The Harp

Happy Continuing Holidays, everyone! I always look forward to the Christmas themed Regency stories that are put out every year, and when I had spare vacation time and could take a week off, I dedicated part of my time off to just curling up with those books and reading them. While this isn’t a Christmas-themed story, it’s still fun and my present to you. This is Part One because it’s too big for one post. Thanks for reading.

The Harp

Maxwell Random, fourth Earl of Bridegrove, looked out the carriage window, smiling. “I missed this, James. We never had fog like this on the Peninsula.”

“Glad of it, too,” exclaimed James Hannifly, his companion

of the evening. “Things were bad enough there, and at Waterloo.”

“I missed everything about London, without knowing I did.” He let the window down and watched the mist swirl inside. “If I had died at Waterloo, I would have come here to haunt these streets.”

James looked embarrassed. “We both came close to sticking our spoons in the wall, old chap. I got off better than you, more’s the pity.”

Max chuckled. “A scar is a small price to pay for my sins. I find it useful to attract the attention of the fairer sex.”

“As if you needed help,” complained Mr. Hannifly. “Your damned god‑like gold hair and blue eyes needed no embellishments.”

“You put me to the blush, old man.” Max studied his shorter, dark‑haired companion closely. “You danced with the youngest Patterson girl twice tonight. Anything I should know about in that quarter?”

James flushed and laughed. “Scoundrel! No, not as yet, but she seems to be a decent sort. Not given to silly chatter, and knows horses. Her father tells me she has hunted since she turned five.”

The carriage turned a corner, and slowed. Max blinked out

the window. “Damn me! The fog disappeared!”

James looked out, and then back the way they came. “Looks

to be just this street that it missed. Deuced odd.”

Max stared at the perfectly visible street. His street. The townhouses loomed in the uncertain light of the new gas lamps, as if hoping the fog would not notice them. Some of the alcoholic fumes evaporated from his brain, lifting like the fog.

“There’s my house, third one down on the right.”

“What, with all the gargoyles on the roof? My dear Max, how

Gothic!”

“Isn’t it? No wonder no one had rented it yet.” Maxwell studied the hulking gray shape disinterestedly. “Do you want to see the inside? It’s equally horrid.”

“Not tonight,” said James with a laugh. “Only wanted to see you safe to your door. You were rather foxed at the club.”

“You have my thanks. I shall not tempt you with ghost tales, even though I know how much you enjoy that sort of thing.” Max sent a sly look toward his friend.

“Aye, old Mr. Nichols can’t be enjoying eternal rest yet, knowing his death has been called a suicide.” James looked back with equal slyness. “Though I doubt you would be troubled by him. He thought of you as a son. He won’t be rattling chains in your bedchamber.”

Max shook his head and said, “I hope to stay in his good graces.” Thoughtful, he gazed once more at the odd house. “I wish I could discover what happened. Seems more than an accident that I landed in his home.”

“You’d like to pay him back for the aid he rendered to us in Belgium, no doubt.” James sighed. “Well, so would I. If you discover anything, and require my assistance, I am willing to help.”

“Good man.” The carriage halted and Maxwell stepped down. He called a last farewell, and the carriage plunged off into the gray mist. Maxwell walked to his doorstep, and paused to consider the entire structure. His imagination boggled, unable to comprehend what Bernard Nichols, a kind old gentleman with excellent taste in wines, had seen in this bizarre, castle‑like design.

The light in the garden caught his eye, and sent a frisson of fear down his spine. He’d told his butler, Campbell, to leave the hall sconces burning; the rest of the house should be dark. Yet glimmering through the side yard hedge came a faint, flickering light. And a sound, something metal on stone. The sound of chains.

A chill spread across Max’s back, until he took himself to task for having a fanciful imagination. “At best it’s Campbell, looking for that old tom cat who yowled under my window last night. At worst, a sneak‑thief. I will handle that situation

myself.”

Not until he’d eased the side gate open and edged down the path did he consider the possibility of more than one sneak‑thief. Or more than two. Just as he contemplated going inside and rousing Campbell, he caught sight of a slender shape climbing the drainpipe. Alone.

Maxwell smiled, and looked his fill. The girl climbing the side of his house had hitched her skirts up, tucking the back hem into a belt of some kind at the front. A lantern dangled from a rope, also tied to her belt. Her shapely legs, a vivid white in the dark, were clearly visible in the light.

Calling out to her would no doubt startle the girl. Maxwell didn’t think he had the clear‑headedness required to catch her if she fell. The only solution seemed to be to follow her upward. Max waited until she had reached the roof, glad for once that the odd house had neither gables nor a pitched roof, but an unusual embattled facade that could be climbed with relative ease. He removed his beaver hat and many‑caped top coat.

As he laid the items on the ground, he noticed the chain and lock that had previously kept the side gate secure. The very key the renting agent claimed had disappeared stuck out of the lock. Max had not trusted the man, and now he wondered if this burglary could be part of a sinister plot.

He started his own ascent, moving much quicker than the girl had been able to do. Half way up, a coil of rope smacked into him, then uncoiled the rest of the way down. Startled, he hugged the pipe and the wall, and looked up. The imp had fastened the rope to the neck of the nearest gargoyle, and thrown it down.

Had she seen him? He could not see her anywhere, and began his climb once more.

The top floor, just below the attic, had a wide ledge outside the windows, still a good ten feet below the roof. Max decided to rest there, and discover where his little visitor had gone. He moved down the row of windows, peering in. “Come out, little lizard. Where have you gone, you miserable sneak‑thief?”

The window closest to the drainpipe opened causing him to spin around. He blessed his luck and the wide ledge that kept him from a nasty fall, and pressed back against the wall. A stick appeared on the sill, holding the window open. Then the old harp that had been part of the house’s furnishings eased part way out the window.

A slender arm reached out, snagged the gargoyle‑suspended rope, and tied it around the top of the large instrument. Then in slow degrees, the harp came out the window.

Maxwell felt his chin drop. All the silver and expensive paintings in there, and the girl wanted the damn harp! He smiled, thinking he would let her have her wish.

The night wind stirred the harp strings, sending a ghostly glissando to his ears. Needed tuning, he thought.

