Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Captain's Cornish Christmas


I'm so thrilled to our brand new short story, The Captain's Cornish Christmas, is out today! Will a lonely lifeboat captain and the king of Cornish Noir find love by Boxing Day? A bit of sauce, a lot of snow and a matchmaking cat... perfect for a winter night!  

mybook.to/cornishcaptain

For a lonely Cornish lifeboatman and an author who’s more used to crime scenes than love scenes, this Christmas is going to be very merry indeed!
When Jago Treherne agrees to man the Polneath lifeboats one snowy Christmas, he knows he can forget turkey and all the trimmings.
Yet when he boards a seemingly empty yacht and stumbles upon sexy Sam Coryton enjoying an energetic afternoon below decks, Jago soon realizes that he might be unwrapping a very different sort of Christmas gift this year!

Friday, 23 November 2018

The Scandal of George III's Court



It's no secret that I love a good scandal, so I'm thrilled to announce that my new non-fiction book, The Scandal of George III's Court, is available now. Even better, you can snap it up with £4 off by visiting Pen and Sword at the link below.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Scandal-of-George-IIIs-Court-Hardback/p/15548

From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III's supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker?

With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless gentlemen and some politicians who really should know better.

So tighten your stays, hoist up your breeches and prepare for a gallop through some of the most shocking royal scandals from the court of George III's court. You'll never look at a king in the same way again...

Buy it now from the publisher
Buy it now from Amazon

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms


It's an absolute delight to welcome Claire Cock-Starkey to the salon today to chat about her wonderful new book, The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms.

Claire's books are always a delight and this no different! A pocket-sized treasure trove of wonders, this little gem is bursting with unusual tales and thrilling facts. some of these are well known, some less-so, but all of them are hugely entertaining and you'll find your eyebrow raised a few times too.

This book really is wonderful, it should be peeping out of a fair few Christmas stockings this year!

You can follow Claire on Twitter!

Without further ado, let's avail ourselves of a cardigan for autumn!





Monday, 15 October 2018

Kenwood House: Museums at Night


On 26th and 27th October I'll be a guest at Museums at Night at the glorious Kenwood House. Explore this historical site after dark to the sound of period music, browse one of the finest art collections in the country and join me for tales of the abolition of slavery and the remarkable legacy of Dido Belle and Lord Mansfield!

Tickets are just £6 and you can find more  details here.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Limited Time Sale: The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper


The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper ebook is currently on special offer at 99p/99c. What better way to spend an autumn evening?

The book is discounted at all retailers, and Amazon and Pride links are below!

Buy It Now
Pride
Amazon UK
Amazon US

As the Great War tears Europe apart, two men from different worlds find sanctuary in each other’s arms.

Captain Robert Thorne is the fiercest officer in the regiment. Awaiting the command to go to the front, he has no time for simpering, comely lads. That’s until one summer day in 1917, when his dark, flashing eye falls upon the newest recruit at Chateau de Desgravier, a fresh-faced farmer’s boy with little experience of life and a wealth of poetry in his heart.


Trooper Jack Woodvine has a way with strong, difficult stallions, and whispers them to his gentle will. Yet even he has never tamed a creature like Captain Thorne.


With the shadow of the Great War and the scheming of enemies closer to home threatening their fleeting chance at happiness, can the captain and the cavalry trooper make it home safely? More importantly, will they see peacetime together?

What Reviewers Are Saying
"If you're a fan of historical romance, soldiers in uniform, beautiful English prose, then I highly recommend this book." - CF White

"This is wonderful, a haunting tale of love found in the most unexpected and dangerous places between two characters, who are sensitive and courageous. " - Frankie Reviews

"The book was remarkably written, funny, witty and full of unique and interesting references to the period. The dialogue was quick, flirtatious and intriguing and the descriptions were beautiful." - Ruby Scalera

Extract

Northern France


1917


The wagon carrying Jack Woodvine bumped and jerked along the poplar-lined lanes, a fine spray of mud rising up each time the huge wooden wheels splashed through a puddle.


He had given up checking the time and, even though the journey was far from comfortable, tried to doze as he passed along under the iron-gray sky. A chateau, they’d said. Different from the barracks he’d been in when he was first deployed. Doubtless it would be a dismal old fortress, but was it silly of him to hope for bright pennants fluttering from a turret?


