I’m going to rip off Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweets, with some Mean Reviews. I love my readers. Sometimes they don’t love me.
Here’s a look at a chapter from the second Emerson book ALWAYS TRUE TO HER…
“You do not have to do this, Miss Wallace,” said James, as they stood outside Gunter’s, the famous confectioner’s in Berkeley Square.
“It is my pleasure. And since we are departing first thing in the morning for Portsmouth, this might be our only opportunity to introduce Anna to the wonders of ices and sweets.”
“Isn’t it a bit too cold for an ice?”
Miss Wallace shook her head and tsked. “It is never too cold for an ice, Lord James. Besides, we can discuss our travel arrangements while we eat.”
“I do wish you’d reconsider your decision to accompany us.” Especially since she was much more tempting than anything Gunter’s had to offer.
“I have already made by decision, my lord. Even your solicitor said the idea had merit.”
“Yes, well, I’m going to have to talk to Nick about Mr. Olson’s ideas.”
“I would talk to your brother about Mr. Olson’s odd clientele.”
“You mean, the, uh….” Here he covered Anna’s ears. “Working ladies?”
Miss Wallace’s eyes danced at him. “No, my lord, I was referring to you. Shall we enter?”
“Yes, minx. We shall,” said James as the doorman ushered them in.
They were immediately assailed with the smells of cinnamon, chocolate and baking bread as the warm fragrant air wafted toward them. The tea room wasn’t as crowded as it was on a summer’s day, but at least a quarter of the tables were filled with ladies of the ton enjoying their tea and desserts.
Well-dressed ladies of the ton.
James had paid little attention to fashion in America. Not only were there more pressing matters to attend to, but American fashion was of a different sort than that in London. Plainer. Less costly. More practical.
But as James looked at the ladies in the room – who were now staring at the new arrivals – he realized just how underdressed he and Anna were. He wasn’t sure if any of the ladies in the room recognized him. He certainly didn’t seem to know any of them. But there was no doubt that those who looked at his clothes found him wanting.
Worse than that, he could see the way the ladies were staring disapprovingly at Anna.
“Oh, dear,” said Miss Wallace with a smile she put on for show. “I am so sorry. I should have known it would be like this, but all I thought about was giving Anna a treat. Can we please ignore them and allow Anna to enjoy an ice?”
James was torn. He was not a man who backed down from challenges easily and had it just been him, he would have paid the old cats no heed. But he did not want Anna to be the recipient of their hisses.
Two matrons with their children in tow passed by them to reach the exit. Both women pulled their children behind them so they would not go near Anna. James heard one of them say “heathen.”
He could hear other whispers in the room. Though he could not make out the words, he had a feeling they were all the subject of gossip. Anna was certainly the subject of their stares.
He took a deep breath to keep from losing his temper. He did not want to embarrass either Anna or Miss Wallace. But he was finding it more and more difficult to remain silent. He was trying to figure out the best course of action when a little girl walked up to Anna.
She had black hair and green eyes and was dressed simply but elegantly. And she was staring at Anna. James prayed the girl would not be too unkind as he wondered where the devil her parents were.
The girl, who looked to be a year or two older than Anna, leaned into his daughter and said “You’re beautiful!” Then she grinned.
“Violet!” said an attractive woman in her forties with blonde hair and blue eyes, as she joined them. “I believe you are supposed to introduce yourself before striking up a conversation.” ‘
The admonition was a gentle one and the lady clearly loved the little girl. She looked to be the girl’s aunt or possibly her grandmother.
The little girl then curtsied quite properly. “I am Violet Kellington. What’s your name?” she asked Anna.
Anna darted a look at her father to see if it was all right to speak to this girl who was almost a stranger. When he nodded, she smiled shyly and whispered, “I’m Anna Emerson.”
Violet grinned again.
“Miss Kellington,” said James, who could not help being enchanted by the girl, “who is your papa? No, let me guess….you must be Lord Edward’s daughter. For you look very much like him.”
“I am!” she said with a grin, before curtsying again. “Do you know my papa?”
“I do. Along with your uncles. I went to school with them and we were all friends. I am Lord James Emerson,” he said, bowing. “Please allow me to introduce you to Miss Irene Wallace.”
