A Proper Prodigal, Regency Short Story (part 1) ~ by Susan Karsten

 

 “Miss Virginia!” The dubious butler called – nay bellowed – her name.

Virginia Mortimer jumped at the stentorian tones. She’d asked for the summons, but it hadn’t been necessary. It seemed she’d hardly slept at all. She’d been up and dressed for the last hour.

She took a last glance around the plush bedroom. How elegant it had seemed the night she arrived. In the light of what had transpired over the last few weeks, it looked tawdry now – faded and dusty in the dawn light now shafting through the windows.

The hackney must be here to take her to the posting inn. To ride a public stagecoach home to Primrose Hall would serve as only the latest indignity of her headlong fall from grace

On the floor, half under the bedside table, the corner of a book caught her eye. She reached for it, not wanting to leave a trace of herself behind. It was a slim leather-bound book, given to her by her parents. Stamped in gold letters on the front was the word ‘Psalter’. She jammed it into her capacious reticule.

Only then did she turn to the door, square her shoulders and respond to the odious butler. “I’m coming!”

The cad who’d brought her to this nadir was nowhere to be seen. She didn’t care to say ‘good bye’ and her departure wouldn’t matter to him when he stumbled in from another night of carousing.

The butler eyed her valise, but made no move to assist, but simply opened the door. No pretense of respect, he closed the door as she humped her own valise down the scrubbed white steps. She rummaged in her reticule, and handed a note to the driver before hiking her skirts and launching herself awkwardly into the hackney. The hackney gave a lurch, and she was on her way home. Back to the small village of Beckston to face her parents’ recriminations and her future as a ruined maiden.

Though the day was sunny, a high wind blew swirls of gray smoke down into the dusty inn yard where she waited, clutching her cloak about her and hoping her large bonnet hid her face. She wondered what the chances were that someone of her village would be making this same journey.

When the coach arrived, she was the first passenger to board. One by one, others entered the coach. She held her breath as each passenger mounted, letting it out when she recognized no familiar face. What would the grim-faced soldier, the plain lady in the depressing bonnet, or the elderly clergyman think of her if they knew what she really was, and that she was slinking home in shame?

Only two months ago, when she slipped out during the night, she’d left her childhood behind, naively thinking she knew better than her parents. She’d believed Lord Beckwith’s son Randall loved her and would do right by her, no matter what her mother and father said to the contrary.

Virginia had noticed Randall for the first time at the Beckwith’s annual picnic at their country estate outside Beckston.  He must have been down from Cambridge. The local gentry were invited for the day, which began with competitive games on the lawn for entire community, followed by a picnic. The gentry then joined houseguests and the noble lords of the manor for an evening dinner and ball inside, while the common folk reveled on outdoors.

Invited with her family to the dinner and ball, she enjoyed the lavish surroundings, and never expected to draw Randall’s attention. From the moment he’d lofted a crumpled note at her she’d been hooked. A note which landed down the front of her bodice. She fished it out, read the words ‘You’re beautiful’ and looked up in surprise to lock eyes with the impossibly handsome young man.

His wavy blond hair, chiseled straight nose, teal-blue eyes and muscular physique caught all the young girls’ fancy, and when he kept paying her, a mere barrister’s daughter,  particular attention, she was sunk.

As the coach rumbled out of the London inn yard, Virginia’s mind shied away from continuing this inward litany of her fall, and instead thought ahead to her arrival home. Her parents’ quick response of ‘yes’ to her note requesting them to allow her to come home came as a relief since she had only a few coins and nowhere else to go. Beyond that, she didn’t know what to expect of her homecoming.

***

Hours later, her mother sailed toward her with open arms. “Darling, you’re home!” Hugs, pats on the back, and murmurs of welcome caused the tears to flow. Virginia vowed right then and there never to disregard her parents’ wishes again. They had tried to tell her what was best, but she had defied them for Randall and his false promises.

She drew away from her mother’s embrace and girded herself to look her parents in the eye. “Mother – Father, how can I thank you? I am so sorry. How could I have been so blind, so foolish?” Fresh gales of tears followed.

“We forgive you, Virginia.”  Her father’s gentle tone only served to make her feel more quilty. “Here, you must be chilled to the bone. Put this on.” Her father moved around behind her and laid a fur-lined robe across her shoulders. “A little homecoming gift.”

How forgiving they were. In fact, they acted as if nothing had changed and Virginia’s flight of passion hadn’t ever occurred.  Mother led her to her old room upstairs, and Father trailed behind with her valise.

A dreamlike state swept over Virginia – how unreal to be back in her frilly, maidenly girlhood bedroom with its narrow bed, after the shameful deeds she’d done. Defying, sneaking away, rebelling outright and allowing herself to be deceived by a seducer.

“Put your things away, dear, and then come down for supper. We have a surprise for you.”

Virginia used the pretty china pitcher and bowl on the washstand to freshen up after the dusty travel. She’d left in London the lavish wardrobe Randall gave her. But here were all the dresses she left behind, hanging in the white-painted wooden wardrobe. How soft, simple, and demure the pale-colored muslin dresses appeared. Do I even have the right to dress as a maiden?

She had no one to hold responsible but herself. Taught from childhood to be pure, Virginia threw that teaching to the wind on the basis of a few kisses and compelling whispered words, and then allowed young love’s passion to take control. Yes, Randall was the instigator, but she alone chose sin, her own conscience told her that.

She picked a pink and white dress with a silk ribbon sash, and shimmied it over her head. Her parents must have dismissed her maid when she left, and she had to shift for herself, for now at least. She stood in front of the mirror, tying the sash into a bow, then turning it to the back. The high-waisted dress was almost too flattering to her young figure. She didn’t deserve to look so young and pretty anymore.

She sat down at the dressing table and picked up her silver-backed brush, scraping her long, glossy brown hair back into a tight chignon, wishing she could bind her sinful past as easily. But the relentless door to the future stood open, and she had to walk through.

