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Ten Thousand Stitches
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A housemaid needs some magical help when she falls for a high-society gentleman in this captivating historical fantasy full of wit, charm, and heart-fluttering romance.Effie has most inconveniently fallen in love with the dashing Mr. Benedict Ashbrooke. There’s only one problem: Effie is a housemaid, and a housemaid cannot marry a gentleman. It seems that Effie is out of luck until she stumbles into the faerie realm of Lord Blackthorn, who is only too eager to help her win Mr. Ashbrooke’s heart. All he asks in return is that Effie sew ten thousand stitches onto his favorite jacket.
Effie has heard rumors about what happens to those who accept magical bargains. But life as a maid at Hartfield is so awful that she is willing to risk even her immortal soul for a chance at something better. Now she has one hundred days—and ten thousand stitches—to make Mr. Ashbrooke fall in love and propose…if Lord Blackthorn doesn’t wreck things by accident, that is. For Effie’s greatest obstacle might well be Lord Blackthorn’s overwhelmingly good intentions.
An enchanting faerie tale set in Olivia Atwater’s magical version of Regency England, Ten Thousand Stitches is “a delightful, romantic romp” (Hannah Whitten) with a Cinderella twist and heaps of heart.
Praise for the Regency Faerie Tales
"Smart and subversive, these charming romances will ignite your heart—and your hope." —Shelley Parker-Chan
"Whimsical, witty, and brimming over with charm." —India Holton
"Sweeps you off your feet in the swooniest way possible." —Megan Bannen
"I wolfed this down with great pleasure." —KJ Charles
"Warm, sparkling with magic, dangerous, and delightful." —Tasha Suri
"Whimsical but never frivolous, sweet but not sugary. I loved it." —Alix E. Harrow
"Even Mr Allen thinks Lady Culver ought to hire more servants for the work she has us doin'," Lydia sniffed as she stabbed at the sock in her lap with a needle. She and Effie were settled onto the narrow beds in their shared room below-stairs, working on a quiet bit of mending just before bed. "I heard him sayin' it to George when he didn't see me round the corner. Mr Allen said it's a crime how little she pays the rest of us, too!"
Effie shook her head worriedly. Her brother George worked as a footman for the household, and he was often far too chatty for his own good. "George and Mr Allen ought to keep their voices down better," Effie said, as she stitched up a tear in the silk hem in front of her. "Even Mr Allen's fancy references won't save him if Lady Culver hears he's said somethin' the least bit bad about her."
"Well, Mr Allen's right, isn't he?" Lydia said impatiently. "Look at us, Effie! After midnight, and we're only just now mendin' our own things!" She frowned as she considered Effie. "But… oh no, what is that, Effie? That can't be Mrs Sedgewick's gown! I thought you'd already mended it a few weeks back!"
Effie sighed heavily. "It is Mrs Sedgewick's gown," she said. "She wants it fixed for the ball, just in case some guest catches sight of her. Mrs Sedgewick said she doesn't trust anyone else to stitch it up for her."
"An' you volunteered to do it, didn't you, Effie?" Lydia accused her. She wrinkled up her nose in distaste. "You know what you are, Effie? You're chronically helpful. It's a disease. We ought to call you a physician." Effie wasn't sure what the word chronic meant, but she was sure that Lydia must have overheard it from someone recently; the other maid was fond of interesting vocabulary, and she often plucked new words from the conversations she overheard naturally during her work.
"Is it a bad thing to be chronically helpful?" Effie mumbled. "Does it really hurt anyone?"
"It's terrible," Lydia informed her bluntly. "You never turn anyone down, not ever. All anyone has to do is say very loudly what a problem they've got, an' you'll try to solve it for them. An' that's why you always end up doin' everyone's mending, Effie, even when they're perfectly capable of doin' it for themselves."
