Please join me in welcoming SJ Foxx to my blog today. SJ is here to tell us some fun facts about the location settings in her new book!
Title: The Valet
Author: S.J. Foxx
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: October 30, 2017
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Historical, 1920s, historical, jazz age, class difference, high society, england, aristocracy
After scandalising his family name, wealthy brat Hugo is kicked out of his parent’s home in NYC, and tossed into the English countryside. There, he must live with his extended family and learn what it means to be a “gentleman,” or be cut off and left without his inheritance.
Brattish, reckless, and out of control, it seems that Hugo may never learn his manners. That is, until he meets his match: a stoic, no-nonsense valet, Sebastian.
Hugo and Sebastian are swept up in a forbidden fling, and they play a game of power.
Can Sebastian get a handle on his master? Or will Hugo’s foolishness leave him penniless?
S.J. Foxx © 2017
All Rights Reserved
One: Mahogany & Silk
The day was like smudged charcoal, and the sky poured with rain that hammered against a bottle green car roaring over the hills. In the back of the automobile, Hugo Bentley slumped lower in his seat, vastly unimpressed by his welcome to England. He pulled his fedora down over his face and closed his eyes against the waterlogged scenery.
Everything in this country, so he had heard, was miserable. From the stiff upper lip and cold shoulder the British were renowned for, right down to their lifeless taste in fashion.
The young man had left behind the buzz of New York City, where jazz filled the streets and pretty girls in cocktail bars wore feathers in their hair. He’d spent his nights in smoky halls with a cigar between his lips and a deck of cards in his hands. There he’d thrived amongst glitzy lights of Times Square, with wind in his hair as he hummed down the streets in the back of a Revere.
Life had been late nights and side-splitting laughter, with the occasional bottle of moonshine to pass around his circle of young educated men.
Unfortunately, Hugo’s hedonistic existence had been discovered by his enraged parents but only after it had been discovered by the press. The twenty-year-old heir to a steel business had been found in bed with the wife of his father’s business partner. A simple tip off to the papers had led to the devastation of the Bentley family’s hard-earned good name.
Sickened by the very sight of him, his parents had sent Hugo packing. They’d shooed him to the English countryside, where he could redeem himself under the watchful gaze of his aunt and uncle, Ethel and Henry Harrington. With their help, Hugo could learn a thing or two about being a gentleman.
With the bleak green backdrop of the moors replacing the distractions of a big city, his parents had decided it was the perfect location to stop Hugo from getting himself into trouble. This was his opportunity to fix things. He either straightened up his act, or he’d be cut off. He just prayed the Harringtons weren’t too awful.
Exhausted from his week-long trip, the lull of the motor and the drifting of his thoughts sent Hugo to sleep.
When he next woke, the sky had darkened into an indigo blue and the rain had subsided into a haze that made the air thick with a sticky moisture. He pushed his fedora back onto his head and turned his heavy-lidded gaze outside. The stark silhouette of Finchley Hall loomed in the distance, behind wrought-iron gates.
It was surrounded by endless green lands and a patch of woods that stretched out as far as the next village. It was a foreboding home with ivy garlands creeping up the pristine white walls. A great marble balcony overlooked the driveway with cascading steps that led to the front door, polished and black with a silver knocker in the shape of a lion’s head.
Potted trees, groomed to precision, were lined up like guardsmen alongside the gravel path. Hugo groaned and turned away. These were the types of homes that the prissiest, insanely wealthy people owned. Aunt Ethel had married well. He was certain her husband was going to be insufferable.
The car weaved around the stunning marble fountain, the soft sigh of the falling water a sweet song that resonated in the surrounding silence. They followed the gravel path and the car began to slow, tyres crunched over the stones until they stopped outside what was to be Hugo’s home for the next year.
On the flagstone threshold, a welcoming party waited to greet him.
“Welcome to Finchley Hall, sir,” a plump silver-haired man with a jolly face said as he opened the car door. Behind him stood servants. There were valets, footmen, and maids alike, lined up shoulder to shoulder like an army platoon, straight-faced and pristine. Hugo could only assume this man was their butler. Their commander in chief.
“Thanks,” Hugo replied flatly. Removing his hat, he ruffled up his sandy-blond curls and clambered out of the car with the help of a gloved hand, then turned his chin to observe the band of servants with interest.