***

“You look charming, my dear girl.” Virginia’s father pulled a chair out for her to sit at the intimate family table.

“Yes, not a day older than when you left.” Mrs. Mortimer beamed upon her daughter.

“Dear, don’t talk about that yet, let Virgie have her favorite dinner first.” He lifted the cover off a roast of beef, surrounded by potatoes and vegetables and a ring of parsley clusters.

“You’re too good to me. I don’t deserve this.” Virginia lifted her index finger to wipe away a tear.

“Remember, God’s love never fails. And we want to be like Him. Love covers a multitude of sins. His love and ours.” Mr. Mortimer laid his hand on her shoulder.

“Now let’s pray.” He bowed his head. “Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for bringing our daughter home. Thank you for this food, In Jesus Name, Amen. There, now we can eat.”

***

“But Father, we can’t have a party. A celebration for my return? How will I face the neighborhood?” They’d moved across the hall after dinner to the drawing room, where a fire crackled in the hearth.

“As far as anyone here knows, you’ve been visiting an elderly relative in the north. I felt the Lord would forgive a bit of dissembling to protect your name, unsullied, as it were.”

“Yes, we are just so grateful you are back, and none’s the wiser. We’ll just go on as before.” Mrs. Mortimer’s smile became tremulous.

“And, before you ask, we heard Beckwith’s son was given an ultimatum to join the army, else be shipped off to the West Indies to manage a plantation. He got into a duel in London and won’t be back here.  He’s probably landed on the continent by now. As a younger son, he won’t be needed, either. The eldest two all have well-established nurseries. But enough about that family.”

“Now let’s have a song, Virgie.”

She took her Psalter over to the piano and started riffling through the pages. Settling on one, she began to sing and accompany herself to Psalm 68. “This one reminds me of me.”

“God frees the captive and He sends

The blessedness of home and friends,

And only those in darkness stay

Who will not trust Him and obey.”

She hung her head a moment, then straightened her spine, and turned toward her parents. “Mother, Father, I want to make very clear that I am repentant and have submitted my life to Christ now. I know it’s belated, and you always wanted me to have the Faith. Now I do. It took my fall into the miry pit to bring me to my senses and to throw myself on God’s mercy.”

“We forgive you, don’t we Tansy?” Overjoyed, with tears spilling, Mr. Mortimer looked to his wife.

Mrs. Mortimer’s face lit up, wet with tears of joy, and she responded likewise. “Yes, Harold, we both forgive. Now let it go, dear Virginia. God forgives you too, and you need to move on with your life.”

“I was such a fool to believe Randall. He told me we’d be married, so it didn’t matter because we were in love, and that God knew we were sincere. He never intended to wed me. In fact, he ended laughing in my face, and told me to find my own way home.”

“Such a base seducer will always say anything to achieve his wicked will. Most rakes at least keep hands off well-born maidens. So sorry you had to learn such a hard lesson.” Mrs. Mortimer rose and put her arm around Virginia’s shoulders. “Now come over to the sofa, and let’s plan the party. All our friends will want to celebrate your homecoming with us.

***

Long, quiet days of healing commenced. Virginia helped around the house, doing little chores like peeling apples, mending linens, knitting socks, and helping plan the party her parents insisted on.

Dread flickered in her mid-section every time she thought ahead to the celebration, but she steeled her nerves, not wishing to disappoint her parents. They seemed so hopeful everything could return to how it had been before her disgrace.

Even though her parents thought nobody knew of her shameful fall from grace, Virginia braced herself each time someone came to the house or she ran into someone in the village. What if . . . someone knew something, and spread gossip? She’d hate that, but worse, hate the taint that would fall on her family.

The day of the party arrived. She could put off her preparations no longer. Up she went, to her boudoir, where her maid fussed around, waiting to work her magic.

“Lizzy, I’m so glad you were able to come back to work. I wasn’t gone long, but you could have easily been hired on somewhere else.”

“Miss, glad I am to be back here,” her young tidy maid said with a grin. “The only job on offer whilst ye were gone was at the fishmongers, cleaning fish.”

“Well then, let’s do my hair, and get me dressed. I’ve picked out that ivory taffeta, trimmed in coral.”

Lizzy’s deft hands created a stylish psyche knot.  Virginia approved, tilting her head this way, and that. “I love this style. I should have tried it sooner.” Maybe this party wouldn’t be a disaster. Her heart began to hope.

She stepped into the dress, and the maid fastened it. High waisted, it flattered her figure and whispered when she walked. A filmy fichu of ivory silk filled in the too-low neckline. Styles of the day tended toward the immodest, but Virginia was done with that. The coral cameo necklace her mother brought in earlier that evening complemented her coloring.

 *

“There you are!” Her mother scurried over and grasped Virginia’s elbow as she entered the drawing room where the guests had begun to gather. “You must meet the Ashleighs, from rural Beckston. They are twins, just your age.” Mrs. Mortimer towed her across the room.

Dread of facing the guests took the form of a rock in Virginia’s stomach. But she had no choice, the party had commenced whether she was ready or not.

“Mr. Quentin Ashleigh, Miss Annabelle Ashleigh, this is my daughter Virginia. She has just returned from a lengthy trip visiting relatives.” Mrs. Mortimer performed the introductions then turned and flitted off to greet more new arrivals. Virginia caught a glimpse of her mother’s crossed fingers.

Virginia made small talk with the Ashleigh twins. He had intelligent brown eyes and curly russet hair, and his sister though not identical, had similar coloring. Virginia relaxed and the rock of dread melted away under the bright beam of the twins’ sparkling personalities.

“Miss Mortimer, your mother is a darling, she invited us for tonight when she heard we were newly settled in Beckston.” Annabelle’s curls jiggled along with her words.

“She is a sweet lady, if a daughter’s opinion counts.” Virginia replied, smiling. “Where in rural Beckston do you reside?”

“We just moved to Fairbrook Manor – just a mile or so east of here – my family’s owned it for decades. My sister and I had our fill of London for the time.”

