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Saturday, December 2, 2017

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's lived in five different countries, on three different continents.

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


Arabella Starling is a practical girl. She sees no point in going ice skating whatsoever. But when her friend convinces her to do it as a favor, she reluctantly agrees – a decision that will not only lead to an accident, severe embarrassment and an inconvenient bout of influenza, but also to an unexpected proposal from the duke she adores.

Rescued by a Duke

Arabella Starling did not want to go ice skating. In fact, the very idea of a person strapping two blades of metal to their feet so they could skid across some frozen water, made no sense to her whatsoever. But, when her friend, the Earl of Gotthamere’s daughter, Caroline Henshaw, had turned up at her home and insisted on the outing, Arabella had found it impossible to say no. Caroline had after all made a valid point, reminding Arabella of how she had endured two hours of Arabella’s sister Bethany’s violin recital without putting anything in her ears to drown out the, as Caroline had politely put it, mismatched notes.

So here she was, one week before Christmas, doing her best to keep her balance while Caroline held her hand and pulled her along. “That’s it,” her friend told her encouragingly. “You are doing so much better at this now than you were five minute ago. It is almost as if you’re a natural!”

Nothing about this experience felt natural, but Arabella was too busy doing her best to stay upright to say so. Her mouth was firmly set, her brain fighting with her body to make it do things it was not meant to be doing. “We ought to be shopping for gifts instead of making a spectacle of ourselves,” Arabella grumbled.

“Oh my Goodness,” Caroline exclaimed, as if all they were doing was taking a stroll and she’d caught sight of something intriguing. “Is that not the Marquess of Linwick?”

It had to be. Caroline was besotted by the handsome aristocrat and wasted no time running into him by ‘accident’ whenever the chance to do so presented itself. 

“I should have known,” Arabella said while keeping her eyes firmly trained on her feet just in case an obstacle suddenly popped out of nowhere.

“Shall we skate over there?” Caroline was already pulling Arabella toward the left, which would require turning. “It looks as though he is with the Duke of Hollyoak.”

Oh God! 

Just one more reason for Arabella to wish she was anywhere else. The last time she’d seen the duke was at a ball during the summer when she’d spilled champagne all over the front of his jacket. Prior to that, she had accidentally tripped and fallen into him at a garden party, pushing him backward with such force that the man had ended up knee deep in a fish pond. 

She deliberately resisted the pull of Caroline’s hand. “I do not want to see either of them.” Especially not the duke. Because the truth was she liked him, a lot, but was well aware that he had no reason to think of her as anything other than an addlepated fool. Besides, a man of his stature would likely want to marry a lady, not a miss.

“Come on,” Caroline insisted as Caroline often did. “You know I am trying to convince the marquess to court me. What better place to continue this plan than here?”

Arabella could think of at least a thousand. “I would like to go home, Caroline, and if I break my neck before I get there, I shall never forgive you.”

“But—”

“We can hunt down Linwick in the park or at the next soiree or anywhere else for that matter, but I would really like to…” A creaking sound – the sort one really did not want to hear when one was out in the middle of a frozen lake – made Arabella’s heart slam hard against her chest. “Oh no.”

“Don’t move!” Caroline’s voice was suddenly uncharacteristically firm.

“I don’t think I can stop!” Deliberately, so as not to risk her friend’s safety, Arabella twisted her hand out of Caroline’s grasp while heading toward only God new where while Caroline shouted after her and the creaking became a cracking that splintered until it gave way. The ice opened up and Arabella fell with a squeal and a splash into the freezing water.

#

Flynn Roderick Warren, Duke of Hollyoak, was in the middle of arranging a skating race with Linwick and two other friend’s who’d come to join them, when a quick succession of screams cut him off. He turned in the direction from which it came and immediately saw the cause. Someone had fallen through the ice and was frantically thrashing about while onlookers yelled all sorts of useless instructions. 

“Come on,” he told his friends as he set off to help the poor victim. 

Whoever it was, they were lucky the hole in the ice was so big they were able to come back up through it. The idea of being stuck underneath unable to find a way out made him shudder.

“Try to pull off your skates,” someone yelled.

As Flynn got closer, he recognized the woman as Caroline Henshaw, the lady Linwick hoped to one day marry if he could muster up enough courage to speak with her. But that was a problem for another day. Right now, Flynn had a very wet and, according to the panicked arm-waving, a very frightened woman to save. Whatever her identity, it was hard for him to make it out because her soaked hair had fallen over most of her face.