Finally, the wagon drew up at a gatehouse of pale stone. As Jack climbed out, dragging his kitbag behind him, sunlight nudged back the clouds and turned the gray slate of the roofs to blue.


“You the new groom?” A soldier appeared from the gatehouse. His cap was so low over his eyes that Jack couldn’t make out his expression.


“Yes—Trooper Woodvine. Jack Woodvine.” He took a letter from his pocket and held it out to the man. “I’ve been transferred from another battalion. This is the Chateau de Desgravier?”


“Yes, Trooper! Turn left at the bottom of the drive for the stables. Quick march!”


The last thing Jack wanted to do was march, quickly or otherwise, but he shouldered his kitbag, jammed his cap onto his head and marched down the tree-lined avenue.


It was thickly leaved, but through the branches he could see the white stone of the chateau ahead. He rounded a bend in the driveway and he saw it—Chateau de Desgravier.


An enormous tower rose up in front of him, its roof reaching into a delicate point. Jack sighed, the spots of mud on his face cracking as he smiled. It might not have had pennants floating from it, but it was exactly like something from a fairytale. Beside the tower were the stone and brick and filigreed windows of what looked to Jack like a palace. Who would ever think that the front was only a few miles to the east?


Quick march!


Jack continued on his way, turning to his left just as he’d been ordered. The path here bore evidence of horses—straw, manure, the marks of horseshoes. Ahead, an archway, figures at work. A lad of Jack’s age maneuvering a wheelbarrow, another leading a horse out to the paddock.


This wouldn’t be so bad. It seemed to be a peaceful place, and easy work for a lad like Jack. He raised his hand and grinned at the grooms as he headed under the archway and into the vast stable yard.


Then he heard singing. In French.


Jack dropped his kitbag and looked round. The voice was that of a man, yet heightened slightly, giving it a teasing, effeminate edge, and Jack couldn’t help but follow it like a sailor lured by a siren, pulled along the row of open stables toward that lilting chanson. Inside those stables young men labored and sweated, brooms swept and spades shoveled, yet one of the boxes at the far corner of the yard seemed to have been transformed into an impromptu theater.


Jack hardly dared glance through that open door, yet he couldn’t help himself, blinking at the hazy darkness of the interior where half a dozen grooms lounged in the straw, watching the chanteur in rapt silence.


Right in front of Jack, his back to the door, was the figure of a young man, clad in jodhpurs, polished riding boots and nothing else. No, that wasn’t quite true, because he was wearing something, the sort of something Jack didn’t really see much of in Shropshire. It was some sort of silken scarf, a shawl, perhaps, that was looped around his neck twice, the wide, dazzling red fabric decorated with intricate yellow flowers. They were bright against the pale skin of his naked back, as bright as the tip of the cigarette that glowed in the end of a long ebony cigarette holder that the singer held in his elegant right hand. He gestured with it like a painter with his brush, making intricate movements with his wrist as he sang, his voice a low purr, then a high, tuneful trill, then a comically deep bass that drew laughter from his audience.


He moved with the confidence of a dancer, hips swinging seductively, head cocked to one side, free hand resting on his narrow hip and here, in this strange fairytale place, he was bewitching.


The singer executed a near-perfect pirouette yet quite suddenly, when he was facing Jack, stopped. He put the cigarette holder to his pink lips, drew in a long, deep breath and blew out a smoke ring, his full lips forming a perfect O.


“Well, now.” He sucked in his pale cheeks and asked, “Who on earth have we here?”


Jack blinked as the smoke ring drifted into his face.


“Tr-trooper Woodvine, reporting for Captain Thorne. I’ve been transferred—I’m his new groom. I don’t suppose—”


The words dried in Jack’s throat. As enthralling as this otherworldly figure was, with his slim face and high cheekbones, there was an unsettling glint of mockery in his narrow blue eyes.


“Sorry.” Jack took a half-step backward. “I interrupted your song. I should…”


The singer moved a little, just enough that he could dart his head forward on its slender neck and draw his nose from Jack’s shoulder to his ear, breathing deeply all the way. They didn’t touch but the invasion, the authority, was clear. However lowly their station, Jack had wandered innocently into someone else’s domain.


When the young man’s nose reached Jack’s ear he threw his head back and let out a loud sigh through his parted lips, arms extended to either side. Then he finally spoke again, declaring to the heavens, “I smell new blood!”


Behind him, his small audience tittered nervously and his head dropped once more, those glittering blue eyes focused on Jack.


