A Lily Among Thorns mini-stories

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On this page, I’ve collected all the mini-stories I’ve written at various times about the characters of A Lily Among Thorns. I’ve organized them chronologically, so you can read them in order or navigate to the one you want using the Table of Contents.

 

Table of Contents

  1. Little Jamie Reeves and Serena have a playdate (a crossover with True Pretenses).
  2. Solomon’s school friends have a smelly mishap.
  3. Antoine’s busman’s holidays.
  4. Elijah reads queer fiction.
  5. Solomon and Serena go on honeymoon.
  6. The gentlemen at Brooks have a betting pool on how long Solomon and Serena’s marriage will last.


1.

Sonia said: “Please oh please oh please write me a little Lily Among Thorns/True Pretenses crossover. I want to see Solomon and/or Serena meeting Ash and/or Lydia more than I want anything.”

***

London, 1796.

Lydia wondered for the thousandth time why Jamie had taken such a fancy to little Lady Serena Ravenshaw, who lived on the other side of Grosvenor Square. Jamie was such a darling and so timid, and Lady Serena was a bossy child whose voice was loud and high enough to irritate the ear even at such a distance as Lydia’s bench. But Jamie ran happily after her, his answering murmurs much quieter. Lydia hoped devoutly that the two of them would not make a match of it one day.

“I don’t know if girls can be ship’s captains,” Jamie said doubtfully.

The little girl crossed her arms. “If I’m not captain, I’m not playing.” Lydia thought that about summed up Lady Serena.

Behind her, someone laughed. Lydia turned and saw a scrawny dark boy of eighteen or nineteen leaning against a fencepost to read a newspaper. She glared at him. There was nothing funny about her little brother being ridden roughshod over.

Jamie didn’t seem to mind, though. Across the square, he was giggling and saluting Lady Serena.

A boy came up to her bench. “I hope I’m not being too forward, my lady, but I need your help with my greatcoat button. It’s stuck. I think I put it through wrong.” Lydia thought he was about her age—fourteen. Well, no, he was probably a year or two younger, but he was taller than her and that was what mattered. He was also very handsome, golden hair gleaming at the edges of his hat. And he was smiling at her as if he thought she was pretty.

Lydia knew she ought to tell him not to call her “my lady,” since her father was only a baron, and that they hadn’t been introduced. But he needed help. And he had an honest face, she thought. Wouldn’t it be silly to stand on ceremony? And boring, she admitted silently. Her father’s footman was watching from across the square, anyway.

“All right,” she said, bending her head to look at his coat. The buttonhole was frayed, which she tactfully didn’t mention, and he’d somehow got the button twisted through a dozen threads in trying to get it out. She leaned closer, squinting, trying not to flush at how close they were standing. Her purse kept dragging at her wrist and thwapping into the boy’s chest.

“Are there scissors in there?” he asked, blinking.

Lydia’s face flamed. There were, actually. Had she jabbed him? “Sorry,” she said, fumbling as she pulled the strap off her wrist and set the purse down on the bench. “I’ve almost got it—”

A noise behind her made her turn. The boy in the cap was leaping the fence, her purse clutched in his hand. He took off across the road and down a side street. Lydia stood frozen, feeling so mortified at the handsome boy seeing her predicament that her cry of Stop! Thief! was not nearly loud enough to reach the road. Her footman was flirting with Lady Serena’s nursemaid by the statue of George I and hadn’t noticed a thing.

“It’s my fault,” the boy said. “I’ll catch him up.” And he took off after the thief. He must not have caught up with him, though, because he never came back. Lydia felt twice as annoyed with the pickpocket, for ruining her flirtation before it even had a chance to be one.

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2.

Karenmc requested “Shitty school friends literally stepping in merde de pigs or something.”

***

Excerpted from a letter from Solomon to his brother, a few days after his first meeting with Serena.