“Yes, I’m somewhat familiar with Fairbrook. One mile out isn’t too inconvenient. For shopping and church and so forth.”

“Not inconvenient at all. I hear there’s to be dancing later, Miss Mortimer, may I have the first dance? Nothing like being first in line.” Quentin’s twinkly dark-blue eyes danced between teasing and sincere, producing a pleasing swirl of enticement affecting Virginia’s equanimity. Was he flirting?

“Certainly. By all means, let me find my dance card. I wasn’t prepared.”

As she walked off to locate the card, Virginia wanted to kick herself for sounding like such a dull pattern card of propriety. She needed balance. Balance between being a frivolous fool and a staunch starchbucket.

She didn’t get back to Quentin with her dance card prior to the time dinner was announced, because she was greeted by old friends every step of the way. For the promenade of precedence into the dining room, she was paired with her elderly vicar Mr. Cranston, a widower in his seventies. As they proceeded, he said, “So glad you’re back from your sojourn. A short visit away can do wonders for the appreciation of home, no?”

Caught by the vicar’s words, she was busy deciphering them, searching for hidden meaning, and didn’t realize until the last moment that she’d been seated next to Quentin. She quashed the spurt of interest that rose up in her, and applied her attention to the vicar on her left. Why then, did her right side feel so aware, so alive?

“Miss Mortimer?” A voice intruded on the one-sided conversation she was having, rather listening to, with the vicar. Mr. Cranston’s avocation involved everything to do with bees, and it appeared he planned to tell her all he knew – tonight, at the table.

So it was with relief that she excused herself from the apiarist, and turned toward Quentin Ashleigh. “If you’d like to ask me anything about bees, I can now answer.”

He chuckled, and laid his index finger against his temple. “Nothing at the moment, but I shall remember to ask, should I need your new-gained knowledge.”

Virginia enjoyed the low-key facetious humor with which he answered, and felt quite amicable toward the young man.

“I wonder, did you bring your dance card to the dining room? You never brought it back for me to sign. Am I too late for the first dance?”

“Oh, no. I promised it. I have the card right here.” She lifted the evening reticule, a small bead-embellished pouch that hung on her wrist. She extracted the card and handed it with its attached pencil, to Quentin.

He took it from her, stroked his chin, and said, “Perhaps you’ll allow me two dances? If that’s not too greedy?” The candlelight gleamed off his hair.

Boggled at the pleasant sensations flooding her at the fellow’s kind, friendly, flirtatiousness, she answered without overthinking. “Yes, and no.”

Confusion played across his face before it gave way to wry humor.

He gave a bark of laughter. “You are quite concise, Miss Mortimer. I like that.”

And she liked him. More and more the weeks in London felt like nothing but a bad dream. Back in the loving climate of Mortimer House, the broken spirit she’d brought home had been replaced by a new heart, ready to live again.

No one had even hinted at a breath of scandal about her. She’d dodged the broad-reaching brush of the gossips and society was none the wiser regarding her fall from moral purity. She let out a grateful relieved breath upon this thought, only to have her attentive tablemate inquire as to her state of mind.

“That was a prodigious breath – almost a sigh. Do tell.”

“Nothing, just breathing, if that’s quite all right.” She quirked a smile his way to soften the string of her abrupt rejoinder.

The lengthy meal ended, and the women departed for the drawing room, the men remaining in the dining room for brandy. When the time came for dancing, Quentin bowed in front of her and they sailed off to join a set of country dances The figures of the dances took them apart, and only allowed moments to converse.

“You are a lovely dancer, Miss Mortimer.” Spoken before he sailed down the line, away from her.

The next time their orbits collided, she answered. “And you are a fine dancer, as well, Mr. Ashleigh.”  They both chuckled at the gap between their brief interchanges, before being swept apart again.

***

 Greetings, dear readers! Any guesses on the outcome here? Will he turn out to be a cad, as well? Leave a comment, please 🙂 Susan Karsten

Saving Miss Caulfield, Part 1 ~ A Short Regency Romance by Kristi Ann Hunter

Regency Reflections is entering it’s third year! To celebrate, we’re giving you a gift. Each month you’ll get a brand new short story from one of our authors. It’s going to be a great year. Thanks for helping us be the home of inspirational Regency readers. 

Saving Miss Caulfield, Part 1

If Miss Bianca Caulfield laughed at one more thing her idiot of a dancing partner said, Landon Sinclair was going to break something. Preferably Mr. Camden Theodore’s toes. Then the cad wouldn’t be able to whisk her away from the protection of her mother and brother under the guise of an innocent quadrille in a London ballroom.  What were they thinking, letting him court Bianca?

He supposed he should call her Miss Caulfield now, but she had always been Bianca to him.

She was easy to spot in the crush of dancers, her blonde hair twisted into the simplest coiffure in the room. Landon caught glimpses of her light green dress as she moved between the other dancers. She was light on her feet, floating through the complicated dance steps without any effort. It was a hard-won grace, Landon knew. He’d spent hours this winter having his feet trampled and his shins kicked as she tried to learn the steps. Her brother sported similar injuries, but one would never know it to see her now.

It would have been a pleasure to watch if she weren’t smiling up at Mr. Theodore.

“Please tell me you intend to start a mill with that fist, Lord Braidstone. This evening could use a good distraction.”

Landon looked down at his hand, surprised to find it curled into a tight ball. With conscious effort he loosened his fingers, stretching them until the knuckles popped. A deep, fortifying breath brought the strong combination of perfume, smoke, and champagne, further reminding him of the conduct expected of a viscount at a social gathering.

He glanced at the speaker, finding the expected grin on his friend’s face. “You let her dance with that shuffler, Caulfield?”

Mr. Giles Caulfield, Bianca’s brother, shrugged and adjusted his coat sleeve. “Why not? He’s well off, popular, and set to inherit a barony.”

