Susanna Fraser wrote her first novel in fourth grade. It starred a family of talking horses who ruled a magical land. In high school she started, but never finished, a succession of tales of girls who were just like her, only with long, naturally curly and often unusually colored hair, who, perhaps because of the hair, had much greater success with boys than she ever did.
Along the way she read her hometown library’s entire collection of Regency romance, fell in love with the works of Jane Austen, and discovered in Patrick O’Brian’s and Bernard Cornwell’s novels another side of the opening decades of the 19th century. When she started to write again as an adult, she knew exactly where she wanted to set her books. Her writing has come a long way from her youthful efforts, but she still tends to give her heroines great hair.
Susanna lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. When not writing or reading, she goes to baseball games, watches Chopped, Castle, and The Legend of Korra, and cooks her way through an ever-growing cookbook collection.
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My first historical romance reads were the Sunfire YA historicals from the 1980's. If you're not familiar, they featured a teenaged girl finding love against the backdrop of some noteworthy event in American history. I adored those books for the combination of history and girls just a little older than I was getting to play an adult role in life and romance. So much more interesting to read about a 16-year-old surviving the Oregon Trail or spying on the redcoats during the Revolution, and ending the book engaged, than merely catching the eye of her crush just in time for the prom!
Sunfire heroines almost always had to choose between two suitors, one that she and/or her family thinks is perfectly suitable and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Not necessarily a bad boy—most of them were total sweethearts—just not in the heroine's social league. My favorites included genteel Marilee with indentured servant Timothy in Jamestown, impoverished socialite Amanda learning to see the true worth of farmboy Ben on the Oregon Trail, and first-class passenger Nicole and steerage immigrant Karl on the Titanic. There were stories that went in the other direction—servant girl finding love with her employer's son and the like—but those never seemed as romantic to me as a girl born to a life of privilege seeing the true worth of a boy starting out in life with nothing but ambition and determination.
As an author I've written a wide range of heroes, including among others a wildly rich viscount and a cocky young general. But boys from the wrong side of the tracks still hold a special place in my heart. Gabe Shepherd in A Christmas Reunion is just such a hero. As an infant he was abandoned I the Earl of Edenwell's stables on Christmas Eve, hence his festive name. Though he grew into a family resemblance that led the Edenwell family to acknowledge him as a nephew, he's still a penniless bastard dependent on their charity and good will. And when he dares to love the wrong woman, that good will is in jeopardy.
What about you? Do you like heroes from the wrong side of the tracks? And are there any other Sunfire fans out there?
Gabriel Shephard has never forgotten his humble origins. So when he discovers a war orphan at Christmastime, he resolves to find a home for her—even if that means asking help from the very family who found and raised him, only to cast him out for daring to love the wrong woman.
Lady Catherine Trevilan has spent five years poring over the British Army's casualty list, dreading the day she sees Gabe's name. She's never forgotten him, and she's never forgiven herself for not running away with him when she had the chance, though she's agreed to a marriage of convenience with a more suitable man.
When Gabe returns home on Christmas leave just days before Cat's wedding, a forbidden kiss confirms their feelings haven't been dimmed by distance or time. But Cat is honor-bound to another, and Gabe believes she deserves better than a penniless soldier with an orphan in tow. How can Cat reconcile love and duty? She must convince Gabe she'd rather have him than the richest lord in all of England…
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London, December 19, 1810
Five Christmases ago, Gabe had been driven from England in disgrace. Now he returned with a captain’s rank, dispatches from Lord Wellington to the commanders at Horse Guards, a measure of respect—and another man’s baby.
When he returned to his inn from Horse Guards, the baby in question ran to him as fast as her toddling legs could carry her, crying, “Gabe! Gabe!”
He scooped her into his arms and settled her on his hip. Strange how just a week ago such a pose had felt awkward and precarious, and now it was the most natural in the world. “I’m here.” He smoothed the little girl’s dark hair. “I told you I’d come back.”
