Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony, © 2012

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony historical fiction ~ 1636
During the reign of Louis XIII, called The Just
978-1-4022-6303-8
978-1-4022-6303-8
978-1-4022-6303-8

I will never quite look at Queen Anne's Lace the same after reading The Ruins of Lace.
Queen Anne's Lace
"Mechlin lace... is one of the best known Flemish laces. It is fine, transparent, and looks best when worn over another color... It was used for coiffures de nuit, garnitures de corset, ruffles and cravats."    # A study in nostalgia.
Flemish Bobbin Lace

Katharina, lace maker. Working in a dark, unheated workshop day after day, is losing her sight and her back is curved from bending over her pillow for hours at a time making lace, with the rhythm of her bobbins. In silence, without spoken words.
                         ~*~
Needle pin, needle pin
Stitch upon stitch,
Work the old lady out of the ditch
If she is not out as soon as I
A rap on the knuckles will come by and by
A horse to carry my lady about
Must not look off till twenty are out.
                         ~*~ 
Louis XIII in 1636 forbid the wearing of lace, preferring to keep the monies from going across the border to enrich his domain. This, of course, brought a desire for it no matter the means ~ or the cost.

Lisette found the lace to be costly ~ to her family. In retribution, will they ever be finished repaying what she has damaged?

Each character tells their own part of the story in the narrative of events. There is vernacular vulgarity of speech in their struggles. With cruelty to man and to animals in lace smuggling, there is no lasting satisfaction in the pursuit of a luxury not filling the deep longing of the heart. Despair and uncertainty detain each one as they hope for freedom, to be loved, not recognizing there is a Deliverer.
Never forget you are of immeasurable worth!
   --author Iris Anthony
The Lacemaker by Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The Metropolitan Museum

The Lacemaker by Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The Metropolitan Museum

Here is an excerpt of The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony ~ Chapters One-Three.

CHAPTER 1

Katharina Martens
LENDELMOLEN, FLANDERS

IT HAD BEEN TWO MONTHS NOW. TWO MONTHS since my eyes had betrayed me. The darkness had come upon me so gradually that there had been no fear, no panic. Even now I could still discern shapes and colors. Though the details and textures of my lace were lost to me, my fingers told me what my eyes refused to convey.
   I had spun an endless pattern of roses and leaves intertwined, bordered by a path of scrollwork. Every day I had lingered between those blossoms and lost myself in the maze of those scrolls. Every day for over three years. It took time to fashion a lace as long and as fine as this one.
   I wriggled my toes within my clogs. At least I thought I did. I could no longer feel them. They had gone numb from autumn’s chill. I shifted on the bench, hoping it would bring some life back into them. If not, they would waken with a tingling in the time it took to walk from the workshop to the chapel. By the time I finished with prayers, they would be well again. In winter it was worse. They woke from their sleep with a hot, dull ache.
   Autumn.
   Winter.
   Spring.
   Summer.

   I had cycled through the years in much the same way I cycled through my bobbins and my pattern. One season, one set of bobbins, one rose after the other, and in the end, I found myself back at the beginning. As a child, cast upon the good graces of the abbey, I had been a fumbling novice at my craft. But now I was a skilled lace maker.

   Lace is created from thread. Threads. Many of them. Twisted and crossed, looped and whorled, knotted and woven. But lace is formed from the absence of substance; it is imagined in the spaces between the threads. Lace is a thing like hope. It lived, it survived, and it was desired for what it was not. If faith, as the nuns said, was the substance of things hoped for, then lace was the outline—the suggestion—of things not seen.

   Lace was my life. My solace. It was lace that gave my life meaning. And in the working out of my intricate patterns, I had also worked out my salvation. Twenty-five years I had been making lace. Twenty-five blessed years.
~*~
   As I sat there with my pillow in my lap, the threads performed their intricate dance, leaping and jumping in a counterpoint about their pins. Each group of bobbins clattered to their own rhythm before I dropped them to the pillow to pick up the next. With a twist or a cross, more than two hundred threads danced around the circle before I dropped the last group and started once more with the first.
   It amazed me, as it always had, that I should sit with my bobbins, day after day. And that they should perform their dance with so little help from me. Like the fairies my sister used to speak of, they completed their magic seemingly undirected and undeterred by human hands. Except, I did direct them. I did move them. In fact, they moved only at my command. But once I set them into motion, they seemed to dance alone. I used to watch, breathless, every day, waiting to see what they would create.
   I knew, of course.
   They would create the kind of lace they created every day, the lace that was named for the abbey: Lendelmolen. That was the only kind of lace we had been taught to make. We’d seen the other kinds. Sister had showed them to us so we could understand how superior our patterns were. But this lace, this length, was different. It was to be fabulously long. Six yards. The exquisite scrolls and roses and leaves had been inscribed by a pattern maker upon a parchment. Pins now marked that design, securing the pattern to my pillow.
   But there was a difference between knowing what the bobbins would create and watching them go about their work. It was in the watching that the magic happened.
   Of course, I never spoke of the magic. Not to the nuns.
   Not to anyone.
   Nowhere, at any time within the walls of the abbey, could I speak. Unless it was to God. And even then, we were to speak in whispers. God was a jealous god. He needed our hands. He needed our thoughts…and our voices. They were reserved, all of them, every part of us, for him.
   And why should it have been any other way?
   Except…I had never heard the voice of Mathild. And I had sat beside her as we worked, for twenty-five years.
   Those first years, the years of learning, had been the most difficult. Learning what was expected of us and learning what was not. Learning how to please the Sister in charge of the workshop. Learning how to avoid a beating or a whipping.
   And those first whippings…they came so unexpectedly, so brutally, for a sin no greater than a dropped pillow or a missed stitch. So viciously and so cruelly, a girl would be stripped to her waist and punished right in front of us. In front of all of us.
   It served its purpose, I suppose.
   It goaded us into concentration. But unavoidably, I too dropped my pillow. I too missed a stitch. And strayed from the pattern. I did not think often of those times. So much sadness, so much misery. I had sought the skirts of the Holy Mother herself on one occasion, hiding behind her statue in the chapel. Once I had been coaxed away from her, I was lucky to have survived the beating I was given. But it was then, in the midst of those dim-lit days and lonely nights, that I was taught how to make myself useful. It was then I learned the secrets of lace. And how could I truly despair when I knew, every day upon waking, that in the workshop my lace awaited?
   I could survive a scolding, could suffer through a beating, always knowing I had my lace. I couldn’t mind stinging buttocks or a bloodied back when my fingers were left untouched for work and my eyes could still see. It was the times when they rapped our knuckles that were the worst. For then we were left bleeding and bruised, forbidden to leave the workshop, but forbidden also to work. If punishment was doled out for failure—failure to concentrate, to keep the lace clean, to master the skills—the lace itself offered its own sort of reward.
   To see it created.
   To watch it unfurl.
   To glimpse a pattern perfectly followed, perfectly accomplished.
   I would rather have been whipped to the grave than been kept from my work.
   But that had been back when I could see. Now that solitary pleasure had been denied me.
   Perhaps in those early days, now that I think on it, I had heard Mathild speak once or twice. But I did not remember her words. To speak brought certain punishment. And so, we had avoided each other’s gaze to avoid the temptation to talk. And soon we began, all of us, to sleep with an arm across the face…to ensure that, even in sleep, we would remain guiltless.
   But I had seen Mathild smile.
   And once, I had even seen her wink.
   But speak? I could hardly remember those few words.
   When would I have heard them? At prayers, we whispered our petitions to the Most Holy God. At meals, we ate. During washing, we washed. And when making lace? Making lace required everything we had. And by the time we collapsed onto our beds, there was nothing left within us. We were quickly consumed by sleep.
   Of course, I had heard others talk.
   The nuns spoke all the time.
   I knew the voice of my teacher: Sister Maria-Clementia. She spoke very little, but when she bent over my pillow to inspect my lace, her “Well done” was like a song of a thousand words. And her “Rework this” could echo through my mind for days. There was no great need for words here. Not when so very few would do. And even when I talked to God, there was little to say. I said, “Thank you,” for it was he who had placed me here. I said, “Help me, please,” for who did not need help with such difficult work? But mostly, I said…nothing. For what could a poor girl say to such a great and holy God that did not begin and end with gratitude?
   But…I had a secret.
   I stored up words. I hoarded them, treasured them.
   Words were my vice, my greatest weakness. Since I had discovered their great rarity, I remembered every one I heard.
   They formed a pattern in my head, and in the spaces between them, I imagined the lives of their speakers. My one regret is how few of my mother’s I remembered. But I could not have known, not while she was living, how precious few she would be able to give me.
   She had talked often…so many lovely words. They came back to me sometimes in my sleep, like a length of punto in aria lace. Vast spaces of nothing, and then, suddenly, the outline of an intricate pattern. It was all the more beautiful for its spare design. Her words had the lightness of a butterfly. They were always dancing. Always followed by laughter. At least…that is how it seems to me now.
   But perhaps I have distorted the pattern in transferring it to my memories. For what followed after her death was so… bleak. When she had been alive, there were words, nothing but words, in our house, and then after…silence reigned over all.
   I remember only two words from my father. Perhaps he gave me more than those two…certainly he probably did while my mother was living…. but the only two I remember are the last ones he spoke to me.
   Fare well.
   Only those two words remain, and they are underscored by sorrow. They hang heavily in my heart. He died five years after I was committed to the abbey. Those two words are all I have left of him, but two words are not enough to make a pattern.
   Fare well.
   Was it a blessing? A wish? A hope?
   Perhaps it was a sort of benediction. I do not know.
   My sister, Heilwich…well, she has words enough for the both of us. And the words she gives me are more than enough to last the week between her visits. She speaks of her life, of the priest whose home she keeps, of her good works. Her pattern is torchon. Regular, repeating. Competent. Respectable. Dependable.
   And I imagine her life to be just that way.
   But I have more than just family from whom to collect words.
   I have the people walking by the workshop, past the abbey wall, on the street outside.
   There is one man who walks the streets, shouting every day. He sells fish. And he does it especially loudly on Fridays. He shouts everything about them. How large they are, how fresh they are. He sells sole and plaice. Eels and herrings. Sometimes they cost more, and sometimes they cost less. And sometimes he sells something called a mussel. But only in the winter. I’ve always wondered what it looked like, a mussel.
   But then, I had always wondered what he looked like as well.
   His words were not fancy; they created an ordinary malines design. His pattern was the same, day after day, fish after fish. There were few holes, few gaps, from which to pattern a life apart from the street beyond the wall. I imagined he woke with fish and he worked with fish, and when he slept, he dreamt of fish.
   It was what I did too…only with lace, of course. I understood a life like his. Except…How did he come by them? That great variety of fish? And how did he carry them? For certain by cart, for I could hear the wheels tumble across the cobbles. But…how? Tossed together in a great pile? Separated into baskets?
   And where did he live?
   What did he wear?
   The holes in his pattern were tiny, but they were there, nonetheless. His was a life set upon a platform of a fine network of threads.
   There was also a woman who shouted in the streets beyond the wall. But she didn’t shout about something. She shouted at something. Was it a child? She shouted at someone called Pieter, who always seemed to be making a mess of things.
   But what kind of mess was it?
   Was he a child who rubbed his hands in the ashes of a fire…and then spread the soot about the house? That would make a mess. The worst kind of mess I could imagine.
   She also shouted at someone else called Mies. And Mies always made her late.
   But late to what? Where was she going, this woman who seemed to have nothing to do but walk the length of the streets, shouting all day? What was Mies doing to make her late, and how could Mies do whatever it was all day long, every day? And if it was always the same thing Mies did, then why did the woman not stop it from being done?    
   There was a pattern to this woman that made no sense, huge holes in the design of her life. Hers was a lace made of cutwork. Not dainty, not fragile. Without subtlety, it was bold in the extreme. A pattern without any elegance at all, and one which kept repeating. That lace was one of my least favorite kinds.
   There were others out there on the street besides. I could hear them walking and running. And hear the sounds of their voices talking. But those people did not shout, and so I knew nothing of the actual words they said.
   There were babies who cried.
   And once, there had been a shriek. A howl.
   The wordless sound of grief: black lace. The worst kind to make. The kind I made as a child, new to the abbey. After being dyed its dark color, it would not show soiling. We could make it imperfectly, for the color hid our sins. We made it fast, though never for commission. It was for immediate consumption. For who could know when a soul might die?
   No one thought of black lace—no one wanted to think of it—but somehow, we never seemed to be able to make enough of it. But to make a lace no one ever wanted? Those days, those laces…they were sad. And so was that howl.
   So at times, I suppose, one word…one wordless sound… could create a pattern. It could tell a story…but some laces are not worth imagining.
   Far better, far better, to keep my thoughts to what I knew. And what I knew best, the only thing I knew at all, was lace. The abbey had been kind enough to take me as a child from my motherless family, even though I knew how to do nothing at all. They had fed me; they had taught me. They had allowed me a chance to redeem myself. To prove myself worthy of the life I had been given. And so I worked, I labored, as one who would not be ashamed. Nee: one who could not be ashamed. When God looked down on what it was I had done, I knew the only thing he could say was this: well done.
   My eyes strained through the darkness, trying—and failing—to discern one thread from another. In a short time we would be allowed a candle, but for now, my fairy dance continued, unaided, unfettered, by my lack of sight. As we worked, we waited. Waited in anticipation, just as we waited in the chapel to receive the Host.
   Soon, Sister placed a single candle on a table before us. And then she began positioning the condensers. Clear glass balls filled with water, they focused the candle’s light and then sent it forth. Around the table she went, adjusting each one so it cast a narrow beam of light upon each pillow.
   With much gratitude, we repositioned our work into that light.
   When I could still see well, it had been more difficult to pattern. But still, I had to concentrate. and its grace. word: Done. My supper, tasteless. My sleep, dreamless. work after the shadows of night fell. The pillow had to be constantly adjusted to follow the flickering of the candle’s light. Now, it didn’t matter. I could work in darkness as if it were the brightest of noondays. I had memorized my pattern. But still, I had to concentrate.
   Think too much, and I would muddle up the bobbins. Think too little, and I would lose my place in the pattern. In my head, I sung a little tune the sisters had chanted when I was a child. And quick as that, the dance regained its rhythm and its grace.
   I sung it to myself over and over, again and again. Who knows how many times I sung it, until at last, Sister said the word: Done.
   My prayers that night were wordless.
   My supper, tasteless.
   My sleep, dreamless.
   