Effie pressed her lips together at that. Earlier that day, just after that strange incident with Benedict, she'd had a lovely few minutes where she'd felt as though she were floating her way through the manor. But a full day of running breathlessly to and fro had crushed that tiny sense of elation back into her usual, miserable frustration.
"I can't just say no to Mrs Sedgewick," Effie sighed. She stuffed her frustration down with an effort. A few more stitches calmed her mood slightly, though they did little for the growing headache behind her eyes. "If either Mrs Sedgewick or Her Ladyship decides they want rid of me, I'll be back at home an' takin' food off my mum's table. She can't afford that."
Lydia let out a disgusted noise. "Oh, an' they would dismiss you for that, wouldn't they!" she muttered. "You remember when poor Lucy got pregnant an' they tossed her right out on her behind? I heard Lady Culver gave Lucy not one farthing – not even a carriage ride home!" Lydia shook her head, as though to rid herself of the unpleasant memory. "Anyway – imagine bein' a housekeeper! We could have other servants doin' all our chores as well, couldn't we? I bet Mrs Sedgewick is already asleep in her bed, while you mend her skirts!"
Another shot of anger jolted through Effie at that. She hunched down over the gown, clenching her jaw. It doesn't do any good to get angry, Effie reminded herself. I can't change things, so getting angry will just get me into trouble.
"It isn't worth complainin'," Effie muttered. "Here, let's talk about somethin' nicer – did you see that Mr Benedict came home today?"
Lydia knit her brow. "Is that nicer?" she asked. "He'll be another member of the Family underfoot for another awful ball."
Effie coloured. "He isn't all that bad," she said. "An' at least he's pleasant to look at, isn't he?"
Lydia grinned. "Ooh," she said. "Have you got a tendre for him, Effie?" Effie had not heard the word "tendre" before, but she was fairly certain of its meaning based on the way that Lydia said it.
"I do not," Effie lied stiffly. "That'd be silly of me, wouldn't it?"
Lydia shrugged and set aside her sock. "I don't know," she said. "It's sometimes nice to dream. An' if we haven't got the time to sleep sometimes, at least we can still daydream."
Effie stared down at the gown in her lap. "Yes," she said softly. "I guess there's that."
The single candle on the table soon burned down, and Effie was forced to set aside the gown. As she closed her eyes and tried to sleep, she found herself dreaming of warm brown eyes and a pleasant, heart-tingling smile.
Effie didn't have very long to dream.
Six in the morning came around in no time at all – whereupon Lydia began to shake Effie by the shoulder, hissing about the fireplaces. The two of them rushed to get their usual day-to-day chores out of the way, grimly aware that last-minute preparations for the ball would interrupt their schedule all day long. Sure enough, Lady Culver soon began calling for maids to help with her hair, and Mrs Sedgewick dispatched Effie to polish all of the mirrors in the ballroom one last time.
By the time Lydia joined Effie to lay out the last flowers, neither of them had managed breakfast, or even a quick noontime snack. But the guests soon began to arrive, and there was still no time for rest.
Mrs Sedgewick hustled into the ballroom from a side door, grasping at Lydia's and Effie's shoulders. "Would someone please go and check on Cookie?" the housekeeper demanded breathlessly. "And where are the punch trays?"
Lydia closed her eyes with the slightest groan. Effie fought back her instinctive retort – Perhaps they got forgotten along with our breakfast! – and pasted on a polite smile. "I'll go and check, Mrs Sedgewick," she said, with an infinite patience that she did not feel at all. At least I might pick up something to eat while I'm down in the kitchens, she thought.
Effie slipped out the side door and down into the passages which led below-stairs. Excited laughter trickled in from the entryway above, where the guests still mingled. A strange stab of longing went through her chest as she imagined herself standing in that front entryway, instead of down below it.
