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I’m new to this blog so perhaps let me tell you a bit about myself. I write historical romance as A.M. Westerling and my friends know me as Astrid. I live in Calgary, Canada and am a huge fan of the Calgary Stampeders and Calgary Flames because yes, I’m a homer. 😊 (I love pro sports because to me, that IS reality television and I have been known to spend a Sunday or two watching NFL football as well…😉) Hmm, what else, I’m married and have two wonderful sons, two delightful daughters in law plus Tilly (left) and Arlow, my grand dogs to show for it.
I’m a chemical engineer by education and worked in Alberta’s oil and gas industry but now I’ve left that and can do the things I really enjoy – like researching and writing my books. I love my garden and I absolutely adore camping off the grid. I like yoga and I like my spin class and I love a good British detective series. A girl of simple tastes, really.
I’ve published 5 books with BWL Publishing, the first was my Regency romance "The Countess' Lucky Charm" which is the book I'm spotlighting here today. Now I’ve snagged a spot on the BWL Publishing Authors blog so it seems I’ve hit the big times! It’s not my first foray into blogging, I did participate in the BWL Publishing Canadian Historical Brides blog spot. Here’s the link if you want to see what I’ve been up to there:
I don’t write serious novels and I certainly don’t claim to have written the Great Canadian Novel. What I write is romance, pure and simple. Boy Meets Girl then Boy and Girl must overcome obstacles to get their Happily Ever After. Throw in a little history and there you have it - escapism from the realities of every day life and that’s what I call entertainment.
Now I’ll share a little secret with you. On August 8 of this year, I guest blogged here and submitted a Regency short story that I’d written a number of years ago. Much to my surprise, my publisher emailed me a couple of hours later and told me she’d loved the story and could I possibly turn it into a three book series? She even came up with the series title – The Ladies of Harrington House. Well, could I?! Of course I could!
The opening scene in the book is the Aug. 8 blog spot so you might want to nip back there and take a read. Today’s excerpt is the second scene of Sophie, Book 1 of The Ladies of Harrington House:
Sophie handed the reins to Hobbs, the head groom. He tipped his cap, revealing a thatch of red hair matching the freckles scattered across his cheeks, before fishing in his pocket for a carrot. He handed it to her. “Looks as if you’ve given Dancer a bit of a ride,” he said.
She held out the carrot and the mare’s lips rippled across her palm before snagging the treat. “It was a beautiful day for it and I’m afraid time ran away from me.” That wasn’t really the truth. Her encounter with Bryce Langdon had left her feeling unsettled and she’d tried to ride away the feeling. She stroked Dancer’s nose. “You’ll give her a good rub down?”
“Of course,” he replied. “And I should warn you, your mother’s been searching for you and is in quite a state. Sent one of the footmen out here to see if you’d returned yet.”
Sophie groaned. She’d really hoped to make it to the sanctuary of her room to change before catching her mother’s notice. The entire household was in an uproar over tonight’s dinner party. Lady Harrington’s evenings were always a success and invitations to them were highly sought after. That success didn’t come without a price – Mama ran herself ragged organizing to the tiniest detail. Every last bit of silver must be polished, every last candle in the sconces must be replenished and Harrington House dusted and polished from top to bottom. Her mood wasn’t always the best at these times and the family had learned to stay out of her way. “Thank you, I shall pay heed.” She patted Dancer one last time before waving at Hobbs and turning away.
She darted across the cobblestones that paved the courtyard between the stables and the house and slipped into the kitchen door. As expected, pandemonium reigned in the kitchen and Sophie knew better than to interrupt. Mrs. Winston, the cook. The woman, red faced and perspiring, tossed her a distracted glance then focused again on what looked to be buttered apple tarts.
No sooner had Sophie stepped into the hall than she heard her sister Leah’s voice. They were three – Sophie, the eldest at twenty, Leah, two years younger and Catherine, two years younger again.
“You’re in for it,” Leah said, waggling her finger at Sophie. “Mama’s been looking for you for the past hour.”
Sophie rolled her eyes skyward. As usual, Leah was her impeccable self, not a hair out of place and her peach colored muslin frock freshly pressed and tidy.
Not like Sophie. Despite her attempts to re-pin her hair, most of it hung loose down her back and the sea water had left damp stains on the skirts of her riding habit. She bunched them forward so her sister wouldn’t notice. “We all know how she ties herself in knots when she’s entertaining.”
“Particularly this evening as we are to welcome our new neighbor, Lord Langdon.”
Whom I’ve already met, she thought and a frisson of excitement tickled her scalp when she remember the admiring look in his dark eyes. “Yes, I know,” she said aloud.
“What do you suppose he’s like?” Louise’s face grew dreamy. “He’s said to be ever so handsome and he’s unmarried. Do you suppose he’ll fancy one of us?”
Sophie snorted. “Don’t expect Papa to agree to us marrying anyone at this time. You know he’s said we’re to wait until we’re twenty-one.”
“I don’t know why,” Leah pouted. “Abigail Penner had her season at eighteen and is already engaged to be married while we are stuck here in Cornwall.”
Where I much prefer to be. “It’s not so terrible. There are shops and tea rooms and a theatre close by in Truro.”
Leah gave her an incredulous look. “You? What do you know of the shops?”
Sophie made a wry grimace. She fooled no one, visiting the shops was not her favourite form of pleasure. She much preferred outdoor past times such as riding or archery. If she must be indoors, then she filled her time with reading or sketching. Needlework made her head ache and her fingers were like sausages on the pianoforte that graced the sitting room. “I’ve heard tell that some of the establishments are as fine as any that can be found in London.”