“He’s a pompous windbag who lies his way through what should be gentlemen’s dealings and falls asleep in church.” Landon made a point of leaning casually against the wall, crossing his arms to hide any fist-making tendencies he might unconsciously entertain.

Giles adjusted his sleeve again. “Pompous or not, his attention has chased off all other interested beau.” He cleared his throat and tugged at the other sleeve. Obviously the man needed a new tailor. Or perhaps his valet had ruined the coat somehow. “Unless you know of someone?”

Landon cast his eyes about the ballroom. There had to be someone better than Theodore. Anyone was better than Theodore. He would trample on Bianca’s open heart and sweet spirit, breaking the girl Landon had watched grow up. The mere thought of losing the light of her smile made Landon desperate.

“What about Mr. Bertram?” Landon nodded towards the mill owner across the room. A bit old, perhaps, but he was honorable and loyal and able to provide a good life for Bianca.

Giles shook his head. “Too busy with rebuilding after the Luddites smashed his looms. He’s only in Town to visit Parliament.”

True enough. Rumor was he’d let his house fall into disrepair as he tried to save his business. Bianca shouldn’t live in a rundown house. Landon blew his breath out through pursed lips as he looked over the room. That one’s reputation was awful. Another given to drunken routs.

His eyes lit on a tall gentleman entering the ballroom. “Fellbourne?”

Giles shook his head. “Has plans to ask for Presbrook’s daughter.”

The girl who’s dinner conversation was limited to the fit of her slippers? Fellbourne never had possessed high enough standards to appreciate Bianca. “Milton?”

“Debt. He’ll probably be run out of Town within the month.”

Landon jerked his gaze back to Giles. “Truly? I had no idea.”

Giles nodded. “I overheard several shopkeepers today while I was waiting for Bianca outside the milliner.”

“That won’t run him out of town unless he runs up an account at one of the finer establishments. Still, it’s a vise Bianca need not deal with.” Landon returned to scrutinizing the options in front of him, looking for someone ideal and realistic.

“Miss Caulfield.”

What was Giles saying? Bianca was still dancing with that rascal. “Beg your pardon?”

“Bianca. You should call her Miss Caulfield now. At least in public.”

Landon grunted in agreement. For propriety’s sake he should use a more formal address, but there was a much more pressing issue at stake than adjusting his life-long habits.

The dance set was drawing to a close. Soon Bianca would be back at her mother’s side where someone more suitable could ask her to dance. Landon glanced to his left to see if Mrs. Caulfield was still in her previous location. One of Theodore’s friends hovered at her elbow.

“It appears that Theodore is determined that your sister not have any other options.” Landon nodded his head in Mrs. Caulfield’s direction.

Giles gave no more than a glance to the man waiting with his mother. “I believe I mentioned that.”

Landon waited, but it became painfully obvious that Giles was going to do nothing to stop Theodore and his cronies from monopolizing Bianca’s attention. With a sigh Landon made his way through the crowd at the side of the ballroom.

Giles was a dear friend, closer than any of Landon’s own brothers or cousins, but lately he’d been shirking in his brotherly duties towards his sister, leaving Landon to pick up the pieces. They were going to have to talk soon, but first Landon had to save Bianca.

###

Bianca’s face hurt. She’d only been at the ball for an hour and already she was faking the smiles and relying on well-practiced laughter to give the impression of a young woman having the time of her life. In reality she was desperate and growing moreso as the season continued. She couldn’t return home without a secure future.

In truth she couldn’t return home at all. Mother and Giles tried to assure her that Father wouldn’t mind, but they all knew the truth. He’d grumbled for months about the expense of a London season, the uselessness of daughters, and even the size of her dowry, although none of that came directly from him. God bless her grandfather who had left her a decent dowry when he died. Without it, who knows what her father would have set aside for her?

Mr. Camden Theodore was saying something about country estates and the seclusion from Town, but Bianca could barely make out the words over the pounding of her heart and the constant litany of dance steps running through her mind.

They couldn’t afford much time with a dance master, so Bianca had been left to practice with her brother and their generous neighbor, Lord Braidstone. Landon. Bianca swallowed a sigh as she kicked her skirt clear of the next intricate step. She strained her ears to hear the music over the loud talking around her and the fears screaming in her mind.

She brought her thoughts back to Landon. He always had a calming effect on her. Such a mixed blessing. He’d been part of every significant moment in her life, another older brother ready to tease her one moment and rescue her the next.

But he’d ruined any chance she had for marital bliss.

The dance ended and Bianca dropped into a curtsy, looking up at Mr. Theodore through her lashes. She tried to picture him as her husband, but the effort was futile. She couldn’t imagine a cozy dinner at home with his flat eyes across the table or a quiet stroll through the countryside with his constant stream of boasts and gossip as the only conversation.

That may be her life, though.

“Don’t you agree?” he asked with a pat of her hand as he led her from the dance floor.

Bianca smiled. Was the panic reaching her eyes? Because she had no idea what to say and couldn’t blindly agree to a question, not when it was entirely possible he’d asked something crucial to her future happiness. The man spoke often of expediency and efficiency. He might have asked her to marry him on the dance floor to save him a trip to her house.

How to get out of this? “I am parched. Do you think they have lemonade?”

His face screwed up in a frown, the only expression that ever reached his eyes. “Of course. You had a glass before we danced. We missed the first song if you’ll remember.”

A delaying tactic that had caused her to spend more time in his company instead of less. “I had forgotten. It must be the heat. Quite a crush tonight, is it not?”

They reached her mother and Bianca gracefully slid her hand from his elbow, restraining the urge to wipe her glove on her gown. She didn’t want to mar the precious light green silk. It was the only evening gown of color that Mother had allowed.

“I am sure that Mr. Julian can see to –“ His frown darkened. “What are you doing here?”

Bianca spun her head so fast her neck twinged in protest. Mr. Theodore had obviously been expecting his friend, Mr. Julian, to be waiting to claim her for the next dance. Joy, relief, trepidation, and speculation warred for prominence in Bianca’s midsection as she took in the welcome sight of Landon’s tall form standing beside her beaming mother.

