Congratulations to winners: Kate, Linda, Tgruy and AnaDarcy
So excited to announce the launch of ‘A Spot of Sweet Tea: Hopes and Beginnings’, a collection of sweet, Austen inspired short stories.
Here’s a bit about the collection:
Sweet, Austen-inspired treats, perfect with a cup of tea.
Full of hope and ripe with possibility, beginnings and new beginnings refresh the spirit with optimism and anticipation.
Four Days in April.
Two letters. Four Days. Everything changes.
After offering a most disastrous proposal of marriage and receiving a rebuke he will never forget, Fitzwilliam Darcy writes Elizabeth Bennet an equally memorable letter.
What if she answers it with one of her own?
To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love. Mary was not. Nor was she fond of dresses or balls or parties, or any of the things most girls her age adored.
With three sisters married, Aunt Philips insists she must be next. But is dancing essential to falling in love?
Once burned is twice shy. Charlotte has no place for romantic notions or sentimentality. All she asks is a comfortable home and a man who is respectable and steady.
But the only man she knows who fits that description pines for her best friend. Must she betray her friendship to pursue everything she has ever hoped for
Harriet Smith has abandoned all hope of a home and family of her own and plans a future teaching for Mrs. Goddard.
Things change with the arrival Rachel and Margaret Martin whose grumpy old bear of a brother might just have a taste for ginger.
Here’s a excerpt from one of my favorites in the collection, Last Dance.
“Mary dear, do join us.” Tiny creases appeared at the sides of Aunt Philip’s eyes as she waved Mary into the parlor.
Mary pressed her lips—how kind of her to draw so much attention to her arrival. Heaven forbid Aunt attempt to understand just how very difficult this was for her. But Mama did the same thing, so why should she expect it to be different here?
Aunt Philips sighed exactly the same way Mama did. “Mary, may I introduce Mr. Giles Lacey. Mr. Lacey, Miss Mary Bennet.”
A tall, well-looking young man stood and bowed. His fine jacket barely fastened over his broad chest. He must have chosen breeches instead of trousers to show off his fine calves. He tied his cravat less than perfectly though, so he was no fop.
He bowed. “Most pleased to make your acquaintance.”
She curtsied, heart fluttering more than she would have cared to admit. His hair, his eyes and his smile—
“Mr. Lacey has just taken over the old Oliver farm.”
“Indeed? How do you find it? Has it not been vacant for near a year now?” Mary asked.
“Sufficient, for the time being. Over the coming years, I hope to acquire the two adjacent properties. That should make a proper estate of it.”
She closed her eyes briefly. “I do believe the three together would be nearly the size of Longbourn, my father’s estate. You have a most ambitious plan.”
“Excuse me, but I am quite certain it would be smaller, by about twenty percent.” The other man in the room stood.
Mr. Lacey guffawed. “You must forgive my cousin, Parris. He is such a stickler for accuracy. Never willing to accept an estimate when precise numbers might be named.”
Mr. Parris rose to his full, substantial height and brought his cane down with a clatter. He limped two steps toward them, an odd hopping gait reminiscent of a grasshopper. His face was long and gaunt, but his eyes bespoke a gentle temperament behind his curt words.
“You could introduce me.” Mr. Parris grumbled under his breath.
Mr. Lacey bowed from his shoulders and gestured toward Mr. Parris. “My cousin, Parris, who has just completed his course at Oxford. He has come to live with me and work for your uncle.”
“So you are to be uncle’s new clerk?” Mary curtsied.
“We have yet to finalize the entire agreement, but yes, that is the intention.”
Mr. Lacey cuffed Mr. Parris’ shoulder. “Never one to offer a simple ‘yes’ when one hundred words of explanation might do instead.”
Mr. Parris tugged his lapels. “Odd, how you never appreciate my precision until you want your books balanced or a contract written.”
“Lacey! Parris!” Uncle Philips bustled into the room. “So glad you could join us tonight. No doubt you could use a decent meal. Bachelors never eat so well as when they are the guests of a good hostess.”
“We appreciate your gracious invitation.” Mr. Lacey smiled again.
Mary’s pulse skipped and tripped over its own rhythm. His eyes sparkled when he laughed.