Lowering himself to his knees and then onto his belly, he edged his way forward. “I’m coming to get you,” he called. Somebody grabbed his feet – one of his friends no doubt – allowing him to proceed with greater confidence while spreading his weight out across the ice.

“Oh no,” the woman sputtered. She slapped her hands against the water sending a spray of freezing wetness straight into his face. 

Flynn coughed. “Do try to stay calm,” he advised, not only for her sake but for his as well.

She spluttered something which he could not understand while he in turn made an effort to catch hold of one of her hands, which was no simple feat. He actually lost track of how many attempts it took before he met with success. She was cold, he noted, which she obviously would be, but his brain seemed to focus on that fact anyway as he latched on firmly and pulled her toward him.

Knowing he’d have to get a better grip on her if he was to pull her out of the water, he reached his free hand into the frigid depths of the lake and latched on to…something. The woman squealed and sputtered some more, whether from cold discomfort or fear or because the entire palm of his hand was now pushing her up by her bottom, he could not be certain. But up she had to come and up she eventually came, flapping about like a fish, which wasn’t the least bit helpful.

“You’re safe now,” he felt compelled to say in case she hadn’t realized the fact.
Indeed she might not have for she went instantly still – or as still as one could go while shivering from head to toe. A blanket materialized and it was hastily wrapped about her shoulders while Flynn stood and made to help her up as well. 

“Thank God you’re all right,” Lady Caroline said as she approached with Linwick by her side.

And that was when the woman Flynn had rescued looked up and pushed her hair from her face so he could see that she was none other than the same Miss Starling who’d gotten him wet on two other occasions. She opened her mouth as if to speak but coughed instead.

“Oh dear,” Lady Caroline said. “I do believe she’s in danger of catching a chill.” She turned to Linwick. “Can you help her get off the ice please?”

“Of course,” Linwick said.

“No need,” Flynn told him. He still wore his skates, which he quickly removed and handed to Linwick. “Here. There’s no sense in you getting wet as well.” As he would do once he picked Miss Starling up in his arms. Flynn bent to do precisely that, which was when he noticed the hesitant look in Miss Starling’s eyes. No, not hesitation, but something closer to extreme mortification.

“I am so sorry,” she whispered while biting her lip and looking as soggy as an un-wrung rag.

In that instant, Flynn experienced two overwhelming sensations. The first was compassion, because he understood how she must feel to have gotten him wet for the third time in the course of their brief acquaintance. The second however was the most surprising, for it was the realization that Miss Starling was not only pretty but that her eyes were the sort that could tempt a man to do dastardly things.

Banishing that thought as much as he was able, being the virile man that he was, he set his mind to the task at hand and scooped the drenched bundle comprising Miss Starling up into his arms. And stilled. Because there was that rounded bottom of hers again, this time accompanied by a wonderfully pliable thigh and…

“Do you want me to help?” Linwick asked.

“No. No. I was just getting my balance,” Flynn told his friend. Because now that Miss Starling was in his arms, he had no intention of letting her go. Not ever. Which was something of a perplexing conclusion to be having about a woman he barely knew. Especially one who always seemed to be more of a menace to him than anything else.

#

Arabella wished she would have drowned. Or at the very least have been rescued by someone else. Anyone besides Hollyoak, that was. Because the duke was wet and once again, she was to blame. The fact that she was a great deal wetter did not make her feel less embarrassed. 

Quite the contrary. 

So she did what the small bit of pride she had left compelled her to do and said, “I am perfectly capable of walking.”

He tightened his hold. “No you’re not. Your legs are trembling.” She gave him a look, to which he added, “It is hard to ignore.”

She groaned.

“Does something hurt?”

“No. Thank you. I’m fine.” He made an odd sound. It almost sounded like a chuckle. She considered his mouth. “Are you laughing at me?”

The beginnings of a smile slipped away into absolute seriousness as he marched onto solid ground and made his way toward an awaiting carriage. “I would not dream of it.”

She sighed and resigned herself to the idea of being carried by a man who undoubtedly thought her to be an incompetent birdbrain. And as she did so, she allowed herself to feel rather than think. She’d always admired Hollyoak from a distance. He was handsome and kind. He always made it a point to invite the spinsters and debutantes to dance. She’d noticed that. She’d noticed a lot. Like the way his hair changed color from chestnut to something she could only describe as caramel-like, when he stood beneath the light of a chandelier.