Perhaps Benedict was up there, mingling with the guests. If Effie had truly been the noble lady for which he'd mistaken her, she would be there with him, dressed in her evening best – or rather, she would be dressed in something akin to Lady Culver's evening best. Effie imagined herself in a lovely cream gown, with plenty of lace and embroidered embellishments. Benedict would smile upon seeing her, and ask whether she might save him a dance—
"Out of the way, Effie!" a voice hissed from behind her. Effie's brother George nudged at her back, and she realised that she had paused in the middle of the narrow confines of the servants' passageways, listening to the party above.
Effie hurried forwards, flushed with embarrassment. "I'm so sorry!" she mumbled. "I'm so tired, George; I've lost my mind a bit."
"Haven't we all?" George grumbled behind her. Effie opened the door to the kitchens and entered, stepping aside for him. George coughed harshly into his hand as he passed, and Effie frowned at him.
"That's quite a cough," she said. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," George assured her. "Just tired." Effie rummaged for her handkerchief and offered it over – but George shook his head and pulled out his own. "I've got one," he mumbled. "Yours is so nicely embroidered. I wouldn't want to ruin it."
Effie sighed heavily. "You ought to get some rest," she said.
"Maybe I ought," George said ironically. "An' maybe I ought to be paid more. An' maybe, while we're at it, there ought to be fewer balls. Do you think Her Ladyship would take a meetin' with me about it over tea?"
"You really need to watch your mouth, George," Effie told him tiredly. "You know what Mum would tell you."
"Mum's not here right now," George replied bluntly. "I've been up at dawn an' goin' to bed at midnight every night for the last week, Effie. It'd be unnatural if I didn't complain at least a little bit." He nudged at her again, more insistent this time. "Now stop holdin' me up. I just want to get through this awful night."
Effie backed herself into the kitchen, and George passed her for the exit before she could pester him further.
The estate's head cook – more affectionately known as Cookie – was in the process of plating some cold meats and biscuits. Effie saw the punch trays off to one side, and she grabbed one quickly. "I'll just take this one up!" she called to the poor, beleaguered cook. Cookie barely nodded at her, but it was enough to signal her agreement. Effie hurried back out of the kitchen and up to the ballroom.
The guests had begun to filter inside; one of the ladies had sat down at the grand piano, idling her way through a playful tune. Effie headed out among the guests with the tray of punch, keeping her eyes carefully upon her feet. The very last thing she needed was to trip over herself in her tiredness and spill the punch all over some important lady.
"Oh, I'll take one of those, please." A blonde woman in a blue gown reached out to pluck a glass from the tray. Her hair was done up with a golden chain, and her cheeks were tinted faintly pink with rouge.
"I think I will as well." Benedict spoke from Effie's other side, and the sound of his voice froze Effie neatly in place. Benedict took a glass from the tray, and Effie glanced up at him. He was dressed just as finely as the other guests, in a fine golden waistcoat and a black jacket. There was such a warm smile on his handsome face that Effie found herself staring at him.
Her heart sped up in her chest. For just an instant, as his eyes glanced towards her, Effie found herself caught between daydreams and reality. An irrational conviction overtook her: Benedict had recognised her! Was he going to ask her to dance, right here and now?
"Duntham!" Benedict called then, in a cheerful voice. His eyes had fixed upon someone just past Effie's shoulder. "How many years has it been now?" He swept past her with a laugh… and Effie's heart plummeted all the way down into her feet.
And what was I expecting? she thought wearily. I have a tray this time. That makes me as good as invisible, doesn't it?
As a servant, Effie was used to being overlooked. In fact, being overlooked was considered a crucial skill for someone of her status – noblemen generally preferred their servants to seem as non-existent as possible. But somehow, the experience of being overlooked by this particular gentleman stung her unexpectedly. If only Benedict had never spoken to her so charmingly, Effie thought, she would not have got above herself so foolishly.
An awful, jaded disappointment mixed with her fatigue – the feeling rose from her stomach all the way into her throat, knotting there like a stone. Hot tears pricked at the corner of Effie's eyes, and she backpedalled towards the wall with horror.