“Trooper Charles, sir!” He executed a courtly bow, the hand that held the cigarette twirling elaborately. “But you’re so darling and green that you may address me as Queenie. Aren’t you the lucky one?”


Jack reached for the doorframe to casually prop himself against it and essay the appearance of calm. Queenie?


“You may call me Jack.”


He extended his free hand to shake. A handshake showed the mettle of a man, his father was always telling him so. A good, firm hand at the market and a fellow would never have his prices beaten down.


Queenie’s narrow gaze slid down Jack like a snake and settled on his hand. He didn’t take it, didn’t move at all for a few seconds as the silence between them grew thicker. Then, in one quick movement, he placed his cigarette holder between Jack’s fingers and said, “Have a treat on me. Welcome to Cinderella’s doss house!”


Jack brought it hesitantly to his lips, smiling gamely at the grooms who made up Queenie’s audience. He pouted his lips against the carved ebony and inhaled.


The cough was so violent that Jack nearly dropped the holder, but an instinct in him born of a lifetime on a farm of tinder-dry hay meant he clamped it between his fingers. As he heaved for breath, he stamped on the nearby straw, suffocating any sparks that might have fallen.


The other grooms laughed and Queenie’s head tipped back to emit a bray of hilarity as a strong hand walloped Jack’s back.


A friendly Cockney burr chirruped, “Cough up, chicken—there’s a good lad!”


“We have a new little chicky in our nest,” Queenie told his audience, turning to address them. “I want you all to make him terribly welcome, or he might burn down our stables and then where would your Queenie sing?”


The stocky lad who had rescued Jack from his coughing fit was a head shorter than him. He pulled a face that could have been a smile or a sneer and took the cigarette holder from his fingers. He passed it to Queenie, all the while fixing his stare on the new arrival.


“Trooper Cole. Wilfred, that’s me. You’re Captain Thorne’s new boy, aren’t you?”


He laughed, then turned his head to spit on the floor, pulling a skinny roll-up from behind his ear.


“I’m Jack Woodvine. I mean…Trooper Woodvine.”


“I s’pose me and Queenie better take you to your quarters?”


“That would— But…oughtn’t I to introduce myself to Captain Thorne?”


“I’d say that’s a bit difficult, seeing as he’s not here at the moment.” Wilfred picked up Jack’s kitbag as easily as if it were spun from a feather. “Come on, soldier. Your palace awaits!”


“Captain T is an angel.” Queenie draped one arm sinuously around Jack’s shoulders and walked him back across the stable yard, his naked torso pressed to Jack’s rough tunic. “You’re going to have a bloody easy war, he’s soft as my mother’s newborn kitten.”


He glanced back at Wilfred and asked, “Wouldn’t you say so, Wilf?”


“Not half!” Wilfred laughed, striking a match to light his cigarette. “You couldn’t find a nicer bloke in the entire regiment.”


Jack grinned as they headed up the creaking wooden stairs above the stables. New quarters and new friends, and he wouldn’t have to rough it in a tent. Maybe there’d even be warm water for a bath.


“Well, that’s good to know. The officers were a bit…brusque at my last place.”


“Brusque?” Wilfred raised an amused eyebrow. “That’s a fancy word for a groom!”


“Ignore our lovely Wilf. Strong as an ox, bright as a coal shed.” At the top of the stairs Queenie turned to address Wilfred and Jack, his pale hand resting on the crooked handrail. “Thorny is adorable, not brusque at all. Welcome to our little slice of heaven!”


With that he lifted the latch and threw the door open, directing Jack to enter with another low bow.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Gödöllő Palace: Sisi’s favourite lodgings

I'm delighted to welcome Julia Meister to the salon once more, as your guide to Gödöllő Palace, the favourite billet of Sisi!


---oOo---

For anyone as obsessed with the Habsburgs and Empress Elisabeth of Austria – the famous Sisi! – as I am, it is almost a duty to have visited Gödöllő Palace at least once in a lifetime. The trouble is that, once you’ve been there, you will most likely want to visit the Palace again and again. It’s that special! 

