies into a rage. He wants her gone, but her children are sick and injured, and his heart is not as hard as he likes to pretend.

Meggy Blair harbors a secret, and she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her children safe. She’d hopes to hide with her Ojibwa grandmother, if she can find the woman and her people. She doesn’t expect to find shelter with a quiet, solitary man, a man who lowers his defensive walls enough to let Meggy and her children in.

Their idyllic interlude is shattered when Meggy’s brutal husband appears to claim his children. She isn’t a widow, but a wife, a woman who betrayed the man she was supposed to love, just as Rand’s sweetheart betrayed him. He soon discovers why Meggy is on the run, however, and time is running out. To save them all, Rand must return to England and face his family demons.

~Excerpt~

“I manage. I have no idea about Julia,” Charles said through tight lips.

Rand raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“I haven’t seen Julia in two years. She hasn’t seen Jonny in longer. I have no idea how she ‘manages.’” He leaned toward Rand. “Don’t look at me like that, Randolph Wheatly. We separated less than a year after we married. It happens. If you had stayed, you might have delighted in my misfortune.”

Charles glared at Rand, who could think of nothing to say. When the silence became painful, Charles sank back in his chair. “Don’t worry. Though it seems unlikely Jonny will ever be duke, know that he is loved. I love him as if he were my own.” His voice rose when he continued, and an emotion Rand couldn’t identify gave force to his words. “He is my own. Don’t try to say otherwise.”

“What are you implying, Charles? Of course he’s your son. You were eager enough to bed his mother.”

“I didn’t touch Julia until our wedding night. Jonny came into this world six months later. What do you think I’m implying?”

Something uncurled in Rand’s chest. His cousin was many things, some unpleasant, but he wasn’t a liar.

***FREE***with Kindle Unlimited or buy a copy here

About the Series, Children of Empire

Three cousins, who grew up together in the English countryside, have been driven apart by deceit and lies. (You may guess a woman was involved!) They all make their way home, finding love and the support of women of character and backbone along their journeys. They are:

  • Rand who has become a recluse, and lives in isolation in frontier Canada intent on becoming a timber baron, until a desperate woman invades his peace.
  • Fred, an officer in the Bengal army, who enjoys his comfortable life on the fringes until his mistress dies and he’s forced to choose between honor and the army.
  • Charles, Duke of Murnane, who, tied to a miserable marriage, throws himself into government work to escape bad memories. He accepts a commission from the Queen that takes him to Canton and Macau.

Who are their ladies?

  • Meggy Campeau, the daughter of a French trapper and Ojibwe mother who has made mistakes, but is fierce in protecting her children.
  • Clare Armbruster, fiercely independent woman of means, who is determined to make her own way in life, but can’t resist helping a foolish major sort out his responsibilities.
  • Zambak Hayden, eldest child of the Duke of Sudbury, who knows she’d make a better heir than her feckless younger brother, but can’t help protecting the boy to the point of following him to China. She may just try to sort out the Empire’s entangled tea trade–and its ugly underpinning, opium while she’s there.

You can find more here or here

About the Author

Carol Roddy – Author

Caroline Warfield is a Bluestocking Belle and lover of family, history, travel and faith, all of which inform her work. She firmly believes that love is worth the risk to the human heart.

She grew up in a peripatetic army family and had a varied career (largely around libraries and technology) before retiring. Now retired to the urban wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania, she divides her time between writing and seeking adventures with her grandbuddy and the prince among men she married.

She has works published by Soul Mate Publishing and also independently published works. In addition she has participated in five group anthologies, one not yet published. You can find her here:

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History Imagined

An Ill-Fated Wedding

March 1826

Lady Bleakmore, well-known leader of society, attended the Duke of Murnane’s Wedding to Miss Julia Barrett of Cambridge, on Friday and has graciously sent our beloved newssheet a report of the festivities. 

First let me say that while one hesitates to speak ill of another, particularly in regard to so auspicious an event as a wedding, and one so well attended by the cream of the haut ton, one cannot but choose plain speaking.

In spite of the unseemly rush to the altar, the couple chose a formal church wedding at Saint George’s Hanover Square, rather than the private ceremony one might have expected under the Unfortunate Circumstances (more about that later). Given the bride’s déclassé origins one might have expected something less grand, but of course the wedding of a duke requires the attention of his peers, and Murnane, a young man of kindness and great promise, is much beloved by all.

