Publisher: Krueger Wallace Press & Riven Rock Projects
Christmas is coming and the Christmas spirit is nowhere to be found. There’s only one little elf with the get-up-and-go to find it. Meet Eve . . .
About the Author
New York Times, Amazon and USA Today Bestselling author who loves writing stories that make children laugh and get excited about reading and drawing and writing . I also love taking naps and listening to music. Not at the same time.
I have over 80 books published and out in the world, and love each one as if it were my child … except if that child is like really naughty and always breaks my favourite things and writes bad words on the walls of our house.
None of my books are like that.
From How to Catch books to How to Draw books. From gross books to action and adventure books. From inspirational to just plain funny, there’s something here for kids of all reading abilities, and all ranges of interests.
Allow yourself to be swept away as you count down to Christmas with this collection of twenty-four romantic short stories. From friends to lovers and instant romance to secret identities and so much more, these treats are sure to fill you with warmth this holiday season. So grab a hot drink, settle into your favorite spot, and indulge in the magic of happily ever afters.
December 1: A Drunken Christmas Escapade
December 2: A Royal Affair on Christmas Eve
December 3: A Duke Surrenders His Heart on Christmas Eve
December 4: A Highwayman Proposes on Christmas Eve
December 5: Caught in a Snow Storm on Christmas Eve
December 6: Rescued by a Duke before Christmas
December 7: A Kiss for Christmas
December 8: A Christmas House Party
December 9: Underneath the Mistletoe
December 10: Snowed In on Christmas Eve
December 11: An Unexpected Guest Arrives for Christmas
December 12: At the Christmas Ball
December 13: Trapped in a Carriage on Christmas Eve
December 14: By the Stroke of Midnight
December 15: The Duke Proposes on Christmas
December 16: A Scandalous Dare on Christmas Eve
December 17: A Secret Christmas Rendezvous
December 18: Stealing a Yuletide Kiss
December 19: A Shocking Revelation for Christmas
December 20: Stranded at an Inn during Christmas
December 21: An Unexpected Encounter with a Highlander
December 22: Reunited on Christmas Eve
December 23: Only a Duke Will Do for Christmas
December 24: A Christmas Wedding Gone Awry
About the Author
USA Today Bestselling Author, Sophie Barnes, has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish and Romanian with varying degrees of fluency.
She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parson’s School of design, but most impressive of all – she’s been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses.
While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion – writing.
When she’s not busy, dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family. She currently lives on the East Coast.
“Some call me Murderer, others call me Lord. I’ve been called Savior and Enslaver. But no one has ever called me Child.”
A young man signs his own death warrant when he joins an already failing militia. A teenage girl is haunted by her childhood abuse and begins to crave the very things she hates. A childless mother finds herself on the run as a convicted murderer. Yet they are all unaware that their own fates are tied to a young orphan who has drowned and come back to life in a foreign land where he will be the death of everyone he meets.
Hælend’s Ballad is a tale about what happens when men and women from two colliding cultures realize they may not be on the right side. Heroes are villains. The persecuted are oppressors. And when rumors begin to spread that the world is dying, the darkness of their own hearts betrays them.
About the Author
Ian Conrey is both a teacher and student of history and theology, who actively fights against human trafficking and is working toward an M.A. in Religion. In his free time, he enjoys reading biographies and ancient mythology, discovering early American folk songs, and exploring the Cohutta Wilderness. He lives with his wife and three children in the North Georgia mountains.
What would you do if you had twenty minutes alone with your idol?
Gemma Fox is a self-confessed unlucky-in-love geek treating herself to a weekend at a pop-culture convention on Australia’s sunny Gold Coast.
Drawn there by the temptation of seeing her celebrity crush, Everett Rhodes, the last thing she expects is to wind up trapped in an elevator with him. Parting ways, Gemma has no reason to suspect that their paths will cross again. After all, he’s a celebrity. She’s just a fan who lives on the other side of the planet.
Besides, her life is not a rom-com. (At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself.)
However, life has other plans. And Everett -stupidly charming, frustratingly handsome Everett- is hard to resist.
But when things get complicated, Gemma and Everett are both faced with the same dilemma:
How can they make things work when they live in completely separate worlds?
The silence stretched on as the floors seemed to inch down to the ground level. Then the lights flickered, and the lift made a strange grinding-clunking sound, stopping abruptly. The display on the screen said that they had reached the 7th floor, but the doors didn’t open.
“That didn’t sound too good,” Gemma observed slowly, frowning at the still-closed metal doors. She pushed the ‘open doors’ button. They remained shut. The lights flickered again ominously.
