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Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Historical Christmas Event with Sophie Barnes


Born in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor's degree from Parson's School of design, but most impressive of all - she's been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses.

While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion - writing. She currently lives on the East Coast.

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We are all familiar with the saying, be careful what you wish for…Because sometimes wishes do come true, and not always as we expect.

In the case of Rowena Bradley and Devon Cartwright, one wish is about to turn into a Christmas surprise – one that doesn’t quite go according to plan. The question is whether Devon can be the man Rowena needs and if she can realize that he might have been that man all along. I hope you enjoy this friends to lovers story and that your Christmas will be filled with both love and splendor.


A Highwayman Proposes on Christmas Eve

“I hope you can forgive me for declining your suit, Devon, but I cannot possibly marry you.” Gazing up at the handsome man she’d known all her life, since they were children, Rowena Bradley spoke the words that would probably ruin their friendship.

“Why?” He sounded affronted.

Oh dear.

Expelling a breath, she linked her arm with his and drew him toward the window so they could admire the colorful flowers that brightened the garden. It was infinitely better than having to look at each other right now. “I have never lied you,” she told him, eyes fixed on the foliage of a lush hydrangea. “And I will endeavor to refrain from doing so now.”

“I have always valued your honesty,” he murmured in that familiar voice that felt like home.

She winced in response to his kindness. If he’d only get angry and show some emotion. But he wouldn’t. He never had. “You’re a good man,” she began, “and your friendship means the world to me. But I want more than pleasantries and agreeability. I want a sparring partner – a man who’ll challenge me daily and break the mediocrity that has become my life. I want adventure, Devon, and you…as good and wonderful as you are, you simply lack the ability to provide me with that.”

She heard his sharp inhale and immediately regretted her words. “Forgive me,” she said as she reached for his hand. “That was unkind of me. I—”

“It was the truth,” he told her bleakly. “I thank you for it.” Withdrawing his hand, he turned away and went to the door. Pausing there, he made a curt bow. “If you’ll excuse me, I think it is time for me to depart. Please give my regards to your parents.”

She understood, as much as she hated the melancholy mood that had settled between them. “I wish it could be different.”

“Do you?”

“Of course.” She met his gaze – that dear familiar gaze that had always comforted her when she was distressed. “You know that I love you.”

“As a brother, perhaps.” His mouth was set in a grim line.

She dipped her head in acquiescence. “I’m sorry.”

He moved as if to leave, then paused with his hand against the doorframe and glanced at her over his shoulder. “What if I were to change? What if I could be the man that you need me to be?”

She gave a slight shake of her head. “There’s no hunger between us, Devon.”

“But what if there could be?”

The question gave her some pause. “Why do you insist on pursuing me?”

He turned more fully toward her. “There’s no one else for me, Rowena. The only woman I want is you.”

If only he’d say it with fire in his eyes. She hated herself for wanting more than he was able to offer, but she didn’t want to settle either.

Still, his feelings mattered to her, and she took no pleasure in breaking his heart. Which was why she found herself saying, “Give me a taste of desire. Take me on a romantic adventure. Prove to me that a life shared with you will be full of surprises and intrigue.”

“You want surprise and intrigue?”

“I want change. And I want a husband who will make me feel wanted.”

“You are wanted.”

She forced herself not to roll her eyes. “I mean passionately – like in the great romantic novels.”

He had the good grace not to laugh at her. Instead, he told her simply, “I will set my mind to it at once.”

She didn’t argue any further, watching instead as he took his leave.

***

Standing before the large mirror that hung in his dressing room, Devon gave himself a critical look and finally dared a smile of approval. It had been six months since he’d last seen Rowena, and in that time, he’d focused on three things: the careful analysis of romantic literature, physical exercise, and setting a plan in motion that would hopefully win him his prize.

It hadn’t been easy, but he’d been determined. And now, with Christmas Eve just a few hours away, he was ready to put his plan into action. So he donned the black clothes he’d acquired, the black boots and the black leather gloves, finishing off his ensemble with a greatcoat as dark as night. Grabbing the loaded pistols he’d readied earlier, he stuffed them into his pockets, snatched up a tricorn and the mask he intended to wear, and descended the stairs to the hall where the thick smell of pine from garlands adorning the walls greeted his arrival. “Has she left yet?” he asked of his butler. The trusty servant had happily doubled as spy for the day.

“Yes, sir. Right after receiving the letter you arranged. She was alone.”

A task that he’d had no certainty of accomplishing until this very moment. He breathed a sigh of relief and stepped out into the crisp winter air. His country home neighbored hers, they’d raced across the fields that lay between when they were younger, ridden horses, gone for walks… They’d been close – their families had been close – marriage had seemed like the next logical step. Apparently she didn’t think so, but he was quite set on changing her mind.
Tying his mask into place, he put on the tricorn. “How do I look?” he asked his butler while taking the reins of the horse that a groom had brought round.
“Mysterious. With a touch of danger.”

