Love by the Letters
Love by the Letters — A Trio of Regency Novellas
Watch out what you wish for…
For three couples, a letter promising an anonymous gift of wealth offers worldly success and dreams come true, provided each pair can learn not only to work together, but also to see differences as strengths.
A is for Amorous by Grace Burrowes
Adalicia Beauvais has no use for children, and even less use for most men. Plato wasn’t a bad sort, and Euclid was bright enough, but the modern variety of male holds no appeal for her. To earn ownership of a lovely country estate with a delightfully well stocked library, Ada must raise funds for an orphanage full of noisy, malodorous urchins.
As if that isn’t challenge enough, her only ally in this endeavor, is the headmaster, Lord John, who loves children, referees cricket matches, and plucks Ada’s very, very last nerve, even though she knows his devotion to the children is genuine, as is the orphanage’s need for funds. Opposites don’t always attract, but in this case, they must work together for thirty days, or neither Ada’s nor John’s dreams will ever come true.
B is for Beautiful Secrets by Vanessa Riley
Desperate to win proper dowries for his younger sisters, August Sedgewick has thirty days to sell his treasured art, make amends with his estranged brother, Lord Haverthon, and endure the prickly company of the business-minded Miss Nettles. The dedicated dressmaker is the toughest part of the deal for she’s more adroit at lecturing him on the habits of trade than succumbing to his charms. Yet, the sparkle of joy radiating in her spectacles as August distracts her with leisurely picnics and long rides in the park, teaches him more than he bargained for.
Modiste for those with secrets–pregnant brides-to-be, aging courtesans desperate to keep their patron’s attention, Mary-Anne Nettles would love the opportunity to have her talent out of the shadows and as she creates the bridal gown for the event of the season, the Earl of Haverthon’s wedding. To win that chance, the demure woman must spend time with the earl’s flamboyant brother helping him set up a business in trade. Yet, Mr. Sedgewick proves a difficult student, teaching Mary-Anne about fun and drawing her deeper into the unseen turmoil of Ton.
Can two very different souls rise above secrets to find a forever love for all the world to see?
C is for The Chapel of Love by Kelly Bowen
Henry Blackmore has always been a black sheep. He’s defied his ducal family, ignored expectations, and overcome tragedy to chase his own dreams of becoming a renowned architect. The only task standing between his fierce ambition and everything he’s ever wanted is the restoration of his family’s crumbling country manor. But first, he has to do something about Heaton Hall’s impossible steward.
Heaton Hall was essentially abandoned when Maeve Murray became steward after the death of her father. When Henry arrives with his pockets full of cash, Maeve is delighted – until she realizes that the money is not to help the struggling tenants but to restore the frivolous ballroom. Nonetheless, Maeve and Henry, they need each other, and working together might just restore more than a crumbling manor – it could restore two broken hearts!
Enjoy An Excerpt
Lord John Waverly is headmaster at St. Jerome’s Foundling Home, an institution to which he had dedicated his time, his energy, and his fortune. When Miss Ada Beauvais arrives with an interesting letter of of introduction, Lord John is intrigued, despite the lady’s brusque manner and complete lack of fashion sense…
“Cora had an accident.” Henrietta reported that development with the longsuffering of an eight-year-old who’d been making the same announcement nigh daily for a month.
The smaller girl stood holding Henrietta’s hand, sniffling and staring at the floor.
Lord John knelt, and still all Cora risked was a peek at him.
“I’m very proud of you, Cora.”
She dropped Henrietta’s hand to wipe at her nose with her finger. “I accidented again.”
A minor accident this time, if the olfactory evidence was any indication. “But Cora, look at the time. Can you tell me what time it is?”
She stared at the clock in the foyer, her lips moving silently as she counted to herself. “Two.”
John poked her gently in the belly. “Exactly right! Two in the afternoon. You went all morning, and half way through the afternoon without an accident. That is excellent progress. I hope you are proud of yourself.”
Over Cora’s head, Henrietta was looking at him as if he was daft.
“I’m wet,” Cora said, bottom lip quivering. “Again.”
