As I set my romances in great mansions of the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, research was required to ascertain how those big houses were run, and the servants who staffed them.
In Downton Abbey, (that excellent BBC Series,) the earl’s servants on occasion, were even more snobbish than the family they served.
Below stairs, a strict hierarchy was observed. The upper class servants who worked more closely with their master or mistress, were ranked higher by the family as well as in society. They dined apart from the lower servants. The butler was in charge of the male servants, the housekeeper, the female servants, and both made sure proprieties were maintained. In the more wealthy households, if the master was away, the steward (often a personal assistant) would take over his master’s obligations, and the butler and housekeeper would defer to him.
A death in the family, or an heir assuming the title, would cause almost the same upheaval below stairs as to the family they served.
To maintain the running of a grand home in an elegant style might require up to fifty servants.
In my new release, MURDER AT PENDLETON MANOR, a death causes disruption to the staff of a big house.
At the end of her third Season, Lady Harriett Edgerton has refused her one offer of marriage from a perfectly worthy, if dull, suitor. Harriett doesn’t want proper. She wants passion. And the prospect of a passionate marriage is becoming increasingly unlikely, judging by the men she meets. When she and her family visit a dying relative at his country mansion in Kent, Pendleton Manor, everything appears normal on the surface, until Harriet is suddenly embroiled in murder, intrigue, and lust.
Gentleman farmer, Gerard Everard, Earl of Foxworth, has inherited an estate deep in debt. While he toils to save Foxworth from creditors, he becomes embroiled in a dangerous mission.
Together, Harriett and Gerard work to uncover a murderer, while Harriett, expecting Gerard to succumb to the charms of her younger, beautiful sister, Leonora, tries unsuccessfully to guard her heart.
When the tea arrived, Harriett left her parents to their attempts at a civil conversation and wandered out onto the porch. The tallest tree, an aged oak, rose up above the park. She had played there as a child, when Aunt Elizabeth was alive. It had been a very lively place then and a delight to visit. One saw things differently as an adult. What seemed thrilling back then was no longer the case. Disheartened by the dreary state of the house, Harriett roamed along a path through the trees dressed in their summer green, recalling how she’d made up stories and narrated them to an audience of birds.
Before she knew it, she’d walked over a mile and stood before the stately old oak tree that she used to climb. She paused, remembering that Pendleton lay on a rise above a wide green valley, and the tree offered a wonderful view all the way to the Channel from its topmost branches. One might see the French coast on such a fine day. It was undignified for an adult, but who would see her? She looked around. Finding no one in sight, she untied her poke bonnet, divested herself of her cinnamon-brown spencer and pulled off her kid half boots. She rolled down her stockings and tucked them into her shoes. Gathering her cream percale carriage dress up around her knees, she eased herself onto the lowest branch, and began to climb. Pleased, she quickly got into the swing of it. She’d been an excellent climber when she was young. Such a practice stayed with one into adulthood, apparently, although she was now a little more cautious.
She’d climbed half way and stopped to consider her way forward when a figure rose from the shrubbery below her. He stood examining something, in his hand. He looked up and caught sight of her then shoved it into his pocket. Whipping off his hat, he stared up at her in surprise.
“Can that be you, Harry? It must be. Taller, but as skinny as ever.”
From her lofty perch, Harriett took a deep breath. “Gerard.”
“‘Tis I.” He came to stand below her. “So, you can still climb that tree.”
“Why ever not?” She put a foot on a lower branch in an attempt to climb down without affording him a revealing view up her dress, and soon found it impossible. “Turn your back, will you?”
He gave a sly look at her bare legs before he turned away. “Are you sure you don’t require my assistance?”
“I’ll ask if I do,” she said ungraciously. She reached the bottom branch and stood holding on, while considering whether to jump and possibly fall in a heap at his feet. In the end, she swallowed her pride. “You might help me,” she suggested.
Gerard turned around and put up his arms. She leaned over and rested her hands on his broad shoulders. He gripped her waist and lifted her down. For a moment, he held her close against his chest, causing a rush of sensation to pass through her. “Not so scrawny after all,” he said with a grin.
His hard male body pressed against hers, his mouth close enough to kiss, unsettling her. She struggled within his arms. “Put me down! You are just as outrageous.”
He set her on her feet and stood with legs spread and arms folded, studying her. “You always were tall for a girl.”
In her bare feet, Harriett’s head reached his shoulder and Gerard stood well over six feet. “Too tall for beauty, or so I’m told,” she said pragmatically.
His dark brows rose. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Beholding Gerard, Harriett quite agreed. With his well-shaped mouth and the cleft in his chin, he was still the handsomest man she’d ever set eyes on. She bent to pick up one of her boots.
Her cheeks burned. “No. I have to put on my stockings. Would you turn your back again, please?”
“What gentleman would refuse?” He turned away.
Harriet was securing her blue satin garter around her stocking when he swiveled to face her. She hastily pulled down her dress. “You agreed not to look.”
He grinned. “I didn’t say I was a gentleman.
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