As soon as the harp cleared the window, the girl followed onto the ledge, lamp in hand. She removed the stick, letting the window close without a sound.

“How do you plan to get that thing down?” he demanded, forgetting she knew nothing of his presence.

The girl started, and turned around. Maxwell chilled, seeing her slipper dance on air. She tried to catch her balance, but he knew she hadn’t a chance. He leaped to catch her, pulling her sharply against him. Both her feet flew over the ledge, but he had her secure and safe.

Until her leg tangled in the rope, and the harp swung toward them, smacking the girl in the head. Her eyes rolled back, and she sagged against him, a dead weight.

Max’s impressive collection of swear words, gleaned from several languages, stood him in good stead at that moment. He tried to move out of the path of the harp, as it swung in a second time, but the rope around the girl’s leg pulled it after

them. This time it hit him in the shoulder, causing his arm to go numb.

He held on, held still, and pressed against the wall. “Wake up, child, open your eyes. I need your help to get out of this fix.”

To his relief, she seemed to be coming around, whimpering a little in pain, but taking her own weight on her feet, and out of his arms.

“Steady, my girl. Easy now, unwrap the rope from your ankle. I’ll hold you while you lean over.”

“I‑‑ I can’t. My head is spinning. I’ll fall.”

“Fine. Never mind, then. We’ll just stay like this until my weak leg gives out, and we both plummet to the ground.”

“I expect only you shall plummet, sir. I shall dangle upside down by my ankle.” She seemed to gather her scattered wits, and pushed a bit away from him. Her eyes looked into his for a moment, as if trying to judge him for trustworthiness.

Whatever she saw, she carefully leaned over and released the rope.

The gargoyle, once more bearing the full weight of the harp, groaned ominously. Maxwell eased past his companion, and took the rope. He saw then that the topknot had been tied in such a way to allow the weight of the harp to pull the rope, the speed controlled by the end in Maxwell’s hand. He got the thing moving, and heard a gentle chorus of twangs when the beast rested on the walkway below.

“There, now,” he said, releasing the rope and letting it fall away.

“No! You idiot!” The girl reached for the line, but to no

avail. The rope hissed away into the darkness.

Maxwell frowned. “Hardly an idiot, you know. I got the

harp down safely.”

“Yes, but how will we get down?”

“The same way we got up. Climb the pipe.” He pointed to

indicate the route. And noticed the top bolts had pulled clear

of rotting wood.

“I noticed on my way up that I would need to find another

way down. I thought to use the rope.”

“The gargoyle is about to part company with the roof, also.

Wouldn’t have done us any good.”

She gave him a contemptuous look, but he thought she only

tried to belittle his excellent point. “We have to go up to the

roof, then. There is a door up there that lets in to the attic.”

“And how shall we do that, little monkey? Fly?”

“If I stand on your shoulders, I can reach the top. I will

come down and open a window here to let you in.”

He stared at her. His leg throbbed to distraction, his arm

twinged with returning feeling, and she wanted to stand on his

shoulders? “That won’t work. Can’t we open the window from out

here?”

She made a sound of exasperation and turned to shove at the

window. The pane did not move. “I will only be there for a

moment, I promise you.”

“Damnation!” Maxwell looked into the obstinate face of the

stubborn pixie, and knew they had no other option. “Very well.

But first we should pause a moment and say our prayers.”

“Plenty of time to pray while we fall,” she said, smiling at

him.

“How comforting.” Maxwell held out his hands as if helping

a lady to mount her horse. The monkey‑girl climbed up to his

shoulder before he could caution her to step lightly. She

disappeared over his head in an instant.

“Pass the light up,” she hissed down at him.

Max found the lantern and held it aloft. “Do the

authorities know you have escaped from Astley’s?”

She gave him a cheeky grin as she took the lantern, and then she

and the light were gone.

The ledge offered little in the way of entertainment. Max

could not even pace. He waited for the glow of her light to

appear in one of the windows. Just when he felt sure she had

abandoned him, her voice came from above.

“The door won’t open. You’ll have to come up and try the

latch.”

“How did you get it open before?” He eyed the castle wall

above him, knowing at once he’d never be able to scale it.

“The door just opened. Now it won’t. Come on, one of the

other drain pipes might support you long enough to get up here.”

Maxwell had never liked the word might, and he liked it less

now. But he edged down to the next corner, and examined the

pipe. This one looked worse than the first one. He traversed

the front of his rented home, noticing that the fog had finally

embraced his street. No hope that the watch would see him and

come to rescue them.

The next pipe looked serviceable, though it groaned as he

began to climb. Goaded by the sound, he scrambled over the

facade wall onto the roof.

He felt hands on his arm as the girl tugged him away from

the edge. He knew a moment’s disappointment that she had let

down her skirts. “Thank you, Miss . . . er?”

“Miss Nichols. The door is over here.”

He frowned as he followed her. “Don’t you wish to know who

I am? Why I haven’t turned you in to the watch?”

“You’re the earl, no doubt. I can’t imagine why you haven’t

turned me in, but perhaps you were too foxed to think of it until

now.” She stopped at the half‑size trapdoor, over what would be

the back half of the house. “Go ahead, try it.”

Max obeyed, as if he had been following her orders for a

lifetime. He smarted too much from her comments to do anything

else. The pull handle came off in his hands. The door remained

latched.

“Devil take it!” He threw the offending piece of metal

down, and turned to glare at the girl. “Why are you laughing?”

Miss Nichols turned away, doubtless to gain control of

herself. “You are impossible! Everything had gone so well until

you interfered.”

“I am within my rights to interfere when I see my house

being broken into. What do you want with the damn harp, anyway?”

“I want to earn my keep. I am little suited to working for

anyone, so I thought to give music lessons.” Her sweet face

lost it’s happy glow, becoming shadowed in the lantern light.

“My grandmother taught me to play on that harp. She always said

she would leave it to me.”

“Good God! Are you related to the late Mr. Bernard Nichols?

The former tenant here?”

“He was my grandfather.” Her mouth snapped closed, and

Maxwell wondered what else she wouldn’t say.

“I knew your grandfather in Belgium. He took in myself and

a friend, after we had been wounded.”

