Monday, December 31, 2007
Retrospective - Part 4
January saw the publication of my short novel THE RESTLESS HEART by DC Thomson with an edition in July by Linford Romance and in ebook format by Belgrave House/Regency Reads.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Sense and Sensibility 08
Meanwhile, I found this wonderful picture and caption on the BBC site.
"Janet McTeer and Charity Wakefield know there's always going to be some
picky person who'll spot that their costumes aren't quite period-perfect."
Let's hope the series also displays a sense of humour, because although I'm a sucker for historical drama, Austen is also very funny and her humour is sometimes forgotten in TV dramas.
If you want to see more photos then visit the BBC site by clicking here
And come back and visit the blog later in the week / month to share your views on this new adaptation and to read about ours!
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Retrospective - Part 3
I was proud and delighted to reach the long list for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2007 with Dangerous Waters.
I completed my latest full-length novel, Devil’s Prize, to be published by Robert Hale in January 2008. (I’ll post about this on the blog, and show you the fantastic cover, once our serial – A Christmas House Party - is concluded.) I’m currently working on Wild Justice. This book follows the dramatic story of two of the characters who appear briefly in Devil’s Prize, but who swiftly demanded a book to themselves. I’m nine chapters into the story and loving it.
Once again I taught a week’s summer school on the Craft of Novel Writing at University College Falmouth in August, and will be repeating this course in August 2008. (www.falmouth.ac.uk see: Short Courses)
A Christmas House Party - the Christmas story on the blog - was my first experience of a round robin where each of us writes an episode. It was quite a challenge, but I have very much enjoyed taking part. Reading how the other authors continue the story has been fascinating.
On the domestic front, I have just become a granny for the fourth time with the birth of my younger son and wife’s gorgeous baby son in September. I also became a great-aunt when my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in November.
It has been a busy and eventful year. I’m looking forward to 2008, completing Wild Justice and starting the next book. Meanwhile may I wish all of you the very best of health, happiness and good reading.
This has been an amazing year for me. Things began well when Stormcrow Castle was released in January. I've always loved Gothic novels and I loved writing about the sinister castle in the middle of the moors, where strange goings-on tormented the heroine until at last she managed to unlock the riddles of the castle and fall in love with its brooding owner.
Later in the year both Captain Wentworth's Diary (Editors' Choice,Historical Novels Review) and Edmund Bertram's Diary (just out) were released in hardback in the UK.
My books have come out in the US for the first time this year.
Mr Darcy' s Diary (Lots of fun - Woman; Absolutely fascinating - Historical Novels Review)
Mr Knightley's Diary (Hits the Regency tone and language on the head - Library Journal)
Lord Deverill's Secret (Don't miss it - Romance Reviews Today)
and Harstairs House (Highly recommended - A Romance Review) have all come out in paperback this year.
The novels have been mentioned in some breathtakingly prestigious places on
both sides of the pond including the New York Daily News, the Times Literary
Supplement, The Washington Post and Radio 4's Open Book.
But although I loved this, I think the best moment for me came when I read a
review of Mr Darcy's Diary on Amazon which said that it sent the reviewer to
bed with a happy heart. What more can a writer of romantic fiction ask for?
This has been an exciting year. The Loveday series has been flying off the shelves and achieving wider acclaim making it into several bestseller charts. The eighth book in the series THE LOVEDAY REVENGE was published by Headline this year. The hardback sold out in a month and the paperback was chosen for WH Smith's Christmas promotion. It was also published in audio format by Isis Publishing.
Next year THE LOVEDAY SECRETS will be published and at least two more are in the pipeline. Headline are also re-launching the first book in the series ADAM LOVEDAY in February with a brand new cover.
Happy New Year to every one.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Retrospective - Part 2
Not Quite a Lady (Mills & Boon)
A Most Unconventional Courtship (Harlequin Mills & Boon) (4 ½ stars from Romantic Times)
Desert Rake in Hot Desert Nights (Harlequin & Mills & Boon)
No Place for a Lady (Mills & Boon) (Nominated for the Red Roses For Authors Christmas 2007 Awards)
Virgin Slave, Barbarian King (Harlequin. Mills & Boon in 2008) (Cataromance41/2 stars".a powerful love story featuring two vividly drawn characters you will findabsolutely impossible to resist. Rich in history, passion and intrigue. Another stellar example of Louise Allen's storytelling prowess.")Virgin Slave, Barbarian King was fun to write - set in 410AD it was my firstdeparture from the Regency since my very first book for Mills & Boon.
I have been hard at work on the first three Those Scandalous Ravenhursts books in a six book set - focusing on the loves and adventures of seven cousins. The Dangerous Mr Ryder, The Outrageous Lady Felsham and The Shocking Lord Standon will be out with Harlequin and Mills & Boon in 2008 with three more titles to come.
This year has been both busy and successful for me.
'The Mesalliance' and'Lord Thurston's Challenge' were published by Robert Hale and both received excellent reviews. I only wish Hale printed paperbacks so that more people could have access to them.
'A Suitable Husband' and 'A Dissembler' appeared in LP and my first novella, 'The Return of Lord Rivenhall' was released in LP paperback. Robert Hale took two more from me; 'A Debt of Honour' comes out in February 2008 and 'The House Party' in July 2008.
My second novella,'A Journey to Love' came out in July, but many of my friends missed it as it was originally called 'A County Mouse', and I hadn't known they were changing the title. I have also sold two novellas to My Weekly Pocket Books,but they will not appear on the shelves until 2009.
I had the pleasure of visiting Norwich Writers Group, which meets in the lovely Assembly Rooms. I gave a talk about my writing career so far and also judged their short story competition. Belgrave, an e-publisher, has got both of my novellas up on Regencyreads and I was thrilled to receive a third royalties payment the other day.
Best wishes to everyone for 2008.
This year saw the UK release of Deceived and the US publication of Lord of Scandal from HQN Books. I was thrilled when Deceived gained rave reviews and was nominated for the Pure Passion Award plus a host of other prizes!
My seventeenth century set novel, Lord Greville's Captive, was shortlisted for the RNA Romance Prize as well, so it has been a very exciting year.
Meanwhile I have been continuing my historical research and have written pieces for the Historical Novels Review and for other publications on "Hero Myths" and "The Cult of Celebrity in the Nineteenth Century" and given talks based on my research.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
2007 has been a wonderful year for me as far as my writing goes. I was nominated for the short list for the RNA Romance prize again, though I didn't win this time but I was happy just to be nominated.
I've had five or six books come out with Harlequin Mills & Boon, three with my Severn House publisher.
The first in the new Sarah Beaufort Mystery series sold out in hardback within the first six months and my Milles and Boon sales have gone from strength to strength the past couple of years.
I have also had several ebooks published. I have been trying out various epublishers and received good reviews for my books, though these are not financially viable at the
moment they were good fun to do.
Writing historical and Regency books remains my first love and they are my most successful and popular books so I shall be putting most of my energy into these in the future.
Linda Sole/Anne Herries
This year I've had the excitement of seeing my third novel, The Social Outcast, published by Robert Hale.
Duty's Destiny and The Social Outcast have also been released in large print by Thorpe.
January 2008 will see The Carstairs Conspiracy published by Hale and later in the year they will also be releasing my fifth Regency romance, A Bittersweet Proposal.
What a busy year I have had!
Two books out - The Belles Dames Club was published in April and A Rational Romance came out at the end of November.
I took part in the Historical Novel Society Conference in Albany, NY back in June - rubbing shoulders with Bernard Cornwell, Diana Gabaldon to Simon Scarrow, to name just a few of the authors present.
On top of that I have signed with Harlequin Mills & Boon and my first novel as Sarah Mallory comes out in the USA in April 2008 (but
more of that next year!).
Join us later in the week for more of our retrospective!
Monday, December 24, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Christmas Story Ending
'I should go…' Emma said, her heart beating frantically as she saw the look on the face of the elder Mr Ellis. 'I will leave you alone to talk…'
'Please do not leave for the moment, Miss Carstairs.' Mr Ellis placed a hand on her arm. 'I do not believe that you have been properly introduced. Father – this is Miss Emma Carstairs…Emma, I wish you to meet the Earl of Ellersby…'
'The earl…' Emma gasped, looking at him in dismay and disbelief. 'Someone pointed your father out to me when he arrived but they said only that he was your father…' She looked from one to the other. 'I do not understand?'
'Nor did I, Miss Carstairs. When I was told that my son had been masquerading as Mr Ellis I was angry for I suspected him of behaving badly – and finding him here, about to seduce you, I am now certain that he is a disgrace to his name.'
'Oh…' Her eyes turned on her Mr Ellis and they were filled with reproach. 'Sir – please will you explain?'
