My regency romance e-book, The Affairs of Harriet Walters, Spinster, is free today through November 23 at Amazon Kindle. If you haven't got a copy yet, get one now!
More news on The Affairs of Harriet Walters, SpinsterComely Press has just published Harriet Walters as a paperback! At of today, it's available for order through the CreateSpace store, Amazon.com, and Amazon Europe. If you would like to be added to a mailing list for information about future publications, click on "Contact Cathy" to the right of this post.
Here's the new paperback cover for Harriet Walters.
Free previewAnd here's the first two chapters for your perusal.
The day that Harriet had dreaded was here; her last day at Willoway, the only home that she had ever known. When she had learned four months ago that she and her mother were to be forced out, Harriet had been overwhelmed. Where were they to go, what possessions could they take, what would happen to the servants? Father should have dealt with this, but Father was gone and Mother was prostrate with grief. So, Harriet had buried her emotions and grappled with practicalities. She had worked like a slave to make all of the arrangements, and now she was exhausted. Looking for a moment’s respite, she ducked into the sitting room and sank onto a sheet-draped chair. Gazing about the room, she thought how cold and unfamiliar it looked with the furniture pushed up against the walls and everything packed away in crates. She should have had the leisure to tour about the house and grounds to make a proper goodbye, but Mother was keeping her too busy for such an indulgence. Mrs. Walters was frantic that she and her daughter should depart before her nephew arrived to take possession of the estate.
Her mother was calling her again. “Harriet! Harriet! Where are you?”
“Tarnation,” Harriet muttered under her breath as Mrs. Walters hurried into the room, her face flushed and agitated.
“There you are. Did you find my mourning brooch? And what about the silver? Has Jenkins loaded it onto the wagon? Don’t be dilly-dallying when there is still so much to be done.”
Harriet rose from the chair and took her mother’s arm. “Mother, calm yourself. Yes, I found the brooch yesterday and put it in your jewellery chest. As for the silver, Jenkins has taken care of it. Everyone is following my packing list, and we will be leaving as soon as John has finished loading the wagon. Now, why not sit down and rest for a moment? I don’t want you getting another one of your headaches.” She whisked the sheet off the chair she had just vacated and helped her mother to sit. Mrs. Walters shook her head and reached for her daughter’s hand.
“Forgive me, my dear, I am sure that you are managing everything beautifully. It’s just that I cannot bear the thought of seeing that man take possession of our home. Your dear father has been gone but three months, God rest his soul. I had hoped never to see this terrible day.” Mrs. Walters’ shoulders began to shake, and Harriet sighed and rubbed her mother’s back. Jenkins, the housekeeper, entered the room carrying a tea tray.
“Here you are. I thought you might enjoy a cup before I put these things away. John says that everything is loaded onto the wagon, and that the carriage is waiting for you.” Jenkins placed the tray upon a side table, and Mrs. Walters reached for the housekeeper’s hand.
“Oh, Jenkins, what would we have done without you? I only hope that your new employers will treat you well, and that you will be happy in your new home.”
Jenkins patted Mrs. Walters’ hand. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ve heard good things about the Mercer family from my Elsie, and it will be a treat to have her only half a mile away. Not that I won’t miss you and Miss Harriet and Willoway. It’s been a real home to me these past sixteen years. Never mind, here’s a good strong cup of tea and one for Miss Harriet. Drink that. You’ll feel better for having something hot.” Harriet and her mother sipped their tea, keeping their eyes resolutely on the floor to avoid the view of the disfigured room.
Finally, Harriet straightened from where she had leaned against the wall and handed her cup to Jenkins. “Time to go, Mother,” she said. “Helen will be wondering what’s happened to us if we don’t leave soon.” She turned to Jenkins, who held out her arms to the young woman. Harriet walked into the embrace and clung to the servant.
“Goodbye, Jenkins, I’ll miss you very much,” she whispered in a gruff voice. She brushed away a hot tear that trailed down her cheek, struggling to keep her emotions in check. Giving way now would set a bad example for her mother.
The housekeeper stepped back, holding Harriet at arms’ length. “I’ll miss you, Miss Harriet. You’ve always been a good girl, steady and dependable. I know that you’ll see your mother settled in comfortably at your sister’s. God bless you, and good luck in your new life, Miss.”
Harriet nodded and backed away, allowing her mother time to say goodbye. Then, taking a deep breath and one last look around the room, Harriet laid a supportive arm around her mother’s shoulders and gave her a small squeeze.
Mrs. Walters gazed up at her daughter, pressing her trembling lips together. “I’m ready Harriet,” she whispered. Together, mother and daughter walked through the front door and down the stairs to the waiting carriage, leaving Willoway behind forever.
Mr. Walters had contracted a blood infection the previous spring that had quickly claimed his life. His unexpected death had left his wife and younger daughter homeless. Willoway had been entailed to a male heir, and Mrs. Walters had produced only two living children. Philip Walters, Mr. Walters’ estranged nephew, was now the legal master of Willoway even though he had not set foot on the estate for six years. Philip had not attended his uncle’s funeral, but had written to his aunt to express his condolences and to inform her of his intention to take possession of the estate at the beginning of September.
Helen, Mrs. Walters’ elder daughter, was happily married and settled some eleven miles distant in a house already bursting with her copious family. There was not enough room to accommodate both Harriet and her mother, so Mrs. Walters had prevailed upon her sister, Mrs. Edna Slater, to provide a home for her youngest. Aunt Edna has taken a fortnight to consider the request before consenting. After all, Harriet was twenty-six years of age with no marriage prospects in sight, so her stay was likely to be indefinite. After leaving Willoway, Harriet was to deliver her mother to Helen’s home and enjoy a short visit before journeying to her aunt’s house in the village of Rexton.
