Tempting Scandal- Chapter Two, Part One

tempting scandal sTrailing behind Blithfield and his young lady, Nate arrived with the others just as they began to move on to another room. He dreaded large gatherings like this. He agreed to come only as a favor to Laura. She had been spending more time with the Duchess of Clifford, and her grace had requested Laura’s presence. Or, at least, that’s what Laura had explained to him. Now, seeing her on Linton’s arm, he wondered if she were growing attached to the man. It could never be. Daughters of dukes did not marry mere misters. Furthermore, no matter what Nate’s father had done, dukes did not marry women in trade.

Clifford emerged at his side. “You missed it, but Clara announced our house party. You will come this year and bring Laura?”

“Laura? No, she is far too young!”

Clifford nodded in the direction of where Laura and Linwood stood and chatted. Linwood was apparently enamored with Nate’s sister and judging by her blush and frequent smiles she, at the very least, enjoyed the attention.

“She is not too young for a house party,” Clifford said.

“She is too young for one of your wife’s house parties. You know how she matchmakes!”

“It does not follow that she would do so for Laura. Do you forget that she used to be a teacher of girls our sister’s age? She never advocated marriage for any of them.”

The truth was, Nate did often forget that Clifford’s wife had been a teacher and was not born to the aristocracy. For that matter, Clifford had been the son of a man who had been a baronet and given an earldom long after Nate’s childhood. He earned his dukedom after assisting the Prince Regent. Of course, Nate promptly committed political suicide by then siding against Prinny on a critical Parliamentary debate. Not that Nate ever considered doing otherwise. His integrity had always been to the extreme. It was such actions that garnered Nate’s notice, and their friendship began.

It was not that Nate disliked people of lower ranks. Rising up to a dukedom was something of which to be proud, and Nate congratulated his friend. However, lowering the status of your family to follow your lust for the butcher’s daughter was another thing entirely.

“You do raise a valid point,” Nate admitted.

“It is you Clara would love to find a match for, and I agree with her thoughts.”

“Pardon?”

“You need to ensure your dukedom. A wife, heirs—that sort of thing.”

Nate frowned. If he could, he would leave everything to Laura. However, if he did not marry the title would go to ___. “You know I have the utmost respect for your wife and think of her almost as a sister.”

“Ah, so you will come.” Clifford grinned. “Well, tell her your requirements, and I am sure she can arrange a guest to suit.”

“This idea is ridiculous enough without my having to discuss it with Her Grace.”

“Well, if you tell me, I am just as likely to get all the details reversed. If you tell neither of us a thing, then Clara will invent her own requirements and heaven help you.”

Nate grunted his assent. For the remainder of the outing, he considered what he would like in a wife. She must come from an old and noble family with no hint of scandal. That alone would make it nearly impossible to find a lady. She must have some wealth—not that he needed it. Instead, it would assure they had no rumors of fortune hunting. Considering how he would prefer his future bride to look required more time.

A few days later, the Duke and Duchess of Clifford dined at his home. After the meal, while Laura performed on the pianoforte, Her Grace sat next to him and brought up the conversation.

“Tell me about your ideal lady,” the duchess commanded. After Nate gave his description, the woman laughed. “We can plan, sir, but the heart cannot be dictated by such things. At the very least, what sort of looks do you prefer?”

“Petite but unaware of the fact,” he answered without hesitation.

“How…interesting. Anything else?”

Although Nate felt ridiculous saying something so stupidly poetic, he believed if she truly wished to satisfy she would be up to the task. “Eyes as blue as the ocean and hair the sunshine.”

A slow smile spread across the duchess’ face. “Quite romantic. When you are courting be sure to write her a verse or two.”

“Naturally,” he said with a smirk.

“Is that all?”

Laura had finished her sonata. After their gentle applause, the duchess stood for her turn on the instrument. “Actually,” Nate said before she walked away, “her face should remind one of a heart.”

“I see. Well, I do believe I may find one or two ladies who may suit your requirements after all.”

She dipped into a curtsy then moved to the pianoforte. The night continued without anything worth noting. It was not until he awoke in a cold sweat in the middle of the night that he realized he had described Sylvia Linwood.

Tempting Scandal- Chapter One, Part Two

Last time we stopped right where Sylvia–most embarrassingly–met the Duke! What shall happen next?


 

tempting scandal sOwen pushed forward and offered Sylvia help up to her feet. The gentleman—Sylvia knew he must be a duke given her brother’s words—glared at the spectators and they turned to resume their business.

“Is she injured?” the duke asked Owen.

“I can speak for myself,” Sylvia raised her chin and refused to look away when the man’s eyes met hers.

“I am certain Sylvia is unharmed,” Owen answered and placed a hand atop Sylvia’s. “Are you?”

The duke raised a brow and Owen flushed.

“Not—not that I mean to say you could not withstand my sister’s—well…I do not know what to call the display—not that you were making a display—I see your coat is torn.”

Sylvia could stand in silence no longer. She cleared her throat. “Brother, I believe we are keeping His Grace. Pray, forgive me.” She curtseyed. “I should have watched where I was going. I reacted instinctively and meant no harm. Please, send my brother the bill for the replacement. You have his name?”

“Indeed, Miss Linwood.”

Why did he sound so amused? Sylvia bobbed her head when she wanted to roll her eyes. “Again, please accept my apologies.”