'I fear that you will be wishing me to damnation when I tell you the whole truth, Miss Carstairs,' her Mr Ellis said. 'I have played a disgraceful deception upon you, and it would serve me right if you refused to speak to me ever again.'
'Oh…it would have to be very bad, Mr Ellis.' Emma could not meet his eyes now.
'I am not Mr Ellis but Lord Ellerton,' he told her. His eyes seemed to hold an entreaty as he looked at her. 'It was an impulse. I do not know why I did it and I have since regretted it.'
Emma stared at him in dismay. She had thought it unlikely he could care for her as plain Mr Ellis – but if he were Ellerton, one of the most eligible bachelors in the country, and the heir to the Earl of Ellersby - it was impossible. She did not know what to do, but her instincts told her that she must escape instantly.
'My head aches,' she said. 'I think I should like to rest…'
'You must rest, of course,' Lord Ellerton said. 'I would not even consider pressing you for an answer before you are fully recovered.'
'But I must go…' Emma said faintly. 'I really must…'
'If you can walk I shall assist you upstairs, but if you are unable I shall carry you.'
His manner was so firm and decided that Emma could not protest further. She must stay for the night, but she need not see him again, and in the morning she would order the carriage and go home for it was impossible to see him again and remain calm.
Alone in her room, Emma was left to rest and reflect. She felt so foolish and guilty after all the thoughts that had passed through her head. She was now so confused that she did not know what to believe. Why had Lord Ellerton lied to her? He could have no true regard for her or he would not have done it. He must have been intent on concealing his identity while embarking on a light flirtation to carry him through the Christmas celebrations. He had indeed behaved as badly as his father believed.
Emma let the tears fall and then told herself to stop being silly. She went into the small dressing room attached to the elegant bedchamber she had been given. She found a wash stand with and ewer of water. It was cold but she splashed her face with it and dried it on a hand towel. Feeling better, she returned to the bedroom determined to go down and find her host to tell them she was leaving.
However, as she went towards the door she saw that a letter had been pushed under the door. Opening it, she discovered it was in actual fact a beautiful card made of satin and lace and bearing a heart shaped motif. Turning it over, her pulses raced when she saw it was from Lord Ellerton.
My dearest Emma, he had written. I fear that I have you given you a severe dislike of me and it is no more than I deserve. I hope that you will come to forgive me in time or else it will break my heart, which is irrevocably yours. Ellerton.
'Good gracious me!' Emma's heart was beating very fast indeed as she held the card. For a moment she could not believe what was written there. My dearest Emma… For a gentleman such as Ellerton to write such a thing and sign it was tantamount to a proposal of marriage. Surely he would never sign his name to a card like this if he were not sincere. She glanced at herself in the dressing mirror. Most of the redness had gone but he would still see that she had been distressed. Perhaps she ought to wait until the morning…
Emma's courage returned to her all at once. If Lord Ellerton truly cared for her he would be blaming himself for her distress and she would not have him distressed for the world. No, indeed, she would not!
Taking her card and her nerves in hand, she left her room and walked down the hall, only to see Lord Ellerton coming towards her. He was carrying a posy of delicate flowers, which must have come from a hot house and he looked concerned as he saw her.
'My dear Miss Carstairs. Are you certain you should have left your room so soon?'
'I am quite recovered now,' Emma said. 'Your card has quite restored me – you did mean it sincerely did you not?'
His smile sent her heart skittering. 'Indeed, I did, Emma,' he told her. 'I think I have loved you from the first moment we met or very soon after. Can you forgive me for that scurvy trick I played on you?'
'Yes, of course – but pray why did you do so if your feelings were already engaged?' Emma looked searchingly at his face.
'I wanted you to love me for myself,' he told her with such honesty that she knew it must be the simple truth. 'I have been hunted for my fortune since I first came on the town. I was once almost engaged and then I discovered that the woman I thought I cared for was thinking only of my fortune. I was stupid to think that you could be like she – but I did not know you then.' He took her hand, carrying it to his cheek, his eyes beseeching her. 'Can you forgive and love me, Emma? For I shall never know happiness again if I have lost your good opinion.'
'I was hurt when I thought you had flirted with me carelessly, but now I know the truth and nothing could exceed my happin…' Emma's last words were lost as he swept her into his arms and kissed her. By the time he released her, Emma's senses were spinning and she was quite convinced that he was sincere. 'Oh, Ellerton…I do love you so very much. I never thought I should find anyone I could love enough to marry but I have…' she looked at him shyly. 'But your father? Will he allow…'
'My father is delighted that I was of serious intentions and not trying to seduce you. He has long despaired of my marrying, Emma.'
He reached out and took her hand, slipping a magnificent diamond and emerald ring on to the third finger of her left hand. 'Now that you have given your word I cannot wait,' he told her and smiled. 'However, we shall announce it officially at the ball – if you feel strong enough to return with me?'
'Ellerton…' Emma could hardly believe what was happening to her. First the beautiful card, which she would always treasure, and now this ring. 'I am so very fortunate.'
'Oh no,' he said and touched her cheek. 'It is I who should be thanking God for my good fortune. I had not thought it possible to find a lady I could care for enough to spend my life with, Emma – but I have.'
Emma smiled as she linked her arm through his and they went down the wide, magnificent stairs together. She had never believed that she would even find someone to love, and she would have been content as Mr Ellis' wife but to be Lady Ellerton and live in a magnificent house was far beyond her wildest dreams. Glancing out of a window to her left she saw a star high in the heavens and it seemed to be shining just for her.
'When I was a child I believe that Christmas was a magic time,' she whispered to Ellerton as they saw the others looking for them at the foot of the stairs. 'I feel as if it has touched my life and I shall never be the same again…'
May the magic and joy of Christmas touch all your lives and bring you lasting happiness. Happy Christmas Everyone.
Love from Anne Herries and all the authors who brought you this story.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Christmas Story: Part Ten - A Romantic Interlude
Emma's wits were unceremoniously retstored to her, thanks to a hand vigorously waving hartshorn beneath her nose. She pushed it aside and Bessy's concerned features swan into view.
'Ah, Miss Carstairs, I rejoice to see that you are recovering from your ordeal.'
'Where are I?' she mumbled incoherently.
'We thought it best to remove you to the small sitting room. You will be able to recover here without fear of interruption.'
Emma, initially unable to recall quite what had happened to her, became acutely embarrassed when the particulars slowly filtered into her addled brain. She never fainted. 'I crave your pardon, Bessy. I have been a great trial to you since arriving at Wintersmede Hall and you must surely now regret having invited me.'
'Not at all. It was very hot in the ballroom and I dare say you are not accustomed to such a crush of people.'
Emma would have liked to take refuge behind such a convenient lie but could not do so. Bessy had been kindness itself and she deserved to know the truth.
'I fear,' she admitted with a rueful shrug, 'that it was shock rather than the heat that caused me to lose my senses.'
'My dear Miss Carstairs!' cried Bessy, her hand flying to cover her face in obvious alarm. 'Whoever can have overset you so? Supply me with a name and I will have Charles rectify the situation immediately.'
'Pray do not distress yourself, Bessy; my overactive imagination is very likely the only culprit.' Emma swallowed, appreciating how ridiculous her next words would likely sound to her hostess. 'Although perhaps I was temporarily overcome by heat exhaustion after all,' she reasoned, 'since I was seeing double.' She forced herself into a sitting position, waited for the room to stop spinning and held Bessy's gaze. 'You see, I was convinced that I could see two of Mr Ellis.' Bessy's only response was a hearty bout of laughter. 'I am glad you find the situation diverting,' said Emma huffily.
'Pray excuse me, Miss Carstairs,' said Bessy when she managed to regain control of herself, 'but I am not laughting at you; I am merely relieved to discover that you have not been afflicted with a serious malady.' Bessy covered Emma's hand with her own. 'You were not seeing double; you merely saw Mr Ellis and his younger brother Giles standing side by side.'
Emma was aware that her mouth had fallen open and that she was gaping like a simpleton. Indeed, it was such an obvious explanation that she must be soft in the head not to have thought of it herself. A slow smile spread across her face as relief flooded through her. It was obviously Giles that Leticia was engaged to. Her Mr Ellis was the honourable gentleman she had taken him for all along and had not misled her - at least not in that respect.
'His brother,' she echoed faintly.
'Indeed. Giles is just one year his brother's junior but they are so much alike that they are often mistaken for twins.'
'I can quite understand why.'
