Storm and Shelter
When a storm blows off the North Sea and slams into the village of Fenwick on Sea, the villagers prepare for the inevitable: shipwreck, flood, land slips, and stranded travelers. The Queen’s Barque Inn quickly fills with the injured, the devious, and the lonely—lords, ladies, and simple folk; spies, pirates, and smugglers all trapped together. Intrigue crackles through the village, and passion lights up the hotel.
One storm, eight authors, eight heartwarming novellas.
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Enjoy An Excerpt
From A Kiss by the Sea by Grace Burrowes
A blacksmith’s job was mostly solving problems for mute beasts. The squire’s morning gelding was shying at stiles. Miss Fifi’s stoat of pony was three-legged lame. Because the animals could not convey the details of their difficulties, an astute blacksmith learned to notice what was otherwise ignored.
For Thaddeus Penrith—Thad Penn to his neighbors in Fenwick on Sea—ignoring the lady in the elegant coach would have been impossible. Her coachy, groom, and footmen had the martyred air of London servants forbidden to wear fancy livery, while the team in the traces—matched chestnuts, white stockings on all sixteen glossy legs—fairly shouted a Mayfair provenance.
When a lady’s relief teams were London-fancy this far from Town, the lady herself was bound to be fancy as well.
She did not disappoint, though she did intrigue. Even climbing down from a conveyance into the muck of Fenwick’s thoroughly soaked high street, she had the sort of grace that comes from years of deportment instruction. The boot that first appeared on the iron step was doubtless Hoby, and polished to a high shine. The lace peeking out from the hem of the woman’s carriage dress was as frothy as summer white caps on the North Sea, and her bonnet gave the rest of the game away.
The bonnet was nearly plain, but for the green satin ribbons adorning the brim and tied under a chin charitably described as firm. A young woman chose such millinery when she wanted to go about in society without calling attention to herself. That her entire ensemble otherwise revealed her to be wealthy, pampered, and far from home had apparently escaped her notice.
Alas, great wealth and great intelligence were not always found in the same person. The lady’s expression was obscured by the brim of her bonnet, but she used that firm chin to point in Thad’s direction.
“Mr. MacAdams,” she said, hand on the footman’s arm, “please explain our situation to yonder blacksmith.”
The voice was so euphonious as to make a command into a gentle request. Thad had fled the siren call of such voices five years ago, and yet, that sheer gracious warmth blended with a just a hint of wrought iron still affected him.
When he should have turned his back on the fine lady and her sniffy servants, he instead waited for the coachman’s approach. The fellow was older, and like many a coachman, moved gingerly as he climbed down from the box. Years of battling the elements, headstrong teams, and what passed for English roads took a heavy toll on a man’s body.
“Good sir,” the coachman called, splashing across the muck. “A word. Can you refashion a spring for a vehicle designed with a post undercarriage?”
An undercarriage such as the post coaches and public stages favored was unusual on a private conveyance. The design was intended to smooth out the ride on heavily laden vehicles, and unnecessarily complicated for most personal travel.
“To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” Thad asked.
“John MacAdams, coachman to—”
“John.” The lady’s quiet tone had taken on more of that wrought iron quality.
“Mrs. Winston, late of Surrey,” the coachman said, drawing himself up as if that would better disguise his mendacity. “Time is of the essence and my mistress will compensate you handsomely.”
Truly, the lot of them were wanting in the brainbox. “The coach road has been washed out by the storm,” Thad said, not unkindly. “If the queen of the fairies magically repaired your coach by sunset, you’d still have nowhere to go.”
John looked askance at Mrs. Never-in-a-century-was-she-a-Winston.
She turned to regard Thad, and while he had expected her to be pretty, he had not expected her to be stunning.
Her eyes were the same green as her bonnet ribbons, a luminous, grassy hue offset by auburn hair. The combination was unusual in the English aristocracy, and given her slightly too-wide mouth, and ever so gently aquiline nose, she would never be called pretty, but neither would a man easily forget the sight of her.