“Yes!” Owen exclaimed. “Sylvia would never accost a duke under normal circumstances, I assure you.”

The duke smirked. “Keep an eye on your sister, then, Linwood. Good day to you both.” He gave the merest bow and strode away.

Beside her, Owen let out a great exhale. “That was bloody awful.”

“You do not need to tell me that,” Sylvia huffed, wishing she could rub the ache out of her backside. “I have never seen you so befuddled!”

Owen winced. “We are late. I may have missed my opportunity to speak with her.” He wrapped Sylvia’s hand around his arm and drug her forward with his long-legged and quick pace.

“Speak with who and who was that? You seemed to know him and vice versa.” Sylvia used her free hand to slam down her bonnet that threatened to fly away as they nearly ran down the street.

“That was Nathaniel Gordon, the Duke of Russell, and I had hoped to spend a moment in his sister’s company today.”

“Owen!” Sylvia planted her feet firmly on the ground and nearly fell on her face when her brother did not stop with her and kept tugging her arm.

“What is the matter?”

“Did you accept Clara’s invitation to meet at the museum to court a girl? We were supposed to return to the estate today. You know how much—”

“Court her?” Owen laughed. “I could never dare to hope for a courtship with Lady Laura Gordon.” He pulled her forward. “I only wished to hear her speak, to look upon her face…”

Sylvia’s eyes widened. Her brother was mooning over a girl, the sister of a duke and an arrogant one at that. Oh, this could mean terrible things. He had never seemed in love before and would have little to offer such a lady. At least it seemed he understood he had no future with the lady.

They gave their tickets to the clerk at the entrance and then rushed through the first few rooms until they met with their group. Clara, now the Duchess of Clifford, had been Sylvia’s most hated teacher until she met and fell in love and married. At the time, the transformation had impressed upon Sylvia and her school friends to vow to marry only for love. All these years later, Sylvia scoffed at the idea of love matches. Not one in a million couples had the love the Cliffords shared, and she knew she could never be so lucky. Who would have her anyway? She had little fortune and only passable looks. Gentlemen desired a wife skilled in embroidery rather than collecting rents.

“Ah, there you are,” Clara, the duchess said before reaching for Sylvia’s hands and pecking her cheek. “I was ready to give you up,” she laughed. “I know Sylvia wanted to return home, and Owen forgets appointments as often as he remembers them, but Laura insisted we linger.”

Sylvia watched as Owen smiled adoringly upon the young lady next to Clara. The girl blushed flame red.

“I do not believe you have met Sylvia, dear,” Clara squeezed Lady Laura’s hand. “Allow me to introduce you.”

The necessary introductions performed, Clara continued to guide them through rooms. “I sent the others ahead, but we should reach them in a moment. Clifford chose not to join us. Gordon needed to visit a shop, and Clifford says he comes too often to the Museum. He is extraordinarily fond of it.”

Sylvia smiled at the way her friend and mentor spoke of her husband. Turning her attention to Lady Laura, she asked, “Do you come to the Museum often?”

“Not as much as I would like,” she answered. “His Grace is often too busy to accompany me. I am very grateful for the Duchess of Clifford’s attention.”

“Nonsense,” Clara called over her shoulder. “And I believe I asked you to call me Clara. Now, here are the others.”

They rounded a corner and met a handful of other friends of the Cliffords. Seeing a friend, Sylvia excused herself. From the corner of her eye, she saw Owen replace her next to Lady Laura.

 

 

The Duchess of Clifford’s Lessons on Love: Tempting Scandal, Part One

I’m so excited to be starting this series on my blog! I first started this series in 2015. For a time, I expected to release a few of these in 2016 and 2017 but my test run in the Regency Romance genre taught me how difficult it is to become visible. I had to focus on JAFF for budget reasons. My heart will always be in JAFF and about 98% of my story ideas start with the belief that the main characters are Darcy and Elizabeth. I have enough ideas to keep me writing in the genre for probably thirty years. However, I also have a creative desire to pursue writing that is not derivative of Jane Austen’s works but set in Regency England. Like Fantasy Friday, I will be going slow with this project. My goal is to have 500 new words each week. I won’t be publishing until all the stories are complete so this will take years. 🙂

I don’t have an official blurb for this story or this series. The premise of the series is that a group of school friends vowed to only marry for love when they witnessed its transformative powers on their most hated teacher. She, shockingy, becomes a duchess and is part big sister, part wise aunt as each girl enters the real world and finds how difficult it is to remain true to their ideals. I am mixing historical events from the Regency Era (1811-1820) with Romantic tropes.

The first novel, Tempting Scandal, will have a forced marriage and deals with Luddites (who you should recall from Sufficient Encouragement). Most of my stories will not have overlapping themes from my JAFF stories but this one does. However, it is not a rewrite (unlike Bridgewater Brides) so all words will be new.

I will also be using a different pen name. The last time I tried Regency Romance, I think it confused some readers and I mostly showed up with JAFF books. I’ve decided to keep Rose as part of my name for any genre I try. Harrison is after my hometown just as Fairbanks was after the town in Alaska in which I resided for a year.

That’s enough chat, don’t you think? Let’s get to it!


tempting scandal sSylvia Linwood scowled at the cobbled London pavement as she blindly followed her twin brother from their carriage to The British Museum. For one, she doubted the visitors who made their current passage so crowded had any mind for history and intellect. She had never seen a member of the ton show a sign of a brain in their well-groomed heads. Secondly, her brother had promised her they would leave for their estate this morning. Yet, here they were as far from their Yorkshire home as ever.

