USA TODAY Bestselling author CHRISTI CALDWELL blames Judith McNaught's "Whitney, My Love!" for luring her into the world of historical romance. While sitting in her graduate school apartment at the University of Connecticut, Christi decided to set aside her notes and pick up her laptop to try her hand at romance. She believes the most perfect heroes and heroines have imperfections, and she rather enjoys torturing them before crafting them a well deserved happily ever after!
Christi makes her home in southern Connecticut where she spends her time writing her own enchanting historical romances, chasing around her feisty seven-year-old son and caring for her twin princesses in training!
Happy Holidays to all the Rambling Chick readers. I’m so happy and honored to be here with you for Danielle’s fabulous Christmas Event! I always love the opportunity to revisit heroes and heroines from my previous books. It allows me to look into their lives after their HEA, and expand upon the happiness and love they already know and share!
Lady Cara, the Marchioness of Grafton is a heroine from my Christmas novella, “To Wed His Christmas Lady”. She was a young woman who came from a cold, emotionless family and because of that, she learned to protect herself from hurt. Then she met William, the Marquess of Grafton. He is and was and will always be, affable and charming and everything she needed. He continues to fill her life with light an love and in this holiday excerpt, their journey as a family continues!
It was to be perfect.
Heart sinking, Lady Cara Hargrove, the Marchioness of Grafton shifted the slumbering babe on her lap so she could dust her hand over the frosted window and peered outside.
Or it was supposed to have been. That had been the plan. The expectation. The hope.
“We aren’t going to be able to continue, my lord.” Of course, that had been the hope until the carriage had drawn to a sudden, complete, and very decisive stop.
Her husband stood speaking to the old driver, Clarence. The same wind that tugged at the fabric of his black cloak sent some of William and Clarence’s words carrying over. Some of them. Enough to know this was dire, indeed.
“...came up lame...will have to find another mount...travel won’t be possible...”
It can’t be.
Both men looked back to where Cara sat. Had she spoken aloud?
“Afraid it is,” the driver called out, beating his hat against his leg.
Through the tumult, Sheridan, their tiny babe slept on. Cara cradled him close, rocking him, stealing comfort in that gentle sway.
From across the distance separating them, William’s gaze caught her own. He said something more to the driver, and the man nodded and rushed off.
Cara followed her husband’s movements. Even with the foot of snow blanketing the earth, he moved with a grace and elegance most gentleman couldn’t master upon a dance floor. He reached their gilded Berlin carriage, and easily hefted himself inside.
“We can’t be stranded here,” she said, her words coming quickly, tumbling over one another. Sheridan stirred in her arms, and she lowered her voice. “We promised to arrive by this evening for the Christmastide festivities. And—”
William stretched a hand out, and gently touched a fingertip to her lips, staying her upset ramblings. “It will be all right,” he promised.
That was ever her husband. Calm, always the optimist. Then, that is who he’d been from their first meeting. Before him she’d been bitter and hurt and then in a chance meeting, they’d found one another and he’d shown her the world in a new, beautiful way.
Nonetheless, she’d had a vision of how this day was to have gone. She drew in a calming breath and tried again. “They are expecting us.” They, as in her sister, Lady Jane Waverly and her family, as well as their brother, Cedric, the Marquess of St. Albans. Three siblings who because of their father’s coldness had spent the whole of their lives strangers, more than anything, had only begun to heal the great divide that had been between them.
“Our plans have changed, Cara,” her husband said with his usual pragmatism.
Cara wrapped blanket more tightly about her son. She cradled him closer. How peaceful he was in sleep. Unaware of the kind of pain she and her siblings had known as children. She was determined to always shield him from such suffering. “They’ll expect this of me,” she said softly, lifting her gaze from Sheridan. “They’ll expect that I value this day and our gathering so very little that I didn’t even deign to arrive for the beginning of the festivities.” Regret cleaved at her chest. Regret that she’d once been cold and unfeeling. How much she’d lost with Cedric and Jane.
“They won’t think that,” William immediately countered. He took her spare gloved hand in his own. Even through the leather fabric the weight of his palm was warm and reassuring.
“Why should they not?” she asked, imploring with her eyes. “I was a horrid person to Jane. I was responsible for her being sacked from her post at—”
“And she forgave you,” he reminded her, giving her hand a light squeeze. “She also found her husband and happiness for that act on your part.”
“Do not make those actions anything more than deplorable,” Cara said quietly. “And Cedric will only believe I’m like our father, who’d forget kin at Christmastide.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Did you forgive your brother?”
Forgive Cedric? She had spent years resenting him for being invisible. For having failed her and forgotten her as a child, and left her alone after their mother had died. William had shown her the healing power of love...and the ability to forgive. “This is different,” she muttered, rocking Sheridan once more.
He stroked a hand over her face, and she leaned into that tender caress. “That is not what family is, Cara. They do not pass judgment and carry grudges.” William dropped his arm back to his side, and she mourned that gentle, soothing contact. “Now come, we can either remain freezing outside or we can find shelter somewhere else until we’re able to travel.” With an easy agility, he leapt from the carriage. The snow crunched noisily under his boots as he landed on his feet. He reached back inside, and gathered Sheridan in his arms.