'But, Miss Carstairs, since you appear to be recovering your wits I must confide in you the most delightful secret. It is Giles that our friend Leticia has become engaged to and the announcement is to be made here this very evening. I am so delighted for her! Leticia does not possess a great fortune, it is true, but even though Giles is a younger son he has independent means and is able to follow his heart when it comes to selecting a wife.' Bessy paused, studying Emma's countenance closely before adding, with a significant smile, 'as is his brother.'
'It will be a most advantageous match for Leticia,' agreed Emma, pretending not to understand Bessy's final pointed comment.
'Oh, absolutely,' said Bessy, her eyes sparkling with mischief, 'and I trust that you, Letecia and I will find the time over the next few days to renew our friendship and talk of Leticia's forthcoming nuptials. Goodness only knows, I have had precious little opportunity to have you to myself since your arrival: a situation for which I hold Mr Ellis entirely accountable.'
Emma was furious when she felt her cheeks flood with colour. Not five years ago it would have been Bessy blushing guiltily when Emma caught her out in some prank or other at school but now the tables had been neatly turned. 'Mr Ellis is an amiable gentleman and has very elegant manners,' she muttered feebly.
'Ah, that would explain it then,' said Bessy, laughing openly now. 'Charles and I had been wondering why our neighbour was spending so much of his time with you. We could not figure it out at all but as always, dear Miss Carstairs, you have got to the root of the matter. He is squiring you all over the estate simply because he is well-mannered.' Bessy sat back, clearly well pleased with herself, laughter still in her eyes.
'I cannot think of any other reason why he should go to so much trouble,' snapped Emma, more acerbically than she had intended.
'Can you not? Oh, Miss Carstairs, do not be such a goose. I have never seen my husband's friend so enamoured of any lady before and, goodness only knows, enough have tried all manner of stratagems to attract his attention.'
'Mr Ellis has a great deal of responsibility resting upon his shoulders, unless I mistake the matter.'
'You are in the right of it. As heir to his father's considerable estate he has already assumed many duties in that respect.'
'Well, there you are then.'
Bessy moved closer to Emma and took her hand. 'It feels extraordinary that I should now be offering you advice, Miss Carstairs, but if I were in your position I would do everything in my power to encourage Mr Ellis's advances; if you welcome them, of course.'
'I cannot deny that I am flattered by his attentions,' said Emma, giving up all pretence at indifference, 'but surely you can see the impossibility of it all?'
'I cannot see any such thing,' protested Bessy stoutly. 'Mr Ellis is a gentleman who can afford the luxury of pleasing himself when it coems to choosing a bride and if you are his heart's desire, where is the difficulty?'
Emma, aware that Bessy was the possessor of a soft heart and romantic nature, did not argue the point. But she knew that whilst a younger son might be given some licence, the heir would be expected to marry within his own class. She had been introduced to his father just before she disgraced herself by fainting and although he gave every appearance of being an affable gentleman she thought she could detected a glint of steely determination in his eye and knew that his first born son would not be permitted to settle for a mere school teacher. That being so, it would be inadvisable to get carried away with fancy notions and if Mr Ellis was unable to see the impracticality of it all then she must somehow draw on her inner strength and discourage further intimacies between them. Resolved, Emma permitted herself one small sigh of regret and returned her attention to Bessy, who was again speaking.
'Leticia is still a close neighbour of Lucy Grassmore,' she said, 'and when Lucy heard that Leticia would be meeting you again she entrusted her with a letter for you.' Bessy waved the document in question beneath Emma's nose. 'Now,' she continued, rising to her feet, 'I have neglected my guests for too long and will leave you to complete your recovery and enjoy your correspondence in solitude.' She turned in the open doorway and looked back at Emma. 'But, I must beg you to reflect upon our discourse since I would not, for the world, see you waste such an opportunity.' He voice gentled. 'No, do not say anything, ma'am. I was in the same position as you not so long ago and comprehend your feelings perfectly.'
'But you do not -'
'And pray remember that if you do not wish to receive Mr Ellis's attentions there are many others who will happily take your place. Miss Marshall is very pretty,' added Bessy artfully, 'and does not hesitate to flatter him when you are absent from a room and she is able to engage his attention.'
With a saucy smile and flurry of skirts Bessy left the room, chuckling softly, presumably at the possessive expression that invaded Emma's face.
Refusing to dwell upon their conversation Emma opened her letter, delighted to have heard from one of her favourite and most intellectually gifted ex-pupils. But her delight was short-lived. She got past Lucy's opening paragraph of seasional greetings and knew immediately that something was seriously amiss.
'Oh dear!' She clasped her hand to her face as she read between the lines and realised that Lucy was putting a brave face on a dire situation.
'Miss Carstairs, are you still unwell?' Emma was acutely aware of the large hand that came to rest on the small of her back, heating the skin beneath her flimsy gown and causing the flush to return to her cheeks. 'Pray be seated and tell me what I can do to make your more comfortable.'
Emma, dazed by Lucy's news yet angered by her reaction to the mere touch of Mr Ellis's hand, allowed herself to be guided to the chair she had just vacated. She had not heard him enter the room but somehow was not surprised that he should intuitively appear at her side at a time when she was badly in need of comfort and solace.
'I am perfectly recovered, Mr Ellis. It is just that I have received some rather distressing news from one of my former pupils.'
'I am sorry to hear that, Miss Carstairs,' he said, seating himself beside her. 'It is, I am persuaded, a testament to your dedication that so many of your pupils hold you in esteem, maintaining correspondence with you long after they quit your establishment. But I must own that if they do so merely to distress you then I would prefer that their pens remained idle.'
'Lucy did not intend to overset me,' she responded vigorously. 'Indeed, her missive is cheerful and informative and were it not for the fact that I know her so well I might be duped into believing the downturn in her fortunes is of no great consequence.'
'But you do not take that view?'
'Indeed not.' Emma straightened a spine that was already rigidly upright and met Mr Ellis's kindly eye with equanimity. 'Lucy possesses a lively, enquiring mind and is quite the most intelligent girl it has been my good fortune to instruct.'
'A remarkable young lady then.'
'She is indeed. Her uncle was her guardian but he passed away three months ago.'
'I am sorry to hear that.'
'As was I at the time but it at least afforded Lucy the opportunity to postpone entering into an engagement with the gentleman her uncle has selected for her. He was, by all accounts, ill-educated and quite wrong for Lucy in every respect.'
'Not at all the kind to react favourably towards a well read wife.'
'Precisely! It does me no credit to confess that I was relieved her uncle's death intruded upon the negotiations for her betrothal. No agreement had been formally reached and the gentleman could not, in all honour, press Lucy's cousin, who has inherited her uncle's estate, whilst he was still in mourning.'
'But something of that nature has now occurred?' suggested Mr Ellis gently, his eyes levelled upon hers, full of compassion and understanding. Emma, who had little experience of such matters, would have supposed most of the opposite sex to consider her concerns for a former pupil to be of little import. Mr Ellis clearly did not fall into that category, causing Emma's regrets in respect of her determination to repulse his advances to multiply.
'Yes, Lucy's cousin does not wish her to continue living beneath his roof. His wife objects to her presence and she has been told that she must either accept the gentleman who is still petitioning for both her hand and the substantial dowry which her cousin will provide her with, or leave his house penniless and make her own way in the world.'
'What a bounder to put the poor bereaved girl in such a position!' cried Mr Ellis passionately. 'I would wager that your Lucy does not intend to be browbeaten however and intends to follow the latter course.'
'Indeed, yes,' concerred Emma with asperity. 'How typical of her: I so applaud her strength of character. She asks if I know of anyone who might be prepared to employ her as a governess. She would indeed set a most admirable example to any children fortunate enough to be placed under her care.
'Or fill a vacancy for a teacher in a school, perhaps?'
'Yes, that too. Now, who do I know that might -'
'In your school, perhaps?'
'Alas, there are no vacancies.'
'Not at the present time perhaps.' The opening stanza of a waltz echoed from the ballroom beneath them, filling the small room with its infectious melody. 'Ah, Miss Carstairs, I am reminded of my reason for seeking you out. Will you honour me with the first waltz of the evening?' He held out his hand expectantly.
'Thank you, sir, but I do not intend to return to the ballroom at this juncture.'
'Then dance with me here, Emma,' he whispered persuasively, 'where we can be alone.'
Something stronger than her own will drew Emma towards him, even as she shook her head to decline his offer. Walking into his open arms she fell into step with him, not surprised to discover that he danced superbly. She was acutely aware of the solidity of his body, mere inches away from hers; of the steely muscles in his arms holding her in their protective embrace, pulling her imperceptibly closer as they twirled round the room until the distance that had originally separated them became non-existent.