Owen was not a bad brother or thoughtless. He simply overextended himself while desiring to please everyone at once. The same morning he promised Sylvia they would return to Linwood Hall, he had told their friends they would meet at the Museum. If Sylvia did not care so much for her old school teacher, now the Duchess of Clifford, she would be more put out. However, Owen had a way of endearing everyone to him. His smiling face and sunny outlook on life had been their mother’s consolation while she lived and their father’s primary source of pride before succumbing to an early death. By contrast, Sylvia seemed formed to annoy both. Her mother bemoaned her daughter’s lack of interest in ladylike pursuits. Someone had to see to the estate. Mrs. Linwood had been too frail and Owen too fond of leisure and company. The ladies at Almack’s would have a heart seizure if they knew Sylvia acted as land agent for her brother.

“Keep up,” Owen called over his shoulder.

Sylvia had to take two steps for his one. “It is not as though I do not know the way,” she mumbled under her breath.

Some ladies, or rather all as she glanced around her, she supposed would walk arm in arm with their male escort. Sylvia had no notion for the tradition. Owen was nearby, and the streets crowded enough that she could not be accosted without witnesses or assistance. She had no physical malady requiring the aid of a gentleman’s arm. If they walked together, he must awkwardly slow, or she must rush. It suited neither of them. Besides, she had gone to the Museum countless times over the last four seasons. She knew every shop by heart. Nothing but an unlikely and sudden storm would surprise her.

A wall emerged before Sylvia, and before she could move aside, it crashed into her. A yelp escaped her lips as she stumbled backward. To ease her fall, her hands reached out to grasp anything they could.

“What the devil?” the wall spoke as the sound of fabric ripping garnered his notice.

He turned, and Sylvia was jerked by the motion and stumbled once more. It was a man, she realized. He grasped her by the forearms.

“Unhand me!” He pushed against her arms and almost threw her down.

“Sylvia!” Owen came running up to them. “You there! Stop him!” He shouted as he ran. “He has got my sister.”

A crowd circled around them just as Owen arrived. Why had no one come to Sylvia’s rescue? The man had quit attempting to toss her around, but Sylvia’s mind lagged with confusion and exhaustion from the exertion.

“Sylvia,” Owen panted between breaths. “Are you well? Why did none of you help?” He glanced at the witnesses. “Have you no common decen—Your Grace!” Owen hastily bowed.

Sylvia gasped at her brother’s words, and her eyes flew to the man with whom she wrestled. Taking in the expensive fabrics and fine tailoring, she let go of his sleeve so quickly she finally fell backward. Pain seared her backside as the crowd laughed.

Guest Interview–Lord Harrington

51hWvtatiUL._SY346_It’s been awhile since I’ve had a guest on the blog! Today, I’m excited to share this interview with Lord Harrington. I first read Lord Harrington’s Lost Doe a few years ago. It’s such a sweet, feel-good story and I appreciated the unique premise involving the treatment of the insane during the Regency era.


Lord Harrington is the lead male in Lord Harrington’s Lost Doe. Affectionately called “Mr. Grumpy” by those who know him best, he is the owner of a massive estate in Northern England.

 

  1. What is your favorite drink?
    Brandy
  2. What is your usual breakfast?
    Turtulong, marmalade, tea
  3. What is your favorite holiday like?
    A quiet one, spent at home with just family.
  4. What is your favorite feast?
    Venison, asparagus, rarebit, port
  5. What is your favorite animal?
    My horse
  6. What is your favorite thing you own?
    Denwood, my estate. I’ve worked hard to bring it back from ruin.
  7. What is your favorite city?
    London, I suppose, but that’s not saying much.
  8. What is the best thing about London?
    Leaving it.
  9. What is the worst thing about London?
    The smell.
  10. What is the biggest difference between London and Denwood?
    The crowds.
  11. Where would you like to travel?
    Not keen on travelling. Being at home is best.
  12. What is your favorite memory?
    When my Mercy said, “Yes.”
  13. What is your least favorite memory?
    Discovering Mercy gagged and tied up.
  14. What have you learned from Mercy?
    How pleasant life can be.
  15. What is the hardest part of being married?
    Leaving the marriage bed for my daily duties.
  16. What are you afraid of?
    Why would I share that with you?
  17. What do you think is the world’s greatest enemy?
  18. What is your favorite pastime?
    I’m not sharing that.
  19. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
    This is nonsense, I’m done.
  20. Wait, a couple more. What do you hate the most?
    Answering questions, good day.

Lord Harrington left without answering the last question.

To find out more about Lord Harrington, read: Lord Harrington’s Lost Doe.


LHLDsm (3)Well! Mr. Grumpy reminds me a bit of another Regency fellow who is rather grumpy but stole my heart. 😉


Blurb: Lord Alexander Harrington’s life is rather tame until a shoeless, coatless waif is found wandering his estate with no memory of who she is. Despite his stoicism, Lord Harrington finds himself drawn to the lost girl who he compares to a scared doe. Caring for her illness despite speculation of her mental state, he develops feelings for her.

Is she an escaped lunatic, or simply a lost woman desperately in need of his help? A revelation about his own family’s history with the mental asylum down the road causes him to question his feelings. When a massive fire breaks out on estate grounds, will he lose her forever?


