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Monday, December 17, 2018

Love Thyself

This is, in part, about the word "fat," but mainly about allowing yourself to be beautiful.

I first discovered I was fat when I was 13 and my mother put me on a Slimfast diet. I was 5' 7" and about 130 lbs (which is actually underweight for that height). My body was still figuring itself out and it would later settle in a curvaceous 38-24-36... and I still thought I was fat. I wore over-sized clothes and, even though I was in dance and had legs of iron, never wore shorts. By the end of my senior year I figured out that I shouldn't be ashamed of my body, but I still thought I was fat because I wasn't skinny.

I haven't used the word "fat" to describe myself or anyone else in over fourteen years. What changed? I had a daughter and an epiphany about self-love. I am not fat, I have fat. I have more fat than I should for my height and it's not healthy, but it has nothing to do with how I face the world or my sense of worth. If I want to lose weight it is for health, not to meet someone else's standards. I can feel more attractive at a size 16 than I did at a size 8. When I hear someone complain about or judge someone for being fat I cringe at the word as strongly as I might if they used a racial slur.

I now have two daughters, both young teens and nature is working itself out. One has very, very low body fat, that's how she's built. One is more like teenage me, and that's how she's built. I have tried to promote portion size and nutritional values, but I don't teach calories. They know I am overweight and need to exercise for my health. They encourage me to exercise because they love me, not because I should meet some standard of beauty. I don't want "fat" to become part of their regular vocabulary or value system. They will face plenty of struggles in their lives without the ever-present specter of being fat or being afraid of being fat following them constantly.

How does this relate to writing:

Romance heroines are beautiful... but what does that mean? In my first draft I wrote Frances LeSieur as so-so (with or without the makeover). Not unattractive, but not stunning. I wanted the sense of her beauty to shine more and more and Henry fell in love with her. My beta reader's feedback said I should change that. Why? Because romance has that element of fantasy full of beautiful people.

The rest of my heroines are, so far and forevermore will be, beautiful. That doesn't mean they will be created from cookie cutters from Playboy.

Beauty is so many things. Frances is a size 8-10 and has a body that has born five babies. Mary is too slim to be fashionable then but would be adequate today in a size 2-4. In her era, however, this was not a positive trait. Jane (coming soon in Courtly Abandon) is petite and curvaceous in a way that wouldn't fit most clothing today--she would have to shop in the petite plus size section (she is, in fact, more in line with the standard of beauty appropriate to the era). While none of these ladies are a 2XL (yet) they are beautiful in their own ways and highly attractive to their mate.

None of them worry about being fat. None of their friends complain to them about their fat legs or pooch or flabby arms. It's a non-issue. Mary is a little self-conscious about a very toothy smile and tries to emphasize her bust, but, out of all of them, she might bemoan NOT having more girth.

If I had to whittle this down to my main points it would be that beauty is subjective and something we force on ourselves, so why destroy it with self-hatred? Romance novel heroines may be figures of beauty (in the book, based on the book's standards) but even there there is no standard they all meet. They find what is beautiful about themselves and learn they are worth the effort of claiming happiness.

I have fat and I am not thin, but I am me I am beautiful in my way.

VENUS, AN ORGANIST AND A LITTLE DOG BY TITIAN (1488-1576)




Saturday, December 1, 2018

Extended Imaginary Epilogue

Courtly Scandals is set over the twelve days of Christmas. This means Mary and Charles have twelve days to find their happily ever after. While the fates (me) put them in the position to find each other and have a common goal binding them, it's hard to pave the way for them to have a viable future. Sex is easy (although it's something I have difficulty writing, especially with my kids not respecting the fact that I REALLY am working right now), it's the possibilities of what will come next that is really tricky.


I like to see the potential for success in their relationship. Marriage is tricky and the infatuation based love that comes from our innate instinct to mate and reproduce, is not a long lasting condition. This means the couple has to be able to be friends and have similar values when it comes to fidelity, honor, and the willingness to work on staying in love. This is why I have trouble suspending disbelief for the tropes of the maiden and the rake, especially if there is a broad age difference.