And she would never be mistaken for plain Mrs. Winston of Surrey, either.
Thaddeus bowed, not to the depth a London gentleman would offer a lady of high degree, but rather, as a yeoman would bob deferentially at gentry. He remained silent, for no introductions had been made, and even a bumpkin knew not to assume uninvited familiarity with the Quality.
“We are cut off from the main roads?” she asked.
The question was put directly to Thad, so he answered. “The Great Flood would have done less damage than the storm that just came through here. If you look to the water, you’ll see the ocean is still showing the effects.” Even Granny McClintock couldn’t recall such swells in her nearly ninety years of earthly toil.
Mrs. Winston dropped the footman’s arm and approached Thad. He resorted to gentlemanly euphemisms out of old habit: The lady was well formed, her three-quarter-length spencer showing off an abundance of curves. She was of middle height, which put the top of her head in the vicinity of Thad’s shoulder.
She would be, to use less genteel parlance, a lovely armful. Not that her kind ever enjoyed armful status, which was a grand shame and a poor reflection on the Creator Himself.
“I grasp that inclement weather has made the roads impassable for at time,” the lady said. “But I must be in a position to resume my travels at the earliest opportunity. I can pay you to make my coach repairs a priority.”
“No, madam, you cannot. You are in a hurry to meet some bounder hiding from his creditors in Great Yarmouth,” Thaddeus said, “but my neighbors are in a hurry to plough up destroyed fields in the hopes of replanting so we don’t starve come winter. When I am the only fellow who can repair their ploughs, your naughty little tryst is of no moment. Every cart horse and cob in the village will pull a shoe in the muck this storm has left, and those animals are the difference between a midwife attending a difficult birthing or a mother suffering in agony with none to aid her. I’ll have a look at your coach, but I can make no promises.”
The longer he’d spoken, the more unreadable Mrs. Winston’s expression had become, until her physiognomy resembled the blank face of an Elgin marble.
Then her gaze narrowed as the wind whipped the green satin ribbons against her chin. “You are not from around here.” She visually inventoried him with all the dispassion of a bidder at Tatt’s eyeing up a new hack. “You are public-school educated. Your proportions suggest generations of good nutrition added to Viking ancestry, and you are rude. How long ago did you leave London, and why shouldn’t I alert the authorities to your whereabouts?”
Thad managed not to smile, barely. “The only authority concerned about my whereabouts is my grandmother, and I write to her each fortnight lest she have me taken up by her minions. If you can lower the tip of your nose even an inch, the innkeeper at The Queen’s Barque might find a room for you while your coach awaits repairs.”
She raised the tip of her nose, of course. “I can pay you.”
“So you’ve said, but unless you can deliver a baby, provide medical care to the sick, plough under a lost crop, or otherwise do more than beautify the landscape, your coach will have to wait.”
She glanced at her coachman, who was admiring the humble storm-washed prospect of a Suffolk village’s high street. The Queen’s Barque coaching inn was the central edifice in the hamlet, bringing the occasional eccentric traveler, news of the greater world, and the promise of escape to those longing for life beyond rural obscurity.
Thad, to his surprise, was no longer in that latter group.
“Excuse me,” Thad said, honestly forgetting to bow. “Fifi, hold up a moment.” He ambled across the smithy’s humble forecourt, the cobbles still slick with rain and brine.
A small, muddy person whom Thad knew to be of the female persuasion glowered up at him from Mrs. Peabody’s side yard.
“I can catch him, Mr. Penn. I always do.”
Fifi never caught her mount. Thelwell, named for a vicar since gone to his reward, simply grazed his fill and—being the laziest equine ever to dump child into mudpuddle—caught forty winks until Fifi led him home.
She advanced upon her shaggy steed with all the subtlety of a game beater in high brush. Thelwell flicked a hairy ear but did not cease his efforts to trim Mrs. Peabody’s yard.
“Wellie, come,” Fifi crooned. “I’ve got a bit of carrot for you.”
