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Cover Reveal and Release Day!

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Janet Taylor is hosting a cover reveal for London Holiday over at More Agreeably Engaged! She also has an excerpt from Chapter 2 of the book, and she’s hosting a giveaway, so you don’t want to miss it. Click the banner below to check it out!

MAE blog graphic no words n darcy3

And if you want some even better news, London  Holiday is now available on Amazon! Check it out HERE!

Happy Summer Holiday!

Nicole

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Excerpt from Surprise WIP

I am dreadfully wicked, I know, but I am not sharing the title… yet. Soon, my lovelies, very soon! Meanwhile, I couldn’t resist sharing a bit from Chapter 3, a Meet-not-so-cute between our dearly adored couple.  The image at the top of the page will give you a teensy hint about the story as well. Enjoy!


His eyes were leaden weights, throbbing and aching with each queasy pound of his chest. What had he done last night? Even a fall from his horse typically did not cost him so dearly the next day.

Darcy groaned and cast a hand over his face, a deed which instantly earned him another stab through his brain. He moaned again. Where the devil was Wilson? The man ought to be there with a cool cloth to salve these burning sockets in his face.

He tried to call out for his man, but forming the word in his mouth made his head spin and writhe again. Instead, he managed only a garbled moan and rolled to his side. There was some sort of feminine disturbance nearby, and it sounded a great deal like a noisy ballroom. Surely he was not in one of those, for he was quite certain that one was not permitted to assume a supine posture in such a venue. More was the pity.

One pulsing eye slitted a fraction. The image he perceived was blurred—a pale shape, with dark edges… and a loud voice. A decidedly female voice.

His stomach gave one great flip as his body spasmed in panic. Good heavens, it had finally happened! Someone had gotten the better of him and staged a compromise, and the giggling miss who was watching him rouse from his helpless stupor was to be his bane for life.

He wheeled to the opposite side of… he supposed it was a bed, but the crackling straw mattress felt unlike any bed he had known. He remained there, ignoring the petulant dismay in that wretched seductress’s tones, while he rubbed his eyes and cradled his head.

“Lizzy!” the malefactress cried out. “He’s awake!”

Darcy clutched the searing orbs in his eye sockets. “Have a care, madam,” he growled. “The deuce is driving the very steeds of Hades in my head, and I suppose I have you to thank for it. Very well, you have ensnared me squarely, but have the decency to gloat in silence while I try to reconcile myself to my fate.”

“Whatever that means,” scoffed a girl’s voice. “Lizzy! Are you coming back with the powders?” she called. Loudly.

Darcy winced and hissed his displeasure. He pinched his nose, hoping his brain would remain within his skull, then cautiously lowered his fingers to survey his captor. Oh, devil take it, she could be no older than Georgiana! At least he could have been trapped by a woman of some maturity, but no! He was to be the prey of a child barely out of the schoolroom!

He was snarling in silence at his misfortune when another woman rounded the door. Ah! So this must be the accomplice. His lip curled.

“Good morning!” the dashed minx beamed in pleasure—and well she might, for they had achieved their ends. “I am glad to see you recovered. You were in quite a shocking state when we found you. We feared we would have to send for the apothecary. How is your head?”

Darcy stared at her. She was clearly no child. In fact, though he would be hard pressed to call her a beauty, there was a remarkably fine look of intelligence– or perhaps cunning— about her eyes, and a convincingly earnest concern in her voice. A fine actress! Her features were not fashionable, but striking, even so. She might even be declared tolerable, under different circumstances. A pity she was culpable in a scheme to ruin him! He rubbed his forehead, hoping the hellish nightmare would simply vanish.

“Oh, I am sorry,” the second Jezebel whispered. “I have spoken too loudly for your comfort. Here, a nice cup of coffee might set you right, and I brought you some headache powders. My uncle had some at hand for sickness.”