"Oh, Lydia!" she gasped. "Can you take the tray, please?"
Lydia slumped her shoulders. "You've only just come up with it, Effie!" she whispered plaintively. "Can't you hand out drinks just a bit longer?"
"I'm about to cry," Effie informed Lydia, with as level a tone as she could manage. "I need a bit of air, or else I doubt I'll stop."
Lydia took the tray from her with a knowing sigh. "Oh dear," she said. "Well, go an' get it over with. I may need to go have a cry myself by the time this evening is up."
Effie swept past Lydia for the side door, down into the servants' passages. As she did, her tears spilled over, and she found herself weeping with anger and shame.
Crying fits had become somewhat more common among the staff these days, but Effie still had no desire to be caught sobbing in one of the cramped passageways below-stairs. She sought her way outdoors, therefore, just outside the large hedge maze which curled its way behind the manor.
Normally, the hedge maze would have been a source of amusement for at least some of the guests, but the mud and snow had rendered it far less pleasing tonight. As a result, Effie had the bench outside the maze to herself. She settled herself down onto it, wiping at her face and rubbing at her arms. The cold, brisk air tempered her misery, and she took a few deep, steadying breaths.
The faint strains of the grand piano trickled down towards her from the windows above. The dancing had begun, Effie thought. All of those handsome gentlemen would soon invite all of those lovely ladies in their lovely gowns out onto the dance floor. Benedict was probably asking some woman to dance even now.
"That hardly matters, does it?" Effie mumbled to herself. "Why should it matter what he's doin'? Certainly, no one was ever goin' to ask me to dance." She blinked a few times and forced out a laugh. "Hah! The very thought!"
"Oh dear." A soft, curious voice came from Effie's right-hand side, and she froze in place. "Is that such a strange thought? But now I am even more compelled to ask than I was before! Would you like to dance, miss?"
Effie stumbled to her feet. She turned to look at the man who had spoken… and found herself even more confused.
He was a tall, lithe man, dressed in a fine, black velvet jacket. His hair was every bit as black as his jacket, and tousled faintly at the ends. His eyes were a shocking emerald-green, like budding leaves in the springtime – they glowed faintly from within in a way which made him stand out in the moonlight. He was not wearing a cravat, Effie thought, but there was a blossoming rose twined around his neck which served the purpose.
"I… I'm so sorry, sir," Effie managed. "I'd never have come out here if I thought I'd disturb someone—"
"Oh, but I am not disturbed at all!" the man said earnestly. He smiled at Effie, and her aching heart gave a twinge as she thought how handsome it made him appear, even in the semi-darkness. His features were very elegant; his cheekbones were sharp enough that she could have cut her finger upon them. "I am so very pleased to meet you, in fact," he added. "How exciting this all is!"
Effie swallowed, clasping her hands in front of her. There was something very odd about the way the man spoke to her, but she'd yet to put her finger on just what it was. "Sir," she said slowly. "You are… aware that I'm a maid here?" She had no wish to repeat her disappointing interaction with Benedict from the previous day.
"Are you?" the man asked. He looked her over, and his eyes lit up. "My goodness, you are!" He seemed somehow even more enthused by this revelation. "How delightfully perfect. Please, would you tell me your name?"
Effie blinked. She could not remember the last time that a nobleman had asked for her name. "Er… my name is Euphemia Reeves, my lord," she said. "But most people call me Effie."
"What a lovely name!" The nobleman beamed at her with such excitement that Effie found herself wondering whether he had ever been displeased by anything in his life. "Well," he said. "I am Lord Blackthorn. And I should ask you again – would you like to dance, Miss Euphemia?" He offered out his hand at this, and Effie realised that he truly meant for her to take it.
That is not a good idea, Effie thought. Beyond the fact that she should not be dancing with guests, some part of her had noted that Lord Blackthorn was an uncomfortably strange man – and besides which, Effie had never heard of any land called "Blackthorn".
