More about Flowers

I really enjoyed Laurie Alice’s post on flowers in regency England in springtime. It dovetails well with the post I’ve been thinking about, which is on the meanings and legends of common flowers during both the regency and Victorian eras in Britain.

May Flowers in a Teacup
Forget-me-nots and white lilacs in spring

The forget-me-not, a common flower in regency gardens was called by Coleridge “blue and bright-eyed flower of the brook.” It’s official name “myosotis” actually means the not-so-romantic “mouse ear,” so named because of the shape of its leaves.

A German legend has it that a knight fell into a swift stream while picking the forget-me-not for his lady. He had only time to toss it to her and cry, “Forget-me-not!” before he was swept away. British king Henry IV chose it as one of his emblems, and it was often embroidered on the king’s robes.

It was not until the regency that it became a garden flower.

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Foxglove in a Maine garden

Ever wonder why foxgloves are called by that name? Digitalis, the official name, is not nearly as descriptive. The old English name of foxes-glofa means foxes’ gloves. The fable is that foxes were hunted for their tails, which were considered amulets against the snares of the devil. In order to hang onto their furry brushes, they appealed to the gods for help, who gave them bells to hide in the fields. The bells would sound a warning when hunters were about and become silent when the coast was clear.

All that ducking and dodging the hunters had given the foxes rough paws, so that when they went hunting in the chicken coops, the chickens would squawk when seized by them. This time the fairies gave the foxes gloves to cover their paws with, and these became known as fox gloves.

Digitalis, which the leaves yield, is a recognized heart stimulant, which was used by American Indians before it became known in Europe. It is also a poison, so it was only used externally by Europeans until the 18th century. It then began to be used in the treatment of fevers, insanity and heart disease.

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Red roses in a park in Brooklyn in June

Roses cultivated in Europe before 1800 are usually referred to as “old roses.” Not until 1792 when a rose from China was introduced into Europe did any of them bloom more than once a year. (The only occasional exception was the Damascus). Rose water was used for cooking. Vanilla supplanted it as a flavoring extract in the 17th century. Rose oil, rose water and rose petals continued in British pharmacopoeias but more and more for use in cosmetics. Attar of roses, the essential oil, took 60,000 roses to make one ounce!

One of the earlier spring flowers, the pansy, goes by many names including “Kiss-Me-Quick” and “Johnny-Jump-Up.” The word pansy is derived from the French penser, to think, which is why Ophelia said “Pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Legend had it that to pick one with the dew upon it would cause the death of a loved one. If picked on a fair day, it would rain before night. Pansy juice squeezed on the lids of a sleeper would cause her to fall in love with the first person she saw on awaking, as Titania discovered in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

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A Heart’s Rebellion, London Encounters #2

The hero of my upcoming regency, A Heart’s Rebellion, is an amateur botanist, so he will usually refer to a flower by its official name. The system of classifying plants into genus and species was still a new science in the regency era. The heroine’s name, Jessamine, is a form of jasmine, which the hero is fond of calling by its official name, Gelsemium sempervirens.

Bibliography: Flower Fables by Geraldine E. Nicholson, Mid-America Publishing Corp., Kansas City, Missouri

 

A Regency Romance with a French Twist

Last fall, I wrote about researching my latest regency romance. Well, this month it is available and I thought I’d give readers an update. My title and cover have been changed. It is now title She Shall Be Praised and the new cover is below.

She Shall Be Praised (from Proverbs 31) is a sequel to my London-set Regency, The Rogue’s Redemption.  In Book 2 of The Leighton Sisters series, Katie Leighton, younger sister of Hester Leighton from The Rogue’s Redemption, travels to Paris with Hester and her husband, Gerrit Hawkes.

L'Hôtel_national_des_Invalides
L’Hotel National des Invalides, Wikipedia

Paris has been liberated from Napoleon by the British and other allied countries, so tourists are once again traveling from England to the Continent. Katie, who travels from America (Maine), meets a young French veteran who fought at Waterloo against the British. Among the narrow medieval street of Paris and the monuments like Notre Dame, Katie finds herself more interested in visiting the blind, cripple veteran at Les Invalides, a hospital and old-age home for veterans.

