Friday, January 29, 2010

The Courteous Cad by Catherine Palmer


Catherine Palmer has just published her third book in her “Miss Pickworth” series. The Courteous Cad focuses on William Sherbourne – a cad, and Prudence Watson – a wannabe crusader who has vowed never to marry.

William fully admits to being a cad. Was a cad, is a cad, but will he stay a cad?

Prudence only wants to make changes for the good, but seems to fail at her attempts. When her feeble efforts involve Mr. Sherbourne’s worsted mill, a clash of the two opposites ensue.

Prudence (sister of Sarah from book 1, The Affectionate Adversary) was hard for me to figure out. Although, I think that was all part of her character. Prudence is trying to figure her own self out.

Throw in a dashing, charming, supposed-to-be-but-maybe-not villain, and any female character in a novel is confused. ;-)

If you’ve been waiting for Catherine to finish book 3, then you will likely enjoy revisiting the characters, as well as a few oldies from her “English Ivy” series.

By the way, for those of you who have read the other two books in Palmer’s series, society tattler “Miss Pickworth’s” identity is revealed in The Courteous Cad…or I think it was!

For the last several months, I have been in a Jane Austen kind of mood. Books, movies, doesn’t really matter; anything set in that time period is holding my interest at the moment.

Because I’m in that Jane Austen mood, I enjoyed the flow and feel of The Courteous Cad; however, although I am always glad to finish a series, The Courteous Cad was not a couldn’t-put-down kind of read.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Otley, Yorkshire

1817

“I shall never marry,” Prudence Watson declared to her sister as they crossed a busy Yorkshire street. “Men are cads, all of them. They toy with our hearts. Then they brush us aside as if we were no more than a crumb of cake at teatime. A passing fancy. A sweet morsel enjoyed for a moment and soon forgotten.”

“Enough, Prudence,” her sister pleaded. “You make me quite hungry, and you know we are late to tea.”

“Hungry?” A glance revealed the twitch of mirth on Mary's lips. Prudence frowned. “You think me silly.”

“Dearest Pru, you are silly.” Mary raised her wool collar against the cold, misty drizzle. “One look at you announces it to all the world. You're far too curly-haired, pink-cheeked, and blue-eyed to be taken seriously.”

“I cannot help my cheeks and curls, nor have they anything to do with my resolve to remain unmarried.”

“But they have everything to do with the throng of eligible men clamoring to fill your dance card at every ball. Your suitors send flowers and ask you to walk in the gardens. On the days you take callers, they stand elbow to elbow in the foyer. It is really too much. Surely one of them must be rewarded with your hand.”

“No,” Prudence vowed. “I shall not marry. I intend to follow the example of my friend Betsy.”

“Elizabeth Fry is long wed and the mother of too many children to count.”

“But she obeys a calling far higher than matrimony.”

“Rushing in and out of prisons with blankets and porridge? Is that your friend's high calling?”

“Indeed it is, Mary. Betsy is a crusader. With God's help, she intends to better the lives of the poor women in Newgate.”

“Better the lives of soiled doves, pickpockets, and tavern maids?” Mary scoffed. “I should like to see that.”

“And so you will, for I have no doubt of Betsy's success. I shall succeed, too, when God reveals my mission. I mean to be an advocate for the downtrodden. I shall champion those less fortunate than I.”

“You are hardly fortunate yourself, Pru. You would do better to marry a rich man and redeem the world by bringing up moral, godly, well-behaved children.”

“Do not continue to press me on that issue, Mary, I beg you. My mind is set. I have loved and lost. I cannot bear another agony so great.”

“Do you refer to that man more than twice your age? the Tiverton blacksmith? Mr. . . . Mr. Walker?”

Prudence tried to ignore the disdain in Mary's voice. They were nearing the inn at which they had taken lodging in the town of Otley. Their eldest sister, Sarah, had prescribed a tour of the north country, declaring Yorkshire's wild beauty the perfect antidote to downtrodden spirits. Thus far, Prudence reflected, the journey had not achieved its aim.

Now, Mary had raised again the subject of great torment to Prudence. It was almost as though she enjoyed mocking her younger sister's passion for a man she could never wed. Whatever anyone thought of him, Prudence decided, she would defend her love with valor and tenacity.

“Mr. Walker is a gentleman,” she insisted. “A gentleman of the first order.”

“Nonsense,” Mary retorted. “He has no title, no land, no home, no education, nothing. How can you call him a gentleman?”

“Of course he has no title--he is an American!” Annoyed, Prudence lifted her skirts as she approached a large puddle in the street. “Americans have no peerage. By law, they are all equal.”

“Equally common. Equally ordinary. Equally low.” Mary rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Pru, you can do far better than Mr. Walker. Sarah and I hold the opinion that her nephew, Henry Carlyle, Lord Delacroix, would suit you very well indeed. She writes that he is returned from India much improved from their last acquaintance. Delacroix owns a fine home in London and another in the country. He is wealthy, handsome, and titled. In short, the perfect catch. Leave everything to your sisters, Pru. We shall make it all come about.”

“You will do nothing of the sort! Delacroix is a foolish, reckless cad. I would not marry him if he were the last man in England.”

Annoyed, Prudence stepped onto a narrow plank, a makeshift bridge someone had laid across the puddle. Attempting to steady herself, she did not notice a ragged boy dart from an alleyway. He splashed into the muddy water, snatched the velvet reticule at her waist, and fled.

“Oh!” she cried out.

The plank tilted. Prudence tipped. Her balance shifted.

In a pouf of white petticoats, she tottered backward until she could do nothing but unceremoniously seat herself in the center of the dirty pool. Mud splattered across her blue cape and pink skirt as she sprawled out, legs askew and one slipper floating in the muck.

“Dear lady!” A man knelt beside her. “Are you injured? Please allow me to assist you.”

She looked into eyes the color of warm treacle. A tumble of dark curls fell over his brow. Angled cheekbones were echoed in the squared jut of his jaw. It was the face of an angel. Her guardian angel.

“My bag,” she sputtered. “The boy took it.”

“My man has gone after him. Have no fear on that account. But what of you? Can you stand? May I not help you?”

He held out a hand sheathed in a brown kid glove. Prudence reached for it, but Mary intervened.

“You are mud from head to toe, Pru!” She blocked the stranger's hand. “You must try to get up on your own. We are near the inn, and we shall find you a clean gown at once.”

“Hang my gown!” Prudence retorted. “Give me your hand, sister, or allow this gentleman to aid me. My entire . . . undercarriage is wet.”

At this, the man's lips curved into a grin. “Do accept my offer of assistance, dear lady, and I shall wrap my cloak about you . . . you and your damp undercarriage.”

The motley crowd gathered on the street were laughing and elbowing one another at the sight of a fine lady seated in a puddle. Prudence had endured quite enough derision and mockery for one day. She set her muddy hand in the gentleman's palm. He slipped his free hand under her arm and helped her rise. Before she could bemoan her disheveled state, he swept the thick wool cloak from his shoulders and laid it across her own.

“My name is Sherbourne,” he said as he led her toward the inn. “William Sherbourne of Otley.”

“I am Prudence Watson. Of London.”

Utterly miserable, she realized a truth far worse than a muddy gown, a missing slipper, and a tender undercarriage. She was crying. Crying first because she had been assaulted. Second because her bag was stolen away. Third because she was covered in cold, sticky mud. Fourth and every other number because Mr. Walker had abandoned her.

He had declared he loved Prudence too much to make her his wife. He kissed her hand. He bade her farewell. And she had neither seen nor heard from him since.

“You will catch pneumonia,” Mary cried as she hastened ahead of them to open the inn's door. “Oh, Pru, you will have a fever by sunset and we shall bleed you and care for you and you will die anyway, just like my dear Mr. Heathhill, who left me a widow.”

“Upon my word, madam,” William spoke up. “I would never lay out such a fate for a woman so young and lovely. Miss Watson is hardly bound for an early grave. Do refrain from such predictions, I beg you.”