“Pretty sure we’re stuck,” her companion remarked, frowning and pulling out his own phone. She assumed he had a travel sim installed or simply didn’t care about exorbitant roaming charges. “I don’t have any reception.”
“Well, fuck,” she muttered, realising that she didn’t either. They must be in a dead zone, because Murphy’s Law was an actual thing in her world. “Neither do I.” She held up her phone to prove that, for all her joking about crazed fans, she wasn’t lying to him.
She hit the emergency call button in the lift.
Gemma blinked, incredulous. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She hit the button a few more times with increasing frustration and just a hint of panic. She just about jumped out of her skin when a warm hand landed on her shoulder.
“Sorry,” Rhodes backed up again, holding his hands up in surrender. “Are you okay?”
Fighting down a hysterical laugh, she swallowed and shoved shaking hands into her pockets. “I’m not the best with confined spaces. For short periods of time, it’s fine, but…” she blew a breath out slowly. “Sorry. I promise I’m not actually a raving lunatic.”
Talking to him was distracting enough from the plight of being stuck in a small metal box suspended between hotel floors, though, so she kept going. “I don’t suppose you have bodyguards or assistants or handlers or something? You know, someone that knew you were getting into this lift and who will raise the alarm if you don’t wander out on the ground floor in the next couple of minutes?”
He laughed at that, and it surprised her that it was a self-deprecating sort of sound and it was accompanied by a shrug. “No. No, I’m not that famous. In fact, you’re the first person to recognise me.”
Objectively, if she hadn’t been such a huge fan (with a crush to boot) she mightn’t have recognised him at first glance, particularly with the shaggy haircut he was sporting and if he slid his sunglasses on. Additionally, his show had been off air for two years: if he were off being successful and relevant, he wouldn’t have been booked at a random pop culture convention in Australia, would he? But that thought seemed a little unkind, considering how much she –and thousands of other people–looked forward to these conventions.
“Oh.” Gemma shook her head, feeling a little traitorous for her musings. “I’m willing to bet the closer you get to the Convention Centre, the faster that will change. Whether that’s a good thing or not, well…” she trailed off and offered him another small smile. “We’re not all crazies, remember.”
“I thought that was my line,” the actor grinned, and she felt her heart do a little flip. Damn him and his aesthetic charm. He stuck out his hand, officially introducing himself, “Everett, or Rhett, if you’d prefer.”
“Gemma,” she responded, shaking the offered appendage. Cocking her head to the side, she mused on his chosen nickname. “I never picked you as the ‘Rhett’ type. I would have thought it was Everett or bust. You know, if I’d given it much thought. Which I hadn’t. Well, until now.”
His lips twitched upwards into a smirk. “Rhetts have a type?”
“Yes,” her reply was one of affected haughtiness, because she got weird when she got nervous. And boy was she nervous. “They wear shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and thongs.” At his raised eyebrows, she corrected, “Flip-flops, or sandals, sorry.” She looked him over again, taking in the form fitting jeans, polo shirt (with sunglasses tucked in at the unbuttoned collar, offering just a hint of his dark chest hair) and dress shoes. “You’re dressed like an Everett.”
This earned her another laugh, but it was warmer and richer than any of the previous iterations of the sound. “You were trying to convince me you weren’t crazy, remember?”
“Oh,” she waved her hand dismissively, “I abandoned that plan at least three seconds after I said it. Lost cause and all that. Still,” she mused aloud, gesturing to the shut doors, “I wasn’t exactly expecting this.”
It was probably a good thing that she’d gone to the bathroom before she’d left her hotel room, too. She pressed the emergency call button again. Still nothing. She clenched her hand into a fist and gave the button a good thump for its uselessness.
“Okay, so we’re going to leave the button alone now,” Everett told her, gently pulling her away from the panel. “I’d guess there’s been a glitch of some kind. But I get you’re a bit claustrophobic, and the talking was helping right?”
She glanced down to where his hand was still on her forearm, warm and solid and connected to his own toned arm and delicious biceps, which looked so good in the tight sleeves of the black polo and…Fuck! Focus, Gemma.
“Yes,” she acknowledged, a blush staining her cheeks. She was a terrible person for objectifying him. And yet, courtesy of her crush, she couldn’t help it. Not that that was a valid excuse, she knew. And now her traitorous thoughts were turning circular. “It was. Sorry. Trying to rein in the crazy.”