Miss Nichols nodded. “He spoke of the braves lads at

Waterloo, and especially of you and Mr. Hannifly. He felt

honored to help you. But I gather you are not full recovered?”

Max preferred not to look weak in front of Miss Nichols,

since she already thought him bacon‑brained. “I’m fine, for the

most part. Now, shall we make ourselves comfortable? How long

until you are missed?”

She accepted a seat on the roof, and shrugged. “Not until

morning, I suppose. But my servants will not know where I am.”

“I won’t be missed until noon, or later,” he said. “We’ll

be frozen and starved by then.”

“Surely not starved,” she said with a chuckle. “Did you not

dine at your club tonight?”

He paused in the act of sitting beside her, and raised an

eyebrow. “You have been watching me!”

“My footman has, yes. How else could I know when the house

would be assailable?”

A nagging puzzle just beyond Max’s consciousness surfaced

with clarity then. “Why did you not take the harp with you when

you left? God knows I don’t want it!”

She turned to stare at him, a hard look not softened by the

lantern’s uncertain glow. “I did not have time to pack. Mr.

Turner threw me out one morning, saying you had come for the

property. He sent my clothing to me, most of it. But I have

none of my treasures.”

“Mr. Turner is the renting agent, how could he rent the

house to me if you were living there?”

“Rent the‑‑ You don’t know?” She shook her head, then

winced and rubbed at her temples. “Lord Bridegrove, my

grandfather left the house to you. Turner is renting your own

house to you.”

Damnation! Max burned with anger and humiliation, but the

girl beside him kept him from showing it. “I’ll take care of

that in the morning. You may also have free run of the house, to

take what is yours.”

“Thank you, my lord.” Another cheeky grin accompanied the

words. “Assuming, of course, that we survive the night up here.”

They sat in silence for awhile, Maxwell fighting a hint of

gloom. He felt the fool, and feared the charming, attractive

lady next to him would never think well of him. The thought

bothered him more than he liked.

“I am sorry about your grandfather’s death,” he said with

caution. “I find it hard to believe someone who loved life as he

did would have committed suicide.”

Miss Nichols lowered her head, and Max cursed himself for a

thoughtless bore. Then she said, softly, “Thank you. So few

people believe there could be questions in his death. Sometimes

I even doubt that there is cause to suspect murder. But I know

for a fact Grandfather would never have ended his own life.”

The wind swelled around them, whistling through the

gargoyle‑shapes and setting the distant harp once more to song.

Max shivered and moved closer to Miss Nichols. He noted that she

shivered even more violently than he did, and stripped off his

coat.

As she put it on, and rolled up the sleeves, he asked, “Tell

me what happened. Did you . . . find him?”

“Yes, I did. I came home from an early ride, and went to

the library to find out what he wanted for breakfast.” A tremor

came and went in her voice, before she continued in a monotone.

“At first I thought he had fallen asleep at his desk. Then I saw

the blood. And the dueling pistol in his hand.”

Maxwell eased his arm around the girl, thinking none of the

battles he had faced had taken as much courage as telling this

tale.

“I sent the footman for the watch, and looked about the

room. The pistol had been placed in his left hand. Grandfather

had suffered a small seizure after he came home from Belgium. He

could hardly use his left hand, there is no possibility that he

fired that pistol.”

“Did none of the servants hear the shot?”

Maggie looked uncomfortable. “Grandfather disliked having a

lot of people about him. We had only a cook, a footman and the

groom. The cook had gone to market, the footman accompanied me,

and the groom kept to his bed with an inflammation of the lungs.”

“Why didn’t the authorities accept that Mr. Nichols could

not have killed himself in that manner?”

“No one wanted to be bothered with a murder when a suicide

would conveniently explain the matter.” Miss Nichols laughed, a

harsh sound in the damp night. “Our neighbor swore not a soul

entered the house while I took my ride. If I had even one strong

suspect, perhaps an investigation would have been started. But I

do not.”

“I take it your own parents are deceased?”

“Yes. My father worked with Grandfather, making trips to

the continent. He had taken Mother with him, to Paris, when the

war broke out.” Miss Nichols took a deep breath. “We never

heard from them again. Grandfather always felt responsible for

their deaths, and kept me with him. My grandmother died a few

years ago of the influenza. I like to think I have been some

comfort to him since then.”

Max studied the grey mist swirling above their heads,

thinking of more questions, deciding which ones mattered enough

to be asked. “Why did Nichols leave the house to me, and not to

you?”

She looked over at him, for the first time that night

appearing uncomfortable. “Grandfather hoped you would . . .

would take care of me. He thought his days grew short, after his

illness. He wanted to assure my safety. He knew your were

orphaned, and that your father had broken the entail and sold all

the estates for taxes.”

Unspoken, he heard the rest of the explanation. Nichols had

expected marriage between them. Had he not spent hours in

Belgium extolling the virtues of his granddaughter, back home in

London? Whatever had he called her? Mary? Mandy? Damn! “What

became of your horse?”

Miss Nichols chuckled. “She’s in your stables, my lord,

along with my former groom. Did you not notice bills for feed,

or his wages?”

“My butler Campbell handles all that. He mentioned nothing

out of the ordinary.” He wondered if a huge conspiracy had been

mounted to keep him in the dark.

A sharp, mournful yowling cracked across their conversation.

Miss Nichols gasped and clutched his arm. “What is that?”

Maxwell pulled her closer, smiling. Now he could play the

protector, and show her his better qualities. “A tomcat, I

believe. Though tonight he seems to have found a companion.”

She listened, attentive for a moment. “They sound like they

are in great pain! Whatever are they doing?”

“Uhm . . . courting.”

“Oh.” Even in the lantern light, Maxwell could make out the

dark blush along her cheeks.

“I am thankful that human beings have refined the process a

little. Less noise, at least.” He waited, until she turned

toward him, her expression asking for more information. “Less

painful, too. For the most part.” He placed his hand under her

chin, and lifted her face. With deliberate slowness, waiting for

her to protest, he leaned forward and kissed her.

