Sam, you mentioned when we met several weeks ago that if I came across something interesting there might be a guinea in it. I’m on the track of something now. I’m writing to check that the deal is still on.
I was at my club last night — that’s what you wanted me for, was it not, Sam? The fact that I’m still welcome in Society even though my pockets are to let?
As I was saying. I was at my club last night and I witnessed a confrontation between a peer and another gentleman. I don’t wish to name them just now. You understand, I’m sure. I trust your word, Sam, but my rent is due.
I can tell you that one is a very proper gentleman indeed, which is why it was odd to hear him championing a maiden who, it appeared, was at risk of losing that status. In his hand he held a page torn from the betting book! Have you ever heard of a person doing such a thing? But when he explained to the major domo of the club it included a wager on taking a lady’s virtue, his action received that eminence’s approval
The second person insisted that women of low birth have no virtue — he was in a gentlemen’s club so he must, ipso facto, be a gentlemen, yet I hesitate to ascribe the status to him, given that he was the originator of the wager and intended to be the instrument of its success.
At that, the peer, for the gallant knight was a peer, threatened to rearrange his face, and his dastardly opponent threw oil on the fire by shouting a comparison between the young lady in question and her sister. Whereupon, the gentlemen hit him, and a wisty castor it was, too.
The thing is, Sam, I know both men. The cavalier has been adamant in ignoring one of a pair of sisters, and the cad has been equally diligent in pursuing the other. And here’s the thing. Though they have been raised in a noble house, everyone knows that they are the daughters of its head, but not of his gracious wife.
There are so many ways this could develop. A ruination? A mesalliance? A duel? I’ll keep watching, Sam. Just let me know whether it is worth that guinea.
Fire smolders under the frost between them.
Can the Ice Maiden Soften the Granite Earl?
Her scandalous birth prevents Matilda Grenford from being fully acceptable to Society, even though she has been a ward of the Duchess of Haverford since she was a few weeks old. Matilda does not expect to be wooed by a worthy gentleman. The only man who has ever interested her gave her an outrageous kiss a year ago and has avoided her ever since.
Can the Granite Earl Melt the Ice Maiden?
Charles, the Earl of Hamner is honour bound to ignore his attraction to Matilda Grenford. She is an innocent and a lady, and in every way worthy of his respect—but she is base-born. His ancestors would rise screaming from their graves if he made her his countess. But he cannot forget the kiss they once shared.
An exclusive gathering of wealthy and influential citizens of Northern California was held at the Millbrae home of The Bank of San Francisco’s founder, Montgomery Mercer. A representative from the Teatime Tattler, Susannah Clemens, was invited to a pre-holiday high tea with Mrs. Mercer this past weekend. Miss Clemens was thrilled to attend the social along with the ladies from the Millbrae Philanthropic Society. The group toured the 32,000 acre estate in elaborately decorated coaches before entering the grand home. Mercer Mansion consists of forty-two rooms, three stories, a conservatory, carriage house, and three artificial lakes. The main house took three years to build and is one of the grandest in Northern California outside of San Francisco. Miss Clemens reports that the women on the tour were all aflutter over the gardens and vistas, and were grateful the sun cooperated with their excursion rather than the usual thick fog that blankets the hillside just south of San Francisco proper.
Montgomery Mercer has amassed a considerable fortune aided by the gold and silver boom in California, and he’s set out to create a dynasty in the young state. His eldest child, Montgomery Mercer II, is currently attending the University of California in Berkeley, a new learning institution which his father helped to establish across the San Francisco Bay. The couple’s daughter, Meredith, attends a finishing school located in Grass Valley, and was not present for the event. Montgomery Jr., on the other hand, and his charming friend from the university, Sterling Mackey of the Virginia City Mackeys, entertained the ladies by playing the piano together and singing. The young men are studying law at the new university and shared their aspirations of becoming lawyers and starting a firm together, however Mrs. Mercer sternly reminded Montgomery II that his father had other plans for him, at which point he abruptly left the room and the tea commenced.