I love France and all things French, from the food to the art. It was interesting to research this period, when the horrors of the French Revolution and the years of wars under Napoleon have brought about the restored monarchy. But along with the new king, comes a wave of reactionary politics as the aristocrats come back from their emigration during the Reign of Terror, wanting to have their place in society restored. They want things back the way they used to be. But too many people have tasted the freedom under the civil government of Napoleon, so there is a clash of old school vs. new.

The land has been devastated by years of war, so France has missed out on the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and the prosperity it has brought to Britain. And yet, during this time of the Restoration, people continue to live their lives.

Katie Leighton, my “beauty” in this beauty and the beast tale, doesn’t consider herself a beauty, but a plain Jane. Etienne Santerre, my “beast” hides under both an assumed name and behind the thick walls of Les Invalides, a virtual prisoner of his evil valet, Pierre. There is a mystery surrounding Etienne’s background, which Katie senses, but which Etienne is silent on. In the meantime, she is more concerned with his soul. Little by little, her light begins to shine into Etienne’s darkness.

The story takes Etienne from the walls of Les Invalides to the Loire Valley to his ancestral home. There he faces what he has tried to blot out since he landed at Les Invalides, a wounded, crippled soldier. When his life is most at risk, he begins to turn to the God Katie has witnessed to him.

Etienne is a dark hero, sorely in need of Beauty’s touch. She shares her faith with him in her gentle, loving way, until he lets down his defenses and allows the healing power of love to restore all he has lost.RuthAxtell_SheShallBePraised_c

A Jane Austen Devotional

My husband and I were in a bookstore one day, where he was looking for a devotional. We were eyeing the shelves full of them in the Christian section when he spied a gem, A Jane Austen Devotional. “That’s the one,” he said. That’s why I love him, he’s an Austen devotee like me! Jane Austen devotional
This devotional compiled and written by Steffany Woolsey and published by Thomas Nelson is not divided by days but by subject matter. A listing includes: Being Generous, Christ’s Unconditional Love, Vanity’s Folly, Faithfulness, Unhealthy Friendships, etc..
Under each section, an excerpt from one of Jane Austen’s novels is included and then a commentary on the spiritual theme gleaned from her writing, since Jane Austen lived in a time when the Bible was the standard of moral authority in Great Britain. Any educated person such as Jane would be well-versed in Scripture, especially as the daughter of a rector in the Anglican church. Her writing reflects her Christian beliefs, even when she pokes fun at certain clergy (remember Mr. Collins?)
In A Jane Austen Devotional under the heading “Being Generous” for example, a segment from Sense and Sensibility is used in which Mr. Dashwood discusses with his wife how much he should give to his bereaved stepmother in order to fulfill his deathbed promise to his father to take care of her. Throughout their conversation he allows his wife to talk him out of giving her anything he originally had decided upon. The author uses this illustration of mean-spiritedness to contrast with Biblical teaching, citing Matthew 15:18 where Jesus talks about the things that defile a person—those that proceed from the heart. The teaching of Jesus regarding generosity is then shown using Mark 12:42-44 in which Jesus compares the poor widow who leaves two small copper coins in the offering box in the temple to a richer person who gives out of his abundance.

Jesus calls us to imitate the widow, who gave so generously out of her poverty. As Woolsey sums up in this segment, “When we choose this route, He [Christ] can begin to develop in us qualities such as generosity, kindness, and compassion.”

For anyone who appreciates Jane Austen’s irony and wit, this devotional is full of snippets of her scenes with a parallel from Scripture on each facing page. My husband and I have enjoyed every entry we’ve read.

 *  *  *

Ruth Axtell hasRuth Axtell (2) written several Regency romances. Her latest series is called London Encounters. Book 2, A Heart’s Rebellion, came out in March. The Rogue’s Redemption, set in both Regency London and frontier Maine, came out in December. She also writes novels set in Victorian England and late 19th century Maine.

Heroine Rescued from Fruitless Vanity by Regency Hero! “A Heart’s Rebellion”

Lovely heroine, Jessamine Barry, daughter of a vicar no less, is tempted, and gives in to vanity when she allows a flattering knave to draw her away from her standards.

A Heart's RebellionYou may have noted my journalistic headline-style title, and the 30 word summary with which I started this post. I don’t know if I got your attention, but the book “A Heart’s Rebellion” got my attention as a wonderful read. And since it has simmered in my heart and mind for a few weeks, a marvelous truth-filled spiritual theme has surfaced from the book’s delight-filled sea of lavish plot, setting, and characterization.