Buy now on Kindle or Paperback! Buy here!

A Phantom Courtship- Chapter Two

phantom courtship 7Lily awoke to raindrops on her head. At first, she remained motionless, allowing the refreshing chill to wash over her and ease the aches of her body and the sting of her wound. As the storm picked up, she attempted to sit, feeling dizzy as she did so.

“Easy now, Miss!” a lady’s voice called from several feet behind her.

Lily struggled to turn to see who approached but moaned in pain at the action. She heard footsteps increase in speed.

“We saw you fall. We will be there in one moment.”

“Try not to move,” a masculine voice said.

Who were they? Lily had never seen others visit the cemetery before. Although at the moment all she cared about was ending the near blinding pain in her head.

“Let’s get you out of the rain,” the man said as he reached her side.

Lily took in his Wellington boots, buckskin breeches, and black overcoat before slowly moving her head up the inches of his frame to see his face. Any sudden movement would end in agony. A kind face and pale blue eyes gazed back at her.

“Do you think she has a concussion?” the woman said.

“Out of the rain first, Sybil.” The man knelt before Lily. “Can you put your arms around my neck? There’s a folly not too far from here we might seek refuge.”

Lily attempted to speak, but no sound came from her. Deciding that nodding would be too painful, she lifted her arms, fighting the dull, heavy feeling of those limbs. Her teeth chattered as cold crept in from the rain. Already sodden, she began to fear she would never be dry or warm again. What would have become of her if not for these angelic strangers?

In one graceful movement, the young man scooped her up and marched toward the folly built by the previous squire. The lady kept pace with them.

“I am Sybil Morgan and this is my brother Peter. We are visiting kin in the area.”

When Lily did not speak, Sybil chatted on. “You must be overwrought from your experience. Never mind speaking to us just now. I only thought introducing ourselves would put your mind at ease.” She paused and beamed at her brother. “Peter is a doctor. He’s going to be the best doctor this country has ever seen!”

Lily glanced up at the man who held her. He looked as though he had just finished his training. They reached the folly, and he set her down gently.

“May I examine you?” he asked with practiced calm.

Again, finding speech too difficult, Lily gave a slight smile and Mr. Morgan began his assessment. His fingers ran over her limbs and ribs, looking for signs of any broken bones.

“It is as I suspected. Other than a few scrapes and bruises any injury was to your head. I imagine you have the devil of a headache.”

Lily attempted to nod and moaned at the sensation.

“Help me with her bonnet,” Peter said to his sister. Together they undid the strings of Lily’s sodden hat. Sybil undid her hairpins and Peter speared his fingers through Lily’s dark brown mane. Locating the tenderest spot, Lily yelped. Peter withdrew his fingers.

“No blood,” he frowned.

Lily furrowed her brow and looked at the siblings, hoping one would explain.

“After a fall like that, I would expect bleeding. That there is none on the outside indicates an internal contusion,” Peter said matter-of-factly. “Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?” He held up three, two on the one hand and one on the other.

Lily opened her mouth, but again, no words came out. She motioned to her throat.

“No voice?” Peter asked.

Lily nodded, wincing at the pain.

“But you understand our words?”

“I do not think she is a mute,” Sybil said. “She wouldn’t try to talk if she were.”

“I agree,” Peter said. “How curious.” He reached for Lily’s chin and turned it gently in his gloved hands. He trailed his fingers over her neck which would have made her blush if she were not so cold.

“Does your throat hurt? Have you had a recent cold?”

Lily shook her head and held up three fingers.

“Three?” Peter said in confusion. “Oh, from a moment ago. Yes, I held up three fingers.”

“Well, we need to get you home Miss. You need dry clothes and a warm fire.”

“How can we manage that if we don’t know who she is?” Sybil asked and twisted her hands. “We could bring her—”

“You know we can’t do that,” Peter said quietly but in a tone that left no room for argument.

Lily thought for a moment. Her quick mind moved slower through the pain and the cold. If only she could write out her name and directions to her home. She held out her palm and shaped her other hand as though she were holding a pen. She went through the motions of writing.

“I’m afraid neither one of us have any writing instruments,” Peter frowned.

Lily’s shoulders sagged for a moment.

“I’m sure someone in town must know who she is. Her clothes are fine enough, she must be local,” Sybil said.

Lily’s eyes widened at the thought of her being carted off to town as they asked every passer-by if they knew her as she looked ragged and a mess. Frantic to avoid being made into such a scene of pity—again—she held up her fingers in the shape of a cross.

“A cross?” Peter and Sybil echoed together.

“You would like us to take you to the church?” Sybil asked. “I do not think anyone will be there at this hour.”

Lily would roll her eyes if she did not think it would cause pain. Sybil was not the most intelligent lady Lily had ever met.

“Perhaps she means the vicar’s house. He would know her at the very least.”

Lily clapped her hands in approval rather than risk moving her head again, earning a smile from Peter and Sybil. Peter looked out at the horizon.

“The rain is easing, and our carriage is not very far.” Again, he scooped her up and carried her as though she weighed nothing.

Sybil took to chattering again. “Our father was a doctor too. Of course, Peter paid much more attention to doctoring than I did. I suppose he would have wanted me to be a nurse like our mother, but I was not made for that kind of concentration.”