“What’s a little wet when you nearly lasted until afternoon sunshine without a slip? The Lord in his infinite wisdom made laundry tubs, and nobody is quicker than you are at changing out of a damp dress. Upstairs with you now and then you can join us in the garden.”
The bottom lip stopped quivering. “I can still go out in the garden?”
“Of course. In fact, I think you and Henrietta ought to get five extra minutes as a reward for your great progress.”
“C’mon, Cora,” Henrietta said, grabbing Cora’s wrist. “I’ll help you get into a clean smock.”
Henrietta lead the way up the steps, Cora peering down at John dubiously all the way to the first landing.
Cora had been apprenticed to a cook, though what cook could have mistaken such a tiny girl for a seven-year-old? When the cook had declared Cora too simple to be of use in the kitchen, a pastor had brought Cora to John, declaring St. Jerome’s a far safer environment than the one the child had come from.
“And you are making progress,” John muttered as the girls’ footsteps faded above. “Albeit very slow progress.”
He had thirty minutes before he’d be called upon the supervise the children’s afternoon time out of doors. Half an hour was sufficient to jot off at least two heartfelt letters imploring the patrons—
A hard triple thump suggested a stranger on John’s doorstep. The regular deliveries went around back, and callers were non-existent.
He swiped his fingers through his hair, buttoned his coat, gave his hopelessly wrinkled cravat a fluff, and opened the door.
A small, plain woman in a straw hat that had seen better days stood on the steps. She was attired in a gray wool cloak fit only for shepherds in rural Christmas plays, and wore spectacles that seemed too big for her face.
“Good-day,” John said. “Do you need directions?”
“If this is St. Jerome’s charitable hospital then I’ve been given all the directions I could possibly wish for. Might I come in?”
She had the look of a crusader, so John stepped back because crusaders could be angels in disguise—or that was the theory.
“John Brookfield, at your service.”
She drew off her gloves and stuffed them into a beaded reticule. “Lord John Brookfield?”
Oh, dear. Lord John, in that tone, never boded well. “My father is the Marquess of Gandham, though in these surrounds, the title seems a bit superfluous. I am vastly honored to be headmaster of this humble establishment, and the children refer to me in that capacity. May I take your cloak?”
As angels went, the lady was very well disguised. Beneath her cloak was another drab garment that might once have been a dress though it would have served equally well as a horse blanket. When she removed her bonnet, a lock of dark hair tumbled free, only to be tucked haphazardly back into the bun at her nape.
The errant tress only half heeded the guidance of her fingers, and draped itself against her neck as she peered around the foyer.
“I am Miss Ada Beauvais. What is that smell?”
“That is the smell of progress.”
“A very odd sort of progress, my lord. I come bearing a letter from Mr. William Carruthers. Might we discuss its contents somewhere less malodorous?”
The hint of Accident in the air was so faint John could barely detect it, but then, women were said to have delicate noses. Miss Ada’s proboscis was more heroic than delicate, though it served well to hold up her spectacles.
“Let’s use the garden,” he said. “The day is fine, and my duties will soon require me to bide there.” The name Carruthers rang a distant bell, which was a relief. Had Mr. Carruthers been a bill-collecting sort of fellow, John’s mental bells would be tolling more loudly than St. Peter’s ever had.
“This was a fine house once,” Miss Ada said, peering about as they traversed the corridor. “With some effort, it could be lovely.”
“With a lot of effort. We prefer to shine the walls with laughter and polish the floors with the joy of learning. The children all have regular chores, but they are small children and the house is quite large when viewed from the perspective of one wielding a mop.”
The house wasn’t dirty, though. Worn, tired, aging, but not dirty.
John led his guest through the library and into the side garden. “Welcome to our humble tribute to nature.” Also to economy, otherwise they would never have been able to afford kitchen spices or the simplest of medicinals.
“Somebody tends your beds conscientiously,” Miss Ada said, snapping off a spring of spearmint. “You should group the sage, rosemary and lavender together, though, because they all prefer dry soils. Your chervil would rather be in the shade and have moist soil.” She withdrew a sealed paper from her reticule. “Here is Mr. Carruthers’s letter.”
The letter was written on good quality paper, the wax a rich claret color.