Irene curtsied, even as James bowed to the woman he now recognized as the maternal aunt to the Duke of Lynwood and his family. “Miss Prudence? I had the pleasure of meeting you and Miss Maria several years ago.”
“How good of you to remember, Lord James, and what a pleasure to see you again, Miss Wallace.” Prudence Hamiltlon was the younger sister of the late Duchess of Lynwood. Her nephew, William Kellington, had become the Duke of Lynwood when he was but nineteen years old after the death of both of his parents.
“It is a pleasure, indeed, Miss Prudence,” said Irene with a warm smile.
“Miss Kellington reminds me very much of Ned,” said James. “Though, of course, a much prettier version. My brothers and I have very good memories of being at school with the Kellingtons. In fact, I’m not sure any of us would have made it through without their friendship.”
“I’m very proud of my nephews and my niece. Please join us so I can tell you what they have been doing since you last saw them. This past year alone is quite a tale to tell,” said Prue, as she motioned to a table where a brown-haired lady about her age waited.
Another group of ladies passed by, looking decidedly like they’d swallowed lemons. But this time they did not stare at Anna, but turned their disapproving glares to Miss Prudence and Miss Maria, instead. James heard one of them mutter “unnatural.”
There had always been allegations that Miss Prudence and Miss Maria were much closer than employer and companion. They’d been together for as long as James had known the Kellingtons. In fact, he’d first gotten to know the brothers as they were fighting older boys at school who’d said cruel things about the ladies’ relationship. He’d fought alongside the Kellingtons and it had forged a friendship that he remembered fondly.
At first, he hadn’t understood the older boys’ accusations. It had simply been enough that the brothers were protecting their aunt’s honor. But once James became aware of the reality of same sex love, he fought even harder at the Kellingtons’ side. As someone who’d felt so little love from his parents, he was angered that anyone would attack it where it did exist, regardless of whether it violated society’s rules and even the law itself.
Miss Prudence ignored the ladies with a dignified silence. However, once they had passed, she spoke quietly to Irene, “Perhaps I should not have invited you to join us. I have a feeling your grandmother would not approve.”
“And I have never forgotten the kindness you and Miss Maria showed me during my debut Season and in the years since,” said Irene. “We would be honored to join you.”
“Aunt Prue!” said Violet.
“I just asked Anna if she wanted to be my friend and she said yes!” Violet looked overjoyed, and even Anna seemed excited.
“Well, that settles it, then,” said Prue to James and Irene. “You simply must join us. A second generation of Kellington-Emerson friendship has formed. We must celebrate that with an ice or two.”
With that, James ushered his party to the table where Miss Maria sat. James remembered her as a shy woman who rarely spoke. She must have recognized a kindred spirit in Anna, for she engaged his daughter in conversation as they discussed different flavors of ices.
The ladies at neighboring tables continued to gossip about them. James knew Miss Prue and Miss Maria were both under the protection of the Duke and his family. But he wondered what life would be like for them if that were not the case.
“I had heard you were in America these past several years, Lord James,” said Miss Prue. “That must have been fascinating.”
James gave the ladies a much abridged accounting of what life had been like on the frontier. It was a tale suitable for ladies and children, which meant it bore little resemblance to reality. Violet was in awe of the story and asked to learn a few words of the Algonquin language. James was surprised when Anna taught them a few phrases, when she was normally shy with those she did not know well. But the two ladies and Vi were so kind, it was hard to think of them as strangers.
When Anna’s chocolate ice arrived, she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. She stared at it for a moment, then inhaled the sweet aroma.
“You should take a bite, love, before it melts,” said James.
Anna, watched closely by the entire table, picked up her spoon, dipped it into the creamy dessert, then tentatively brought it to her mouth. She tasted it, then her whole face lit up in a smile. It was enough to make the ladies laugh. It was enough to bring James to the verge of tears. Such a simple treat. But he’d been unable to provide it for his daughter.
“Papa,” said Anna. “Would you like some?”
And how like his daughter to want to share something she obviously loved.
“No, thank you, poppet. It is for you.”
Anna in turn asked everyone else if they wanted to share. Even Violet said no, though it was obvious she was tempted.
“You said you have news about the Kellingtons?” James asked Miss Prue.