Personally, I write beta males that can be alpha when needed. Don't get me wrong, they're confident, strong, attractive, and smart but they are not pushy. While the man who takes what is his can be sexy in an escapist fantasy, I want a man who listens and respects the woman he loves. That sort of man would never push a woman to the point where, even though she was saying no, her body was saying yes. He would never steamroll over her dreams. It's not just about consent, it's about trust and friendship. I have a hard time visualizing alpha males being true partners as parents or supporting their wife while she deals with depression or what-have-you. The alpha is so set as himself that it would be hard to grow and change with his partner.

While I do write epilogues that give the flavor of what comes next, it would be fun to do something ten or twenty years down the road. Julia Quinn re-released some of her books with extended epilogues and I bought them even though I owned the originals (and loved them). I love seeing what happens next. Romance is so full of potential and hope--it helps promote faith in humanity to see that potential realized. Love can work if you work it and, I think, my characters can stand the test of time. For all that romance is fantasy, it's a good model for life and can help guide good choices for big decisions, even if it's not easy. There's a quote on Julia Quinn's page that says:


“In some ways, portraying a 
healthy relationship in literature
 is the most revolutionary 
thing you can do.” 

—Julia Quinn


When you read romance do you think about what comes next?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thank You for Happily-Ever-Afters

Romance gets a bad rap for being formulaic. The truth is that the genre of romance only has two requirements.
1. It has a central love story.
2. It has an emotionally satisfying happily ever after.

Other than these two guidelines, romance can be anything. I'm not going to jump into a rhetoric of the vast possibilities within the genre versus the stereotypes because that will get me on a self-righteous rant and that is not the purpose of this blog.

So what is the purpose of this blog post?

This is a thank you to the romance genre as a whole for giving me the promise of escape into a world where good wins and love conquers everything. Thank you to romance writers who introduce me to beautifully flawed characters and reinforce that perseverance in the face of adversity can lead to happiness. Thank you for feeding my optimism and sense of hope.

Without going into details, this summer was the worst of my life and, I feel confident to assume, my husband and daughters' lives. My youngest daughter and I were able escape the world into our books. She flew through everything Rick Riordan. Among others, I read Alyssa Cole, Kristin Higgins, Elizabeth Hoyt, Kianna Alexander, and re-read some Julia Quinn because I needed the warm hug and affirmation these books promised. I had to put down Ken Follett because I wasn't in a strong emotional place to take the gritty darkness without a promise that it would all end well.

So thank you to all the happily-ever-afters that give us hope. I needed it and now I can get back to writing it.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Research May Kill Me Yet

What is the bare minimum of people/artisans/laborers to run a subsistence level medieval town?

What are the Elizabethan laws about women artisans? And do those apply outside London? If so, how are they regulated?

Learn more about medieval:
Thatching
Brewing
Laundry
White washing
Sewage solutions

Can you dig a fresh water well on a cliff near the sea?

How would an architect find skilled labor in the middle of nowhere?

If a countess was a guest in the home of a knight's wife, would precedence still favor the countess or the hostess?

What is the bare minimum of staff a gentleman's house can have? What roles are filled by women? Could they be?

I am taking the bones of a medieval town and reworking it into a feminine utopia and, while fantasy is implicit in romance, I'm not sure how much I can get away with in regard to reasonably flipping historical norms on their head. Part of the challenge and appeal is the unorthodox nature of Windshear Abbey. Within my story, my reinvented standards are born from necessity and survival, but there's only so much change you can throw at a medieval peasant and it has to make sense. This means a lot of sociology, anthropology, and history research on my part. While courtly norms at this time were specific to the Elizabethans (and I am very comfortable with these), not much changed in the small towns or among the working poor far away from urban centers so it's safe to use medieval models. But that doesn't make it easier. It's such a BIG undertaking and is getting in the way of actually writing the story itself.

The good news is that once I've built my foundation in this book I'll be free to write forward within my established norms in the unlimited potential of the Merry Wives of Windshear Abbey. I have so many ideas percolating and can't wait until these stories start to tell themselves.

In the meantime, can you have successful beehives on a coastal cliff?
How do you make beeswax candles?
How long can a milk cow healthily produce?
How much acreage could three women plant and harvest?
Would a small town have seeds to sell or only enough to plant for themselves?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Celebrating Successes

By the time Courtly Pleasures was released I was thick into edits for Courtly Scandals. My husband wanted to have a release date party but it was on a Monday and it was my Mom's birthday and the kids had dance class... can we do it later? Or maybe after the series comes out?

We never did it and I didn't mind. I felt weird about celebrating myself, especially when there was so much to be done.