Cara remained in the doorway a long moment staring at her husband as he cradled their babe. He made quiet cooing noises. The juxtaposition of his strength and tenderness held her momentarily transfixed. Her heart swelled all the more with love for this man. Clarence rushed forward and she allowed him to hand her down. The snow immediately penetrated the leather soles of her blue nankeen boots. She shivered and burrowed deeper into the folds of her matching sapphire cloak.
“You go on ahead,” William advised the servant. A look passed between the two men.
She furrowed her brow, briefly wondering at that silent exchange.
Then the servant bowed quickly and rushed off.
Together, as a family of three, they made a slow trek through the snow. William began to sing and the sound of his deep, mellifluous baritone eased some of the pressure in her chest.
The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep...
Cara remained silent, long after he’d finished singing. Then, “I’d had it all thought out,” she said more to herself. “How our arrival was to be. How the whole Christmastide season would turn out.” It was to be the first holiday she spent with her brother and sister, and their families, in her entire life. And now it was not to be. Not the way she’d hoped or imagined.
Her husband stole a sideways look at her. “How was it to be, Cara?” he asked quietly, without recrimination.
A sad little smile pulled at her lips. “Perfect. I imagined it perfect. With holly and Christmas boughs and singing and Shrewsbury cakes and...” Everything and anything she’d never known about Christmastide traditions—until her husband and his family had shown her a love for the season.
Shifting Sheldon in his embrace, William touched her arm, bringing them to a stop. As he spoke, his breath stirred warm puffs of air about them. “What is perfect, though, Cara? Is it a vision? Or is it the reality one is presented with? Is it the reality around us?” He looked down at the child he held, and then out at the snow-covered earth. She followed his stare—
And froze. Taking in those details that, in her upset had previously escaped her. The copse of juniper trees. A familiar copse. A beloved one. Emotion stuck in her throat, making words impossible. She struggled to speak past it and when she did, her voice emerged hoarse. “It is our copse.” These were the very roads they’d been stranded upon last year. Two strangers, betrothed at birth, who’d somehow found their paths crossing that day. Cara stepped close, so Sheldon was nestled between them. “This is perfect,” she whispered, and all her worry faded, as she was presented with something so absolutely magical.
He grinned, and angled his head toward the inn a short distance away.
With hope and happiness in her heart, she followed him to that small modest establishment where they’d found one another. And love.
Clarence stood in wait at the door, and hurried to pull it open when they reached the entrance.
“After you, my lady,” William whispered, placing his lips close to her ear.
Cara stepped inside and came to an abrupt stop. The taproom of the Fox and Hare Inn had been transformed. Kissing boughs adorned each doorway. Holly and evergreen had been draped over the enormous hearth. But as her husband said, it was not the festive Christmastide decorations that brought tears welling to her eyes, but rather the small gathering at the center of the room.
Cedric stood alongside his wife, Genevieve. The smiling, kind-eyed marchioness, heavy with child, gave a wave. Lifting her shaking fingers in greeting, Cara looked over at Jane and Gabriel, the Marquess and Marchioness of Waverly.
“You are here,” she whispered. “You are all here,” she exclaimed, a smile turning her lips up as they returned her greeting. “I don’t understand,” she managed, as the old innkeepers, Martin and Martha rushed forward to help gather their cloaks.
“Christmas isn’t about where you are,” William said quietly, while Jane and Cedric’s families spoke. “Or the décor or songs. It is about who you are with.”
There was no one like him. Every day, he gave her new reasons for laughter and joy. “I love you,” she whispered, and careful of Sheldon between them, Cara leaned up to take his mouth in a quick, tender meeting.
“And I love you,” William murmured. He grinned. “Come, let us go greet your siblings.”
A tear streaked down her cheek, followed by another and another. And with her husband and baby, Cara prepared to celebrate the Christmastide season—with their family, as she’d always wished.
She’s longing to be loved:Lady Cara Falcot has only served one purpose to her loathsome father—to increase his power through a marriage to the future Duke of Billingsley. As such, she's built protective walls about her heart, and presents an icy facade to the world around her. Journeying home from her finishing school for the Christmas holidays, Cara's carriage is stranded during a winter storm. She’s forced to tarry at a ramshackle inn, where she immediately antagonizes another patron—William.He's avoiding his duty in favor of one last adventure:William Hargrove, the Marquess of Grafton has wanted only one thing in life—to avoid the future match his parents would have him make to a cold, duke’s daughter. He’s returning home from a blissful eight years of traveling the world to see to his responsibilities. But when a winter storm interrupts his trip and lands him at a falling-down inn, he’s forced to share company with a commanding Lady Cara who initially reminds him exactly of the woman he so desperately wants to avoid.A Christmas snowstorm ushers in the spirit of the season:At the holiday time, these two people who despise each other due to first perceptions are offered renewed beginnings and fresh starts. As this gruff stranger breaks down the walls she’s built about herself, Cara has to determine whether she can truly open her heart to trusting that any man is capable of good and that she herself is capable of love. And William has to set aside all previous thoughts he’s carried of the polished ladies like Cara, to be the man to show her that love.
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