November 3, 1809

Dear Elijah,

Well, I’m back at Cambridge, and wishing I’d come to spend a few days with you instead of going to London with Ashton and Braithwaite. I have never been so ill in all my life as I was from the aftereffects of drink after a night out with them. I kept on imagining my condition had improved, only to be undeceived in a thoroughly revolting manner. Meanwhile, my friends were both twice as drunk and half as sick! Truly, God’s justice is ineffable.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that, for I made an early night of it—and after I had gone, Braithwaite and Ashton both managed to cover themselves in horse excrement! Or more accurately, Braithwaite covered them both; evidently he made a fatal error of judgment while crossing the road and then, in trying to examine the s— on his boot, tripped and fell in the gutter! Ashton tried to help him up but Braithwaite, incensed that Ash was laughing, tipped them both back in again. I almost wish I had been there to see it, except they would have been sure to involve me in their disgrace. Their clothes are quite ruined.

I did not escape entirely unscathed, however. I was—Lord, this is embarrassing—on my way home drunk, I was the victim of a pickpocket and lost my entire quarterly allowance. Please don’t tell our parents. I refuse to apply to Uncle Hathaway for more, so I’ll be entirely pockets to let until Christmas. I hope you won’t mind my not sending you a birthday present. You may keep mine if you like! I’m ever so sorry, I don’t know how I came to be such a fool, and you may laugh at me as much as you like provided you do so where Mama and Papa cannot hear you.

Uncle Hathaway sends his love, and little Clara (who is not so little any longer, but comes clear up to my collarbone!) wishes to know when you will come up to town and teach her another French song. Uncle Hathaway, who suspects the French song you taught her last time is not fit for decent women (but has no proof) seemed less enthusiastic but asked me to assure you you are very welcome…

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3.

Jenni wanted to read about Antoine’s day off.

***

London, 1811

Tony was a man with one overriding passion in life: food.

He knew that other people, on their holidays, liked to avoid doing anything that resembled work. That was their affair, and he’d surely never fault them for it. But Tony liked to wander the city eating other people’s food. He’d eat things he could never serve at the Arms, curries and congee, albondigas and bean stew (rich folk had decided they were too good for beans, which pained Tony deeply). And he’d go to French restaurants and plot how he could steal their best tricks for the Ravenshaw Arms menu.

Sometimes Tony could talk Serena or Sophy or Sacreval into going with him. He liked that best; they could compare when he tried to recreate the recipe later. And then he could talk in his new accent. He felt foolish using it on his own with strangers, but his old voice felt stale and soured in his mouth these days, after nearly a year of mostly sitting on the shelf.

Some holidays he’d get so inspired, he’d come straight home and get to cooking in a corner of the kitchen. After all, there wasn’t much time for experiments during the working week. He generally skipped church for the same reason. A fair number of the Arms staff weren’t great churchgoers, and after a while Sunday mornings in the kitchen became a tradition, Tony cooking away and Serena, the marquis, Sophy, and some others of their friends crowding around to taste.

Not that Serena would probably admit to being friends with all of them. Tony didn’t mind that. She was his favorite companion in the kitchen. Most people would just say, “Tony, it’s delicious!” or maybe, if they were really feeling decisive, “Too much salt.” But Serena wanted things to be perfect, just as he did. She was never afraid to say, “It needs more butter,” or “Try some parsley and lemon,” or even just, “Something’s missing.” (She also never forgot to call him “Antoine.”) And she’d grown up eating fancy French food, unlike anyone else Tony had on hand for tastings.

(Excepting his lordship of Sacreval, of course, but Tony had figured out by now that while his lordship’s childhood sustenance had surely been French, it hadn’t exactly been full of wine sauces and bechamel. Tony thought Sacreval was as much a marquis as Tony was a Frenchman, which was to say, he’d decided to be one and there was nothing wrong with that!)

Well, on this particular day in June, Tony had been trying to make lobster patties for weeks. Weeks now, he’d made at least one batch of patties every Sunday morning. And every time, Serena bit into it hopefully—and her face fell. Tony didn’t mind the way she drew herself up and said coolly, “I’m afraid it’s not quite up to snuff yet, Antoine. We’ll have to try again.” But he hated that look of disappointment.

