Anna Campbell has written ten multi award-winning historical romances for Grand Central Publishing and Avon HarperCollins and her work is published in 18 languages. This Christmas, Anna has written two seasonal novellas, “Mistletoe and the Major” from the multi-author anthology Under the Kissing Bough, and the stand-alone, A Match Made in Mistletoe, out 30th November. Her website is www.annacampbell.com
Caught in a Snowstorm on Christmas Eve (theme thanks to Dani Gorman!)
I love enemies into lovers stories, so I thought I’d use this year’s vignette to place two people who have every reason to mistrust one another in a situation they can’t get out of. Where does it go from here? Hmm, I’ve got a feeling Mr. Farren might end up being a bit of a hero, and Sarah might just find that her late husband’s foe isn’t necessarily hers!
Shipton-on-the-Moor, Yorkshire, Christmas Eve, 1817
Sarah, Lady Otway, struggled out of her carriage and fought her way through the driving snow to the ramshackle inn, and felt only gratitude that she’d found shelter. Crossing the Yorkshire moors on a night like this, one took one’s life in one’s hands.
Once she pushed her way into the taproom, she realized that she wasn’t the only one who had seen the isolated building and rushed toward it, seeking warmth and food and a bed for the night. Half the county had apparently had the same idea. Panting, she pushed back the snowy hood of her heavy red cloak and stared with dismay at the crowded room. It was blessedly warm, but it was packed to the gunwales with men of all degree, and not a single woman to be seen.
“Next time I get a bee in my bonnet about going home for Christmas, remind me I’m much better off in London, Yeats,” she muttered to her burly coachman who had followed her inside, carrying her valise.
“As if you ever listen to me, your ladyship,” he responded drily.
“You’re desperately trying not to say ‘I told you so.’”
The man who had put her on her first pony when she was four years old regarded her with a stolid expression that almost hid the twinkle in his deep-set eyes. “I’ll go and settle the horses, my lady.”
As Yeats left to brave the elements, the landlord squeezed through the heaving mass of humanity. “My lady, welcome. Welcome. An evil night, an evil night. My humble establishment is honored to have the quality with us. Honored indeed. My name is Brown, and I’m at your service.”
Knowing it was unlikely, she asked, “Is there a bedroom I can use, Mr Brown?”
He was shaking his head before she’d even finished her question. “I only have one room upstairs and it’s not watertight. You’d catch your death up there, my lady.”
“A private parlor?”
He frowned. “Aye.”
Relief flooded her. A night making do in this rough company didn’t appeal at all. “May I engage it, then?”
Another shake of his grizzled head. “My lady, I’m sorry, but a gentleman has taken it and he’s paid double for exclusive rights to its use.”
What a disagreeable fellow this gentleman must be, to be unwilling to share in an emergency. “Any separate accommodations at all?”
The plump, balding man wrung his hands. “Every inch of space has been taken, including the quarters my wife and I use. There’s even folk sleeping in the stables, not that I’d suggest that to your ladyship.”
She straightened her spine and lifted her chin. “Then I must brave the gentleman in the private parlor.”
“Your ladyship, I’d advise against it. He was most insistent that…”
Sarah didn’t hear the rest. The man’s glance behind him indicated the direction she needed to take to beard the unsociable lion in his den. A den she hoped that chivalry might prompt him to share—or even abandon to a lady in need.
At the end of a short corridor, cold away from the taproom fire, she discovered a closed door. She knocked sharply and after hearing a deep-voiced command to enter, she pushed her way into a small, shabby chamber.
“Brown, did you bring the hot posset?” a man asked from the shadowy corner near the fire where he bent over a rustic cot.
“It’s not Brown, sir,” Sarah said, appreciating the quiet that descended. The roar of masculine voices in the taproom had been deafening.
At the sound of her voice, the stranger straightened and turned to face her.
Except he wasn’t a stranger, but someone she recognized. To her regret.
“Mr. Farren,” she said flatly.
The heavy-featured face with its commanding nose and sensual, cynical lips didn’t relax into a smile. Of course it didn’t. Mr. James Farren and Sir Gerald Otway, her late husband, had been sworn enemies from childhood, and the feud had only grown more bitter over the years.
“My, my, Lady Otway, if I’m not mistaken,” he drawled. Good Lord, he was a giant. Tall enough for his untidy dark curls to brush the beams on the ceiling.
The hostile glint in the deep-set dark eyes set her heart racing with trepidation. Despite being a woman well able to stand up for herself, she faltered back a step. “I…I came to see if you’d do the courteous thing and relinquish this parlor to a lady in need.”
His mouth curled in a mocking smile. “But now you see it was a wild goose chase?”
“I apologize for disturbing you, sir,” she said stiffly.
A hand the size of a dinner plate extended to her before she could walk away. “Wait.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You have no right to command me, sir.”
“I need your help.”
Shock kept her from leaving. “Help? From an Otway?”
She waited for another taunting smile, but instead he regarded with a searching expression that made him look much less daunting. “My daughter, she’s ill.”
She glanced past him to the cot and realized it contained a child burrowed beneath the covers. “I’m sure your wife can…”
“My wife died a year ago, my lady,” he said sharply, and the flash of grief in his dark eyes made Sarah forgive his sharpness. “Now I find myself at sea with how to ease Meg’s fever. Can we not call a truce in our battles for the sake of Christian charity?”
Sarah frowned at this mountain of a man, and this time she saw past his size and vigor to the reality of a loving father worried about his child’s wellbeing. Perhaps he wasn’t quite as forbidding as she’d first thought when she’d burst in upon him. He’d had good reason to keep this parlor to himself, and she stopped cursing his selfishness.
She removed her gloves and untied her cloak. “Let me see.”
A mistletoe wish…All her life, Serena Talbot has been in love with the handsome boy next door, Sir Paul Garside. She always eagerly looks forward to Paul’s visit to her family over the Festive Season, even if he usually brings along his dark, sardonic friend Lord Hallam. This year, Serena is determined that Paul’s kiss under the mistletoe will lead to a proposal. Even if she has to enlist every ounce of Christmas magic she can get her hands on to make that happen.But the mistletoe gets it wrong!When Serena slips a sprig of mistletoe from the village kissing bough under her pillow, it’s not Paul who turns up in her dreams as the man she’s going to marry, but brooding, intense, annoying Giles Farraday, Marquess of Hallam. Still more annoying, once everyone arrives for the annual Christmas house party, she can’t stop watching Giles, and thinking about Giles. And kissing Giles, whether there’s mistletoe about or not. Now Paul wants to marry her, and Giles wants to seduce her–and Serena has a bone to pick with the old wives who came up with all this superstitious nonsense in the first place.A Christmas of confusion lies ahead! Will mistletoe magic lead the way to a happy ending?
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