This was scandalous! His thighs pushed relentlessly against her skirts as he led her in the dance, the pressure from the arm circling her waist increased and his eyes did not once leave her face. Blushing furiously Emma could not suppress the warm glow which suffused her entire body as her eyes courageously clashed with his. The sincerity in his expression stole away what little breath she had remaining and she did not know if she was relieved or disappointed when the music stopped far sooner than she would have deemed possible.
He did not release her and Emma made no effort to move away from him. Instead she stood passively in the circle of his arms, wondering what would happen next, all too aware that his eyes were burning bright with fiery passion. And desire. Emma had little experience in such matters but she recognised desire when she saw it, possibly because his expression was a mirrir image of her own. His lips descended towards hers, slowly and yet with such determination and authority that she was powerless to resist. Just this once she would allow herself to luxuriate in his embrace, and then she would never permit herself to be alone with him again. With a gentle sigh she melted against the solidity of his chest and parted her lips, brazenly inviting him to claim them.
Emma was consumed by a maelstrom of dizzying emotions as he did so: senstations chased one another through her body at a breakneck pace, each more intense than its predecessor. So this was passion: at last Emma understood. But she was also aware that she should not have permitted this situation to develop; what must he think of her? Determined to extricate herself with her dignity intact Emma used every last vestige of her self-control to pull out of his arms and turn away from him.
'Mr Ellis, pray excuse me.'
She stepped towards the door but his hand on her arm prevented her from opening it.
'Emma, don't go; we must talk.'
'We have nothing to discuss, sir.'
'You are quite wrong.' He placed his capable hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. 'We were talking of Miss Grassmoor and her suitability as a teacher in your establishment.'
'And I have already told you that we have our full compliment of teachers.'
'At the moment, perhaps.' He gently traced the line of her cheek with his forefinger. Emma reacted to his gossamer light touch all the way to her toes but pulled her face out of his grasp, anxious that her expression should not betray her feelings. 'But what will happen when you give up your position there?'
'I have no intention of giving up my position.'
'Oh, Emma.' Ignoring her protests he pulled her back into his arms. 'We have only known one another for a few days, it is true, but never before have I felt so passionately drawn towards a lady. And I believe you feel it too.'
She turned her face into his chest, determined that her treacherous eyes should not give her away, but feeling his responding chuckle rumbling deep in his chest she knew she hadn't deceived him.
'No, sir,' she said, lifting her chin as she stuggled to regain her dignity, 'you quite mistake the matter.'
'Do I?' He quirked a brow, his expression quite shockingly assured. 'You must permit me to tell you -'
The door burst open and they sprang apart like the guilty lovers they had almost become, but not quickly enough. The formidible figure that filled the doorway bore no resemblence to the amiable gentleman Emma had been introduced to not an hour previously. With a slight inclination of his head in her direction Mr Ellis's father turned a thunderous expression upon his son and demanded a private word with him. Immediately.
To be continued ........
Monday, December 17, 2007
Christmas Story: Part Nine - A Christmas Ball
“Foolish, silly woman, I am old enough to know better,” she scolded out loud. Her words splintered like cracked ice on the cold air as she gave herself up to misery. But she must try to be calm. The last thing she wished was to alert the coachman to her distress and Billy or Mary must surely return at any moment.
She forced herself to look out through the carriage window and was relieved to see that the offending room, the scene of the sorry interlude, was no longer visible. Someone had drawn the shutters against the dimming afternoon light and the cold outside. Emma began to wonder if she really had seen such a dreadful sight.
At last! The front door was opening. A blaze of light from the hall cast the emerging figures into darkness but she could see right away that it was not Billy or Mary. In any case, they would be coming from the direction of the tradesmen’s entrance, she told herself. The couple that descended the steps were animated, laughing and completely recognisable. Leticia Calder and Mr. Ellis were sharing an intimate moment. They were arm in arm and as close as it was possible to be. Emma could not bear to look a moment longer. She did not want them to see her and ducked out of sight, only peering out again as she heard voices approaching.
“Are you feeling well, Miss? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Mary declared with such a look of concern on her face that Emma felt quite ashamed. “Billy was only going to knock on the front door, so I ‘ad to run and fetch ‘im round the side before the butler got ‘im. Oh, and I’m sorry to tell you, Miss, but Mr Ellis is not at home.” She rummaged up her sleeve and proffered a square of coarse linen. “It ain’t much, but it’s clean.”
Emma had little time for any more reflection. After ten minutes through snowy lanes, the carriage deposited her at the door of Hatton Hall and forced into overlooking her own problems, she was soon greeting her old pupil with exclamations of delight and sympathy at her predicament. Two pleasant hours passed quickly, though she felt a certain alarm when Henrietta reminded her about the ball that was taking place at Wintersmede Hall on the following Saturday.
"It will be quite like past times with all our old friends," Henrietta laughed, "though whether I shall be able to join you all on the dance floor with a swollen ankle is another matter!"
"I am sure you will be much fitter by Saturday," Emma soothed. "In any case, I should like to keep you company if you have to sit and watch." Despite her levity she was troubled. Having forgotten about Bessy’s annual Christmas ball, the thought filled her with dread. Mr. Ellis was sure to be invited.
It was only on her return that Emma allowed herself to dwell on this and earlier events. Why had Mr. Ellis lied? He had been at the house, she had seen him, seen them both. This was beyond everything else. To have taken advantage of her sweet nature was hard enough to bear but now there was irrefutable proof of his duplicity. A headache throbbed at her temples and she quickly excused herself after dinner, to retire to the solace of her room.
The next morning, determined to face the day with a new resolve, to put all thoughts of a certain gentleman and her reticule out of her mind, Emma sat down to breakfast and her post. However, she saw with concern that the handwriting on the first letter she selected, belonged to none other than Miss Calder. The letter pronounced that its writer was sure to give Miss Carstairs the most unexpected surprise. They were to meet sooner than could be imagined, for Bessy had invited her to the ball!
“Is it a letter from Leticia?” asked Bessy. “ I recognise my old schoolfellow’s hand.”
Emma felt hot crimson flush over her cheeks. “Yes, she is very excited about the ball. Leticia hints at other surprises but I must admit I am a little puzzled by it all.”
Bessy and Charles exchanged glances. Perhaps it was her imagination but something seemed to pass between them; Emma thought Bessy looked almost sly.
“I expect she is longing to tell you all about her fiancée,” Bessy said at last, “Leticia has so much to tell you. She is travelling up from London on Saturday morning. I can’t wait to see her!”
Emma did not know what to say. Bessy clearly had no idea that Leticia was already within such close proximity. Whatever she might say on the matter would be certain to be refuted and despite her certainty about what she had witnessed, decided it would be best to keep her counsel. There was a mystery surrounding this whole affair. She could not explain her reticence, but Emma felt unable to question Bessy for fear of appearing impertinent. Quite how she would survive the forthcoming ordeal of a ball, she could not comprehend, but she knew she was about to be tested, as never before.
The ballroom glittered with candlelight and jewels. The hum of chattering voices, the footfall of soft kid shoes pattering across the polished floor, sounds punctuated by merry peals of laughter, announced the expectation of the evening’s entertainment. Emma entered the ballroom escorted by Bessy and her husband. She clutched Charles’s arm tightly as she took in her surroundings, her stomach in knots and her heart hammering. At least there was no immediate sign of Mr. Ellis or Leticia but as she breathed a sigh of relief and started to relax, she felt a tug on the back of her gown. It was evident someone had stepped on and become entangled in the train. Turning, she observed the very person she least wanted to see. For a moment, she was at an utter loss for words as she regarded his blank expression. Anyone would think he did not know her. And then just as she thought she could not be more shocked, her astonishment turned to incredulity. As she stared at the unsmiling figure that appeared to be exactly the image of the Mr. Ellis she knew, a voice on her other side proclaimed it could not be so.
"Good evening, Miss Carstairs," Mr. Ellis spoke softly, "I was hoping to see you."
She started and stared, from one man to the other and so great was the shock, so overwhelming the heat that overcame her, that before she could help herself, Emma fainted and fell.
To be continued......
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Christmas Story Part Eight- Miss Carstairs is called away
Emma held out her hand for the reticule but he shook his head. 'No, Miss Carstairs, I shall put it in my coat pocket, it's far too wet for you to carry.'
She was beginning to feel cold and miserable, her earlier moment of excitement when Mr Ellis had seemed to stare at her in a particular way was forgotten.
She remembered that he was a dissembler – that he was already betrothed to an ex-pupil of hers and had no right to be paying her such particular attention.
He offered her his arm and she took it; it would seem churlish to refuse when he had filled his top boots with snow on her behalf.
'I wonder who the carriage belonged to, Mr Ellis, I did not know any further guests were expected.'