Saint George’s Hanover Square, John Salmon [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The church, festooned with roses and ribbons, provided as rich a setting as one might want for such an event, although orchids have been known to add a certain panache to other ceremonies. The Rector, Mr. Willers, managed a dignified service and restrained his unfortunate tendency to ramble on for the most part.

 

by Sir John Soanes

The Earl of Chadbourn, the groom’s guardian and uncle, attended him at the altar. One might have expected Randolph Wheatly, his cousin, the younger brother of the countess, to take that role. The other cousin, the wild one, might have stepped in as well, but his regiment posted to India two months ago. Never one to report hearsay, I took a moment to speak with the sacristan about a rather nasty rumor. He confirmed that a loud quarrel tool place during the rehearsal, with the two young men closeted in an office, after which Mr. Wheatly stormed out not to return. Unfortunately my source did not overhear the reason for the conflict. I can only report that the cousin did not attend church, nor was he seen at the breakfast. One speculates about the impact the Unfortunate Circumstances may have had on this conflict.

The earl and his countess hosted a perfectly adequate wedding breakfast at their London town house, a much-admired edifice for all it is overrun by unruly children. Among those in attendance, the Duke and Duchess of Sudbury took precedence. The Duke’s sister (who chooses for reasons that no person of correct thinking understand to be plain Mrs. Mallet) sat along side with her husband, the schoolmaster’s son. The bride’s family, of gentry stock, were surrounded by no fewer than two dukes, four earls, three viscounts, and several barons. One felt sympathy for the people who were quite out of their element, though the manners of the parents were well enough.

Murnane, known to many as Charles—the Wheatlys being an unrepentantly informal family— greeted all guests graciously taking little notice of rank, as is his habit, one learned, no doubt, from his uncle the earl. A graceful and handsome young man, his subdued yet fashionable clothing enhanced his dignity. The repast made up in abundance what it may have lacked in extravagance; the countess can hold her head up. The groom, of course, didn’t notice the lack of finer tidbits, busy as he was sharing champagne and every appearance of joy with all and sundry.

What can one say of the bride? For all the correctness of her parents’ manners (they obviously understood their place) she is a pushing little thing. She flirted shamelessly with Viscount Corkinwall and several of the rakish young men during the wedding breakfast while her new husband appeared not to notice. One was forced to recall rather vile rumors Lady Elsbeth Willknott had from Cambridge regarding the young woman, rumors not to her credit. It appears she had been close to both of the young dukes cousins, one after another, rather too close. I suppose one cannot blame her for nabbing a duchess’s coronet, the cousins being plain misters, but the stories of her behavior lead to Rampant Speculation that breach among the young men resulted directly from her machinations.

Julia

One would like to assume that her behavior might settle and the conflict resolve itself, but for the Unfortunate Circumstances. I warn those of sensitive natures my plain speaking may offend. To say it with no embroidery, the bride appears to anticipate a Happy Event. While it is said this is often the case with rushed weddings, this one appears to be coming sooner rather than later. Coupled with her outrageous flirting and bold behavior, one is forced to fear for the success of this marriage. Pity. The duke is such a charming young man. He, of course, has the support of well-titled relatives and will always be received everywhere.

Lady Eunice Bleakmore

_____________________________________________________

Readers who’ve read The Renegade Wife and The Reluctant Wife will know the fate of Charles’s marriage and the fate of his relationship with his cousins. Those waiting anxiously for Charles to find his own happily-ever-after will be delighted to know the book is finished and on target for its May release. In the meantime, read books 1 and 2 if you haven’t already. A Dangerous Nativity, which is always free, is prequel in which the three heroes appear as boys.  You can find them all here

weddingAbout The Unexpected Wife

Charles Wheatly, Duke of Murnane, accepts an unofficial fact-finding mission to the East India Company’s enclave in Canton, China on behalf of the queen. He anticipates intrigue, international tensions, and an outlet for his grief over the death of his young son. He isn’t entirely surprised when he also encounters the troublesome offspring of his mentor, the Duke of Sudbury, but the profound love he discovers for the determined young woman is unforeseen and untimely. Charles certainly doesn’t expect to also face his troubled marriage in such an exotic locale. The appearance of his estranged wife in the company of their enemy throws the entire enterprise into conflict, and tensions boil over when the woman he loves is put at risk by his wife’s scheming—and the beginnings of the First Opium War.