CHAPTER 2

Heilwich Martens
KORTRIJK, FLANDERS

I HAD BEEN SO CLOSE LAST MONTH! I'D HAD EVERY Spanish real the Reverend Mother had demanded. She had glanced up from her table as I entered the room, her coronet making her head look as if it were about to take flight.
   I touched a knee to the floor. “Reverend Mother.”
   “And you are…?”
   “I am Heilwich Martens. Of Kortrijk.”
   “Heilwich Martens…”
   “I work for Father Jacqmotte. At Sint-Maartenskerk.”
   “Ah. A priest’s woman.” The Reverend Mother nodded, sending a shiver through her veil.
   “I came to speak to you about my sister. I wish to take her home with me.”
   “Sister—? Which one?”
   “My sister. My own sister. Katharina. She makes lace.” I with drew the pouch from my sleeve and set it on the table before her. The coins inside it betrayed their presence with a clink.
   The Reverend Mother’s hand snaked out and clasped the pouch, loosened the thong that bound it, and poured the contents out upon the table. “Katharina, you say? I am told she is our best lace maker.”
   I was surprised the Reverend Mother knew her, but isn’t that what Katharina had told me herself? That she was the abbey’s best lace maker? An undue sense of pride kindled within my veins. I felt my chin lift.
   “We have come to rely upon her skills.”
   Katharina had told me that as well.
   “The skills we have spent many months, many years, in fact, perfecting.”
   Ja. I knew quite well how many years there had been between Katharina’s leaving our father’s house and my own visit to the abbey this day. Twenty-five of them.
   “This is not enough to compensate us for our expense in training her.” She gathered the coins and dropped them back into the pouch.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   She secured the thong and pushed it back across the table toward me.
   “But…but…last time we spoke, this is the price you named!” And I had worked and saved for five years to gather all of it.
   “That was several years ago, was it not?”
   “Ja, but— ”
   “Did you think we would stop teaching her in the intervening time? Stop feeding her? Clothing her? Providing a place for her to sleep? A chapel in which to worship?”
   “Nee, but— ”
   “Surely you can understand we must be compensated for all we have invested in her.”
   “But she is not a…a…piece of property or a…a…cow! She’s a girl! And she’s nearly gone blind from all of the lace you’ve made her make!”
   “Blind? Truly? I shall have to investigate.”
   I shut my mouth up tight as a cooper’s barrel. I had said too much. Or perhaps…perhaps I had not said enough. “Ja! She’s hunched as an old woman. And very soon you’ll throw her out of your abbey, just as you always do to those too blind to be of use.” If the abbey could not see her worth, the men who lurked at the abbey’s gates would. A girl did not have to see to be persuaded to open her legs to paying customers.
   “And what would you have us do? Keep girls who can provide no assistance in exchange for our very great generosity? We would soon have to shut our doors.”
   “If you won’t take my money, could you send for me before you turn her out?”
   “For what purpose?”
    “So I can take her home.”
    “You mean keep her here until you are able to come fetch her?”
    “Ja.”
   “As if we were some kind of lodging house?” The crook of her brow above her eyes told me her answer before she even spoke it. “Kortrijk is quite a walk, even if the father would let you come. I cannot do this. If I did it for you, then every family would expect the same.”
   “How much more do you need?”
   She named her price.
   It was much more than I could ever hope to earn, even if I had five more years in which to do it. Katharina was as lost to me as our father and mother. I had told her I would rescue her, but I couldn’t do it.

~*~
I did what I could. I shamed the men who lingered by the gate into leaving, though I had no hope my words would drive them far. I shuddered to think of Katharina having to throw herself upon their mercy. I gave a silver coin to an urchin, as well. “If you see a girl come from the abbey, one of the lace makers, come tell me in Kortrijk. I work for Father Jacqmotte at Sint-Maartenskerk. The church with the great tower. Her name would be Katharina.”
    “Katharina.”
    “Ja.”
    “And if I do? If I come tell you…?”
   “Then I will give you another one of these.” I took a second silver coin from my purse and held it out so he could see it.
   His good eye gleamed as he reached for it.
   I enclosed it within my fist. “And what is your name? Remember, I work for a priest. I’ll tell him if you lie to me or if you cheat me.”
   The hand withdrew as he eyed me for a moment. Then his frown relaxed and, finally, he spoke. “Pieter. My name is Pieter.”
~*~
I had done what I could, but it had not made my heart feel better. It still didn’t, even three days later. Katharina should have been me. I should have been the one the abbey had taken. I was the older sister, after all. Katharina could easily have been placed out for work somewhere. She was a child of the sun, all golden hair and gleaming smiles. But I was not the one the abbey chose. They had taken one look at my short, stubby fingers and had not even let me enter their gates. It wasn’t what we had planned. Not at all. It was me who was oldest. Me who ate the most. But in the end, it was Katharina they had taken and me they had left behind.
   Several years after Katharina had gone, Father died, and the parish priest had taken me in. The elderly housekeeper showed me how to sweep a wood floor and how to manage work—I did everything—but it still did nothing to beat back the knowledge that it was all my fault.
   It was my fault Father had died: he had placed into my bowl the food intended for his own mouth. And it was my fault Katharina had become what she was: a girl who had found her age too early. Back bent, fingers gnarled from her work.
   But in the priest’s house, I had served the penance for my sins. I had worked my short, stubby fingers to the bone these twenty- five years to regain that which had been lost…only to discover my work had been in vain. It had not been enough.
   I had not saved enough.
   I might have paused by the River Leie, sat down upon the bank, and wept into my apron for sorrow at what life might have been, but there was too much to be done in the life that was. There were wicks to be trimmed and accounts to be looked over, supper to be prepared and vestments to be mended. There was old Herry Stuer to be visited. His pallet to be changed and water dripped into his mouth.
   And for certain, the girl who looked after him would stick me with his care for the rest of the forenoon.
   But I was the priest’s woman. Such things, such generosity of time and of spirit, were expected of me. A gentle hand, a cool head, a ready smile…when all I wanted to do most times was shriek at them all and dash them over the head with my broom.
   I turned from the river, jabbed at my tears with the edge of my apron, and sniffed the rest of them back down. It was too late for sorrow, and tears helped nothing.