'Well, you shall no doubt discover the identity of the occupants when you return to Wintersmede, I believe we are almost there. I for one shall be glad to see you back in the warmth the house.'
He escorted her as far as the front steps then doffed his beaver, inadvertently covering her with powdery snow, and promising to see her soon, she watched him stride off down the drive. She wondered why he walked everywhere when he must have a horse he could ride and save himself the bother of wet feet.
She went disconsolately inside, smiling prettily at the elderly butler, and headed for her chamber to remove her sodden garments. She was on the bottom stair when Bessie emerged form the drawing room, her face animated.
'My dear, Miss Carstairs, such excitement, such news, a carriage has come to take you to visit Lord and Lady Fenwick, it seems Henrietta has need of you.'
Puzzled, Emma paused. 'Is there a note for me explaining why I must depart so precipitously?'
'There is, I have it here.' Bessie proffered the square of paper and for a moment Emma thought it might already have been opened. How else did Bessie know so much? 'I wrote to Hetty and told her you were coming to spend Christmas with us here. The driver told Cook why he'd come and he asked for the bricks to be reheated for your journey. It's only a few miles to Hatton Hall, I shall expect you back by evening.'
Emma took the letter and nodded. 'I shall read this upstairs, Bessie, if you would excuse me?'
The chamber-maid assigned for her comfort was waiting with dry garments and a wistful expression. 'Shall you be wanting me to come with you, Miss Carstairs? Madam says I can if you would like me to.'
Emma smiled. 'Yes, of course you can come, I should be glad of the company.'
She opened the note and scanned the contents. It seemed Henrietta was languishing in bed with a broken ankle, a skating accident, and on learning that her dearest teacher was so close, was desperate for a visit.
'I shall be ready to leave as soon as I've changed. I expect to return before dark.'
She explained to her young hostess the purpose of her excursion and was given Bessie's blessing. Emma was pleased to have this as she did not wish to cause offence. It was difficult following the correct etiquette when you were in her invidious position- friend, but not an intimate, certainly not a servant, but not quite one of them. She so longed to have a real home of her own, to be someone else, not merely a spinster of eight and twenty, liked but mostly overlooked in company.
The carriage was well sprung and the horses fresh. Wrapped up as she was in furs, with bricks under her feet, she could not but feel pampered and her momentary dissatisfaction evaporated.
Feeling a tickle at the back of her nose she reached down to find her reticule in which she kept her handkerchief. Too late she recalled that the perfidious Mr Ellis had placed it in his pocket and failed to return it.
'Sarah, could you stand and tap on the roof of the carriage? I wish to speak with the coachman urgently.'
'Yes, miss.' The girl stood up and rapped sharply. The vehicle swayed to a halt and then a small flap in the roof was raised and a friendly face appeared.
'Is there something wrong, Miss Carstairs?'
'There is, Coachman. Mr Ellis has my reticule and I don't wish to proceed without it. Is his uncle's home on our way, by any chance?
'Indeed it is, miss. It's a bit up the road. I'll turn in and send Billy up to the door to ask for it.'
'Thank you. That is most kind.'
The flap shut and the carriage lurched forward. Ten minutes later it shuddered to a standstill again outside a magnificent dwelling, which made Wintermede seem little more than a small manor house by comparison. Emma rubbed the window free of mist and stared avidly. The rooms were lit with candles and she could view the interior of the house quite clearly.
Her heart contracted. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. But her own eyes could not deceive her, unlike the rogue clasping Leticia Calder in his arms and kissing her with a passion she could hardly comprehend.
She sank back on the squabs, unable to hide her distress. Until that moment she had still harboured a hope that Mr Ellis returned her affection, but now she knew him for a liar. She turned her face away from the window, ignoring Mary's anxious enquiry, ignoring the rocking as the boy climbed down to run the errand. However, when it swayed a second time and an icy blast swirled around her, she looked up. Mary had gone. She couldn't depart this wretched place without the girl. Whatever had possessed her to run away?
To be continued…………………….
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Christmas story part 7: Miss Carstairs becomes a little vexed
by Kate Allan
Emma could hardly believe what she was hearing. She stopped walking, withdrew her arm from his and faced him. 'Excuse me, Mr Ellis, did you say that you were not acquainted with Miss Calder, Leticia Calder?'
'Not so I recall, Miss Carstairs.' He shook his head.
What duplicity! What deception! He must think her a simpleton. A simpleton spinster with whom he might amuse himself while-
'Miss Carstairs?' He frowned. 'Have I upset you?'
'Sorry?' Emma tried to quell her anger but her voice came out strangled.
'You have terminated our walk, are standing with your arms folded, your eyes flashing fire, and your little chin is quivering.'
'Ah.' He regarded her for a moment as if in thought. 'Forgive me the familiarity, Miss Carstairs. It was unwarranted.' He offered her his arm again. 'Shall we return?'
Emma tried to collect herself. The facts were these. She had no claim on Mr Ellis. Though he had been pleasant and friendly towards her he had given her no inclination that his intentions went deeper. Therefore it was quite unreasonable for her to be vexed. She was eight and twenty. It was unlikely that any man would look towards a spinster of such advanced years for marriage.
A tear pricked the back of her eyes.
'If we stand here too long, why, we might be buried by the snow.' Mr Ellis smiled. 'Miss Carstairs?'
'Thank you, Mr Ellis,' she managed to say. 'But I shall make my own way back to the house. It is not far.'
She strode ahead before he had time to disagree. She could not keep her tears back a moment longer. 'As you wish,' she heard him say, the snow muffling his words. 'I shall not be far behind you.'
Emma quickened her pace. The harsh air stung her face. Warm tears fell onto her cheeks and then stung the more. She pulled one hand across her eyes to wipe them but her gloves were no handkerchief. The white, unfamiliar world became distorted by the water in her eyes. She could see the verge of the road where the undisturbed snow lay higher, the occasional brown stalk or branch peeking through. It was not far back to the house. The sooner she was back, the sooner she might retire to the privacy of her room and come to terms with her thoughts and feelings in her own time.
The snow was falling fast. It quietened everything and Emma was aware that she could hear her own breathing. She listened, wondering if Mr Ellis was far behind her. She heard no footsteps. Nothing but the rustle of the breeze playing with the billows of snowflakes.
A quick of fear leapt up within her. Was she really alone? She walked faster, nearly stumbled.
'Miss Carstairs?' she heard Mr Ellis call. He sounded very distant.
She had not fallen. It was not far. She would get home on her own. She did everything on her own. She was well used to managing.
A distant rumble grew louder and she jumped onto the verge to avoid a carriage and four traveling at surprising speed for the weather. Were they more visitors to the Dawlishes?
She stepped down from the bank. Her foot struck a root. And she was lying in the cold, one cheek pressed against the snow. At least it has softened my fall, she thought. I am not hurt.
'Miss Carstairs?' Mr Ellis's voice came loudly. 'Are you hurt?'
If only she was eighteen rather than eight and twenty, then she might say she had twisted her ankle and he might rescue her, perhaps carry her all the way back to the house just as he had done when she had fallen while skating. Except that now she would appreciate it all the more. Emma sighed, the deep and familiar sense of loneliness reminding her that even if Mr Ellis was not betrothed, she would no such thing.
'Miss Carstairs?' He crouched down beside her and she felt the warmth of her hand on her shoulder.
'I am all right,' she said. 'Only a simple fall. I tripped on a root I think.'
'Let me help you up.' His voice sounded very soft. Wonderfully soft, and kind.
He held onto both her shoulders as she sat up and then moved so that he held her hands with one hand while he other slid behind her back. Emma looked at him, wondering at the concern in his brown eyes. Concern for her? Her alone?
Any moment now she would rise and the spell would be broken.
He came closer to her so that his face was only inches from hers. She felt his breath, warm on her cheek. 'Can you stand?' he said.
Their eyes met. Emma mumbled her reply. She watched his gaze lower so that he was staring at her lips. Then he looked at her directly again and seemed to recollect himself. He pulled her to her feet, pulled her out of her reverie.
Emma stumbled against him, meeting the hard warmth of his chest. The tip of her bonnet touched his chin. He held her firmly and she was looking into his eyes once more, watching every blink of his dark lashes.
'My reticule,' she said, suddenly feeling confused. 'It is still on the ground.'
To be continued...
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
PURE PASSION - VOTE NOW!
I am glad everyone is enjoying our Christmas serial - while you are waiting for the next episode can I remind you of the Pure Passion vote that is taking place at www.time-to-read.co.uk? There are a couple of historical novels amongst the shortlist of books and voting ends on 31st December, so please take a look at cast your vote. This is a joint initiative between libraries in the northwest of England and the Romantic Novelists' Association, and anything that encourages an interest in reading and novels is a hit with me.