“Oh, Mary, his rose was in my reticule,” Prudence moaned. “The rose Mr. Walker gave me. I pressed it and vowed to keep it forever. And now it is lost.”

“Your husband?” William asked. He helped her ascend the stairs and escorted her into the inn. “Give me his name, and I shall alert him to your distress.”

“She has no husband,” Mary informed him. “We are both unmarried, for I am recently a widow.”

“Do accept my sincere condolences.”

“Thank you, sir. But we have not been properly introduced. I am Mrs. John Heathhill of Cranleigh Crescent in London.”

“William Sherbourne of Otley, at your service.” He made a crisp bow. “You are Miss Watson's sister?”

“Yes,” Prudence cut in, “and if she will stop chattering for once, I shall welcome her attention. Mary, come with me, for I am shivering.”

“Heavens! That is exactly how the influenza began with my dear late husband!” Mary took her sister's arm and stepped toward the narrow staircase. “Thank you, Mr. Sherbourne. We are in your debt.”

“Think nothing of it,” he replied. “I wish you a speedy recovery and excellent health, Miss Watson. Good afternoon, ladies.”

“Such a gentleman!” Mary exclaimed as she accompanied her sister up the stairs and into their suite. “So very chivalrous. I wager he is married. Even so, I should be happy to see him again. You have his cloak still, and on that account we are compelled to call on him. What good fortune! He is well mannered indeed. And you must agree he is terribly handsome.”

Prudence was in no humor to discuss anyone's merits. “Find my blue gown, Mary. The one with roses. And ask the maids to bring hot water. Hot, mind you. I cannot bear another drop of cold water. I am quite chilled to the bone.”

While Mary gave instructions to the inn's staff, Prudence began removing her sodden gown. She shuddered at the memory of that boy snatching her reticule. Thank heaven for Mr. Sherbourne's kindness. But Mr. Walker's rose was gone now, just as the man himself had disappeared from her life.

“Did you like him?” Mary asked as she sorted through the gowns in her sister's trunk. “I thought he had nice eyes. Very brown. His smile delighted me, too. He was uncommonly tall, yet his bearing could not have been more regal. If he is yet unmarried, I think him just the sort of man to make you a good husband.”

“A husband?” Prudence could hardly believe it. “You were matchmaking while I sat in the mud? Honestly, Mary, you should wed Mr. Sherbourne yourself.”

“Now you tease me. You know my mourning is not complete. Even if it were, I am certain I shall never find another man as good to me as my dear late Mr. Heathhill.”

“If you will not marry, why must you make such valiant efforts to force me into that state? I have declared my intention never to wed. You and Sarah must respect that decision.”

“Our duty to you supersedes all your ridiculous notions, Pru. You have no home and no money. Society accepts you only because of your excellent connections.”

“You refer to yourself, of course. And Sarah. With such superior sisters to guide me, I can never go wrong.”

When the maids entered the room with pitchers of steaming water, Prudence gladly escaped her hovering sister. She loved Mary well enough, but the death of Mr. Heathhill had cast the poor woman into a misery that nothing could erase. Mary's baby daughter resided in the eager arms of doting grandparents while she was away, but she missed the child dreadfully. With both sisters mourning lost love, their holiday in the north had proven as melancholy as the misty moors, glassy lakes, and windswept dells of Yorkshire.

Not even a warm bath and clean, dry garments could stop Prudence from shivering. Mary had gone to the inn's gathering room with the hope of ordering tea. The thought of a cup of tea and a crackling blaze on the hearth sent Prudence hurrying down after her sister.

Amid clusters of chatting guests, she spotted Mary at a table near the fire. Two maids were laying out a hearty tea--a spread of currant cake, warm scones, cold meats, jams, and marmalade. A round-bellied brown teapot sent up a curl of steam.

Prudence chose a chair while Mary gloomily cut the cake and served it. “Not enough currants,” she decreed. “And very crumbly.”

“I have been thinking about your observations on my situation in life,” Prudence said. “I see you cannot help but compare my lot to that of my siblings. Thanks to our late father, Sarah has more money than she wants. You inherited your husband's estate and thus have no worry about the future. But I? I am to be pitied. You think me poor.”

“You are poor,” Mary corrected her. “Sarah is not only rich, but her place in society was secured forever by her marriage into the Delacroix family. She is terribly well connected. Surely you read Miss Pickworth's column in last week's issue of The Tattler. She reported that Sarah's new husband is likely to be awarded a title.”

“Miss Pickworth, Miss Pickworth. Do you read The Tattler day and night, Mary? One might suppose Miss Pickworth to be your dearest friend--and not some anonymous gossip whose reports keep society in a flutter.”

“Miss Pickworth keeps society abreast of important news.” Mary poured two cups of tea. “I value her advice, and I welcome her information.”

“Unfounded rumors and hints of scandal,” Prudence retorted. “Nothing but tittle-tattle.”

“Oh, stir your tea, Pru.”

For a moment, both sisters tended to their cups. But Prudence at last broached a subject she had been considering for some time.

“I am ready to go home,” she told her sister. “I want to see Sarah. I miss my friends, Betsy most of all. Anne, you know, is dearer still to me, but she is rarely at home. I do not mind, really, for the thought of Anne only reminds me of Mr. Walker.”

“Please forgive my interruption.”

A man's deep voice startled Prudence. She looked up to find William Sherbourne standing at their table. He was all she had remembered, and more. His shoulders were impossibly broad, his hair the exact color of strong tea, his hands so large they would circle a woman's waist without difficulty. She had not noticed how fine he looked in his tall black riding boots and coat. But now she did, and she sat up straighter.

“May I trouble you ladies for a moment?” he asked.

“Mr. Sherbourne, how delightful to see you again.” Mary's words dripped honey. “Do join us for tea, won't you?”

“Thank you, but I fear I cannot. Duty calls.” He turned his deep brown eyes on Prudence. “Miss Watson, my man retrieved your bag. I trust nothing is amiss.”

He held out the velvet reticule she had been carrying. So delighted she could not speak, Prudence took it and loosened the silk drawstrings. After a moment's search, she located her small leather-bound journal and opened it. From its pages, the dried blossom fluttered onto her lap.

“Sister, have you nothing to say to Mr. Sherbourne?” Mary asked. “Perhaps you would like to thank him for his kindness?”

“Yes, of course,” Prudence said, tucking the rose and notebook back into her reticule and rising from her chair. “I am grateful to you, Mr. Sherbourne. First you rescued me from the street, and now you have returned my bag. You are very gallant.”

He laughed. “Gallant, am I? I fear there are many who would disagree with you. But perhaps you would honor me with the favor of your company for a moment. There is someone I wish you to meet.”

Prudence glanced at her sister, who was pretending not to notice anything but the few currants in her tea cake.

“Do run along, Pru,” Mary said. “I am quite content to take my tea and await your return.”

William held out his arm, and Prudence slipped her hand around it. “I hope you do not think me forward in my request,” he remarked. “You know nothing of my character, yet you accompany me willingly.”

“I have called you gallant,” she replied. “Was I mistaken?”

“Greatly.” His brown eyes twinkled as he escorted her toward the door of the inn. “I am so far from gallant that you would do well never to speak to me again. But it is too late, for I have taken you captive. You are under my spell, and I may do with you as I wish.”

Uncertain, Prudence studied his face. “What is it you wish, sir?”

“Ah, but if I reveal my dark schemes, the spell will be broken. I would have you think me courteous. Noble. Kind.”

“You tease me now. Are you not a gentleman?”

“Quite the opposite. I am, in fact, a rogue. A rogue of the worst sort, and never to be trusted. I rescue ladies from puddles only on Tuesdays. The remainder of the week, I am contemptible. But look, here is my man with the scalawag who stole your bag. And with them stands a true gentleman, one who wishes to know you.”

Feeling slightly off-kilter, Prudence turned her attention to a liveried footman just inside the inn, near the door. In his right hand, he clasped the ragged collar of a young boy whose dirty face wore a sneer. Beside them stood a man so like William Sherbourne in appearance that she thought they must be twins.

