Historical romance author Samantha Grace discovered the appeal of a great love story when she was just a young girl, thanks to Disney’s Robin Hood. She didn’t care that Robin Hood and Maid Marian were cartoon animals. It was her first happily-ever-after experience and she didn’t want the warm fuzzies to end. Now Samantha enjoys creating her own happy endings for characters that spring from her imagination. Publishers Weekly describes her stories as “fresh and romantic” with subtle humor and charm. Samantha describes romance writing as the best job ever.
Stranded in a carriage on Christmas Eve with Samantha Grace
I’m so happy to be here at Ramblings from this Chick today taking part in the annual Historical Christmas Eve Event. It is by far one of my favorite events of the season! I love reading my fellow authors’ scenes and creating a brand new mini-story for my own characters who have won my heart. The scene I’m sharing today is a prequel to my newest series, Uncle Charlie’s Angels. The Darlington sisters, Great-Aunt Beatrice, and their naughty poodle Cupid made their debut in SECRETS TO A GENTLEMAN’S HEART earlier this year, and I had a blast peeking in on them on Christmas Day before their adventure truly begins. So... Without further ado, please allow me to present Uncle Charlie’s Angels.
December 25, 1819
Crispin Locke, Viscount Margrave, returned from his godfather’s study with a bottle of claret only to discover Sophia Darlington was doling out Christmas kisses in the drawing room. Several years ago, the minx had declared it a Wedmore family tradition, and since she was the youngest and everyone doted on her, her wishes were usually granted. He hadn’t missed partaking in this particular tradition last year when he was unable to join his godfather Charles Wedmore and Charles’s three nieces and aunt for the holiday.
Perhaps if Sophia was the actual kisser, he would feel differently. She’d grown into a beautiful young woman since he’d last seen her nearly two years ago. But the kisses weren’t coming from her lips, and he wanted no part of what she was offering.
“Look what I found,” her sweet voice rang out in the cozy room as she came up behind her oldest sister and wagged a piece of mistletoe over her head.
Regina looked up from her place on the fainting couch and chuckled. “Kisses from Cupid! My favorite.” She closed the book she’d been reading and reached overhead to take the rambunctious bundle of black curls Sophia was hugging against her chest.
Holding the poodle at arm’s length in front of her, Regina tried to appear stern, but her mouth kept twitching as she fought back a smile. “No slobbering this year. Do you hear me, you little rogue?”
Cupid pawed the air in an attempt to reach her.
Her warning was pointless.
“The pooch only gives sloppy kisses,” Crispin said as he continued to the sideboard to pour a glass of wine for the Darlington sister’s great-aunt. “I question his status as a rogue.”
Evangeline tossed one of Charles’s old travel journals on the plush settee cushion beside her and came to join him at the sideboard. “Come now, Margrave. I’m sure you’ve licked a face or two in your day.” She grabbed an empty goblet and held it out to him with a cheeky grin. “Please, may I have some, sir?”
He couldn’t help smiling as he took the goblet and filled it. He had missed the zaniness that reigned over the Wedmore household. It was good to be back. He only wished Charles had returned in time to join them. His godfather hadn’t even said a proper good-bye before leaving England. Crispin learned of his sudden departure in a letter that asked him to watch over Charles’s beloved nieces—his darling angels.
Crispin poured another glass of claret for Aunt Beatrice and turned to find Sophia marching toward him and Evangeline with the dog in her arms. Dimples pierced her cheeks, and her eyes sparkled with mischief. “Who is next?”
“I respectfully decline. I have a rule against kissing anything with more hair on its face than me.” He winked and a rosy blush rose in Sophia’s cheeks.
Evangeline set her glass on the sideboard, took Cupid, and placed a noisy kiss on his head while evading his attempts to lick her.
Crispin snatched the mistletoe from Sophia’s fingers and held it above her blond head. “I believe it is your turn.”
“I had my kisses while you were digging around in Uncle Charles’s study.” She grabbed for the mistletoe, and he held it out of her reach just like he’d done when she was a girl. She jumped once, laughing when she still couldn’t reach the sprig.