He wondered if this would be her first kiss. She tasted of

warm spices and sweet fruits. She sighed against him, her breath

tickling his cheek. When her hand came to caress his stubbled

chin, he deepened the kiss. Her mouth welcomed him, and drove

Maxwell to the brink of hot desire.

“Get on with you, damn it!”

Max pulled away, startled. Then he jumped up and ran to the

edge of the roof. “Campbell! Up here, man! Campbell!”

“My lord?” The butler poked his head out a ground floor

window and looked up at the earl.

“I’m rather stuck on the roof, Campbell. Think you can get

the roof door open?”

“I shall do my best, my lord.”

“Good! Hurry!” Maxwell turned back, and saw Miss Nichols

frozen in place. “Nothing to worry about now. Help is on the

way.”

“Yes. Yes. Good.”

“Yes.” He moved to help her stand, and took the lantern

from her. “You’ll come in for some sherry or some tea. Once

you’re warm, I’ll have the carriage brought round.”

“There’s no need, my lord. I can find my way home.”

“Nonsense. I insist.” He saw that she would have protested

further. “How did you plan to get the blasted harp home, anyway?”

“I thought to carry it to the next street, and hail a

hackney,” she told him. “I forgot just how heavy the harp is.”

The door opened, and Campbell looked up at them.

“Campbell, Miss Nichols is the granddaughter of the former

owner of this house. She is to have free reign to take anything

she wants from the house.”

Campbell’s surprised look disappeared. “Yes, my lord. Good

evening, Miss Nichols.”

“Good evening.” Her regal reply caused the butler to

scramble out of the way. Miss Nichols walked down the stairs

ahead of them, giving Max plenty of time to appreciate her form.

Downstairs, he took her arm and led her to the library.

“Tea and refreshments, Campbell, and the carriage ready in an

hour.”

“Very good, my lord.” Campbell bowed, and disappeared,

dignified in his dressing gown.

Inside the library, Maxwell lit the lamps, and moved to the

fireplace where Miss Nichols stood. He turned her into the

light. “Ah! I’d wondered, and I would have bet your eyes to be

brown. But they are the darkest blue I’ve ever seen.”

She blushed once more, and looked down. He placed his hand

on the short, sprawling curls above her ears. “Russet hair,

copper in the sun, I think.”

“Yes, horribly copper.” Still she didn’t look up.

“No, radiantly copper. You cannot judge.” That brought her

chin up, and sparked another memory. “Maggie!”

Her mouth opened, then she laughed. “Grandfather told you

about me.”

“The old rascal has schemed and planned all along. I can do

little but bow to his whims.”

“Oh, no! Really, my lord, you are no kin to me, and we

would find it very awkward, I think, if you paid my shot.” Maggie Nichols raised her eyes to his again. “If I may have my harp, I can make my own living.”

Not wanting to argue with her, Max let the idea drop in

favor of a question he wanted answered. “Why did your

grandfather go to Belgium in the first place? Especially on the

eve of Waterloo. I am thankful he happened to be there, but I

have wondered why.”

“He went for business. He took many trips to Belgium and

France before the war, and during the brief peace he started to

travel again.” Maggie paced the library, so much more her home

than his. “I never knew what he did, but I believe he had a

fortune put aside.”

“Then where is the money? Shouldn’t it have gone to you?” He followed her to the desk, picturing the white‑bearded Mr.Nichols sitting there. “Tell us what happened,” Max whispered.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Nothing. I, uh, thought the desk might hold the clues we

need.”

“Perhaps. The money, according to the trustee, Mr. Turner,

does not exist. I am destitute, and only allowed to reside here

until the rightful owner claimed the house.” Maggie picked up a

crystal‑handled letter opener from the desk. She seemed to lose

herself in studying it.

“Turner again. He begins to have a decidedly bad smell. No

doubt he is our villain.”

She swung her sharp gaze at him, eyes intent. “There is no

proof. I have looked. But this letter opener lay on the floor

when I found Grandfather. His habits bordered on obsessive,

everything in its place.”

She paused, causing Max to lean forward. “Go on. You have

an idea.”

“Yes. I think Mr. Turner struck Grandfather with the letter

opener, hit him at the temple and killed him. The gunshot

covered up the actual fatal injury.”

“Good girl! That makes sense. Now, what is our motive?”

“I am not sure. For whatever reason, Grandfather made Turner the executor of his will, and now Turner has all the money they earned in business together.”

Max took a deep breath. “Your grandfather did business with

Turner?”

“They were partners, although I begged him to pay the man

off.” Maggie looked down at the letter opener, and set it in its

place near the pens and penknife. “Grandfather insisted he had

his reasons for keeping the partnership going.”

“Blackmail?”

The word hung between them. Max saw Maggie’s lips tremble,

and wanted to kiss her again. He had reached for her, when

Campbell knocked on the door and entered with the tea tray.

The Star in the East

Dear Friends,

Many years ago, the Newsletter Chairperson for Romance Writers of America asked me to write a very short story to be sent out with the December newsletter. Nothing much came of it, the club felt this opportunity should have been thrown open to the whole membership, and possibly a better story be sent out to represent the chapter. I can see that point of view, and now as a more mature writer, I would not be so hasty to let a friend set herself up for so much criticism.

Be that as it may, I have always loved this little tale, and present it to you in this Holiday Season with a wish for health and happiness for you and your loved ones.

London, 1815

Christmas Eve

Angelica waited on the steps of the townhouse, snow flurries teasing her, darkness pressing her against the wide door. The man she had called her grandfather seemed to be there, laughing as he always had. Another death to get over, and at this time of year. She shivered and knocked again.

The door swung open, and faithful old Mr. Charles peered out at her. “Ah, child! How good of you to come. Inside now, before you take a chill. The master will want to see you.”

Angelica fumbled with her cloak clasp. Master? Not the old earl, who had just passed on. Which of the many cousins had been his heir? The note summoning her held the Harrington crest, and two indiscernible initials.

To her surprise, the house had been draped in Christmas finery, pine and holly, bayberry and mistletoe. After a flash of resentment, Angelica remembered grandfather’s dislike of mourning. Christmas had been his favorite time of year. On a Christmas eve, much like this one, she had come to live with him, a child of twelve.