Darcy propped one bleary eye open. A maid was setting up a tray in the small chamber… good heavens, he appeared to be installed in the servant’s quarters! Had they not even the decency to compromise him properly?

“Lizzy, you had best send for Aunt,” the younger noted. “He is looking rather green. I think he must have struck his head! Ask who he is.”

“Do you not know?” he snorted bitterly. “I rather expect you and your ilk know more of my name and my prospects than my own mother could have! How dare you play the innocent after all that has transpired?”

The women traded curious glances. The younger circled her finger insultingly round her ear, while the elder shrugged her shoulders and ventured, “Sir, can you give us the name of your employer so we may send word of your welfare? My aunt’s coachman can drive you, if you are too ill to walk. Where were you bound last evening?”

Darcy glanced over his shoulder and found no one sitting behind him whom she might be addressing. “My… employer?”


Oh, my! Yes, I am leaving you there. What in the world has Darcy gotten himself into? You will have to stew for a bit, but the wait won’t be too much longer! If you want to be one of the first to receive a copy, add your name to my mailing list. I’ll be sending out ARC’s to the top 25 names!

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More Agreeably Engaged Reviews These Dreams, Plus a Giveaway!

The very first person I “met” in the JAFF/ North & South community was Janet Taylor of More Agreeably Engaged, and it was because she so sweetly reached out to me and brought me “into the fold,” you might say. She is a talented book designer and a dear friend (and I hope not terribly biased when she writes her reviews!). I was tickled to death when she posted her review of These Dreams today, and she is giving away a copy to some lucky winner! Stop by to comment for a chance to win on her blog.MAE blog graphic no words n darcy3

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From Pemberley to Milton with WIP Scenes and a Giveaway

You meet the sweetest people in the JAFF/ North & South community. One of my absolute favorites to chat with is Rita Deodato, and this month, she spoiled me by sharing some of my works in progress on her blog, From Pemberley to Milton. Stop by and check her out, she always has some wonderful postings to share. And if you comment on this post, she is giving away a copy of No Such Thing as Luck, so stop by!

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A Gardiner Christmas 

This little Christmas vignette was posted last year during the blog tour for The Courtship of Edward Gardiner, and I dust it off, now as most of the world is retiring to bed after a month of overindulgence in sweet stories and sugar plums. 

We still have seven hours before Christmas is over, so if you can handle just one more round of egg nog and peppermint candy, enjoy!
First Christmas 

Edward Gardiner slowly paraded down the staircase of his new home, his heart full and his spirits buoyant. This was to be his first Christmas as the master of a fine house, the first year of lavishly bestowing gifts upon so many now in his employ, and the first year of hosting his Meryton relations in London, rather than going to his sisters as he always had. 

Most importantly of all, it was his first year of waking with his very dearest treasure wrapped in his arms. Perhaps no other would have perceived the purpose of his motion, but he tipped his chin very slightly down and to the left as he walked, drawing a delicious breath. Madeline’s fragrance still lingered near his neck, where she had kissed and nuzzled him only moments ago.

It was with no small measure of satisfaction that he gained the bottom of the stairs to find the house still largely quiet. His sisters would remain abed at least another hour, and the Bennet children, fatigued from their journey, would likely follow suit. The only soul he expected to encounter was that of his brother, Thomas Bennet. In this, he was not disappointed, for the library had already been commandeered by that reclusive fellow. It seemed, however, that Bennet was not alone.

“Merry Christmas, Uncle!” Elizabeth chirped brightly from the window seat, where she had been flipping through one of his newest books. She set it aside carefully- for a mercy- and bounced to him with her freshly scrubbed face shining.

“And a very Merry Christmas to you, Lizzy!” he scooped her up and gave her a joyful peck on the cheek. “And to you, Thomas,” he turned, extending his greeting to his brother-in-law.

“Aye, it is that,” the other nodded agreeably, his eyes only briefly rising from his book. “For another hour or two, at least.” He lifted his brows, wetted his fingers, and turned a page.