The hero, Lancelot Marfleet, is a Christlike man.  However, he is not deliciously handsome like so many romance heroes. But from Scripture, we learn that our Lord himself was not particularly attractive or handsome:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him,

nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”  

Isaiah 53:2 

The heroine is Jessamine Barry, who sidetracks onto a tangent of worldliness, seeking satisfaction in being admired by a man…any man.

She reminds me of Folly, a name which could be used for Jessamine as she leaves her family home for the bright lights of London. She also discards the teachings of her youth:

“The wisest of women builds her house, but Folly with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14:1

Lancelot, in his Christlike way, shows grace to Jessamine, is patient, long-suffering, and kind, even when she is not.  He ultimately rescues her from her sin and gives her a way out.  He draws her to himself in love and completely saves her.  For me, this chain of events makes this book even more worthwhile for the picture of redemption shown through the character of Lancelot.

To celebrate the release of A Heart’s Rebellion, author Ruth Axtell will be giving away two copies of her book. The first giveaway ended Monday, March 24 at midnight, and the second ends Monday, March 31 (today) at midnight. To enter the giveaway, answer the following question in the comments below:

Giveaway Question: The hero in A Heart’s Rebellion, Lancelot Marfleet, has a hobby, which is botany. What is a famous botanical garden in London, which existed in regency times?

Also, If you’ve read the book, did you notice any other Christlike attributes of the hero? I’d love to read your comments on this post, Thanks for your time, Susan Karsten

 

A Walk Through a Botanical Garden in A Heart’s Rebellion

Since most of us in cold climates are thinking spring, I thought I’d take you on a tour of a botanical garden near London, just as my heroine, Jessamine Barry, does about two-thirds of the way through the story.
The hero, Lancelot Marfleet is an avid botanist and he wants nothing better than to invite the woman of his dreams, Jessamine, to view the exotic specimens in the botanical gardens. He knows her father is an amateur botanist, so he hopes Jessamine shares a love of plants and flowers.

paeonia moutan
The botanical gardens in London during the regency period were the largest in the world at the time. Plants had been brought back from all corners of the globe by renowned explorers and botanists such as Sir Joseph Banks on his exploration with Captain Cook. One of the plants introduced to Europe by Banks was the peony, a native bush of China. Lancelot shows Jessamine a specimen, because he knows her father is an avid peony enthusiast.

 

Hydrangea
Woodblock print, ‘Hydrangeas’ by Sakai Ōho (1808-1841)
Victoria and Albert Museum
strelitzia
Strelitzia reginae from the Botanists Repository by Henry Charles Andrews

 

Next, Lancelot leads her to an ornamental bush brought over from Japan by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the late 1780s, the common bush we know as the hydrangea, or in Lancelot’s terminology, Hydrangea hortensis.

 

 

 

He then shows her an exotic flower brought back by Banks’ trip to the Pacific with Captain Cook. It looks like a waterbird ready to take flight, Jessamine tells him. Appropriately names Bird of Paradise, or Strelitzia reginae, she is properly impressed.

 

 

 

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Jasminum, William Farquhar Collection (1819-1823)

But it’s when they walk through the hothouses that things heat up (pun intended). Lancelot leads Jessamine toward a very special flower to him, the jasmine, for which her father named her. It’s a vine with a small, white star-like flower with a heady scent. Being so near it causes him to lose his head.

But you’ll have to read the book to find out what he does and how she reacts!

To celebrate the release of A Heart’s Rebellion, I’m giving away two copies of my book. The second giveaway will end Monday, March 31 at midnight. To enter this week’s giveaway, answer this question in the comments below:

What is a famous botanical garden in London, which existed in regency times (which is where Lancelot takes Jessamine)?

Thanks for stopping by Regency Reflections for our Spring Release Extravaganza! Make sure to visit throughout the month of April to read about the other regency books coming out and have a chance at some great prizes.

Ruth Axtell

It’s The Season for New Releases

Fans of Inspirational Regencies, rejoice! It’s time to welcome the new crop of romances, ready to whisk you away to the early 19th century.

