I was asked to participate in Ramblings from the Chick’s annual historical Christmas event, and wrote a special proposal scene featuring two of the new Lady Adelaide series’ characters. If you’ve read Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, you’ve been introduced to Maeve Beckett, Lady Adelaide’s cheeky and cheerful maid, and Jack Robertson, Addie’s young gardener. We’re jumping ahead a year. Here’s a little romance with your mystery!
Compton Chase, Compton-Under-Wood, Gloucestershire, England
December 24, 1925
Maeve would make him.
Oh, who was she kidding? She’d never met anyone more stubborn than the Scotsman, and she was Irish on both sides. Jack Robertson had his priorities. And she, apparently, wasn’t one of them.
Maeve Beckett worked as a lady’s maid to Lady Adelaide Compton. Lady A was generous to a fault, and not at all draconian. So Maeve had a pretty easy life and a pretty penny saved up, even after she sent some of her wages home and spent too much on lip rouge and cinema tickets.
Jack had come to be head gardener at Compton Chase the summer before last, as handsome as one of the movie stars Maeve watched on the flickering screen. He might have left a leg behind in France, but he was a hard worker, and had the greenest fingers she had ever seen. The flower beds had flourished under his care, and he’d been rewarded accordingly. He had a sweet little cottage on the estate, perfect as a honeymoon house.
If only Jack would ask Maeve to marry him.
They’d pussyfooted around the idea. Maeve knew Lady A had no objections—she wanted everybody around her to be happy, since she herself wasn’t always. But Jack was old-fashioned—he wouldn’t touch Maeve’s nest egg. Wanted everything to be “proper.” What he meant by that, Maeve wasn’t sure, but he’d not once tried to take her into his ground floor bedroom in that sweet little cottage to test out his bed.
Oh, he’d kissed her—how he’d kissed her—until her head spun and her heart beat right out of her modest chest. Rudolph Valentino himself couldn’t have done it better, and Maeve had seen him kiss for years in the dark, never imagining she’d fall in love herself.
Was Jack afraid what she’d think when his prosthetic leg came off? She didn’t care about that a bit. She knew he’d had a lot of trouble after the war getting used to his disability—brave, he’d gone when he was underage, and got unfairly punished for it. If he’d only stayed home—
Well, if he had, Maeve would never have met him, and wouldn’t that be a terrible shame?
So, tonight was the night. Maeve was going to propose to him, and make him say yes. And why not? Life was too short to be old-fashioned and “proper.” Put things off until everything was just right, like that Goldilocks story. Not use the good dishes or wear the fancy knickers. Look at all those poor dead people stopped in their tracks that Lady A had mixed herself up with. Murder! Maeve might be a maid, but was not going to die in her bed an old maid. Just in case someone tried to put a period to her existence, she was going to have some fun beforehand.
Lady A was off to the midnight Christmas Eve service at Compton St. Cuthbert’s in her Lagonda, and told her not to wait up. So Maeve took off her uniform and climbed into her own tub. A dozen stars twinkled outside the window, and she thought about the brightest star all those years ago. If a baby born in a stable could grow up to be the King, anything was possible.
Warm and clean, she put on her best dress, a plain pleated navy jersey, and ruffled up her dark bobbed hair. She had plenty of cosmetics, but decided to go to Jack as she was, a little pale, freckled, and very determined.
Coat, boots, scarf, torch. The house was quiet, the tree in the front hall shimmering under the bright electric sconces left on for Lady A. Maeve slipped out the door, her feet crunching on the frozen grass. The path through the garden was familiar, even as the torch revealed odd and ominous shadows. But she wasn’t afraid, not of bare bushes anyway.
Jack’s cottage was not far past the formal plantings, and stood alone surrounded by a grove of trees. Lady A had fixed it up for him, and the work crew had knocked down the two neighboring cottages that were past saving. So Maeve wasn’t worried about anyone snooping. She was just worried that Jack wouldn’t let her in to protect her unwanted virtue.
