The Lady and Her Quill by Ruth A. Casie

Chapter Five

Justin sat with Barrington and the other retired officers in the library at Sommer Chase, Barrington’s townhouse on the Sommer River. He turned the establishment into a private men’s club of sorts. It was a place where he and his close friends met, exercised, and deliberated without interruption.

Injured in battle getting his men out of harm’s way, Barrington was not expected to walk again. His immobility was an irritation, one he wouldn’t accept. No one was surprised by his determination. He had taught them how to face unsurmountable odds and not retreat until every option and tactic was exhausted. He faced his injury with the same determination.

Justin and the others rallied to help him. The man was so much more than their commanding officer. He encouraged, consoled, scolded, and created a team that was the envy of everyone, even Wellington. Loyalty was the word that summed him up. He had not abandoned them on the battlefield. His officers would not abandon him when he needed them most.

While he recuperated in London at Barrington Hall, his friends worked together and turned the ballroom into an exercise room. Each man helped him exercise and train. As he had kept up their morale while they convalesced, they did the same for him.

Last year, Barrington called Justin and the others to Sommer-by-the-Sea. As the men waited in the drawing room, their former commanding officer made his entrance walking into the room with his mother on his arm. Everyone jumped to their feet, shouting and applauding his success. Justin still felt the excitement and accomplishment of that day.

Exercising helped both Barrington’s mind and body. He wasn’t going to end his rehabilitation and risk regressing. He had a need to accomplish more. At the root of it, he did not want to lose the camaraderie with his men. They had a deep strong bond.

Barrington’s father stood with him proud and happy after he walked into the room with his mother.

“With gratitude and humility, Lady Barrington and I thank you for all you have done. We never thought our son would walk again. He was right when he told me his men perform miracles. Please accept this small token as a remembrance of our gratitude.” Lord Barrington signaled the butler, and a small box was presented to each man.

“Every man in our family is given a coin, a talisman of sorts. The custom has been handed down for centuries. It began as a way of identifying the carrier as an emissary from the family. While its use is obsolete, the tradition has continued. This coin has been made especially for you, the men of The League and signifies you are part of a unique group.”

They opened each small box. Inside they found a gold coin embossed with a circle of laurel leaves. Within the circle were the letters, TLS.

“Gentlemen.” Everyone turned to their former commander.

He raised his glass. “To you, the men of The League of Sommer-by-the-Sea.”

They toasted together.

Now, Justin sat with his friends. He didn’t concentrate on the conversation about French brandy and smugglers. Ah, but Alasdair Lawson, his cousin on his mother’s side – there was still a hint of the free trader about him. He kept Barrington and several others in fine brandy.

His mind was elsewhere, specifically on Alicia. The woman fascinated him. From his uncle’s ravings about his prize author, he expected someone entirely different, more…passive and perhaps malleable.

No. She wasn’t vapid or boring in the least. Intelligent, outspoken, if perhaps a bit clumsy at times, but that made her charming. She was strong and determined, a bluestocking with a trace of uncertainty thrown in to make her human.

Her writing would reflect her personality. Her heroine more than passed the test according to a portion of the Gazette review. But her hero and supporting characters fell short. Is that why his uncle wanted him to read her stories?

Working through plot points, conflicts, resolutions and developing characters together could be productive, possibly enjoyable. Their discussions would be charged and could lead to better works for both of them. He couldn’t imagine them ever being dull.

For a moment, he vividly saw Alicia sitting at a large table across from him, deep in thought. Every now and then they would talk through some point or character issue. He could imagine the flush of excitement on her cheeks.

The image faded and left him empty. He was beginning to understand his uncle’s enthusiasm about her. No matter which direction he took with his writing career, he owed it to his uncle to ensure she continued to publish with Caulfield Publishing. It wouldn’t be a burden. He’d be doing it for his uncle, for the company.

“Justin? Justin. You haven’t heard a word we’ve said.”