A memorial to Sisi
The lovely town of Gödöllő is only a short train ride away from Budapest, Hungary’s magnificent capital. I strongly recommend a visit to Gödöllő if you happen to be in Budapest – if you can manage to drag yourself away from all the Sisi-related sights (Buda Castle with its imperial splendour, the Gerbeaud café, where Sisi used to devour hot chocolate…), that is! Just tell yourself that Sisi would have done the same: She simply loved to escape to Gödöllő Palace. In fact, she stayed there for a total of 2000 days over the span of her life, which obviously created quite a stir in Vienna. The Empress did not enjoy staying at the Hofburg and Schönbrunn Palace at all, and that is putting it mildly! 

Sisi was not only the Queen of Hungary, but also a Hungarian at heart. She loved their way of life, their fierce pride of their home country, their language, and, maybe most importantly, their passion for horse riding. To me, Gödöllő Palace, out of all the Habsburg palaces, is the place which captures Sisi’s spirit the most; you can almost still feel her presence there. 

So just hop onto an HÉV train (line H8) at Örs vezér tere (you can reach this station via metro line 2; the fares are very cheap, which is always a bonus), and enjoy the relaxing ride to Gödöllő in a lovely train that has a very nostalgic feel to it (the trains were actually built 40 years ago in Berlin!). The landscape along the way doesn’t hurt, either! 

Then, by all means, get out at Gödöllő, Erzsébet park, so that, before reaching the Palace, you can visit the Empress herself in her own special park, which can be found on the left hand side of the train station. Just walk straight through the alley of lush, green trees – and by then, you will have already spotted her: Sisi, umbrella in hand, pleased to meet you! Certainly the perfect photo opportunity for every devoted fan. The statue is, in my opinion, one of the best ones of the Empress ever made. Although we don’t really know what she looked in high definition, and given her daughter Marie Valerie’s mention that there has never been a picture that truly does Sisi justice, in my head, that statue almost one hundred percent visualises what I think she looked like (confusing, I know!). Moving on straight ahead, there are yet more Elisabeth memorials to be discovered: Yes, the Hungarians really still do love and cherish her as much as she did them! 
The castle entrance

Now it’s time to visit the actual Palace. If you go back to the main road and walk in the direction of the train you’ve just been on, you will get to Gödöllő Palace in no time. You will fall in love with it the minute you see it: It’s the biggest Baroque palace in Hungary, and, with its bright pink and blue paint, looks very much like it has just been transported to Earth from a fairytale. Tickets can be bought at the ticket shop in the vast entrance hall (the staff is always very friendly and helpful; I can only imagine how much they must love working there!). 


From the minute you step into the actual rooms of the Palace, given that it is not too crowded with other tourists, you almost forget that you needed to buy tickets at all: It feels like you are visiting it as a friend of Sisi’s, or shall I say Erzsebet’s? While still being grand and worthy of an Empress, the Palace also feels cosy and homely. You can really imagine Sisi sitting down for tea, conversing with court lady Ida Ferenczy, and with little Marie Valerie, ‘the Hungarian child’, running around. The rooms are all furnished with bright colours, with Sisi’s rooms being dominated by the colour violet, her favourite one. There are numerous pictures and paintings of the Empress herself to be discovered (the Palace features a Memorial Exhibition), but also of her family, her spouse Franz Joseph, her children, her court ladies, and, of course, her horses! 

One particular painting to watch out for is that of the Hungarian Coronation, which took place in 1867 and will, in fact, be commemorated in Budapest in 2017. The painting is of an enormous size, and its grandeur and how it perfectly captures that moment in Hungarian history still take my breath away every time I see it in person (I have been lucky enough to have visited the Palace twice already, but I don’t think I will ever tire of this painting!). 
Sisi
In 1751, when Gödöllő Palace still belonged to its original owner, Count Antal Grassalkovich, Empress Maria Theresia stayed at the Palace for a very short time. Grassalkovich had a succession of rooms furnished to meet Maria Theresia’s needs. Today, a section of these rooms is still dedicated to the memory of Maria Theresia, with a huge painting of hers. Standing in front of it, I have to admit it gave me goose bumps: To think that this forward-thinking, remarkable lady had once stayed right here, and that I’m standing where she once might have stood! 

A proper statue of Maria Theresia can actually be found in the grounds of the Palace Gardens. If the weather is decent, I’d highly recommend for you to take a stroll through the gardens. Sisi, Franz Joseph and her children used to lead an almost bourgeois existence here, without the inhibitions of the strict etiquette of the Viennese court. In Gödöllő, they could enjoy a life of leisure with their children and – always an important point for Sisi! – their animals, too! Sisi loved large dogs, and you can imagine how much these dogs enjoyed the freedom the gardens of Gödöllő Palace brought. And so did Sisi, who has often been called the best horsewoman of her time; the gardens of Gödöllő Palace and the surrounding woods were perfect for horse riding. She often invited fellow horsemen to Gödöllő Palace, so they could all go on hunts together. Sisi also honed her dressage riding skills in the riding hall of the Palace.