Landon raised his brows and looked around as if wondering what wasn’t painfully obvious about his intentions. His brown eyes smiled at her as he brought his gaze back to her. “I’m here to claim Miss Caulfield for the next set.”

“But Julian –“ Mr. Theodore stumbled to a halt.

Mother waved her hand in the air. “Mr. Julian was here, but I sent him to fetch me a glass of lemonade. It is so dreadfully warm in this crush, isn’t it?”

Bianca tried to contain her giggle, but it escaped in an inelegant sputter through her lips. She coughed to hide the embarrassing sound, but ended up sounding like a sick cow as the cough and giggle mingled in her throat.

Landon grinned. “Are you well?”

“Yes, quite.” Bianca forced her lips to curve. Hopefully it looked like a smile. Ice. Brisk breezes. Swimming in the lake at the first sign of Spring. She willed the chilly thoughts to keep the heat of a blush away. Her neck grew warm, but her cheeks remained mercifully cool.

“Shall we?” Landon offered his arm.

Bianca pinched herself as she placed her hand on his elbow. She’d danced countless times with him at home, but never had he asked her at an actual event. He claimed she should keep her dances free for the men vying for her hand and attentions.

Oh how it hurt that he didn’t number himself among those men.

The music started and they bowed to each other. It was a simple dance, one she’d done since she was a girl, which allowed her to focus on her partner. Her handsome, kind, intelligent partner.

He leaned his head down as they stepped between the other couples. “I’ve heard the singer at Vauxhall is quite good.”

Bianca felt a blush threaten her ears. What would he do if she ran her fingers through his dark hair? “I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing her yet.”

“Perhaps we should go then.”

They circled around the other couples in their group until they made it to the end of the line, where they stood facing each other. Bianca was floating. Did he actually want to escort her to Vauxhall? Was he finally seeing her as something other than a younger sister? Her prayers must be working.

Landon smiled across the way at her. “What do you think? Shall we make a party? I’m sure your brother would like to go. Is there someone special you would like me to invite?”

Bianca blanched. He couldn’t mean what she thought he meant. “Special?”

“Yes.” He stepped forward and grasped her hand as they reentered the dance. “Please, anyone but Mr. Theodore. I can’t abide the fellow.”

Bianca tripped over a simple step and stumbled into Landon’s side.

“Oh!” she cried as she righted herself, only to find herself adjusting too much and crashing into the woman on her right.

Landon gripped her arm and righted her with a small laugh. “We’ll simply focus on the dancing for now, hmm? Just like old times.”

“Just like old times,” she said with another cheek torturing smile.

He gave her a brilliant smile as the dance concluded, congratulating her as he always did. And Bianca’s heart broke.

 

The next morning Bianca doodled nonsense on a piece of writing paper, staring out the drawing room window. The Season was nearly half over. Announcements appeared almost daily in the Times. Mother tried not to look worried, but occasionally Bianca found the paper with a name or two circled and she knew another man her mother had hoped to match her with had found someone else.

She was starting to get desperate. Was she to be forced to settle for the first available option? In truth it appeared she was only to have one option. And did it really matter? The man she loved didn’t love her and didn’t see her as marriage material. Only time, God’s grace, and determination were going to make her love her husband. Even then she doubted it would be a passionate love like the couple in Song of Solomon.

At least half of what she’d read in that book of the Bible was beyond her understanding, but it had sounded wildly thrilling and made her think constantly of Landon.

“Lord Braidstone to see you, miss.”

Bianca’s gaze flew to the maid. Landon never called for her.

And then he was there, his large frame filling the doorway, his brown eyes twinkling and a small smile on his lips. His chestnut hair curled where his hat had been and her fingers itched to smooth it down.

“Good morning.” He entered the room and sat in the chair beside her writing desk.

“What are you doing here?” The abruptness of her question made Bianca wince.

“I came to finish our conversation. Giles said you have no fixed engagements for this evening so it seemed a fine time to go to Vauxhall.”

Oh yes, the trip to the Gardens. His curiosity about whether or not she had someone special to invite. “Yes. That would be a fine idea.”

“Have you thought of anyone we should include in the party?” He settled further back in his chair. “Anyone but Mr. Theodore.”

What was wrong with Mr. Theodore? Other than his obvious similarity to all of the other unappealing obsessively ambitious young men she’d met in London. “I’m afraid he’s the only one.”

He surged from the chair and began to pace. “You cannot seriously be contemplating marriage to that man. He’s cruel. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He cares nothing for his horses, works his staff to the bone, and neglects any and all things Godly. More often than not he leaves the club foxed. You cannot marry him.”

Bianca stood with a frown, resignation pooling in her heart. “Which makes him very similar to half the other men I’ve met in London. He hasn’t asked yet, but he is the only one who potentially will. I hope he does. I don’t have any other choice.”

“You could go home.”

Bianca smiled sadly into Landon’s eyes. The hesitant way he’d said the sentence proved he knew how harsh Father’s welcome would be if she returned home unwed. He’d declare her a failure and doom her to a miserable secluded spinsterhood.

“Well, there must be someone.”

Her hand looked small as she reached out to touch his arm and stop his pacing. Her broken heart reached out to him. A pseudo-brother with no acceptable means of aiding her. It must be a difficult position for him. “There’s no one else. If Mr. Theodore asks, I will have to consent. He has an estate in the country. I believe he would be content to leave it for me to run in his absence. With the title, he’ll require children. I would be happy to have children.”

Landon’s frowned darkened. He wrapped his hands around her upper arms and looked deep into her eyes. “You can’t marry him.”

He crossed to the window, muttering quietly to himself. Was he naming and excusing other men? She didn’t even recognize some of the names. Shame coursed through Bianca until it weakened her legs and she fell back into her seat. Even Landon, with all of his connections and social status couldn’t think of a decent man who would be interested in marrying her.