Startled from his reverie, he straightened in his chair. “No. Forgive me, my mind wandered.”

“Conjuring a new plot, I suspect. We should all be alert,” Simon Watts said. “I’ve never seen a genius at work.”

“You still haven’t,” Peter Simms said as they laughed.

“I would be careful if I were you. Those remarks can get you killed.” Justin’s icy stare quieted the group. “In my next story and in the most agonizing way.”

The group laughed louder.

“Now, what were you saying about French brandy?” he asked as he leaned forward.

*

The following daythe wind had almost worn itself out. The rain clouds moved out to sea. The sun was shining, giving the village a welcome respite from bad weather. Intermittent gusts of wind whipped down the village lanes, catching the edges of Alicia’s pelisse and threatening to pull her hat loose. Alicia and her sister Beatrice hurried along and made their way to Mrs. Miller’s.

“The sun feels good after a week of rain. You chose a good day to tour the village with Captain Caulfield. Should we ask him to dine with us?” Her sister’s mischievous smile irritated her.

“We need not go that far. You used the same tactic with Commander Terrell. You are worse than Mother.” The more she brought to light about the captain, the more her sister would pester her. Alicia let out a deep breath.

“Regarding the captain, I’m not sure if his uncle sent him here or if it is a coincidence he’s visiting Lord Barrington. I suppose I’ll never know. But it does have me curious. Anyway, I’m glad you’re joining me.”

“I will admit I was surprised you invited me. Elkington almost choked on his sherry last night. It seems we’ve gotten accustomed to you galivanting around on your own.”

“That is a turn of events, you both being shocked.” In spite of herself, Alicia chuckled. “I asked for a companion rather than traumatizing you to find me wandering without one. Let’s not tell Mother and Father. I wouldn’t want them to think I’ve reformed.”

“No, let’s not…” Beatrice looked at the sky. “Do you think the weather will hold?”

“If you believe the Old Moore’s Almanack prediction, the weather will remain good until tomorrow. The publication stated the uncommon rain would be followed by sea storms and tides higher than usual. Others must believe the almanac is correct.” Alicia gestured toward the dock.

The harbor was alive with activity. Ships arriving on the morning tide filled the docks. Stevedores were busy unloading the ships and moving the cargo to safety indoors as quickly as possible. No one wanted to lose goods to the bad weather.

“You’ve never shown anyone about the village before. What made you decide to start with Captain Caulfield?” Her sister bit the side of her cheek trying to keep a straight face.

“He’s my publisher’s nephew. Why do you ask?” She waited for Beatrice’s answer. Her poor sister could not reply. She must be out of practice.

Alicia hurried her steps, eager to speak to the captain. Unable to sleep for numerous reasons, one of which were haunting gray eyes, she spent the evening laying in her bed in deep thought. She only fell asleep once she had her answer to yesterday’s question.

They crossed the square and came to the library. The small silver bell at the top of the door tinkled, notifying the librarian of the sisters’ arrival. The room was busy with people browsing the shelves. A table near the desk was stacked with a handbill about the particulars of the forthcoming reading event.

Join us for Tea and Tales

Tuesday, 15 November at four of-the-clock

This month, two distinguished authors read from their recent works about sacrifice and loyalty

Lady Alicia Hartley’s highly praised storyThe Lost Dowryintroduces us to a young woman who uses her dowry to save her family

and

J. C. Melrose’s acclaimed bookIn My Brother’s Shadowis the story of a man who takes his battle-damaged brother’s place in the army.

“You didn’t tell me there was another author reading with you,” her sister said, speaking in an odd yet gentle tone.

Alicia straightened herself. “Why bother you or Elkington with something so inconsequential?”

“Perhaps because of late, this author appears to be the bane of your existence.” Beatrice’s eyes held a lethal calmness.

Thank the lord, the metallic tinkle of a bell saved her from having to continue the conversation.

