As part of the blog tour for Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem, the holiday box set by the Bluestocking Belles, characters from the novellas will be meeting up outside the covers of the book, appearing on Belles’ blogs throughout the month of October.
This vignettte uses characters from my story in the box set, A Dangerous Nativity. To see the scene from the opposing point of view, click here to go to Mari Christie’s blog. Comment to win a Advance Reader Copy of Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem: After reading this vignette, what do you think Chadbourn will do?
Sylvia Wheatly, the recently widowed Duchess of Murnane, spends her days in her room, drapes drawn. Her late husband, the rotter, was unfaithful and abusive. She copes, with large amounts of laudanum, in spite of the efforts by her brother, the Earl of Chadbourn, hero of A Dangerous Nativity, to bring her out of herself.
Her butler, whose loyalties remain with her late husband, takes the liberty of showing a visitor into her boudoir, an associate of the despicable late husband. The visitor is Jeremy Smithson, heir to 2nd Bt. Jasper Smithson and primary villain in ‘Tis Her Season.
Sylvia squints at the man in the doorway. “Stowe, what are you thinking? I am not receiving…” The butler backs out of the room, his hand protectively over a suspicious bulge in his pocket. Will he report to Emery? He always spies for Emery. He—
“Your Grace,” Mr. Smithson says, bowing over her hand, “I am all but a broken man, hearing of your recent
bereavement, and came with all due haste to pay my respects to you and, of course, Murnane’s heir. The late duke was a fine man who will be missed greatly.”
That’s right. Emery is dead. He can’t hurt us any more. She blinks rapidly, trying to clear her head. Who is this man? A friend of Emery’s? She shudders at the thought, looking around the room as if her late husband might appear to berate her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name,” she says at last, hating the quiver in her voice.
“Smithson, Your Grace. Jeremy Smithson. And entirely your servant.”
The man towers over her. Surely she would have remembered someone that tall. Did Emery ever mention a Smithson? Was he someone whose favor he would demand she court?
She looks around frantically for her tonic. “I am honored, Mr. Smithson, ” she murmurs under a forced smile.
The tall man saunters to the gilt table near her bedroom door as if he had followed her eyes. “May I be of service?”
Something in his voice frightens her, the way Emery used to frighten her, but he has her bottle. He carries it over. What does he want?
“I hope I do not find you ill, Your Grace. Your late husband would think me no kind of gentleman, were I to allow you to languish in misery. Have you had a physician?”
‘Physician? I don’t want a physician. The one Chadbourn brought one from London said I don’t need my tonic. He was wrong. Wrong! “Y-yes. He, ah, told me I—” she eyes the bottle longingly. “I suffer an weakness of the nerves, Mr. Smithson. And grief, of course.”
Smithson looks around her room almost as if he were taking inventory. At her words, he shakes her bottle.
“Please. My tonic.” She can’t keep the pleading from her voice. Shame filled her—begging from a stranger—but she had to have it. “If you could just put few drops in some lemon water. There—on the table.”
He walks back to the table, shaking her tonic. “Of course, I shall not keep you from your medicine. Tell me, what is the dosage?” He raises an eyebrow. His smile must be meant to reassure me. Why don’t I feel safe?
He puts a heavy dose in the water; all will be well. Such a kind gentleman! “Thank you, Mr. Smithson. Uh, why did you say you were here again?”
“Why, Your Grace, it is as I said. I merely wished to assure myself of your safety and wellbeing. I would hate to see you fall into trouble… a woman alone.”
“Do you often read Wollstonecroft, Your Grace?” His frown makes her heart pound. She drinks deeply of the glass he gave her.
“Wollstonecraft?” She struggles to think; the laudanum has begun its magic. The man is holding a book. Could that be it? She vaguely remembers opening one. “I don’t think so. Chadbourn thought that one would amuse me.”
“Chadbourn, Your Grace?”
“My brother.” The man’s frown deepens. She doesn’t like it when men frown. She pulls deeper into her chair. “He, he is managing Emery’s estate. He’s only here for a while.”
The stranger seems to relax, and his smile returns.
“I do hope he is seeing to your amusement, Your Grace. It would not do for you to be crushed under the weight of your grief. While I do understand there must be no hint of impropriety, I will be staying in the village for a time, and would welcome the opportunity to entertain. Perhaps… if it can be managed without fanfare, of course… perhaps we might make a picnic?”
A picnic! A fuzzy memory forms in her mind. A riverbank. Sunshine. Trees. It’s been so long since I saw trees. So long…
She feels him take her hand and rub a tip of one finger across it. The sensation feels so lovely, she closes her eyes. Emery could be so tender when he wanted to. A nagging thought interrupts her joy. Something always happened next.
“I don’t like what happens next,” she mumbles.
“Next, Your Grace?”
“After, you know. And Emery always did.” It was terrible, what Emery did next. If only she could remember. Confusion takes over. “Emery gave me my tonic. Chadbourn takes it away. I like to dance when I…”
Smithson sighs and leans in closer. “You like to dance, you say?”