By the way the lady walked—nearly skipping—Lily would agree.

“And not to be outdone with displeasing our Papa, Peter took an assignment that had him travel all over England, the Continent, and the furthest corners of the Empire.” Sybil grinned. “He brought me with him, of course.”

“Sybil, let us not air all of our private lives just now,” Peter said with a hint of annoyance.

“Well, I suppose you are correct. It is more fun to release it in small doses and surprise one’s friends. When next we see you, I will tell you a tale from India.”

Lily blinked and wondered if Peter’s worry about a contusion on the brain was indeed correct. They thought they might see her again? They did not even know her name! And now they were laughing and carrying on as though she were one of their dearest friends. And as strange as it was, Lily also found herself yearning for it. She had felt so very alone since her mother died.

Once in the carriage, Peter brought out a blanket from a box beneath the seat and Sybil arranged it around Lily. The trundled the small distance to the parsonage house. Rather than carry her to the door, Peter assisted Lily out of the carriage, and then both siblings helped her walk to the door. They knocked and at first no one answered. Tears were welling in Lily’s eyes as she reached for the knob, determined to see herself inside when the door opened.

“Oh, it’s you,” Daisy said and moved aside. “What on earth did you do to yourself? Hurt your ankle, I guess,” she supplied when Lily did not answer. “Well, put her in the parlor here.”

Daisy pointed in the direction and then yelled for the cook, marching off when no one answered. The siblings brought her to the room and lowered her on the settee.

“You are certain she will be looked after here?” Sybil asked her brother.

“She is with her people,” Peter said. “It is wrong for us to intrude longer. We will call on you tomorrow. Ice for the head,” he said then bowed.

Sybil curtsied and followed her brother out of the room. Lily laid her head back on the pillow, thinking it the strangest but most thrilling day she had ever lived.

 

****

 

In three days’ time, Lily recovered from her fall. At first, heavily bruised and sore, the pain eased with the application of ice and rest. Her voice, as well, mended and returned within a day. Not that Lily had much use for it. Her sisters did little more than pop their heads in and gawk at her. Her father avoided her room entirely. Although disappointed that Peter and Sybil did not visit as promised, Lily determined to leave the house on the third day. She had spent too much of her life in the sick room.

Strolling through the muddied lanes, she approached the cemetery. Closing the gate behind her, she meandered through the paths to her mother’s grave. Laying aside the now destroyed flowers she had last left at the tomb, she lovingly placed a new bouquet.

Hearing the squeak of the gate closing in the distance, Lily lifted her head. A gentleman and a lady entered the grounds of the cemetery. As they came closer, Lily made out the faces of Peter and Sybil. How strange that they frequented the graveyard but were not residents of the area.

They paused for several minutes at a set of stones and Lily allowed them privacy. When they looked up, Sybil caught her eye and tugged on her brother’s coat. Nodding to his sister’s unspoken request, they began walking toward Lily. She met them halfway.

“Good day,” she said with a polite curtsy.

“Miss Shapcote,” Peter said with a bow. “Forgive us for not calling on you. I am happy to see you are well.”

“It is of no matter, but I was sorry to not be able to thank you earlier. I shudder to think what might have become of me if I had not been discovered so quickly.”

“Yes,” Peter agreed.

“Fate must have played a hand in our meeting,” Sybil said with a smile.

Since her mother’s death, Lily had no trust in fate whether it was called destiny, Providence, or God’s handiwork. How could there be any good in her mother being taken from her? Rather than disagreeing with her new acquaintance, Lily gave them a tight smile.

“Will you walk with us, Miss Shapcote?” Peter asked and extended his arm.

Lily took it and allowed him to lead her from the graveyard. They walked in silence for several moments. Perhaps like Lily, they considered the most likely candidate for conversation—that of mourning a loved one—too intrusive. Finally, it occurred to her, that they had learned her surname.

“You discovered my name,” she said. Her voice rose, indicating her apprehension. She dearly hoped her story of falling and rescue in the rain like a drowning kitten was not bandied about the town.

“I hope you do not mind,” Peter said. “We asked our aunt the name of the vicar and were told he is Mr. Shapcote with three daughters and recently lost his wife. Seeing as we met you at the cemetery, it seemed likely you were a daughter and not a servant or friend.”

“Yes, I am his second daughter. Lily.”

“We are pleased to formally meet you,” Sybil said with a gentle smile.

“You seem to know the area well, and yet I do not recall meeting you before,” Lily said and redirected the conversation.

“As my sister told you when we found you, we have spent many years abroad. My father moved here, at his sister’s request, shortly after our mother died over ten years ago. Not to malign your town, Miss Shapcote, but coming from the bustling city of Liverpool, we found it too confining. I took a post to India and Sybil came with me.”

Lily glanced at the couple she walked with. Ten years ago they would have been in their early twenties, and well out of the sphere of people Lily would have known as a child. “Who is your aunt?”

“Mrs. Wilson,” Sybil answered.

Lily’s eyebrows shot up. She had not heard Mrs. Wilson had any kin. The widowed woman was reported to not have left her home for nearly ten years.

“You do well to seem surprised,” Peter said in a melancholy voice. “It seems she has shut herself in after our father died. News of which did not reach us until recently. I fear there is no one to blame for his death but myself.”

“Peter! No, do not say such things!” Sybil let go of her brother’s arm and stood in front of him, hands on her hips and tears in her eyes.