Devon nodded, satisfied with the answer as he swung himself up in the saddle and set out to capture his quarry.

***

Looking out of the carriage window, Rowena watched the early shades of dusk settle across the landscape. It was only four o’ clock in the afternoon, but it would be dark soon. She leaned back and pondered the note she’d received from her friend, Jane Shelby, a half hour earlier. Come quickly and alone, it had said. I’m in desperate need of your help – discretion is paramount.

The message had certainly raised her curiosity and offered a change of pace. So Rowena had asked the groom to prepare the carriage and assured her parents that she would just be making a quick stop at her friend’s house to deliver a gift – no need for a chaperone – she’d go straight there and come straight home. Just in time for Christmas dinner.

That thought made her groan with discomfort. Devon and his mother would be joining them as usual along with a few other guests. It would be the first time seeing him after declining his suit, not because she hadn’t had the opportunity to see him before, but because she’d deliberately been avoiding him.

In the months following their last encounter, she’d had a lot of time to think things over. Guilt had slid into place along with the gradual realization that she’d made a terrible mistake. But she’d been influenced by her cousin’s recent engagement to an earl who’d fought a duel for her, and by a friend’s story involving a baron’s denouncement of his entire family for the sake of his true love. Grand gestures and great passion. The novels Rowena had read hadn’t helped, and she’d longed for similar experiences.

In the end, she’d turned down her best friend and, quite possibly, her best chance at a love match. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And terribly embarrassing. Again, the thought of facing him in another couple of hours made her cringe. Pride could be such a beastly burden. She’d have to swallow it, apologize, and ask if he’d still consider her. It was the only way forward – the only chance of putting the mess she’d made behind them.

A sudden noise broke through the silence. It sounded like a shot! The carriage swerved and Rowena slid across the seat. She landed against the corner with a thump. Bracing herself, she clutched at the leather strap that hung from the ceiling and tried to look out, her heart galloping as fast as the horses when she saw the masked rider bearing down upon her. He emerged from the encroaching darkness with his greatcoat billowing around him, and he was advancing.

Rowena’s heart knocked against her chest as the carriage rounded a sharp corner and jolted to a halt. She sucked in air and looked about for a weapon – anything with which to defend herself. Oh God! Why wasn’t the carriage moving? A verbal exchange outside made her go completely still. She paused to listen but failed to make out the words. The only sound that came next was that of her own breath; ragged and deep.

Holding herself completely still, she waited while silence descended, so acute that she felt it might swallow her whole. And then the door opened, a tricorn emerged, and Rowena swung her foot as hard as she could, straight at the scoundrel who dared to try robbing her, or worse. She made contact, tumbling to the floor of the carriage in the process.

“Damn it!” The voice was low and rough yet oddly familiar. A hand found her ankle and Rowena kicked again – repetitively this time in her determination to bruise her assailant. “Hold still, woman.”

Rowena screamed, hoping that someone might hear her across the barren landscape.

“Stop. Don’t do that.” The highwayman’s voice turned urgent. “For God’s sake, Rowena, it’s just me.”

Time seemed to slow to a halt. Rowena froze. She couldn’t quite seem to come to terms with what her brain was telling her. “Devon?”

A pause followed as he climbed in over her, his body pinning hers to the carriage floor. “I’m sorry if I frightened you. That wasn’t at all how I imagined this going.”

She stared up at his silhouetted head. “What are you talking about?” She still could not believe it. “And when on earth did you decide to become a highwayman?” Part of her wanted to hit him for frightening her like that while another part sighed with relief and a third, far more wanton part thought…well, this is certainly an interesting development.

“I’m not. That is…” He sighed and sat back on his haunches, releasing his hold. “It was supposed to be an adventure – a bit of excitement for you – my gift to you this Christmas. But it seems I’ve mucked it up.”

She didn’t move, her mind whirling with this new information, the fact that she’d decided she wanted him after all, her regrets and now this discovery that he had tried to give her precisely what she’d said she wanted. The man was a wizard, except… “You might want to consider warning me next time.”

“I wanted to be spontaneous.”

“Thank you, for that, but what if I’d had a pistol?”

He blew out a breath. “I was willing to take that risk, you know. If it meant that I’d have a chance to prove to you that our life together doesn’t have to be dull or mundane. We can have all the excitement in the world if we choose to.”

“I gather that Jane Shelby was in on it?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “I needed to get you alone in a carriage. It seemed like a good enough plan.”

Rising into a sitting position, she fumbled until she felt his cheek against the palm of her hand. “I’ve been such a fool,” she murmured, “and I’m sorry if I hurt you in any way. Doing so was never my intention.”

“But—”

“You are a good man, my best friend, and I believe that we can be truly happy together, if you’ll still have me.”