“Randolph Sherbourne, eldest of three brothers,” William announced. “Randolph, may I introduce Miss Prudence Watson?”

“I am delighted to make your acquaintance, madam.” He made her a genteel bow.

She returned a somewhat wobbly curtsy. It was one thing to meet one man of stature, elegance, and wit, but quite another to find herself in the presence of two such men.

“Miss Watson, you are as lovely as my brother reported,” Randolph said. “His accounts are so often exaggerated that I give them little notice. But in your case, he perhaps did not do you justice.”

“I believe I called her an angel, Randolph. There can be no superlative more flattering. Yet I confess I did struggle to give an adequate account of Miss Watson's charms.”

“Please, gentlemen,” Prudence spoke up at last. She had heard too much already. These brothers were men like all the rest, stumbling over themselves to impress and flatter. “My tea awaits, and I must hasten to thank your footman for retrieving my reticule.”

“But of course,” William agreed. “Harris, do relate to Miss Watson your adventures of the afternoon.”

The footman bowed. “I pursued this boy down an alley and over a fence, madam. In short order, I captured him and retrieved your bag.”

“Thank you, Harris.” Prudence favored him with a smile. “I am most grateful.”

“What shall we do with the vile offender?” William asked her. “I have considered the gallows, but his neck is too thin to serve that purpose. The rack might be useful, but he has already surrendered your reticule, and we need no further information from him. Gaol, do you think? Or should we feed him to wild hogs?”

Prudence pursed her lips to keep her expression stern. “I favor bears,” she declared. “They are larger than hogs and make quick work of their prey.”

The boy let out a strangled squawk. “Please, ma'am, I'm sorry for what I done. I'll never do it again, I swear.”

She bent to study his face and noted freckles beneath the dirt. “What is your name, young man? And how old are you?”

“I'm ten,” he said. “My name is Tom Smith.”

“Tom Smith,” she repeated. “Does your father own a smithy?”

“No, ma'am. My father be dead these three years together.”

“I am sorry to hear it. Tell me, Tom, do you believe your father would be pleased that you have taken to stealing?”

“He would know why I done it, for he would see Davy's sufferin' and wish to ease it--same as all of us.”

“And who is Davy?” she asked.

“My brother. We're piecers, ma'am. And all our sisters be scavengers. Davy was crippled in the mill.” Tom's large gray eyes fastened on William Sherbourne as he pointed a thin finger. “His mill.”

“Impossible,” William said. “My family built our mill, in fact, with the express purpose of providing honest and humane labor for the villagers of Otley.”

“Take this, Tom.” Prudence pressed a coin into the boy's grimy hand. “Please use it for your brother's care.”

“A shillin'?” He gaped at her.

“Yes. But you must promise to turn from crime and always be a good boy.”

“I promise, ma'am. With all my heart.”

“Run along, then.” She smiled as he pushed the shilling deep into the pocket of his trousers.

“You are an angel,” Tom said. “Truly, you are.”

With a final look back at her, he slipped out of the footman's grasp and flew through the doorway and down the street.

“Now that is an interesting approach to deterring misbehavior,” William addressed his brother. “Catch a thief, then pay him. What do you think, Randolph? Shall you recommend it to Parliament on your next appointment in the House of Lords? Perhaps it might be made a law.”

Prudence bristled. “I gave the shilling to aid Tom Smith's injured brother. Perhaps you should recommend that to Parliament. I have heard much about the abhorrent treatment of children who work in the mills.”

Randolph Sherbourne spoke up. “My family's worsted mill, Miss Watson, is nothing like those factories of ill repute.”

“I believe young Davy Smith might argue the point. His brother blames your mill for the injury.”

“Do you take the word of a pickpocket over that of a gentleman?” William asked her.

“I see you call yourself a gentleman when the situation requires one, Mr. Sherbourne. Only moments ago, you were a rogue.”

“I fear William's first account of his character was accurate,” Randolph told her. “We have done our best to redeem him, but alas, our efforts always come to naught. He is bad through and through, a villain with a black heart and no soul whatever.”

“As wicked as that, is he?” Prudence suddenly found it difficult to fan her flame of moral outrage. “Then I am glad our acquaintance will be of short duration. My sister and I soon end our tour of the north country. Perhaps as early as tomorrow morning we shall set off for London.”

“But I have hardly begun to abuse William,” Randolph protested. “My brother deserves much worse, and you must know the whole truth about him. My wife and I should enjoy the honor of your company at dinner today. You and your sister are welcome at Thorne Lodge.”

“You will never persuade Miss Watson to linger in Yorkshire,” William assured his brother. “Her heart hastens her toward a gentleman who has been so fortunate as to win the love of an angel.”

“Ah, you are engaged, Miss Watson,” Randolph said. “I should very much like to congratulate the man who prevailed over all other suitors.”

“His name is Walker,” William informed him. “With a single red rose, he secured his triumph.”

“You assume too much, sir. I am not engaged.” Prudence looked away, afraid the men might see her distress and mock it. “Marriage is not the object of my heart's desire.”

“Yet your pain upon losing Mr. Walker's rose was great indeed,” William observed. “What can have parted you from him?”

“Upon my honor, Mr. Sherbourne,” Prudence snapped, “I think you very rude to intrude on my privacy with such a question.”

“Yes, but rudeness is the hallmark of my character. I give offense wherever I go.”

“Indeed,” Randolph agreed. “William is always impolite and discourteous. I should urge you to ignore him, Miss Watson. But in this case, I am as curious as he. How dare anyone object to a gentleman of whom you approve so heartily?”

“Mr. Walker is an American,” she told the brothers. “He is a blacksmith. And poor. With so many disadvantages, society decreed a match between us unconscionable. We were parted, and I do not know where he has gone.”

“An American, did you say?” William asked. “Is he an older man? rather tall with a stocky build? black hair?”

“Mr. Walker's ancestors were native to America,” Prudence said. “Of the Osage tribe. He is more than twice my age. Sir, do you know him?”

“I hired the man three months ago. He is the blacksmith at my mill.”

Prudence gasped. “Mr. Walker is here? in Otley?”

“Perhaps she will not be leaving Yorkshire quite so soon,” Randolph commented. “I believe Miss Watson has found a reason to stay.”

“She may find reason to go when she learns that Mr. Walker is soon to be married.” William's brown eyes softened. “I am sorry to bear unhappy tidings. Dear lady, you look quite pale. May I bring you a chair?”

“No,” she said, holding up a hand. “I am unmoved by your news. It is right and proper that Mr. Walker has found a wife. I am very happy for him. And now if you will both excuse me, my sister has long been wishing for my company.”

After giving the briefest of curtsies, she turned away and made for the fire as swiftly as her feet would fly. She would not cry. She would not reveal the slightest emotion. No one must guess she felt anything but contentment and perfect ease.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” Mary asked as Prudence sank into her chair. “You look as if you might faint dead away!”

“Mr. Walker is here,” Prudence choked out. “In Yorkshire. In this very town. And he is engaged to be married.”

Mary offered her handkerchief. “Shocking,” she whispered. “Shocking and sad. But dry your eyes before you make a scene, Pru, for I have just had the most wonderful news from the lady at the next table. Do you not wish to hear it?”

Prudence could barely form words. “No, Mary. I am quite undone.”

“You must hear it anyway, for this news concerns you.” Mary leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “Mr. William Sherbourne, who rescued you from the puddle and has paid you such extraordinary attention, is a proper gentleman with excellent connections. His eldest brother is a baron and owns a great estate in Yorkshire. His second brother is a clergyman who lives in India. He himself is a most distinguished officer in the Royal Navy, and he has just returned from sea after many months fighting the Americans . . . or was it the French? I can never recall.”

“Nor can I,” Prudence murmured.

“Never mind, because he has quit the Navy and is now settled in Otley for good. He owns a large worsted mill and is worth five thousand pounds a year. Think of it--five thousand a year! And best of all--he is unmarried. Quite unattached. How wonderful for you!”