I’d love to hear from any readers who have been to Gödöllő and have fallen in love with the Palace, too! Please share your memories and anecdotes of the Palace in the comment section. Köszönöm, barátaim!



Julia Meister is an 18th/19th Century enthusiast, and is especially interested in the social history of women. She has a vast knowledge of royal mistresses and is fascinated by their political power. Whilst she loves British and French history, her main passion is the Habsburg Empire: When on holiday, she can most likely be found visiting a castle within the realms of the former Austro-Hungarian region that has once been inhabited by Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Buda Castle, Gödöllő Palace and Vienna’s Hofburg are among her favourites). In 2016, Julia wrote and recorded the texts for Marienfließ Convent’s audioguide – the first female Cistercian convent in the Brandenburg area of Germany, founded in 1231. She is currently seeking new ways of indulging her passion for history and writing.


Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Captain's Ghostly Gamble

It's release day for my brand new short story, The Captain’s Ghostly Gamble. Co-written with Eleanor Harkstead, this is a comedy of spooks, silk, and second chances.

Blurb: When a ghostly dandy and his roguish companion try their hand at matchmaking, things definitely go bump in the night.

For centuries, foppish Captain Cornelius Sheridan and brooding John Rookwood have haunted the mansion they duelled and died for. Now these phantom foes must join forces to save both their home and their feuding descendants.

But when Captain Sheridan sacrifices his afterlife for the sake of true love, will Rookwood risk everything to keep his companion by his side, or is it too late to say "I love you"?


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Two Engagements in Bath


It’s my pleasure to tell you that I'll be visiting the  Jane Austen Festival in Bath not once, but twice, this September. First, I'll be giving a talk on a  scandalous lady and all matters militia. Later in the Festival I'll be joined by the fabulous Adrian Lukis to discuss theatre, Austen and no doubt one or two other things as well. The salon is closing for summer, but I shall be back once my engagements in Bath are completed!

Mr Wickham and Mrs Clarke: 17th September 2018, 12:15 pm-1:15 pm
This talk will delve into the militia in Jane Austen’s era and lift the lid on the scandal of Mary Anne Clarke, the mistress of the Duke of York and a woman who sold commissions at mate’s rates to her favourite gentlemen. Mary Anne ruined a reputation  and left the royal family reeling. It’s a story that any budding Mr Wickhams would do well to learn from. 
Book tickets here.

In Conversation with Adrian Lukis: 21st September, 12.30pm-1.30pm
Join Adrian Lukis, perhaps better known as Pride and Prejudice’s dashing Mr Wickham, in conversation with author, Catherine Curzon. Familiar to viewers from Pemberley to Downton and beyond, Adrian will recall his experience filming the iconic BBC adaptation, as well his long and varied career on stage and screen.
Book tickets here.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Captain and the Cricketer

The Captain and the Cricketer, book 2 in the Captivating Captains series, is released today across the world; you can read an extract of this comedy of cricket and criminality below!


When an uptight countryside vet and a sexy TV star meet on the cricket pitch, they’re both knocked for six!

Henry Fitzwalter is a solid sort of chap. A respectable rural vet and no stranger to tweed, he is the lonely inhabitant of crumbling Longley Parva Manor.

Captain George Standish-Brookes is everyone’s favorite shirtless TV historian. Heroic, handsome and well-traveled, he is coming home to the village where he grew up.

Henry and George’s teenage friendship was shattered by the theft of a cup, the prize in a hard-fought, very British game of cricket. When they resolve their differences thanks to an abandoned foal, it’s only a matter of time before idyllic Longley Parva witnesses one of its wildest romances, between a most unlikely couple of fellows.

Yet with a golf-loving American billionaire and a money-hungry banker threatening this terribly traditional little corner of Sussex, there’s more than love at stake. A comedy of cricket, coupling and criminality, with a splash of scandal!

Buy the Book

Extract

What on earth are they feeding these babies?

Another ruddy-cheeked mother passed her enormous child to Henry. He balanced it on his hip, smiling politely as he jiggled it up and down.