Smiling at her memories, she followed Charles upstairs to the massive parlor, where he announced her as “Miss Randall.” Angelica would have corrected him, but the tall, dark haired man at the fireplace turned and smiled. She lost her breath entirely. And remembered the Harrington heir.

“Angie! I’m so relieved you’ve come.” Tiger-like, he pounced forward and clasped her hand. His blue-grey eyes twinkled in the candle-light. “Now I know everything will be fine. Aren’t you using your married name?”

“Y-yes, Jeremy. I am Mrs. Finch, now. I suppose Charles forgot.” She looked up at him, wishing she had grown a little in the last eight years. Wishing she had asked who inherited the title before she came running home.

Jeremy’s smile softened. “I am sorry about your husband. Terrible thing, the pox. And a child too, I heard?”

“A daughter. Thank you, you are most kind.” She pushed her sorrow back down. He still held her hand, and she pulled away. The fire drew her, and the boughs of pine and ivy on the mantle. “The house looks wonderfully cheerful.”

Jeremy followed her; she could feel his eyes on her. Did he remember, as she did, the last time they stood this close? Heat raced to her cheeks, and she hurried to say, “Your note said very little, sir. Why did you need me to come at once?”

“I have inherited a little problem. No, I’m wrong. A rather big problem. You see, our grandfather’s largest collection is now in my hands, and it is my belief a woman would keep it better than I could.”

Angelica looked up, puzzled. “You can’t be speaking of the snuff boxes or the first edition books. What else did he collect?”

Jeremy lifted a hand to her cheek, catching her off guard. “You still look like an angel, blond and pink, with those wide pansy-brown eyes. I’ll give you a hint. You were the first.”

She could make nothing of his words as her senses flared to life. Time might have stood still since the last time he touched her, her reaction came as strong and as overpowering.

Before she could gather enough wit to reply, the parlor door opened, and a small army of children trooped in. Angelica turned to stare, aware that her mouth had dropped open. She pressed her lips together and looked at Jeremy. “Are they yours?”

“They are now. My inheritance.” He flashed her a cheeky grin, and went to inspect the, well, troops seemed appropriate. The smallest girl, about three years old, he swung up in his arms, to her great delight and loud giggles.

Charles and a footman entered with a tray of hot chocolate and biscuits. Angelica perceived that this ritual took place regularly. In moments the children, who looked to range from age fifteen down to the three year old, were seated happily on the rug near the fire.

“Grandfather Harrington collected waifs and orphans, Angie.” Jeremy handed her a cup of chocolate, and led her to one of two wing chairs framing the huge fireplace. “His will says that he missed the laughter of children once we grew up and left. Some of his earliest acquisitions have also grown up and moved on to productive lives. These are the ones left to me.”

“Eight children!” Angelica drew back from the small boy who sought to touch her fur-trimmed hat. “I had no idea!’

Jeremy scooped up the boy, and stood over her. His gaze, when Angelica looked up at him, had turned hard. She stared back, unsure if she could explain. A minuscule crack of pain wrenched through her deadened heart.

“Children, Nathan will read your story tonight. Mrs. Finch and I must discuss a business matter.”

The children let him know they were not happy, but Jeremy ignored them and pulled Angelica to her feet. She barely set the cup of chocolate down before he strode out of the room and down the hall, pulling her like a toy behind him. By the time they reached the library, she could not catch her breath.

“What is the problem?” he snapped, shutting the door.

No fire had been laid in this room, and Angelica shivered. “I didn’t know! If you had explained in your note about the children, I could have told you.”

“Told me what, for God’s sake?” Jeremy’s expression told her he thought her insane. “You were a mother, you should know how to deal with children!”

The crack widened. She bit her lip, refusing the release of tears. “I lost my child,” she whispered. “The pain almost destroyed me. How can I risk that again? And eight times!”

“Ten,” he told her, his voice gentling. “There are two infants upstairs.”

“Oh, Jeremy!” She placed a hand over her heart, trying to stop the emotions that sought to break free. A sob caught in her throat.

“I am sorry, Angie.” Jeremy placed his arms around her, and drew her into the security of his embrace. “I never should have let you go.”

She pulled away, hitting his broad chest. “Let me go? You sent me away! You didn’t care– ”

“Is that what you think? Well, you’re wrong. I had to send you away, before you drove me mad! I cared too much.” “Cared too much for your m-mistress, and your yacht!” She went to the desk and picked up a pen. Anything to keep her hands busy. “Stephen told me you paid him to marry me. I hated you then.”

Jeremy sighed, surprising her. He had moved close behind her. “Angelica, I wagered with Stephen that he could not get up the courage to ask for your hand. I knew I could goad him into doing so. I thought he would make you a good, gentle husband. I had so little prospects. I wanted to see you happy.”

She frowned, unable to look up at him. “But you were the heir. The next Earl of Harrington.”

“Yes, but Grandfather had told me how badly dipped our coffers were. I’ve worked since then to rebuild the fortune, and now I’ve succeeded.”

“Worked?” She turned, and took his hand. Yes, she had felt a callus when he touched her cheek. She looked up, startled.

He gazed at her for a long moment before continuing. “Ship building. I’ve just started my own yard in Bristol. I named the business `The Eastern Star.’ After that first yacht.”

“I see.” She let go of his hand, and walked around him, walked around the room. “You need to go back to Bristol, and you hoped I would stay here as nanny.”

“Damn it, woman! You always see things in the worst way!” Jeremy stepped in front of her, scowling. “Stephen left you penniless. If you stay here with the children, I can take care of you. That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

“You’re very good with the children. Perhaps I should go to Bristol and try my hand at the business.”

His scowl lightened, then disappeared altogether as he laughed. “I vow, you would no doubt do quite well.”

“I’m serious, Jeremy Harrington. If I stay, we will have a business deal. You are to handle the children, and I will take care of your shipyard.”

“What do you know of accounts?”

“I ran a household for five years.”

“What do you know about ships?”

“Only what you taught me.” Angelica smiled, and held out her hand. “Do we have a deal, my lord?”

“Good God, you are serious!” He laughed again. “Let’s compromise, Angie. We’ll both stay with the children until the New Year. Then I will go to Bristol while you find a few good servants to stay with the children. I’ll show you the business after that.”

