I thought visitors might be interested in a sneak preview of the first few chapters of my somewhat Gothic Historical Romance, BEGUILING THE BARON, due out April 17th with Soul Mate Publishing.
So here you go. I shall put the rest up over the next week. If you can’t wait (LOL), you can pre-order the book on Amazon.
Selbury Poorhouse, Wiltshire, England
Maundy Thursday, 1822
The room was silent but for the breaths of childish concentration as Miss Galatea Wyndham’s pupils bent over their mending. It was a struggle to see in the poor light admitted by the small, high window, and Tia feared the sorry creatures would all have headaches by the end of the morning.
What the poorhouse child needed was sunlight, exercise, fresh air—
“Letter for you, Wyndham.” The beadle’s harsh voice broke the stillness as he thrust open the iron door and pushed the folded piece of paper at her. A letter? Her young pupils were forgotten as Tia turned it over in trembling fingers and saw the seal of the Duke of Finchingfield on the back.
It had been broken, of course. The governor of the poorhouse had a great suspicion of letters. They made the inmates feel important, singling them out from the rest of the throng and giving them ideas above their station.
There was another reason, even less justifiable: that Tia and her mama were gentlewomen, far more likely to receive money by post than anyone else. The beadle and governor didn’t approve of inmates being sent money either.
It was usually confiscated.
As she unfolded the missive, Tia prayed her friend Lucy Cranborne, now Duchess of Finchingfield, wouldn’t have been foolish enough to enclose any banknotes or drafts. Besides, even if she sent enough for the Wyndhams to buy themselves out of the poorhouse, where would they go? The sinking of Papa’s one remaining ship, with him on board, had left his family with so many bills, they were equally as likely to find themselves in debtors’ prison, once their creditors caught up with them.
At least for now, their creditors knew there was no point in hounding them while they were in the poorhouse.
My dearest Tia, Lucy had written, I will send you no coin, for fear of it getting lost.
Tia let out a sigh of relief. Clever Lucy knew better than to trust the authorities. Or, indeed, the post.
I know better than to offer you and your mama charity directly.
True enough. Mrs. Sarah Wyndham, though failing in health since her beloved husband’s death, was too proud to accept handouts. She clung to the hope that a wealthy, distant relative to whom she had written would, at any moment, descend upon Selbury Poorhouse and whisk herself and Tia away to a palatial establishment in the country.
Tia wrinkled her nose. The odor of overcooked cabbage had invaded the sewing room—or cell, as she preferred to call it. A watery stew was being prepared to accompany the paupers’ lunchtime dole of bread, and she heard the children’s stomachs rumbling in anticipation.
Oh, for the smell of freshly cooked, butter-basted chicken, the comforting scent of a raised pie, the mouth-watering perfume of biscuits flavored with rosewater . . .
She shook away the memories. It was too distressing to ponder what she used to have. She needed to think about the present.
I have discovered a distant relative of yours, the letter went on, and have appealed to him to assist you. I can see no reason he should not. He is a widower, though yet young, keeps very much to himself, and has a vast former religious estate in dire need of a woman’s touch. You and your mama would be the perfect companions for him and for his daughter, Miss Mary (Polly) Pelham, who, by my reckoning is aged about nine. I know how you love children.
Tia laid the letter in her lap, her eyes too blurred with tears to continue reading. It had come at last. They were to be freed from this institution, more like a prison than a home. Though she could do much good here, particularly amongst the largely illiterate children, it would be infinitely preferable not to be an inmate herself. She scarcely dared hope, after so many miserable, cold, dark and comfortless months, that escape was truly at hand.
Dashing the tears from her eyes, she checked the children were still absorbed in their tunic-mending and the darning of stockings. It wasn’t unknown for frustration to get the better of them from time to time and if she was not watching, a little girl might pull off another’s cap for a joke and be stabbed with a needle in reprisal.
All seemed calm, so Tia returned to the letter that fluttered in her unsteady hands. A nine-year-old girl for company. The same age her sister Phoebe had been when the putrid sore throat had cut short her life.
If all of this were to come to fruition, if Polly Pelham’s father were to take them, Tia vowed she’d love Polly like a sister, or even a daughter. At one-and-twenty, she was more than old enough to have begun a family of her own.
But who exactly was Polly Pelham’s father? She’d heard the surname somewhere before, but could not recollect where, or when. She scanned the letter, and her eyes snagged on a name.
Her blood ran cold. Henry Pelham, eighth Baron Ansford.
The man some believed to have murdered his wife.