“I have a fear of anything reptilian, if it helps,” he admitted, surprising her with the information. “So, I get it. Your country terrifies me with its wealth of deadly snakes and lizards and even turtles! Seriously, you have turtles that can maim people. That’s not normal.”
“I mean, most of our wildlife is engineered to kill you, so I guess that fear’s warranted.” Who was this person that was in control of the sounds coming out of her mouth, she wondered. She needed them to stop now.
“It’s the blasé way you say that that really worries me.” Everett still sounded amused, though, so she figured she hadn’t made too much of a fool of herself.
“I’m also afraid of snakes, don’t worry,” she shuddered. “I’ve been considering moving to Hawaii or New Zealand. Or even Ireland. No snakes there. Could get my hike on without being afraid of certain death.”
“Oh, you like hiking?” There was additional animation in him now, a genuine interest with the topic. Of course he was the outdoorsy type – he was practically built for it.
Gemma nodded. “Yeah, I have a thing for views and scenic vistas. Don’t much love the actual hiking itself, especially with Eastern Browns at every turn here, but the payoff is usually worth it.”
“Yeah. There’s definitely something magical and rewarding in getting to the top of a climb and looking down over the rest of the world, right?” Everett smiled conspiratorially.
“Right.” Her heart was not thumping away at a billion miles per minute just because seeing his eyes all lit up and crinkled at the edges made him extra handsome. Nope. It wasn’t. She swallowed. “I’m thinking of travelling to the US in the next couple of years. Any choice spots I should focus on if I do want to come off the beaten track and do a hike?” She knew he was English, but that he’d spent at least the past eight years living in America, filming television shows and movies.
“I guess it depends on where you’re talking about visiting. East Coast or West Coast? Or desert? Tourist destinations, or the cities that most people dismiss because they’re not famous?”
She slid down the wall, deciding that she might as well settle in and get comfortable. “I’m kind of a Broadway baby,” she confessed, “so I’d love to see New York City. Not a lot of hiking to be done there, I know.”
He considered this, following her example to slide down the wall beside her, resting his wrists on his elevated knees. She hated herself for thinking that even that simple action seemed sinful coming from him. “It sounds overdone, but Central Park is awesome, and huge. No hiking, but it’s scenic at any time of year. You could spend days wandering around in there and still not see it all.”
“That does sound like a Bucket List activity.” She was even good enough to not mention the crime stats and the concept that she might get mugged.
He smiled and her heart did that flopping thing again. “There are plenty of hiking spots in Upstate New York, too.” He began listing them, counting them off on his fingers, “Lake Placid, Bear Mountain, Watkins Glen…or, if you Google, you can find a few spots closer to NYC that you’d probably also love.”
“Google!” She cried, startling him, and pulled out her phone. “I don’t have reception, but if we can get WiFi…” Her face fell. The little metal box they were in did not get WiFi reception either. “Never mind.”
Everett’s hand was on her back, patting consolingly. “I’m sure someone is already on it. Fixing the lift, I mean.”
Her head hit the mirrored wall with a dull thunk. “Didn’t Speed start this way?”
He blinked at her abrupt change of topic. “Huh?”
“I’m sure it did,” she continued. “Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels were trying to save a bunch of people from plummeting to their deaths in a lift.”
“You’re really not a fan of confined spaces, are you?” He was starting to sound concerned now, his cobalt eyes wider as they peered at her. “Don’t pass out on me, okay, love?”
Gemma forced herself to calm, taking a few deep breaths and feeling completely embarrassed. Closing her eyes and resting her head against the cool surface behind her, she said, “I am sorry for this. I’m sure being locked in a box with a panicky random isn’t quite how you imagined spending your morning.”
“I’ll admit,” he conceded, “there was more caffeine and less claustrophobia in my original plans.”
“When we get out of here, I’ll owe you a coffee.” The casual offer escaped her before she remembered who she was talking to. A flush immediately suffused her cheeks, and she stammered, “I mean, sorry, I didn’t mean…” she winced and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Stopping talking now.”
The fact that her unwitting companion was actually laughing, shoulders shaking and all, didn’t help matters.
“If nothing else, I’m glad I’m able to entertain you,” she snarked at him, feeling her cheeks burning. She’d probably actually seek therapy after this, the mortification of the entire encounter burning deep into her psyche. “Just promise me that when you get your next big role and start wheeling out this story in interviews as ‘that time I was trapped with a crazy fan’, you’ll at least fib a little and say I was stunning or something complimentary alongside the humiliation, yeah?”
Everett sobered a little, a frown pulling his eyebrows down, giving him the broody expression that he’d practically patented during his run on Happily Never After. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, as though trying to find the right words. She cursed herself for making him uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable.
