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Friday, August 23, 2013

Awakened Love

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Whitaker House (September 2, 2013)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***


Laura V. Hilton, of Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas, is a pastor’s wife, mother of five, author and book lover. Her Amish fiction series books have sold thousands of copies and garnered praise from readers and critics for originality and authenticity. This is thanks, in part, to Laura’s Amish grandmother from whom she learned Amish ways, and her husband Steve’s family ties in Webster County, Missouri, who served as invaluable resources in her research. Laura’s previous Whitaker House books include The Amish of Seymour series: Patchwork Dreams, A Harvest of Hearts, and Promised to Another; and The Amish of Webster County: Healing Love and Surrendered Love.  Awakened Love is the final book in the series. Laura is also a homeschooling mother, breast cancer survivor and avid blogger who posts reviews at:


Katie Detweiler is excited when she’s hired to bake for a local bed-and-breakfast, especially because the shy young Amish woman will be able to work alone in the kitchen doing a job she loves.  Circumstances change, however, and the job requires she also wait on customers, including a private investigator who tells her she is adopted and has a biological sister in need of a bone marrow transplant. She also meets 22-year-old Abram Hilty, an Amish man who has fled the drama of his community in Shipshewana, Indiana, for Seymour, Missouri, where he’s staying with his cousin Micah Graber. Abram is immediately attracted to Katie, but pursuing a relationship with her would be complicated because he’s come to the Amish of Webster County to hide from a girl he no longer cares about—and also from a cold-blooded killer.

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Series: Amish of Webster County (Book 3)
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (September 2, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603745084
ISBN-13: 978-1603745086


“Today I met the bu I’m gonna marry….” Patsy Swartz’s singsongy voice was too chipper. Bracing herself for an afternoon with the bubbly girl, Katie Detweiler climbed out of her daed’s buggy and turned to lift the cooler from the back. Her not-exactly-a-friend bounced up beside her, still singing away.

Katie’s heart ached with a stab of envy.

Would she ever marry?

Daed snorted, in apparent disbelief. “Bye, Katie-girl. Have fun at the frolic.” He clicked at the horse and then pulled the buggy around the circle drive.

“The new bu in town!” Patsy squealed, as if Katie had asked. “He is sooooo cute! I’m going to marry him. I’m thinking Valentine’s Day. Will you stand up with me? I’m asking Mandy, too.”

Marriage? The new bu in town? Why was she the last to know these things? Katie hadn’t even known that Patsy had a beau. Wait—she didn’t. Just yesterday, she was bemoaning the lack of interesting men in her life.

Katie shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “Stand up with you? On Valentine’s Day? Jah, I can do that. What new bu in town?”

Patsy huffed. “Where have you been, Katie? There is a world outside that bed-and-breakfast, ain’t so?”

“When did you two meet? You didn’t mention him yesterday.” She adjusted her grip on the cooler handles and started toward the haus.

“He’s visiting the Grabers…a cousin or something. He’s here, right over—ach, I see Mandy! I’ll tell you about him later.” She turned away and glanced over her shoulder. “You’re still standing up with me. Valentine’s Day. Write that down, Katie.”

Patsy ran across the driveway to where Mandy Hershberger stood by the open barn doors.

Valentine’s Day? Was Patsy serious? Most weddings happened between November and January—never February, when the fields need to be prepared for planting. And wouldn’t the bishop have some reservations about Patsy’s marrying a man she’d known for, what, half an hour?

Valentine’s Day was still a long ways off. It was only August. And Patsy probably would’ve moved on three times by then.

But he was here, this mystery man Patsy planned to wed? Katie turned around and scanned the buwe playing volleyball, looking for a face she didn’t recognize. She didn’t see anyone new. Or maybe he just didn’t stand out. Patsy? Getting married? If Katie knew her at all, she’d be promised to this new bu in a short time. What Patsy wanted, she usually got. Even if they ended up calling it quits several weeks into the relationship.

Katie sighed. It’d be nice if someone noticed her. And wanted her as a permanent part of his future.