CHAPTER 3

Denis Boulanger
THE BORDERS OF FRANCE AND FLANDERS

I DON'T KNOW WHY I BOTHER.”
    Was the lieutenant asking me a question? Did he expect an answer? With him, sometimes it was hard to know. And the sun had barely just peered into the sole window of the shack. It was a tough job pleasing the lieutenant before he’d eaten the day’s first meal.
    “You understand what your job is.”
    Another statement that seemed as if it might be a question. “Oui, Lieutenant.” It was to assist the douaniers with their work. To help them by guarding the border with the Spanish Netherlands and to assist in the collection of import taxes.
   He looked down his long, crooked nose at me. “Then why aren’t you doing it?”
   Ah. Now there was a question. A true question. But it was a question I did not understand. “I am…I mean, I thought—?”
   “Do you know what passes across the border? Every single day?”
   “Oui, chef.” I did. People. Sometimes animals. And carts.
   “Hundreds of people cross the border every single day.” He’d raised his hands, slicing at the air in front of me, setting in motion the lace that hung like cobwebs from his wrists. “And do you know what they carry with them?”
   That was a question that really didn’t sound like one. It didn’t seem as if he truly wanted an answer. So I kept my mouth shut. That was easiest. How I wished he would stop talking, so I could stop standing at attention.
   “The people who cross the border here are liars, cheats, and thieves. Every single one of them.”
   Every single one? I found that difficult to believe. The old granny I had given my arm to just the other day? Surely she wasn’t a liar or a cheat or a thief. And that young mother with the three children, one of them just a babe in her arms? She had looked as if she might dissolve into tears at any moment. That’s why I had helped to hurry her through the line. For that was my job, after all: to aid the douaniers.
   “Do you know whom they’re trying to cheat?”
   Well. That was an easy question to answer. My mother had always said cheaters cheated only themselves. Although… hadn’t they first to cheat someone else? Before they cheated themselves? Isn’t that what cheating was?
   “Denis!”
   “Oui, chef!” I pulled my chin in even closer to my chest, making it touch the top button on my coat.
   “Every blessed day, thousands of livres of merchandise cross this border. And do you know what’s wrong with most of it?”
   I guessed—I supposed—an answer was expected. “That it comes from the Spanish Netherlands? From those Flemish?”
   “Those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish. Oui. And those dirty, rotten, stinking Spaniards.”
   “The dirty, rotten, stinking, filthy Spaniards.”
   “You’ve a way with words, Denis Boulanger.”
   “Merci, mon chef.”
   I’d always liked words. They were so particular as to their meaning. No one word could ever quite substitute for another. It wasn’t like the army, where it didn’t really matter what you looked like or where you were from. Where the next man could do the job just as well as you.
   “But the fact that all of those goods come from Flanders and those débectable Spaniards doesn’t really concern me at all. Do you know what concerns me?”
   I could guess, but I wasn't sure I would be right. It was safest not to answer.
  “What concerns me is those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish are smuggling contraband across our border every single day.”
   I’d heard that. The lieutenant had said that. He’d said it nearly every day for these six months I’d been posted here.
   “And do you know who helps them?”
   Well—non. Non, I didn’t.
   “We do. We French do. We French conspire with those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish to cheat our own King out of the tariffs he deserves.”
   Not we French. I mean, I didn’t. And the lieutenant didn’t. Some French. That was the better way to say it. Some French do.
   “But do you know what’s worse, Denis Boulanger?”
   There were many things that were worse. So many things that were worse. It was difficult to choose just one.
   “What’s worse is some people even try to smuggle in things that are forbidden. Did you know that?”
   “Oui, chef.” I knew that.
   “Every single day, people try to bring things into France that don’t belong here. Things the King, our King, doesn’t want here.”
   He had come to stand quite near me. His tips of his boots touched the tips of my own.
   “Oui, chef!
   He scowled. “Oui, chef? Oui, chef! You know this?”
   “Oui, chef.”
   “Then why don’t you do something about it!” He yelled the words so loudly they hurt my ears. So forcefully his spittle landed on my face.
   I couldn’t keep from blinking. And falling back from his assault. “I do, chef. I mean, I try.”
   “You haven't tried hard enough. Do you know how many times you've intercepted contraband these past six months?”
   I nodded. I did. I knew exactly how many times.
   “None! Thousands of livres in goods are smuggled across this border daily, and you’ve intercepted none of it!” He shook his wrist in front of my face. “Do you know how old this lace is?”
   “Non, chef.”
   “Six months old. And do you know why?”
   “Non, chef.
   “It’s because you haven’t brought me any that’s newer!”
   “I haven’t…I’ve never seen any.”
   “Never seen any. Bon.” He turned on a heel and strode to his desk.
   I wished I could do that. Turn on my heel and do it so quickly it looked like my foot was nailed to the floor. I’d tried. Many times. But I’d only ever made myself stumble.
   “Never seen any. Never going to. I’m going to send you somewhere else. Lots of places to choose from. We’re a country at war with these dirty, rotten, stinking Spaniards. So… do you think you could kill someone?”
   “Kill someone?”
   “With that musket.”
   “Why?”
   “Why what?”
   “Why would I want to kill someone?”
   He sighed. Took up a piece of paper and began writing. “I have here, in my hand, your new orders.” He signed them with a flourish as he spoke.
   “Chef ?”
   “You’re leaving. I’m done with you. You’re a disgrace to your King.”
   “But…I…I would catch them. I would arrest those smugglers if I could only tell which ones they were.”
   “The trouble with you, Denis Boulanger, is you’ve no imagination. Do you know how contraband crosses the border? How lace crosses the border? Because that’s what we’re looking for—lace. Do you know how lace crosses the border?”
   I nodded. He’d explained it many times.
   “Lace crosses the border in hollow loaves of bread. It crosses the border pinned to a woman’s underskirts or the inside of a man’s breeches. It crosses the border in boots and books. It even crosses the border in coffins.”
   Coffins? I didn’t think I believed him. I was quite sure, in fact, that I didn’t.
   “It crosses the border with men and women. With children and dogs. With the young and with the very old. It crosses the border with people.”
   Oui. I knew all of that. Every day I looked for lace. That was what I was supposed to do. But how could I know who was smuggling it? “Just—give me more time! I’ll find some lace. I promise.”
   He folded his arms in front of him, leaned on the table’s top. Frowned. “I’ve been giving you more time for six months now.”
   “Please.”
   He scowled. “Fine. One more month. It’s hard enough as it is with the war going on. Be warned, if you don’t find any”—he waved the orders above his head as he dismissed me with his other hand—“then you’re done.”
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***I received a copy of The Ruins of Lace from the author for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Friday, April 11, 2014

Unquenchable: Grow a Wildfire Faith that Will Endure Anything by Carol Kent, © 2014

Firestorms in nature have unexpected benefits because nutrients are returned to the soil and disease-ridden plants are destroyed. In your life, what unexpected benefits or new beginnings has God brought about after a difficult experience?
   --Unquenchable: Grow a Wildfire Faith that Will Endure Anything, 60
Carol Kent is transparent as she takes us through the faith-building she has received in the trial of her family, and of others who have shared their hearts, as well. God carries us during our struggles here on earth. We need not be alone. So many times we may question, but will find that we are strengthened in weakness by the One who loves us best. Inadequacies we can never overcome, insurmountable happenings, without His help and guidance. Faith built in the midst of suffering.
Embers keep the power of the fire safe, awaiting one of three things - time to finally flicker out, new fuel to ignite the fire afresh, or a wind to lift the embers and carry them to fresh fuel, even great distances away, where our faith springs to life anew.
   --Ibid., 71
How comfortable are you before God? How honest are you with Him? Journal. Write down your thoughts and needs ~ for understanding, filling of His grace, com/passion ~ come alongside. Share your heart; cry out to Him. He is near. Listen with a heart to hear. Follow His teaching and love. Leave the results with Him.
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes ...
I remember it all ...
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God ...
    He’s all I’ve got left.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
    to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
    quietly hope for help from God.
   --Lamentations 3:19-26 (The Message)
9780310330998

Carol Kent talks about a burning bush experience; a marker moment of knowing. Times when God revealed himself to her in specific ways or through unique opportunities.
We all have moments when we run dry and must lean on memories of God's faithfulness rather than on our current circumstances, when we must rely on our knowledge of God's Spirit at work in the past to keep our fire going in the present.
   --Ibid., 98
A cleansing that comes from knowing God alone has us covered. Document what God has done in your life. He provides nourishment and rest. In following Him, Jesus sees beyond the moment to the potential in us. Tending the fire of our faith requires spending time with God.

Carol shares the renewal in her family through God's grace. He meets us where we are. Blessings beyond measure, waiting for us.
   The important thing, no matter your state of life, is to make a plan for spending time with God. Tending your relationship with God is a top priority for keeping your wildfire faith alive and growing.
   --Ibid., 125
Our unexpected journeys are seen by God. Carol shares His hands extended through the acts of friends who join in our journey with encouragement. Love expended beyond what we could ever think or imagine. Our God reigns. In the midst of this world, heaven collides with earth!





***Thank you to Zondervan Linked to Lit for sending me a copy of Unquenchable to read and review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Monday, April 7, 2014

Maybelle in Stitches ~ Quilts of Love book by Joyce Magnin, © 2014

http://www.abingdonpress.com/images/products/9781426752803.jpg

A new Quilts of Love novel set in World War II brings us to Maybelle in Stitches by Joyce Magnin. Maybelle Kazinski is a welderette, along with other war brides working at Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1943, a suburb of Philadelphia. The shipyard work went on every day around the clock, with the whistle announcing the change of shifts. 