Fuck her life.
“So, I’ve watched you on a few panels. Online, obviously. You’ve got this wicked sense of humour,” she found herself explaining into the awkward silence, blaming her lack of filter on an imagined decreasing amount of oxygen. However, at this point she was pretty much in for a penny, in for a pound when it came to her embarrassment anyway, and she had a point to make. “The playful narcissism is entertaining, and you just ride the line between knowing you’re attractive and still being charming. Personally, I can’t pull that off, so my style of deflection –as you’ve noticed by now– is more self-deprecating.” She shrugged. “What a juxtaposition, right?” She swept her eyes over him again. “Of course, if I were as pretty as you, maybe things would be different.”
“Hey, I can’t control that this was the jawline I was born with,” he defended lightly, gesturing towards his face with the back of one hand, “or my eyes. Or cheekbones. Or–”
“Yeah yeah, buddy. You’re rocking your natural aesthetic,” she threw her arms wide, indicating an invisible audience, “we all know. Pity about your height, right?”
He snorted, “I think I liked you better when you were starstruck. Besides, I’m five ten and a half, so I’m not exactly short.”
“Of course you did.” Rolling her eyes as her brain caught up with the rest of his sentence, she repeated, “And a half,” with a laugh in her voice. “Every half-inch counts, right?” Somehow, she managed to deliver this absolutely deadpan.
She had no shame.
His lip curled upwards again at the innuendo, but he let it be. “Well, I could stretch the truth a bit and say I’m six feet tall. If I wear lifts, it’s not a lie.”
This made her chuckle and shake her head before knowingly observing, “There’s definitely an element of truth to your narcissist shtick, isn’t there?”
“That’s the thing about landing jokes, isn’t it? The best ones all have a bit of truth to them.”
Gemma acknowledged this argument with a jut of her chin. “Yeah. Well, at least, that’s what they say. Whoever they are.”
“A secret society, I’m told. Very exclusive,” he tapped the side of his nose with the tip of his index finger and she laughed again.
“Right. Seems legit.”
There was an awkward lull in conversation, and just as she was beginning to feel the walls closing in, her companion asked, “So where would you recommend for hiking around here?”
Gemma’s building anxiety receded again, and she was glad for the ongoing distraction. The guy was a saint. It did nothing to abate her crush on him. “It depends on what you’re after or how far you’re willing to travel,” she mused aloud. “Bushwalks around here can get you to ocean views, mangrove walks, waterfalls…” she shrugged. “I’ve always found the short track between Burleigh Heads and Tallebudgera relaxing, but it’s not what I’d call a hike. More like a nature walk. If you’re looking for epic views and are happy to set aside pretty much a whole day –including the drive there and back– there’s Mount Warning. It’s not an easy climb, though. At least, not to get to the summit.” She was proud that she’d managed it. Once, and she maintained that it had almost killed her, but she had managed it, and that was enough. “Or there’s Mount Ngungun, which is a couple of hours’ drive north from here and is a much shorter, easier climb with an epic pay off at the top on a clear day. Mount Coolum, also a couple of hours north, is the same.”
“A relaxing nature walk sounds pretty good,” Everett mused thoughtfully. “And that one’s close to here?”
“Yeah, just a short drive down the highway. If you get a few hours free, you should check it out.” Unless we die in this lift, her brain added testily.
Oblivious to her internal musings, he nodded again. “Right. I’ll add that to my To Do list.”
“So, you’re not just here for the convention?”
“No, I’ve got a few days reprieve before I have to head back home. Thought I’d do a little sightseeing. Maybe even pat a koala or something.”
“I guess flying halfway around the world for a three-day stay does sound a bit rough,” Gemma acknowledged with a tilt of her head. Then she made a face. “You know koalas carry chlamydia, right?” They were cute, but there was no way in hell she’d ever touch one again.
Everett let out a bark of almost startled laughter. “What?! That can’t be a thing.”
“It is,” she responded emphatically, slapping her thigh. “Koalas can carry the clap. Google it.” Her brows drew down into a frown. “Once we’re out of here and there’s WiFi and reception again.”
He snorted inelegantly. “If you’re lying to me, I’ll be collecting on that coffee.”
Her heart skipped a beat. Was that flirting? No. The lack of oxygen was clearly getting to them both now. But her mouth fired off before her brain, “And when you realise that I’m not, you can shout me a coffee.”
“You’ve got a deal,” he told her with a smirk and extended his hand for her to shake.
