Last Woman Standing first made its appearance in October 2019 as part of the Christmas anthology, A Regency Christmas Proposal. It is now a stand alone short romance available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
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JACKSON SHAW, the Marquess of Rivens, never considered the “gypsy blessing” presented to his family during the time of Henry VIII truly a blessing. He viewed it more as a curse. According to the “blessing,” in his thirtieth year, at the Christmas ball hosted by his family, he was to choose a wife among the women attending. The catch was he possessed no choice in the matter. His wife was to be the one who proved herself to be his perfect match, according to the gypsy’s provisions: a woman who would bring prosperity to his land by her love of nature and her generous heart. In his opinion, none of the women vying for his hand appeared to care for anything but themselves.
EVELYN HAWTHORNE comes to River’s End to serve as the companion to the Marchioness of Rivens, his lordship’s grandmother. However, Lady Rivens has more than companionship in mind when she employs the girl, whose late father was a renown horticulturalist. The marchioness means to gather Gerald Hawthorne’s rare specimens to prevent those with less scrupulous ideas from purchasing Hawthorne’s conservatory, and, thereby, stealing away what little choice her grandson has in naming a wife, for all the potential brides must present the Rivenses with a rare flower to demonstrate the lady’s love of nature. Little does the marchioness know Hawthorne’s daughter might not only know something of nature, but be the person to fulfill the gypsy’s blessing.
Excerpt from “Last Woman Standing”
Battle of Guinegate
16 August 1513
“What shall it be, my Lord Rivens?” His Majesty King Henry VIII asked. “My gift of an earldom or the blessing offered by this gypsy hag?”
Hollister Rivens knew he should claim the earldom and forget the promises of the gypsy witch, but he had witnessed firsthand the apparent power the gypsy held, for it had been the Roma who had instructed the English to build five bridges overnight over the river Lys, thus allowing the English army free passage to the other side. With the bridges in place, Henry had moved his camp to Guinegate on 14 August, displacing a company of French horsemen who guarded the Tower of Guinegate, which led to the English victory at Guinegate. “May I not claim both, my King?” Rivens bravely asked.
Thankfully, Henry found the humor in Hollister’s bravado. “You are an odd one, Rivens, but I am thankful you have served me well today.” Hollister had been part of the Earl of Essex’s forces when Essex ordered the English men-at-arms and the heavy cavalry to charge. They had caught the French just as French army thought to execute a retreat, sending them into disorder. Hollister’s men had held the town of Thérouanne by driving off the French with cannon fire. “You will be from this day forward known as the Earl of Rivens, and you may choose to listen to the gypsy’s tale of woe.”
“Of blessing, my king,” Rivens said. “The gypsy promised me a blessing.”
“A blessing, then, it is, Rivens. Go hear what the hag has to offer you.”
Hollister quickly made his bows and crossed to the small hut where the gypsy had been given refuge. She bade him enter at his knock.
“I see a new man before me,” she said cryptically.
“I have been presented a new title by the King,” he explained.
“More land?” she asked in a mix of heavily-accented English and French.
“I did not ask. I am satisfied with the lands I hold,” he explained, “but a barony does not hold the same power as an earldom.”
“A man of reason,” she said. “Most men want both.”
“I chose both,” Hollister explained. “I chose the earldom and your blessing.”
She smiled then, and Hollister knew she understood his reason for coming. “You wish to know your fate.”
“I wish to know my fate and that of my descendants,” he corrected.
“An ambitious man, but one looking forward, not to the rear.”
“You can tell me this?”
“I can tell you what I see,” she cautioned. “I cannot tell you what to do with the message.”
“How do we go about this? Cards? Gold coins?” he asked in excitement.
“Just stand and close your eyes. I shall circle about you and tell you what I see.”
Feeling a bit foolish, Hollister closed his eyes tightly and stood in place. He could hear her steps drawing closer. She hummed an enchanting tune, one he had not heard previously. Finally, she began to speak. “Another step will be taken when the time comes, but it shall not be yours to take, but, rather, the steps of the relations of your great-greatson.”
“Then I will have an heir?” He asked opening his eyes.
She did not answer. Instead, she kept circling him and humming that delightful tune until he closed his eyes again. At length, she spoke again. “To know the blessings of love and prosperity, choose among those who nourish the earth to scent the air—find one who manipulates the light to comfort the planted seed and who blesses the sweet, soft rain that washes clean a troubled spirit, turning it into the blue of heaven.
“Blessings also come from those minding the cattle and the sheep and all the creatures of the earth. Blessings fall upon the roof and the chimney tall and the hearth blazing within. Blessings come from the one who is kind to both friend and foe, who opens wide the door to strangers and kin.
“Lying beside such a person brings a man dreams, possibilities, and promises at dawn and shelter to calm his soul at night. Love guides a person when his steps stray from the path.”
He heard her walk away from where he stood. Slowly opening his eyes, Hollister asked, “What does all that mean? Is Lady Rosalind my future or not?”
The gypsy smiled in amusement. “The only way to know for certain is to ask Lady Rosalind to bring you a flower.”
WILL THE GYPSY’S WORDS PROVE TO BE A BLESSING OR A CURSE FOR THOSE CALLED “LORD RIVENS”?