As they wait for supper to be ready, Maybelle and her friend, Doris, listen to the radio ~ Frank Sinatra, and "Stardust," a favorite song of Maybelle's husband, Holden. She just had his letters to hold. He shipped out the day after their wedding. With rationing of food, gasoline, and electricity, individual homes rented out rooms to others working at the shipyard; some more than to one, working different shifts. Roger, deferred from the army because of loss of hearing, rents a room from Maybelle and her mother, Francine. Doris has lived down the street from them since childhood. Encouraging her daughter and Doris to go to the Canteen for the evening, tired, Francine goes to bed early. That is the last they have a meal and time together. She passes away of a stroke before morning.

Maybelle has adjustments to make beyond what she thinks she is capable of ~ cooking, especially. How she will miss her mother and her care of the two of them. How will she manage, and with her husband somewhere in Europe? Receiving frequent letters from him, it has been almost two weeks since the last one.

While sorting through her mother's things, Maybelle finds fabric and remembrances from her childhood ~  swatches of memories ~ pieces of her deceased father's shirts, old curtains, all saved in a trunk. The beginning of quilt pieces stitched together lay near the bottom, along with scissors, thread, and cut shapes; a part of her baby blanket sewn in. 

Deciding to rent out her mother's room, Maybelle puts up a notice in the break room at the yard. Roger says he knows of two women who do not want to commute during the winter months. As Doris and Maybelle begin working on more quilt squares, there is a knock at the door. Thinking it is the new renters, Maybelle goes to the door. A man in uniform is standing there, with a telegram. Private Holden Kazinski has been reported Missing in Action.

As women gather day-by-day, they uphold each other awaiting word of the war's end and the return of their loved ones; hopefully to their open arms.

Each generation awaits loved ones' return. During World War II, women helped in the defense plants to support the needs of those serving our country. This story is in conversational style between Doris and Maybelle as they encourage each other. A bright spot in any day, to be included and loved by those near with understanding. Author Joyce Magnin has brought the 1940s alive with its music and happenings in the war effort with those who wait.

Joyce MagninJoyce Magnin is the author of the Brights Pond novels, including the award-winning The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow. A member of the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Fellowship, Joyce is a frequent workshop leader and the organizer of the StoryCrafters fiction group. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Find out more about Joyce at quiltsoflovebooks.com

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the book tour for Maybelle in Stitches by Joyce Magnin and to Abingdon Press for sending me a copy to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Win a NEW Spring Wardrobe from @TheQuiltsofLove | “Maybelle in Stitches” Giveaway!

Don’t miss the newest Quilts of Love book, Maybelle in Stitches, by Joyce Magnin. Maybelle can’t sew. But when she finds an unfinished quilt in the attic of her mother’s house, she gets the crazy idea to complete it.
Joyce is celebrating the release with a $200 Modcloth giveaway. Enter today for a chance to spruce up your spring wardrobe!
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  One winner will receive:
  • A $200 ModCloth.com gift card
  • Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron
  • A Sky Without Stars by Linda S. Clare
  • Maybelle in Stitches by Joyce Magnin
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 19th. Winner will be announced on April 21st on the Quilts of Love blog!

Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER.

Echoes of Mercy by Kim Vogel Sawyer, ©2014



The chocolate factory story!!
1904

Caroline ~*Carrie*~ Lang is sent to Dinsmore's World-Famous Chocolates Factory to investigate the death of a previous agent found at the bottom of an elevator shaft. Accident or pushed? There is another undercover protagonist in the story, Oliver ~*Ollie Moore*~, very thorough and amusing as he checks out the shifts at Dinsmore's. In fact, he gets Carrie in a little bit of a muddle when he says it's okay to take the candy from the tray ~ vanilla cream filled chocolate candy ~ that would eventually be tossed in the garbage because of showing or imperfection. Carrie is reminded of this as she is telling a little girl about thievery as she takes crackers from a grocer display.

Carrie's big push for being there is to check on child labor with management feeling it is fine for their profit. Carrie is insistent they should be in school, not working to support families.

Ollie, the new janitor, sides with Carrie on all views except this one, child factory workers, giving them a few coins and keeping them off the streets. He keeps tabs on Carrie to keep her safe among the workers. Little does he know he will have to keep his heart safe from her. As he joins Carrie in looking out for the children she has met ~ the "cracker-taking" girl and her two younger brothers, will he find his views might change toward schooling?

A wrench in the story is in the person of Gordon Hightower, the hirer, firer, and overseer at the chocolate factory. Bullying to the employees, will Ollie see enough to warrant reporting him and have evidence supporting his claim? Out of fear of losing their much needed jobs, factory workers are sticking close together.

A highlight in the story is Kesia, the owner of a café, who watches out for those she serves. She is a true trustworthy friend.

Exposure of underage hiring and a conniving manager sets this story on a quick venture into the early 1900 factory and the views of those for and against labor practices. Very informative and necessary despite the era portrayed. Regulations used for the good of workers and management to balance the need of the people and their positions. A very interesting story!
Kim Vogel Sawyer ~
is a best-selling, award-winning author with more than one million copies of her books currently in print. Awards include the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Sawyer lives in central Kansas, where she and her retired military husband, Don, run a bed-and-breakfast inn with the help of their feline companions. She savors time with her daughters and grandchildren.

***Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah blogging for Books for sending me a copy of Echoes of Mercy for this book tour. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sincerely Yours ~ Jane Kirkpatrick, Amanda Cabot, Laurie Alice Eakes, and Ann Shorey ~ © 2014

A Novella Collection
Word Origin & History ~*intrepid*~
1627 (implied in intrepidness), from L. intrepidus "unshaken, undaunted,"
 from in- "not" + trepidus "alarmed."

A Moonlight Promise ~ by Laurie Alice Eakes Laurie Alice Eakes
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
New York City ~ 1825

With the rain pelting down, Camilla Renfrew ran down the dock to the last steamboat blowing its whistle to leave shore. Not heeding her cries to wait, she jumps onto the moving gangway swaying as it rose, landing her at the feet of Captain Nathaniel Black. Clearly stating that his was not a passenger boat but carrying supplies that needed to arrive at the Erie Canal opening to the Great Lakes two days hence. Fortunate, indeed. That is where she also is trying to arrive in Albany to meet her future employee per the post she had received.
Captain Black himself has an urgency to sell his goods to be able to maintain his share in the Marianne and buy his partners' shares. Otherwise, he will be back to piloting another man's vessel. He is trying to stay ahead of the boat trailing him to avoid any further delay. Camilla also has a past she is trying to leave behind.

I loved this story! So in-depth, you can feel the waves hitting the boat and the mist coming up around you. Very well written, it retained my interest to find out their destination which is halted by paddle wheel damage and waiting for repairs. Captain Black finds he must rescue Miss Renfrew more than once, with her continued adventuresome ways.
~*~
 Lessons in Love ~ by Ann Shorey Ann Shorey
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
1 Corinthians 12:4–6
Chicago ~ 1858

Piano lessons become more important as Merrie Bentley receives a letter addressed to Mr. M.M. Bentley requesting an in-person meeting to discuss further the writings of matrimonial advice she is sending in to Mr. Kipler's magazine, Kipler's Home Weekly.

Merrie pleads with her piano teacher, Mr. Colin Thackery, if he will just this once go with her. As "his wife" she will just listen in to the discussion between he and Mr. Kipler. But... she is not invited in for the meeting and by the time her piano lesson comes again, Colin is not so sure he remembers exactly what was said. He arranges to meet with her an additional afternoon each week to go over what she writes to see if he can recall the directions given him.

Merrie has been sent by her father to her aunt's to take part in the season's social calendar. She is not all that sure that sounds good to her with her shyness. She finds Colin at one gathering as part of the paid entertainment and the gap between them widens, or so it seems.

I really liked Mrs. Daintree, Merrie's aunt. As much as Merrie hesitated to confide in her, she turns out to be a little more cordial than might have been expected. Open communication brings changes beyond what Merrie would have thought possible. This was a fun read and I would like to follow them further!
~*~
 One Little Word ~ by Amanda Cabot Amanda Cabot
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
Psalm 32:8
New York City ~ 1892

http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/18/d3/c1/18d3c13cca20b0ed0c5f929719528b3f.jpgLorraine Caldwell receives a letter from her older brother, Mike, whom she hasn't heard from in two years, to come to Lilac Hall in Plato Falls by train. Jonah Mann comes to the railway station to pick her up, disturbing to her in his paint spotted clothes. But look what he does! Carves carousel horses!! What wonderful memories I have of spinning around, on a horse going up and down with a brass ring above it and the many colors floating off the mirrors and small light bulbs against the organ grinder music ending the one thin Liberty dime ride far too soon for me! So, I am anxious to see where this story is going to lead.

carousel horse for sale - Google Search   Mindful of Jonah's admonition, Lorraine did not touch them, but she walked slowly around the room, admiring each horse. "Some of them are smaller than the others," she said.
   Jonah looked up from his carving. "That's because they'll be part of the second row. The platform is smaller there than on the perimeter. If the inner row horses were the same size, they'd be out of proportion." His attention once more focused on the block of wood that was rapidly taking shape, Jonah continued his explanation. "This is going to be a small merry-go-round--only twelve horses--but I wanted it to have two rows. Some people like to ride together."
   --One Little Word, 217

 Part of why I love historical fiction; so many interesting facts to learn about earlier times ~ craftsmanship made by hand with such detail.

It was a glorious morning, a time to enjoy the sights and scents of the country, and for the first time she could recall, Lorraine felt free. Here there were no expectations, no servants waiting for her commands, no friends wanting her to make afternoon calls with them. While it was true that her hair was not as well coiffed as if Annie had arranged it, Lorraine didn't mind. Life at Lilac Hall was more relaxed than at home.
Carousel horses 1   --One Little Word, 221

Lorraine finds there is another world outside her door, as she enjoys the sunlight and trill of birds as she walks in the fresh morning air. By being herself, the skills and talents she has brings Lilac Hall guests together furthering the enjoyment of their stay.

Jonah Mann has a deadline to finish for the merry-go-round that will be installed for his painted ponies. Refreshing to find someone easy to talk with however distracting to the work he must accomplish. Lorraine and Jonah find out more about themselves beyond the traditions of their families. A richness that makes them truly alive.