Axtell_HeartRebellionOver the next six weeks we will be celebrating four new titles. That’s right, four! I hope you are as excited about that as we are. Prepare for giveaways, trivia questions, author interviews, and more.

Thursday, we’ll kick things off with a look at Ruth Axtell’s new book, A Heart’s Rebellion.

Naomi Rawlings The Soldier's SecretIn April, take a closer look at The Soldier’s Secrets by Naomi Rawlings, The Husband Campaign by our good friend Regina Scott, and Laurie Alice Eakes’ newest, A Lady’s Honor.

Mark your calendars, subscribe to the blog, and tell your friends because you do NOT want to miss this amazing celebration!

 

Regina Scott The Husband CampaignHow to win the prizes: 

1. Come to the blog.

2. Answer the trivia question. (Or comment if no trivia is available that day.)

Laurie Alice Eakes A Lady's HonorIt’s just that easy! The promotion and open contest dates will run as follows:

March 20 – 31 ~ A Heart’s Rebellion by Ruth Axtell. Contest closes April 2.

April 3 – 14 ~ The Soldier’s Secrets by Naomi Rawlings. Contest closes April 16.

April 17 ~ The Husband Campaign  by Regina Scott. Contest closes April 20.

April 21 – May 1 ~ A Lady’s Honor by Laurie Alice Eakes. Contest closes May 4.

Are you excited about these amazing books? All are currently available for preorder. Check individual author websites for more details.

The Nonesuch

I’ve enjoyed reading this month’s posts about “keeper” regencies—those stories we go back and reread. Even though we’re familiar with the story line and it’s hero and heroine, we once again fall prey to its magic as we open to page one.nonesuch_sml

One of my favorite regencies, which I revisit every couple of years or so, is Georgette Heyer’s The Nonesuch. I’ve loved all the Georgette Heyer regencies I’ve read, but a few stand out. I think this latest reread may be my fourth of The Nonesuch. Why is it so special? As Laurie Alice Eakes wrote in an earlier post about her favorite regency, the story line is not terribly unique. In The Nonesuch, the heroine is the classic poor, yet well-educated and high-born, lady, a bit past her prime (aka marriageable age) at 26. The hero is “top-of-the-trees” (aka out of her league). They meet by chance in a village way up in Yorkshire, where she is governess to a spoiled beauty.  He is the typical perfect catch who at 35 has not yet been caught by any woman of marriageable age. He is also a Corinthian, which means he is an athlete, excelling at all the sports popular with regency bucks. The heroine is suspicious of Corinthians because of those who engage in the regency version of extreme sports (like racing their high-perch phaetons), often leading younger men astray. But she is hard-pressed not to be impressed with this Corinthian, who is not only handsome, but considerate, mature, thoughtful, and with a sense of humor to match her own. He also singles her out, so no matter how much she tries to guard her heart, it’s a losing battle from the starting line.

The Nonesuch is a classic Cinderella tale of an impoverished heroine winning her prince’s heart. I am sure I will be rereading it again sometime in the future as well as other Georgette Heyer regencies (Frederica and Faro’s Daughter come to mind).

Last month I blogged here about revisiting and re-editing a regency of my own, The Rogue’s Redemption. It’s now available online at Amazon. Here is a copy of the cover:

What do you think of this rogue’s killer blue eyes? Does the heroine stand a chance?

raxtell_roguesredemption

 

For a description of this and other books by Ruth Axtell, visit her website at www.ruthaxtell.com

Ruth Axtell (2)

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

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

A Suitable Match, Serial Story Section 8 and a Chance to Win

MatchCoverTo kick off our second year of celebrating Inspirational Regency fiction, we are presenting the serial story, A Suitable Match. At the end of the month we’ll be giving away a fabulous prize package filled with items tied to the story. For a chance to win, find the item mentioned in this section and leave a note in the comments. Details and a list of prizes can be found here. 

Missed an earlier section? Read it here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

On the road somewhere between Somerset and London
April 1818

Pain laced through Chard’s insides like acid. He’d come from the woods, his anger cooled, ready to continue his conversation with Cressida. She’d admitted she’d loved him. Now, he dared allow himself to believe that love might be rekindled.

Only to find her in the arms of another man—that swarthy looking knave with a scar like Blackbeard’s, kissing him with all the signs of a woman wholly abandoned to her passion.