But Effie's body had run away ahead of her thoughts, and she found that she had already taken his hand. Lord Blackthorn's fingers were very long and fine, and he somehow carried with him the scent of fresh roses, even in the middle of February.
"I believe I know this dance!" Lord Blackthorn said with pleasure. "Why, Lady Hollowvale must have taught it to me only last week!" He took Effie by the waist, even as she struggled to sort out whether she had heard of somewhere called "Hollowvale" or not. Lord Blackthorn twirled Effie about, and she stumbled clumsily over her shoes with a soft gasp. "Now, Miss Euphemia," he said fondly, as though she hadn't just fumbled her very first steps. "I must ask you a very important question: would you say that you are powerless?"
"I – what?" Effie asked dazedly. She stumbled again, now utterly frantic to keep up – but Lord Blackthorn hardly seemed to notice her difficulties. Something about that question seems like it ought to be improper, Effie thought. But she couldn't pinpoint exactly what about the question was improper, and so she said, "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, m'lord."
"Well," Lord Blackthorn said thoughtfully. "Given the choice, would you say that you are powerful or would you say that you are powerless?"
He spun her about again, and Effie began to feel dizzy. I don't think this is how the dance goes at all, she thought. Effie's mind caught up to his words, and her temper surged. "Beggin' your pardon!" she said crossly. "But I'm quite powerful enough to step on your toes if you decide to take liberties, sir!"
Lord Blackthorn tilted his head at Effie, apparently befuddled. As he did, she saw that his ears were gently pointed at the ends.
Effie's heart leapt into her throat with sudden terror.
An elf! she thought frantically. Oh, lord save me, I'm dancing with an elf!
"Have I insulted you, Miss Euphemia?" Lord Blackthorn asked. "Oh, that wasn't my intention at all! You see, I have been investigating English virtue of late. I thought that it was all to do with fine boots and expensive jackets – quite tedious, I think you'll agree? – but Lady Hollowvale informed me that it was really to do with being kind to the powerless and cruel to the powerful. And so I have been searching all over for one or the other, so that I might test the concept!"
Effie widened her eyes. "I'm not powerful at all, sir!" she hastened to assure him. "Quite powerless, me!"
Lord Blackthorn laughed with pleasure. "How fortuitous!" he said. "I wondered how long I might need to search – but here you are! In my very backyard, as it were." He spun Effie about, but she couldn't bring herself to take his hand again. Instead, she tumbled into the mud, whimpering with fear.
Cold, wet muck coated Effie's hands and soaked through the knees of her skirt. Under other circumstances, she would have been horrified, knowing that it meant extra laundry. But the terror of her current situation far outweighed even that of an extra, dreaded laundry day. Effie's mother had told her many cautionary tales about the Fair Folk; almost every one of those stories ended quite terribly for the hapless baker or shoemaker or milkmaid who happened to meet a faerie. In fact, many of them ended with the poor protagonist accidentally giving away their very soul.
Lord Blackthorn laughed as though Effie had intentionally flung herself into the mud as some sort of joke. He offered out his hand, but she simply stared up at him from the muddy ground. At her continued silence, he reached down to haul her up by the arms with an unnerving sort of strength, setting her back onto her feet and brushing delicately at the mud on her gown. This, of course, did little to clean the fabric.
"Oh, excellent!" Lord Blackthorn observed. "You have stained your gown! Surely this is a terrible inconvenience. Would you like my help to clean it?"
Effie pressed her lips together helplessly. People in faerie tales get most into trouble when they say the wrong thing, she thought. Perhaps I can just say nothing at all, and he will leave.
Lord Blackthorn blinked his too-green eyes. "Have you hurt yourself as well?" he asked. "I fear I cannot heal you. Such power is beyond me. But –" He pounded one gloved fist into his hand in sudden inspiration. "– I could remove whichever limb concerns you and replace it with a new one!"