Gemma did so with an accompanying shake of her head. “Sure,” she told him, mild disbelief colouring her tone. As if he was even going to remember her once they were released and he was swept up in his celebrity duties. Still, it was kind of nice to pretend that he was an ordinary person and that they’d just arranged a coffee date. “I take mine white, no sugar. Preferably a latte, but a flat white will suffice.”
“Confident, aren’t you?”
“Eh,” she shrugged, her lips quirking upwards, “I know my country.”
“Well, then, if you’re so knowledgeable,” he shot back playfully, leaning into her space and nudging her shoulder with his own, unaware that the action set off a flurry of butterflies in her belly that had nothing to do with her fear that they were going to die trapped in the broken-down elevator, “what should I do with my free time here? Other than go for a nature walk where I might encounter a snake and die.”
“Melodramatic, much?” Gemma snarked with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “You’re a big boy, you’ll be fine.” She only barely resisted the urge to reach out and pat his shoulder with blatant (light-hearted) condescension. “What sort of stuff are you into? We’ve got a bit of everything here: theme parks, beaches, botanic gardens, wildlife sanctuaries…” She drummed her fingers on her thigh as she considered what else was on offer locally. “Australia Zoo’s only a couple of hours’ drive north, too. That’s always a favourite with tourists. So’s Byron Bay, which is an hour or so south of here, but…eh…it’s a bit hipster and a whole lot overrated, if you ask me. Which, I’ll remind you, you did.”
Everett affected faux offence. “Are you calling me a tourist?” He spoke the word as though it was a slur.
Snickering, she shrugged again. “I mean, you kind of are.”
“You wound me,” he continued his exaggerated act, clutching imaginary pearls. He widened his eyes, the colour more crystalline in the artificial lighting of the elevator. “I thought we were friends now.”
There went the butterflies again. “Oh, it takes more than a shared near-death experience to become my friend.”
Everett laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and the sound delighted her. “I’ll win you over yet, sweetheart.”
“Yeah, nah,” she responded, “not if you call me sweetheart again.” She’d liked it way too much for it to be healthy.
Chuckling, he asked, “Did you just say ‘yeah-nah’? What the hell is that?”
“It’s Aussie slang for no.”
Blinking at her, the incredulous question “Why don’t you just say no?” followed, before he added, “And, what, do you say ‘nah-yeah’ for yes?”
“We do, actually,” the corners of her lips twitched at his bewilderment. “Honestly, it’s more a bogan thing than anything, but–”
“Bogan?” The word sounded bizarre in his accent as he tested it out.
Her shoulders lifted and dropped while she raised her hands with their palms facing upwards. “Kind of our version of a redneck or a chav?”
“Right,” he drew out the word, clearly amused. “And you just happen to fall into this use of slang at random?”
“When I’m comfortable enough,” she responded without thinking, feeling her cheeks burn as she realised what she’d admitted.
Everett held his index finger towards the ceiling, “Ah ha!” he cried, victorious, now using that same finger to poke her shoulder. “You admitted it. We are friends now.”
Gemma was convinced that he was running out of oxygen now. Still, his enthusiasm was contagious, and she found herself grinning and shaking her head. “Fine, okay, whatever.”
“I knew I’d win you over.”
“Why?” she queried, feeling bold. “Because I’m a fan? Because of your obvious–” sarcasm abounded “–charm?”
He wriggled his hips and stretched out his legs, settling in for the long haul. “A little from Column A, a little from Column B.”
She hated herself a little for finding the narcissist shtick so endearing, but with his eyes glinting at her and that mischievous smirk on his sinfully scruffy face, she felt powerless to resist it. Still, she didn’t need him knowing that.
“I think I liked you better when you were a mysterious celebrity,” she twisted his earlier words back at him playfully.
“I’ve already used that joke, love,” he snarked back. “Find some new material.”
Gemma opened her mouth to argue, but the elevator seemed to lurch back into life, jerking and clunking and startling her enough that she squealed and clutched at her companion’s arm.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he soothed, rubbing her hand but making no move to throw her off. He glanced up at the ceiling and then the display panel. “I think we’re back on the move.”
Sure enough, the number had changed to 6 and she could feel the lift descending. Everett pushed himself to his feet and offered Gemma his hand, which she took and allowed him to help her stand. “Thanks,” she said softly, suddenly overcome by the realisation that their brief friendship was about to go its separate ways. “Sorry again for freaking out on you.”
“What are friends for?” he cajoled, brushing the apology off, unaware of the melancholy turn her thoughts had taken.