She headed for the haus to deliver the food. A long row of tables was set up inside the kitchen, already piled full. Katie set the cooler down next to the door, opened the lid, and took out a plate of chocolate chip cookies. She carried them to the table and set them down among the other desserts, then stepped back and surveyed the array of cookies and fried pies. Maybe she should’ve made something else besides cookies. But Daed wouldn’t mind if she brought the entire plateful back home again.

“Hi, Katie.” Micah Graber’s mamm, Lizzie, came into the room. “Glad you made it. Micah’s playing volleyball, if you want to join in. His cousin Abram is visiting from Indiana.” She smiled. “I’m sure you’ll want an introduction.”

Katie wasn’t so sure, except maybe to see what Patsy found so special about this mystery man. It was probably nothing more than that she hadn’t yet been courted by him, since she had gone with almost every other bu in the district.

Oops. That was unkind. Katie found a smile. “Danki. I’ll find Micah.” Later. Their paths would probably cross sometime that afternoon. He usually made a point to say hi to her.

Katie went to get the rest of the food out of her cooler when the door burst open. She gazed into knock-’em-dead blue eyes belonging to the most handsome someone she’d never seen. She stared at the stranger, her mouth open.

He raked his fingers through his brown hair, dislodging his straw hat, and backed up. “Micah sent me to get the coolers and the big picnic jugs.”

Lizzie Graber laughed. “Ach, you walked right past them. They’re out on the porch.”

His eyes met Katie’s again, and he nodded in greeting. Her heart pounded so loud, she worried he’d hear it. “Sorry, Aenti Lizzie. Don’t know what I was thinking.” He shook his head and backed out of the room, his gaze still locked on Katie, then turned and shut the door.

Lizzie laughed again. “Those buwe are all the same. They see a pretty girl and have to kum check her out.”

Pretty? Lizzie believed he’d kum inside because he thought she was pretty? But he hadn’t stayed long enough to say hi. Or to ask her name. Not that it mattered. She probably would’ve been tongue-tied, anyway. Katie straightened, willing her heart rate to return to normal. A gut-looking bu she didn’t know. Micah’s cousin. He must be Patsy’s…whatever she’d call him. Maybe “her intended,” since she’d said she wanted to marry him. So, why did it matter what he thought?

It didn’t.

Her insides deflated like a popped balloon.

Katie studied the dessert selection again. Disappointingly, other than the chips in her cookies, there wasn’t any chocolate in sight—unless some of the fried pies were filled with the delicious comfort.


Abram Hilty shut the door behind him and took a deep breath to calm his pulse. He hadn’t even talked to the girl in the kitchen, didn’t know the sound of her voice, but there was something about her that his heart had recognized.

“She’s pretty, jah?” Micah hoisted a cooler in his arms and started down the steps.

“Very.” Abram lifted one of the big yellow picnic jugs and fell into step beside him. “And you can’t get her to pay attention to you?”

Micah shook his head. “Nein. Not at all. But her best friend, Janna Kauffman, told me Katie’s really shy. Maybe I’ll offer to drive her home tonight. Her daed dropped her off.”

Abram chuckled. “You do that. I’ll ask her out, too, and tell her how wunderbaar you are. Between the two of us, we’ll get her talking.”  That would at least give him an opportunity to spend time with her.

Micah raised his eyebrows. “You’d do that for me?”

“That, and I’m currently between girls.” Abram winked. “I told Marianna I want a break.” Sort of. He did owe her some sort of explanation for his silence. After all, they’d been practically engaged—and he’d essentially stood her up.

Of course, he hadn’t revealed where he’d gone. Instead, he’d left a vague note: “Need some time off. Sorry.”

In hindsight, Ouch. But she’d been hounding him to make a commitment, dropping hints he couldn’t help but get. He could do worse, he’d supposed. And yet he’d fled. He needed to think. And that was impossible with her bringing him lunch every day, staying to eat with him, and getting into his buggy after every singing and frolic—without his even asking.

He shook his head. What else could he have done?