“She cried for you the entire time, Captain Shepherd.” A worried frown marred the inn landlady’s kind features.
He snuggled the baby more closely against him. It warmed his heart to be missed by someone, even this tiny orphan. “It was very good of you to look after her.”
“It’s no trouble. We aren’t so busy today, and I miss having children about now that mine are all grown. Also—” her eyes twinkled at him, “—you did say you’d pay extra.”
He grinned back. “Indeed I will, and for everything else you’ve done for us.” The landlady had dug out a cradle, pointed Gabe to secondhand shops where he could buy suitable clothing and advised him on what a child her age ought to eat and drink.
“Have you decided what to do with her when you go back to your regiment? There’s foundling homes, or you might pay someone to care for her.”
He shook his head. “Not a foundling home.” He’d been an orphan at Christmas once, too. The family who had found him had given him a home even before they’d suspected his true parentage. Now, twenty-five Christmases later, he couldn’t go back to Portugal until he’d made sure this child would be just as well cared for. “I’ll be writing my friends on her behalf tonight.”
He hadn’t intended to tell the friends in question he was back in England—there was too great a chance they hadn’t yet forgiven him for the sin that had led to his exile. Still, for this child’s sake he’d set his guilt aside and risk their lingering wrath.
Edenwell Court, Kent, December 20
Cat always drifted into the breakfast room just after the post was delivered. Anthony wrote so faithfully now that they were engaged and it was proper for them to exchange letters. Such dear, amusing letters they were, too. When Aunt Edenwell had asked why she was marrying him, when she’d had richer and more handsome suitors, she’d explained that none of the others made her laugh so much. If she couldn’t be madly in love, at least she would go through her life as Lady Colville with a smile.
There was always the chance, too, of a letter from one of her Trevilian cousins or some of the friends she’d made in her London Seasons. And if she happened to glance at the newspaper to make sure there were no familiar names on any casualty lists that might be printed there and to see if the Sixty-First Regiment of Foot had been mentioned in the latest dispatches, what of it? Neither her parents nor Lord and Lady Edenwell had ever thought it unladylike for a woman to take an interest in the wider world.
So she couldn’t understand why Richard looked so startled and guilty as he stood when she walked in this morning. “Good morning, Cousin,” she said as she slipped past him to the sideboard to select a warm roll and pour herself a steaming cup of coffee.
He smiled and resumed his seat, though he still seemed edgy. “A good morning to you, too, Kitty.”
She’d given up hope her family would ever stop using that childish name. Anthony called her Catherine, which pleased her. If she sometimes missed a rich, teasing voice saying Lady Cat, she’d had five years to grow accustomed. They’d been so young then. It had been all mistletoe and infatuation, nothing more. Well, perhaps there had been a measure of rebellion, too—the plain defiance of bestowing her affections upon the forbidden baseborn foundling instead of the noble cousin her aunt and uncle had all but served up to her on a platter.
If she prayed for him every night and lived in terror of seeing him on those casualty lists, it was only because she couldn’t bear it if he…if he died, all because Uncle Edenwell had kicked up such a fuss over a kiss. Well, perhaps there had been kisses in the plural, and it had been late at night with neither of them quite fully clothed. Still, she wasn’t ruined, and Gabe wasn’t a seducer. There had been no need to send him out of the country in disgrace.
But it was impossible to change the past, so she made herself smile as she took a chair at Richard’s right. “Anything of interest in the post?” she asked.
He shuffled the stack of papers and took a sip of his coffee before replying. “There’s a letter from Gabriel.”
Good God. Gabe. She darted a glance at Richard’s letters, searching for Gabe’s firm, distinctive handwriting. No. She must be calm. Her heart must stop racing, immediately. With carefully steady hands, she took up her own cup and drank. She was calm. If she was blushing she couldn’t feel it. Why should she blush? She would be married in less than a fortnight. Gabe was…five years ago. “Oh?” she asked, pleased that the syllable came out tolerably composed.
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