What if he was asleep? It was late, and he’d been busy the past few days. He’d brought the giant Yule log in single-handedly, and the tree and greenery and mistletoe to decorate the house as well. Everything looked beautiful indoors, thanks to him.
Light spilled from a window into the inky night. She balled up her small fist and knocked, while her booted feet were poised for flight. A minute passed, then two. Perhaps she was being foolish.
The door opened. Jack was fully dressed in his good suit, right down to the new necktie that she’d given him for Christmas—he’d opened his present early. His brown hair was slicked back neatly, and he smelled of Blenheim Bouquet.
“What…what are you doing here?”
Maeve dropped to one knee, no easy feat on the cold stone step. She angled the torch at his face and he blinked. “I’ve come to ask you to marry me.”
“You can’t! I mean, I was about to come to you! Toss pebbles at your window.” He shook his coat pocket, and Maeve heard rattling. “Lure you out under the stars. Be, uh, romantic. Get up, Maeve. Please.” He extended a work-roughened hand.
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“It wasn’t a question, was it? Besides, I’m doing the asking—I’m the man. I can’t get down on one knee, though. I’ll never get up. You don’t mind, do you?” He pulled her to her feet as if she were made of feathers.
“No.” She still had to look up at him. “Go ahead.”
“Maeve Rose Beckett, will you be my wife?” He reached into the pebble-pocket and drew out a small box. Inside was a silver ring made to look like a band of roses. “F-for your name. It’s not much, but Lady A said—”
Maeve didn’t care what their employer said. She stood on tiptoes and kissed her answer in a very improper way, leaving no doubt that he might be the man, but she was definitely the woman.
Set in the Cotswold Confidential world, I hope you enjoy this scene written just for YOU!
Cassandra Brooks stared at the last sweet roll on the plate. The rolls had been a Christmas gift from her neighbor Mrs. Grace, and Cassie had eaten all but one in one sitting.
She shouldn’t eat another. If she did, it meant waking up Christmas morning with…nothing to eat, besides no presents. Oh, there was tea and a heel of bread from a four-day-old loaf, and the promise of dinner at the vicarage. She was to be taken in with all the other strays by Reverend Fitzmartin and his wife, and possibly poisoned. Mrs. Fitzmartin’s eyesight was failing and she often added ingredients that shouldn’t be added. Cassie would make sure she got there hours early to help the vicar’s wife and save souls in her own way.
Cassie was living in disgrace. Her step-father had betrayed Puddling-on-the-Wold and all its inhabitants by selling a story to a newspaper. It revealed in great detail the exploits of one Lord Robert “Robin” Ferrars, the Guest in Primrose Cottage. Lord Robert was the youngest son of the Duke of Harford and since he’d arrived, he’d done everything in his power to escape. Climbing over the locked gates, splashing through Puddling Stream, sneaking onto the Sykes estate and trying to leave by the main road. Mr. Sykes had somehow quashed the story, but he’d turned out Cassie’s step-father as well. So now she lived alone in the tiny weaver’s cottage that had belonged to her maternal great-grandparents before Puddling became the Resort of Last Resort.
Before he’d left, her step-father had taken all of the family’s Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation allowance, and Cassie’s own savings besides. She had not breathed a word to anyone, too ashamed of him for biting the hand that fed them both. Quarterly payments were due in the new year, which wasn’t so very far off. She could manage.
The village was unique—by simply living here and assisting with the various Guests who came to stay and stabilize themselves, each resident shared in the Foundation’s earnings and investments. There were some drawbacks, of course, keeping strict confidentiality being one of them. Sometimes the bakery closed when a Guest was over-fond of sweets and needed to shed a few stone, and the pub was now an old folks’ center which served nothing stronger than coffee. Because Cassie had been born here, she was automatically eligible for her stipend.