“What if she falls in love with you, not me?” Micah’s forehead creased as his eyebrows drew together. “I mean, talking me up is kind of cliché.” He snickered. “And it usually works in reverse.”

Abram shrugged. He wouldn’t complain if it did. “How could she not fall in love with you, with me singing your praises?” Of course, he’d try hard not to sing his own. Not that he had much to sing about. He frowned. How long before he was found out?

Micah set the cooler on the ground next to a table with some stacks of paper cups, then straightened. “I’ll go say hi to her, then, while you get the other picnic jug.”

“Works for me.” Abram set the picnic jug down on the table, then reached for a cup, held it under the spigot, and pressed the handle for a splash of iced tea.

“Hi, Abram,” cooed a feminine voice.

Abram cringed. Not another pushy female. He looked up at not one but two girls—a redhead he’d seen earlier that day, who beamed at him, and another with reddish-brown hair. He preferred Katie and her dark blonde hair.

“Welkum to Missouri!” said the redhead. “I’m Patsy Swartz, and this is Mandy Hershberger.”

He found a smile. “Nice to meet you. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get the other—”

Micah punched his arm. “I’ll get it, after I greet Katie. You stay here and talk.”

“Danki, cousin”—Abram hoped the girls wouldn’t pick up on his sarcastic tone—“but I’ll get the jug myself.”


“May I borrow a pair of tongs?” Katie asked Lizzie Graber. “I need to mix up the taco salad I brought.”

“Of course.” Lizzie slid a pan of brownies into the oven and then retrieved the utensil from a drawer.


Lizzie opened the refrigerator, took out a can of 7-Up, and popped the top. “I need to go check on Emily. She isn’t feeling well.”  She poured the fizzy liquid into a glass.

“Sorry to hear that.” She liked Micah’s little sister.

“When the brownies are done, would you take them out, please?”


“Danki.” Lizzie left the room.

Katie looked around. Maybe she could find some other way to assist. Helping would give her an excuse not to socialize. An alternative to standing beside the barn, ignored.

At this point of her life, she was part of the scenery, the part no one looked at. Patsy said it was because she was too quiet. Because she wouldn’t cross the room to talk to any of the buwe; she waited for them to kum talk to her. And they wouldn’t. They had enough girls willing to chase them that they didn’t need to pursue the quiet ones.

If that was the case, she’d be alone forever. A painful thought.

But her best friend, Janna, had said that if a bu really liked her, it would be obvious, because he’d be hanging around. Janna should know. Her beau, Troy Troyer, hung around her plenty, and he’d even started baptism classes, so he could join the church—for her.

Abram’s handsome face flashed in her mind. His heart-stopping grin. His easy confidence.

Nein. She wouldn’t think of this—of him. It meant nothing. He was in Patsy’s sights.

Katie opened her cooler and lifted out the salad bowl and a big bag of Fritos. She always waited to add the chips so that they wouldn’t get soggy before the salad was served.

Katie set the bowl down on the table and tugged on the top of the Frito bag to open it. A warm breath tickled her ear. Abram? Her heart jumped, and her hands jerked in opposite directions, ripping the bag and sending Fritos high in the air. A few of the chips landed where they were supposed to, in the taco salad, but most of them now decorated the floor and the savory dishes nearby, including the egg salad sandwiches Patsy always brought.

Katie’s face burned. She spun around, the almost-empty bag clasped in her hands.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Micah said. He stood too close. Why couldn’t it have been Abram breathing in her ear? Admittedly, the end result would’ve been the same.

A chatter of voices neared outside, and feet tromped on the porch. The latch clicked on the door, and the hinges squeaked. Katie resisted the urge to run from the room. It seemed everyone was coming inside to witness her humiliation. Abram entered, followed by Patsy and Mandy and a dozen or so others. Everyone looked at her.

“I was hoping you’d be here,” Micah continued.

There was someone who’d wanted to see her? Some member of the male species? Katie stared at him in shock.