John scanned the tidy script as Miss Ada sniffed this plant and untangled that one from its neighbor.
The news was not bad: Miss Ada was a relative of the Earl of Haverthon, and had been challenged to raise money for St. Jerome’s by an anonymous benefactor. A small sum (an enormous sum by John’s lights) was in her keeping to facilitate fundraising. Further details would be forthcoming from Miss Ada if she chose to attempt the challenge.
“This is most interesting,” John said. “Won’t you have a seat?”
The only place to sit was the bench the boys had built as a Christmas present for John. They reasoned he spent many hours supervising children out of doors, and at the great age of seven-and-twenty, he might well relish a place to rest his ancient bones.
The children were right, as usual.
Miss Ada took one side of the bench. “Feel free to join me. The scents here really are intriguing.” She withdrew a short pencil and a crumpled piece of paper from her reticule and scribbled something. “I felt I owed it to you and your institution to make your acquaintance. I have no ability to raise funds, my lord, nor do I aspire to acquire that talent.”
She put him in mind of Henrietta, reciting facts and allowing them to speak for themselves in all their unimpressive glory.
“May I ask how much you are supposed to raise?”
She named a sum so beyond John’s wildest dreams that if he’d coveted that much money, he would not have sought forgiveness, for surely desire of such wild proportions would be a product of mental imbalance.
“I can see why you are not inclined to make the attempt,” he said. “With that kind of money, I could ensure the security of every child on the premises with a significant sum left over for their siblings.”
Miss Ada scooted about on the bench. “I never said I wouldn’t make an attempt, but it’s a matter of probabilities.”
He did not know another woman in all of England who used the word probabilities, much less with that much assurance. “In what sense?”
“I have a tidy sum in hand. I can simply give it to you, and then you’ll have a bit to put by. That is a certain benefit, no risk to you or to me. In the alternative, I can use that money to attempt to attract more money. Mr. Carruthers seemed to think that were I to socialize, chat up the ladies I went to school with, beg for their pin money, and exert myself to be charming, then the larger sum might materialize.”
She spoke with precision and certainty, which was at complete variance with what John expected from a proper lady. Upon closer inspection, she appeared younger than he’d first thought, and sitting beside her, he detected a faint fragrance of lemon verbena.
“And the risk involved in the latter scenario?” he asked.
She removed her spectacles and polished them on her sleeve. “The probability that I will fail at such an undertaking approaches absolute certainty.” She stared at the brick cobbles the same way Cora stared at the floor, as if anticipating a deserved blow.
“Why will you fail?” John asked slowly.
She turned serious blue eyes on him. “Because I lack charm, my lord. The best governesses and masters of deportment in England were defeated by my lack of charm, and matters have only deteriorated during the geological epoch since my come out. The case is hopeless, I do assure you. I’ll have the smaller sum delivered on the first of the week.”
John could hardly fault her reasoning or her self-assessment though some sentiment lurking in her honest gaze tempted him to argue. Did she want him to meekly agree that she was without charm? Miss Ada was blunt, unconcerned with her appearance, and highly intelligent. How did that add up to a lack of charm?
And yet, the decision had to be hers.
“I will most gratefully accept any charity you care to bestow on us,” John said. “The children will remember you in their prayers and so will I.”
An awkward silence sprang up amid the sounds of a London neighborhood on a pleasant afternoon. A cart clattered past in the alley beyond the garden. Out on the street, a man called a friendly greeting in West Country accents. The sum Miss Ada offered was much, much needed, and nothing short of the very miracle John had been hoping for.
And yet… Miss Ada was not charmless any more than Cora was hopeless. John was about to render that opinion to his guest when a brisk salutation rang out over the garden.
“Good day, your lordship! Good day. A moment of your time, if you please!” Mr. Tolliver P. Hewitt let himself through the gate and churned up the walkway. “I am so glad I’ve caught you at your leisure, my lord. We have much to discuss.”
“I’ll just be leaving,” Miss Ada murmured, rising unassisted.
“Please stay,” John muttered. “He’s timed this invasion for when the children will soon be underfoot, and for that alone, I might do him an injury.”
The lady sat back down.
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