Fast forward six months to the 2018 Romance Writer's of America national conference in Denver and there I sat, at my first conference as a published author, feeling just as awkward as I always had. Not much had changed. I was still working toward whatever was supposed to come next but, unlike that first conference years ago, it was without a sense of joy. Instead I was stressed out about the books I haven't written yet and needed to write yesterday.

What happened to me? I should be more excited, more innovative, more confident and productive... right?

I was in a workshop given by Rosanne Bane about ways to get past writer's block and had a moment of personal insight. The entirety of her workshop had to do with the physiological function of the brain and the way it responds to stress and, in turn, the way we, as writers, respond (usually by creatively shutting down). She gave a list of better brain responses and the way to train myself to shut down my limbic system response and get back into the creativity of my cortex. The PowerPoint is available to you here.

Her points were easily understandable, the solutions reasonable, and I have already started to change my approaches to self care.

One point she made, more of a side note in the section about the lateral habenula (the teeny tiny section within the limbic system that decreases dopamine) was to follow through on rewards. She advised us to set incremental goals with corresponding rewards for goal completion. I never did this because I was always too busy with the next step. How simple would it be to take the time to pause and congratulate myself?  To be proud and excited and feel successful? Instead I jump right back in and feel only the weight of everything else left undone.

I should have celebrated that contract and the first round of edits. I should have celebrated the second and third round of edits and the book cover. All of these milestones along my journey deserved a moment of acknowledgement. I deserve to acknowledge my own successes as they come. Writing a book, following through, publishing... all of that is hard work and I wouldn't do it, couldn't do it, if I didn't believe in myself. I don't know if it's false humility or that I'm just an absolute buzz-kill, but I feel guilty being proud of myself and celebrating myself and I think it has put a big fat damper on my joy about my craft.

SO...

I'm going to set goals (baby-steps) and celebrate myself when I achieve them. I don't think it's a carrot on a stick--I think it's allowing myself to write without worrying about everything I could be doing better and just do it. After all, If I'm not writing forward, I'm accomplishing nothing. So huzzah for me.

Current goal: build sexual tension between my main characters (which is rough because she just had a baby and had been abandoned by her husband before she even knew she was pregnant). It's easier said than done because every time I write, she gets irritable and irrationally suspicious  Once I accomplish this I will get a pedicure as a reward and celebration.

Do you reward yourself for goal completion?


***Note 8/5/18: I finished the chapter that I was struggling with in regard to building sexual tension and then I did NOT go for the promised pedicure because I felt like the reward was bigger than the goal and added a new section to the goal (to lay the foundation for a future conflict) and have not been able to write anything since. I think I need to 1. get that pedicure and 2. make sure my rewards are of like weight with the goal. In this case I should have promised myself a cookie.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Summer!

I am a teacher from a family of teachers and having a summer break is the norm for me. In my young adult life, pre-teaching, it was reality check when I had a serious job and had to work year round. As a teacher, I really do need the summer or I wouldn't be able to face my new batch of students with a sense of optimism. I teach middle school and the kids test my limits each day and, every morning, I start again by giving them a clean slate and a chance to make good choices about kindness, self-respect and respect for others, accountability, honesty, and character. Sometimes they do. By the end of the year I'm a hairsbreadth away from my spirit being broken and I need the summer to emotionally heal and put me in the right mind-set to start that challenge all over again.

The good news is that  my school year is finally finished. My class is clean-ish and packed up. I have put the polite auto-response on my school email. This means the summer is MINE. From now until August 14th (which, coincidentally, is my birthday) I am free. Sort of.

During the summer I am a real writer. Writing becomes my job, not just something I squeeze in around everything else. It's great for my acceptance of myself as an author, to have that time where I can take myself more seriously. It's not just a hobby. It helps that the Romance Writers of America annual conference is in July. It gives me a professional goal to work toward which keeps me on my self-imposed deadlines and makes me wear pants. This conference I hope to find a home for my Courtly Love book 3, Courtly Abandon. I will not be signing this year, but I look forward to seeing many of my peers (and taking home oodles of books). The first book of my new series won't be finished, but I'm laying a fertile foundation with my setting and my characters are slowly becoming themselves and starting to tell me their story. Surprisingly, I even wrote a synopsis (blame my critique partner for making me organized) which is something I usually struggle with after the book is finished. It's my hope that the finished manuscript resembles my synopsis, but I never really know what direction my characters will take me. It's a mystery.