She smiled, hoping it met her eyes, and gave his hand one last squeeze. “Well, thank you, then,” she said, watching the numbers tick down. She stepped back. “I hope you enjoy the convention. I’m sure your panels will be awesome.”
Everett inclined his head, “Are you going to be there?”
Given that he had been her motivating factor for attending, she’d been planning on it but, after this, did attending make it weird? Though, she supposed, it wouldn’t be odd for a friend to go watch another friend perform or give speeches or answer fan questions, would it?
She was overthinking it.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” she informed him as the doors finally slid open at the ground floor. She was oblivious to the crowd of people assembled outside. “I’ll be cheering you on from the back of the room, I’m sure.”
Then, with a final (if somewhat awkward) wave, she turned around, ducked her head once she saw the large group of people gawking at them, and made her way out of the lift and across the hotel lobby.
About the Author
Anita (A.N.) Verebes is a daydreamer, writer, and author of the debut romance novel ‘Handle With Care’.
As a professional civil marriage celebrant, Anita makes a living telling other people’s love stories and celebrating real romance! Also armed with a Bachelor of Education (Secondary), Anita is a qualified -but not practising- High School English teacher who loves to read anything she can get her hands on, including fanfiction. (And, yes, she’s written her fair share of that, too.)
Living directly between Queensland’s sunny Gold and Sunshine coasts, Anita spends her days exploring the Great South East with her husband and their two rambunctious sons. When at home, she’s also a slave to two cats and one very spoilt Great Dane X.
Regency Romance, Clean Romance, Classic Romance, Jane Austen Fan Fiction
Release Date: November 29, 2021
Publisher: Regency Solutions
Two hearts. One kiss.
Following his wife’s death in childbirth, Fitzwilliam Darcy hopes to ease his way back into society by hosting a house party during Christmastide. He is thrilled when his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam sends a message saying not only will he attend, but the colonel is bringing a young woman with him of whom he hopes both Darcy and the colonel’s mother, Lady Matlock, will approve. Unfortunately, upon first sight, Darcy falls for the woman: He suspects beneath Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s conservative veneer lies a soul which will match his in every way; yet, she is soon to be the colonel’s wife.
Elizabeth Bennet lost her position as a governess when Lady Newland accuses Elizabeth of leading her son on. It is Christmastide, and she has no place to go and little money to hold her over until after Twelfth Night; therefore, when Lieutenant Newland’s commanding officer offers her a place at his cousin’s household for the holy days, she accepts in hopes someone at the house party can provide her a lead on a new position. Having endured personal challenges which could easily have embittered a lesser woman, Elizabeth proves herself brave, intelligent, educated in the fine arts of society, and deeply honorable. Unfortunately, she is also vulnerable to the Master of Pemberley, who kindness renews her spirits and whose young daughter steals her heart. The problem is she must leave Pemberley after the holidays, and she does not know if a “memory” of Fitzwilliam Darcy will be enough to sustain her.
Driving regret from his features, Darcy turned to greet Captain Stewart. “We are pleased you have decided to join us, sir.” He extended his hand in greeting. Outside, he caught a glimpse of a petite woman providing directions to what must be her maid and assisting Darcy’s footmen to separate the gentlemen’s trunks. A frown formed on his forehead. The lady should not be left to sort these things out.
“Welcome, Captain Stewart,” Lady Matlock called as she descended the stairs on her son’s arm.
The captain bowed properly and said, “Thank you and Darcy for accepting my presence along with the colonel.”
“Always glad for more company,” Darcy repeated, while searching the drive once again with his eyes for the woman, who, evidently, had disappeared.
Bingley and his youngest sister appeared to greet the new guests, and, so, Darcy slipped outside to ask Mr. Nathan what had transpired. “Where is the young lady, Nathan?”
“The lady insisted on following her abigail around the house to a ‘less than obtrusive entrance.’ She said she would speak to Mrs. Reynolds at the kitchen entrance.”
“Ridiculous!” Darcy growled as he went after the woman. “Miss! Miss!” he called, using his long legs to overtake her. “Miss, there must be—”
The lady turned to look upon him, and Darcy forgot to breathe. An odd sizzle of recognition swept through him—an emotion he had never felt previously, but one which felt natural, nonetheless, despite it placing his normal complacency on high alert.
The lady was a good head shorter than he, but not quite as petite as he had first thought. Delicate, very feminine features and a fragile bone structure could not disguise the firmness of character he discovered in her expression. Moreover, the lady possessed the type of eyes in which a man could easily become lost. Intelligent eyes. They glistened from the cold, but when they looked at him, Darcy thought he could see a future that had long evaded his multiple attempts at consideration. Her eyes were green with a touch of woodsy brown. Whether he liked it or not, he suspected they would haunt his dreams tonight, but he took quick note they were equally “haunted,” providing the woman a hint of vulnerability—a look which made him want to reach out and tug her into his embrace and offer her his protection.