Patsy came over to the table and started picking Fritos off of her sandwiches. The hard kick to the shin she gave Katie was all it took to find her voice.

“Ach, I scare easy. It’s okay, really.”

She had spoken to a bu. Using multisyllabic words. Would miracles never cease?

Patsy shook her head, evidently disappointed in her attempt at conversation. If only she would step in and speak on her behalf. But nein luck. With another shake of her head, Patsy dumped the Fritos in the trash and joined the group of females huddled around Abram. His harem.

Katie frowned. She didn’t want to compete with so many for the minute possibility of a relationship with a man. Maybe it’d be better to find someone steady who paid attention to her alone. She glanced at Micah. He stared at her as if she’d sprouted antlers. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the kind of attention she wanted.

“Janna told me you’re shy. She told me not to give up on you. I’d like to get to know you better. Are you seeing someone?” He lowered his voice. “Maybe I could give you a ride home today. We could stop for a milkshake.”

A milkshake? Was he kidding? Katie glanced at the table, laden with the usual assortment of cookies and fried pies. Brownies still baked in the oven. With all these treats, who in his right mind would offer that incentive?

He hadn’t given her a chance to answer the courting question before asking her out. Maybe he figured that someone as tongue-tied as she couldn’t possibly have a beau.

Still, Katie didn’t know how to answer his questions. Would it be easier to talk just one-on-one? Daed would encourage her to accept a ride from him. If that meant downing a milkshake, too, then so be it. She swallowed. “A milkshake sounds gut.”

He grinned. “I’ll look for you afterward. Sorry about your chips. I hope I didn’t ruin your”—he glanced at the bowl—“salad.”  He turned away and started talking to Natalie Wagler. At least she could carry on her side of the conversation.

Katie frowned. Were there books available for this disorder? She needed to check at the library. See if they had a section called “Basic Communication with the Opposite Sex.”

A buggy ride with a man who wasn’t Daed…. Sighing, she glanced at Abram. His attention seemed to be focused on Patsy, whose hand rested on his upper arm. Katie swallowed and turned away. Micah wasn’t the Mr. Right of her imagination. But maybe he was the Mr. Right of her reality.

Her very first date. Excitement washed over her.

Maybe her life was about to change.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Courting Campaign

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Love Inspired (August 6, 2013)

***Special thanks to Regina Scott for sending me a review copy.***


Regina Scott has spent fifteen years in the Regency period, writing books that call readers to believe in possibilities. The Courting Campaign is her twenty-fifth published story.  She currently writes for Love Inspired Historical.  You can find her online at, blogging at, or on Facebook at


Emma Pyrmont has no designs on handsome Sir Nicholas Rotherford--at least not for herself.  As his daughter's nanny, she sees how lonely little Alice has been.  With the cook's help, Emma shows the workaholic scientist just what Alice needs.  But making Nicholas a better father makes Emma wish her painful past didn't mar her own marriage chances.

Ever since scandal destroyed his career, Nicholas has devoted himself to his new invention.  Now his daughter's sweet, quick-witted nanny is proving an unexpected distraction.  All evidence suggests that happiness is within reach--if only a man of logic can trust in the deductions of his own heart.

Product Details:
List Price: $5.39
Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Love Inspired (August 6, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0373829760
ISBN-13: 978-0373829767


The Grange, near the Peak District, Derbyshire, England

June 1815

“He’ll blow us all up this time, he will.”

At the maid’s prediction, Emma Pyrmont glanced up from where she’d set her charge’s afternoon tea to steep. The scullery maid, laundress and chambermaids had their noses pressed to the glass of the Grange’s wide kitchen window. Even Mrs. Jennings, their cook, was peering over their shoulders, her ample bulk blocking some of the summer sunlight.

“It’s more like steam than smoke,” the white-haired cook said with certainty born from experience.

“Looks more dangerous to me,” argued Dorcus Turner. Even though Emma had only been working at the Grange for a few months, she’d noticed that the buxom chambermaid had an opinion on every subject. “I’ll bet the master is coughing.” She elbowed the laundress. “And there’ll be more smelly clothes to wash too.”