“I have no other options.” Bianca smiled at him as best she could, but she’d never been able to hide from Landon. He would see her sadness, feel her resignation, and there was nothing she could do about it.

“Yes you do.” He spun from the window, his mouth pressed into a line of resolve. “You can marry me.”

To be continued… Part 2 of Saving Miss Caulfield 

Why Regency?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are a fan of the Regency fiction genre. You’re all about high-waisted dresses, chaperones, Almack’s, Gunther’s, house parties, and more.

But do you know why there ever was a Regency? It was madness! The madness of King George III. His health required the contingency plan of a prepared handing off of the reins of power – this plan laid out a form of emergency government/royal powers which was known as the regency. It’s a situational set-up for when a monarch is unable to fulfill his duties.

You can’t uncrown a living king, right? So, in their wisdom, the high advisors of the land made the Prince of Wales, eventually Goerge IV, the Prince Regent.

King George III (king during the American Revolution) had a disease now thought to be Porphyria. Porphyria is a rare blood disease and drove the king to complete madness and seclusion in 1810.

King George III
(“Farmer George”)

For Americans, King George III is a vaguely hated figure, because of the Revolutionary War, but he doesn’t sound all bad. His nickname was “Farmer George” due to his keen interest in agriculture. Said to be a devout Christian, he was a dedicated, yet repressive parent (not enough grace?), a faithful husband, and a plain-living man. The information about his interests is fascinating, if you decide to learn more, and the manner in which his first born son rebelled is an instructive cautionary tale.

The Prince Regent,
King George IV, (“Prinny”)

Do you enjoy knowing the nicknames of historical figures? If you know some, please share in the comments.

“Gentleman Rogue”,Traditional Regency book reviewed by Susan Karsten

Prepping for this post, I read “Gentleman Rogue” by Barbara Neil, for the third time. I am not usually a re-reader of books, favorites or not. My Regency reading habit is voracious, but I don’t keep the books, unless they are VERY special — I just don’t have the shelf space. Most of my Regency shelf is taken up by paperback editions written by my two favorite authors. Far down to the right end are the other ‘keeper’ books and that is where “Gentleman Rogue” resides.

Front & Back covers
(the blurb does not do it justice)

Quite often, the best traditional Regency books are the ones published by Signet. “Gentleman Rogue”, written by Barbara Neil, however, was published by Harlequin in 1993.

The book is intelligent and hilarious. Enough so that I was willing to read it a third time for this blog, and my husband can attest that I was laughing (chortling) out loud last night.

Hero: Ryder Starr, Heroine: Aurora Valentin (her nickname is little Miss Bishop). The preposterous, yet entertaining premise is that hero Ryder Starr is going around trying to cause scandals which he hopes get back to his nefarious inheritance-stealing cousin. He hopes the cousin will pay him off, via his share of the inheritance, to stop the embarrassing contretemps. His path crosses with the lovely and high-minded Aurora Valentin, and sparks fly, with her resisting all the way.

A favorite quote from “Gentleman Rogue”:

“Perfection is one of those ideals that may have been conceived solely

in order to be dashed.”

This quote is my personal favorite from this book, because I have frequently thought or said similar sentiments.

I have been reading Regencies for about twenty years. I get most of mine at used book stores/sales, thrift stores, and at the library. I enjoy the setting and social mores, and appreciate that most traditional Regencies are “clean” and not full of bedroom scenes, infidelity, and immorality.

I hope you can lay your hands on “Gentleman Rogue” ~ it’s highly enjoyable.

P.S. I believe Barbara Neil also wrote under the name Barbara Sherrod.

 

The Miser of Mayfair ~ A Regency Read

Kristi here.

I didn’t grow up reading a lot of Regency books. It wasn’t until I was nearly twenty that I discovered the era and fell in love with it as a story setting. As I studied the authors that I fell in love with, I discovered a whole list of traditional Regency writers that inspired the authors I knew.

My list of books to look up is long, but I will be forever thankful to the friend who pointed me to Marion Chesney.

Her A House for the Season series was recommended to me and I pass that recommendation on to you.

The first book in the series is The Miser of Mayfair. It isn’t your typical set-up.

The Miser of Mayfair by Marion ChesneyThe setting for the series is a home in London, available to rent but plagued with bad luck. This makes the rent ridiculously low, something Mr. Roderick Sinclair needs desperately if he’s going to take his ward to London for the Season.

The ward, Fiona, is not your typical heroine either. It’s very possible that she is a good bit more than she initially appears to be. Which is a good thing, because if she’s going to make a good match, she has an enormous amount of obstacles to overcome. Not the least of which is a lack of funds, connections, or proper wardrobe.

Enter the wily butler, Rainbird, who plots with Fiona to make her and the beleaguered staff of Number 67 Clarges Street a success.

For me, the book was a refreshing look at the Regency world. The style, plot, and story structure are very different than books I see published today, but that only adds to the story’s charm for me.

Unless you’re lucky enough to find an old copy in a bookstore, The Miser of Mayfair is only available through a Kindle reader. If you’re looking for a fun, easy read while you travel this month, give it a try. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can even borrow it for free.

Have you read The Miser of Mayfair or one of Marion Chesney’s other Regencies? What did you think?

From Acceptance to Exile: A Reluctant Courtship and Give-Away

In writing classes, we are taught to make things as bad for our characters as we can. Honore should have been easy. In A Necessary Deception, in which she made her debut into society, and in A Flight of Fancy, where she rusticates in the country with her injured sister, Honore managed to make things terrible enough for herself.

But I wanted to make her situation even worse!

A Reluctant CourtshipLord Bainbridge, the father of the three sisters, is an autocratic man, a political animal who wants things the way he wants them. He manipulates his children to his will as much as he can, and he can do a great deal. But Honore is the baby and pretty and lively and a daddy’s girl. She got away with too much. Daddy cleaned up her messes for her.

So I had to take her daddy away from her.