Elizabeth peered up at her uncle with a quizzical little frown, a furrowed brow, and a teasing sparkle in her eyes. Edward sighed, shaking his head. “Come, Lizzy, have you seen all of the greens yet? Does the house not look beautiful this morning?” 

She nodded. “Uncle, when may we open our presents?”

“Oh! You must wait, Elizabeth. Did you expect to open yours before your sisters are even dressed?”

“Yes,” she admitted guilelessly.

“I tell you what,” he chuckled, “I’ve a special surprise for your aunt. Would you help me to prepare it for her?”

Her brilliant eyes glittered afresh and she caught her lip between her teeth. “Oh, tell me, what is it? Did you buy her a phaeton and ponies?”

He laughed. “You must wait and see! Come, I think your father would enjoy having the library to himself anyway.” 

Three hours later, Elizabeth stood beside her uncle as he welcomed the entire family to the drawing room. “Oh, brother!” cried Fanny Bennet, fluttering her fan. “I knew it would be lovely! Why, Sister, simply look at the bowers, and the ribbons, and… oh! The lace on that table, so charming! Where ever did you find such exquisite decorations?”

 Edward beamed proudly at his wife, who had come to his other side. “Madeline deserves the credit. There, my dear, do you see? You feared making a poor impression, but I have never seen a lovelier home than my own this day.”

 Madeline blushed prettily, catching her father’s eye as he bounced little Mary Bennet upon his knee. “My dear, I believe you would say so even if I had chosen to decorate the house in brown and yellow, instead of the proper colours!”

 “It is a clever man who pays his compliments wisely,” affirmed Thomas Bennet, lifting his glass in a mock salute.

“Indeed!” Edward agreed. “And to that end, I know I am breaking somewhat with tradition, but I should like to give you the first gift, my dear. Lizzy?”

 “Yes, Uncle!” Elizabeth dove for the pile of gifts, attempting to wrap her arms about an especially large one right in the middle. Three or four other boxes toppled as she dislodged the base of the stack, but she wrestled determinedly until she had dragged it free.

 “Edward, you should not have!” Madeline objected. “What could possibly…?”

 Edward laughed and bent to assist Elizabeth. The box was awkward rather than heavy, but even he found it more convenient to drag than to lift. “Open it, my love!”

Madeline bit her lip and tilted her head askance. The box was lovingly wrapped and decorated so beautifully that she hated to break it open. Moreover, her natural modesty objected to what was clearly a large and lavish gift from her husband. What was everyone else to think? Nonetheless, she grasped the ribbon and gave a gentle tug. Carefully she peeled away the folds of paper, taking the greatest pains that not one single corner should be ripped in her haste. Elizabeth started to bounce.

The paper fell away, Madeline lifted the lid of the box, and beheld… another box. She darted a quick look to Edward, and found his eyes dancing with mirth. This box was even more exquisitely wrapped than the first, and still quite large. Edward helped her to lift it out, and with a little laugh, she began to unwrap this box as well. Inside the second box was a third, this one wrapped in gold foil. “Oh, Edward!” she giggled in feigned exasperation.

Fanny Bennet and most of her daughters were beginning to grow restless. To cries of impatience and admiration, with not a little smattering of children clamoring to see over one another, Madeline worked her way through four more boxes. Where Edward had found such a perfect assortment of nesting boxes, she could not fathom, but his cheeks grew ever brighter as she continued to add to the mounting pile of discarded wrapping.

 Inside the seventh box, Madeline discovered a nest of tawny packing material, concealing and protecting something precious within. She lifted her brows teasingly at Edward, catching Elizabeth’s bubbling delight as she did so. “For such a large box to begin, whatever is inside must be quite small!”

 “It is often so, is it not, my dear? The most magnificent blessings are often in the smallest details.”

