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***First Place Winner, Novella Category, 2014 Book Buyers’ Best Contest***
November 2015 Amazon Top 100 Best-Selling Regency Romances
Done with grieving her losses, a late nobleman’s daughter has fallen into a tidy spinster’s life in London. But when one snowy Christmas Eve, a young woman needs rescue, she seizes the chance to do good—and to recover a family heirloom that ought to be hers.
Irked by his late father’s dreams of nobility, a newly anointed viscount has drawn the line at marrying a blue-blooded miss—until he meets a provoking beauty with an upper crust manner, a larcenous streak, and enough secrets to rouse even his jaded heart.
And when more mysteries swirl around the lady’s lost inheritance, he is just the right man to help her uncover the truth.
Publisher: Havenlock Press
Rosalyn Montagu had calculated there would be dangers on this increasingly madcap mission of mercy, but she never expected to be sitting in opposite seats from one of them, and in his snug, well-appointed, private coach, as well. It put her at a disadvantage, it did.
The weather, all gray sky and arctic wind with the smell of snow, had halted her public coach at the last staging inn. A private coach had been waiting there for the two silent gentlemen who had joined them late that morning, ready to carry both gentlemen onward to the village of Glen Murray, her own destination. With as much decorum as she could muster, Rosalyn had begged transportation for her and her maid, up top, if need be, despite the weather. After all, a woman’s future—her self-respect, her safety, maybe even her life—were at stake, though Rosalyn did not feel compelled to share those particulars.READ MORE
The taller of the two gentlemen had made polite introductions before approving her request and insisting there was room for two more inside.
He was Lord Cathmore, and the other gentleman was Mr. Logan. She would guess their ages at thirty. Whether lord and steward, or lord and secretary, his lordship hadn’t said before lapsing into a pensive silence.
And both were quite handsome, a fact she tried mightily to ignore while his lordship studied her.
Blast it. The last thing she needed to deal with this day was an entitled nobleman.
Silence only reigned briefly after they’d settled against the cushioned squab. As the coach negotiated a perilous turn out of the inn yard, and this last stage of their journey began, Cathmore cleared his throat.
“Where do you hail from, miss?”
The deep baritone made her shiver. If only the man would remain silent, so she could gather her nerves.
They hit a rut, and Nelly rattled against her.
“Do you reside in London?”
Oh, he was polite, but the look in his eye said he had begun a polite campaign to get at the particulars she didn’t wish to share.
“Yes. I live in London,” Rosalyn answered him, omitting the precise street, “with my mother’s elderly cousin. She was kind enough to take me in after my father’s death.”
It was only a small lie. Almost true. Her cousin and benefactor, Abigail Crompton, had died after Christmas last year. This would be Abigail’s first Yuletide spent underground, rolling probably, at the misuse of her monetary bequest.
When Lord Cathmore raised a wicked eyebrow, a padded little elbow poked her rib. She gasped and quickly covered the sound with a cough.
“Are you all right, Miss Crompton?” Hooded eyes peered down a noble beak, daring her to squirm.
Miss Crompton? Oh, yes, she had lied about her name, as well. Another poke to her side.
“I am quite fine.” She turned her head to her maid. “What is it, Nelly?”
“Nothing, miss. Only the bumps in the road rattling me.” Nelly smiled happily at the men, flirtatiously, even.
Cousin Abigail had warned Rosalyn to manage her maid better. But Rosalyn understood Nelly’s problem: Nelly’s advanced age, almost thirty, weighed on her mind. That was why she was sometimes a bit fresh.
Besides, Rosalyn couldn’t dismiss her—Nelly was the only person she had left from her childhood at Brockton Manor.
“Are you warm enough, Miss Crompton?” Lord Cathmore asked.
The dark depths of his eyes revealed no emotion, but his upper lip curved up at one corner, bringing the lower one with it. He looked much like naughty Tommy at Miss Harris’s children’s home, who always managed to charm her with that lopsided smile.
Rosalyn shivered, then heated, and barely retrieved some composure. “I am fine.”
She pulled her cape tighter against that gaze, and against some intoxicating miasma that was spinning in the air. The icy wind had knifed through the cracked glass and creaky seams of the public coach, but here, she was well sealed against the weather, wrapped in a tight cocoon of unexpected warmth and unfamiliar sensations. She eased in a breath and glanced at the man seated across from her.
Heavens. His gaze still studied her, riled her. In his well-cut clothes, and still-shiny boots, he was dashingly handsome, full of himself and his privilege, like every other “my lord” she’d ever met. Like her own dear father.
She inwardly shook herself. She was heading back into the district of her childhood, and thoughts of her father and lost inheritance were plaguing her. She must keep her focus. After this leg of the trip, Cathmore would surely be no bother to her. He would travel on to his own estate after dropping them at their destination in Glen Murray, the Strutting Stag Inn.