The tea was the first time society women had been invited to the Mercer’s home and while Mrs. Mercer set an impeccable example, wearing a lavish dress she stated had been made by a tailor in New York during their last visit, there was a tension in the air that more than one guest alluded to on the ride back down the hill. The most plausible cause was the upcoming holidays, which would obviously put a lot of pressure on a woman like Mrs. Mercer, however Miss Clemens was struck by something Montgomery Jr. said as he and his friend were leaving the tea. Most of the guests were otherwise occupied, but Miss Clemens overheard Sterling consoling his friend with the knowledge that his twenty-first birthday would be arriving soon and with it a bit more freedom. Montgomery shook his head and simply stated, “not freedom, more responsibility. I’m running out of time.” She heard no more as they disappeared up the back stairwell.
The Mercer Family remains a mystery to the writers of the Tattler, but never fear, dear reader. We shall uncover the source of the aspiring young lawyer in future articles. Until then, we remain steadfast in our search for the truth.
About the Book
Harkening back to the glory days of gothic romance that had us up reading all night, we present, Haunts and Hellions… 13 stories of horror, romance, and that perfect moment when the two worlds collide. Vengeful spirits attacking the living, undead lovers revealing their true nature, and supernatural monsters seeking love, await you. Pull the blinds closed, light your candle, and cuddle up in your reading nook for some chilling—and romantic—tales. With stories by: Emily Blue, Lucy Blue, Kevin Ground, Rowan Hill, Naching T. Kassa, Emmy Z. Madrigal, R.L. Merrill, N.C. Northcott, Emerian Rich, Daniel R. Robichaud, Daphne Strasert, Tara Vanflower, and B.F. Vega.
R.L. Merrill’s story “The House Must Fall” is an homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” and tells the tale of Sterling Mackey’s search for the truth about Montgomery’s disappearance from the university mere months after this article was written. Paperbacks available now from Amazon, or a Special Edition pack can be purchased directly from HorrorAddicts.net Press. E-books will be available soon!
About the Author
R.L. Merrill brings you stories of Hope, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll featuring quirky and relatable characters. Whether she’s writing contemporary, paranormal, or supernatural, she loves to give readers a shiver with compelling stories that will stay with you long after. You can find her connecting with readers on social media, advocating for America’s youth, raising two brilliant teenagers, writing horror-infused music reviews for HorrorAddicts.net, trying desperately to get that back piece finished in the tattoo chair, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance.
“The innkeeper’s son is back.” Mrs. Simpson, the grocer’s wife, whispered to Eunice Norton, the carpenter’s sister, just before services started one Sunday.
“Eli Benson? He was home from Nottingham just last week? I saw him,” Eunice answered.
“Not him, the other one. Wild he was,” the grocer’s goodwife said.
Eunice’s brows reached for the rafters as the congregation rose to sing the opening hymn. Wee Robby is back? She remembered him as a lad. Handsome as sin and she fancied him, for all he was several years too young and Eunice already nodding at spinsterhood.
Reverend Styles droned on longer than usual. Worst luck, that, with Eunice anxious to find out more. When he finally brought it to a close, she scurried out. She had spied Emma Corbin, who used to be Emma Benson, in the benches.
Luckily Emma’s husband liked to visit after church and Eunice caught her watching her flock of children and calling them to stay nearby.
“I heard your brother has come home.” Eunice watched her closely.
“He has indeed. We are so proud of him,” Emma Corbin beamed.
“Is he really—” Eunice barely got the words out.
“A hero of Waterloo? Yes. It was in the dispatches. Don’t you read the papers Eunice Norton?” She smiled as sweet as can be and marched off with that husband of hers. As if just having one made her better than Eunice.
Waterloo? The was two years ago. The whole valley knows about it. Eunice meant to ask something different.
Just then she caught sight of Molly Sims who worked up at The Hall flirting with Aaron Miller, a farmer from over by Willowbrook. She sauntered over all friendly and smiled her most practiced smile. “Emma Corbin tells me her brother Robby is back.”
“I’m wondering, Molly, what they say at the Hall. Is he really the old earl’s son?”
“Don’t say that to Mr. Benson the innkeeper. He won’t hear the man called aught but his own son,” Aaron said.
Eunice snorted. “But the will. Is it true?”