She didn’t need the tiny bell to be aware Captain Caulfield had entered. Her heart pounded so loud she was sure he could hear it across the room.

He stood at the door in his great coat and hat like any other man, but he appeared more striking. He spoke with Mr. Miller. Every so often he glanced in her direction, dipped his head ever so slightly and sent her heart racing.

She took a steadying breath and turned to Beatrice, who had busied herself.

By all that was holy. Her own sister had picked up In My Brother’s Shadow and was reading it.

“Traitor,” she whispered for Beatrice’s ears.

“I thought you said he was inconsequential?” Her sister chuckled and kept on reading. “This is quite good. You should read it.”

She imagined strangling her sister on the spot. It was only thoughts of Elkington’s grief that stopped her. Theirs was a love match, the type she hoped for. They had their differences, but they would work it out.

“Good day, Lady Alicia.” The captain stood in front of her, his eyes compelling and magnetic.

Alicia found it impossible not to return his captivating smile.

“Captain Caulfield. Let me introduce you to my sister, Lady Beatrice Elkington.”

“Pleased, I’m sure, my lady.” He tipped his head and gave Beatrice his full attention. “Lady Alicia mentioned you are married to Captain Douglas Elkington?”

“Why, yes. Are you acquainted with my husband?” Beatrice asked.

Alicia looked on in amazement, caught off guard by Beatrice’s question.

“We both served with Lord Barrington.” A proud smile broadened on his face.

“You must be a member of Barrington’s League.”

In these last two years her brother-in-law never once mentioned any connection to Caulfield. She started digging into her memory. She returned from speaking with Mr. Lane about publishing her first book and gave Beatrice and Elkington all the ugly facts. Now she recalled. Not only did William Lane suggest she speak to Isaac Caulfield, but Elkington had, as well. Was her brother-in-law more involved in getting her books published than only suggesting she speak to the publisher?

The captain raised his head and glanced at Lady Elkington. “Yes, I am.”

“Now I’m doubly pleased to meet you. My sister mentioned you will be in Sommer-by-the-Sea for several weeks. You must call on us.”

Dipping his head he said, “You’re most gracious, Lady Elkington.”

“Now, if you will excuse me.” She turned to Alicia. “I have a few errands I must see to. Why don’t you take Captain Caulfield for a tour of the cathedral, and I’ll meet you at home? You promised to go over the plans for the Harvest Party.”

Before Alicia could respond to her sister’s sudden exit, the little silver bell tinkled as she went out the door. Elkington was not going to get away with conveniently neglecting to tell her why he never mentioned his relationship with the Caulfields.

“Does she do that often?” The captain stared at the door. “Perhaps we should escape before she changes her mind and returns.”

She looked at him, first in surprise. Then she shook her head, laughing.

“No?” His feigned disappointment was comical. “I suppose the cathedral it is. Shall we?” He offered her his arm.

“You never told me you knew Elkington,” she said as they started toward the door.

“I hadn’t thought about it.” He brought them to a halt. “Is it important?”

“I suppose it isn’t.” Unless her brother-in-law conspired with Caulfield to publish her stories. Did it matter? She let out a deep sigh. Her books were published, and people bought them. That was all that mattered.

They left the library, walked along Wickham and across Westmore Commons. He listened with interest as she pointed out various places.

They had a pleasant time. She didn’t mind giving him a local history lesson but wanted to continue yesterday’s discussion.

“That’s Sommer Castle,” she said, indicating the building on the hill to their left.

They turned up Cathedral Court and headed toward the cathedral with its fine tower.

“You use your real name on your books,” he said.

“Yes. There is no need for me to obscure who I am. Although, it did ignite a heated discussion within the family when I presented them with my first published book.” She turned and innocently smiled. “By then it was too late.”

“I found it necessary to use my—”

“I’ve been thinking about your question,” she interrupted but looked straight ahead as they walked.

He said nothing.