Dance? Did I say that? “I love to dance, but Emery won’t let me. I like flowers, too. Do you like flowers?” Her vision has blurred from the drug. Who is this man again? He looks big. Emery isn’t big.
“I love flowers, my sweet,” a soothing voice says. “We can pick bouquets on our picnic, and while I know Murnane preferred not to dance, I do not share his distaste. I will partner you in any figure you like.” She feels his mouth, warm and wet, behind her ear.
“I do enjoy a picnic,” she murmurs, leaning into the kiss. She opens her eyes and closes them quickly. The dim confines of her sitting room, with its drapes drawn and windows firmly shut, does not look like a picnic venue. She prefers the world in her head.
“Isn’t it a lovely day?”
Sylvia feels young. How long has it been since I felt young? Is that the breeze she feels against her skin? What is he doing with the edge of my gown? Can he do that on a picnic? Emery took me to Hyde Park once. We walked along the Serpentine. Emery was—but Emery is gone isn’t he?
She tries to rise but a hand keeps her in place. She blinks up at him. “Emery? You’re not Emery. What do you want from me?”
“I wish only to assure myself of your happiness, Your Grace. And I am Jeremy. I hope you will call me Jeremy.”
“Jeremy.” It’s a comfortable name. “Do you—I mean, did you know Emery?” Would Emery approve of this man? I didn’t like any of the men he approved of. She hates his disapproval more.
“I know Murnane well enough to concern myself with his widow, my dear. I am heir to a baronetcy; I am not unknown in court circles; and we have… done business in the past, your late husband and I.”
Elsewhere in the house, the Earl of Chadbourn bounces into the foyer with his lungs full of fresh air and a
smile on his face, remembering his conversation with an attractive neighbor. Every step up toward his sister’s sitting room, however, leaches joy from his heart. The oppressive air of gloom is enough to depress anyone, and Sylvia seems to wallow in it, unable to shake off the damage done by her abusive husband.
When he knocks softly on his sister’s door, he hears voices. Odd that. Sylvia barely speaks to me, much less some visitor. He flings the door open. Who the hell is that?
“Who are you, and what are you doing with my sister?”
The stranger rises to his feat and smoothly steps to one side. “Jeremy Smithson, Sir. I came to settle a bit of business with the late duke, and found Her Grace… well… she seems unwell. I feel quite sure Murnane would be upset to think his wife ill-treated.”
Smithson, Smithson… Where have I heard that before? Chadbourn can’t remember where or when, but does know what he heard was not good. He moves into the room to stand nearer to Sylvia
Smithson continues to ooze false charm. “I find myself wholly motivated to ensure her safety and wellbeing, and if you are her brother, in Murnane’s absence, it beseems you are the man responsible for her condition.”
Rage rampages through Chadbourn at the muckworm’s implication. He pushes his body between Smithson and his sister and leans toward the intruder. “And you, Sir, have no right whatsoever to invade Her Grace’s privacy. I will thank you to leave.”
Smithson sniffs and tugs at his cuffs, “Perhaps it is not such a bad thing someone has intruded.” He looks over at the duchess’s vacant expression and feigns great sadness: furrowing his brows, pursing his lips… He generally acted a fool. “She is clearly not adjusting well.”
The man turns his shoulder on Chadbourn, takes up Sylvia’s limp hand and bends over it, kissing the fingertips. “Your Grace, I will remain in the village a few nights more. Should you have need of anything, you must only ask. I place myself entirely at your service.”
“Take your leave, Sir, before I feel obliged to help you do it.” Chadbourn takes a threatening step closer.
Smithson quickly covers his alarm with a showy bow. “My thanks, Your Grace, for your company.” He exits quickly—too quickly—leaving Chadbourn disappointed. Damn, but it would feel good to pound this worm. Almost be as good as beating Emery for what he did to my sister
Meet Sylvia, Her Grace of Murnane, and the Earl of Chadbourn in A Dangerous Nativity, by Caroline Warfield, and Jeremy Smithson in ’Tis Her Season, by Mariana Gabrielle, both available in:
Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem: A Bluestocking Belles Collection
In this collection of novellas, the Bluestocking Belles bring you seven runaway Regency brides resisting and romancing their holiday heroes under the mistletoe. Whether scampering away or dashing toward their destinies, avoiding a rogue or chasing after a scoundrel, these ladies and their gentlemen leave miles of mayhem behind them on the slippery road to a happy-ever-after.
***All proceeds benefit the Malala Fund.***
This blog post co-written by:
Mariana Gabrielle is a pen name for Mari Christie, who is not romantic—at all. Therefore, her starry-eyed alter ego lives vicariously through characters who believe in their own happy-ever-afters. And believe they must, as Mariana loves her heroes and heroines, but truly dotes on her villains, and almost all of her characters’ hearts have been bruised, broken, and scarred long before they reach the pages of her books.
Caroline Warfield grew up in a peripatetic army family and had a varied career (largely centered on libraries and technology) before retiring to the urban wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania. She is ever a traveler and adventurer, enamored of owls, books, history, and beautiful gardens (but not the act of gardening). She is married to a prince among men.
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