“That the earl named his by-blows in it and gave all his goods to them?” Molly said, her words as tart as lemons. “I can tell you for certain he left Lord David—the new earl—short of cash. We get our wages, but there’s too few of us for the work, and things are tight. The Dowager Countess won’t even come back from London.”
“Well, that’s one blessing, isn’t it Moll?” Aaron laughed. He sobered. “We heard months ago that the old man left Willowbrook to one of his bastards. Agnes Styles says its him, and he’s back.”
Eunice’s meager chest lifted in delight. “See you Sunday,” she called to them. She couldn’t linger. She had to find Mrs. Simpson and tell her what she heard. She just wished the man had the decency to come to church. She’d like to get a good look at him.
About the Book
When the Earl of Clarion leaves a will with bequests for all his children, legitimate and not, listing each and their mothers by name, he complicates the lives of many in the village of Ashmead.
One sleepy village
One scandalous will
Four tormented heirs, one of them believing he was the innkeeper’s son. He is the first of The Ashmead Heirs.
Sir Robert Benson’s life is in London. He fled Ashmead the day he discovered the man he thought was his father had lied to him, and the girl he loved was beyond his reach. Only a nameless plea from his sister—his half-sister—brings him back. He will not allow a ludicrous bequest from the earl who sired him turn him into a mockery of landed gentry. When a feisty little termagant with flashing eyes—and a musket—tries to turn Rob off the land—his land—he’s too amused and intrigued to turn away. But the longer he stays, the tighter the bonds that tie him to Ashmead become, strengthened by the powerful draw of the woman rooted on land he’s determined to sell.
Lucy Whitaker’s life is Willowbrook, its land, its tenants, its prosperity, but she always knew it wasn’t hers, knew the missing heir would come eventually. When a powerful man with military bearing rides up looking as if he wants to come in and count the silver, she turns him away, but her heart sinks. She can’t deny Rob Benson his property; she can only try to make him love the place as she does, for her peoples’ sake. A traitorous corner of her heart wishes Rob would love it for her sake.
His life is London; hers is Ashmead. How can they forge something lasting when they are torn in two directions?
Caroline Warfield, award winning author and proud Bluestocking Belle, has been many things: traveler, librarian, poet, raiser of children, bird watcher, Internet and Web services manager, conference speaker, indexer, tech writer, genealogist—even a nun. She reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.
I have it on good authority, from Lady Merwick, who heard it from her sister, Lady Karstark, that the wedding between the Duke of Wildeforde and Lady Amelia Crofton is off!
Rumor has it that Lady Amelia—the former diamond of the ton, the incomparable—was caught in a compromising position with the son of a footman.
There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the circumstances were more innocent than they appeared, but we all know how strongly opposed to the duke is to scandal. Apparently, he took one look at the half-dressed couple and ended his 15-year long engagement on the spot. Perhaps Lady Amelia should have tried harder to get him down the aisle before now.
Things appear to get be getting even worse for Lady Amelia, as little birdies tell me that her only remaining choice is to marry this Mister Benedict Asterly. Little is known about the other man in the story, except for the fact that he works in a factory. Talk about a fall from grace—from a future duchess to the wife of a man who has to *shudder*undertake manual labor for a living.
It is unlikely we’ll hear more from the former society diamond, for she doesn’t even have a house full of servants for secrets to trickle out from and surely no one of good breeding will visit her now.
About the book
In this whirlwind regency romance, perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton, a near-death experience leads to a marriage of convenience for two unsuspecting strangers, but will their unusual meeting lead them to true love?
Lady Amelia was raised to be the perfect duchess, accomplished in embroidery, floral arrangement, and managing a massive household. But when an innocent mistake forces her and the uncouth, untitled Benedict Asterly into a marriage of convenience, all her training appears to be for naught. Even worse, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to this man no finishing school could have prepared her for.
Benedict Asterly never dreamed saving Amelia’s life would lead to him exchanging vows with the hoity society miss. Benedict was taught to distrust the aristocracy at a young age, so when news of his marriage endangers a business deal, Benedict is wary of Amelia’s offer to help. But his quick-witted, elegant bride defies all his expectations . . . and if he’s not careful, she’ll break down the walls around his guarded heart.