“What a lovely boy!”

Puppies, kittens, foals, lambs, calves and piglets were more Henry Fitzwalter’s style, the daily business of a countryside vet. He was at ease around them. But not human babies—they were strange and alien beasts indeed. The infant reached out its pudgy hand and tugged Henry on the nose, yanked Henry’s neatly trimmed sideburn then grabbed a length of his hair and pulled.

Henry winced. “Certainly a strong ’un!”

“Daniel, you bad boy!” His mother at least had the grace to be contrite regarding her infant’s outrageous thuggery, and wrestled the unfeasibly large child from Longley Parva’s vet.

Nestled in the South Downs, Longley Parva had been the home of Henry’s family for generations. And today, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, Longley Parva was closed for a street party to raise funds for the roof of the village hall.

Daniel was swapped for another child, who came accompanied by the odor of milk. Henry bounced the baby and it cooed at him. It appeared to be a little girl, judging by how frilly its outfit was, and although it was almost entirely bald, it was wearing a sequined Alice band.

A car tooted, an engine revved. A nearby shout of, “The road’s closed for the party—what’s the bloody matter with people?”

Women’s Institute stalwart Mrs. Fortescue tutted. “Mind your language in front of the babies!”

Henry, ignoring the baby’s grip on his knitted tie, stared from his vantage point at the top of the village’s High Street toward the other end, where barriers and stalls were being shifted as a car approached.

A classic car in British racing green nosed its way toward him. He knew it, because it had been tootling around the village for Henry’s whole life and for decades before that too. Everyone in England knew it, because this was the soft-top Jaguar of Captain George Standish-Brookes. This was the soft-top Jaguar that had transported its driver and his popular histories straight into the nation’s hearts.

Henry clenched his jaw. That bloody man.

Cries of “It’s Captain George!” filled the street, the Longley Parvans nudging one another and grinning, some even waving as the car wound its way along the crowded road. The final of the Bonny Baby Competition was forgotten.

George drove into the center of the village like the returning hero he was, classic Wayfarers hiding his eyes, the car horn blaring merrily and a crowd following as though the Red Sea had just parted.

George—Henry’s childhood friend through thick and thin, until the day the Longley Parva Cup disappeared. George—the television historian with the knowing wink and dazzling smile. George, who sailed through life without a care in the world, waving now at the locals as he drove toward the podium with one hand on the steering wheel.

The handsome bastard.

Of course the road closure didn’t apply to George, even though the vicar on his bicycle had been turned away and told to come back on foot. Rules never applied to Captain George Standish-Brookes. Not at school, not in his Bohemian home, and now, not at the village fête.

George made his own rules.

Unable to raise a hand in polite though grudging welcome without dropping the baby, Henry gave George a terse nod.

“Fitz!” George turned off the ignition and the car, somehow, came to rest at just the right angle for a classic car shoot. He pushed open the door and hopped out onto the green, a vision of easy, casual confidence in cricket sweater and chinos, his dark hair tousled just so, the sun glinting from the face of his watch.

Who still wears a watch these days, anyway?

Captain George did, because then he could wear a regimental watch strap too.

“What a welcome.” George laughed, pushing the Wayfarers up into his hair. He looked around at the bunting and sausage rolls, the orange squash and bonny babies. “Have I crashed a party?”

Henry clenched his jaw. “I suppose those sunglasses prevented you from being able to read the sign at the top of the road, Captain George? ‘Street party—strictly no entrance’. You nearly mowed down half the village, you fool!”

He had forgotten that he was standing in front of a microphone. After a blast of feedback, his sarcastic reprimand echoed down the bustling street.

“Shut up, vet’n’ry!” someone shouted from the crowd.

“Yeah, you shut up! It’s Captain George!” someone else chimed in. Within moments, the street was full of jeers aimed at Henry. Even the baby joined in, yanking Henry’s tie so hard he nearly headbutted the microphone. George stepped up, his hands held in front of him in a call for calm. Naturally, he knew how to use a microphone, there was no wail of aggressive feedback to deafen him.

“Hello, Longley Parvans!” A chorus of greeting went up. “Sorry for nearly mowing you down—blame my enthusiasm to see this marvelous village once more. Some things, I notice”—he cast a long, comical look at Henry—“never change!”

Henry glared at the car and glared at George. “No, they don’t, do they?”