Her hands landed on her hips. “Keep it. I don’t want it anyway.” She beamed at him in a way that caused his heart to swell.
It’s nothing, he told himself. He was simply fond of Sophia, just as he’d been since she was a small girl. Dismissing the urge to pull the very grown up and alluring Sophia into his arms to teach her what a true kiss was, he tucked the mistletoe in his pocket and focused his attention on Regina. “Would you like a glass of claret?”
Sophia’s oldest sister shook her head and opened the book on her lap.
“I will allow you to forego the Christmas kiss,” Sophia said, “but you are not refusing the annual game of hide-and-seek.”
Regina and Evangeline cheered and headed for the doors.
Over Aunt Beatrice’s protests that it was too cold, the three sisters hurried to retrieve their pelisses and mittens with Cupid racing after them. Crispin carried the glass of wine to their aunt.
“I promise to chase them back inside before too long,” he said. “Christmas will not feel complete for Sophia if we don’t follow her traditions. And with Charles away...”
Aunt Beatrice clucked her tongue as she accepted the glass. “Yes, I did expect him home by now. It is thoughtful of you to try to make this Christmas feel as normal as possible for Sophia. She has always been sentimental. I hope whomever she chooses to marry understands that about her.”
Crispin drew back in surprise. “Isn’t it early to be thinking about marriage for Sophia?”
She squinted at him over the rim of the glass. “My niece is nineteen and will have her coming out next Season. Charlie and I decided it would be unfair to make her wait until her sisters have made matches, especially when Regina and Evangeline don’t seem interested in finding a husband.”
“Oh.” He wasn’t sure how to take this news. His membership in the Regent’s Consul, an elite group of spies loyal to the Prince, negated any thoughts of him taking a wife. He’d chosen to risk his own life for the good of his countrymen, but he wouldn’t choose to place anyone else in danger. Nevertheless, the thought of Sophia belonging to another man burned like poison flowing through his veins.
The sisters’ laughter carried from the foyer.
“You are too slow, Margrave,” Evangeline called. “That means you are the seeker.”
“You have until I reach fifty.” He grinned at their aunt and started counting. “One, two, three, four...”
They screeched, and he heard them scrambling for the door. When the door slammed, he gave up counting. “Would you like anything else before I beat them soundly at this game?”
Aunt Beatrice called for Cupid who was whining at the front door then shooed Crispin from the room. “Go have fun. You always were very good at this game. Perhaps you have an unfair advantage.”
If she only knew. Crispin’s specialty was tracking and charting terrain, but he would try to draw the hunt out long enough to satisfy the ladies that he wasn’t cheating.
As he stepped outside, he adjusted his hat to shield his eyes from the bright sun. The air was crisp and still—no icy gusts to slice through his cloak and chill him to the bone like the day he’d arrived from London.
He stopped on the drive to study the footprints in the soft ground. Sophia’s prints were smaller than her sisters’ and broke off in the opposite direction. With a grin, he set off for the stables. The faint scent of hay and horses wafted under the closed doors when he stopped to determine where she’d gone next. A trampled patch of frozen brown grass led him along the wall of the stables instead of drawing him through the doors. When he rounded the building and spotted the old travel coach hidden beneath a weathered sailcloth, he chuckled softly.
The carriage had lost a wheel and listed to one side. The dingy cover puddled on the ground and had been weighted down by large rocks along the edges. A corner flapped lazily in the breeze. He whistled an old sailor’s song he’d learned from a friend as he meandered toward the carriage to investigate. Two rocks had been kicked aside, confirming his suspicion that Sophia was hiding inside.
To build suspense and drag out the game, he made a show of tramping around the carriage and rustled the sailcloth a couple of times. He imagined her heart knocking against her breastbone and her hand covering her mouth to keep from making a noise. Eventually, he lifted the sailcloth, jerked open the door, and ducked his head inside.
Sophia screamed and rammed back against the carriage wall before bursting into laughter. Her eyes twinkled in the diffuse lighting. “You startled me!”