The next instant Chard’s hurt transformed once more to anger—blood red rage.

With a bellow he charged at Ainsworth.

Clutching him by the lapels, Chard threw Ainsworth to the ground and proceeded to smash his face with his fist.

“Chard—no!”  Cressida’s scream barely penetrated his hearing but her lunge for his arm stopped his fist from connecting with Ainsworth’s jaw.

He tried to shake his arm free but she held on with both her hands gripped so tightly they threatened to cut off his circulation.

“Leave me, Cressida, to finish this blackguard, this ill-begotten son—”

Twiford shook him by the shoulders. “Enough, Chard! Wrestling her coachman will solve nothing.”

With the two of them tugging at Chard, Ainsworth managed to twist away from him.

Still seething, Chard finally allowed himself to be pulled away by his friend and slowly stood to his feet, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

Cressida stepped back a few paces, keeping her eyes fixed on him as if not trusting him to stay calm.

“I will not hurt your lover,” he spat out, turning away from her in mingled disgust and anguish.

“He is not—” Cressida began shouting then stopped.

The thud on the ground was so unexpected, Chard swiveled back.

Stomping her foot, her hands fisted on her hips, her amber eyes spitting sparks, she glared at them. “I’ve had just about enough from all of you.” She focused on each in turn. “From the moment I set foot outside of my cottage yesterday morning, I have been accosted, browbeaten, threatened, accused by men—” she spat out the term as if it were the lowest form of existence, “who claim to be my friends or…f—family.” She stumbled on that last word but as if ashamed of  weakening, she took a deep breath. “I have only one thing to say to all of you. Leave me alone!

“I am going to London to get married!”

Chard stiffened. Was she betrothed? His heart contracted with absolute misery and hopelessness.

“And I do not need the help of any of you to accomplish my goal. I shall be one-and-twenty in a month, and I do not plan to remain on the shelf.” Her glance fell on Ainsworth. “Thanks to your grandmother, Ross, I shall be independent. She has left me a sponsor and I intend to enjoy my next season.” Her withering glance landed on Chard. “Unlike my last one. Within three months, I will be married, and free of all of you!”

With those words, she whirled around, kicking up the dust under her feet and stalked back to the carriage.

A groom hurried to open the door for her and let down the step. She clambered within and swung the door shut herself.

In the reverberating sound of its slam, Chard looked at Ainsworth and Twiford, both appearing as astounded and abashed as he.

Chard cleared his throat but didn’t know what to say.

Ainsworth dusted off the back of his coat.

Twiford was the first to speak. “I believe the lady has made her sentiments abundantly clear. She wants none of us.”

Chard narrowed his eyes at his closest friend. “Why do you include yourself in that pronouncement?”

Twiford had the grace to look abashed. He kicked at a dusty tuft of grass growing on the edge of the road. “Ahem. I feel I did Miss Blackstone a disservice when you were courting her three years ago.” He raised his chin, fixing his eyes on Chard. “I doubted her when I should not have. Time has proved her a woman of more noble heart than any lady of the ton. I would have you know that I wish to pursue her myself.”

Chard growled low in his throat. His best friend, most trusted confidant, had betrayed him.

As if reading his thoughts Twiford raised a hand. “I have never made my feelings known to Miss Blackstone. But I would like to do so now.” Before Chard could say anything, he glanced at Ainsworth then back to Chard. “I would like to propose something to both of you.”

They waited, the air charged with suspicion. “Since Miss Blackstone has made it clear she intends to be married in the next three months, why shouldn’t we have an equal chance as any young buck in London?”

“I don’t see what her blasted hurry is,” Chard said. “She mentioned an inheritance. Why should she rush into some fortune hunter’s hands?”

“Because she cannot inherit unless she is married.”

Twiford and Chard stared at Ainsworth who had said nothing until then.

The man with the look of a pirate nodded. “My grandmother, God rest her soul, disinherited me, her only direct descendant, and left everything to her great-niece, Miss Cressida Blackstone.”

Only the rustle of the breeze in the trees and the call of a bird interrupted the silence.

“So, Miss Blackstone is now an heiress,” Twiford mused, rubbing his chin. “I thought as much.” His blue eyes twinkled. “But I had no idea her gain was your complete loss.”