Strutting Stag, indeed. There were plenty of dangers ahead without the intrusion of an entitled lord. Even without this Christmas Eve storm, they wouldn’t have been able to journey home to London tonight with Nelly’s cousin Mindy and her baby. She counted on finding a room at the village’s other inn, and failing that, Mindy would surely know a villager who could offer them shelter.
“You are very lucky to have a cousin take you in,” Lord Cathmore’s voice dragged her back from her woolgathering. “What is her name? Perhaps I know her.”
He couldn’t possibly run in Cousin Abigail’s circles, else Rosalyn would know him already.
“Abigail Crompton,” she said, and then realized she had stumbled. She had said Abigail was her mother’s cousin. It would be odd for them to share the same surname.
But not impossible. While she crafted an explanation, the dark eyebrow lifted again.
She’d learned much about lying from her work at the children’s home. Not enough perhaps for the present need, but she must try. She mastered her urge to tremble and looked at him calmly. Let him challenge her first—perhaps he hadn’t noticed the slip.
“Begging your pardon, milord,” Nelly said. “But is it true you were at Waterloo? I lost a cousin there.”
Rosalyn eyed her maid, wondering where she’d gleaned that bit of information, but grateful for the diversion.
Cathmore’s sardonic gaze shifted and he looked kindly on Nelly. “I was, miss,” he said. “And I’m very sorry for your loss. A great many good men died that day.”
“But you stopped Boney. You did that.”
Nelly’s smile didn’t bring the attention Rosalyn knew the girl craved. Instead, Cathmore’s gaze moved to the coach window, and the silent Mr. Logan cast a concerned glance at his master. They traveled on in blessed silence for another hour or longer.
The blowing snow increased, obscuring landmarks, but soon Rosalyn spotted hulking shadows that might be cottages. This leg of the journey had taken twice as long as it ought to have. The storm must indeed be worse in these parts.
The carriage slowed, and Cathmore shifted in his seat. “We’re here,” he said. “Where shall we drop you ladies?”
“At the inn,” Rosalyn said, “The Strutting Stag. Not the other one.”
“Since the fire a few years back, the Stag is the only inn in Glen Murray.” The first words out of Mr. Logan’s mouth arrived in a cultured, melodious tenor. Mr. Logan must be a gentleman as well. Perhaps he was merely a friend of Lord Cathmore.
Rosalyn’s breath froze as his words sunk in. So, there was no other inn. Finding a bed for the night might be their greatest challenge.
She shook off the worry. Surely there’d be at least one kind soul in the village who’d not let them freeze.
“The Strutting Stag is our destination as well.” Cathmore’s gaze honed in on her and he smiled.
A dart of some animal power struck her, and the tingling she felt went beyond the anticipation of freeing Mindy from Ned Morgan and achieving her other, more secret, more personal, quest.
She eased in a breath. Ignore him, Rosalyn. She’d seen his type often in London, perched on high horses, kicking up mud, and disrupting traffic. The money men like him spent on gambling and prostitutes—Cousin Abigail wasn’t one to hide the sordid straits of other young women—that money could have kept the children Miss Harris took in fed from the cradle until they left for positions and apprenticeships.
Cousin Abigail had warned her about men like Cathmore, though she’d never explained the feelings a man could stir with only a smile. Perhaps Cousin Abigail had never been this close to a man like him.
Face burning, Rosalyn latched on to her indignation. Her presence at the Inn was no invitation to Cathmore, and he would soon find that out.
“I would be so happy for a spot of something hot,” Nelly whined.
“Then you shall have it, miss.”
Rosalyn’s hackles rose at her maid’s brazenness, and the infernal man’s accommodating response.
Nelly grinned, but Cathmore’s intense gaze still rested on Rosalyn.
Trying not to squirm, she patted Nelly’s hand. “All will soon be well.” Somehow. She caught Cathmore’s raised brows and managed a firm frown.
When the coach skidded to a stop, Cathmore took charge, sending Logan and Nelly along, and reaching a gloved hand up to Rosalyn.
She hesitated, heart quaking.
“Don’t dawdle, Miss Crompton. You’ll be warmer inside.”
She gave him her hand. Warmth coursed through her, and with it, confidence. Her own, she thought, but then she saw Cathmore’s grin, and knew this heat was one more of his powers.
He dropped her hand and swept her off the step as easily as lifting a child. Before she could even think to be outraged, he set her on her feet, gripped her hand again, and secured a mantle-draped arm around her shoulder, and then they were gliding across the icy yard to the open inn door.COLLAPSE
Published 2013 by Soul Mate Publishing, 2019 by Havenlock Press