I hope you have a great summer. My family and I will be visiting Ireland next week. I lived there as a child. It's been thirty years since I've been there and I can't wait to share it with my husband and daughters. I'll include some pictures in my next blog post. The image below is of me and my brother (circa 1986) in the wood at Vienna Woods Hotel in Glanmire, Co Cork.


What are you doing this summer?





Friday, June 1, 2018

Sneak Peak at Courtly Abandon

Courtly Abandon, book three of Courtly Love, was scheduled to be released by Crimson Romance in July. Due to the kerfuffle (to put it lightly) with Simon & Schuster, that has been cancelled. The good news is that the rights have been returned to me and I'm currently working toward getting it placed with another publisher. I am optimistic it will happen. Eventually.

Courtly Abandon is the story of Mistress Jane Radclyffe, one of Frances LeSieur's gentlewomen companions. Jane is a firecracker. She knows herself and what she wants. Jane's journey is, perhaps, the rockiest on a personal level because she never considered her real motivations toward her objectives. Out of the three Courtly Love books, Jane's story is the most honest love story. While it has moments that go past silly and right into ridiculous (I can't help myself) it has equal moments of joy, pain, hope, and the strength to grab on to happiness and not let go. There is no lurking bad guy (the bad guy(s) is/are right there, in your face), no intrigue, no conspiracies, no mystery to solve - just good, bad, and in-between courtiers in the country and the shenanigans that ensue.

Here is a sneak peak at the opening chapter of Courtly Abandon.