Zambak Hayden seethes with frustration. A woman her age has occupied the throne for over a year, yet the Duke of Sudbury’s line of succession still passes over her—his eldest—to land on a son with neither spine nor character. She follows her brother, the East India Company’s newest and least competent clerk, to protect him and to safeguard the family honor—if she also escapes the gossip and intrigues of London and the marriage mart, so much the better. She has no intention of being forced into some sort of dynastic marriage, and she may just refuse to marry at all. The greed and corruption she finds horrifies her, especially when her brother succumbs to the lure of opium. She determines to document the truth and save her brother from falling prey to drugs and sinister forces. When an old family friend arrives she assumes her father sent him. She isn’t about to bend to his dictates nor give up her quest. Her traitorous heart, however, can’t stop yearning for a man she can’t have.

As an epic historical drama unfolds around them, both Charles and Zambak must come to terms with a love that neither expected.

About Caroline Warfield

Family, faith, love of travel, and love of history drive Caroline’s life and writings. You can read about her here.

 

Whispers From Calcutta

A Missive from Calcutta, seat of the Bengal Presidency

The Colonel's Wife CalcuttaMost of England’s fine young men, who labor far from home and are faced daily with coarseness and Foreign Influence on all sides, hunger for the refinement and civility of Proper Company. Know that the Respectable Ladies of Calcutta take it as our Sacred Duty to be exemplars of Culture in this outpost. We take our role with the utmost seriousness.

Unfortunately those who lack beneficial influences sometimes succumb to the specious charms of Hindustan and stray from right behavior. We bring one such incident to your attention lest you think we fail in our Christian Duty.

calcutta

Girl by S Elayaraja

While, as we said, most True Gentlemen welcome the tender hand of English Womanhood, the occasional clerk—even the rare officer—strays from right behavior in this heathenish climate. We have been disheartened lately over the behavior of a certain Captain who parades his mixed-blood by-blows across Calcutta and attempts to impose them on some of the Better Schools. Those fine institutions are not deceived and have shut their doors to the two imps of Satan whose behavior is reported to be forward and pushing, with little apprehension of Conduct Expected of their Proper Place.

Clare Armbruster CalcuttaUnfortunately a Certain Woman hinders our efforts to ensure that we protect the Children of Respectable English Families from such influences. Miss Clare Armbruster thrust herself into our company upon the recommendation of her brother, a fine major of my husband’s regiment. The brother, being sadly misled regarding his sister’s character, although wise in the ways of the world, commended her to my Influence. The Impulsive and Obdurate young woman resisted wisdom at every turn.

Fred Wheatly CalcuttaOne puzzled where she might fit in our company—certainly not a Senior in Precedence and yet, owing to the rank of her brother, not to be consigned to the Lower Rungs with the wives of subalterns. Still we accepted her into our society, and yet she refused to be led. She stubbornly evaded all efforts to introduce her to the right sort of unmarried officer and was seen consorting with the very captain who brazenly flaunted his base-born children among us.

We provided a companion, a meek and Respectable Widow, to accompany Miss Armbruster home to England in the hopes that removal from this heathenish clime would curb her tendencies, but word has reached us that she evaded the woman who sailed without her. Miss Armbruster has in fact set herself up to care for the Captain’s bastards (forgive my coarse language, but there truly is no other word for this Regrettable Condition) even as Captain Wheatly himself stands before a disciplinary hearing for Gross Negligence and Violation of Duty.

We wash our hands of the woman, Gentle Readers. I write to assure you that the Respectable Ladies of Calcutta did our best in this matter should word of it reach London. As wife of the regimental colonel I speak for the senior wives of the Bengal Army officer corps. Standards will be upheld even in this outpost.

Mrs. Walton Davis
______________________________________________

About the Book

When all else fails, love succeeds…

Captain Fred Wheatly’s comfortable life on the fringes of Bengal comes crashing down around him when his mistress dies, leaving him with two children he never expected to have to raise. When he chooses justice over army regulations, he’s forced to resign his position, leaving him with no way to support his unexpected family. He’s already had enough failures in his life. The last thing he needs is an attractive, interfering woman bedeviling his steps, reminding him of his duties.

