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Here’s a third helping from my latest work in progress, a sequel to my Regency short story A Gift Unsought.  This will probably be the last one, at least for a while, as I’m starting nanowrimo on Friday.

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With the family dressed and occupied with welcoming the guests to the ball, all but the footmen and cook enjoyed a welcome respite from the day’s busy work.  Alethea sat head to head with Pierce at a corner of the kitchen table, apart from the others for a stolen moment, but under their watchful eye, all the same.  
 
“You must be exhausted, my poor Pierce.”  
 
He paused in the middle of rubbing an aching neck to smile at her with sleepy eyes.  “I’ll not die of it, at least.”
 
“Is Lord Jonathan much trouble for you?”
 
He shook his head.  “No more than anyone else.  Truth be told, aside from the stories, I don’t see why everyone must paint him such a villain.  He treats me well enough.  He confides in me, a little.  And from what he tells me, he seems not so bad.”
 
“No doubt his Lordship’s considerable charm masks his true nature.”  Alethea remembered her brief encounter with Lord Jonathan on the evening of her arrival.  
 
Pierce gave a short laugh, more like a snort.  “Do you think so little of my judgement, my dear?”
 
Alethea coloured.  “No.  Of course not.  I only meant …”  She held up her hands, helpless.
 
“His Lordship has been hopelessly indulged, of course.  But I do see a desire in him to please his mother and his uncle, to do right by society.  He seems most anxious to mend his reputation.”
 
“And you’ve ascertained this while helping him on with his coat?”  Alethea laughed a little, with no trace of scorn.  “I feel it takes much more than that to truly know a person.”
 
“You were so certain you knew me when first we met.”  Pierce took her hand under cover of the table, glanced around, brought it to his lips.
 
“I was pleasantly mistaken.”  She warmed to him, but snatched her hand away with a teasing smile.  “Take care not to resurrect my initial opinion.”
 
“That I’m a rake?  However would I do that?”  
 
“Taking liberties with an innocent maid,” she whispered.
 
He smiled back, raising his eyebrows briefly.  

 

As always, let me know what you think!

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Here’s a second excerpt from my current work in progress, a sequel to my Christmas Regency story A Gift Unsought.

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“I have to take care of the laundry.” She held up the bundle of clothes and stepped farther away before he could capture her again.
Predictably, he followed her. “Ketty may have had her fill of moon eyes, but I haven’t,” he said as he fell into step beside her.
Her blush deepened. “Your moon eyes will have to wait till Saturday fortnight.”
“Really, Alethea, did Ketty tell it true? Did you think I was a rake?”
Alethea looked at him helplessly, certain that her face was completely red by now.
“I hardly knew you. And at first, you were quite forward. How was I to know you didn’t try it on with every girl you met.”
“Only the pretty ones,” he said with a wink. “No. All fun aside, I was very much not myself when I met you. In fact, I haven’t been quite myself since then.”
He opened the laundry room door for her and followed her in.
“You make me quite forget my reserve,” he said with a softness she didn’t often hear from him.
She turned to face him, her heart bounding in her chest like a frightened rabbit. At the slightly lost look in his eyes, she smiled, and gave him her hand.
He took it and kissed it, drawing her closer to kiss her on the mouth. She was the first to break away, to place a step of safety between them.
“I think it would do us both some good for you to rediscover a bit of that reserve,” she said with a shaky laugh, “At least until the wedding.”
“Alethea, you heartless woman.” He caught her hands and kissed them each. “I’ll go, then, and give you your peace.”
He dropped her hands and walked backward out of the room, never letting go of her gaze until he rounded the corner.
Alethea took care of the laundry with her pulse still leaping in her throat, cherishing the warmth he awoke in her that needed only wait till Saturday fortnight. Then afterward, she slipped quietly up to the servants’ rooms in the slope-roofed top floor.
She glanced in at her little maiden room she shared with Ketty, with its neatly made single beds and spare furnishings. It was the same kind of room she’d occupied since she’d left home.
Leaving the women’s area, she turned a corner into the south-facing wing, counted down three doors that opened onto empty storage rooms, and unlocked the fourth.
Inside, illuminated by soft light through a recently cleaned, white-curtained dormer window, stood a sturdy double bed with a neat straw tick, a pair of dressers on either side, and a pair of little armchairs with a small table between. And then a film of tears clouded the scene.
This pretty little snuggery, simple as it was, was by far the nicest thing she had ever seen. The housekeeper, Mrs. Allen, had shown her up here on her first day, a kindly, somewhat wistful smile on her face. The room had been just another half-empty storage room then.
“In the country you’ll have a little cottage for the two of you,” she’d said. “But here in Town we’ve no such provision. Lady Holmwood suggested we convert it into a room for you and Mr. Rowland to share, once you’re married. You’re welcome to make it as you like in your spare time.”
Mrs. Allen had shown her where to find linens and stored furniture set aside for servants’ use. As there were no beds large enough to accommodate two, she pointed out a smallish, simple, and slightly damaged double bed that Lady Holmwood had granted for their use.
“I’ll have the footmen move it to your new room when they have a moment. Mind you don’t try to move any of the furniture on your own.”
Alethea stole moments whenever she could to come up and clean away the dust and cobwebs, whitewash the faded plaster, and scrub the floors and windows until they shone. Once the furniture was in, she polished it to a gleaming lustre, and sewed the curtains and set aside linens she would put on the bed closer to the wedding.
Ketty joined her there, sometimes, as she was preparing her own bridal chamber across the hall. Together they would dream about their future as they worked. But Pierce and Ketty’s Mr. Emerson never set foot down that empty corridor.
Ketty would joke that the men had no interest in womanly things like homemaking. But Alethea knew Pierce would like to see their room, to admire her work, to dream with her. Still, she hesitated to bring him.
After all, if he could accost her with kisses in the servants’ stair, the laundry, the very kitchen, then what would he dare in their own future bedroom? The thought left her breathless, and with a last smiling glance at her nest, she shut the door, turned the lock with a well-oiled click, and tucked the key into her pocket.