Chapter One
Holme LeSieur, Nottinghamshire, 1573

If being ladylike meant wearing corsets everyday, Jane would just have to suffer through it. Even in one of her less ornate courtly gowns, a wool dress more suited to her station, she had to wear the full ensemble complete with corset, bumroll, and farthingale. Given the confines of fashion, this was as comfortable as it was going to be. At least the wool was fine and the moss green dye even and smooth. Of all the gowns she bought when she visited Queen Elizabeth’s court at the end of last summer, this was the plainest, but even this one was trimmed in rich forest velvet. It seemed silly to get done up for a dance lesson but if she wanted to get used to movement in courtly gowns, she had to actually wear them.
She locked her chamber door behind her, tucked the key into her bosom, and practiced walking gracefully down the corridor. She imagined herself gliding, her hem just dusting the floor. Instead her legs became the clapper for the bell of her skirts. If she bent her knees a little with each step and tucked her hips forward, her skirts did not sway so much. Walking like this must make her at least an inch or two shorter—at barely an inch over five feet, she did not have much height to spare. If ladylike decorum meant shrinking, she wasn’t sure it was worth it. Cursing at her self-defeating attitude, she continued to put one awkward foot in front of the other. The woven rush mat covering the floorboards seemed to go on forever.
“Mistress Jane!”
The high squeal was the only warning she had before little Elizabeth LeSieur barreled into her arms. Luckily, Jane’s somewhat crouched walk gave her the stability not to fall flat on her back. She settled herself and shook out her skirts to fix the hem while Elizabeth babbled excitedly.
Elizabeth, what has gotten into you?”
She was gyrating in place. “Mother has brought in a new tutor. Master Percy is a gentleman and able to give dance instruction in the Italianate mode. I met him yesterday and he helped me learn a song. But today we are dancing!” She twirled once more and the ribbon slipped off the end of her braid.
Pausing only for a moment at the name, Jane picked up the ribbon and gestured Elizabeth to stand before her. Percy was a common enough name among the gentry—besides, what would her Percy be doing as a tutor? A dance instructor, no less! “You have had dance lessons for years.” She replaited the errant strands and fastened the ribbon.
“Yes, but only in country and French. The French dances are so boring. These new ones, the Italianate ones, those are what the ladies do at court.” Elizabeth did a series of mock steps in a circle that was probably intended to look courtly. “Mama says if I am to be a lady, I must know the dances. She told me to make sure you joined in—that you need the practice.”
Jane groaned inwardly. She’d had that same lecture from Frances herself.
“Well then, let us march forth and meet our fate.” Jane took Elizabeth by the hand as they reached the stairwell. “Today we shall both continue on our quest to become proper ladies.”
Elizabeth giggled and hopped down the steps, two feet at a time. “Oh Mistress Jane, you cannot be a lady. You are my friend.”
“You have no idea how correct you are.” Jane smiled as she stepped onto the landing of the second floor and crossed the broad balcony to turn and head down to the first floor. Midday light poured through the long, narrow windows, sending shafts of sunlight to guide their way to the main hall.
Together, they pushed open the heavy double doors leading to the massive room at the center of the great home. The great hall served for banquets, as a ballroom, and for tenant meetings with the magistrate of the Nottinghamshire, Master Henry LeSieur. The polished oak floors were usually covered in braided rush mats, but in honor of the dancing lessons, a quarter of the room had been cleared. For the first time, Jane saw how Holme LeSieur could indeed host visiting nobility. Perhaps Frances’s house party idea would be a great success.
“Ladies, pray sit you down. The fiddler will be joining us anon.”
At the sound of his voice, Jane’s eyes flew to the young man sitting by the massive fire place. He rose and walked toward them, as proper as a gentleman scholar should be. Stopping to reverance, he shifted his weight back and lowered himself on the one leg while presenting the other forward, his slippered foot pointed and his calf taut beneath the fine wool of his hosen. Hat over his heart, he met her eye without any sign of recognition.
 “Mistress Radclyffe, I am Master Percy Mortimer. I will serve to tutor you in dancing for these next weeks.”
Jane stood rooted to the floor, her heart pounding in her throat. Percy was here! She swallowed and remembered to breathe. Somehow she found the presence of mind to reverance in turn, acknowledging a respectful meeting of equals. “God give you good den, Master Percy.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “What would you have of us?”
He directed them to sit on the chaise before the fire and began talking about something. Dancing.
God’s blood, what was Percy doing here? Why hadn’t anyone told her he was here? Why hadn’t he sought her out?
She sat in stunned silence, just staring at him while he continued his discussion about… French bransles. How could he talk about dancing at a time like this?
He had changed so much; he was bigger now—a man. Still, with those thick sandy lashes and the serious set to his jaw, she would recognize him anywhere. She had not seen him since her marriage five years ago, since the day he told her he loved her…
How could he talk about dancing at a time like this?
Well, he was the LeSieur’s tutor—he was doing his job. Wait, why had he become a tutor?
“Mistress Radclyffe, are you well?”
Jane looked up into Percy’s heavy lidded, hazel eyes. His face was so close, she wanted to reach out and drag her fingertips across the hint of shadow on his chin, down his neck, beneath his proper pleated collar. His tawny curls, tied back, secure under his velvet cap, showed no hint of sun kiss the way they used to. He had always been serious when it came to scholarship, but the intensity in his eyes made her step back. After all these years... and here he was.