Now, caught up in his arms, she noticed other things as well, like the strength of his arms and the firmness of his chest. Hollyoak had always carried himself with the sort of grace that intrigued her, but in this moment, there was something more – an endless degree of raw male power. For a second, it brought to mind the wild image of a primitive man secreting away the woman he wanted to a cave somewhere so he could… 

She laughed. Of all the preposterous notions to enter her head. Truly, her brain had to be just as frozen as her body was because it most certainly wasn’t working.

“What is it?” He asked the question a second before they reached the carriage.
She shrugged as best as she could. “Nothing.”

He raised an eyebrow, but rather than prod her, he called for the driver to open the door. Once this had been accomplished, he promptly deposited her on a plush velvet bench.

Caroline, who Arabella had completely forgotten about, climbed in behind her. She was followed by Linwick and finally by Hollyoak who told the driver to take them directly to Starling House after getting the address from Caroline. He then sat silently, his gaze not leaving her for a second, for the entire duration of the ride, which she reckoned to be the most uncomfortable trip she’d ever endured in spite of Caroline’s constant chatter. It did not distract Arabella from the fact that she had become the center of the duke’s attention.

When they finally arrived at her home, Hollyoak helped her alight. “If you will permit, I will call on you tomorrow. To make sure you have not taken ill after this afternoon’s occurrence.”

She nodded vaguely while wishing it might be her and not merely her health he was interested in. “Thank you once again.” He saw her inside, explained things to her parents and took his leave. 

“Well.” The word was spoken by Caroline who’d apparently entered the parlor right behind Arabella. “That was certainly an interesting afternoon.” No other words were added before Arabella was whisked upstairs to her bedchamber where a bath was promptly prepared and fresh clothes laid out on the bed, all in an effort to ward of the chill that hit her the following morning.

#

Arabella Starling was feverish. Or at least she had been for the past few days. Flynn knew this because he’d come to call at Starling House every day since the ice skating accident had taken place. Today was no different, even though it was Christmas Eve and he was supposed to have headed out of town that morning in order to arrive at his aunt’s estate before dinner. That was where he was meant to be. It was where he had promised to be. As tradition demanded.

Instead, he was being ushered into the Starling parlor where the scent of fresh pine drifted from garlands that decorated the walls. Three people awaited his arrival, though only one held his interest. Apparently, Miss Starling had recovered enough from her ordeal to venture downstairs and receive a visitor for a change. The relief that swamped him could not be denied. It was an all-encompassing state of pure joy! Which explained the temptation he had to race across the floor to where she sat and pull her into his arms and kiss her.

But, since this would not be considered decorous, he forced back the wide smile that threatened and proceeded to greet her parents. “Mrs. Starling. Mr. Starling.” He finally turned toward the woman who mattered to him the most. “Miss Starling.” He approached the chair her father offered and took a seat. “It pleases me to see you looking well.” A tepid conveyance of sentiment which failed to do his true feelings justice. But there was etiquette to consider and one had to be proper. To shout, “Thank God you’re alive!” just wasn’t done. Which really was a pity since that was what he wanted to do.

Her cheeks turned a delightful shade of pink. “My parents tell me you have come to check on me every day since the accident. They say you even brought the physician who attended me.”

He’d brought three. Their unanimous conclusion that there was nothing to be done besides waiting and seeing whether or not Miss Starling recovered had been excessively frustrating. He did not mention this, but inclined his head in acquiescence. 

“That was very kind of you,” Miss Starling said.

Mrs. Starling poured him a cup of tea, preparing it as she had grown accustomed to doing during his recent visits. “We owe you a debt of gratitude. Had it not been for you, our daughter might have drowned.”

“It was extremely fortunate that you happened to be there when the ice broke,” Mr. Starling said.

“Had I not been, I believe someone else would have come to the rescue,” Flynn told him. 

But that would have been a shame because then Flynn would not have known what it felt like to hold Miss Starling in his arms. He would not have experienced the dread of possibly losing her before he had won her. He would not have known the elation that came from knowing she would live.

“If you will permit,” he told the Starlings, “I would like to request a moment in private with your daughter. There is something I wish to discuss with her.”