“All of them married in the last eight months, which caused no end of disappointment among the matchmaking mamas, just as Lord Ridgeway’s recent marriage did – though no one will admit it, of course.”
“Even Lynwood married?”
“Even Liam. To the former Miss Rosalind Carson, who was bosom friends with Lizzie, though I don’t know if you would have met my niece.”
“I did not have the honor before leaving for America.”
“She married someone else you may know, Lord Riverton.”
That made James grin. “I imagine Liam was surprised to learn his best friend was marrying his sister.”
“Surprise, Lord James, is much too tame a word to describe it. And you may be interested to know that Ned and his wife Jane just had a baby.”
“A boy,” said Violet with the darkest of scowls.
Miss Wallace had to stifle a laugh. “Are you disappointed to have a brother?” she asked.
“I told Mama and Papa I wanted a baby sister.”
“But brothers can be good, too,” said James. “I have two and your papa has three. Perhaps you will like having one, too.”
“But I wanted someone to play with,” said Vi.
“You can play with me,” said Anna.
“That’s true,” said James carefully. He hated to disappoint Violet when she’d just lit up at the thought of making a friend, but he was compelled by honesty to add, “but, unfortunately, Anna and I are leaving town tomorrow.”
“But you’re coming back, aren’t you?” asked Vi. “We’re going to be in London until baby Daniel is old enough to travel. Then we’re going back to Marston Vale. If we’re not here when you get back, you can come there.” She looked at him eagerly and, even worse, Anna seemed excited.
But if everything went as he hoped, James knew they wouldn’t be coming back to London or visiting Marston Vale. They would be on their way back to America. It seemed cruel to deprive Anna of her new friend, but she could make new ones in America, even though in the eight years James had lived in America, he hadn’t made many.
It was a disturbing thought.
Irene broke the silence. “That is a lovely invitation, Violet. And I am certain that Lord James and Anna will visit you the next time they are in town or in Marston Vale. And if that should not happen soon, perhaps you could write letters.”
“I would truly love that!” said Violet.
“I would, too!” said Anna, who now had a line of chocolate below her lip.
Irene dampened a napkin, then gently wiped it away as the two young girls talked about the letters they would write.
Two more ladies passed by. James heard one of them say “Some people should not be allowed in polite company.”
And that was quite enough of that.
He stood and addressed them. “Excuse me, but I could not help but overhear your remarks. No doubt that was your intent. You have the right of it. Some people shouldn’t be allowed in polite company. But since you are leaving, there will be no need to have you thrown out.”
His remarks were met with a moment of complete silence, save for the muffled laugh coming from, if he didn’t miss his mark, Miss Prudence. But in that moment, no one else at Gunter’s said a word. The two so-called ladies he’d addressed stood there with jaws inelegantly ajar.
The first woman, who looked to be in her early thirties recovered first. “Who are you to speak to two ladies thusly?”
“I am Lord James Emerson, recently returned from America with my beautiful daughter and enjoying tea with my friends. You are married, I take it, madam?”
“Yes,” said the woman, who was looking James over with some interest now that he was a roughly dressed peer, rather than some roughly dressed nobody.
“Then I would tell your husband that the next time his wife insults either my daughter or my friends, I shall treat the insult as if it came from him and act accordingly.”
That elicited gasps from the rest of the diners. It would also surely be spread about the ton within the hour.
James didn’t care.
“I believe you were leaving,” James said to the ladies. “Pray do not let me keep you.”
With that he turned his back on them and resumed his seat. An instant later, the silence of the past few minutes erupted into excited mutterings at the other tables.
At his table, all he saw were grins. Then Violet and Anna resumed their conversation and Miss Wallace and Miss Maria discussed an exhibit at the British Museum.
James became aware that Miss Prue was staring at him. “Nicely done,” she said.
“Yes, well, I hope I did not embarrass you or Miss Maria overly much.”
“Not much can embarrass me anymore. And I long ago stopped listening to the gossips. I care little for my own reputation, but I have worried how it will affect my niece and nephews and Maria, of course. I hope you are not chased away from London because of the untamed tongues of witless peers.”