As an Australian army brat in the ‘80s, Samara grew up moving from city to city—always with plenty of book boxes (to the movers’ annoyance). Romance novels have been a big part of her life for years. She used them as her ‘escape’ during the trials and tribulations that are working, dating, and living in your 20s before going on to write them in her 30s.
She is now living in Canberra with her husband (a true romance hero) and her menagerie of pets. When she’s not writing, she’s tending to her absurdly large garden, which is a challenge given she historically could not keep a cactus alive.
You can follow her adventures through her newsletter (sign up and you get a free novelette) and on social media.
Benedict Asterly kicked in the door to the Longmans’ empty farmhouse. Despite the crash of splintered wood, the chit slung over his shoulder was as silent as a sack of last season’s grain.
Lady Amelia Bloody Crofton. Half dead, soon to be all dead if he couldn’t warm her up.
He lowered her onto the cold, uneven stone floor before the fireplace.
Damnation. There was no fog of breath, no flicker of pulse, no sign of life at all.
He’d almost ridden past the snow-covered carriage in his effort to get out of the storm. He’d been an idiot for traveling in this kind of weather but apparently not the only idiot on the road.
Why the devil was an earl’s daughter alone in a carriage all the way out here?
He pressed two fingers against her neck. Nothing. He pressed harder.
Th-thump…th-thump. It was faint. It was slow and erratic. But it was there.
He sagged with relief. The ropes around his chest, that had drawn tight the moment he’d seen her pale and unconscious, loosened.
He turned to the hearth and struck flint into the brush with shaking fingers. The scrape, scrape, scrape of steel on stone faint against the howl of the wind.
It caught, and he began the methodical task of building a fire. With each carefully placed stack, his racing heartbeat slowed..
Behind him, Lady Amelia muttered.
“I’m here. I’m with you.” He turned back to the woman who’d previously declined to acknowledge his existence. After all, a man like him was beneath her notice.
He tossed aside the coarse traveling coat he’d thrown over her and removed her gloves and pelisse, struggling with the weight of her ragdoll body.
Bloody hell she was cold.
How long had she been trapped in that broken-down carriage? At least she’d had the good sense not to leave it.
He took her soft hands in his calloused ones, bringing them to his lips, but his breath did little to warm them.
Unbuttoning the cuffs of her sleeves and rolling the fabric up her arms, he exposed as much of her bare skin to the seeping warmth as he could. Her skin was more than pale. It had a blue pallor that caused his heart to skitter.
“Just stay with me. Please.”
In a cupboard by the bed, he found some blankets. He pulled a knife from his boot to cut a piece and wrap the ends of her sodden blond hair. The rest he tucked behind her head and shoulders.
He untied the laces on her ankle boots and pulled the boots off, pausing at the sight of her stockings.
They were cold and damp. They needed to come off too. But a footman’s son had no place touching a lady. And this particular lady? The ice princess would skewer him with the poker if she knew what he was contemplating.
He turned his head aside, giving her all the modesty he could as he reached his hands under her skirts, fumbling with the ribbon of her garter.
“I’m sorry.” She couldn’t hear him, but just saying the words made him feel less of a cad.
He tugged the dark wool off her toes. The skin was red and like wax to touch—but it was only frostnip, not yet frostbite.
“You mustn’t…giant calling.” Her words were so slurred he struggled to understand them.
“I’ll bear that in mind, princess.”
Feeling was slowly returning to his body, if not warmth. He covered Lady Amelia in his coat and then staggered to the bench that ran along the edge of the room. There was a kettle filled with water, sloshy and semi-frozen.
He dumped a small amount of tea inside, grabbed two mugs with his other hand and staggered back to the fire.
The intensifying flame was the best damn thing he’d ever seen.
He hung the kettle from an iron hook and turned back to his biggest problem.
She couldn’t stay on the floor.
There was a large, worn armchair in the corner. He moved it in front of the hearth, as close as he dared. What she needed was heat—and fast—but the fire hadn’t taken a chink out of the bitter shroud of the room.