All widowed Clare Armbruster needs is her brother’s signature on a legal document to be free of her past. After a failed marriage, and still mourning the loss of a child, she’s had it up to her ears with the assumptions she doesn’t know how to take care of herself, that what she needs is a husband. She certainly doesn’t need a great lout of a captain who can’t figure out what to do with his daughters. If only the frightened little girls didn’t need her help so badly.

Clare has made mistakes in the past. Can she trust Fred now? Can she trust herself? Captain Wheatly isn’t ashamed of his aristocratic heritage, but he doesn’t need his family and they’ve certainly never needed him. But with no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

Find it on Amazon

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of The Reluctant Wife, Caroline will give a kindle copy to one randomly selectedperson who leaves a comment.

The prequel to this book, A Dangerous Nativity, is always **FREE**. You can get a copy here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/a-dangerous-nativity-1815/

Excerpt

“Steamer? Here?”

The shipping agent nodded. “Why not? It’s the coming thing. It cuts the trip from six months to two if conditions are right.”

“Two months! But Suez? What happens then?” Clare’s mind spun with images. Shortening time shipboard with two girls had obvious appeal.

“In Suez, the company arranges with a local pasha for overland travel to Cairo. From there, travel down the Nile and to Alexandria via the Mahmoudiyah Canal,” he said, watching her reactions.

“And from Alexandria to England,” Clare said. The agent nodded. “Another steamer?” At his nod, she remembered something else. “You did say ‘mail service,’ did you not?”

“Indeed. Steamship companies start with government backing for the mail but rarely make a profit at it. The Pharaoh is designed with 120 passenger cabins, all first class.” He leaned forward. “The thing is, Miss Armbruster, while a few people are eager to try the next new thing, others are more reluctant. It leaves in ten days and isn’t full. I can get you a cabin—or two if you prefer—for half price.”

He had her attention. Ten days! What if Fred isn’t back on time? And they will want a deposit. She weighed the time saved against keeping Meghal from falling prey to Nile crocodiles.

“As tempting as your offer is, I fear we need to secure a berth on The Madras Queen. I can only put one pound on deposit now, but when the, ah, girls’ father returns, I’ll manage the full amount.”

A subtle shift in posture and expression were the only clues that he found her answer troubling. She suspected his sudden reluctance had nothing to do with money.

“Mr. Wheatly, the girls’ father, wishes me to convey them to family in London. His connections are highly respectable, I assure you.”

He took her money. A wrinkled brow marred his effort to smile, but when he spoke she heard compassion and understanding in his tone. “The Madras Queen is your best choice. A woman traveling alone with children might not find the overland route suitable.”

That settled, she led the girls back to their temporary home, stopping only to lunch on naan with a delightful paste of chickpea and curry. She would miss the spices of India. She would miss many things.

Meghal continued to speculate about steamships and elephants all the way back and up the stairs.

“If not an elephant, then why not a camel? I would so like to ride a camel,” she declared, rounding the top of the stairs and approaching their door. It opened before Clare could touch it.

She stopped breathing for a moment at the sight of him—one hand on the door handle, the other holding a satchel—smiling through a coating of road dust.

“What’s this about a camel?” he demanded. “Who plans to travel by camel?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lascivious Duchess

The Hare and Ewe Public House, Wheatton

July 1834

Rob Wilkens came in acting like a bug on the edge of a hot kettle the morning the duke left the Hall. We all knew it would be thus and had warned him, but he would insist on taking a job in the big old barn that is Eversham Hall. Fancied the footman’s livery, he did.

“His Grace always leaves as soon as he gets wind the duchess is coming back,” we warned him. I warned him. Warren the blacksmith warned him. Peck from up at the Hall warned him. Hell, even his mother warned him. The Duchess of Murnane is a harpy and that’s a fact.

“She left with some Italian count this time,” he had answered, fool that he was. “Maybe she won’t come back. Italy is so far from Wiltshire, she may as be going to the moon,” he said.

