ANNA CAMPBELL has written ten multi award-winning historical romances for Grand Central Publishing and Avon HarperCollins. She has won numerous awards for her Regency-set stories including Romantic Times Reviewers Choice, the Booksellers Best, the Golden Quill (three times), the Heart of Excellence (twice), the Write Touch, the Aspen Gold (twice) and the Australian Romance Readers Association’s favorite historical romance (five times). Her books have three times been nominated for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA Award and three times for Australia’s Romantic Book of the Year. Anna lives on the beautiful east coast of Australia where she writes full-time.
Preventing a disaster on Christmas Eve with Anna Campbell
Hi Dani! Hi Ramblings Readers! I always look forward to Dani’s Christmas event where she gets a stack of authors to write a seasonal piece based on a suggested theme. This year, my theme was “preventing a disaster on Christmas Eve.” Now, given the potential for disaster on such an important night of the year, that leaves me lots of leeway, but I thought I’d go for a dramatic moment where the promised disaster was dire indeed. I hope you enjoy my short scene!
The Black Bull, Medford, Oxfordshire
Christmas Eve, 1822
Kate Hensley drew her hood closer around her face and slipped into the inn’s taproom from the snowy yard. If anyone recognized her, it would be disastrous, and on such a freezing night, the Black Bull was jammed to the rafters with villagers celebrating the joys of the season. Greenery decorated every available flat surface and goodwill to all men was in beery evidence.
Luck was with her. She managed to reach the corridor leading through to the kitchens and the back staircase without anyone noticing. To the drunken serenade of Christmas carols, she scuttled up to the first landing, then paused to catch her breath and rub her arms to restore circulation. She was cold with nerves, not just the weather. Automatically, her shaking hand slid into her pocket and her fingers curled around the deadly little instrument hidden there.
Carefully she climbed the second flight of stairs to the floor where the inn’s best rooms were located. She’d never been up here before, even though she’d lived in Medford all her life. Respectable young women from good families didn’t make assignations with men in public houses.
Her lips tightened as she acknowledged that in this case, respectable young women had mothers who unfortunately made just such assignations. It was to prevent an assignation that she risked her neck tonight.
But she couldn’t allow her reckless, selfish mother to wreck her father’s last Christmas. His health had steadily declined all year, and the idea that her mother could even now be planning to flit off with a new lover made Kate want to vomit.
When she’d discovered the unopened letter from Lord Paxham on her mother’s pretty little escritoire, Kate hadn’t hesitated to read then steal it. Lady Hensley had made her family’s life a misery for years—but she wouldn’t spoil this Christmas with a rendezvous with a scoundrel. Not if Kate had anything to say about it. She’d send the notorious Lord Paxham back to the London fleshpots with a flea in his ear, and her mother need never be the wiser about the invitation from a rake.
That was until Kate reached the top of the steps. She paused on a sigh of dismay. A short hallway extended before her—with no numbers on the doors. The purloined letter indicated Lord Paxham waited in room 3. But which door was that?
She bolstered faltering courage. She’d come too far to go back now. And none of the reasons that had brought her here had changed. She’d just have to trust to luck. Surely fortune favored the brave—and the righteous. She knocked softly on the third door along and was rewarded with a soft masculine “come in.”
She prayed she’d found Lord Paxham. Bracing her shoulders, she pushed open the door and stepped into a luxurious candlelit chamber containing one tall, dark-haired gentleman in breeches and shirtsleeves, sitting writing at a desk. He turned and glanced up as she slipped inside and shut and locked the door after her. She didn’t want any interruptions—or witnesses.
“Good evening,” he said calmly, although she caught the puzzled light in his dark eyes. He was a handsome devil. But then her mother’s lovers always were.
With a dramatic gesture, Kate flung back the hood of her thick black cloak. If she betrayed any hint of quite how frightened she was, she’d lose all advantage. “My lord, you must return to London this very minute.”
Very slowly, as if afraid the slightest unexpected movement might spook her, he stood and faced her. “Well, that’s an intriguing introduction. Am I permitted to ask why?”
“Lady Hensley won’t be meeting you.”
“Well, that’s a pity.” He didn’t sound too disappointed. But then she knew her mother had a regrettable habit of pursuing careless rogues. “But at least you’re here. We’ll have to make do.”
Her eyes narrowed on him, even as fear trickled down her backbone, colder than the snow outside. “I’m merely her messenger. It would be best for you if you left.”
He propped his hips against the desk with a casual air and folded his arms across his powerful chest. “Would it indeed?”
“Yes, there’s nothing for you in Medford.”
He subjected her to a long slow inspection, from the tip of her ruffled dark head to her sensible half-boots, and everything in between. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”
Dear God, no. She’d prepared herself for disappointment or anger, not to mention resistance. She hadn’t prepared herself to attract a rake’s interest.
It seemed despite her mother’s shenanigans, Kate still retained some innocence. And how she cursed it.
Still, she wasn’t without options. She drew out the deadly little pistol with its pretty mother of pearl handle. Keeping her hand steady, she aimed it at the tall, lean, spectacular man regarding her with such unwavering concentration. “I believe you’re about to change your mind about that.”
To her surprise, he smiled in wry appreciation. Although she couldn’t quite imagine him cowering under her weapon either. “Very resourceful, Miss…Hensley, I presume.”
“You presume too much,” she forced out through stiff lips. “I’m hoping you now see the wisdom of leaving Medford.”
He flattened his hands on the desk behind him and leaned back, the picture of ease. “Or what? You’ll shoot me? In an inn full of people on Christmas Eve? That seems a remarkably silly start to the season.”
“Worth it,” she said, even as she wondered what she’d do if he called her bluff.
“Yes, really,” she said. “The question, Lord Paxham, is whether you think a quick tumble with my mother is worth injury or death.”
“No, that’s not the question, my adventurous beauty.” That long, expressive mouth curled into another smile, this one faintly derisive. “The question is why the devil any clever woman would mistake me for that blackguard Paxham.”
Pursued by the pirate…Bess Farrar might be an innocent village miss, but she knows enough about the world to doubt Lord Channing’s motives when he kisses her the very day they meet. After all, local gossip insists that before this dashing rake became an earl, he sailed the Seven Seas as a ruthless pirate.Bewitched by the vicar’s daughter…Until he unexpectedly inherits a title, staunchly honorable Scotsman Rory Beaton has devoted his adventurous life to the Royal Navy. But he sets his course for tempestuous new waters when he meets lovely, sparkling Bess Farrar. Now this daring mariner will do whatever it takes to convince the spirited lassie to launch herself into his arms and set sail into the sunset.A Christmas marked by mayhem.Wooing his vivacious lady, the new Earl of Channing finds himself embroiled with matchmaking villagers, an eccentric vicar, mistaken identities, a snowstorm, scandal, and a rascally donkey. Life at sea was never this exciting. The gallant naval captain’s first landlocked Christmas promises hijinks, danger, and passion – and a breathtaking chance to win the love of a lifetime.
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- 5 Kindle copies of A Pirate for Christmas
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