All best Christmas wishes
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
When Susannah Thorpe inherits Harstairs House she finds more than she bargained for, as the house has a tenant in the broodingly handsome shape of Oliver Bristow. With only a month left on his lease, Susannah allows him to remain, but a series of unexplained incidents follow. Oliver is badly beaten; the local militia pay a visit to the house; and Susannah sees mysterious lights out at sea. She discovers a secret passage under the sundial in the courtyard garden, and, more alarmingly, discovers another one in the library.
As she begins to unravel the mysteries of Harstairs House she finds herself drawn to Oliver, but beneath his charming, if rakish, exterior, something deeper lurks, and she must discover the secret of his presence at the house, if she is to survive . . .
To read an extract, click here
Monday, December 10, 2007
Christmas Story Part 6 - An Encounter in the Snow
For a moment Emma was thrown into utter confusion. The letter fell from her hand again and this time it was Mr Ellis who picked it up for her. He was smiling at her and there was such warmth in his eyes and such open sincerity in his expression that her heart gave a little errant thump before sinking lower than her boots. Treacherous Mr Ellis, entertaining himself with a flirtation with the spinster schoolmistress to while away the time, when he was secretly betrothed to another lady! His compliments were false and his meaningful glances meant nothing at all. Emma had not realised until that moment the extent to which her feelings were engaged and now she was flustered and distressed. She should have known better. She might live a relatively secluded life at her school but she prided herself on her sound commonsense and she was no green girl to develop a tendre for a gentleman just because he had showed her a little attention. Then an even more lowering thought occurred to her. Perhaps she had misread Mr Ellis’s attentions to her.
Perhaps he was merely being kind.
Yes, decidedly that would be the case. He had taken pity on her. Her instinct told her that he was too honourable a man to have betrayed Letty. Emma was the one who had misinterpreted the situation.
Even so, she could not face him with equanimity. “You must excuse me, Mr Ellis,” she murmured, with no great composure. “There are some letters that I need to write this morning.” She glanced outside where the sun was shining on the crisp white snow. “I find I have no appetite for a walk after all.”
He looked boyishly disappointed. “Can I not persuade you to change your mind, Miss Carstairs? It is so beautiful outside-”
“I am sorry.” Emma shook her head decisively. Stuffing Letty’s missive into her reticule she got to her feet and hurried from the room. Bessie’s guests were assembling in the hall and Emma was very aware of Miss Marshall’s gaze fixed on her face with open curiosity.
“Please excuse me, Mrs Dawlish,” she said to Bessie in a low aside. “I think I shall stay in my room this morning.”
She did not wait for Bessie’s reply, for she was very aware that Mr Ellis had come out of the sitting room and was crossing the hall, making straight for her side. For all his courtesy it seemed that he was not the sort of man to accept a dismissal without what he felt was a proper explanation. She sped away up the stairs to her room, but when she reached the turn in the staircase she could not help herself and glanced back over her shoulder. Mr Ellis was watching her with a hint of puzzlement in his eyes. She turned away, afraid of what might he might read in her face.
Mr Ellis did not stay to take luncheon with the Dawlishes and their guests and Emma could only be grateful. In the afternoon she put on her bonnet and pelisse, gloves and shawl and set out for the village. Her excuse was the urgent need to post a letter but she also hoped that the fresh air would raise her spirits. She had never been one to repine and she knew her disappointed hopes should not be permitted to stand in the way of her enjoying the rest of the house party.
As she came down into the hall Emma saw Bessie and Charles snatching a quiet moment together. Their heads were bent close to each other and Charles was smiling down at his wife. They were talking in low voices.
“I am sure that there is some partiality on his side,” Bessie was saying. “Though why he has to indulge in this deception over-” She broke off as she saw Emma and smiled. “My dear Miss Carstairs, I do hope you will enjoy your walk to the village, though I fear it looks as though there is more snow on the way…”
The morning had started out brightly but there were grey clouds piling up in the east and the wind did indeed have a chill edge with a hint of snow. At the post office Emma dropped off her note of congratulations to Letty Calder and picked up some letters for Wintersmede Hall. There was another letter addressed to her and normally Emma would have waited until she was back in the privacy of the Hall to open it, but when she discovered that there was nothing to pay because it had been franked by a Member of Parliament, her astonishment was so great that she stepped aside into a quiet corner and opened it. She was so engrossed in the contents – smiling with amazement and pleasure to hear of the betrothal of another of her girls in what was a most advantageous match to Sir William Litton MP – that she failed to notice the change in the weather.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the postmaster spoke hesitantly, “but the weather is turning inclement.”
It was true. Huge flakes of snow were floating lazily down from a pewter sky. With an exclamation Emma gathered up the letters and hurried out into the lane that led to the Hall.
She had gone a bare few yards when the wind suddenly whipped the snow up into a storm. In the gathering gloom she did not see the tall figure approaching her until Mr Ellis fell into step beside her. There were snowflakes melting against his lean cheek.
“Miss Carstairs! How is it that you are out here all alone in the snow?” He demanded.
“I came to post a letter,” Emma said, trying not to shiver beneath her thin pelisse. “I did not realise the weather threatened to turn so stormy.”
Mr Ellis nodded, wasting no further time on explanations. “We must get you back to the Hall before you catch a chill, Miss Carstairs, for I do not have so much as an umbrella to protect you.”
Emma put her hand on his proffered arm, feeling the hardness of the muscle beneath his sleeve and noting the protective way in which he curved his body to shield hers from the storm. And suddenly she could not bear there to be any pretence between them.
“Mr Ellis,” she said. “There is something that I must ask you.”
He glanced at her enquiringly through the thickly falling snow.
"Yes, Miss Carstairs?”
Emma took a deep breath. The epitome of learned, lively and intelligent society… The words seemed burned on her mind.
“I believe that you must be acquainted with the family of a former pupil of mine,” she said. “The Calders.”
Mr Ellis shook his head slowly. He looked her directly in the eyes and his own were very clear. “I do not believe so, ma’am. I do not recognise the name. I think you must be mistaken.” He smiled at her, drawing her more closely into the shelter of his body as the snow swirled around them. “Why do you ask?”
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Christmas Story Part 5: A Shock for Miss Carstairs
Emma lay back on the sofa and allowed Mr Ellis to remove her gloves and chafe her hands. She was in no danger of fainting off, but the sensation of his strong, warm fingers wrapped around hers was just too enjoyable to resist. She stole a look at him as he knelt beside the sofa and a sigh escaped her. He looked up, smiling slightly.
'Are you in pain, Miss Carstairs?'
'No, no.' She flushed, knowing it was impossible for her to explain to him. 'I am a little shaken, nothing more.'
'Shall I ring for your maid?'
'No, thank you, I shall be well again in a moment.'
She wanted nothing that would prevent him from holding her hands. However, even as the thought flashed through her mind common sense asserted itself. This would not do at all! Gently but firmly she withdrew her fingers from his grasp and sat up.
'Thank you, Mr Ellis, you have been very kind, but I must not keep you ….'
'You keep me from nothing, Miss Carstairs.' The glow in his eyes brought another, warmer flush to her cheeks. 'You must know by now –'
'Emma, my dear! I saw you fall; tell me you are not seriously hurt!'
Bessie rushed into the room trailing coat and scarves behind her in her hurry. With a wry smile Mr Ellis rose to his feet and made way for his hostess.
'I am unhurt, my dear, except for my pride,' Emma laughed. 'I fear I am no skater.'
'Nonsense,' said Mr Ellis, 'you were doing very well until you took a little tumble. It is my fault – I should not have left you on your own. All you need is more practice, and if you will come back on to the ice tomorrow, Miss Carstairs, I promise I shall be more attentive.' With a bow and a smile he left them, but his warm look had been observed by Bessie, whose quizzical glance did nothing to cool Emma's burning cheeks and she was relieved when a footman brought in the tea tray and provided a welcome distraction.
Another heavy storm overnight surrounded the house with a fresh blanket of snow and Emma suffered a momentary disappointment when she learned that there could be no skating until the snow had been swept from the lake.
'But we can take a walk,' said Bessie, beaming at her guests gathered around the breakfast table. 'The servants have cleared most of the wilderness walk, so we may enjoy a little fresh air.'
Emma looked up to find Mr Ellis smiling at her.
'What an excellent idea, ma'am. The sooner the better, I'd say.'
'Then it is agreed,' cried Bessie. 'We shall meet in the hall in an hour!'
With a light heart Emma ran upstairs to put on her warm pelisse and matching bonnet. Such was her speed that she was one of the first to reach the hall, where she found her host sorting through a fresh delivery of mail. He held up a note.