That were two years ago, when the duke came back and his cousin Rand married the Indian woman before they returned to Canada. Lots o’ folks took work at the Hall. His Grace always fills the jobs after she leaves, not that he has to. There are always them that are stupid enough to take her coin until she works ’em half to death, gives ’em the sharp edge of her tongue one time too many, or poisons ’em with her lies.

In the case of comely lads like Rob, she does worse, at least worse for the innocent ones. Some of ’em take what she offers and laugh behind her back, strutting around yard like roosters who got one over on their fellows. Danny Sullivan, though, he fancied himself in love with the woman. When she used him and moved on, she fired him for complaining. His father claimed the gun that killed him was an accident from cleaning the thing, but there were those who thought otherwise.

“What are you going to do?” Warren asked Rob that morning.

“What can I do? My mother needs the coin I send,” Rob said glumly. Danny’d been his friend. I hoped that made him think hard about working there.

“I can be wary, but—” he raised his hands looking helpless.

“What can she do if she comes after you and you say no?” One of the farmers asked him.

“She’ll fire him,” Peck said. “He may as well quit first.” Peck would know. Tough old bastard was too much gristle for the lady’s taste, so he stayed on during the comings and goings, trying to keep things up for the duke’s sake.

We all like the duke well enough, but the county could use his attention. Between the duchess’s outrages and his boy’s illness, he don’t pay much attention to the estate, much less the neighborhood. Even when he’s here he hares off to London often enough, with some government work. “Affairs of State,” Peck called it. It wasn’t like the old days when at least Miss Catherine, she who’s now a countess, lived over at Songbird Cottage and Squire Archer across the river.

“You in charge now?” I asked Peck.

“I can’t manage the books and such, but I keep the boys working,” Peck answered, “Them as stay on. His Grace hired another steward. Starts next week before she comes.”

We all stared into our ale for a while after that. She goes after the stewards first. We figured this one wouldn’t last a year.

“So,” Peck said to Rob, “Are you quitting or staying? Old Banks will help you duck out of her attention.” We all knew the butler, Banks, was useless against the duchess. Rob did too. Peck raised his tankard and gave Rob a sly look over the top before he took a sip. “You can just take what she offers. Some do.”

Rob shuddered. “Makes me feel dirty just thinking about being used like that.”

Ellen the barmaid snorted when she slammed down three tankards of ale on our table. “Now you know how the lasses feel when you sniff under their skirts.” She sashayed away with her nose in the air, and Rob’s eyes followed her across the room.

I glanced at Ellen and back at him. “I can use a lad willing to work hard,” I said, though I didn’t know it until that very moment. “I can’t pay the Hall’s wages, but I’ll hire you.”

He stared into his drink a while, then gazed over at Ellen standing in the kitchen door. “Thank you kindly Mr. Doughty. I think I’ll take you up on that.”

___________________________________________________

The Duke of Murnane’s cousin Rand is the hero of Caroline Warfield’s The Renegade Wife. The duchess caused a rift between the two of them in their youth before moving on to other game. The duke appears in that book and also its sequel, The Reluctant Wife, coming in April 2017. The duchess does not, but her pernicious influence permeates both books.

About The Renegade Wife

Desperate and afraid, Meggy Blair will do whatever it takes to protect her children. She’d hoped to find sanctuary from her abusive husband with her Ojibwa grandmother, but can’t locate her. When her children fall ill, she seeks shelter in an isolated cabin in Upper Canada. But when the owner unexpectedly returns, he’s furious to find squatters disrupting his self-imposed solitude.

Reclusive businessman Rand Wheatly had good reason to put an ocean between himself and the cousin that betrayed him. He just wants the intrusive woman gone, but it isn’t long before Meggy and her little ones begin breaking down the defensive walls he’s built. But their fragile interlude is shattered when Meggy’s husband appears to claim his children, threatening to have Rand jailed.

The only way for Meggy to protect Rand is to leave him. But when her husband takes her and the children to England, Meggy discovers he’s far more than an abuser; what he’s involved in endangers all their lives. To rescue the woman who has stolen his heart, Rand must follow her and do what he swore he’d never do: reconcile with his aristocratic family and finally uncover the truth behind all the lies. But time is running out for them all.

Read it for FREE with Kindle Unlimited or buy a copy by clicking here.

 

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