The baby started to grizzle, its face turning tomato red. Henry bounced it more energetically on his hip, just as a hiccupping noise started up in its throat. He looked over his shoulder, wondering where its mother had got to. A reporter from the local paper had slipped in between the locals and had clambered onto the podium. “Give us a smile, Captain George! Can we get a few words for The Bugle?”

“I’ve just been around the world for my Secret History of Magellan, which you can watch this Christmas on the Beeb!” He winked, a twinkle in his eye that made at least one of the girls from the riding school fan her face. “And I still haven’t found anywhere as beautiful as good old Longley Parva!”

Applause rippled through the crowd, along with enthusiastic nods. And—for heaven’s sake, was it really necessary?—a cheer began.

“Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray for Captain George!”

Mrs. Fortescue’s shoes banged loudly across the podium as she approached their returning hero. “Captain, could I possibly ask you to assist with the Bonny Baby Competition?”

“The divine Mrs. F.!” George kissed her on both cheeks. “It would be a pleasure!”

Henry knew better than to cross Mrs. Fortescue. She took the frilly child from his arms and deposited it in George’s embrace. Laughter echoed through the crowd, and the child’s mother now appeared, beaming up at George. Henry could do nothing more than stand there as George bounced the baby more and more, the hiccupping noise now a rumble.

The baby opened its little mouth and ejected a vast stream of curdled milk.

All over the shoulder of Henry’s tweed jacket.

“Brilliant!” The photographer tipped his head back, laughing. “What a great photo!”

“You can’t print that!” Henry stared in horror from the mess on his shoulder into the hungry lens of the camera. He dug in his pocket to retrieve a handkerchief and began to mop at the sour-smelling deposit. If it wasn’t enough that Longley Parva’s animal population voided their bodily fluids over him on a near-daily basis, now the human residents had joined in as well.

“You’re a poppet, aren’t you?” George bounced the now empty baby, who gurgled happily at him. Then the mother, who was even more thrilled by the celebrity in their midst, slipped her arm through George’s and grinned for the photographer.

“Would you mind just sort of utching up a bit?” The photographer gestured Henry to step to his right. “I need you out of frame, mate!”

Henry closed his lips in a tight line and nodded. “Of course. The local vet isn’t as exciting as a bona fide TV historian, after all.”

“And war hero,” the photographer reminded him saucily.

Henry manfully resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Still dabbing at his jacket, he walked past Mrs. Fortescue, only delivering a tight smile of acknowledgment, and hopped down from the podium. Henry was supposed to be judging the jam-making competition in fifteen minutes, but he wondered if he would be ousted from that gig too.

At least jam couldn’t vomit on your shoulder, though, there was that.

“God,” the stable girl told her equally flushed friend as Henry passed, “he’s even more gorgeous in the flesh than on the telly!”

Then she glanced at the sick-stained vet and touched her hair self-consciously. With a grimace, she murmured, “You missed some puke, Mr. Fitzwalter.”

Henry indicated over his shoulder with a jab of his thumb. “Will you tell Miss Watson on the jam stall that I’m going home? I can’t judge jam like this.” Once more, he pressed his lips into a thin, disapproving line. “But I’m certain that our resident celebrity will relish doing the honors.”

Somewhat proud of his pun, Henry went on his way. Longley Parva Manor was but a short walk from the main road and Henry would go home, sit in the bath with a whiskey and hope George left again soon.

“Fitz!” George’s voice again, full of laughter and carefree bonhomie, smooth and easy as hot chocolate, as one of his adoring Sunday newspaper critics once said. “I say, Fitz!”

Henry skidded to a halt on the gravel at the bottom of his driveway and turned to watch George approach. Behind him trailed a long line of smiling faces, the ladies who adored him and children who wanted to be him and men who wanted to buy him a pint. George the handsome, tan Pied Piper leading his faithful.

“What do you, of all people, want with me?”

“Mrs. F. tells me you’re on jam duty.” He slapped his hand down against Henry’s clean shoulder. “When I was stung by a ray, did I let it put me off finishing my secret shipwrecks filming? No. When I broke my wrist wielding a war hammer, did I give up my location work for Secrets of the Vikings? I did not! Come on, Fitz, are you going to let a bit of baby sick defeat you?”

“Defeat me? I smell of vomit, Captain bloody George. I can’t taste the jam with the tang of baby sick in my nostrils!”

“It’s a jacket, Fitz.” George laughed, a long, loud bray. “Take it off, man!”