“Did I?” A wide smile eased across his face. He climbed inside, slid onto the bench beside her, and closed the door.
“No!” Sophia dove across the carriage, landing halfway on his lap. She sighed and sat up. “The latch is broken.”
Crispin pushed on the door. It didn’t budge.
“Now what are we going to do?” She flopped back against the bench. Her nose and cheeks were pink from the cold. “Didn’t you notice the door was open?”
“I did, but how was I to guess the latch was broken?”
She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows. “Surely you saw the missing wheel.”
“Again, there is no connection between the wheel and latch. It is a good thing you are not responsible for carriage maintenance.”
She playfully stuck out her tongue. “It doesn’t matter. Regina and Evangeline will come looking for us eventually.”
Crispin wasn’t concerned about escaping from the carriage. He would remove a window, and they could climb out, but for now, he wanted to savor this time alone with her. “Your aunt said you are going on the marriage mart next Season.”
“I am.” She folded her hands in her lap and smiled. “It may be our last Christmas together.”
Her words were like a punch to the gut.
“Next year you will regret not accepting your kisses,” she teased. “I doubt Regina or Evangeline will continue the tradition.”
He swallowed around the lump in his throat. “It is hard to imagine a Christmas without you, Soph.”
“Pftt...” She flicked her hand. “You’ve spent more than one Christmas abroad. Somehow I think you will be all right without me.”
He’d only missed the holiday when he was on assignment—never by choice. “Are you certain you are ready to marry? There is no need to rush into a decision.”
Her dimples appeared. “I am not rushing. I’ve been dressing in Mama’s wedding gown and practicing my vows since I was nine. I’m anxious to find a husband and have children of my own. If Uncle Charles had allowed me to participate in the Season last year, I would already have a family of my own to raise.”
He scowled. “I know most of the bachelors in Town, and I wouldn’t recommend any of them.”
“Oh? Not a single gentleman would suit me?” She smiled and leaned toward him.
He inhaled deeply. The subtle scent of camellias drew him closer. She slipped her hand into his pocket and withdrew the twig of mistletoe. Her body heat filled the space between them.
“It isn’t too late to claim that kiss,” she murmured and lifted the sprig of mistletoe above them.
“Sophia.” He’d meant to warn her away, but his husky tone sounded like an invitation.
She wet her full lips, leaving them moist and irresistible. It was unwise to surrender to the temptation, but he couldn’t deny himself one kiss. He’d never get another from her.
Cupping her nape, he eased her toward him. When their lips touched, she exhaled, breathing life into him. He savored the feel of her mouth moving tentatively beneath his, and the warming of her skin through his glove as he cradled her cheek. He brushed the tip of his tongue along the seam of her lips, and she sighed, twining her arms around his neck. He deepened their kiss while restraining his urge to claim her fully.
It was her first. He wanted her to remember it as her best and think of him through the years.
“Sophia! Crispin!” Regina’s and Evangeline’s muffled shouts slowly penetrated his awareness, and he eased Sophia away. Her blond lashes fluttered as if waking from a pleasant dream.
“Your sisters are calling for us.” He caressed his thumb over her soft cheek and kissed her plump lips once more.
She smiled. “Merry Christmas, my lord,” she whispered.
“Merry Christmas, Sophia.”
When Regina’s globetrotting guardian doesn’t return from his latest adventure before the start of the Season, she finds herself the object of a scandalous challenge. Fortunately, her eccentric uncle taught her an ancient warrior art for just these circumstances, and she is adequately equipped to defend her virtue. Protecting her heart is another matter.New Orleans gadabout Xavier Vistoire made a powerful enemy during his stay in London two years ago. Imprisoned at a remote farmhouse with nothing but a burly guard with a childlike innocence and a love for pickled beets for companionship, Xavier jumps at the chance to earn his freedom. All he must do is break into an earl’s house and steal a map, but complications arise when he surprises a goddess during her bath and her little dog causes him to fall down the stairs. He wakes to find nothing about his situation is easy except for falling head over heels for Miss Darlington.
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