“You asked what I found most difficult about writing characters of the opposite sex.”

Alicia glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He focused straight ahead. She wasn’t sure of his expression.

“You have an answer?” He glanced at her. His brow raised.

“Yes, I do.” She let out a deep breath and grabbed her courage. “In writing a character, you need to understand how they think and react. First, the author needs to understand men and women don’t react in the same way.”

After practicing that for at least an hour last night, she was pleased with her delivery.

“I understand. Men, as the stronger of the two, are intelligent, courageous, and determined. Women, on the other hand are governed by their emotions and their virtues. They are expected to be chaste, modest, and pious.” He turned and faced her. “Do you agree?”

“No. I believe your view of women is…” She countered icily, then stopped, silently counting to ten. That was not the path of reasoning, if one could call that reasoning, she expected him to take. This man may be her publisher’s nephew, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to hit him with anything she could find. In truth, she was disappointed. She let out a breath and started again, this time in better control.

“Incorrect. That may be all you see but there is much more to a woman that drives her actions and reactions.”

His brow wrinkled and their pace slowed.

“Men are quiet and focus on the task at hand,” he said. “They are not distracted with emotions but take direct action.”

“Yes, I agree.” Encouraged he was listening, she went on. “To you…quiet and focused, to a woman…isolated and controlled. Men are all about fixing the problem and not thinking about it to determine what needs fixing.”

“And women? Are you saying they are not emotional?” he asked, not trying to hide his confusion.

“Women are an instinctive and a sensitive lot. We listen, then react and yes, we respond to tone and emotions. Our reaction is based on our responsibility within the family. Keeping peace, order, and safety are meant to be paramount to us. We’re supposed to be good at working with and organizing groups, talking with them, focusing on a solution that works for everyone in the group.”

“Men are sensitive,” he said with a strand of defense in his tone. “We react to a woman’s emotions.”

“When Beatrice was upset, Elkington did react. He left the room.” She stopped, closed her eyes, mortified at her blunder, and touched his arm.

Justin stopped. He looked at her and glanced at her hand on his arm. She withdrew it and he dragged his gaze up to her face.

“Please, don’t mention what I said to either of them.”

He gave her a smile that took her breath away. He bent toward her, his lips almost touching her ear.

“Your secret is safe. But I may ask for a boon.”

She nodded, breathless. “And if I refuse?” she said.

“You will leave me no alternative; I will blackmail you, of course.”

She enjoyed his gentle sparring as much as he did. “I can’t let that happen, can I.” It was hard for her to keep from smiling.

He pulled her arm through his and continued on. “Good. It is forgotten. Yes, men do react, but our instinct is to resolve the issue. We put great thought into the problem and decide what is best for the woman. It may not be what she wants.”

“Exactly my point. Men imagine they know what is best for the woman and what she wants—”

“Are you saying they don’t?” he interrupted.

“They don’t, but nonetheless, they make the decision without discussing or consulting with her.”

“And that’s what a woman wants, to be consulted?”

She glanced at his face as they continued on. Deep lines of concentration appeared along his brows and under his eyes.

“Do you like it when decisions are made that impact you without care for the consequences? All in the guise that it is the right action, of course. All done for your own good.”

They arrived outside the cathedral. He stopped, knew exactly what she meant. There were times when orders were given that he thought…well, that wasn’t the issue right now. But in dealing with women?

“Women are better at discussing and sharing information. They can talk through issues with others to arrive at a resolution that best serves the group.”

He still considered the issue. “If that is true, how should Elkington have responded to your sister?”

“With comfort and compassion. They should talk about the issue and reach an agreement, together.”

He chuckled and gazed at the square church tower. “Men are not known for their compassion. If we speak about the expected roles of men and women, then the man is the provider and protector. When he is faced with a situation, it is his primary responsibility to protect those at risk.”

Alicia nodded. “I hadn’t thought about the differences between men and women in those terms. Men focus on risk and women strive on managing the group, the young, the family.”