He’d tried everything he could think of. His pastry was flaky, his lobster perfectly cooked, his lemons fresh. He’d tried it with zest, without zest, with butter, with lard, with salad oil, with pepper and without, with a hint of cayenne, with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Everything was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Today was his holiday, and he was going to get it right. He looked down at his Sunday best suit of clothes; they would have to be good enough. He took a deep breath and marched into Grosvenor Square.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” he said deferentially to a well-dressed stranger, pointing at the basket of strawberries he’d brought with him. “Delivery for Lord Ravenshaw. Do you know which is his house?”

“I did not order that,” the Ravenshaw chef said in surprise when Tony finally fetched up in front of him.

“I know, sir,” Tony said, keeping his head bowed respectfully. “It’s a gift, like. I…I work for Lady Serena.”

The chef’s eyes widened. He glanced around the kitchen. “And she has sent me strawberries?” he asked, puzzled but obviously dying to know more.

“Not exactly. I’m her cook, see, and she doesn’t like my lobster patties. I was hoping you could set me straight.”

The chef laughed. “And how do I know, young monsieur, that this is not some ploy to steal my recipe?”

Tony set the basket down. He pulled his Ravenshaw Arms handkerchief from his pocket, with the family coat of arms embroidered in the corner, and showed it to the chef. “Please, sir. She misses your cooking.”

That was the masterstroke. The chef melted like butter. The secret, he revealed with tears in his eyes, was tarragon, a pinch of sugar, and a splash of white-wine vinegar. “Good white-wine vinegar!” the chef warned. “And brush the tops with butter!”

That night, when Serena bit into her lobster patty, she smiled and her eyes shone. “You’ve got it, Antoine!”

Tony grinned back, feeling a hundred feet tall. “Ah, madame, it is that you inspire me.”

Serena laughed and reached for another patty.

***

For the curious, here are two lobster patty recipes, one from 1847 and one designed for modern kitchens from author Anna Campbell.

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4.

I was asked to contribute a piece to the 2015 Queer Romance Month. I wrote about Elijah reading queer fiction as a kid.

***

“My marriage won’t change anything.” That desperate note in Alan’s voice would ordinarily have Elijah scrambling to comfort him. “It’s only for show. I can’t say no to my father, Li.”

Elijah stubbornly willed away the tears stinging his eyes. “Of course you can. You only don’t choose to.”

“How could I possibly explain it?”

“Say you don’t like the girl!”

“But I do like her,” Alan said miserably. The commonplace words entered Elijah’s heart like so many daggers. “She’s a pleasant enough girl, and she comes with fifty pounds. If I say no to her there’ll only be another one, maybe worse.”

“I don’t have to stay here for this.” Elijah drew himself up very coldly, putting his hands in the pockets of his green coat. He hoped it made him look as if he didn’t care a straw, and not merely chilled to the bone.

“Please don’t be angry with me. We can go on as we have been.”

I can’t.” Elijah walked out. Alan didn’t follow him.


For the first time, he was grateful that his twin, Solomon, was living in London. It meant he could go to their room and turn the key in the lock and cry without interruption. Taking a small book off the shelf, he curled around it for comfort, his fingers smoothing the leather cover as if it were a pet cat.

So this was what it felt like when one’s heart broke.

Below his grief was a hot, churning anger. That Alan would think he, Elijah, would assist him in betraying some innocent girl’s trust! That Elijah would allow one sin—a sin that hurt no one, one he had almost but not quite reconciled with his conscience—to become a thousand: lies, adultery, selfishness, cruelty, repeated and multiplied every day for the rest of their lives.

His fingers tightened on the book. He had never wanted to be molly. But more than that, he had never wanted to be one of the mollies he read about.

Elijah read a great deal. Too much, some people said, but luckily his parents didn’t think there was any such thing. And after a while he had noticed that there were men like him everywhere in books. Only they seemed to fall mostly into two categories: young men pining for other young men who were variously oblivious or revolted, or horrible old men attempting to insinuate themselves with attractive boys who were usually just revolted.