“Good evening, Jeremy. I’ve loved seeing you again.” Angelica headed for the door. A large, calloused hand held it shut.

“Stubborn girl! Very well, we shall both interview servants, and go to Bristol together.”

She turned to face him, and found herself in his arms. “I think we have a deal, sir.”

“Do you still hate me, Angie?” His smile faded, concern filled his blue eyes.

Angelica raised a hand and brushed his too-long hair off his forehead. “Did I hate you? I don’t remember.”

“Thank you.” His eyes lowered to her mouth, soon followed by his lips. The first gentle touch thrilled her, as did the growing passion in his caress. “Angie. I’m afraid I might have to send you away again.”

“Really?” She laid her head on his chest, smiling. “Why is that?”

“If we both stay here, things might happen. Things beyond our control.”

Angelica nodded, but held him tighter. “Terrible things?”

“Oh, no. Wonderful things.” He kissed her hair, and played with a falling curl. “You’ll have to marry me.”

“You’ll have to ask me.”

She heard the laughter in his voice. “Mrs. Finch, would you like to become the Countess of Harrington?”

“Yes, Jeremy, I believe I would. As long as the shipyard goes with the title.”

He kissed her again, warming to the task, laughing at her response. “We’d best see that the children get to bed. I’ll introduce you to a few of them at a time.” Worry crept into his expression. “Will you be alright?”

“I will, now.” She placed her hand in his, and took a deep breath.

In the parlor, they found the children raptly listening to Nathan, the oldest boy, reading out loud. Jeremy held Angelica next to him as they watched the intent faces around the reader.

” `The star, which they had observed at its rising, went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the Child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house found the Child with Mary, His mother.’ ”

Jeremy placed a finger to her cheek. “Angie! You’re crying!”

Everyone turned to look at her. She blinked, freeing more drops. “Am I?”

The little girl whom Jeremy had swung and teased earlier came to stare at Angelica. “Don’t cry, ma’am. You can stay here with us. We got lots of rooms.”

“Merry Christmas, Angelica,” Jeremy whispered in her ear. “Welcome home.”

Angelica picked up the child and hugged her and Jeremy at the same time. Home to stay, at last.

THE END

Scents and Scent-ability

“Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise but he that is without it.”
― Jonathan Swift

“Puns are the highest form of literature.”
― Alfred Hitchcock

“This morning, Tegus welcomed me again with an arm clasp and cheek touch. I wasn’t startled this time, and I breathed in at his neck. How can I describe the scent of his skin? He smells something like cinnamon– brown and dry and sweet and warm. Ancestors, is it wrong for me to imagine laying my head on his chest and closing my eyes and breathing in his smell?”
― Shannon Hale, Book of a Thousand Days

You are no doubt wondering if this post is going to be about puns or smells. The answer is yes. I hope to learn and relate much about smells and scents and perfumes as used in Regency England. I find that smell is the area I have to consciously work on to add to my writing. So the more ideas I can gather on it, the more I can put in the book. But my sense of humor is such that I laughed about the title when I came up with it, and still grin when I read it. Parts of my brain did not mature.

The link to Smell Culture will give you definitions of perfume, cologne, and toilette water. But I want to know more along the lines of which scents were used to indicate something, if anything. Women of easy virtue, it seems, used perfume in vast quantities. But is that just a myth, or did they really do that?

Modern times in the US have brought about a culture where smell has a bad name. We wash, deodorize, and scent ourselves to the point where our pheromones give up the battle. Only very strong scents like fear and sweat can combat the scented camouflage we wear.

Do you know the meaning of the word “petrichor?’ if not, we’ll get back to it shortly. Do you associate a particular smell with your house? Your mate? Your pets? I grew up with dogs that had puppies pretty regularly, and I found the scent of puppy breath, and I mean little, unweaned pups, to be very nice. But is that because I had such happy memories associated with the birth of these fun and loyal pets?

Science is discovering that pheromones are the chemistry that attracts us to each other. When I first kissed the man who would be my husband, I knew I would spend my life with him or wanting him. Luckily he felt the same way about me, and we have been very happy together. Is it a coincidence that he always smells wonderful to me, or that we both like the perfume I wear? Probably not.

Anyone who has dogs or has been around canines, will know that they use scent marking for many communications. Territory, sexual opportunity, and submission to name a few. Prior to World War II, people were happier with natural scents and not so fastidious as Western culture today.

http://www.environmentalhealth.ca/fall97scents.html

There’s a language of flowers, and a language of fans, there must be a language of scents, right? But nothing I can find says that this supposition is true. The perfumes of France achieved a huge popularity which made them expensive, and even with the war going on between France and England, the scents could be obtained easily. A noted family of perfumers emigrated to England before the war and began creating the stuff in London. http://www.janeausten.co.uk/scent-sational-regency-perfumes-and-the-man-who-made-them/

My heroines are usually not the rich sort, and expensive perfume seems too fussy by half for their tastes. Natural scents like almonds, roses, violets, cinnamon and vanilla would be their choices. I know a woman who uses an unscented mineral oil into which she puts drops of pure vanilla extract. The scent is delightful, but I’m not sure I want to smell like a sugar cookie all the time. http://historicalhussies.blogspot.com/2011/04/regency-fragrancesand-what-does-she.html

As an amateur historian from my days in the Society of Creative Anachronism, I know that people thought scent to be useful as a protection from diseases. Oranges studded with cloves and rolled in spices could be carried to sniff, so as to prevent catching plague and also to improve the overall scent of a society without indoor plumbing. The decline of strong perfumes made with animal bases follows the rise of better hygiene.

But back to my search for reasons behind the smell, and particularly if a barque of frailty (I so love Regency language! Prostitute just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Oh, there’s a pun in there!) used scent liberally to promote her profession. I have used the phrase, Smells like a French Whore House in here, a time or two. But never thought about the truth of it.