“It is the truth, Sybil. I broke his heart when I left home.”

Lily shrank back, uncertain she should hear such a private conversation.

“You are not to blame for his illness,” Sybil shook a finger at her brother. “As a physician, you should know better. Nor was he so heartbroken that he bothered to read your letters.”

“I suppose you are correct,” Peter said looking at his toes. “He simply returned them unopened.”

Lily stifled a gasp, shocked that a father could do such a thing. Then, she considered the indifference her own had shown her in the recent months and tears welled in her eyes.

“No matter how much he blamed you for Mother’s death, it was not your fault,” Sybil said. “I am sure Miss Shapcote would agree.”

Sybil looked in Lily’s direction. “Oh, my dear!” She rushed to Lily’s side and embraced her. “I am sorry our discussion distressed you so much. Peter is always telling me to quit chattering so much and telling all the world our woes.”

She rubbed her hand soothingly over Lily’s back. She had not had an embrace since her mother died. Her sisters had not shown much emotion at their mother’s passing, and Helena was not the demonstrative sort.

“I apologize for my tears,” Lily said and rummaged for her handkerchief but not finding one.

“Use mine,” Peter said and pressed his into her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“I can sympathize with your troubles,” Lily said when she could speak. “My mother died after caring for me through illness.” Lily sniffed then confessed, “I know my father—” Her voice broke, “My father blames me.”

A Phantom Courtship

 

phantom courtship 7
(Only a promo cover)

I began writing this in 2016 for an anthology with Jenni James but we decided to make that set about fairy tales. We’ve decided to put another Paranormal Regency duet out this coming February.

 

Blurb: Lily Shapcote used to long for adventure. After the death of her mother, she only wishes for life to return to the way it used to be. Ignored by her family, her thoughts take a fanciful turn. Meeting new neighbors gives her everything she’s yearned for: acceptance, affection, and adventure. But what if it isn’t real? Will she be enticed to stay in a fake world or will she return to reality?

Chapter One

Thunder cracked overhead, jolting Lily from her sleep. Pushing her arms up, she stood from the rain-slickened ground and dashed wildly to the nearest tree for shelter. Drops continued to filter through the leaves, pelting her like angry tears but she did not feel them. Her eyes were riveted on the headstone she had just laid beside. A cry came from her lips when she saw the tombstone cracked down the middle. A round of thunder so loud it shook the earth and seemed to be laughing at Lily’s fright. How was it that lightning could strike so near her without any ill effects?

By the same token, she wondered what it would feel like to feel that alive. To feel a fire spark in her body and run through her veins would be more than she felt in her whole life, especially in the last few weeks following her mother’s death. And if she did not survive the strike, might that not be for the better? What was there worth living for at this point? The rain lessened, and Lily’s frantic heartbeat calmed. At last, she left her refuge for the dirty lane and her family’s parsonage. As her boots sunk into the damp earth, she noted the headstone that bore her mother’s name along with her dates of birth and death was split asunder much like her heart.

“I’m home,” she called upon entering and tossing her russet brown bonnet that had seen better days, on the table. She knew perfectly well her words were heard by no one. No housekeeper or maid greeted her. No smiling mother or sisters sat in the drawing room awaiting her return. Her father seldom stirred from his library. A dark cloud of mourning hovered over the Shapcote home, and Lily doubted it would ever lift.

Not caring about the puddles left in her wake, she drudged upstairs to change into dry clothes. The familiar room brought no comfort. Weeks ago, Lily had fallen ill with putrid fever. The doctor recommended the room be cleared and left dark and bare. Now, heavy drapes covered the window, blocking all sunlight. All furniture had been removed save a table and chair next to the bed. Mrs. Shapcote had sat in the chair countless hours nursing her middle daughter before succumbing to the illness herself. After being insensible with fever for a week, Lily recovered. As her eyes fluttered open, she witnessed her mother faint from sickness. During her rapid decline, Lily was not allowed to visit her mother. Afterwards, Lily couldn’t bear to change a thing about the room. Potion bottles littered the table with weeks worth of dust collecting around them. The book Mrs. Shapcote had been reading aloud still sat on the chair. Lily reverently trailed her hands over the worn cover on her way to the closet.

Knowing her sisters were busy and not wanting to bother a maid, she awkwardly dressed in a fresh black bombazine gown. It was time to switch to lavender, but Lily could not bear the thought. Her grief of her mother’s passing — and because of her — would never fade like the colors of mourning suggested. Already, it seemed her family adapted to the loss of their wife and mother. They moved forward at an alarming pace. Lily frowned in the mirror as laughter from the drawing room below drifted to her ears. When had she last laughed? Would her voice even make the noise?

“Maybe Helen will have a piece of humorous gossip,” she muttered to herself as she patted down the folds of her gown.

Helen had been her best friend since their infancy, but they could not be less alike. The older they got, the more different they became. Helen now bemoaned her lack of suitors and sat amongst the spinsters at dances. At twenty, she already believed her youth was over. Helen’s plain looks and relative poverty did not help matters, neither did the lack of eligible gentlemen in the area, but Lily would never give up hope for a love match. Even if her sister downstairs encouraged a gentleman twice her age, of weak constitution and disgusting breath.