'Here is another letter for you, Miss Carstairs. I must say you are very popular, never a day goes by without a little missive or two arriving!'
'My pupils thought I would be spending Christmas alone, and have conspired to keep me supplied with news.' She glanced at the writing. 'From the untidy script I would wager that this one is from little Letty Calder.'
He twinkled down at her.
'Well, I think you may be sure that Bessie will not be downstairs for another half-hour yet, so you have plenty of time to read your letter before we set out. There is a good fire burning in the little sitting room: why do you not take your letter in there where you can be comfortable?'
Alone in the sitting room, Emma broke the seal on the letter and smiled. Letty's writing was worse than ever! She sat down to read.
My dear Miss Carstairs, I do hope this letter finds you in good health. I was afraid that I would have nothing new to tell you, except that Dolly the cat has had her kittens, or that I have at last finished hemming the handkerchief I promised Papa, but that is NOT the case. I have the most exciting news to tell you, for I am hoping that very shortly you will be reading in the newspapers of my Betrothal! It is all very secret at the moment, for my darling has yet to tell his family, which he is to do once he has kept his promise to attend a house party – you will hardly credit it, dear ma'am, but he is acquainted with Mr Dawlish – the very same that is now married to our own dear Bessie! But that is by the bye. Mr E has made me promise not to speak of it to a soul, but this is not speaking, but writing, so I am not breaking my promise, am I, dearest Miss Carstairs? I will not write his name, but if I tell you that he is the Epitome of Learned, Lively and Intelligent Society you may well be able to guess it-
The page dropped from Emma's nerveless fingers. It could not be, or perhaps it was merely coincidence. She snatched up letter again and re-read the lines. There must be some mistake – Mr E – a friend of Bessie's husband - she bit her lip. There could be no mistake, even allowing for Letty's shocking hand-writing she could not make the words mean anything different. Her world seemed to tilt a little and a heaviness settled over her. The sound of the door opening made her look up.
'Ah, there you are,' said Mr Ellis, striding into the room.
Lydia Bennet's Story
I just wanted to tell you about my new book, Lydia Bennet's Story, which is newly published and available to buy on Amazon.
The arrival of a whole regiment of militia is enough to set any young girl’s heart racing, but for Miss Lydia Bennet, the soldiers are the embodiment of all her dreams. She is determined to be an officer’s wife and married before any of her sisters!
Lydia’s dream of following the regiment to the fashionable resort of Brighton comes true; she is soon the darling of all the officers and tempted not only by a handsome royal dragoon, but drawn to the irresistible charms of one already well known to her. But the road to matrimony is fraught with difficulties and even when she is convinced that she has met the man of her dreams, she quickly discovers that her hero is not the man she believes him to be. Before long his reputation has her running back to Hertfordshire to be reunited with Bennets, Bingleys and Darcys, meeting once again for a grand ball at Netherfield Park. Will Lydia manage to resolve her problems to find happiness or will the shocking truth about her husband cause the greatest scandal of all?
The events preceeding the book can be followed in Lydia's online diary at www.janeaustensequels.blogspot.com.
Isn't the Christmas story wonderful? I am really enjoying it and can't wait to read the next instalment!
Friday, December 07, 2007
A short commercial break
I interrupt the thrilling christmas story with a short commercial break.
The Loveday Revenge is now out in audio in both cassette and CD format published by Isis Soundings. The cost is about half price if purchased from www.isis.publishing.co.uk
And a reminder that The Loveday Revenge is part of WH Smith's christmas promotion.
I am loving the christmas story and am as eager as everyone for the next episode. The paintings are beautiful. I am sorry not to be part of the team but my Loveday deadline is the end of the year. Seasons greetings everyone.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Sense and Sensibility 2008
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Christmas story, part 4 - A Skating Party
Emma elected to have dinner in her room that night, exhausted by her journey and the walk with Mr. Ellis. She hated to admit she was such a weakling, but sometimes tiredness did catch up with her and she had a disinclination to appear at dinner in less than fine fettle. Bessie kindly sent up a selection of the raciest novels, the kind she would have been in deep trouble for possessing at school. Chuckling, Emma chose one to amuse herself with and fell asleep engrossed in the dilemma of a heroine who did nothing but scream and get herself into stupidly idiotish situations which a small amount of foresight could have helped her avoid. However the writer had an interesting turn of phrase and the hero was handsome and brave, which helped to make up for the foolish heroine.
In the morning the maid woke Emma with breakfast on a tray and three notes, one of them a note from an old pupil, a young miss currently enjoying the preparations for her first season next year. She read it with pleasure, catching up on all the gossip and chitchat she loved to read about but was dreadfully afraid she should not care for at all. What it must be to be high-minded!
She picked up the other note, a kind word from Bessy wishing her well and hoping that she felt better now. “We have planned a skating party for today,” Bessy informed her. “I hope you feel well enough to join us. Don’t worry about the skates, we have plenty. If you do not wish to come, ask the maid to show you to the library. I’m sure you will find much there to amuse you!” Smiling at her former pupil’s effrontery, she picked up the third note and her smile faded.
It was from Mr. Ellis. Emma wasn’t sure it was proper to receive a private note from a gentleman but the frisson of awareness that skidded down her spine told her she would not refuse to read it. That would be foolish, though she should probably admonish him for his effrontery.
“I was sorry not to see you at dinner, Miss Carstairs. Mrs. Dawlish informs me you were tired. I hope our jaunt into the garden didn’t exhaust you too much. It was a delight to share the joys of a winter day with you. Please do not hesitate in tasking me with any small errand to aid with your comfort.”
Well as if she was weak enough to miss a treat like a skating party! A good night’s sleep had cured her of any ailments she might have had. Helped by the maid assigned to her, one Collingwood, she dressed as warmly as she could, discovering a strange wish that her clothes weren’t quite so out of date. Emma was fully aware of the picture she must present to the world. Neat, clean and tidy was all that was expected of her. Once she’d wished for so much more, and although only five years had passed since her father’s death, it sometimes felt like a lifetime. Once she’d been accustomed to a maid of her own and luxuries like new lace for her gowns every season, even a new bonnet every so often instead of making over her old ones but those days had long gone.
She shook off her melancholy, telling herself it was not like her to repine. Foolishness, when she had so much!
Outside the air was crisp and fresh, redolent with the scents of winter—pine and that strange crisp scent of cold air. Hastily she pulled on her gloves, wishing they were lined in something warmer than silk, but needs must. This time of year she usually spent in her home, hibernating until the beginning of the next school term. So her pelisse was a little on the thin side, too and she had no tippet to ward off the cold. Still, it wouldn’t matter once she was on the ice. The exercise would keep her as warm as toast.
The lake wasn’t far from the house and once the maid had shown Emma the way, the girl scuttled back to the relative warmth of the house. Bessy greeted her warmly, her fur-edged pelisse suiting her bonny frame to perfection. Bessy had done very well for herself, not only in the material gains of her marriage but in her husband, too, a most affable young man.
Emma hadn’t much time to look about because Mr. Ellis was upon her, his handsome face wreathed in smiles. “Why I am so glad you decided to join us, Miss Carstairs! May I escort you on the lake?”
She couldn’t imagine why she felt so tense in his company for he was the most delightful company possible, but when she looked up at him, his eyes held a warmth she wondered at. It didn’t seem entirely seemly for him to devote his attention to her in such a way but in the company of the entire houseparty she couldn’t complain. He helped her to a bench set by the side of the frozen pond and kindly fastened the skates for her. She blushed at the scuffed state of her half-jean boots but he didn’t seem to notice.
Once, his fingers ventured above the boots to touch her calf with the lightest of caresses. She couldn’t be sure if it was by design or accident, but when he stood up to help her to her feet, colour mantled his cheeks.
She was sure it marked hers, too.
“I have never done this before, only once when I was very little. Skate, that is,” she hastened to add.
“I will help you, Miss Carstairs.” After greeting the other guests and assuring them she was fine, she allowed Mr. Ellis to help her on to the ice.
Ice was as slippery as she remembered. At first tentative, she found the trick of it fairly quickly and began to enjoy herself. Eventually she dared to release Mr. Ellis’s arm.
Gliding across the frozen lake, Emma dared to look up and smile at her kind helper. She hadn’t realised skating was quite so easy.
That was her mistake, for one foot seem to slip from under her and she couldn’t stop herself tumbling to the cold, hard ice in a dreadful flurry of skirts. “Oh!” That was all she could manage as all the breath left her body
Mr. Ellis’s face swam before her eyes and even through her distress a sense of shame and failure drenched her in freezing condemnation. “Emma—Miss Carstairs—don’t try to get up. Allow me to take you into the house.”