“Shall we repair to the dining room?” Aunt Philips asked.
Mr. Lacey offered Mary his arm.
Gracious! No one had ever escorted her in to dinner before. She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. Mr. Parris followed them in, cane clicking along the hard wood as he went.
Aunt’s dining room was smaller and plainer than Mama’s at Longbourn. But a house in town was rarely as fine as a country estate—so Mama insisted. There was much to be said for a tastefully appointed, cozy room, though. After all, Mr. Collins had remarked on its resemblance to one of the lesser rooms at Rosings.
Mary bit her lip. Aunt would notice if she laughed aloud. The comment was still a sore point with Aunt Philips. She still wondered whether to consider it a compliment or not, despite Mr. Collins’ protestations.
Mr. Lacey seated Mary between her uncle and himself with his cousin across from them both. Uncle Philips did the honors at the foot of the table, carving a roast joint of mutton. Aunt Philips announced the cauliflower, collops of veal smothered in onions, mashed potatoes with bacon, pea soup and mixed-fruit pie.
Fragrant, plentiful, but rather plain. Did Aunt count on bachelors being easily impressed to economize on tonight’s meal? She had been doing a great deal of entertaining recently.
Mary squirmed in her seat. Should she be impressed or embarrassed? The Gouldings would have rated two courses with removes.
“Would you care for potatoes, Miss Bennet?” Mr. Lacey asked, depositing a spoonful before she could reply.
Luckily, she did want a bit of everything that appeared upon her plate without her consent. It was pleasant to be served so attentively, though perhaps not in such great quantities. Obviously, Mr. Lacey had never heard Mama’s lectures that a lady should eat sparingly in company.
“So, Lacey, how is it you came to Hertfordshire,” Uncle Philips handed the platter of carved mutton to Mr. Parris.
“It was Parris’ fault, really.”
Mr. Parris touched his forehead in a small salute. “Always pleased to be of service to any of my kith or kin.”
“True enough—I have never known a fellow quicker to offer assistance than you. You had only just spoken with Philips about the clerkship when you wrote to me about the Oliver place. Thought it was precisely the situation for me, and I agreed.”
“If your interest was in clerking for my uncle, how came you to know about the farm?” Mary asked.
Mr. Parris’ cheeks colored just a bit. “I make it a point to research my surroundings—”
“And just about everything else.” Mr. Lacey cocked an eyebrow.
Mr. Parris cleared his throat. “Thorough research is an indulgence that often serves me well.”
“It certainly makes for an excellent solicitor.” Uncle Phillips nodded. “So you have some experience in farming, Lacey?”
“Worked the farm with my father until he died last spring. My elder brother then took over the family farmstead. Father left me enough that, with my own savings, I could purchase a yeoman’s farm of my own. I moved in with Parris and have been watching for a suitable place ever since.”
“Well, it is good to know someone who knows his business will be taking over.” Aunt dabbed her lips with her napkin. “Mr. Oliver made quite the mess out of everything, I would say.”
Mary grimaced. Though it was true, Mr. Oliver had never seen a wholly successful harvest, Aunt Philips would hardly hold bad weather and worse drainage against someone. No, her rancor stemmed from his failure to appreciate her invitations to dine with them.
Mrs. Goulding had informed her Mr. Oliver considered her a droll hostess at best. Worse, he accused her of not paying her cook enough, and allowing inferior dishes on her table. Since then, Aunt Philips never seemed to bypass an opportunity to criticize the poor man. Mr. Lacey chuckled.
Mary’s cheeks flushed and prickled. “I dare say farming is a chancy business at best. One can never plan for all the vagaries of weather and calamities that may strike. One must look to Providence—”
“I would rather count on hard work and good planning.” Mr. Lacey’s brows rose just a bit.
Mary squirmed in her seat and turned to Mr. Parris. “So how did you come to know my uncle needed a clerk?”
“I have a friend who teaches at Oxford, He recommended Parris to me. Old Scott thinks highly of you,” Uncle Philips raised his glass toward Mr. Parris.
“Is that the old man with the weak arm and the brogue so thick his speech barely sounds like the King’s English?” Mr. Lacey attempted his own brogue.
Mr. Parris pressed his lips into something not quite a frown. “He is a brilliant teacher and an excellent man.”