Prudence swallowed against the growing lump in her throat. “I do not care if he is worth ten thousand a year and owns five worsted mills, Mary. I do not want him. I do not want him at all.”

“Quick, dry your eyes, Pru, for here he comes. And his brother. You may win his heart yet, and what happiness awaits you then. Oh, heavens, why did I not wear my good bonnet?”



Thank you, Catherine, through Tyndale and FIRST, for letting me enjoy and review The Courteous Cad!

Recommend: YES

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**Disclaimer: I was given a free product, through Tyndale and FIRST, for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family.**
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The Choice by Suzanne Woods Fisher


Carrie is about to make her choice. She will leave her family and Amish community behind and follow her beau into the world.

Tragedy strikes, and a different choice is made for her. As Carrie struggles, she is faced with yet another difficult decision. Again, Carrie makes her choice and marries a man she does not love.

Circumstance after circumstance, choice after choice, Carrie wades through seemingly endless grief to find her way to forgiveness and even love.

Like many recent Amish-based books I’ve read, The Choice had quite a bit of “English” in it. Although I’m coming to expect and even dread that, The Choice was a fairly believable story (except for Steelhead and Emma! Huh?!) and a good reminder of the effect our decisions, good and bad, can make on our life.

You can read the first chapter HERE and see what other bloggers had to say about Suzanne’s latest book HERE.

There’s also a chance for you to WIN a signed copy of The Choice via Twitter. Tweet this:

Psst... pass it on! Join @suzannewfisher for a Book Bomb & Author Talk! Details here http://ow.ly/W84r #thechoice

Thanks to litFUSE for sending me a review copy and allowing me to participate in the blog tour for The Choice!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.


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**Disclaimer: I was given a free book through litFUSE for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family.**
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Simple Sugar Cookies - Gold Medal Flour

This recipe for tasty sugar cookies was taken off the back of a bag of Gold Medal Flour. You can roll or drop... I avoid rolling at all costs! ;-) In fact, the recipe is actually called, "To Roll or Not to Roll Sugar Cookies."

sugar cookies

"TO ROLL OR NOT TO ROLL SUGAR COOKIES"

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (sometimes I substitute lemon extract or extra vanilla)
1 egg
2 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
colored sugar or granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

FOR NO-ROLL COOKIES: In large bowl, beat sugar and butter on low speed or with spoon until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla, almond extract, and egg. Stir in flour and baking soda. Shape dough by teaspoonfuls into balls. On ungreased cookie sheet, place 2 inches apart. Flatten with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until set. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.

FOR ROLLED CUTOUT COOKIES: Use 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar instead of 1 cup sugar. In large bowl, beat powdered sugar and butter on low speed or with spoon until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla, almond extract, and egg. Stir in flour and baking soda. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Divide dough in half. Roll each half 1/4 inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut into desired seasonal shapes with 2- to 2 1/2-inch cookie cutters. If cookies will not be frosted, sprinkle with sugar. On ungreased cookie sheet, place cutouts 2 inches apart. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until edges are light brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

Recommend: YES

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Skin MD Natural and Fairytale Brownies Contest Winners!

Just wanted to post the WINNERS of my two most recent contests!

Congratulations to {Shelly} on winning a bottle of Skin MD Natural's shielding lotion! I think you'll finally be able to say goodbye to your dry skin!!


From over 100 entries (!), Anonymous, her contact info is {Carla}, is going to be savoring some gourmet sweets after winning a Valentine Dozen from Fairytale Brownies!!


CONGRATULATIONS!

I also wanted to share that I had to REdraw TWICE, because some entrants didn't post their email and it was either hidden on their profile, or their profile wasn't available!! :-( If you're a regular contest enter-er (lol), on any blog, you should be SURE that a way to contact you if you win is accessible!

Thanks to all of you for entering! I wish I could have made sure you ALL won!

Here's another chance: You've got a week to enter to win a voucher for a FREE box of General Mills cereal!

Have a great weekend!
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General Mills Cereal - WIN a free box!

My husband and children enjoy cereal. My children often eat it dry, as a midmorning or afternoon snack. I have even been known to give the kids cereal for a meal other than breakfast, which has always made me feel soo guilty. I'm not sure why, when we sometimes have pancakes for supper, too!

I guess I think of most cereal as non-nutritional and just "filler," but, I found the following information from General Mills to be very interesting:


Did you know that ready-to-eat cereal eaters consume less fat, less cholesterol and more fiber than non-cereal eaters? Cereals also deliver important vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, making cereal a top source of key nutrients in children’s diets.

Other cereal benefits:

  • Ready-to-eat cereals, including presweetened cereals, account for only 5% of sugar in children’s diets.
  • Ready-to-eat cereal is the No. 1 source of whole grains in a child’s diet today.
  • More frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weights and lower Body Mass Index measures.
Studies also demonstrate the benefits of eating breakfast. A 1998 study showed that children who eat breakfast tend to perform better at school. Compared to children who skip breakfast, children who eat breakfast score higher on tests, are less likely to miss class or be tardy, have fewer reported discipline problems, and make fewer trips to the office.

For more information about kids and cereals, please visit Cereal Health and Wellness.

Right now if you visit here you will find a $1 off coupon for one of four General Mills cereals to help your family come together at the breakfast table every morning.


So, go get yourself a bowl and spoon and pour yourself some General Mills cereal! Plenty to choose from! Two of our favorites: Honey Nut Cheerios and the new Trix Swirls! Mmm!

GIVEAWAY ALERT!
Want to WIN IT? I've got a voucher for one free box of any General Mills cereal!

To enter, tell me what your favorite cereal is!

For additional entries (must do above to qualify for extra entries!),
  • Follow my blog publicly via a feed reader, networked blogs, or subscribe by email (must confirm subscription). Comment and let me know! If you're already a follower/subscriber, comment and let me know! (1 entry)
  • Blog about my giveaway and leave me a link to your post! (1 entry)
  • Enter my giveaway URL into another blog's giveaway McLinky and send me the link so I can see it! (1 entry)
  • Snag my blog button (in the far right column) and leave a comment with the link! (1 entry)
  • Follow me on Twitter and tweet this giveaway! (1 entry)
Entries accepted until Saturday, January 30, 11:59 PM. (Please note that any duplicate or unqualified entries will be deleted).

Recommend: YES

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**Disclosure: I was provided with VIP coupons, the online coupon link, and the information from General Mills and MyBlogSpark.**
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brown Sugar Meatloaf

I never used to use a recipe for meatloaf. But, one day, I came across this Brown Sugar Meatloaf on Allrecipes and decided to give it a try!

My husband really loved the sweet topping, although I thought it was too sweet, so now I cut back just a spoonful or two on the brown sugar!

The loaf holds together really well (which my non-recipe version never did!) and makes great next-day meatloaf sandwiches!!

I changed some of the original recipe, based on what was in my pantry - bread crumbs instead of crackers and adding a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce to the meat mixture! Also, rather than using a pan, I form my meat into a loaf on a foil-lined baking sheet and spread the ketchup mixture on top.

brown sugar meatloaf

A good meatloaf, served with mashed 'taters, is one of my husband's favorite comfort food meals!

BROWN SUGAR MEATLOAF

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup finely crushed saltine cracker crumbs (I use seasoned bread crumbs)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 5x9 inch loaf pan.

Press the brown sugar in the bottom of the prepared loaf pan and spread the ketchup over the sugar.

In a mixing bowl, mix thoroughly all remaining ingredients and shape into a loaf. Place on top of the ketchup.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until juices are clear.

Recommend: YES

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Nacho Potato Soup

A good friend shared this recipe with me, and it has become one of our family's favorite soups!

I did make a few changes, but either version is delicious!

First, I let my Nacho Potato Soup cook in the crockpot (about 4 hours on low, or until potatoes are tender)! I love my crockpot and use it whenever I can!

I substituted chicken broth instead of water, because I usually have a leftover carton to use up.