He’d supposed he must be doomed to be one first, and then, after a few decades, the other. As a pimply, awkward adolescent, it hadn’t been hard to imagine that his love would revolt pretty much anyone. And then, he had no idea how many mollies there were in the world. Could he ever even expect to meet one in Corfield, let alone one his own age? What if he did meet one his own age, and Elijah didn’t like him? Or worse, what if Elijah did like him, and he didn’t like Elijah?

He certainly hadn’t been able to believe that Alan, the handsome dark-haired blacksmith’s apprentice who deigned sometimes to laugh at his jokes, could be anything but the most normal and healthy of men, with normal, healthy desires.

Then, for his seventeenth birthday, Uncle Hathaway had sent one of his regular stacks of French books. But in among them was a German one, some dull pseudo-Greek fable called Ein Jahr in Arkadien, and a note that said, Don’t be so busy with French that you neglect your German! I need help dealing with the draper, the old cheat. I expect you to be able to tell me what this book is about next time I see you.

Dutifully, he’d pulled out his German dictionary and taken the book to the graveyard, wanting to get it over with so he could start on the French.

Elijah still remembered the fluttery excitement in his chest when he’d realized that Alexis and Julanthiskos were in love with each other. It always started up when he spotted someone like him in a book, even now at the wise old age of twenty-three, even though he knew it would only end with one or both of them dead or married. Every time he somehow, childishly, believed it wouldn’t happen—even rereading Twelfth Night, he thought that maybe this time Sebastian would stay with Antonio—but of course it always did.

But in this book, the only book he’d ever found like it, it didn’t.

He flipped forward, past Julanthiskos weeping hot tears at the banquet because Alexis didn’t love him, careful to hold the book only half-open so the spine would never betray his favorite pages. His heart swelled with longing and triumph:

Come,” he said, fingertips tenderly interlocked with him and his lips pressed to his white shoulders, “Come faithful, pious soul.”

And then, only a page or two after, And they fell asleep hand in hand, never to forsake one another.

He didn’t know who had written the book. Someone in Germany, presumably. In a city, probably. But whoever he was, he thought this was possible. When Elijah read that line about lips pressed to beloved shoulders and fingers tangling together, he was convinced the author had even had it himself. Anteros, requited love. Without wives or death or degeneracy or repulsion.

“Um sich nie zu verlassen,” he recited quietly to himself, wincing at his own atrocious pronunciation. He had steeled himself against their forsaking each other regardless by the end of the book, but they hadn’t. Alexis and Julanthiskos even appeared in the final chapter sporting matching crimson cloaks, which Elijah had thought very dashing at seventeen and now found rather embarrassing.

Faithfulness triumphs, Alexis sang to his beloved. Elijah had thought it was faithfulness to a lover that was required; faithfulness, he’d thought for the last few years, to Alan. He’d even attached a ridiculous significance to the fact that Alan and Alexis began with the same letters.

But now he thought, maybe it was faithfulness to this that was required. To everything this book represented. He had to believe that it was possible, and strive for it with pure, patient zeal.

Sunshine follows upon sunshine, and the clouds vanish. Faithfulness triumphs.

Elijah pulled his last letter from Lord Dewington, his mother’s brother, out of the book’s pages. He had been hiding it there for no good reason, except that the book felt like a safe place. Keep this between us, but if your French is as good as everyone says, I have it on the highest authority there is that a place might be found for you in His Majesty’s service. Elijah supposed that meant a commission; the army would enter France soon enough, God willing.

The army was probably not a good place to find other mollies. On the other hand, it was an excellent excuse to get away from Alan. And it would get him out of Corfield.

Elijah could wait for the rest.

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5.

Theresa requested “Solomon does something adorable and domestic for Serena involving yummy food”.

***

“There was supposed to be a maid,” Solomon said. “I didn’t want you to have to work.”

They had rented a little cottage outside Brighton. Solomon had argued for Cornwall, and Serena had been tempted, but Brighton meant less travel and more days at the seaside.

The cottage, on their arrival, was all shut up, with a note on the door from the maid that her sister was ill and she wouldn’t be able to come. The key’s with Mr. Adams, go towards the cliff and you can’t miss it.