She understood her hero and heroine would approach solving a problem differently but hadn’t realized why. The man was responding the way he knew how, taking action, taking control. The hero’s growth would come from understanding and developing a working relationship with the heroine. And vice versa.

Her excitement built as scenes in her new story came to mind. She knew they needed to be rewritten, but how?

Isaac told her she had a tendency to overlook the natural struggles between her hero and heroine. Now it became clear.

“This difference could have the hero and heroine thinking differently about everything,” she said more to herself. Yes, that made perfect sense to her. Beatrice’s private discussion sprang into her mind. “Even intimacy.”

“I beg your pardon.” He dropped his voice to a low raspy whisper, sending chills down her spine. A sly smile brightened his face.

Alicia, her face flushed with heat, wanted to melt into the stones. And in front of the cathedral.

“For women, intimacy starts in their head, not necessarily…” Her face was so hot she was going to go up in flames.

“Oh, really?”

If she thought his soft, mellow voice or his smoldering stare couldn’t get any more suggestive, she was wrong.

“I’m an author. I write about relationships and emotions,” she replied, unable to face him.

“And intimacy,” he purred.

She closed her eyes and tried not to think about how her body was responding to his suggestions. Was he suggesting…inviting?

“Please forgive me, Lady Alicia. I’ve carried our conversation into topics that in the present company should not be spoken. It was playful banter for which I apologize. If you prefer, I’ll bring you home.”

“No,” she snapped, turning to face him. “I mean you’re forgiven, Captain. I am equally responsible. I diverted our conversation into subjects not appropriate to discuss in your company.”

Her fingers itched to push away the lock of hair that fell boyishly over his forehead. Instead, she stood and stared at him.

“A shared culpability.” He let out a breath and smiled. “Why don’t you tell me about the cathedral?”

Relieved, she faced the building. He did the same.

“The cathedral was founded in 1091, the same time as Sommer Castle. A great fire destroyed the cathedral in 1216. It took over 130 years to be rebuilt. The tower with its lantern spire is one of the most beautiful of its type. It was added in the early 1400s and was the main navigation point for ships using the Sommer River.

“The tower saved the city from invasion. If no’, I would have been speaking tae ye like a Scotswoman.”

He squeezed his eyes shut and scrunched his shoulders. She was aware her attempt at a Scottish accent was laughable. At least he was laughing.

“Ye dinnae have it right, lassie. Ye should no’ try what yer no’ capable of doing.”

She stared at him.

“My grandparents on my mother’s side are from—”

“They’re from Scotland,” she interrupted.

“Yes, my mother is part of—”

“One of my characters was a lass from Edinburgh.”

*

The Clan Melrose.That’s what he started to say. On second thought, her interruption was fortunate. He didn’t want to divert a very pleasant conversation. He’d have to find a more opportune time. At the moment, he preferred to learn more about the cathedral’s history.

“How did the tower prevent you from acquiring a fine Scottish brogue?”

“It was during a nine-week siege by Scottish invaders in 1644. They made all sorts of demands. But the people wouldn’t agree to any of them. There were skirmishes and fights. Your ancestors, forgive me Captain, but they were not a nice lot, stole the grain and scared the livestock so there was no milk from the cows or eggs from the chickens. The villagers fought back valiantly and took prisoners.”

“It’s an unfortunate part of war,” he said softly.

“The invaders took whatever they wanted and when there was nothing left to take, they demanded more. They wanted gold. But the mayor stood firm. The only item of value in the cathedral was the treasured chalice. He wouldn’t surrender the relic.”

“So how did the tower save the good people of Sommer-by-the-Sea?” he asked.

“Patience, I’m coming to that.” She placed her hand on his arm.

Her brief touch made him more aware of her standing at his side than he wanted to admit. Her playful banter charmed him. He enjoyed her tale, and her telling even more.