And, because I rarely, if ever, buy Velveeta, I added 1 - 8 oz brick of cream cheese, softened and cubed, during the last hour or so of cooking.

nacho potato soup
(I should have sprinkled with parsley for a little color, but I was so excited to eat, I almost forgot to take ANY picture)! ;-)

Whether you stick to the original recipe or use my tweaks, I think this thick, creamy, and a little bit spicy soup will quickly become one of your favorites, too!

NACHO POTATO SOUP

1 pkg (5 1/4 oz) au gratin potatoes
1 can (11 oz) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (10 oz) diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
2 cups water
2 cups milk
2 cups cubed process American cheese
dash of hot pepper sauce, optional
minced fresh parsley, optional

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the potatoes and sauce mix, corn, tomatoes, and water; mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-18 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add milk, cheese, and hot pepper sauce, if desired; cook and stir until the cheese is melted. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Yield: 6-8 servings (2 quarts)

Recommend: YES

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fairytale Brownies - Review and Valentine Dozen GIVEAWAY

My husband was my first boyfriend and quite the romantic. On any given day, I received more than my fair share of flowers, poems, and candy (any girls out there remember my flower-laden dorm room)?!

My first Valentine's Day with him was, of course, special. I received all of the typical Valentine gifts: roses, candy, and dinner out. :-)

However, before my boyfriend, there was my dad. I remember finding a small treat on my breakfast plate each Valentine's Day. Usually something simple, like conversation hearts or Little Debbie heart cakes, but my dad wanted me and my sisters, his girls, to know he loved them.

Now, I know there are plenty of Valentine boycott'ers out there! But, Valentine's Day doesn't have to be hated! Although you should be showing your love with your favorite people every day, Valentine's Day gives you a special opportunity not to miss telling them!

Ok, so how could you show them?

Roses?


C'mon! You can think harder than that!! I have been blessed with a husband who STILL gets me flowers on and off throughout the year, so I have requested that he not spend money on roses whose prices are hiked up 3x just because it's "the" day.

Ok... how about a big ol' heart filled with cheap, tough chocolates?


Exactly. I don't like cheap, tough chocolate, either.

Ok, ok... I got it! Something fun! Something different!

Something pretty! Something pretty tasty!!

How about ordering some Fairytale Brownies?


Alyssa from Fairytale Brownies generously sent me a Valentine Dozen to review.

Never have I watched so excitedly for the UPS man to arrive!

Unfortunately, UPS man was late on expected package arrival day. So late, that we were heading out the door when my brownies arrived. I was soo anxious to rip into the package, but I wanted to get pictures, and I also wanted time to TASTE each brownie.

So... I looked longingly at the pretty box and had to wait.


As soon as we got back home and the kids were put to bed, I snapped a few pictures and then the deciding-which-flavor-to-start-with-game began!


Even though I didn't realllly want to share once I saw all of those brownies, I told my husband that I would cut each brownie in half, so we could each give our opinion (I'm supposed to be sharing the love, right)?! ;-)

Fairytale's Valentine Dozen contained 12 - 3"x3" gourmet brownies. One of each of their delicious flavors.

Each Fairytale brownie begins with "rich, dark Callebaut Belgian chocolate blended with pure creamery butter and farm fresh eggs. All-natural Fairytale Brownies are certified kosher and free of trans fats, hydrogenated oils, preservatives and artificial colors."

So, how did they taste?? DELICIOUS! The brownies were soft and rich and fudgy. Yummy.

We loved them all, but my favorites were the Raspberry Swirl and Mint Chocolate. Hubby's favorites were the Walnut and Espresso Nib.

Sooo....

What are you going to get that special someone for Valentine's Day?? It's only a few weeks away! I would MUCH rather receive a Valentine Dozen of brownies rather than a dozen roses!!

READY TO BUY IT?!
Check out all of Fairytale Brownies' Valentine Treats! You can order now, but choose a shipping date closer to Valentine's Day.

But, don't forget other occasions! Fairytale Brownies would make a great birthday gift or the perfect thank you! Hey! You can send ME a nice Fairytale thank you for sharing this delicious info with you... lol!

Make your Fairytale Brownies even sweeter by getting FREE SHIPPING on orders of $30 or more. Use code MOMBLOG, expires 2/28/10!


Oh my. Are YOU in for a treat!!

GIVEAWAY ALERT!
Want to WIN IT? Fairytale Brownies is going to send one of you their Valentine Dozen to enjoy and share with someone you love! Thank you, Fairytale!!

To enter, visit Fairytale Brownies and tell me which brownie flavor you can't wait to try!

For additional entries (must do above to qualify for extra entries!),
  • Follow my blog publicly via a feed reader, networked blogs, or subscribe by email (must confirm subscription). Comment and let me know! If you're already a follower/subscriber, comment and let me know! (1 entry)
  • Blog about my giveaway and leave me a link to your post! (1 entry)
  • Enter my giveaway URL into another blog's giveaway McLinky and send me the link so I can see it! (1 entry)
  • Snag my blog button (in the far right column) and leave a comment with the link! (1 entry)
  • Become a fan of Fairytale Brownies on facebook and leave me a link with your facebook user name (1 entry)
Entries accepted until Thursday, January 21, 11:59 PM. Duplicate or unqualified entries will be deleted.

Recommend: YES

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**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family.**
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Saturday, January 9, 2010

World's Easiest Crusty Bread - No Kneading Required!

If you can dump some flour, water, yeast, and salt into a bowl and give it a quick stir...you can make this bread. Soooo easy! NO KNEADING!!! And, it turns out a wonderfully, delicious crusty bread that we gobbled up (with lots of butter)! ;-)

The only thing this bread needs is time...and, a little planning if you want it for a specific meal. I planned on it for lunchtime with some turkey soup. So, I mixed the dough together about 4:30 the afternoon before.

no knead bread

I had read about this recipe (also called "No Knead Crusty Bread") almost a year ago, but the directions used a cast iron pot to bake in. Since I didn't have one, I just saved the recipe for "someday."

THEN... I saw that Tina, over at Mommy's Kitchen, baked her bread in a covered pyrex bowl!

So, I got out my round covered Corelle casserole dish and made the bread. YUM. YUM. YUM!!!

Really, you've got to try it!! You won't be disappointed!

Tina's got a great step-by-step over on her blog! Go. GO. GO!

Recommend: OH YUMMY YES

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Skin MD Natural - Review and Giveaway!

I'm not sure about you, but just before Thanksgiving to just after Christmas, my hands are busy cooking and baking and cooking and baking.

My hands are also the only dishwasher in my house, and all of that cooking and baking creates sinkload after sinkload of dishes!

My hands then turn into icky hands! Dry, cracked, and painful!

When Skin MD Natural asked me to review their shielding lotion, I was more than willing!



The first thing I noticed when applying Skin MD Natural was the smell...or lack thereof! You can occasionally smell a slight aloe scent, but it is so minimal, I'd call it unscented. Unscented, for me, is a GOOD thing!

The next thing I noticed about Skin MD's shielding lotion was how light and non-greasy it was. The lotion absorbed into my skin almost immediately and a very small amount went a long ways!

Skin MD Natural is not an ordinary lotion. Skin MD Natural is a specially formulated shielding lotion.

Here is what some dermatologists have said:

"Shielding lotion is a lotion that forms a protective barrier on the skin and keeps out irritants and chemicals. It also allows the natural oils and moisture to remain in the skin so it can heal better. It is a big advantage that shielding lotions are light and go on without a greasy mess," says Dr. Brian Zogg, a dermatologist in Albert Lea, MN.

"When you have dry, itchy skin you know that the protective outer layer of skin has been stripped away. In southern Minnesota most people need to use a shielding lotion. In the winter they all get very dry skin. We also recommend shielding lotions for anyone who is exposed to chemicals in their work environment. Your skin is exposed to irritants and chemicals almost every day, even in a normal household environment, so a shielding lotion can be a useful dry skin care solution for most people.. And it won't create the negative moisture message skin can get from conventional lotions. 