Emma returned her gaze to the elegant teapot sitting in front of her on the worktable in the center of the kitchen. The curve of the silver gave back a reflection of her face, from her light blond hair to her pursed lips. It seemed she had an opinion on the matter too, but she wasn’t about to voice it. She had no business caring what her employer, Sir Nicholas Rotherford, did in his makeshift laboratory to the south of the Grange. It was not her place to rescue the master from his folly. In this house, her place was in the nursery.

And thank You, Lord, for that! You’ve kept Your promise to never forsake me, even when others haven’t.

“You may be right,” Mrs. Jennings said, and Emma could see her shifting this way and that as if trying for a better view. Her blue wool skirts and white apron brushed the worn wood floor. “Perhaps it is smoke. Come have a look, Miss Pyrmont, and tell us what you think.”

Emma lifted the lid on the teapot and peered inside. Not quite there—the tea looked far too pale. And that meant she couldn’t avoid the cook’s request by claiming her duty. Biting back a sigh, Emma slid the lid into place and went to join the group by the window.

The Grange sat at the end of Dovecote Dale, with its back to the Derbyshire peaks and its front looking down the dale and the swirling waters of the River Bell. The house had been built of creamy stone in the last century and was a solid block with a portico at the front and a veranda at the back. She knew the master had turned one of the nearest stone outbuildings into some sort of laboratory where he conducted experiments, but she’d made it a point not to learn what sort and why.

Now she could see that gray smoke was seeping from under the wooden door. But a light gleamed through the paned windows, and a shadow of someone tall crossed in front of it. Whatever he was doing, Sir Nicholas did not appear to have taken any harm.

“It isn’t dangerous,” she promised the concerned onlookers. “You only need to worry if the smoke turns black.”

The maids gaped at her as she returned to her tea.

“As if she’d know,” Dorcus grumbled.

“An expert on smoke, are we now?” Mrs. Jennings challenged the maid. “Get about your duties, all of you, or you can be sure I’ll bring the matter up with Mrs. Dunworthy.”

The threat of Sir Nicholas’s widowed sister-in-law, who had come to manage the household for him four years ago, sent them all scurrying from the kitchen. Emma breathed a sigh of relief. She had only caught a glimpse of her reclusive employer as she sat in the pack pew for Sunday services and he sat near the front of the church. She rather liked keeping her distance. She was fairly certain he’d been a caller at the house where she’d lived in London, and she didn’t want him to wonder how she’d found her place working at the Grange. The fewer people who knew about her background, the better. She couldn’t risk her foster father learning where she’d gone.

But Mrs. Jennings did not seem disposed to let the matter go. She walked over and laid a hand on Emma’s shoulder, the touch surprisingly light for an arm so large and capable.

“Very clever of you, miss,” she murmured. “How did you learn about smoke?”

Emma smiled at her. Though she couldn’t remember her grandmothers, she thought Mrs. Jennings a perfect example. The thick strands of her white hair were tucked neatly into her lace-edged cap. Her brown eyes often twinkled with merriment. From her round face to her wide feet, she exuded warmth and affection. Mrs. Dunworthy might run the household now, having displaced Mrs. Jennings’s once-larger role, but everyone knew the cook was the heart of the Grange.

Still, Emma couldn’t tell Mrs. Jennings the truth about her past. Mrs. Dunworthy had insisted the matter remain between her and Emma. The lady thought Sir Nicholas might take offense if he knew his daughter was being cared for by a woman who had had an unconventional upbringing.

“I had foster brothers who experimented,” Emma told the cook, knowing that for the truth. Of course, they hadn’t experimented because it amused them, as it probably amused a gentleman like Sir Nicholas. They had had no choice in the matter.

“Ah, so you understand this business of natural philosophy!” The cook leaned closer with a satisfied nod. “I thought as much. I’ve had my eye on you, Miss Pyrmont, ever since you joined this household. You see, we have a problem, and I think you’re just the one to solve it.”