Serena hadn’t wanted to work, either. She’d been self-indulgently, very secretly thrilled at the idea of sitting about with her feet up like a lady again. Still, how much work could there be? Lighting the fires, sweeping out the hearth, and perhaps frying a piece of bacon or two for breakfast. She could do that. It would be…wifely. It wouldn’t hurt her to be wifelier.

“If you’ll fetch the key from Mr. Adams and air out the linens,” Solomon said, “I’ll go into town and buy dinner.”

She ought to go with him, and help carry; but she could smell the sea. “Come look at the sea with me first.” She still could not quite imagine never having seen it, in all one’s years of life.

The sea in Brighton turned out to be rather tame, and Serena was worried for a moment that he’d be disappointed. But he exclaimed and wondered at it quite satisfactorily. He looked very handsome with the sea-breeze in his hair, even if the cliff was only a shallow white-chalk little thing, and it was most of half an hour before the promptings of her stomach led her to push him in the direction of town.

She expected him to come back with a couple of pies, or bread and cheese. Instead there were bottles, packets, herbs, and two whole mackerels wrapped in an old newspaper.

“Do you know what to do with all that?” she asked. “I thought almond-pear tartlets, burnt cream, toast and chocolate were the whole of your repertoire.”

He grinned sheepishly at her. “Antoine thought I ought to cook you supper for two on our honeymoon, and he trained me very carefully to do it. So now fish in lemon-butter sauce and Spanish cauliflower are in my repertoire, too. Dessert is burnt cream, though.”

She was unutterably charmed that he’d been plotting loverlike surprises for her—and strangely disconcerted. It was difficult, still, to find a place for herself in such a domestic idyll. When she pictured a husband cooking a charming supper for his new wife, she pictured somebody else. She had not even let herself think of the holiday as a honeymoon.

“Shoo,” Solomon said. “I’ll only drop things if you’re watching me.”

So Serena dragged one of the kitchen chairs outside and read a novel! For more than half an hour at a stretch! It was a little chilly, and her stomach grumbled, but—

Solomon stuck his head out the door. “Are you hungry?”

Serena regarded him uncertainly. Was dinner ready, in which case she should say she was starving, or was it not, in which case she should say she could wait? “A little,” she compromised.

“It’s going to be a bit longer. Here, have a roll.” He lobbed it into her lap and ducked back inside.

She gave up on the chair, which had grown hard and uncomfortable, and lay in the grass nibbling contentedly and watching seagulls and swallows. Nothing to do, and no one to chide her for dirtying her gown or being unladylike. Now and then she twisted her head to watch the smoke rising from the cottage chimney, where Solomon was cooking her dinner.

If she shut her eyes and listened carefully, she could hear him quietly singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” She giggled.

“Dinner’s ready,” he called at last from the door.

He had made little attempt to set the table, though perhaps there wasn’t much in the cupboards to set it with. The fish sat awkwardly on a plate, the little saucepan perched on a bit of slate beside it, and a round earthenware pan with a lid sat beside that. The eye eats before the stomach, Antoine always said.

But he handed her a glass of white wine, the bottle chilling in a chipped porcelain bucket with a misshapen, smiling green bird on the side, and she couldn’t remember when she’d looked forward to a meal more. She hoped very much it wasn’t burnt; she didn’t know if she could pretend enthusiasm convincingly.

The fish was flaky and moist, and the sauce tart and bright and buttery.

Solomon laughed. “You thought I’d ruin it, didn’t you?”

“Well, I didn’t think it would be this good,” she admitted.

“Cooking isn’t as much like chemistry as baking. But it’s not so different as all that. I practiced. And I’m good at gauging the heat of a fire.” He took the lid off the earthenware pan, and spooned cauliflower onto her plate, shining and browned and nutty, with a delightful tang of vinegar. She soaked up the sauce in the bottom of the pan with a broken roll and stuffed it into her mouth with a moan.

That was a breach of manners at the dinner table, she remembered with sudden anxiety. She’d taken her dinner in the Arms kitchen for so long, she barely had any manners left without a tablecloth and silverware to remind her. But Solomon grinned proudly at her and held out his wineglass. “To us.”