The artificial moisturizers in conventional creams and lotions can send a signal to the moisture producing parts of your skin that enough moisture is present. Your skin then makes less of the natural moisture needed to resolve a dry skin problem. With a shielding lotion you protect your own natural oils and moisture in the skin, so it heals faster," says Dr. Zogg.

"A conventional lotion is not formulated to protect the skin like a shielding lotion does. Conventional lotions only add surface moisture to temporarily alleviate dry skin or itching. Shielding lotions stay on because they bond with the skin and protect it for long periods of time. With this protection in place your skin keeps its own moisture in and has a chance to use this natural moisture in the deep layers of the skin to heal itself," states Dr. Lisa Benest, a board certified dermatologist of Burbank, CA



I used Skin MD Natural for 2 weeks, using no other moisturizer or lotion. I was most impressed with the change on my face. I don't like to use lotions on my face, because of the greasy feel. No greasiness with Skin MD Natural, and the dry patches I get in the winter disappeared when using the shielding lotion.

Skin MD Natural was also a wonderful lotion to use on my children. My son, especially, gets dry patches on his legs and cheeks. Skin MD Natural was gentle and cleared up his painful dry skin.

I didn't notice as big of a difference on my hands as I did with my face. But, the overall results of Skin MD Natural make me happy to have a bottle on hand, for me and the rest of my family!

Want to BUY IT? You can check to see if any pharmacies near you carry Skin MD Natural, or you can order online!

GIVEAWAY ALERT!
Want to WIN IT? Skin MD Natural wants to give a bottle of Skin MD Natural to one of my readers, so they can also see the difference a shielding lotion can make!



To enter, tell me what you do or use to help your dry skin!

For additional entries (must do above to qualify for extra entries!),
  • Follow my blog publicly via a feed reader, networked blogs, or subscribe by email (must confirm subscription). Comment and let me know! If you're already a follower/subscriber, comment and let me know! (1 entry)
  • Blog about my giveaway and leave me a link to your post! (1 entry)
  • Enter my giveaway URL into another blog's giveaway McLinky and send me the link so I can see it! (1 entry)
  • Snag my blog button (in the far right column) and leave a comment with the link! (1 entry)
  • Visit Skin MD Natural and tell me something you learned, not mentioned above (1 entry)
  • Follow me on Twitter and tweet this: WIN a bottle of Skin MD Natural Shielding lotion!@creativeSOme
Entries accepted until Saturday, January 16, 11:59 PM. (Any duplicate or unqualified entries will be deleted).

Recommend: YES

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**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family.**
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Can't Leave Alone Bars

Yes, that's really what they're called!



This bar cookie recipe is easy and very delicious. Can't Leave Alone Bars live up to their name. You will eat more than one...or two...or... ;-)



CAN'T LEAVE ALONE BARS

1 pkg white cake mix (I normally use yellow, because that's usually the one in the pantry)
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter or margarine, cubed

In a bowl, combine the dry cake mix, eggs, and oil. With floured hands, press two-thirds of the mixture into a greased 9x13 baking pan. Set remaining cake mixture aside.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the milk, chocolate chips, and butter. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 45 seconds; stir. Microwave 45-60 seconds longer or until chips and butter are melted; stir until smooth. Pour over crust.

Drop teaspoonfuls of remaining cake mixture over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool before cutting. Yield: 3 dozen.

Recommend: YES

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen

Long on my wishlist, I was given an opportunity to review Julie Klassen's newest book, The Silent Governess, thanks to CFBA and Bethany House.



Olivia Keene is fleeing her own secret. She never intended to overhear his.

But now that she has, what is Lord Bradley to do with her? He cannot let her go, for were the truth to get out, he would lose everything--his reputation, his inheritance, his very home.

He gives Miss Keene little choice but to accept a post at Brightwell Court, where he can make certain she does not spread what she heard. Keeping an eye on the young woman as she cares for the children, he finds himself drawn to her, even as he struggles against the growing attraction. The clever Miss Keene is definitely hiding something.

Moving, mysterious, and romantic, The Silent Governess takes readers inside the intriguing life of a nineteenth-century governess in an English manor house where all is not as it appears.

MY THOUGHTS:

There is just something about Julie’s writing that makes me feel like I am watching a lovely BBC Jane Austen movie. Seeing as the author enjoys BBC period dramas, I am not surprised!

The Silent Governess is by no means overly descriptive, in a tiring way, and yet, I could easily picture the clothing, the grounds, the rooms, the village.

I love the way Julie quotes different historical sources, such as journals of actual governesses and advertisements in the London Times, at the beginning of each chapter. These little tidbits give a fascinating look into Regency times and behaviors, as well as making the whole book utterly charming.

I found The Silent Governess to be a delightful read. I look forward to other stories that Julie Klassen will create!

Here's the prologue and first chapter of The Silent Governess for you to enjoy:


The Silent Governess
Prologue

For years, I could not recall the day without a smoldering coal of remorse burning within me. I tried to bury the memory deep in the dark places of my mind, but now and again something would evoke it—a public house placard, a column of figures, a finely dressed gentleman—and I would wince as the memory appeared and then scuttled away, like a silverfish under the door....

The day began wonderfully well. My mother, father, and I, then twelve, rode into Chedworth together and spent a rare afternoon as a harmonious family. We viewed many fine prospects and toured the Roman ruins, where my mother met by chance an old friend. I thought it a lovely outing and remember feeling as happy as I had ever been—for my mother and father seemed happy together as well.

The mood during the journey home was strained, but I chalked it up to fatigue and soon fell asleep in the gig, my head lolling against my mother's shoulder.

When we arrived home, I remained in such buoyant spirits that when my father dully proclaimed himself off to the Crown and Crow, I offered to go along, although I had not done so in many months.

He muttered, "Suit yourself," and turned without another word. I could not account for his sudden change of mood, but then, when had I ever?

I had been going with him to the Crown and Crow since I was a child of three or four. He would set me upon its high counter, and there I would count to a thousand or more. When one has mastered one hundred, are not two, five, and nine so much child's play? By the age of six, I was ciphering sums to the amusement and amazement of other patrons. Papa would present two or three figures and there before me, as if on a glass slate, I would see the totals of their columns.

"What is forty-seven and fifty-five, Olivia?"

Instantly the numbers and their sum would appear. "One zero two, Papa."

"One hundred two. That is right. That's my clever girl."

As I grew older, the equations grew more difficult, and I began to wonder if the weary travelers and foxed old men would even know if I had ciphered correctly. But my father did, I was certain, for he was nearly as quick with numbers as I.

He also took me with him to the race clubs—even once to the Bibury Racecourse—where he placed wagers entrusted to him by men from Lower Coberly all the way to Foxcote. Beside him, with his black book in my small hands, I noted the odds, the wins and losses, mentally subtracting my father's share before inscribing the payouts. I found myself caught up in the excitement of the race, the smells of meat pasties and spiced cider, the crowds, the shouts of triumph or defeat, and the longed-for father-daughter bond.

Mother had always disliked my going with Papa to the races and public house, yet I was loath to refuse him altogether, for I was hungry for his approval. When I began attending Miss Cresswell's School for Girls, however, I went less often.

In the Crown and Crow that day, being twelve years of age, I was too old to perch upon the high counter. Instead I sat beside my father in the inglenook before the great hearth and drank my ginger beer while he downed ale after ale. The regulars seemed to sense his foul temper and did not disturb us.

Then they came in—a well-dressed gentleman and his son, wearing the blue coat and banded straw hat of a schoolboy. The man was obviously a gentleman of quality, perhaps even a nobleman, and we all sat up the straighter in defense of our humble establishment.

The boy, within a year or two of my own age, glanced at me. Of course we would notice one another, being the only young people in the room. His look communicated disinterest and contempt, or at least that was how I ciphered his expression.

The gentleman greeted the patrons in gregarious tones and announced that they had just visited a lord somebody or other, and were now traveling back toward London to return his son to Harrow's hallowed halls.

My father, cheeks flushed and eyes suddenly bright, turned to regard the boastful gentleman. "A Harrow lad, ey?"

"Just so," the gentleman answered. "Like his old man before him."