Emma busied herself adding a bowl of lumped sugar to the tray she would carry to the nursery. Sugar and tea had been kept under lock and key where she’d been raised, but Mrs. Jennings was more generous about who was allowed access to the costly goods.

“I’m always happy to help, Mrs. Jennings,” she told the cook as she worked.

“I know you are. You’ve been a real blessing to this family. Wait a moment.” She hurried to the larder and back and set a plate on the tray with a flourish. “Here. I baked you and Miss Alice the biscuits you both like so much.”

Emma grinned at the cinnamon-sugar treats. “Thank you! Alice will be delighted. Now, how can I help you?”

She glanced up to find Mrs. Jennings back at the window again, this time with a frown.

“It’s Sir Nicholas,” she murmured, more to the view than to Emma. “He’s lonely, you know. That’s why he spends so much time out there.”

Emma thought more than loneliness motivated her employer. She’d seen the type before—men whose work drove them until family, friends and even faith had little meaning. That was not the sort of man she wanted near her. She lifted the lid on the teapot again and was relieved to see that the tea was a rich brown. Time to take it to Alice.

“You could save him.”

The lid fell with a chime of sterling on sterling. Emma hastily righted it. She could not have heard the cook correctly. “I should get this to Alice,” she said, anchoring her hands on the tray.

Mrs. Jennings moved to intercept her. Concern was etched in her heavy cheeks, the downturn of her rosy lips. “He needs a wife. He doesn’t move in Society anymore. He doesn’t associate with the lords from the neighboring houses when they’re in residence. How else is he to meet a marriageable miss?”

“Marriage?” The word squeaked out of her, and she cleared her throat. She had once dreamed of the sort of fellow she would marry, but she was beginning to think he didn’t exist. That didn’t mean she was willing to compromise her ideals.

“I am not a marriageable miss, Mrs. Jennings,” she said, using her sternest tone. “I am Alice Rotherford’s nanny. I like my post.”

“But wouldn’t you like to be mistress of this fine house instead?” Mrs. Jennings asked, head cocked as if she offered Emma another treat as delicious as her famous cinnamon-sugar biscuits. “To travel to London like a lady when he presents his work to those other philosophers in the Royal Society?”

Emma shook her head. “Mrs. Dunworthy is mistress of this house. And I have no need to see London again, I promise you.”

“And sweet little Alice?” Mrs. Jennings pressed, face sagging. “Wouldn’t you like to be her mama rather than her nanny?”

A longing rose up, so strong Emma nearly swayed on her feet. How sweet to see Alice beyond childhood, to guide her into her place in the world. Emma knew how some might try to minimize the girl, to stifle her gifts claiming she was merely a woman. She’d had to fight that battle for herself. She could protect Alice, help her achieve her dreams, whatever those might be.

But she’d known the restrictions of her job when she’d accepted the post. Nannies might be beloved by their charges, but they were often only useful until the governess or tutor arrived.

“I’m afraid I cannot help you in this instance, Mrs. Jennings,” she said, lifting her tray and keeping it between them like a shield. “If you’ll excuse me, I must see to my duties.” She turned for the door, blocking her sight of the cook, the window and Sir Nicholas’s pursuits.

A gasp behind her made her glance back, thinking the cook meant to plead. But Mrs. Jennings wasn’t looking at her. The cook’s gaze was once more out the window, and her plump hand was pressed to her mouth.

Dropping her hand, she turned anguished eyes to Emma. “You have to help him, miss. You’re the only one who understands.”

“I understand that I have a responsibility to Alice,” Emma started hotly, but the cook shook her head so hard a few white curls fell from her cap.

“No, miss, your responsibility right now is to the master. You see, the smoke’s turned black.”

Out in his laboratory, Sir Nicholas Rotherford placed another damp cloth over the glowing wool and stepped back to cover his nose with the sleeve of his brown wool coat. Carbon always turned acrid. He knew that. He’d figured it out when he was eight and had burned his first piece of toast over the fire. He should have considered that fact before treating the wool and attempting to set it ablaze.