He laughed at the apt description. “No, I have a farm in America. Well, there is some legal dispute at the moment, but I intend to get it back and return there with Anna.”
“That is a shame, Lord James. Your sisters and, if I might presume to say it, both of your brothers will miss you very much. I daresay your dear Anna will miss out on a great deal if you return there.”
“Yet, I have no means of supporting her if I remain here.”
“I do not know Ridgeway well, but I sincerely doubt he would bar you from returning to the family estate. Nor would Layton.”
“I do not wish to live on any man’s charity, even my brothers’.”
“That would be quite understandable, were you the only consideration. I realize I am being unforgivably forward when I have no business saying such things, but I believe your family would be much happier if you stayed, though it might necessitate putting aside some of your pride for the nonce. I believe there might even be some happiness in it for you, as well.” She glanced at Miss Wallace, who was still engrossed in her conversation with Miss Maria.
James inwardly groaned. He knew Miss Prue wouldn’t gossip about them, but if she picked up on the attraction between them, was he harming Miss Wallace’s reputation just by spending time in her company?
“You have the right of it that my family already cares a great deal for Anna and she has grown quite fond of them. But what of the rest of Society? As you noticed here today, her birth would always be the object of derision. Her marriage prospects within the ton would be slim. I would not wish to subject her to a life as a second-class citizen.”
“Will her prospects be that much better in America? Are they that much more of a tolerant people? A country that cannot rid itself of slavery is hardly a haven of equality and tolerance.”
“Slavery is an abhorrent part of American life. And you are correct that a girl of mixed Indian heritage would encounter problems, but…”
Prue looked at him kindly. “But you are determined to go your own way. To, perhaps, prove something to a dead man.”
He looked up in surprise.
She smiled kindly at him. “Young men are not so hard to understand. They either have a father they long to live up to, even when he has been dead these many years – as is the case with my nephews. Or they want to win an argument with a dead tyrant. Pray forgive my rudeness, but my position at the edge of society permits me to observe without being seen. You and your brothers – both of them – are much better men than your father. And you need do nothing more to prove it. Indeed, from the way you adore your daughter, you have already succeeded.”
James was not sure what to say. Miss Prue had hit upon thoughts he’d had, but never voiced aloud. But he did not think he could so easily set aside his pride.
“I am terribly sorry for overstepping,” said Prue. “It is one of my worst failings. Although I am not a Kellington by birth, I do love an entire family of them and I fear their meddling nature has rubbed off on me. But before I begin a dismally dull conversation about the weather, please allow me to say one more thing. There are places in the world where Maria and I could live a relatively peaceful, unnoticed life. But we will never move there because of what we would miss here. Another generation of Kellingtons is on the way and I cannot imagine missing a moment of those celebrations. I can bear any insult here, as long as I am among those I love.” She turned her gaze to Maria and Violet. “Now, Lord James, will you tell me how cold it is outside or must I?”
Twenty minutes and one cinnamon cake later, James, Miss Wallace and Anna escorted the ladies to their waiting carriage. James noticed the coachmen’s livery was quite smart, and the men themselves had the builds of pugilists. If he wasn’t mistaken, he could see that all were also armed. He had a feeling Lynwood took no chances with the ladies’ safety.
James had become quite fond of them himself.
“You will visit when you come back, won’t you?” Violet asked Anna. “I could show you my little brother. I sneak into Mama and Papa’s room to watch him sleep.”
“Violet!” said Prue. “Why are you sneaking?”
“Well, I don’t want them to know that I’m beginning to like him because I do want them to give me a baby sister next time.”
“If Papa has a baby boy, then my brother and your brother could be friends,” said Anna. “Just like you and I are friends.”
Violet liked that idea. “I hope your papa and Miss Wallace get married soon! That way your brother and my brother would be babies together.”
“Violet!” said Prue, with that loving admonition again. “I am quite certain Lord James and Miss Wallace do not need any advice on when they should get married. They will decide that quite well enough on their own.”
“But we are not betrothed,” said Miss Wallace. “We are not even…we…oh, dear.”
“Yes, well I’m sure everything will work out in the end,” said Prue. “And do be so kind as to come visit when you have returned from your journey.”
With that, the two women left in their carriage, with the well-armed servants.
And now James had ever more to think about.