The realization sank in and Chard began to chuckle, which turned into a full-bellied laugh.

Ainsworth grew red in his swarthy face, his fist clenching and unclenching at his sides. But as the other two roared with laughter, a smile tugged at the edges of his lips.

“Confound you all!” he finally said, his mouth splitting in a grin, which quickly turned to a grimace, his cuts and scrapes from the coaching accident still smarting him.

When their laughter had settled, Twiford spoke up. “As I said, I wish to propose something to you gentlemen.”

Chard cocked an eyebrow at his best friend, Ainsworth merely stared.

“I propose that we each have an opportunity to make our case to the fair damsel. She must sit for a few more hours still within the confines of the coach. You, my friend,” he said to Chard, “have already had some time alone with her in the coach. I say allow her cousin here and me a chance to press our suit. If there is time before we arrive in London, then have another go, Chard. It will give your temper a chance to cool.”

Before either man had a chance to agree or argue, Twiford slipped a coin from his pocked. “Heads or tails?”

Ainsworth quickly called “heads.”

Twiford tossed the tuppence in the air. It landed on the back of his hand, which he covered with his other hand. Approaching Ainsworth he displayed it.

“Tails, I have the first go. Cheer up, men, you’ll have more time to plan your campaign.”

With those words, Twiford approached the coach and opened the door.

 ***

His heart thrumming in his chest, belying his suave words to the men behind him, Twiford climbed into the coach.

“What are you doing in here?” Miss Blackstone demanded, her eyes narrowed, her nostrils flared. “I thought I made myself clear.”

With a bow of apology to Miss Knighting, Twiford took the seat in front, facing the two women, then thumped the roof of the coach to signal the coachman to continue the journey.

“I am sorry if my presence here discomposes you, Miss Blackstone,” he began, wiping his palms against his thighs, unsure how to begin. His bravado was fading as quickly as a doused candle flame.

Miss Blackstone crossed her arms in front of her and stared out her window. “I have nothing to say to you.”

Wishing the maid were not sitting there, pretending not to hear a thing, Twiford plunged on. This would be the only opportunity he would ever have of confessing the truth to Miss Blackstone. “Three years ago I wronged you and for that I am very sorry.”

He saw her stiffen at the words. Knowing he had her undivided attention, he continued. “I did not think you were the right woman for my closest friend, Tristram, but I had no right to malign your character.” He kneaded his fist in his hand, wishing he didn’t have to confess the ugliness of his sins, but knowing there was no future if he didn’t come clean. “It was not only for the sake of my friend that I treated you so harshly.”

Her gaze had gone from the window to him and her stare was unwavering now.

“In the face of your courage in braving those society matrons, in confronting a world which thinks it has the right to look down its nose on someone because of her birth, I grew to admire you.” He swallowed and pressed on. “I didn’t want to admire you. But worse, I didn’t want to fall in love with you.”

The words were barely discernible above the rocking and creaking of the barouche but she heard them. The slight gasp of her mouth and her averted gaze told him so. Her clasped hands clenched more tightly.

“If I behaved rude and distant, I ask your forgiveness. You were my best friend’s beloved and I could not betray him. I am sorry for all the hurt I caused you. I hope that you may find it in your heart to forgive me and give me a chance to make up all the harm I caused you.”

 

Ross’s agitation had grown with each mile along the Bath road to London, wondering what that fellow Twiford was telling Cressida. Now at last they reached the first posting house and he could take the man’s place in the coach alongside Cressida.

It was all he could do not to take her in his arms again, but one look at the forbidding face of her maid, made him take his place on the seat opposite the ladies.

Cressida after one hurried glance, looked away from him, but her heightened color betrayed her awareness of him.

“Hello, Cressida,” he said softly once the coach was on its way again.

Her hands fiddled with a closed fan in her lap. “Please, Ross, please forget what…what happened back there. It was an aberration.”

“Was it?” He kept his look steady on her until she was forced to look at him once more. What he saw was pain and confusion in those chestnut depths. It was the last thing he wanted to cause her, but he had too much at stake to back down. “I meant what I said. I love you and have loved you since we were children. That is why I forced myself to distance myself when we grew older. My parents were against the match.”

“Why?” The one word sounded as if it had escaped from her lips.

“Because your mother had married beneath her in marrying your father.”