According to The Scent Report, Psychologist Havelock Ellis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Havelock_Ellis) “highlights the discrediting of musk as a significant turning point in the history of sexuality. Until the late 18th century, he claims, women used perfume as a means of emphasising, rather than masking, their natural body odour. Animal perfumes such as musk had the same function as the corsets which were used to accentuate and exaggerate the female form. It seems that men, by contrast, have throughout history felt less need to advertise their masculinity with perfumes, or indeed any other devices.” http://www.sirc.org/publik/smell_hist.html I won’t mention tight jeans, big pick-up trucks, or huge woofers.

So there is no language of scent, except that if you use a lot of it, you will be suspected of covering up body odor and should be forced to shower immediately. As a frequent attendee at fan conventions, I think I would prefer someone who at least tried to cover up the odor if they don’t bathe regularly. I will never forget sitting behind a man who reeked of unwashedness, amazed no one around him hadn’t said anything to him, and unable to leave because my daughter was in the costume contest and would be on stage in a few minutes. Whew!

Come to think about it, being at conventions like that can put one in the mood to write about Regency England and earlier times. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Twelve Days of A Winter Holiday of Your Choice!

As a writer of historical romances, and an amateur historian, I know that the 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day, not the days before. The celebration of Twelfth Night occurs on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas, the day the Wise Men were said to have found the Christ Child and given him gifts. These were things every mother of a newborn Messiah wishes for, Pampers, teething rings, and onesies. But since that didn’t make for much of a story, someone changed it to gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Now we also like to include as many traditions and cultures as possible, because let’s face it, we are one planet and one people, and the more you know, the better future we have to give to our children.

So here are 12 awesome gifts for the writers on your gift list. If you are the writer on the gift list, hand this to your relatives with appropriate notations.

1. Writing Software. If you have this already, or your writer has it, just cross it off. No problem. However, if I were going to ask for something, I would want Scrivener. This software comes highly recommended by the folks who write whom I asked about writing software. What, you may ask, is writing software? It’s software designed to keep chapters in place and properly numbered, keep track of characters and what they look like, which chapters or scenes they appear in, and so on. Believe me, I’m working with an ordinary word processing program, and it’s a real pain to keep everything straight. Scrivener has a free trial download at Latte and Literature: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/ Other candidates for good software for writers are reviewed here: http://creative-writing-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ Writeway was mentioned to me as also good.
2. Pay for a year’s membership in Romance Writers of America, or a year’s premium membership on Scribophile. RWA has National (http://www.rwa.org/) and then you find the local chapter. You don’t have to join a local one, but it is the best way to network. Scribophile will help a writer network, too, and gives you both a place to learn how to critique and also get your work critiqued. You have to put in a little time to get to know the critiquers, because some just want to play nice, but a few will really dig in and tell you what’s what and what’s wrong. I try to do this in a humorous way so that the writers don’t feel critiqued, but learn something about their work. http://www.scribophile.com/
3. Books on the craft often come in handy, especially if they are inspirational. Here are some recommendations, by no means a complete list. Judy Reeves was a speaker recently at RWA-SD.  I like her Book of Days for Writers, as well as the Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers. Here’s the link to her page:
http://judyreeveswriter.com/writers-store/

Barbara Ueland’s If You Want to Write:

Ann Lamont’s Bird by Bird:

The Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman:

http://books.google.com/books/about/A_natural_history_of_the_senses.html?id=I1LKgrZW5c0C

Finally, Around the Writers’ Block by Roseanne Bane.

4. No matter how long one has been writing, even published authors, there is always something new to learn. Since writing good books isn’t a matter of publishing the same story over and over with different names, writers need to evolve. On-line classes are great sources of new information and inspiration. If you or your writer are members of RWA, there you will find a wide vista of classes offered. Another good place to find the training you seek is Writer Univ. (http://www.writeruniv.com/)
5. Most of the suggestions I have will take some financial outlay. Here’s one that will only take some of your time. Be available to read. You might be needed to look over a rough draft, be an editor, or a beta reader. Most writers like to have people they know and trust as beta readers, so if you fit that description for your writer, make up a certificate on your computer entitling Name of Future Famous Author to X number of hours of your time as a reader. Okay, so it does cost a little for the ink and paper.
6. Now we are going to be talking multiple hundreds of dollars to get much needed services. Not all writers need this, not all writers are ready for this, but again, a promissory note saying you will shell out X number of dollars when the time comes would be an awesome idea. I am talking about the services of a professional editor. Cathy Wilson has one of the best web sites I’ve seen for editors. She gives some awesome advice and perspective on writing and publishing. (rockyourwriting.com) I took an on-line class in self-publishing, and here is the huge list of editors recommended by the instructor, Karen Ritter:
Jim Thomsen: Thomsen1965@gmail.com He is very good, but his rates have gone up a bit since I’ve used him.
Linda Style; http://www.EditingwithStyle.net
 Copyeditor at Entangled Publishing, experienced writing professional, author, journalist, writing instructor at Bootcamp for Novelists
 Ebook Editor Pro: http://www.ebookeditorpro.com/prices.htm
Line Editor, proofreading, formatting.  *Really good prices.
Sydney Baily-Gould: her email is Sydney@catwhiskerstudio.com
 She has a masters in English Lit and edited for Time Life Magazine.
Beth Hill: http://www.ANovelEdit.com
Yvonne Glanville: One of the editors at- The Phrase Doctor: http://www.thephrasedoctor.com
Helen Woodall: helenthefrog@gmail.com – She’s expensive, because she’s a trained and qualified editor (she has a masters in history and degrees in literature)
Emily Eva: http://emilyevaediting.weebly.com/ She’s in the UK, but the exchange rate is really good for her prices. $9.95 per 1000 words.
Annie Seaton: http://www.annieseatonromance.com/editing-service.html She’s in Australia. Charges $100.00 Australian for every 10,000 words. That comes to about $90.00 American.
Linda Ingmanson: Edits for Saimhain Publishing. Email her for rates and availability. Catalyst8@aol.com