Mrs. Starling’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Mr. Starling stood. “You may have the room, Your Grace.” He held out his hand to his wife who hastily joined him. “Take as long as you need.”

The pair had quit the room within two seconds and, much to Flynn’s surprise, the door closed firmly behind them with a click.

Flynn took a fortifying sip of his tea and studied Miss Starling. She was looking anywhere but at him, her cheeks an even deeper shade of pink than earlier. “My name is Flynn,” he said without the slightest bit of finesse.

Her eyes met his, wide with incomprehension and something else - something elusive he wanted to understand. “I know.”

His chest tightened. She knew his given name, which could only mean that she was either a keen reader of Debrett’s or that she’d paid attention because of interest. He liked to think it was the latter.

“And you are Arabella.” There was no point in pretending he hadn’t made an effort to discover this vital bit of information about her. “The way I see it, our recent interaction with one another ought to allow us to dispense with the honorific and address each other in more familiar terms. Would you not agree?”
She frowned. “As friends?”

“Certainly.” He set his teacup aside.

Arabella hesitated a moment. She bit her lip in a tantalizing way that had him mesmerized. Slowly, she nodded. “Considering everything you have done for me after all the times I have…“ She dropped her gaze to her lap. “You must think me exceedingly clumsy.”

He stared at her, at the timid manner in which she sat with her hands neatly folded in her lap. She looked increasingly uncomfortable and self-conscious.

“Do you have a general tendency toward accidental mishaps?” he asked. In hindsight, he could not recall her having unfortunate run-ins with anyone else.

“No,” she said. She expelled an aggravated breath and straightened her spine, fighting for composure even has the hands in her lap shook. “It is only with you for some reason.”

Flynn’s pulse leapt. “Why do you suppose that is?”

She shrugged and proceeded to study the carpet. “I have no idea.”

Apparently she was not going to make this easy. He tilted his head and wondered how best to proceed, then decided to be as direct as possible. “Is it because I make you nervous, Arabella?” When she nodded, he paused for a second before daring to ask, “Why?”

He’d seen her in countless ballrooms since her coming out earlier in the year. She’d danced and laughed and appeared to have a jolly good time with the gentlemen who kept her company. But the first time he’d asked her to dance, she’d pushed him into a fish pond so he’d been forced to leave the ball. The second time he’d asked her to dance, she’d promptly spilled the contents of her champagne glass over his jacket. Both incidents had led him to believe she was purposefully trying to avoid having to partner with him, which had made him angry since he would rather she’d simply told him no. 

But it was time to consider a different explanation. Perhaps she simply wasn’t herself when she was around him.

She swallowed with a jerky movement. “I have no idea.”

“Don’t you?” Unable to resist, he stood and came around the sofa table so he could sit down beside her on the settee. She shook her head to confirm her answer and he realized he would have to take a leap of faith for both their sakes. “Is it because you like me?”

She went completely still. Flynn sucked in a breath. Hesitantly, she raised her gaze to his and held it. Light danced beyond the brown depths of her eyes, illuminating flashes of hope. “Of course it is.” Her voice was soft but bold. “I never know what to do or what to say when I am near you because of how—” she waved her hand “—you are.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Handsome?” He tried to fill in the blank and she frowned. “Perfect in every way?” Her lips began to tremble, so he dipped his head and offered a cheeky smile. “Utterly charming?”

She laughed. Finally. And his heart felt lighter.

“You are incorrigible, Your Grace.”

“Flynn, if you please,” he gently reminded her with a nudge. “And you mustn’t be nervous when you are with me. I am only a man.”

This produced a snort, which she stifled with her hand. “Forgive me, but you are not only a man. You are a duke. A very eligible duke. While I am no more than a miss.”

“On the contrary, you are much more than that, Arabella.” His hand rose to her cheek, offering a careful caress with his thumb. “You are the very embodiment of happiness. Your laughter can light up a room – I’ve seen you do it – and your friendship is valuable – I noticed how you defendd Miss Samantha Trawley when she was being mocked by Lady Juniper.” It was one of the reasons why he’d asked Arabella to dance in the first place. Because he’d been rather impressed.

“That woman has a penchant for cruelty toward the less fortunate. Her accusations were unfair and I…” Arabella sighed. “I only did what was right.”