Holding his hands tightly in fists at his side to keep the tug of possession from claiming his good sense, he said stiffly, “There is some mistake, miss. You are to join us in the family part of the house. The colonel wrote specifically to ask us to welcome you into our home. Please permit me to escort you inside.”
She stared at him with curious interest marking her features. A small smile tugged at the corners of her lips, and Darcy had the distinct feeling a smile on her lips might be his undoing. “I did not wish to interrupt the colonel’s homecoming. He has spoken often of the wonderful times he has spent at Pemberley.” She glanced around. “It is truly a magnificent estate, sir.”
“I am pleased you find it so,” Darcy said, as a smile also claimed his lips. “You should view it in the spring and summer when it is green and full of color.”
She sighed deeply. “I would enjoy doing so very much. When I was—” The lady paused, giving her head a good shake. “My memories are not significant or of interest to you, sir.”
Darcy was not best pleased with her response. He would have liked to hear more of her opinion of his estate and her memories, but, instead, he presented her a slight bow. “Permit your maid to take your bags—” He looked to the girl, who appeared familiar. “I have seen you before, have I not?”
The maid dipped an awkward curtsey. “Yes, sir. I be Mr. Crownley’s daughter, Hannah, sir.”
“Of course,” he said. “I thought you away from home.”
“I was, sir. In Gloucestershire.”
Darcy nodded his acceptance. “I hope your mistress means to allow you to spend time with your family. Crownley will wish to see you for Christmas.”
“I have already told Hannah she may spend as much time as she likes with her family,” the lady explained.
“Good,” Darcy stated. “Then permit Hannah and my men to secure your bags in your quarters, and come away with me.” He offered the woman his arm. “The colonel’s mother is eager to take your acquaintance.”
She hesitated. “But I do not know your name, sir,” she said with a pert lift of her chin and with what sounded of a tease in her tone.
He smiled easily, realizing it had been forever since he had felt this light-hearted. “There is no one about to introduce us. The colonel is in the house,” he reminded her.
The lady glanced over her shoulder to the maid. “Hannah holds both of our acquaintances. Could not she perform the deed?”
Darcy could not look away from the lady’s countenance. He said with another grin of satisfaction for the privilege of speaking to such an enchanting woman, “Miss Crownley, might you provide me the acquaintance of your mistress?”
The maid giggled, but she managed a proper curtsey. “Lard, I never thought—” The girl sobered immediately. “Mr. Darcy, may I give you the acquaintance of Miss Bennet? Miss Bennet, the master of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy.”
“Charmed, Miss Bennet.” He repeated with a bow. “If you have no objections, miss, I would see you inside the house. You must be quite chilled through standing outside for so long. Derbyshire winters are deceptively cold.”
The lady curtseyed. “Charmed indeed, Mr. Darcy,” she said softly, before placing her gloved hand upon his arm.
As he turned her steps toward the main entrance, in Darcy’s mind, time slowed. Desire as he had never known found a place in his chest. Instead of the main door, he was half-tempted to lead the woman to a nearby folly and enjoy more of the lady’s smiles. An insidious whisper pronounced her as his. Yet, when he reached the still open door, reality slapped him in the face.
“There you are, Miss Bennet,” his cousin said as the lady left Darcy’s arm to stand beside his cousin. Edward said, very precisely, “My lady, with your permission, I would give you the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Miss Bennet, my mother, the Countess of Matlock.”
Darcy looked on as the woman, who had just bewitched him with a simple smile, executed a perfect curtsey. “I am humbled, my lady, by your kind recognition.” She glanced to the colonel and smiled largely. “Colonel Fitzwilliam has told me numerous tales of his family.”
The countess arched an eyebrow which said she thought Edward’s actions odd, as did Darcy, for his cousin had shared nothing of the lady with any of his dear family, but Miss Bennet had said something similar to him only moments earlier. Darcy’s aunt smiled her “social” smile. “I believe I speak for all of the colonel’s family in saying we will be most happy to learn more of you, Miss Bennet. For now, welcome to Pemberley.”
From a place on the staircase, Hurst called out, “Now, now, boys. No way for children to act. Louisa, I say do, something!”