I liked this story for the relationship development and growth. I would like to hear more about them in a further story.

~*~
Jane Kirkpatrick
© Carole Marie Photography
A Saving Grace ~ by Jane Kirkpatrick
They shall not hunger nor thirst; . . . for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
Isaiah 49:10
The Dalles, Oregon ~ 1911

Grace Hathaway receives a letter from her friend Rebecca's young daughter to come and help her mother. Rebecca in her grief over the drowning death of her husband, has admitted herself for treatment at a facility in Olalla, a town in Washington on  Puget Sound. Grace takes leave from teaching piano to children of ranchers in Oregon to respond to her godchild Caroline's letter. She travels by stage, arriving at the town of The Dalles beside the Columbia River three days later. Further travel by steamship to Portland and then railway to Seattle, to the ferry to arrive at Olalla, Grace settles at the hotel there. She is told there is a passenger boat that goes in the mornings to the remote sanatorium-like building, Wilderness Heights.

There is much suspense in this story as Grace tries to rescue her friend, Rebecca, from the agony and despair and bring her home to health and restoration. Grace meets a doctor at the hotel who is working in the lab at the sanatorium. Together they are forming a bond, but it is uncertain which side of influence he is on. Can he be trustworthy to enable Grace to share her concerns and aid in helping Rebecca?

I was astonished at the background revealed by the author to this chilling tale of medical procedures "for the cure."
Cover Art
***Thank you to Revell Reads Fiction for sending me a copy of Sincerely Yours to review these four stories. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Read first chapters here! 4 chapter excerpts (one from each author)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Home at Last by Anita Higman, © 2013

I thoroughly enjoyed this story! Beyond a cherishing relationship, Home at Last brings to the forefront trust in God and His provision for us as we follow Him in our daily lives. Olivia is delightful! Willing to confront her past to free her future, she is open and considerate, a true friend.
Many waters cannot quench love;
     rivers cannot wash it away.
              --Song of Solomon 8:7
Home at Last

Noah Bromfeld has returned home with hopes of making amends with his father. He finds his father is not there, but Olivia Lamington is. Unknown to him, Finney Bromfeld has passed away and left Bromfeld Manor to Olivia, his caregiver for the past twenty years. Noah, presumed dead by his father, has left his entire estate to her.

Olivia, not wanting to retain her inheritance since Noah is the rightful heir, agrees to remain to help Noah fix up the house and the caretaker's stone cottage in the woods on the large estate. Their friendship grows as they share their childhoods memories. Staying at the cottage, Noah checks out the nearby town of Gardenia to determine if there is enough need for a landscaping business he would like to pursue. In the meantime, Olivia has a home at the manor for as long as she chooses. Mops, the manor dog, agrees having her to guard.

Visitors come to the manor and Olivia is so gracious. This has been home to her for so many years and she is welcoming in her kind demeanor. Noah finds her to be open and, in turn, is able to be open with her in communication. Strength for each other, their true selves are able to blossom.

A very good read and you come away with deeper meaning than a quick read. Trust is paramount. One comment I really liked that Olivia voiced to herself was the reminder that God was still in control of their destinies, not the actions of another person. So good and true; a future and a hope.

Photo of Anita HigmanBestselling and award-winning author, Anita Higman, has thirty-two books published (several coauthored) for adults and children. She's been a Barnes & Noble "Author of the Month" for Houston and has a BA degree, combining speech communication, psychology, and art. Anita loves good movies, exotic teas, and brunch with her friends. Please visit her online at her website at anitahigman.com.

***Thank you to author Anita Higman for sending me a copy of Home at Last to read and review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy the first few pages of Chapter 1 ~ Home at Last by Anita Higman

Olivia Lamington wriggled the key into the lock of the manor's heavy front door, but it didn't fit quite right—just as her own irregular life had never slipped easily into this world. Especially now. It had been three months since Finney's passing, though her heart still felt the weight of her employer's absence. What a turn of events it had been for her—imagine—an orphan becoming heiress to a castle. She'd embraced the manor as her home, as Finney had requested, but sometimes it still felt as though she were playing house.
   The hinges of the door groaned and echoed through the entry hall, making Olivia wither. Although Bromfeld Manor was filled with antiques, tapestries and paintings, it was empty of Finney's scents and sounds. His joy. After twenty years in Finney's employment, how would she live her life now? Was God still smiling down on her?
   Not wanting to go inside just yet, she turned back toward the live oaks. The canopy of leaves shimmered, looking like lacework against the afternoon sun, and the branches stretched across the lane as if straining to embrace each other. The breeze tickled her cheeks, making her eyelids flutter shut. The smell of Carolina jasmine filled the air. Oh, how Finney loved springtime in the country, especially his little corner of the world in Southeast Texas. So vivacious and expectant, he would always say.
   The sun dipped behind the clouds, darkening the landscape. The shadows reminded her once again how alone she was.
   Music, far away and sweetly melancholy, came in on the breeze. In the distance a stranger, who looked about her own age—perhaps somewhere near forty—plodded toward the manor, playing a harmonica. She recognized the folk song, "Danny Boy." With each grinding step his shoes stirred up puffs of clay-colored dust. Had the man's car broken down, or was he homeless? The moment the man noticed Olivia, he stopped as if she were a skittish bird he might frighten off.
   He was right. She backed away into the house and locked the dead bolt. The man was a stranger, after all, and with the staff recently dismissed, she was truly alone.
   Olivia hurried to one of the front windows, pulled the drape back and studied the man. A stray dog she'd befriended over the months—one she'd named Mops—latched on to his pant leg, snarling and generally causing him grief. The stranger didn't seem to mind the tug-of-war, but he did look weary in a thousand other ways—as though he was on the last journey of his life.
   Believing that the stranger would ring the bell, Olivia scurried into the sunroom so she wouldn't be tempted to answer the door. She found a book on the shelf—The Man Who Would Be King—and opened it to the first page. A pressed flower fluttered out of the novel and onto the floor, one she'd forgotten about. But then pressing wildflowers into books and hoping they would fall out later to delight a reader was her "thing." Or as Rudyard Kipling might have said, "a trifling custom." It was so much a part of her that many of the Bromfeld Manor books held hidden blossoms. She picked up the translucent bluebonnet and set it on the table.
   Just as she expected, the doorbell rang. She sat still. Olivia, you will not answer that door. She tried to concentrate on the first line of the novella, but it was no use. She ended up going over and over the same words, waiting for the bell again. When it rang, Olivia jumped. Then the goofy thing ding-donged five more times. Who did the man think he was?
   Olivia waited, holding her breath. Finally, there was quiet again. He must have given up. But a moment later when she turned toward the west end of the room, the stranger stood by the windows, staring at her through the glass.
   Olivia's book made a flying leap before slapping back down onto the wood floor. She let out a shriek so bone rattling that it frightened the stranger, making him stumble backward. He let out an equally impressive yelp as the big-thorned rosebushes devoured him.
   Was he a thief? A murderer? Maybe he'd heard of Finney's death and somehow knew she was alone. God help me! What could she do? Call the local sheriff? But there was no time. And Finney had never kept guns on the premises. If she had a gun she'd probably just shoot her foot off with the silly thing, anyway.
   Glancing at each of the sunroom windows, she noticed one of them had been left open. Olivia ran to the spot and, with quaking hands, slammed the window shut, locked it and backed away until she hit the wall. Finding a broom behind the door, she grabbed it and held it in front of her as a weapon.
   No sound came from the man and no thrashing about in the bushes. Had he been knocked out, or was he playing dead like a sly fox?
   After another second or two, muffled words erupted from the rosebushes. "I am Finney Bromfeld's son, Noah," he hollered.
   Olivia's mind tore into a dozen questions at once. He couldn't be Finney's son; Finney's son was dead.
   The stranger tried to get his footing as he clambered out of the bushes. When he finally straightened, he held out a pink rose like a repentant schoolboy. "So, do you believe me?" He spoke loudly to be heard through the glass.
   "I don't know what to think. You don't look anything like Finney." The man had long brown hair, light olive skin and a boring kind of nose. Nothing at all like Finney, who'd had blond hair, a schnozzle with angles and skin as pink as a newborn mole.
   "That's because I resemble my mother," he said.
   "Why don't I believe you?" Olivia stepped forward, still aiming the broom at him. "By the way, you scared the woozoos out of me, peeping in the window like that." She sharpened her tone, making it as unpleasant as a paper cut—a nasty one.
   "Woozoos? That's a good one." He didn't even bother to squelch his laugh. "Actually, I wasn't peeping. I was about to open a window so I could climb in." Then the man stuck the rose into the lapel of his jacket and gave it a pat. "And you were the one guilty of gawking out at me from the front window."
   Humph. That wasn't the same thing, but to say the obvious seemed ridiculous.
   At least the barbed bushes, which had been planted near the windows to discourage thieves, had done their job. His hands and face were scratched up, and his T-shirt and jacket were dirtied. A trickle of blood drizzled down the man's cheek from a small wound on his temple. Olivia's heart softened toward him—but only a mouse's portion. "Before I even think about letting you in…tell me something unique about your family, something only Finney's son might know."
   "All right." The man scrubbed his stubble-covered chin. "When I was seventeen my mother was…" He frowned and shook his head as if he'd changed his mind about telling her.
   "Was what?" "My mother was struck by lightning." He crossed his arms. "So, will that do?"
   "Maybe." Finney had talked about the incident some years ago. Olivia gave up the idea that the man was a thief and motioned toward the front of the house. "Okay, I will let you in but not through the window. Please go around to the front door."
   Mops trotted up to the man and growled with more gumption this time.
   Hmm. Could have used you a few moments ago.
   The man tapped on the glass. "Could you please call off your dog?"
   Olivia hesitated, since maybe Mops sensed a danger she wasn't aware of.
   Then, with the shameless audacity of a burglar, the man lifted one of the windows and stepped inside the sunroom. "Ever since I was five that lock has never worked right." He stood inside now, dusting off his clothes. "Weren't you tired of shouting through the glass? I was." He looked at her broom and raised his hands as if he were being held up by a loaded gun. Then he grinned.
   It was a good smile as smiles go—a fine specimen—but she still wanted to slap it right off his face and maybe leave a stinging red imprint on his cheek to remind him not to go around frightening women.
   He cocked his head. "You're not going to scream again, are you?"
   "I don't think so."
   "Or sweep me to death?" He gestured toward the broom—the one she still gripped as if her hands were welded to the handle.
   Olivia slowly lowered her weapon and then dropped it cold, letting it make a spiteful clatter on the wood floor. She tried not to stare at him, but she gave up and stared anyway. His wild locks were pulled back in a ponytail. My, my, my. She'd never personally met a man with long hair before. Kind of sixties. Noah wasn't terribly handsome, not short or tall, heavy or thin, but he was appealing with his dark eyes darting about, taking in the whole world at once. The man was a dreamer type—one could see that in a moment—but even with all his swashbuckling Johnny Depp air there was a tortured look about him.
   And the man had no sense of personal space, since he came up to her and edged a bit too close. "Technically speaking, you're the stranger in my house."
   Confused, Olivia backed away. The scent of him—weeds and wet dog—lingered in her nose. Not the best combo.
   "I'm Noah, but I guess I said that back there in the shrubs."
   "You did."
   "By the way, you have a blight on your roses, and they're in desperate need of pruning. If you're not careful, they're going to forget how to bloom."
   "They just need a bit of love." Like a kite coming down to earth, Olivia reeled herself back in. "You're bleeding." She pointed to his cheek.
   "My father's roses were always unforgiving…as were so many other things about this home." Noah pulled a handkerchief from an inner pocket and dabbed at his face.
   "I'm Olivia Lamington. Like the little coconut-covered sponge cakes in Australia."
   "I've been to Australia, and since I have a great fondness for those little coconut-covered treats, I won't be able to get you out of my head."
   What did that mean? Was he making fun of her? She hardly knew. Except for some church functions and shopping in town, her social interactions had been limited. Olivia wiped her sweaty palms on her clothes, wishing she'd worn something besides a shapeless gray housedress. Something, that was, less Jane Eyreish for a change. She thought about shaking his hand but then changed her mind. "I was hired as an assistant and, well, sort of a nurse to your father."