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As always, feel free to let me know what you think. 🙂

Here’s a bit of my latest work in progress, a sequel to my Regency Christmas story from last year, A Gift Unsought.  This one will take place at Valentine’s Day, and will take up the story of Alethea Fenn and Pierce Rowland where they left off.

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Lady Holmwood’s breakfast bell rang, and Alethea sprang into action like a well-oiled machine.  With a smile, Pierce was already rising, and he caught her rounding the table with a swift kiss that made her blush in front of the other servants.  
 
She held her tongue as she snatched up her ladyship’s tray and marched smartly toward the servant stairs.  Pierce followed close behind.  She could hear the tea cup clinking softly on his own tray for Lord Holmwood.
 
“I hope I did not offend,” Pierce said as they left earshot of the kitchen, in a teasing tone.
 
“You didn’t think a bit about offense, you libertine.”  Her mouth quirked in a smile.  “What were you thinking, kissing me in front of the others like that?”
 
“It was a mere peck, my darling.  And you are my wife, besides, or will be soon.”
 
“Soon, and not now.  Don’t forget that.”
 
He chuckled.  “Sweet Alethea, don’t be angry with me.  You know I can’t resist.”
 
“Well, resist you must.”
 
“Only until Saturday fortnight.  Then you’ll be entirely mine.”
 
Something in his tone cast delightful ripples up and down her spine.  “Only behind closed doors, mind.”
 
Pierce muttered something like “Merciless woman” as she pushed open the baize door with her back and twirled deftly through.  She caught his eyes on the way, at once full of playful charm and serious intensity, and cast her gaze down with a blush.  
 
No one spoke the words, but they both knew Pierce had won their little battle.  
 
Pierce followed her right through the servants’ door into Lady Holmwood’s bedroom, but his lordship was waiting there, as usual, lingering in bed with his wife.  
 
“Good morning, my lady,” Alethea murmured as she placed the tray on Lady Holmwood’s lap and adjusted her pillow more comfortably.  On the other side of the bed, Pierce did the same for the Lord.  “How did you sleep?”
 
“Passably.  As I’ve told George countless times, I’m certain the country air is far better for the constitution.”
 
“I don’t doubt it, my dear Frances,” Lord Holmwood said.  “But I’m far too young to go to Jericho.  I’ve business to attend, Parliament to sit, and people with whom to hobnob.  And besides, there’s our son’s wedding to consider.  I do believe a certain Marchioness who will remain nameless insisted the ceremony must take place at St. George’s.  That certainly couldn’t happen if we remained in the country.”
 
Lady Holmwood smiled warmly at his teasing as she tucked a dainty bite of ham into her mouth.  “Of course coming to Town is necessary.  But it is a necessary evil.”
 
Her charge attended to, Alethea went over to the dressing room to see to Lady Holmwood’s day dress.  The chambermaid had filled the ewer with hot water earlier, and it was, as usual, perfectly warm for the Lady’s toilette.  As she laid out a bronze-coloured gown, petticoats, corset, and stockings, Alethea listened to the companionable chatter of the long-married Holmwoods with a little smile.
 
Not for the first time, she marveled at their comradeship, the little endearments they shared as freely as newlyweds.  She glanced through the sitting room to Lord Holmwood’s dressing room, where Pierce was brushing the shoulders of the master’s coat.  
 
Not long now, and he would be her husband, to share every word, every joke, every breakfast with, just like the Lord and Lady.  After a score of years married, would they still look at each other with such devotion?
 
Pierce caught her eyes on him and smiled devilishly.  At this moment, in the first bloom of love, she couldn’t think how their fervour could ever fade.  
 
But Alethea was no fool.  She knew the Holmwoods were an exceptional couple.  She had seen the cool tolerance of the Kendricks all her years in service at Harper Hall.  And before that, a wide-eyed girl of ten in a house full of burdensome children, she’d watched her own mother and father tear one another apart with their hateful words.  
 
Could that ever happen between her and Pierce, that heated spite, that awful frost? 
 
She prayed God would grant it couldn’t.  And besides, Alethea was not a girl to leave her fate to chance.  She had worked her way to the stature of Lady’s maid to a Marchioness, and planned to reach the pinnacle of Housekeeper one day.  With the same keen eye for a good example, the same determination and hard work, she would study the Holmwoods and build for herself and Pierce an exemplary marriage.
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As always, please feel free to comment and critique!  Let me know what you think.  🙂