“I wish you were here, Mama,” Lily said and stared intently at the mirror. Sometimes, when she concentrated hard enough, she could nearly swear her mother would appear to counsel her. Not just in the mirror. Lily knew that would be a mere flight of fancy. But she sometimes thought she heard her mother’s voice or felt her caress. Then, in another moment it would seem to be only the wind.

Deciding she could not spend all day upstairs, Lily left her chamber. When she returned below the water was cleaned up as if by ghostly who worked only out of sight. Sighing, Lily entered the drawing room.

Her younger sister, Daisy, sat near the window with a book open on her lap but of no interest. Daisy looked longingly at the table of hat fashioning supplies and then the clock. She had one hour of reading left before she could begin recreational pursuits. Ever since she ran away from school a month ago, she had been allowed to remain at home but with stringent rules. The carefree fifteen year old apparently chaffed at the restrictions.

Violet, the eldest sister, sat near the other window. Her suitor, Edward Norton, the local squire, and patron of Mr. Shapcote, sat at her side. Neither even looked in Lily’s direction as they continued their conversation in near privacy.

Lily picked up embroidery she had begun before her mother’s death. They had planned it together. Upon completion, it would read “The sun always rises,” with a sun rising over mountains covered in mist and a garden of sunflowers tilting their heads up in the sun’s direction. Lily did not complete the text before falling ill. She had determined to work in the garden instead, but thus far only had grass and green stalks.

Does the sun really always rise, Mama? she thought to herself. As though in answer, a small ray broke through the clouds and shined in the room, dancing off a crystal dish and sending fragments of light through the chamber.

 

*****

 

A half an hour later, Mr. Norton took his leave, Violet fiddled with a fan, Daisy declared herself too tired to read and Lily had barely ten stitches completed. She rolled her eyes at herself. Since her illness, her concentration had been broken. Was it any wonder her family mostly ignored her if she sat staring at her embroidery without minutes on end? She was fortunate they did not consider her touched in the head and send her away.

Daisy gathered hat supplies and plopped next to Lily. “I think working on this bonnet would be just the thing to soothe my head, but we have nothing but old ribbon.”

“What do you need new ribbons for?”

“Just because I am the youngest and not out does not mean I have to exist solely on your hand me downs! Catherine Landing is two years younger than me and more fashionable! She’s a child!”

“So are you,” Lily said. At times the five years between them in ages seemed enormous.

Violet sighed. “I suppose it is unfair to expect you to never want anything new and fresh. ‘Tis part of growing up. Lily, remember when you hated wearing my old things?”

Lily only nodded her head. It was a common enough complaint from her. Her mother always had some piece of advice or idea on how to make something old new again. Since Mrs. Shapcote’s death, Daisy had used this excuse several times to gain new items, and Lily feared in danger of becoming thoroughly spoilt.

“I would walk with you to town,” said Violet, “but it is too muddy. I must look refined to the community or Mr. Norton will lose interest.”

“Lily, will you come? I know you always like to speak with Helen.”

“Do you forget she is the doctor’s daughter and not the milliner’s daughter?” Lily asked.

“Of course not! It is on the way.”

Lily narrowed her eyes at her silly younger sister. “And then you will be left alone at the milliner’s?”

“What?” Daisy put on her best innocent look.

“Ask Father,” Violet offered.

Daisy dashed away and came back triumphantly, just as Lily expected. “He said I could go if I am alone for only ten minutes.”

Lily raised a brow. “And ten minutes of time with my friend is supposed to be sufficient bribery?”

“It is better than nothing,” Violet said.

I am not the one who is restricted to the house. I could go and spend as long as I like,” Lily said.

“Mama would have understood,” Daisy muttered before crumpling to tears, which Lily suspected were put on.

“Then I will go,” Violet said while leveling an angry glare at Lily. “And it shall be your fault if Mr. Norton throws me over and I am an old maid forever.”

“I’ll go,” Lily said while rising to her feet. No one had even asked if she wanted to go into town today, after all, she had been stuck in a rainstorm just this morning, but putting aside their feelings for the other is what sisters did, wasn’t it?

Wetherham was a small town, just barely deserving the nomenclature and that only because there were so few towns in Northern Cumbria. Still, the residents were proud of their butcher, milliner, blacksmith, and doctor. In recent years, to the delight of young ladies, a bookshop and circulating library had been added, while the tavern and sport remained of primary interest to the menfolk — of which there were not many and even less that were young and solvent.  A short walk from the Shapcote residence, Lily and Daisy reached their destination in a matter of minutes.

“I shan’t be longer than ten minutes! I swear!” Daisy said when she left Lily at the door of Dr. Jamison’s. Daisy’s solemn vow reinforced Lily’s belief that her sister had little intention of shopping. One could never promise to be so precise when looking for fripperies. She shrugged her shoulders, though. Nothing dangerous or exciting ever happened in their corner of the world. Daisy could hardly meet disaster.

The Jamison housekeeper showed Lily to the sitting room, and she greeted her friend affectionately.

“It seems an age since I last saw you,” Helen Jamison said while scrutinizing Lily’s face.

“Forgive me. I have been desired quiet more than usual.”

“Understandable, of course. I only hope you are taking care of yourself. Father still worries.”

“I am entirely recovered,” Lily said. The references to her past illness always served as a reminder that her mother had not survived. She cleared her throat. “You must tell me about the ball last week.”