She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or cry.
“You have surprised me, Mistress Radclyffe. I would have thought you more in control of yourself. After all, you are a grown woman. Married once, soon to be married again, if I hear correctly.”
            Just as tall, but no longer lanky, his broad shoulders dwarfed her in a way that made her feel vulnerable. She had always been safe with Percy, the Percy she knew years ago. This was a man she’d never met before and she felt anything but safe.
“Pray excuse me, Elizabeth. I am not well.” She rose as gracefully as she could. “Master Percy, I thank you for your concern. Allow me to bid you welcome to Holme LeSieur. I am sorry, but I must postpone this dance lesson. I look forward to meeting with you another time.” She babbled as she rose and left the room, uncaring about the sway of her skirts.
Percy was here, handsome as ever. Eloquent, educated Percy. She had never understood what he had seen in her back then, but one thing was clear—he did not love her any longer. During everything she had endured over the past years, she had clung to the knowledge that he loved her.
She didn’t know if she could handle the next steps of her life without the comfort of that thought.
*
Percy cleared his throat, hoping the lump there would dissolve. Seeing Jane again after five years had been harder than he had anticipated.
“Master Percy, when can we learn the newer dances?”
Percy smiled at his young charge. She deserved his attention. “When I know you understand the subtlety of the old. The break between the steps is a full stop, a rest. You are, ever so briefly, no longer in motion with no thought that you will move. But then you surprise yourself and you do move. Try to discern the difference.”
He could tell from Elizabeth’s expression that she saw no difference. Ah, well, she was only seven.
He had last seen Jane at her wedding ceremony. Her parents had arranged the marriage with the neighboring landowner. Jane had done what she was told despite the fact that she said she loved him. But then, why would a gentlewoman run away with him, a third son with no hope of inheritance, when she could be lady of the manor? She’d told him he lived in a fantasy and married that old man as if to spite him.
He’d left to finish university within the week and never saw her again. A couple years later he’d heard that old Howard Radclyffe had died, but he refused to wonder what had become of Jane. She had made her decision.
Then again, could she really have chosen him? At sixteen she was still in her minority and would have required her father’s blessing to marry. He’d been only nineteen himself.
He knew, with his rational mind, that she had made the smart choice. That didn’t mean he could forgive her for breaking his heart.
The years had only made her more beautiful, if not any taller. Little Jane, elfin and full of laughter, so tiny he could rest his chin on the top of her head. Petite, or not, there was no denying she was a woman—of course, stylish court dresses showed much more than the gowns she used to wear. Though still sweet, her face had more angles, more personality than the childish softness he remembered. A vibrant blue, her eyes stood out beneath her gold brow and lashes. She had this habit of biting her full lower lip when she was nervous. It always drew his eye. If it weren’t for that involuntary expression, he might have thought the Jane he knew was gone entirely, lost behind perfectly coiled hair, courtly attire, and refined manners.
For all that she was bundled in a courtly gown, she vibrated with an energy he had never understood. His Jane longed to be outdoors, to live life instead of sitting and waiting for the appropriate moments. But she wasn’t his Jane any longer. No, she was the widowed Mistress Radclyffe and in the market for a new husband. She had fully accepted the role of a lady. Did she even remember the wild daughter of the forest she once was?
He should have thanked Mistress LeSieur for the position and then made his apologies and left the minute he’d heard Jane lived here.
 “Master Percy, am I not doing it correctly?” Elizabeth’s plaintive voice broke through his musings. She wore a worried look and was continuing her double bansles in a circle, clearly trying very hard to make the pause between sets obvious.
“I am sorry I got lost in my musings. I did not mean to ignore you.”
“Oh, you were ignoring me. That is much better than being cross. You looked as if you were angry.”
“Again, my apologies. I am not angry with you.”
“Are you angry with Mistress Jane then? I am sad she had to leave—she looked so lovely in her dress. I wanted to see her dance. I never knew she was a lady.”
“I am not angry with anyone, Mistress Elizabeth. Now, you have done quite well. We will resume dancing on the morrow and learn about the meaning behind the Italianate steps.”
“They mean things?” Elizabeth’s bewilderment clear in her voice.
“Oh, yes.” Percy continued, lowering himself to his haunches, eye level with his young charge. “Italianate dances tell stories. Each step means something different and all the steps work together toward a grand ending. Some stories are funny, some make no sense…”
“Why would we tell a story that makes no sense?”
“Why, are you never silly? Some of the great choreographers played subtle jokes on the dancers and the courts throughout Christendom with dances that built upon themselves only to end in a fizzle.”
“But that’s not funny.”
“If you know the meaning of all the steps, it can be.”
It was clear Elizabeth did not agree, but it did not matter. Percy stood again. “So tomorrow we will study some of the poetry from Classical Greece, then see how those poems and poets fit into modern dances.”
“Am I dismissed?”
“Until tomorrow, Mistress Elizabeth.”
Percy gestured Elizabeth to stand after her elegant reverance. She would make a wonderful little lady someday. She was already being molded into a noble ideal. She would wed an earl, or at least a baron, of her parent’s choosing. She probably already had ingrained beliefs that title and wealth were the most important things in the world.