And then we introduce Americus Poole (Meric to his friends) now Lord Ashmoor. Most men fall at Honore’s feet. Ashmoor looks at her like most of us view rattle snakes—the further away the better. He has his own issues, and Honore’s presence in his life will only make them worse. After all, a man under suspicion of treason cannot be involved with a young lady with a questionable reputation.

Beyond the romance and adventure that springs from Honore and Ashmoor’s stories is the theme of exile. Honore has been exiled from her family and from society because of her past mistakes. In turn, this physical exile makes her feel exiled from God. Everything that happens to her seems to indicate that God has rejected her, and this rejection of the heart and spirit drives her decisions and actions until her very life hangs on the edge.

Cliffs_Clovelly_Coast_West
Cliffs in North Devon (Wikipedia image)

As with Cassandra in A Flight of Fancy, I related to Honore’s spiritual struggle. I attended a Christian college and my friends were going off to be doctors and pastors, and the wives of doctors and pastors. I, however, had no calling that I saw. I interpreted this as God rejecting me. The decisions I made over the next several years—most of them terrible—stemmed from this sense of exile from God.

The simple response is that God doesn’t reject us; we reject him. Romans 8:38-39 assures us that nothing separates us from the love of God. Yet what I had to learn, what Honore has to learn, is that we often have to be taken out of our comfort zone of the life we think we want or should have, to circumstances we can’t control, for the Lord to shape us into the people we are intended to be to thus serve him better.

I hope you enjoy Honore’s journey back from exile.

For a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card today, answer the question below in the comment section. Your name will also be entered into our Regency Gift Package Giveaway in honor of the release of A Reluctant Courtship. The giveaway includes another gift card, a tea cup, and chocolate.

What types of things do you like to learn from authors? For example: How they work, their non writing life, their spiritual life…

A New Regency

What does it feel like to be on the brink of having a new regency published?

For a writer, it’s a mix of emotions when she gets back the galleys from an editor. Likely the author hasn’t looked at this manuscript in at least six months if not longer, and by this time, she is deep into another story. Chances are she’s written or edited more than one story since writing that manuscript.

So, the emotional link to that story is gone. It will hopefully be revived as she puts aside whatever other works in progress she has, and dives back into the story that is on a publisher’s schedule.

At this stage, the author must be able to accept an editor’s changes or suggestions–not always easy, since she has turned in a polished work. Now, the author reads an outsider’s opinion of her work. Didn’t they get it? Why don’t they like my hero/heroine/plot device/fill in the blank?

One must realize one’s editor is not one’s enemy, but a friend who wants to see the best possible story before it goes public.

So, bite the bullet and analyze one’s characters as dispassionately as one is able to at this point, and then try to make any changes necessary.

I’m down to the final twenty pages of this process before the manuscript gets emailed back to the editor. The next time I see my story, it will be only for a final proofreading. Then a few months later, it will be the real thing, available to readers.

It’s a long process from initial idea to final product, whether one self-publishes a book or has it published through a publisher. Lots of birth pains in the process. But what a relief to read a story that flows, where the characters are believable and the plot escalates, keeping the reader reading.

I hope my next regency, A Heart’s Rebellion, will prove such a story.Axtell_final

The Steward ~Guardian of the Noble Estate (farm), by Susan Karsten

Do we. as regency readers, fully understand how, and from where, the wealth of the average wealthy nobleman arose? Mostly, from farming. Yes, there were those who had ships, investments, mines, you name it, but farming the family land was the most common way to wealth that I am aware of. Some lords were good managers of their estates, but even the good managers needed stewards, especially when they owned multiple agricultural estates and spent much time in London.

Picture an estate of as large as 11,000 acres. For the owners to have any leisure-time, they needed to employ a ‘right-hand man’ to look after the management of the estate. The man in question was the agent or land steward.

 Duties: The estate had a number of heads of departments, such as the head gardener, head gamekeeper, etc. The agent was responsible for all of these departments, paying the wages of the workmen and keeping regular logs and accounts of work done. He kept a detailed set of books recording repairs to buildings, fences or roads, as well as information regarding game, livestock and crops. He was also in charge of collecting the rent from the estate’s tenants, and for this reason he could be an unpopular figure.

The agent  spent a lot of his time touring the estate on horseback, dealing with tenants and estate workers face to face. He was required to keep a terrier, a book recording the boundaries and tenancies of the land, which included the rent roll. A good agent needed a head for figures, meticulous record-keeping skills, an all-round knowledge of farm work and land maintenance, and an aptitude for dealing with people. That the job could be dangerous is clear from records of assaults on agents by tenants, and at least one steward murdered on an estate.

A steward’s house near the main gate of an estate.

The most important position on an estate was the steward, who was the chief administrator and, in earlier times, the lord of the manor’s deputy. The steward wielded considerable executive authority.  He transacted all the legal and other business of the manor estate, kept the court rolls, etc.

The steward was usually resident on the Estate.  The steward was responsible for finding tenants for farms, negotiating leases, recommending and supervising improvements, and collecting and disbursing estate revenues His influence certainly also extended into the domestic realm of the estate.

Those of us who write, or read regencies, can easily see how the dishonest steward often crops up as a plot element in our fiction.  They can be made into a convenient villain.

For the most part, however, they were honest men, working for a living, surely taking pride in the nurturing of the property.

Have you ever read a regency with a lordly hero disguised as a steward? Any regencies with wicked stewards? Please respond in the comments. Thanks, Susan

How Louise M. Gouge Came To Write Regencies and a Giveaway!

Guest post by Louise M. Gouge

It all began with Jane

Jane Austen
Jane Austen

I have always loved stories set in the Regency period. One of my earliest movie memories is of watching Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in the old black and white Pride and Prejudice. What a romantic story! I never even noticed that the costumes were definitely not from Jane Austen’s era. Later, I took a graduate class in Austen and loved reading all of her books. When the 1994 A & E version of Pride and Prejudice came on television, I was enthralled by the spectacular production. But I never considered writing a Regency romance because I wasn’t sure I could capture all the nuances of the era. There were just too many details I didn’t know about it.