Their uniforms were extravagant. The men wore white bow ties and beautifully tailored black tailcoats, with gleaming brass buttons. The valets wore forest green waistcoats, and the taller footmen wore grey. The maids were attired in simple black dresses and white aprons with ruffled edges, their hair pinned back into neat, simple buns.
The Harrington family appeared at the door then. First was Aunt Ethel, a mirror image of his mother, with copper curls all swept up into an elegant bun. She was a little thing with ivory skin and soft green eyes like his own. Her thin mouth pulled taut when she looked at her nephew.
“Hugo,” she said stiffly, as if the word tasted sour. She folded her arms across her chest and wrinkled her nose.
Hugo turned to look at her and glowered. Turning the rim of his hat around in his hands, he gingerly approached the grand prison. “Ethel,” he grumbled, equally unimpressed.
“Show some courtesy, boy.” Ah, and there was Uncle Henry, barrelling through the door shortly after his wife—a robust man who enjoyed one too many sweets. He had a hardened, weather-beaten face like tanned leather. The trenches had been hard on him.
“You’ve disgraced your family and gotten yourself into a damn mess, Hugo. We’ve been kind enough to take you into our home and this is how you greet my wife?” he scoffed.
“Henry, not out here on the balcony,” Ethel snapped. “The servants are listening. What is the matter with you?”
Hugo’s fingers tightened around the rim of the hat, and he straightened his back, drawing his shoulders in against his neck. This was the man who was supposed to help him become a gentleman? Goodness.
“Apologies, Uncle, Aunt Ethel. It’s been a long trip. Tiredness has gotten the better of me,” he said and pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt rather like a chastised infant.
“I won’t hear any excuses, Hugo. If we are to do this for you, you will show us the respect we deserve, or we’ll send you straight back home and you can forget about your damn future.” Uncle Henry’s big hands were turning white as they tightened around the balcony frame.
“Henry,” Ethel hissed.
“I understand. I meant no offence, honestly,” Hugo said. It was hard to try to keep his tone even, to keep the venom out of it. What a ridiculous overreaction.
His uncle looked back at him blankly, his gaze roaming across his clothes until his face wrinkled into a frown. “Funny choice of attire, no?” he grumbled, raising a brow, trying to change the subject, no doubt. Perhaps he could feel the beady eyes of his wife burning into his temple.
Hugo tugged at the sleeve of his mustard tweed travelling coat, grateful for the new direction of conversation. “Fashion is very different in New York, Uncle.”
“I’ll say!” Henry said, looking down at the hat he clutched to his chest too.
From the corner of his eye, Hugo caught the flickering expression of a servant, whose forehead creased and brows knit together, puckering up his face as though he’d bitten into a lemon. He was eyeing up his mustard tweed too.
Hugo met his gaze and the slightest hint of a smile lifted the footman’s mouth before he looked away.
His curly-haired cousin came bounding out of the door and hurried down the steps to greet him in the courtyard. She opened up her arms and wrapped them tightly around his shoulders, squeezing. Scrambling to try to reach, she pushed herself onto her tiptoes and planted a quick kiss on both of his cheeks.
“Dear Arabella.” Hugo gave her his best smile, rather cheered by the contrast in greeting. He took her by the shoulders and leaned back to get a good look at her. The only Harrington he’d previously met, she’d visited America with her maid a couple of times in the past. “Goodness, you shot up! You were the size of a bunny when we last met.”
“I’m a woman now.” She preened, giving a little twirl. Her coral dress fanned out, circling around her.
“You are not a woman until you find a suitable man willing to marry you,” huffed Aunt Ethel, shaking her head.
“I’m only sixteen, Mama! I don’t need to find a husband yet.”
Ethel only sighed. “Now, let us not dilly-dally outside, talking nonsense. Hugo has had a long trip. Edward will carry up your things, Hugo, and once you feel rested, we will introduce you formally to everybody else. For now, you only need to know Edward. He’ll be your valet for the duration of your stay, and Thompson, he’s in charge of the household staff.” Ethel gestured to the jolly-faced man who had greeted him.
Hugo’s gaze flickered back to that tall man with the mischievous smile, but it was the shorter man beside him who nodded his greeting.