Now the smoke filled the space, and he could no longer even see the locks of black hair that tended to fall into his face when he bent over his work. His nose was stinging with the smell, and he shuddered to think what was happening inside his paisley waistcoat, where his lungs must be laboring.

But he had work to do, and nattering on about his health wasn’t going to get it done.

Behind him, he heard footsteps on the marble floor he’d had installed in the old laundry outbuilding when he’d made it into his laboratory. No doubt his sister-in-law Charlotte had come to berate him again for missing some function at the Grange. She couldn’t seem to understand that his work was more important than observing the social niceties.

Of course, it was possible she’d noticed the smoke pouring from the building and had come to investigate.

“It’s all right,” he called. “I have it under control.”

“I’m certain the good Lord will be glad to hear that when you report to Him an hour from now in heaven,” a bright female voice replied. “But if you prefer to continue carrying on this work here on earth, I suggest you breathe some fresh air. Now.”

Nick turned. The smoke still billowed around him, made more visible by the light from the open doorway. He could just make out a slender female form and…a halo?

He blinked, and the figure put out a hand. “Come along. You’ve frightened the staff quite enough.”

It was a kind tone, a gentle gesture, but he could tell she would brook no argument, and he was moving before he thought better of it.

Once outside, he felt supple fingers latching onto his arm and drawing him farther from the door. The air cleared, and he sucked in a breath as he stopped on the grass closer to the Grange.

It was sunny. He could see the house, the planted oak forests on either side, the sweep of fields that led down the dale toward the other houses that speckled the space. Odd. He was certain it had been pouring rain when he’d set out for the laboratory that morning, the mists obscuring the peaks behind the buildings. How long had he been working?

“Take a deep breath,” his rescuer said.

The advice seemed sound, so he did as she bid. The clean air sharpened his mind, cleared his senses. Somewhere nearby he thought he smelled lavender.

“Better?” she asked.

“Better,” he agreed. His gaze traveled over her, from her sturdy black boots to her muddy brown eyes. She appeared to be shorter than he was, perhaps a little less than five and a half feet. What he’d taken as a halo was her pale blond hair, wound in a coronet braid around a face symmetrical enough to be pleasing. Her brown wool dress with its long sleeves and high neck hardly looked like heavenly apparel.

But then how could he be certain? He’d been avoiding thoughts of heaven and its Master for several months now.

“Who are you?” he asked.

She dipped a curtsey, but her pink lips compressed as if she found the question vexing. “Emma Pyrmont.” When he continued to wait for clarification, she added, “Alice’s nanny.”

He eyed her and batted away a stray puff of smoke. “You’re the new nanny?”

She raised her chin. “I have that honor, yes. Is there a problem?”

“No,” he admitted, although he wondered at her tone. Was that a hint of belligerence? “I merely expected someone older.”

“Mrs. Dunworthy was satisfied with my credentials,” she said, chin a notch higher. Interesting—how high could a woman raise her chin without sustaining a neck injury? Not a topic he’d choose to pursue, but he might pass it on to one of his colleagues who specialized in anatomical studies.

“And I’m hardly new,” she informed him. “I’ve been here three months.”

Three months? He had lost touch. It felt more like three days since his sister-in-law had informed him that the previous nanny had quit. Nanny Wesling was one of many who had fled his employ after his reputation as a natural philosopher had been questioned, even though she’d initially moved to Derby with the family. He had never heard what she had found about the Grange to be so unsatisfactory.

Still, the young woman in front of him did not conform to his notion of a nanny. He would have thought the wisdom that came from age, the experience of raising children to be requirements. She looked too young, at least five years his junior. He also hypothesized that family connections or beauty would be lacking, as either could qualify a woman for an easier life as the wife of a well-situated man. While he could not know her family situation, that bright hair and smile would certainly allow her to make some claim to beauty. If she’d been dressed more like the young ladies of the ton, she would likely have found any number of young men eager to pursue her.

But she did not appear interested in pursuit. In fact, the way her foot was tapping at the grass, this lady already regretted looking in on him, as if she had far more important things to do than possibly save his life.