   "Sort of a nurse?" Noah released a chuckle. He knew he was being belligerent, but the moment was too much fun to let go of.
   Olivia raised her chin a mite. "Some years ago Finney got a letter saying that you were dead." She smacked her hands together in a squirming knot.
   "Dead? So I died? Well, that explains so much." He laughed. "Good to know."
   "You laugh like your father."
   "Oh? Is that right?"
   The woman went into a quiet stare again. She didn't appear to be easy with banter. Her fingers now worked the pockets on her dress like little animals working at the locks on their cages.
   Noah made himself at home, milling around the room. "Do you mind if I ask who sent the letter that pronounced me dead?"
   "I'm sorry. I don't know."
   Noah narrowed his eyes. "Whoever it was…was right." He stuffed his fists into the pockets of his jeans. "I guess I have been dead for years."
   Olivia looked puzzled, as if she wanted to smile but couldn't quite get the muscles to obey.
   Noah picked up a brass compass off a table and turned it around in his hand. "This was a gift from my father on my tenth birthday. He told me to be careful, or it would break. I treasured it. I really did. Never even used it, for fear it would be damaged. Even kept the outside polished. But it stopped working one day. I never did know what went wrong with it."
   He tossed it in the air and then caught it in the palm of his hand. "I didn't take the compass with me. Too many memories attached to it…and not the kind you press into a scrapbook." Noah set the compass down, knowing he'd need to stop stalling and ask about seeing his father. "I'm here to talk to my father. I want to speak to him right now…even if he doesn't want to see me."
   Her face went as ashen as her dress, which had to be the least flattering outfit he'd ever seen on a woman. And what was the meaning of that red ribbon around her wrist?
   "Are you okay?" Noah reached out to her and cupped her elbow, thinking she might pass out.
   "I'm fine. But Finney isn't fine. He's…" Olivia pushed her long hair away from her face and then held that pose as if she wasn't sure what to do next.
   "Please tell me, what's wrong?"
   "Your father has gone."
   "Gone where?"
   Olivia grabbed her waist. Her delicate, elfinlike features wrinkled. "Your father has gone to heaven."
   "He's dead?"
   "Yes."
   Lord, help me. I've come too late. "When did he die?"
   "Three months ago."
   Noah stepped backward and then collapsed onto a wicker chair. He'd been a fool to wait. Considering his father's advancing years, he should have known that the window of reconciliation would not stay open forever. Noah lowered his head and let his fingers claw into his scalp.
   Olivia walked over to him and knelt beside him. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have just said it so bluntly. I'm not very good at—"
   "What did my father die of?" Noah looked at her.
Love Inspired Books ISBN-13: 978-0-373-48687-8 HOME AT LAST © 2013 by Anita Higman

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Heart's Rebellion by Ruth Axtell, © 2014

Cover Art
There is therefore now no condemnation to
them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk
not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Romans 8:1
April 1815 ~ Regency England

A girl after my own heart, Miss Jessamine Barry tells her friend, Miss Megan Phillips, she would like to step into Hatchard's ~
   When they reached Piccadilly, she said, "I should like to stop in at Hatchard's and see the latest books. We shan't have time to be looking for street addresses if we are to shop."
   --A Heart's Rebellion (35)
I am glad they have enjoyed breakfast and their leisurely walk through the park. I would like to come along to the bookshop too.



Jessamine, disheartened by the marriage of Megan's brother Rees (if disheartened is even an appropriate level of the heart's demise) has come to London at the beckoning of her godmother, Lady Beasinger. "Lady Bess" has hopes of Jessamine's heart being filled during this London season.

Jessamine, discouraged by news of Rees bringing his wife to London, with child, determines to change from the guarded person she is to reflect the impromptu appearance of a woman at one of the society dinners. In doing so, will she truly lose herself?

HomeJessamine finds there is more than catalogued watercolors of exotic plantings. Her outing to London expresses further desires and hopes, however misguided to her true aim of being loved in return. Crushed by a hurt spirit, she delves into a world unknown to her. But the depth of her foundation of Truth sets her apart, if not in actions, in heart.

I love the depth of author Ruth Axtell's stories as she explores the aim of the human heart to be accepted and loved for who we are. Truly the path set before us is guided by His love for us. As Jessamine explores her feelings, she finds true depth of feeling grounded in the love and acceptance she has grown up with by her parents. May we be so grounded that we are able to instill in others their true worth. God's love is sure and true, beyond anything we might try to replace it with until we come to the realization of His unending love for us. Nothing we can do or say will send Him away from us as we uncover the acceptance already given to us. Offered freely, awareness comes to Jessamine. I appreciated the freedom she had to talk to her parents about her time away. Self-doubt is replaced by faith and His amazing grace as she comes to value herself above speculation. A story well-written and open to discovery. The conversations flowed and were well expressed with clarity. Support of others so valid, as they grow together in friendship and acceptance. I look forward to further writings by this author. 


Ruth Axtell is the author of many novels, including Moonlight Masquerade and Wild Rose, one of Booklist's Top Ten in Christian Fiction. Currently a resident of Downeast Maine, Axtell has lived in the Canary Islands, Miami, and the Netherlands. Learn more at ruthaxtell.com.

***Thank you to Revell Reads Blog Tour for sending me a copy of Ruth Axtell's A Heart's Rebellion to read and review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy an excerpt of Chapter 1 ~ A Heart's Rebellion by Ruth Axtell

1
APRIL 1815

“If this is what a London season is, I’d say it’s a silly waste of time.” Jessamine Barry folded her arms in front of her, frowning at the hordes of people milling past her in the Grecian-style drawing room, their edges slightly blurred since she was forbidden to wear her spectacles in society.
   “It is rather difficult to speak to anyone in this situation,” admitted her closest friend, Megan Phillips.
   If it weren’t for Megan, Jessamine would know not a soul in this mass of glistening, gleaming faces. Her handkerchief was already limp from patting it against her forehead and neck. “All this trouble to dress one’s finest just to be ignored. I don’t know how long I shall be able to stand it.”
   Megan turned worried eyes toward her. “Don’t say that. You know it’s such an opportunity we’ve been given by your godmother. I’m sure things will soon improve.” Megan craned her neck above the crowd. “Where did she go? I haven’t seen her since we arrived.”
   “In the card room, I would say,” Jessamine said dryly. The picture Lady Bess had painted Jessamine’s father of a London season was far from the reality. If her father could see her now, he’d utter a Scripture verse on man’s vanity; her mother would lament the cost of her gowns and all the other furbelows to accompany them.
   Jessamine flicked open her fan, eyeing the ivory brisé sticks as she remembered how dearly it had cost, and stirred some of the warm air against her face.
   “Look at that gentleman there.” She snapped the fan closed and pointed it toward a young man whose florid jaws bulged over his neck cloth. “He looks close to asphyxiating any moment from his own cravat. How can men be so ridiculous?”
   Megan swallowed a giggle behind her own fan. “Careful, he’ll hear you.”
   “How anyone can hear anyone in this babble is beyond me, yet they all go on as if anyone cares what they say.” She narrowed her eyes at the ladies and gentlemen making a slow progression past her, bringing them into sharper focus. As far as she could make out, a rout was merely a place to see and be seen. No one seemed to be listening to anyone, yet their mouths kept moving, their smiles pasted on their faces like painted dolls.
   She shuddered at the amount of rouge she observed on women’s faces both young and old. What went on in London! And the gentlemen were worse, dressed like popinjays with more jewelry flashing from them than the women.
   “Perhaps if we smile at some of the young ladies our age, we’ll be able to meet them.”
   “My lips hurt from all the smiling I’ve done since arriving in London,” Jessamine muttered. “I refuse to do so any longer, since it hasn’t done us a bit of good.” To illustrate her point, she scowled at a lady sporting an emerald-green turban with three pink ostrich plumes thrusting themselves against her male companion’s upswept curls, curls so full of pomade they reflected the light from the chandeliers hanging above them.
   “I know you’re not in the best frame of mind, but things will get better, I’m sure. Things just . . . take time.”
   Jessamine’s lips tightened in displeasure at Megan’s reminder. How she wished on occasion Megan weren’t her closest friend. It would have made things easier. To be constantly reminded—but no, she would not think about him! He was as good as dead to her.
   She felt like one of those families that had exorcised a wayward son from their midst, the father banning the mere mention of the loved one’s name in his hearing.
   It would be humorous if it still didn’t hurt so much—and weren’t nigh on impossible to avoid hearing her beloved’s name, since he was Megan’s brother. Thank goodness he was no longer in England.
   This should have been the happiest time of her life, yet she was miserable. A year and a half ago she would scarce have imagined herself among the fashionable world in a London drawing room, enjoying a season. Indeed, she’d never wanted a London season, even when Mama and Papa had broached the subject. At eighteen she’d pooh-poohed such a notion as frivolous. What need had she to parade around London drawing rooms, advertising herself to eligible young bachelors, when her heart was faithfully committed to a man far superior to any simpering dandy?
   How little she’d imagined that a few months shy of one-and-twenty, she’d leap at her godmother’s invitation to London, proving herself no better than any young miss hanging out for a husband.
   The tears that were never far threatened to cloud the vision of the glittering array of ladies and gentlemen parading before her.
   A year and a half ago, she’d envisioned herself betrothed by now, perhaps even married, to the finest, handsomest—no! The streak of rebellion and bitterness—a streak new and foreign to her which had invaded her nature when she’d heard of Rees’s marriage and poisoned everything around her—reasserted itself.
   The man in question—Rees Phillips—was not the finest, handsomest, noblest gentleman. He was the lowest, most despicable, shabbiest cad she’d ever known! He had no right to be happy when he had made her so miserable.
   “Your frown could crack marble.”
   Jessamine jumped at the low masculine tone. Turning, she glared to see if the gentleman standing beside her had indeed had the temerity to address her.
   Glaring in this case entailed craning her neck upward if she didn’t want to waste the effort on a bleached white shirt front and pristine cravat.
   “Are you speaking to me, sir?”
   Amused blue eyes stared down into hers. They might have been attractive if the pale forehead hadn’t been topped by a mop of light red hair—that shade that could not be described as anything but orange.
   The gentleman’s slim lips quirked upward. “You recognized the description of yourself?”
   Jessamine drew herself up. How dare he mock her! “Excuse me, sir, we have not been introduced.” With that set down, she turned away, her chin in the air, and took Megan by the arm.
   Before she could move, he stepped in front of her and bowed. “I beg your pardon.”
   He turned and left her open-mouthed.
   She fumed, watching him move with ease across the crowded drawing room.