She looked away as if in disappointment or disgust.

“My parents threatened to disown me if I went after you.” He emitted a harsh laugh. “After they passed away, and I began my life of debauchery, my grandmother also threatened to disown me. But since the only thing I ever cared about had been taken away from me, I did as I pleased with no thought for anything or anyone.”

He looked down at his hands, wishing he could undo the past. “When I made such a mess of things in Paris, shaming my uniform, my name, I knew I had nowhere else to turn. My family had washed their hands of me. I had…had dishonored a young woman, abandoning her, to die in childbirth…” His voice broke on the last. “Her brother fought me.” He made a gesture to the scar on his jaw, “leaving me with this permanent reminder of my sin. I was left for dead, bleeding in a foul Parisian alley. I knew there would be no reprieve this time and would soon face eternity.”

He drew in a shuddering breath, sensing rather than seeing both women’s eyes riveted on him. “It was then I called out to God, whether conscious or already on my way to Hell, I do not know. I asked for His mercy, knowing I deserved none.”

He paused, struggling for composure. “When I awoke, I was lying in a bed, bandaged and cleaned up, weak as a kitten but alive. I knew God had given me my life back and that I could never—would never go back to that reprobate I had once been.” He gave a glimmer of a smile. “I may look like a blackguard now, but I am a new person within.” He sighed, drawing a hand across his eyes. “Unfortunately, Grandmother never knew of my conversion. She changed her will, disinheriting me of everything before I had a chance to prove myself a different man.”

 

Chard had fretted and fumed upon his horse as the journey continued to London. He could tell nothing from Twiford’s set look when he had descended at the next posting inn. His friend had remained silent as they continued their journey and Ainsworth took his place in the coach. At last it was his turn. Chard had had ample time to reflect on things as the miles had thundered under his horse’s hooves.

Now, tired and dusty, he settled into the coach after the final posting stop before reaching London.

Cressida merely glanced at him, fanning herself with a pink fan, and said nothing as he sat back. By now, she had heard the other two men, so she must surmise what his mission was.

As the coach resumed its journey, the sun waning on the horizon, Chard drew in a breath.

“So, you are once more a rich lady.”

Cressida’s eyelashes fluttered toward him above the fan but she didn’t meet his gaze. “I suppose Ross told you.”

“Yes. You must wed within six months or lose your newfound inheritance.” Despite his intention to proceed gently, he couldn’t help the tinge of mockery in his tone.

“Three.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Three?”

“Months. There remain but three more months for me to choose a husband or I forfeit my inheritance.”

“When you left me your note and ran away, I sought you everywhere.”

Her eyelids fluttered upward and this time her gaze remained fixed on his, the fan fallen still upon her lap.

“I even hired Bow Street Runners but you had disappeared off the face of the earth.” He gave a bitter smile. “You hid your tracks well. Knowing I was almost destitute, I couldn’t do much. I was angry, hurt and bitter for many months. When I finally had to give up the search—or go hungry—I left England.”

“Wh—where did you go?” she asked in so low a tone, he had to lean forward to hear her above the noise of the coach.

“Jamaica.”

Her mouth formed an O on an indrawn breath.

“I toiled more than any gentleman is accustomed to, as much as any plantation slave.” He gazed down at his palms. “The blisters hardened into calluses and I learned that my body would survive much more than I had ever credited it with.”

His lips stretched in a humorless smile. “You think I agreed to marry you for your father’s wealth. Perhaps my father pressured me to do so, but as soon as I met you, it no longer was about the money. You bewitched me as no woman has since then. When your father lost his money, I didn’t care—about him, yes, but not about our love. I knew our love was strong enough to weather any storm.

“But you had no faith in us, did you?”

She was shaking her head. “It wasn’t that. I…I didn’t want you to suffer.”

“So now you will marry any man just to get your money.” The ire, which was simmering just below the surface of his disarmingly gentle tone, rose again as he leaned across the coach and grasped her wrist. “You will sell your body and soul for some filthy lucre.”

He flung her wrist away. “I have enough money to buy and sell your great-aunt’s estate many times over, I’ll warrant. If you think I care about your money, think again. Give it back to that worthless cousin of yours and prove my words!

* This section contributed by Ruth Axtell, www.RuthAxtell.com *

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