1 Cozily Before A Fire

    Miss Kateri Leona Norwen did not quite tumble to the ground with her portmanteau as she exited the cab in front of her grandmama's small London town house. The kind post driver had, at her brother in law Richard's request, and for a fee, acquired a cab for her on their arrival in London. The post driver had seen her settled inside, with the cab driver assured of the proper address and paid in advance.

    The final leg of the journey had however, been rather terrifying as the cab rushed through crowded streets, at what seemed to her to be breakneck speeds. She therefore exited the vehicle both swiftly and gratefully, thanked the cab driver politely, and gave him the coins that Richard had handed her with which to tip the last driver upon her arrival. For though he had really ought to have accompanied her, Richard had done his best to assure her safe delivery. As he could not accompany her, he had seen to it that she had the proper amounts for each stop, even down to cups of tea at the post houses.

    Another vehicle, a small gig, stood already waiting before the house. But the house itself was worrisomely dark, with only the front light lit. Kateri told herself quite reasonably that her grandmama had no way of knowing down to the day or hour just when she would arrive. She approached the house bravely and was just reaching for the knocker when the door popped open, and she stood facing her very startled grandmama. Kateri was just as startled, for the elderly Dowager Viscountess Norwen stood alone in the dim hall.

    Lady Norwen it turned out was just on her way to a regular card party held by Lady Sefton. Lady Norwen had long arranged that these evenings were the ones her staff had off duty, as she often stayed out until 2 or 3am, and would not be availing herself of their services anyway. Normally her maid would have stayed in to see her off, claiming she had nothing better to do, but the elderly woman had taken a few days and gone off to visit her great niece on the coast.

    Lady Norwen had also had, as it turned out, no warning of Kateri's impending arrival. Her sister Amelia's letter, sent a week ago, had not yet arrived. Rather than hear the whole of Kateri's explanation though, Lady Norwen bade her to leave her portmanteau in the hall and climb into the waiting gig. She was sure Lady Sefton would not turn her granddaughter away, even in her dusty traveling clothes. It wouldn't do to arrive late, after all, nor to leave one table short a player. Nor would it do, she said, to leave Kateri alone in the house. They could sort everything out in the morning, she informed her bewildered granddaughter.

    Thus, the young Miss Norwen found herself settled on a comfortable couch, cozily arranged before a fire, in a large, well lit hall. It was beautifully wood paneled, and full of card tables and players of assorted ages. Though older folk outnumbered the younger, the youngest players seemed to be about her elder sister's age or a little more.

    Having been cheerfully greeted by their surprised hostess, and seated comfortably, she had thereafter found herself completely ignored. Or at least, when she snuck glances at the assembled company over her shoulder, she never saw anyone looking her way. So after awhile she dared to ease her short walking boots from her feet, with her toes, and propped her feet up on the brace beneath the low table set between couch and fire. Leaning back into the couch, she closed her eyes and, if she didn't quite sleep, at least rested comfortably. She was therefore quite startled when a very tall man flung himself onto the couch beside her. She bolted upright and tried to discreetly slip her toes back into her boots, but he laughed and interrupted her.

    "You looked so comfortable, rather than you getting up and putting your boots on, let me remove mine and join you!" He said, in a shockingly offhanded way, with a grin for her. He quickly put actions to words, and set to removing his own much taller boots. Damp and cold radiated from him, though the lines of damp on his clothes revealed that a coat had protected him from the worst of it.

    She didn't dare relax back into the couch, but did obediently replace her toes back on the table support. "Is it raining now?" She asked, feeling silly, for what other explanation of the damp state of the man could there be?

    "No!" He replied with cheerful vehemence, "It is pouring!"

    "Ah." She replied, unintelligently. She followed up this dazzling statement with, "Um, how do you do?" And then added, "As there is no one to introduce us at the moment," looking over her shoulder toward the table where her grandmama was frowning at her cards in concentration, "I am Miss Kateri Norwen, youngest daughter of the late Viscount Norwen."

    He brushed his hands off on his breeches and took her hand up, offering a small seated bow. "Delighted to make your acquaintance," he replied, then released her hand and settled back into the couch with a sigh, propping his feet up along side hers.

    "And you are?" She prompted after a moment when nothing else was forthcoming.

    He shot her an amused look. "What? You made yourself so comfortable here, but don't know your own host," he teased.

    She flushed, and immediately offered an apology. "I'm very sorry, it was very rude of me," she paused when a thought struck her, and she clapped her hands together, making her gold curls bounce where they escaped their pins. "Are you Lord Sefton then?" she asked.

    He chuckled. "I am not. Lord Sefton is my brother in law, but this is my house. My sister holds all her parties here though, as their own house is too small for such a gathering. My dutiful brother in law is a younger son, careful to live within his means. Which I quite approve." He added a little wryly, "I have the distinction of being the current Baronet, Everard Blackwell. And you are currently in Blackwell House. One of the oldest houses in this section of town."

    A servant approached them, and frowned disapprovingly at Sir Blackwell's boots, where they lay tumbled before the fire as he had tossed them. "Can I offer you anything Sir Blackwell?" The man inquired.

    "A cup of something warm, and plate of food from my sister's spread, if you would be so kind Filbert," said Sir Blackwell. Then eyed his small guest, and asked, "Have you eaten?"

    "No, I didn't dare impose as I'm an uninvited guest, and I wouldn't want to throw off Lady Sefton's calculations," she replied worriedly.

    "For two then," he added to Filbert. To Kateri he added kindly, "Don't worry, she always has plenty made up." And ruefully said, "Leftovers are offered at meals here for a day or two after."
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