 Her eyes pricked a little at the warmth in his tones, and she began to suspect that whatever lay within was some priceless treasure- something in which she would delight for the rest of her life. Blinking quickly, she began to search through the rustling packing material until her fingers found a small, humble little box. It was wrapped simply in brown paper and string, and fit within the palm of her hand. She raised her eyes to Edward and he gave her a small nod of encouragement.

 Drawing breath, she pulled the string and reverently unfolded the very last of the wrapping, then lifted the lid of the box. Inside was a bright, shining key. She pinched it gingerly between her fingers and held it up with questioning eyes.

 Edward came near to rest a hand upon her shoulder and spoke lowly into her ear. “It is a key to my study desk,” he told her quietly. “I know it seems a simple thing, my love, but it is yours as much as it is mine. Everything I am, every facet of my life, is as an open book to you. I want you forever by my side, Madeline, sharing in my heart, my labours, my hopes. I lay all before you, and desire you as my partner in every corner of this life.”

 Her throat had tightened and her eyes burned in overpowering joy as she blinked down at his gift- that tiny little object which unlocked his entire world. “It is as you say, my love,” she whispered. “The most priceless treasures are often very small.” She looked up and caught Jane Bennet’s eye. Understanding at once, Jane leapt to the pile of gifts to find a small, soft parcel, and brought it to her aunt.

 Madeline took it and gave it into Edward’s hand. “Merry Christmas, my darling!”

 His brow creased, he tore silently into the folds of tissue. The item within emerged, and he held it up in some confusion. “What is it?”

 Laughing lightly, Madeline took it from him and unfolded the downy material for him to examine. “It is a bonnet… for an infant.”

 His face washed in wonder. “A… an infant? Madeline!” He gasped, then caught up his wife in his arms and spun her dizzily about. “Are you certain? We must speak of this at once!” Not delaying even a moment upon his resolution, the determined husband carried his surprised young wife from the drawing room and mounted the stairs. The remaining guests craned their necks to peer round the doorway in curiosity as the couple departed so unceremoniously, the echoes of their laughter sounding through the entire house.

 Thomas Bennet cleared his throat. “Well,” began he, with a suspicious twinkle in his eye. “It seems we must carry on without our host and hostess. Mr Fairbanks, sir, would you care to do the honours?”

 Mr Fairbanks, his eyes weak and his smile radiant, took up the invitation. He clasped Mary’s little hand ever more fervently, glorying in the knowledge that soon he might cradle his own flesh and blood once more. Before he gave out the next gift, he hesitated and his squinted gaze passed over each person in that room- his new family. Slowly, he began to nod, as if confirming to himself all that his old heart whispered. “’And it was good,’” he softly quoted the ancient line. “Very good. Merry Christmas!”

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Scene from North & South-Inspired WIP

‘Tis the season to share stories!

It has been ages since I posted anything of my current work in progress. I am still tapping away, trying to get the story just right. This one is a tangle, but it is beginning take shape. The working title is Nowhere But North, and it is still a month or two from completion (not including edits, etc.). Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the story is a prequel, a sequel, and a variation, all rolled into one.

Some of the scenes in the book run on an earlier timeline, and we see young John Thornton and Margaret Hale in some of the defining moments of their lives. This is one such scene, set when John Thornton is fifteen years old and is just learning to shoulder the family’s burdens. It is set in the fictional town of “Weston,” because the family was obliged to leave Milton after George Thornton’s death. This scene takes place approximately six months after that.

I hope you enjoy it!


 

Weston, March, 1838

“John, you are going to starve yourself!” Hannah Thornton, the young widow of Darley Street, had been hovering near the rear exit of the draper’s shop where her son spent all of his days. She knew it was often one of his duties to tote crates of scraps or empty bolts to the back of the shop, and here, more than once, her patient attendance had been rewarded.

Fifteen-year-old John, coated in dust and caked in sweat, turned in the darkness at his mother’s voice. “Another hour and I will have done, Mother. You need not have come so far!”