Leah frowned and gave Sophie a push. “You’d best find Mama.” Her grey eyes were earnest. “Or she’ll have your head.”
Sophie nodded and headed towards the staircase leading to the upper floors. With any luck she could shed her riding habit and its telltale stains.
Halfway up the staircase, Catherine flashed past her heading downstairs, blonde curls bouncing with every step. “Where have you been?” she threw over her shoulder as she reached the bottom. “Mama’s in a state and nothing will do but she must speak with you.” She didn’t wait for Sophie to respond but darted into the library.
To hide, Sophie could only presume, and she picked up her pace. Mama must really be annoyed with her this time if both Leah and Catherine issued warnings. She reached the first landing and had her hand on the railing of the stairs leading to her room on the next level when Lady Evelyn Harrington’s voice rang through the air.
Mama’s annoyed tone couldn’t be ignored. Drat. Sophie’s heart sank and she cast a longing glance up the stairs. She’d not make her escape after all. She turned and spied her mother advancing on her like a square-rigged frigate. Plump and petite, her stature belied an iron will. A few wrinkles haloed her blue eyes and a few grey hairs shadowed her blonde hair but she was still attractive and Papa adored her. She still looked much as she had when their family portrait was painted soon after Catherine’s arrival. It hung over the staircase with other Harringtons past.
“I’d ask where you’ve been for most of the afternoon but I see you’ve been wading.” Her mouth tightened and she pointed to the hem of Sophie’s skirts. “I can only assume your boots are also wet because I can’t imagine a daughter of mine being so foolish as to splash about barefoot where others might see you. And please don’t tell me you went down to the beach. It’s not safe with all the smugglers sullying our coast.”
Sophie clasped her hands at her waist. “No Mama, I didn’t go to the beach. I was hot so I dipped my toes in the creek behind the mill.” Heat crept up her neck and into her cheeks and she hoped she didn’t look as guilty as she felt over the fib. Thankfully she said nothing about Sophie riding out without a groom to accompany her so Hobbs must have kept that to himself.
Lady Harrington sniffed. “More than your toes, I’d say. But never mind that for now.” She smoothed an imaginary stray hair. “The Earl and Countess of Blackmore will be joining us this evening, as well as Vicar Sinclair and his wife and of course Lord Langdon. I have in mind a small entertainment.”
“Entertainment?” Sophie dug her fingers into her palms. Please no, not the pianoforte. Despite hours at the keyboard, the fugue by Bach she’d been working on for weeks resembled the screeches of a tom cat rather than anything musical.
Her mother smiled. “I’m not deaf, I’m not expecting you to play. I had thought Catherine could accompany you while you sing. Your voice is more than passable.”
“Sing?” For Lord Langdon? How could she look him in the face after their encounter this afternoon?
“Yes, sing. I suggest “Greensleeves”. It’s a lovely piece and your sister has mastered it admirably.”
“You’ll find the music on the bench. If you’d been home sooner, you’d have had more time to practice.”
Her mother raised a manicured finger. “There will be no excuses from you. I intend to make a good impression on our guests, particularly our new neighbour. I understand he is a barrister of some note.”
“I see.” A barrister. A man who earned his living. That explained his comment that he was no drawing room fop. A small burst of admiration flushed her cheeks anew. Most men she knew, including her father, contented themselves with overseeing the management of their estates. But perhaps Langdon didn’t have an estate before purchasing the neighboring property. That would explain his foray into law and if he were as successful as her mother implied, he’d done well for himself to become a landowner.
“Besides,” continued her mother, “it’s a good opportunity to practice the entertainment we shall offer once we are in London for your coming out this Season. We shall host evenings where you will sing, Catherine shall play and Leah will read her poetry.”
“I don’t want to come out in London. I’m quite happy here in Cornwall.”
“Nonsense. How are we to find you a suitable husband otherwise?”
“I don’t fancy being paraded about like a prize thoroughbred and given away to the highest bidder.” Sophie tried to keep the petulance from her voice but failed miserably judging by the frown on her mother’s face.
“Paraded? Given away? It won’t be like that at all. We’ll find a suitable young man and soon enough you’ll be inclined to accept his attentions, you’ll see. Perhaps someone like Viscount Weston.” She slanted a glance at Sophie. “His parents are ever so charming and you could do far worse.”
I doubt that very much, she thought. Giles Weston might be considered a catch and she might be able to overlook his pimpled face and yellowed teeth however once she’d seen him whip his horse until the animal bled. That cruel streak she could not overlook. Nonetheless arguing with Mama would lead nowhere. Once she made up her mind, there was no changing it. Sophie bit her lip. Best to say nothing.
Lady Evelyn stood on tiptoe and kissed Sophie’s cheek. “Do wear your lilac frock this evening. It brings out your eyes.”
“As you wish.” Well, at least that was one thing they could agree on. Until now, she’d not had the opportunity to wear her newest frock. She loved the white silk embroidered flowers along the hem and indeed, the lavender shade made her green eyes a deeper hue.
Her mother sailed off, leaving a rose scented breeze behind her and a befuddled Sophie clutching the carved oak railing of the stairs. Not only was she to reacquaint herself with Lord Bryce Langdon this evening, she must sing for the man. How was she to do that without bursting into giggles of embarrassment?
By making sure she sang as well as she possibly could. After she changed, she’d search out Catherine so the two could practice as Mama had suggested.