Effie widened her eyes in abject horror. "No!" she cried out, before she could stop herself. "No, no, no, that's… too generous! Please don't even think of it!"
Lord Blackthorn blinked at this. "But it isn't generous at all," he said. "I would have to ask for some kind of payment in return, no matter how much I might wish it otherwise. I fear that is simply how faeries must do things."
Effie forced a shaky smile at this, kneading her fingers into her palms. "I'm quite poor," she said. "Couldn't pay you even if I wanted to, Your Lordship. I'm afraid you'll just have to find someone else to help."
Lord Blackthorn frowned thoughtfully. "I do not require money," he said. "I could take your happiest memory, perhaps – or else some small part of your name. Really, you would barely miss a syllable or two."
Lord, Effie prayed silently. Just let me be safely rid of this faerie, and I'll tithe extra to the collection plate this Sunday. "That's so nice of you," she said, very slowly. "But I prefer to solve my own problems. My mum always told me it builds character."
Lord Blackthorn looked so deeply crestfallen at this that Effie almost felt bad for him. "I was so sure that this would work out perfectly," he sighed. "I was convinced that you had some awful problem that I might solve. But…" His eyes turned curious. "If I might ask – what were you crying about, Miss Euphemia?"
Effie swallowed. She was sure that nothing good could come of telling a faerie about her troubles. But those strange green eyes fixed upon her, and the words rose up into her throat, spilling free without her permission. "I fell in love with someone," Effie said hoarsely. "It was awful stupid of me. An' I was reminded tonight that he can't ever love me back."
Effie cursed her mouth for running ahead without her. I didn't mean to say any of that! she thought. Has he done something magical to me already?
"How terrible," Lord Blackthorn sighed – though he said it in such a way that Effie wasn't sure if he was pleased or sympathetic. "But why can he not love you back, Miss Euphemia? You seem like a perfectly lovely human being. You have a full soul of your very own, and all of your original fingers!"
Once again, Effie tried to keep her silence – but Lord Blackthorn had lingered oddly on the syllables of her name, and the sound of that name tugged at Effie's very soul, forcing a brand-new answer from her lips.
"He's the son of a baron, Your Lordship," Effie blurted out. "An' I'm just a maid. No baron's son will ever marry a maid. It just isn't done." Lord Blackthorn looked terribly perplexed by this, so Effie added, "It'd be like… like you givin' me a favour without me payin' you."
This addition brought the light of understanding into the faerie's eyes, and he nodded sagely. "I see," Lord Blackthorn said. "Ah, what a problem. What a remarkable problem!" He smiled brightly. "Precisely the sort of problem which requires the most remarkable help!"
"I don't think there's any help to be had there," Effie said warily. "Really, it's fine. I'm feelin' better about it already, Your Lordship."
Lord Blackthorn shook his head at her. "But the matter is simple!" he said. "Tell me, Miss Euphemia – who would a baron's son normally marry?"
Again, Effie felt the overwhelming need to reply. She pressed her lips together, fiercely concentrating to prevent herself from responding… but the words burst out of her all the same. "He'd marry someone like him, Your Lordship," she said in a breathless rush. "Maybe a baron's daughter, or – oh, bother!"
It was her name, Effie realised miserably. She had given the dratted faerie her name, before recognising him for what he was. Dimly, Effie seemed to remember that faeries could do terrible things with one's name. I've already gone and said the wrong thing, Effie thought with a rising dread. But how unfair that is! I had no way of knowing what he was at first!
Lord Blackthorn smiled at her response. "What a relief!" he said. "Well, that is no trouble at all, Miss Euphemia. I can simply turn you into a baron's daughter, and you shall marry the man you love!"
Effie shut her mouth abruptly, with a loud
- On Sale
- Jul 19, 2022
- Page Count
- 288 pages