“That may be so,” Mr. Lacey leaned his elbow on the table. “But it brutalizes a man’s hearing to listen to him go on and on. You cannot deny it.”
Mr. Parris turned aside.
“It must be a very pleasant thing that both of you are coming together so you will have someone you know here. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to go somewhere without any acquaintance,” Mary said softly.
“A change of scenery can be a very pleasant thing indeed.” Mr. Lacey said.
“Of course it can, you silly girl.” Aunt Philips shoved her napkin under the side of plate. “You must forgive her, you see her elder sisters are lately married and gone from home. Though they are splendidly matched—”
Mary turned her head and dropped her gaze to her lap. What did Aunt Philips want from her? Was it not enough that she was trying to participate in the conversation? It was not necessary to publicly put her quiet disposition on trial and deem it wanting once again.
“A lady moved far from home must be one unhappy with her lot?” Mr. Lacey’s brows rose. “I believe it quite possible to be far from home and yet in good spirits. This evening is quite the example of that. We have shared a lovely meal and I anticipate further diversions yet to come. I am certain our hostess would agree.”
“Indeed I do, sir.” She glowered at Mary.
“So what amusements are most enjoyed here in Meryton? Do you play the pianoforte? Sing, dance? Play games of cards? I myself am fond of them all.”
“Then let us adjourn to the drawing room for any or all of those diversions.” Aunt Philips rose.
A polite lady did not sigh, so Mary bit her lips, and the urge passed. No doubt she would be expected to play and sing. Not long ago, she would have been pleased to oblige. But after Miss Bingley’s performance at Lucas Lodge and the shocking, humiliating realization that followed, she preferred to keep her meager talents to herself. Perhaps one day, if she practiced enough, she might perform for an audience again.
How could she refuse Aunt Philips when she asked though? Supper soured in her belly. How mortifying to play before these gentlemen! She dragged her feet all the way to the drawing room.
Aunt took pride in her drawing room, a showplace of her good taste and style. Every other room in the house endured economy, so she could display here. The compliments she received from her guests seemed to validate her choices, though Mary would not have complained for a bit more comfort in the private rooms.
“I say, Miss Bennet, I fancy nothing more after a nice meal than a bit of a dance. Would you oblige me?” Mr. Lacey bowed and offered his hand.
“I … but how, sir?”
“Play us something merry, Parris, a jig perhaps.”
“Is that to your liking, Mrs. Philips?” Parris tipped his head slightly.
“It is a bit irregular, I must say. I thought perhaps Mary would…”
Mary gulped and looked away.
“Nonsense!” Uncle Philips pulled a pair of chairs toward the walls, clearing the center of the room. “I should enjoy a turn with you, and it would be most awkward for us to dance alone.”
“Quite right. It is settled then.” Mr. Lacey helped Uncle shift several pieces of furniture and led her to the center of the room.
Mr. Parris played an opening chord, and they took their places. How long had it been since she had danced with any but the dance master and her sisters in Longbourn’s drawing room? There she was a welcome partner for practicing new steps. Everywhere else, she might as well bring a book. Feigning interest in the pages made the rejection sting far less.
Mr. Lacey proved a nimble, gay partner. His skill at smoothing over others’ missteps transformed the experience into something entirely memorable. With a partner like him, it was easy to see why so many girls were absolutely wild for a dance.
Mr. Lacey passed her, back-to-back. “I have heard the Michaelson’s of Granbury Hall are hosting a Midsummer’s Day ball. Mrs. Michaelson just sent ‘round an invitation to us. I imagine you have been invited as well?”
“Indeed we have, sir.” Aunt Philips took his hands for a two-hand turn, “and look forward to attending.”
She had only been talking constantly of it for the last fortnight.
“Then, I shall look forward to dancing with both you and your lovely niece that night.” Mr. Lacey extended his hands for a circle right, once and a half around.
“I rarely dance at such events any more, but I am sure Mary…” Aunt Philips’ eyebrows rose high on her forehead.
How did she do that and not lose count of where she was? Perhaps she relied on Mr. Lacey, who seemed entirely assured of what he was doing.
Mary flushed, more than the active dance engendered. “I am honored, sir…I should be pleased to dance with you that evening.”