Although she had entered half mourning, Lily still preferred to avoid public gatherings. Violet had gone, but Lily had not the patience to hear her sister’s gushing over the attention paid to her. Helen was a far more sensible companion…even if that did not always suit Lily.

The tea things arrived just as Helen launched into a description of Mr. Norton’s puffy face turning red with the exertion of dancing.

“I can’t imagine what my sister sees in him!” Lily cried. What once would have made her laugh, only made her concerned for her sister.

“I daresay she sees a home of her own and two thousand a year.”

“You make her sound like a fortune hunter! If she were, would she settle for such a paltry sum?”

“Two thousand is quite a lot more than your father or mine earn,” Helen mused before sipping her tea.

“But Vi has never cared about such things before. Daisy would be more likely to marry for money.”

“Perhaps recent events have changed Violet’s feelings.”

Lily made no reply. Not only had she caused her mother’s death, but now she was the reason for her sister desiring to marry the first sweaty, aging man who showed her any interest? A knock at the door interrupted her musings and looking out the window showed it was Daisy.

“It is time for me to go. I fear if I stay longer Daisy will invent some excuse to leave us. I’m exasperated at Papa as it is.”

“I am sorry my company was such a burden,” Helen said with a smirk.

“Oh! You know what I mean!”

“I do,” Helen nodded. “Still, I think it is good for you to get out more and talk with others. I know your sisters are given to ignore you. If I were stronger, I would visit you.”

“And have me give up my walk?” Lily feigned shock. “I thought you cared about my health!” By unspoken agreement, the two never mentioned Helen’s limp. Indeed, it was easy to forget about it entirely.

“Then you’ll promise to visit more? Like you used to?” Helen asked with no small amount of anxiety in her voice.

Unable to bear the thought of concerning her friend, Lily agreed. Even if she felt her visits were more for the sake of their past friendship than any current feeling. Helen had very few friends and was mostly homebound during the day when her father needed the gig. They no longer shared the secret yearnings of their heart, and their interests seemed too varied as Helen had long ago given up reading sentimental romances. While Lily was a loyal friend, she could not help the selfish wish of desiring a friend who might understand her a bit better. Seeing her sister waiting for her on the doorstep with glowing eyes and flushed cheeks made the feeling even stronger.

“What have you been up to?” Lily eyed Daisy with suspicion as they walked toward their home.

“Nothing so bad.”

“Daisy,” Lily warned.

“Alright,” she said and pulled two apples out of her reticule and handed one to Daisy. “The reddest I could find!”

Lily looked at the shiny fruit in her palm. “These look like the ones Mr. Alistair grows, but I did not think he came to market on Fridays.”

“He doesn’t!” Daisy grinned.

“Daisy June Shapcote! Do you mean that you went on his land to retrieve them?”

Daisy erupted into laughter. “And climbed a tree and beat James and John Fr to the top as well!”

She skipped off and left Lily rooted in place. Those boys were two or three years younger than Daisy, and she was getting into scrapes with them as though she were a young girl still instead of blossoming into womanhood. Her figure was now curved and rounded in a feminine way. Could it be that Lily had one sister who was desperate for the carefree days of lost youth and another that was equally desperate to leave behind the cares of a troubled family? Where did Lily fit in the two extremes? For no matter the extremes, her sisters seemed capable of moving forward with their lives, of embracing change while Lily remained firmly rooted in a longing for the past.

 

*****

 

The following morning dawned no different than the ones in the last several weeks. The sun hid behind clouds with only peeks of it coming out for a few brief moments at a time. Lily had enjoyed enough of William Wordsworth and the Lake Poets to consider it a metaphor for her life. Arriving in the breakfast room at her usual time, she chewed her toast while her sisters chatted around her.

“You’re wearing the blue ribbon again, Daisy? I was going to ask to borrow it. Mr. Norton favors the color and my last pair broke.”

“Well, it is my favorite.”

“What of the others you bought yesterday?”

“Yesterday?” The younger girl blinked, confused.

“When you went to the milliner with Lily.”

“Oh… Oh, I decided to not purchase anything. It is better to not make a hasty choice, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm. Yes, frugality is a virtue.”

Lily’s eyebrows raised at Violet’s words. Was she worried about income? Lily had not thought about it before, but Violet was likely now doing the family accounts.

“Was Lily angry?”

“For what?” Daisy said nervously.

“For dragging her to town for no reason.”

“Oh, that. No, she did not seem to be.”

Lily stifled a sigh. When had her family begun to talk about her as though she was not in the room? Pushing back from the table without so much as excusing herself, she left. Uncertain if it might rain again, she changed into her sturdiest boots and bonnets. Seemingly prepared for the day, Lily set out for her usual morning location.

The frequent rains made the distance more cumbersome than usual, but she managed to trek up the hill to the old graveyard. As she approached her mother’s headstone, Lily again wondered how she had been so close to calamity and came out unscathed. She knew better than to tell her family or friends. They seemed to have little interest in what she had to say even more so if it sounded as outrageous as surviving a lightning strike.

After having sat silently and thoughtlessly for an hour or two, Lily departed the cemetery as unnoticed as she came. Darker clouds were beginning to roll in and, determined to not be caught in another downpour, she exerted herself faster than usual. Suddenly she lost her footing and felt her body lurch forward. Flinging her arms out for balance, she had no protection when she careened head first and landed on a sharp rock. A split second after the severe pain and loud buzzing sound came nothing but blessed darkness and silence.