“Indeed you did,” he murmured. His hand moved round to the back of her head and he felt her stiffen. “You are worthy of admiration and…affection, Arabella, and I…I…” Damn it all but he was now the one getting nervous because of her. He pulled himself together and forced the words out. “I would like to propose a courtship.”

“With me?” Surprise was evident in her voice.

“Yes.” His free hand found hers and held it. “I realized something when I pulled you out of the lake, something that cemented itself while you were ill. I want you by my side, Arabella. I want you in my arms for the rest of my life. I want you to be my duchess.”

“But—”

“No buts. Only yes or no.”

She nodded and suddenly smiled, bright and lovely and utterly irresistible. So he did the only thing he could think to do, the one thing he’d been wanting to do since he’d carried her through the park and toward his carriage. He pressed his mouth to hers.

#

Arabella’s mind went blank. Forming coherent thought was out of the question. All she could do was feel and if she wasn’t mistaken, what she was feeling was Hollyoak’s – Flynn’s – mouth upon hers. Unless she had not yet recovered and was suffering from feverish delusion. To be quite sure this wasn’t the case, she wound her arms around his neck and leaned into his strength. He was solid and very, very real. Which was rather extraordinary and wonderful and a whole lot more. Not to mention that he was kissing her with keen determination, which caused her heart to beat faster and heat to suffuse her and oh! Oh yes, this was just what she needed to fully recover – a heady dose of Flynn’s full attention.

He pulled back slightly, just enough to rest his forehead against hers. “A courtship, Arabella and then a wedding, followed by years and years of this. How does that sound?”

“Splendid,” she said. “The best gift I can think of for Christmas.”

“Oh dear.” He released her and stood, then sat back down. “I was supposed to spend this evening with my aunt, but it is getting late and I…” He reached for her hand once more. “I do not wish to leave you.”

“Then stay. Send a letter to your aunt apologizing for your absence and informing her that you will arrive tomorrow instead.” She squeezed his hand and savored the warmth. “We are having goose for dinner and pudding for desert.”

“In that case, if you have some writing utensils handy and your parents approve, I will send a letter express to my aunt apologizing for my delay and spend the evening with you.”

“I can think of no better way to spend it.”

“As long as you promise you won’t get me wet.”

She grinned. “I cannot do that but I can try my best to avoid it.” Upon which she kissed him again, savoring the moment, the joy in her heart and the comfort of knowing that the man she loved would be hers for Christmas.



More than love is in the air …

Join the Heartly family as they return to Thorncliff Manor for the holiday season where four sisters and four very handsome, very eligible bachelors, are about to enjoy a lively Christmastime filled with laughter and love. But aside from the covert matchmaking undertaken by the eccentric hostess, Lady Duncaster, the thrill of adventure is sweeping through the estate. Soon, all the guests will be entangled in a treasure hunt for a lost heirloom and secrets hidden for decades will rise to the surface as matters of the heart are finally revealed.

Will Fiona ever see the Earl of Chadwick as more than a friend? Will Emily find an unlikely love in the Marquess of Montsmouth? Can Laura recognize the man of her dreams in the Duke of Lamont? And is Viscount Belgrave able to open Rachel’s eyes to romance? The magic of Thorncliff is about to offer the last unmarried Heartly sisters a chance at their own happily-ever-afters. So sit back with a warm mug of cocoa and lose yourself in a Regency Christmas Romance…

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Up For Grabs:
  • 1 signed copy of Christmas At Thorncliff Manor

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  • US shipping ONLY. If winner resides outside the US, a $10 Amazon Gift Card will be sent instead.
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8 comments :

  1. So great to be back for another Historical Christmas Event! Thank you for having me, Dani!

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  2. I love the Rescued By A Duke. Thank you for the awesome giveaway chance. Christmas At Thorncliff Manor sounds liked a delightful holiday read.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Carol! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)

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  3. I'm looking forward to reading Emily, Rachel, Fiona and Laura's stories!

    johnslake at usa dot com

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  4. Hi Sophie, I absolutely loved HIS SCANDALOUS KISS. And I recently found a group of books I won a few months ago and I have THE EARLS COMPLETE SURRENDER. Not only would I like the first book in this series I'd like to read the Christmas book too. I love Christmas theme books. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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  5. I am weird Historical Romance and Horror are my two favorite genres. Thanks for hosting this amazing event!

    ReplyDelete