"A fine, clever lad, is he?" Papa asked.

A flicker of hesitation crossed the gentleman's face. "Of course he is."

"Not one to be outwitted by a village girl like this, then?" Papa dipped his head toward me, and my heart began to pound. A sickening dread filled my stomach.

The gentleman flicked a look at me. "I should say not."

Father grinned. "Care to place a friendly wager on it?"

This was nothing new. Over the years, many of the regulars had made small wagers on my ability to solve difficult equations. And even fellows who lost would applaud and buy Papa ale and me ginger beer.

The gentleman's mouth twisted. "A wager on what?"

"That the girl can best your boy in arithmetic? They do teach arithmetic at Harrow, I trust?"

"Of course they do, man. It is the best school in the country. In the world."

"No doubt you are right. Still, the girl here is clever. Is she not, folks?" Papa turned to the regulars around the room for support. "Attends Miss Cresswell's School for Girls."

"Miss Cresswell's?" The gentleman's sarcasm sent shivers down my spine. "My, my, Herbert, we had better declare defeat before we begin."

My father somehow retained control of his temper. Even feigned a shrug of nonchalance. "Might make for a diverting contest."

The gentleman eyed him, glass midway to his lips. "What do you propose?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary. Sums, divisions, multiplications. First correct answer wins. Best of three?"

That was when I saw it—the boy's look of studied indifference, of confidence, fell utterly away. In its place pulsed pale, sickly fear.

The gentleman glanced at his son, then finished his drink. "I don't find such sport amusing, my good man. Besides, we must be on our way. Long journey ahead." He placed his glass and a gold guinea on the counter.

"I don't blame you," Papa rose and placed his own guinea on the bar. "A bitter pill, bein' bested by a girl."

"Pu-ppa ..." I whispered. "Don't."

"Well, Herbert, we cannot have that, can we." The gentleman poked his son's shoulder with his walking stick. "What do you say, for the honour of Harrow and the family name?"

And in the stunned dread with which son regarded father, I saw the rest. I recognized the fear of disappointing a critical parent, the boy's eagerness for any morsel of approbation, and his absolute terror of the proposed contest. Clearly he was no scholar in mathematics, a fact he had perhaps tried desperately to conceal— and which was now about to be exposed in a very public and very mortifying manner.

"Excellent," my father said. "Ten guineas to the winner?"

"Per equation? Excellent," the gentleman parroted shrewdly. "Thirty guineas total. Even I am skilled in ciphering, you see."

I swallowed. My father had not meant thirty guineas. Did not have thirty guineas, as the gentleman must have known.

My father did not so much as blink. "Very well. We shall start out easy, shall we? First with the correct answer wins."

He enunciated two three-digit numbers, and the sum was instantly before me and out of my lips before conscious thought could curtail it.

I glanced at Herbert. A trickle of sweat rolled languidly from his hairline to his cheek.

"Come, Herbert, there is no need to act the gentleman in this instance. You may dispense with ‘ladies first' this time, ey?"

Herbert nodded, his eyes focused on my father's mouth as though willing the next numbers to be simple ones, as though to control them with his stare.

Papa gave a division problem, not too difficult, and again the answer painted the air before me.

And again the young man did not speak.

Go on, I silently urged. Answer.

"Come, Herbert," his father prodded, features pinched. "We haven't all night."

"Would you mind repeating the numbers, sir?" Herbert asked weakly, and my heart ached for him.

I felt my father's pointed look and heard his low prompting, "Out with it, girl."

"Six hundred forty-four," I said apologetically, avoiding the gazes of all.

Murmurs of approval filled the room.

The gentleman stood, eyes flashing. "There is no way the girl could figure that in her head. I see what this is. A trick, is it not? No doubt we are not the first travelers to be taken in by your trained monkey who has memorized your every equation."

I cringed, waiting for my father to rise, fists first, and strike the man. Cheaters infuriated him, and many was the time I'd seen him fly into a rage over a thrown game or race. Yes, he'd take his share of other men's winnings, but not a farthing more.

"Let us see how she fares if I propose the question," the gentleman demanded. "And the first correct answer wins the entire wager."

Would my father abide such an insulting insinuation?

The proprietor laid a hand on his arm, no doubt fearing for the preservation of his property. "Why not, man?" he quietly urged. "Let Olivia prove herself the clever girl we all know she is."

My father hesitated.

"Unless you are afraid?" the gentleman taunted.

"I am not afraid."

My father's eyes bore into the face of the proud traveler, while I could not tear mine from the son's. Such humiliation and shame were written there. It was one thing for a girl to be clever—it was unexpected. A parlor trick, however honestly come by. But for a son, his father's pride, and no doubt heir, to be proven slow, to be made a fool by a girl? I shuddered at the thought of the piercing reprimands or cold rejection that would accompany him on the long journey ahead. And perhaps for the rest of his life.

The gentleman eyed the hop-boughed beams as he thought, then announced his equation. No doubt one he knew the answer to, likely his acreage multiplied by last year's average yield. Something like it, at any rate. Against the background of the boy's pale face and bleak green eyes, the numbers appeared before me, but lacked their usual clarity. Instead they swayed and slithered like that old silverfish and slid beneath the door.

The young man's eyes lit up. He had likely hit upon the number by memory rather than calculation, but as soon as he proclaimed the answer, I knew he was correct. The relief and near-jubilation on his face buoyed me up for one second. The answering smile and shoulder-clap from his father, one second more. Then the disapproval emanating from my own father's eyes pulled me around, and I saw the terrible truth of what I had done. Too late, I saw. Never again would he take me with him. Never again would he call me his clever girl, nor even Olivia.

The gentleman picked up my father's guinea from the bar. "I will take only one guinea, and let that be a lesson to you. I shall leave the rest to cover your debts to the others you have no doubt tricked over the years." Turning with a flourish, the gentleman placed a gloved hand on his boy's shoulder and propelled him from the room.

I watched them go, too sickened to be relieved that all I had cost my father was one guinea. For I knew I had cost him far more—the respect of every person in that room.

Slowly I became aware of their hooded looks, their unconscious shrinking back from us. Now they would believe the traveler's accusation that my ability had been a trick all along. All their applause and ale and wagers accepted dishonestly. In his eyes—in theirs— they had all been made fools by us. By me.

By my silence.

Chapter 1

It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.
—Geoffrey ChauCer

Twelve years later
November 1, 1815

H eart pounding with fear and regret, Olivia Keene ran as though hellhounds were on her heels. As though her very life depended upon her escape.

Fleeing the village, she ran across a meadow, bolted over the sheep gate, caught her skirt, and went sprawling in the mire. The bundle in her cape pocket jabbed against her hip bone. Ignoring it, she picked herself up and ran on, looking behind to make sure no one followed. Ahead lay Chedworth Wood.

The warnings of years echoed through her mind. "Don't stray into the wood at night." Wild dogs stalked that wood, and thieves and poachers camped there, with sharp knives and sharper eyes, looking for easy game. A woman of Olivia's four-and-twenty years knew better than to venture into the wood alone. But her mother's cries still pulsed in her ears, drowning out the old voice of caution. The danger behind her was more real than any imagined danger ahead.

Shivers of fear prickling over her skin, she hurled herself into the outstretched arms of the wood, already dim and shadowy on the chill autumn evening. Beneath her thin soles, dry leaves crackled. Branches grabbed at her like gnarled hands. She stumbled over fallen limbs and underbrush, every snapping twig reminding her that a pursuer might be just behind, just out of sight.

Olivia ran until her side ached. Breathing hard, she slowed her pace. She walked for what seemed like an hour or more and still hadn't reached the other side of the wood. Was she traveling in a circle? The thought of spending the night in the quickly darkening wood made her pick up her pace once more.

She tripped on a tangle of roots and again went sprawling. She heard the crisp rip of fabric. A burning scratch seared her cheek. For a moment she lay as she was, trying to catch her breath.

The pain of the fall broke through the dam of shock, and the hot tears she had been holding back poured forth. She struggled up and sat against a tree, sobbing.