She hesitated, embarrassed to repeat the words aloud. But she made herself do it. “To us,” she said, not meeting his eyes, and clinked glasses.

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6.

KateF requested “Solomon cheerfully turns something that would have been angst for another romance hero into good business for the shop.”

***

Solomon was surprised when Jack Ashton showed up in the Ravenshaw Arms taproom and asked Solomon to join him for dinner. He felt a little guilty, actually, because he’d more or less forgotten Ashton existed—again.

But his guilt evaporated when Ash began the conversation by leaning in and saying, “There’s something I think you should know.”

Solomon leaned back, Antoine’s delicious duck confit turning greasy and unpleasant in his mouth. “This isn’t another story about my wife’s past, is it? I warn you, Ash—”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” Ashton said hastily. “Well. You’re aware that Brooks has a betting book, I suppose? Or perhaps you aren’t, but—”

“Yes,” Solomon said wearily. “I’m aware.”

Ashton leaned in even further. “Men are betting on—on how long your marriage will last.” He said it delicately, as if afraid to touch on a sore point.

It did sting a little, at that. But not much. “It’s too bad it’s impossible to bet on forever,” Solomon said with studied cheer, reaching for his cider. “But I suppose you’d have to wait an eternity for your payout.”

“I tried to put a stop to it,” Ashton said. “I really did.”

Solomon blinked at him, touched and startled despite suspecting that tried to put a stop to it translated to made a single feeble protest. “Don’t worry about it. It’s probably good for business.” Then a thought struck him. “How are men betting? By day? By month?”

“By week. It started with just one bet. But now it’s been organized into a pool, and the next three years are taken. The man who wins stands to gain a considerable sum.”

By week, for the next three years…that was a lot of betters. But Solomon thought it could be more. “Do you know if White’s has a similar pool going?”

Ashton shook his head.

“Could you find out? And if not, could you get someone to start one?”

Ashton stared at him as if he’d lost his mind.

Solomon smiled. “I have an idea.”

“Are you sure?” Ashton said. “Don’t you mind men bandying your wife’s name about?”

That gave Solomon pause. He did mind, as a matter of fact, but only because, more importantly, his wife minded. “You’re right, I’d better ask her. Do you mind waiting a moment?”

It took a few minutes to bring Serena around to his point of view, but by the time he left her office, she was making notes, a small frown line between her brows and a rather nasty smile on her lips.


“Get out!” Serena gave him a hard shove.

Solomon stumbled backwards, catching himself on the table of some goggling diners, but miraculously contriving not to spill anything. “Darling, don’t you think you’re being a bit hasty?”

Serena’s eyes glowed coldly. “No, I don’t, actually.” She stalked past him and straightened the tablecloth he’d mussed. “Are you gentlemen enjoying your dinner? Would you like another bottle of wine?”

They all shook their heads. Solomon distinctly heard someone at a nearby table whisper, “Do you think this is it? Someone wipe that smug look off Clavering’s face.”

Clavering, Solomon gathered, had this week in the betting pool.

He put his hand on Serena’s arm. She shook it sharply off. “Sweetheart,” he tried again. “Please. I didn’t mean to upset you. Can’t we discuss this?”

Her face softened—but only a little. “Just how far are you prepared to grovel?”

He leaned in and whispered in her ear. “On my knees.”

She broke down and smiled at him. He couldn’t resist kissing her. Clavering groaned audibly. A few tables cheered. Serena sent them a quelling glance.

Solomon offered her his arm. “Let’s finish this discussion in your office.” But as they passed through the doorway, he kissed her once more for good measure.

“Restaurant profits are up nine percent from last week,” she murmured against his mouth, and then, louder, “Darling.”

She called him that, now and again. Always sarcastically. It made his heart beat faster every time. “Princess of my heart,” he said. “I think we can get it higher.”

She grimaced at the florid endearment. “I’ll make you sorry for that one.”

He grinned at her. “You’re certainly welcome to try.”


That’s all for now, but keep an eye out—I’ll be taking prompts again one of these days!

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