If she was Alice’s nanny, he had to agree.

Alice! He glanced about, seeking the dark-haired head of his daughter. “Tell me you didn’t bring Alice with you,” he ordered.

She frowned at him. “Certainly not. I thought a four-year-old should be spared the inhalation of carbonic fumes.” She shrugged. “Old-fashioned of me, I’m sure. Clearly you prefer it.”

He should take umbrage, but she said it all with such a pleasant tone he could not argue. That trait alone probably made her an exceptional nanny.

He should find out.

He immediately banished the thought. This was not an experiment requiring acute observation and documentation. This was a female in his employ. Besides, Charlotte had been clear in her requirements for managing his household. She had the responsibility for Alice and the staff. He had the responsibility of staying out of her way.

Still, questions poked at him, as they always did when he was confronted with something he didn’t immediately understand. A few moments’ investigation would not hinder his other work. The smoke would need a little time to dissipate in any event.

He tapped the fingers of his right hand against his wool trousers, gazed at her down his nose. “If you are not here with Alice, how did you know I required assistance? The nursery is on the opposite side of the Grange, if memory serves.”

She clapped her hands as if he’d said something particularly clever. “Excellent! At least the smoke hasn’t addled your wits.” Lowering her hands, she added, “I was in the kitchen preparing tea. And as you appear to have taken no immediate injury, I should return to my duties.” She curtsied again as if ready to escape.

But he wasn’t ready for her to go. He had too many questions, and he needed answers before forming a hypothesis. “You seem uncommonly outspoken, for a nanny,” he said. “Why would that be?”

She straightened. “I suppose because other nannies fear for their positions too much to tell the master when he’s behaving like a fool.”

Nick stiffened. “I beg your pardon?”

Her smile was commiserating. “I don’t believe the smoke has affected your hearing, sir. Let me see if I can put this in terms you would appreciate. You have miscalculated.”

He frowned. “In what way?”

“You have the sweetest, brightest, most wonderful daughter, yet in the three months I’ve worked here, you have never visited the nursery. You didn’t even know who had charge of her. You spend all your time out here,” she gestured to his still-smoking laboratory, “risking your life, risking leaving her an orphan. That, sir, I find foolish in the extreme.”

Nick raised his brows. “So you have no regard for your position to speak this way.”

Her smile broadened. “I have tremendous regard for my position. I would defend your daughter with my life. But I don’t think you’ll discharge me over strong opinions, Sir Nicholas. You need me. No one else would agree to serve in this house. Good day.”

Nick watched, bemused, as she gathered her dusky brown skirts and marched back to the Grange, her pale hair like a moonbeam cutting through the vanishing smoke.

Singular woman. He could not remember any member of his household speaking to him in such a bold manner. Of course, most members of his household avoided speaking with him entirely. Something about his work unnerved them as if he meant to test his concoctions on them rather than to use the chemicals to help develop a new lamp for mining.

Still, he could not argue with her assessment. He had been neglecting Alice. His skills were either insufficient in that area or unnecessary. His daughter had people who loved her, cared for her, made sure she was safe. The coal miners he was working to support had no such protection. They risked their lives daily in the mine on his property to the east of the Grange. Why shouldn’t he risk his health for them?

He’d already risked his reputation.

And, he feared, he was about to risk it again. Other noted philosophers were laboring like he was to find the secret to producing light under the extreme conditions underground. They enjoyed the challenge. He knew personally the deaths that would be prevented. What was needed was a lamp that would burn without exploding in the pockets of flammable air that appeared without warning.

Yet, as he returned to the laboratory and began to clean away the remains of his failed experiment, he found himself unable to focus. It seemed another study beckoned, one in which he had every right to investigate and every expectation of immediate success.

He needed to know this woman who was taking care of his daughter, how she came to be in his household and how she knew exactly what kind of smoke was streaming from his laboratory.

© 2013, Regina Scott, The Courting Campaign, Uncorrected Proof Page