Almighty God, what have I done?

A branch snapped and an owl screeched a warning to his mate. Fear instantly stifled her sobs. Hairs prickling at the back of her neck, Olivia searched the moonlit dimness with wide eyes.

Eyes stared back.

A dog, wiry and dark, stood not twenty feet away, teeth bared. In silent panic, Olivia scratched the ground around her, searching for something to use as a weapon. The undergrowth shook and the ground pulsed with a galloping tread. Two more dogs ran past, one clenching something round and white in its jaws. The head of a sheep?

The first dog turned and bounded after the other two, just as Olivia's fingers found a stout stick. She gripped it tightly, wishing for a moment that she still held the fire iron. Shivering in revulsion,

Olivia thrust aside the memory of its cold, hard weight. She listened for several tense seconds. Hearing nothing more, she rose, stick firmly in hand, and hurried through the wood, hoping the dogs wouldn't follow her trail.

* * *

The moon was high above the treetops when she saw it. The light of a fire ahead. Relief. Wild animals were afraid of fire, were they not? She tentatively moved nearer. She had no intention of joining whoever had camped there—perhaps a family of gypsies or a gentlemen's hunting party. Even if the rumors of thieves and poachers were stuff and nonsense, she would not risk making her presence known. But she longed for the safety the fire represented. She longed, too, for its warmth, for the November night air stole mercilessly through her cape and gown. Perhaps if another woman were present, Olivia might ask to warm herself. She dared move a little closer, stood behind a tree and peered around it. She saw a firelit clearing and four figures huddled around the flames in various postures of repose. The sound of men talking and jesting reached her.

"Squirrel again tonight, Garbie?" a gravelly voice demanded.

"Unless Croome comes back with more game."

"This time o' night? Not dashed likely."

"More likely he's lyin' foxed in the Brown Dog, restin' his head on Molly's soft pillows."

"Not Croome," another said. "Never knew such a monkish man."

Laughter followed.

Every instinct told Olivia to flee even as she froze where she stood. This was no family, nor any party of gentlemen. Fear slithering up her spine, she turned and stepped away from the tree.

"Wha's that?"

A young man's loud whisper stopped Olivia's retreat. She stood still, afraid to make another sound.

"What's what? I don't hear nofin'."

"Maybe it is Croome."

Olivia took a tentative tiptoe step. Then another. A sticky web coated her face, startling her, and she stumbled over a log onto the ground.

Before she could right herself, the sound of footsteps surrounded her and harsh lamplight blinded her.

"Well, kiss my bonnie luck star," a young man breathed.

Olivia struggled to her feet and pushed down her skirts. She brushed her fallen hair from her face and tried to remain calm.

"Croome's got a mite prettier since we saw 'im last," said a second young man.

Beside him, a bearded hulk glowered down at her. In the harsh, gravelly voice she had first heard, he demanded, "What are ya doin' here?"

Panic shot through her veins. "Na—nothing! I saw your fire and I—"

"Looking for some company, were ya?" The big man's leer chilled her to the marrow. "Well, ya come to the right place— hasn't she, lads?"

"Aye," another agreed.

The big man reached for her, but Olivia recoiled. "No, you misunderstand me," she said. "I simply lost my way. I don't want—"

"Oh, but we do want." His gleaming eyes were very like those of the wild dog.

The stout stick she had been carrying was on the ground, where it had landed when she fell. She lunged for it, but the man grabbed her from behind. "Where d'ya think yer going? Nowhere soon, I'd wager."

Olivia cried out, but did manage to get her hand around the stick as he hauled her up.

"Let go of me!"

The burly man laughed. Olivia spun in his arms and swung the stick like a club. With a thwack, it caught the side of his head. He yelled and covered the wound with his hands.

Olivia scrambled away, but two other men grabbed her arms and legs, wrestled the stick from her, and bore her back to the fire.

"You all right, Borcher?" the youngest man asked, voice high.

"I will be. Which is more'n I can say for her."

"Please!" Olivia implored the men who held her. "Release me, I beg of you. I am a decent girl from Withington."

"My brother lives near there," the youngest man offered.

"Shut up, Garbie," Borcher ordered.

"Perhaps I have met your brother," she said desperately. "What is his na—?"

"Shut yer trap!" Borcher charged forward, hand raised.

"Borcher, don't," young Garbie urged. "Let her go."

"After the hoyden hit me? Not likely." Borcher grabbed her roughly, pinning both arms to her sides with one long, heavy arm and pressing her back against a tree.

She tried in vain to stomp on his foot, but her kid slippers were futile against his boots. "No!" she shouted. "Someone help me. Please!"

His free hand flashed up and clasped her jaw, steely fingers clamping her cheeks in a vise that stilled her shouts. She wrenched her head to the side and bit down on his thumb as hard as she could.

Borcher yelled, yanked his hand away, and raised it in a menacing fist.

Olivia winced her eyes shut, bracing herself for the inevitable blow.

Fwwt. Smack. Something whizzed by her captor's ear and shuddered into the tree above her. She opened her eyes as Borcher whirled his head around. Across the clearing, at the edge of the firelight, a man stood atop a tree stump, bow and arrow poised.

"Let her go, Phineas," the man drawled in an irritated voice.

"Mind yer own affairs, Croome." Borcher raised his fist again.

Another arrow whooshed by, slicing into the tree bark with a crack.

"Croome!" Borcher swore.

"Next time, I shall aim," the man called Croome said dryly. Though he appeared a slight, older man, cool authority steeled his words.

Borcher released Olivia with a hard shove. The back of her head hit the tree, where long arrows still quivered above her. Even the jarring pain in her skull did not diminish the relief washing over her. In the flickering firelight, she looked again at her rescuer, still perched on the stump. He was a gaunt man of some sixty years in a worn hat and hunting coat. Ash grey hair hung down to his shoulders. A game bag was slung over one of them. The bow he held seemed a natural extension of his arm.

"Thank you, sir," she said.

He nodded.

Glimpsing the stout stick by the light of the forgotten lamp, Olivia bent to retrieve it. Then turned to make her escape.

"Wait." Croome's voice was rough but not threatening. He stepped down from the stump, and she waited as he approached. His height—tall for a man of his years—and limping gait surprised her. "Take the provisions I brought for these undeserving curs."

She accepted a quarter loaf of bread and a sack of apples. Her stomach rumbled on cue. But when he extended a limp hare from his game bag, she shook her head.

"Thank you, no. This is more than enough."

One wiry eyebrow rose. "To make up for what they did to you—and would have done?"

Olivia stiffened. She shook her head and said with quiet dignity, "No, sir. I am afraid not." She handed back the bread and apples, turned, and strode smartly from the clearing.

His raspy chuckle followed her. "Fool ..."

And she was not certain if he spoke of her or of himself.

Olivia walked quickly away by the moonlight filtering through the autumn-bare branches, the stick outstretched before her like a blindman's cane. She stayed alert for any hint of being followed but heard nothing save the occasional to-wooo of a tawny owl or the feathery scurrying of small nocturnal creatures. Eventually her fear faded into exhaustion and hunger. Perhaps I should not have been so proud, she thought, her stomach chastising her with a persistent ache.

Finally, unable to trudge along any further, she curled into a ball beside a tree. She searched her cape pockets for her gloves, but only one remained—the other lost in the wood, no doubt. She again felt the firm bundle in her pocket but did not bother to examine it in the dark. Shivering, she drew her hooded cape close around herself and covered her thin slippers with handfuls of leaves and pine needles for warmth. Images of her mother's terrified eyes and of a man's body lying facedown on the dark floor tried to reassert themselves, but she pushed them away, escaping into the sweet forgetfulness of sleep.



Many thanks to Julie, through CFBA, for allowing me to read and review The Silent Governess!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

Recommend: YES

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**Disclaimer: I was given a free product for review purposes only. My reviews are not monetarily compensated and have not been influenced by the sponsor in any way, unless otherwise disclosed. Each review is based on the reactions and opinions of myself and/or family.**
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