As the carriage and wagon drove up the drive to her sister’s home, Harriet saw the front door open and Helen emerged, babe in arms, to greet them. Helen was like her mother: pretty, petite, and fair. Harriet, who took after her father’s side of the family, was tall and thin with a ruddy complexion and wiry hair that resisted her attempts to control it. Helen waved, and stepped up to the carriage as it rolled to a stop.
“Mother, Harriet, how are you? You poor dears, you must be tired.” Jumping down from his seat, John helped Mrs. Walters to alight. Helen handed him the baby and embraced her mother, while Harriet climbed down without assistance.
“Welcome to your new home, Mother,” Helen said. “I hope that you will be as comfortable here as you were at Willoway. The children are so excited to have their grandmother living with them. Sinclair is away at the moment, but he will be home very soon to welcome you himself.”
“Oh Helen,” was all an overwhelmed Mrs. Walters could say.
Helen had left the front door open, and a collection of young Watts erupted onto the front lawn. One of them came to stand by her mother’s skirts, thumb in mouth, while the twins shepherded the other children away from the horses’ hooves. The eldest boy picked up a handful of stones and hurtled them, one by one, at the nearest window. Fortunately, he did not possess the necessary skill or strength to reach his target.
“Harriet,” Helen said, turning to her sister, “I’m so glad that you can visit with us for a few days. You must be worn out from arranging the move. You are to do nothing while you are here. Rest. I will take care of everything.” Knowing better, Harriet smiled and pecked a light kiss on her sister’s cheek.
“Helen, how lovely you look. Just like a painted madonna.”
Her sister dimpled with pleasure. “Thank you, dear, you are always so kind. But let’s not stand about in the drive. Come into the house and have some refreshments. Stay away from the horses, my darlings, and don’t make any trouble for John.” Smiling, Helen led her mother and sister into the house as the eldest boy turned to target the carriage.
Harriet spent the afternoon helping her mother to unpack. There was no spare bedchamber for Harriet, so mother and daughter were forced to share until her departure. It was crowded, especially with a steady stream of children dashing in and out to see what their grandmother and Aunty Harriet were doing. After rescuing some of her mother’s delicate trinkets from their grubby little fingers, Harriet was relieved when Nanny came to collect the children for dinner. By the end of the afternoon, Mrs. Walters was reclining on the bed with a cool cloth draped over her eyes while Harriet rested on a chair beside her, her stockinged feet propped upon the mattress.
“I had forgotten how exhausting Helen’s brood can be,” Harriet muttered.
“It will take some time to get used to them myself,” her mother replied. “Willoway was very quiet compared to Helen’s house.”
“Yes, it was definitely livelier when Helen was still at home. There was always a crowd of young gentlemen waiting on her.”
Mrs. Walters rolled onto her side to peer up at her daughter. “Did you mind very much, Harriet?”
Harriet considered her response for a moment. What could she say; that it had hurt like blazes when she was a young girl with dreams of romantic love and no suitors? That she had cried herself to sleep after balls where Helen had danced every dance with a different young man while she had sat with her mother and the other matrons?
“No, Mother, not so very much. I may have been a little jealous of Helen’s popularity when I was a girl, but I am resigned to my spinsterhood now.”
“To your credit, your father and I never observed any jealousy in your behaviour.”
Harriet smiled. “How could anyone abuse Helen, Mother? She is always so well-intentioned.”
“Even so, it is good that she has Sinclair to watch over her and the children. She does not have your good sense or your strength of will, my dear.”
Harriet did not respond; this was her mother’s favourite refrain. “Don’t worry, Harriet. God may not have blessed you with beauty, but He has more than recompensed you with other gifts, such as intelligence and fortitude.” She would have preferred the scales tipped a little more heavily on the side of attractiveness, but God had not consulted her wishes.
Harriet gripped the arms of her chair and pushed herself to her feet. “It’s time we dressed for dinner. Let me help you find something to wear, and then I will dress.”
“Thank you, my dear. I cannot seem to find anything in this room.”
An hour later, Mrs. Walters, Harriet, Helen, and her husband, Sinclair, were seated around the massive dining room table enjoying a little quiet conversation with their meal. Sinclair had welcomed his mother-in-law with a kiss on the cheek, and Harriet with a brotherly embrace. Harriet had once harboured a passion for Sinclair when he had been one of Helen’s more dashing suitors, but now that they were both older and his waist had grown while his hairline had receded, her feelings for this kind man had subsided into a sisterly affection.
“So, Mother Walters, how is Aunt Edna these days? I do not recall seeing her for years now – really not since our wedding day,” Sinclair said, passing the cheese.
“It has been a long time since she visited Willoway. She became something of a recluse after Mr. Slater’s death. Her recent letters have been full of ailments.”
“I have always thought that Aunt Edna’s health was tied to her spirits,” Harriet murmured.
Mrs. Walters shrugged. “You may be right, dear.”
Sinclair turned to his sister-in-law. “I hope that you’ll feel free to visit us whenever you please, Harriet. I only wish that we could offer you a permanent home.”
“You are very kind, Sinclair, but I am sure that I will soon think of my aunt’s house as a second home.”
“I am sure that your presence will result in an improvement to Edna’s health and spirits,” her mother said. Sinclair and Helen exchanged a doubtful glance that did not escape Harriet’s notice.