Before she could find any breath to protest he swept her up into his arms, and cradled her to his chest. Her resultant dizziness was not entirely due to her accident. He was deceptively muscular, lifting her without seeming effort. His thick wool coat smelled of camphor and strong, hard male. Emma hadn’t been this close to a man since she was a child, and even then very rarely. “No,” he said firmly to Bessy, “Do stay here, ma’am. Miss Carstairs is merely winded. Allow me to take care of her. I will send for a maid and ensure she is well.”
Ignoring her gasped protests he strode across the ice, having kicked off his skates. “Sir, there is no need! Please let me down!” But he wouldn’t allow her to move. His kind face smiled down into hers. “Allow me this privilege, Miss Carstairs! I cannot help but blame myself for this accident. I should have made sure I was with you at all times.”
Although she found it charming that he wanted to look after her, a sense of annoyance filled her that he should think her so helpless, but it couldn’t be helped for she couldn’t get her breath for some time. When she moved her head to try to assure him she was well, she found she hadn’t got off scatheless because her head connected with one of the large brass buttons on his greatcoat and even that slight touch made her wince and cry out.
“Miss Carstairs, you’re hurt!”
“No sir, the merest bump. Some vinegar and brown paper and I shall do, I assure you!”
She didn’t know where to look when he entered the house, but the maids fluttered around her until Mr. Ellis told them firmly to make some tea and be quick about it. He took her to a small, pleasant sitting room where a fire crackled in the grate and laid her down carefully on the sofa set before it.
Monday, December 03, 2007
A Christmas House Party - Part 3
‘How lovely,’ she exclaimed as Mr Ellis joined her. ‘But I confess I am pleased to see the gardeners so hard at work sweeping – I do not think we would get very far if we had to wade through this.’ He smiled his agreement and they made their way down the steps onto the terrace that fringed the house.
‘Has your uncle’s estate extensive grounds?’ Emma asked, trying to fish tactfully for information. Last night she had detected some mystery about the way Mr Ellis had introduced himself, but now she wondered if she was imagining things.
‘Extensive? Yes, I suppose you could call them so,’ he agreed, that intriguing twinkle back in his eyes. ‘Where would you like to explore? They have cleared the path to the Wilderness Walk I see. The paths there should not be too bad, they will have been sheltered.’
Hmm, Emma thought. He is certainly not going to talk about himself very readily. ‘I should like that. No doubt you know the grounds here very well from your long acquaintance with Mr Dawlish.’
Emma gave up trying to probe and stepped out briskly at his side along the gravelled path. The air was chill, bringing the colour up in her cheeks and she was glad of her snug pelisse with its high collar and the fashionably large muff that had been a present from a grateful student last year.
Perhaps she should not be walking like this without a veil to protect her complexion, but then, at the age of eight and twenty, one had to become resigned to losing a trifle of one’s youthful bloom. She glanced sideways at Mr Ellis, walking along, his hands clasped behind him. How old was he? A little older than she had first thought, deceived by his cheerful energy yesterday. Her age at least, she decided, or even a little older.
It was more sheltered inside the carefully planted shrubbery that made up the Wilderness walk. Some mature trees arched overhead, boughs bare against the grey sky, and the paths curved intriguingly, tempting the walker on to follow them.
Now they were out of the wind they slowed their pace and looked around them as they walked, admiring holly berries clustering thickly and laughing at the indignant squawking of the blackbirds who had been feasting on them until they were disturbed.
‘There is a little pond in the centre, if you would care to see it,’ Mr Ellis suggested. ‘Sometimes the deer come down to drink, we may be lucky and sight one.’
‘That I should like to see,’ Emma agreed, allowing him to steer her along a side path between informally trimmed banks of yew. ‘Are they not hunted here?’
‘No, they are part of the big herd in the park. Occasionally they get through the fence and eat the roses in the garden, but Charles was always too soft-hearted to shoot them.’ He lifted a bough carefully up for her to pass, ducking beneath his arm, and they exchanged swift smiles, both enjoying their small adventure.
‘Here we are. We must be quiet,’ he cautioned her. Side by side they gazed through the shrubs that encircled the rough oval of the pond. ‘No, we are out of luck I am afraid Miss Carstairs, but they have been here this morning.’
‘How can you tell?’ Intrigued, Emma followed him out of cover and onto what must be a wide grass bank under the snow. ‘Oh, I see – the tracks! How very small and neat their feet are.’
Mr Ellis was going closer to the edge, his boots leaving deep prints. Emma gathered up her skirts and followed, placing her feet easily inside each indentation.
‘Are you my page, following King Wenceslas?’ He laughed at her, his cheeks coloured by the cold, his eyes sparkling and Emma laughed back.
‘Indeed I must be – how very seasonal.’ She broke into song, her pleasant contralto carrying clearly on the still air. ‘Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen –‘
‘When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even,’ Mr Ellis’s strong tenor joined with her sweeter tones and the clearing rang. They sang it all the way through, finishing triumphantly together:
‘Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing!’
‘Wonderful Miss Carstairs,’ Mr Ellis applauded. ‘I can see we will both find ourselves taking part in the carol concert that Dawlish arranges every year for all the guests and neighbours and staff.
Emma shook her head doubtfully. She was confident teaching singing, and sang out strongly in church, but she had never liked performing for an audience. Goodness knows what had come over her, bursting into song like that just now.
To cover her confusion she stepped aside and peered down at the muddled tracks in the snow. ‘What is this Mr Ellis?’
‘A badger I think.’ He crouched down with enviable ease, his greatcoat creating a wide ruffle in the snow.
The crisp air was making Emma’s eyes water. She delved in her muff and managed to pull out her battered old reticule. It was a pity she had not thought to purchase a new one, she thought regretfully as she opened the drawstring and pulled out her handkerchief.
‘Look! Miss Carstairs, on the far side!’ Mr Ellis’s vibrant whisper had her scanning the opposite bank. There, on tentative feet, one slender deer was making its way down to the edge. It was so quiet in the woodland that they could hear the crunch of its feet, then the sharp crack as the thin ice at the edge splintered. Nervous, it dipped its head and drank, then, perhaps suddenly caching their scent, it bounded off.
‘Oh, splendid!’ Emma clapped her hands in spontaneous delight, quite forgetting she held handkerchief, reticule and muff. They scattered, she reached for the reticule and missed just as Mr Ellis caught the muff.
The reticule fell with a loud plop into the muddy water at the edge of the pond. Speechless, she took the muff. Mr Ellis stood, hands on hips, regarding the widening circle of ripples. He began to unbutton his greatcoat, then shrugged out of it. ‘Can you hold this please?’ He balanced on one foot, dragging off his boot, then, heedless of the muddy snow, repeated the exercise with the other.
‘Mr Ellis, you will catch your death –‘ Emma began, but he was already wading to mid-calf in the icy water, feeling with his toes for the bag.
‘Here it is.’ He held it up, sodden and filthy. ‘Beyond redemption I fear.’
‘How kind of you.’ She took it gratefully, holding it well clear of her skirts. ‘The bag itself is valueless, but it contains many treasured small items, thank you so much. But we must hasten back, I am afraid you will take ill from this.’
Mr Ellis grinned. ‘I’ll come to no great harm. But you will be chilled, standing here, let us hurry.’
They were breathless, and laughing at the funny noises his wet feet were making squelching in the boots, as they ran up the steps and into the hall.
‘Miss Carstairs.’ The butler was managing not to frown at the puddle around Mr Ellis’s feet. ‘A package has arrived for you.’
‘For me?’ She took it, surprised. ‘How unexpected.’ She untied the string and pulled open the brown paper to reveal further layers of tissue beneath. Nestling in the middle was a reticule, made of the prettiest green silk, trimmed with velvet ribbons and tiny flowers and finishing in a lavish tassel.
There was a card inside. To my dear Miss Carstairs with the warmest festive wishes, your old pupil Amy Flitton. Beneath, in a less formal hand, she had written, I do hope you like it. Mama and I have opened a little shop in Bath selling haberdashery and trifles such as this. We are already most successful, and I can only thank you for the skills you taught me. For the first time since Papa died, we can see the possibility of earning enough for a comfortable living…
Emma stood looking at the pretty thing, happy that dear Amy was secure at last.
‘That is charming.’ She had not realised Mr Ellis was still there, the footman at his back urging him towards the stairs and a warm bath.
‘Indeed – and how fortuitous after today’s accident.’
‘And made by someone who knows you well I would hazard,’ Mr Ellis said, looking from the reticule to her face.
‘How did you guess?’
‘Why, it is exactly the colour of your eyes.’ And then he was gone, leaving damp footprints across the marble floor.