The music closed, and they honored their partners with bows and curtsies and the musician with applause.
“Capital! Parris, play us another.” Mr. Lacey waved in Mr. Parris’s direction.
Mr. Parris did not look up from the pianoforte, but something in the carriage of his shoulders bespoke irritation. Still, a light, lovely song poured from the keyboard.
After the second dance, Uncle Philips begged exhaustion. Aunt Philips called for tea and biscuits. Mr. Parris joined them around the tea table.
Aunt fluttered her best fan before her face. “Mr. Lacey, you are an excellent dancer—”
“Where did I learn such accomplishment, for you would not have expected such from a mere farmer?”
Aunt Philips gasped. “I meant nothing of the sort!”
His eyes twinkled, and he chuckled. “Fear not, I take no offense. You are not the first to have asked. I have three younger sisters of my own and Parris’ two sisters who grew up with us. A partner for practice was always in high demand.”
The housekeeper bustled in with the tea tray.
“Of course, I see.” Aunt served tea. “And you Mr. Parris?”
Uncle cleared his throat, forehead creased. At least he did not roll his eyes. He had a bad habit of doing that, probably learned from Papa.
Mr. Parris touched his cane. “I shall never take to the dance floor, madam. Hence, I learnt to play to take my share in the amusement.”
“Oh, pray, forgive me.” Aunt’s hand quivered and she spilled her tea.
He lifted an open hand. “Give it not second thought. I consider it a compliment when anyone forgets my deformity long enough to ask such a question.”
Mary bit her lip. No matter how curious, there were questions one did not ask.
He met her eyes and nodded just a bit. “I have always used a cane. I was born with an odd ankle, you see. Left me unfit for farming or soldiering.”
“Good thing you were given the mind for studying lest you were good for nothing at all.” Mr. Lacey elbowed Mr. Parris and laughed.
Though Mr. Parris laughed too, a slight shadow around his eyes suggested that joke had been told too many times. Rather like some of Lydia’s remarks.
“And let us not forget, you were an excellent tutor to all the young ladies in the house. They came direct to you for help learning their sums. As I recall, you proved far more patient than Mother when she taught them.” Mr. Lacey swallowed a rather large gulp of tea. “I swear you have the patience of Job.”
“Such flattery—do you not fear that I will fall to pride for it?”
Aunt and Uncle smiled and guffawed.
Mary licked her lips. “I have four sisters, two elder and two younger. I well understand challenges of having so many young women under the same roof.”
“Five girls and no brothers?” Mr. Lacey’s brows rose high.
“No brothers, just my poor father who spent many hours sequestered in his book room.”
“At least, we had three boys in the house to keep my father in masculine companionship,” Mr. Lacey said.
“There were eight of you?” Mary asked.
“Plus my aunt—Parris’ mother—my grandparents and my father’s uncle, fourteen of us all told. Made for some very merry times.” One side of his lips turned up in a dimpled smile. “I do have a fondness for a very full house. There is always some entertainment to be had. Take Parris, he is a very entertaining fellow. When not playing, he reads very well.”
Mr. Parris raked his hair back and shifted in his seat.
“What do you prefer to read?” Mary glanced at the bookcase.
Mr. Lacey hid a snort in his cup of tea.
It was the polite thing to ask, was it not? Or perhaps Mr. Lacey had been sarcastic in his remark. Sarcasm was so difficult to discern. She was forever misunderstanding Papa for it.
Mr. Parris did not appear to notice Mr. Lacey’s amusement or her discomfort. He seemed very good at ignoring what he should not see. “Many things, histories, philosophy, even sermons. But I find company is most pleased by novels and poetry.”
“Oh, it has been quite some time since I have heard poetry read. Do read us some.” Aunt Philips hurried to the shelves and removed a book.
Mr. Parris turned the volume over in his hands and rifled through the pages. “This is quite familiar, The Lady of the Lake.”
Mary bit her tongue. Though not awful, it was definitely not her first choice. She should not critique it yet. Perhaps after he read a passage, they might discuss its merits.
As he read, his voice deepened to a rhythmic, sonorous timbre filling the room and wrapping its occupants in a mesmerizing grip. His words painted mood and image with rare vibrancy.