   Lancelot Marfleet strode away, seeking to put as much distance as possible between himself and the two young ladies he’d been listening to.
   Eavesdropping, his mother would say.
   He wouldn’t have stooped to such behavior, much less spoken his thoughts aloud—he recoiled inwardly at his indecorous behavior—if he hadn’t been so bored.
   He’d been dragged to the rout by his elder brother, who had soon disappeared, leaving Lancelot to stand like a wallflower beside the profusion of potted greenery.
   The young lady whose words had caught Lancelot’s attention had moved to stand so close to him, it had been impossible not to overhear her complaints—remarks he heartily agreed with.
   His mother would doubtless soon know of this latest social blunder from one of the dowagers who’d been standing near him. He could hear her aggrieved tone. “You’ve been too long among the heathen. In England a gentleman does not address a young lady he has not been introduced to.”
   He’d thought by now he’d mastered his fault of speaking first and thinking later, but clearly he had a ways to go and was not ready for a London drawing room.
   It wasn’t the heathen of India among whom he’d spent the last two years who’d taught him to speak out of turn. If anything, he’d learned to listen and observe, hampered as he was by not speaking the language.
   Speaking of observing, he dug into his coat pocket and drew out a pair of round, thin-rimmed, black metal spectacles. If he’d been fashionable, he’d have used only a quizzing glass, but he found the one-eyed look ridiculous and ineffective.
   But now he needed to search for his hostess to rectify matters with the young miss before word of his ill manners reached his mother.
   His eyes scanned the room, everything once more in sharp focus from the feathers atop ladies’ headdresses to the fobs dangling from men’s watch chains. His mother had forbidden him to wear the spectacles in public, but he was getting weary of nodding and smiling like a witless fool until the person drew near enough to be recognized.
   Before searching for Lady Abernathy, he sought the young lady whom he’d insulted. It didn’t take him long to spot the black-haired girl. He could feel his cheeks going ruddy as he identified her. The drawback of being a redhead—every emotion showed immediately on his cheeks.
   The young miss continued talking with her companion. The two appeared typical of all young ladies making their coming-out. They were dressed similarly in white muslin gowns, only their colored ribbons setting them apart.
   She had a pretty, though dissatisfied, face. Slim, pert nose, decided little chin, smooth pale skin with rosy lips and cheeks, the latter more likely due to the stuffiness of the room than to a healthy glow.
   As she faced forward again, he shifted his gaze away, searching for his hostess. Not seeing her, he headed to the card room.
   After two years traveling from Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal, living in a variety of primitive conditions, he’d acquired a certain self-possession, but a few weeks in London drawing rooms had him feeling as awkward and ungainly as he had in his youth, trailing behind his elder brother. Harold, who was only three years his senior, delighted in ragging Lancelot over his clumsiness at sports and awkwardness with the fairer sex.
   Pushing aside those memories with the same single-mindedness he used to push through the crowded drawing room, Lancelot arrived at the saloon filled with card tables.
   He located his hostess, a tall, stately woman walking among the green baize tables and stopping to chat with the card players.
   When he approached Lady Abernathy, she held out her hands to him. “Marfleet! How delightful to see you among us. I haven’t had a chance to properly welcome you back. Your mother wrote that you were terribly ill and recuperating in Hampshire.” His hostess’s pale brow furrowed briefly as she scanned his face. “I must say you look in fine fettle now.” She clucked her tongue. “We Europeans are not meant for those ferocious climes overseas, so I hope you are home for good.”
   “I’m much better now, thank you, ma’am.”
   She looked around the room. “What do you think of my little gathering?”
   “You certainly draw a lot of people to your evenings.”
   She laughed. “I like to think so.” She patted his hand. “Now, what may I do for you, dear?” Her light-blue eyes looked shrewdly into his. “Your mother has made it no secret that she and your father wish you to settle down. I’m surprised to see no bevy of young ladies on your arm.”
   His cheeks warmed, but she had given him the opening he needed. “Well, it’s precisely to beg an introduction that I come to you.”
   Her finely plucked eyebrows rose a fraction. “Oho, which of our young ladies has caught your interest? I shall present her to you forthwith.”
   He cleared his throat. “There are two young ladies in your drawing room. I’m not familiar with them, so I thought perhaps . . . ?” He left the request dangling, his heart thumping.
   He had no need to say more. She tucked her hand in his arm and began to steer him back the way he’d come. “Show me. I am all curiosity.”
   When they stood in the doorway of the drawing room, he said, “Over there, straight in front of us, the two brunettes in the white gowns.”
   “Yes, I see them. They are new in town. I am not acquainted with them personally. Lady Beasinger brought them. She is sponsoring their season.” Lady Abernathy turned to him, her eyes serious. “They have nothing to speak of. One is a vicar’s daughter from some little village, I forget which Lady Beasinger mentioned; the other a merchant’s daughter.” Her fine lips thinned. “With little dowry since he died bankrupt.” She gave him an appraising look. “Are you still interested in an introduction?”
   A vicar’s daughter? His interest rose as he wondered which of the two. “Yes, very much so.”
   She straightened her shoulders as if resigned. “Ah, love is blind to those practical matters a parent thinks about.”
   He said nothing, his gaze on the young lady he’d offended.
   “Very well, since you remain silent, let us hence.”
   On their way, she caught her butler’s attention and whispered something to him. He replied and she nodded. “Ah yes, I remember now. Miss Jessamine Barry and Miss Megan Phillips,” she said to herself as if to memorize the names.
   The first name caught Lancelot’s attention. Jessamine. Gelsemium sempervirens, yellow jasmine. Would it be the one he’d spoken to, with her dark curls set off so appropriately by yellow ribbons?
   It took a few moments to navigate across the room, but finally they stood in front of the two young ladies, who looked wide-eyed at them, their glances shifting from him to Lady Abernathy. Finally, the one Lancelot had not spoken to smiled. The other remained serious.
   “My dear Miss Barry, Miss Phillips”—Lady Abernathy nodded to each in turn—“Mr. Lancelot Marfleet begs an introduction.” As their gazes fixed on him, she addressed him. “May I present Miss Jessamine Barry.” With a flourish of her hand toward the young lady in yellow ribbons, she paused before proceeding to the other young lady. “And Miss Megan Phillips.”
   They each curtsied as Lancelot bowed.
   “Well, I shall leave you to become acquainted. Pity we have no dancing this evening,” his hostess murmured as she departed.
   “Thank you, my lady,” he said to her retreating back.
   Feeling as awkward as at his first dancing lesson, he turned to the two young ladies. Now what? He didn’t even remember why he’d wanted an introduction.
   Ah yes, so his mother would have nothing to reproach him with on the morrow. “I . . . beg your pardon for addressing you so rudely a few moments ago,” he said to Miss Barry as she stared back at him.
   She had green eyes, he noticed, fringed by black lashes. Her dark hair caught the light from the chandeliers and reflected like the polished gaboon ebony cut and shipped from West Africa and made into chess pieces and piano keys for Europeans.
   She only tipped her head in acknowledgment.
   Fiddling with his watch chain, he found nothing more to say. He’d always found small talk excruciatingly difficult. Flippancy came more easily to him, as evidenced by his first remarks to her, which had led him to this awkward situation.
   He cleared his throat. “Lady Abernathy said you are lately come to town?”
   She nodded.
   As if embarrassed by her companion’s reticence, the other young lady volunteered, “Yes, sir, we’ve been in London but a fortnight.”
   She was a pretty girl, her countenance friendly. Although of similar build and coloring as Miss Barry, the likeness ended there. Her chin was squarer, her nose straighter, her eyes gray, her hair dark brown.
   “You have been in town about the same amount of time as I. I haven’t seen you, though, until this evening,” he said in stilted tones.
   “That is not strange,” Miss Phillips replied with a little laugh. “We spent our first week sightseeing with a guidebook and know scarce anyone in London so have attended few parties.”
   His lips quirked upward, feeling a little more at ease by her friendly candor. He chanced a glance at Miss Frosty, as he was beginning to call her. Instead of smiling, she was looking fixedly at her companion as if trying to transmit a message without words. Surely, she couldn’t object to Miss Phillips’s attempt to make conversation?
   “Where do you hail from?” This time he addressed Miss Barry directly to see if she would deign to speak to him.
   “Alston Green,” she murmured, barely moving her lips.
   “In Horsham,” Miss Phillips added helpfully.
   “Ah yes, West Sussex. Pretty country round about there. My family is from a little west of there, in Hampshire.”
   Miss Phillips nodded, then with a glance at Miss Barry, volunteered, “Jessamine—Miss Barry—was born and bred there, but I moved there with my mother and brother almost fifteen years ago. My mother is originally from the village.”
   Miss Barry’s compressed lips and flared nostrils confirmed her displeasure at her friend’s offering of information.
   “But we’ve been the best of friends ever since. I can hardly remember a time I didn’t know Jessamine—Miss Barry—so feel as if I’m originally from the village.”
   He nodded. “Where did you live beforehand?”
   A shadow crossed Miss Phillips’s pretty gray eyes. “Bristol.”
   He raised his eyebrows. “That must have been a change for you from the city to a village.”
   “Yes, though meeting Miss Barry, who is our nearest neighbor, made all the difference.” Her expression sobered. “My father was a merchant in Bristol, until he passed away.”
   “I’m sorry.” He remembered Lady Abernathy’s words. Miss Phillips’s father had died bankrupt. Bristol, a city dependent on its seafaring trade, had been hard hit from so many years of the blockade with France.
   “It was a difficult time for my mother, brother, and I. Of course, I was but a child so do not remember it so well as they. It happened many years ago.”
   “Still, the loss of one’s father must be a terrible blow.” He was grateful he still had both of his parents even when they didn’t always see eye to eye on his way of life. Thankfully, being the younger son put him under no undo obligation to conform to their manner of life—until lately.
   “Do you live in London?” Miss Phillips asked him in friendly inquiry.
   His nervousness disappeared. It wasn’t hard to feel at ease with Miss Phillips. She had a generous smile that bordered on the saucy but didn’t cross over into flirtatious. “No, my parents have a place in town—on Grafton Street—so I have spent a fair amount of time here, though not lately.” He cleared his throat again, reluctant to over any more about himself, afraid he’d appear to be boasting. “I’ve been in India the last two years.”
   That got Miss Barry’s attention, but it was Miss Phillips who expressed her curiosity. “India? What took you there, the East India Company?”
   “I went out with the Church Missionary Society.” He looked down, experiencing the familiar hesitancy at explaining. “I’m a vicar and felt called to go as a missionary.” He raised his gaze as he finished, curious to gauge Miss Barry’s reaction. Experience had taught him he’d either face disbelief or embarrassed silence.
   His words appeared to have neither effect. Miss Barry’s green eyes narrowed as if she were assessing him. Miss Phillips’s eyes shone. “A missionary, how exciting! You must tell us about your time there.”
   He shrugged, feeling ill at ease again. “It was not an easy task,” he said slowly, finding it hard to encapsulate his experience in a few sentences, which was all people usually wanted to hear.
   In an effort to turn the topic, he addressed Miss Barry, remembering her words of dissatisfaction. “You are enjoying your season thus far?”
   “It is certainly different from what we’re used to in Alston Green,” she answered in a careful tone.
   “We attended assemblies there and in neighboring Billingshurst, but they were nothing like these parties,” added Miss Phillips when Miss Barry said nothing more. “It is a bit difficult to fully appreciate these great houses when one is a stranger in town.”
   He nodded, his sympathy engaged. Even when one had grown up among the “ten thousand,” the parties of the ton were intimidating. “I daresay. Your patroness is—”
   “Lady Beasinger,” Miss Phillips finished for him. “She’s Miss Barry’s godmother. It was very sweet of her to include me in her invitation to Miss Barry.”
   Lancelot nodded. “Yes, my mother knows her. She seems a kindly person. She’s a bit on in years, though, and perhaps is not acquainted with the younger set.”
   Miss Phillips nodded eagerly. “That’s precisely so. She goes out very little in society these days except to a few card parties among her small circle.” She indicated the crowd around them. “This is our first evening at a real society event. Unfortunately, she left us here for the card room and thinks just by standing around, young gentlemen will come flocking to us.” Her cheeks dimpled again. “But it seems to have worked.”
   He couldn’t help chuckling, but he saw that Miss Barry didn’t share the joke.
   Before he could think of some appropriate rejoinder, Miss Barry spoke to him directly. “If you will excuse us, Mr. Marfleet, I believe I see someone we must greet.”
   He swiveled around.
   “Oh? Who?” Miss Phillips asked.
   Miss Barry gave her companion a sharp look.
   Realizing Miss Barry was only trying to get rid of him, he stepped back. He had probably outstayed his welcome in any case. “I shall not keep you. It was a pleasure meeting you both.”
   Miss Phillips looked disappointed but said nothing to contradict her friend. She held out her hand. “It was a pleasure indeed. I hope we see you again.”
   He bowed over her hand and then turned to Miss Barry. But she neither offered her hand nor smiled. “I look forward to it,” he murmured, moving out of their way.
   He observed them crossing the room, delayed several times by the throng. Miss Barry was in the lead, her hand upon her friend’s arm as if she were towing her along.
   Only when they reached the doorway did he realize he was still wearing his spectacles. His face heated up and he swallowed, imagining the sport Harold would have if he were with him.
   Sir Lancelot, you managed to converse for a quarter of an hour with not one but two pretty ladies, and you ruined it all with those spectacles.
   Then he’d throw back his blond head and roar with laughter.
   Hang it all! What did Lancelot care what Miss Barry and Miss Phillips thought of his appearance? It was worth it to see them both clearly. And clearly, Miss Barry didn’t care if she ever saw him again.
   Miss Phillips hadn’t seemed to notice his spectacles at all.
   Remembering his brother, Lancelot decided it was time to hunt for him.
   After searching all the public rooms in the elegant town house, he realized Harold had left, probably as soon as he’d deposited him here. No doubt to some gaming den.