“I came because it is nearly ten. You have not had a bite since five this morning, and that only water-porridge. Here, take this.” She reached for the pocket of his coat and stuffed a small, dense parcel inside.

He felt of it curiously. “The last of the bread loaf? Mother, you must give this to Fanny.” He began to tug it free of his clothing, but his mother put a staying hand to him.

“John, you are too thin. A pretty thing it would be if I should let you, who provide for us all, drop at your work for want of a few bites of dinner!”

“I am to be paid tomorrow, and because of the additional shipments this week, Mr Davis has promised me an extra shilling. I shall eat like a king out of that.” He flashed her a gleaming smile in the moonlight – charming and carefree, and almost believable.

“John,” the perceptive mother halted him, placing a tender hand upon his cheek. “You need not bear all of this burden alone.”

She felt his jaw tense as he blinked rapidly, his breath quickening in his chest. He had never shed a single tear since that harrowing day five months earlier, but she was no fool. The wrenching trauma of all he had seen – and would not tell her of – had never yet ceased to haunt his gaze.

In word and deed, his manner ranged from gentle stoicism to forced cheer, but beneath his maturing exterior simmered a raging torrent of hurt, confusion, and anger. Though he never spoke the words aloud, the guilt he was determined to bear over that day’s horror yet darkened his spirits. One day, she feared greatly, it would all be brought to a head by some crisis of the heart. She could but pray, and do all within her power to sustain him against that eventuality.

She felt his mouth shift in determination beneath her hand, and he gave a minuscule nod of gratitude. “I know I needn’t, Mother,” he almost whispered. “But I would spare you what troubles I can. It is not right that you should have had to suffer so.”

“Many things are not right in this world, my boy,” she soothed. “That is no reason that my son should hang his head. Whose infinite wisdom has sent us these days of hardship, and who saw fit to first give us many good years of plenty to strengthen our constitutions?”

He swallowed as his face dipped and he nodded in resignation. Her hand slipped from his cheek, and as it did, her sensitive fingers noted the first traces of a masculine roughness at his jaw. Her boy was growing to a man, and at the moment, he was a bewildered, tortured one indeed.

“My faith must be weak, Mother,” he murmured to the darkness. “I cannot think that this good Lord you speak of could have permitted all of this!”

“It is not weakness to doubt, my son,” she whispered back, taking his hand. “Mankind has crafted himself a wretched world, far short of the perfection which was intended – that is what we are to understand. Many things have not been revealed to us, but there is always a reason. You are being shaped for some purpose. I know not if we will ever see it clearly in this world, but you must trust in that!”

The pale glow of his eyes in the moonlight eclipsed to blackness. His tall form bent before her in some agony of feeling, and she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. His head bowed, he reached suddenly to enclose her in a tight hug, trembling all the while.
Hannah rumpled her young man’s dark hair; a thing she might seldom, if ever, have opportunity to do again. She tried to sniffle back a rush of her own tears, but they stubbornly fell as an anointing on the shoulder of her son – the one person who had stepped into the gap between her and despair. “Bless you, my son!” she choked.

He drew back, his deepening voice cracking and hoarse. “I am blessed already, to have a wise, strong, faithful mother such as you. I could not do without….” She heard him swallow, saw his face turn away in the shadows.

She took his face again between her hands. “John, you are my comfort and my joy. I will ever do what little I can, but you deserve so much more.”

He shook his head, then reached to clasp her roughened fingers. “One day, Mother, it will be I who will care for you, and you will not need to smuggle meals to me out in the cold night. You may do your needlework comfortably enthroned by a warm fire, and we will all retire for the evening with satisfied bellies and contented hearts. I would see you proud and happy, cared for in every way!”

“One day, John,” she agreed with a wistful smile. “Until then, I would have you see to your duties with constant fidelity. Become the man that I know you to be, my John, for your mother is already proud of you.”