There was one thing he could do, but damn she was going to flay him alive when she woke. He took off his jacket, pulled his shirt over his head, and picked her up off the floor.
He settled into the armchair, holding her against his naked chest, his bare arms resting along the length of hers. His body heat had to work.
The cold air was whiplike against his skin, and goose bumps covered his arms.
Think warm thoughts. A steam engine furnace. A hot bath. A warm brick under his bed sheets. A warm woman under his bed sheets…
He looked down at the chit on his lap. Lady Amelia Crofton. Diamond of the ton. Leader of the fashionable set. Cold as the ice shards on the window. And Wildeforde’s bloody fiancée. Damn, this was a mess.
The Teatime Tattler’s most dedicated reporter in the Scottish highlands has unearthed the following letter, found in an attic chest. (To protect our reporter, we cannot in good conscience reveal the precise location.) The letter reveals astonishing news about those perpetually feuding clans MacKai and MacTavish. Could it be that after all it was a MacKai lady, who began the troubles between the clans, and not a bear-like MacTavish as has always been believed. Read on and judge for yourselves. We can only imagine how the current Earl of T and a certain Lady M will take this news of their respective ancestors.
Dearest Brother and Sisters,
I pray you have not been too worried by my disappearance these past months. I write to ensure you that I am as safe as God can make me and to confess that, with the best of intentions, I have deceived you all. I hope you will forgive me when I tell you that I, not our sister Keeva, wed Laird Iver MacTavish, Earl of Trossachs.
In my heart, I know that a match between Keeva and the earl would have led to her early death from sheer unhappiness. The earl is a crude, arrogant, aggressive and demanding man. Our gentle Keeva would not have lasted a year in marriage with him. Pride and honor, I am certain, would not permit her to desert such an unhappy union. The only alternative to avoiding the misery of a bad marriage, caused me to fear for Keeva’s immortal soul. As I love her and all my family, I knew I must prevent the marriage.
Brother, having given MacTavish his choice of your sisters as bride, you could not honorably forbid Keeva to wed him. ‘Twas a mistake, for which I forgive you, as I believe God will forgive you. The aid of Clan MacTavish in defeating the English invasion of our home was essential, so of course you agreed to their laird’s demands in order to gain his cooperation. I am equally certain, that to preserve your honor and that of Clan MacKai, Keeva would enter the marriage no matter her feelings about the bear of Trossachs.
I can only ask that you will forgive me for sending Keeva to England and taking her place in the proxy ceremony. I was glad you had been called away on the day of the ceremony. Still I was heavily veiled to maintain my deception with our sisters.
As for Keeva, the night before the ceremony I gave her a sleeping potion and had her taken aboard a ship bound for Moriancabris. From there she was delivered to the care of your father-in-law, Earl Du Grace at Castle Blancmer. I sent with her a letter to the earl, asking that he guard Keeva well until spring when calmer seas would permit her return to Dungarob and our family.
So, you see, both Keeva and I are safe. Laird MacTavish was not happy about the substitution. Nonetheless, I believe with time and prayer, he will come to see the benefit of having a wife whose faith in God will save him and all his clan. He has already unbent so far as to permit a priest to take up residence at Trossachs to care for the chapel and the clan’s souls. I pray daily for the time when my husband will learn to share my faith in God and set a true example for his people by attending chapel daily and confessing his sins so his soul may be washed clean.
I have made my own confession, and our priest with God’s wisdom urged me to write this letter in addition to the other penance I have suffered to atone for my deception. Please write to let me know that I am forgiven. If my husband agrees and you will permit it, I hope to visit Dungarob this summer. Give my love to all.
Brigdhe MacKai MacTavish
About The Taming of Iver MacTavish: Determined to save her younger sister from a marriage worse than death, Brigdhe MacKai, commits a number of sins in order to become wife to Lord MacTavish, The Bear of Trossachs. She trusts that God and her family will understand, even if MacTavish does not. Is her faith strong enough to create an enduring love match from the ashes of deception and lies?
The Taming of Iver MacTavish is the first in my MacKai Brides series of novellas. The story is a work in progress, which I hope to have available to my newsletter subscribers and Rue’s Crew members before September. For updates, watch here or at Rue’s Crew.