Who, me?

But then I got tricked into it. I had just completed a Revolutionary War series and was wondering what to offer my editor in my next proposal. She solved my dilemma by asking me to write a Regency novella to be paired one by Deborah Hale, an experienced Regency author. I don’t know about you, but when my editor asks me to write a book, I say yes. The opportunity to share a book with Deb was icing on the cake.

So now I faced a challenge. As a reader, I don’t care much for careless or nonexistent research. As a writer, I endeavor to create interesting stories that take place in realistic settings. You may say, “Well, duh! Doesn’t every author want that?” But haven’t we all been pulled out of a story by some nagging little plot device we know could not have happened in that particular time period? Devoted Regency readers are particularly sensitive to such errors. I didn’t want that to happen with my story.

A LAdy of Quality Cover
Louise’s latest Regency offering ~ proof that she mastered the genre.

Help arrives

Fortunately, I had the help of our good friend, Laurie Alice Eakes, an amazing author who knows the era well. She answered my pesky questions and insisted that I join the Beau Monde chapter of RWA. There I could ask the research mavens for help. And believe me, I did!

Well, I finished my novella, and by then I was hooked and ready to propose a full Regency series. After reading in another author’s lovely book that included a rather pathetic minor character who was a lady’s companion, I knew that had to be my subject. I came up with three different aristocratic young women who were forced by circumstances to go to work as companions. As you readers and writers of this era well know, it was shameful for aristocrats to work at any job, so my heroines were all bound to suffer Society’s disdain. Yet paired with the right hero, each lady found her true calling: marriage to the man of her dreams and a happily-ever-after life. So far, only a few tiny errors have crept into my books, but I welcome any corrections so I can get it right the next time.

Success!

By the way, that novella, The Gentleman Takes a Bride, earned second place in the Inspirational Readers Choice Awards, so I was more than pleased with that.

My brand new release, A Lady of Quality, is the third in my “Ladies in Waiting” series. Catherine Du Coeur is determined to uncover the truth about wealthy Lord Winston, who falsely accused her father of treason. But the closer she gets to the handsome young nobleman, the more she wonders how such a benevolent gentleman could have conspired to commit such evil. Baron Lord Winston has had little success in finding an accomplished aristocratic bride who is suited to his diplomatic aspirations. But when he meets Miss Du Coeur, a countess’s lowly companion, he finds that family connections are far less important than matters of the heart.

Louise M. GougeAward-winning Florida author Louise M. Gouge writes historical fiction for Harlequin’s Love Inspired imprint. In addition to numerous other awards, Louise is the recipient of the prestigious Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award for her 2005 novel, Hannah Rose. With her great love of history and research, Louise has traveled to several of her locations to ensure the accuracy of her stories’ settings. When she isn’t writing, she and her husband love to visit historical sites and museums. Her 2011 Regency novella, The Gentleman Takes a Bride, earned second place in the prestigious Inspirational Readers Choice Award.

One lucky commenter will win their choice of one of the Ladies In Waiting books. Leave a comment telling us why you started reading regencies to be entered to win!

Contest is now over. Look for Louise’s latest novel wherever you buy books. 

Napoleonic Wars

To celebrate Moonlight Masquerade, we’re running a special week-long contest. Starting today through next Friday, March 22, we’ll feature Regency quiz questions at the end of each post. To enter the contest, you’ll need to correctly answer the questions in the comment section below. For every correct answer, your name will be added into the drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card . There will be five questions in all, which means your name can be entered up to five times (if you get all five questions right). The deadline to answer ALL CONTEST QUESTIONS will be Saturday, March 23 at midnight.

 

What is so fascinating about the Napoleonic Wars?

I think I’ve been fascinated since my junior high school days when I watched the 1972 War MV5BMTI0MzI3NzMyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA5OTQ1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR7,0,214,317_and Peace series on Masterpiece Theatre, with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre Bezukhov. I fell in love with the bumbling, pudgy anti-hero wearing oval shaped glasses. Of course, I also fell in love with the dashing Prince Andrey Bolkonsky in his white uniform (or the actor playing him). I was caught up in the story although it wasn’t until the 10th grade that I tackled Tolstoy’s original work. I was fascinated with that period of history and didn’t realize then that I was getting the Russian perspective of this war that lasted over two decades.

In school, I studied the War of 1812, which was only a brief slice of the Napoleonic Wars. The other day I was talking to a young college student who didn’t realize the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars were connected!

From the perspective of U.S. history, Napoleon wasn’t such a bad guy; he was our ally, for one thing.napoleon

Soon after reading War and Peace, I read The Scarlet Pimpernel, which became a favorite. That and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities gave me an understanding of the French Revolution, which preceded the Napoleonic Wars and contributed to the rise of Napoleon.

Then I discovered the English regency period and gained more of the British perspective of the war, albeit from the London drawing room or country house. The battle-hardened captains or majors returned from “the Peninsula” recovering from a wound but still splendid attired in their red uniforms. These stories depicted Napoleon as a monster, the enemy, an insult added to the injury of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.

220px-Bem_postcard_7
Natasha Rostova

But it wasn’t until writing Moonlight Masquerade that I began reading some in depth works on this period of history. From them I got a deeper understanding of Napoleon, how he rose to power, his genius as a military commander, but his failure as a political leader. I came to the conclusion that he did more harm than good, destroying much of a continent, a generation of young men, and ultimately slowing down France’s development about a hundred years. While Britain forged ahead with the industrial revolution, France went backwards, remaining largely agrarian for much of the rest of the 19th century.

In the end, war is a terribly destructive force.

 Today’s Question: Which allied armies fought the French in the battle of Waterloo?

a) British, German, Russian

b) British, Austrian, Prussian

c) British, Russian, Prussian

d) British, Dutch, Prussian