Her step-father, however, had been born in Birmingham, and had never fit in. He’d become increasingly hostile once Cassie’s mother died last year, and now was barred from the community.
Cassie could not say she missed him. He had been a harsh man, an indifferent father and unfaithful husband. He’d have to make his own way in the world now without the support of the Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation, and good riddance. She had forgiven him as she’d been instructed to do by the Reverend Fitzmartin, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be under the same roof.
But…Cassie really was hungry. She reached toward the frosted roll—
And heard a noise outside in the back garden. She rushed to the kitchen window, expecting to find her cat Mephisto with an unfortunate bird in his mouth. That was one treat she could happily decline. Instead she saw a young man, who ducked beneath the window ledge at the sight of her.
She threw open the door. “What are you doing hiding in my garden?”
“Shh! They’re after me. May I come in?”
“Certainly not.” She wasn’t going to get kicked out of Puddling like her step-father.
“Please. It’s very cold. And I have sandwiches.”
Cassie argued with herself for all of twenty seconds. She snatched the canvas bag from her uninvited Guest and spread the bounty on the scrubbed pine table.
He did indeed have sandwiches. Two ham and three chicken on his housekeeper Mrs. Kelvin’s wholemeal bread, plus a thick wedge of cheddar, an apple, half a fruitcake, an unpeeled carrot, and a handful of walnuts in their shells.
“I’ve been hoarding for the past few days,” Lord Robert said. “But I don’t mind sharing. I’ll never get out of here today anyway. I think it’s going to snow.”
Cassie poured him a glass of water. She rather liked the idea of a white Christmas. “Why do you want to?”
“I shouldn’t be here! My father is angry because I want to be a clergyman. He wants me to go into the army instead. He thought if I was sent here I’d get bored and come to my senses, but if anything my faith gets stronger day by day. I definitely do not want to shoot people—I want to help them. And I very much enjoy my daily talks with Mr. Fitzmartin.”
“He’s a nice old man,” Cassie agreed, biting into a ham sandwich. God bless pigs. Chickens, too.
“He’s invited me for Christmas lunch after the service tomorrow.”
“Oh! I’m going also.”
He held out a hand. “What’s your name? I’m called Robin.”
“Cassie,” Cassie said, once she’d finished chewing. “Can’t Mr. Fitzmartin put in a good word for you?”
“I think he’s afraid to. My father is a duke, you know.”
“Yes, but you could do a sort of apprenticeship with the vicar if your father won’t pay for divinity studies, and then take over the parish when Mr. Fitzmartin retires.” As he should do soon—the man and his wife were as old as Mr. and Mrs. Methuselah. “With your background, you’d be the perfect person to understand what some of our Guests go through.”
“My word! That’s an excellent idea! Then I wouldn’t have to keep running away. And I could get to know you better.”
Cassie blushed. Could she be a vicar’s wife? Only time would tell.
I’m thrilled that the Amazon Editors have selected Schooling the Viscount to be one of the Best Books of the Month in romance, calling it “hilarious.” I’ll take it! It’s also the Lyrical staff rec of the month, “filled with a ton of madcap humor and an equal measure of heart. This new series has it all—laughter, deep emotion, love, and tears. You will be transported to Victorian England, so if you’re up for an armchair travel this winter, this is the book for you!” Early Goodreads reviews are pretty positive too. So while I’m trapped at the end of a snowy drive in the middle of the woods in Maine, I am warmed by the energy and enthusiasm of readers and reviewers! Thank you, thank you!
Welcome to Serenity Harbor will be out soon! Ten Maine romance authors and their friends have contributed to this anthology, and have delivered a peek into the Pine Tree State of Mind! Isn’t the cover lovely? My contribution: “Love in the Library”
Rob Campion is a male librarian who believes in literature with a capital L. Belle Standish is a female romance writer who doesn’t believe in love anymore. When they spend a night with the lights out, will they wake up on the same page?