   Jessamine bit back her annoyance as she pushed herself in front of a bejeweled lady, ignoring the lady’s exclamation as she accidently trod on her satin slippers.
   “Impertinent chit,” the lady said to her escort. “I vow, Lady Abernathy is allowing all sorts of nobodies at her routs these days. Probably a mushroom’s daughter by the looks of her.”
   “Did you hear that?” Megan whispered.
   Jessamine nodded abruptly, keeping her pace up. All she wanted was to exit this room with its odious people. Never had she felt so out of place. “Some people, even in London’s best homes, have no manners,” she said shortly.
   “Why are you in such a hurry?” Megan asked when they were halfway across the room.
   “I wanted to get away from that impertinent gentleman.”
   Megan stared at her. “Mr. Marfleet? I thought he was quite charming.”
   “Charming? With all that red hair and—and spectacles?”
   Megan’s gray eyes twinkled. “Spectacles?”
   Jessamine felt herself blush to the roots of her hair, thinking of the pair she carried in the leather case in her reticule. “But no one wears them in public like that, not to a rout!”
   “I thought it showed a refreshing honesty. He’s a vicar and a missionary. He probably doesn’t care about his appearance.”
   “Yes, a vicar.”
   “What’s wrong with being a vicar? Your father is one.”
   Jessamine shuddered. “I’m not interested in meeting a vicar.” Nor in giving her heart to anyone else.
   “But to think he’s been to India. I wonder who his family is,” Megan mused, “if they have a house in town and in Hampshire.”
   Jessamine concentrated on maneuvering past a dawdling couple in front of them before she replied. “He can be the Duke of Marlborough’s son for all I care. His hair is unruly, he has a bran-faced complexion, and he sports his spectacles at a rout!” A vicar was the last man she would look at. Not after having lived life by the rules and having it turn to ashes. With her words, she reached the doorway and grabbed the jamb as if arriving at a finish line.
   Megan looked around. “I thought you wanted to greet someone?”
   Jessamine blushed again, looking away, ashamed of having told a fib to her friend. “It was just an excuse to get away from Mr. Marfleet.”
   Megan’s eyes widened. It was no wonder. Jessamine had never told such a fib. But those days were over. Being good got one nowhere.
   “I’m sorry,” Megan said. “I didn’t realize you were uncomfortable with him. I was so relieved to be talking to someone closer to our age.”
   “He looked closer to Rees’s age—” she blurted out then stopped, realizing she was the one who had brought up Megan’s brother this time.
   Megan laid a hand on her arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think. He just seems so different from Rees. I didn’t think he resembled him at all.”
   He didn’t. Mr. Marfleet was nowhere near as handsome as Rees Phillips with his dark looks and gray eyes, so like his sister Megan, but in a tall, masculine form. Try as she would to blot out the hurt, it still lay behind her heart like a smoldering acid and turned her every thought acrimonious.
   “I found him old,” she said abruptly, turning away from Megan. “How long do you think Lady Bess will be?”
   “A few hours if we’re fortunate.”
   Jessamine’s lips turned downward. “Too bad she has nowhere else to visit tonight.”
   “It would only mean hopping in and out of a hackney in the rain to do the same thing we’re doing now.”
   The night loomed before them. Jessamine’s shoulders slumped as she admitted defeat in the face of her friend’s realistic assessment. “I wish we could play cards.”
   “It wouldn’t matter. Young ladies are not expected to sit like dowagers at the card table here in London the way we do back home.”
   “Instead we are supposed to be standing like storks, to be seen by eligible bachelors who happen by.” She pasted a false smile on her face and batted her eyelashes.
   Only to have her glance land squarely on that odious redhead and find him observing her across the room. She flushed, realizing her falsehood had been discovered.
   Once again, she took Megan by the elbow. “Come along, let’s find Lady Bess and pray she’s on a losing streak.”

Ruth Axtell, A Heart's Rebellion; Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2014. Used by permission.