“Of course I’ll still have you. Why else did you think I did this?” He was suddenly upon her – the man she’d known for most of her life, so familiar and yet so utterly different. It struck her the moment he pushed her back and her arms came around the toned muscles that made him. And then he kissed her, confidently and without apology, his mouth claiming hers in a way that spoke of possessiveness and power. It was urgent and yet controlled, demanding and terribly thrilling.

For the first time in her life, Rowena felt her soul rise up and soar, and all because of a man whom she’d almost let go. Never again. “I’m keeping you,” she murmured.

“I’m glad to hear it.” He spoke against her eager lips. “Because I have many other adventures planned.”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “Really?”

“How does being kidnapped by a pirate sound to you?”

“Is he handsome?”

“Devilishly so.”

“Sounds intriguing.”

“But first…” He rose up and helped her to her feet. “I need to know that you’ll marry me, Rowena, and make me the happiest man in the world.”

“Yes,” she said, seeking his mouth once more and kissing him with every bit of love she felt for him. After all that had happened, it was suddenly vital that he knew how much he meant to her. A thought struck. “Perhaps I can surprise you sometime too? We can take turns plotting our story.”

When he spoke again, his voice lacked the restraint he’d always possessed in her presence. “Then let’s return home so we can get on with it, shall we?” He helped her out of the carriage and into the falling snow. “And so I can give you the ring that I’ve selected.”

“My parents will have a fit, you know?”

“Really?” He sounded genuinely concerned. “I always thought they liked me.”

“Oh, they like Devon, well enough. As for the highwayman…I’m not sure how they’ll feel about him.”

“All that interests me is how you feel, Rowena.” He brushed a lock of hair from her cheek, grazing her with his thumb and evoking a series of sparks.

“Lucky,” she confessed without hesitation. “And incredibly blessed.”

He helped her up onto the driver’s block then and claimed the seat that the driver had abandoned earlier as per Devon’s instructions. Whipping the rains, Devon pulled the carriage around and set their course for home. “I love you,” he murmured, kissing her cheek as they drove toward the future.

“And I love you, Devon.” She leaned against him and sighed with contentment. “The most ingenious man I know.”

“Merry Christmas,” he grinned.

“Merry Christmas indeed,” she whispered.

THE END



He never thought he'd become a duke, or that the secrets of his past would cost him his greatest love...

Raphe Matthews hasn’t stepped foot in polite circles since a tragedy left his once-noble family impoverished and in debt. The bare-knuckle boxer has spent the last fifteen years eking out an existence for himself and his two sisters. But when a stunning reversal of fortune lands Raphe the title of Duke of Huntley, he’s determined to make a go of becoming a proper lord, but he’ll need a little help, and his captivating neighbor might be just the woman for the job…

After her sister’s scandalous match, Lady Gabriella knows the ton’s eyes are on her. Agreeing to tutor the brutish new duke can only lead to ruin. Although she tries to control her irresistible attraction to Raphe, every day she spends with him only deepens her realization that this may be the one man she cannot do without. And as scandal threatens to envelop them both, she must decide if she can risk everything for love with a most unlikely duke.

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35 comments :

  1. who designs your beautiful book cover art?

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    1. Different artists. Fort the Secrets At Thorncliff Manor series it was James Griffin but for my upcoming series, book one being A Most Unlikely Duke, it's Chris Cocozza.

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  2. What a fun story! I loved what Devon did for the woman he wanted!

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  3. fun story! Thanks for sharing :)

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  5. I loved that story. I just love your books, Sophie.

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  6. Hi Sophie! I loved your friends to lovers story! Have a Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thank you Sharlene. Merry Christmas to you too!

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  7. This book is on my books-to-buy list. Maybe I'll get lucky and win a copy here!

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  8. Love this short story! Thanks so much!

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  9. Hi Sophie, love reading your books!! Thanks for sharing with us, looking forward to reading more in the future!

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  10. I enjoyed the short story about Rowena and Devon, Sophie! Sometimes what we want most is right in front of us, if we but have the eyes to see. I was so interested to read about your worldly travels. Until I retired, hubby and I traveled a lot too and I loved every single hectic moment of it. Now I am content to stay mostly at home and curl up with a good romance to read. I am, however, very curious about your marriage three times to the same man!? Thanks for the post. jdh2690@gmail.com

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    1. Thank you for your response, Janice! Sounds like you've led an interesting life :) I married my husband three times because our family was spread out in three different countries and we decided that it was simpler for us to go to them than for all of them to come to us - worked out beautifully :)

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  11. Your books covers are beautiful. Do you have any input?

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    1. Thank you, Joanne - yes I do. I'm usually asked to send a description of the characters to my editor along with color suggestions. For my last cover - A Most Unlikely Duke - I suggested the lack of a shirt for the hero, the pose, and the color purple.

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  12. Love your books, thanks for the chance to win. Merry Christmas.

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    1. Thank you, Michele - hope you had a lovely Christmas. Wishing you all the best for a happy 2017

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  13. What a wonderful Christmas share for us readers!! Thank you, Sophie! Looking forward to your next book!

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