Mary’s spine tingled. How well he voiced King James and the bard, Allan Bane. How did he manage to change his tone so subtly, making each different, but not jarringly so? Eyes closed, she savored each word only to suffer aching loss when he stopped at the end of the first Canto. No matter how little she liked the poetry, she could hardly mention it after such a performance.
“That was extraordinary, Parris.” Uncle blinked hard. “Shame you did not become a barrister. Oratory suits you.”
“Would have made an excellent clergyman too,” Mr. Lacey said.
“It was a tempting thought.” Mr. Parris closed the book and set it aside. “I should have liked to be one.”
Aunt poured a fresh cup of tea.
“What stopped you?” Mary added a bit of honey to soothe Mr. Parris’ throat and handed it to him.
He sipped it. A small smile lifted the corner of his lips and he raised the teacup toward her with a small nod. “One does not always have the privilege of following one’s dreams. In truth, it was a matter of practical consideration. You know there are far more curates than livings to be had. It is far commoner for a poor curate to remain a poor curate than to become a comfortable vicar. . With no connections to vacant livings, and two sisters who might one day require my support, I felt it my duty to choose a more practical path.”
“You are far too noble, and far too serious. We are gathered for amusement, not philosophical reflection,” Mr. Lacey said.
“A hand of cards perhaps?” Aunt rose, “Or perhaps a board game? I know those to be a favorite among young people.”
“Just the thing.” Mr. Lacey joined her at the chest in the corner of the room, “That one looks like great fun.”
Aunt cleared away the tea things and Uncle settled into his favorite chair with his newspaper.
Mr. Lacey set up the game while Mr. Parris read the rules aloud.
“Will you make the opening move, Miss Bennet?” Mr. Lacey handed her the dice.
Mary rolled, moved her piece and leaned back in her seat. What a welcome respite from the demands of conversation.
How intriguing the competition between the two men, more like brothers than cousins it seemed. Mr. Lacey was certainly the boldest, but Mr. Parris matched his brash moves with careful strategy.
“Ah, Miss Bennet, I fear the dice are against you this night. By rights, I may remove you from your leading potion and return you back from whence you came.” Mr. Lacey’s hand hovered over her game marker.
Mary sighed. Lydia took great pleasure in doing that very thing. Hopefully, he would not exult over it as she did. “It is part of the game. I believe one should not play unless they expect such adversity.”
“True enough, but lacking gallantry all the same. I shall forgo the opportunity and take the less favorable path instead.”
There was that sparkling-eyed smile once again, the one that spurred the flutter in her heart and a quickness in her breath.
Mr. Parris threw the dice.
“What ho!” Mr. Lacey leaned back in his chair.
“Chance is truly my adversary tonight!” Mary cried.
“Now you are faced with the same choice! I am keen to see what you will choose. Send Miss Bennet back a dozen spaces or choose the longer path as I did?”
Mr. Parris gazed at her. “Though it sets me up for ill comparison to you, I am not afraid to set the lady back a handful of spaces. I believe she will still achieve victory over us all, made sweeter knowing it was earned honestly.” He slid her piece backward.
The lift of his eyebrow seemed more a challenge to rise to the occasion than a gloat of triumph.
As he predicted, she did win. The victory was difficult to savor amidst the confusing tension roiling in her belly. Even more unsettling, both young men insisted on paying her forfeits, kissing her cheeks under Aunt’s steady gaze.
I hope that whet your appetite for A Spot of Sweet Tea!
A Spot of Sweet Tea is only available on Amazon right now, and is part of the Kindle Unlimited Program.
I didn’t want to leave out my readers who enjoy other platforms, though. So, the four short stories that make up the collection are available on all the other platforms, the total of their individual prices are the same collection.
Now the best part! The giveaway!
I will be giving away two e-book copies of ‘A Spot of Sweet Tea‘ and two e-book copies of ‘Last Dance’. Leave me a comment and tell me how you feel about short stories to be entered in the giveaway.
This giveaway will close Friday, October 2, 2016 at noon CDT. If you are interested in a free copy of ‘Sweet Ginger‘, subscribe to my newsletter-button in the right sidebar. Subscribers will also have an opportunity to receive a copy of ‘Not Romantic‘.