Sunday, 28 April 2013

A Lord for Miss Larkin

by Carola Dunn

My Regency e-publisher is experimenting with pricing on Amazon. She asked me if I'd like to find out what happened if one of my (36) Regencies was priced at 99c (UK 77p) instead of the usual $3.99. I said okay, and she chose A Lord for Miss Larkin, originally published in paperback in 1991.

No murder here, but there is an abduction so at a pinch you could call it crime fiction. What it does have is dogs, as you might guess from the paperback cover. The heroine has a Newfoundland, and three of her four eccentric aunts have West Highland Terriers. (The protagonist of my Cornish mysteries also has a Westie.) 

With a sigh of satisfaction, Alison closed the marbled covers of Mrs. Kitty Cuthbertson’s latest novel. Curled in the corner of the shabby sofa, so faded its colours were indistinguishable, for a few moments she let her imagination drift through marble palaces and dark, sinister, ruined abbeys. How romantic it would be to have a handsome young lord swooning at one’s feet! Or better (suggested her practical streak), simply kneeling in adoration.

The grey rain drummed down outside the window. In the grate the meagre fire gave a last despairing flicker and died. Alison shivered, uncurled, set the borrowed volume carefully on the occasional table by the par­lour door and picked up her feather duster.

The huge black dog sprawled on the hearth rug raised his head to watch tolerantly as she flitted about the room, making mysterious passes at shelves and picture frames and the one remaining Dresden shep­herdess on the mantel. The whims of humans were inexplicable. He lumbered to his feet and padded over to the window. The sill was just the right height for his chin, and even though it was raining there was always the possibility that a cat might venture to dash across the street.

What he did not know was that at present Alison was not a romantic heroine but a fairy godmother. With her magic wand she was turning everything in the room into gold. Then she would buy a splendid gown for her dear goddaughter, Miss Alison Larkin, who would go to a ball and meet—well, a prince was too much to expect, and even a duke’s son seemed a lot to ask for, although judging by Mrs. Meeke’s novels they were two a penny. Alison would be satisfied with an earl or a viscount, or even a mere baron.

She gave an extra whisk of the duster to the picture over the mantelpiece. Looking at the portrait was al­most like gazing in a mirror—curly black hair, bril­liant blue eyes and delicate, pixie-like features. When the likeness was painted Mama had been nineteen, Alison’s present age, and Papa not much older. She did not remember them.

She curtsied, blew a kiss and turned away...


The terriers decided she wanted a game and gam­boled about her feet, nearly tripping her. Midnight sat by the closed kitchen door regarding her hopefully, the tip of his tail swishing gently on the flagstones. She rubbed his huge head as she passed.

“Sorry, boy, you will have to wait. Sit, Flake, Goose, Drop. Stay!”

The terriers obeyed, with a reproachful look that made her laugh. She slipped into the warm kitchen, fragrant with the odour of baking, and closed the door firmly again behind her.

All three of her aunts were sitting at the well-scrubbed white wood table, sipping tea from cheap china cups. Aunt Cleo, plump and rosy-cheeked, reached for the teapot as Alison entered and poured a fourth cup.

“Who was it, dear?” she asked.

“A messenger, with a letter from Aunt Zenobia.”

She set the package in front of Aunt Polly and sat down beside her.

As the eldest of the sisters, Polly Larkin was entitled to be the one to open the letter. A vague-looking woman with wisps of grey hair escaping from her cap, she poked the package with a nervous expression.

“Oh dear. Di, will you read it?” she said plead­ingly, just as everyone expected.

Warming her hands on her cup of tea, Alison waited impatiently as the ritual proceeded. Aunt Di found her steel-rimmed spectacles suspended round her neck, as always. Aunt Cleo provided a sharp knife to slit the seal, warning her sister to be careful not to damage the contents. Aunt Zenobia Winkle had not been heard from in two years, but they all remembered the bright-hued silk scarves that had been enclosed with her last letter, though they had been sold long since to buy coals.

Eyes widened as four pairs of gold earrings emerged from their tissue paper wrappings.

“I shall buy a goose!” exclaimed Aunt Cleo. “I did want a goose to roast for Christmas, but better late than never.”

Alison let out her breath in a long, silent sigh. Of course, they would have to be sold. With a reverent fingertip she touched the nearest one, a delightful dangling creation shaped like a pagoda.

“They are a bit flashy,” said Aunt Di, doubtfully. “Do you think anyone will buy them?”

“Of course. There is a certain type of female who likes to be flashy.”

Alison was about to request elucidation of this fascinating comment when Aunt Polly’s timid voice was heard.

“Surely the gold alone must be worth something?”

“Quite right, Polly.” Cleo patted her hand. “I daresay there will be enough to buy us each a new dress.”

Visions of silks and satins danced before Alison’s eyes. Resolutely she banished them. A sprig muslin for spring would do nicely. “What does the letter say, Aunt Di?” she asked.

Her aunt unfolded the sheet of paper with some trepidation. Zenobia’s communications were generally full of incomprehensible and unpronounceable mem­sahibs and howdahs and chukkers and tiffins.

“My goodness!” she gasped. “Mr. Winkle is gone to his reward and Zenobia is coming home at last. And this letter must have been delayed—she expects to ar­rive at the end of January. She may be here any day!”

...there was a peremptory rapping at the front door.

She started towards it, failing to remember that the household now boasted a maid, one of whose duties was to answer the door. At that moment three balls of white fur raced into view from the back of the house, yipping their joy at seeing her. Midnight followed at a more staid pace.

Bess, the new maid, must have gone out into the garden, forgetting that the dogs were supposed to be shut out of the house while Lady Emma was there. Alison was in a quandary. The terriers must be chased out, but the door knocker was sounding again, plied with a vigorous urgency that brooked no denial.

“Sit, Drop,” she ordered. “Sit, Flake and Goose.” She opened the door.

The gentleman on the doorstep looked her up and down with an air of cool appraisal. He was of middle height, elegantly if quietly dressed, with no more than two modest capes to his greatcoat. His features were clear-cut but nothing out of the ordinary except, per­haps, his determined chin. Alison took instant excep­tion to the faint boredom in his brown eyes.

“I have come to fetch Lady Emma,” he an­nounced. “My name is Trevelyan. Be so good as to announce me to your mistress, girl.”

“I am Alison Larkin,” she corrected him.

The terriers decided hopefully that she was giving them permission to move. They scampered to greet the stranger, two of them sniffing suspiciously at the ankles of his gleaming top-boots while Flake, the boldest, jumped up to place two paws on his knee and look him in the face.

“Down!” said Alison and Mr. Trevelyan with one voice.

Flake obeyed instantly, leaving two muddy paw prints on the hitherto immaculate dove-coloured inex­pressibles. A flush of annoyance stained the high cheekbones, which lent the gentleman’s face a sensi­tivity at odds with his manner.

Alison succeeded in smothering a giggle, but before she could apologize, Midnight sauntered up. Mr. Trevelyan stood his ground.

“I trust your Newfoundland has better manners,” he said grimly.

This book is the first of a trilogy, so if sales go up, the second and third books may follow at the regular price--one can always hope!

The second book, The Road to Gretna, features an elopement--or rather two elopements that get entangled with each other--and an extremely troublesome kitten. 

The third, Thea's Marquis, doesn't feature any animals, but it does have a villain or two and it ends with a thrilling rescue...

 It will be interesting to see what the pricing does for the sales and whether any increase carries over to the sequels and even to the rest of the 36. We won't know for a month or two, when the numbers come in. Fingers crossed!

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