Inside Finchley Hall, it smelled of polished wood and the greasy duck that was cooking away in the oven downstairs.
Chandeliers drenched in crystals hung from the wooden buttresses, and beneath them, a beautiful Persian rug filled the hallway floor space.
The grand staircase was carpeted in plush red, complemented by the wrought-iron banister, fashioned into curling roses that spiralled alongside the stairs.
Edward scurried up the stairs. He had a shock of blond hair, a button nose, and the mannerisms of a mouse. Edward showed him to his room without speaking a single word other than goodbye.
☆ Guest Post ☆
Fun facts about the locations
‘The Valet’ takes place in the beautiful northern English countryside, one of the most breathtaking places in Europe in my biased opinion. Specifically, Cumbria, which in the 1920s was separated into three regions Cumberland, Westmorland, and some small parts of Lancashire, where I hail from. It’s the backdrop for Beatrix Potter novels and if any of you are planning on visiting England, I urge you to leave the rush of London, their unfriendly people, and instead, explore the breathtaking countryside. The Lake District in particular. A lot of the northern countryside is filmed for period dramas and fantasies, just because of how picturesque it is. I’m so in love with the English countryside, I plan on retiring there and having a beautiful stony cottage with ducks, chickens and a donkey. It really saddens me that all representation of England is focused in on London. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived here for three years and I do love it, (really!) but there is so much more to this country than one city. I’ve really tried to capture the spirt of the English countryside and the charm of the north, even through the eyes of somebody who does not want to be there.
As pretty as it is, it really is the perfect location to boot a reckless young man into, because there’s really not an awful lot to do, unless you drive a long way and into the towns, and if Hugo ever wants to use the car to escape, that privilege is provided by his evil aunt and uncle who will want to know why. Where is he going and who with? It’s the type of place that could slowly drive super extroverted city boys like Hugo into insanity.
So, we’ve established that the landscape is gorgeous, but so is Finchley Hall, the house in which the majority of the novel takes place. The Valet is set inside the confines of this luxurious prison. A stately home (a large and impressive house that is occupied or was formerly occupied by an aristocratic family.) Think Brideshead Castle from ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ or ‘Downton Abbey,’ which is based on Highclere Castle.
Back in the day, these places were brimming with hired help. A butler, a housekeeper, valets, footmen, lady’s maids, housemaids, cooks, scullery maids, nannies, chauffeurs… the list goes on. The lives of these people were lived downstairs, out of sight of the aristocrats that occupied the rest of the house. It was expected that servants were not ever seen by their masters; they were supposed to be invisible to those who hired them.
They’d have separate entrances, separate staircases so they were not seen hauling cleaning tools up and downstairs by their masters. These people worked long, long hours. I’m talking like, sixteen hours a day, six days a week.
Finchley Hall was based on real stately homes. A combination of ‘Howard Castle’ and ‘Mellerstain House.’
I also visited museums to get ideas of the textiles and the furnishings. ‘The Wallace Collection’ in London is a personal favourite of mine, as well as the Victoria and Albert museum.
There’s nothing I love more than old buildings, castles, homes, palaces etc. I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve spent over the years visiting these places. I’m such a little culture geek.
Lastly, in order to get an idea of some of the etiquette that the older generation of men might have adhered to in the 1920s, I read some books from that time period. For example, ‘The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness,’ by Cecil B Hartley. It’s freely available online if you want a little insight and a little entertainment on some of the things gentlemen found horrific pre-1920s. There are gems in there, like how it is “ill-bred” to grease your glass with your lips, and how it is “vulgar” to tuck your napkin into your shirt at dinner.
I hope I did a good job of painting a picture of life amongst the aristocracy in the 1920s.
Meet the Author
SJ hails from a quaint, modest town in the north of England. However, for the past three years, she has been swept up in the whirlwind of London life, where people don’t make eye contact. Admittedly, she only moved here for the theatre.
A self-confessed geek; lover of the history, travelling and musicals. SJ loves to spend her weekends in museums, wandering around antique bookshops, or finding new, quirky places to explore. She feels blessed to be from a multi-cultural background, with an Irish mother and an African father.
Soppy as she is, you can be sure to find light-hearted, fluffy books from this author, with just a light sprinkle of feels.
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