She leaned in as if she told him the greatest secret. Her large hazel eyes grew bigger when she spoke, and her smile sparkled. He found himself hanging on her every word.

“The Scottish men who came here, not your direct forbearers I’m sure, threatened if the mayor didn’t give them the gold chalice, they would bombard the tower. Gold? There was no gold chalice, especially in the 1600s. The relic’s value was in what it symbolized in the religious ritual, not the substance of which it was made. But I digress. The attackers made their threat, and our mayor Sir John Whitaker developed a plan.” She lowered her voice, intriguing him even more.

“Your forbearers suffered their losses. I’m sorry to tell you some lost their lives and others, well, they became guests of the mayor. He provided quarters for them at Sommer Castle, in the dungeon, deep underground.

“The deeper they went into the ground, the greater the stink of wet, pungent mildew. Black mold grew across the walls and parts of the floor. Despite the smell, they were forced to go on. At the bottom, they came to a door. The door opened onto what appeared to be a stone forest, a broad, pillared hall with stone columns as large as tree trunks.”

“It sounds frightening.” Her eyes twinkled as she artfully painted the picture with words. The story enchanted him, but not as much as the enchantress.

“The dungeon was horrifying. Thick cobwebs filled the corners of the room. Wisps of webbing hung from the ceiling and waved in the stale air. The room held a curious array of tools. Winches and levers projected from every wall, and chains with handles dangled from the ceiling. Manacles were set into the walls. One set of manacles was broken open. This is where the men were held.”

Alicia’s voice had taken on a lost, distant sound reminding him of men who relived their battlefield experiences. His concern grew to alarm. Strong men had crumbled under less.

“When were you there last?” he asked as he gently took her hand.

“I haven’t been there in many years.”

He lifted her chin with the crook of his finger. The urge to kiss her was all-consuming. He wanted to kiss away the pained expression in her eyes and bring back the warm smile to her now pale face.

Instead, they spoke not a word and let their eyes convey what they couldn’t. Slowly, her pained expression receded. Her pale face replaced with a warm smile. He removed his hand.

She had immersed herself in the scene and taken him along with her.

“The dungeon is open to visitors.” She let out a deep breath but didn’t move away. “It is also the prison where Judge Scofield sends someone too dangerous to keep in the village jail. I don’t remember him ever giving that order. Barrington saw the dungeon about three years ago when the young Rogers boy was missing.”

“Was he in the dungeon?” He gave her a worried glance.

“No, he was hiding from his mother in their barn. No one wants to be in the dungeon during the day. The boy was missing all night. Even he didn’t want to be down there alone.”

“Clever boy.” He nodded at the boy’s good sense. “What was the fate of my Scottish brethren?”

“In the middle of the night the mayor had all the Scottish prisoners put in the tower. Your forebearers are a loyal bunch and wouldn’t risk their brethren’s lives. The siege ended in a truce. The prisoners were released on the condition they do not return. That is how the cathedral tower saved me from having a Scottish brogue.”

“And I apologize for the error of my forebearers’ ways. But they did add some color to your history.”

She couldn’t control her burst of laughter and he joined her in sincere amusement.

They spent the remainder of their time examining the cathedral’s stained-glass windows before they started back to Hartmore Manor.

“We’ll walk along the river. You’ll have a good view of the castle from there. Well, you’ll have a good view of the castle from just about everywhere. It sits on a promontory. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll explore it, if you’d like.”

“That’s kind of you, Lady Alicia. I would enjoy seeing the castle with you.”

They hadn’t walked far when Alicia stopped.

“Is something amiss?”

He looked into her eyes and saw true concern.

“No, Captain Caulfield. I enjoyed our conversation about…characters and their differences.”

“If I offended you, I’m sorry.” He took her hand and brought it to his lips. “That was not my intent.”

Her tender expression hit him hard. Hard enough that his heart skipped a beat.

“Not at all,” she said, her voice low and breathless. “Nor was it mine.”