Perhaps they were. Perhaps he was the one with a skewed perspective. Too idealistic for his own good, he would have walked across fire for one kiss from Jane. Moved mountains. Love made everything possible—or so he had believed.
Elizabeth left the room, the soles of her soft slippers not making a sound. Percy concentrated on thinking through tomorrow’s lesson as he dragged the segments of rush mats back into their proper place.
“Master Percy.”
The authority in Mistress LeSieur’s voice stopped him short. He turned and gave a low reverance. “Mistress LeSieur, we have just finished our lesson.”
Was it his imagination or did she linger longer than usual before gesturing for him rise?
“So I see. I also noted that your lesson consisted of Elizabeth dancing a double bransle by herself for more than ten minutes while you scowled.”
“I beg your pardon Mistress, but I did not scowl…”
“You scowled. And then you dismissed her early.” She stepped into the room, toeing one corner of the woven rug into place. “Your credentials are impeccable. Thus far you have shown both skill and intuition in tutoring my daughter. I have been very impressed.”
“Thank you, Mistress LeSieur.” Percy almost reveranced again, then thought the better of it.
“I was impressed until now. What made today so different?” She had hired him on the recommendation of her mother, but he had no idea how far to trust that loyalty. She had been courteous with him so far, but he hadn’t determined whether or not she was a kind woman.
She sat on one of the benches flanking the wall and smoothed out her skirts, waiting. He offered no immediate answer and she let the silence endure, reminding him of one of his more severe professors at Cambridge.
“I have a prior association with Jane… Mistress Radclyffe.”
The blunt truth was out before he could question whether or not it was a good idea.
For an instant, there was a look of concern upon his employer’s face. “Jane.” She was silent a moment longer before asking, “Pray expound.”
“Years ago my parents sent to me live with Baron Stratham and his family in preparation for going to University. They had a son of similar age and an excellent tutor. They live just east of the Ormondes in Somerset.”
She grimaced, breaking her gaze from his to straighten her gloves. They must have been badly askew given her effort. “My own son, Robert, is currently being fostered with my step-sister’s family.” She cleared her throat and met his eye once more. “I will see him again at midsummer, then he will attend Eton in the autumn.”
“It is a blessing that he is able to be with family during this transition.” He couldn’t be sure, but her eyes looked somewhat softer.
Her smile seemed softer this time. “And her husband, Master Radclyffe? He was local as well, yes?”
“Master Howard Radclyffe. His property all but encompassed Taunton Cross Park, the Ormonde’s estate.” Percy paused for a breath. “I met Mistress Radclyffe when she was thirteen, three years before she married.”
“I am sure she was quite an… energetic, young lady.” What Mistress LeSieur did not say spoke volumes.
“She was high spirited, yes. But she was very young.” The image of her laughing, skipping through the tall grass as he strummed his lute. The lips that he had never kissed curved in a smile that said more than she had known. What was she now? “She was an innocent girl.”
Mistress LeSieur raised an eyebrow, but did not naysay him. “You did not pay court to her?”
“I could never do so formally. Her value was in marriage, and I had no prospects at that time but to find some sort of gainful employment, like tutoring, after my schooling. Her father would not have accepted me.”
“Ah, but would Jane?”
She had seen right through him. “No. After everything she chose to marry old Master Radclyffe.”
Mistress LeSieur was silent for a moment that stretched on toward eternity. Percy had nothing else to add and would not let her silence goad him into saying what he should not.
That he could not forgive Jane for hurting him. That he would always love her.
Spoken or not, he was under the impression that Mistress LeSieur knew.
“Master Percy, understanding that Jane is like a part of our family, do you think you should continue on in this household?”
“In sooth, Mistress LeSieur, I do not know.”
“Tell me this, then. Will Jane have a cause for complaint at your presence?”
“No, I have never caused her hurt.”
“And never shall?”
She was extracting a promise. He reveranced again as he said, “Never maliciously.”
Mistress LeSieur rose and straightened the line of her overskirt so it was completely symmetrical on her forepart. “That is all I can ask.” Her skirts brushed against his leg as she walked by, having not yet given him leave to rise. “You make up your mind as to how much you can bear. In the meantime, I expect you to be an exemplary tutor to my daughter. If you find you are not able to act as a dance instructor to Jane, please let me know so I can make alternative arrangements as soon as may be.” She crossed the room towards the open double doors without even looking at him.
“I will be professional and courteous. I apologize for my earlier behavior.” Percy spoke almost under his breath.
He was surprised when Mistress LeSieur stopped short and faced him. She stood still for just a moment before finally gesturing for him to stand. “Mortimer is a common name hereabouts. What is the situation of your birth?”
Percy ignored the need to stretch after holding the reverance position for so long. “My birth? I thought you knew.” What an interesting question. “I am youngest of three sons. My father was the third Viscount of Kingsley. My brother is the fourth Viscount of Kingsley, currently at Kingsley Chase not far from here. Mortimer is one of the family names. I chose not to use the full name, Mortimer Harrington, so as not to play upon the connection.”
Frances’s laugh surprised him. It rang clear, echoing throughout the empty hall. Still laughing, she turned and left the room.

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