Mrs. Hurst caught one of the boys just as Mrs. Anderson came rushing upon the scene. The nurse presented the gathering in the foyer a quick curtsey. “I apologize, Mr. Darcy,” she said, wringing her hands in obvious distress. “I be puttin’ Miss Cassandra down for a nap, and the boys slipped out when Megs was called away to assist Cook. They followed their parents after Mr. and Mrs. Hurst left the nursery.”
Mrs. Anderson’s whole demeanor said she was fearful of Darcy’s disfavor. He did not like the look on the woman, who had been very loyal to his family over the years.
He said, “No harm, Mrs. Anderson. I will ask Mrs. Reynolds to have Megs and another maid take turns in assisting you. I am grieved to have added to your duties. I will see you are readily compensated.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Darcy. Might I be of assistance, sir? I would be happy to return the boys to the nursery and entertain them until the maid can return to her duties there.” Miss Bennet’s earnest expression said she spoke honestly. “Surely there are some items in the house which can be used to entertain the boys. Toy soldiers, perhaps, from when you and the colonel were younger. Most large households store such items away as the children age.”
His cousin suggested, “The grey trunk. Hey, Darcy. We kept all our best cavalry in it.”
Darcy nodded his understanding and looked to his butler.
“I believe it was placed in the attic some years back, sir. I can have someone bring it down immediately, Mr. Darcy.”
“We should have done so before now,” Mr. Darcy admitted, although, in reality, it should be the Hursts’ responsibility to see their children were entertained.
Miss Bennet immediately handed her cloak, bonnet, and gloves to Mr. Nathan and then climbed a few steps to claim the hand of first one of the Hurst boys and then the other. “Why do you not come with me? Mr. Darcy has promised us a treasure chest full of toys to explore together. Will that not be grand?”
The youngest of the two said, “Yes, ma’am.”
The lady turned to Darcy. “With your permission, sir,” she murmured.
Darcy attempted to keep the frown from his features, but he knew he failed. “I must object, Miss Bennet. It would be the worst of society to accept a young lady into my home as a guest and then expect her to perform the work of a governess. Neither I nor my household can impose upon your good nature in such a manner.”
“I assure you, sir, I would not feel put upon in any such way. I prefer to make myself useful, and, as my position in society is one of governess, please permit me to assist you.”
Without waiting for his permission, she turned the boys’ steps toward the above storey and gracefully climbed the stairs to where Mrs. Anderson waited to show her the way. As her little party turned toward the nursery, he heard her say, “You must tell me your names. I am Miss Bennet.”
“Governess?” the countess asked her son. “Did Miss Bennet say she was a governess?”
“Yes, she did,” the colonel declared. A look of admiration marked the colonel’s features. “Was it not wonderful how she quite readily took the matter in hand? I am very proud of how quickly Miss Bennet proved herself useful to Darcy.”
“But—” the countess thought to lodge her objection, likely the same objection rushing to Darcy’s lips.
However, Edward claimed his mother’s hand and brought the back of it to his lips. “I will explain later, Countess. For now, I want to freshen my clothes, and, then, I wish to hear all there is to learn of both Roland and father. How is the esteemed Miss Ashley? Is a wedding date set?” He turned to the rest of Darcy’s guests. “I will look forward to hearing something from each of you at supper.” He looked to Darcy. “My customary quarters, I assume.”
“Yes, and the captain is in the blue suite across from you.”
Edward motioned the captain to follow him. “Come, Stewart. Darcy and my mother keep the gentlemen and the ladies in different wings of the house. I will show you the way. If one does not have a guide, he may become lost in a maze of rooms.”
As they all disappeared to different reaches of the house, including the countess and Georgiana, Darcy remained staring off at the point where the lady, who had quite literally sent his heart pounding in a manner he had never experienced previously, had disappeared. Growing up together, Darcy had, most assuredly, idolized his older cousin, for Edward had always appeared stronger and wiser than he, but, until a few moments prior, he thought he had finally caught up to the man; perhaps, even, had outdistanced him in many of the essentials required of an English gentleman. Yet, with absolute certainty, his cousin had once again left Darcy wishing for some “unknown,” which Fitzwilliam possessed.
About the Author
Regina Jeffers, an award-winning author of historical cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, as well as Regency era romances, has worn many hats over her lifetime: daughter, student, military brat, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, tax preparer, journalist, choreographer, Broadway dancer, theatre director, history buff, grant writer, media literacy consultant, and author. Living outside of Charlotte, NC, Jeffers writes novels that take the ordinary and adds a bit of mayhem, while mastering tension in her own life with a bit of gardening and the exuberance of her “grand joys.”