7. Once your writer has the manuscript clean and corrected, it’s time to format it for ebooks and for publishing the traditional way. A few places to try include
Lee: at Iron Horse Formatting: http://ironhorseformatting.com/
Steena Holmes: @ http://www.theauthorsredroom.com
Lucinda Campbell: -company name is LK E-book Formatting Service at-Booked two weeks in advance.http://design. lkcampbell. com/
Carol Webb at: bellamediamanagemen t@gmail.com or check out her
site at: http://www.bellamediamanag ement.com
8. Do you get the idea that writing can be a very expensive line of work? Remember that until the books are out there and the funds coming in, the writer has no health benefits, no days off or holidays that are paid for. So help from family and friends will be greatly appreciated. One of the more expensive but worth the money invested elements is cover art. I know exactly what I wish for the cover of my first Regency, but I don’t have the cash to lay out for it. Here are some of the good designers to check out:
Tamra Westberry: http://www.tarawest.com/indiecovers.html
Audrey Harcher: http://www.littlelady.com
Kelly: at customgraphics. etsy.com, 
Kelli Ann Morgan: of Inspire Creative Services

Amy Lynch Hallenius: (amykathryn@live. com) of Photo Art by Amy
Amanda Kelsey: of Razzle Dazzle Designs (www.razzdazzstock. com).
http://insatiablefantasydesignsinc.wordpress.com/
http://fantasiafrogdesigns.wordpress.com/
Lyndsey Lewellen: lewellen3@gmail. com
The Authors Red Room: http://www.authorsredroom.com
At The Authors Red Room you can find all the services in one place; editors, formatters, cover artists, etc.
9. Once the book is a reality, the job of product support kicks in. You can become part of a street team! Wikipedia has a great definition of the term, but basically it’s a group of folks who go around to stores asking for the writer’s book, buying it on Amazon and doing a positive review, talking about the book on Facebook, Twitter, and any social media group they belong to. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_team
10. Does your writer have a Facebook page? Offer to establish and maintain one. The page should include fairly regular updates on the progress of the book and the writer, and some cute things that are the hallmark of Facebook. Cats reading the book would be awesome!
11. Does your writer have a blog? Blogs are great, lots of fun, and keep the writer’s name in front of a particular audience. Follow the writer’s blog, and give the posts reviews on Facebook.
12. Everyone Tweets, right? Your writer must be on Twitter, and must be looking smart, witty, and classy in 140 characters. Yeah, I don’t tweet very often. But if your writer does this, be sure to follow them on Twitter and again, spread the information on your Facebook page or any other social media you use.
I hope this has given you some ideas on how to best support your writer. If you can only do one of these things for the Winter Holidays, remember Valentines’ Day is just around the corner!

First Aid Kit for Writers

I hope you have a regular first aid kit somewhere near your usual place of writing, and know how to use it, but that’s not what I am discussing here. I’m talking about a mental first aid kit, and help with simple problems kit.

There are basic rules for writers that impact your mental well-being. Most importantly, don’t compare yourself with any other writer. Sure, I’d give anything to be Diana Gabaldon or Mary Balogh, but I’m not. And that doesn’t mean my stories aren’t going to entertain someone. The audience for novels is increasing, and the demand will grow too. If you have the chance, find a copy of the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The book has a nice way of saying that practice makes perfect. You have to put in your 1000 hours at something to get the shine you need. If you compare yourself as a new author to someone who has been writing for a few decades, you’ll only open the door to depression. Stay focused and keep writing.

Another basic rule is to know your story and your voice. Don’t be trying to write like other folks. Now, I have said that you can improve your writing by copying out the writing of one of your favorite authors. But what that does is teach you the rhythm, the pacing, and the word usage. This is really helpful when a sex scene sneaks up on you and you can’t think of a good word for vagina. (Wild and crazy idea, use vagina!) The exercise is not meant to imply that you can just copy someone else’s work and you’re done.

So let’s get to the helpful mental part. You wrote out all that you had in you, and now you are at Chapter 2. You can’t think of what comes next. I would hope this isn’t really the case, because if you are a pantser (a writer who doesn’t plot ahead of time, just lets the story flow) or a plotter (does outlines, graphs, has pictures, maps, floor plans), you would have had more idea of what was going on than this. Perhaps you got to Chapter 8, and you realize the heroine could never love the hero. She has made it clear to you this is not the man of her dreams.

Stop writing, walk away. In fact, go for a walk or a bike ride. Do something that will use your physical energy and leave your mind free to work its way out of this corner. Or go to a movie, or watch one at home. Put together a jigsaw puzzle.

If inspiration still doesn’t stream in when needed, go find like-minded writers. I recommend Scribophile.com for community and help whenever you need it. One of the groups I belong to there plays Mad Libs Monday through Friday. I find it a great bit of word play, a fun time hanging out with good friends, and a distraction from anything going on that I really would rather not have to deal with. Also I suggest joining Romance Writers of America, and finding a local chapter. They almost always have an email “loop” where you can throw out a problem and get excellent advice in return.

Writing prompts also abound at Scribophile, and just about any group will throw some out for you. A prompt is just a quick set-up for a short short story, usually under 3000 words. Everyone takes the same information and writes what comes up for them. I love the challenge and the short-term commitment.

Another good thing to do is to start a blog. I put off starting this one because I didn’t think I had much to say about writing. I admit to that error. I wrote a blog about my birds, because I knew I had a lot to say about them. Pretty much I can write a few paragraphs on just about anything. In fact, my writing abilities are used in my workplace by my coworkers. Sometimes they just run something past me to punch up, sometimes they ask for input, whatever. Doing that is one of the things that has improved my enjoyment of my job.

So I started this blog and I’m not out of ideas yet. And I have a couple novels in the works, and so many more ideas that I hope I get to at least outline some day. But I like to have an idea of what my characters look like, and I use Pinterest for that. Here’s a link to a selection of inspirations just for writers: http://www.pinterest.com/namelymarly/inspiration-for-writers/

And here’s a blog called Write to Done, a collection of great articles by people passionate about helping writers improve and get published: http://writetodone.com/31-ways-to-find-inspiration-for-your-writing/

If all else fails, treat yourself to a food item you love. This is not permission to eat a gallon of ice cream. But a scoop or two might help, or a few good quality chocolate. Perhaps you only have apples to hand. Well, many authors have used apples for inspiration, it says here: http://guardianlv.com/2013/11/writers-and-food-a-love-story/

However you handle your situation, keep at it. Your words are important, your story unique, and your voice is like no other. Take a deep breath, and write to your heart’s content.