A secret rendezvous on Christmas Eve - Anna Campbell
ANNA CAMPBELL has written nine multi award-winning historical romances for Grand Central Publishing and Avon HarperCollins and her work is published in sixteen languages. Anna is currently engaged in writing the "Sons of Sin" series, which started in 2012 with SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROGUE’S BED. Look out for A SCOUNDREL BY MOONLIGHT in April 2015. Anna lives on the beautiful east coast of Australia where she writes full-time.
Find Anna at:
Thanks, Dani, for inviting me to play here again this year. I always have such fun with your Christmas event. This year, I’m writing a secret rendezvous on Christmas Eve. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to unite two star-crossed lovers.
Boroughford House, Yorkshire, Christmas Eve, 1823
Anthea’s breath formed a cloud in front of her face as she crossed the icy fields toward the isolated copse where Etienne said he’d wait for her. The short day came to an end, but it was still light enough to find her way. Behind her, she heard the scratchy sound of violins as the orchestra her papa had brought from London rehearsed. Luckily there was no snow, so she didn’t have to worry about leaving tracks.
The instant she slipped behind the thick hedge of holly, she saw him, waiting just as he said he would. Tall, dark, elegant in a way so distinctly un-English. A few yards off, his black horse nosed at the sparse brown grass.
His sensual mouth curled into a smile of welcome. “Mon amour, you got away.”
“I’m supposed to be resting before I dress for the ball.” The ball where her engagement to the Duke of Salford would be announced. The ball that would end her brief, poignant flirtation with this handsome foreigner. “I haven’t got long.”
He came forward with that smooth stride that had first attracted her notice back in the autumn when she’d met him at a house party in Wiltshire. His hands closed hard around hers. His touch was cold—he’d clearly waited too long on this freezing afternoon—but it flooded her with warmth. “Long enough to say goodbye.”
Desperately she stared up into his face, imprinting every vivid feature on her memory forever. The olive skin; the black, slashing eyebrows; the high slanted cheekbones; the long Gallic nose; the rich coffee brown of his eyes. “You knew this was coming.”
His grip tightened. “I am grateful I could offer you a few months of discreet excitement before you take up your real life.”
The faint bitterness in his voice made her wince. His accent thickened when he was moved, and right now he sounded more French than she’d ever heard him.
“This match will make my father a power in England.”
“And it will make you unhappy, ma belle.”
“I’m…I’m resigned to it,” she said and knew that he recognized the lie. Of course it was a lie. This parting tore her to shreds.
“I too have tried to be resigned to it,” he said in a low voice. “From the first, I knew how much you were willing to give me. But it’s not enough.”
She stiffened and tried to pull away, but his hands firmed to ruthlessness. “I could never give you more than a few kisses, Etienne.”
Kisses that had turned her blood to flame and made her cry into her pillow every night because while she played at this flirtation, she was promised to another.
“You think I want to make you my mistress, Anthea?”
“I think you would have if I’d been willing.” And heaven forgive her, there had been times when only his honor had saved her from surrendering the chastity that a woman owed to her bridegroom. Right now, sinful creature she was, she was sorry that she hadn’t succumbed. A few kisses seemed a paltry memory to hold into the cold, cold future that awaited her with His Grace, the duke.
“Your father would never accept me as your husband.”
“No,” she said, grief weighing her heart. “Even if he didn’t have Salford in his sights, he’d never give me to a Frenchman. Since my brother’s death at Waterloo, he loathes the very name of France.”
“And I’m not nobly born.”
“No.” Etienne’s family was rich, probably richer than her own, but the money came from silk factories in Lyon. Her father had always been puffed up with pride that the Boroughs had been lords in this corner of Yorkshire since the Norman Conquest.
“There is strong desire between us.”
“Yes.” This was their last meeting. What was the point of prevaricating?
Etienne released her, but she didn’t move away. Very gently, he placed his hands on either side of her face, holding her still as if he meant to kiss her. She hoped he would, even as her heart mourned that it was the last time.
“When I look into your eyes, I see…more.”
She’d tried to be clever and sophisticated with her secret swain, but it had done her no good. She’d fallen in love the moment she’d seen him and that love had only deepened in the months since. Her smile trembled and tears pricked her eyes. Still she raised her chin and spoke in a steady voice. “I love you, Etienne.”
His expression changed, turned intense, almost frightening. Still she didn’t retreat. “Ma chérie…”
He bent his head and kissed her with a passion he’d never unleashed before. Only now when he didn’t hold back did she realize how careful he’d always been with her. On a sigh, she arched into his body and curled her arms around his neck. Heat sizzled through her and ignited the cold evening to fire.
When he raised his head, she was breathless and her heart thundered with excitement mixed with sorrow. She yearned for a lifetime of his passion, not these stolen moments of farewell.
“I have to go,” she whispered. Darkness encroached, although she could still see his expression in the fading light. It was time to surrender futile dreams and embark upon the rest of her life. She turned to leave.
“No.” He caught her hand. “This isn’t right.”
She didn’t look at him. She was too close to tears. “It has to be.”
“Come away with me, Anthea.”
She stopped, trembling, and slowly faced him. “We can’t.”
His jaw squared with determination. “Yes, we can. If we go now, we’ll be in France tomorrow. We can be married at my home in Lyon.”
“Yes, of course.” From somewhere he summoned a smile and her heart made a great swoop of fear and joy. “You must know I love you.”
She shook her head, disbelief warring with an astonishing spurt of hope. “You never said.”
He was still smiling. “Neither did you. Until now.”
“There will be a dreadful scandal. My father will disown me.”
He shrugged. “Whereas my father will adore you. Will you run away with me, my lovely darling?”
She had seconds to decide. If she was returning to the house, she needed to do it now. Even then, her maid would wonder where she’d disappeared to on such an important night for the family’s prestige. If she was going with Etienne, every mile they put between them and Boroughford House before her elopement was discovered would increase their chances of escape.
“Anthea, don’t break my heart,” he said softly.
Security and duty and the obedient girl she’d been until she’d met a handsome Frenchman demanded that she deny him. The love that surged in her heart insisted that she take up the glorious challenge this man offered her.
Emotion jammed her throat and she took a couple of attempts to find her voice. Still her answer emerged with a husky edge. “Your heart is safe with me, my darling. Let’s go.”
Delight lit his face to brilliance. “You do me too much honor, my lady.” He raised her hand to his lips for a fervent kiss, then caught her by the waist and flung her into the saddle. He leaped up behind her and curved one arm strong and sure around her waist. “Allons-y.”
As they galloped away through the cold winter night, the sweet strains of a waltz faded to silence behind them.
No good deed goes unpunished…
To save her hen-witted sister from scandal, Philippa Sanders ventures into a rake’s bedroom – and into his power. Now her reputation hangs by a thread and only a hurried marriage can rescue her. Is the Earl of Erskine the heartless libertine the world believes? Or will Philippa discover unexpected honor in a man notorious for his wild ways?
Blair Hume, the dissolute Earl of Erskine, has had his eye on the intriguing Miss Sanders since he arrived at this deadly dull house party. Now a reckless act delivers this beguiling woman into his hands as a delightful Christmas gift. Is fate offering him a fleeting Yuletide diversion? Or will this Christmas Eve encounter spark a passion that lasts a lifetime?
Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | Kobo |
Check out what's up for grabs.
- 3 eBook copies of Her Christmas Earl: A Regency Novella
- Please leave a comment or question for Anna.
- Please leave your email address along with your comment.
**Don't forget to enter the grand prize giveaway!
Special thanks to Anna Campbell for sponsoring this giveaway.