Wellie disdained to heed her summons. His reins trailed in the grass, and because he was hatched from the union of a demon and a unicorn, he would surely tromp upon those reins to break them when it suited his purposes.
“Wel-lie dearest, wouldn’t you like some nice scratchies?” Fifi asked, inching closer.
Thelwell sighed and toddled six feet down the hedge.
This went on for another five minutes, and all the while Mrs. Winston held her peace.
“Won’t you help the child?” she said at length. “That dratted pony will founder on spring grass before she catches him.”
Perhaps Mrs. Winston had ventured beyond the confines of Mayfair in her childhood.
“Fifi,” Thad called. “Hold your ground. I’ll have a go from the other side.” He rounded the far end of the hedge and advanced on the pony.
Thelwell, having lost several arguments with Thad at the forge, snatched a few more mouthful of grass and went to his fate with the dignity of an affronted elder. His put-upon air said that the child had come out of the saddle through no fault of her long-suffering pony, and all this grass was going to waste and looking so untidy, and truly, one grew vexed with the tedium of human incompetence.
Grandmother had the same ability to pack an entire lecture into a single sigh.
Thad tightened the girth, earning a glower from the pony, and used his handkerchief to swipe a streak of mud from Fifi’s cheek.
“Don’t gallop,” he said, depositing the child into the saddle. FiFi was young enough to ride astride, though that would change all too soon. “The footing is rotten, and Wellie has a full tummy. You may trot, you may not canter. Do you understand me, Fiona Sweeney?”
She gathered up the reins. “Yes, sir, Mr. Penn, and thank you. Wellie says thank you, too. He really is a sweet boy.” She patted the useless beast on the shoulder.
Thad took Wellie’s reins close to the bit. “You’ve had your fun, you equine market hog. Behave on the way home or you’ll wish you had. I’ll toss you into the sea and let the mermaids snack on you.”
Wellie turned an innocent eye on him, and—possibly—on Mrs. Winston. Fiona trotted off, bouncing gamely in rhythm with the pony’s choppy gait.
“I had a whole string of Wellie’s,” Mrs. Winston said. “They taught me what the better schooled mounts could not.”
“What was that?”
“How to deal with temperamental creatures much larger than I.”
Grandmother didn’t like anybody, but she would approve of Mrs. Winston. “I will have a look at your carriage this afternoon. I have some shoes to reset, and as the storm damage becomes more apparent, my dance card will doubtless fill up. If the road is to become passable again, that will involve picks, shovels, and any number of tools inclined to break when they are most needed.”
“I understand,” she said. “I am a supplicant at the mercy of your availability. I will be at the posting inn should you need me.”
Her air of utter self-possession goaded Thad into doing what he never did—explaining himself. “Storms bring on babies,” he said, a truth doubtless unknown to every other earl’s heir in the whole of England. “Our midwife is getting on. Mrs. Gatesby needs reliable transportation, but her gelding’s right-front shoe sounded clinchy to me when she came by to visit Mrs. Peabody yesterday morning. I will stop by Mrs. Gatesby’s cottage and have a look, and that means having a cup of tea… and my time is not my own.”
Mrs. Winston signaled to her footman. “You are right, Mr. Penn. My concerns are trivial compared to those of others in this village. I will bide at the inn.” She surveyed the high street, some emotion brewing in her emerald gaze. “If I cannot leave this place, then others cannot find me here. Enjoy your cup of tea with Mrs. Gatesby.”
She strode off, as self-possessed as Boudicea on the morning of battle. And yet, as Thad gathered up his tools and made his way to Mrs. Gatesby’s cottage, he was uneasy. A woman as well-heeled as Mrs. Winston ought to be traveling the major thoroughfares, not the coastal track winding through Fenwick.
She ought to have a sniffy companion and an even sniffier lady’s maid traveling with her.
Her coachy, grooms, and footman should have been in livery.
And she should not have been gazing upon the lowly main thoroughfare of Fenwick with fear in her eyes.
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